Posts Tagged ‘death’

Mad World and Grief and Death

September 16, 2016 2 comments

I was clicking through one of my Youtube playlists, and came across one I have not listened to in a very long time.  When I am feeling at my lowest, I’ll queue up Gary Jules’ version of Mad World.  It is my go-to song for when I am feeling like things can’t get lower, and it made me start thinking about how we grieve.

I am part of the Polytheist Death Guild, and I think that part of my work with the Guild will be reflecting on death and grief as a polytheist, and how we can separate ourselves from the largely thanatophobic society we find ourselves in.  Mad World hits me in a way very, very few songs do.  It is completely absorbed in its loneliness and its pain, from the chords of the piano to the way that Jules’ forms his words.  It also made me reflect on why, when I am feeling low enough to warrant listening to this song, I wait until this song to work with it as a kind of purgative.

I first started listening to this song when Sylverleaf and I broke up in 2006.  I listened to this song on repeat for about a whole month.  Like when I get sick, when I grieve, I do it really, really hard.  It was to the point that the people I was living with more or less banned me from listening to it, because I’d sunk into a pretty bad depression and wasn’t taking care of myself much at all.  Mind, I didn’t see the movie this song released in, Donnie Darko, until several years later, so I had absolutely no context for the song.  I just happened across it, gave it a listen, and in my grief, kept playing it most of the spare time I had over and over again.  Reading some of the comments on the video itself, I’m certainly not alone in turning to this song in needing to feel pain, grief, and sadness.

Why, though, do we wait even in the little deaths to grieve, and why like this?

I think there are a few factors:

  1. A toxic emotional environment that downplays or outright denigrates displays of emotions, even healthy ones.
  2. This country does not want to think on, much less acknowledge death in a meaningful way.  For instance, much is made of Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, but the celebrations have gone from largely somber affairs, and has been twisted into gaudy ways to sell furniture and celebrate empire via parades rather than actually being a time where we solemnly honor those who sacrificed life, limb, mind, and/or loved ones for this country.
  3. An actively toxic atmosphere in regards to feeling emotions at all, much less taking time to process them or taking time for oneself when being affected by them.
  4. Completely abhorrent mental health care in terms of preventative/therapeutic medicine, and direct addressing of psychological breaks, trauma, etc.  There is active cutting going on in the overworked departments of the mental health care field despite needing expansion and reinforcement.
  5. Many of us do not belong to cultures that encourage grief, displays of emotions, or expression of how we, ourselves, feel.

I see this shutting down as an outgrowth of our culture in the sense of toxic masculinity and American culture’s inability to handle genuine, expressed emotion that is lived in the moment.  The usual memes of ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘keep on keeping on’ were ways I was told to handle the grief I was in the midst of.

These are part of the same toxic soup that contributes to grief welling up inside and needing to break through, regardless of how healthy it is.  I was not in a place that encouraged healthy grief.  In fact, I was actively encouraged to look for a new relationship, and was shoved towards one within a month or two of breaking up with Sylverleaf.  Not only was my relationship with this person unhealthy in its formation, I also delayed my grieving and healing that I needed to do.

If this is how we treat folks breaking up, how much worse is it for those whose loved ones pass away?  The old adage of ‘time heals all wounds’ paled in comparison to losing my grandfather.  It seemed like a slap in the face.  Sure, my grandpa could communicate with me in a number of ways, including directly, but it is not the same as having grandpa in my life.  Then there’s the “I need to be strong for my ___” idea, which both robs the person trying to be strong of their need and time to grieve in the moment, and also robs the person they are being strong for of being a helpmeet for them in turn with their grief.  In other words, it denies Gebo (gift-for-a-gift) in the grieving itself, and in the healing process, between those who the grief itself affects.

How can my son learn healthy ways of grieving if I refused to show him what that looks like?  How can he feel safe in bringing me his woes if I cannot show him they are nothing to be ashamed of, and that experiencing loss and reacting to it is part of living a full, and healthy life?  To this end we brought our son to mark the passing of our cat, A., who died about two years ago.  He was told why our furbaby was being put to sleep, he was walked through just as we were in what would happen, and he was able to grieve there and as he needed after.

This would be our son’s first witnessed death, and we wanted this moment to be as comfortable and sacred for our cat, and in so doing, make it as comfortable and sacred a thing to witness for us as a family, for our son seeing death for the first time.  Seeing death is an initiation, one we would do well to take more care in.

