Or, our ancestors were perceptive and we shouldn’t forget the folklore that they have passed down to us.
I”m having a lovely discussion with a friend about Appalachian folklore. We both have Appalachian ancestry (for me, it’s my maternal side) and there is a whole slew of folk sayings and beliefs, weather omens, charms, ways to protect the home, protect the land, keep oneself safe that were passed down. I never thought about most of it before. These were just things tucked away in my memory, some of which I put into play in my regular life as a matter of course. Unless otherwise noted, these are Appalachian or PA Dutch (the places where my bio mom’s line is from).
I’ll give you an example. My grandmother used to keep Dannon yogurt cups of red vinegar around the house. I’d come across a cup sitting on a bookshelf, or on top of a cabinet. (That it was in Dannon yogurt cups was not important. I note it only because as a three or four year old, I drank one, thinking it was a weird kind of yogurt and got very sick). It wasn’t until I was an adult and many years into my own practice that I discovered this was a 19th century spiritualist’s trick to keep the home free form negative spirits. I realized my grandmother must have learned it from her aunt Catherine, who was known for being able to clear a home of anything malignant or foul and who was deeply ensconced in spiritualism.
I was eating out with a friend the other day and I put my keys not the table and she quietly put a napkin under them. I looked at her and she said, “it’s a Ukrainian folk custom. Putting keys directly on the table is bad luck.” ok. filed under things to remember. Keys have certain connotations in Norse practice. I won’t be putting them on the table again. I might not understand why these things came into being, but it costs nothing to be careful. Keys represent luck and wealth after all.
When walking with a friend avoid letting any post or pillar separate you. It can cut the friendship–to cure this, say to each other “Hello for a hundred years.” Similarly, if someone gives you a gift of a knife, give them coins in return or it can cut the friendship.
From my Jewish friend Hal: the first person to visit your home on New Year’s Day should, before entering, toss a handful of coins across the threshold so that your coming year will be filled with luck and wealth.
If you are traveling and just cannot find your way, and you’ve been going in circles and it almost seems like something perverse is misleading you: turn your clothes inside out. It makes you invisible to any fair folk who might be messing with you. (I’ve done this and it works).
From my Ukrainian friend again: pin safety pins on your clothes somewhere. It wards off evil. (probably functions in the same way the nails in a witch’s jar do to pierce and attack evil spirits).
Someone told me that dreaming of bees was a sign of good luck. I’ve never dreamed of bees though.
Red Sky at night: Sailor’s delight; Red sky in the morning: Sailors take warning. (No idea where I learned this).
If someone praises your baby, esp. your baby’s beauty, spit on the baby. It wards off the evil eye. (I don’t actually advocate spitting on children lol. Put an evil eye charm like a blue eye pendant or something on the kid and keep him or her away from outsiders to avoid the praising).
When drinking alcohol of any kind, pour a little bit on the ground in offering for the spirits (land, ancestors, wandering dead? doesn’t specify. It’s polite though so why not?).
Another Ukrainian one that we do in my house: put the broom bristle side up. Brings good luck/drives away bad luck
Here’s one that’s Appalachian and PA Dutch: throw salt over the left shoulder to ward off the devil (not sure WHEN you’re supposed to do this, but it’s a very popular one and salt does cleanse and protect).
If you walk between two poles that run electricity, you’ll get sick (Ukrainian).
*whew*! that’s all I can think of at the moment — I need to get going with studying–but, please please feel free to post your own folk sayings and customs here. I would love to know what practices have crept into your lineages that y’all know of or maybe even maintain.
Over the last week, I’ve had quite a few questions hit my inbox. Normally, I answer these things privately but some of the questions are things that I get asked frequently, so I figured it was time to write something here (and I welcome the questions so don’t ever worry about emailing me. I might be slow – I am in grad school and perennially running behind in email – but I’ll answer as soon as I can). So settle back, because this is going to be a rather long post as I try to cover the questions I’ve been receiving. I’ve tried to group them by topic, so most of them deal with ancestor veneration. I put those first.
