I have used the two terms Warrior Dead and Military Dead on and off, both here on this blog, and elsewhere. I felt that I needed to give some explanation, as the way I use these terms are not automatically interchangeable. Not everyone, Ancestor workers, spirit workers, or otherwise will agree with me, and that is fine. There are many I count as Warrior Dead that are not Military Dead at all. Not all the Military Dead are Warrior Dead. This does not mean that all our Military Dead who I do not count as Warrior Dead are somehow less.
For me, what makes the Warrior Dead and Military Dead different is this: a Warrior Dead has stood up in defense of their people and/or their ways, whether that sacrifice or stand is made on behalf of their tribe, religion, nationality, ethnicity, etc. They may have done so in spite of overwhelming odds, to safeguard a piece of their people or heritage. They may have given their life in service of their people, or their ways. Among the Warrior Dead I honor are the 4,500 Saxons who gave up their lives rather than convert to Christianity, and those who kept the sacred ways alive. Countless people not part of an army have risen to defend their people from oppression, genocide, invasion, hate, and privation.
Not all Military Dead are called to make such sacrifices. One of my grandfathers, when he passes, will have been in the military, and so I will honor him as part of the Military Dead. Yet, he will not have seen combat. He signed up, and so, would have been willing to place himself in harm’s way. I do not believe the only Military Dead worth honoring are those who have seen combat. As with my grandfather, one of my grandmothers has served in the Army in a noncombat role, she, as a secretary. Anyone willing to put their life in harm’s way for another deserves honor. Anyone willing to give up some of, if not all, of the best years of their life so another person does not have to, deserves honor. Whether one is a mail carrier, a secretary, a drill sergeant, a combat officer, or a medic, support staff or direct combatants, all deserve honor. All who are part of the Military Dead deserve our honor and our thanks.
I honor the Warrior and Military Dead together on a single shrine. Because of space constraints this is on a filing cabinet. On this shrine is Wepwawet, who I associate with the Warrior Dead. He is on the rightmost front part of the shrine. Standing before Him is a small ceramic cup (I think it was used for crème brule) which holds the whiskey I have in offering for all on the shrine. Beside it is a small mound of mugwort, and sometimes tobacco. In the center of the shrine is a ceramic container which contains the dirt from several veterans’ graves, which They granted to me with Their permission after I left offerings for Them and cleaned the dirt from Their plaques. It is something I try to do about once a month. To Their left is a pin I received at The Warrior Remembrance Ritual at ConVocation 2012, given to me by the ritual leader. I wear it sometimes when I serve the Military Dead; otherwise it stays on Their shrine. To the left of this is a US Armed Forces pin and a mirror from WWII. I was told the mirror had seen combat when I picked these up from an antique shop. Behind this is a muslin-wrapped figure whom I have given a lot of work to: Ramses II. Given he was a renowned warrior and his tomb had been disturbed, I have taken time doing spells and giving offerings for him. He has a small glass star at his head. The very front of the shrine has scraps of paper with the names of people I am giving offerings to, and prayers for.
Some of these Dead have responded in kind, and asked for me not only to pray for Them, but those They left behind. After all, this is a two-way street. We do not just look after the Dead. As the Lithuanian proverb goes, “The Dead are the protection of the living.” In honoring our Warrior and Military Dead, we offer Them a way into our lives, to walk with us again, and to share in our lives as much as our offerings. Our Gebo to Their sacrifices is to remember Them, to honor Them, and to keep Their memories.
As I work with the Warrior Dead, the Military Dead among Them, this month has become something of an education. This year is the 100th Anniversary of World War 1. We do not talk much about World War 1, if at all. If it is mentioned, it is often talked about and pointed to as a cause of World War 2, rather than a massive, world-wide war in and of itself. Otherwise, the poem of In Flander’s Fields 1, and novel All Quiet on the Western Front 2 is given mention, hinting at the devastation and brutality of it. Yet the First World War’s full impact, its actual history, is not often spoken of let alone taught. Oh, there are highlights that might be spoken about, such as Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, or the horrors of trench warfare, or the invention and use of widespread chemical warfare. Yet, World War I does not fit easily into any narrative. Even the very pro-British pro-war documentary from the BBC, The Necessary War 3 admits several times throughout that all the nations that were part of The Great War had faults with how the it came to pass and spiraled so deeply out of control from what could have been a regional conflict into a conflagration that spared no one it touched. It saw the last of the old-style monarchies in Europe fall, and several Empires were consumed in its flames.
