Entering the Hall of the Heathens

 

They eye me warily. It’s a crowded room, filled with the presence of the living in t-shirts or traditional costume, and the shades of the ancestral dead in their own garb, all ranged together along tables and benches. A TV broadcasts the game up in the corner, silent and flickering. I close the door, moving to the fireplace at the far end. I don’t know anyone.

You’re not Asatru. Not Heathen. Not one of us.

No. Maybe not. But I would stay awhile, as guest, if I may.
You value hospitality, I think? It’s cold out there tonight.

 A murmur of distrust, but it’s true. Their code of hospitality gives me opportunity to pause here with them a while, to bear witness to their lore and stories, and share my own, and maybe also share a drink or two, if I’m lucky. 

***–™

 What is it to be approached by the voice and figure of a god of a religion not your own? Revelation? Delusion? Conversion…or merely conversation?

–™***–™

Whatever you call it, however you understand it, this was not looked for. I was haunted for months by a vision of fire. And in the firelight, eyes. Who was this? No one I knew. Theology lives at the pulse point. At the library I began reading through the mythology stacks, systematically, searching.

Hephaestus?  …no. Nothing. No buzz of recognition.

Ptah? (also a maker god, also associated with fire).…no. Still blank. Radio silence except for the sound of the crackling flames, and a low chuckle.

My breakthrough came thanks to Facebook. A friend on my feed linked to an article about Paul MacDonald, a swordsmith in Edinburgh looking to take on two apprentices. An internationally known smith, McDonald’s crafted swords for traditional martial artists, but also replica swords from the movies The Highlander, The Princess Bride and, possibly best of all, the He-Man movie and I was halfway through ordering plane tickets to Edinburgh before I remembered myself. I’m married, with two kids. I have no skills with power tools, no mechanical skills at all, really, and probably not enough upper body strength to lift some of the swords he makes, let alone craft them. Why then did this opportunity feel like an answer?

Moving to Scotland to apprentice myself to a swordsmith made sense on the deepest levels, not on the surface of my life. I looked at the picture on the screen again. I thought of the forge, the fire, the laughing eyes, the location.

Wayland Smith? I asked tentatively, not even remembering why or how I knew the name.

Electricity lifted me an inch off my chair. Wayland indeed.

–™***–™

My sisters laugh, terrified
at how I change, crack
open, change and crack again.
A faulty pot, misfired.
No, no, I say. This
is what human looks like, this
closed-off Northern face,
lost and falling, sky-colored
sidewalks, the angular
scrawk of a lone goose, yawn
of traffic over the drawbridge. 

–™***–™

I am not Asatru. If I’m Heathen, I’m an “Eclectic  Heathen” at best –which means to many, I’m not Heathen at all.  My allegiance is to my pen. My faith is in the hand that holds the pen and the spaces that it opens, the shapes it makes. The inky blue line on the page, ribboning left to right, is my winding path, how I hear the questions and how I seek the answers. I am in this place, this space, among these gregarious and generous people because there is a story to be told and it has found me. It starts with a smith god, but where it will end  I don’t yet know.

–™***–™ 

Following Wayland’s lead, I spend a half day attempting the art of blacksmithing at Shake Rag Alley. I make a hook. One hook. I work for over an hour and still my project is incomplete when we bank the forge fire for lunch. Our teacher admits an experienced smith would turn a hook like that out in five minutes.

When I drive back to Madison, Wayland shows up in the passenger seat.

So what did you learn?

I learned I should stick to writing.

Perhaps true. But what did you learn about hammers?

I glance over. I would have thought Thor would teach me that lesson.

A smile. That’s a different matter. Thor’s hammer is his own, and serves him well.
What did you learn of a smith’s hammer? 

Let me think about that.