We brought our cat’s brother along, K., and allowed them to be around one another as A. was being hooked up for the drugs that would end his pain.  We each got a chance to hug him, tell him we loved him, pet him, kissed him, and hold him for awhile.  When everything was ready, we made prayers, weeping the whole while, and asked Freya and Bast to take him gently into Their arms and help him cross over. We thanked him for his time with us, and that we would keep his memory.  We told him we loved him as he shut his eyes for the last time.  When he lay still, we wept, and we were loud.  Well, I was.  We were holding each other, and were crying without shame.  Sylverleaf had taken him in at a year old, and though I certainly was not a cat person when we met, A.’s brother pushed me to becoming one about 3 or 4 years ago.  He was our cat, and we grieved his passing.

Even now, remembering him as the barbiturates took him into death, my throat tightens and tears tug at my eyes.  Yet, it was the best send off we could have given him.  I am not grieving his death itself, but missing his presence in our lives, and how he could light up a room with his inquisitiveness, or make us smile when he threw himself into our laps for petting.  How he had this bad habit of being underfoot when we needed him not to be.  We asked for a piece of his fur, which lays on the animalvaettir shrine on top of his paw casting and ashes.

In talking about A.’s death, it makes talking about my grandpa’s death easier.  It is unfortunate our son did not get to talk with him before he passed, but at the least, they had met.  He was in the hospital, and a cousin had me up on Google Hangout Video Chat.  It had been a few years since I had last seen my grandpa, and I knew from talking with my Dad that he was nearing his death.  Still, when I saw how small and sick he looked I damned near broke down crying on the spot.  I was gritting my teeth and trying not to wail.

My Mom took the phone from my cousin, and told me I needed to get it together for grandpa.  Grandpa wasn’t one who wanted us to grieve him.  He said as much while he was dying.  I took myself away from the phone for a bit, shed a few tears, collected myself, came back, and talked with him.  I let him know, cradling the phone in the basement of the Wandering Owl, that I loved him and that I missed him.  He looked to be in such pain, and I had never seen him so small, so vulnerable.  Grandpa was a guy who fixed everything, and was rarely in one place when I was a kid.  It hit me right in the heart to see him like that.  Still, he knew me, and could say he loved me, and knew who I was, and that itself is a privilege.  I told him I would pray for him, and he asked me to pray for his wife and the family.  I told him I would, and that evening, I did.

I did not think about it at the time, but the last words I said to him were “I love you grandpa.  We’ll speak soon.” when I let him go.  Whether when I was a Catholic or now as a polytheist, my religion tells me our Ancestors are hardly silent, and can offer us companionship and guidance.  Still, this was the first grandparent I had had a good relationship with and was losing.  So that evening, with the help of my Kindred, I grieved him.

The Catholic Ancestors were around me, getting Themselves ready to welcome him, and there for me, too.  The local Catholic church had closed for the evening.  However, I remembered something from a post on Galina’s website.

I saw more than one person kneeling on cobblestones outside of churches, when the church was locked but the person wanted to pray before that altar, or that icon.

I remembered somewhere, perhaps from the Ancestors Themselves, that one way to pray when the church was closed like this, was to pray the rosary at each step of the church, and to kiss the church doors.  I carry my First Communion rosary and the Book of the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs I was given then for my Catholic Ancestors.  I use the book to do bibliomancy and receive messages from Them. I prayed the rosary on each step for my grandfather, in offering to his spirit and the spirit of my Ancestors, and asked Hela with each step to make his transition into death as painless as possible.  I sang songs I remembered from when I was a child, and felt my Catholic Ancestors all around me.  When I had finished, I sat on the bench near the church, and smoked in prayer to my other Ancestors, and to Mordgud, Garm, and to Hela Herself.

That Sunday after his death I went to a Catholic church service near me, and walked the Stations of the Cross outside among the pine trees.  When I came to the central garden labyrinth, I walked it, and left offerings as I asked His God to shepherd him, and to care for him, and to let him speak with me when he was settled.  I made offerings at the shrine for St. Francis de Assisi, and at St. Joseph’s, asking the same.  I returned home and felt at peace.

I will not be putting his image on the Ancestors’ altar until a full year has passed from his death, which is soon.  This is in respect to him and so that when his image or an object of his is placed on the altar, he has had a chance to adjust to being dead and will not be hungry or confused.

