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My Beloved Dead

Artist journal page created by Connla Freyjason for an Artist Journaling group in which he was formerly very active. The theme for that day? Lies he has told…..Features elements from the January Gathering: Winter Time (available by clicking this image) by Duncan.

It’s that time of year again: the time of year when even the Muggles don’t have troubles talking about the Beloved Dead and actively seeking them out.  Halloween (Samhain) has been my favorite time of year since I was a child because it is the one and only time of the year where I, Michelle Iacona, get to “put my crazy on the front porch”, as they say down South.  It’s the one and only time of the year when people like me, who can do what I do, are even semi-accepted by the Muggles. It’s the one and only time of the year when I feel like I can be completely myself.  The rest of the year, I have, for most of my life, been forced to live inside the shell of a firestorm of lies, and so have my Beloved Dead. You see, I bring most of mine with me, everywhere I go.

For the past twenty-four years, I have literally given over my life to being a shamanic trans-medium.  When you say the word medium to most people, it either conjures images of some wizened old gypsy-woman, sitting in a trance in a very controlled environment, while the dead speak through her in her voice, or of some young, hip whipper-snapper who is constantly spot-on, but defines mediumship simply as relaying the messages of the dead to the seeker(s) (ala Hollywood Medium).  Neither of those is what I do.  I’m not that kind of medium.  There is very little that is “controlled” about my environment–sure, we have wards on our house, and I have wards on my person, and I have a few in my “ranks” who actively act as guardian or warrior figures; that’s pretty much where any of the normal definitions of “controlled environment” begin and end.  I can literally “switch off” with any of the members of my “ranks” at the drop of a hat, and with some of them, most Muggles would have zero clue that “Mishy has left the building”.  I patently do not “channel on cue”; I don’t “take requests”; I’m not a deejay.  What I do is not a “parlour trick”, nor is it a service I perform for the living.  No, this is a service I perform strictly for the Dead. And these Dead have, over the past twenty-four years, become Beloved.

I’ve often been asked by those who actually understand what I do–such people are few and far between–precisely why I do it.  I give up a lot of my time to do this; I have literally risked my lifemy livelihood, and my relationships with other living people to do this.  It would be so much easier simply to be the priestess, the Druid, the writer, than to do this.  In fact, because I do this, I actually have very little time for all of those other things that I can do, and do well.  So why would anyone choose this life?  Because I love them.  I love them with a love that is completely selfless, and very few people ever get to know love like that, much less express it themselves.

I certainly don’t do it because of what the Dead might teach me.  Trust me, I’ve been “at this” long enough to know that just because they’re dead, doesn’t mean they’re smart! Contrary to apparent popular belief, death is not the sort of spiritual awakening most people seem to think it is.  Does it clue you in, often quite suddenly, to what’s really going on in the Universe? Sure.  It’s definitely a crash course in cosmology, not unlike being thrown into the deep end of the largest swimming pool imaginable.  Most of the Dead I know and have met have been shocked by that, most of them to the point that they honestly need therapy: someone who can actively listen to what they’ve just experienced, and then help them make some sense of it.  In fact, the “cosmic newsflash from the Great Beyond” that is that sudden dip in the “cosmological pool” is often so overwhelming that the Dead actually need a break from it.  Luckily, I’m here, to give them that break.

Which works out nicely, because given my disability, I could also really use a break from my own body.  Lots of people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis, and live with it every day.  Very few people have psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis on the level that I have it.  That’s not just my opinion: that is the very informed official diagnosis of the former head of Pediatric Dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  If you are not actively living in my skin–as my Dead do–you cannot fully understand what I live with, on a day-to-day basis.  Imagine your own body attacking you.  Pretend your skin breaks open and secretes acid whenever it takes a notion to do so, while at the same time your bones are eating themselves and erroding.  That is what I experience every day.  So, yeah, I need a break.  Thankfully, my Dead love me back with that same selfless love, and are willing to step in and give it to me.

