100 Years

100 years since the signing of the Armistice.

100 years of silence and bells.

100 years since the end of World War 1.

The years that made our world what it is. The years that changed so much, that shaped so much. How to approach such a day?

With solemnity. With gratitude. With honoring. With remembering.

To the Warrior and Military Dead who sacrificed all they had to give.

To the Warriors and Military personnel who gave all they had to give.

To the families who never saw their loved ones again.

To the families that did.

To the lands that still bear countless scars of trenches and powder, artillery and countless bullets and the blood of all the Dead.

100 years and so many lives have passed that a great forgetting is coming over the nations.

We honor in remembering. In remembering the Dead live.

78. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now | that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.

Havamol, translated by Henry Adam Bellows

Some resources:

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armgageddon

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

BBC Four: The First World War

BBC 26 Part Documentary on World War 1

Remembering the Warrior Dead

You lie in a fen
Shield cloven beside you
Sword bent

You lie in a field
Gun beneath you
Magazine empty

You lie in a mound
Spear beside you
Descendants gathered

You lie in a grave
Polished oak embraces you
Quiet rest

You lie in every soil and water
Every place given your body and blood
All hail the Warrior Dead

Broken Lines

Broken lines run through many animist and polytheist religions.  In some places, those lines are fairly stark.  In others, the division between what was and where we are is sometimes bridged by practices and beliefs based in the old ways.  At least for Americans, most of us are completely divorced from even the lived folk ways and folklore that remained with pir Ancestors due to successive generations assimilating, by force or choice, into monotheist and then US culture.  We lost connections to where our Ancestors came from, their language, and their ways along with it.

I was never taught any folklore or folkways from Germany, England, Ireland from our family.  No songs, no stories, no practices, and only a few recipes collected from family members.  I was taught a smattering of German words.  There was nothing left by the time I was being raised.  I was raised a Catholic, which at least taught me virtues of regular prayer, piety, an appreciation of the Ancestors that came before me, and an appreciation of ritual.  Still, by the time I was being raised every vestige of any animist or polytheist inkling had been wiped out of my family.

So, when I felt the call from my Gods, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I read about Them.  As I read about Them and learned how to make offerings, and what kind of offerings specific Gods might like, I started to do prayers, to make offerings, and learned how to divine so I could better understand Them.  I had to reforge links with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir through trial and error.  Only after a few years of being a Northern Tradition and Heathen did I finally have an Elder to look up to, ask questions, and seek guidance from, and it dramatically changed my life.  She had done the same in her own turn before me, and I benefited from that.  There was so much I was able to grasp and explore because I had help in filtering things through a sift of experience, someone with the ability to separate ice cream from bullshit.  It helped me to grow in the religion, and it helped me to better understand myself, the Holy Powers, and my place in things.  While we are having to work with a broken lineage to our ancient, polytheist past, having Elders and co-religionists to rely on now helps to ease the burden of the journey.

I do not believe we would struggle as much in terms of basic dialogue, understanding, walking these paths, or learning about and from our Holy Powers if our lineages were still intact.  What is facing many animist and polytheist religions now is how to navigate these lines of separation.

I see these as issues that directly relate to most polytheisms having broken lineages, and being actively addressed now:

  • A basic lack of familiarity with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir of a given tradition. Not everyone needs to know every God or Goddess, but there are more than a few Gods who often get short shrift when, because of cosmological function, community function, or relationship with everyday life, They ought to be better known. For instance, Gerda.
  • A basic lack of familiarity, understanding of, and engagement with religious protocol. Things like the implications of the guest/host relationship factor really big into polytheist religion, and it ought to have more of an impact on how we frame our relationships given how these ideas influenced and continue to influence, when they are known, the lives of those who engage in reciprocity and guest/host relations in a way that is respectful to both and upholding of reciprocity between them.
  • A basic lack of familiarity with ritual purity. These don’t have to be elaborate. These can be simple things, like washing the hands and face before offerings, or taking a shower before holy day celebrations.
  • A basic lack of piety. The very bedrock of how we engage with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir need not be all bowed heads and uttering long prayers, though for some that may be the expectation and it is on the worshiper to fulfill it. A basic lack of piety means that even reverence at a shrine is not tended to. Things like the offering cups are cleaned on a regular basis, or you don’t just offer when you want something; you maintain a good relationship with a God, Ancestors, or vaettir. It would be like inviting Grandma over, not having cleaned or even prepared a meal for her after not seeing for a year to hit her up for cash.
  • A basic lack of understanding core principles of a polytheist path, such as the aforementioned reciprocity, guest rights/host rights, where one’s place is cosmologically and in relationship with the Holy Powers.

