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The season of death
Ear (Ground) is loathsome to all men,
yet certainly the body will be set upon there,
the corpse grows cold, the soil accepts its pale bedfellow;
leaves fall, pleasures depart, men cease to be.
- Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
I will be posting a follow-up to my thoughts on establishing a hearth, as promised, but in the meantime life has intervened and supplied a subject matter that has to take precedence, since it's all I can spare any degree of deep thought for right now. That subject, of course, is (as my title indicates) the one that naturally trumps all others: death.
For us, in our little household with its deep ties to Odin (my partner is His oathed daughter and I am His wife, by virtue of sacred marriage vows taken ten years ago now), the season of death generally begins at the end of September and goes until the end of Yule, which is roughly the first week of January. The informal beginning of the season at Michaelmas on September 29th (which I have dubbed Valfather's Day for the past few years, in one of my created/re-fashioned festival days) was confirmed a few years back by the death on September 28th of my partner Jolene's elderly Pomeranian, Angel, followed up the very next year by the death of my elderly and cancer-ridden Keeshond, Orion. We were on a roll there, but then the momentum slowed down a bit (thankfully!), allowing us a blissful hiatus of two years. During that two year period, we moved to Oregon from Pennsylvania with our remaining animals (one dog, Corbie J., and eight cats) and for two wonderful years no one at all left us, until we had to find new homes for two cats to move into our present digs. And then, last year, the pattern started up again and we had to euthanize my 16 year old Maine Coon, Sassy, two days before Halloween. She was dying of kidney failure.
This year, the season is beginning even earlier than usual; the other day (September 6th) our cat Princess (nicknamed Pringle by my daughter) died at the age of only seven. A blue-eyed sable-pointed faux Siamese (she had the looks and the attitude but not the bloodline,) she suffered her entire life from congenital sinus issues which basically made breathing a constant effort. We called her "Darth Kitty" because you could always hear her breathing, no matter where you were in the house. She died when she could no longer spare the energy to keep up that effort. But while she lived (right up until her very last few days) she was a little ball of energy who loved to watch birds from windowsills (and try to get at them through the glass), got so excited when you tried to pet her or give her a treat that she (usually painfully) grabbed for your hand, and--most harrowingly for me, a Fibromyalgia sufferer--had a tendency to leap onto your back if you were bent over and she felt she could make the jump. She was extremely athletic for a kitty with a breathing condition; she never let her very real limitations stop her from playing. She loved to follow people around the house, and she tolerated the other cats, but best of all she loved dogs. I think she partly thought she was a dog.
On Thursday after work we found her dead and that evening she went into a shallow grave in our yard next to Sassy, her bones to be retrieved if/when we eventually move from here. But even before she was buried, she began to make it known that she hadn't really gone anywhere--not in any real way.
Both Jolene and I have grown quite used to--if not quite comfortable with--the presence of the season of death in our lives. We were born into it ourselves, myself on September 22nd and Jolene on the 24th. As women sworn (albeit in different ways) to Odin--Who is, as god of the hanged, lord of the battle slain, and leader of the Wild Hunt, one of the Norse/Germanic deities most intimately connected with death and the dead--we have grown accustomed to the reality of death; we expect it and sometimes even anticipate it. We both lost our fathers in our teens; I lost my mother when I hit thirty, and Jo just last month lost her grandfather. There have been other familial deaths scattered here and there, but--as guilty as we might sometimes feel to acknowledge the fact--it is often the deaths of our animals, our companions on a day to day basis, that cut the deepest. This should not be a matter for shame; both of us serve the spirits of the non-human dead to some extent or another, so why should it surprise us that these deaths are especially hard to bear? "Why do they pick this time of year to die?" my grown-up daughter asked me on the phone when I called to tell her about Pringle. "It's the death season," I told her, as I've explained before. "It's the time when, if you've been waiting to die, death finally takes you."
But of course, since I am me, there is more to it than that. Many people believe that this time of year--from the autumn equinox through Yule--is the time when Odin leads the spirits of the Wild Hunt through the leaden winter skies, calling those dead who will venture to join Him as He rides. I don't simply believe this; I know it, as surely as I know anything. At the age of eight I had my first encounter with the Hunt and with Odin as its Master, and based on this experience (which I recount in my own blog here) I have learned to expect deaths in my own family to fall within this approximate segment of the calendar, and to be mildly surprised when they don't follow this pattern. When I myself die, I fully expect it to happen at this time of year, especially considering my oaths to Odin, and to the Hunt, the furious host.
In the meantime, however, as soon as the air begins to chill and the first tint of gold touches the leaves, we know that our household members who are old or ill or weakened are in danger of being called away, just as those animals and people too weak to survive the coming winter were traditionally culled at this time of year in days of old. And we know that--however painful for us--this is a blessing at the hands of the god we both love so much, Odin. Our poor little Pringle (proudly dubbed Princess Eowynn at her birth, before her breathing problems manifested) has already been seen hanging around the house as the beautiful blue-eyed cat she might have been--sleek, playful, and full of mischief--had she been free of breathing problems in her lifetime. Thanks to my Beloved, she is certainly free of them now, and is--so I was told, and have since confirmed for myself in trance--very fond of the wolves. They are but uber-dogs, after all.
Mann (Person) with joy is beloved of his kin,
even though each one depart away,
for moreover the lord wills his fate,
the destitute flesh be delivered to the earth.
- Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
The season of death commences, and I am sure I will be posting here about other aspects of it--although hopefully less intimate ones. In the meantime, remember to treasure your loved ones--human and non-human alike--while you can.
Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem quotations taken from Wyrdworking by Alaric Albertsson.
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