Question 1: Most of my ancestors were Protestants not Polytheists. Can I still venerate them? Will it make them angry?
Death is a great equalizer. I have very, very rarely found religion to be a problem with non-polytheistic ancestors. Nine times out of ten, being reunited with one’s ancestral house, freed of the difficulties and pain of corporeality, is very healing and liberating for our dead. Quite often, many of the prejudices and narrowness that define our living experience simply fade away (I suspect that it is partly due to actually encountering the Powers directly). There are exceptions to this, mind you, but for the most part I have found that what you’re most likely to encounter is happiness that you’re reaching out, a little confusion about how the whole thing works (as we learn to work with our dead, I think they learn to work with us too), and a willingness to communicate.
Sometimes, depending on the religion that your ancestors might be coming from, they may not have a working knowledge of how to DO ancestor work, how to engage with the living so there may be some negotiation there but for the most part, barring the occasional bitter or damaged ancestor, you’re rarely likely to encounter hostility because of your religion. There might be curiosity, and in that case, just explain what you do and why.
Sometimes really damaged or wounded ancestors will require healing and if one is willing, elevations can help enormously with that. I advise people to just start honoring their dead – start where you’re comfortable starting—and then deal with any issues that come up as they arise. It’s a learning experience (on both sides) and there will be a little fumbling along the way just like in any other relationship. That’s ok. Consistency is the key.
If you have ancestors who were especially devout in their tradition, one thing you can do is find out what ways that tradition has of honoring the dead. For instance, my grandmothers were both Catholic. I often have masses said for them or will go and light candles at Marian shrines in various Churches for them. They seem to like it.
Question 2: I know you honor dead that aren’t related to you biologically. How does that work? Is there ever any conflict between your blood ancestors and these spiritual ones?
Oooh yes and yes. I struggled for many, many years to develop a working relationship with my ancestors and I sometimes think they get a little jealous of how much more easily my relationship with non-blood related groups (especially the castrati and/or the military dead) developed. There’s more ease there with those that aren’t related to me even now. I feel often as though I have more in common with them. But, like anything, it’s a work in progress and if I didn’t honor my own dead properly then I wouldn’t be in any position to take up honoring specific groups of unrelated dead. One aspect of veneration feeds into and strengthens the other for me.
I have certain dead in each group, including my blood ancestors, who kind of help keep things organized and will step up to solve any problems that arise between the various groups and that helps immensely. Beyond that, divination is always a go-to when larger problems arise, though I can’t think of the last time that happened. For the most part, we all manage to work together well 99% of the time.
For those who wonder which non-blood related ancestors I honor, I specifically venerate the military dead, the castrati and also as a work-lineage, ballet dancers (I was a dancer for the first working third of my life so that was a lineage of which I was part. It shaped me and contributed to the way in which I approach my spiritual work. I honor them as a spiritual lineage). I also honor my spiritual lineage ancestors (spirit workers, vitkar, priests, etc.). This latter is one of the areas where I find my spiritual ancestors and blood ancestors overlapping since I have several theologians in my line (most notably Jakob Boehme, who is my 11th great grandfather on my maternal side).
Question 3: If you pay ancestor or hero cultus to a celebrity, say a famous dead musician for instance, how is that different from fandom?