There’s so much more, but on a baseline we would have these things taught to us and modeled for us as a matter of course as part of being in polytheist societies.

Since our Ancestors did not stay the course, whether by sword, torture, starvation, and/or their choice of conversion, we can only speculate so far as to what they would have done.

Reconstructing and reviving the animist/polytheist religions requires us to do what we can as we can to revive, reconstruct, and/or revitalize the religions and cultures we are engaged in with the help and/or direction of the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir. Where there are unbridgeable gaps in knowledge, we ask Them to help us fill in the holes, to create a whole, healthy religion and spiritual understanding in which They are tightly wound.  There are several factors worth thinking on in how we reconstruct, revitalize, and/or renew these religions.  A good overview of this, written by Caer, and exploring the ideas of antiquity and modernity in the context of these conversations can be found here.  One of the major factors being considered by a lot of folks is on modernity, and whether it is a help or hindrance to this.  I am firmly of the view that modernity is a deep hindrance to understanding and embracing a polytheist worldview.

Looking at life and the world now, there is little room for my Gods. Where would I look for my Gods in modernity when so much of it is built on the bones of sacred places and their worshipers? Where would I look for my Ancestors ways’ in this world when the holy sites of the old countries these cultures hailed from (now often tourist attractions/traps) have to be fought for just so they aren’t paved over or removed? Where would I look in modernity for the vaettir when companies gleefully bulldoze 10,000 acres of old growth forest just for 100 years of unfettered limestone mining?

Modernity demands my silence in one hand and pretty looking shackles in the other. It promises to spare me from direct shackles that others bear on my behalf so that my computer can be built, the electricity runs, the Internet and all the various apparatus that keeps it afloat keep on running. It’s colonialism by other means, with all the ‘externalities’ bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, tears, misery, and lives of other people. Part of my work in service to the Gods is to sever that cycle when and wherever I can. Modernity is a poor substitute for a religious teacher.

Polytheist religion informed by ancient cultures which were based in Europe is not synonymous with modernity’s Eurocentrism. Rather than encourage such a mindset, if we were to pay close attention to our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and live in better concert with Them, it would be quite a revolutionary act. It would discard the largely Eurocentric-based and upheld myth of evolution which placed Christianity, then later atheism or agnosticism at the top of the proverbial heap. It would discard the notion that animist, polytheist, and similar religions were backward, misguided, or that what was found within these religions was something better relegated to a bygone period.

Animist and polytheist religions generally embrace living with and within a world we inhabit with our Holy Powers, where their considerations are taken into account. To my mind this is part of piety and reciprocity. It is a powerful, subversive, and revolutionary thing to regard a stream, lake, piece of land, one’s home, or wherever one goes to be full of spirits, and potentially a home to the Gods and/or Ancestors in addition to the vaettir who call that place home, or ARE that place. It is no small thing to consider that the rights of such a place to be free from damage is part of the rights of the land itself as the land itself is a vaettr (spirit) and/or collection of vaettir (spirits), or it may Itself be a God or many Gods.  It also demands that our religions live in the now, and not be ossified in the past, bound only to what the lore, or what archaeology can tell us.  Most reconstructionists will tell you this is generally what happens in reconstruction anyhow.  It’s a methodology for how to take in and work with information, rather than a religious model itself.

