Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized, Yule

Welcome in Another Year

Welcome in Another Year

The sun has turned, the solstice passes and we stand with the heart of the dark about our shoulders and the wan light of dawn caressing us with quiet promises of warmer tomorrow, a spring full of life, a summer of warmth the call of life, where the heart of the dark is filled with the chains of the past, the voices of the dead, and the cold certainty of costs for what we survived.

This is a valuable time.  There is time to gather together and wassail hard in the heart of the dark, to stand in the teeth of privation and loss, the dead hard upon the ground, the loss of jobs, the terrible cost of just surviving bitter upon your tongue, turn your eyes to the fire and charge your glass and howl your defiance at the abyss of darkness not with a snarl but a laugh.  Reach out to those who have less than you, for nothing like your own privation teaches you the value of half a loaf and half filled cup, the little you have shared is a greater gift than scraps from some fat lords table.  Given in solidarity, not superiority, in hopes brighter days attend giver and receiver, not given to make clear who is master and who beggar at the feast.

There is work to be done as well, work to be done in deciding what we will carry with us into the new year.  All those you have lost hang about you, ragged ropes of unresolved grief will neither let them rest nor let you remember.  All those boasts you made, tasks you undertook, battles you took up, promises you made, obligations you undertook hang about your person, unseen, unexamined, and undischarged.

Take this time to sit in the dark, let the fire blaze bright, be it candle or hearth, and take up a warming drink, be it coffee or whiskey, whose heat, bite, bitterness and comfort will give form to what we do now, will give focus to what we give our heart and mind to, and will make possible the dropping of the barriers, the fear, the shame, that kept us from dealing with what must be dealt with until now.

The Yuletide is upon us, the dead and living are separated by a veil thinner than a whisper, what was, what is, what will be tremble and twist about each other separated by less than a whim, less than a thought, not even a word.  This is a time of flux, a time of power, a time of loss; but loss of what is for us to take up.

If we dare.

Those we have lost, we cling to them like a miser to gold pledged in payment.  We refuse to let go from us those who have passed on, not because we do not acknowledge their death, but because we refuse to let go the place the held in our life.  This is cowardice, and costly.  The living are lost.  To cling to them is to cling to the rotting flesh and seared bone fragments of the corpse.  It is sick, self destructive and selfish.  Raise your glass to them that passed and wish them well on their way.  Hel has received them, they are in the mound with their ancestors, safe from all want and hurt, it is only our cowardice that binds them to the moments or months of their death.  Remember their dying forever, or let them pass and remember them as honoured dead; remember the gifts they gave you in life, keep bright their memory and reclaim what you shared in life, untainted by the trauma and rage of death and loss.

We have failed.  Oaths spoken not redeemed, challenges taken up that we fell short on, tasks that defined us, that we took pride in and built worth through were lost or taken from us.  Gifts we have given brought not joy but hurt, praise given was taken as mockery, and aid offered was wound not weal as intended.  The tattered strands of wyrd from each of these broken threads bind and tangle us, fouling all work we undertake and bringing ill luck to all bright weavings we attempt.

Now is the time we sit by the fire, in the cloaking darkness, and strip ourselves naked as we dare not do at any other time and place.  Naked not of cloth, but of justification, denial and defense.  We take each thread, like so many thorn girt vines, and unwind them from us.  We let the wounds in our skin weep bitter blood of loss as we weigh each failure, own it, look without defense as we accept the shame of it, the fear it instills in us, we own it, accept it, seek to learn from it.  Raise your glass and offer to it, then cast it to the fire to burn.  Choose not to carry it forward, but to cast it into the fire you must first accept every single thorn, each element of the failure, of intent, of effect intended or unintended, of effort, or result.  If we do not own each thorn of the whole bitter strand from spindle to shank, we will never be free of it, and it will foul all that we try to weave this year.

We are not what we were.  I am old, so I tend to measure my year in loss of what I once could do, once could contribute and can no more.  This too is foolishness, and weakness. Clinging to the self I chose to remember and ignoring the self I have won.  I am not what I was, and if I strive with the tools I once had in the struggles I once owned all I can do is fall short.  I am not what I was, and attempting to be can only make me a failure.  I have new tools, and honestly where old thorns and blades would find vulnerable flesh there is only iron hard hide and cold white bone.  That which once could bind and bleed me will mark me no more, and the tools I have now in the tasks I take up with them promise me challenges as fierce as ever I knew, and ones that suit the tools that come now to my hand.

