Death, Faith, Heathen, Uncategorized

Noir

A little Halloween story, a Samhain sampling, or a little Noir to colour the shadows this winterfinding.  This story is not mine, for it was born from myself and Kat Kerns.  Neither one of us is sure how much the story told itself, so neither one of us takes much credit for it.

How it began:

Soundly asleep then instantly awake, but not knowing why. The clock reads 2:00 am; the house is silent except for the ever present dripping of the leaky faucet in the bathroom. ‘Why am I awake’ I thought to myself. My mind was alert to every sound and shift of shadow, my heart beating quickly out of time but not afraid. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t alone, not that I could see anyone in the darkened room, but I could feel a presence… instead of racing faster my heart beat calmed.

I felt strangely safe even though I knew I shouldn’t. Who could be in my house, in my room, and why wasn’t I afraid? I sat up in bed and turned on the lamp on the night stand. Looking across my room I saw…

Bogart smoking                                                            *

I don’t know how long it had been this time.  When your dead, time doesn’t matter that much.  I got plugged back in ’32, that was OK.  You cross some lines you have to figure there’s going to be a cost.  A dame gets involved and suddenly you start breaking your own rules, people get hurt.  Dead hurt.  I fixed it back then; but not before the kid got caught up in it.  One innocent, and a whole bunch of mooks who probably had it coming.  Like I did.  Somebody was keeping score though, ’cause it didn’t end when I died.

It was 43 when I got brought back first I think……..that little wop kid getting a bum rap because he had the wrong accent when they needed to hang an ugly wrap that came from one of the country club set.  Last time was what 93, the old broad who thought she was losing it because she could see me.  She couldn’t see her kid putting the squeeze on her loot, or selling her meds on the street.

He took a long drag on his smoke, pulling it deep into his lungs.  The cherry on the end burned in the night like a red eye.  Ghost smoke into ghost lungs.  The broad on the bed turned and looked right at him, and turned on the light.  He put out the smoke on the wall, noting it didn’t leave a mark.  Ghost smokes don’t leave marks.  Neither did he.  Or at least, not enough to erase the mark he made when he was alive.

He waited for the screams to start, or looking at the bottle from last night to figure out where the ghost crawled out of.  He hated this part.  Funny how nobody wants to listen to the dead they called back.  It’s not like he chose to be here.  That’s a lie.  He smiled, cold and hard.  I made my choice a long time ago.  Every drinker knows, no matter what’s your poison, the bill comes due at the end of the night.  It’s a long night when you’re dead.

Time to find out what this dame’s story was.  He didn’t always get it right, sometimes they still died.  He didn’t know how many times he had to get it right before he would get to rest.  Not a lot else to do when your dead.  She didn’t seem to be screaming.  Maybe this one would listen long enough to stay alive.

*

The spectral man seemed to be waiting for me to do something… perhaps scream or faint, not sure. He seemed surprised when I just watched him calmly. He looked vaguely familiar, like I should know him from somewhere. Perhaps he simply reminded me of someone I knew once or something. I took a moment to asses him, he had all the marks of a hard life when he’d been alive; at least I assumed he did. Not knowing how death worked, I really couldn’t say. Part of me knew I should be freaking out or questioning my sanity, but for some reason the only thing the spirit inspired in me was a sense of safety and calm, I knew somehow that he wasn’t here to hurt me.

Perhaps it was his eyes that inspired that, they had the look of a man resigned to his fate tinged with a touch of sadness. He put on a strong front as he drew on a spectral cigarette before putting it out against my wall; I was more than a little bit relieved to see that it didn’t leave a burn mark. They were always so hard to remove, I’d learned that well enough from an ex boyfriend who had been nothing but trouble when we were together and for a time even more trouble when we broke up. I still don’t know what it was I saw in him to begin with; maybe it was the challenge of the bad boy that many women make the mistake of assuming they can change, or perhaps pure masochism on my part. Whatever it had been, it was bad from beginning to end and I was well quit of him. I decided to say something maybe find out what he was here for, I was sure the spirit had a reason for being here; he didn’t seem the type to just be wandering through randomly. It was like I knew that he had a message of some sort, or perhaps he simply needed my help.

“Um… hello?” I said hoping that we could actually communicate.

*

The broad wasn’t freaking out like most of them did.  Wasn’t just sitting their giggling like that twin in 73; she never got straight long enough from the junk she was on to realize what was up.  It wasn’t hard watching that one go.   I watched a lot of people go in the Great War, and a few when I came back and worked as a cop.  Only a few more when I started work as a private dick, but one of those was her.  Angie.  The one I screwed up. The reason I’m here.

This girl looked smart, he could work with that.  She didn’t look scared though.  That was bad.  He may not have figured out much about why he kept coming back, but he knew that he only came back for kids on the edge of getting whacked.  Innocents like Angie.  No bottle this time, and no blonde; no chance to screw it up.

Sometimes they got in deep with the wrong people.  Sometimes it was family, and that got real ugly.  Sometimes it was love; god knows love is what screwed him up bad enough to let Angie get killed.  Even dead, that one won’t let him go.

This girl didn’t have the look; didn’t look hunted or scared.  That was bad.  She had no idea what was coming for her, and couldn’t tell me.  I pulled my .45 and checked the clip; five rounds, always five.  It begins again the same.

The girl pulled the blanket up when I pulled my gat, but still didn’t look scared.  She should be.  I only had one chance to get it right, last chance was all I ever got.

Memory gets bad towards the end, the things you try not to bring with you.  I remember the endings.  The blonde comes again, when I lose, she spits on me.  When I win she kisses me.  Funny, when she kissed me for real, I lost it all.  I lost Angie.  The dark one comes, her I know.  Half her face rotted and rat chewed, like the guys the shells dug out and tossed back in the trenches, all swollen up and bursting.  Half her face pale, cold, and hard.  A smile like the cocked hammer of my .45.  Then the dark.  Always the dark.

I walked forward into the light, no shadows for me I guess, since I’m not much more than one myself.  It was time to talk.  Probably too late, I was usually too late.  Two rounds wasted one bottle and one girl gone.

“What’s your story kid?  Who wants you dead?”

I lit another cigarette and took a drag, the smoke pulled deep and held, as I looked for her response.  Surprise.  Huh.  Always hard when you didn’t see it coming.

“Nothing personal toots, but if you see me, you got maybe an hour before somebody gets dead.  And right now, the smart money is still on you.”

I blew a long trail of smoke into the lamp light, and I laughed gently.

“But I always bet the wrong way, and sometimes win”

My smile used to do the trick.  Calmed the guys in the trenches calmed the cops on the scene who were turning green over their first corpse.  It never worked on dames though.  Of course, I never got that part right.  Even dead.

***

Dead? Someone wanted me dead, and this spirit was here to warn me. The gun he’d pulled out had startled me a bit, but I still didn’t think he was here to hurt me, but asking me who wanted me dead, that was totally unexpected. To the best of my knowledge no one wanted me dead. I mean the only person I could even think of who might even be angry with me was Joey, I mean he did take the break up hard and I had to get a restraining order, but I couldn’t imagine him actually wanting me dead because of it… could I?

Well, there was no way to be sure, if this spirit was here to warn me of my impending potential death then I had best figure out what to do about it. From the sound of things, he felt there might be a chance for me to survive so I’d better work quickly. Did he know the nature of the threat; was it personal, could it be accidental? All I knew for sure was that I wasn’t about to just sit in bed and let it happen. My mother didn’t raise a fool; she made sure that if her baby girl got herself into trouble she was strong enough to get herself out of it. I nodded my understanding to the shade, and got out of bed. Moving to my dresser I started pulling clothes out, I wasn’t going to face whatever was coming in my freaking nightgown. I paused only momentarily to glance at the spirit, but than continued to get dressed. He’d mentioned an hour at most, now was no time for modesty. Fully dressed in a tee shirt and jeans, I pulled my hair back into a pony tail to keep it out of my face and moved to my closet. I found myself very glad that my parents had seen fit to teach me how to shoot as I opened the gun safe and took out my 9mm glock. For a moment I considered grabbing my fathers .357 magnum but I wanted something light just in case. Who knew what I was going to be up against. Speed and maneuverability might be my saving grace. I made sure it was loaded with a round chambered and put a couple of extra clips in my pocket just to be sure.

I decided to grab my hiking boots and put them on, who knew if I was going to need to make a run for it. I was still unnaturally calm through all of this; well maybe I would fall apart later if I made it through the rest of the night. Once again I turned to look at the spirit, harbinger of doom or saving angel, didn’t matter, I was going to take full advantage of this warning. I for one was not ready to die this night.

“Okay, now what?” I asked him.

*

She said she didn’t have a clue who would want her dead, but her eyes said she was lying. She picked up a cannon, and put it back in favor of some boxy piece that looked like someone took my .45 and squashed it down to half size. She stripped the clip and checked it, chambering and safing what looked like about a 9mm like she knew what she was doing.  This dame had her head straight.  I might save her, like I should have saved Angie.

“Hey toots, how about you roll up that sleeping bag in the closet, and put it under your covers like you was still asleep”

The closet was beside the door, anyone sitting in it would see the bed, but the door was out of sight. To get a shot at the bed, you would have to step around the walk in closet, with your back to it.

“Sit yourself here in the closet. I will let you know when somebody comes through the door.  If they start shooting at the bed, don’t blow smoke asking stupid questions, you plug them hard and fast until they drop. If they look like they are turning to face you, plug ’em again”

The kid looked green, like it was sinking in, but she checked the safety, and worked it to make sure it broke clean. Her face went flat, like newbie’s usually did, faking cool until they bought it themselves. I saw that a lot in the trenches, and on the force. Sometimes I saw it in the mirror, or the bottom of a bottle.

It must of been about twenty minutes, but the sweat off the girl showed she felt it like hours. I forget how much the waiting gets to you, when your dead, some things just get easier.

I heard the back door open. I slipped into the hall to see a young guy pull a key from the lock.  Huh.  He had a key. With dames it was usually the things they didn’t want to talk about that got them killed. It was usually the one they would swear could never hurt them, but they were trying real hard to get away from because their brain read things clearer than their heart.

He pulled a gat of his own. Some shiny chrome job bigger than my Colt 1911. Maybe he thought he was hunting bear, because that was a lot of gun for a sleeping broad.  Of course, it wasn’t going to be enough. Not this time. He ghosted back to the closet.

“Show time doll. One guy, one gun. Coming quiet. You don’t make a sound until he makes his play. Then you shoot.  Don’t talk, don’t think, and don’t die!”

I gave her the hard stare, if she was going to freeze, I had to know. You can’t tell sometimes, until the time comes, whose got the steel to finish, and whose going to fold… Her lips went white; her breathing got deep, but slowed down.  Her thumb slowly pushed the gun off safe. Well now.  I’ve seen worse. I winked at her, and faded back by the bed.