I had to tackle this head-on when I became a priest of Anubis.  There was no temple structure.  I was learning from someone outside Kemetic orders, traditions, etc., and all I had to go on was what they taught, and my ongoing spiritual work and communication with Anpu when they left my life.  There’s a lot of reinventing the wheel that goes on in modern Pagan, animist and polytheist religions, at least in America, because infrastructure is so lacking, very often all we have are books to look to.  If you are lucky enough to have a local community, you may have one or two folks somewhere in your wheelhouse who want to do ritual with you.  If not, it’s a loner’s game.

What I do not mean to say is that infrastructure, hierarchy, etc. is the only way for polytheists to do things moving forward.  Some folks simply don’t work well within such things, and that is fine.  For others, belonging to a hierarchy is actually at odds with their path for religious reasons, such as a taboo, what role(s) they may serve within a community, etc.

For a lot of folks, though, there’s a deep desire to have functioning communities.  Some people would like these with temples, structures, community events, festivals and celebrations, and so on.  This requires some kind of hierarchy to organize and to keep going. At the very least if one is part of a polytheist religion where the heart of the culture stops and starts in the home, a hearth culture, someone needs to teach the other family members the religion, and/or help keep devotional work, offerings, and so on, on a regular basis.  At the other end of the spectrum, a full-on temple could require things like dedicated temple staff who are the only ones to care for the icons of the Gods within an inner sanctum, with some staff dedicated either on a full-time, part time and/or volunteer basis to do maintenance and care for the temple.  While more hearth culture forms of animism and polytheism may not require much in the way of financial support, more complex and elaborate forms like the temple complex example above, absolutely do.

Each animist and polytheist in each animist and polytheist religion will be affected by these choices, and it will affect how future generations receive and understand their religion and culture.  In repairing our broken lines, we have to ask ourselves which lines we are able to repair now, which ways we accept may not be reparable, and what new lines we will make with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  How these broken lines are worked with, repaired, or made new will determine what religions future generations inherit, contribute to, and pass on, or whether future generations receive a grounding in the religions to begin with.

ConVocation 2016

Hey folks, I have been asked to do several presentations at this year’s ConVocation.   When I know which rooms I will be presenting in, I will update this blog post.  I am really, really excited for this year’s offerings that were picked.

For those who do not know, ConVocation is:

…a convention of the many mystical spiritual paths and faiths and the people that follow them who desire to teach each other and promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions.
Since 1995, this 4-day event has brought together over 100 classes and rituals presented by local instructors, internationally renowned guest speakers and authors. Along with workshops, ConVocation offers over 35 tables of merchandise in our Merchant Room, an Art Show and the largest indoor Drum Circle in the Midwest.
This year I will be putting on three workshops:

 

Acts of Devotion –  Thursday 8:30pm – 90 minutes

Description:In this workshop and discussion we will explore ways to honor our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. These ways can be small, such as daily prayer, offerings, everyday mindfulness, and keeping ourselves healthy and engaged in the world, to more intense ways such as learning crafts, writing books, engaging in activism, spiritual work, and making temples. Bring your own experiences to share.

Polytheism 101 –  Friday 4:00pm – 90 minutes

Description:This lecture/discussion will dig into the basics of what polytheism means, and how it is lived. We will be exploring how we can use literary and archaeological resources as springboards and foundations to polytheist traditions. We will also explore what the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are, how we relate to Them as polytheists, and how to engage Them with respect.

Encountering the Runes –  Sunday 12:00pm – 90 minutes

Description:The Runes are often looked at as simply a divination tool. This workshop is about approaching the Runes as spirits in and of themselves. The workshop explores what the lore can tell us about Them, to how to interact with Them, to appropriate offerings and communication, and will delve into deeper aspects of Runework from a spirit-based approach.

Hail to the Warrior Dead This Labor Day

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

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:

http://www.archaeology.org/news/2461-140825-west-virginia-blair-mountain-battlefield

http://archive.archaeology.org/1201/features/blair_mountain_coal_activism_west_virginia.html

https://coalcountrytours.com/West_Virginia_Mine_Wars.html

http://www.pawv.org/news/blairhist.htm

http://theroanoker.com/interests/history/coalmining-war

http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/333

The Warrior Dead and Military Dead

I have used the two terms Warrior Dead and Military Dead on and off, both here on this blog, and elsewhere. I felt that I needed to give some explanation, as the way I use these terms are not automatically interchangeable. Not everyone, Ancestor workers, spirit workers, or otherwise will agree with me, and that is fine. There are many I count as Warrior Dead that are not Military Dead at all. Not all the Military Dead are Warrior Dead. This does not mean that all our Military Dead who I do not count as Warrior Dead are somehow less.

