men

GoodGod!

January, 2019

Meet the Gods: The Wise Men

Merry meet.

This month’s column is not about gods. Rather it’s about saints, or, more correctly, magi, the pagan astrologers who came to worship Jesus. The word magic came from magi because they dabbled in the dark arts and were referred to as sorcerers, wizards and magicians.

Tradition refers to three wise men, but nowhere is a specific number stated; in Eastern Christianity often there are twelve. They came “from the east,” which most likely is now Iran. That means they could have traveled more than 800 miles. The Christmas story has them arriving twelve days later, but some traditions have the visit occurring as much as two winters later. (This could explain why Herod commanded all boys up to the age of two be killed.)

These Zoroastrian priests, as part of their religion, had great knowledge of astrology – others say astronomy. According to the Gospel Matthew, these wise men were guided to look for the “king of the Jews” by a miraculous stellar event: the Star of Bethlehem. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As part of their religion, these traveling missionaries paid particular attention to the stars and gained an international reputation for their knowledge of the sky, which at that time was highly regarded as a science. As Christianity became the religion of the Romans, the magi were no longer respected, and neither were the Jews.

No names for the three appear in the New Testament. Legends, however, give them a variety of different names. Melchior, also spelled Melichior, was a Persian king, or some say scholar. Caspar, Gaspar or Jaspar was a king of India. Balthazar, also known as Balthasar and Balthassar, was a Babylonian scholar or an Arabian king.

Many sources do no consider them respected kings. Rather, the magi were uncouth and labeled as sinners because of their stargazing, sorcery and divination. Still, Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate the festival of The Three Kings, the Epiphany, on January 6. In Germany, they have become the patron saints of travelers; their feast day is July 23.

Merry part. And merry meet again.

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About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

Sexual Harassment on the Energetic Level

November, 2018

The week I wrote this article  the case  of Christine Blasey Ford was headlining. She is a university professor from California who has accused supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of a sexual assault that occurred when they were both teenagers (in the 1980’s). Dr Blasey Ford has been forced to go into hiding since the story went viral and her life has been turned upside down completely. Yesterday many people close to me were glued to their screens as she gave her opening testimony and explained how  the sexual attack has changed her life.

 

I am acutely aware that her story is upsetting and triggering many other women who have had similar experiences and are now experiencing flash backs or nightmares. (It certainly brought up some memories and issues for me personally). These women (as well as some men) may not have found the courage (or place of personal safety/support from loved ones/enough confidence or indeed faith in the public justice system etc.) to speak out. Or they may have spoken out (as I once did) and been hammered into the role of perpetrator for making allegations.

My shamanic teacher colleague Caroline Kenner helpfully shared a link about the concept “DARVO” yesterday:

DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.

Institutional DARVO occurs when the DARVO is committed by an institution (or with institutional complicity) as when police charge rape victims with lying. Institutional DARVO is a pernicious form of institutional betrayal.

-https://dynamic.uoregon.edu/jjf/defineDARVO.html

I would like to take a moment of silence and contemplation to acknowledge the experiences of all people (women, children, men) who have lived through sexual abuse of any kind. Tragically this makes up a large percentage of the world population (the #Metoo phenomenon has certainly flushed that fact into our collective awareness, beyond any reasonable doubt).

Many authors have written beautifully and courageously about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. It is not my call to add to their words and testimonies. Instead, by means of this blog, I feel called to explore a more hidden dimension of this phenomenon. What seems to escape our collective awareness is the impact of sexual abuse or harassment that occurs on the energetic or astral (if you prefer) plane.

Now you may say: “What?! You mean sexual abuse that never actually happened?!”

Let’s take a step back and please allow me to explain what I mean.

As a shamanic practitioner (and teacher) I have heard more than my fair share of stories from people (not exclusively women) who woke up in a night sweat to the sensation of someone climbing into bed with them. From people who started to dread falling asleep because the same character would show up night after night tormenting them or interfering with them.

Let’s be very clear: I am speaking about a sexual/emotional/psychological/spiritual interference that does not take physical form, here. By this I mean that the perpetrator is not physically present in the room – but nevertheless there is an undeniable sensation of being touched, intruded on, violated or abused in some other way.

