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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Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized

Pills, crutches, and bullshit

Stigma

I am a judgemental bastard. I don’t judge you by race, by religion, sexual orientation or gender, but I do judge each and every one of you, and have never pretended otherwise.

 

I judge you by your deeds, and how they match what I see as your duty. Lots of you do really poorly by this standard. Some of you do really well. What makes me laugh long, hard and long, is the number of surprises on both lists.

 

Success is the measure by which a shallow society judges. Our society is deeply flawed, and many of its attributes are counter to its survival requirements. I am not a society, and reserve the right to judge otherwise.

 

Those who think yourselves success because you have won, or have achieved what you want. Some of you I will hail, and some of you I wouldn’t waste good quality spit upon. Sadly, too few will recognize which side of that line they fall on.

 
Those of you who think yourselves failures because of what you have lost are not looking into any eyes but the haunted ones staring back at you from the mirror, look at me if you dare.  Some of you are failures because you have turned your back upon what is important.  If you dare to recognize this you are not yet lost.  Some of you think are failures because you gave your all where you duty was owed and it was not enough.

 
Look at me.  Look me right in the eyes and here this.  That is loss, not failure.  You stood where your duty was, held true to those who were owed your loyalty and gave all the strength that you had.  Wyrd weaves as it will, and it is yours only to determine if and how you will fight, not if you will win.  The gods themselves march towards their doom out of duty and loyalty.  If they cannot command victory, why should we, their bannermen and women, be expected to do better.

 

I have seen the shaming that comes from those coping.  I have seen people mocked for using medication to allow them to function.  Those who battle with mental illness or chronic medical conditions are often faced with a choice; to take up the tools and weapons that they have access to and perhaps succeed, or to stay “pure” and fail.  Those who depend on you, your spouses, your children, they are owed your every effort, not your every “pure” effort, not your every wholesome and all natural effort, they are owed your best.

I do not take drugs for my chronic pain.  This is made necessary by the fact that those drugs given to a nearly three hundred pounds of veteran and former competitive marital artist with a whole lot of really, really ugly memories and triggers kept under rigid controls, make me a real and imminent threat to all of those under my protection, should I take those medications.  I do not stay off the drugs because I am better than other people, I stay off the drugs because I can’t afford to take them.  DO NOT READ THIS AS A STATEMENT OF POSITION ON THE USE OF MEDICATION.  To say I can’t take pain or spasm medication without serious risk is a description of one of my physical limitations, like the fact that I must kneel while others would squat, if I wish to bear weight or exert force.  It is just a limitation I must work around, and not a policy statement.

 

Men and women come into this world innocent.  That is not a moral position, that is moral ignorance.  It is cute in babies, and unforgivable in adults.  There are a whole lot of people out there doing battle every single day just to get up, deal with the physical and mental problems that life has burdened them with.  When you pass each other on the stairs, and you smile at each other, do you see their burdens?  I do.  I can’t stop seeing them.  A true picture of that person you are mocking for taking drugs to keep their condition to a point where they can control it and function at a high enough level to know both economic and relationship success would have the two of you together running on the track, you in running gear, them with a full infantry pack upon their back.  Yes, you run the same track, but no, you cannot possibly compare your journey around that track as being the same, or mock them if they need heavy boots to support their ankles, where you do not.  You have no idea the cost the burden brings with it, and no idea what is required to make it possible to get up under that load and dare to achieve.

 

  1. The lame rides a horse, | the handless is herdsman,

The deaf in battle is bold;

The blind man is better | than one that is burned,

No good can come of a corpse.

 

The Havamal recognizes this truth, as our ancestors recognized this truth.  Life isn’t fair, and it isn’t over if you still live.  I will not say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, because it is sophistry.  Scars do not make us strong, but to bear a scar, you must have survived.  Those who bear many scars have survived much, and that took strength.  It didn’t actually provide you any strength, it cost much, and may have taught you how much you have to give, but understand each and every scar, the visible and the invisible cost.
We look at PTSD and our veterans and we want to make either saints or demons out of them.  They bear a huge weight in scars, have survived much that you either couldn’t’ understand, or bear similar scars enough not to have to ask, because you already know.  Each of those scars had a cost, some were less than the power gained from the lessons recovery taught them, some were more.  None were free.  Few indeed are visible, but all are there.  The fact is the bulk of the veterans are passing you on the stairs with a smile, because they are used to marching with the rucksack on their back, and simply accept its weight as normal.  On days when their strength is lower, they may not be able to rise with it either, but the odds are they will never let you see that in their face.

 

We reward the lucky people, and shame the ones whose burden was more than they can bear.  As a society, we do lots of stupid shit.  I try to do better than that.  Sometimes I even succeed.