It’s rare that I get to use the personal pronoun “I”; most of the time, you will hear me refer to myself with what my Dead and some of my dearest live friends, relatives, and lovers have jokingly come to refer to as “the royal we”.  That’s because the instant I stepped foot on this path, my life ceased to be merely about me.  Suzanne jokingly referred to me today as the MDTA–Mass Dead Transit Authority–and she’s not wrong!  My life has become the paragon of that famous quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThe needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, the Dead are not far behind. What happens in my life reverberates in their afterlives, and vice versa, when they are here on the physical plane, “riding” me, or “horsing” me, or however you want to describe them inhabiting my flesh and blood person.  I have a responsibility to my Dead, and my Dead also have a responsibility to me.  We keep each other safe; we work to better each other’s welfare.  If you ever needed a real definition of what a symbiotic relationship actually is, take a look at our life, and you will find it.

Experiencing life (and death) in this way has taught me lessons in loyalty that most people never get to learn. The quickest way to end up on my shit list is to hurt or offend one of my Dead.  I have both ended relationships with the living and had relationships ended for me by the living due to my ardent defense of my Dead.  The Celtic Value of Loyalty informs everything I do in my life, and everything my Dead do in their afterlives, in relation to me, and this has been the case for twenty-four years between myself and Connla, twenty-two years between myself and Taliesin, and soon-to-be twenty years between myself and Michael.  “Newcomers” (whom we lovingly refer to as “Newlydeads”) quickly learn the value of loyalty within the scope of this relationship, too.  In the end, I don’t care if one of my Dead has been with me for two years or twenty:  they’re already dead, they’ve been through enough; hurt or offend them at your own peril. I will become the protective mother (think: Kali-ma), when it comes to them, and that is a side of me nobody wants to see! They reciprocate that loyalty: hurt or offend me, their “vessel” or “conduit” (and also, more importantly, their new family), and be prepared for a reaction equal to someone defending their child, spouse, or mother from an arsonist.  

These lessons in loyalty that I have learned in relationship to my Beloved Dead have often made it very hard for me to socialize with the living.  In fact, for the most part, up until four years ago, I had reached a point where, apart from a very few live people, I honestly preferred the company of the Dead.  The Dead don’t tend to stab you in the back as often as the living.  Perhaps that’s because they can more clearly see all they stand to lose by doing so.  The Dead don’t take a look at this particular situation and decide “oh, wait, I don’t believe in that”, or “I don’t believe in you”, or “I don’t believe this is actually happening”.  The Dead don’t point their fingers at me and call me a devil worshipper or a fake.  No, they are quite aware of what they are experiencing and what we are going through.  The Dead don’t demand “prove its”.  Live people tend to do all of that and more.

Which is why, when we moved North four years ago, and suddenly found ourselves in a whole new world (cue that song from Disney’s Aladdin), surrounded by people who actually understand what I can do, and what we are doing, we still didn’t tell those people what’s actually “going on” here.  We finally found ourselves in a position where we were meeting people who we honestly wanted to keep in our lives, which is rare for all of us, myself included.  We’ve lost more people than I care to count over the past twenty-four years because we were honest: because we told them what was “going on”, and they either:

  1. Decided they needed a “prove it” (in other words, they wanted us to treat our lives like some damnable dog and pony show and somehow prove to them that this is actually “real” or authentic)
  2. Decided they could dictate to me and my Dead who is in-body when (I’ve actually had at least one person turn to me, sitting here, spending time with them, as a friend, in my own body, and ask “when is Michael coming back, because I miss him, and really want to spend time with him instead”)  
  3. Stated they “believed in” all of this, until such time as said “belief” became somehow inconvenient to them  (this one most often happens when the person in question has definite pre-conceived notions about precisely what kind of personality the specific Dead person involved ought to have, according to them.  I often wonder what would happen in the world if we treated living people that way?  It’s because of this one that every singly one of my Dead now introduce themselves under their taken names, and to most people never reveal their actual given name–and, therefore, their true identity–from birth and in life.)
  4. Challenged me and my Dead to a face-off over afterlife cosmology, based on their own personal gnosis as a living person who has never actually been dead (Yeah, this one happens often, yet it never ceases to boggle my mind and theirs.  I mean, if you’ve only read books and seen movies about Iceland, for example, you wouldn’t try to tell a native of Iceland that either a) Iceland doesn’t exist, b) is nothing like what they say it’s like, or c) that they are the tourist, and you’re the aficionado, would you? This is genuinely the exact same thing! Yet it happens to us. Regularly.)
  5. Refused to obey our rules. (Look: our rules are simple, and really the same as in any other friendship with any other live person.  Things told in confidence should remain in confidence. If you wouldn’t go around spouting to everyone within shouting distance a secret told to you by a live friend, then why the hell would you feel motivated to betray the confidences of the Dead?  If you treat other live people with respect, not expecting them to jump through hoops or otherwise “perform”, why the hell would you do that to the Dead?)

