Hail the Ancestors!

I’ve only ever had 2 recurring dreams in my life. The first one was the pleasant one, the other was a nightmare. The good one was one I’d had as a child, and again as a young adult: both times, it was exactly the same. I’d be at my grandparents’ house, my father’s parents, but no one else was there with me. Standing in the kitchen, something would compel me to look out the window over the sink. The back yard would be teeming with hundreds of red foxes, and I’d know they were linked to my grandpa. They were there because of him. And because I was his granddaughter, they were there because of me, too. The foxes, the sea of red and copper and white, the ocean ebbing with black-tipped waves, moving on black sand, their golden eyes gleaming and twinkling in the sunlight: they were there because they loved us, and wanted us to know we’d never be alone. They would never leave us. They were here for us, grandpa and me, and they’d always protect us.

There was a third time I had that dream, but it was a little different in that there was more to it. I had it when I first started college, in between the other times I had the Fox Dream. This time, while I was standing in the kitchen watching the foxes, my grandpa came in from the foyer and beckoned me to his bedroom. In his room, he had several little wooden figures he’d carved (he, like all of the men in his family, were skilled carpenters), and he sat me down and told me the stories of the gods. I’d known the myths, of course, and I knew who they were, but I listened closely as he talked about how these were our gods and our friends, and that all these years he’d kept the gods close to us and us close to the gods. Anyone who’s celebrated sumbel with me has heard that phrase before: usually during the ancestor round, I hail my grandpa because he’s the one who kept the gods close to us and us close to the gods. I always say that in ritual, because those are the very words he spoke to me in my dream with the foxes.

The nightmare, which I’ve had multiple times throughout my life, on a semi-regular basis, is always the same as well. I’m in a darkened structure, something like an old abandoned house or warehouse, and my father is there in the dark, chasing me, hunting me, stalking after me with the intent to kill me when he catches me. I’m always panicked, frantic, blind in the pitch blackness of it all, and I’ll eventually weave my way into a room whose walls and ceilings are just dripping with large, furry spiders. I’m terribly arachnophobic, and at this point in the nightmare I just collapse from the terror because my father’s just outside the spider room, and there’s no escape, and just as the spiders start brushing against my face, I wake up in complete and total panic. Every time, the moment those spiders’ legs whisper against my cheeks, I bolt upright, awake, crying and shaking, sweating profusely, unable and unwilling to go back to sleep for the rest of the night. I’ve had that dream, exactly the same every time, so many times throughout my life that I couldn’t even give you a ballpark estimate. When my father died in October, this was the nightmare I’d hoped would stop once and for all. This was the nightmare I’d spoken of, the one I’d prayed would never strike again now that he was gone.

So far, I haven’t had that dream. It’s only been a few months, but this is the longest I’ve gone without waking up in terror, the feel of spiders stirring in my hair as a menace blocks my only escape.

The absence of the nightmare hasn’t been the only blessing to come with his death. It sounds like a terrible thing to say, and while I’m still mourning the man he should have been, and I’m still angry about the choices he made, I’m grateful for the break I’m getting from the nightmare. And I’m even more grateful to the bigger blessing: the connection I’ve been able to make with his cousins, the ones who found me through his obituary, who hadn’t even known I existed until he died. They’ve shared pictures and stories and information about my family that I would NEVER have known. I finally have pictures of my great-grandparents, the ones who packed up their children and moved from Drammen, Norway to New York City. I have pictures of my grandfather as a child, and as a young man, and pictures of his brothers, and it’s beyond extraordinary to finally see my family, my ancestors, to look into faces that are so very familiar because they look like me, and I look like them, and I feel the connection with them in my bones and in my blood.

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The pictures of my grandfather as a boy have had the most profound effect on me. In all of them, he has a grin that’s caught somewhere between wry and goofy. At one glance, he reminds me of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, but upon a second look, he looks like me. He looks like his mother if you look a little longer, and then he’s a clone of his father. But always, no matter how long you stare and study, he looks like himself. Even though I only knew him as an old man, I look at these pictures of him as a child and I see him. His eyes and his smile are so very him. I remember him as being so kind and so quiet and so sad, and I always gravitated towards him when I’d visit my father’s family because I knew he loved me, and he was proud of me, and he was always happy to see me. As I got older, I started to recognize the profound sorrow in his eyes, even though he’d grin his unmistakable grin, the one I see in the pictures of him as a child.

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As I grew older, I began to understand that the sadness was probably in response to my grandmother. She was a very cruel woman, which I won’t get into, but she’s very much the reason why her children were all so estranged, not just from her, but from each other. It’s because of her that my grandfather was estranged from the rest of his family. And because of her that I thought my father’s family was comprised of nothing but misery and anger and abuse. When my father died, my response, if you’ll recall if you’ve read that post, was that now I had the chance to rewrite my family’s legacy, to turn it around into one of love and joy and laughter. I had written that Loki may not have been the god my family wanted what with the militaristic yearning for Valhalla, but he was the god we needed.

I’m starting to suspect, maybe even understand, that Loki has been with us all along.