Those who are young, you too are not what you were.  You have long measured yourself against your betters, ever and always measuring yourself now against them at their peak. Your peak is yet to come, and its limits are not yet known. Let go the limits that you accepted last year.  You may feel yourself far less, as defeat strips away your youthful optimism, but what you didn’t notice gaining was an understanding of what your true potential may yet be.  Old tools applied in new ways have left you able to face things you long accepted were beyond you, new challenges faced in the year past have caused you to learn new skills, even if that skill is only the ability to endure what you never had to before.  Let go who you were, or you will fall short of the victories that could be yours, the growth that should be yours, and the worth that has been won by the deeds you have not yet learned to value.

Weep for those you have lost, weep for your failures.  Laugh at your foolishness, smile at the bright memories you find tangled in the loss, recognize what the hardships and loss have left you in gains, for nothing wyrd weaves us is without both wound and weal, both cost and learning.

We paid for what we survived this year past.  Time to let go what the old year held, and give ourselves fully to the year ahead.  The harvest is in, the counting has been done, and before the ground can be broken and sewn again, you must let go the last.

Drink your cup to the dregs, let the bitter lees remind you of the cost of the year, and the warmth of drink fill those hollow places the losses left in us.  Fill them with acceptance of what was, and determination to do better, weave brighter, or at least not make the same mistakes again.  Stare into the fire, and let it burn every dark strand of loss, look past the flame into the mirror of the darkness at your loss, your humiliation, shame and failures, then raise your chin, raise your eyes and nod.  I have seen you, I acknowledge you, I claim you as my own, but I deny you any hold on me.  What you deny will rule you, what you claim you command.  Face the coming new years dawning unfettered and fearless.

“Hail, day! | Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here | with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.

“Hail to the gods! | Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom | and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.” –Sigrdrifumol 2-3

Althing

 

 

 

Standard
Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized, Yule

Hundred Faces of Jul

Yul

Around the tree they come
Joy and reverent awe
In the heart of the dark
Raising song
Bright flame of the soul
The Julfather comes

Second eye bright with love
Gift giver comes
Upon the night winds
Jul’s bright face laughing

Two streets away
Cold in the alley
A soldier coughs his last
Cardboard box his only hall
Battered battledress grown thin
Dead on the land he fought for
No home for the home come son

Howling Jul claws out his eye
For the Feeder of Ravens sees
Hospitality riven like foes shield
Strong sons cast to the streets like garbage
Wild Hunt rises screaming upon the night winds
Run before it
Souls and flesh the wolves will tear
Bright spears cold as the street’s own mercy
Summoned by our deeds

To the old, the sick, the lonely they come
Bright songs and baked goods
Presents and bottles
Hope stirs the flickering flame
Love binds those who feared they had no place
Frigg blesses, Holle smiles
Those who carry Yule in hand and heart
Weaving back those we might have lost

Two streets away
Cold in the alley
A girl coughs her last
Home to foster to street
Abused and used
Fallen through the cracks
Cardboard sign
Asks for the meal
That would have kept the cold at bay
Hard choices to get through the day
Hard drugs to help her forget
To get through one more night
Until she didn’t

Hearth mother standing
Above the silent daughter
No more to feel the hunger
No more to face the scorn
Frigg screams her rage

Beauty shed like illusion
Bright and terrible
Spear hungry
As the discarded child
She calls forth the hunt

Run before it all the night
No mercy on the Mother’s Night
For those who cast away
The gifts of innocence
The future of the folk

Mercy and Madness
Joy and black despair
Hundred faces of Yule
Hundred truths in the darkness

Will you heed the call to be open handed?
Or will you close fist and heart
Will you brighten with feast those who hunger
Or stalk sneering by
As the gods ride the night winds?