I think the purpose in venerating them is different. You are basically asking that this particular dead person become an honorary part of your ancestral house. Why would you do to that for someone not related to you? Well, maybe they are part of your work-lineage. Say you are a musician. Honoring a famous musician who inspired you fits into “lineage.” Or, you are asking that person to become a patron, as in ancient Roman patron/client relationships. This is analogous in many respects to hero cultus. In ancient Roman polytheism, or instance (and one sees this in other polytheisms too, but Roman comes to mind as I write this) one might pay cultus to a local hero because he or she was extraordinary in some way. Herakles for instance, received extensive hero cultus. Why does one do this? I equate it to Catholic saint cultus (which I think evolved partly from a combination of ancestor veneration and hero cultus that was pandemic in the pre-Christian world): one petitions these holy people to intercede with God in Catholicism, or to lend their holy might, their power to prayers for us. Well, we can do that with our heroes too. They can be models of excellence (much like saints are models of holiness), they can be petitioned for help or intercession, or for protection in our work, or a dozen other things as well. The important thing is, we’re not just going ‘rah rah rah’ and swooning over their work. We are recognizing their importance in their field and their impact on us personally, honoring them for that, in the hopes that they will inspire us, open doors for us, and that we may tap into their fire on a spiritual level and be made better through that (along with our own hard work). The purpose is different from fandom.
Question 4: What if you have an ancestor who did something particularly egregious (serial killer, Nazi murder, communist, or just plain asshole in the family). What the hell do you do with them?
This is a good, really good question. The answer: It depends. This is the answer for a lot of complicated questions in ancestor veneration: it depends. It depends on your relationship with that person, whether their actions directly impacted you (if you’re a generation or two removed, you can be a bit more objective in many cases). It depends on whether that person showed any shame or regret or desire to make amends in life. It depends on whether one senses that after death. It depends on what they did and how deep the poison runs.
Often it’s healthier to at least perform the occasional elevation for a wicked ancestor, even if you decide not to honor them in any other way, than to allow their poison to go untreated in the line. An elevation is a ritual to heal a damaged ancestor. It can be very hard to do and I always recommend asking one’s entire ancestral line to pray with you as you do what is a nine-day rite. Why would you do this for an evil ancestor? Well, nothing goes away. If an ancestor is hurt or damaged, wounded or wicked, or any other thing good or bad, it bleeds into the entire ancestor line and that has long term, inter-generational consequences. Sometimes it’s better to face that and find a way to deal with it via ancestor work. This can actually help heal multiple generations. I would do this in consultation with a diviner steeped in your own religious tradition. I like to say that it’s statistically impossible that every one of your ancestors was an asshole. It’s also statistically impossible that every single one was an angel. We all have that one ancestor though, so the deeper one goes into ancestor veneration, the more likely it is that we’ll encounter something that requires careful consideration.
I was telling my housemate the story of Beate Klarsfeld (b. 1939) last night. Klarsfeld was German and was very small when WWII ended. She was part of the generation that wasn’t really taught anything about the war or the Holocaust in school. She went to France as a young woman and when she found out what really happened during the war, she was filled with a deep shame and a deeper rage. That rage filled her with a fury that remained unabated her entire life. She became a ferocious Nazi hunter. Among other Nazi war criminals, she and her husband were instrumental in bringing Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, to justice. She wasn’t perfect. She cooperated with East German Stasi to gain information on West German officials’ past activities, but her life was largely dedicated to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. THIS is one way of beginning to repair an ancestral line tainted by such a terrible thing as a Nazi ancestor.
One doesn’t have to work publicly like Klarsfeld but if you have an ancestor like this, finding a way to give his or her victims a voice and to help them can in turn help repair your own ancestral line. This is not self-serving. An ancestral line that is poisoned and out of balance brings nothing but pain, hatred, and violence into the world. Healing your own ancestral line shuts a door that evil can otherwise use to further damage Midgard.