Her left hand gripped her necklace, some kind of half cross or upside down hammer. Her right was at shoulder height, ready to bring her piece down on target.

The jackass came through the door screaming. I cleared my piece, even thought I can’t touch the living. Reflex I guess. Any surprise he would have had was gone. He lowered that cannon and started to blast.

Five shots rang like trip hammers. Three sounded like shotgun blasts, the cannon jumping in jackasses hand like a scared rabbit. He put a hole about chest level in the woman shape under the covers, then another in the pillow beside where her head would lay, then at the top of her headboard.  Whatever that cannon was, he couldn’t control it, anymore than he could control his screaming. The last two shots were sharp cracks, as the muzzle flash from the doll’s little gun snapped out a sharp double tap, and jackass hit the floor.

“Nobody leaves me, you bitch!” Joey screamed as he came in the door. Unloading his Desert Eagle and his hate towards the girl who dared to leave him.  He blasted out three times before he felt something hit him, and he fell to the floor.

He struggled to roll over, and saw her. That little bitch!  The one who left him, the one who had the balls to send the Sheriffs to serve him at work with a restraining order, as if it was up to her when it was over.  His chest was cold, and his legs were weak, but he snarled as he raised his Eagle towards his woman, HIS woman, whatever anyone said.

Joey heard a cold voice say “Finish it sister, this kid isn’t stopping”.

Joey looked into those eyes that used to look at him with love, and the ones he taught to look at him with fear, but this time they were flat, cold, and looking back in the moonlight on either side of the glowing sights of her Glock. Two more shots rang out, and he heard his pistol hit the floor.  He couldn’t feel it.  He couldn’t feel anything.

“Joey” the dame said, and then started to cry.  Let the kid cry. She had earned it.  He felt the end coming, they were coming again.  They always did.

Joey came out of his body, and reached for his gun. You could do that if you hated enough. I did.

“This isn’t over” Joey sobbed as he picked up his gun, and raised it towards his loved/hated ex.  “This will never be over!”  he screamed.

“Hey bub” rang a cold voice, edged with cruelty
“You want to bet on that”

Noir gun

He spun to face the trench coated figure shining moonlight silver in the darkness, but thunder spoke, and a hammer took him in the knee.

“My gun can’t touch the living any more, but you should see what it does to the dead”

“You could have let it go buddy, you could have let her go and lived”

The gun spoke again, and Joey screamed.

“Both legs-you will never rise, never walk”

Twice more the gun spoke, and Joeys shoulders were slammed to the floor.

“Both arms-you will not raise them to another woman”

Joey started to beg now; he was almost out of time.  They both were.

The grim ghost looked down, his eyes shaded by his fedora. The muzzle of the .45 looked like a train tunnel, as the smoke from the first four rounds puffed like a dragon’s breath around its muzzle.

“And your head, because I’m tired of listening to you”

Joey faded into silence.  A roughly man shaped pool of silver in the darkness, without form, without movement, without hope.

“Your choice to be stupid, my choice who lives”

He looked at the locked slide on his pistol, and released it. Slapping its empty form back into its holster, he turned to face what was coming.  He lit a cigarette and sucked deep on it.  He knew what was coming, If he could have run, he would.  It hurt too much to remember, except at the end.

From the moonlight came her. Shining the blonde came. Angie’s mother. I wished I died this time first. Sometimes when I failed, I ate my gun before they came, and missed this part. Sometimes I wished I had failed at this point.  Five rounds, that’s all I had at the end.

Noir blond

She was smiling, the way she was when she fed me the spiked booze, and left me passed out while she handed her kid back over to the monster that paid for her, the one whose guys I took her from in the first place.

The kid’s grandmother paid me to track Angie down, and I did. Two knuckle draggers for hire had grabbed her and were holding her at a hotel.  Neither one was willing to face a drawn pistol for the money they were getting.  Bottom feeders, not the kind that came back from war, or came up through the gangs.

I brought her back to the mother. The blonde.  Her face was hard and cold when I brought her back, and she told Angie to go to her room while she made a phone call. I cooled my heels in the living room while she made the call. When she came back she was all smiles, and brought a drink. Her blouse was unbuttoned enough to really distract me, and I never turned down good booze.

I never had much luck with broads and none with ones as hot as this one.  I tried to play it cool, but my brain shut off as she ran her hands on my chest, and told me to finish my drink.

When I came to, I was passed out in the chair with a headache.  Angie was gone, her mother too.  I staggered to the girl’s room; it looked like a fight happened.  Angie was a fighter, she didn’t go easy.  I saw a button on the ground.  Her mothers.  Her mothers.

Played like a fool.  Her mother sold her, just like the last time.  Two mooks too scared to face me didn’t snatch the kid themselves, they got her drugged unconscious by her mother, only this time she used it on me.

Booze and broads, I never could turn them down, and this time a kid was paying. Angie.

I called the operator, gave them my old badge number, and got the last number called. Lassiter. Old man Lassiter.

Lassiter was old money, bought judges and congressmen out of petty cash, and was untouchable. We all knew about him, and the rumors about his tastes. Nobody ever linked him directly to the bodies; nobody ever looked that hard, or were warned off. Nobody ever went after him.

I rubbed my head and my eyes fell upon the bottle. Well, I guess I just proved I was a nobody, a real chump.

I cleared my pistol and blasted the bottle and glass. Two rounds out of seven spent.  Five left.

“Angie baby, I swear I’m going to get you back, Hell take anybody who gets in the way”

My Ford weaved all over the road as I shook off the Mickey Finn. I clipped a mirror on the gate post on the way in, and went through the shrubs on his pretty lawn.

I came up the stairs at a run, Colt in my fist.

Two guards were at the door and reached for me. Amateurs. I didn’t waste a bullet on either of them. I knocked mustache boy’s coconut off the door post, and pistol whipped the second mook.  I didn’t slow down. You crossed the wire at the run, and didn’t stop until you hit the opposite trench. Slow was dead. Dead was OK, but only after I finished. Only I after I saved Angie.

I hit the stairs at the run; there was a butler in a stupid costume. He clawed at a piece behind his back. The stupid suit made him slow, my .45 made him stop forever.  Four left.

Another stood at the top of the stairs, and got off two shots of his own. One hit my chest, I felt cold, but it wasn’t enough.  It threw off my aim, and my return splashed his throat into a red mess. Three left.

I came through the door, and there she was. Angie’s mom, her purse was grasped in her hand, and she shot a look at the bedroom door.  I heard a little girl screaming, and the wet slap of a man’s hand stopped it.  I put a bullet just above those sweet red lips. Couldn’t let her speak, they made a fool of me before, and I may already be too late.  Two left.

I hit the door, kicking beside the lock, not with my shoulders because the movies got it wrong.  My vision was starting to grey out, not a good sign. Did I have enough time?  I would have to.

Lassiter was kneeling over Angie. His pants were down, and he had his hands at her throat. I put a bullet in his spine, but the old bastard got up again.

I was on the ground, I didn’t notice falling.  It was cold, and my vision was graying out. Not good. The old bastard raised himself up, and reached for the girl again, I put my last round through is temple, and blew his brains all over the antique bed drapes.

I couldn’t move now.  I heard the screams of the mansion staff, heard soft sobbing from somewhere.

“I didn’t make it Angie, I let you down.  I swear I’ll make it right”

From the shadows of the bed came two figures, one was a horror, half her face bloated and rotten, half cold and beautiful.  Both her eyes were hungry as they looked at me. You see strange things at the end.  I looked away from her, and there she was, the blonde; Angie’s mom, the vision of beauty seemed to have gotten over the slug through the skull, and was smiling at me too.  I shut my eyes.  Some things I just couldn’t face.

“Mine” said the blonde.

“Not yet” said the two faced horror.

Hella

It was a mercy when the dark came. It never lasted, but I welcomed it at the end.

It was the new dame that shattered the memory. She turned to my specters as if she saw them too, and shouted two names

“Hella!”  She said raising her arm in salute to the dark one, her eyes unafraid as she took in the two faces of the cold dark.  The dark one nodded in return.

“Freya” she said saluting the blonde.  That wasn’t Angie’s mother’s name, but the blonde laughed and nodded in return.

This had never happened.  Not even I knew who they were; just that they came for me, at the end.  Nobody saw them but me.

Who was this girl, and how did she know his specters?

*

It was hard to think, standing over the body of her dead ex, but the shock of the killing was nothing compared to the coming of the goddesses. Hel was cold, her presence deep in ways that spoke of the mound, of eternity. Her coming swept away shock and fear, for hers was a presence that anchored deep in the roots of the earth, and beyond.

At her glance, the silver pool that was the sundered essence of her attempted killer sunk into the floor, and the slight smile on her face was like moonlight on a bared blade. The look she turned upon her defender, the trench-coat clad ghost was softer; if not kind, then at least understanding. When she looked at how her specter faced the keeper of the dead, she was shocked to see him flinch, not from the half-corpse grave-queen, but from the Goddess of Love.

Freya was hard to look upon, her light was bright, not as sunlight, but as fire; amber and gold. Her beauty was vibrant, wild and fierce; even still she had the quality of dance, as if she was but a frozen moment between frenzied steps.  Her gaze upon the ghost was warm. In those eyes shone understanding, love, and a fierce possessive desire. Not the desire of a lover, so much as the desire to possess, the need to have something discovered.

Her specter turned on trembling legs of ghost-silver away from the shining light of Freya, and towards the corpse-queen’s dark. At last Freya’s gaze fell upon her, and the goddess spoke.

“Kitten, would you know why he flees me? Would you know what he sees?”

I nodded; I could not speak under that gaze.

“Then see his memories, look at the things he won’t see. He has earned more than he allows himself. He has won more than the task he sets himself. There is a place for him in other halls than the mound”

Freya looked at the specter with sad eyes.

“For him I wear the face of she he first saved, but he sees only the mother. His generation had forgotten us, many won great worth, but even some of those were lost, and need a guide to find their way home”

Those last words fell upon me like a great weight. As her eyes met mine, I saw the visions that haunted, that trapped my specter. As he lay dying upon the ground, I saw a young girl, shining golden with the promise of beauty to come, rush to his side, and weeping, close his eyes. When the police came, she told them weeping, of his heroism. She heard the echo of a name….Angie.

He didn’t know! He had been condemning himself for generations for failing her, but he didn’t fail. He was not running from the woman he killed (she shuddered at the thought of a mother selling her child to that fate), but from the child he saved!

A gift for a gift she thought, looking at the bullet holes in her bed; she had been given the gift of life. She looked at her ghost, the haunted look in her haunts own eyes. She owed a life, and but how was she to pay it back. She looked at Hel, and for the living to meet that dread gaze was harder than looking down the barrel of her pistol at her former lover. Turning from the light, to face the silver shadow in the heart of the dark, Kat turned to face Hella.