Bright the fires
Bright the songs
Warm the blood by spirits lifted
Yet the wind outside is howling
The Wild hunt rides
Run before it or die
For it holds no mercy
No more mercy than our streets
No more pity than our hearts
A Hundred faces at Yule
And each one we called down ourselves

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

Won’t make Yule

Heathen Yule story

I had gotten old sometime when I wasn’t looking.  My body was a tracery of too many scars, a patchwork history of surviving things that should have killed me, and forgotten legacies of decisions that seemed brighter at the time then they deserved.  There was also the happy weight of enough good meals and good drinks to remind me that I wasn’t just surviving, I was living, and living as I chose.

I was sipping my morning coffee, watching the dawn think about risking the cold to happen anyway and trying to figure out which of the hundred things I had to get through before Yule I was going to work on next, or should I just kill some time on Netflix catching up on new releases.  I glanced at the window, and what shone back from the reflection chilled me to the point I could not feel the hot coffee that slid unnoticed down a throat suddenly ice cold.

“You will not make Yule this year.  You will not see another dawn outside my hall”

Half maiden fair and shining, half rotting corpse of grave darkness calling, Hel stared back at me.

Hel veiled

The face that ghosted in the window shone with an inhuman beauty and terror that affected me on levels beyond the conscious, deep in the primitive animal the urge to flee warred with the spiritual urge to abase myself before the divine presence that beat the air like silent thunder.  I had my scars for a reason, so both the primitive and the spiritual lost to the ego and will that lead me into, and out of most of a lifetime of trouble, and my mouth ran off without consulting me about the wisdom of cracking wise with a goddess.

“Come to collect my tired old ass yourself, have you?”

My mind had time to catch up with my mouth, and I contemplated having a heart attack on the spot as a reasonable option to finding out if Hel, goddess of the underworld had a sense of humour or tolerated sarcasm.  Fortunately for me, goddesses are somewhat harder to anger than employers, wives, and local police, or at least immune to my sarcasm.  She continued without bothering to address my mindless quip.

“I do not kill, nor does the earth kill the swallow in flight; it, and I simply await you when you fall.  You have in the past done me some service, and shown me some courtesy, so in return I offer you this.  You will not see another dawn.  I will see you before then.”

She turned sideways from the world and vanished, but as her dark aspect flashed past, the window frosted over like someone pulling blinds, and my coffee froze in the cup as a mute testimony to the reality of my vision.  Well….damn.

I looked over to the fireplace, there was about a days worth of wood there.  I looked out back to the wood bin.  There was about a weeks worth split and ready, and a couple of winters worth unsplit.  The wife was not good with an axe.  I mean she was a Girl Guide leader and could do anything camp related half decently, but honestly, watching her with the axe always made me nervous.

Knowing I was going to leave her my corpse kind of put a damper on Yule, but I could do a bit more than that.  I left off my coat, and took up the axe.  I put about two hours worth of splitting in.  My hands and wrists were aching from the shocks as I took a look at the bright pile of neatly split logs, and neatly piled kindling.  There, that was a wee bit better.

The song of the axe had settled me, as it always did. I went to wash my hands and found the sink full of dishes.  I cleaned them, as it just seemed like my last chance to show I cared enough to put in the scut work nobody enjoyed. So.  This was the last day, and I would not make Yule.  Well, take the day as a gift, and a gift for a gift is our way.  Yule is the season for gifts, so I had best be about it.

I had done more shopping than you would think, I just procrastinate about wrapping and mailing things because I hate lineups and hate the crowds of the malls.  I was out of time though, so I loaded my presents in my old army kit bag, and like a veteran version of Santa went to put some Postal elves on delivery duty.

Two hours out of my last day later, I had fired off presents to my wife and daughters, because I wasn’t sure if they would open something I left under the tree, I didn’t want the shadow of my death to make them shy away from opening them.  Instead, they would have to open the packages before they knew it was from me in the first place.  I sent off presents to my old friends from coast to coast, and if I broke a few laws about liquor distribution, its not like I have to fear arrest at this point.  The grin from that realization made the snarl of the waiting in line disappear.  I want the people I love to know that I was thinking of them right up until the end.  I may have been too busy to be there half the time they needed me, and been too much of an idiot to have heard half the times they asked for my help, but for whatever it is worth, they would know I loved them, and thought of them even at the end.

It was almost lunch time.  I knew my wife, who was a driving instructor, had a student with a road test at lunch time, and she would be waiting in the Motor Vehicle branch playing games on her phone during the test.  She honestly ate terribly when she worked, and I was the same.  Too busy to look after ourselves when there was so much to do, and so many people to look after.