For me, what makes the Warrior Dead and Military Dead different is this: a Warrior Dead has stood up in defense of their people and/or their ways, whether that sacrifice or stand is made on behalf of their tribe, religion, nationality, ethnicity, etc. They may have done so in spite of overwhelming odds, to safeguard a piece of their people or heritage. They may have given their life in service of their people, or their ways. Among the Warrior Dead I honor are the 4,500 Saxons who gave up their lives rather than convert to Christianity, and those who kept the sacred ways alive. Countless people not part of an army have risen to defend their people from oppression, genocide, invasion, hate, and privation.

Not all Military Dead are called to make such sacrifices. One of my grandfathers, when he passes, will have been in the military, and so I will honor him as part of the Military Dead. Yet, he will not have seen combat. He signed up, and so, would have been willing to place himself in harm’s way. I do not believe the only Military Dead worth honoring are those who have seen combat. As with my grandfather, one of my grandmothers has served in the Army in a noncombat role, she, as a secretary. Anyone willing to put their life in harm’s way for another deserves honor. Anyone willing to give up some of, if not all, of the best years of their life so another person does not have to, deserves honor. Whether one is a mail carrier, a secretary, a drill sergeant, a combat officer, or a medic, support staff or direct combatants, all deserve honor. All who are part of the Military Dead deserve our honor and our thanks.

I honor the Warrior and Military Dead together on a single shrine. Because of space constraints this is on a filing cabinet. On this shrine is Wepwawet, who I associate with the Warrior Dead. He is on the rightmost front part of the shrine. Standing before Him is a small ceramic cup (I think it was used for crème brule) which holds the whiskey I have in offering for all on the shrine. Beside it is a small mound of mugwort, and sometimes tobacco. In the center of the shrine is a ceramic container which contains the dirt from several veterans’ graves, which They granted to me with Their permission after I left offerings for Them and cleaned the dirt from Their plaques. It is something I try to do about once a month. To Their left is a pin I received at The Warrior Remembrance Ritual at ConVocation 2012, given to me by the ritual leader. I wear it sometimes when I serve the Military Dead; otherwise it stays on Their shrine. To the left of this is a US Armed Forces pin and a mirror from WWII. I was told the mirror had seen combat when I picked these up from an antique shop. Behind this is a muslin-wrapped figure whom I have given a lot of work to: Ramses II. Given he was a renowned warrior and his tomb had been disturbed, I have taken time doing spells and giving offerings for him. He has a small glass star at his head. The very front of the shrine has scraps of paper with the names of people I am giving offerings to, and prayers for.

Some of these Dead have responded in kind, and asked for me not only to pray for Them, but those They left behind. After all, this is a two-way street. We do not just look after the Dead. As the Lithuanian proverb goes, “The Dead are the protection of the living.” In honoring our Warrior and Military Dead, we offer Them a way into our lives, to walk with us again, and to share in our lives as much as our offerings. Our Gebo to Their sacrifices is to remember Them, to honor Them, and to keep Their memories.

Difficulties and Victories

I have been avoiding this blog.  Of late, I have been wracked by difficulties, namely financial pressures and depression and anger, cycling states, resulting from it.  I am a diabetic who, on a pretty small budget to begin with, has had to shuck out $243 per vial of insulin to get the stuff I need to live.  This eats about half a paycheck, and this happens at least once a month.  I do not like to write in this headspace, not for this blog, at the least.  A good chunk of my early poetry as a teenager was written in stages of anger and depression, similar in cycles to what I am going through right now.  I do not like to be vulnerable like this.  I don’t.  This is the stuff I keep pretty tight to the chest.  This is the stuff that I tend to keep even from close friends because of some misguided notion that I am keeping my problems off of people.

