The Trossingen Lyre recovered from Trossingen Grave #58.

The Trossingen Lyre

There are two people writing this blog and I am both of them.
The first is Joey “Moonbase” Hall and he is just sorting some things out. You know, the usual stuff; the wars, childhood, love, life, kittens, fatherhood. That stuff.

The second person is Einar Hrafnsson, a 9th Century Dane who has somehow found himself striving for knighthood in the Kingdom of Caid in AS 50. He’s far more interesting than the other guy. In fact, this post is written mostly by him.

I’ve been away from my blog for several months. I got hurt, I got lost, and I didn’t write. I’m doing the Blogging 101 course again to get started and look at me: I’m already days behind that schedule.

Both of the persons writing this blog and living this life are semi-educated pagans, dedicated to the worship of ancestors and Northern Gods. They are both students of runes and the secrets of the bersekr.

I have ambitions. Some of them are difficult to share because they seem unlikely for me. I am embarassed of my failure in advance.

I’m a fifty year old man who has been beat up by the army and other causes and I spend time training and fighting trying to win a belt I should have won before I was thirty.

I do not read music or play any instrument, but I want to write poetry and music and play the lyre and recorder. More than that, I want to be a skald. I want to sing songs and make stories that honor heroes and gods and have people actually enjoy listening to them. That is worth a post on its own, perhaps.

My son and I also do a good deal of woodworking. We craft bows and arrows and intend this summer to build lyres modeled after that found in Trossingen. That, too, is worth its own post.

I am subjecting you good gentles to these thoughts because I want your feedback, because I want your approval, because I need your encouragement, and because I hope to somehow inspire some like minded soul to reach out in like manner. I want you to know me and to wish you knew more, even as I do for those who write the blogs I follow.

I want to find here a community of warrior poets…and those who would want the company of such.  I would seek the counsel of swordsmen and poets and priests. Of magicians and witches and skeptics. Of nobles and peasants and rogues.

I want to find fascinating company and I hope you will be part of that.

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We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

C. S. Lewis THE ABOLITION OF MAN

Quote  —  Posted: January 22, 2015 in Honor
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Kalev_BonecruncherNone of the virtues of chivalry come easily to me, but none comes with greater difficulty than humility.

I can fake humility pretty well.

I have no need to praise myself, no reluctance to praise others. There is no task so low that I cannot stoop to set my hand to it. But I will be oh so very concious that I am stooping. In my mental ledger I will make a mark that reflects that today I took a step toward that virtue. Then I will erase that mark as I take pride in the accomplishment.

I have that most obnoxious sort of pride available only to old men.  You know the type: “I went to Basic Training when it was hard. My Drill Sergeants were crusty Vietnam vets who were allowed to swear and strike us for our failings. You young people couldn’t handle what we went through. That being said: get off my lawn, you delinquents!”

That sort of thing.

And now that I have again picked up a wooden sword and resumed armored combat in the SCA after a thirty year break, I absolutely HATE having so much to learn from these twenty-somethings that beat me so easily.

Before I step on the field to practice, I think about what exactly I seek to accomplish. I have to recover my sword properly. I have to close distance with greater efficiency. Those two things are all that matter. I am not bothered if I lose, I am bothered if my Lady and my Knight have reason to say, “You’re still not doing it.”  That is what I am working on.

And my humility.

Men half my age are going to beat me then tell me how they did it.

As much as I am practicing the arts of war, I am also “practicing” the Virtues of Chivalry.

And I am so very proud of that.

Damn.

And there it goes again.

The Wars of Our Fathers

Posted: January 21, 2015 in Writing
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I grew up surrounded by Veterans. Our grandfathers and neighbors had fought in WW2 and our fathers and uncles had served in Vietnam and Korea. Some where in the fishing and deer hunting, these men taught us that life is sacred and to be cherished. That Duty is part of that. That sometimes Duty requires you to violate the sacred and kill other men. But that is the nature of Duty and Life is always sacred.

These men came home from their wars and built the world around us. I had never heard of PTSD but my Grandmother’s brother never talked about his war. I was cautioned not to ask. I was told he “saw some things.” He worked and raised his family and hunted and fished and did his Duty and knew life was sacred.

I am still surrounded by Veterans.

They speak constantly of their PTSD and our numbers among the homeless and outcast are greater than for any other segment of society. They kill themselves. My unit has lost more soldiers to suicide than we did to enemy action.

And when not complaining about PTSD, I hear people counseling further violence and calling for the death of people who really just need a good talking to or maybe an ass beating.

