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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Reflections on Spiritual Changes Since My Mom's Death

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

A lot has changed over the past year. Obviously, many of the changes are not of a religious nature, but since this is my heathen path blog I'm focusing on the spiritual changes. My mom died in February. That was just before the Covid restrictions started. I was able to hold a normal, traditional wake for her with family who had flown in from out of town and many of her local friends, including the folk dancers and some members of her bridge club. I handled it. It was hard but I handled it. Then I was alone. The lockdowns started and I was alone. And then there was Tom. My companion Tom Newman died in September. More about that in a moment.

I've already blogged a lot about the experiences I've had since mom passed on.

Blog posts I've made relating to mom's death:

About her impending death, before she died:
The Great Cow Mother
Mom and the Neighborhood Bengal

After she died:
Hail Hel
Of Death and the Butterfly
Tea with Frigga
Shrine Keeping
My Ceremonial Key

I also made a post related to my grandmother's death years ago, Message in a Film Roll.

Now back to Tom. My companion Tom lived in a care place and it locked down hard and I was unable to see him. He called me on his cell phone and I brought his mail and snacks and whatever else he wanted to the front door of the group home, and he didn't get to go out. As long as a staff member would use a lift to put him in his wheelchair he was able to book around town on the accessibility bus and go out to movies and to eat and to the gun range and wherever, but now those were all closed and he never went anywhere or did anything fun besides read magazines and watch TV. He caught Covid anyway and died in September.

Posts I made about Tom's death:

About his impending death, before he died:

Hel's Mojito
A Different Kind of Near Death Experience
Curse Removal Spell

After he died:

Heimdall, Open the Bridge
Hail Tom Newman
Zoom Funerals Not Recommended
Heimdall's Guardians

Tom had 2 funerals, a private Asatru sumbel and a public military funeral. Because all his oldest friends lived in other states, I tried to do the sumbel as a zoom. I had my kindred member A. T. handle the tech stuff and I tried to do the priestessing and I couldn't handle it. I had to ask A. T. to step in and finish the ritual. She did great leading her first ritual and a few days later when my head caught up with itself I told her she is a gythia now. There is a giant blank in my head about what any of the people on the actual zoom call said. I'm sure it was all really great things that I would have liked to understand and remember but the zoom format was too alien for me to handle in my highly emotional state. The handful of people who were there in person were really supportive, and the people from out of town who would not otherwise have been able to participate seemed to find it adequate, but I would not recommend zoom funerals.

Despite feeling like the zoom funeral was a negative experience for me, it didn't affect Tom's afterlife. He was already safely over the Bridge and with his patron Heimdall within the first couple of days after his death. The sumbel was to honor him, and remember him, not to help him cross. I'm sure he was there with Heimdall because when I had an altar to him "open," or "active," that is, with an offering on it such as a drink or a lit candle, I could hear him in my mind. He told me he was with Heimdall, and was busy getting settled in his new life with Heimdall, and that he was happy there.

Using the "godphone" I developed with writing Some Say Fire to talk to the dead was a big change this year. But the real change was that for the first time I actually know people who are dead that I had a positive relationship with while they were alive who I want to remember and toast on occasion, and don't mind hearing from once in a while. My mom was an atheist and I hardly ever hear her say anything to me and I don't expect it because I know she went on to a new life very quickly after her death, but time works for the dead the way it works for the gods, not the way it works for us living humans. A couple of days after the zoom funeral I distinctly heard mom's voice in my head saying it was a nice service and she approved of Pasha's song ("despite that heaven and hell thing," she added-- still an atheist after personally meeting Hel I guess, that's my mom for you.) Prudence emailed me she was going to plant a memorial tree for Tom, as is her custom. I replied that Tom didn't favor any particular tree but I might suggest sassafras because he loved root beer. A little while later when my mind was still I heard Tom express approval of what I'd told her.

There are no stages of grief. I did not go through an angry phase when my mom died, but I did go through a period of time when I was angry at Tom and generally at the world. It wasn't a stage, but a reaction to real life frustrations. Many things about my mom's death and Tom's were different from each other. My mom's death was expected for a long time, since she died of cancer. Tom's death was expected for a few days, since he died of Covid. I had been with mom every day, since we lived in the same house and I had been taking care of her. Because Tom needed staff and specialized equipment to get in and out of bed and wheelchair he had been living in a group home. He had a goal of being able to go home eventually but did not get to fulfill it. Because Tom died in September, he had been living under the group home's lockdown and then the hospital's lockdown, and I only got to see him a couple of times in the months before he died, mostly talking to him on his cell phone. When I brought him little notes and candies and stuff along with his mail, I delivered it to the front door of his facility, and only saw the staff, not Tom. I was not nearly as prepared for Tom's death as I was for my mom's. I experienced raw and powerful emotions and I did not like it. Nonetheless I had one comfort after Tom's death that I did not have after mom's, and that was because he was the same religion as me, Asatru, I was able to communicate with him after death in the way of my religion.