–™***–™

 It’s a pretty steep learning curve, to start blogging in the same season you start exploring a whole new family of religions. I don’t know why exactly, but these are the myths and figures I have to tangle with and I’m still figuring out how to make sure my bio appears at the bottom of this post and get the spacing right and then I go try to learn my Rune for the Day and finally I hop over to Facebook and scan through the polytheist groups I’ve joined and figure out the shorthand slang and the interpersonal politics and I’m not even sure I’ll like mead.

–™***–™ 

Another riff on the definition of poem:
interruption, not illustration. Poem as hammer
to crack the narrative wide, allow blue
springing wet to the page. Kafka said it best:
the ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.

***–™–™ 

I search out Wayland the next morning.
A hammer in the hands of a smith brings transformation.
Transformation comes through fire.
Trust to the materials of this good green earth.

These are three lessons I learned.

 

Hold to those and you’ll be safe enough. My people trust the hammer’s voice.
You travel under my protection,
he tells meI’m not the biggest God in these parts,
he smiles at his own joke, but I am –respected. You will go safely. 

–™***–™

The fire pops and crackles. The TV flickers silently up in the corner. Someone nods to the server to bring me a glass, but no one fills it yet.

Writer, do well by us.

I look around at their faces. Part of me, a young part, wants to say, I will, oh I will! I want them to like me. But—what promises can I make that I can be sure of? Honesty and honor count with these folks. I look back at them, each in turn.

I’ll do as I’m done by. How’s that for a fair deal.   

 

 

A Dance of Impermanence: Introducing Myself in Two Chapters (Otherwise Titled, Why Am I Here and Who Am I, Anyway?)

“Theology, at the core, is an expression of our holiest experiences and our deepest knowing, integrated with the clarity and eloquence of the rational mind.”

Christine Hoff Kraemer, “Opening a Pagan Theological Dialogue,”
Sermons from the Mound blog, Dec. 7, ‘12

 

Chapter One

I have described myself as “pagan” for years without really knowing what I meant. Or what the word meant. It occurred to me recently I should maybe learn a little more. So, this past semester I went back to school and took an introductory class on Pagan Theologies at Cherry Hill Seminary, taught by Christine Hoff Kraemer. I went into the class defining myself as a loose-ish, pagan-ish follower-ish of an undefined goddess figure, and I more or less believed that all the gods and goddesses are really archetypes—representing facets of the human experience, common to us all whether or not we are aware of them.

I changed my mind pretty quick when I was approached by Wayland the Smith, a more-than-mortal figure about whom I knew nothing.

*****

The dark river unloosed.
The bright-eyed bird sought rest
in pine trees full of a broken clock
music of grackles, ditches full
of the chonk-a-ree of redwings.
It’s a birdy world, a pratfall
of lost, pit of resist, as rinky-tink
meets honky-tonk, minister
meets medicine show meets last
night in the eyes and tempest
tossed. Comical and sad,
that glottal halt, salt water
taffy and the smell of lilac.
Listen. You can’t go back.
Fallen and falling like a waterfall,
the music that cracks
the sturdy little egg of the world.

(“Autobiographies”)

Raven Kaldera, shaman, priest and author, says, “You get the god you call.” Maybe, but I think I placed the call in my sleep. So now I’m learning as much as I can about polytheism and the Norse, or Northern, as I prefer, traditions that Wayland is part of, reading books and searching websites and trying to memorize the runes. Occasionally Wayland himself chimes in, telling me what he wants or giving me advice. He can be quite specific. Recently, he asked me to keep my eye out for a ceramic grail or goblet, bone-colored.

**

No, you know that’s not it. I want a goblet made of bone.

But where on earth will I find something like that? We’re at Sears. I see a white coffee mug and pick it up.

It’s $3.49, on sale, mass produced. This is Sears. Put it down.

I look sideways at him. You’re not going to be a cheap date, are you.

You have no idea.

*****

I could be more worried about undertaking a theological life journey with a largely forgotten deity who wants to wake up again, but I’m a poet. I figure it comes with the territory.