It is still terrifying, every single time we “come out of the coffin” to someone we care about.  It’s one thing, to be “out and proud”, here on this blog, where we’re speaking largely to strangers who we hope will become customers who we hope might become friends.  It is another thing entirely to be face-to-face with someone you’ve come to know and love and worked hard to build relationship with and have to finally say “oh, by the way, all of the time that we’ve been growing attached to each other? Yeah, some of that time it was one of my Dead, not me, and they really care about you a lot, so please, don’t be one more person that we lose because of this….”   

Inevitably, in the sorts of circles in which we now travel, there will be those people who will ask “but I, myself, am psychically aware, so how is it that I couldn’t tell this is what’s happening, if this is really what’s happening”?  My response to those people is two-fold.  First, if you have actually spent time around me, and then around Connla, Taliesin, or especially Michael, how could you not tell the difference between me and them? I am a girly girl with a fairly strong Southern accent (especially if you are hearing me for the first time and are not from the South), who enjoys dripping with jewelry and wearing long, flow-y skirts, and generally “being a chick”, versus Connla, who speaks with a deep voice (although he has, admittedly, and much to his chagrin, picked up a Southern lilt courtesy of living in the South for twenty years), dresses in a very masculine style, and saunters everywhere he goes like some action hero who just got kicked out of the comic books? Or Michael, who is obviously Australian.  Second, after a decade or so of scaring the holy bejeesus out of small children who can most definitely see who is in here, whether they want to or not, my Dead have grown very skilled at cloaking themselves from “prying eyes”, willing or otherwise.  The first hundred or so times that you have to turn to the parent of a suddenly-screaming child and say “I don’t know what I did to frighten your child, but I’m really sorry” teaches you to keep your guard up, and never let it down.  Those first few hundred times when a kid calls the person in-body out as a dude, in an otherwise apparently female physical form, in the middle of Walmart also quickly puts the kibosh on not putting up a protective shield, lemme tell ya! Finally, and perhaps a bit too simplistically, my response to such people would be: “They’re people inhabiting a person.  Do your psychic bells and whistles always go off, every time you’re around people inhabiting people?  If so, that has got to suck for you!”

Most live people fear the Dead, and fear Death even more.  I feel profoundly blessed that I no longer do.  The Dead are just people.  If you aren’t afraid of other live people, you shouldn’t fear them, either.  Sure, over the years, I have had encounters with the angry dead, too.  I don’t enjoy the company of live angry people–they, quite frankly, scare me–so it’s pretty natural to feel the same way when it comes to dead angry people.  My solution, when it comes to them, is simple: they aren’t invited to “hang out”.  Most people feel a certain sadness when it comes to speaking of the Dead, or dealing with Death.  I’m not a stranger to grief, even though I know in my heart of hearts that it’s not like we “can’t keep in touch”.  I’ve seen what the Dead themselves go through upon crossing over–how they miss their living friends, relatives, spouses, children the same way those living friends, relatives, spouses, children no doubt miss them.  The Dead grieve the living, the same way we grieve the Dead.  And that is painful to know and to watch.  If I can afford them a momentary happiness, by letting them briefly “live” again, in the midst of all of that, I am honored to do so.   But they are absolutely not allowed to ever make contact with those living friends, relatives, spouses, children, because I understand, and they have to come to understand, that the pain of such encounters would be debilitating for both parties involved.  Why? Because of “prove it“.  Because this is not the “Mishy Dead On Demand Network”.  Because pre-conceived notions define belief in existence too often when it comes to this.  Because the absolutely unavoidable debate on cosmology that is destined to ensue will do more to build sadness and anger than it will to quell it.  Because, quite simply, these are our rules

