"No one sings as purely as those in deepest hell; what we take for the song of angels is their song."
Tomorrow is Veterans Day and this particular day has immense personal import for me. My dad was career military and served in both WWII and Korea. My grandfather was in WWII and i have great uncles who served in WWI. Some of my first ancestors in the States were Hessian mercenaries who came over to fight in the Revolutionary war and I also carry in my veins the blood of Saxon warriors who took their stand against Charlemagne, may he be damned, in order to protect their traditions. I'm well aware, to the marrow of my soul, of the debt we owe our military dead. We all have them, somewhere in our lines, and I like to think that the grit and sense of duty that motivated them to fight for their homes, families, countries, and people flows through our ancestral hamingja down to us as well. I sense them quite often around me, the military dead in my line and those military dead that I honor who may or may not be directly related as well. I maintain a special part of my ancestor shrine solely for them and occasionally I make pilgrimages to battlefields and hold rituals and do what I can to honor them too. One thing that I've found they very much appreciate, in terms of offerings, is the acquisition of trench art.
This wasn't what i intended to write about for Veteran's Day and I may yet write something else before tomorrow ends. Still, someone today expressed great surprise that I, who carry warrior medicine, am also a poet, painter, photographer, glassblower, and cook. This is not the first time that I've had this happen. I remember when I was working with a Theod, jaws dropped open when it was discovered I could cook and cook well. The idea that someone claiming warrior medicine could also have the power, potential, skill, and desire to create something of beauty, or something nourishing seemed shocking. It apparently causes serious cognitive disconnect for some. Yet, warriors have always had a keen appreciation of beauty.
How could they not? Even in the midst of hell, one needs reminders of what one is fighting for; one needs reminders that nourish the eyes and the soul. One needs reminders that the brutality and horror in which one is currently wading are not the only things in the world, that there was a world, a precious beautiful world before whatever war one is fighting, a world to which one hopes to return. Warriors need those reminders of the fragility and sacredness of life, of their own humanity, of those they love, and those things that sustain. (All those humanities we're so hell bent on culling from our educational system? They nourish our humanity. They connect us to some of the best parts of being human: our capacity for occasional, shocking greatness, for creative genius, for distilling love, honor, loyalty, joy, pain, weariness, defeat, salvation into concrete talismans of remembrance, i.e. art, music, sculpture, etc. We cut them from our educational systems at our peril).
I think that our hunger for beauty and our ability to find or create it in the most adverse of circumstances is one of the defining sensibilities of being human. Warriors, soldiers are men and women making hard choices and doing what is necessary often with horrific personal consequences. This doesn't' make them less human; i believe it makes them all the more aware of how human they are, and all the more aware of how sometimes that must be thrust aside for survival, raw, brutal survival. Warriors have always sought out and found ways to create beauty in the midst of trauma. Samurai were expected to be well educated in the courtly arts and many a Japanese warrior was also an artist or poet. Archilochus, the Greek poet, wrote of being both a devotee of the Gods of war and of the Muses. There was no conflict: both were necessary for becoming a whole human being; and men damned to the trenches in WWI and WWII took the implements of destruction and horror: shells, mortars, and assorted metal refuse of war and made things of occasionally astonishing beauty. Collectors and antiquarians call this latter type of art 'trench art,' because it was made by men in the trenches.
I discovered trench art completely by accident. A friend of mine who used to own his own antique store gifted me with a small box. It was made out of a large shell casing and the soldier-artist had carefully inscribed a little lion and the words 'Labor Ipse Voluptas" (work itself is a pleasure) on the top. It was made during WWI. My military dead immediately took to it and it ended up on their altar. I started to get pushed to find more of this type of art and so over the past couple of years, I've acquired a small collection, all of which sits on my shrine to the military dead as an offering to them and what they endured.
I want to share some images of those pieces with you today, of simple things of quiet beauty made by men in the midst of hell.
This is the small box, my first piece of trench art, that I describe above. half the lid is hinged so it opens and closes easily.
The larger ring pictured here was made in France during WWI out of a shell casing.
These vases, both made during WWI, in France. One has ivy running around it, the other poppies. Both are made from very large shell casings--they're about a foot and a half tall.
