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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Zoom Funerals Not Recommended

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

In the days leading up to Tom's sumbel via zoom, I had some encouraging signs. I posted this on my social media: "Dragged out to the store and look what I saw lol pine cones! Pine cones are a Zisa thing. And then guess what? I went to [name of liquor store] but apparently the nonalcoholic sparkling wine is a specialty winter holiday item and they didn't have it. But guess what they did have? Zirbenz! The drink of the goddess Zisa! I had been looking for it last week because I had a radio appearance on Sept. 28th which is Zisa's holiday, and had asked for it by name there. They hadn't had any then, but this is how capitalism works lol because I had asked for it by name last week, this week they had some. Even though I already had made a toast to Zisa on the air with something else and today is a few days after the holiday I bought it and went home and had some. It's remarkably similar to the de sapin that I had instinctively offered to Tyr, Zisa's husband, years ago. Then I went into the kitchen and there was a rainbow on the wall, symbol of Heimdall, Tom's patron. I looked where it was coming from and it was from the tiny crystal ball on a wizard statue that I had put in the window because I had been setting up Tom's idols on the back porch this morning."

Before the sumbel, I had already confirmed that Tom made it across the Rainbow Bridge to join Heimdall's company. He had new things to learn, new friends, new duties. Heimdall is the Guardian, and the humans he attracts and to whom he is attracted as patron are likewise guardians. Tom spent most of his adult life in a career he saw as being a sheepdog for his country and countrymen. That's a common metaphor in his profession, but it has a special resonance for a Heimdall's man, as one of Heimdall's sacred animals is the ram. About a week after the sumbel, Tom became my personal guardian spirit. The dead can still affect things in the living world under certain circumstances, and being one of Heimdall's is one of them.

The sumbel itself was not a positive emotional experience for me. Although I'm pretty tech savvy under normal conditions-- I actually worked in cell phone techsupport for a while--, I did not have the brain space to learn anything new, so I asked a kindred member to handle the technical aspects for me. The zoom format was just alien enough so I did not interact with it well, and I have a mental blank spot for everything anyone said via the net. There were a few local people with me in person, and I remember the in person portions of the ritual. I also remember singing along to a song written by one of Tom's and my old friends, who had called in via my phone and was on speaker. I'm not a digital native and whatever made it so I either didn't hear, didn't process, or didn't encode in memory what was going on via zoom didn't affect my ability to listen to a landline. (My kindred member is making a file for me of the recording she made, so I hope to be able to hear what I missed eventually.) I made a couple of embarassing mistakes in non technical areas that seem to point to my reverting to just the knowledge I had as a teenager or in college. I could not handle performing as gythia at this sumbel and ended up handing off the ritual to a kindred member right in the middle. A few days later, it caught up with me that she is also a gythia now, and I communicated that to her via fb chat, because the kindred isn't meeting regularly during these times; a very few of us got together just for that one special occasion.

We held the sumbel on the back porch. I had held some rituals on the back porch before, when the kindred consisted of just me and Tom. I also often hold my coffee ritual out there, both my everyday morning coffee and the spontaneous coffee or other toast I raise to Thor when it rains. A porch is a liminal space, neither fully outside nor fully inside, so it seems like an appropriate ritual space. Also, it's a great place to watch the rain, because it's under the house roof and thus protected from lightning, yet I can hear, see, and smell the storm as if I were outside. In any case, Tom's sumbel was not the first back porch ritual, but I did choose to have it outside due to the necessity of taking precautions against Covid. Since that's what Tom died of, it would not honor him to take foolish risks.

I'm doing my best to handle Tom's estate as the executor of his will. I thought we had gotten all the religious items out of his house before he died, but the next time I went to his house to collect the mail and do other necessary tasks, there was a box sitting right in the middle of the room formerly used as a storage room, which my helpers and I had already cleared out. The box contained candles, cups, an iron cauldron, and a marble cauldron stand deeply carved with a pentacle. Tom's Strega supplies. Tom had been Strega before becoming Asatru. The box also contained a pretty shell, presumably picked up on the beach near where he used to live in San Diego before he moved to Las Vegas. Who knows where it came from or how we missed it before, but it was like it was just put there for me to find, as a kind of sign of approval. I had been feeling like a failure for the dumbass mistakes I made and for having to get my kindred member to finish the ritual for me, but everyone told me I did fine and should not expect too much of myself in my grief, but that was words on fb and on the phone and it didn't register for me like finding a literal box full of witch supplies where there had been empty floor. That was Tom making sure I had his full magical legacy. I took the supplies home, and out of the box I took a glass candlestick and a black candle-- for mourning and also to dispel negative energy-- and lit the candle. I watched it burn and it was red underneath. Love shining through the mourning.

Over the next week I did a few other things to get rid of bad energy, and so did my friends. I think I'm doing better now. The key for me is I can't keep up the pace of working on handling the estate all day and trying to handle all my own business in the evening that I was frenetically pushing myself to starting the week before Tom died when we started getting the religious items and weapons out of his house and turning the storage room upside down looking for his DD-214 (which our kindred member found) that I kept up right up until the sumbel. I have to give myself time to just be. To cry, if I feel like it. To just sit around listening to old songs on the radio, if that's what I feel like doing. To go do something fun with friends, if I can manage to do it safely (as I write this, I'm planning to attend a Renfaire Picnic held by a few of the guilds in lieu of the actual Renfaire, which was canceled. The Picnic is outdoors where the Faire usually is. I made myself a new costume that includes a full silk veil that goes down to my waist. It should be at least as effective as the cotton masks I've made, but looks Faire appropriate. I'm planning to take pics and post them on my social media.)

We held Tom's funeral sumbel via Zoom because many of his oldest friends and his kindred members from when he used to live in California could not come to Nevada for his funeral, due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic. I polled the people who wanted to attend to see what sort of online function would work best for everyone, and Zoom won because it could be accessed both via the net and by people who did not have internet and needed to use a phone. An online funeral just is not a good substitute for holding one in person. The extreme emotions present during a mourning ritual just don't mix well with trying to use cutting edge technology.

Image: porch set up for sumbel ritual with idols and a candle on a shelf, an altar with a bottle and 2 horns on it, facing into the yard with a backdrop of morning glories covering a fence, with the tail of a cat hanging out from underneath a bench.

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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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