As polytheists develop closer community ties, intergenerational ones especially, we need to speak and make our plans about death and the process of dying, how we grieve, and what we do for the dead.  It’s my hope that this post is one point of dialogue that touches this off.

Me?  When I think about what I would like done when I die, I do not want to suffer.  I do not want to linger in endless pain.  I want to leave my loved ones with the ability to say goodbye, as my grandfather did.  When I am dead, I want to be cared for by my family.  I want a rite that gives people a chance to mourn and a chance to celebrate.  To pour out tears and mead.  To comfort and cry, to laugh and enjoy each others’ company.  To drink in stories, to sing songs, to talk about the good times and the bad.

I want to be buried on my family land in a hallowed mound.  I want a tree planted on it, one that will last generations.  Maybe plant a whole grove by each person who gets moved in getting a new tree planted for them.  A boulder before it, maybe with a flat top, for offerings, for meeting, for divining.  For saying hi.  A runestone with our names, maybe scenes from our life if someone has the skill.  A new boulder for when that one is full so others’ stories can be passed down.  Whatever it is, I want it to not just be for me, but for my loved ones.  My tribe, my family.

And when the shoe is on the other foot?

August 29, 2016 21 comments

I saw this post on Galina Krasskova’s blog that she linked to from her blog. Note, she did not write this and is, in fact quite appalled by it which is why she shared it to begin with. 

It reads like a declaration of war. Nothing quite so put together as the WWI German declaration of war on Russia, nor of France or England’s on Germany. This is what a fatwa from a radical Islamic cleric looks like dressed up in leftist clothing. This is what a Joel’s Army or a New Apostolic Reformation missive looks like dressed up in leftist clothing.

Saying “I’m not advocating starting fights, but I am telling you to be prepared to finish them.” is bullshit. If you are advocating going to someone’s space and disrupting their rituals, their communities, and/or their lives, you are advocating for starting a fight. If you are laying down a call on people, saying “But if you like to talk the talk of the warrior path, you better start walking the walk as well.” you’re asking for a fight. You do not call on warriors for a reason other than conflict. Keep in mind, though, that if you are calling on warriors you are giving your opponents equal reason to. Adding “Are you gonna stand by and let these assholes commit atrocities and spew hate in the name of your gods?” is a religious call to war. Advocating that folks “don’t play nice” when they do this is a call to guerrilla warfare in the name of the Gods.

1. Speak up. Is there a guy in your local coven, order, lodge, temple, etc. that is openly bigoted? Call him out on it. Put him on the spot. Humiliate him in front of his superiors. Collect receipts, send screenshots and videos of his bullshit to his superiors…send it to those superiors’ superiors. If they do nothing call the whole organization out. Blast it all over the internet. The occult world is small, the backlash will be swift.

When I first read this, the first point actually seemed fairly benign until I really considered it. Let’s say that the bigot you want to target isn’t a guy, not that the gender should matter here. Let’s make this person a woman. Now, you’re advocating for humiliating her in front of her superiors. Collecting receipts, sending screenshots and videos to her superiors. Gosh. This sounds positively threatening. That is because it is. This is advocating for stalking, harassment, theft, and bullying.

2. Trap them. Catch them doing or saying something illegal and record it. Anonymously notify the correct authorities. If he’s racist he’s probably also a raging misogynist, here is a pretty high percent chance he beats women. Bust him for that.

The second point is advocating for people to do the job of the police as well as illegally record another person in violation of their rights.

3. Sabotage. Sabotage everything. Their protests, their social events, their rituals…their relationships. Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically. Block them at protests. Blast distractingly loud noises in the vicinity of their rituals. Curse them liberally.

If the first two points were advocating for stalking, harassment, and bullying, this is certainly asking for war. It says it right there in black and white: “Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically.” To sabotage is to “Deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage”.

Religious warfare is being openly called for. It is being called for physically and it is being called for magically. Calling for the physical and magical sabotage of people is an act of war.

4. Vote with your dollar. When people pulled their financial support from the Atlanta LHP conference via vowing not to go and through speakers dropping out, they were eventually forced to drop Augustus Invictus. That’s the power of peer pressure…and money. Pressure conferences. Pressure publishers. Let them know that they are condoning hate groups. Tell publishers and conferences that you want to see more diversity. Openly support and promote occultists and witches of color.