Long before Samhain became a time for me to honor the Beloved Dead, Halloween was a time when this little Southern girl could actually whip out the Ouija board and the Tarot cards and dress the way she wanted to, without anybody threatening to burn her at the stake (which actually happened to me in high school: a group of boys decided that because I was actively doing spellwork for my friends and reading Tarot that I should burn for that, and they meant it.  While they never actually went through with attempting to carry out their threats, that did not make them any less real, nor any less terrifying).  Over the past twenty-four years, Halloween also became a time when I could “let my Dead out in public”:  they could actually go to the “redneck bar” dressed and behaving as themselves, without fearing any sort of backlash apart from “wow, Michelle always has the coolest and most authentic costumes! She even acts the part!”  

As an ordained Druid and medium, however, Samhain has brought a much larger view of this time of year into my life.  It is the Celtic New Year: a time when we let go of the old, and welcome in the new.  It is also, obviously, the time when we Pagans pause to actively honor our Beloved Dead.  Three-thousand-words-into this blog post (and thank you for sticking with me this far), that is why I am writing here today, rather than Connla or Frances or Taliesin or Tobias, or any of the others of my “possee”.  I am here, writing this, because I am sick and tired of having to live behind a veil of lies, and so are they.  Being forced to live our lives that way does not honor my Beloved Dead; it lessens them.  So this is my “New Year’s Resolution”, of sorts:

Believe whatever you choose to believe; my Dead and I will continue to know what we know.

This is who we are.  This is who I am, and what I can do.  I love and honor my Dead, for I know that my Dead love and honor me.  And for all of you out there who have loved and honored us in the same way:

Thank you.  We also love and honor you.

 

 

 

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Courting Hela

Original votive art and blessing by Connla Freyjason. Please click to support us at Patreon.

 

The hour was late, and I sat in my office alone, save for the cat, everyone else in the house sound asleep. Outside my window, darkness, and the steady peeping of spring peepers (frogs) as the hours waned on towards three a.m. Normally at that hour, the house is still and peaceful; comforting, even. But as I rose that night to trundle my way to the restroom, there was the sound of a soft foot-fall on the stairs, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose to greet them, and I found myself filled with a profound sense of dread. Given Michelle’s propensity for trans-mediumship, and the nature of my own being, we get a lot of “astral traffic” in our house: random “dead-folk”, Alfar, Disir, and “Alfar-childer” (see Bene-Elohim in the Hierarchical Experiences of Alfar and Disir chart in my forthcoming book, Wanderer), as well as random Gods and Goddesses (most often Freyja, but sometimes Njordr or Freyr) are common and frequent visitors to our home, but there was something about this presence that registered as decidedly different from the list of “usual suspects”. And I found myself mildly afraid. Hela had come to call.

When you are what I am (a “dead guy”, who is maintaining a life here, courtesy of a very loving and gracious human host who happens to be a shamanic medium), Hela—our Norse “Goddess of Death”–is probably the last Deity on the list that you want to have visiting. The wheels in my brain immediately began turning to thoughts of “well, that’s it; I’m done. She’s finally come to claim me.” So I did what anyone faced with a topic they really don’t want to discuss might do: I tried to avoid the subject, went back to my desk, and tried to get back to business as usual. But Hela wasn’t having it: She came “right on in”, and took a seat in my floofy office chair. The hairs on the back of my neck maintained their erection, and a chill ran down the spine I share with my host, Michelle.