I will admit, right now my problems seem pretty insurmountable with anything other than the passage of time.  I have made my prayers, and I will keep making them.  I will smoke my personal sacred pipe, and keep on smoking when I am in the headspace where I can do so in respect and appreciation of the sacred act.  I I have made offerings with my family and will continue to make them.   Still, I feel gnawing anxiety, sometimes panic when I think about the $20,000 hospital bill waiting to breathe down my neck that my hospital has gracefully kept at bay for the time being.  Then there’s the collection letter, the first one I have ever received, that arrived in the mail because the physicians go through someone else other than the main hospital billing department.  Turns out the help the hospital offered did not include the physicians and I found myself on the other end of a phone begging to pay half the bill in two months time.  Here’s hoping it won’t squelch my credit score.

I write this not as some kind of pity-party, but because when I came back to this blog a few years ago after a hiatus, I wanted to present a more full image of myself, my religious life, and my journey as a shaman, priest, polytheist, father, and lover.  My life is rather difficult right now.  I want to be pretty damned clear: sometimes the religious aspect of my life is a great balm and comfort for these trying times, and sometimes it is a struggle to even work up the desire to do a meal prayer.  Anger and depression coupled with anxieties about finance do that.  It eats, gnaws at you.  When your doctor tells you everything is going to be okay, and hugs you and you want to cry, this person you see maybe once a month, you know things are rough.  Our son and his mother help quite a bit, both with keeping my spirits up, and keeping the prayers and offerings.  I cannot do this alone.  This is a tribal religion.  If this were all on me I am unsure I could do it, even without that aspect of it there, given the challenges before us.  The beautiful thing about being in a tribal religion though, is that you don’t need to do it all.  You can be weak, and that is okay.  In letting yourself be weak you can allow others to be strong.  For you, if no one else.

I mentioned sometime back that the shrines/altars I care for alone are the shrine for the Dead, the shrine for the Warrior Dead, and Rùnatýr and the Runevaettir’s altar.  All the other ones Sylverleaf and our son take care of together with me. This does not mean I should not or do not take care of the other altars and shrines, but when I am this low sometimes it is all I can do to ask for help with the altars and shrines.  Again, taking strength from them and them helping me has kept me pretty motivated and keeping on keeping on with the offerings and prayers.  Occasionally I will take some time and talk, especially with the Ancestors, Odin included, and talk about my situation, how I am feeling, and ask for Their help.

It’s funny, in writing a post so in-the-moment how things can move forward.  I started writing this 8-27-2014, and then,I got the call the next day: I finally qualified for Medicaid.  My financial problems are far from over, but an important step in making sure we aren’t hurting for money all the time has finally, finally, been reached.  I have been trying to get this leg of the journey done since January.  It took months and months, and my first case manager did not get back with me or the hospital at all.  The hospital got so pissed at this person and the lack of communication from DHS that they said ‘fuck it’ to my bills in February.  I was denied twice before this ruling, despite being told over and over I qualified.  While it is still up in the air whether Medicaid will help me with the April’s $20,000 bill, going forward I won’t have to panic if I need to head into the hospital.  I will be able to afford my life-preserving meds now.  I will be able to see the doctor, and get the physical I need so that I can qualify for a better job, if not get into a career.  I will be making offerings and prayers of thanks to the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.

This does not mean that the Gods somehow favor me over other people, even if my prayers have been answered.  Piety does not equal prosperity.

I am poor.  If it weren’t for my folks there is no way my family or I would be in anything like a stable living situation.  I’m saddled with a lot of student loan debt, and were we completely on our own we would be struggling to pay rent, let alone put food on the table.   I am the subject of ridicule when people write derisive works of people living with their parents till they’re in their late 20s and 30s.  This, despite going to college while working, and taking on an inordinate amount of debt with nothing to show for it.  At the moment the only options are to a) scramble around trying to save enough to survive on and hope some breakthrough comes our way, or b) head back to college to be saddled with yet more debt in the hopes of making a career.  I am working on the latter, going for my MA in Counseling.