I am particularly taken by the small things that soldiers made, like these cufflinks made out of small shell casings, and this pill box, made out of a shell casing and a coin. It's a little larger than a nickel.
Finally, here are two pictures of another box, also made out of a shell casing. This is about the size of my fist and is finely detailed. This is what many soldiers did in their "down" time and many's the sweetheart who received rings or trinkets from her beloved at the front.
I believe these things served as a reminder of exactly what these men were fighting for: everything they loved at home. All too many of them never came back. May they have the grace of being remembered and hailed, not only tomorrow on Veterans Day, but always.
(the first photo at the beginning of this post is one that I took of the WWI memorial in Rhinebeck, NY. Please do not use without permission).
A couple of quick and dirty shots of the altar for today's ritual in progress.
House Sankofa is honoring Odin and the military dead...it's our Veterans Day ritual today (on sat. instead of Veterans Day proper so more people can attend).
I'll post pics of the finished altar eventually...these were just quickly shot, in bad light as I was setting up.
IT's a good time to honor your military dead, folks. Check out an article I wrote here
about that and check out this
article about a totally badass female WWII resistance fighter. I'll be pouring out an offering to this woman's spirit today!
Take a moment to honor the deceased military men and women in your own families. We all come, in some way or another, from warriors. As with our other ancestors, so long as we draw breath, there is a debt.
Wisest of Warriors
there is no battle of which you have not tasted,
no battlefield You have not stalked.
Weapons Hungry Lord
You feast upon weapons and the warriors who wield them,
You are there in the flashing, brutal skill of combat:
hand to hand, blade to blade, firearm to firearm
and the broken flesh that bears their marks.
Both valiant and ruthless in battle
You are both, oh My Lord,
You delight in valor and are capable of it
but everything You are is rooted in a ruthlessness
that goes back to the birthing of worlds
and the slaughter of Your forefathers.
I adore You.
and despite Your ruthlessness, I adore the care You take of Your warriors,
of the soldiers and courageous men and women who enter into the arts of war,
and seek their fortune and the fortune of their people in the
burning hell of combat.
I ask this now, oh Master of Asgard,
You Who are victorious in every battle:
give peace to those soldiers who remain.
Let the voices of their dead sound gently in their ears,
and memories of their time in the crucible of war
rest more easily on their souls,
if such a thing is possible,
for those who have seen hell
unable to ever unburden
of the tale.
Watch over and bestow your protection upon veterans living and dead.
For Your protection is beyond measure,
and You, perhaps most of all,
understand the burdens they bear.
Watch over them now,
those that have passed to their ancestors,
those that sit with you in Valhalla,
those that have come back home,
and those that remain deployed.
Guard the hearts and minds and spirits
of those who have tasted of Your domain.
I hail You, Father of Victory.
I hail You, Odin.
(the picture is from my own web collection. I do not know who originally created it. If anyone does know, please shoot me an email).
Today is Veteran’s Day. In the US, Veterans Day is a day to
remember and honor all our Veterans. It was initially instituted as Armistice Day in 1919, to honor the heroism of those who served and died in WWI – the ‘War to end all Wars’ which wasn’t. It was made a legal holiday in the thirties and after WWII, expanded to include all veterans, not just those who died in WWI.(1) While I support honoring one’s military dead all year round, as with
Samhain, I think it’s right and good and proper to have a specific day set aside
wherein they may be paid special homage.
Every one of you reading this has warrior dead in your line. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Every one of you has people, men and women both, who made the hard, necessary, and sometimes brutal choices of taking up arms to defend their families, their villages, their traditions. Honoring the military dead isn’t about honoring the cause of any one conflict; it’s about honoring the people and their willingness to sacrifice, their willingness to lay down their lives, their willingness to face horrors and come back knowing they may never fit into their communities again so that the rest of us can live safe, live in peace, live without the burden of the experiences and knowledge they carry, in short: live. It is about honoring courage, duty, and sacrifice. Personally, I believe these are the highest virtues we have. It is honoring that spirit that says “you may destroy my nation, my people, my family, you may take everything but it will not be with my help. It will not be today. It will not be now. It will not be without a very bloody price that you may not wish to pay.”