As she met the gaze of the two faced queen, Hel turned the corpse face she showed the living. Staring at the corpse bloat, and milky eye of the keeper of the dead, Kat steeled herself and met Hel’s gaze.

“Great Hel, I beg a question”

Hel turned her maiden face to the hard faced ghost, fumbling to light a cigarette for whatever comfort it offered the dead. A soft smile touched the Keeper of Silence, and she asked a question in a voice that was soft as a lullaby.

“For the champion?”

Freed to speak when the Dread Queen turned to look at the smoking specter, Kat mumbled her assent.

“He is not mine to keep. He will not rest.  Those that are mine know rest, an end to strife, He flees to me, and I wrap him in my darkness, but always the call will come, and his guns and wrath, not my arms, will hold him.”

The Keeper of the Dead turned her corpse face to the living once more and spoke her last.

“He is not mine to keep.”

It was times like this the sagas had great words from inspired poets. Too bad she was standing in her closet in her pajamas, standing over a body, looking at two goddesses, and trying to save a ghost. Sadly, this did not make for poetry.

“Shit” said Kat.  She stripped the mag from her pistol, clearing and safing it. Checking the chamber was clear; she worked the slide lock and put down the empty gun.  It was time to finish things; she thought she heard sirens already.

Quick and dirty heathen 101 or ghost intervention.  It was now or never.

“A gift for a gift” she said. “I don’t have a lot of time, the police are coming, but there is something you need to know.”

*

The darkness was lapping around me now, the cold black promise of oblivion, the chance to forget. I could feel the blonde behind me, feel her calling to me. One day I might be weak enough to give in, I gave in once, and Angie died. I died too; but I couldn’t even get that right. I turned to the dark lady again, her smile was cold and hard as a drawn knife, she knew me, and she knew what came next. The cold, the silence………the call again.

“Shit”, the dame I saved had a mouth on her like a platoon sergeant, but she shot straight, and didn’t flinch, so I guess she was alright. She said she had something I needed to know, but she was wrong. Stuff only mattered to the living; it only mattered until you got the big one wrong, then you were screwed for life. Or death in my case. You screwed up the big one, you paid and paid, and even a bullet couldn’t get you out.

I smiled, the darkness was drawing back. The dark lady wanted me to listen, and I guess the kid earned a minute. Being dead, my time got cheaper than a plug nickel.

“You never remember the end” she said.

No kidding. I got played for a sucker, and Angie died. I got the broad that sold her and the fat cat who bought her. The torpedoes didn’t count; they were nothing, so was I.  I didn’t save Angie, and even if I got it right a few times, I failed when it counted, I failed when I died, because so did she.

The sirens were getting closer, the kid seemed desperate. She stepped away from her gun, and looked like she wanted to slap me. I get that a lot, or did when I had a body to slap.

“No, you idiot!”  Kid had a silver tongue alright. He chuckled, but the kid had her motor running and shifted gears like she had places to go.

“You died, but she didn’t.  The crying you heard was Angie, she lived. She was crying and closing your eyes when the police got there. That’s not her mother’s face you see behind you, that’s Angie when she grew up.”

The dark lady looked sad; her eyes were almost soft as she nodded. Eyes like that couldn’t lie; they never tried.  Death didn’t cheat; she was the one unbroken promise. He didn’t know much, but he knew that.

The sirens grew loud, as they did that night when he was fading out. He heard then from a child, what he heard now from the blonde, so beautiful it hurt, so bright she burned.

“You came back for me. I knew you would. You are a hero. There is a place for heroes.  My lady keeps it. You don’t have to go into the dark. You can come  again when you are called”

The kid seemed to understand.  I didn’t. I turned to her, because she played it straight so far, and I wasn’t trusting myself to think, not with her in front of me.

“Go with her.”  The dame was smiling and crying the way only dames could.
“Freya’s hall is for heroes and lovers”

I looked at the empty clip in my 45 and the spot the ghost died again and laughed.

“I ain’t a hero, doll face.  And if there is a bigger fool at love than me, I never met him”

My voice turned hard and cold, I knew how it played out. How it always played out.

“Out of bullets, out of time. Now the dark comes”

A golden laugh lit the darkness, and I felt the shiver run up my spine like the caresses you dream about, but never know. My gun grew heavy in my hand; I stripped the clip and counted. One, two, three…….seven? NO!  I wasted two, and since I died, I only had five left, like when I tried to save her. Seven slugs looked back at me, and I looked up to three smiles.

The kid was crying, the dark one nodded and turned away, and ……Angie took my arm. I felt a rush, like blood and fire pour through me, like a living man, like whiskey and a first kiss, and dawn after a night of war. I looked down at the ghost of my arm, and saw it fade.

***

Kat watched Hel turn away, and the amber tones of life fill the bone white hollows of the dead man’s face with life. Love hid behind walls of fear in his eyes, but wonder made him look at Angie, and see love shining back in return.

A gift for a gift, a life for a life.

Standing alone in a room with no ghosts and a single dead body, she heard the police come in and she began to laugh. This was actually going to be the easy part of her evening. Tears streaking her face, she sat back in the closet to wait. There had been enough truth for the evening. Her ghost prepped her for the coppers, and a little damsel in distress beat the hell out of telling the local flat-feet about goddesses and ghosts. Gods, now he had her talking like that. Next thing you knew, she would be smoking……

 

By Kat Kerns and John T Mainer

Previously published in

They Walk With Us

All proceeds donated to The Troth.

 

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Aesir, Asatru, Death, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Grief Counselling

Charles_Ernest_Butler_-_Death_of_a_viking_warrior

This was written for those who work as priests/priestesses in our community, but perhaps of equal value to those who are lay people in the community and wish to understand how to handle death in our community using the tools the ancestors left to us.

There is a lot that our ancestors accepted that we do not, they were much more comfortable with their mortality, but their definition of self was linked more strongly to their family than ours, so the context of their personal death was different than our own, and in many ways they understood death had less power over them than we are wont to give it.

We do have the tools to help with death in our community, and there is not really a great deal you have to understand before you are able to begin to apply those tools both in your own life, and in those you care about, to make a real difference in dealing with the death of loved ones.

Funerals and memorials are for the living, not the dead.  Understand this, understand the reason the tools exist and you will be able to understand how to use them to move through the agony of the loss itself and into the remodeling that follows.  I use the word remodeling rather than healing because healing implies that what was lost will be restored, whereas remodeling is the term used in rehabilitation after injury that denotes learning to understand, accept, and work with the reality that you are left with.  This is a better description for what we do in the grieving and morning process.  In the saga’s we have many indications of grieving that worked, that didn’t, and what followed from each path.  Let us start with GUTHRUNARKVITHA I The First Lay of Guthrun

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe27.htm

 

10-Grieving could not | Guthrun weep,

Such grief she had | for her husband dead,

And so grim her heart | by the hero’s body.

 

11-Then spake Gollrond, | Gjuki’s daughter:

“Thy wisdom finds not, | my foster-mother,

The way to comfort | the wife so young.”

She bade them uncover | the warrior’s corpse.

 

12-The shroud she lifted | from Sigurth, laying

His well-loved head | on the knees of his wife:

“Look on thy loved one, | and lay thy lips

To his as if yet | the hero lived.”

 

13-Once alone did | Guthrun look;

His hair all clotted | with blood beheld,

The blinded eyes | that once shone bright,

The hero’s breast | that the blade had pierced.

 

14-Then Guthrun bent, | on her pillow bowed,

Her hair was loosened, | her cheek was hot,

And the tears like raindrops | downward ran.

 

Here we see Guthrun initially unable to process the death of Sigurd.  Literally, the loss she felt was so deep and shocking that she is unable to even weep, unable to cry, unable to feel; so great is her shock.  In the earlier stanza, we see the women of the community coming together to share their own stories of loss, because it really helps to know you are not alone, you are not the first who have had the pillars of their world kicked away, and yet, these women too carried on.  This is not about showing how they lost more, so you should stop whining; this is about supplying context.  To show that such loss is a part of the world, that such loss is a part of such love.  Context is important, I would go so far as to say critical in grief work as you must place the death, the loss itself INSIDE the greater context of the life that was before you can accept the reality that you can not only move forward past the loss without giving up the person you lost, but that in moving through and past the loss itself and the grieving you can reclaim all the bright strands that person wove into your life already.  Grieving is not about healing the loss, nothing will fill the spot that is gone, but you will remodel around the loss so that you can retain all that you shared with the loved one, while moving forward into a world in which they live on in their words and deeds, in the memory of those around them, not in the body you just burned or buried.

 

Guthrun literally cannot make this step, cannot make this transition because she cannot let go the living man.  In order to accept that he is gone, she must look upon his dead face, kiss his sightless eyes, to accept that no matter how hard she fought to hold onto her living husband, he was gone.  What she held was simply the meat that his soul once wore.  Now she could cry, now she could weep and wail.  Tears, like blood, carry the poisons out of the terrible wounds we take when one we love is taken from us.  The dead simply die, it is the living who take wounds in their passing, for the dead are beyond all pain, beyond all care, while the living bear a wound of severity equal to the importance to your life of the person who just died.  Viewings of the body, funerals, these are about letting go of the corpse, about accepting the living person who you want is no longer contained in the body you are commending to soil, sea, or fire.

 

Death and Context:

All deaths are not created equal.  It sounds wrong, but it is a part of how we as modern humans are unaware of many truths our ancestors accepted.  The gap between what we think and what we feel can often make it impossible to deal with the feelings that seem to make no sense.  Death reveals to us the gap between the modern understanding of self, and the ancient understanding of self as our own Heathen traditions held it.  When you talk to a westerner, European, or one of the Australian, North American or other daughter colonies of Western Europe about the definition of self in the modern Christian era, you will find that the definition of self begins and ends at the skin.  The myth of the nuclear family is one of terrible power in our age, but of relatively recent vintage.  Our ancestors were a clan or tribal people, and the definition of self was not limited to their own skin.  The self was bound indelibly with the family, clan, or tribe.  When you accept that your definition of self extends to your bloodline , rather  than simply to your skin, the definition of selfish and selfless acts becomes blurry, and much of what we today would describe as heroic becomes merely pragmatic from the point of view that looks at the preservation of a self that extends beyond their skin.

 

The Christian looked at the Heathen warrior’s attitude about death and mistook them as being death hungry, when a more complete view would be were accepting that there would inevitably be a death for them, and not unduly concerned that a “good death” or death in the most glorified context of battle, is not to be viewed as entirely bad.  Part of that was the realization that given the choice, this is one of the “good options” to go out on; one your family would speak well of long after you were gone.  A larger part of the seeming fearlessness was the realization that death upon that battlefield did not threaten all of yourself.  If your self extends beyond your skin, and extends into your line, then if your children, your siblings, your cousins, nieces and nephews, your clan and your tribe endured, then so did part of you.  What you did to ensure their survival was part of guaranteeing your own immortality.