Many of the people that I look to as friends, colleagues, and elders have been or are poor.  There should be no shame in being poor, but there is; a deep amount of it.  I have no delusions of being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire; my family has been blue collar and/or union jobs for quite a while.  Everyone except my generation, and some of the last one, has worked the land since they were young.  Both sides of my family raised chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, and herbs.  This is the kind of life I am looking to go back to.  I see no viable future in the rat race, no good coming of indulging in the idea that those who have the most toys at death win.  I want to leave something lasting; odal land to my people, whether it is Sylverleaf, our son, or our community.

When I think of getting our own home, our own land, I think of the Hávamál, line 36 and 37 in the Olive Bray translation edited by D.L. Ashliman:

36.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be;
each man is master at home;
though he have but two goats and a bark-thatched hut
’tis better than craving a boon.

37.
One’s own house is best, though small it may be,
each man is master at home;
with a bleeding heart will he beg, who must,
his meat at every meal.

Piety does not equal prosperity, yet this also does not mean that the Gods will not bless our lives, or that it is hubris to recognize those blessings.  Rather, it is hubris to ignore the blessings They give, leave it unmarked, without thanks.  I have held on to some very good mead for awhile now, given as a gift to me, and it may be time to offer and share it.

I’m not shouting from the rooftops going “Woohoo!  We’re great!” because we’re not.  Getting Medicaid and being able to care for my chronic health conditions are small steps in a series of steps to living on our own, raising our family, and bringing together the life we wish to have.  There are still financial challenges ahead, mercifully one of them not being the medication I need to live or doctor visits to help keep me healthy.  We are moving forward together and celebrating this victory.  We will keep pushing forward to the next one, reaching for our goals.  We are getting there.

For anyone who has offered prayers, kind words, an open ear and mind, or wisdom in all of this, thank you.  Thank you for helping us get through one more leg of our journey.  Hail to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities, and individuals who all have supported us in these hard times.  Thank you for continuing to support us, and help us wherever you can.  Thank you.

Expanding Altars and Changing Shrines

These pictures were taken back in 2012 when I moved back home.  This was prior to my son and Sylverleaf coming to stay with us.  At the time I lived in the basement, as the entire living arrangement had been changed since I moved out.  I finally had a bit more room to make altars and shrines, and much of my parents’ resistance to such things in their home was gone.  They recognized my need for space to set out devotional space for worship, and I will always be grateful to them for this.

I made an altar to the Gods, a shrine to the Ancestors, a shrine to the Earthvaettir combined with the Moneyvaettir and Warrior Dead, and a shrine to the Animal Spirits.

The Gods’ Altar

At this point in time my Gods’ Altar was still fairly squished, at least compared to how it is now.  It is also a lot more simple; the Gods’ Altar as it is now has a lot more statuary and representations on it, whereas this was me trying to get back to some simplicity.  For example, the Chaos Star got packed away, as at the time I felt I’d had more than what I had needed of that.  The drum I made my journeys with was placed on the Gods’ Altar as I did a lot of journeywork to Their Realms at this point in time with Its help.  There are two chalices on the altar here: the pewter one I dedicated to Freya as our relationship was going very well, and She was teaching me a lot at this time.  That, and the chalice, which, if memory serves I had picked up at a thrift store, had at one point been given to someone as a Valentine’s gift back in 1985.  I found not long after I started using this that anything placed in the chalice would degrade and mold quick, despite repeated cleanings.  It has since been retired from service to any Gods since I can’t get it stop doing weird stuff to the contents within a few hours of being in the thing.

There’s also more prominence to the Valkyries’ representations here, with Brynhilde being directly behind Odin, and another to Her right.  The blue vial to the left of the pewter chalice long contained the last of a Dansk Mjød Viking Blod that I eventually ended up offering that year.  The crystal in front of the altar is selenite, a crystal I and my family still use to cleanse ourselves before some evening prayers.  The Negative Confession is on this altar in front of the vial and pewter mug.

The Gods' Altar 2012.

The Gods’ Altar 2012.

The left side of the Gods' Altar.

The left side of the Gods’ Altar.

The right side of the Gods' Altar.

The right side of the Gods’ Altar.

