Einheriar; All heroes Day. Modern equivalent 'Armistice Day'.
As a nineteen year old Father with a grim, damp flat I had a legacy of a motor bike crash and an insurance claim that offered us opportunity to secure our first deposit on a mortgage and all that entailed. Accepting the extent of this responsibility I found day dreaming was my only escape from the harsh, material reality of day to day life and all its responsibilities. The enlightened age was upon us, the swinging sixties but then the average person hardly recognised that until media frenzy told them so many years after the event. Meantime my quest for escapism took me into the very early stages of historical presentations and battle re-enactments that more than anything else introduced me to a whole group of people with enquiring minds and vibrancy for life that simply supplimented my responsibility to provide for a growing family.
Primarily I concentrated my energy on the cultures that founded this great nation of ours yet having travelled half way around the world on a Second World War troop ship I could not fail to be strongly influenced by a host of differing cultures and ways of life - and - being a teenage male, that interest manifested itself more keenly on martial influences that pushed the more mundane aspects of daily life into obscurity.
It seems to me that human kind has an inherent yearning for something distant and far removed from the reality we are forced to endure and history through rose tinted glasses offered a romantic time, a time when memory could be selective and remember the good and honourable things rather than harsh reality of survival, fear and oft case poverty.
I found myself seeking, and finding a group of people who thought the same way as I and we embraced research into the invaders and settlers of this land and above all those who had made physical effort, even sacrifice to protect and defend that which they held dear. Above all else, we recognised an intense pride and respect for those that had made the ultimate sacrifice and perished in defence of their people, their nation, and their way of life. To us their courage and resolve preceded all motive, ideals or religions even when it opposed our own.
Harsh reality contrived a single day each year to remember those that had fallen in the service of their country. Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day, marking the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when the First World War came to an end. Which, by pure coincidence occurred near to the Viking, Pagan date of Einheriar, or â€˜All heroes dayâ€™ the ninth of November? Or was it really a coincidence, perhaps like the WD symbol of the broad arrow stamped on all war department kit and equipment, or, as the Vikings knew it, the Victory rune.
Of course this poignant date allows the media to create all kinds of images of death and sacrifice when watching the Cenotaph commemorations. It thrives on the technology of TV presenting ghostly images of soldiers on parade, trenches and, in many cases graveyards across Europe. In all, a highly evocative and powerful presentation covertly designed to instil a horror of such human loss, yet in reality, glorifying it.
From a victors perspective respect transcends all motive and reason. A nation duly remembered the ultimate sacrifice of so many human beings, well deserved of recognition, yet none the less leaving family and survivors wondering, was that sacrifice worthwhile?
Regardless, a major parade in London centred on the Cenotaph which I was once privileged to participate in. Other times I proudly marched with the Territorial Army and Army Cadet Forces in town and village parades and, out of uniform, all our historical society, regardless of where we were, would respect the official three minutes silence in honour of the dead.
The whole concept, be it new since the Great War or ancient since Pagan times, held enormous significance to us and if anything conjured up unknown forces, it was not rare that this would cause most of us to stand firm with pride that sometimes welled up in emotion.
I for one nurtured an idolatry for all that had passed, holding it in great esteem as if its worth exceeded that of the values and principles of the time in which we were now forced to live. We treated ancient monuments with great reverence such as Devils Ditch in Cambridgeshire or Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire and assumed them to be of great importance to our forefathers and the continuity of the ancient ways we now endeavoured to mimic. To that end we adopted Devils Ditch as our local temple and place of meditation. It was seven miles long and a major defensive earthwork that stretched from Reach in Suffolk to Wood Ditton, the ancestral home of my family for fifteen generations.
I absolutely adored this great earth work and spent many hours sitting on its summit at the height of raging storms in order to absorb the wrath of my bad temper or depression. Whereas in more peaceful climes we utilised a redundant railway cutting that carved a clean swathe through its structure as our place of seclusion and gathering point. Thus, in our quest to return to the past, it was here we celebrated pagan anniversaries, making considerable effort to understand their origin and translate them to a material celebration of sometime supernatural ideologies. Consciously we tried to avert intrusion or impact upon anyone elseâ€™s beliefs and thus this location offered both privacy and seclusion.