It is estimated4 that sixteen million people died during this War. Sixteen million. Of those deaths, about 9.7 million were military and 6.8 million were civilians. As PBS notes, “World War I marked the first use of chemical weapons, the first mass bombardment of civilians from the sky, and the century’s first genocide…”5. It also marked a time when artillery, rather than being front-line gun placements, were relegated to behind friendly lines and used as weapons to clear the way for or defend against infantry advancement6.
Some resources I am looking at are PBS’s The Great War, having just watched the BBC’s The Necessary War. I am currently working through the 8-part series from PBS, The Great War and the Shaping of the 21st Century. I have found and have yet to start digging into the 28 part 1964 BBC Documentary Series The Great War. This BBC article addresses some myths about The Great War from the British angle. I am still looking for good, reliable history books on the subject to read.
As I work my way through these documentaries, I will write on my reflections, and when I have enough for an article I will post here. If anyone reading this wants to share the stories of their Military Dead, please do. If you want to explore the series with me, whether as I post or through email, I am starting Episode 1 tonight.
The First World War and the Korean War are two I have seen referenced as ‘forgotten wars’. I believe we owe it to the Warrior and Military Dead, as well as any of our Ancestors who may have been part of these conflicts, to remember them. Remembering them not in snippets, or as “World War 2 was the good war and World War 1 was the stupid one”, but each in their own place and time, seeing them, and those who participated in them. At the very least those who gave their lives, or those whose lives were violently ripped apart during this War, should be remembered. Entire generations, if not branches of families, were lost to this War. The Military Dead deserve, at the very least, a place in our memories.
I am starting this month of prayers and honoring of the Warrior and Military Dead by cutting out my biggest distraction. For me, this means completely cutting myself off from video games. It is the least I can do; soldiers certainly did without a great many creature comforts I have come to enjoy as a matter of modern life. I will be spending my extra time doing other things, such as reading, writing, and doing devotional work for the Warrior and Military Dead. I will also be attending the graves of the local Military Dead and making offerings.
May the Warrior Dead and Military Dead never be forgotten. May They be remembered. May Their sacrifices ever be remembered. May Their lives be marked. May offerings for Them be made. May Their memories live on. Hail the Warrior Dead! Hail to the Military Dead!
1 In Flander’s Fields. (2014). The Great War website. Retrieved 2:48, Nov 03, 2014, from http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm
2 All Quiet on the Western Front. (2014). Amazon book website. Retrieved 2:50, Nov 03, 2014, from http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DAD25O8?btkr=1#
3 The Necessary War. (2014). Youtube.com website. Retrieved 2:45, Nov 03, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pg5LWHQYIrY
4 World War I casualties. (2014.) Wikipedia.com website. Retrieved 3:03, Nov 03, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties
5 WWI Casualty and Death Tables. (2014.) PBS.org The Great War website. Retrieved 02:58, Nov 3, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/resources/casdeath_pop.html
6 The Necessary War. (2014). Youtube.com website. Retrieved 2:45, Nov 03, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pg5LWHQYIrY
Once we planted trees
To mark your passing
Hoping you would return
We called to you,
Asking you to come home
Once we raised mounds
Laid you deep inside
And visited bringing gifts
We called to you,
Asking you to hear our praise and songs
It has been so long
Since a tree was planted
Or a name was given
A mound was raised
Or a gift laid down
Again, we prepare the ground for trees
Again, we give the names
Again, we prepare the Earth for mounds
Again, we lay down the gifts
We seek you once again
We call to you, we sing to you, we praise you
Asking you to come home
Asking you to show us the way before
Asking you to walk with us once more
Hey folks, there’s two new episodes up for the month of October for the Jaguar and the Owl, a podcast I co-host with my good friend Jim.
James interviews Dawn Dancing Otter, founder and admin for The Shamanic Community, a Facebook page dedicated to shamanism worldwide which has over 27 thousand members!
This episode explores her coming into shamanism, visiting the land of her Ancestors, and the challenges she has faced with organizing and moderating this large forum.
James and Sarenth talk about dreams and more.
This latest episode brings something forward that we got hit with on the spot. Rather than just celebrate Samhain, Winternights, Álfablót, etc. we invite folks to bring to Twitter and social media in general posts about your Ancestors, whether it is Ancestors of blood, adoption, spirit, what-have-you. It is #HonoringtheAncestors. For anyone who does a post for the Ancestors like this, link us back in the comment section of Episode 29. I will be putting together another post to start us off. You can follow me @Sarenth on Twitter.
So, I wrote this awhile back and completely blanked on posting it. Part 1 is here.
