The world came to Toronto in 2017 to see the Invictus Games. This is the single most Heathen sporting event in existence, and one of the most important to me. The Invictus Games celebrate the athleticism, drive, and determination of our wounded warriors, our soldiers who marched away to war in our service and came back less than whole.
More than the Olympics, the Invictus Games celebrates those who have had the courage to overcome, who have dared to meet the harshest blows of this world and to rise again, unconquered, and claim their greatness.
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.
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.
Our gods teach us that wyrd weaves as it will, there is no judgement in it. Wounds do not steal your worth, nor do they steal from you the chance to continue to build it. Wounds are not shameful, but rather the markers of the challenges you have faced in your life. If you faced your challenge well, then the scars are marks of hard won pride, not shame.
The Celt believed only the whole and perfect man could be King, that somehow a scarred King would wound the land. The Norse believed almost the opposite; for the accepting of the cost of your service marked you as a man or woman who was worthy of the power in their care. Odin gave his eye for wisdom, Tyr his hand to show the worth of his word was more than his sword arm, and Thor bears still the millstone in his skull that battle chanced to put there. There is no shame in bearing wounds, or loss; our highest gods bear their scars and wounds openly, and dare us to do the same.
This is the reality of the warrior culture so many Brosatru miss while swilling cheap beer and boasting of their guaranteed place in Valhalla, based on little more than mead hall boasts and heavy metal lyrics, rather than any deeds of service to the folk. The reality of a “warrior culture” is the acceptance of loss as a cost of life.
Our whole people lived with this. Women bore their children in the sure and certain knowledge that many of them would die, and that each birth, they too might die. Farmers, fishermen, and craftspeople understood that when they took up their tools, a single mistake or mischance could cost them limb or life as surely as any warrior of the line of battle.
We lost that. Our medicine has been a boon to us, for which I thank the gods and ancestors every day, but it came with a lie. The lie that we are immortal, that death and injury are banished, and if they should confront us in our lives with their presence, then we have been betrayed!
We have been betrayed only in the teaching of that lie, and this treason we commit to each generation, making them less able to cope with the hard things wyrd weaves for all of us in our turn. Loss of a loved one, loss of health to chronic illness, loss of limb or ability to serious injury; some or all of these our children will face, prepared or not. Our only choice is that last one; do we prepare them, or not?
My middle daughter was the one who was most likely to follow me into the service, as she inherited the temperament I had from my father, and he from his. This will not be anymore as she suffered a permanently disabling spinal injury when rear ended by a truck. Just eighteen, and permanently disabled; to what extent, we will not know for a while.
I first encountered life changing injury during my time in the Armed Forces. I volunteered to make of my body an offering to the folk, hoping to offer only my time, dedication and skills, but aware that I could also be offering my health, or even my life. We don’t really think or talk to much about the various ugly places between hale and whole, and valiant dead, as the middle ground is far scarier than either of the extremes.
You don’t think so? Well, perhaps when you have seen enough death, and enough crippling injury, you will realize that the dead do not have anything to fear, but the living often do.
The athletes of the Invictus Games are important to us because they bring back pride, power, and most of all, VICTORY to those whom wyrd has woven permanent loss of limb or ability due to injury.
Most important of all Odin’s bynames is Sigfather; Victory-father. It is not death we fear, for death waits for us all, and can no more be run from than can the coming night. It is defeat, loss, and the humiliation that attends each that we fear, it is powerlessness, despair, and the shame attendant on weakness.
We are our deeds. These words ring through modern Heathen practice as the root, the central tenant we all share. Some understand the whole culture of building worth, and have the full lexicon of terms by which we know how what we do shapes how both we think of ourselves, and how our community thinks of us. Judgement is a truth we accept; like gravity, denying it does not make it go away, or make for wise decisions through pretending its not there.
The disabled are left with the corollary of this. We who have always measured ourselves and found ourselves worthy based on the number and power of our deeds must find ourselves worthless in our own eyes when the chance to do those deeds is stripped from us by fate.
Suicide rates do not come from no where, they come from a despair that looks upon a life and sees no worth in it, nor potential for worth in it. This is where the disabled are most vulnerable, in the sense of worth that should be the greatest source of their strength.