 

All of you who struggle every day to get out of bed and face the day, and your demons, because you have things to do, and people depending on you, that is the definition of winner, the process by which worth is build in your community, and found within yourself.  You are worthy, and I see it.

People speak of medication, or therapy, or faith as crutches.  I hate to tell you this, I can’t count the number of times I needed crutches because my legs were unable to support me, and it was use a crutch or don’t walk.  If you are walking with a crutch when you don’t need it, then you are being less than you could be.  If you are walking with a crutch, because you need it, then all praise to you for bearing the burden and choosing to get up and walk anyway.

Crutch

I don’t care what colour you are, what religion if any that you practice.  I don’t care whether you love boys or girls, or both together.  I can and will judge you on how you bear your burdens, on how you honour your obligations.  I may not even like you personally, but if I see you bearing your burdens, whether you bitch about it or not, and meeting your obligations with honour, I will respect you for it.

I will be a judgmental bastard until they burn my corpse, and possibly after.  I judge you by what I see from you, and so many of you who judge yourselves have no idea how much you shine in my eyes, and how the things that you think make you ugly are instead to me beacons of your courage and your worth.

Odin Picture

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Uncategorized

Survival Ethics

Here is the thing, we need to live.

Havamal:

70. It is better to live | than to lie a corpse,
The live man catches the cow;
I saw flames rise | for the rich man’s pyre,
And before his door he lay dead.

Death sucks.  It sucks our chances from us to do anything, to be anything.  Death is not the simply the death of flesh, it is the death of possibilities.  Death is the end of our world.  It is not the end of the world, indeed it cannot touch what we have already done, nor can it negate the changes we have made in the lives of others, but it is quite capable of wiping out all we ever could come to be, or could hope to accomplish.  Death is final.

Life can often suck, but unlike death, it is not final.  I have had the worst day of my life a few times, seen everything that mattered, that which I could not live without lost or shattered.  Well damn.  Here’s the thing, life went on.  Life had good spots even on the worst days, and bad spots even on the good ones. Life can shatter us, leaving us broken and unable to continue, so we think.

71. The lame rides a horse, | the handless is herdsman,
The deaf in battle is bold;
The blind man is better | than one that is burned,
No good can come of a corpse.

So the ancestors occupied the same world, and spoke the same truth we told each other using the pithy expression “Suck it up, buttercup”, to capture the same sentiment that if you are not actually dead, you are not actually done.  What is left is coping.  Coping resembles life in two respects, it can often suck, but can also get better.  The latter point really separates living, and coping, from death.

I admit that I am as want as the next Heathen to use the metaphor of a pattern welded sword to describe how the different parts of a human work together to forge a single stronger whole that exceeds any of its constituent parts.  It’s a nice metaphor, but you can get trapped in the good ones and forget that people are not steel, they are stronger.

When steel is stressed beyond its limits it shatters.  So do people.  A broken sword is scrap.  Broken people don’t have to be.  Here is the thing; we don’t actually always die when we break.  Ours are the gifts of harsh but loving gods, of a heritage of unbroken evolutionary struggle in which our adaptability and perverse unwillingness to accept a loss saw us rise to power over all the continents, and cast covetous eyes at the stars.

When we break, our minds and bodies develop what we call coping mechanisms.  Some are good, some are terrible, but none are free of cost.  Coping mechanisms are the price of survival.  Get this straight, sanity is NOT ENOUGH.  There are many times when the sane thing to do is give up, and yet we can’t afford to because our duties demand we fight on, we seek to heal, we seek to love, to live, to discharge the obligations that we hold sacred and important enough to bear whatever price is offered.

I am Odin’s man.  I am more comfortable on the shady side of sane than most people are comfortable with.  To stay functional in an insane situation requires that you find a way to break, yet continue on.  To stay fuctional and worthy in an insane situation requires you go a little crazy yourself; to ride out the tempests that wyrd has woven for you, and remain functional.  Against wyrd even the gods must bend, and even the gods may fall.  We simply have to deal with our own wyrd, choose as best we can, cope as best we can, and hope that we can win our way through to a brighter place, to win for ourselves a place in which sanity is again the wise and more successful choice.

When and if we get there, we have survived.  That was good.  Understand this, accept this, if you take no other words of mine ever as true, heed these :surviving is worthy.  Coping mechanisms are good when they are required, and we embrace the cost as long as they are necessary.  When they are not necessary, we strive hard to deal with the coping mechanisms that got us through, and minimize their damage.  This is called victory.  The dead don’t do this.  They burn, or rot, or while away the hours in the mound, but they do naught else in this world.  We who lived, do.  We use that time to deal with the coping mechanisms that got us through.

