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Honoring our Military Medical Corps

One of the things that I’ve been noticing this year is an increased awareness of the role the medical corps played in military life and combat. I’ve seen a lot more recognition of nurses and doctors this year in remembrance pieces than at any other time and I think that is good and necessary. When I honor my military dead, I try to honor those doctors and nurses and other medical people who served too. They all too often get forgotten and they shouldn’t be.(1)

One group of veterans that often get completely forgotten in WWI history is African American (or other nationality) nurses. I will admit to never having really thought about this myself (and I should have. I typically parse out military groups like the Tuskeegee Airmen in my veneration, for special recognition, because of how hard they had to fight just to be permitted to fight!); then I started seeing this movie coming up on my amazon and Netflix suggestions feed: “Searching for Augusta: the Forgotten Angel of Bastogne” about a Belgian, bi-racial nurse during WWII, and I thought: why the hell are we forgetting these women?(2) It occurs to me this happens to female military veterans in general…even now.

I don’t think that those of us who honor the military dead necessarily consciously think to include medical personnel, yet they are veterans too, every bit as much as non-medical personnel and they are the ones working on or near the front lines in many cases, to get our soldiers home, and they suffer every bit as much as any other soldier. They should be remembered too. They should be honored.

Here are a few good articles:

Women in the military (general)

Women in Vietnam

African Americans in medicine in Civil War

Medicine in WWI

https://www.ncpedia.org/wwi-medicine-battlefield

How WWI changed the way we treat injuries

 Here are a couple of places that I often donate to, often as an offering to Asklepios or other Healing Deities (like Eir or Hygeia) that I honor, or sometimes for the military medical dead in general:

Doctors Without Borders

Paralyzed Veterans of America

Fisher House Foundation

And here is a whole list of military charities, most of them in some way connected to medical care.

Here is the documentary I noted above — definitely worth the watch!

RedCrossNursen

Notes:

  1. Nurses especially take the brunt of this when they showed every bit as much valor as the men (and sometimes women – there were always women who fought one way or another, even if they had to disguise themselves to do so) who fought. They saw daily the results of combat and in many cases, like Vietnam, nurses were damn near on the front lines unarmed. In Vietnam, my understanding is that they weren’t issued weapons of any sort and it is not unknown for medical encampments to be targeted.
  2. I see it happening in my first career field too, ballet. There were African American ballet dancers with Balanchine’s first company for instance, and one of them, Raven Wilkenson was truly extraordinary. They too often get erased from ballet history which leads to the bullshit that I have heard often in my career “well, no one will want to watch a [black, Asian, etc.] Swan in Swan Lake,” or “ballet doesn’t really want [insert minority of choice] dancers” and it’s utter bullshit. Tell it to Misty Copeland, Maria Tallchief, Jose Manuel Carreno, Carlos Acosta, Yuan Yuan Tan, Evelyn Cisneros, and Shiori Kase to note a few. Talent is talent. Period. This of course has nothing to do with WWI or WWII history or the military dead, but I’ve been thinking about this recently and the erasure really pisses me off. When I was training as a dancer one of the most incredibly gifted women I had the privilege of working with was an African American girl (We were young when we trained together in the first company with which I worked). Even then, I occasionally overheard the parents of other dancers saying things like “she’s the best dancer there” – she really was. Claire, to this day I envy your extensions! – “ but don’t you think it would look strange to have a black ballerina?” No, bitch, I don’t. STFU. It’s called ‘acting’ and ‘performance’ for a reason and the only prerequisite is talent. Fortunately, our director wasn’t amongst those who thought in this backward way, but I wonder at how many people were encouraged out of the field (and art and music too) by such nonsense, how much talent and genius and artistry we’ve lost because of our stupidity.

 

(apologies for any typos. I have a bitter migraine right now. I’m sitting here waiting for the migraine meds to kick in…)

 

combat nurse

(While I can’t find a definitive source for this image, I see it listed repeatedly as combat nurse Valya Gribkova retrieving a wounded soldier from the battlefield, WWII)

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Every One Remembered

I’ve been consistently impressed with the work of the British Legion, both in furthering remembrance of those who died in WWI and in providing for current veterans. One of the ongoing projects they have is “Every One Remembered,” which allows contributors to learn about a particular soldier, nurse, or other combatant from WWI, contribute to various programs, and set up digital memorials. I get lost in this site way too often and way too much, but if you’re wondering where to start in honoring the military dead, I think this is a good place to go. Here is the link to that site and here is the link to their poppy shop. 