I am aware that victims of sexual abuse may well have flash backs due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Indeed, this could be one explanation for the phenomenon I am trying to describe, as trauma dissolves a person’s sense of time and space, meaning that past events appear to recur in the Here and Now.

I am also aware that many (if not most) people will experience dreams with uncomfortable or unwelcome sexual content from time to time (such as having sexual interaction with a person other than their current partner). Again, that may just explain some of this. After all we cannot really control our dreams the way we control our waking actions and choices.

There may be other explanations as well. It has been said that the human body does not forget and that our body holds the memories that our conscious mind represses or denies. I have certainly found evidence of this in my own body.

Therefore… yes… to all those possibilities. But still, my mind is not at ease.

Let me approach this issue from a different angle. I am aware that in some circles or circumstances (let’s say a group of friends out clubbing) it is considered acceptable to talk freely about other people’s physical attributes. E.g. “I would never consider dating her, she is way too fat!” – While the person thus discussed wouldn’t never even contemplate a date with the speaker. But that side of the story is not being acknowledged. There is the illusion that a physical characteristic allows us to make arrogant and severely imbalanced assumptions about someone: “I wouldn’t dream of dating her – but she would date me if she could!”

Recently I have found myself in a situation where one person keen to find a life partner has been eyeing up every possible “candidate” moving into their line of vision (here I mean walking into a public area), endlessly running a commentary on their physical attributes – while the person thus being commented on was engaged in a different task altogether (doing some gardening and her focus completely on her plants). I could spot absolutely no flicker of reciprocity in response to the obsessive interest and (for lack of a better word) “meat market approach”. This process has, I believe, also been called “undressing with the eyes”.

People commonly masturbate while calling up in their mind’s eye images of people they fancy. Pornography actively invites that – and to my mind there is no problem (and here I am only speaking regarding this specific issue, not other dimensions of the phenomenon) if the actors (or photo models) willingly participated and received a fee for their work. They then agree to, and actively invite that kind of attention. In other words: they are paid to carry the projections or obsessions of others.

I think that we all have understanding and compassion for a lovesick teenage boy or girl obsessing about their “love object”. Having said that, in my opinion there is more of an issue when mature people do this to others (in graphic detail!) without even stopping to meditate on the energetic ramifications of this. During half a century on this planet I have had three stalkers and I know how utterly unpleasant it is to be followed or obsessed about in unwelcome ways.

The suggestion I am posing by means of this blog is that all adults (certainly those with a degree of spiritual and emotional maturity!) need to do some shadow work (read serious soul-searching) on the role we ourselves all play in this larger phenomenon. It is easy and natural to get outraged by cases we follow in the global news – and I am horrified by the fact by some of the responses that Dr Blasey Ford has received for her courage to speak out and potentially protect other women from a man in a position of great power – what else could she have done?!

When I use my imagination and try to place myself in her shoes I sense I would speak out to mainly protect other women, knowing what this man is capable of. I would be acting from a place of knowing that no apologies or amends were ever made – therefore there is no evidence the man has changed.

Holding a position or office of power in society needs to be matched by exercising the muscle of moral integrity.

However, speaking on another level I also believe that an issue has now come to public attention and to my mind it extends well beyond the specifics of the Blasey-Kavanaugh case. All of us have inner work to do on this…None of us, who claim a degree of awareness or “evolved consciousness” can escape doing shadow work on this… To resolve this we need to “own” the fact that we are participants, not observers.

Imelda Almqvist, London UK, 29 September 2018

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About the Author:

Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. Her book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon in 2016 and her second book Sacred art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where art Meets Shamanism) will be published in March 2019.  She was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and is a presenter on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She is currently in the editing stages of her third book “Medicine of the Imagination” and has started her fourth book “Evolving Gods: The Sacred Marriage of Tradition and Innovation”

www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk  (website)

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/  (blog)

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=imelda+almqvist

(YouTube channel: interviews, presentations and art videos)

 

Natural Born Shamans – A Spiritual Toolkit for Life: Using Shamanism Creatively with Young People of All Ages on Amazon

Goddess in the Flesh

August, 2018

It is almost impossible to meet every beauty standard. It is almost impossible for the beauty, diet and medical industries to “approve” of your body, skin, hair and eyes. In a world that deliberately shifts the “should’s” and shames that attacks and blames, loving yourself is an act of rebellion.

