Je me souviens-the motto of Quebec; we will remember.
Ah yes, just about the single most common phrase ringing from any minority crying out for revenge against the terrible crimes of (everyone else alive, and anyone on their side who doesn’t fully agree with them). Oddly enough everyone self defines as a minority for this purpose, making the one great unifying truth of humanity is that everyone can look back and feel they alone have suffered. Memory; remember the wrongs done you, but be very selective my children, lest you recall the crimes of your own forbearers as well, or hear the cries being directed towards you by those survivors of their victims.
We are quick to put this on our flags, our swords, our skins, and whisper it into the ears of our children. Remember the terrible things that happened to someone else long ago, because this will give you the defiant pride to be turned into a weapon by the first idiot who wants to use them to commit terrible things today.
Remember 9-11, remember the Alamo, remember Culloden, Masada, Thermopylae, the fall of Jerusalem, the sack of Lindesfarne, Amritsar, Hiroshima and the Plains of Abraham. Gods forbid you should ever really look at the history before and after for context.
There are two Raven’s who fly throughout the world to bear Odin’s messages, Huginn and Muninn. Thought and Memory are their names in the tongues of today, and how interesting it is that the one we carve in the tongues of our blades, into our skin, onto our licence plates, flags, banners and political dogma is Memory.
I love Odin, and I love my blades. I have seen his truth, lived it, and I know well the stench of open guts, blood rotting on the ground, the odd stiffness of the corpse. I have seen ravens and crows wheeling above the feast and understood the truth; the Battleglad does not care why we slaughter each other, we do it for reasons that are entirely our own, he does not need to whisper in our ears or raise the clarion call for blood, simply put, we have never needed it. We feed the ravens in fact, the corpse eating birds grow fat and plentiful because we heed only one of His ravens, and not both.
Thought and Memory. We find memory rich like mead or whiskey on the tongue, sensual as a lovers touch to fire our desires when poet or politician would arouse us to act, we carve it on our skins to dedicate ourselves to wrongs of the past, carve it on our blades and gunstocks as we prepare to commit the wrongs of the present in the name of the sacred memory of stupidities of the past. Why is it we are so enamoured of the hot rich blood thick feel of Memory upon our tongue and upon our soul and so terrified of the ice cold calm of Thought?
Odin has more to his name than Battleglad, more to his nature than Feeder of Ravens. He is the Victory Father; but why when we call for him by this name do we never also call him as Wise Counsellor or Truth Teller.
I can hear the non-Heathens already smugly assuring themselves this has nothing to do with them. I hate to break this to you, it doesn’t matter if you believe in him, or his ravens, they believe in you. You may not know you serve the ravens when you raise your hands to your neighbors; neighbors in other lands or neighbors in your own streets, but you lay the raven’s feast when you stir the strife that leads to burning cities and blood on the stones. Raven’s have never lost a war.
Heathens ought to know better, but seldom do we find it any easier than other folk to give equal weight to the ravens on both shoulders. Memory is ruled by passion, like sweet mead or the headiest whiskey it fires the blood and clouds the mind. Thought does not look backward, but forward. Thought soars from intention to consequence, looking beyond the passions to the price, thought looks beyond the hot words of politicians, demagogues, rabble rousers and activists and looks to the deeds that follows, looks beyond the swinging sword to the shattered limb, beyond the bright torch to the burned building, beyond the shattered peace to the shattered land.
Never forget, for the past is with us always and if we do not own it then we allow it to own us. Muninn receives offerings from me, as I look to the past of my family, my ancestors, my nation, my faith for the inspiration to fulfil my duty to the present, and to help me remember my duties to the future. Huginn receives offering from me as well. Memory must always be balanced by thought, inspiration must never outstrip understanding of consequence or the future will do no more than rewater ancient battlefields with modern blood, layer another generation of hatred, waste and futility on all the generations of waste and mindless slaughter we so narrowly survived to get here.
