Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Elders failing

John Remembrance1

My community tells me I am an elder now.  I guess the grey in the beard argues they have a point.  That being said, I am looking at the elders in our community and noticing we really aren’t living up to the reverence we get given.

How many of us have shared the memes about the kids of today being useless, or lacking coping skills, or in ten thousand ways being utterly without capability or worth compared to every generation that has gone before?

Um, no.

Like the myth about how great our music was, we had great music, and we remember the great music.  We try really hard to forget about the bad stuff, and the majority of it was terrible. Kind of like today actually.

We had a lot of really spectacularly useless people, a lot of people struggling to get by, a bunch more who didn’t seem to have a clue, but stumbled along anyway, and a minority of really spectacular people who either smiled and got things done, or bitched and got things done, but the constant was, they got things done.

The good old days never were that good.  When we sit around and shoot the breeze, we can either rhapsodize about how good they were (better than today) or how terrible they were (worse than today), and be totally sincere.  Its called cherry picking, you look back and select for what you want to remember and you really can call it either the best of times or the worst of times and back it up with evidence.  They were just times we struggled to get through, got right as much as we could, got wrong more often than we like to recall, and not everyone made it through.  Lest we forget, not everyone managed then, nor do they manage now.

As elders in the Veteran community are busy crapping on the generation that is finishing school and taking their places in the ranks, they compare their fellow veterans to the most objectionable portions of the opposite end of the political spectrum, and announce that the current generation are all weak snowflakes.

Really?  Newsflash, we had the same spectrum back in our generation, and a astonishingly small fraction went into the service from our generation, and of those far from all of them would reguard that choice now as being good, wise, or healthy for them.  Lets at least not lie to ourselves about this.

We had a problem with bullying and sexual harassment, but you know what, we were better at denying it.  The abuses were bad then, just as they are bad now, but you could play pretend and ignore it better.  That does not make our generation more worthy boys and girls, that makes us part of the problem this generation is burdened with.

We inherited a culture of bullshit, and we perpetuated much of it, dealt with tiny corners of it, and learned to just accept what we were not ready to face.  Hardly the shining legacy we should be praised for.

We could get away from our problems.  Work, family, school, you could run to the other part of your life and escape whatever was going on in the other parts that you couldn’t deal with.  We took that away from our kids.  We gave them a connected world where you are never not connected to everyone.  Yay, ten thousand wonderful possibilities, every dream that you dream can come true, even the nightmares.  Oh yes, you can’t get away from your problems any more, they have never been able to follow you as effortlessly as now, and no misdeed will ever be beyond recall.

We never had to face that, we never had to cope with that.  Tell me again how weak these kids are?  Could I have made it through all the bad patches that way?  I sometimes wonder.

Our Heathen and Pagan elders I was raised to revere.  The did so much for the community, they fought so hard for what we have the chance to enjoy now, and did so in a time they very much were not free as we are now to do so without serious penalty to their personal, professional, and even family lives.  I do honour them for this, they paid a price higher than I had to, as we strove in our turn to make it easier for those who followed.

Now we in our turn are being honoured as elders and I am seeing a really depressing trend of not being worthy of that reguard right about the stage we start receiving it.

Somewhere along the line, after working so long to establish our little corners of the community, and doing so in an age where there was not an internet filled with scholarship and resources to network and pool our resources, we got used to being right, and accepted as being right.  Then a whole lot of us stopped listening, stopped learning, stopped accepting that others were having the same experiences that we did, and learning their own lessons.  Others were drawing upon newer, and frequently better scholarship to come to sometimes different understandings than our own.

I love my communities, the Heathen community, broader pagan community, the veteran community, but as I pass into the elder status, I look at my fellow elders and see a stunning lack of support for those who are stepping up into the leadership positions we are retiring out of.  I see a lack of respect for those people doing the hard work we frankly lack the strength or time to put in anymore.

I see most of all that instead of heaping praise, support and advice when asked, we are heaping scorn on those who are this generations boots on the ground.  I will be the first to admit there are not as many boots on the ground as their should be.  There is more work than hands.  This should mean that we elders who know what that translates into, in terms of personal sacrifice, should be the ones doing our part to step in, and save these amazing young people from burning themselves out in service to folk who need to do their own share before being worthy of such a sacrifice, instead of pontificating about how the younger generation is weak.

I will continue to do my part for the community, as I slowly transition in the next decades from one of the guys who get things done, into one of the elders who got things done in the time of legends, when dinosaurs ruled the earth.

We do have a lot to teach, but those who have a lot to teach are mostly still working hard to learn every day, because the community is teaching us.  You are teaching us.  We have simply been around for more lessons, and perhaps caught some lessons that we can spot that you could use right now.

Don’t put us on pedestal, or the unworthy will just use them as height to piss on you from, and the useful will then be out of reach to contribute something you may need to know, or a tool you might not have, when you actually need it.

Back in the day, we mostly muddled through.  We did our best, not all of us were all that well intentioned, and not of the well intentioned saw things work out positively anyway.  Today you are all taking up the work, building your communities with a right good will.  Some of them will explode, implode, or combust; trust me, most of ours did too.  Keep the faith, keep working, humanity is untidy and learns by trial and error, so keep swinging.