So, what do you do if you have an ancestor who was a Nazi, a serial killer, a Stalinist, etc.? Or what about just an abusive, violent bastard? Or what if you have a murderer or a rapist? On a small scale, it depends, and saying that can be like bitter ash in the mouth. Still, it’s the truth: it depends. Consult a competent diviner within your tradition. Your other ancestors who were directly harmed by this person may have serious pain and trauma. I usually suggest doing elevations for THEM first before anything else. Then sit down and see what they want? What you are comfortable with? Take your time and consult your elders and diviners. The damaged ancestor may be coming forward in order to try to make amends, to try to fix the damage he or she wrought. (This is not always the case. Sometimes they’re every bit the bastards in death that they were in life, but just as often, they are filled with shame and want to do what they can to repair things. That’s one of the things to figure out. Then, you have to make a decision weighing the pros and cons. I usually suggest an elevation or maybe a series of elevations either way, and then after that, you can decide if you want to work with that person further. If you don’t, there are other rites one can do to cut them out or separate them from the rest of your dead and shun them. If you do, that can be negotiated. It really depends and this is determined on an individual basis. It’s a family thing too: do this in consultation with your other ancestors. Honoring the bad ancestor doesn’t mean you forgive him or her, or that you approve of that person’s choices and behavior. It doesn’t mean that you like that person. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t angry or hurt or [insert emotion here]. It means that you’re making the best choice possible for your spiritual health and that of your ancestral line. Sometimes that choice is to slowly begin elevating, healing, and honoring a particular ancestor. Sometimes it’s to block that person out of your life and line.
There’s no pat answer here. It’s complicated and difficult and often quite challenging.
Question 5: Can pets be included in ancestor veneration?
Absolutely. They are little lives that intersect ours and often make us better people. I have seen animals pray. I absolutely include my deceased pets on my shrine.
Question 6: Can I be heathen even if I don’t have Scandinavian or Germanic ancestors?
Absolutely. The Gods call whom They call. End of story.
Some people are drawn to Heathenry because they have Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry and that becomes a powerful point of connection. That’s ok. Most people find it easier to honor their ancestors first than to approach the Gods (ancestors are concrete. We knew grandma. Gods are harder to conceptualize at first, unless we are blessed with the capacity to sense Them in some way. Not everyone is and that’s ok too). This doesn’t mean that you *have* to have any particular ancestry to honor the Norse Gods (and, as far as ancestor veneration goes: everyone has ancestors. The point is to honor them. It’s not about where those ancestors are from. It’s all good).
Now, the traditions that make up Heathenry are connected to specific lands and cultures. But in the world of our ancestors, that wasn’t as restrictive as we today would make it. What mattered was being respectful and honoring the Gods in ways appropriate to the tradition or cultus. Being part of a community was a matter of sharing that veneration, sharing the same language, customs and laws. It was about acquiring those things, not blood.
It’s cool if one has Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry. That’s great. It’s going to allow one to connect in a particular way to our Gods. But if one doesn’t have that ancestry, that’s ok too. That’s also going to allow for a unique connection and both are equally good. Our sacred stories tell us that our Gods travelled everywhere, engaged with all manner of people, intermarried, had children. They returned home and shared what They had learned. There’s a lesson there that maybe we should take to heart.
I’ve never been a folkish Heathen. There are generally two points on which we disagree theologically: one is veneration of Loki (most folkish Heathens I have met are against His veneration. I fought for 20+ years to normalize His veneration within Heathenry. Those youngsters on tumblr who bitch about how terrible I am would do well to realize that for a very long time I was a lone voice in the wilderness advocating for this God we all love, and without my work, they might find their own veneration of Him a much more difficult thing publicly. But that would be respecting one’s elders and we can’t have that now can we? *sarcasm*). The other is ancestry. I don’t think it matters at all what one’s ancestry is. We’re always going to discover things we find really cool about our ancestry and also things that we don’t like. None of this has any bearing on whether or not one can honor the Norse Gods.
Folkish Heathens think ancestry matters here, and that only those with Norse or Germanic ancestry can honor the Gods (or those adopted or married into the “tribe” so to speak). While I don’t think that Folkish Heathenry equals racism (it doesn’t and eliding the complexities here serves no one), I just don’t agree with them here.
So, if you are not of Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry and feel a pull toward the Norse Gods, go for it. Set up your shrines ,pour out your offerings, pray, develop those devotional relationships and know that you are in perfectly good company. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You belong just as much as anyone else. Honor your ancestors too. That is our strongest foundation of all.