Our ancestors accepted that our body was not immortal.  Our immortality lay within the family and the tribe.  This gave some deaths a context that made them easier to accept.  Look at Egil’s Saga for examples of death and context as both a tool that allows us to accept it more easily, and as one that renders death infinitely more terrible.

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil56.htm

 

Egil’s Saga LV; Egil Skallgrimson’s beloved brother Thorloff falls in battle fighting on the opposite wing for King Athelstan of England against King Olaf and his Scottish allies.  Egil was brooding while all around celebrated survival and victory until King Athelstan gave him a gold ring taken off his own arm, offering praise and gifts to honour the loss of Thorloff

 

“The king said: ‘These chests, Egil, thou shalt have, and, if thou comest to Iceland, shalt carry this money to thy father; as payment for a son I send it to him: but some of the money thou shalt divide among such kinsmen of thyself and Thorolf as thou thinkest most honourable. But thou shalt take here payment for a brother with me, land or chattels, which thou wilt. And if thou wilt abide with me long, then will I give thee honour and dignity such as thyself mayst name.’

Egil took the money, and thanked the king for his gifts and friendly words. Thenceforward Egil began to be cheerful; and then he sang:”

 

The death of Thorloff was terrible, but the context of death in battle was one that he was prepared to accept, and the funery gifts made it clear that Thorloff fell in glory, his name won praise and gold from great kings, and would see him remembered with the greatest heroes in the hall.  Now Egil was not only free to celebrate the victory with the rest of the warriors, but free as well to move forward and take the gold won in Thorloff’s name to look after the needs of his remaining family back at home.  Funeral rites and rituals, insurance and estate settlement are all part of the process of grieving and morning, a practical element that cannot be overlooked or separated from the emotional.  Thorloff was not just a man, he was not just Egil’s brother, he was a father, a husband, and the support of all his dependants.  Egil needed to not only let go the living man, to deal with his own loss, but to see that the duties of him who was lost were themselves taken care of, that the dead be not dishonoured by those he left behind being not cared for.  Egil’s grief was bearable because Thorloff was a warrior who fell in battle, a good death.  His dependants would be cared for, due to the glory and gold he won in life, and his name would be remembered.

Ramp Ceremony

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm The Havamal tell us

 

  1. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

One thing now | that never dies,

The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

 

The death of a parent, a sibling, a lover, a friend is one that we can fit into context because we can make sure their name remains bright, their memory is cared for.  Context makes it better.  This is not always the case.  If our ancestors accept that our self is not defined simply by the limits of our skin but by our line.  This makes the death of a child harder.  We see not just the death of what they are, but the death of the future.  It is just that the young bury the old, not the old bury the young.  When Egil’s son drowned, he was far less able to deal with this loss.  This was a death out of context; neither the failing of a baby not yet grown into strength, not the failing of an elder whose life was done, nor the fall of a warrior in glory, or woman in birth.  This was a death of potential, the theft of a life that will never be.

 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil82.htm

 

Egil determined to starve himself to death because he could not live with the death of his son.  It took his daughter deceiving him into violating his oaths to turn him from self destructive expressions of his inability to grieve, to actual expressions of grief.  As with the earlier case where Guthrun could not grieve until she looked upon the body and accepted Sigurd’s death, Egil could not bring himself to grieve until he accepted the fact that his duty compelled him to go on, and going on required the duties of the living to the dead.  It is these duties that serve to set our feet on the path to using grieving to remodel our own lives to accept the reality of the loss we have suffered, and which enable us to regain the loved one as part of our life, even if now they are no longer among the living.

 

“Egil heard these tidings that same day, and at once rode to seek the bodies: he found Bodvar’s, took it up and set it on his knees, and rode with it out to Digra-ness, to Skallagrim’s mound. Then he had the mound opened, and laid Bodvar down there by Skallagrim. After which the mound was closed again; this task was not finished till about nightfall. Egil then rode home to Borg, and, when he came home, he went at once to the locked bed-closet in which he was wont to sleep. He lay down, and shut himself in, none daring to crave speech of him.

It is said that when they laid Bodvar in earth Egil was thus dressed: his hose were tight-fitting to his legs, he wore a red kirtle of fustian, closely-fitting, and laced at the sides: but they say that his muscles so swelled with his exertion that the kirtle was rent off him, as were also the hose.

On the next day Egil still did not open the bed-closet: he had no meat or drink: there he lay for that day and the following night, no man daring to speak with him. But on the third morning, as soon as it was light, Asgerdr had a man set on horseback, who rode as hard as he could westwards to Hjardarholt, and told Thorgerdr all these tidings; it was about nones when he got there. He said also that Asgerdr had sent her word to come without delay southwards to Borg. Thorgerdr at once bade them saddle her a horse, and two men attended her. They rode that evening and through the night till they came to Borg. Thorgerdr went at once into the hall. Asgerdr greeted her, and asked whether they had eaten supper. Thorgerdr said aloud, ‘No supper have I had, and none will I have till I sup with Freyja. I can do no better than does my father: I will not overlive my father and brother.’ She then went to the bed-closet and called, ‘Father, open the door! I will that we both travel the same road.’ Egil undid the lock. Thorgerdr stepped up into the bed-closet, and locked the door again, and lay down on another bed that was there.

Then said Egil, ‘You do well, daughter, in that you will follow your father. Great love have you shown to me. What hope is there that I shall wish to live with this grief?’ After this they were silent awhile. Then Egil spoke: ‘What is it now, daughter? You are chewing something, are you not?’ ‘I am chewing samphire,’ said she, ‘because I think it will do me harm. Otherwise I think I may live too long.’ ‘Is samphire bad for man?’ said Egil. ‘Very bad,’ said she; ‘will you eat some?’ ‘Why should I not?’ said he. A little while after she called and bade them give her drink. Water was brought to her. Then said Egil, ‘This comes of eating samphire, one ever thirsts the more.’ ‘Would you like a drink, father?’ said she. He took and swallowed the liquid in a deep draught: it was in a horn. Then said Thorgerdr: ‘Now are we deceived; this is milk.’ Whereat Egil bit a sherd out of the horn, all that his teeth gripped, and cast the horn down.

Then spoke Thorgerdr: ‘What counsel shall we take now? This our purpose is defeated. Now I would fain, father, that we should lengthen our lives, so that you may compose a funeral poem on Bodvar, and I will grave it on a wooden roller; after that we can die, if we like. Hardly, I think, can Thorstein your son compose a poem on Bodvar; but it were unseemly that he should not have funeral rites. Though I do not think that we two shall sit at the drinking when the funeral feast is held.’ Egil said that it was not to be expected that he could now compose, though he were to attempt it. ‘However, I will try this,’ said he.”

 

Grieving: Emotions, truths, rituals, offerings, practices and practicalities.

 

Grief is a noun, but grieving is a verb.  This sounds like sophistry, but there is a really important message here.  Grieving is something we have to do.  Grieving is work, grieving has a series of objectives that must be achieved for the changes required to remodel successfully to be made.  One of the first things that you as a priest will have to deal with it the expectation of others that someone should “get over it”, or simply put, stop grieving.  Understand this is the equivalent of telling an athlete or soldier who has lost a leg at the knee that they should simply stop physiotherapy to learn to walk again without that limb, to learn to adjust their balance without a support they have always know, to learn to do again all those tasks that they are required to do with the support they have now, not the support they first learned to do all these tasks with.  No one would expect a one legged person to just carry on without going through a long painful process of relearning to work around what was lost, yet we expect people to lose an entire human being, and simply flip a switch and carry on as if that person that was as much a part of you and your life as a limb had never existed.  Grieving is not healing, it will not give you back the living person.  Grieving is remodelling, it allows you to move forward with the acceptance that this person is no longer alive, but as you complete the remodelling and process the loss itself, you make the dead again reachable, make those parts of your life that they shaped, filled, and brightened again accessible and as potently supporting as they were when that person still lived.

 

Grieving should not be sanitized, cleaned up, or edited out of respect for the dead.  Understand and accept this, funeral rituals, and grief rituals are for the living.  The dead are with the ancestors and under the care of the gods.  They are beyond our needs, but the living are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of death.  Grieving must be honest.  As a priest, one of the things that you can do to affect the outcome of grieving is to help the one who has suffered a loss to understand that all of their feelings have a place in grieving, and none of them represent a betrayal.  The reality is that sanitizing grieving is one of the most dangerous things we can do for spiritual or mental health in the period immediately following a death.

 

What emotions are natural?  Oh that one is not only a complicated one, but one that strikes deep into the gap between who we wish to be, and who we actually are.  This gap is like a chink in our armour, and as a priest it is our job to be without judgement as we help people to process those feelings they do not wish to admit they have.  If you do not admit you own the feelings, you will not be able to deal with them, and will not be able to remodel around the wounds these unadmitted feelings leave.  That is like healing most of a bone, or most of a tendon.  You are not going to be strong, as the part you could not admit to, and thus did not heal will forever be the point that fails, and harms you in the failing.

 

Love; love can be a negative until you have processed the loss.  The degree of love you feel can be overwhelming as it can drive you, like Guthrun or Egil in to refusing to let the dead go.  There is an irrational fear that admitting they are dead, or accepting they are dead is a betrayal; that somehow like Schrodinger’s cat, until you accept it, they are not truly gone.  What is true is that until you accept they are dead, you will never be able to get past the loss to be able to feel the love, because you are freezing yourself forever in the agony of the loss itself.

Anger; the person who is lost has hurt you, has betrayed you.  You depended on them and they are not there anymore.  Their loss is a wound in you, and they are the one that inflicted that pain.

 

Shame; this one is tricky, and really dangerous.  This is one of the big reasons priests are needed in the community to help with grieving.  Shame has a few sources, most of which are operating in a tangled mess in those dealing with a loss.  There is shame at the anger mentioned above.  There is shame sometimes generated by relief.  You can be relieved that a long expected death has occurred, and the waiting/fear is over.  You can be relieved because your relationship with the person you lost contained both love and anger, love and fear, love and resentment.  Relationships that are deep and long lasting will have strands of a thousand different truths woven through them, both light and dark.  We say that you should not speak ill of the dead, but the reality is that if we are to actually remember the dead, we must be honest about them, at least to ourselves.  You cannot process a loss fully until you process all of your feelings, the bright and the dark both.  Shame is something that we as priests can help our grieving members to deal with.