The sword of memory is swiftly drawn and thirsts so much for the red life wine. The sword of memory flashes bright in the sun and sings as it slays, caring little where it falls, only that it is driven by ancient pride and rage. The sword of thought is different. Drawn with reluctance it swings with the full weight of duty, falling with neither lust nor hesitation, a brutal necessity that accepts the cost of every stroke, and will not be sheathed save in victory.
There are two ravens for a reason. It is Odin’s to understand the inspiration of men, the ways of victory, even as the costs of the struggle are his meat and drink, so are all paths to victory his.
Memory reminds us of who we are, from whence we came, and lets us draw upon the rich strength of our line, of our nation, of our gods and faith to face whatever challenges we face today. Thought soars ahead of us to seek the path towards a better tomorrow, a brighter future, a path away from the tragedies that scarred our families, our nations, and our history with needless suffering and loss.
I will tend my blades, keep them sharp and my hands ever skilled in their use, but I will understand when to heed which raven. I will let Thought determine when my blade is drawn, and when my blade is to be sheathed. I will not draw nor wet my steel for ancient wrong, for passion alone. I will draw my steel only when Thought demands it, and sheath it when Thought requires it. Memory shall fire my blood to face the steel of others, shall sustain me when wounds, fear, and exhaustion would bid me surrender, Memory will carry me through the fire, but I will never allow memory to light it.
I read the saga of burning steading and red steel vengeance as good poetry. I learned the killing of men, of dead friends, the terrible cost of the broken and maimed from those who fed the ravens in my grandfathers and fathers generation. I stood my time beneath the banners of my nation, and plied my trade with steel in my fist, knowing it to be a duty we were brought to by passion but carried out with the same cold calculation the raven’s have always exercised when feeding upon the fallen upon every tragic field our species has littered with the broken bodies that are the raven’s feast.
Odin is the god of poetry because those who have stood over the dead and the dying with work to do require something that can allow them to put all that they cannot unsee into a context we can live with, because there is always going to be work still to do. Thought and Memory are both his, as his wolves Word and Deed are both his. Thought must balance Memory, as Word must always be chosen carefully knowing Deed will follow. Odin is the god of consequences, of price paid. You may choose to look at bright pages of angels and songs of high sounding rhetoric, but my own gods bid me look down at the shattered lives, burned out husks that once represented homes, businesses, dreams, and hope and consider long and well the costs before I speak, and before I act.
We will remember. Tragically, we will always remember when we were wronged, never when we were wrong, we will remember victory, and forget the cost. We will remember those who exploited us, and forget those who fought to bring justice. We remember every face that screamed abuse at us, and forget so swiftly those who rose up in our defense.
It is hard to get passionate about a settlement that makes things a little better, building on a previous settlement that made things a little better, as through halting slow process a people struggle haltingly towards that great unknown destination of justice through tentative and halting steps. Of the two ravens, Memory can soar unerringly to any place we have been, any wrong we have suffered or committed he can alight on, but Thought must seek in the mists of everchanging and ever weaving wyrd for that mythic land of justice towards which the wise stumble and the foolish believe they may simply name wherever they choose to stop.
It is satisfying to draw the sword and call for revolution, and frustrating to negotiate in good faith and imperfect practice to drive a people through evolution instead. Memory looks like all ravens to the shiny bits, the juice bits, the bloody bits; soaring loftily over the vast stretches of context, peace and progress, decay and corruption, only to alight on blood and fire.
Thought is a harder raven to heed, yet the only raven that promises a destination other than the next blood soaked tragedy. Memory is always with us, but memory cannot lead us forward to anything but a repeat of the tragedies of the past. Thought and memory soar together through out sky and through our soul. Bring them back into balance, bring us back into balance, so that we have a chance to steer our state closer to that distant star called justice, and in seeking that star find ourselves guided into lands far fairer in every sense of the word than our ancestors ever knew.
If you must grave the name of ravens upon your steel, your skin or your soul, do remember to balance thought and memory. Honour the sacrifice of your ancestors, but draw upon it for inspiration to find a better way forward. You must first let go the drive to avenge the past before you can ever be free of the chains of it. Memory can never lead you forward, only Thought can.