Finally, I don’t usually receive political questions, but two people emailed me questions the week before last (they were polite, at least the first was, so I took the time to answer):
Question 7: “Why do you hate Marxism so much?”
History. (I could have stopped there, to be honest).
I think it seduces people by pretending to offer a solution to all their woes and then cannibalizes the very people who placed their hopes in it. I think it leads inevitably to socialism and, if left unchecked long enough, communism. I think it is dehumanizing and degrading. It inevitably attacks the family structure, destroys the economy, and leaves little room for individuality or human excellence. I also think it is completely incompatible with any religious or devotional life. Like Nazism (two sides of the same bloody coin in my opinion), I think it is evil.
Our country has many problems to be solved, among them, failing infrastructure, contempt for the aged, lack of medical care, stifling educational debt, racism and misogyny that continue to bubble up to the surface, a poor and broken educational system, to name but a few. The solution isn’t to go to the other extreme to fix the problem. Extremes never work but only cause more damage. Rather than focus on Marxism, we should consider that we have a worthless Congress that has something like an 8% approval rate by its citizens. They control the purse strings and they really don’t care about the human lives that put them in office and allow them the privilege of staying there. Marxism is a misdirection that will never fix the actual problem. It will make everything worse and the very people so ra-ra-ra for it, will – if history is any predictor—be the first against the wall should their Marxist “utopia” ever become reality.
This, btw, is why I am not a supporter of BLM or Antifa. It’s just Marxism under another name. Of course, when one points out that Marxism/Socialism/Communism have never successfully worked (and always have a horrific body count) modern interlocutors will go on about how that wasn’t *real* Marxism. That wasn’t *real* socialism. That wasn’t *real* communism. Theirs, of course will be different. Right. I’m not willing to bet my life on it.
Question 8: Are you a Nazi? (yes, someone actually emailed me and this one sentence was the entire email. Such eloquence. I am astounded *sarcasm*).
No. Read my work. I despise Nazism every bit as much as I despise communism. It was and is evil and destructive. People who resort to calling me a Nazi are doing so because they are too small minded to actually engage with my work, and they want to make sure that no one else takes the time to read what I’m actually saying as well. People that throw this term around don’t like that I’m not pro-left (I’m not actually pro-right either) and they use shock-language to scare people away. Never mind that in doing so, they’re showing tremendous disrespect to those who died under Nazism, and are making light of one of the worst and most horrific expressions of hatred in the 20th century.
Read my work and decide for yourself. You are all capable of doing that. From the beginning of my public writing I have always maintained, without exception, a strong stance against this bullshit when it creeps into our communities. This is precisely why I am pro-free speech.
Finally, someone asked me a question I’d actually never been asked before. That alone prompted me to answer it:
Question 9: Who are your personal heroes?
I had to really think about this. I’ve been lucky to have had extremely good devotional models in my life and the one that stands out the most is my adopted mom Fuensanta. Without her, I don’t think I’d even be alive right now. She taught me more about devotion and honoring the Gods and behaving with integrity than anyone else in my world so if we’re talking personal heroes, she tops the list.
After that, it depends on which area of my life we’re discussing. There are people who have inspired me, but very few that I would honor as heroes or saints. That’s such a special category. I need to think about this question more because it really depends on which “hat” I’m wearing. Are we speaking artistically, academically, spiritually, personally? There are many who inspired me (in ballet for instance when I still danced, I looked to women like Anna Pavlova, Olga Spessivtseva, Marie Taglioni, etc. to teach me the grace and value of sacrifice, pain, and discipline) and often they are honored as part of my work-lineage on my ancestor shrine (as the women I just mentioned are), but I don’t pay them the type of cultus that I would give a “hero” or “saint.” It gets complicated – what, with ancestor veneration doesn’t? I have a lot of historical figures I deeply admire, but hero cultus is something else.