I called in an order to the Greek place, and brought a full feast to surprise her while she waited.  I let her know that I was just at the post office, and got hungry in lineup and figured since I was next door, I would just pop in and surprise her.  The fact she was that happy I did told me I should have done it more often, but somehow unimportant things were allowed to get in the way of what truly mattered in life.  It took a visit from death’s own mistress to remind me what was important in life.  Add that to the list of my mistakes, its a thick book already.

As her student pulled into the parking lot, she smiled and gave me a kiss, thanking me for lunch, before getting up to watch the student pull in.  You can tell a lot about how a road test went by how the student exits the car, and it was less embarrassing than asking the student how they did.  I packed up the remains of lunch and then reached out and gave my wife’s ass a loving squeeze.  She squeaked and smacked me, but her eyes were twinkling and her smile made it clear she was equal parts flattered, amused, and annoyed.  It was part of my job to be inappropriate enough to remind her that I didn’t just love her, but wanted her.  It should go without saying, but at the end, you worry about whether you said enough.

“Love you.”  I said as I left, and her grin let me know it was the right thing to say.

I felt kind of bad about leaving her to clean up the mess, knowing I was going to die sometime tonight.  I mean, that is going to really make her depressed around the house, with the memories of our lives being overlaid with the memories of my death.  I was thinking about it as I wended my way out of downtown traffic into the quiet residential zones.

I came up to the stop sign, and felt a spasm in my jaw.  I absently took my hand to work it out, but it spread to my neck.  The ache was pretty intense, and I went to take a deep breath to push through it when I realized my chest felt tight like a jottun had wrapped his fist around it.  Ah.  Well, at least I won’t be at home.

I cleared the intersection and pulled off.  It was getting hard to breathe, and I was sweating bullets. I pulled out my phone and laid it beside me on the car seat. Honestly, if this was a heart attack, it did feel just like the spasm’s I got all the time from various spinal, rib and other injuries, but having Hel drop by and let you know tonight is the night more or less argued this was the heart attack kind, not the just living with the damage  five decades of hard living left you with.

I watched the sun set over the river.  The fog rose like a dragon above the river, stealing the sight of the waves as the cold laid its hands upon the earth, forcing the light to retreat over the horizon.  I felt the cold seeping into my bones with a heaviness that I had never felt before.

I dialed 911, but left the handset where it rested.  I muttered my location, and said something bland about chest pain, but honestly, there was something strange about the pain.  It was growing worse, but pain and I were old friends, almost lovers, and the strangeness of this pain was worth paying attention to.

The pain grew stronger and stronger, but somehow…….it was losing its grip on me.  I saw my vision tunneling in, I cast my eyes upon the last splinters of sunlight, and watched the cold dragon of mist rising hungrily from the brooding river.  There are worse things to see at the end.

Yule is the dying time.  The gods call upon us to gather together, to wassail hard in the heart of the dark, to feast and make merry, to exchange gifts and renew the ties that bind us to this life.  The veil between the world of the living and the dead grows thin at Yule, the Wild Hunt rides the howling night winds, and the fires of our lives flicker and are so close to extinguishing that without those ties, many who should live, will allow their fires to burn out, and surrender to the cold.

The cold took me.  Hel was awaiting, but on my last day I reached out to those who mattered to me and showed them I cared.  Words are nice, but honestly I lived my life through working for those that I loved, so on my last day, I worked one last time for those I loved.  It was enough.

 

Standard
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.

Standard
Asatru, Faith, Heathen, Heathentry, Uncategorized, Yule

North-man at Yule

1984-inorance-and-want

I am a North-man.  If you are thinking horned helms and swords, you are watching too much TV.  I mean I am a man of the north, a man who has lived a lot of my life in the high and the wild, in the places where you can break a steel tool by trying to pick it up when the weather gets too cold, where you sometimes need a tiger torch to free a tire mud-welded to the pavement when the wind shifts and five above becomes twenty below again.

 

Come the winter, the days get short, the nights get cold, and the rain comes.  You burn through twice as much calories just keeping your body normal as you adjust to the chill, and maintain the normal activity level.  Everything is wet, and stays wet.

