Heathenry, or Asatru, is a reconstructed religion based on what we know of the indigenous traditions of Northern Europe. We read tons of books, archaeological reports and articles, and join with others to build communities of like-minded people. We grow as we build our relationships in our tribes and kindreds, sometimes finding in them the family and understanding we might not experience with our natural families. This is reflected in verse 47 of the Havamal:
Young was I once, I walked alone,
and bewildered seemed in the way;
then I found me another and rich I thought me,
for man is the joy of man.
In my years wandering as a Heathen, I have had the privilege of finding two kindreds that I was either a member of or closely aligned. While I was associated with both these groups, we had the occasion to lose a member. The first to suicide shortly after being discharged from the military (the suicide rate for Veterans is over twice that of the rest of the US population), the other to illness.
In the first, our brother had gone home to the States from Germany and seemed to be doing okay as far as we knew. When we began getting calls at 6 am from his brother, as he went through our kindred brother’s address book, we all had to get through the day at work. All but one of us were active duty and couldn’t just call in to take a day to mourn. When we finished work, we met and had a funeral feast, drinking rounds in sumbyl honoring our fallen brother. It was very difficult because we had been very close. He had been one of the gentlest souls I have ever known. I saw him pick up a sparrow that had gotten too cold to fly and hold it against his chest for nearly an hour until it was ready to take wing. Any of us would have flown to be with him had we known he was in such pain, but he didn’t tell us. After our brother’s death, we scattered to the winds as the members of our small kindred were eventually reassigned or chose to leave the military when their enlistment was up. It has been many years and I’ve only been able to re-establish contact with one of these good folks thanks to social media. I remember our late brother fondly and hope he is at peace. Hail the Bird Whisperer!
The second, more recent, kindred brother was from the kindred I was lucky enough to find in Arkansas. This gentleman suffered from diabetes, which was probably the contributing factor in his death. Luckily his death was quick and he did not appear to suffer greatly. He was a follower of the goddess Hella, as am I. She rules over Helheim where those who die of disease and old age go when they die. I know he is where he wanted to be. My late kindred brother was an amazing host, opening his home to several people over the years who needed help and a place to stay till they got on their feet. A couple of weeks ago, I had left my phone ringer on silent and left it in a coat pocket. I received a bunch of texts and messages to call various members of my old kindred to give me the news. Of course, since my phone was out of my sight and hearing, I did not find out till I saw a post on FaceBook. After I found my phone and spoke to several folks back there, I poured drinks for Hella and the ancestors and put them on the altar, asking them to accept my late brother at their fires and tables. I also set a place for him at our Thanksgiving table last week. I served him a plate full of food, including the peach and strawberry pie I made from scratch, and a yummy dark beer. My husband and I drank toasts to my late kindred brother, honoring him for his kindness, his hospitality and the fabulous mead he brewed. He truly brewed the best mead I ever have had the pleasure of drinking. And he never wrote a bloody thing down! Every batch was different, but always delicious. After we finished our meal, we stepped away from the table, leaving the plate of food and glass of beer there for the spirit of my old friend to enjoy…and enjoy it I believe he did!
A few minutes later, my husband asked me if I had taken the meat off of the plate. I hadn’t. One of our cats might have taken it, but it was a big hunk of meat. We found no evidence of the meat on the floor nor of it being thrown up (which is what would normally happen if one of our kitties had had even a portion of that!). What I believe happened is that my late brother “rode” one of the cats and snatched the meat from the plate. It is the best explanation I can come up with and one I am happy to believe. The lore speaks frequently about the living being visited by the spirits of the dead for one reason or another. I hope he enjoyed the roast chicken and that maybe he also got a bite of pie. I will miss him and his mead. I hope Hella enjoys his mead in her hall. Hail the Mead Maker!
Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die,
fair fame of one who has earned.