(Originally submitted to The Troth for Heathen Military Materials - written March 2009)

Recently my husband gave a talk to an open circle group in Baghdad about Asatru. Before he launched into his talk though, he followed the ancient tradition of introducing himself and stating why he thought he was qualified to speak on the subject.

I am new to the Troth and therefore as an unknown, it is perhaps only right that I too should follow this tradition.

My name is Catherine Heath and I am an ESL teacher from Britain living and working in Germany. I am also the wife on an American soldier who is currently down in what has become known more recently as the ‘Sandbox’.

Now usually when folks realize I’m a ‘Brit’, they often ask how it is that I came to be married to an American soldier. Usually if a Brit marries an American serviceman, that serviceman is in the Air Force. Marrying someone in the Army seems to be quite an oddity.

To put it simply, one day, on the other side of the world in a land of colour and ancient tradition, I was lucky to meet the wonderful man that I ended up marrying. I will always treasure the memory of that day in my heart and I can honestly say that meeting my husband is one of the best things ever to happen to me.

It also doesn’t hurt that he is a Heathen too.

Unfortunately, where there is sweet there is also sour. There is always a trade-off, a price to pay, for as the wife of a soldier, I am not the only one to whom my husband made oaths. No, for now I must share my husband with ‘Uncle Sam’.

Of course it isn’t all bad being married to a soldier – not at all. In most ways, we are no different to a normal married couple, however in other ways there are differences which range from the small (military uniform in the washing basket) to the vast (husband being deployed and therefore gone for a year).

And so I come to the point of my essay. Deployment, what it means to the Heathen wife and how my beliefs have supported me and helped me through it.

The first thing I suppose is the shock that yes, the person you love is being sent to war. No matter how much you prepare yourself mentally for the prospect, there is a difference between this preparation and actually living it. It is such an alien thing to most of us in modern culture too, not many women grow up with the expectation that they would have to see their husbands off to war and few can understand this. When I first found out, obviously I cried. I was so afraid for him and there was no one around me that I could talk to that would understand at that point.

Perhaps I should put a UPG warning here but that was when I finally understood Frigga and began to develop a relationship with her. The first thing I did really was just talk to her when I was upset, hoping that she’d listen and that there was something I could do to regain my balance and deal with what was coming so that I, in turn could support my husband. I know that our Gods aren’t the kind of Gods to mollycoddle us but I don’t know – I just needed some kind of help or comfort from one who understood.

You see, Frigga understands what it’s like to be the one that sees loved ones off to dangerous tasks, she understands what it’s like to be left behind worrying and not just keeping everything going but improving things too.

Soon I was making a symbol of Frigga for my altar – an embroidered key but then it wasn’t just for my altar, I started to carry it around with me too and eventually I got my head around everything and didn’t lean as much as I had been doing.

Like most wives whose husbands are deploying, I made a deployment plan – of things to keep me busy, for you see, industriousness (another Friggan quality) is one of the key tools to surviving deployment. I have to admit that I did make some pretty stupid plans back then – things that I wouldn’t have the patience to continue long term, however I also had a job to keep me busy and so this wasn’t the disaster it could have been had I no work and no good plans.

Eventually though, it was time to say goodbye to my husband and hello to a life in which wondering if your husband is ok is an everyday occurrence.

I don’t think I will ever forget that night or how it felt to see him go and even though I have just said goodbye to him again after R&R leave, that first time was definitely the worst.

That was about seven months ago now.

Many folks in the army community have some form of strong faith or belief and it is my opinion that this is necessary to get through the unusual challenges of army life. Usually this faith is rooted in one of the Christian traditions however as a Heathen, I am no different and I can honestly say that Asatru has provided the same support and comfort that the Christian wives and children derive from their faith – albeit in different ways.

In spite of my ‘blip’ of pestering Frigga (and being very kindly dealt with), usually I don’t look for some benevolent deity to take pity on me. Usually I work to increase our luck by helping folks and trying to work to the benefit of my community. I make offerings, give gifts in the hope that I in turn will be gifted with the safe return of my husband. ‘A gift for a gift. I also work to set up our home that my husband is yet to see and I work for economic survival.

