A Tale of Two Afterlives–Homecoming, by Seanan McGuire

Two years or so ago, I came across this short story by Seanan McGuire. It was fervently being passed around among the Heathens in my area, and as a Freyaswoman, people strongly suggested that I read it. I glanced at it, saw that it was about high school football, and passed it over. Only after I finally sat down and read it did I get what the fuss was all about.

Now? Now I file it under “Things That Make Me Cry,” because reading it makes me cry, each time. My first read through, the tears didn’t start until halfway through the story, when I caught on to what the author was doing. When I reread it yesterday, though, I started crying before the “cheerleaders” even left the locker room.

Not that it will necessarily make you cry, too. The thing is, it’s not a sad story at all. It’s like the best kind of feel-good story there is, really. If you work with a deity whose realm includes death, or fighting, or courage, I recommend that you check it out. (If you like football, or understand the power of a late autumn night, even better.)

An excerpt:

“Winning? Losing? Children died, and now somehow we’re . . . how am I here? How are we playing football? I haven’t played football since high school.”

“But you did,” says another girl—Elle, with her white-blonde hair streaked in Falcon blue, and she’s lovely, she’s an angel, but her eyes are cold as she looks down on Clarice. “If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here. You’d be playing water polo, maybe, or chess, or competitive Pictionary.”

“There are as many battlefields as there are fallen warriors to fight on them,” says Rona. She straightens, offering Clarice her hands. “You earned your place here, I swear that you did, and now all you have to do is see the game through to its end in order to get your reward.”

Clarice looks at her, this teenage girl with her hair tied up in ribbons, and nothing has ever been more wrong, and nothing has ever been more right. This is Homecoming, this is the October that never ends, and she has earned her place here, on this field, on this team. She slides her hands into Rona’s without deciding that she’s going to do so, and Rona tugs her back to her feet, stronger than she should be for a girl so slight.

“Fight on, warrior,” she says, letting go of Clarice’s hands. She smiles, and for a moment, she is something else; not a cheerleader, exactly, but something older, and wilder, and serving the very same role. She cheers at the edges of the battlefield. “Fight on, and win.”

The full story is available here. Originally published in Lightspeed Magazine.

“October Women”, by Stephen McNallen

Yes, it’s by that Stephen McNallen. What can I say? It’s a good poem. Perfect for honoring the Disir at Winternights. (To me, it’s always reeked of Freya-ness, as well, which apparently was his plan.) His intro for the poem reads thusly:

The Disir are our female ancestors, who look on from the Other World with maternal concern for us, their descendants. Freya, our Goddess of love and fertility, is connected with these holy beings, overseeing them and helping to guide and nurture us as we make our way in the world.

Freya and the Disir are honored at a festival called Winter Nights, which falls in October. We do well to remember the Disir, and lovely Freya, as we seek strength for the coming season of cold and barrenness.

If you have ever read any of Ray Bradbury’s stories, you know that he’s the poet laureate of the October spirit. Here is my tribute to Freya, to the Disir, and to their special bard. October has slid into November, December looms before us, and our need for the mothers of our line only grows the greater as the days and nights become chillier.

October Women

Can you hear her? Can you hear THEM?
Shut your eyes and listen through the dark.
Rustle, crackle, crunch on the leaves
Once green, now brown, like Freya’s cloak.
Green cloaks are for growing things,
And for tossing on the grass for a love-bed.
Brown cloaks, like fallen leaves and bare earth
Are for covering and concealing…for October.

Ray Bradbury knows about October.
But he doesn’t know about her
Or it wouldn’t be his thumbs that prickle
When frost circles the moon like her necklace,
And it’s too cold to make love on the stark ground.
Maybe he hears the ones behind her, and fears
The Disir – creaking bones? Dried up skin bags?
Wrinkles like old apples in the straw?

But Bradbury’s got October right,
At least as far as he goes.
Summer’s end, no more long days
To run in the sun and play in fields like children
It’s adult time now – indoors, school books open,
turn pages.
Turn inward, and keep the fire lit all night.
Falling leaves turn to falling snow
But the ancient ladies ignore the chill.