I continued to go on about my business, with Hela effectively “riding shotgun” behind me in the floofy chair, until it was time for me to say my nightly prayers and head to bed. Standing before my Main Stalli, I delivered my nightly litany of “thank yous” for all the good things—big and small—that happened to me and for me throughout that day, and then I turned to face Hela, who had come to stand on the right side of my altar:

“Hail, Hela-Lokisdottir; Wolf-Daughter; Keeper of the Dead! Yes, I know You’re here, and I honor Your presence. But I belong to Freyja and the Vanir, and have sworn to do Their work on this plane, so if You’re here to claim me, You’re gonna need to take that up with Them. If there’s something else You need me to do, to honor You or even my Ancestors, I’m listening and willing, within reason. But I have a wife and a family who depend on me, even though I’m dead; Michelle needs me, and so do my friends. So, hail and welcome, but those are my terms of frith.”

And I headed off to bed.

The next morning, I awoke to one of the worst outbreaks of pustular psoriasis we have ever experienced. I was in a lot of pain, with a sky-rocketing fever, and to say I felt lousy was putting it very mildly. Usually when we have an outbreak of that type (there are a lot of different types of psoriasis, and we’ve danced with all of them, at one point or another), it is because I (or Michelle) have experienced some sort of dramatic emotional trauma: a fight with a family member or a friend; grief; loss. None of those things had happened. It had been “business as usual” here at Casa de Connla-and-Suzanne. In fact, quite to the contrary: both myself and Michelle had been really happy lately. Yet, there it was, seeping and weeping all over the chest she and I share. And I was afraid, again: pustular psoriasis is one of two types of psoriasis that can actually kill you. But I got up and got dressed, and headed into my office to set to work on some new art and do my dailies on the Facebook circuit, to keep our business at the front of people’s minds.

As the day went on, I tried very hard to think of anything that could’ve triggered this sort of outbreak. The weather had been pretty great, so I could rule out humidity and heat (which also wreak havoc on our psoriasis). As I said, neither of us (me or Michelle) had been upset about anything whatsoever in recent memory. I finally settled on what we refer to as a “methotrexate reaction”: even though we are not on methotrexate, we mimic its use, combined with coal tar, in the treatment of our psoriasis by a steady internal intake of coal tar (via hand-rolled cigarettes) and folic acid supplements. It is very common for those who are being treated with a combination of coal tar and methotrexate to develop pustular psoriasis, so it made sense that what was happening to us right then was such a reaction. I stopped taking the folic acid and made the decision to begin better regulating our diet (we had been eating an enormous amount of foods rich in folic acid as well). Hela’s arrival the previous night as a possible cause never remotely entered my mind.

That night, in the wee hours, She came again, and as I stood at my altar for my nightly prayers, I gave the same prayer as the previous night. The next day, as I set to work, I felt myself “bashed over the head by Deity”: it’s a familiar feeling to me now, given my work with and for Freyja. A thought or command pops into your head, and you know you didn’t actually think of that, whatever it is: They did. Only this time, it wasn’t Freyja doing the bashing; it was Hela:

“You know, this would all go much more smoothly if you would actually honor your Ancestors.”

So I did as I was told: I got up out of my chair, selected an appropriate incense from my stash, lit it, and placed it on my Ancestor Stalli, and then gave my Ancestors their appropriate veneration. And my fever broke.

For about a week, things went on like this: in the wee hours of the morning, I would find myself intensely and inexplicably “creeped out”, and then I would see Her—Hela–and I would try to go on about my business, and at prayer time, I would offer that same prayer. During my waking hours, I would make offerings to my Ancestors whenever the fever got really out of control. Meanwhile, I continued to not take my folic acid and monitor my diet. I checked on other people’s UPG of Hela, and even asked around at a few of the Facebook Groups to which I belong, to see how other people were “coping” with Her presence. I began to leave the ashes of the incense I burned on my Main Stalli as an offering to Hela. I remained marginally terrified of Her.