If you survive long enough, do try to resist letting yourself forget that what we know now is the seventieth version, the first sixty nine we now know were dead wrong, and that hardly puts us in a position to look down on anyone else for being wrong once.  We were wrong more than once, and may be days away from finding out we have got it wrong yet again.  Until we are dead, we are supposed to be learning.  If we forget that, then we don’t really deserve to be honoured for a knowledge we stopped actually listening to ourselves.

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

The Road Home

 

Thor-Vikings-Odin-Loki-panels-1566510-1920x1080.png

A thousand years ago, our ancestors understood the traditions we try to embrace today.  They lived in a world where they walked with their ancestors, knew the wights of the lands and waters, made peace with the jotnar of the high mountains and raging rivers, learned the alfs of the wild places.   The gods and goddesses held a place for them that was something we can only imagine, for they learned how everything fit together from their first breath, first step. There was no word for what they did, for it was no more possible to separate their practice from their life, than it was to separate their breath from their body and continue to live.

 
A foreign smoke stole that breath from the body of our ancestors, and the living faith died a long time ago.  The path they walked we cannot.  What they knew, we can only guess at; speculate from scattered puzzle pieces half understood.  That is fine.  We have chosen to walk out of the smoke, and breath again the living air.  We have chosen to once again learn to listen to the whispers of the ancestors, to look at the lands and waters, fields and forests as important relationships, as sacred trusts, and not simply a catalog of resources to be stripped and utilized until fully expended.
The ways our ancestors took for granted are half remembered dreams to us.  The relationships they held are matters of speculation and argument for scholars to whom the points are of only academic interest.  That is fine.  I am a soldier, son and grandson of soldiers.  The truths that historians argue over the battlefields of the past contain a hundred facts, and very few truths.  Those that come away from such fields may have been aware of only a few of those facts that brushed against them most intimately, but they carry away truths the historians cannot understand.  Some truths are found only by living, by walking the road, not by studying the map from a safe distance.

 

So it is with the road home.

I will admit from the beginning, I am one of Odin’s.  He found me in basic training, and pointed me towards the community in the dark days when it was long odds you would ever find another Heathen, let alone a community of them.  It is so much easier now.  Partly due to technology, and for that I give full praise to our society for its advances.  Partly that is due to the communities of people coming together in that metaphorical wilderness and struggling to build something.  Let’s be honest, something new.  We are rebuilding the alters, recreating the tradition.  We may study the latest developments for any scrap they can give us that advances our understanding of the road our ancestors walked before us, but that road we lost in the smoke centuries ago.  We build a new road that began when we first came together as groups and chose to bring the practice of honouring our gods, wights, and ancestors back into our lives.

We could not do it alone.  We lost the way.  We are not alone.  The truth is, we may have lost our way, but the land was still the land, our dead were no farther from us, and the gods never left us.  We lost the knack of listening, we lost the habits of valuing, we lost our way, but our guides awaited us.

The gods are forgiving, or at least have enough of a sense of humour to put up with the ten thousand things we get wrong, the minutiae we obsess over.  We get a lot of it wrong.  I know that.  We do it differently in a large number of ways, and I would say that they are not all wrong.  We are not following the road of our ancestors.  That was lost to us.  We struggle to build a new road.  Who is with us on that road is important.

 

Odin stands first among the holy kin in this generation, and it is right that it is so.  I do not believe that this was his place in peace time for the bulk of our people, but it is the reality today for one reason alone.  Odin is the greatest recruiter, the guide that has lead the most of our folks home.  I have seen Odin as the gateway drug for so many future Freyrsmen, Thorsmen, Tyrsmen, Frigga’s women, Freyaswomen.  His place is earned a thousand times over for bringing so many of us to where we could share a community together and begin to connect again to all the holy tribe, to begin to rebuild the relationship with the wights, the alfs, the ancestors.

There is only one god that I have seen do as much to bring to our halls, to our hearths as many folk who were lost, hurt, and in danger.  Loki.
I will leave aside the argument about whether his worship was ever a part of our ancestral tradition.  That is an argument for scholars about what was.  Our ancestors did not have antibiotics, toilet paper, or defibrillators; I am not looking to ape what was.  I am trying to bring the sacred back into the lives we live today, and of all the gods doing the work to guide us on the road we are trying to build together, the one who shines second in his work to bring the scattered folk home is Loki.

 

Loki is a part of our road forward.  Our folk are largely not given the chance to be born into Heathen households and raised in Heathen communities.  Our folk still grow up largely in Christian communities whose “truths” are at odds with our own, whose fundamental assumptions are diametrically opposed to our own.   For those who have in their heart the call of our gods, these foreign ideas and those that would enforce them as morality are deeply damaging.   For so many, the toxins of these foreign beliefs are enough to seriously harm, and in a very real sense, kill.   Enter Loki.  Trickster, breaker of stasis, flyter of the sacred, mocker of the righteous.  Loki has saved so many who saw no way out, and brought them by a thousand twisted paths to join us on the road home.

Odin may well not have been the highest in the time before, and Loki may or may not have been a god to be honoured inside the hearth and Frithstead, but in our generation we must give honour where it is due, must return a gift for a gift and acknowledge that not only does Loki deserve to be honoured as one of our gods, but in this generation, we must accept that he should be held high among them.

When I came to the Pagan community, I was told not to let anyone know that I was Heathen.  Like it was a dirty secret.  Don’t let anyone know you are Heathen until they know you well.  Once they did, then you got this token acceptance (you are all right, you aren’t like them-them being all your spiritual kin).

