You lie in a bed
Sick beyond sick
I wish I could see you
Let you know thank you
For giving life with your wife
To countless kids
We know you are dying
I wish I could end it for you
But these people would not understand
And you, in your love for God and Church, would refuse
So I stay here
Praying for an end to your suffering
I raise smoke not only for you
But for the family you will leave behind
You will leave gaping wounds
In your wife and children
Because you worked so hard
To be loving in life
You are so far gone from here
Will we bury you here, where I can visit?
Or will you be laid to rest
in rocky red, parched soil?
I don’t know how I will mourn for you
If there will be tears or just fond memories
Because it’s so long, so distant
Since I saw your smiling, wrinkled face
I don’t know how I will stand strong
For my father or my family
But I will do what I can
To honor you, if nothing else
I pray for your end
To suffering and transfusions
To pain and weariness
To restlessness and the wait
I love you, Grandpa
You will be remembered
You will have a place in my home
You will be remembered.
Hail to the Warrior Dead who bled and died so that children no longer had to work in factories and mines, so that safety for all those They left behind became a priority, so that the death-march drudge of factory and industry conditions stopped churning out as steady a line of corpses as products. Hail to the Warrior Dead of Blair Mountain Ridge, of the Haymarket Riots, of the Black Patch Wars, of the Flint Sit-Down Strike known to the workers as “The Battle of the Bulls Run”, and so many other times where You All marched in solidarity, power, strength, and ferocity.
Hail to You All! Thank You for your blood and body! Thank You for your loved ones’ missed time with You! Thank You for Your heart that inspired countless millions, whose stance, work, and sacrifice we still benefit from! Thank you for Your sacrifices! Hail to You!
Hail to Mary Harris Jones, known to millions as Mother Jones, tireless in her fight! Hail to You Black-Dressed, Storyteller, Inspirer, Keeper of Protest’s Flame! Hail to You, Whose tongue cut Oily John and Crystal Peter!
Hail to all Those Who marched, bled, and died! Hail to Those Who sat down and were unmoved! Hail to Those Who were struck and maimed! Hail to Those Who were mocked and ridiculed! Hail to Those Who were reviled, and dismissed! Hail to Those Who were crushed in the gears! Hail to Those Who were mauled by the dogs! Hail to Those Who were killed by police! Hail to Those Who were killed by the National Guard! Hail to Those Who were killed by the companies’ employees! Hail to Those Who were killed by the hired thugs and gunmen of the companies They worked for! Hail to all These, Who still were unbent in Their righteous anger, and unabated until They achieved victory!
Hail to the Unknown Warriors, the hundreds and thousands who gave their life so their fellow people could have a better life!
May all of Them be with us again. The struggles of Your times have returned, and we need You All.
I shall do, and call upon anyone who reads these words to do, as Mother Jones called: “Pray for the Dead and fight like hell for the living.” Hail to You All! Remember the Dead, for They are still with us!
When I hail the Warrior Dead, I do not hail just the Military Dead. Certainly, there are Military Dead who are part of Them. Certainly, all Military Dead should be honored for Their service. However, there are a lot of Warrior Dead whose stories are glossed over, and lost to time. These, and stories like these, should be well kept so we honor Their memory, and the causes They fought for. I thank Bragi and Ansuz for helping me to write this. Hail to You! I hail the Warrior Dead who came and spoke to me while I was writing this. Hail to You! May the stories of the Warrior Dead never be forgotten. In telling, may we live in Them. In the telling, They live forever.
When anyone asks about what unions did to get the rights all workers possess, tell them about this.
You have come a long way from home to settle in a place in the Blair Mountain Ridge. You went through hell just to get here. This place is 50 miles out from the capital, Charleston, in West Virginia. Trees are everywhere along the route to the mine you’ve come to work at, and what isn’t trees are rocks and boulders, and all of it is on slopes. The mine is dark beyond dark, and the candles are the only source of light. Every second or third miner might have one, if you’re lucky. The hours are long, and you’re a long ways off from any non-company anything. The little scraps you get so you can buy from the company store? You buy your equipment with it. You buy your food with it. Your lodging. What little there is. You work 12 hours at a shot, maybe more. You drop your candle somewhere, it goes out? You pay for it. If you died, you died, and if you were supporting a family, they better figure out quick how to support themselves without you.
