my latest bit of poetry…drawn from my notes and readings in one of my classes…
Half a Cento
I am the vestige of the dead.
Do not offend them.
Things that feast on death
are so beautiful.
Their longing breaks us.
Blood or bones or gunpowder –
Of what am I made?
Am I a fire-white ghost?
Tangled, pitiless, pure?
Or am I a haint,
riven in blue
fed on sorrow,
a veteran of many wars?
I am writing my own myth,
holding in my hands
a purgatory of virtual kinlessless
Do not condemn me.
The soil in which I work is deep
but full of stones,
and the etymologies of my life
picked over by ravenous memory.
Longing has destroyed me.
This myth that I write,
stained with the ink of my soul,
burnt at the edges and artery-red,
is the only way
out of this labyrinth
and its endless corridors of dispossession.
The calculus of my heart is razor sharp.
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When this topic came up in the genealogy challenge, I immediately thought of my maternal third great grandmother Rachel Bobo. She was born in 1824 and died 1908 having spent her entire life (as far as I can tell) in Hardy County, West Virginia. She married a farmer, William Seymour Baldwin (1823-1864) in 1839 and they had a passel of children including my great great grandfather Isaac Hamilton Baldwin.
(yes, the birth date is off on the photo – welcome to genealogy)
The first time I saw her last name, I was amused so of course, I had to research it even further. It’s a French name that can also be spelled Beaubeau, Baubeau, or Bobeau – keeping in mind that there was no standardization with the spelling of names until well into the early 20thcentury). Turns out, Rachel is descended from Gabriel Bobo, an Huguenot immigrant to VA c. 1681. Originally from St. Sauvant, he was fleeing religious persecution in Catholic France. The Edict of Nantes, issued in 1598 had given Huguenots the right to practice their faith free of persecution but this was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685 leading to government sanctioned persecution, pressure to convert to Catholicism, imprisonment, and violence. Many Huguenots fled to Britain and Denmark (and some, eventually to the American Colonies). I was surprised to learn that they had a reputation for being fine craftsmen of various sorts, though I can’t tell if that was also the case with Rachel’s family. I do know she was tough and you can see it in her face too. My impression from her photo and the stories that I have of her is that this is a woman possessed of grit.
Rachel’s Grandfather, Leonard Ludwick fought in the Revolutionary war and I’m amused by the names she chose to give some of her children: Andrew Jackson Baldwin, Isaac Hamilton Baldwin, etc. Obviously, this was a generation proud to be part of the new America. It doesn’t seem like she or her husband were literate but they sure made certain that their children were. Her son Isaac, my second great grandfather was a mechanic, and his daughter was, at least for part of her life, an opera singer. One can see an upward educational trend.
It may seem strange to write about Rachel on a week focused on “prosperity,” but she and her husband worked hard and it’s clear that they did so in order to give their children something better than they themselves had. I wonder what the word “prosperity” meant to her and I very much wonder what I can learn from how she lived her life and her values.
Recently, I had an acquaintance of over ten years express some very disturbing misunderstandings about the nature of our traditions. His comprehension of Heathenry was misinformed, frightened, and wrong on nearly all counts. This made me think that if someone I knew for ten years could have such poor information, then perhaps some of my [non-Heathen] readers might too and that’s neither productive nor good.
So, now’s your chance to ask any question you want about Polytheism in general and Heathenry specifically (you’re welcome to ask about the comitatus tradition in which I particularly work, a tradition that incorporates Roman practice too).
Post your questions here, or email me at krasskova at gmail.com and I will do my best to answer them.
It really saddened me that in over a decade of hanging out (though never in a ritual capacity), my acquaintance was so misinformed. So ask away and I’ll do my best.
This is a hard one because each time I learn something new about my ancestral lines, I get excited. Each discovery is my favorite one. That being said, I think the thing that I’ve been focusing on recently the most, that just tickles me pink, lol, is something I’ve mentioned before; namely, that my 11thgreat grandfather is Jakob Boehme, seventeenth century theologian, mystic philosopher, and gadfly to the establishment.
Given that I myself am a theologian, I like knowing that I’m carrying on a family tradition: pushing the boundaries within my religious community. Boehme is not the only clergy person or theologian in my maternal line, but he’s the one that I found the most surprising.
For more info on him, see the wiki article here.
For you, my readers, for those of you who’ve done genealogical work as part of your ancestor practice, what has been your favorite discovery?
Today, a friend posted on fb: “Never let religion steal your identity.” My response was this: our devotion to our Gods is the only part of our identity that matters.”