Now in the Heathen community, I hear the same song, slightly altered.  Don’t let anyone know you honour Loki, until they know you well.  I have to call it.  This was bullshit twenty years ago when Pagans held a view of all Heathens that actually matched none of the Heathens they actually knew and worked with for years, yet they accepted as true for every Heathen except their own token exceptions.  Its bullshit now.

 

There are going to be those pointing to individual idiots in the community and screaming “Look that is a Lokean!”  To which we can all point to five Odinsmen, Two Thorsman and a Tyrsman at least as objectionable.  Those are the exceptions.  Turn and look at the ones making your community work.  Look at the hard working people putting on the events, sacrificing to make our scattered organizations stumble along, and so often, these are the Lokeans we are working so hard to demonize.

Enough already.

We are coming together to build a road.  A road home.  Our guides are the holy gods that walked with our ancestors as they walk with us.

We are Heathens, we are supposed to follow the gifting cycle, we are supposed to repay a gift with a gift, and honour our obligations.  Loki has earned a place in our community in our lifetimes, he has done so in the coin of the blood of our own folk; the blood of the folk he saved from loss, and helped make whole again.  He has done so by bringing so many of them to us, to our community, where they can find fellowship and learn, as I learned, more than just the god that lead us home.

 

Thor is the symbol we wear to show each other who we are.  Tyr sanctifies our coming together, Frigg weaves us together as Freya teaches us to dare to live again.  Odin broods over our feasts, plotting and planning the advance of our scattered kindreds in building our road home to a more frithful and balanced future, and Loki?  He is by the fire, laughing at all of us.  Make him welcome, for he has offered his gifts right generously already.

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Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized, Yule

Yule at Sasamat

 

Sassamat Lake

We come now to the heart of the dark, to a time when people have absolutely the least to give, have the least time, least money, least energy from the stress of the eternal battle just to keep things afloat.  Of course this is the time that we need each other the most, and so the gods long ago bade us to come together at the Yuletide and keep their holy tide with joyful celebration, giving to the gods, by gifting each other, showing our devotion to the gods by caring for each other, and those less fortunate than ourselves.  At a time when the cold, dark, and hunger drive us to huddle alone, our gods call us to wassail hard in the heart of the dark, to not run from the darkness, but to join hands and dance in it.

 

Abysmal Witch and Heathen’s of the Nine Realms came together to make this magic happen for the local pan-pagan community.  Heathen Hospitality and Wiccan magic woven together among the dark lake nestled in the ancient forest and brooding mountains.

 

The site itself has held so much magic from our past gatherings, as this place has known both The Gathering For Life on Earth, and Pirates and Fairies many times.  That magic was on open display as we arrived.  Alyssa and I pulled into the parking lot after a crystal clear drive up to see fog descending from the flanking mountains like glaciers of the sky, moving to close the forest off from the land around.  A light mist rose off the dark lake, which was still as black glass.  The fog closed us off from the sights and sounds of civilization, left us alone in a world of the forest primeval, with nothing but the spirits of the lands and waters, our gathered folk, and such magic as we shall weave.

 

Our Abysmal Witch hostess lead us through an opening in which we came to greet and make our offerings through the elemental spirits of the place, offering to the wights of the earth; the great trees and brooding mountains that sheltered us, down to the great black waters of Sasamat to offer our blessing to the bowl taken of its waters, the blessings to be returned to the lake with all of our mingled joy and energy at events end, we offered to the misty air that veiled us from the sights and sounds of others and left us in a place out of time, a world of our own.  Then it was time to offer to fire, to kindle the hearth-fire that would make of this place a Frithstead, that would invite the holiest of our kin, the gods and sacred ancestors to join us.

Sassamat Yule

 

I wore the heavy blot knife that I have laid upon Odin’s alter so many times, that has served as common tool more often than I can count, but has also done blot for the holy gods often enough to be a most potent ritual tool.  As the opening began with the lighting of the sacral fire, the wood was green, and the mist was heavy upon the land.  Fire is a danger here, so the land is slow to see it kindled and the fire at first would not take.  The wiccan’s began a lovely fire chant, but being Heathen, I was unfamiliar with it, and the magic of it was not my own.  The struggle with the fire however was a thing Heathen’s of the North know well, and with my blot knife did I take to splitting the firewood by hand to thumb thick kindling to take the small fire of the lichen and paper and raise its heat enough to catch the split green wood.  Muttering my own kenaz chant as I split each piece of kindling with the blot knife, the Heathens and wiccan’s lent their breath, their gathered lichen, and the new kindling to bring the fire to living breathing fullness.  Our first magic made, the hearthfire was lit by the coming together of the disparate parts of the community in common cause.  Now that the fire blaze, each were asked to offer to the fire the needles of the forest floor we had gathered, and to call an invitation to the gods or goddesses sacred to us to join us if they will, as our guests for this holy event.

 

We gathered together to mingle and talk around the fire, sharing our differing lore around the Yule tide, for it is a common celebration among all of our peoples, but from each people come a different understanding and different threads of tradition to weave together into this shared Yuletide event.