I have heard Pagans say “that which is remembered lives” and there is truth in this. We should carry our dead with us, tell their stories, learn from them. WWI has passed out of living memory (in that we have almost no one who lived through it or fought in it currently alive) and WWII will, within a few years, a decade at most likewise no longer rest in living memory. I think this is a very dangerous place for us to be. I think we need to carry the weight of that remembrance, to carry the grief, the horror, the hope, the humility of two wars that effectively destroyed our world. It’s dangerous to forget, a grace and protection to remember. 

red poppies

Very true.

sikh

Ancestor Elevation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gained insight into the process of ancestor elevation. I used to do it because it needed to be done, but I would do it rather by rote. There’s a Baltic proverb that says the work will teach you how to do it, and I think that definitely happened with me. After over two decades of doing ancestor elevations I finally feel like I have some sense of what it takes to do one well.  It finally occurred to me last night, that I should write about this. I receive an awful lot of questions about elevations and sometimes a practice gets so ingrained or even routine that one forgets that not everyone may be aware of some crucial bit.

Firstly, here is a link to both an online shrine to the ancestors and an article on elevation that I wrote some years ago. Ancestor elevation comes to us originally through 19th century  spiritualism and was adapted almost immediately by the ATR, but can be done by anyone. The ritual is meant to be flexible and fluid. It is meant to be adapted to the needs of one’s specific ancestors. That is how it was designed. Ancient polytheisms had their rites and rituals for tending and healing the troubled or hurting dead, but since we no longer have access to those rites, this will do. It’s a powerful ritual when done well and it really does help the dead. It’s also quite accessible to just about anyone.

Here’s the thing though that I don’t think I’ve ever really articulated: you can’t do this type of work alone. When we decide to do an elevation – something I always confirm with divination—we are the living keystones here, in the corporeal world. We are letting our ancestor-in-need know that someone living remembers them and cares about them and is deeply concerned for their welfare. We should not be the only ones doing the elevation though.

It is crucially important that we bring our other ancestors and perhaps even our Gods into this practice. Think about it, rather than one person praying for grandma Jane, if you invoke and petition the aid of your entire ancestral house, there are thousands upon thousands (even if some of your dead choose not to participate). Grandma Jane doesn’t stand a chance! Ask your ancestors to participate in the elevation right along with you. You are not doing this ritual alone but rather it’s a group effort; and just as it is right and proper for us to elevate our dead, so too is it proper for our ancestors to participate. This is a family ritual.

In fact, other ancestors will suggest that a certain Deity be called upon. When I was praying last night, about half way through a nine-day elevation for my great grandmother, I got the strong sense whilst I was chanting the Oration, that I should petition Asklepios too, which I did. When I started, one of my dead asked that I pray to Mary. If you can, take their suggestions. It can transform an elevation).

Also, elevations can be exhausting and grueling on a deeply spiritual level. If one’s ancestor is carrying deep wounds or has committed terrible deeds (I usually elevate ancestors who were hurting badly during their lifetimes, but sometimes that led to them making damaging decisions), the process of elevation can really take the moxie out of one. There can be intense resistance on the part of the ancestor being healed, and a lot of emotions like fear, anger, desolation, despair, outright terror, shame, grief can come up in that ancestor bombarding the person doing the elevation. This is normal, but it really can have significant repercussions on the ancestor worker. It’s a heavy weight to bear and sometimes, as the ancestor is fighting for their healing, or in their damaged state, fighting healing, the person working the elevation faces moments where they are shouldering the weight of that damage. It’s a good and holy thing but it is extremely difficult. If the ancestor is actively resistant to healing (but divination and the Gods have indicated it is time to begin, or the ancestors as a group have requested the elevation for the same reason), then it can be that much more difficult to get through.  