Who am I? Why am I here? Big questions—but inserting myself into an established blog space seems to demand some account of myself. My life, like this essay, is a patchwork of prose, poetry, daily life, spiritual musings, occasional interruptions and eruptions. Intro to Pagan Theologies brought me full circle to my life twenty years ago, an undergraduate majoring in Religion. I loved every minute of the Cherry Hill class. When it ended, I grieved a little and wrote in my journal, “I need community. I need adventure. I need a way to sink my teeth into life and not let go.”

And then Christine emailed, asking if I wanted to write for Patheos.

 

Chapter Two

 Okay, that’s a wrap. I think you’re in, kid.

But—

 No buts. You can do this. I could point to poems where you already have.
Write the shadows. Write the taboos. Write me.

 But—I’ll sound like I’m crazy.

Oh come on. Where’s your courage? Where’s your sense of adventure?

 Right. “Fear nothing.”

Fear nothing. Including ridicule. Remember, they laughed at me.

 Yes. Yes, I –I know that story.

I know you do.

 Your story. Wayland, lord, I—

Enough.

 

*****

 There’s one very, very old, relatively well-known story about Wayland from the source materials that have survived. As a writer, I can’t wait to wrestle it down onto the page in my own language. But before I tell someone else’s story, I need to be honest about my own. Who am I, then?

Self in the world is a kind of performance, an interpretive dance of at times painfully mundane movements. When I walk out my front door and wave to the neighbors, there I am: wife, mother of two, school and church and community volunteer. I have a book of poems, Somewhere Piano, published by Mayapple Press, a couple of smaller chapbooks. You can look me up any day of the week.

But that would be too simple, wouldn’t it. Shortly after Somewhere Piano was published, it became clear to me that my domestic and domesticated self had said all she had to say. She no longer held the pencil. I needed to find wilder fingers.

So, like Albus Dumbledore drawing his silver memories down into a pensieve, I turned myself inside out and drew out a new self:

Shadow, Sad Eye, Said I, Sadie
Daisy
Dicey, Doosie, Do See, Do Say, Ducet

I turned myself into a pun, a smile. A way to breathe underwater, created of shadow and possibility. I set myself dancing on the page.

***** 

Career suicide, conventional wisdom argued, aghast. Changing your name midstream.

I’m exploring unconventional wisdom. It’s my hope to touch in here every once in a while, to explore the connections between poetry, myth, Wayland’s story and my own wanderings and wonderings, and how it all relates to current events, life in this twenty-first century. Just like my favorite bread-and-butter pickle recipe, the Journey is “good alone or with somebody,” but I think it’s best when shared with others.

Unconventional wisdom keeps me in motion, dancing in the spaces between Sarah and Sadie, able to change, to disappear and then reappear, eyes a slightly different color than they were. Unconventional wisdom encourages me to imagine a person can be verb instead of noun. Truth lies somewhere between fictions. I would not posit this essay as truth.

*****

A book is a basket of deaths. Small ones.
A web with no spider (hide
her), this is the secret dilation,
the interior shore, a little
lagniappe, something more,
a dance for the sake of dancing.
Verse. Reverse. Press in, be pressed
upon and disappear. Address,
redress and put your clothes on, honey.
Embrace arrest. Treat and retreat. Flight
does not equal resist. This is
the walled garden, the invitation,
an intimate penetration.
Let’s not lie or cover over.
It’s sexy as hell, what’s going on.

(“Riff on the Definition of Poem”)

*****

This is the path I’m on, maybe not quite so rational in my approach as the epigraph by Christine would suggest—more of a perceived glimmer, a scent I follow down the road, trusting peripheral vision, sideways, sidewise.

The eyes in the greenery, wild, watching, just out of reach. Meet me there.

 

*All poems in these entries written by Sadie Ducet unless noted otherwise. “Riff on the Definition of Poem” is included, with a whole bunch of other lovely poems by many, many poets, in the 2015 Wisconsin Poets’ calendar, which is available for sale at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets website.