 

I was a soldier for a lot of years.  I learned to love living rough, spending weeks or months living in the mud, dust or snow, but this left me with an understanding of the realities of the seasons that the comforts of home and plenty take away from most of us. The realities haven’t changed.  For a lot of people the truth still remains the same.  Winter is the dying time.  It is always trying to kill you, and the day you make a mistake, get wet and don’t get dry, don’t eat when you burned off the reserves you had, or, gods forbid, get sick when you were already marginal, it wins.

 

When I was a child, the Irish Rovers were a favourite of mine, and when I thought of Christmas songs, I thought of the Little Match Girl.  Nothing to me sang of the truth of the season more than the song of Little Match Girl.  The little match girl dying in the cold was a truth our ancestors stepped over in the cities every winter through the ages that left us with such historical legacies as public work houses, debtors prisons.

I am a Socialist.  Most of Scandinavia is, for the North teaches that it is always trying to kill you, that if you do not stand together, you will die.  It teaches you that you are responsible for your own first, but for others in the community as well, for alone, none of us is enough.

 

I am not a Communist, in fact I spent my salad years training to shoot at them, a war that may be fought yet if things keep going strange out Ukraine way.  I am a believer in our constitutional monarchy, with rule through representative democracy, a division of powers between federal and provincial levels to balance collective needs and regional differences.  I don’t believe we, as one of the richest nations on earth should have starving children, or those to whom falling thermometers may mean not waking in the morning.

 

I am a Heathen, not one of the Christians this song was written for.  We do not suffer from the need to believe the world is as it is not.  We do not have a trouble understanding the reality of the season is in fact the reason for it.

 

Cold and dark sap at the connections we have to life.  Cold and dark drive us inside, away from each other.  A time of privation and solitude, of depression and loss.  A time the weak will die, those who have no strong connection may well stop fighting and pass even when they have the strength to go on.

We are commanded by the gods to wassail hard in the heart of the dark, to brighten each other with gifts, to exchange hospitality with each other and make merry.  The flame of life is guttering until we fan it bright and hot again.  This is the Yuletide, the meaning and the purpose of it.  Odin as the Yulefather is a gift giver, but his punishment for those who break hospitality, for those who forget the reason for his laws are justly feared.  We are in this together, forget it at our peril.

 

Those in our society who work the hardest, give the most.  Those who are rich are farthest from the cold, the dark, and the cost.  Those who have clawed their way up from it, or who have survived blows or tests that they feared might cost them all they had built look up on those who have little and understand that any help they give can make a difference.

 

A gift for a gift is the basis of heathen practice.  Reciprocal gifting relationships are the foundation of our practice.  We are reminded in the Hamaval of the uses of the wealth we have, little though it may be. For our friends we show our appreciation by exchanging gifts, and guesting, that those relationships we have found important to us are recognized and strengthened.

 

  1. Friends shall gladden each other | with arms and garments,
    As each for himself can see;
    Gift-givers’ friendships | are longest found,
    If fair their fates may be.

 

We look to our folk, to our people, to our community and we see those who have less than us, who do not enjoy the bounty that we do, and to them we offer not charity, not a beggar’s token, but a gift from one person to another, a recognition of another person as worthy of such a gift.  We do not give to those lesser than us, we extend a gift to those we hope will one day be in a position to extend a similar gift to another in need, when they are in a better place. Paying it forward was our tradition a thousand years ago, and I hope it to be still a thousand years from now.

 

  1. No great thing needs | a man to give,
    Oft little will purchase praise;
    With half a loaf | and a half-filled cup
    A friend full fast I made.

 

We say when we make our sacrifice, “From the gods, to the earth, to us.  From us, to the earth, to the gods”.  We seek by our offerings given to the land to complete the gift cycle, to close the circle between the gods, ancestors, wights of the land, and ourselves.  We cannot pay back the gods for their gifts, so we show our gratitude by using those gifts to help those the teachings of our ancestors, and the wisdom of our gods and goddesses have shown us are in need.  We honour our gods more by showing we respect their teachings than by offering the most potent of powers gifts that can have only symbolic meaning to them, but make real benefits to those in need.