If there are outward ways of acknowledging the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that are commonly accepted, it then follows that an absence of these can be an indicator of one’s devotion to Them. In the case of a lack of offerings, a lack of hospitality may be seen. If certain prayers, rituals, ritual actions, dietary observances, etc., are expected by one’s culture, Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits, then to go without those would also be lacking in hospitality, possibly breaking ritual taboos, and/or hurting the spiritual power of the person, and/or their group(s). Such an act may (and I imagine probably will) hurt one’s relationship with a God or Goddess, Ancestor(s), and/or spirits.
Even with the less human of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits I work with, starting here with baselines of “I do not know you, but I hope this offering is acceptable” at least showed I was making an effort to come to understand Them, even if They had me offer or do something (or in some cases nothing but open my ears) later on. I do what I can to meet the Beings who interact with me on Their own terms; it is respectful and Gebo in my regard to do so. In my experience, in turn, if They wish to have a relationship with me, They try as best as They can to use words, images, sounds, smells, concepts etc. as I can use and/or understand. It is entirely possible with some Beings that They may have a learning curve in kind to us as much as we to Them. Not all Gods are omniscient. Indeed, most of the Gods I have worshiped or interacted with are not omniscient. Sometimes They may well need you to talk to Them or interact with Them in some fashion for Them to know what is going on.
In the end we are navigating relationships, and to seek perfection here is counterproductive. If apologies or amends need to be made along the way, if these Gods, Ancestors, and spirits mean so much to us, we should be willing to meet Them if They are reasonable, and negotiate if not. We should also be willing to be flexible in our understanding of what is reasonable in kind; what may seem a hardship to us may have been expected on a regular basis by Them. If we can develop good relationships with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, then surely we can develop ways to deepen these relationships while giving Gebo and remembering to allow Gebo to come to us in kind. Screwing up happens. Being a responsible person means owning up to one’s mistakes, and where possible, rectifying them.
I would say that a lot, if not all of these things apply to the Gods as guidelines even when the Gods, some Ancestors, and spirits are less human-focused, human-centric, or just plain not like humans at all. Respect, good offerings, hospitality, all of these are baseline in any relationship even if the attitudes and mores regarding what these things are change. I find this especially true if you are going into a place that is definitely a God, Ancestor, or spirit’s place, such as a sacred grove, a graveyard, a mountain, or the like. Hospitality is even more important when you are in another’s home or place.
The only way that I have found to get better at understanding what one should do in a relationship is to ask questions, and then to do it where one can, and bargain or accept one’s limitations and work at them, where one cannot. Even as a godatheow I generally still have the option of asking my Father for options, of negotiating in respect when I believe I am being asked too much. It is up to me to ask for these options, however, and I certainly don’t expect other people to be offered the same paths, options, or consequences (good or ill) as I am. However, for the work of good relationship building and engagement with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits you do not need to be a spiritual specialist; you merely need to be open and dedicated to doing the work necessary to forge and keep these good relationships.
In the Northern Tradition the communities we are part of, allied to, and so on, share and build hamingja, group luck or power. If everyone is living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestor, spirits, and one another, we are doing well. If not, our hamingja suffers, and so will each person in turn for it. This puts taking responsibility to a different level, in that you are not only responsible to yourself, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, but to those around you. Even a solitary practitioner might have hamingja, since all but the most reclusive of hermits belong to a community of some kind.
This does not mean that ethical consideration for fellow humans stops at the question ‘who is in my in-crowd’, but those people do, generally speaking, carry more weight in one’s life. Practically as well as in many other ways, our families carry a great deal of weight even if we physically leave where our families live. The human communities we engage in, whether via friendship, association, fellowship, etc. all leave marks on our lives great and small. When someone in our personal communities asks for help we are more apt to give it, and vice versa. They are given more ethical consideration, in the end, because their impact and presence in our lives is much more immediate.
In much the same way, the Gods I have active engagement with are the Gods Whom I most care for in regards to my ethics. Do I care about treating the Gods I come across in a ritual well? Of course, and this links back to the earlier points about hospitality. That hospitality is informed by the Gods, Ancestors, and spirit I worship and engage with on a daily basis. For daily considerations and many, if not most of my life choices the Gods I am closest to and worship are the Gods Whose relationships matter most to me, my family, and my communities. So, Their impact and Presence in my life has more pull on it. The same with Ancestors and spirits.
I care about the Earth as a whole. The landvaettir of any place I visit or pass through deserve respect, if not veneration and worship. However, relating to the whole world is damned near impossible for me. I have never been to a desert, for instance. I can relate to it in a kind of detached way, see it as valuable, and believe they should be protected, that the deserts have landvaettir as well, but it is quite another thing to know the desert(s) and Their spirits. I can imagine or be shown how beautiful the deserts can be…from a camera, but to go there and experience it is wholly different. My ethical engagement, then, is limited with the desert and associated spirits as compared to my local landvaettir.