On this particular evening of November the 9th Einheriar, two cars, full of bulky human passengers parked at the intersection of Devils Ditch and the Swafham Prior road in the dirt lay-by. The light was very grey and intense and rebounded off the thick mist that lay densely in the early evening air in the first week of November. Like a blanket it spread across the countryside between the two villages and was so thick it shrouded everything from view even the few street lights that would normally be visible. The only penetration of light was shielded by mist as the few passing car headlights caused a glare reflecting off the damp air. As often the case, drivers appeared oblivious to the peril of the speed they travelled, whilst we cautiously unloaded the few items required for such a ceremony as planned, with which we began to climb the gentle slope on the other side of the road to the peak of the ditch and make our way along it.
The path itself was largely clear of undergrowth and narrowed in places to shoulder width where bracken had taken over. Every now and then there were spaces allowing us an unbroken view as poor as it was, of surrounding fields. Although the path was well trodden by ramblers over the centuries it rarely widened sufficiently to permit two way transit, whilst the trench some 20 metres below was densely overgrown and largely inaccessible.
Only a short distance had been covered when I became aware of a phenomena or shape forming in the mist that defied all logic!! Not believing what I was seeing, I strained my eyes to look again and there it remained, but I said nothing for fear my companions would think I was off my trolley. As my senses strained to make confirmation of what I saw I heard one of our group whisper from somewhere to my front, â€œCan you see what I can see?â€ Indicating the image I witnessed disbelievingly was clearly not mine alone. Others to my front whispered somewhat nervouslly, â€œI think so!â€ but none actually confirmed what it was that they had actually seen, or, thought they had seen and the whole group continued to move cautiously and carefully along the narrow foot way.
Only later did discussion confirm we had all seen human shaped shadows, standing shoulder to shoulder, unmoving in body, yet hovering horizontal to our passage some twenty feet above surrounding fields. Clearly defined their dark image stood stark against the grey, dense mist. Some thought they bore the shape of men wearing conical helmets, bearing shields and spears, whereas we who viewed them, were wearing normal twentieth century clothing. Their number was far in excess of us mere mortals, yet their image was constant in full 360 degree circle of our party, albeit broken when the path narrowed between undergrowth clusters.
Naturally inquisitive, if a little cynical we calculated that the shadowy image could not have been cast by our own party as there was no light to cast such shadow. Moreover, numerically they outnumbered us considerably and the line of sight in which they moved was illogical. The shapes were horizontal mirrored the direction of our passage but being some distance from us, from side to side, it put them twelve or fifteen feet above the ground, yet they completely encircled us which defied any reasoning had there been any source of light evident at all.
To reach the old railway cutting meant careful negotiation of a narrow winding footpath cut by human transit downward on a damp, partially grassed, slippery surface. It required care and sure footedness, and upon reaching the depth of this man made valley, kindling was gathered, a fire lit and we gathered in a circle around it.
Having prepared the few artefacts required to conduct the ceremony we simply ignored the shapes and shadows that had accompanied us, as the flickering flames cast an eerie reflection on the faces of those that were there. Casting my eye fleetingly past the human images I could see the shadows were still clearly visible, although now they appeared to follow the erratic contour of the land that encircled us, their shadowy form grounded firmly on Mother earth to compensate for the radically erratic skyline upon which they appeared.
The ceremony required the drawing of a circle on the soil around the fire with the favourite weapon of Odin, a spear and then inviting those of the ancient faith to step onto its perimeter and be recognised. Invited guests oft remained on the periphery but all offered a verbal account of the significance of the day and the gathering, and would be invited to say a few words in recognition of their faith or personal reasons for attendance. Often, this took the form of poems or prose, and would perhaps include the song of Rou or the words of Kipling. The delivery of which often concluded with a song written by a fellow member or another of mutual importance.
Effectively participants embraced their spiritual needs as we attempted to create, or evoke an environment suitable to it, and in this case, something paranormal had occurred that we could neither explain nor comprehend. The ironic thing was that we accepted it to be normal! And no sooner had we completed our act of personal remembrance, with the ceremony duly over, we retired to our local pub where for the first time that evening, we discussed openly what we had witnessed and compared our impressions of what some nine or ten individuals had seen, but were simply unable to explain.