What’s more is that even your soul isn’t safe from the company. They have approved preachers and pastors. They give them the messages to give to you and your fellow miners. The very people who should be appealing to God on your behalf, on your family’s behalf, fill your ears with sermons of how good the company is, and how happy you should be to get blisters on your hands and feet, to risk your life each day or eventually get black-lung for a company that gives you scraps of paper to pay for the scraps of food they deign to give you from their heaping plates. Yes, indeed, God bless America, and God bless the company.
You know that if you and your fellow miners, all of whom are in the same straits as you, organize, then the police will come with a signed martial law order in hand, and crack down. Literally. They do it whenever you and your folks get too rowdy, too angry from one more insult, one more death, one more trampling on your dignity. So you strike. The authorities and their posse of private enforcers come for you. You get your skull split, you get arrested? Goodbye, employment. Your rights end where the nightsticks and guns begin. After all, you’re working the specialty ore that nets your boss ungodly profits, and their pull is so thick they may as well have installed themselves as governor in Charleston.
Then, a day comes when you and your fellows won’t take it anymore. It wasn’t enough that martial law was called. Again. It wasn’t enough that they tried to pin murder on Sheriff Hatfield and twenty-two other people. No. Those fuckers just executed one of the few pro-union folks in the neighborhood. They killed Sheriff Sid Hatfield in cold blood. They lured him the courthouse on bullshit perjury charges, and him and Ed Chambers were killed by deputized ‘detectives’ from Baldwin-Felts. They put twelve fucking holes in each of them to make damn good and sure they and their ghosts weren’t coming back.
Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. The same pricks that were hired guards and ‘investigators’ for your boss. The same folks who are more than willing to crack skulls to get their employers’ way. Blood spatters the ground, it pools. You know it’s a matter of time before someone’s finger gets itchy, or someone moves the wrong way. So you march, because it is wrong. You march, because that life, and the life of all of those at risk from that martial law, bearing down like boots on all your necks, are worth it. Solidarity.
You are 10,000 strong. Some of you are armed with guns. Some of you carry whatever seemed handy as a weapon. Some of you have your hands, so that’s enough. You all march. You march, on foot. It is fifty long miles until you hit Logan. And people join you. It doesn’t matter the background, the creed, the color, everyone marches. Miners march with bookkeepers, march with doctors, march with lawyers, march with railroaders, march with ministers and pastors and priests. You march. You might be as many as 15,000 strong, now. Solidarity
Then you all run square into the Logan Defenders in Logan County. These bastards are armed to the teeth, headed by the anti-union Sheriff Don Chafin. There might be anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 men, all from Baldwin-Felts, local cops, deputies, and volunteers. You’re a ragtag bunch; maybe half of you have decent weapons if you’re lucky. They? They have pistols and rifles, Browning .50 machine guns, artillery, and planes. Oh, and those planes? They have chemical and explosive payloads. That’s right. They’ll drop bombs on you full of shrapnel and bleach for the profits your blood and sweat will make them. So you do the only thing you can do. You charge right at them. Solidarity.
It’s bullets and chaos, it’s hands clenched into fists, teeth bared, and dirt kicked up as you and those fuckers who want you down in the dirt come to it. Fists pound flesh, bullets meant for other armies tear into your friends and chew their bodies like some great monster come to feast. Crows and ravens wheel and scream overhead as the days drag on. Guns, smoke, and screams fill the air. You don’t stop fighting. Solidarity.
The reports will say only 20-100 people died in the week that followed. You know better. You helped load your dead friends into boxcars to carry them home. Archaeologists will say over a million rounds were fired. You’ve no idea how many were fired, only what they did to you. What they did to the land around you, pockmarking it. Like the Earth vomited up black bile soaked in blood. You pick up the dead, you say your prayers, and you get back to the fight. Solidarity.