 

Fear.  This one is again rendered more potent by the strength of the relationship, and by its duration.  It is literally impossible for many people to envision a world without the person they just lost.  They cannot think of a world without the one they lost, and the fear of the unknown has always been the most potent and most debilitating fear known to humanity.  Fear of the unknown is dealt with most easily by practicalities.  The grieving process is mixed inexorably with the bureaucratic nightmare of dealing with the practical effects of a person’s death.  These very real tasks are terrible, because you cannot separate the practical task from the emotional reality of the loss, but this is also a positive.  With support from your community, dealing with those practical tasks takes you out of the terrifying unknown, and into the known (but unpleasant) and shows that you have the power to keep fulfilling your obligations.  You are doing something not only for the one who was lost, but to move forward in your own life.  Moving forward is a habit, as much as being terrified into stillness is.  The practicalities of moving forward are something you and the community can support the grieving person with, and this restores to them the ability to move forward and thus weakens the hold of the fear of the unknown.

 

Helplessness.  There are a few conflicting truths here.  You are helpless to bring the dead back.  You are not helpless to honour them, to reclaim them as a very real presence in your life.  This is where the rituals, offerings and practices come into play.

 

Funerals:

Funeral rituals exist to honour the dead, and serve the living.  Funerals bring us together as a people, as all those who shared the loss can come together to share in the grieving.  We are a people that believes in grave goods.  We are a people that make offerings to the gods, wights and ancestors with the belief that such things have real and lasting impact, that such gifts are indeed welcomed and returned in kind if not in form.  A gift for a gift is our way, and funerals are about shifting that reciprocal gifting relationship in form, while maintaining its essential nature.  There are two different levels of operation of the funeral; the public and the private.

The public portion of the funeral is about the grave gifts of glory, praise, fame.  The public portion of the funeral is about the worth of the one who was lost, and through this public affirmation of the worth of the one who was lost we see the power of what other faiths view as the coldness of Heathenry, but is actually one of its real and founding strengths:

 

78-Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

One thing now | that never dies,

The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

 

Death is the period at the end of a sentence, the silence at the end of the song.  Death cannot take away a single word you have spoken, a single deed you have done, nor unmake the changes you have made in all those lives you have touched, or that your words and deeds will inspire others to do in the future.  Death can kill the flesh, but it has no power to remove you from this earth while your memory is held bright, while those who live still remember you and still give thanks for the gifts you gave them in this life.  The public portion of the funeral is about proving to those who suffered the loss of someone that death has robbed that person of heartbeat and breath, but it has not, and cannot taken them from this good earth while those who still walk it cherish the words and deeds of their lives.  Funerals are not just a celebration of the life of the person who has fallen, but a placing of hard limits on the power of death itself.  Death is not something that begins with the last heartbeat and extends for all time; death is simply the moment of that last heartbeat, the fall of the chest that does not rise again.  The life of the person that was lost is infinitely greater than the death that took them, and it is coming together as a community through funeral rituals of whatever form that we grow to understand this.  The public phase is important for this realization, and for the support structure it gives us to share both our pain, and our strength.  In sharing with others it becomes easier for each of us individually to go forward.

 

The private portion of the funeral is not always a unified thing, sometimes different groups representing different aspects of the persons life will do this separately, as not all sharing’s are equally age or personality appropriate.  There is a very great temptation to place the dead upon pedestals, to choose to cherry pick our memories of them and remember only the fairest portions.  This is a natural temptation, and a dangerous one.  To do that is to place them forever beyond our reach as this pedestal will not admit close scrutiny, and will forever leave that person beyond your grasp.  You will never be able to reclaim them as a living part of your life, only a ghost that forever reminds you of your loss.  The private sharing is a lot like a really powerful sumbel; it begins with formality and dignity, and degenerates into sharing of truths, the true faces the lost one showed to us.  There are the ones that endeared them to you, not all of which are dignified, some of which are outright ridiculous.  The reality of love is that it is not always born of those things that you boast about, but sometimes in small simple, and outwardly foolish things.  There are the bits that infuriated you, the parts that are so much a part of the loved ones personality that everyone who truly knows them accepts that you could no more stop them from these infuriating habits than you could from breathing; this is a part of who they are, and you can all laugh about it as you share that you truly knew and accepted the lost person for who they were, not who you wanted them to be.  There will also be some sharings of darkness, of pain, of experiences that left you conflicted.  There will be some who are threatened by these sharings, and obviously the circle for this kind of sharing will be smaller.  The fact is that you must be honest about all the feelings you had if you are to process a loss, and move beyond the pain of the loss itself and reclaim the living presence of that person in your life.  When you are able to remember all of them, the light the dark the proud, the funny, then you can reclaim everything they gave to and shared with you, and they can become again a living part of your life.  What they shared with you cannot be taken away by death, and they can again become a living presence in your life.  If you put them on a pedestal, you will always and only have the real shocking pain of their loss, the reality that they are forever beyond your grasp.  You will have lost them in truth, through failure to process your own loss, rather than through the simple act of their death.

 

Offerings

 

Offerings at a time of loss are something that we as priests need to be able to identify, mostly so that we can help those who are dealing with the loss in their own ways to recognize the offerings of others, and find ways to make offerings themselves.  There are a lot of ways to make offerings, and some of them are not as obvious as offerings without some thought.  Tears are an offering in and of themselves. If a person was worthy of love in life, then they are worth of tears in death.  For strong men and women especially, the idea that strong people do not cry is a toxic teaching from a society that has lost its understanding of strength.  To cry when someone you love has been taken from you, especially when you pride yourself on not ever crying for yourself is to make an offering to the one who was lost that literally you would never make for any suffering or pain of your body, nor fear of your own fate.  This is an offering of power and worth, not a weakness to be shamed by.

Offerings can be praise, can be memories, can be sharing of parts of the lost one’s life you may not have been aware of.  In sharing how the one who was lost has touched each life differently you are raising the worth of them, and literally stealing more from death, granting to them more of what death cannot take away from them.  This is a very real and powerful form of victory.

 

Offerings can be practical.  Not every person is a poet, or is comfortable with expressions of outward emotions.  There are large numbers of people whose offerings in time of grief are baby sitting, casserole, house cleaning, errand running, paperwork, banking assistance, baked goods, or carpooling kids to school or activities.  This is a very real statement that you know they have felt a loss, you are doing what is within your power to take from their shoulders the burdens you can take up, so they can better deal with it.  Grieving is a verb, verbs are actions, actions require energy.  Those who take up your burdens in part while you grieve are freeing up your energy to better do that grieving.  These sorts of offerings are quite often greeted not with thanks but with anger by those who are comfortable with emotional expression as they believe it constitutes being unfeeling, or uncaring.  The opposite is in fact the case, but not everyone has the same expression of emotions.  Some people emote, express their emotions through visible displays.  Others must express their emotion through practical action.  Both are valid, and as a priest it is part of your job to gently show how each is offering “first and best” as they know how to do.  It is not always easy to see when you are in great pain that someone is making a worthy offering if the form is not one that is familiar or comfortable to you.

 

Practices and practicalities

 

The closer you are to the person who was lost, the more likely it is you will have to deal with some of the bureaucratic nightmare of the death paperwork.  Until this is all done, and it will take over a year in most cases, the death itself is not fully over.  The practicalities of dealing with the death give you a very real window for how long at a minimum you will be processing the death.  At the end, you have closure.  The death is over.  The emotional roller coaster of the dealing with the physical possessions, and legal leftovers provides a very real way to let those emotions burn themselves off, while providing a real focus for the attendant energies to do something with a practical and knowable result.  This combats the feelings of helplessness as you are actually doing something.  This provides a chance for community and family to provide physical assistance that allows an emotional sharing of the burden through the physical mechanism of practically sharing the burden.  Working things out internally is often easier when it is expressed through actually working something out practically.  Cleaning is a very useful tool this way.

 

Tending of graves, altars, memorial stones, making of memorial crafts, photo collections, gardens are all very real ways that we can blend the physical actions of the practical world with the emotional and spiritual aspects of memorializing, remembering and offering to our dead.  Each of these actions allows us to extend that reciprocal gifting relationship into a form different than the one we shared with the living person, but equally real.  This is another way to finish the remodelling by making a new place for the dead person in our life moving forward.  We cannot bring back the living body, but we can make sure that they remain a part of our life going forward.  They dead are only lost to us if we choose to allow it.  Through the grieving process we learn to let go the living person, to accept the body no longer holds them, and allow the pain of that loss to be bled out of us through the process of grieving until we can let go the loss itself, and reclaim the place that person has in our life, and will always have while we remember them.

 

Healing leaves you as you were before, pain free and exactly as capable as you were before.  That we can’t do.  That is magic the gods don’t even promise.  Remodeling is what rehabilitation professionals refer to as the process by which you deal with injuries that make permanent changes.  That is what we are doing with grieving.  We are remodeling, the terrible scar of the loss is slowly remodeled into a more functional form that admits that the person is no longer with us, but allows us to access those gifts and strengths they left us.  As priests, we cannot do the work for someone else, any more than a good physiotherapist could, but what we can do is use our knowledge and experience to enable those in our care to have the most favourable outcome possible, to be able to reclaim as much of the loved one as they may, as they move forward in their lives.

 

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Asatru, Death, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Death Counselling

Death Counselling

I was asked to write an article about death from a Heathen perspective.  There is rather a lot written about the esoteric nature of death, about the soul, our conception of mortality in heathenry, and much of it has been done by far more skilled authors and priests than myself.  I have little to contribute in those discussions beyond recommending the words of some others that I have found useful and worthy.

What I needed and did not find when it was my time to first deal with this particular aspect of priest craft, was the knowledge of how to counsel a Heathen who is dying.  There are most likely experts out there who have done this dozens of times.  Any who are reading this and either disagree with me, or have the ability to take it both further and deeper, please do so.  I would have benefitted at the beginning with even as little information as I can provide you now.  Such as I have learned, I will share.  Those heretofore silent experts may feel free to do their duty as well and provide better information, but what I have earned, I will share with you now.

 

The misconceptions that I had about dealing with the dying are legion.  Most of my experience hands on had been with traumatic deaths, casualties whose time to appreciate what was happening to them was either short on non-existent.  End of life care is a much different experience, and far more difficult than I was prepared for because it was decidedly non-linear.

 

What I mean by non-linear is simply this, in a traumatic injury situation, a person who perceives that their injuries are quite likely going to kill them undergoes a spectrum of responses as they struggle to deal with this realization.  The spectrum from denial to acceptance, defiance to ignorance, fear to fatalism is expressed, but generally only in one direction of change.  This is not the case in end of life care at all.

 

Heathen world view puts a great deal of emphasis on struggle, on meeting your challenges, on fighting.  To this date, most of my experience has been with men, and most of them military in background, so this particular predilection to view life as a struggle or battle has implications that bleed into all aspects of the death counselling process.

 

Fear is a strange beast in the slow onset of death.  Fear is not as constant and unchanging as I had expected, rather it is a slippery shapeshifter that is always in the room, but not always in the same form, and not always as a foe.