Out in the paddock stand the burial mounds,
Stones all icy, but the Disir don’t care.
They cackle and call as though the air was warm
And flowers bedecked the barrow in the sun.
You can hear them better this time of year
Without the humming of the insects
Or the sighs of lovers moving over the grass.
The Disir, those ancient women, call to you.

Mothers, grandmothers, cousins and kin of old
They hail and halloo, as though they’d never left
the fireside.
Remember to feed the animals, the Disir say
And brew the fine beer that will keep you cheery.
It’s not too cold to take off your clothes under the cover,
Especially if you’ve someone to snuggle with.
Keep a log on the family’s honor
And know that summer lies beyond the snow.

Creaking bones and leathery skin?
Wrinkles, cracked voices, age-dulled eyes?
Mr. Bradbury should know Freya better than that.
October is now, but springtime is forever
And the Disir call us from verdant vistas.
Their eyes shine brightly and their supple bodies
Twist ands weave as they dance in the sun.
“You can make it!” they say, and as usual, they’re right!

by Stephen A. McNallen

Love notes from Freya, 8/10/14

When trouble lurks, turn toward Me for help. I and your disir, of spirit and blood, will aid you. Call on us, your ancestresses, for power and support. A gift begets a gift. Love, Freya

This is one of those times, like when She conveys messages in runes and/or rune poems, when I remember that Freya is a Nordic goddess. Not that I could ever forget, mind you, but a much of what She does and says is similar to many other love Goddesses. Today, however, is apparently a lesson on the importance of Disir. Dis (plural: disir) are, in the most general sense, female ancestor spirits.

The Old Norse/Germanic cultures had an extremely rich and complex understanding of the various non-corporeal entities present in their world. Unfortunately for us Recon-ish types, the lines between the different types of entities were blurry and highly mutable. Even the most experienced academics have a hard time laying down clean, compartmentalized categories and definitions–see Kveldulf Gundarsson’s work on Elves, Wights, and Trolls, for example. Human culture, both then and now, is just messy.

Disir are one of most commonly referenced spirits in the surviving literature. One of Freya’s roles is as the Vanadis–the main Dis of the Vanir, Her tribe of Gods. These ancestor spirits are often seen as being protective entities  (unlike draugr or other “unstable dead”). They act as protectors in several ways. One, they could just generally be around for you to call on for luck or guidance, as in, “Let’s ask/pray to our disir for help”. Two, they could morph into something along the lines of a Valkyrie, helping to send battlefetters against their family’s enemies or appearing right before the family member dies (think Celtic banshee/”washer at the well” type) . Three, they would become something along the lines of a flygia (a complex entity I’ll discuss at some point later on). In this case, she is an ancestor spirit that manifests itself visually (and sometimes physically) as human female and attaches herself to one of the living family members, usually a hero of some kind. In this last case, apparently a hero needs to officially accept Her as his dis, otherwise she goes back into the spirit realm and waits for the next generation of heroes to come along. There are a coupe of examples of this version of a dis becoming the hero’s lover, and one example of this kind of relationship happening over the course of three different lifespans–who are essentially the same two people, just reincarnated.

(So yes, Norse culture has some REALLY COOL, MULTILAYERED STUFF going on, people! One of the many reasons I’m interested in Norse recon and not Wicca. Just sayin’.)

In any event, to sum up this lesson on the Disir: Freya says to go talk to them and rely on them. Personally, I have found working with my ancestors (both the disir and alfar) to be a huge source of power and comfort. Despite Asatru’s huge emphasis on honoring our ancestors, I didn’t really start to build that into my spiritual practice until this past year, and man–I am really wishing I did so much earlier. As a fellow priestess says, we (those of us alive today) are the sole focus of our ancestor’s attention. We are the ones who are still alive and can do things, and generally, our ancestors want us to win and will gladly throw any help they can our way. It’s a shame to ignore help so freely offered.