Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Heathen Woman Stands for the Fallen

Outsiders have always liked to portray Heathenry as male dominated, both in gods and in practice.  Heathens themselves understand this differently.  While we give honour and reverence to both male and female ancestors, it is the Disir, the female ancestors that we turn to, even before our gods, for the protection of our line.  In peace or in war, in childbirth, or in loss, it is to the Disir the Heathens of ancient times turned first, even as it is to the living wives and mothers we turn for advice and solace.  I speak now of one such wife and mother who has fought for her own, to win the right for all Heathen service folk to be buried under Mjolnir, even as Christians can be buried under the cross, or Wiccans the pentacle.

In August 2012, a Heathen mother buried her Marine son, Shane.  He had been raised and taught his duties by his Heathen parents, had lived under the Hammer, and she deemed he should lie in ground hallowed by it, and under its sign.   Her husband Mark, himself a retired Airman Vietnam veteran she had already buried, at a time where the faith he lived and taught his son was forbidden to place on the stone the nation provided its military dead.  Here is a woman who had given her husband and son to the service of their nation, and then to the grave.  She had given more than most, more than we dare ask of any, but not more than she felt was required.

Those cultures remembered as “warrior cultures” in European history, the Germanics and the Spartans have one unifying factor; they were both hated and ridiculed for the strength and independence of their women, even as they were feared for the strength and courage of their men.  You cannot have the one without the other.  Plutarch tell us the last words a Spartan woman would give her husband or son marching to war were these “come back with your shield, or on it.” Since you could not flee with your heavy shield, this was a simple statement that she would rather have you come back an honoured fallen, who stood his ground, than a live coward who betrayed his folk.

Tacitus tells us the Germanic women would take it farther, following their husbands and sons to the battlefield, placing themselves where they could be seen, that any man who turned from the line would see their courage, and take heart, or see that they would not flee, and be shamed into standing.

“Moreover, close to the field of battle are lodged all the nearest and most interesting pledges of nature. Hence they hear the doleful howlings of their wives, hence the cries of their tender infants. These are to each particular the witnesses whom he most reverences and dreads; these yield him the praise which affect him most. Their wounds and maims they carry to their mothers, or to their wives, neither are their mothers or wives shocked in telling, or in sucking their bleeding sores. Nay, to their husbands and sons whilst engaged in battle, they administer meat and encouragement" (Tacitus Germania Chapter 7).

If you would judge the strength of a people, it is always to the women that I would look.  Where the women are strong, proud, and capable the folk are strong.  Where the women must stoop, lest they stand taller than their men, where the capability of women is seen as a threat to the perceived power of their men, then the folk becomes weak.  Let us examine the strength of one Heathen woman.

Blessed with a son, Mark and his wife raised him in the Heathen faith, and taught him the ethics of his ancestors.  When death took her husband, his service as an Airman to his nation in Vietnam earned for him the right of military burial, but the sign of his faith was not permitted upon his headstone.  Although he lived under the Hammer, he was not given the choice to be buried under it.  Seeing her son Shane follow his father’s footsteps both into living heathen, and serving his country, she proudly watched him march away to war with the USMC.

In time she got to bury a second fallen soldier, as her son’s heart muscle failed where his courage did not.  This time, other symbols than crosses were permitted for fallen servicemen, but the Hammer of Thor was not among them.  Husband and father given to the service of the state, she was determined to fight for them as hard as they fought for their hearths and homes.  A full year of struggle, assisted by various Heathen groups resulted in the VA sending her the letter notifying her that her husband and son’s blank headstones would be replaced with headstones crowned with the Hammer of Thor.  As they lived their lives under the faith, they will lie in death under the sign.  Because of her struggle, future Heathens who serve the US military may be buried under the Hammer sign.  Hail the Disir, hail to the mother.  We lift the horn to your fallen husband and son, we will keep their names ever bright, as they are our bannermen for all future Heathen fallen.

John T. Mainer
Western Canada Steward
The Troth

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