 

Feast was laid, for as much as Heathens lay claim to Hospitality as our first virtue, it was a Wiccan elder of our community who laid the feast, and Hrolf Kraki himself could lay claim to no finer feast, or merrier hall than that she laid for us.  We came together to decorate a living Yule Tree, each of us bringing an ornament special to us, to our family or to our tradition.  I brought a Thor’s hammer glasswork that I had purchased in California Trothmoot with my daughters and Lagaria Farmer years ago.  As special for who was with me when we got it as for its own beauty, because for Heathens, magic is rooted ever in people first.

 

Sumbel followed, as Heathens shared with the others of the community our most magical of communal rites.  Having offered already to the gods and wights in the opening, the sumbel began with the bragaful, boasts and brags where each were asked to boast of what they had done this last year, brag of what they will do in the year to come, and offer to those who you feel have made such an impact on your life this year that for the gift they have given you, such a gift of praise is due.

 

There is such magic in such times, generations from the laughing children running under feet to the elders to whom I am but a stripling raising the horn and sharing their lives, their struggles, their joys, their hopes.  Lines of life and luck weaving together with every passing of the horn, as much as the fire outside grew from a flickering wraith to a roaring blaze, so too did the lights of the individuals of the community come together and kindle such a blaze as warmed us all, and shouted our defiance to the deepest of the dark.

 

How could such a light go unnoticed?  Indeed this close to Yule one must be careful about blazing so brightly, lest the gods attention be drawn to you.  Father Winter, the Jul Father himself was drawn to the bright fires of hospitality, of joy and of spirit and descended with his sack full of gifts.

Shining eyed boys and bright beautiful girl first came to Father Winter to receive their gifts, for they had been fine children this year, and the Jul Father was well pleased to gift them richly.  Soon the adults came to offer rich cups of cheer to the Jul Father and receive their gifts in turn, with the eldest in the hall sitting on the Jul Father’s lap as his own bright eyed bride captured the moment with a merriment that argued no amount of snow on the rooftop implies less than a blazing fire in the hearth.

Yule Father

To be worthy of the Jul Father’s visit, a community has to understand the magic of gift giving, and understand how this magic was intended to be used.  One family could not be with us this year, for Sabrina and her young son Kyler have been struggling since his birth with cancer, and although for so long she has been such an important and vital member of our community, in this time of sharing, she is giving of herself to her child who is too ill to attend, and not able to join with her community.

This does not mean her community is not with her.  To our hall we brought gifts for them both. A turkey to provide a feast for those who could not be here, and presents for mother and child to brighten them with tokens of the love and esteem in which they are held by us.  Gone from our hearth is not gone from our hearts.

Kyler

As the light faded and full darkness fell, let the feast be cleared away and the sauna be stoked full hot.  How can we celebrate the heart of winter in the northern mountains, save by late night polar bear swim?  Laughing men and women braved the icy rain and stowed our clothing beneath the overturned canoes as we strode naked down the strand, and plunged ourselves into waters cold enough that Skadi would wrestle Ran for the rights to them.  Staggering back into the sauna to warm up, once feeling had returned to toes, and yes we still had the same number we entered with, we returned to the wine dark lake under a moon lost behind a Skadi’s white veil to plunge a second time, this time to laughingly splash each other with water cold enough to be ice should it slow itself overlong.  Back to the sauna we go, for

 

  1. Fire he needs | who with frozen knees

Has come from the cold without;

Food and clothes | must the farer have,

The man from the mountains come.

Not just man in this case, as our women are taking second place in boldness to no man born.  From the mountains and the lake we came with frozen knees and nether regions, but the sauna and conversation warmed us right well.  The mead likely assisted as well.

 

In the heart of the dark, we gave ourselves to silence, we turned away from the light, and followed our Abysmal Witch into the heart of the dark, where the light never reaches, and none but us ever see.  In our internal darkness we are always alone, and at this time of year, as the life of the year wanes, the bright light of Sunna herself fades, so too does the hope that sustains us, so too does the strength that we have to hold our inner darkness at bay.

We gathered together not to hide from our shadows, but to commune with them.  At the dying of the light, we joined together to face the darkness within ourselves.  In the darkness, we do not wear masks, for there is no one to see them.  In the heart of the dark, the strongest may cry, for no eye will see, no sneer condemn.  In the heart of the dark there are no faces, no names, so the dread secrets that claw at you every day to get free may be whispered, may be spoken, may be shouted or cried out; for all may hear, yet in the anonymity of darkness, in the fellowship of shadow, none may condemn.

 

The secret doubts, secret shames, secret scars lay bare.  The darkness is terror to us because it is unknown, because none know what lies within it, and mostly because it strips from us all pretense, all masks, all illusions and leaves us alone against our internal fears.  We were in the heart of that darkness, naked before it in spirit, yet we were not alone.  We who had bound to each other with the sharing of sumbel, we who had forged bright ties in the sight of the holy gods by the bright firelight found those ties held us in the darkness.  We were not alone.  Our fears were not ours alone, nor the strength to face them ours alone.  What we each faced in quiet despair and solitude, we faced together in solidarity.  When we sought to turn from each other in shame for our secret weaknesses, for the ugliness of our scars, in the darkness we found only acceptance, for behind the brightest of masks lies the darkest of wounds, as often the gentlest heart as the hardest will share scars of the same vile blight in the past.