One day-- it was during the angry time, but despite being mad at him I still knew he loved me and wanted to protect me-- I had been having some experiences that led me to feel psychically attacked and even though I had lots of protection already I asked Tom to protect me too, as one of Heimdall's Guardians, and to go fight my enemies. He did. I am sure of it. My anger passed after a few days, after I received some random advice on Twitter of all places, which was to find a positive way to say what I wanted and to repeat that. So simple, so easy. It's something I would normally have dismissed as positivity culture, which can be really toxic, but that time it helped. About a week or so later I realized I had not felt the level of attacks happening and I am sure Tom went and handled it for me. So I lit the same black candle again that evening and had a toast with limeade-- another of Tom's favorite beverages-- and sat there as if we were just visiting like we used to do, and thanked him for his efforts on my behalf and asked him to keep doing it my whole life. He readily agreed. Then the candle popped and he suddenly had to go. I continued to feel better afterwards.

I don't know much about the Guardians. I didn't even know they existed before Tom died. But I know he was a guardian in life and that was why he followed Heimdall. I know he wanted to protect me and take care of me and see that I was provided for. He wanted to protect me, and before he became disabled it was pretty reassuring to travel with my own personal armed federal officer. But like the special forces soldier he had been in his youth, he was also aware that I might be alone when I needed defense so he made sure I learned how to shoot. We were both martial artists but that's not always good enough. We traveled to a nearby shooting school and together we went to the same courses he used to take before he retired. He wanted to take care of me, and during that one trip we made to the last Ravenwood, I had just hurt my knee and I was the one with a disability then, although it was temporary. A couple of times I got stuck and Tom just picked me straight up. I'm not a small woman, except in height, lol. He was pretty laid back about all the changes to his life after he became disabled, but I know he wanted to be the strong one. He had been such a strong guy all his life it was part of his self image. When he could stand up, he was 6'3" and 350 lbs. Which was great when he was able but not so great as a wheelchair user. That's why he needed a lift to get in his chair. I know he wanted to provide for me, which is why he made a will right after he became disabled. It's why he made some last minute efforts to set his affairs in order just before he died, after he found out he had Covid and before he was unconscious for a while before he died. The gods told me that all my needs would be provided for, but their idea of what I need may not map exactly with human ideas. So I'm glad there was also a human looking out for me too.

You may be wondering what I mean by that, so let me just say that nowhere in any heathen mythology does it say the gods ever spend money in Asgard. There are stories in which gold coins appear, but gold is a real thing, not an abstract currency consisting of 1s and 0s on the internet. Our world is supposed to be material, not abstract. The gods gave us a world in which we could hunt and gather all the food we needed, build a house wherever or live in ready-made cave, make clothes out of byproducts of hunting, make medicine out of herbs, the water and air and were unpolluted and safe to drink and breathe, and humans made it all complicated. And of course, as a human I have to do my part to turn what the gods provide into something useful, too. If I wanted bread and the gods give me soil and sun and rain to grow wheat I still won't have any bread if I don't plant, tend, harvest, thresh, winnow, grind, and bake bread. Like planting and harvesting, receiving financial blessings also takes time and patience and work.

Tom's estate turned out to be a lot less messed up than I had thought it was at first, because it turned out that he had taken steps to make it the way he wanted it while he was in the hospital before he died. I had thought everything was messed up because when I first opened his mail from financial institutions after he died I discovered that when he was a young man just signing up for employee benefits including pensions, IRAs, and funeral insurance he had named his best friend his beneficiary and he had never updated it, not even after he had asked me to marry him (which was really bad timing, he asked me right after my mom died and then the lockdowns started, and I had asked him to wait. His care center was still locked down half a year later when he caught Covid.) But anyway, the point is I knew he wanted to take care of me financially if even I was the one taking care of his stuff in every other way, especially since he had already been taking care of me financially for the two years when I was managing his life and property for him. But his old friend was still listed as the beneficiary on everything. And a will doesn't change that. It took the 2018 health scare that left him disabled to get him to make a will and a healthcare advance directive (he had a set aside for charity in his will and then the rest was supposed to be for me.) And it took knowing he was dying to get him to update his beneficiary on what accounts he could (although he was unable to do the pension because that required a notarized signature; although hospital chaplains usually provide notary services, he was in the Covid ward and only medical personnel were allowed in-- although it turns out his updates didn't stand because the financial institution that did update the beneficiary then put it back the way it had been before because they required such changes to be confirmed after the change and he was dead by then.) I didn't know about that until I got around to a second time of opening the sack with his personal effects in it that I had picked up from the hospital, since the first time I had just pulled out the candy and personal greeting cards to put on his shrine, and had ignored the commercial looking mail thinking it was just stuff he had looked at. It turned out there was outgoing mail in it, which I got out in the mailbox promptly after that. And I didn't know what he had been trying to do until the results arrived, because the envelopes were sealed when I discovered them. So that's what Tom was doing for me. Not everything he tried to do worked, but at least he got his intent made clear and the legal beneficiary decided to go with what Tom had tried to do even though the financial institution reversed it. The estate is not finalized yet as I write this, since I'm writing this before the probate court even meets to get it started, and the separate matter of the account with the beneficiary issue is yet to be resolved, but I'm confident now that everything will be OK.