There’s a lot of talk about ‘frith’ in our communities. Well, frith is built on the blood and bone, the guts and screams and tears of your warriors. Only warriors truly understand the cost of frith. You want to honor your peace-makers? Honor first the ones who took their place on the firing line.
It’s fitting that I should be writing about Odin on a day dedicated to the military dead. He is a God of war. He is a God of warriors, of strategy, of making necessary sacrifices. He is a God of general-ship with all the cold calculation that entails. He is a God Who is both intimately aware of the human cost of every single sacrifice and at the same time knows that sometimes those sacrifices are absolutely necessary – not good, not easy, but necessary.
Odin is a God who feasts on every battle. He is a God who looks on approvingly at the harsh honing of mind and will and spirit warfare brings. He is a God who understands precisely the intimate horrors of war, Who conversely is most in His element on the field of battle. Most of all, He is a God Who cherishes warriors.
It is appropriate, at least I think it so, to honor Him on this day, to ask with offerings and prayers, that He honor those who died with valor, and those, some little more than children who died with the name of their mothers on their lips, and those who died in agony, those whose bodies lay forgotten in the ground, all those who died engaged this thing called war. It is important that we not sentimentalize it, that we not pretend for a moment that war is any less horrifying, brutal, and vicious than it, in reality is. At the same time, it is important that we recognize the men and women themselves who crossed lines that we, if we are fortunate, may never, ever have to even contemplate crossing, men and women who crossed a chasm from which there is never really any coming back.
Honor Odin today, but honor your veterans first.
1. I hate to use wikipedia as a resource, and I never allow my students to do so but I broke down and did so here. Shame on me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veterans_Day See also http://www1.va.gov/opa/vetsday/.
A colleague of mine, Julie Lira was coming out of the subway in New York yesterday when she saw the man in this picture, an Iraqi war veteran, an amputee, a man in need of help. She spoke with him for a bit and before leaving, snapped this picture. She, like I, could hardly believe what she had seen. How dare this country treat its veterans this way?
These men and women put their life on the line, face terror, loss, loneliness, and pain to come back to this? They deserve better. Each and every one of us has ancestors who took up arms to defend their families, who fought and bled and died so that we could be here today. There was a time where our kin didn’t have the luxury of deciding whether or not to serve in the military; survival demanded it. When we dishonor our living veterans, we dishonor our own dead.
I don’t like the current war. I do not think it is a just war. I think we and our national debt would be far better served by putting that money into our own healthcare system, education, and infrastructure. That being said, I deeply respect those men and women who have chosen to serve in our military. I am grateful to them for taking up that burden, for their courage and their sacrifices. One can dislike the war but still respect the people who serve. In fact, it’s a damned shame that our country has so little respect for its veterans, sees so little value in the men and women who chose to serve its flag, and tosses them away so casually. I was in DC two weeks ago and there were homeless Vietnam vets sleeping on the street in the shadow of the Capital building. That is how our country honors its veterans. It’s a damned shame and a great wrong.
The next time you see a veteran, say thank you. We owe them, and all those who came before them a debt that our country hasn’t yet begun to recognize let alone repay. I am the daughter and granddaughter of a soldier, descended from Hessian mercenaries and Saxon fighters. Seeing this photo was like a punch in the gut. May all those who serve be honored in their lives and in their deaths. Always.
For those interested in doing something, here are some good places to which to donate in order to help our veterans and their families.
www.fisherhouse.orgwww.dav.orgHere’s an Excellent Blog for Pagans and Heathens in the Military:
http://military.pagannewswirecollective.com/Then for Heathens there’s : http://www.openhalls.org/
(I’m torn on recommending them, as they’ve outright disavowed me because of my work, and my oath sister because of her connection to me, the latter only after she got them extensive publicity for their project. They’re doing useful work for military Heathens though and that is more important to me than any petty crap. The work must always come first. So, with that caveat, I give you the link).
If anyone knows of any other good organizations dedicated to helping veterans and their families, please let me know.
A big thank you to Julie Lira for allowing me to use her photo.