 

  1. Better no prayer | than too big an offering,
    By thy getting measure thy gift;
    Better is none | than too big a sacrifice.

 

Heathens don’t choose between helping those in need and brightening the lives of those that are important to us.  Both are important, both are part of what it means to keep the Yuletide.  We wassail hard in the heart of the dark.  We reach out to those who have gone silent, we renew the bonds that tie them to their community.  We look out our window at the cold and damp and understand not everyone has a choice to be on this side of the glass, and that is actually not OK.  I celebrate the Yule tide, I drink and feast, I gift and renew my ties with family and friends.  I also do what I can for those in need, because there is not a lot except wyrd (fate) between me who gives the gift this year, and those in need who receive it.  The north teaches you that the night is cold, dark, long, and ever so hungry.  Those who face the night wondering if they will see the morn are never far from my thoughts this time of year.  The dead are close to us at Yule, and those who are not tightly bound to life are too apt to join them.

 

We make our light blaze in the heart of the dark, we feast in the time of privation, we offer gifts in the time of want, because we will the folk to see through the dark times until the returning sun.

yulefather

Standard
Aesir, Asatru, Heathen, Heathentry, Pagan, Uncategorized, Yule

The Story of Mistletoe

Inside the greatest stories are a hundred little stories that get forgotten.
In the story of the first winter, the death of Baldur the bright, there is a story too of little Mistletoe.
At Yuletide now we hang mistletoe, and whenever a boy and girl pass beneath it they must kiss, but so many have forgotten why. The tale of mistletoe is one of love and pride, foolishness and forgiveness.

First and best of the sons of Frigga and Odin was Baldur the bright. The shining one, his laughter and courage were beacons to the Aesir, and his gentleness the offer of peace when the battle din had faded. Where the world carved by Jottun and Odin from Ymir’s bones was cruel and cold, would Baldur add a touch of gentleness and wonder. Where spear sharp mountain was cut by icy stream, would Baldur carve a hidden flowered glen, and softly whispering pool. Where Muspelheim’s fire clawed at the ice and rock of earth would Baldur twist and twine them to forge a bubbling spring of warmth to bring the promise of life to the most forsaken fell.
When the first war raged between Aesir and Vanir sweet Frigga feared for her son, for ever was he first in battle, and all too swift to offer mercy where death strokes were safer. In time the Aesir and Vanir swore to peace,
and the Vanir too grew to love Baldur. For a time the nine worlds were near peace, the Aesir and Vanir united, the raiding with the Jottun more friendly sport than earnest war.
At this time did Frigga vow to make her Baldur safe from harm from all.

To the dwarvish deeps she went, and begged favour of the dwarves:
“Let not stone or steel, nor metal forged dare harm sweet Baldur’s hide!”
The dwarves looked deep into the secret earth, at the ropes and rivers of gold, the sparkling diamonds promising the wonders of the night sky, and the thousand secret riches that Baldur had woven into the iron deeps when the world was new forged and so they swore. To the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the whales and fishes of the deep did she go and beg safety for bright Baldur, and as each would look to the beauty Baldur had woven into their world, they would promise his protection.
From Yggdrasil and all lesser trees did Frigga then beg favour, and one by one they all swore Baldur’s weal for the beauty he had given them.
At last came Frigga to the youngest of plants, the newborn Mistletoe. She begged protection for her son, and Mistletoe said no.

Mistletoe in tree

Mistletoe lives on the oak, and never sees the sun. Far from the ground, it sees not beyond the mighty oak´s dark leaves. The oak itself did lend its voice to beg and plead with Mistletoe, but Mistletoe had never seen the gifts of Baldur’s making. All Frigga’s tears and oak´s stern words did not move Mistletoe to mercy, in ignorance and pride it swore no oath to the lady mother.

Alone of giant, man and god was Loki is his jealousy. Baldur’s love meant nothing to him, and he ever sought to mock him. For all his jests did him no good, as Baldur never angered, but laughed instead with right good will
when Loki’s wit did best him. With envy and rage did Loki plot to do fair Baldur evil, at last he thought to ask of Frigg the protection she had won him. In the high feast hall with a gentle smile did Loki come to Frigga.