Our ancestors understood this. They did not expect the wounded to battle for the same things, or the same standards as the whole. They expected them to contribute, to give their all and to build worth in the doing; they literally could not understand the mindset that rejected the reality of a lost limb and judged the wounded person by the standards they met when fully able and whole of body.
The lame rides a horse, hand-less is herdsman. You cannot build your worth through the deeds of before, but there are other deeds you are well suited to meet, other needs of the folk that you can meet. No one accounts Tyr or Odin as less worthy due to their loss, rather they look upon their deeds in spite of that as inspiration to drive them to find their own greatness with the body and ability they have now.
The soldiers of the Invictus games were volunteers to the field of battle, but they were drafted, as it were, into the ranks of the disabled. Those of our children, siblings, spouses and friends who find themselves struck down by disease or accident are likewise drafted into this challenge.
The soldiers of the Invictus Games are assumed to be courageous, as they volunteered to risk their lives and health in the nations service. The truth is, they are among the most vulnerable. No one who has not served can know how much it shapes you, how the awareness of giving one hundred percent of your ability and strength, to achieve a mission at all costs, and know that you are operating at a level most will never achieve even fleetingly, changes you forever. Once that is stripped from you, you are not returned to the civilian you were, you are simply a soldier who can no longer live up to the image of ability that had become the pillar of your self identity.
We lose a lot of wounded warriors, which is why the Invictus Games came to be. The Sig-Father, our father Odin, is not just the Battle Glad, he does not simply love us for the clash of arms, and the feast for his ravens that are the fallen. Odin is the Victory Bringer, the Wise Counselor, the bringer of inspiration, poetry, and the wisdom of coping in all its wondrous, and wondrously flawed forms.
It is time to heed his counsel, to bring back Victory for our wounded, for our disabled. Time for them to not hide their scars, empty sleeves, or wheel chairs, but to wear them as proudly as any medal, for they are the spoils of the victor, the survivor, of the strong.
Wyrd weaves as it will, there is no judgement in it. One of my favourite words when it comes to living with the bad things that happen in life is FISH. Short for “Fuck It, Shit Happens”. The gods have never judged us by our success or failure, they have judged us by how we face our challenges, and how we meet our responsibilities. Victory in the battle is Odin’s to give, but victory in your challenge is YOURS to take. Who wins or loses may be beyond your strength to decide, but how you meet that challenge is beyond the power of any god, Queen or President, beyond any Parliament or law, it is literally only your own decision that will or can determine how you meet that challenge every single day.
Stop letting the memory of what you were steal from you the chance to find out what you can be today. Stop mistaking the wound that wyrd wove into your life as being the results of your battle; it is not your loss, but it has changed the nature of the victory that is yours to win today. Heed the Victory Father, if you are still breathing, you have not lost. Find your victory conditions, and fight for them as hard as you did when full strength and speed were yours, and you will build your worth not only to yourself, but to the world.
My daughter will never be as she was before the accident. She is not now weak, nor should you pity her. She has much less strength and flexibility than before, and will pay a price for each breath and each step that would make a strong man tremble, but she will pay it, because she is not done yet. She is not beaten, has not accepted defeat as written in her wounds. I hope I can help her find the ways to define her victory conditions so the will and drive that made her so strong and capable again become a positive, rather than a weapon to use to hurt herself. The strongest and most able among us are the harshest in punishing themselves when wyrd takes from them the ability to meet their own standards. My daughter is strong and proud as ever I was, and I hope less foolish.
Odin, Victory Father, I ask your blessing that you teach our wounded ones how to define and fight for their victories every day of their lives, that when they chance to fall, their lives will shine with worth, and their deeds will be many days in the telling. Tyr the most holy, as you understood the choice between your honour and your power could have only one answer, help those who have had much of their power stripped from them to understand that honour is still theirs to win. Thor, defender of mankind; laughing god of the common man and woman, please teach those who have been laid low by fate to rise again, to laugh again, and to strive again.
No one volunteered to be wounded, to be broken. Those who are disabled to a man were drafted into this state, and yet this does not mean that they do not possess courage! Those who rise each day to a struggle greater than the whole may know, and frequently for stakes far less rich than the whole compete for, require more courage and more strength to rise each day and do battle. To those who rise to this every day, may the Victory Father be with you always.
Heed the lesson of the Invictus Games,