This is why it’s important to always begin this process clean and to take special care with purification during the nine days of the rite. Depending on the reasons for elevating one’s ancestor, a great deal of miasma and pollution may be released during the ritual and that will need to be dealt with or we’ll end up mired in it. When I begin each night’s prayer cycle, I usually start by taking a cleansing bath, and then I use a scent diffuser (I’m not sure what they’re called: there’s a bowl and underneath a candle. The bowl has water in it in which one may place a few drops of oil before lighting the candle—what are those things called?) in which I use Van-Van oil or Blessing oil or something similar to help prepare the space. I asperse with khernips (myself, my shrine, the space where I’m doing the elevation). Then I go through a cycle of two ancestor songs, one for fire before I kindle any candles, and one for my ancestors in general. I refresh all the offerings (usually just water at this point. Water is important in an elevation because it refreshes the dead) on my main ancestor shrine and make offerings to whatever Deities I’m going to be petitioning too. Then I prepare the elevation shrine, refresh the offerings there, talk to that ancestor a little bit, invite my other ancestors (and Gods) to participate and begin the nightly prayer cycle for the elevation. Afterwards, I cleanse myself again and throughout those nine days, I try to be more mindful of cleansing practices than perhaps I normally would. During an elevation it’s important to neglect nothing. There are times, I will admit, when we can let protocols slide a tiny bit, skirt by, cut corners. This is not one of those times.

It’s also really, really important not to start one’s ancestor practice with an elevation. Before even thinking of performing an elevation ritual, take the time to develop a working, devotional relationship with your dead. Set up an ancestor shrine, make regular offerings, pray to them and for them. Don’t just plop down one day and decide to do an elevation. This ritual is part of a healthy, ongoing ancestor practice, not the beginning of one. It’s one possible part of getting right with one’s ancestors, not generally the appropriate place to start an ancestor practice.

After you’ve spent some time building up a proper ancestor practice, then perhaps consider your first elevation, but don’t begin with the latter. Finally, to reiterate, invoke the Gods and most importantly of all, invoke your ancestors and have them doing the elevation with you. YOU alone are not doing it. It’s a group effort.

ancestor line dna

Remembering our Military Veterans and our Military Dead

This gets me every single time (despite inaccuracies — civilians wouldn’t salute for instance), every single time. 

Nov.1 – Happy Birthday, Dad.

dad in formal shotToday is my father’s birthday: John Paul Dabravalskas, son of Ursula Blasis Dabravalskas and Karolys (Karl) Dabravalskas, born Nov. 1, 1917, died September 19, 2005. 

He and I weren’t close when I was growing up, but as an adult, I’m grateful for him. I wish that we’d have had a chance to get to know each other better, once I was an adult and more understanding of the fact that he was thirty years older than my bio-mother, the first son, and first American born son of Lithuanian immigrants, a man who lived through the depression, served in two wars, and had his military career side lined because he cared more for the welfare of the men serving under his command than the general he served under. (I come by my lack of diplomacy honestly). To say that there were communication and cultural issues between us would be an understatement when I was growing up! But he was ok. by his generation’s standards, he was a good father, a good provider (he worked like a dog). I think I was lucky in a way to have been his daughter. 

My dad was quiet and kept to himself, taught me to play chess (brutally — my chess technique I mean, not his teaching. He gave no quarter though, even when I was a child and to this day I play a mean, mean game of chess as does my brother). He liked reading about ‘unexplained mysteries,’ ‘cryptids,’ and weird things, and was very, very frugal (which was annoying as shit as a child!). After Korea, he worked the rest of his working life in Ordinance at Aberdeen Proving Ground and I remember when I was very, very small (maybe four-ish?) playing on the tanks there. They have several different types of tanks on display on the grounds (or did when I was a child in the seventies) and I have distinct memories of climbing on them. He met my mom at the Proving Ground as well. She worked there as a secretary when she was in her early twenties. 