PTSD and addiction, well these are the most common ones, but those who have survived serious chronic illness, or long costly recoveries from life changing injuries or conditions also learned to find ways to make it through the times that were too terrible to bear, and came out the other side with scars, some of which you could see, and the most dangerous ones you can’t.  This is what survival looks like.  Odin is the guide I chose, one whose coping mechanisms ignore the boundaries of sanity altogether, and ride the whirlwinds of the ecstatic madness, to purge yourself of the pressures you can’t contain, so that when you put your skin back on, you actually fit inside it.  Usually that is a metaphor.  Sometimes not.

Egil Skallgrimson was a purely Odinic figure.  A skald, a berserk, a warrior poet who spat in the eyes of the strongest kings in Europe, who carved his way into history with his blade, and praised his way out of execution with his poetry.  By today’s standards Egil would be a poster child for PTSD.  By any standard, his is a life embraced passionately, lived fearlessly, accepting the costs for doing so, and using the coping mechanisms his culture left to him, and thus, to us.

Chapter LV, Egil’s Saga http://sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil82.htm

Egil was in service to King Athelstan of England when his brother Thorolf fell against the Scots.  His brother was the closest kin to him, dearer than life, but he fell in battle while Egil obeyed his King’s orders and held another part of the field.  Filled with rage, he sought direct vengeance by killing the Earl who felled his brother, and making satisfactory slaughter among the rest of the foe in the long pursuit.  His grief was boundless, but his coping mechanisms were in place.

He drank with those who shared the field with him, and he poured his heart out in great praise poems to his fallen brother.  He won acclaim for his fallen brother from his comrades, and great gifts to his brother’s memory from his King.  In this way, his passionate grieving was made a positive thing by his societies embracing the sumbel, the sacred space given where men can express their feelings without any loss of manhood, status, or perceived power, where other men can offer support without any suggestion that the one receiving support is showing weakness, or lack of manhood.  Grieving was accepted, histrionics were expected, grand gestures were part and parcel of the process, and were given a place and societal sanction and limits.  Coping mechanisms here are poetry (positive), sharing of feelings (positive) and shared social drinking (limits required to keep this one positive).  If you exceed the limits society accepts for this, you will lose status, but there is acceptance for the coping mechanism as a cost of the hard life they lived.

Not all losses are as easy to deal with, not all of them have the positive context of a death in battle, properly honoured and avenged.  Egil’s beloved son drowns, and his grief totally overcomes him, causing him to write some amazingly touching poetry (positive), and to decide that he cannot live without his son, and will starve himself to death (negative). CHAPTER LXXXI http://sacred-texts.com/neu/egil/egil82.htm

Here is a coping mechanism gone wrong.  The histrionics that externalized the grief he could not deal with internally now threaten his life.  Luckily the limits society sets on such displays come into play.  Egil’s daughter tricks him into taking poison, both food and drink, by telling him she cannot bear to live with her grief.  In fact, she has tricked him into eating food, and drinking milk.  Now confronted with having broken his oath not to eat or drink, she confronts him further with his remaining duties to the living.  He continues to deal with the death through the acceptable coping mechanisms, even as his daughter weans him from the self destructive ones.

Coping mechanisms are like wound shock; left untreated they can kill you, however they are what you needed to get through what was definitely going to kill you right then and there.  You live, you deal with the cost.

71. The lame rides a horse, | the handless is herdsman,
The deaf in battle is bold;
The blind man is better | than one that is burned,
No good can come of a corpse.

The cost of coping can be high, the cost of death is total.  You learn to grow strong in the broken places.  Our gods do not hide their scars.  Thor has a whetstone stuck in his head, Tyr did not regain his sword arm, and the High One valued his learning too much to begrudge the loss of his eye.  Scars are badges of honour, they are only worn by survivors.  Those who bear the scars, from whatever wyrd wove for you , understand the cost of survival.  It falls to those of us who have grown grey enough to learned to break free of the coping mechanisms we could no longer afford.

Egil watched his world end, again and again, yet he lived on.  Many have known, or will come to know, how it is to lose everything.  What next?  Well, our ancestors lived in this world every day.

76. Among Fitjung’s sons | saw I well-stocked folds,–
Now bear they the beggar’s staff;
Wealth is as swift | as a winking eye,
Of friends the falsest it is.

Health, wealth, family, relationships, status and position can all be taken from you tomorrow.  If your life remains, you cope.  Not always the pleasant solution, not always the sanest solution, but day by day, you stumble from the depths of having lost it all and one day look up to find you have built something that you….like.  Coping mechanisms get you through the worst times, but some of them will trap you in bad times unless you learn to put them away when you don’t need them.  Look to your community to help  you put away the dangerous coping mechanisms when their work is done, but do not hate them for keeping you alive.  Never regret survival.  Never forget what our ancestors taught us, no good can come from a corpse.  Living matters.  Those who survive can work on dealing with any side effects of what kept us alive.

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