My Grandmother’s brother saw the truth of rounding people up and exterminating them because of the danger they represented. And I don’t think he ever found a way to explain any of what he saw.  Two generations later, it is easy to refuse the call of Duty and easy to suggest that hate is an answer.

There is one sword, one shield, and seven basic blows.

Then, there is the pell.

Every day I carry out the sixty pound base and set it up outside my apartment. Sometimes, the kids come by to watch. They ask if they can hit it. I usually drag out my six-year-old’s boffer gear and let them attack it while I’m resting. Sometimes the six-year-old, Kalev Bonecruncher the Berserk, will announce to the kids he has to train, too.

Earl Syr Knarlic Wulfersson, whose squire I am, has me throwing the blows again and again and again. I have power, some small speed, but he wants the recovery to become muscle memory. Throw the blow, let gravity bring the blade down, pull it back up into the ready position. Again and again and again. Again and again and again. Again and again and again.

Duke Conrad has instructed me some on my shield use. It’s a strapped round shield, and very unpopular. I am told again and again that I should get rid of it, but, for now, Earl Knarlic allows me to use it. Its used much differently from other shields and its only advantages are found in a certain offensive manner. My round shield is useless at mid range. I have to close distance quickly and then use the edge of the shield to push my opponent’s shield or sword away for an instant just long enough to strike.

Start out of range but close the distance quickly and scrape the edge of the pell with the rim of the shield, throw the blow, recover. Again and again and again. Again and again and again. .

Sir Osric is a reactionary fighter. He likes to stay back and launch his attack when an opponent makes a mistake. The round shield’s disadvantages all work in his favor. I step in to close the distance and my helmet rings. I can’t find an angle of approach that defeats this tactic.

He explains that I have to keep his sword busy as I close distance. It takes me a few tries to understand. he explains it again. I don’t have to hit him, I don’t have to move his weapon, I simply have to make it unwise to use the weapon as I move in. I start using an offside blow to the head (number four of the seven basic blows) hopefully requiring my opponent to block with his sword as I close that distance.

And then I stand before the pell again.

Start out of range and throw a distracting blow as I step in to close range, scrape the pell with my shield as I recover my sword and launch another blow without pause and recover. Again and again and again. Again and again and again.

It isn’t the sword I need to master. It isn’t this impossible round shield. I’m not exactly sure what I am trying to Master.

Hopefully, I recognize it when I get there, though.

This was written in response to the Daily Word prompt found here.

Kalev_Bonecruncher

This is the Code of Chivalry as observed in House Hammered Raven.

Honor: Honor First.

You won’t really find it in a dictionary anymore. Its gets discussed by college sophomores reading THE ILIAD for the first time, then it gets dropped as being an impossible philosophical construct. “Is it honorable to steal bread to feed a starving child?” There are a hundred catchy, pretty phrases and no explanation.

Honor is the idea that some ideas and values are so important that we would choose extinction rather than betray those values. Perhaps the value itself is unimportant and what is vital is that we hold it passionately. For one man, honor might demand that he steal before he lets an innocent suffer. For another, honor might demand that he let innocents die before he steals.

Rather than simply bearing witness, Honor is that impulse that demands we act when we see what is Right.  And Honor is the impulse to stand silent as a witness when that is what Right requires.

Prowess: Train constantly. Your strength and your prowess are all that stands between the Right and the Adversary.

Without the virtue of prowess, all other virtues are irrelevant. If a man is unable to strike down an enemy, then it is not mercy that stays his hand but simple weakness. Prowess is the virtue that provides a knight with the means to change the world to suit his own desires.

Without prowess, a man’s desires are meaningless as he cannot act on those desires. Your desire to feed the poor, clothe the naked, establish schools and courts will count for nothing if it is not matched by an ability to stay the hand of those who intend to remove those things.

Honesty: Always speak the truth.

I’ve been told this tenet can be a cruel one that defies mercy. I see that point, but I disagree. There are often truths that are unpleasant to speak, but when you hold your silence, it is not for their sake but for your own. There are truths that cause suffering, when you speak that truth, you must be prepared to stand and share that suffering.

To lie doesn’t avoid an unpleasant truth, it merely delays its uncovering. Perhaps, when it is uncovered, the hearer will be in company less comforting than your own.

Courage: We cannot let fear make decisions for us.

This is not the same as embracing foolhardiness and risk for its own sake. We do not court danger but we cannot let fear move us to act in ways that do not further the cause of Right and Good. We hold our values and our honor so closely that, when the time comes to give our lives in defense of our values and in pursuit of the Good, it will seem as though our lives meant nothing to us.

