Practically Tru: Heathen Etchings on Empty Brass
Stories, questions, and musings about Asatru, and one man's effort to see the modern world through an old lens.
Winter Finding with two Heathens, two nature-based Pagans, and an Eager Student
In a foreign warzone, some of the trappings of a traditional Asatru holiday are forgone out of necessity.
There is no alcohol available, fires become a security concern as well as a highly regulated event when they are permitted at all, and feasting is limited to carry-out plates from the chow hall if you are fortunate and Meals Ready to Eat if you are not. Hard copies of Eddic Sagas and study materials take up too much space and weight where both are premium commodities, and the infrastructure (and safety) doesn't support portable options like smart-phones to use as the ever-present resource they have become back home.
What we are generally left with is near-beer, companionship, and memories of our favorite components of our lore. I can say without reservation that my Winter Finding experience was the best heathen holiday I could have asked for.
The crew consisted of three heathens (the other two listed as Doc and Livewire, pseudonyms as I have not asked their permission to discuss them), myself and two others assigned to our little camp in Kabul. One of my comrades had previously recruited an Eager Student (not listed by name because I haven't formally asked her permission) who is fascinated by norse paganism and wanted to be involved. The other comrade invited a friend with an earth-based pagan faith rooted in Wiccan tradition and her husband (fortunate enough to be in the same unit as his wife and so deployed with us as well).
The heathens in the group built the plan, since it's our holiday and all. We decided that we would have a get-together for Winter Finding, and began to fuss with the details of how to celebrate it in Afghanistan. What we settled on was a combination everybody could agree to- we would pick up a couple near-beers each from the chow hall and gather in the smoking area. We would begin by recounting the three ordeals of Odin (the hanging sacrifice for runic knowledge, the loss of his eye at Mimir's well, and the quest for the precious mead), with each the heathens in the group telling the bulk of one story while the other two filled in details. After each, we would drink a toast to the story. With all three stories told, we would continue in a traditional way- a round of hails to the gods of our choice, a round of toasts to our heroes or ancestors, and a round of boasts or toasts. We would finish by retelling fragmented tales from our lore, as best as we could remember, both for the amusement of ourselves and the education of our Eager Student.
Right as we were settling in, one of the earth-pagans handed out "Mabon" cards and little bags of candy in thanks for having them join us, a truly thoughtful gift on their part for which we all thanked them.
I recapped how things would go, for Eager Student and the earth-pagans who had not been to a heathen event before (although the earth-pagans did mention they had heathen friends back home in the States). Doc led off with the story of Mimir's Well, a solid retelling of the loss of Odin's eye in his hunger for knowledge. Livewire added a few details and expanded on her unique interest in the story, given Mimir's origins with the Vanir and how little we know about them aside from the three that were traded to the Aesir. I added my two cents, fringe trivia about the story, and we all sipped our near-beer.
Livewire went next and covered the story of Precious Mead, a comedic telling of Odin as a driven, if underhanded adventurer with womanizing ways and a great plan. Doc rounded out some details, and I expanded on how the giant had attempted to follow Odin back to Asgard with disasterous results. I was a comical but important story, and we all drank to it.
Lastly, I retold the tale of Odin's hanging from the tree, sacrificing himself to himself, and his discovery of the runes through the process. As it was the shortest of the three stories, I expanded some on the value of runes in heathen culture. Doc and Livewire both added small details to the telling, and we all sipped our near-beer once again.
Just as we were finishing the three tales of Odin's ordeals, the earth-pagans had to depart as one was feeling under the weather. We paused, thanked them for joining us, invited them to future get-togethers, and said our goodbyes.
With the four of us left, we asked Eager Student if she had any questions- she said she didn't, but would love to hear more stories. We assured her that we were a storytelling faith by nature, and began rounds of stories taken from our lore.
Between Doc, Livewire, and I, we regaled Eager Student with stories of the giant who built the wall around Asgard in trade for the sun, the moon, and Freya. We told the story of Thor in search of his hammer, and dressing like Freya to steal it back from the giant. Together we made our way through the story of Skadi's quest for a husband. Comical elements arose (such as everything Loki did starting with, "don't worry, I got this...") and I am sure between the three of us we managed to leave out details, but the meaning and the message were passed and we all had a blast.
It was a Winter Finding I will not soon forget- no alcohol, no feast, no fire, but a good group of friends with good stories and a little near-beer acquired from the chow hall. I hope you all enjoyed yours as well!
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