Nevertheless, in spite of my usual way of doing things, I have felt the hand of our Gods, especially the Asynjur in a lot that I have done since my husband went away. For me this was also a shock because before this, I had always found the Gods easier to understand than the Goddesses. As a nomadic type that had done traditionally ‘masculine’ jobs, I had always simply had more common ground with the Gods. Before meeting my husband I’d never been in love and because of circumstances, had never really had chance to be very feminine. In the past, as a lone female traveler in the world, my survival and safety had often depended on my abilities to get by in a ‘man’s world’. However in my current set of roles, I am very firmly in the territory of the Asynjur and have learned much from them.

Frigga has taught me patience and the art of surviving hard times mentally and emotionally through industriousness – especially of the stitched or knitted variety. I don’t think I’ve ever stitched or knitted so much in my life! And yet there is a peace in those traditional crafts and a power. Each stitch can be made with intent and when coupled with meaningful patterns you have a very powerful, traditional form of magic. Protective charms can be stitched, gloves made with love. There is so much scope and it is the hidden power of the mundane that Frigga shows us. This is the stuff that is often over-looked because it is ‘too-traditional’ or simply considered ‘not glamorous’.

Freyja has taught me that it’s good to play by my own rules. Here in Germany, I live between worlds. As the wife of an American soldier, I am not truly considered an ex-pat, as a non- American, I’m not truly one of those on post. I am accepted there but they all have the further bond of nationality and national pride which helps to keep them going. I only have my love for my husband, my respect for the oaths he has made and the hope that I will see him again. She has taught me that I can not only inhabit but thrive in this niche, that I don’t need to compromise or change and that people will still want to talk to me and befriend me because I *am* different and play by my own rules. She has also taught me that when dealing with bureaucrats, there are more techniques than just shouting at the person when they say no. Obviously I am not talking about the kind of persuasion that allegedly earned her Brisingamen – but little things like flattery, asking questions about whatever process it is that is supposedly holding you up and most importantly keeping one’s cool under the most extreme of provocations. That’s not to say I don’t lose it sometimes.  Of course I do, I’m not the Dalai Llama!

Working hard has helped me to find joy even when feeling at my lowest. Working so hard that I fall into bed from exhaustion but managing to find joy in that has been my lesson from Gefion. I have been so glad for my job during this deployment and the ridiculous hours that I work that one of the best pieces of advice that I could ever give another military wife who’s about to go through deployment is to get a crazy job and work like hell! If you have no children and just end up sitting at home, you start to think and you start to think about the things that military wives should really avoid thinking about or they would drive us crazy. It’s really best to get out there, distract yourself with work and watch the time fly by.

Fulla has made me consider the role of secrets in the army, how they can protect and how they can harm. Army marriages have a terrible track record and I know a few soldiers that are on wife number two or three. Which is scary. A lot of this I would put down to the  ‘culture of silence’ that seems to exist among soldiers and army wives. This ‘culture of silence’ is in every one of those deployment survival books written for military wives. ‘Don’t let your husband know that you’re upset or had a bad day’.

‘Don’t let him know anything negative’.

For the men, they tend to be of the opinion that they shouldn’t tell their wives anything about the dangers they face only to leave very confused spouses when they blow up a couple of days later after being involved in something life-threatening. Before my husband deployed, my husband and I resolved to try something new by army standards, apply the very Heathen value of honesty and tell each other everything – or at least try to. As much as it upsets and scares me when I hear that my husband had a near miss, I want to know about it, I want to share his burdens. I don’t want us to become like some Army couples that I have seen who are just distant from each other.

As Tacitus said about the woman’s role in marriage among the German tribes in ‘Germania’:

 ‘Lest the woman should think herself to stand apart from aspirations after noble deeds and from the perils of war, she is reminded by the ceremony which inaugurates marriage that she is her husband's partner in toil and danger, destined to suffer and to dare with him alike both in peace and in war.’

Last but not least, the military wife cannot forget the influence of Var because she is also bound by the oaths that her husband made. Her behaviour is answerable by him, her choices are limited by the military and as much as that sounds grating, an oath is an oath and I knew about those oaths when I married him. It’s one of the biggest things that I love and respect my husband for – the fact that he values and keeps oaths. Integrity is hard to find nowadays. It’s total UPG but I like to think that through the honouring of these oaths, my community work and my husband’s time in the ‘sandbox’ we are storing up luck for the future and that things will be so much better one day.