What is reviled in one country is celebrated in another. From skinny shaming to fat-hating what stays the same is the entitlement of male-gaze, the disgust and ownership of the female form. The idea that women are objects for public consumption is at the root of both modesty and pornography.

My mum was a fat hater and a fat-shamer. So was my dad. This meant that while I was “not pretty” I had the good grace to be thin and clever. I prized this things because both came easily to me. I can’t tell if I was an exercise addict, someone who coped with anxiety through exercise, or just very active. I would roll at of bed at dawn and do 30 sit-ups, until about the age of 17. Exercise makes me feel good, helps me focus and is something I really enjoy, though I can’t do much, if any, these days. I didn’t diet, far from it I ate a huge amount, but as a dancer I knew plenty of girls who ate tissue to not be hungry. Girls who didn’t eat for half of the school week to be “thin enough” to go out on a Friday. Fat was a mystery to me. A softness I was scared of. Still find frightening on occasion.

Fat was “weakness” and was far too vulnerable to the rough grabbing hands. No I wanted to be hard, strong and never weak. Of course I hated myself plenty. My wonky nose, crocked teeth, my ginger curly hair. Once I stopped dancing I grew breasts quickly. They came as something of a shock to me. I went from a B to a D cup in a very short time and they had their perks I was sort of mystified by this fleshier body.

As I got older, and then had children my weight was the first thing my mum would comment about.

You look fat, and not the jolly kind.”

Oh you lost weight, your face looks better.”

You are thin enough now, much skinnier you’ll look ill.”

Of course my mum was a much better feminist than I was because I had “given myself over to the yoke of motherhood” instead of doing something “more important”. My feminism was “too soft” and far too feminine and far too fat for her.

I have been all different sizes, shapes and tones and while I was more desired by men when I was thinner and more toned I have rarely been happy with myself. Rarely felt self-love or safety in my skin. I fear the toxic seep of this self-loathing for my daughter. I wonder what seeds I have sown accidentally. I have been working on loving myself for years and sometimes I feel I get there.

So how do we create real change? How do we dismantle huge industries that promote self-loathing as self-care? How do we dare to be soft when it hurts so much? How do we find our strength in body, spirit and mind? I think we must make Goddess figurines. Thousands of them, millions. Ones that are like us, as we are, not as we wish to be. Some with huge voluptuous breasts or none to speak of. Some with long legs, or no legs. With curly coils, or no hair. With lines and scars. With powerful thighs and big arses. So that we know our flesh is powerful and beautiful and important. That we are worthy, fat, scarred, skinny and all. For in reclaiming our image as beautiful, as sacred art maybe we will love ourselves just a little bit more.

Going Shamanic Radio

July, 2018

 

Going Shamanic” is hosted by Jennifer Engracio on P.A.G.E.  Media Project’s blogtalk radio each month. The show focuses on how to integrate shamanism into every day life. Instead of relegating the spiritual aspect of ourselves to Sundays at church or weekend workshops, this show will support listeners in weaving ritual, prayer, magic, alignment with the Spiritworld and the Earth into their lives to enrich their experience of living.

This Month’s Topic: Sister & Brotherhood Circles with Lori’ and Phil Nelson

On this episode, Jen welcomes Lori’ Black Cave Dreamer and Phil Eagle Song, both certified shamanic practitioners.

There is a need in our society for women and men to gather with others of their same sex to share and to learn more about what it means to be a whole man or a whole woman. This show talks about what the differences are between women and men and why Sisterhood and Brotherhood Circles are such an important support for communities on the planet.

Going Shamanic is hosted by Jennifer Engrácio, about how to integrate shamanism into everyday life.