The week ends, and the federal troops arrive. You and your fellows put down your weapons in the woods, hide them, and get the rest of the dead on their journey home. Too many of you are veterans; these were family of another kind. Besides, the Army wasn’t the ones trying to make you bleed just because you and your union folks wanted to be able to organize and bargain together for a decent wage, time off, a pension, or basic human dignity. You and your fellows give up, no one so much as fires a shot. It is over. You make the long journey home. You pray, and you bury your dead. Solidarity.
Nothing much changes. The company still takes advantage, except now it starts blacklisting union members and breaking contracts with the unions. It still makes you pay for your equipment, your food, your lodging. It still works you till you drop of black-lung or exhaustion. It still puts those Baldwin-Felts thugs around the place, still pays those pastors to keep the company prayers and sermons in your ears. It still takes you, body, mind and soul, for everything you’ve got. Those of you who remain do so as your union dies a horrible death, slow, like a twisted knife in the guts. The union won’t recover until 1935, when it comes to life in the New Deal. You and your fellows are there, and you triumph as the bosses finally start to pay up, finally start to bargain in good faith. The unions roar back to life, stronger than ever. You stand on the bones of the dead, and remember: Solidarity.
These are the sources I consulted for this post:
I seek inside myself
a place that was
carved from earth
scraped from stone
I seek behind myself
those that knew
life from death
power from tribe
I seek before myself
a place that is
sought from earth
sanctified from sacrifice
I seek beyond myself
a tribe that knows
strength from striving
bonds from trust
Growing food and connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir related to it is an area of life that, as a shaman, I have only recently had the time off to devote to it. In previous years my schedule was so up-and-down or constantly changing that getting out and helping with the garden consistently was damned near impossible. Last year we could not even maintain a garden outside of the yearly asparagus harvest due to our home’s varying schedules. This year I have a far more stable schedule, so now I can give the time to get in the garden and learn from the Holy Powers and my living family. I did not realize it till sitting down and writing it, but that is one hell of a burden lifting off of me. I have enough hours to keep up with bills and enough time off consecutively so I can get things done.
We actually have a good deal of plants in the ground this year. Lots of tomatoes, green beans, and beets. We also planted squash, zucchini, and a few herbs. Provided the birds lay off of them for a bit, we should have a good harvest. In past time where we have planted equivalent amounts of tomatoes, green beans, and similar plants, we’ve had a good-sized stockpile even after giving away some of the harvest to family and friends. It’s one of the reasons I am looking forward to the fall harvest.
There’s more to connecting with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside than just my garden or the local parks, though. As I mentioned in the previous post, Skaði has charged me to learn how to hunt, to skin and dress a kill. I have a wonderful Aunt with a standing offer to teach me to bow hunt after I take a safety course. I am also blessed with a good friend who has offered to teach me the same. With the amounts of time I have off every week I am actually far closer to making this a reality and fulfilling the rest of the obligations I have with Skaði.
The fertility of the landvaettir is a blessing, one that I believe we carry as an obligation to keep in partnership with Them. It feeds us, nourishes us body, mind, and soul as surely as we help nourish the landvaettir by living well with Them. The soil, the plants, and the animals all deserve their due, their respect. Whether we are hunting, fishing, gardening, farming, ranching, or foraging, without the Gebo of honoring the cycles around us and taking care in our work, we do deep harm. We can see the effects of this breakdown in how neonicotinoids are harming honey bees, how fracking is poisoning the water we drink, and how the elimination of predators has deeply upset the balance in regards to deer and similar animal populations.