 

From the darkness we emerged again.  The tears shed in darkness, like its secrets, stayed in the dark.  The fears and shame that bled from those wounds likewise stayed in the darkness we left behind, but the strength we had shared filled us in its stead.  Together we returned to the fire.

Sweet merciful goddesses, it is well that this time of year is cold enough to cost us extra calories just keeping blood liquid, because the tables again groaned with food.  Not meat, bread, vegetables and potatoes this time.  No it was pies, cookies, chocolates, more hot chocolate and coffee for the non drinkers and more mead, wine, and spirits for those requiring stronger antifreeze.  Again the hall rang with conversation, the fire with the sound of drum and song.  Long into the night we wassailed together.  The fires finally banked around 0500 hours, the last of the revellers staggered into bed for a few hours sleep before dawn cleanup, breakfast and closing ritual.

Leaving the mist wrapped mountain fastness into the dawn struggling to paint a sky clear other than our own magical corner, the smell of the fires still clung to us, as did the fell and potent power of the Yuletide.  Humming with the internal power of so much mingled joy and laughter, so much sharing of our lives, we shall carry this Yuletide spirit forward, for the Yuletide is a season and not a day.  We are commanded by the gods to exchange our hospitality with our family, both those of blood, and those who have made themselves family in life, with our friends, and coworkers.  This time of year we gather together in a hundred places, in a hundred forms, to celebrate together, brighten each other in this darkest of times, and renew the ties that bind us each to the other, and to each to life.

 

To Heathen’s of the Nine Realms, to Abysmal Witch, full praise I give you, for your Yule was such a magical experience, that now when the sun falls, I feel the laughter, hear your voices, and swear I can smell the smoke of our communal fire waiting to warm me still.

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Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Winter Nights

Green Wode Winter II

 

Snow was falling as I headed to the Green Wode for Winter Nights.  Heathens of the Nine Realms was hosting, a group I have been privileged to see grow from seeds planted in the broader pagan community and grow into a thriving, frithful, heathen community.  We came to mark the end of fall, the end of the harvest, and turn our eyes to the coming winter, to the dark, and to the dead.

 

Joining with us in this celebration were a local coracle building society, the artist who crafted these hardy boats had offered one of her coracle shells as a devotional offering for the Winter Nights fire, asking only that she be able to film the offering of her vessel, her artistry.

 

We began to gather at four as snow fell with the fading sunlight, to cease with the moonrise to leave us with a moonlit night filled with the sounds of the farm, field and forest animals, to which we added the music of fire, the songs of men and women, the stories of our ancient folk and faith.

 

A Tablero board appeared by magic, and Steven and I sat with dice and drink before us to compete at board as we do at spears.  Discussion roams from lore to history, to mythology to family, to our own lives and back again.  Laughter and jest between old friends who admit no barriers between them, courtesy and hospitality mark the newcomers who learn to accept the welcome of a community that holds to its own soul and does not lower itself to judge others by the labels our larger society seems content to divide itself with.  Come as you are, be who you are, and be welcome among us.

Tablero

 

Winter Nights was the feast that marked the end of the harvest season, the feast which marked the determination of which animals would be fed through the winter, which would be slaughtered to feed the folk.  Our priestess marked with Valkyrie mask lead our sheep masked offering about the fire, before ritually sacrificing him, and offering his blood to the fire and gods.

Upon the fire balanced the woven wooden frame and hull of a coracle, the ship given to the fire to carry away for us the hopes and dreams we offer, the brags of what we have done, the boasts of what we will do; the ship that will carry the grave goods and prayers to those we have lost in this season.  As the horn past, those of our kin, of our family, and of our dearest friends who had fallen were remembered, their glories sung, the place they held in life was shared, and the place they will hold forever in our hearts and minds was carved.  The ship which was the funeral vessel of our folk, either given to fire and wave in Viking funeral, or interred above our dead in the more common ship-grave is the vessel that no only carries us through this life, but from it.

Coracle making II

 

The coracle snapped and crackled in the fire as we hailed our holy gods, offering to them our praise, our thanks, our prayers, and tokens of our own craft and skill.  Each chose to honour the god or goddess whom had given the most to their lives in the year that was, and shared the lessons they had learned, the changes they had made, or were vowing now to make in the year to come.

 

Horn passed again, and we turned to offer to those gathered in sumbel with us, or who had sumbeled with us before but were not able to be here tonight.  Brightly we wove our wyrd together as we offered a gift for a gift, the bright offerings of praise and glory to those who had touched our lives, inspired us, aided us, challenged us, stood with us through storm and trial, test and hardship.

Altar Horn

 

Feast we then shared, groaning tables heavy with food both from the kitchens of our host, and from each guest who sought to bring an offering of matching worth to the hospitality they knew they would receive, and more than twice our number could eat.  Loud the hall with conversation and laughter, deep thoughts and discussions of lore and sacred mystery mixed with raucous tales and moments of mirth and jest as there were no borders for discussions with those who felt such connections between them.

 

Back to the night we trod, stoked the fire high again as we offered now more personally as the horn passed to us, sharing of our lives with those whom we now felt more comfort.  Bright the deeds that were shared, bold the boasts that were bared for the first time, those who had long cherished dreams that they at last dared to make come to pass in the world, to stake their fortune and their name to succeed or fail as wyrd wills.  In such company none feared to offer the truth of the goals they aimed at, the hopes they strove for, the secret dream they would pledge themselves to bring forth.  The goals were both personal and profound, some so daring that you had to salute the majesty of the quest and the courage of those who would so openly swear themselves to the doing.