Boycotting is an old tactic that does not directly threaten the rights or well-being of a person, and can effectively make change. However, rather than simply going right to pressure, I would inform. A festival may have no notion the person they signed up is a widely-known racist, or that the band whose page seemed so cool and edgy and will attract a good crowd are actually a band well-known for its racism. If they refuse to act on the information I would then take the next step and inform others that, yes, you informed the festival or people in question and they are doing nothing with it. That said, negativity is relatively easy. Being positive and openly supporting and promoting folks is not.

If you are voting with your dollar and want more diversity, putting your dollars towards that and encouraging others to do the same would be the way I go for it. Hell, look at how successful GoFundMe and similar campaigns work. Do they shit on other folks, venues, etc. for donation? No, they put forward what they are about, encourage folks to spread the word, and do whatever it is they promised when the call was put out. If you are going to call for diversity follow through on it.

5. Learn a martial art/self-defence. Neo-Nazis are violent, if you are able-bodied consider learning how to defend yourself and your friends. Offer to work security for #BlackLivesMatter and other activist events. Use your power of privilege for good.

Alone, this would be solid advice. In this context? Whether or not Neo-Nazis are violent is not the issue here. The people advocating for these actions are advocating for physical and spiritual sabotage, for war.

6. Get a weapon. Are you mentally stable enough to own a weapon? Do you live in an open-carry state? If so get a weapon. I don’t care if it’s a knife, a bat, a gun, or fucking nunchucks…as long as it’s legal in your state, carry it. Know how to use it. Your enemy does. Neo-Nazis love their guns. I hate guns, but I like not getting shot or raped. If you stand up for what is right it is likely that you will get death threats.

If you stalk, threaten, harass, and steal from people you are more likely to get attacked. If you physically or magically attack people you are likely to get attacked in kind. If you are advocating for people to learn martial arts and/or learn to wield a weapon, you are advocating for people to learn and be prepared to do violence. If you are telling warriors to step up, you are telling people to go to war. Your opposition would be within rights to do the same.

7. Educate the young ones. Kids raised in conservative, fundamentalist households don’t know any better. A teen raised in Asatru is like a teen raised in Christianity, they know no other way…show them. Lead by example. An 18 to 21 year old can still change their worldview. Young minds are malleable and they are the future, change that future for the better if you can.

This point is assuming a lack of education and exposure to other ideas. Assuming that people in conservative, fundamentalist households do not know any better (any better than what?) and assuming a superior stance on the part of one’s self, cause, etc. insults these peoples’ intelligence and ability to reason. If you are starting from the standpoint that your opposition is lacking in intellect or is ignorant of other ways, you have already shut down conversation. They may well know of other ways and actively reject them. This assumption is no different than a conservative fundamentalist person assuming liberals are without morals. This point dismisses all of Asatru as racist.

The assumption that the teenage Asatruar needs to be shown another way, that they need to be led out of their religion and/or their religious community, is poisonous to Asatru and potentially any religious or philosophical movement the would-be leader believes is wrong. It is convert-seeking rather than providing another viewpoint.

It is true that young minds are malleable and that they are the future. There is no guarantee that these would-be leaders from the left can do any better than those on the right. Those who lead poorly can do irreparable harm, especially at a time when young people are already having to deal with a lot of change.

If leftist Pagan and polytheists are advocating or are engaging in harassment, stalking, assaulting, and otherwise attacking the families and/or friends of these teens, how could they possibly appeal to these teens at the same time?

8. Radical organization. Do you have other occulty, witchy, pagany friends who want to help change this mess we’re in? Start a group! Practice all seven of the previously mentioned suggestions that you can, and practice them together. Be secretive, don’t use Facebook to connect. Speak in code. Write notes and burn them. Discuss your plans at secret rendezvous. Form a wolf pack and root out the fascist insects.

I noted above how other points read like guerrilla warfare. So does this.

Let’s put the other shoe on, shall we? When the right posts things like this the general reaction I read from the left is some variation of “See? They’re so afraid of being discovered that they’re going to talk in code and burn notes, meet in secret!” or sarcastic, insulting language. The “form a wolf pack” language would likely be denigrated, as would the “root out the fascist insects” language. It would be called dehumanizing because that is exactly what it is and what it does: it dehumanizes your opponents. When your opposition is no longer human, but now are insects, it is no loss to crush them. When you cast yourselves as wolves and your opponents as vermin or prey, you are just fulfilling the work of being a wolf pack. One of the things that the right gets picked on for a lot is code-switching and code-language or dog whistle tactics. It seems that, so long as you are going after people you have identified as racists, bigots, and fascists, all bets are off.