And that I think is the key to surviving deployment and life as a Heathen military wife, keeping that hope alive no matter how bad things look or how difficult they get. You have to work in the now, grow roses from the shit you are given and see your efforts as part of a bigger effort that will eventually work to the benefit of your family.




Fifth is Fulla. She too is a virgin, and goes around with her hair flowing free and has a gold band around her head. She carries Frigg’s casket and looks after her footwear and shares her secrets.


Psst! Would you like to know a secret? Well it’s not really a secret but the army is full of secrets. From the highest level secrets that affect national security to the presents bought at Yule and all the varying degrees of secrets in between. Infidelities, feelings kept hidden and daily happenings. Everyone has secrets and to some extent they are probably necessary, however the issue of secrets, of keeping them and of sharing them is very complex.


Many happenings and feelings become secrets during deployments. Soldiers omit details of their lives in order to protect their loved ones and their loved ones pretty much do the same. That is on the innocent side of the coin. Keeping things secret because you love someone and want to protect them. However on the flip side is the nasty kind of secret keeping that eventually breaks up families. Infidelity is high in the army and a lot of it happens during deployments when people are far away from each other. Intellectually I can understand the psychology behind infidelity, especially within the context of the deployment cycle. Hell, the average long distance relationship is a risk when it comes to that because people detach themselves a little bit to get through the separation, however when it comes to deployment, things that would have made you crumble before… well you just become hardened to it. Add those two factors together and intellectually I can understand why it occurs, however on every other level I don’t understand it one bit. It just seems so foolish.


Maybe these infidelities arise because of secrets in the marriage, people not talking about things that are bugging them and then eventually losing that connection with their spouse? Maybe instead of secrets, honesty is needed?


However this is when you come across one of the ‘rules’ of the army spouse – Don’t tell your spouse anything that will cause them to worry and be distracted while deployed – after all, you want him to come back, don’t you?


All the deployment literature and all the times when I have discussed deployments with other wives all pretty much broadcast this message loud and clear and wives that don’t do that and who admit that everything isn’t all hunky dory and talk about anything other than subjects that would be at home with Stepford wives, are just not doing the best by their soldier. Apparently…


Early on in the deployment, my husband told me that he preferred it when I told him stuff that was bugging me and how I was feeling simply because it kept him connected. He still felt close to me, he was still there for me as a husband.

 Conversely, army literature makes a big deal of keeping your spouse involved and up to date with your children because the soldier still needs to feel as though he is a part of his child’s life. Surely the same principle must apply with wives and marriage then?


One thing that I won’t keep a secret from my husband is if another male is making advances or if I socialize with men, simply because a lot of rumours fly around during deployments too and I don’t want him to hear some rumour that has been altered so much that ‘Heath’s wife went for a coffee with a male colleague at work who happened to be a bit flirtatious with her’ to ‘Heath’s wife is having illicit meetings with other men who seem really interested in her and so ergo she is having an affair!’ If I happen to go for a coffee with a work colleague who then starts to be flirtatious with me, I will tell my husband, simply so if any distorted rumours reach him, he will know what they are actually referring to. I also tend to only socialize with females in order to cut down rumours and give my husband more piece of mind.


Fulla shares Frigg’s secrets, presumably secrets that she cannot tell her husband and this brings up another side of the secrets coin. There are things that probably cannot be talked about with the husband for a long time simply because they are too raw and no matter how close a relationship is, sometimes you can only really offload on a friend. However in this there needs to be a measure of caution, as the Havamal warns us:


‘One may know, a second should not,

The whole world knows, if three know.’


Sometimes we may need to keep things about our soldier or ourselves secret in order to protect our soldier or his promotion chances. I think this is a necessary and normal thing to do. We all want the best for those that we love and some things about a person (religion, sexuality, hobbies etc), despite laws to the contrary, can and do spoil promotion prospects. This is something that definitely should be discussed with your husband – especially when it comes to the matter of religion. Most of the army is some form of Christian and not all of those Christians are accepting of other faiths, especially not non-Abramaic faiths such as ours. At some postings and with some COs, being open about your faith could be a hindrance to the career soldier. If your husband wants to climb the promotional ladder, he may have to consider his personal beliefs on keeping his religion a secret in order to be successful. But of course, it’s not just about him – that would be a decision that the wife would have to live with too and naturally her personal beliefs on the matter should also be taken into account before a course of action is decided on.