We are what is irreducible. We are more than our mortal shell and in the end, the thing that I think is most important is that we have honored our Gods and ancestors rightly and well, the latter involving taking care of our living family and community too.
The physical body is part of our soul. It’s the part we leave behind with every incarnation. It is that which we give back to the earth in payment for what we have taken, for all the ways the earth has nourished us. It is our payment of our life-debt (so maybe we should treat our bodies well and value the things associated with them, but keep all things in proper perspective too, pious perspective at the same time).
My cat is plotting my death for this. Give time, folks. She’ll do me in one of these days.
So we are fairly late this time around with the winter issue of Walking the Worlds and the problem is amazon KDP. We are dealing with a level of incompetence that I simply cannot fathom. They apparently refuse to acknowledge academic journal numbering conventions, the same conventions we’ve been using for the last ten issues. I had a glimmer of hope the other day where I thought we had gotten someone sensible but then the issue got kicked up the line and we were back to people who are either unwilling to actually read the problem laid out in the email, incompetent, or perhaps purposely obtuse.
Either way, we’re working on it and hope to have the issue resolved soon. We’re also looking for other options than amazon, but sadly this is what you get with a monopoly: really shitty service.
I”m also thankful that I work in a field with people who actually know how to read.
omg i wish Karl Siegfried would stick to writing about what he actually got his degree in (music) and keep his hands off our religion. He’s currently trashing the idea of utgarð and inangarð.
These are ways of defining sacred space. end of story. IF we wish to expand upon that, we might look at them like the Germanic equivalents of the Greco-Roman idea of “oikenomia” (certainly I misspelled this lol) but this use would come into play only insofar as we had self-determining tribal units, which we currently do not.
Of course, in his eagerness to trash our traditions, rather than parse out the theological valence behind such terms, this fool is instead using it to score points against the Troth (which is fine by me) and root out non-existent racists therein (please, if they were anymore “woke” they’d be rainbow colored. The Troth purges theological difference better than Stalin).
So many reasons not to go to wildhunt.org for anything approximating accurate information on Heathenry.
I actually don’t have any ancestors that I know of who share my first name. I was, however, very nearly named Ursula after my paternal grandmother, so I’ll share her story this week. (I think I would have liked sharing her name as an adult—it means “little bear”—but I’m not sure I’d have been overly thrilled with it as a child).
(Ursula and Karl with their children Julia and John)
Ursula Blasis was born in 1888 in Kurliu, Lithuania (though unlike her husband Karolys, she listed “Russian” rather than “Lithuanian” on her immigration forms, making me wonder if one of her parents was Russian – I haven’t been able to find out anything about them yet) and immigrated to the US in 1910. She had three children: my aunt Julia (1912-1999), my dad John (1917-2005), and my uncle Joseph (1921-2011).
She was married to Karalys (or Karl) Dabravalskas (1882-1973), a dairy farmer and carpenter. This is the story that my dad told me of their courtship. Apparently, Karl was originally betrothed to Ursula’s older sister. My impression from what my dad told me was that this was, more or less, an arranged marriage. So, Karalys immigrated to the US, settled in Albany, NY and got himself settled and set up and then sent for his bride to be. She, however, decided she didn’t want to leave Lithuania so without telling him beforehand sent her younger sister Ursula over. Once she was here, in those days, one couldn’t just send her back so they married and that was that.
While I didn’t know my grandfather (he died when I was less than a year old), I do have memories of my grandmother. She was birdlike and thin, spoke very little English, and was very affectionate. She scared me as a child – she always wanted to hold and pet me but even as a child I wasn’t much for being crowded and as a very small child I thought she was Baba Yaga! Now I wish that I had had the opportunity to know her when I was just a bit older. I think she was very tough and very brave.
She is buried in Albany and I visit her grave regularly (as well as that of her husband, my aunt Julia, and her husband Kurt Wagner). It’s probably time I visit again. It’s been awhile…
This week, I want to talk about a group of men that I honor as ancestors, even though they never had physical children. For years now, I have honored the baroque castrati as a group of honored dead on my ancestor shrine. I love them, I truly do and they’ve become an integral part of my spiritual practice of honoring the dead.
Music has always been an important part of my life. I spent the first quarter of my life as a professional ballet dancer (retired in my early twenties due to injury). That was the first way by which I was introduced to ecstatic spirituality. It was the first way I ever touched the sacred. It’s an art intimately connected to that of music. One of the first really famous ballet dancers, Marie Salle, who was herself a gifted choreographer, worked with Handel and his castrati in London. Ballet and opera evolved one from the other. There’s a lineage there and in a very small way, I was part of that. Even now, when I listen to music it takes me out of myself and brings me to a place where I throw myself far more deeply into holy work. It’s a visceral, full body experience. It roars through my blood and then carries me to the spirits and worlds I seek. It was from the castrati that I really came to understand what an important journey maker music has always been for me. Now I use it consciously in my work and often under their auspices. I am grateful.