Paying attention and honoring the cycles of life and seasons brings us into closer alignment with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Given a good number of the surviving holidays we have are directly tied to seasonal and harvest cycles, it also helps to place them into a context that makes a good deal more sense than celebrating because a date rolls around. I think as polytheists, Heathens and otherwise, carry traditions forward even more variations will emerge based on the climates where we live. Truly partnering with the Holy Powers in our lives is working with the cycles we have rather than the cycles we are told by a book we ought to be imitating. Many of us live in places where the seasonal cycles are different from, or simply do not match those that have survived in lore and archaeology. If we are to live in good Gebo with the Holy Powers we will need to adapt to the way things are.
Part of living in better Gebo with the Holy Powers also requires us to look at how we live outdoors. What do our practices like gardening, farming, ranching, and the like have on the soil, the plants, the animals, and the water? How does water flow? Are the lands our homes rest on full of one-species non-native grass? Why? How can we better encourage native species to flourish? How can we encourage the fertility in land, plant, and animals that makes life possible? How do we live in good Gebo with the world around us?
I found myself seeing a lot of these answers in person at the Amma Center Amrita Farms in Ann Arbor and from the MI Folk School. More importantly, Sylverleaf and I were able to get hands-on experience with these answers. We spent a day at the Amma Center with the people working on the farm area, permaculturists who have worked a great deal to help the land distribute water more effectively, and to utilize the space to greater effect for food production without using pesticides or insecticides. We explored the creation of berms and swales, hugelkultures, crater gardening, the use of a keyline plow to make small keyline swales, the creation of compost tea, and small-scale orchard creation.
For those unfamiliar, here are some links for what berms and swales are, and how they are made. This PDF explains berms and swales in pretty simple terms with explanations of when they are and are not good design ideas. This link has a good overview and video on swales. This link shows berms and swales in action on a project for a front yard rain garden. The work Sylverleaf and I did at Amrita Farms’ main area for berms and swales was to help transplant some apple trees out to areas better suited to them. The staff led us on a survey of the berm and swale systems, and how it solved the Farms’ water flow problems.
What I want to stress here is that this is not fighting the landscape or imposing a system the land rejects. Rather, it is helping the land to better work with water runoff to help solve water allocation issues one might have. In many cases the berms serve not only as physical landscapes for the water to run over, but also a gathering point for plants to help combat soil erosion, helping to increase the ability of the land to keep its shape and provide fertility to the soil. The swales give the water places to go without disrupting the landscape, and it helps catch water in the soil in a way that is efficient and works with the land rather than dumping all the water into a low point where it can attract mosquitoes and other insects.
In another section of the Farms, keyline plowing was used. This link has a good overview on the technqiue. It was done in an area where full-blown berms and swales would not have been desirable, and allowed for water to flow into the cut channels in directions that helped maximize water retention, and guided excess water to a pond. Again, what was emphasized was this worked with the flow of the earth, with the keylines acting as guides for the water to flow. While the Farms used laser-guided equipment and had a tractor come out to do the keyline work, we were shown that land surveying can still effectively be done by hand using simple survey techniques, and that (depending on the soil and one’s resources) having animals do the keyline plowing would not be out of the question.
The last, and for me the most fun I had at Amrita Farms, was when we made a hugel. Hugelkultur is a beautiful way to compost wood, and a description of it is here. Since we have a decent amount of deadfall at our home I am looking at making a hugel, though far smaller than the one we made at the Farm. That’s the beauty of methods like these: most can be made to suit far smaller pieces of property than farms, and the projects that required mechanized equipment like the berms and swales, can be done by hand with a shovel or pick.
What I bring home from these workshops, again and again, is that there are far more healthy and wise ways to live in Gebo with Jörð than what capitalism and agribusiness continues to push at and on us. These ways are far more accessible than one might think at first; permaculture can scale with one’s home and land (even if that land is, say, a community garden space), and hugelkulture can use great dead trees, or twigs as needed. These ways, found in permaculture, gardening, various types of natural home-building, and so on, are ways we can live upon Her that helps us as people live more whole lives, and in doing so, bring us closer to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. If we take in these ways and help to foster them in others, we can help our future generations survive and thrive. Taking these steps to restore our connection and relationships with Jörð and the landvaettir takes the vital connections that were sundered in and between our communities, and seeks to tie them together even stronger, I can think of precious few gifts we could give the next generation than a lived, healthy, powerful relationship with the Holy Powers, and lived, healthy, powerful, relationships with our communities, both grounded in trust, respect, and honor.
