The mead brews
Little bubbles flow up
The honey-water froths
A month and Yuletide
A gift to loved ones
A raised glass
A raised horn
Cheer and warmth in Winter
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
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.
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
I sat in the dark with my son after night prayers, and a question came to me.
I asked him: “Do you have any questions about the Gods?”
His answer: “Who is Sif?”
It kind of surprised me; his question was not “What are the Gods?” or “Why is such-and-such this way?”. He wanted to get to know the Gods we prayed to.
It has been awhile since we had read the stories or talked deeply about the Gods. So, when he asked the question I did something that came naturally: I told a story. I told him She is a Goddess, the wife of Thor, and we call to Her, thanking Her for Her generosity in the night prayer. He asked why She was a Goddess of generosity, and I slipped into the story of how She kept Her composure when Loki burst into the hall, and still offered Him mead, as told in the Lokasenna. He asked me why she would have been angry at Loki. I told my son of how Loki had slain the doorman and insulted the Gods in Aegir’s hall, something one was not supposed to do. He then asked why She would be angry with Loki. So, I told him of how Sif’s hair had been cut by Loki before this, and still, She offered Loki to calm Himself and join the Gods in Aegir’s Hall. He smiled, and he understood. We worship Her, as well as Loki because They are our Gods. They are not perfect; They are powerful, beautiful, mischievous, and so much more. I saw my son’s face light up and crack into a grin as he asked what happened when Thor found out Loki had cut His wife’s hair. He asked me smaller questions as the story went on, and it changed how I told the story.
He asked “Did Thor want to hurt Him? What did Loki do?” So I told of how Loki went down to the Dvergar and asked them to make Him a head of golden hair for Sif, hair that lived as Her had, and yet was made of gold. His eyes lit up, still smiling, and he asked if Loki had been punished by the Aesir for what He did to Sif. No, son, Loki made amends with Sif, giving Her that golden hair. Thor may have wanted to, but Loki was not hurt; He had done as He promised, and made amends.
He came to know many Gods better tonight, not just Sif. Did I tell him the whole story, of how Loki also convinced the sons of Ivaldi to make Skiðblaðnir and Gungnir? No, it was not important at the moment. He has heard the full story before, we’ve read it together. I did emphasize how important the gifts Loki won were, how His mouth was sewn shut because Loki had wagered His head and lost. That is the power of storytelling: we have to decide what to emphasize, what to put aside when we tell it, so it speaks to our listeners. It does not make these two holy items, or their gifting to the Gods any less important. It does not make Loki wagering His head less. The telling of this part of the story would have lessened the impact of the story between Loki and Sif in this moment, and gotten before the point I wanted to make to my son: Loki made amends. That when one makes amends one should not be punished further.
Our stories have to live from our lips and hearts to the ears and hearts of others. If our stories do not live in us, what worth is there in telling them?