I think that’s it for today. I have a couple more questions but they can wait for a later post. I’ll try to do get that post out in a couple of days. If you’re interested in learning more about ancestor veneration, check out my book here. Or, check out the tags ‘ancestors’ and ‘ancestor work’ here on my blog.
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I promised that after the Solstice, I’d share a picture of our household shrine to Ask and Embla. Here it is. It’s small — we have numerous household shrines and we’re running out of room!–but potent. We started seriously paying cultus to them during this past year’s Sunwait and realized what a powerful thing it was, and how it added a foundation to our practice hitherto lacking. I had initially thought to put their shrine with the rest of our ancestors, but that didn’t seem right. They are the first and thus special. So, they have their own place as you see. It will grow as our understanding of and devotion to them also grows.
Royal School of Needlework has an ongoing project that allows individuals to “sponsor” a stitch for their “stitchbank.” It’s a fantastic resource for historians and of course, for those who are learning to embroider. RSN correctly points out that embroiderers throughout history have rarely signed their work. We have many, many examples of this beautiful art from antiquity all the way up to the present, but rarely, very, very rarely do we know the names of the (mostly) women who created them (1). This stitchbank is preserving these stitches with the names of either those who sponsored them or those for whom a stitch has been sponsored. I think that is pretty cool.
There are lots of things that we can do to honor our ancestors. I think it’s important to remember though that until the 20th century, a huge portion of our female ancestors’ time would have been taken up with textile production: spinning, in some cases weaving, sewing, knitting or crochet, and for those who had the time, embroidery – adornment. Depending on the period of history about which we’re speaking, one couldn’t just go to the store and purchase thread. Thread started with sheep. You had sheep, you cut off the wool, carded and spun that into thread and then that thread could be dyed, woven, etc. etc. One could trade for these goods, I suppose, but in the end, anything one wore began with an animal or a plant and a terrifying amount of work. Whenever I embroidery, mend, or select clothing, I think of my female dead and the valence such things must, of necessity had for them (2).
So, and my point to all of this, is that I decided to sponsor a stitch for my maternal grandmother Linnie Shoff Hanna (1909-1987). She got assigned the cloud stitch (not posted yet that I saw) and I am delighted. She was the one who first taught me to embroider. I remember how hard it was to learn French knots. She took a piece of nice linen, drew a rabbit holding a carrot and had me make his eye out of a French knot. That was my reward for learning how to do it and when I’d outlined the whole thing and satin stitched the carrot, she made it into a pin cushion for me. Whenever I embroider now, I am inevitably beginning and ending the process with prayers to my maternal dead. It is a way to feel closer to them, to keep them in living memory, as I go about my daily work. May the names of our dead always be remembered.
- The exception, I think, are samplers. Young girls would sometimes sign their samplers. Also, in colonial America, very little boys were sometimes given samplers to do as punishment (the annoying thing is that some of these samplers are better than anything I can do today lol).
- This is one of the reasons that I try to wear clothes made only of natural fibers (wool, cotton, linen, silk, etc.) and, when I can afford it, handmade. I don’t sew well enough to make my own clothes, but I’ve been outsourcing a few things to a terrifyingly gifted seamstress and it is so much better, better made, and longer lasting than clothing purchased off the rack. It’s expensive and I acknowledge that this isn’t something everyone can do (and I can’t afford it for everything) but if you can sew, give making your own clothes a shot. If you can afford it, try getting a bespoke suit once in your life. It changes one’s relationship to one’s clothing, to production, craft, and it really, really makes one aware of the attitude of disposability and planned obsolescence that so define our modern purchasing experience.
Today is the feast day for one of our most beloved Sanctae, most beloved to me at least, because she was my adopted mom. She was also the most devout and pious person I have ever known. As her daughter, I can say that she centered me in reverence and piety, helped me to be a better devotee of my Gods, and helped me to become a better person, and she taught me a renewed joy in the grace of sacred service to Them. I know she helped others too and has continued to do so, as is the way of a saint, after her death. I usually write something about her on this day and on her birthday. I’ve been thinking about her a great deal over the last few weeks especially, though every day I ache for the loss of her.