As I mentioned in Part 1, as I become inspired (or pushed, as the case may be) to write, I will add to this series of posts.
My indoor and outdoor vés and worship spaces get more time from me depending on the time of year, and where I am feeling drawn. Given that now is the planting season, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outdoors. My family maintains a main vé outdoors in a small grove of trees where I have placed Odin’s godpole and where our family makes our Sacred Fires. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Hela and Niðogg’s vé is the compost heap. When we finally spread the soil after a year of adding to it, it was dark black, and had a rich sweet smell to it. Where animals have been buried, all in the main vé, I also feel Hela’s presence.
This entire last week or two I’ve been outside quite a bit with the family in the large garden we’ve been prepping, tilling, then planting. Every time we go out there is a time to pray, every action out there an opportunity to come closer to the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and other vaettir. It doesn’t replace the offerings I make. I make those too. It might be a glass of water on a vé, it might be smoke offered from tobacoo or mugwort in a sacred pipe, those same herbs placed in/upon the Earth, or an offering from me as I do the work such as a song or praise.
Today, as I dug each small hole for the green beans, I prayed to Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, the landvaettir, the Disir, the Väter, and the Ancestors. I sang songs I was taught in Ojibwe, and I sang songs for my Catholic Ancestors, who were coming on strong today, with my Dad as we planted. The days when I dug the Earth I sang songs for Jörð and the landvaettir. Increasingly, making songs for the Holy Powers is becoming a part of my offerings alongside the others. I like it. It’s an offering of breath and creativity, since a lot of the songs I’m making up the verses as I go along.
The Ancestors have been there every time, and fairly thick. I’m not surprised; up until my generation, most of my family on both my parents’ sides have come from farmers. It makes sense that I would feel a lot more of Them during similar activities, and that They are pushing for me to get land, animals, and the like. I felt some different Ancestors around me, though, when my Dad hit a mole with the rototiller Friday. Rather than simply bury it, my Mom actually suggested I skin it.
I asked the mole if it would give me permission to skin it. When she agreed, I set up a space for it in the main vé. I asked Ansuz to help me cleanse, Gebo to help me ground, and did my usual grounding, centering, cleansing, and shielding work. This would be my first time skinning an animal; I wanted to do it right. Given Dad’s done it before, he showed me how to sharpen the knives I might use, and briefly explained the cuts I would need to make. I returned to the vé, and made prayers to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and landvaettir, asking for Their help. At first I was surprised by Skaði’s Presence. Then, I remembered: A long time back when I was first introduced to Skaði by Odin during my ordeal on the Tree and work in the Nine Worlds, She had tasked me with, among other things, learning how to make a kill, skin, and dress it. While I do still need to do this in full, She let me know this was a good first step.
It turns out skin is damned tough. I knew the knives were sharp, but this being my first time out, I wasn’t expecting how tough, especially on a little thing like a mole. I was frustrated. So, I returned and asked Dad if there was something I was doing wrong. He came out, looked at it, and then mentioned to me that he usually started from a cut along the throat in bigger animals. In this case, he felt I should behead the animal. I asked the mole for permission to do so, and when the mole gave it, I did. I took a breath, made some prayers, and focused. I looked at the knives in front of me, and finally went with the smallest: a slim, curved steel knife with a deer antler hilt, a wolf burned into the pommel. Again, I took a breath, made prayers, and focused. I felt an Ancestor help guide me. “This way,” Their hand on mine, showing me. I cut, felt the blade slide through skin, flesh, flesh the crunch of bone, cartilege as I severed the mole’s head. I thanked it for allowing me to do this, to take its body and make something from it. To learn from it. I set the head gently aside, bowed my head to it, and proceed to skin the rest of it. An occasional ‘Good’ or ‘Careful’ from one of the Ancestors. It went a good deal faster than I thought it would, and in about half an hour or so, I had it skinned and fleshed without damage to the fur or the skin. I heard a ‘Good’ from Skaði and heard no more from Her, though Her Presence lingered until the mole was buried. I pinned the skin to a good-sized chunk of wood, stretched it, and placed pickling salt on it. I will be getting some alum as well, and following instructions to make this a pliable, tanned skin.