“How you must fear with such a bold son, that evil must befall him.
Of all the gods your Baldur’s courage in the vanguard ever finds him”

At Loki’s words did Frigga smile, never suspecting evil. She shared with her kinsmen her sons defence, the secrets of his protection.

“The stones of earth, all metals forged, all beasts of water, wind and land have all sworn him protection”, did Frigga smile.

Loki pressed for answers, “What of tree and leaf and nut? What of dandelion or rose?”

Frigga laughed at his silly words, and revealed the last of her secret:

“Trees and grasses, bush and vine have all sworn his protection. Only lowly mistletoe of all that lives still dares withhold protection.”

Loki laughed and slid away, his mission now completed. Sweet Frigga did not suspect yet that Loki plotted treason. Down to midgard with a silver knife did Loki make his harvest. A slender wand of mistletoe
that in the fire with spells he hardened. His arrow forged of mistletoe, and murder in his heart, Loki crossed the rainbow bridge and came to Odin’s court.

“A game!” cried Loki shouting loud, “A sport to test our mettle!”
Loki’s challenge drew every eye and he worked his trick so vile.
“Let Baldur stand before the host, let every warrior try him.”
Loath were the gods to raise hand against him, but Baldur did beseech them.

“What harm in this? Lets have a game, let all my friends and brothers try their mightiest of strokes and let me judge the winner!”

Baldur’s words stirred every heart with honest love for battle, and laughing
did they all array to try their strokes against him. Odin’s spear and Thor’s dread hammer, swords of Frey and Heimdall, the bow of Uller all did fail amidst the warriors laughter. Blind Hod alone did not take part, until dread Loki urged him on and promised his assistance.

“Come now brother, what’s the harm” smiled Loki in his treason.
“I’ll guide your hand upon the bow, let your warrior´s heart remember”

Hod then smiled and drew his bow, and Loki fit the arrow,
dread mistletoe struck Baldur dead and the light of the world fell with him.

All remember what happened next, how sweet Sunna (the Sun) fled from a world without Baldur,
how winter came to the world. All remember the punishment of Loki, a binding and torment
that would last until the end of days. Each Yule we remember Baldur’s arrival at Hel’s own hall,
how she bade him to sit beside her and join her in her hall until the end of days, when he
will return to lead the survivors. Who now remembers the fate of Mistletoe, the agent of Baldur’s bane?

When Baldur fell, sweet Sunna turned her face away and fled. Without the light of the sun, the world grew cold and dark, the trees lost their leaves, and for the first time Mistletoe saw beyond the embracing arms of oak. Everywhere the dying light showed emptiness and loss, but here and there would beauty shine and mistletoe did weep.
“Who has made this?”, would Mistletoe ask at each thing of majesty and wonder, “Baldur” was the answer every time until the heart of mistletoe was shattered.

Mother Frigga in her rage demanded the death of her sons dread slayer.
Of Odin and of Yggdrasil, of Frey and gentle Nerthus she begged the price
of mother’s vengeance, until every god condemned it. Alone of all the gods did Freya hear the weeping.

Goddess Freya true
Alone of all the Vanir did she stoop to hear the reason. To mistletoe she swiftly flew within her falcon cloak, upon the oak tree did she land beside the weeping plant. Love´s golden goddess softly asked, why mistletoe did weep?

“For Baldur slain, for beauty lost, for love gone out the world!”

Freya asked of Mistletoe, what wergild would it pay? How could it give back the beauty lost, the love that Baldur offered? When Mother Frigga in her rage came down the Bifrost bridge, Freya stood with mistletoe to greet the grieving mother.

“Blessed Frigga, will you accept the wergild of the weeping flower?
Or will you slaughter and stain the memory of the loving son you’ve lost?”

Frigga stared hard eyed and cold to hear the wergilds terms, Mistletoe in humble grief did make this solemn vow:

“Where Yuletide brings the pain of loss will Mistletoe bring love, beneath my humble leaves let love be now kindled.

What fairer grave goods for the sun bright lord than the promise of love new kindled? When two now meet beneath my leaves, let loves kiss light between them.
Let the light of love remember him that the world weeps for this season.”

Now down the ages we remember beneath the mistletoe, a kiss the promise of new love, within this coldest season.