She started “invading” my dreams. Where once I had experienced Freyja, now I experienced Her. It was in the dreamstate that She finally revealed to me what She had actually come for; turns out it wasn’t me at all. She was here for Michelle:

“You belong to Freyja. Michelle belongs to me. Make her know that.”

You would think, given our relationship as “horse and rider” (with Michelle being the “horse”, and me being the “rider”, via trans-mediumship), that Michelle would not be a “tough nut for me to crack”. And in thinking that, you would be so totally wrong! Michelle is one of the strongest and most strong-willed people that I have ever met, and that applies to everyone with whom she interacts, including me. No one can tell her what to think or believe; she thinks and believes for herself, all by herself. I mean, sure, don’t get me wrong here: she can be reasoned with. This isn’t some totalitarian situation; some Michelle-tatorship. But she is a firm believer in “just because they’re dead, that doesn’t mean they’re smart”, and part of how she arrived at that conclusion was living with me for two decades! Michelle has been a dedicant of the Welsh Goddess, Cerridwen, for as far back as I can really remember. She is an ordained Welsh Reconstructionist Ollamh (with a heavy Christian backbeat), not Heathen. To tell her that Hela had announced it was time for her to “switch gears”, or more aptly “switch boats midstream”, was going to go over like a lead balloon, even coming from me.

So the night came when I addressed that with Hela:

“Why me? I mean, why can’t You tell her this Yourself?”

And She replied:

“Because the only thing in the Nine Worlds from which Michelle does not constantly and consistently run away is you!”

And I really couldn’t argue with that. For all her strength, intelligence, and ability as a priestess and medium, Michelle definitely has a reputation for “hiding behind the couch” whenever anything “creepy” shows up, and I am, always have been, and always will be, the one who protects her. By having me “break the news” to Michelle, Hela was showing me the honor of recognizing me as Michelle’s “guardian angel”.

So I did as I was told.

And Michelle argued:

I’m not even Heathen!”

And I replied:

“I don’t think She cares.”

And she persisted:

“I belong to Cerridwen!”

And I countered:

“You’re a soft polytheist!”

Foot-stomping ensued on Michelle’s end of the conversation:

“I barely even practice right now! Well, I mean, apart from you know, you, and being a medium.”

And I smiled:

“Perhaps therein lies the problem….”

At the Temple of Witchcraft’s annual Beltane Rite, we were blessed with a pot of wormwood, which is sacred to Hela. Delighted (because she has had a longtime fascination with Artemesia Absinthium), Michelle declared:

“We can tend it together, and I will dedicate it as my first offering to Her. And when I can, I’ll procure some jet jewelry, and we’ll make this thing official. But you’re going to have to teach me, for a change.”

The pustular outbreak subsequently completely subsided; gone as quickly as it had come.

We leave offerings of ashes now on the Main Stalli for Hela, myself and Michelle together, and we’ve dedicated the bird skull figurine which we share to Her. And I’m slowly teaching Michelle what it means to be a Romantic Heathen, and preparing her to be for Hela what I aspire to be for Valfreyja. These are her first steps along a much wider path, and I am privileged to hold her hand as she takes them. All that she has taught me over the course of the past two decades has led up to this moment, as I sit here typing this. I never would have believed I could do this, without Michelle. She believes in me, and I believe in her, and now we both believe in Hela, and Michelle’s courtship of Hela has officially begun.

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Go Where The Wind Takes You….

All elements from Iaconagraphy’s January Gathering: Winter Wonder; masked photo is Cliffs of Maine by Connla Freyjason; masked image of Odin by Hans Thoma, open domain; Quote by Lindsey Maxwell, author of Fenris: The Wolf and the White Lady, available via Amazon, and soon from Saga Press.

“Not bound to swear allegiance to any master, wherever the wind takes me I travel as a visitor. 