 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in her seminal On Death and Dying (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/781844.On_Death_and_Dying) about the five stages of dying. I am going to reiterate what she points out, because people generally tune it out, and then make avoidable and costly mistakes because of that.  These are not linear stages.  You or the person you are working with may or may not pass through all of them, if they do it will be in any sequence, and there is a great possibility ( a probability in my experience) that you will pass through some of the stages repeatedly, and with differing results.

 

Kubler-Ross defines the stages as denial, anger, bargaining, anticipatory grief and acceptance.  Presented in this order it makes a tidy map and implies that your job is to help a person transition through these stages from one end to the other and great the final passage out of life with quiet acceptance and dignity.  This may happen, but this is not actually a map, nor a plan.  These stages may or may not occur in this order, will frequently repeat, and will be experienced quite differently as your person passes through changes in both their physical state, and mental capacity.  I will not lie to you, if the death proceeds long enough, where the physical state supplies a maximum of pain, and the mental capacity is degraded far enough, the gains that had been made towards acceptance will be lost as the capacity to understand and accept is stripped away by the very process of dying.

 

Let us have a look at the phases, and how they relate to our own theology, world view, and tool set.  We are not given faith, the gods don’t actually come out and tell us what awaits us when our thread is cut, so we don’t have a whole lot of promises to give save this one;

 

Cattle die, kinsmen die

You too will die

One thing alone will not die

The fame of a good persons deeds

 

As far as emotional anchors go in the storm that attends the death of a human being who is aware of the oncoming end, this is a powerful tool not only for the care giver but for the one cared for.

 

Denial is the first stage described, but you will see some form of denial recur again and again.  It is not your job to crush their hope, what it is your job to do if asked to provide end of life care and support is to focus that hope on what they may still win, what may still be done.  Denial first comes as denial of the disease state that is the proximal cause of their death, whatever it may be.  This is the idea that the doctors made a mistake, and, as previously experienced, this is something they may survive.  As heathens we understand that it is within us to survive every battle, every foe, except our wyrd.  Against everything but our wyrd we can will, battle or cheat our way to victory.  We have literally lived our entire lives amassing a body of evidence that proves we cannot be killed, that everything can be survived, and after all, we can only be proved wrong once.  When you are facing your wyrd, the lifetime of experience surviving anything makes it easy to seek a reason that this is simply another in a long line of challenges you have surmounted, and one you can beat.  Understanding that it is their wyrd is hard, and requires support.  You do not shove this thought down their throat, you are not there to fight them over hope, but you are there to help them to find real targets for their hopes, real matters they may struggle towards.  You cannot promise them life, what you can do is work with them to define victory conditions for them that include death, but on their own terms.

Along with denial that the doctors have identified the threat, comes frequently the “miracle” clause, where by the person who is facing death will cling to anecdotal stories of miracle cures or misdiagnoses to open the phantom of a second door at the end of the road they are facing, one that leads miraculously to health, rather than the grave.  The emotional need for hope is one that is real, and your job is not to take hope away, but to guide them towards pinning their hopes on those things that are still possible, and focusing on those victory conditions; the set of conditions by which their control of their own passage out of life constitutes a win, an outcome of their finals struggle they can claim with pride.

 

The second stage described is anger.  In my experience (which I will be the first to admit is with a unique class of individuals to whom anger is as much a part as breathing), anger, hope and acceptance are three blades of the propeller driving them forward each day.  All three are present in some form at all times, with one dominant, one rising, and one falling.  Sometimes you get a steady predictable cycle, but as the physical and mental state changes, the sequence can reverse many times.

Anger is important. Anger is a power source.  Anger is to be cherished and cared for at the guttering flame of life, but as with any flame, directed properly it lights and warms, and directed poorly it scars and destroys.  Anger will be at the world, the doctors, the gods, YOU.  Remember, as the care giver or counsellor you are proximal and knowable, where as science, the medical system, the disease, fate, the gods are all far away, impersonal, uncaring, or inaccessible.  You are not.  You may expect to be the target of this anger many times.

 

Anger is not the enemy of acceptance, nor does it need to be the force that powers denial.  Anger is the natural result of the understanding, both of the current physical state, and the emotional acceptance of the end state (death) which is approaching.  Anger is the defender of life, you cannot flee from the sorts of death we deal with in this context, so that leaves only fight in the “fight or flight” mammalian tool box, and anger is the fuel and armory of the fight response.  Your role in this stage is to support anger that is not directed against people, but against their physical state and approaching end.  Anger at what is happening to them is valid.  Anger at what awaits them, and at the fear/despair they feel welling inside is also valid.  Be very careful not to be dismissive of feelings of the person you are caring for, it is neither just, nor helpful.

 

Bargaining is an interesting stage with Heathens.  We do not have within our world view a great deal of evidence for an afterlife.  There is conflicting information in the surviving lore about rebirth, not a lot of support for a general afterlife beyond Hel or the mound that accepts all of our dead, unless you happen to fall rather spectacularly in battle, which would put you outside the scope of our care at the end of life.  We do have an understanding that this world is it, we share it; both the living and the dead.  We understand that death can only take breath and pain from us, it can still our flesh, but it cannot touch our deeds or our words.  Death has remarkably little power for a heathen, as it cannot undo what you have done in life, cannot take from all of those you have affected that which you gave them in life.  Death is the period at the end of a sentence, the silence at the end of the song, but itself contributes nothing but the marking of the end of the passage.  Bargaining is the most important stage for us as care givers and counsellors.  This is where we look at the tafl board and define our victory conditions.

Life and Tafl are similar to chess in that there are two very clear opposing forces, and very different from chess in that both sides do not seek the same objective.  In chess, both sides seek to capture each other’s king.  If we were to look at end of life care in this model, both sides would be seeking to win by either taking the life, or preserving it.  Clearly chess is not a useful model here as all you can do is lose.  Tafl is a different game, and a much more interesting one for end of life care.  In Tafl, one group seeks to take the king, the other to get the king free of the board.  This is a useful model to use at end of life care, as both sides have different victory conditions.  Death is a given.  Losing is not.

Victory conditions can be defined by the person who is dying, and can be terribly important.  One last birthday, to die in your own bed, to simply not give up, to fight to the end, to see a grandchild or any other milestone can be used to define their victory condition; the achievement of which will constitute their victory over death.  We have to die, we do not have to lose.  Very real victory conditions are to see that your loved ones are looked after when you pass, to see that family legacies are passed on, to see that responsibilities are taken up by others that your death is not “letting others down”.  Death is very real, and so is victory.  Death has one universal definition, but victory does not.  You can work with your people to find their victory, and work to help them achieve it.  This is the single most Heathen friendly stage of dying, and where our world view provides very real and measurable benefits.  Get your person to establish meaningful victory conditions and help them to work towards them until death finally takes them.

 

Anticipatory Grief is hard, very hard.  This is part of the acceptance, for as much as denial/anger/bargaining are a cycle, so too is anticipatory grief and acceptance.

 

Anticipatory grief is not something that will occur only once, it is something that will hit them again and again as they accept the inevitability and imminence of their own death.  To accept these things is to accept the loss of everyone and everything they love.  The emotional impact of this, the loss of all they love, is terrifying, and the courage to face this in no way lessens the pain.  Here your job is really important, and potentially costly.  You are there to witness their grief, to be with them while they grieve, to accept they will never hold their loved ones again, that they will never walk out onto the balcony and watch the sunrise again, never pass the horn at Yule, or hear their grandchild tell of their first goal or last report card.  This is real, true, and not to be dismissed and trivialized.  This is not for you to offer perspective or try to get them to see the positives.  This is for them to feel, and you to be with them through.

This is hard.  This hurts.  This is frequently uglier than the fear or anger.

 

Acceptance is the last stage of dying, and because we like to think of this as being the state with which the people in our care face the end.  We cannot know.  Accept this, and try to limit the lies you tell yourself, as you limit the lies you tell those you care for.

 

As the physical and mental state deteriorates, the anticipatory grief/acceptance cycle may run several times, and with results that vary widely and terrifyingly.  It is really important as caregivers and counsellors that we do not judge; as a person’s capacity diminishes, their ability to understand what is happening diminishes as well, and what was previously placed into context and accepted can be again strange and terrifying.

Acceptance when seen has a terrible and compelling beauty to it.  I can understand why we have a goddess Hel, and why she bears for us two faces.  In the early stages of dying we see the dark face of Hel, the blue-bloat terror face of death’s ugly reality.  When your person passes from anticipatory grief into acceptance, you can see the physical letting go of tension, not the crushing of defeat, but the loss of fear.  This is the bright face of the goddess, this is the merciful face.  This is the release from pain, the release from fear.  Hel is the goddess of the unbroken promise; the end of all pain and struggle, freedom from every bond.  Acceptance is those times when the dying see the fair face of Hel, not the dark.  Both faces are equally true and present, but the moment when the dying see the fair face of Hel is one of power and presence if you witness it.

These are not stages you pass through in order, necessarily.  They may occupy minutes or weeks, depending on the person and time.  They are exhausting for both you and the person you are aiding through the journey.  This is their journey, you are present to assist, but in the end, they make the final steps alone, and it is ours to make sure this constitutes no defeat for them, but a victory they can claim before their ancestors, and that their decedents may face openly.

 

On corpses.  They are no longer people.  It is a strange thing to stand beside what was once a person known to you, and know without a shadow of a doubt that they are gone.  What is left is smaller, somehow.  Lessened in some non-material fashion even as materially it undergoes changes you need to be prepared for.  The pallor and rigor are natural and not to be feared, they are not the “coming of death” but what is left behind when life has passed.  Death is not a thing, life is a thing.  Death is the awareness that a necessary part of the person is no longer there.  The disturbing awareness that something is “not right” about a body is visceral and natural, as we see the physical shape that should contain life, but no longer does and on some level the cues that tell us this cause us to react.

 

I have known a lot of corpses, and they don’t bother me, but others have very deep issues with the bodies of the newly dead.  There is no judgment attached to which reaction is yours, but be aware that the fact you have been working with this person on their end of life does not actually prepare you for your own reactions sitting next to a corpse that once housed one of your own.  You must give yourself the freedom to react as a person, not as your idealized view of what a caregiver “should be”.  You can get used to anything, but some things are a lot less fun to acclimatize to.

 

It may seem like you are making no progress at all.  It may seem like you are actually “going backwards” as the physical and mental abilities decline and the stage that they are expressing moves back from the level they had achieved previously.  As I said earlier, and as Kubler-Ross points out, these are not neat linear stages you pass through in order ending with dignified death, but a list of stages you may find your person experiencing some or all of, frequently cycling through repeatedly.

