Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Eye in the Sky

Zipping down the highway on the way to a heathen friend's empty house, the clouds ahead formed a giant eye that stretched over the entire western sky. The two pointy ends of the eye reached the south and the north, and the eyeball in the center watched over me, the protective eye of Odin who looks after travelers.

My trip on the highway was just across town, so this was not the kind of journey one might associate with Odin the Wanderer, but he was there with me nonetheless. The purpose of my trip was also not what one would typically associate with the goddess Sigyn, but I've come to realize that looking after someone's house while they can't is also a type of caregiving. This was the second time I was called upon to suddenly take over the management of someone's life and property for which I was unprepared, the first time being when I did so for my mom several years ago. This time I had experience and knew more what I was doing, but I had even less authority to work with, and the property was in worse shape, so it had some unique challenges. 

In one way, this is just plain life, and many people care for parents or friends without thinking of gods and goddesses. For me, though, serving family and community and the gods are all linked. For me, just plain life is life as a heathen priestess and godspouse, and everything I do, I do as a heathen.

I'm acting as the hausfrau of my friend's house; that is an old and honorable title in heathenry. It literally translates into English as lady of the house, which I'm not-- I don't live there and we are friends and traveling companions, not a couple, despite how many times I've been addressed as Mrs. (My Friend's Last Name) when we're out and about somewhere. Now, when I had to try to deal with companies sending him bills, or worse, his alarm monitoring company, I found myself sometimes claiming to be his girlfriend as a kind of authority, as if that made me a sort of junior husfru. And people accepted it as if somehow it was more OK to try to manage someone's life for them if there was sex involved, which probably says something odd about the culture in which we live. 

This husfru business started by simply collecting the mail and newspapers at my friend's house, at my his request, while he was in the hospital. One day I came to visit him in the hospital and he was unconscious and the nurse asked me if he had an advance directive. I turned his house upside down looking for one, which he didn't have, and along the way decided I had better get his house cleaned up and organized. After my friend regained consciousness, he did some paperwork that everyone should do; more about that below.

As he is slowly recovering and taking back some of his responsibilities, I'm also slowly getting his home ready for his return, and also for his out of town friends to stay in to visit him. My life as a heathen is filled with both awe-inspiring moments of gnosis like seeing the eye in the sky, and also a lot of unglamorous work, like paying bills, and making decisions to hire crews to deal with a water leak, an invasion of black widow spiders, and an inordinate number of chirping smoke detectors. It is perhaps slightly ironic that I, godpouse of Loki as well as of Odin, describe my taking charge of the home of a Heimdall's man as imposing order on chaos. 

My friend was unconscious for a week and a half. Many years before retiring and moving to Vegas, he had chosen a friend to make medical decisions for him if he could not make them himself, but he had never actually filled out a legal Advance Directive. Lacking this paperwork and having no wife or children, he had no one legally empowered to make decisions for him during that time, so the decisions were made by the doctors-- the doctors at a Catholic hospital. 

I did not know at that point if he was going to live or die. I was trying to manage his affairs for him as if he would eventually come home, but I had it in the back of my mind that I might well be preparing his house to host funeral guests. Then a friend that I hired to be in my recycling crew, which was necessary before the house was ready for a maid crew, told me that he used to work for the State cleaning houses the State had taken control of upon the owner's death, and if my friend did not have a will- which he didn't-- the State was going to swoop in when he died, take everything, and change the locks, and I would not only not have a chance to put his out of town guests up in his house for a funeral, that if there was anything inside that I needed to get out of there before the State took it, I would only have a few hours to do so after his death because the State would send law enforcement to close it. And when the State cleaners came in, they would very likely throw out anything they didn't want to keep. I looked around at all religious and magical objects in my friend's house and I was horrified. I started mentally making a list of all the things that would need to come out of there in a short time if he died before waking up and making a will: statues of gods and goddesses, a drinking horn, hammers, embroidery I had made... candles and who knows what from back when he was Strega, before he came to heathenry... all the weapons Oh My Gods literally. Another member of the recycling crew had once quilted a quilt top I'd made for my friend, and I promised to try to get the football quilt back from his house for her if he died. More advice came my way: try to get out enough money from his ATM to pay for a funeral. At a limit of a few hundred in withdrawals a day, and very likely an asset freeze in a very short amount of time, that wasn't going to be much. Without the right documents registered and stored in the right places, a man could die with a ton of money and leave his friends no way to pay for cremating his body.

Fortunately, that nightmare scenario did not come to pass. My friend eventually woke up. And now he has an Advance Directive. And a will. All the decisions are made, the documents stamped, the affairs in order. It could easily have gone the other way.

As the heathen and pagan populations age, many of us are going to be in either his position or mine eventually. So everyone should ask themselves these questions, and prepare: If I had a medical emergency, who would make decisions for me if I were unconscious? Do I have the right paperwork to give that person that authority? If I had an extended hospital stay, who would take care of my house, my car, my dog, and who would pay my bills, and do they already have a key and know everything they need to know to get in and get things done, is their name on my alarm company authorized list, and have I thought of how to compensate them if they have to do this instead of working? What is going to happen to my property, my religious and magical objects, my pets, my weapons, etc. when I die, and have I made a will and put it where it will be found before the state takes charge and sends in non-pagans to clean out my stuff? If I need an in-home caregiver, is this something my insurance will cover, and if not who is going to do it and how will I pay them? If I need to move to an assisted living or nursing home, what is going to happen to my home and everything in it when I'm still alive and so a will doesn't take effect, and will the state seize my assets to pay for my care, and if so what will happen if I have an adult or minor relative or an apprentice living with me, and if I live alone who will make sure my religious objects are removed and treated respectfully before the state cleaners arrive? Who is my heir at law, and who is my heir in real life, and are they the same person, and are they of the same faith, and can they arrange my funeral in accordance with our faith, or is the state going to give my body along with all my assets to a non-heathen second cousin I haven't seen in 40 years? Will my heir at law respect my heathen faith when planning my funeral? Will my heir at law respect other things about me that they may not have encountered yet when I left my home town at the beginning of my adult life, such as: will they respect my gender as I now define it when my body is made ready for my funeral? Will my heir at law respect my desire to either be kept alive or not in a medical setting, my wishes for supporting specific charities out of my estate, and other last wishes?

These are uncomfortable questions and sometimes they have even more uncomfortable answers. But each of us needs to ask ourselves these things, get the paperwork done and be prepared.

One last piece of advice: don't just fill out the forms and put them in a desk drawer. At a minimum they have to be given to the person who will use them, the person who will bring your Advance Directive to your hospital and have the staff put a copy in your file, and so forth. Even better, if your State has a Living Will Lockbox online that any medical facility can access, put your information in there. Register your Will with the State. Give your paperwork to a lawyer, if that's the option that makes the most sense for your situation. Get your wishes on paper and get that paper where someone other than you has ready access to it.

One thing that pagans and heathens should know is this: death is a part of life. Illness, old age, disability, and dying are all things that happen in this world. Asatru, like other types of heathenry, has gods of death, and the honoring of ancestors, so we should not ignore the idea of death. We know that death will come for us all, in time. Many heathens speak of what will happen to our souls after death, and that is also important, of course. We speak of Odin as lord of Valhalla, as one of our many gods of death, and some Asatruars believe they will meet him when they die. But that is not the only thing to consider when asking ourselves: if death came for me today, am I ready?

Image: Raven, creative commons via Pixabay

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners. An updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path, is coming in 2020 from Red Wheel / Weiser. Erin was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, created the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

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