Mercy: Defend the weak. Protect the innocent.

Just as we prevent the suffering of others through our pursuit of the right, we seek to inflict no more suffering on the wrong-doer than necessary. This is one reason why prowess is the foundation of chivalry and why chivalry can only be pursued by warriors.

Mercy takes many forms, but it is never the simple over looking of errors and mis-deeds.  We confront and defeat the weakness and ignorance of men, but we do not always need to defeat the man himself.

Humility: Praise the worthy deeds of others as you seek to emulate their virtues, but do not boast of your own.

If you are spending your time in the proper company, there will always be others to speak of more highly than yourself, and there will always be others speaking highly of you as they learn the code through watching your actions.

When we boast during sumbel, remember that those supporting you will be affected by your aspirations. Always push the limits of what you can do, but remember that if you push too hard and fail, your burdens fall to another.

Generosity: Gluttony and greed are marks of cowardice.

By taking up arms and taking our place on the wall, we assume responsibility for the lives and well-being of others. What greater generosity is there than that we share our strengths and spend our lives in pursuit of the well-being of all? Give your time, your wealth, your energy to those people whose need hampers their development or the advancement of us all.

The coward fears that he will not have the strength to feed himself again if he shares his meal with the hungry. When we exercise largess and keep an open table, we remind the world through our example that we have the strength and confidence to make our way into the future.

Justice: Seek justice for others without thought of your own gain.

What is good and right is always under assault by weak and ignorant men. Through our words and deeds, we seek to temper the harm done by those who act against the Right. We seek to set two examples. Of course we hope through our actions to inspire others to seek the Right, but we must also conduct ourselves in such a fashion that such men know that acting against the Right in our presence will be met with opposition.

If there are those who imagine that they can act in defiance of what is Good and Right in your presence, then you should reflect on how you have failed.

But justice is a terrifying thing when we truly examine our own lives so we must temper that pursuit of justice with mercy.

Honor: Honor first.

This is the Code of Chivalry as observed in House Hammered Raven.

Posted: January 8, 2015 in Writing

As children, we bore wooden swords and plastic rifles

and our armies moved across the meadows

until the sun went down and the street lights came on.

Then we went home and put our toys away

and a pistol to our temple

to bid the day farewell.

The sagas reflect how highly play was valued by the Norse people. One of the most important games was “the ball game” (knattleikr in Old Norse.)  It is never fully described in the sagas, but it occurs often as an integral part of the storylines of the heroes.

In Egil’s Saga, we see the game was played by both children and by adults. We are told the seven year old poet-warrior, Egil Skallagrimsson, killed a boy a year younger than him with an axe for besting him at the game. Later in the saga, we find that Egil still plays the game as an adult.

The importance of the game shows through in Gretti’s Saga as we are told it is an annual affair played on a special field during the autumn. The players take the game so seriously that the conduct of two players in the game serves as the impetus for a blood feud. When one player  throws the ball over another’s head, Gretti’s conduct there is later used as an example of his general ill temper when he is sentenced to outlawry.

In Gisli’s Saga, we are given more detail. We know that the ball game involved two teams of variable numbers with the individual players paired off according to strength. We learn also that it involves catching a ball and then running while being pursued by the opposing team. There was some form of tackiling and the game was very physical.

We also know that, somehow, bats are also involved as we see Gisli repairing another player’s bat, but we have no idea how they were used. A bat is also mentioned in Gretti’s Saga as being used during the fight.

What we don’t know is how scoring was accomplished and to what extent the physical contact was an essential part of the game. The number of men on each team and the size of the playing field probably varied depending on how many men were playing and how much space was available.

I imagine a game like lacrosse and wonder if there should have been a Skraeling v. Viking set of matches.

Others have imagined the game to be a bit more like rugby.

The extreme physical nature of the game was made evident by one passage in Thorthar’s Saga. There we are told that when one man was invited to play, though he considered himself still fit and strong enough to carry a sword and fight, he thought himself too old to play the game and watched instead.

 

 

HOMECOMING

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Writing
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When I volunteered to extend my tour in Afghanistan, my sister asked me why I didn’t want to go home. I tried to explain and failed. Then I sat down at my laptop and wrote this.

 

She asks why I don’t want to go home.

The boundaries of enlightenment are confusion and panic.

You are walking down a goat trail, using your black rifle to keep your balance while gravel slides, when everything that is not intrinsic to who you are gets stripped away by the sound of an RPK opening up behind you.

Even wearing full kit and armor, you drop to your belly. A rock no larger than your head becomes a fortress hiding you from the sharp killing whine above your head. Every sense you possess focuses on the origin of that noise. Eyes seek movement…ears seek the barking…part of you just FEELS for the thing trying to kill you.