As is my custom, this evening I made offerings at her shrine. There are prayers that I said, and prayers that I wished to make, many too personal to be shared here. Love and reverence, piety, and a very quiet discipline, that of doing what needs to be done even when it is inconvenient…those are the gifts I feel she poured into my heart and hands and I am deeply grateful. To be loved in this way, and to be challenged is a very precious gift. I know that the Gods placed me into her care and were They to do nothing else for the rest of my life, that gift, that tremendous gift would be enough. That They do more, always is a blessing beyond measure. She taught me to recognize the blessings of the Gods as they come, large, small, or in-between.
On this, her feast day, I offer this prayer:
May Fuensanta and all our sancti and sanctae be honored. May they be remembered. May we ever learn reverence at their feet. May we cultivate the discipline of piety. May we wrap ourselves in veneration, until our love of the Holy Ones becomes a fire that nothing may quench. Hail to Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza, devoted servant of Sigyn and Loki, and Hail to all our Gods. What is remembered, lives.
I don’t usually share things like this, but I am so excited about a recent acquisition that I cannot help myself. Y’all know that I venerate the castrati as a family of ancestral spirits (yes, I know, but it doesn’t matter that they’re not technically my blood ancestors; I love them and they are spiritual ancestors for me). Well, being the tactile person that I am, when I am learning how to honor and engage with a new family of spirits, it often helps to have physical objects. If I am learning proper veneration to a new Deity, I’ll set up a shrine for the same purpose(1). If I’m engaging with an animal spirit as a spirit worker, I want a tooth, claw, or bit of fur, and likewise with my ancestors whenever possible, I like to have a photo or some item that belonged to them. Is this a bit reductionist? Yes. Is it absolutely necessary? Not at all, and in fact, I’ve been honoring the castrati both as a group and as individuals for close to a decade now without having anything approximating a physical object, unless one counts the music they once sang.
Well, today I can happily say that I now own a scrap of music handwritten and signed by one of the last of the great vocal castrati: Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846) (2). He was equally regarded as a singer, teacher, and composer and what I acquired today was a bit of music written by him for a correspondent or friend (It is unclear from the provenance for whom he originally wrote the piece). Crescentini was a favorite of Napoleon, (who otherwise despised castrati) who knighted him in 1809.
What is pictured here is an autographed six bar musical quotation of an arietta, in Crescentini’s own hand. Since he signed it ‘cav. (cavalier) Crescentini,’ we know it must have been written after 1809. There is a little note: Due note sol da mi fibra mi! Assai di piu assai di pire tene do no (You wish to receive just two notes from me, I give you more and more of them). Signed: carattere, e compisizione del Cav. Crescentini (Character and composition of Cavalier Crescentini).
I never expected to find something like this and in fact, last year I had an antique dealer who specialized in autographs and musical scores tell me it was nearly impossible to find anything written or signed by the castrati (a Meissen teapot owned by Senesino (1686-1758) came up for auction last year, I believe, but it was way, way, WAY out of my price league omg). I do have a couple medieval manuscript leaves. I pick up inexpensive ones here and there, usually at the medieval conference at Kalamazoo – their book room is heaven and the MSS dealers always have at least a bit priced low for grad students–because they are helpful when I teach. I find students become really engaged when they can actually touch a piece of history and hold it in their hands. It brings it alive like nothing else. None of leaves approach this 5.24×6 inch scrap of music. This is a personal connection to a family of spirits, to one particular spirit that I never, ever, ever expected to find and I am grateful to the Gods and ancestors that I happened to stumble across it (and that it was both relatively inexpensive – it’s small—and within my budget).
Look. Look at the pretty thing. ^___^. (I’ve very inexpertly blurred my address bc I liked the photo and didn’t want to pull everything out to take it a second time when I realized my home addy showed).
musical notation, inscription, and signature of G. Crescentini. Personal collection of G. Krasskova
- At least, that is part of the purpose. The other part, of course, is that this is a space for veneration and a visual sign of welcome for that Deity into one’s home and life.