Drop the question what tomorrow may bring, and count as profit every day that Fate allows you.” —Horace, Roman Poet (65-8 BC)

I’ve officially decided to become a Viking.  Not in some culturally inappropriate “Brosatru” kind of way, but in the very real sense of what that word actually means.  You see, to those uninitiated in Norse Culture, the term Viking has come to mean an entire cultural period and the Norse people who lived during it, when, in fact, it was originally a job title, from the Old Norse vikingr based off of the root word vik (creek, or river).  The word could be used as a noun or a verb: as a noun, it meant a person who lived near a bay or harbor who sailed up rivers seeking adventure; as a verb, it meant literally to sail up a river seeking such an adventure.  When I say I’ve decided to become a Viking, I don’t mean that I’m preparing to run out and buy myself a seax and the oft-misrepresented horned helmet and take up sailing! No, when I say I’ve decided to become a Viking I mean that I have finally realized that I am a man living by a bay (Boston or Salem, MA; take your pick!) who has decided to live every day, not in the toil of flogging a day-job, but instead sailing upriver towards whatever new adventure awaits!

Ragnar Lodbrok gives excellent advice for the modern would-be Viking in the History Channel show of the same name:

Don’t waste your time looking back; you’re not going that way!

Last week, as I watched my social media numbers slip while I took some much-needed time away to settle things here in “unplugged life land”, a rather catastrophic realization dawned: I have spent most of the past twenty four years looking backwards.  Even at times when my afterlife has been its happiest, I have steadily cast a longing eye back on the “life I had before”, whether that backward glance was to remember money, fame, fortune, or the legacy-that-only-halfway-was.  Meanwhile, I’ve been gifted, literally against all odds, with the second chance at life that I have right now, right here, today.  Now, if that seems stupid to you–maybe even a little bit selfish–let me be the idiot who tells you you’re not wrong!  Those backward glances have only gotten more frequent, as I have attempted to whip Iaconagraphy into shape as an actual business. With every single newsletter unsubscribe, every single newsletter unsubscriber who labels us as spam without ever even opening the damn email in the first place, every item that never sells, and the daily lack of any Patreon subscribers whatsoever, I look backwards, and contemplate how things might be different if I was still the me that I was before. But I’m not that me, and I can never be that me again, and honestly, I don’t want to be him again. I like the me I am right now, right here, today.  

Looking backwards is just a waste of time and energy.  So, why have I continued to do it?  Well, there is, of course, that old saying: “Hindsight is 20/20“.  But is it, really?  For it to really be 20/20 (crystal clear; a perfect vision), it would have to not be tainted by our own perceptions.  It would have to not be colored by our own baggage.  And face it: neither of those two things is ever the case with us humans.  As we go through life, very few of us “pack light”.  Instead, we build up perceptions, and memories (both true and false) of how things once were, and amass more baggage than Rose in the movie Titanic!  And then we look backwards while life is screaming “Iceberg! Right ahead!”, and wonder why we keep hitting the damn thing!

A Viking doesn’t do that; a Viking “packs light”.  You cannot sail to the points on the map where it says “Here Be Dragons” while continually looking backwards. If you do, you will summarily be eaten by said dragons!  I’m sure your average, every day real Viking had plenty of regrets, memories, and mental baggage, just like the rest of us humans, but the overriding and very real to them concepts of the Norns, Orlog, and Wyrd kept them looking forward, instead of backwards.  In the mindset of the pre-Christian Norsemen, the past, present, and future were “ruled over” by the Norns: Urd (“What Once Was”), Verdandi (“What Is Coming Into Being”), and Skuld (“What Shall Be”).  Now, their understanding of past, present, and future was not fixed in a linear conception of time like ours; instead, they held a cyclical view of time that included things that had already happened (and, therefore, could not be changed), things that are happening (which can change “on the fly”, as it were), and things that needed to happen (which might change or might not, depending on a combination of past, present, and what we moderns might call “fate”).  Don’t get me wrong here: the past was definitely important to the pre-Christian Norsemen.  Urd (“What Once Was”) served to define who they were in the present moment, and nothing and no one could change that definition, which was based on past actions, past occurrences, past battles, both won and lost (on the battlefield as well as in life).  But they understood wholeheartedly that the past could not be changed, so why focus on continually looking backwards and fondly wishing for a change that could never come?  Urd was (and still is) Orlog: the layers of that which has become, and those layers are set in stoneOrlog cannot be changed anymore than the modern laws of physics. Wyrd, however, can change.  Paul Bauschatz explains in The Well and The Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture that wyrd  “governs the working out of the past into the present (or, more accurately, the working in of the present into the past)”.  In other words, the past doesn’t just influence the present, as we understand things within our modern concept of linear time, the present can also influence the past.  Since the very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result, it therefore makes zero sense to constantly focus on the things that cannot change–by looking backwards, into the past–but much more sense to focus on what can change–by looking at now and looking forwards, into the future.