Like my maternal grandfather, my father served in WWII (they did not serve together nor even know each other)  and then in Korea. He never spoke about his war experiences (though he always encouraged me to learn languages. When I was in elementary school, he’d bring home military manuals for learning German and French. Ironically, he would never speak Lithuanian at home. He was the generation that was encouraged to speak English and ‘be American,’ also, my bio-mom didn’t speak Lithuanian. I regret that I didn’t grow up bilingual but I suppose I’m making up for it now by learning a pacel of ‘dead’ languages. lol). Before he died, he had several years of dementia and would have flashbacks to his experiences in WWII, which scared the nurses sometimes. He died well and the last thing I remember is that he wanted to be sure his children were ok before he died. 

So hail to my father, John Dabravalskas, on this his birthday. 

10584048_10205559314242791_5152423797422584483_n

 

November for the Military Dead

November is fast approaching and every year I spend this month specifically honoring the military dead. Being the daughter and granddaughter of Veterans, and having many, many soldiers in my line each generation as far back as I can count, I generally begin with my own personal dead and branch out from there. One of the particular groups of dead that I honor regularly is the military dead and in many ways, this is their month.

Why is it so? Partly because we’re going into the dark of winter, the season of Yule, the time when the Wild Hunt rides with Odin – God of war and warriors – at its head and partly because we celebrate Veterans (or if you’re in the UK Armistice or Remembrance) Day on November 11.(1) Originally marking the end of WWI, it very quickly became a day in the US to honor military veterans of every stripe.(2)

WWI, the Great War, the “War to End All Wars” (though now we know it so very much wasn’t) was the war that ended the world. It destroyed whatever naiveté and innocence humanity might have had left, radically and viciously destroyed the overarching structure of the pre-war world (which in turn paved the way for the depredations of communism, Nazism, and the most soulless aspects of modernity), and paved the way for WWII.(3) It destroyed a generation, leveled it, rendered and decimated its ranks of young men. Even those who came back were often broken beyond repair. It was a Ragnarok for the generation that survived it.

Each November, every day of the month, I post something relevant to honoring our military dead. This month, I would like to encourage you to also post (here or on your own blogs) stories of the veterans in your family. Tell me about your military dead, share their memories if you have been entrusted with them (it is a great gift to be so), share pictures and prayers. Each and every one of us here has soldiers and warriors in their line. We have those men and sometimes women who either through choice or through desperation took up arms to defend their traditions, families, communities, and homes. We are here because they made brutally hard decisions. We are here because they did this knowing they might die and that even if they didn’t die, they’d never, ever be quite the same again. We are here because some of our ancestors walked into hell for us. It is worth remembering, worth telling their stories, worth reminding ourselves what valor is and what sacrifice looks like. It’s worth reminding ourselves so we don’t continue throwing way our men and women pointlessly. It’s worth remembering so that we have the opportunity to wake ourselves up out of our apathetic stupor and gather into the halls of heart and memory these men and women who gave so much for those they would never see and never know, who mostly just wanted to get home to their families, and who so often did not do that.

Honoring the military dead, or any of our dead for that matter, is welcoming them again into the community of living memory. It is restoring them to life and restoring us as well. It renews, again and again – every time we pour out an offering, chant a prayer, or call their names with reverence—that vital, visceral connection with those who have preceded us. It restores that ancient contract. It renews the best part of our humanity.

So this November, as I begin this month of remembrance, please share the stories of your military dead too, that more may know them, honor them, and remember.

 

Notes

 

 

  1. To be totally accurate, Memorial Day in May is the day when we in the US honor those who have died in our wars. Veterans Day is traditionally when we honor those living who have made it home. That being said, November is a powerful month for the military dead so I try to balance remembrance of those long past with active work for those living.
  2. Instituted by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as a federal holiday, I’m just waiting for social justice agitators to take a run at it, Wilson as with every other historical figure, being problematic in their rather narrow and historically anachronistic world. I’m no fan of Wilson either, truth be told, but this was one good thing that he did. In the UK, I believe the focus is still very much on remembering those who died in WWI and the devastation of that terrible War. (UK friends, please correct me if I’m wrong!).
  3. So much so, that I’m often tempted to consider WWII a continuation of WWI rather than a separate war.