I was chatting with my second cousin last night, the one who found me through my father’s obituary, the one who’s been sending me pictures and documents explaining our family history. She showed me my grandfather and her father and their brother as children, and I was mesmerized by the obvious joy in those pictures. In all of the group pictures, my grandpa is standing or sitting next to his youngest brother, the brother he named his firstborn son after. My father’s namesake. My cousin told me they were always close, and it shows in those pictures. I now have the wedding photo of my grandpa with his first wife, the one who broke his heart and whom he never got over, the one my grandmother was so jealous of and so bitter about. I have pictures of his youngest brother with his wife, my great aunt who has been able to fill in a lot of gaps and blanks in my understanding of the family history. I was struck by and in awe of the huge, genuine smile he has in all of them, and the sweetness of his wife’s expression. I remarked to my cousin about how kind his eyes are in all of the pictures. I watched videos my cousins posted on Facebook during the holidays, where they’re all gathered and dancing and laughing. It was such a dramatically different kind of gathering than what I had with my father’s family. It was the kind of legacy I wanted for my family, and there they were, giggling and teasing and enjoying each other’s company. I was so thoroughly relieved and so excited to see that merriment and adoration.

While studying the pictures of my grandpa, his smile is the feature that stands out the most to me. There’s something so impish about it, a strange mix of giddy and sly and eager. I thought, “That’s a trickster’s smile if there ever was one.”

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And then I remembered the dream about the foxes. The scores of foxes teeming in grandpa’s yard, the foxes promising to love us and protect us and keep us close. Keep us close because grandpa had kept them close.

Loki has been screeching at me all morning, crowing with delight that I’m finally putting the pieces together, making the connections, and seeing the bigger picture: he’s been with us for much longer than I realized.

The love and the laughter and the joy I wanted to being into my family legacy? That’s been there all along. There was a disruption in the flow in my immediate family line, but it’s always been there for the others. And it was strong with my grandfather, the one who actually did have little figurines in his room, the ones he spoke freely of in my dream, when he got to talk and tell stories with no one yelling at him and calling him stupid and whisking me away as it happened in real life. His humor was never beaten down; I remember the way he laughed at a silly joke my stepfather told him when they met, that deep belly laugh that made his eyes squint and sparkle. He immediately turned to my grandmother to share the joke, and of course, she thought it was stupid and snapped at him, but he still kept laughing. My father may have yearned for a warrior’s death to be welcomed into Valhalla, but my grandfather? I think he was always more interested in a different fate. Loki’s been with us longer than I could ever have known, so I retract what I said in the post about my father’s death: I’m not changing my family legacy, I’m restoring it to what it once was, to what it has been in our extended family. I can’t speak for the rest of the family, but Loki is certainly the dearest of the friends my grandfather told me about in my dream all those many years ago. All of the foxes gathered around his house because he loved them and held them close, and they loved him and held him close. A gift for a gift, one that I’ve gladly inherited.

I’ve always known Loki was a strong presence and influence throughout my life; other entries in this blog detail that well enough. I’m just humbled and overwhelmed with joy to understand that he’s been a presence in the rest of the family. I see him in the wry grins, the kind eyes, hear him in the memory of my grandfather’s laughter. He’s laughing now, that Loki-doki, screeching with glee at my reaction to finally putting 3 and 3 together.

I’m oblivious. I’ve always been so. But when something finally clicks, when the patterns make sense and I actually listen my intuition, things couldn’t possibly be more obvious.

I’m not saying my grandfather was a Lokian. I’m not saying anyone in the family was, nor would anyone even remotely describe themselves as such. But the gods don’t care about labels or altars. They care about us. Our energy, the gifts we offer the world, our humor and our honor. We are their friends, they are our kin, and they’re here whether or not we acknowledge them.

Mmmm, that makes them sound like a band of creepers. I mean, not saying that they’re not, but, you know. They exist whether or not we believe in them, and the Nordic gods are known to be involved in people’s lives, walking among us.

Regardless, I’m struck by the profound reaction I’ve had to these pictures, just as I’m in awe of finally seeing them after all these years. I haven’t thought about The Fox Dream in a very, very long time, even though I echo my grandpa during toasting rounds to the ancestors. But looking at these pictures, and the others my cousin sent me, I’m taken right back into that dream. I can smell my grandfather’s house, I can feel the cold edge of the sink under my hands, and I see the big, wide yard packed with foxes. They gaze at me as they shift about, and I feel warm and loved and protected. They’ll protect me from the spiders. And if I close my eyes and really concentrate, I can just about hear my grandpa come into the kitchen, calling to his little genius, and beckoning me to come listen to stories of the gods.

Ancestor veneration is a core aspect of heathenry. I feel a greater connection with my family line, having these pictures and stories that prove our legacy has always been one of love and humor. I feel like I understand my family better, my grandfather and his brothers and his parents and aunt. I feel a part of them, and I miss my grandpa. I miss his smile and deep, body-shaking laugh and accent so thick and heavy it sounded like he spoke with a mouth full of potatoes. I miss him calling me his little genius. I miss all the conversations we weren’t able to have. But I’m so glad to be his granddaughter. I’m so glad to look upon these pictures and feel my place in this family.

Thank you, my darling cousin, for tracking me down, for reaching out, and for giving me a vital piece of my personal history. This has been so good for my heart and soul, and so many pieces have come together to show me a much bigger picture, a much better image, and I treasure this new understanding.

I haven’t thought of the yard full of foxes in forever, but I’m reminded of it now. His army, our army, a gift for a gift.

Hail the ancestors!

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