 

The last thing you have to accept is that if you are capable of this duty, you have the ability that successful soldiers do of “put it in a box, deal with it later”.  This is a good skill, this is only a skill and not an immunity.  You will need to allow yourself once the duty is done time to process.  If you are doing this duty often, you will have to take responsibility for caring for yourself, and being aware of when the load of what you have not processed is beginning to impact your ability to function.  You are no good to anyone if you break under a load you could have let someone else take up.  Take the time needed to process, death is not something we were raised to accept as part of life as our ancestors were, and it takes more out of us to deal with it on an emotional level.  For the record, those who are simply not bothered by it at all cannot help you emotionally process this, or anything, as it literally does not invoke in them any reaction at all.  In dealing with the physical needs of the seriously injured or dying this is an advantage, but makes them largely blind to the emotional steps required to deal with a loss you do feel, or deal with the reality of your own impending death.

 

 

 

 

 

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Aesir, Death, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Heimþinguðr hanga (Visitor of the Hanged)

 

 

When you have lost everything, even your name, there is little point in going on.  I was not churlish enough to leave my body hanging where I would be found by those who would be hurt by it.  I brought my rope with me to the park.  There was an old maple tree in the park, the stairs down passed close enough he could tie off, and once I lept out, the fall would offer no chances to back out.  It would be done, and one thing at least would go right.

 

I had tied the knot myself, I had to break down and watch a YouTube video to figure out how.  I looked at the tree in the darkness, lit only by the light of the moon, and the pale light from the parking lot at the top of the stairs on the hill above.  The tree was a great dark brooding presence in the middle of the grove.  Squat ravens eyed me with scant interest as they tucked their heads into their feathers as the spring winds sought the warmth of the night black sea as they sighed off the slumbering white capped mountains.

 

“You a good dancer boy?”  the voice shocked me to my core.

Odin Face

A street person in battered old combats sat in the shadows at the base of the stairs and looked at me in curiosity, one cold blue eye and shining white teeth grinning back in the moonlight like deaths shadow.

 

“You tied that too tight, you are going to strangle slow.  I don’t mind.  I seen some dance and kick like they were dancing for their light-o-love, and if you a dancer boy, then have at her.  If you aren’t a dancer, you’re just going to look lame and pathetic.  Not that I care, but if you want to go out with a little style and can’t dance, you’d best let me fix that for you”

 

He chuckled, the old bastard was LAUGHING at me.

 

I won’t be mocked.  On top of everything taken from me, everything lost, I will not be mocked. I shook the rope in my fist and screamed at the old man.  “You have no idea what you are talking about, no bloody idea who you are talking to, and you have no idea how dangerous mocking me is today old man.  No bloody idea at all”

 

He threw back his head, and the wreckage of his face caught the light.  One side showed the ravages of gods only knows what.  He threw back his head and laughed in great hacking gasps that caused the ravens to echo his laughter until they sounded a corvid chorus of mockery.

 

He rose to his feet, and threw his hands wide, his eye blazing bright in the light, and a dangerous potency hung on his limbs like a banner flapping on a field of corpses.  His voice rasped with a dark contempt as he spun and gestured like an actor upon the stage, fingers taking in my figure where I stood above him in the light, weaving in word and gestures his webs about me.

 

“Who am I talking to?  I know your name-to-be boy.  I know them all.  Shall I name them?   Behold boy the names you will bear when the tree bears your burden.  Shit-breeks I name you, for full will be your trousers when you are found.  Late-hung I name you, for had you been hung while living, much delights maidens would have from you, but now you will be late-hung.  Two-cherry I name thee, for the raven’s will have twice the fruit of thee they would of me”  He pulled down the cheek below his intact eye to leer at me, and the ravens cackled in a way that made the vision of them plucking my eyes from my hanging corpse seem real enough my own gorge rose, and the urge to throw up caught me. I spilled my guts noisily as the old man laughed.

 

He took a pull from a bottle in his combat coat pocket, and extended it to me.

 

I swished the cheap rum around my mouth and swallowed its burning down to wash the bile from my mouth.  He extended a hank of some kind of jerky, fish I think, and I began to chew the leather hard meat to settle my stomach and banish the feeling of ravens plucking my eyes from my mind.
“Half a loaf and half filled cup, full friend found.  Tell you now boy, you throw up my booze, I am going to kick your ass before you hang yourself, on that I oath.”  He seemed unperturbed by my presence and purpose, even if crazy, he at least understood.

 

I whispered “Who are you?”  He slapped me on the back and grinned.  Taking a deep swig of the rum he ruffled my hair like I was a small boy.

“Last name I give you, they once gave me.  Farmr galga, burden of gallows.  You can call me Heimþinguðr hanga, visitor of the hanged.  My wife called me asshole, mostly because her friends called me often.”

 

I stared off into the darkness, seeing the choices that brought me here.  Pride brought me to the edge, anger wouldn’t let me turn, and the people that got hurt I couldn’t fix.  I let my anger fall away.  It hadn’t helped then, when I broke things, and it certainly couldn’t help me now they were past fixing.  “Listen old man, you don’t understand, this is about justice, if its about anything.”

Passing me the rum, he took the rope and began to work it.  I opened my mouth to object, but he drove four inches of a blade twice that length into the post with a casual flick, driving it deeper than I could manage with a sledgehammer.  I drank while he worked.  His fingers working with a speed and skill at odds with the bedraggled appearance of a broken old homeless veteran, hinting at whatever he had been, before.

 

“Nobody wants justice.  Wish justice upon your enemies, if you wish, but punishment is what you usually mean.  For yourself you can have all the punishment you want, but scant justice will it bring.  You broke trust, and you can’t splice that back like I do this rope.  You broke your name, and everything it once meant.  You hang yourself to end it shit-breeks that is all you will be.”  His voice held neither interest nor judgement, he could have been discussing the weather.  He continued in the same tones.

 

“Now I could hang you.  Hang you right.  Leave your fool ass here in the dark of the grove.   Leave you to storm winds lash, to moonlights eye, and cold rain’s scourge.  Leave you in the dark with naught but the Tree and the silence.  Sun won’t be up for another nine hours, if nothing eats you, and no one crazier than me happens by, maybe you might figure out who you are.  Hangi, hanged one who hung to learn, or Farmr galga, gallows bait who fed those fat lazy bastards. Don’t worry, the ravens will wait until morning to take your eyes, not much longer, they don’t trust the gulls to leave their food alone.”

 

The rum must have been hitting me pretty good.  It actually made a sort of sense, and I let the old crazy bastard bind me in the darkness to the tree.  I shivered in the cold, alone with my thoughts and the growing pain in my limbs.  At one point I began to be afraid, I saw the shadows of big dogs moving between the trees, and the ache of the cold in my muscles began to make me fear for my life.  I tried laughing then, half sobbing, as I realized the foolishness of being scared I might die on the tree I came to hang myself on.

 

Alone beneath the pitiless moon, cold rain scourging me, I had all the time in the world to look backwards at choices made, failures only now clear.  Misery sat easily on my straining shoulders, but the night is long, the darkness patient, and the tree pitiless.  I cannot stop my mind.  I turn things around and around, justice he mocked me with.  I see the futility of it.  Had I ended as he mocked, shit-breeks, hung and dead, no wrong I had wrought would be fixed, no balance could I make for those I had wronged.

 

The bark dug into me, the moon danced slowly above me, and the shivering of my muscles burned like fire, my joints aching like I hung not alone, but with all my deeds with me.  I struggled to take the weight off my joints.

 

My breath was hard, as my chest could scarce rise with my arms so bound, and my arms all but out of their sockets as I hung.  I felt a growl in my chest, and an answering growl in the darkness.  No, I had enough of hanging helpless, it solved nothing.

 

I straightened my legs and back, raising my head to face the deep dark, turning away from the distracting light to face the dark before me.  Taking the rope past where it bound my wrists, I took it in my hands and let my muscles take some of my weight.  Hard on my hands and wrists it was, my muscles screaming and shivering, but my breath came easier.  There was no hiding from it, no running from it, there was only facing it.  I had nothing but my own strength for as long as it lasted, and no hope of any real change, but so long as I could stand, I would stand. So long as I could strive, I would strive.
Looking into the darkness, I saw golden eyes staring back at me.  Dark forms moving in the darkness.  There were always monsters in the darkness, especially the darkness you feared to look at.  There was enough of that in the mirror every morning, but it was always hard to turn to the darkness and face it when the light of the moon offered gentler sights.

 

I snarled into the darkness.  Whatever was out there I would face.  Helpless and bound, I was yet a man I think, and would face what must be faced.

 

Justice is not about punishment alone.  Punishment fixes nothing.  You cannot unring a bell, unbreak a trust, or unscrew a life, but you can take ownership of the mistakes you made.  You can acknowledge the debt to those you failed and do your best to use every bit of strength you had in you to be there to aid those who struggled under the burdens I gave them.  The dead fix nothing, the living don’t have a great record either, but they don’t always fail unless they fail to try.

 

Dawn was a long way off, so was hope.  I had only the rope, the tree, and the darkness.  Sometime in the night I passed beyond my body, and into the tree, down into its roots, into the truths whispered not to the living.  The sky bled a dark purple, not light, but not blackness any longer when he came to me again.

 

Thrice he struck, once to the hangman’s knot that bound my neck above, then left and right to the ropes that crucified me to the great tree’s bark.  His great bony fist caught the hangman’s know below the turnings, and dragged me to the picnic table to lay me down to recover.  A tattered sleeping bag he wrapped me in.

 

Dawn rose, and I looked at the tree from which I had hanged, upon which I was to have hung myself.  Around its base were tracks of beast, greater than any dog.  No tracks from the old man could I see, only my own, and those of two great hounds.

 

I shivered in the dawns cold light, and the laughter of the ravens called my thoughts back.  Two great glossy beasts took wing, harsh cries giving mockery to the slow turnings of my bewildered mind.  I turned to face the dawn.  Life goes on, and there was much yet for me to do.

 

Turning my back to the tree, I turned my face square to the dawn.  Neither the light nor dark would I shy from, I had too much yet to do.  I came to the tree because my life had turned to shit.  The old man did not offer me sunshine and roses, but he bound me to the tree until I could see the choices as he did.  I could hang from the tree with shit in my breeks, or I could rise from the tree and stride forward towards my responsibilities, because I had shit to do.

 

One of them is worthy, even if sometimes both stink.

Ravens

 

Bynames of Odin

  • Hangi – “Hanged One”
  • Valdr galga – “Ruler of Gallows”
  • Farmr galga – “Gallows’ Burden”
  • Heimþinguðr hanga – “Visitor of the Hanged”

 

John T Mainer

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Aesir, Asatru, Death, Faith, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Taking the Pulse of Hatred

Pulse Nightclub

In Orlando Florida, the Pulse nightclub was getting ready to celebrate Latin night, but it was not to be. Omar Mateen had other plans. An American born of refugee parents, he came to Pulse with the intention of killing as many gay men as possible, answering the call of ISIS to do so during Ramadan.