Polytheist ethics and ethical consideration extends to the communities we are part of, to the living, to the Dead, the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, communities, and the ecosystems in which one lives, among many other places. These ethics also extend into the larger world, in places I may never visit. I use less oil when and where I can because I acknowledge the Earth as a living Being. As much as I can, I try to make my negative impact upon this world, through teaching, purchasing, and any way I can find, to be reduced. No decision is made in isolation or without impact upon another. Even if one is entirely reclusive, there are still the landvaettir and one’s local ecosystem to consider in one’s choices. The local landvaettir may include the Dead who live in the soil the landvaettir are made of, the natives of the land we live on now. It may be that the two are totally separate Beings and need separate consideration. I can think of no place where we humans are not sitting, standing, and living on the bones of those who came before us. In this recognition respect and actions that back up that respect go hand in hand.
These ethical considerations need not be jarringly huge, either. I pray to the landvaettir and make offerings before I set up my tent at Michigan Paganfest, where I have helped tend the Sacred Fire the last three years. I pay this respect to the landvaettir because it is not my land.
Then again, an ethical consideration may be jarringly huge in its impact, in the mindset that follows from it, and in the way one lives their life. Even though our modern notions of property ownership may say otherwise, if I own land, even so it will not be my land. It cannot be; the land is Its Own. I may be allowed to live on it, my family, and generations after may be allowed to live on it, but the land is Its Own, and we humans may be part of It, or part of the landvaettir some day but we are not It Itself. I may partner with the land, treat it well, till it, harvest from it, raise animals on it, bury my dead in it, and feel close to It, but I am not the land. This does not mean I do not belong to the land, but that the land does not belong to me. It was here before I was, and will be long after I am dead. I can no more outright own It than I can own Jörð.
When we light the Sacred Fire there are prayers and offerings made to Fire Itself, to the Gods of Fire, to the spirits of Fire, to the wood, to the landvaettir, Ancestors, and other spirits. The Gods, Ancestors, and spirits all deserve our respect, especially the Fire Itself since the Sacred Fire is the heart of the festival for three days it is on. We keep it day and night; to do otherwise is to extinguish the heart of the festival, and to insult the Fire, the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits we have asked to be with us in Its heat and light, to sit with us by it and to speak with us when They will. To extinguish It on purpose before it is time is to break our word that we will do all we can to keep It lit throughout the weekend. To throw litter in It is to treat the Sacred Fire as a garbage disposal, which is inhospitable to the communities the Fire represents, and inhospitable to the Fire Itself. To speak disrespectfully of the Fire is an insult to It and the community whose Fire It keeps as we keep It. To treat the heart of the festival, the spirit of Fire Itself, the particular Fire spirit that is the Fire with disrespect, is insulting to the Fire Itself, to each person connected to the Fire, to those who form the community that the Fire is the heart of, and to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and so on that have been called by and to the Sacred Fire. As with people, Fire too can be worked with when insulted, and amends can be made, but it is far easier and more respectful to not have to rectify insults and problems in the first place.
I will continue these thoughts on Ethics and Animism in Polytheism in Part 3.
I am presenting at the New York Regional Diviner’s Conference.
What: for one day in November, diviners from a plethora of traditions will gather in Fishkill, NY to discuss their art, network, exchange knowledge, and learn new techniques. There will be a day of workshops and round-table discussions on a variety of topics of interest to diviners. At this conference, we will be discussing how to restore the position of divination as a sacred art within our traditions. We will also be looking at the difference between diviners and oracles, how to work cleanly as a diviner, ethics, best practices, trouble shooting, how to ensure accuracy, self care, and more. The conference is open to diviners at all levels, from experienced to raw beginners.
Why: Polytheist religions were religions of diviners, seers, omen takers, and oracles. This family of sacred arts was fundamental toward keeping the community and the individual in right relationship with the ancestors, Gods, and spirits. As we work to restore our respective traditions, likewise we must return divinatory practices to their rightful place as necessary and sacred arts.
When: Saturday, November 29, 2014 from 8:30am – 8pm.
Where: Quality Inn, 849 New York 52, Fishkill, NY 12524.
This is my presentation for the Conference:
Divination: They are Speaking – by Sarenth Odinsson
“Divination, more than any other art, tells us that the Gods are listening.” Paraphrased from Sarah Iles Johnston.
This lecture/discussion will explore divination as a continuation and container for religion and traditions, and how it can powerful tool for change.
We will explore several topics: how contact with the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, etc. can be affected by divination, how changes are made under divination individually and collectively, how religions can be changed by revelation and/or communication through divination, and finally, what the implications, challenges, and radical avenues that divination provides should we follow them close.