Keep in mind that you’re supposed to somehow do point 7 while being secretive. Secret means “Not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others” and secretive means “(Of a person or an organization) inclined to conceal feelings and intentions or not to disclose information”. They are advocating educating kids by being examples while also being secretive. To seek to change their worldview in secret. “Young minds are malleable and they are the future, change that future for the better if you can.” followed by “Speak in code. Write notes and burn them. Discuss your plans at secret rendezvous.”

Those notes I made above about guerrilla warfare? Also applicable here. Read those points again:

“2. Trap them.”

“3. Sabotage.”

“5. Learn a martial art/self-defence.”

“6. Get a weapon.”

In point 8: “Form a wolf pack and root out the fascist insects.”

These are calls for war. Be secretive about who you harass, stalk, or assault.

The left has lost the right to bitch about people getting CPLs or taking other steps for protection for “imagined fears” for them. This list of actions being advocated is a reason for anyone who might or does come into the cross-hairs of the Pagan or polytheist left and/or anti-fascists to be prepared to defend themselves physically and magically.

9. Take back the Punk and Metal scene. White supremacists have taken over folk metal and bastardized punk. Make music. Wonderful, witchy, aggressive, anti-fascist music. Be like Doro Pesch and use your music and your heritage to speak out against those committing atrocities in the name of your ancestors. If you don’t make music, support and promote anti-fascist and anti-racist music. Also, use the “anything goes” of the moshpit to get a few punches and kicks into your local skinheads at local shows.

I have no problem with folks making music. Please make music. Speak up and for the things you believe in, and the changes you want to see. Speak out against atrocities, speak out against hate and genocide. Support the music you enjoy if you cannot make it.

A person being a bigot or a racist does not give you license to hit them. I should not have to write that. If you’re going to a local show these people are probably your neighbors. Violence will not show them the error of their ways. Engaging them in dialogue might. Besides, you are also giving license to these guys to beat the hell out of you too using just as underhanded tactics. It puts to lie the author’s assertion “”I’m not advocating starting fights, but I am telling you to be prepared to finish them.” The people you target no longer have a reason to hold back; you’re clearly threatening to hurt them and those in their communities.

10. Take care of yourself. Fighting the good fight is emotionally and physically exhausting, and can even put you in physical danger. Do what you need to to keep yourself healthy and safe.

If you do these things you are putting yourself and anyone who joins you in danger. If you do these things you are intentionally instigating conflict, and enacting religious war upon other people. If you really mean what you say, then you are not just a danger to the racists and the bigots. You are a danger to anyone you label an enemy.

Let me be thoroughly clear to anyone who supports these things: what you want and what you are prepared to do is advocate for and fight in a religious war. You are calling for you and yours to engage in religious warfare. You are putting an absolute line in the sand with blood and souls.

Be sure this is a war you want. Be sure this is a war you are willing to do what you must to win. Be sure this is a war you can win.

The World

March 11, 2016 2 comments

The world is a Goddess and the world is a corpse

If you know the stories this does not shock;

The corpse of Ymir is the body of Jörð


The world is full of vaettir and yet is a Goddess

If you know the stories this makes sense;

The body of Jörð holds us and yet, we live within Her


The world is a world and it is many Gods

If you know the stories this is insight;

The world is not one thing to all Beings


The Goddess is a world and is one of countless

If you know the stories this is thoughtful;

The world is not the only place of Gods


The world is a home and it is one of many

If you know the stories this is wisdom;

This world is not the only one we will live in


The world is alive and we are part of it

If you know the stories this is existence;

The world teems with life, as do we


The world is living and it changes

If you know the stories this is evident;

The world shifts, and so will we all


The world is dying and it will die

If you know the stories this is powerful;

The world dies, and is reborn


The world is dead and it will live again

If you know the stories this is Ørlög;

The world is woven, and we are too


The world lives and it will keep on living

If you know the stories this is Wyrd;

The world lives, dies, and lives; so will we, one way or another

For my Grandfather

October 26, 2015 Leave a comment

You lie in a bed

Weak, weary

Sick beyond sick

Hanging on

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 This Labor Day

September 7, 2015 3 comments

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!

The Battlefields No One Talks About

September 1, 2015 8 comments

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

August 11, 2015 2 comments

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

%d bloggers like this: