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
With the Spring finally here in Michigan, I thought I would take some time to go over some of the practices I keep outside.
I maintain an active shrine to Hela and Niðogg. It is rotten, and full of life-giving soil. Snakes have lived in it, and it gives much-needed nutrients back to the soils when we incorporate it in the gardens we keep. It is a compost pile. When I take the compost to it I make a simple prayer: “Hail to the Gods of Death and Rot. Hail Hela and Niðogg.” This one of many devotional acts one could offer to these powerful, and sometimes maligned and misunderstood Goddesses.
Given so many of us are going to Hela’s realm, whether ourselves or others, I would think cultivating a good relationship with Her would be a good thing to do. She is a holy Goddess who houses our Dead, who gives the Ancestors comfort and rest. It is rude to denigrate the Hostess of our Dead. So I praise Her, and thank Her for housing my Dead, for letting Them speak with me, for helping me to hear Them. In building closer ties to death and Hela, we better appreciate and revere life. Through Her we connect with our past and our Ancestors. For that alone She should be given deep respect and praise.
Niðogg’s presence in the world, eating the poison given to the Tree, gnawing at the dead roots of Yggdrasil and traitors and oathbreakers is one which is needed. It is not pretty. It is often thankless. She is the eater of our most rotten Dead. The liars, the oathbreakers, the traitors. She eats the poison and the rot from the Tree, and helps the Tree to grow even as She does eat at the healthy roots. In appreciating the poison Niðogg takes on, it should inspire actions to prevent the poisons that ravage our planet, our nations, our homes, and our communities.
Yet, like a great many small or simple devotional acts that build on themselves, the results are wonderful, perhaps profound, when built well and with frequency. The effects on the garden, when we do these things, are good. Our Gods do not exist only in some ‘out there’ sense. If we are living in good relationship with Them, that will have some kind of effect in this world. It does not need to be dramatic; Hela and Niðogg do not come burrowing out of Jörð to declare to me the compost is good and sacred. It is sacred because the respect for Jörð, the landvaettir, Hela, and Niðogg is present whether I am alone, or my son or his mother helps offer the compost. It is sacred because I have maintained the shrine to these Goddesses, and the landvaettir have allowed the space to let us work with Hela, Niðogg, and Them so we may eat. We are the landvaettir’s guests and friends. We have invited the Gods to come to this place. In doing this, our family has chosen to be a bit closer to death and rot, and to build respect and good relationships with both. Doing this we invite the Goddesses to share in Their blessings with my family and I.
Once a Way was Opened for me
My body was shaved clean
Was wrapped head to toe in linens
My Mouth was Opened
He bore the scalpel and the was staff one after the other
As I was prepared
With spells and oils
With those gentle, kohl-furred hands
Was my soul lifted
Tender and brotherly
From my corpse
He raised me up and spoke
What remains between us
Then set me down, a child
Newly born into his body
Oh there was pain as
He stitched my soul back
Bleeding and begging
For any ointment
That would dull the pain
O, Mercy is in Him
So too is respect
for work to be done
So He wrapped my organs tight
in my living corpse
and raised Open the Way
So I could rise again
This was an older piece of poetry I wrote while in my Hinduism course in my last year at college. During this course I wrote a comparative essay on the Bhagavad Gita and the Havamal. Good times, and good food for thought. This was one of the results of thinking on Hindu religion and looking at my own.
Is it in my nature to fulfill my Dharma?
Or is it Dharma’s nature to prompt my Wyrd’s weaving?
Is it the weave and weft of Wyrd to fulfill Dharma’s drive?
Or is it only the choices we make that determine where we lie?
If in death I find a pull, a push, a paradox
Between the way that I am and the way that I was
I will know the way between Dharma, Wyrd, and Way
From the fullness in Death I take from Life
Wherever my soul’s to stay
So whether I am in the Halls of Hel, Sessrumnir
Or Valhall’s shining stone
Or enter into nirvana with the Gods
Or nothingness alone
I have made choices, changing Wyrd within my Path
At the end my choices are all the means that I have had
Hail to the Dead who walk under my feet
To fungus and plant, animal and insect
Hail to the Dead who walk with me
To Elements and Gods, Disir and Väter
Hail to the Dead who walk over my head
To stars and skies, Þjazi’s Eyes watching
Hail to the Dead who gird the Worlds
To Ymir’s corpse, and Helheim’s hosts
Hail to the Dead all around
From highest ground to deepest grave
From burial mound and mountain high
From ash and bone, blood and soul
Hail to the Holy Dead
Death’s Defender waits
She watches, white eyed, white-haired
Over the Dead’s grim Gate
Her spear glistens in the snow
Arms arrayed in black
and sword hangs on Her hip
None but the invited pass
Beyond Gjallarbu’s gaze
Beneath the wary watcher