QOTD

“Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

                                               —attributed to William Gladstone

An Example of Heathen Piety

I was thinking about the ‘Lay of Hyndla’ today. There’s a beautiful, haunting passage where Freya talks about the piety of Her servant Ottar, whom She has transformed into the boar, Hildsvini — apologies to Old Norse readers. I’m typing this directly into WordPress and can’t figure out how to do the accent marks.  In Stanza 10, She tells Hyndla about Ottar, indicating why, perhaps, She is willing to help him on his quest. She’s arguing with Hyndla, who is basically a Goddess of genealogy,(1) so that the latter will recite Ottar’s ancestry, enabling the hero to tap into his ancestral blessings. It really shows how important it is to have proper relationships with the Gods and ancestors, and that if you have one, They’ll help with the other. 

10. “For me a shrine | of stones he made,–
And now to glass | the rock has grown;–
Oft with the blood | of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever | did Ottar trust.

In other words, Ottar made so many sacrifices, and committed those sacrifices to immolation on Her altar, that the heat of the fires turned the stones to glass. Note that it’s his piety that wins Freya over, not some great heroic deed. May we take him as an example of good, religious behavior.(2)

Notes:

  1. Not everyone in the Northern Tradition views Hyndla as a Goddess, but my particular tradition does.
  2. * sarcasm* I guess that makes Ottar one of the original members of the Piety Posse.

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Meditation on Ancestor Work

There is a grace to the dead. We have our ancestors and they‘re a mixed bag: good, bad, and everything in between and it’s our duty, the sacred compact to which we were born, for which we were born to make sense of that, to shoulder it and dance through our lives. Our dead are ours, our strength, our foundation and so long as they are doing right by us, we’re called to honor them. (When they’re not, we may be called to elevations and healing work or to call them to account, or in some very desperate cases to cut them out but this is not the everyday norm). Here is the thing though: our dead for the most part tried to live good lives and to do for their families. Even when they fucked up grievously, very few set out to be horrible human beings. They may have been damaged. They may have made terrible choices, but in most cases they did the best they could in a very diseased world to make sense of their lives.

I think on my 3rd great grandmother Rachel Bobo. According to census records, she was illiterate. But she and her husband seem to have moved around quite a bit, possibly for opportunities for themselves and their children. She and her husband were illiterate but her son was a mechanic who owned his own home and could read and write and her granddaughter was an opera singer.

I’m not sure my own maternal grandmother ever finished high school. I suspect she had only an eight grade education if that. One of her daughters worked forty years plus in a respectable position in the Pentagon, the other at Aberdeen Proving ground, and two of her sons own their own businesses. I’m going for my doctorate. For some families, it’s getting a child to learn to read. For another, it’s getting them safely to adulthood. For others, it’s seeing that they never go hungry. Step by faltering step, our ancestors in the best of times pushed us forward. There were those so damaged or broken that they failed even in this, yes, but overall, stumbling in the often bitter confusion of living, they did the best they could.

Someone asked me recently why we honor the dead. It was an honest question, not asked in sarcasm or petulance but out of a desire to understand. We honor the dead because it is the right and proper thing for adults to do. People who don’t honor and respect their dead aren’t fully realized human beings in my opinion. They are like trees without roots. This is one of the ancient contracts (along with honoring the Gods and honoring the land) and it’s a sacred obligation. It shouldn’t be rocket science to instill in our children and our communities the rightness in not only preventing desecration of the dead, but in honoring them and giving them their dignity. This benefits us too.

Nor is honoring the dead about supporting their causes in life. That was a hard lesson for me to learn with my military dead. We honor our dead as individuals (remembrance is a powerful thing, a holy thing) but also because now they are part of this collective of ancestors that nurture and protect us. At least that’s part of it.

A few years ago I had to do a pilgrimage for my military dead and part of it was going to union and confederate graveyards and it was very, very hard for me to visit the latter. I don’t support what they fought for, I find so much of what they fought for personally vile and I was flat out told “it’s not about supporting their causes. it’ s not about patriotism or lack thereof. it’s about honoring the men and women who contributed to making us who we are today, who laid down their lives for something, who lived, suffered, experienced joys, and died trying to make their world a better place for their descendants. It’s about the link in the chain of humanity, and the strength of the ancestral collective. When we honor them, we restore and renew that ancient compact.

We carry our dead. We carry them always. We should do it proudly and we should do it well.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.