To put it simply, there are no guidelines out there to help us really when it comes to the matter of keeping secrets, each secret and the decision to keep it is down to us as individuals and often based on our individual interpretation of honour and doing right by your family and community.




Then they went to see the beautiful Freyja,
And these were the first words which he spoke.
Dress yourself Freyja in a bride’s head-dress!
We two shall drive to the land of the giants.

  Freyja then was angry and snorted with rage,
All the halls of the Aesir trembled at that,
The great necklace of the Brisings fell from her.
‘You’ll know me to be the most sex-crazed of women,
If I drive with you to the land of the giants.’


-Thrym’s poem

Poetic Edda, Caroline Larrington trans.


So you’ve been left alone to keep things going while your man has been sent off to war. You even may be in a different country and/or with children to look after. Whatever your exact circumstances, when deployment hits, you are probably wondering how the hell you will get through it.


Of course you’ll be needing a certain independence, in order to get on with things while your man is gone - and it’s true, military wives need bucket loads of independence. You will also need guts and the ability to tough it out.


The only problem with this plan is that while the army life demands that a military wife is independent, there is also this idea knocking about of the ‘super wife’. The ultimate army wife that grits her teeth through everything, never faltering, happy to serve her country uncomplainingly at any cost.


However in spite of these qualities and expectations, the army wife is still referred to as a ‘dependent’. I don’t think I am alone in finding this term offensive. Normally when people marry, they expect changes to take place – a new name, maybe a new home and a new social status but it’s not often that one expects to lose a lot of  identity as well. The first you notice this of course is when you are filling out the myriad of paperwork and having to be told repeatedly that ‘your’ social security number actually refers to your husband. You no longer have the right to take responsibility for your own behaviour…no, your husband gets in trouble if you step out of line and even worse – should you ever have the misfortune to be registered as an EFMP, your recent medical history, any medications you are on, your diagnosis and care plan will be sent to your husband for him to verify.


Now I don’t know about anyone else but I would really love to have the kind of ability and power that Freyja demonstrated in the Thrymskvida, to cause the walls to shake and to be a big enough threat for the gods not to try and force her. However that just isn’t going to happen and even if it did, who knows what kind of punishment my husband would receive on my account if I tried behaving like that! No, there are other ways of keeping our independence and getting things done.


First of all, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the people that you deal with that are responsible for all of this. Most of the people that you will deal with are army wives themselves or have had experience of what you are going through and mostly want to help you out. The problem is the vast and unmovable beast that is the Army. Like all things, some things about it are great and others are not so great. The trick is learning how to make this system work for you.


From reading the lore, we see Freyja as being a very capable Goddess who can get her own way through a variety of methods. Obviously the most striking one and the one that people most often reference when speaking about Freyja is the Brisingamen story. Perhaps not the best example or something that we should look to (I also have my doubts about that story). For while whipping out her feminine charms might have worked for Freyja in getting what she wanted on that occasion, we have oaths to remember and hearts to keep safe and so I think for a lot of us, this option of ‘sleeping our way to success’ just isn’t an option.


It is also important to accept that while some rules can be bent as a favour, some things just cannot be changed and so it would probably be pointless to even try the ‘Brisingamen Stratagem’.


So what stratagems can we learn from Freyja? We are lucky in Heathenry in that we have such a rich literary body to look to and such fine tales to experience. Tales that capture the imagination of young and old alike. However no matter how well written or told a tale is, the real value is in the lessons that can be learned from it. I mean how many Asatruar actually believe that the cosmic cow Audhumla actually existed and was so pivotal in the process of creation? I would bet that most folks, while enjoying the tale of a cosmic cow (because let’s face it, who wouldn’t?), believe more in the big bang and evolutionary theory brought to us by modern science. No, we look at such tales as insight into the way people used to think. I don’t even think that folks back then actually believed it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came about as a result of a group of Scalds trying to outdo each other in inventing the most outlandish and humourous creation story.


But enough of Audhumla and back to Freyja – what can we learn from Freyja and what lessons can we apply to our lives as army wives?


In the Song of Hyndla, Freyja tries to gain information from a giantess by the name of Hyndla about the ancestry of her protégé, Ottar so that he may combat opposing claims to his inheritance by a man by the name of Angantyr. Initially she tries deceit and instead of going up to Hyndla with Ottar in human form, she disguises him as a pig and uses him as her form of transport. Hyndla isn’t fooled by this however and so Freyja then diverts the topic of the conversation to obtaining the information that she wants by means of flattery.


