All Their Voices

Words and thoughts in devotion to the Divine

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For Nehalennia

Across the oceans,

The traders come,

The ships with their cargoes

Cresting the waves;

Enduring storm and sea,

Wave and woe,

To bear their goods home.

Pottery, cloth, oil, wine—

Making men rich for their labor.

But those voyages are always a risk,

Dependent on the whims of the water

to make their way from foreign shore

to home docks.


Thus, o merciful lady,

We offer these stones:

Every time a storm threatens to sink our ship,

We appeal to you, bright one:

Let us live, and afterward,

We rear these votives in your name.

A gift for a gift,

And for our lives, we honor you

Who gave them to us.

A gift for a gift;

You do not need our worship, surely,

For you are a goddess,

And we are but men.

But something about it

Seems to please you anyway,

And so we continue this tradition,

Offering up payment for our lives

Every time you see fit

To return them unto us.


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“Blood and Roses”

How in the world could he not love her?
No one else loved blood
as much as he did, but her:
scores of lovers, spurned,
opening their veins in despair
for what they could not have:
love and passion’s ultimate offering.
And millions of hearts
where love is turned to hatred:
such passion.
The opposite of love is not hate,
but indifference.

Beauty such as hers is deadly, always:
as bright as a sword’s blade,
fierce as Greek fire,
sharp as a sword’s point:
beauty to die for.

The Lord of War does not love much–
oh, passion he knows, war is all about passion,
but love? Blood and bodies,
weapons and wrath,
but that tenderer emotion is
all but a stranger to him.

Save for her.
Never has she asked him to give up his zeal–
never asked him to foreswear
the slaughter, the battles,
the bloodied steel, the corpses.
She understands the love of that
which makes one’s heart sing,
no matter whether it is her bourne or no.

That is her power, then:
that she could make even him know love,
of all those in the world–
he whose being is entirely devoted
to the ending of life,
rather than the act that creates it.

And in that, he acknowledges
which of them is more powerful.

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Down in the depths,
the Nereids dance—
Not the gavotte,
they all take a chance
To sway in a waltz,
to jig and to swing,
The Nereids dance,
and the sirens all sing.

The Nereids dance
while Triton approves;
Poseidon won’t laugh—
both gods like their moves.
The sirens all sing
as the waves ebb and flow,
The Nereids dance:
it’s all undertow.

The sirens all sing
while the mers play the tune—
The vision is bliss
in the light of the moon.
The light stretches far—
far under the waves:
The dance floor is made
of dead sailors’ graves.

The bones shimmer white;
with kelp they are bound,
And the Nereids dance
where dead men are found.
The sea never gives
up the bones of the dead:
The Nereids dance
when the waves all turn red.

The sirens all sing,
and the Nereids dance;
If you would sail,
you must take a chance:
Battles and storms
send the ships far below
And the Nereids dance
as the waves ebb and flow.

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Hermod’s Ride

The road to Hel is long and hard;
cold is the road to Helheim,
the way rocky and long.
When you ride to Hel’s hall,
your fears ride with you,
your ghosts ride with you.

With Sleipnir beneath me
I ride to Hel, and to Hel’s hall,
and though swift are the steps
of Loki’s son,
still the road is long and weary.
The journey to Hel lasts a lifetime.

The road that leads to Hel is not empty;
there are others traveling along this road,
others I find going this way.
The souls of the dead travel the road to Hel,
those that do not go elsewhere.

I go at the behest of the All-Father;
I go at the will of the Fetter-God;
I go at the command of the sire of Baldr,
sent to entreat Hel herself,
sent to ask for the return of the soul of Baldr,
to beg back the life of Baldr.

Móðguðr guards the bridge,
the bridge that crosses the noisy river
into the vast lands of Hel;
she admits none into Helheim
save those who have the right to be there.

Who would not fear riding through
those gates into Hel’s hall?
I am accounted brave,
and brave some say I must be,
to ride a brother’s back into a sister’s hall,
and demand back Baldr from the ruler of that place,
but I confess: I feared.

But I stood fast and made my plea,
and she answered.
That it was not the answer I might
have wished for, that Odin might have wanted,
was of no consequence:
it was the answer that she gave us,
and when the queen of Helheim
has made up her mind,
nothing in all the nine worlds will shift it.

Back I went, along the way,
that cold and winding way,
that hard and lonely way,
that longest of long ways,
the road that led back from Hel.

They call me a messenger, for that ride,
but it was no message I carried down the road from Hel:
in my hands, I carried
the bloody hearts of two parents,
grieving for their son.

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Carry That Weight

“Give me a lever and a place to stand,”

Archimedes once said, “and I will move the Earth.”

But where do you stand to move the Earth?

And where do you stand to hold the sky?

Atlas tricked me, just for a moment;

not easy to do, as I am not the brainless

basket of muscles that too many take me for.

I had been sent to bring back

the apples of the Hesperides, his daughters–

an impossible task, given the dragon

that guarded both apples and nymphs;

and since he was their father,

he offered to go and obtain the apples for me.

I shouldered his burden,

lifting the weight of the All upon my shoulders,

never thinking he would not honor his word

and immediately take it back when

he returned, as he’d said he would.

I never gave a thought to where I stood;

perhaps it isn’t the fact that I carried the sky

that was so important;

perhaps it was that I carried all that the sky contained,

all it represented,

and all it meant to all those who looked upon it.

The moon with its dreams and fancies,

the sun that lit our every day,

the stars that led us in our ways both day and night,

by land and by sea.

Every bird that soars overhead to become an augury,

every insect, every torn leaf on the wind–

these things weigh so much more than you might ever dream–

certainly more than I did.

I don’t know how he managed,

bearing that burden day after day,

but for even a few hours,

I held it up, and it tested my strength

as it had never been tested before.

Does that make him the stronger than me?

I took it on voluntarily,

whereas he was forced to shoulder that weight

in penitence for his crimes,

and bear it forever.

Which of us, then, is the strongest?

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Learning Curve

We start out with the gods by knowing nothing,

and that is the beginning of our education.

Many of us start out with books,

good ones if we’re lucky,

bad ones when we’re not.

Sometimes we pick up good information

on the gods and goddesses,

but sometimes we come away

with our heads filled with lies and rumors and bias.

To this, again if we’re lucky,

we add personal experience

in all its many forms:

Sometimes they talk to us.

Sometimes we hear them,

and sometimes we do not.

When we hear them,

sometimes we actually listen,

and sometimes we do not.

When we hear, and listen,

sometimes we speak back to them

…and sometimes we do not.

Talking with the gods is generally considered prayer,

but prayer can take many forms:

music and song, dance, feasting and offerings,

joy and laughter and tears,

and sometimes, reverent silence.

However long we revere and venerate them,

we learn more,

and more,

and more.

And the more we learn,

the more we realize

that there is always more to learn,

that there will always be more to learn,

that the task never ends–

and that is the beginning of our knowledge.