A closeup of Anpu, Mani, and Sunna on the Gods' Altar.

A closeup of Anpu (center), Mani, and Sunna (left) on the Gods’ Altar.

A closeup of Odin with Sigurd and Brynhilde behind Him on the Gods' Altar.

A closeup of Odin with Sigurd and Brynhilde behind Him on the Gods’ Altar.

A closeup of Freya, Brighid and Bres, Freyr, and Jord/Nerthus' representation on the Gods' Altar.

A closeup of Freya (center), Brighid and Bres (left), Freyr (front center), and Jord/Nerthus’ representation (right) on the Gods’ Altar.

Left to right: Brighid and Bres, Freyr, Jord/Nerthus, Sunna, and Mani, closeup up before the statues of Odin and Freya.

Left to right: Brighid and Bres, Freyr, Jord/Nerthus’s representation, Sunna, and Mani, closeup up before the statues of Odin and Freya.

The Ancestor Altar/Shrine

The Ancestor Altar/Shrine had finally come into being.  I had not been able to have a separate shrine for Them due to space issues, so being able to give space to the Elements as part of the Ancestors was wonderful as well as connective for me.  With this came a sense of connecting not only with Them individually as Elements and Ancestors, but in the space of the altar/shrine itself, each Element having Their own space in the way it is laid out.  This time also marked, roughly, when my Ancestors started asking for semi-regular tobacco offerings.  I started doing smoking offerings in 2009, 2010.  I had long held a taboo in my mind because of my parents’ smoking habits.  The deal I made with Them was that, so long as I was not going to become addicted I would smoke for Them.  So, cigars and cigarettes became part of the Fire area of the Ancestor shrine at this point, but that ended when Sylverleaf, our son, and I, transitioned as a family into the whole of the top floor of the house.

A long shot of the center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

A long shot of the center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

The center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

The center of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

Left side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

Left side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.  Leftmost is the Fire area, and next to it, the Water area.

Right side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.

Right side of the Ancestor Altar/Shrine.  The Earth, represented by the bowl of stones, and Air, with the incense holder, are here.

The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead Shrines

This was the second shrine I had set up for the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir; Their previous places had been set into a bookcase on a whole shelf.  I do not believe the Warrior Dead had a shrine before this, and if it had, it had been rather squished in between everything with the Earthvaettir and Moneyvaettir.  Here, again, I felt a sense of being able to breathe, of expanding not only my physical limits, but practice.  Of having space to actually physically acknowledge Their place in my life, Their Presences, and to honor that not only with space, but with prayer in that space.  Of giving offerings to those beings, whereas once They may have been lumped all in together with a single offering chalice between all of these great, diverse Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir otherwise, now I had space and ability to honor each closer to Their own ways and desires.

The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead shrines all on one surface.

The Earthvaettir, Moneyvaettir, and Warrior Dead shrines all on one surface.

The Animal Spirits’ Shrine

It was relieving to finally have space to do this.  I honor a great deal of animalvaettir not only as representations of the Gods (i.e. the snake as Bolverk), but as the animals Themselves who have come and shared wisdom and training.  Some of these representations pull double-duty; for instance, the wolf in the top above the center of the shrine is representative of both wolves, and Lupa, the Wolf Goddess who came to me early in my journey as a Pagan and in my self-discovery, helped me to realize a lot about myself.  More, She helped teach me how to not only explore it, but integrate it into my life as best as I could.  As the Wolf has been a central figure in my life as a whole, and as I mark It as kin, it forms the center of this shrine.  The patch of fur and wolf bones were gifts by the wonderful Shin Cynikos.  I keep these as sacred items to this day.  They still lay upon the animal spirits’ shrine.

The Animal Spirits Altar in 2012.  It sat on an old steamer trunk a friend gave me.

The Animal Spirits Altar in 2012. It lay on an old steamer trunk a friend gave to me.

It wasn’t long before I transitioned out of this kind of layout.  When I moved back into my old room upstairs to live with my family, there was a lot more room to expand, and express the changing relationships and growth in our lives together.  The next post will go into the expansion that occurred at that time, and what the altars and shrines tend to look like nowadays.