‘Wake up, girl of girls, wake up, my friend,

Hyndla, sister, who lives in the rock cave!

Flattery, although not particularly effective with Hyndla, can be, quite effective. In real world terms, we need not go as far as to call someone ‘sister’,  that would just be suspicious and a little bit crazy, but there is nothing wrong with starting a visit to a bureaucrat with a complement. Just something simple, like complementing an item of clothes, jewelry, a hairstyle – whatever. It costs nothing to do and it very often knocks that person off a little bit and makes them a little bit more likely to help you out. The best case scenario of course is that you get what you want and also brighten up somebody else’s day by giving them a little boost! This also can help set up a positive model for future interactions with that person which can only make things easier all round.


Hyndla is obviously not an easy person to deal with and in spite of all of Freyja’s (albeit false) niceties (which really is no different to people now being well mannered to people they do not like), Hyndla is quite insulting. Freyja remains calm, knowing that the game would be up should she lose her temper.


‘Let’s dismount to argue about this! We should sit down,

And talk about the lineage of princes,

About those men who are descended from the gods.’


This is often the best tactic when dealing with bureaucrats and army officials too. If you get angry and start ranting and screaming then you are just ‘some angry army wife’ and much easier to consign to the ‘Don’t give a shit’ pile. However if you remain calm and discuss the issue in a calm way – or at least attempt to, you cannot be thought of as being just ‘some angry army wife’. In the book, ‘Married to the Military’, __________ also recommends asking the question ‘why not?’ when given the two letter word that no one wants to hear. This also seems like a good idea – anything that knocks a bureaucrat off their game and puts them into territory that they are not used to seems to be the way to go when you are having difficulties.


Unfortunately, in spite of all of your best efforts, some folks just like the power trip and will probably be unhelpful no matter what you do. In Hyndla’s Song, the giantess becomes abusive and Freyja says:


I’ll surround this place with troll-woman’s fire,

So that you can never get away from here.’


Which in real life is probably about the time when you are threatening to report the bureaucrat or official that is making your life much harder than it needs to be. Hyndla then curses Ottar. Really no different to an official or bureaucrat making a decision that ultimately effects your spouse in a negative way.


‘Fire I see burning and the earth aflame,

Most when suffering will try to ransom their lives;

Put this beer into Ottar’s hand,

Mixed with a great deal of poison and ill fortune’


For her part, Freyja ends the discourse with dignity:


‘Your curse will have no effect,

Bride of the giant, you intend to call down evil,

He shall drink the precious liquid,

I pray that Ottar may thrive in all good things.’


Needless to say, this is important for us to do too. I have lost count of the number times when I have felt angry at myself for having lost my cool with someone and wound up coming away from an ugly situation with no dignity. Sometimes it can be really good to lose your calm and sometimes it can actually be necessary. But when it comes to dealing with anyone with any kind of power, it is useless. Some you can sway, others will say no regardless – hell, they probably decided before you walked in the room that they were going to say no! Who knows?! However for these occasions and for those so inclined and intent on not letting things slide, Freyja also teaches Seidhr.


As for keeping your identity in an institution where everyone is assigned a number and a barcode, it’s simple. Make your mark as an individual. Get involved in the community and make people know you as you and not merely as the wife of whomever. You cannot do anything about the official stuff because in some ways the army is kind of stuck fifty years in the past. The Christians have a prayer that I learned as a child which I think applies here:


Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things that I can

And wisdom to know the difference.


There is a lot of wisdom in this for an army wife and this wisdom is, in spite of the Christian ‘window dressing’, a very Heathen sentiment. We need to learn to accept the things that we cannot change, the deployments, the fact that the army will probably always refer to us as ‘dependants’, the fact that our husbands may never come back. Acceptance is one of the hardest things in the world when it comes to accepting something that you really really fundamentally dislike or even hate. But it’s simple, we have to learn or we would go crazy. We need courage – bags of it. We need courage to keep on going everyday and deal with difficulties, we need the courage to stand alone and fight on our home front when our husbands are away. And wisdom, those sweet moments of clarity – rewards for our hard work and battles, well they also keep us sane.


As does a sense of humour, but that is probably for another chapter.