 

Song now was offered, haunting melodies of love and loss in Finnish and Swedish, even Liam was induced to offer to us the Lord of Castlemere

 

https://youtu.be/-FF2fBRKxtk?list=RDi2vlXuEmfag

 

Tales now were told of our ancient gods, of alf and troll, god and hero as the moon lit the dark wood and the shadows danced around the fire to paint the night with dancing shadows to paint the night with glimpses of worlds of myth and mystery.

 

Many were free to spend the night wrapped in their bedding by the fire in the Red Room, but I, alas had to get back to pick up my daughter from work.  For me Winter Nights would end, but another hearty meal awaited those lucky enough to spend the night, for hospitality such as this is to be treasured more than the gold which is actually easier to find and less rewarding to hold.

 

Winter is come, and the folk are strong and whole, together in the sight of our gods, ancestors, and the wights of our lands and waters.   A gift for a gift, thanks for the bounty of the year that was, and promise to use that we will take no more than we need, and give back in return full measure.

Bonfire

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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, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

In the beginning, there was one

So far Christianity, Heathenry, and even the Greco-Roman understanding of the origin of the cosmos agrees.  Where the difference creeps in is what this meant to the monotheist versus the polytheist.  To the Christian, Muslim, or Jew, the beginning singularity is “big G God”, Jehovah, Allah, or whatever you wish to call him.  To my own Heathen ancestors he was Ymir.

 

The Judeo-Christian group sees the unity that begins as being worthy of all worship, as being the sole possible focus for devotion, sole source for truth.  We try not to giggle when this view is expressed, because those who hold it find deep meaning in it, and we try not to offend.  To us, it is literally impossible to comprehend why they think so.

In the beginning was Ymir, neither male nor female, neither good or evil, Ymir was literally all that was, and therefore it was impossible to determine self/not self, form and formless; impossible for identity to exist, impossible for awareness, virtue or vice to exist.  In the beginning the universe was one, physics agrees.  The big bang pretty much did away with unity, and gave the universe differentiation.  To the Christians, unity spoke and brought forth stuff because he could, and wanted to.  To the Heathens, and many other polytheistic pagans, the universe began with unity, from that unity came the first primordial beings, and their first act upon achieving identity was murder; from the destruction of Ymir was built the material world, and the primal forces that drive the interactions of matter within it.

Death of Ymir

 

We don’t worship Ymir; his slaughter gave rise to the universe, and made possible the ability for the universe to be experienced as form and formless were now separated, matter and energy were now separated, from the mist of Ginnungagap formed the spirals of galaxies, the birth of suns, the creation of planets.

 

The primal forces of fire and ice, creation and destruction, order and entropy are given name as Jottun, or giants to us, Titans to the Greek and Roman.  We know they are the primal forces of existence, and yet we worship them not.  They do not care; they are, their nature is pure and elemental, and no offering, no plea, no prayer will turn them aside from following their nature, so our ancestors didn’t bother trying.

Ice and Fire

The universe is more than matter and energy, there is something more to it, something spiritual.  There is a higher order, a deeper meaning, a thing that stretches beyond matter and energy, something that survives the transformations between states.  It has always been my belief that the rising order and complexity of the universe represents on some level the universe attempting to know itself.  Ymir could not know him/herself as in unity there can be no understanding of self, if there is no thing that is not self.  Unity is not perfection, it is indistinguishable from nothingness.  Unity is not divine, it is meaningless.

 

Our lore tells us from the Jotun or Titan came forth a new race, the race of our holy gods.  They did not create the universe, they were born from it as it increased in complexity, arising as necessarily and inevitably as gravity follows mass.  These beings, in our lore, these gods chose to put their will upon the worlds and the primal forces within it and create a place where ice and fire were balanced.  Those who study planetary formation and life sciences call this the liquid water zone, that place where liquid water can exist, and where, as a result, life can form.  Our gods did not kill off the Jottun, they created a place where the primordial forces were balanced, but they did not destroy them.  Oddly enough, it is the existence of life that stabilizes the liquid water zone, and leads to conditions on earth, rather than those of Mars whose water was bound by the oxidation (rust) cycle rather than the carbon based water cycle.  It is the existence of life, of the liquid water zone that allowed plate tectonics to continue, that allowed the cycles of fire and ice to continue on earth long after they died on Mars {1}

Dead Jottuns of Mars

The gods are not credited with creating life, only conditions where it could arise.  They are not credited with creating us, only seeing in us something that called out to them, and granting us gifts so that we could rise to achieve a higher understanding, both of our world, and of them.

We did not worship our gods always, nor were our gods always worthy of worship, or even interested in it.  There was a time before either of us existed.  There was a time when they existed and we did not, and there was even a time when we were far from being able to perceive them in any but the most halting fashion.

 

Are we not the universe written small?  What better model of the universe attempting to understand itself than mankind.  We who were given the gifts of inspiration by Odin have used that gift to seek to understand our universe, our place within it, our own nature, to find our purpose, and to wrestle with the truth that once we were not, now we are, and one day, we will cease to be.