When its skin was safe in a dark corner of the garage, I returned to the sacred grove with a shovel, and offerings. I asked the landvaettir for permission to dig, and once They gave it, and I ‘felt’I had found the spot, I dug a small hole. I prayed to Hela and Niðogg, asking Them to accept the mole. I placed the body inside, put down some tobacco and mugwort in offering to the mole and covered the hole. I then gave some in offering to the Gods, Ancestors, and landvaettir. I washed the ceramic tile I had used, and went inside. I made prayers as I physically cleaned the knives and my hands, thanking the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir for Their patience, willingness to teach, and the sacrifice of the mole.
It’s interesting in reflecting on it. The life-generating cycle of prepping, tilling, and planting was started just a few days after this animal was killed and skinned. I approach both in a sacred way because both are sacred. I was not inspired to give songs for the mole; I was inspired to give reverent silence and my full care to the process of skinning, of not damaging the gift that she had given me. I was inspired to sing loudly during the prepping, the tilling, and the planting. Different sacred encounters with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir ask us to take different attitudes, actions, and offerings. Perhaps the next time I skin an animal it will ask for a song, or for many songs. Perhaps it will ask that I dance. Perhaps Skaði or Freyr will ask that I dance, or sing, or to be silent. Perhaps the next time I prepare a field, or till a field, or plant, the landvaettir, or the Gods will ask for my silence, a Sacred Fire, a ritual from my family, or perhaps They will ask for the same offerings year after year.
In connecting with my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir outside, it has made me realize just how much I rely on Them. It made me realize in very grounded terms that I am vitally connected with the Holy Powers in very down-to-Earth ways: that Freyr is in the asparagus as well as His statue, that He helps to give life to the land, and that Gerda is both present on the Gods’ altar and in the garden giving life to the land and growth to the plants. I understand the landvaettir are the asparagus, tomatoes, beans and squash as much as They are the trees of the sacred grove, the grass of the lawn, the animals that dart about them, and the rich earth of the garden itself. In understanding this, I understand the landvaettir are part of the house and the land, and that this land (and a good deal more I may never see, i.e. farms, mines, production areas, etc.) will help to sustain my family and I. In understanding this connection I know that the Ancestors are right here with me, supporting me in the work at hand, and that if I listen They will help guide me in what to do. All of these things reinforce the understanding that the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir are as vital a part of our communities as its living human members are.
Connecting and understanding my relationship with the Holy Powers is knowing, and especially acknowledging, that I need these connections spiritually as well as physically. In putting my hands in the Earth and asking the Holy Powers to help me grow the food, I asking Them to help me be a shaman that, paraphrasing the words of my dear friend Two Snakes, “can make the beans grow”. I am asking Them not only to help me feed my family and I physically, but feed us spiritually as well, living in good Gebo with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and furthering my path as a shaman.
This post is getting a little lengthy and starting to flow away from the topic at the start, so I think I’ll split this up into two posts. If I get the inspiration maybe this will become a series of posts.
What is constant
When words are less than air
Crackling between boards?
What is truth
When ephemera’s hold strangles
and the meaning of things succumb
to such tender embrace?
What are lies
When it is the engine and the oil
by which a nation builds
and knows itself?
What is death
When its visage is buried
under plastic smiles and makeup
pressed to styrofoam and wrapping?
What is knowledge
When it is hidden
by mountains of lies and ignorance
repeated by forked, moneyed tongues?
All is deceit.