Omar killed fifty, wounded another fifty three before being killed. For those who advocate open carry as a cure all to stop mass shootings, he was engaged by armed off duty officers working security early in the battle, to no avail. With a legally purchased long gun and pistol he carried out his attack over an extended period, at times hunting, at times holding hostages, until the police were able to force entry and shoot him.

Before and during the attack he told 911 dispatchers he did this for ISIS and its leader. We have a pure act of Islamic Terrorism against the LGBT community simply for existing.

There are a few side issues that people may get distracted by, lets get them out of the way.

Gun Control hotspots:

He was a licenced gun owner
He passed screening checks, even though files existed from multiple investigations for radicalization
There were armed officers present at the start of the attack and that was not enough to stop it

Both sides in the gun debate have points they will latch upon, and points they will gloss over, but the fact is this person had been investigated multiple times, worked in security, and passed all the checks to get his guns just days before the attacks. Legislation would not have prevented this, unless you took guns away from everybody, then it would have been done with fire or explosives instead.

He was born in the United States. He was not a radical foreigner, an enemy agent, and ungrateful refugee turning on their saviours, he was a citizen, born and raised into the country he acted against. He was radicalized, as so many terrorists over the years, by ideas and hatreds that sneak across borders as whispers, far beyond any border defenses to stop. Listen closely and you will hear lots of hateful whispering going on even in our countries.

Gay men

The LGBT community was targeted because conservative Islamics, like conservative Christians, find the existence of LGBT offensive. In the name of Ar-Rahim the exceedingly merciful, As-Salam, the source of peace and safety, and Al-Gaffar the repeatedly forgiving, Omar entered a club where people came together to celebrate joy and love, and hunted down and killed with cold fury, all the while calling out Allahu Akbar (God is Great). Calling out to a god whose bynames include the Merciful and the Lovingkind, he showed nothing but empty hatred, as sadly will much of the responses to the attack from our own nations.

The LGBT community is easy to target, as homophobia is not simply taught, it is preached by many conservative faiths in every corner of our nation. As much as we could point to ISIS and blame them for this, the same hatred is being preached in pulpits across the land, from churches, to temples, mosques, and I will admit what others in my own faith community will cringe at, in holy heathen sumbel as well.

Conservative elements in many faiths, my own among them, target the LGBT Communty because they want to, and because we let them get away with it. They are the last group you can go after with impunity, standing on your freedom of religion to practice persecution and hatred, while pretending you are doing something sacred.

Our own Troth has a very firm policy on willful promotion of hatred against any group, by race, by gender, by sexual orientation, whatever the cause. If you wish to hate a class of human being just for existing, we will come down on you like the Hammer of Thor, and bounce you right out of our halls. Not every group in our faith tradition feels the same.

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There are moderate mosques whose teachings are not reflected in this shooting, but it is easier to pretend that this was done by all Muslims. There are moderate Christian churches whose parishioners would just as cheerfully stand in defense or solidarity with the LGBT community as the worthy Heathens of the Troth, but they must also own the existence of many powerful churches whose words are almost indistinguishable from those of ISIS towards the gay, bisexual, lesbian, transsexual communities.

It will be easy to get up tomorrow and scream to take all the guns away, to give everyone guns, to turn against the refugees, to turn against the Muslims. It will be whispered in darker corners that the LGBT community somehow brought this attack on themselves for the crime of not being ashamed to be honest about how and whom they love. The easy thing is seldom right, and the right thing is seldom easy.

Tomorrow I will embrace the diversity of my nation, and my neighbors. Tomorrow I will extend my hand in friendship to those who have been touched by the loss of loved ones, or those who are scarred from what they have witnessed. Tomorrow I will begin to raise my voice against extremism, and the heavy cost our peoples pay when we allow our enemies to turn us against ourselves.

Tonight I will pray to Freya:

We give thanks to the Lady of Life and Love who has shared with us the delight of dance, music and movement, the sweetness of honey, the fire of wine. We give thanks for your gifts of spirit and flesh:

When sunlight gilds the growing grain,
And scatters gold upon the sea,
When apple-blossom scents the air,
In these things, Freyja, I find Thee.

Tomorrow we will take up our banners and shields and begin the clash of will and words that marks this thing we call keeping of the peace, but tonight we call upon the lady of love, the lady of the dance, into whose arms come first pick of all the dead, we call upon her mercy to guide those lovers and dancers who fell this day, that they may find their way to the halls of their ancestors. Great Freya, I ask you let Brisengamen’s renewing light shine on all of those who have lost, that they may heal and again remember the fallen as they were in love and life.

Goddess Freya true

John T Mainer
Redesman of the Troth

Freyr of the Heathen Freehold Society of British Columbia

CBC News link on shooting
http://www.cbc.ca/…/florida-pulse-nightclub-shooting-1.3631…

Bynames of Allah
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God_in_Islam

Prayer courtesy of Diana Paxson, Head of the Troth Clergy Program

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Aesir, Asatru, Death, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Living with the dead

maplewood-cemetery

It seems somewhat obvious, but for those who haven’t done the math, let me do it for you now.  For every person that lives today, there are fifteen dead people.  One hundred and seven billion dead occupy this world, along with a mere seven billion living.

We are less and less comfortable with death and with dying as we use our technology to stave off personal encounters for the better part of a century, over a century for some.  This does not change the number of dead that exist, or will exist, it simply gives us lots of time to pretend death doesn’t exist, and work really hard not to think about those who have gone before.

 

We put walls around cemeteries, fences whose job is not to keep people out, as most of them are fairly token, but they are deeply important to us, as they are the boundary that separates the living of this world, from its dead.

Burnaby Cemetary 1

Some people don’t have that option.  Some people, by inclination, training, experience or just wyrd are aware of the dead who have not gone.  What can we say to those who don’t have the option of just denying the existence of the dead, outside the rituals we have constructed for the purpose of interacting with out dead deliberately?

 

First, the dead is a really broad term, about as useful in deciding specific actions as the living is.  There are all kinds of dead, just as there are all kinds of living.  Of the seven billion or so living on the planet with you right now, almost none of them are going to have any effect on you at all,  so it is with the dead.  The default answer is that it is a big old world, and you can get on for a whole lifetime without actually encountering someone who moves through spaces fairly close to yours on a daily basis.

 

Most of the dead are bound to the mound, to the underworld, to the sea, or to whatever received either their body or their ash.  Like gravity, death defines the lowest energy state and eventual end state of anything without a great deal of energy to expend as in the mound, the earth, the stream where they were laid.

 

We are still tied to our dead, and they to us.  We can and do call to them, consciously or unconsciously through the ties we forged in life.  Those ties often stretch far beyond a single generation, and can carry along all the ties that bind, not simply blood.  When we stand at the Centotaph and call our warrior dead to us, their spirits answer, and the living, however stooped and aged stand strong and proud again when they feel the ageless brothers (and sisters) who served with them return to their call.  They shall not grow old, as we who were left grow old.  We who are left are charged to keep the watch for them that fell, to defend the freedoms and the families for which they fought, and fell.  Yet although they have paid the final price, still do they come to our call, and we give them bright offerings of praise, and gifts to honour them

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Families still make pilgrimage to the mounds, the graves, the internment place of their dead for the purposes of making offerings to them, and of feeling again the touch of the spirit of their honoured dead.  We use the reciprocal gifting relationship that we learned to use in life to maintain the relationships with our dead.

Headstone
That is our honoured dead.  There are two categories that remain, the dead that are not our own, and those who are not worthy of honouring.

Before beginning to answer the question about what to do about dead people who fall into the “other than my own honoured dead, but still bugging me” category, I find it helpful to reflect upon the words of my grade eight English teacher reguarding conversational intent.  Consider first two questions; Audience and purpose.  To whom am I speaking, and what do I want from them.

OK, that is really important, first of all, look at the second one.  What do you want?

 

Basic level, most common and defensible concern for the living who are aware of the dead, and not happy about it, the purpose would be, quite simply, to be safe from ill-wishings of the dead.  Totally reasonable.  The Norse understood unquiet dead spread famine and disease, could through Wod bring possessive  frenzy and violence into the community.  Physically anything that came back was disposed of through bogging (stake out in the  bog, bound to the bog and staked down to it), through dismemberment (cut off the head, tuck it below the knee so the dead will not rise or walk again).  You could give the dead to the fire, that it strip the flesh away and remove the ties that bind it to the land of the living.  You could cast it into the sea, for what Ran takes she keeps.  In fact sunlight, the essence of Sunna and the primal fire of life is easiest bar to the dead, as it takes great energy to bring the dead into its presence (ie group ritual like the rememberance).  Salt is also a bar to the dead, blood of Ran, it has the power to deny passage to spirits, and to disrupt their form.

Your own hearth will offer such protection, often enhanced by a deliberate land taking, you can simply banish from the limits you define as your own space, those wights with all ill intent.  This will bar hostile wights, but it also binds you to a duty to maintain a positive reciprocal gifting relationship with the wights who are beneficial and remain in the space.

If you do a land taking and the spirit persists, it has bound itself to your benefit, and to your hearth.  You now have a duty to it, as any of your house-wights to  share your hospitality, and derive from it such benefit as is within its power and matching scope of your offering.

If you are bothered by dead at night in places other than your own, well for work places or school you may want to work on fostering relations with the other wights of those places to ensure your not being harassed, as far as the rest of the planet, it’s a big place, and we don’t own it, so live and let live, even with the dead.

 

If you are truly concerned about the dead being a problem, reach out to your Disir.  Male spirits after death are not usually given the ability to do more than communicate or teach unless they pull together an easily destroyed revenant or draugr, but your maternal ancestor spirits are proported to collectively weild great power  to affect change in this world, and have a deep and abiding interest in your life and wellbeing.
In essence, if you are being bugged by a nasty spiritual pitt-bull that you are worried about, call out the hunt, and a wolf-pack of your maternal ancestral spirits will take care of anything that needs taking care of.  Do not invoke them lightly, for they are real, they are powerful, and they are going to act as they see fit, reguardless of what limitations you would like to set upon their actions.  They are powerful, motivated, and purportedly prone to permanent solutions, so  call if you honestly need them.

disir

 

Being dead does not make people any better or worse than they were in life, however it does make them a whole lot less connected with this world in any independent fashion.  We share this world, the living and the dead, but death is to spirits as gravity is to arrows, a powerful attractant that gathers to the earth almost everything that once soared high.  This world is given to us from the hands of our dead, and held in trust by us for those who are yet to come.  There is no us and them, we are all of us bound together, the dead who have gone before, the living who are now, and the future descendants yet unborn.  We all have the power to affect each other, the web of wyrd stretches in all directions, but from the point of view of those of us bound in it by life and time, power to make change belongs to the living almost exclusively.  We are the power that shakes the world, the dead are but echoes of that.

 

 

 

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