Category Archives: Memento mori
November is a very special month for me. It’s a time where Odin looms particularly large in my world and I start a ritual process that culminates in an intensive series of Yule rituals wherein Odin is the focus. It’s not that He’s absent at other times of the year — He in no way is – but November is special. A large part of the reason for this isn’t just the seasonal shift, something to which I’m particularly sensitive in general (probably thanks to my old and achy bones!), but also that Veteran’s Day /Remembrance Day is in November. As someone who has an extensive practice in honoring the military dead, this is a powerful time.
That may be what is so unique for me at this time with Odin: He doesn’t usually come to me in my devotions primarily as Lord of Hosts. I know He is a battle God. I resonate very strongly with that, but it’s not how He usually chooses to engage. As November rolls around, that changes and suddenly when I reach out to Odin, it’s as the Battle God, wise in weapons, Lord of the Einherjar, Sigtyr, the Victory God that He comes. The charge of that presence really calls me to step up my honoring of the military dead at this time.
This year as always, a significant part of my focus vis-à-vis the military dead is WWI dead. Partly that’s because I have a cousin [Wesley Heffner] who went over with Pershing’s Forces and never returned. He died on a field in France. He is in my thoughts a lot at this time of year. Then, moving away from WWI, my father’s birthday was November 1 and he was a veteran of WWII and Korea, so that also colors my practice. I feel sometimes like they take my hands and lead me into deeper understanding of what this practice of veneration entails. Usually I post something honoring the military dead every day in November. I’m not doing that this year, but I am going to be donating all November proceeds from my etsy store to Paralyzed Veterans of America. I think they do good work. (There are a couple of other organizations that I tend to gravitate to as well, including the British Royal Legion — I like that they provide retraining programs for vets. I’d welcome suggestions of other charities too from my readers).
Some years the military dead are more present than others and this year they seem particularly present. I wish we could learn from them, to cherish that which we are given, to value their lives, our lives, and the lives of our children, to understand that the consequences of any war, no matter how large or small it may be, reach far, far beyond the generation involved. They have powerful lessons to teach and I’m grateful to Odin for pointing me on the path of veneration.
During WWI, poet Wilfred Owen, quoting a line from Horace, wrote a poem called Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori. The title translates as “sweet and proper it is to die for one’s country” and it was published in 1920 after his death – Owen died in the trenches and is generally considered to be the greatest of the WWI poets. Whereas the original Horatian Ode may be read as a rather sweetly sentimental exhortation to the valor so essential to proper Romanitas, Owen flips the equation on its head, summoning the brutal bleakness of the trenches, the stench and horror of war, and with bitter hollowness damning that sentiment as an ‘old lie.’ I think both are correct. Civilization is built on the backs of its warriors, on the viscera of those willing to lay down their lives in its defense and we are defined by those sacrifices. Yet, we waste lives so blithely, often so pointlessly for leaders’ egos and greed. It is a corruption with a terrible cost. We owe those who fought and most of all we owe them the gift of learning from their mistakes.
As November begins, moving me inexorably into the deepest, most intense time of year for my practice, may I remember them well.
Yesterday was the anniversary of my adopted mom’s death. I’ll be posting more about that over the weekend, when I will be making some ancestral observances and ritual. I did not want it to go unremarked here, however, and this is the first access i’ve had to my computer since very early yesterday.
Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza 1950-2010 came into my life like a miracle from the Gods. She preserved and nourished me, and loved me dearly in all ways but the most obviously literal, my mother. It’s cliche to say of someone who has died that there isn’t a day that goes by that one doesn’t think about them, but it’s true and even being a shaman and ancestor worker didn’t soften the blow of her death. (You’d think working with the dead, and having that access to the Gods and spirits would make such a thing easier, more comprehensible, common place but it didn’t. Not in the least).
The first few years after her death i found myself wanting to collect everything that she had touched, every picture, every item, ever tiny scrap of paper. I realized early on i was trying to summon the corporeal sense of her presence but…it doesn’t work. When her partner died she burned almost everything that he owned. At the time she told me this, i was appalled. I tend to use things as mnemonic devices and there’s a comfort in being able to pick up a trinket and unroll a complicated memory. She told me then that they wouldn’t bring him back and that it was somehow obscene that these things existed when he no longer did. While I still cherish the things that she gave me, she’s right. They do not create that conduit. They do not evoke that presence. They do not in any way create the corporeal sense of presence here and now. Memory and ancestor work is the best we have.
For me, telling stories about all our adventures and how we met and sharing her letters (I have reams and reams of them), and hauling out her pictures (oh how she hated to have her picture taken) to and with my partner, who never met her in life, has been very healing. I worry that I will forget the ins and outs of our time together. I worry that one day I won’t remember what her culture Basel accent sounded like, or how she moved, or what we did when we went to that little town outside of Montreux that time when we were in Switzerland, or what it was like when we were together, what it was like to be so deeply loved by one’s mother, what it was like to have a mother who was also one’s best friend.
Grief still weighs me down and i know that when she died she took a part of my soul with her. There is a part of me that is emptied out of life, because she is not here to anchor me to living anymore. There is a part of me that went with her across that chasm of life into death. There is a part of me that will never find its way back and that’s ok. It’s fitting. I would rather that connection be shared still than to live whole with no part of my heart marked by her passing.
I will write more about this later.