This is new for me. Instead of writing and playing around with cover art, this is my first sojourn into the illustration world. I have a few other illustration projects I've been working on, but this is the first one published.
Last Haven is an epic poem where the author sees through the eyes of War, a horseman, and chronicles his arrival at the last sanctuary, the Last Haven.
Originally Jeremy knew this piece was near and dear to his heart, but he had no plans on sharing it with the world...until I got my hands on it. What are friends for? I put it together with my own illustrations in a way that gave the story meaning and brought the world closer to eyes of the beholders. Or at least I hope I did. I'm always my own worst critic. He loved it so much that what followed was slide after slide until we had a complete book.
Each plate on each suit of armor was individually rendered and put into place. Each scene went through many texture and lighting effects, finally fading into the words leaving the viewer feeling as if they have been transported into the fantasy. On each page the horseman stands out sharply reminding us of the brutal reality the poem mirrors.
Here is a sample page, but one is all you get. If you want to see more you'll have to buy the book!
The poem itself shows the reader a side of the legends no one thinks about. More than bringer of War, more than legendary warrior, more than a vision in a centuries old book. This is a horseman as a solid being with a soul. What happens to someone that was put on Earth for such a purpose? What wounds of the heart do they suffer?
This is one of those blogs that I’m unsure how to go about. I have this political soap box about religious equality in my head, and my feet are stomping on it. They’re not tightly organized and intricate, tap dancing for rhythm; these are all out, hard core percussionist playground stomps. I know this stream of thought has to come out, but my organization in it is lacking. My mother used to tell me I would go on these little journeys in my head, and when I finally spoke I was so far beyond the original idea that got me thinking, that no one knew where I was or how I got there. I will attempt to take you through the hoops and over the leaps with me.
I have a very dear friend, really he is my brother from another mother, that I’ve spoken about before, just not mentioned names. Those that know me best typically know who it is. This man was born to be a first responder. He eats, sleeps, and lives preparedness and survival, search and rescue. He’s got the heart of gold that puts others before himself in almost all things, and the calling to help others. He happens to be Heathen, like me. We follow the teachings of the Norse/Germanic pantheon best known of from the Vikings. Before finding Asatru, I was a non-wiccan witch studying the use of magick and pagan ways for most of my adult life.
I’m waiting for someone of a more well known mono-theistic faith to say something akin to, Isn’t it wonderful he is the exception. This pagan is here to help. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times in my life that I’ve heard similar things. I’m not too different from my brother. I follow a shamanic path as a seidr, a Viking witch/shaman/seer. I’m here to help. It’s in my make up. I actually can’t ignore someone in pain (emotional or physical) even if I highly dislike them. I’m just not good at the whole repelling-into-broken-buildings-to-dig-someone-out or reading-the-doplar-to-know-where-that-storm-is going-to-hit- so-they-can-be-there-first-to-help kind of thing he does (wow those dashes were long).
One thing I’ve learned over the years, every pagan faith has a call to help others. To give to the community. To respond when help is needed. I donate to shelters and volunteer *because* of my faith, not in spite of it. It is not two separate sides of me, but intricately intertwined. Embedded in the noble nine virtues, the cornerstone of Asatru, are words like bravery, honor, hospitality, perseverance. By the most basic principles we, as heathens, are called upon by forces that are greater than ourselves to serve the community. I would say I am hard pressed to find one pagan I have ever met that does *not* give or volunteer in some way. However very few are open about their faith when they do it.
There are exceptions, like the Hands of the Goddess in Florida, whom a friend of mine does a lot of work with. They work with local charities and separately with their own, openly, as pagans. I love seeing this. I love seeing the non-pagans that drop stuff off at her door because they believe in what they do, but they are still considered something unique.
Another friend of mine, landed a dream job, that centers around service to the community. They almost lost it because they were openly pagan and the rest of the group was Christian, even though this was a secular organization. The others felt ooky about working with a pagan. I don’t know man, they might be a devil worshiper. No one took the time to learn the belief system this person followed or that, that very belief system was the entire reason they were there and so dedicated in the first place.
I was angry when I learned this. It’s a free country with supposedly freedom of religion. No one should ever have to hide or modify or step back from their faith to appease the few. I was also told by this friend that most of the better organizations for community service, everything from search and rescue to soup kitchens, were Christian, Muslim, or Jewish based, as if the myriad of other faiths in this country didn’t exist or were all inherently evil.
Why is that? Why are faiths so intrinsically dedicated to service to fellow man not making a bigger impression on the scene. Why is Hands of the Goddess considered unique? Why are good pagans not being counted for?
You’re not going to like my answer.
This happens because religious intolerance in this country is so deeply ingrained and been going on so long, that it has been accepted by the pagan community. It is considered normal to hide one’s faith when giving for fear of the gift being refused.
That’s a real fear. I totally get it. You just want to make sure help gets to those that need it. Not only does it feel bad on a personal level when that happens, but it denies those that that need it, the help. It is still wrong. Let me say that again.
*It is still wrong.*
Allowing this situation to continue only perpetuates all the stereotypes we fight against every day. It allows people to remain ignorant and intolerant. It teaches the public nothing, and our community hides further into the shadows.
Nothing will ever change if we don’t make it change. I want to live in a world where my friends and loved ones can be proud of being first responders, volunteer coordinators, teachers, *and* pagan.
How do we fix it?
Simple. In fact it’s alarmingly simple. It’s so basic, that I bet every single one of you has already thought of it and passed it over as not being enough.
We educate. When talking to a volunteer coordinator: I’m here because as a heathen it is my duty to and my honor to serve. When collecting cans of food: The Goddess reminds us that we are all equal and to serve those in need. When pulling wreckage from a downed house: You and me are equal, and I’m here to help. My pagan faith teaches that.
That’s a lovely necklace. It’s my Thor’s hammer. It reminds me to be strong and act with courage. Or It’s my pentacle, it reminds me to stay in balance with all the elements. It stands for mother and earth and protection.
Believe it or not these sorts of simple statements will cause ripples all around us, and slowly, person by person, our voices will be heard, and the community will understand we belong at the table.
I have a favorite story. The Starfish. This lady walks out onto the beach and it’s covered in starfish. As far as the eye can see, thousands of starfish, all of them dying when they were washed up by the tide. She turns around stunned at the sight and finds another woman throwing starfish out into the sea. The first woman asks, “What are you doing? You can’t save all these starfish, there are too many.” The second woman replies, with a starfish in her hand, “No. But I can save this one,” and she chucks it back out to sea. She picks up another one, “And this one,” she throws that one out as well.
We need to get over this idea that small actions aren’t enough or don’t have impact. They have more impact than you or I will ever be able to track. We cannot allow a society to continue when even our attempts at service are pushed away.
My name is Susan Simone. I am an author, an artist, and a Heathen; and I proudly serve the community. Do you serve?
**This blog has been cross posted.**
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.