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.
I woke this morning to find an email from Bethany H. asking “Why do you shave your head?” There were other implications in the email that I won’t go into, but I seriously want to thank Bethany for actually asking me outright instead of making stupid assumptions. This has come up occasionally since 2016, including once in a restaurant where my husband nearly had to intervene (I was largely oblivious as to why the person sitting next to us was so agitated.) and Gods know wearing a hammer and runic tattoos these days can lead to rather unpleasant encounters. So, to answer Bethany’s question:
I shave my head as an act of religious piety to honor the military dead. As part of my practice of ancestor veneration, particularly my work as a spirit worker/ancestor worker, in addition to honoring my own personal dead, there are a couple of special groups that I feel vocationally called to tend. One of those is collectively, the military dead and I maintain a separate part of my ancestor shrine for them. About eight or nine years ago, I felt pushed to start shaving my head as part of this work. I consulted divination and was told the choice was mine, but yes, they would like that visible marker of piety.
There was a time years and years ago, where I was bound to keep my hair long, but I suspect – in retrospect – that this was a gentle way of easing me into the idea of physically marking oneself for devotional purposes. That particular requirement was lifted easily more than twenty years ago though, right around the time I was pushed to mark myself with the valknot for Odin. I suppose such bodily choices are a form of conscious “othering,” or at the very least of marking out one’s religious identity visually, and the Northern Tradition is hardly unique in wearing their faith and praxis. I may have to do a separate post on that at some point. I do find that Heathens are more likely than many polytheistic religions to consciously give our body’s real estate to our Gods by way of devotional tattoos and the like. (All of my tattoos are religious, marking initiations, contracts, vows, commitments, and devotion). Some polytheists, some Heathen, some other polytheistic religions, are pushed to cover their heads for their Gods (something I only do when I pray, or occasionally for a brief span of days for purification purposes), some are actually forbidden this. It depends on the Gods, the devotee, the tradition.
The most important thing here is this: don’t assume. You make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. ASK. I will never find an honest question, asked in good faith, offensive. Some may be a bit too personal to answer, but I will always come out and just say that.
Today is so bad. I woke with a migraine bad enough to make me vomit. Too much spirit contact and unexpected at that. Last night, I already wasn’t feeling great. I had a bit of a migraine mostly from the weather so I took migraine medication and settled in to watch some tv with my housemate and my husband. I wanted to show them a WWI show that I like: The Crimson Field. It’s all about VAD nurses in WWI (got cancelled after one season, probably because it showed how fucking incompetent military leadership was). I didn’t think to first make offerings to the military dead, even though they are one of my primary group of spirits, especially the WWI dead.
I’ve since decided that whenever I watch anything having to do with WWI, I’m just going to make offerings to that family of the dead as a matter of course. That’s my new protocol now and forever a-fucking-men.
As we were watching the series last night, I started getting enraged and wanting to grind my teeth and at one point the man who had risen up with his brothers-in-arms behind me actually used my voice to hiss bitter at the story being portrayed and that’s when we all realized the dead were around us. An ancestor worker carries the dead always. We carry them with us and whether it is men who sing like angels or men and women who plodded through mud and piss and shit and hell they are with us always. I realize the story being depicted was so very close to what had happened to the spirit behind me and he was still so very angry so we gave him voice and gave him and the others there offerings and the room grew crystalline bright and I saw the spirits of the dead ringing us misty and pale and that is how we spent out night and today I feel as though I have been beaten. My head is not large enough for the multitude that wanted to pour their stories and their pain into it. The honeycombed halls of my heart are willing to receive their stories, to carry their pain but oh I feel as though someone clubbed the back of my head hard.
Sannion: “the spirits take everything.”
Me in response: “OMG that’s absolutely the truth. They so do, but they give everything too.”
And he and my housemate concurred. They take and they give and we are stretched thin in between.
Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl harbor, a “day that will live in infamy” and the act that brought America into WWII. Today I remember those who fought and those who died. Hail them.
Here is a good article about Pearl Harbor.
If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I do a lot in honoring both the military dead, and in supporting our living Veterans. Through the years I’ve sent materials off to military pagan/polytheistic circles and groups both stateside and wherever they served abroad.
For the last couple of years I’ve been doing a promotion in my etsy shop each and every November, where I donate all profits from that month’s sales to a reputable non-profit charitable organization that renders support to our Veterans, last year alone that translated to $1300 in donations sent to the Paralyzed Veterans of America. This year I have decided to continue that tradition and chose the non-profit: the Fisher House. They operate comfort houses so families can be with their veteran as they receive medical care and treatment. Those facilities can be found at certain VA centers and hospitals, and they also help to support flights and hotel accomodations too. “Since inception, the program has saved military and veterans’ families an estimated $451 million in out of pocket costs for lodging and transportation.” You can read up on the Fisher House from third party watchdogs Charity Navigator and Charity Watch, both of which rate the organization highly.