 

Our gods are not eternal.  Every act of creation begins a cycle that must end in destruction, every birth prophesies a death.  Who better to be our guides in this mortal existence that gods who understand this mortal limitation, who chose to take that step to bind themselves to wyrd, to subject themselves to the wyrd woven by the Norns, to fate, to death itself, by daring to create this place of balance, by daring to limit primordial chaos and bring forth the order that made life possible.

 

There is no one face to divinity, for when the universe was one, it was unknowing, unknowable, ignorant, and as devoid of worth as it was form.  The gods and goddesses, the divinity as we experience and know it is not fixed and permanent, is not “as was in the beginning, and as shall be eternally”; the only thing that is eternal is the cold and silence of the void.  Non-existence is unchanging, existence is change.

 

My gods were not always, nor was my race.  Heck, the human race is less than 200,000 years old, barely a blink in the existence of the planet, less than that in the existence of the universe.  How long have we worshipped our gods?  Really a tiny fraction of that.  As a species, our understanding of our universe and ourselves has been growing as fast as our biology and our lifespan will allow.  As we grow, and as we have the luxury to explore our world and ourselves, our awareness and understanding grew, and changed.

Different gods found different tribes, some of these may well be different understanding of the same gods, shaped by different peoples experiences and understandings; some are just obviously different gods.  Its a big complex universe, if you want simple answers you will just have to accept being closer to wrong than right most of the time.  The truth is something we generally understand in painfully limited fashion, each new understanding being a halting step forward from the last, and an unimaginable distance from full comprehension.  Some of our steps are not advancements, but mistakes; that is the wonder of humanity, no matter how far we have come, each generation knows we have far further to go than any of us will live to see.

I am a hard polytheist, I accept that our gods are discrete and knowable entities.  I seriously doubt they are “eternal and unchanging”, nor would I find it worthy for them to be so.   We know from our lore that many of them are fated to die with this world, hopefully buying us a chance to save a remnant of a remnant.  As an aside, science reassures us that the planet we are on, which has enjoyed multiple planetary extinction events already, has a best before date, and even if we avoid unscheduled catastrophes, we will be seared of all life and atmosphere where our sun progresses into a red giant (oops, those pesky fire Jottuns of Muspelheim mentioned in the lore as proximal doom) before the sun collapses to leave the earth a cold airless rock spinning in the eternal ice of space (those pesky frost Jottuns born from Ymir who seek to return to the nothingness that was).  If we are bright enough, work hard enough, and refrain from killing ourselves off, we just might get some of the human race off this rock and out of this solar system so we, as a species, can out live this event.  The gods promise to buy us time, they don’t promise we will get our shit together and make it work, the lore promises a chance, but we still have the choice to screw up.

 

The universe was singular once; Ymir, unknowing and unknowable.  I can’t worship that unity, ignorance is unworthy of devotion.  On this I will just have to disagree with the Judeo-Christian view, as they are actually forbidden to agree to disagree on this point. This would be their problem, not ours, so I leave them to it.

 

Our gods did not always exist, our species did not always exist; we did not always understand the gods as we do in the last few thousand years of recorded history, and I am unsure whether this represents an actual change in our gods, or simply a change in our ability to understand both the gods and ourselves.  Like a lot of Christians with the question of the Trinity, I find this essentially unknowable question to be a source of both wonder and joy.  Maybe it’s a Heathen thing; but I find exciting the thought that every single generation from now until our sun burns out will have to struggle for itself to deepen its understanding of itself, the physical universe, and that which is a part of us that extends beyond the simple summation of matter and energy that describes the physical universe.

 

To those Judeo-Christians who claim to be worshiping the primordial god, the first god of existence; this is hardly a selling point to Heathens like myself, or to a Greco-Roman pagan.  Your claim to worship the one we know as Ymir or the Greco-Romans as Uranus is to claim to worship a being whose destruction created the universe we inherit, whose death was a prerequisite for the development of life, awareness, and spirituality.

 

Our gods, like our species was not always.  In the beginning, we were not.  In the end, when the universe reaches ultimate dispersal of heat death, or collapses back into singularity, I have no idea if we (gods or man) will still exist.  I do know that we represent the universe’s attempt to know itself.

The gods are formed of the primordial, the great divine power that drives the universe, and we, the most ephemeral of all mortal beings.  It is through us that the divine may experience our universe, and it is through them we can grow to understand the parts of us that will not die when our mortal flesh returns to the soil as ash or meat.  Together we grow, together we are greater, the parts of us that are not limited to matter and energy call to them, the parts of us that yearn to know, to understand, to love, to dream, to create, to dare and to achieve call to them; they shine a light into the darkness to allow us to see a little farther, to know a little more, to chose a little better.  We give them the sum of our choices, our experience, our life, and yes, our death.  Together we learn and grow, and if we are smart, lucky, and swift enough, perhaps some of us will continue to do so long after our planet is burned clean, and left to spin frozen in the eternal dark.

I can’t know.  All I can do is strive to make the world a little better, a little wiser, and trust that uncounted generations to come will do the same.  The gods will be there to guide, it remains to be seen if we will continue to listen.

 

{1} http://www.biology-online.org/5/3_water-cycle.htm

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1664679/

 

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Asatru, Current events, Faith, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized

Where were Odin’s Soldiers during the Vancouver Protest?