- The very last of the great operatic castrati was Giovanni Velluti (1780-1861), a younger contemporary of Crescentini.
I had nearly forgotten about this in the rush of finals — the days all blur together in a mass of work! Thankfully, it came up in my morning class. As someone who honors the military dead as part of my ancestor practice and who also had a father who was a WWII veteran, I try to note key WWI and WWII remembrance days. It’s a good day to make offerings to your dead who may have served.
I’m writing this with a very bad headache, so I will probably be keeping it shorter than usual. I just want to bring two ritual days to people’s attention in case some of you, my readers, may want to celebrate too.
Tomorrow, my household observes Veterans’ Day. Originally, this was called Armistice Day and commemorated the end of WWI, the armistice of which was declared November 11, 11am (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). It’s still called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in some places. We have just passed the one hundredth anniversary of WWI and when I honor the military dead, it’s the dead of this war specifically that come forward more than any others. I don’t know why, perhaps because I lost relatives in this war (my cousin Wesley Heffner went over with Pershing’s forces and died on a field in France).
Anyway, we’ll be doing a rite to honor the military dead tomorrow evening, and this will also involve extensive libations for Odin, since in my household, tomorrow is His feastday as Herjafodr (Father of Hosts), Herteit (Glad of War), Valfoðr (Father of the Slain), and Valkjosandi (Chooser of the Slain).
For the Fallen by R.L. Binyon With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free. Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres. There is music in the midst of desolation And a glory that shines upon our tears. They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond England’s foam. But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night; As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain, As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
I’ve written on my other blog about my cousin Wesley Heffner. That piece, part of a larger section on an ancestral pilgrimage I did, may be found here.
Sunwait, a celebration of the six weeks before Yule which is held by some Heathens today begins this week. This will be my household’s first year celebrating this and we plan to keep it on Fridays. I’ll write more about that after Veteran’s day. Be well, all my readers. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Remember your dead.
This will be short, because today is a very full day of rituals. We honor the Aventine Triad every full moon, various vaettirand the fair folk receive offerings, and we’re also going to be going our ancestor ritual tonight AND making special offerings to Mani (separately). Today will be hopping and I’m just starting to get myself ready to go out to make the first of the offerings.
To give a quick recap, on Thursday, we did a rite to honor our Disir, our female dead. That was unexpectedly moving. It’s funny, because I always find the Disir to be somewhat more protocol heavy than male ancestors, yet despite wanting us to “dot our I’s and cross our t’s,” as the saying goes, they always seem to dig deeply down into our hearts and wrench out raw emotion. Also, there are things the male dead wanted, certain prayers, in which the women had almost no interest. It was interesting to note the flow of things. Yesterday, we made offerings outside to the wandering dead, those who have no one to honor them, and also to our Gods of the dead and the Underworld. Tonight, we’re doing a ritual to honor our collective dead. Tomorrow, we honor our sanctiand martyrs, and then the day after, we visit cemeteries and then that marks the end of our ancestor days. Tuesday after I go vote, I’ll be taking down the offrenda. (As an aside, this year I decided to use a ton of battery operated candles and I love it. While it doesn’t do anything for cleansing and purifying a space – for that one needs actual fire – it does allow me to keep memorial light going throughout this entire week and that has been lovely. I may keep one on my ancestor shrine always lit from here on out).
One of the ways that I often prepare before ancestor rites is to listen to certain songs that have the ancestor rhythms. Certain rhythms call the dead like nothing else and that music will take me down into an altered state very, very quickly. It makes for a particularly nice transition out of mundane headspace and into ritual space for me. Here are two of my favorite. It’s nearly the same rhythm, but the second is harder, more driving and gives one a much harder drop into altered headspace. Anyway, I’m off to prep for rituals. See y’all on the other side.