Now, the gods may seem like they don't understand money, but that's not really it-- it's that I have to say what I want and how human society organizes itself to provide what I want. If what I want is a box of candles, they can manifest that for me directly. If what I want is to the peace of mind of knowing I'll be able to pay my bills, I can tell them about that too but it's just a little more complicated to describe. It turns out that since the gods are around so much I can simply tell them when I'm using money and what I use it for and they will see what I need. Right now as I type this the house's heater is on. It's near freezing outside and it's toasty warm in here, and that's because I keep paying money to the gas company. Human society has made things a bit more complicated than "need heat, burn wood" and that's OK and they can totally understand it, they are smarter than us and can understand anything we can understand, we just have to not assume they already know because this isn't how they designed this world to work, this is a human social construct and it's relatively new. Once I tell them these things they totally understand it and help me, whether that's helping me figure out how to manage to get what I need or manifesting things for me.

So, on to the topic of how I dealt with holidays in 2020.

I don't celebrate Samhain because that's not an Asatru holiday. I do Halloween along with my neighbors, and the day after All Hallows' Eve / Hallow E'en / Halloween is the Day of the Dead, which is a big thing here in the Southwest. I don't usually do much for that but this year I knew a lot of recently dead people. I had a photo of each person, and I had candles and leftover Halloween candy for my mom, Tom, Theron, and Damien, all recently dead, and also for my gramma, mom's mom, because of the Message in a Film Roll (see post of that title) which was a message I received this year that she wanted to be remembered. Theron was surprisingly communicative and asked for specific drinks. Mom communicated also but she did not want anything but to be left alone from then on. So that will be the last such ritual for her. After the Day of the Dead was over I took down the candy setups, but I continued to have a display of mom's picture and various things she liked such as cow art on what used to be her desk, which is now the house desk, and I continued to have a display of Tom's photo, urn, and various mementos including the black candle from his house on the piano, which makes a great shrine. The photo is where sheet music is supposed to go.

In November I was going through more of Tom's stuff and discovered another sack of religious items I had not realized I had not unpacked already. In the sack, I found a Viking style double headed wooden bowl almost exactly like the one I had been repeatedly desiring every time Facebook advertised it to me on my Facebook news feed. So OK probably Tom already had this thing before and I just didn't remember packing it, but, in the moment when I pulled it out I felt that I had manifested it by looking at the picture on the ad over and over and thus visualizing it into being. Both of those things can be true at the same time. I put the bowl on the piano by Tom's photo and urn and other items.

Around that time, when I was doing more of the estate paperwork, I suddenly realized one of the reasons why I was getting to be such an emotional mess handling it, more than I had been when mom died earlier this year. In addition to the obvious reasons, firstly I had more emotional support when mom died because she had a lot of friends and family who came to the funeral and the lockdowns and social isolation didn't start until a month after she died, plus her death had been expected for years because she had cancer while Tom could theoretically have lived another 10 or 20 years until he got sick 2 weeks before he died, there was another factor. Every time I looked at the paperwork for a type of benefit that I knew was supposed to be for widows and orphans and saw the name of the old friend there instead of mine it felt like an attack on the legitimacy of our relationship. But it turned out that Tom actually fixed some of it, which I only discovered when I got new mail from some of the financial institutions later. None of that is really spiritual stuff and I hesitated to write about it in my blog because it's not really heathen, but the religious and non religious aspects of my grief are both part of my grief, and working through my grief is part of my spiritual journey.


Image: My altar to my mom as Great Cow Mother right after the ritual when I received her ashes.

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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