Anyway, for those who may not know – since I do have a number of new readers –the castrati were singers, first in church choirs and then in the opera, who were castrated before puberty to preserve their voices. So, they were adult men with the chest and lung capacity of adult men, but the vocal chords of prepubescent boys. They were sopranos, mezzos (both classed as “soprano” in their day) and altos and their voices were ethereal wonders. We don’t know exactly what they sounded like. There is a recording of the very last famous castrato, but he was well past his prime during the recording, had never been an operatic virtuoso, and turn of the century recording technology lacked the capacity for recording the fullness of his voice. What we get is warped and thin. The same thing occurs with female opera singers who were recorded in the first decade of the 1900s too. All we really have are descriptions from those who heard these men. They were the rock stars of their day. One woman, upon hearing the famous castrato Farinelli sing was moved to such ecstasies by the sound that she burst out with an enthusiastic, if slightly blasphemous, “one God, one Farinelli!”
Now, we usually think of the castrati as belonging to the the baroque era but they worked roughly through the 16th to 19th centuries. In reality, even longer — the first castrated singer that I’ve encountered (thanks to the work of scholar Neil Moran) is the 5th century Brisson, who was choir master in the Byzantine court of Empress Eudoxia. We know that the Byzantines had castrati in their choirs though there is no indication of an industry that castrated boys purely for their vocal potential. That comes later in the 16th century in the Vatican states where women were forbidden from performing on stage (because of a prohibition in Paul). The last well-known castrato was A. Moreschi who died in 1922. He’s the one who was recorded. Today, their repertoire, which created opera as we know it, is usually performed by women or counter-tenors. I prefer the latter (I like lower female voices, probably because I’m a tenor myself and higher male voices. Female sopranos tend to annoy me—the quality of the sound is different from a man singing in the same range. I’d rather listen to a female contralto but in the end, I’m glad for all the vocal instruments we have). By the way, that Byzantine choir master Brisson was a bad ass. He is recorded (by the 6th c. historian Socrates) as getting into fist fights with religious heretics lol.
Anyway, I consider these men, men like Atto Melani, Cafarelli, Carestini, and Senesino to be part of my ancestral house. I honor them regularly. They have immortality like the heroes of old, and it is up to those of us who recognize the beauty and sacrality in what they did to serve the function of progeny: that of remembering those who came before us. So, I hail them, regularly and very soon, I will complete a small novena book for them too. I will conclude this with one of the prayers I give them. May they always be remembered, valued, and praised – both those who were famous, and those who broke in the process.
Prayer for the castrati
By Galina Krasskova
Your predecessors haunted the courts and choirs of Constantinople.
The enchantment of your voices was heard from Italy to Spain,
England to Germany, and well beyond even to farthest Russia.
The ghostly memory of your glory haunts every operatic stage,
everywhere in the world today and that is good. We should not forget.
We should never forget the debt our artists owe to each of you,
with every voice lifted in song, every note resonant in modern throats.
You rose up from the ashes of Rome,
glittering jewels in the crown of the world,
bright, hard, glorious, unbreakable.
You shone like the sun
with the glory of the moon at your backs:
magic, allure, erotic power.
Your voices tore open the heavens
and left frenzied desire in their wake.
No king was ever more feted.
No saint ever more reverenced.
Let us taste anew that frenzy–
pouring ourselves out in offerings to you.
White, cold and unyielding,
with hearts hungry
and less than angelic,
each of your voices a blade,
inviting longing, revealing desire,
leaving ecstasy in its wake.
I praise you today and every day.
Your names sanctify my lips.
(from the forthcoming “Viva ‘il coltello: In Honor of the castrati” by G. Krasskova, Sanngetall Press).
The closest we can get is the modern counter tenor. Here are three of my favorites.
Andreas Scholl singing Bizet’s “Habanera” (he’s known for his interpretation of Bach and his voice is exactly the same vocal range as the castrato Senesino. He also went to the same conservatory in Basel as my adopted mom. I just get a kick out of him singing “Carmen” so I chose that one instead of Bach).
Michael Maniaci singing Mozart’s “Exsultate” (written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini).
Philippe Jaroussky singing Gluck’s “Che faro senza Euridice” (originally sung by the castrato Gaetano Guadagni).
Jakub Jozef Orlinski singing Hasse’s “Mea tormenta, properate!”