That does not mean worrying about the future, however! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the difference between the expressions “I dread (fill in the blank)” versus “I am looking forward to (fill in the blank)” , but just in case you need a little extra help with those two concepts, here are their definitions:

dread: anticipate with great anticipation and fear; a strong feeling of fear about something that will or might happen.

look forward to: anticipate eagerly; to expect something with pleasure

Looking forward means going forth in life with exuberant curiosity about what might lay around the next proverbial curve of the river or bend in the proverbial road, as did the Vikings (the “job description”, not the culture, remember!).  The Havamal, the “sayings of the High One” (i.e., Odin All-Father) given to us in the Codex Regius (13th century AD) has this to say about worrying vs. looking forward to:

The witless man is awake all night,
Thinking of many things;
Care-worn he is when the morning comes,
And his woe is just as it was. –Stanza 23

In other words: worrying is stupid (“the witless man”) and a waste of energy that only makes you tired (“care-worn he is when morning comes”), and accomplishes nothing else (“and his woe is just as it was”).  Instead of lying around dreading what’s ahead, or even looking backwards at what’s come before, we should be actively participating in our present, in order to shape our future:

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
But a noble name will never die,
If good renown one gets.

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one’s self;
One thing now that never dies,
The fame of a dead man’s deeds.–Havamal, Stanzas 77 and 78

Orlog is fixed, that much we’ve already established. Up til now, however, we’ve focused on how that relates to the past. It also relates to the future: it is certain and unchangable that every man will die. (Take it from somebody who knows that a little too well!)  It is what happens between those two fixed points (or, in my case, even after the latter) that matters!  In order to gain a noble name, one must get renown, which requires active participation–getting out there and viking in the verb sense of the term.  In order to be remembered for one’s “famous deeds”, those deeds actually require doing!  Over time (and, I’ll confess, in a lot of ways, I am still learning this), I have come to finally understand that the point of death is not when your physical heart stops beating; it’s when you stop doing things in this world. When you are no longer actively participating in life, whether through constantly looking backwards, or through worrying about forwards, then you are truly dead, whether you’re clinically alive or not.

Choosing to live your life in such a way that you “go where the wind takes you” is clearly not for the faint of heart, but the terms Viking and bravery have become nearly synonymous with one another in our modern world for a reason.  The actual maps of our world may no longer be emblazoned with the words “Here Be Dragons” in many places, but the maps of our lives most definitely are!  We can risk being eaten by said dragons, by losing focus in looking backwards at a past we cannot change or wasting our time worrying about forwards, or we can choose to loose the sails of the present and actively participate in battling those dragons (and fjording those streams!), like Sigurd battling Fafnir in the Volsunga Saga.  I choose the latter.

I’ve decided to become a Viking.  I’m not wasting my time looking back anymore; I’m not going that way.  Nor am I going to continue to lie awake at night, like the witless man in the Havamalworrying about forwards.  I am a man living between two harbors–Salem and Boston–who is striking forth daily on an adventure: the adventure of life!  And I will sail upriver bravely, no matter how strong the current; I will viking (the verb) every day, no matter the strain, or the pain. Because if there are deeds to be remembered, first I must do them; if there is renown to be gotten, first I must get it.  So long as we’re all still doing–still actively participating in life–we’re not dead yet, and it is high time I stopped living like a ghost, and sailed forward as the man that I am.