And who you really are emerges to seek and kill. You no longer have a degree from a third rate engineering school. You are no longer a father, a son, a brother, a friend. You have never heard music, smelled grass, tasted caramel, kissed a girl, danced at a wedding, played with a child.

You become a primal beast on which society has overlaid it’s designs. You act without thought because beasts do not think. You violate the ultimate taboo…focusing everything you are on killing another beast that might once have been a man. Every muscle strains to close distance…you move so you can shoot…shoot so you can move…

Then it is over. That moment of satori, that moment of crystal clarity fathomable only to mystics and animals, ends. An RPG from an ANA soldier finds the machine gun. A round from a black rifle finds the heart or brain or maybe only the guts of the image of God that found his destiny in your reticle.

And slowly those layers of lies and half-truths and trivia envelope you again.

You become something you were not meant to be. Your son’s father, your mother’s son, citizen, Deist. That student who graduated cum laude with a meaningless degree in philosophy. The target of advertising campaigns designed to sell sex and beer. The inheritor of promises made by prophets long dead.

The first time you vomit. The second time you shake. The third time you laugh.

But you never get to go home again.

 

This is my offering for a writing challenge suggested by The Daily Post

 

PART ONE can be found here.

With recent attention turned to the use of torture for information gathering purposes sanctioned by the United States Government, I’ve had to discuss torture as a common practice among cultures where “honor” was a highly prized value. Specifically, I am reminded of the prevalence of torture among American Indians and the “blood eagle” among the Norse.

What I find is that these tribes did not use torture as a means to gather information or any advantage in war. We don’t find records of prisoners in Indian hands being questioned or being told that their torture would end once they cooperated. We do find records of men and women being tortured and treated very harshly for years only to be accepted as full members of the tribe at some future point.

An Indian warrior living among the tribes of the American Southwest and the American Northeast, where torture seems to have been most prevalent, expected to be tortured if taken prisoner, just as his foes knew to expect torture at his hands if they fell into them. The purpose of this torture seems to have been twofold. On one hand, it served as a simple act of revenge and was often accomplished by women who had lost husbands and sons to the enemy.

Secondly, it tested the warrior’s mettle, possibly for the last time, and gave him a chance to prove his toughness, his spirit, and his honor. There are stories of great torture lasting for days wherein the victim did not cry out. This was seen as a great show of courage even among enemies. It was also apparently common for a victim who did cry out to be killed immediately, provided he had suffered in silence a sufficient time. White soldiers often began crying out immediately under torture and those cries were ignored.

In this cultural context, one sees torture used as part of an honor system where an enemy is provided a chance to prove he is strong and brave, and any need for revenge can also be satisfied. It was expected that both of these values were respected by all parties to the conflict.

What we do not see is instances of one tribe torturing prisoners while crying out that the other tribe is monstrous for its treatment of captives. Suffering for personal glory and the well being of the tribe is a warrior’s lot and the routine torture of prisoners is seen as a part of this.

The Norse Rite of the Blood Eagle was not such a part of a shared set of values. The blood eagle may have been a form of execution where a prisoner had his back cut open, his ribs hacked from his spine, and his lungs pulled out. In truth, we do not know what was meant when the Skalds reported that an eagle was cut on or in a man’s back, but this is the popular image, based on a description in the ORKNEYINGA SAGA.

To my knowledge, there are no human remains that suggest they were the victim of this rite as so described and earlier sources suggest it may have been so simple as carving the picture of an eagle on the victim’s back.

The most recent pop culture exploration of the blood eagle was in The History Channel’s VIKINGS, where Ragnar Hairy Pants (That IS what Lothbrok means. Kinda takes some of the grandeur out of it, huh?) inflicted this punishment on his enemy. What seems to have caught the public’s imagination most was Ragnar’s  explanation that if the victim suffered in silence, he would prove he was worthy of Valhalla.

This, Gentle Reader, is good entertainment, but the sagas make no mention of such an aspect to the rite.

It was an execution or the prelude to an execution, pure and simple.

The Rite of the Blood Eagle (whatever it was) seems to have had only one objective; the painful death of an enemy. Ivarr the Boneless inflicts this death on his father’s slayer. Torf-Einarr inflicted this death on his enemy Halfdan Long Legs.

Neither are being honored in any respect. Nor are either of them being questioned. Neither has a chance to end their suffering with a confession or a vital piece of disclosure.

These are important distinctions when considering torture among those cultures and in our own.