Mistletoe hanging
© John T Mainer

Story of Mistletoe

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Fault Lines and Snowmen

Snowman SaluteIce Sculpture

Here is a lesson learned by Canadian youth, frequently with stiches or close calls avoiding same.  Ice is hard as diamond in the cold, strong as steel…..from the right angle, and shatters like grandma’s china when hit the right way.  Snow is never really all that together, at is best it has a lot of fluff, but when you pack it together, it lasts.

Societies can be described in this pardigam as well.  Monocultures, societies that pride themselves on a single shared identity, a single crystal clear vision of themselves are indeed magnificent.  Shining like diamonds, these pillars of diamond hard perfecton make pillars that stretch from rooftop to snowbank, shining as pillars of purity and purpose.  Or they do until some knucklehead with a hockey stick strikes at the fault lines of that purity, and the ice shatters.

We accept the myth, in a large extent, that we have a culture as a country.  Every country does.  It is a good myth a useful myth, a myth that, at its heart teaches a truth, that we all do share something.  Like all myths, it is essentially a lie that teaches a truth; a story that illustrates and underlying message and isn’t itself to be accepted as a fact….accept we do.  Terrorism relies on this myth, for they seek to shatter those fault lies, and break our society.

Lines of fault; the stresses between those communities within our community.  Racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, economic strata or language.  There are a thousand lines of stress within our community, a thousand cleavage lines; and to the terrorist victory is as simple as a single public act of violence that strikes along those lines, and lets each side of the division seek and find fault ten thousand times over after the initial act of outrage.

Against a true crystal, against the beautiful and pure icicles, it would work.  Any kid with a hockey stick can tell you that much.  It didn’t work here in Canada with the shootings at the National War Memorial.  It didn’t work in Australia with the stabbings in Cairns.  Neither Canada nor Australia really buys its own mythology with the same patriotic fundamentalism as other countries.

We are snowmen.

We aren’t pure; in fact if you look too closely you will note enough dirt and other things that may make you desire to take your pictures from farther back.  We are not too tightly packed, on the whole.  We come together to build our community, and we like each other, mostly.  We don’t really see ourselves as a shining vision of purity, or really as one thing at all.  We clump together in happy half packed irregularity, hammered into a rough shape by the shared, somewhat amorphous dreams of our collective community, until we are struck.

Funny thing about snowmen, versus ice sculptures; we grow more tightly packed when we get struck, and what you break apart we can, and will, hammer back in place with a will.  Who has not seen children and teens, even adults or seniors when they think no one is looking stepping off the walk to do snowman repair.  Although we walk haughtily past them every day, a part of us is invested in seeing them, and when they are broken, we will often set aside our briefcase, or tool belt, and get our hands a little cold, and our dignity a little dinged to set things right.  We can’t really explain why, its just that snowmen are not expression of purity, they are expressions of hope, and we can build that.

We may dream of being the icy perfection, the cold clear purity of the ice sculpture, but the reality is our communities are snowmen, marked by the hammer of ten thousand hands, with more road dirt than we prefer to see, and perhaps the occasional stain for which our four footed brethren may take blame.  We are not all one thing, or mostly one thing, except perhaps mostly together.

We will never be more than mostly together for the things that divide us are often important, and often real.  We will never be less than mostly together either, for as long as lone acts of violence are seen by each of us for what they are, the act of an individual, we can and will continue to pick up the pieces of our community, hammer it back in place with shared hands, and step back onto the path of our normal day with a smile, knowing that through our work, the little snowman that we never really knew we valued is back together through the efforts of our hands.

Purity and unity are powerful visions, and great men and women use them to move whole peoples to do great, and sometimes terrible things.  Communities and snowmen are less perfect, crude and somewhat untidy, but they bring us together, and give us hope, as long as we keep stepping off the path of our own concerns, and getting our hands cold and dirty to put them back together again.

This Yuletide, take the time to stop and appreciate your local snowman.  Some of you may have the physical thing, and some of you may have to look harder to see the snowmen builders in your community,helping to bring together the untidy bits of our communities after some knucklehead with a hockey stick, or some terrorist with a cause, or polarizing police incident with a tragedy, seeks to break them.

This Yuletide, get a little dirty, let your dignity take a day off, and build a snowman.  If the Australians can get it right without two physical snowflakes to rub together, how much easier must it be for us?

Standard