The Wild Hunt has posted an article about Pagans and Veterans’ Day here. I hope that all our Pagan and Polytheistic service men and women are remembered, cherished, and honored not just on this day but every day. They are living their commitment to their communities, their Gods, their ideals in a way that all too often comes with terrible cost. The Wild Hunt article mentions that there was a time when many Pagan groups would not accept active military and….I am both sickened and horrified by this. It is time that we as a community of religions learned the grace of embracing our Veterans and our active duty personnel and saying “thank you.”
Fortunately things have changed within our communities, within the Pagan community too: we do the best we can, as the saying goes, and as we learn better, we do better. Hopefully we have learned to honor our Vets.
As an aside, I was always taught that Veterans day and/or Remembrance Day began as Armistice Day and is celebrated on Nov. 11 because that was the day of the Armistice marking the end of WWI. This war devastated a continent and in may respects destroyed a generation. It changed everything. It was a crucible unlike anything the world had experienced and certainly unlike anything the soldiers involved expected. It also set the stage for WWII. General George Patton, US four star general and a godsend during this latter war predicted just that. His birthday, btw, falls also, ironically today. May he be hailed. I was discussing these two wars with someone recently and I said we were lucky. For WWII we had the leaders we needed (whatever else their faults, they were who we needed in those positions at that time): Roosevelt, Churchill, even Stalin (butcher that he was. Nicholas II could never have held out against the Nazis or mounted such fierce counter attack) and we had men in the field like Patton (pity the allies didn’t listen to him sooner). We were lucky. I can’t help but think as we tumble toward another war of that devastating magnitude that we will not be so lucky again.
Today I light candles and pour out offerings to the military dead in general and my military dead in particular. On my maternal side I have veterans going back through the Revolutionary War and on my father’s side, I have a great uncle who fought in WWI and a father who fought in WWII and Korea. May they and all the men and women like them be honored and remembered; and for those veterans who have died, or who never made it home (physically or in some cases emotionally), may they find joy with their ancestors and a well deserved rest. Hail them.
This is a bit excessively sentimental, and I believe there’s a protocol error (non soldiers shouldn’t be saluting but should have hands over hearts) but I still find the overall message quite moving. First time I saw this, i bawled like a baby. So in honor of Veteran’s Day:
For the Fallen
Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.
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 remember my trip to the Vietnam Wall a few years ago. It was one of the first mini-pilgrimages I did for my military dead. They’d wanted me to go to the Mall in D.C. and visit all the military memorials (and how shameful it is that we don’t have a national WWI memorial!). I went late at night and when I got to the Wall, I felt the dead gathering round…
Photographer Angela Pan has captured something of the haunting feel of the place in this photo.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
by John McCrae
Every November I dedicate myself to honoring the military dead. I do rituals and offerings on an almost nightly basis and I try to post something every day throughout the month here on my blog in some way, shape, or form related to the military dead. I chose November for this for two reasons: it’s a very Odinic month, specifically Odin as God of the Hunt, and Lord of Hosts** and in the US Veterans Day falls the second week of the month. For those and many other reasons, this month has always resonated with me very strongly as a time to remember our military veterans and our military dead. I’m going to start this month of remembrance off by honoring my own father, John P. Dabravalskas (1917-2005), a veteran of WWII, Korea, and career military until his retirement.
Firstly, today is the anniversary of his birth. Happy birthday, dad. I don’t remember us ever making a big deal about his birthday when I was a child and I think that’s a shame. He worked hard all his life to provide for his family, really worked like a dog when I was small. It would have been nice to see him celebrated with a bit of levity.
A little bit about my father: his parents emigrated from Lithuania in the early 20th century and he was born a couple of years thereafter in Albany, NY. He joined the army in 1942, specializing in ordinance. He served in two wars, WWII and Korea, neither of which he ever spoke about either with me or with my brother. After his war years, he worked in ordinance at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland until retirement. Thank the Gods he was too old for active duty by the time Vietnam came around. He would have willingly gone, seeing it as his duty to fight for his country.
His work in ordinance rendered him deaf as he got older, something that perpetually frustrated him. Before he died, he had dementia and flashbacks to his battlefield experiences, and I’ll just let that stand with the comment that there are some experiences that scar the psyche so deeply that one never, ever escapes them. I don’t recall any of that coming out when I was growing up, but as he approached his death and the filters and controls on his mind were slowly peeled away, every once in awhile it would burble up giving a glimpse of the terror he must have felt as a young man in the midst of a gruesome war.
He and I always had a vexed relationship. We were both stubborn and probably too damned much alike to get along. He also was a child of his generation and I think it was hard for him to have a daughter who didn’t easily conform to expected gender roles. We used to fight like cats and dogs. He taught me to play chess, encouraged my interest in languages, sometimes mitigated the discord with my biological mother, and worked hard to make sure that his children had a chance at good educations. He also gave me a fierce work ethic and deep pride in my ancestry. I changed my last name when I was eighteen (legally) mostly for professional reasons, as I was a professional ballet dancer at the time, and I think that hurt him deeply. His nearly dying words to me expressed concern that I was safe and secure and doing well in my life. He wanted to be sure I was happy.
It took awhile after he died before I could properly honor him on my ancestor shrine and as part of my ancestral court. We had things to work out. It helped that I assisted in prepping his body for cremation (and perhaps his dying gift to me was a sudden, stark awareness of the miasma contact with the dead can bring) and was able to do rituals to aid his passage. (To this day I’m not sure why the funeral home allowed me in there). Certainly there is a grace in handling the dead.
So today I honor John Paul Dabravalskas, a good man, a steady father, a veteran, and part of the “best” generation, those men and women who in the forties went to war against Hitler. May my father be hailed. May he be remembered; and may he find joy and homecoming with his ancestors always.
** It occurred to me that while this actually is one of Odin’s heiti, it’s also an epithet commonly applied to the Christian god, and when Catholics use this to refer to their God, it occurred to me also that it’s quite a clever pun: lord of hosts….lord of a hoard of battle hungry warriors or lord of communion wafers….and this is why I’m probably going to hell. LOL