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You may have heard much about the “Soldiers of Odin” who were supposed to be leading the anti-immigration rally at Vancouver city hall.  Well there were ravens in the sky, taking in the 4000 plus of us who marched for a diverse and accepting Canada, so Odin was free to see where his children were and what they were up to.

In this picture is Team #3, one of four teams that roamed the crowd dealing with any safety or health issues that cropped up.  This was my team.  We were mixed in genders, races, religions; united by two things, a support for a diverse and accepting Canada, and a high level of Industrial First Aid training.

On our teams you found many actual soldiers and sailors, those whom Odin would know from their oaths of service, and from their times standing into danger for their folk. In the crowd I found many fellow Heathens, and fellow pagans whom Odin would likewise know from their devotions to the holy gods.

Our first aid teams were organized by pure volunteers, as was the rally.  The drive was to be the best hosts we could be for the crowd, and the best guests we could for City Hall, its grounds, and the wights of the land itself.  You could not ask for a group that better understood Odin’s laws of hospitality and the keeping of Frith.  Tyr himself would have blessed this with the Peace of the Thing, for the organizers did not send out teams of enforcers to confront the pathetically outnumbered dozen alt-right protesters, but teams of de-escalators, whose job was to keep confrontations verbal, and as civil as possible, to keep the frith.  They do not know the word, but Odin does not care if you know the word, nor Tyr or Freyr, they know only that you lived it, that you offered it, that you paid the price to keep it.

Half my first aid calls had to do with sweet Sunna, our beloved sun goddess shining down with such love that many, especially the old or young, were overcome.  No traumatic injuries, not a single fall from scuffle, or bruised from blow was to be found.

Saga would smile at the speakers who shared their stories, and Frigga understand how the coming together of  new Canadians, born Canadians, indigenous Canadians to share in our common vision of a diverse and welcoming society, unwilling to bend to fear, but likewise brave enough to choose peace when we outnumbered a belligerent and disrespectful foe over three hundred to one wove another fresh layer of unity into the fabric of Canadian society.  We chose to educate, rather than eradicate, to provide an example of frith, rather than a cheap exercise in fury.

Our Protest2Our Protest

The so called “Soldiers of Odin” may have been almost undetectable, but there were veterans of all races, proudly sporting their colours; not of skin or ethnicity, but of their service, and the pride they took in defending the freedoms that we this day proved we were worthy to inherit.

Old veterans of WWII and Korea, Vietnam, UN Peacekeeping, Afghanistan, all the wars that Odin has seen our finest fall from in living memory were represented by the proud men and women who made it clear where the soldiers stood, and what the Canada their brethren fought and died for looked like.

I saw priests and priestesses from our local Pagan and Heathen community, exchanged greetings and blessing with Christian and Buddhist clergy who recognized my Thor’s hammer as a sign of Asatru and were unsurprised to see us in the front lines defending diversity.

I saw the token protesters of the anti-immigration force all boasting Trump campaign wear; can you grasp how much this encapsulates the stupidity of their position?  This is Canada, the signs telling us Trump is our President would make sense about two hours south of us, where you would be standing in the United States.  They actually have presidents, and Trump holds that office.  We are in Canada, we have Prime Ministers, and Justin Trudeau holds that office at the moment.  How stupid do you look telling us that all Canadians should be anti-immigration because some they are stupid enough to think some foreigner holding some foreign office has moral authority here.  That is a bit like saying that you have to paint your bathroom red because the next door neighbor hates blue.  So what?  Not his house, not his call.  Terrible colour for a bathroom anyway.

The single most Canadian sentiment of the day is this

Canadian Commentary

“The Alt right can suck my left nut.”  Damned straight.  That is the single most perfect encapsulation of the Canadian response to extremists of any stripe.  If you are a far left radical, you may be invited so suck my right nut, but the sentiment will be the same.

I saw a number of Americans who had come to Canada because of the rise of extremism in their own country, and we heard from refugees from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East about their experiences with the costs of extremism when unopposed.  We were also reminded by our indigenous Canadians that our own nation has indeed walked that path in the past as well, that it was a long journey to make this country what it is today, and that the scars of that journey are not born evenly by all who live in this nation.  This is not said as an attack against those of us who were descended from immigrants, but as a caution that we should not take our immunity for granted, it is a new and hard won thing we must both cherish and defend.

I ask the blessings of my strong gods and mighty goddesses upon all of those who gathered peacefully, especially those who gave of their strength and skill, of their patience and wisdom to make sure that all guests were treated with respect, cared for and protected.

There were Odin’s soldiers all through the crowd, those who served at one time under arms, and those who simply did his work unknowing as they kept his laws of hospitality so well none in my own community who know the letter of them could be said to do better.

A special thanks is owed to the Vancouver City Police, they worked with our first aid teams to make sure that we had good communication and access, developed and communicated plans for dealing with casualty evacuation as well as I have ever seen done with officially sanctioned events, which this was not.

The VPD may not like protests, but they did a hard job well, acting to make sure the peace was kept, public safety was maintained, but without making the event in any way more difficult.

I don’t know how the media will spin this event; gods knows military service taught me to believe the press have little contact with reality as experienced by any other observer, as their reports frequently have little to do with events as experienced by anyone else at them, but from my own experience on the ground it was a joyous, peaceful, frithful gathering that I am proud to have been a part of.  My first aid patch now resides on my altar before Odin’s icon, for he will know it as an offering in his service.

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