A friend of mine had her father fighting for his life in a VA hospital last year, and for 3 months drove 2-4 hours roundtrip a day (varying on traffic) so she could be with him. To be able to take a burden like that from a family already worried and under stress is a gift indeed. It also reminds our veterans and their families, that can sometimes feel very isolated, that they are not as alone as they might feel.
So if you have been wanting to pick up some prayer cards, bookmarks, or one of the few books I have in the store (including a few autographed copies) any purchases you make in November will be going to support a good cause. So it’s a great reason to increase your own hoard, and maybe pick up some Yuletide stocking stuffers. Visit the Shop: Wyrd Curiosities.
I was reading up tonight on the USS Indianapolis. Then we watched a movie about it. In between I was swarmed by military dead. I’m still not fully recovered. The story is one of heroism and shame – heroism by the men who served on the ship and shame of the bureaucrats who refused to take responsibility for their own incompetence, incompetence that caused the death of nearly a thousand men. I will tell a little of their story here.
In 1945 this ship, a heavy cruiser under the command of Charles Butler McVay III, was sent to deliver nuclear materials necessary for the bombs that were eventually dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The mission was top secret. As such, they were denied any type of escort, even though they were sailing through waters where Japanese submarines had sunk American ships only days earlier and even though the Indianapolis lacked any type of sonar by which they could detect these subs. Under normal circumstances, the ship would have been allotted at least one escort. That they were not amounts of malfeasance by the Navy brass. It gets worse.
They delivered their cargo successfully and on the way back home, while in the midst of the Philippine Sea, they were targeting by a Japanese sub, the I-58 commanded by Mochitsura Hashimoto. The resulting attack devastated the Indianapolis, immediately killing at least three hundred men. The ship went down leaving over a thousand men marooned in shark infested waters.
Three SOS calls were ignored by the American military. The men were slowly picked off by shark attacks, exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and injuries sustained during the initial attack. They were in the water for four days after the Indianapolis went down. (This was the single greatest loss of life in US naval history). Eventually they were rescued, in large part due to a routine air patrol having spotted them. Out of close to 1200 men of the original crew, only 317 survived.
Then, knowing that there would be an investigation into such great loss of life and wanting to cover its collective ass, the US Navy decided to use Captain McVay as a scapegoat and court-martialed him (against the wishes of Admiral Nimitz) for failing to “zigzag,” a common maneuver to avoid Japanese missiles. They also brought charges of dereliction of duty. It was utter bullshit. Commander Hashimoto testified that McVay acted properly and that there was nothing that he could have done differently to avoid his ship having been sunk. He was found guilty of not zigzagging anyway, though the dereliction of duty charge was a not-guilty. In fact, evidence shows that McVay did everything right.
Charles McVay shot himself on November 6, 1968. He received ongoing hateful phone calls and letters from the relatives of those of his crew who did not survive throughout his life. The men who did survive continued to push for his exoneration, insisting he was innocent of any wrong doing. Commander Hashimoto, who upon retiring from the military became a Shinto priest, also pushed for his exoneration.
While reading up on this, I found out that a twelve -year old student named Hunter Scott while working on a school project for National History Day in 1998, researched the USS Indianapolis and this event after seeing it discussed in Jaws(which ironically is what made me read up on it again – I had known most of the story before – tonight. I saw Jawstoday at a local theatre). He interviewed survivors and waded through over 800 documents pertaining to the incident and McVay’s conviction. His hard work and that of the survivors who had formed the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, led to a Congressional Hearing where the conviction was overturned and McVay exonerated. In 2017, the remains of the ship were discovered in the Philippine Sea and in 2018 the entire crew of the Indianapolis was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal – long overdue.
There is a National Memorial to the USS Indianapolis on Canal Walk in the city Indianapolis. Hunter Scott joined the Navy and as of 2017 was serving as a naval aviator.
Books of interest on the topic include:
“Fatal Voyage: the Sinking of the USS Indanapolis” by Dan Kurzman (who also helped push the cause of McVay’s exoneration forward)
“In Harm’s Way: The Singing of the USS Indianapolis” by Doug Stanton
“Indianapolis: the True Story” by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
There is also a movie with Nicholas Cage that is quite good: “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage”
They will be added to my shrine for the military dead and starting tomorrow, I will be doing an elevation for Captain McVay and his crew. (I felt Hashimoto’s presence as well very, very strongly as I was researching this but I don’t sense any elevation needed there. He wasn’t wronged and driven to suicide).
May these men be remembered.
May their story be told.
May they eat honey from the hands of their ancestors.
Vandals in London have desecrated a memorial to WWII RAF fighters. This is in wake of a black studies professor calling these heroes war criminals (you know, the men who fought actual nazis. I guess they’ll give PhDs to anyone these days). This is the result of people who have zero respect for the dead, and who see western identity as a problem to be solved. I hope they catch the criminals. I would like to see them drawn and quartered, though of course in these ‘civilized’ times such punishments are no longer given. Pity. One who desecrates the military dead deserves nothing else.
(photo “Lest We Forget” by G. Krasskova)