***

About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic practitioner, Reiki Master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’S Shamanic Journey into Healing

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

The Naked Goddess III

April, 2018

I’m part of a lot of spiritual groups and on one of them someone posted this.

Well I had a lot to say, because I feel like that gender (which is more complicated than a binary) is absolutely important to talk about. I am never comfortable when someone says we should talk about something. Silence has a very specific power.

My main issue with this is one group or part of the gender spectrum have had the power, privilege and control of everything, including spirituality for thousands of years. We cannot “white wash” this out of spirituality. When you fail to acknowledge this privilege, the differences, difficulties and discrimination that happens, you add to it. There are more than two genders. Yet pretending gender doesn’t have a bias, that wider societies and cultures doesn’t hugely favour one over everything else is wrong. You are ignoring the problem. I liken this to when privileged white people (like me) say “I don’t see colour”. It effectively erases the thing about a person or group you have and historically have issues with. It is literally removing the part of a person or groups identity. It also allows passive discrimination, bias and abuse to occur.

Spirituality can never be divorced from society. The body politic, if you will. That is why privilege always comes in. We cannot ignore the bias towards certain groups or genders. Ignoring what is happen in a larger cultural context doesn’t make it more spiritual. Spiritual is an expression of the sacred authenticity of people. It always has a cultural context. In real life terms this means folks whom are non-binary, trans, LGBTQ+ or female are going to suffer more discrimination, abuse than those not. From harassment to income, to insurance and medical care, one group significantly is more secure, more safe, and better off.

This has an effect. From spiritual courses requiring money and travel to not having a bathroom you can use, it will have an impact. This totally removes the right of those suffering to say anything if there “is no gender”. It robs them of their identity and silences them to the difficulties and joys about their lives that make them unique.

We, spiritual and pagan people should care and recognize gender, in all its diversity. We should care because we should be advocating, creating spaces and being aware that being different is beautiful and a strength.

Spirituality is not passive or weak. Kindness and inclusivity is a strength, it is courageous.

I don’t know, what I don’t know. However I am open to listening. Listening to trans, non-binary and gender fluid people as well as the scores of women around me.

I am aware that the patriarchal hangovers and wider social norms creep into our lives often without us seeing them. There is a darker more insidious message in this short post though. Setting up the Christian dichotomy of “spirit as good and body is bad” that has been used to torture and abuse millions for thousands of years. This body verses spirit things exactly plays to these problems with body politics and gender issues. It robs people of their loving divine connection to their bodies and lives. It villainises healthy sexual desire, normal bodily function, and the power of the physical world. It divorces and stigmatizes the powerful animal instincts that dwell within.

The “animal” within is not a malign influence that must be erased or destroyed or caged. Doing so removes a deep and divine force within. If it is respected and held in balance it is wise. If it is repressed or caged it reacts like any caged wild animal would. Of course if it runs riot we become less, diminishing any part of the whole makes us less. We are instinct and intellect. We are our desires and our ability to wait or let them go. We can dwell within desire, be it sexual, hunger or rage, acknowledge them and not act. Yet unless you learn to respect and listen this animal side will act out. Repressing parts of ourselves (usually out of shame) is deeply damaging and not spiritual.

It might look like it from the outside. It might look saint-like and perfect but it just isn’t authentic to a whole person. Now some folks are wolf-spirited, some are more like deer, or lions or elephants. It is not my place to tell anyone what their inner animal must be. Or their gender. Or sexuality.

Yet I will honour them. I will make space, and listen, most of all listen. I will acknowledge my position of relative privilege as a white bi-sexual female that people are more understanding or accepting of me in certain places than people whom are differently gendered. I will speak up and stand up to the injustices and intolerance. I will bridge my ignorance with kindness and recognition.

 

 

Greetings from Afar

March, 2013

The Evil That Men Do

Author’s Note: Due to the Public Image and celebrity status of the person in question, the name of the “American” has been withheld at his request.

The man was gaunt, almost skeletal. His height, well over six feet, made his appearance even more severe. He was balding, with a drooping mustache and a scraggly beard clinging beneath his lower lip and  to the base of his chin. He was dressed like a “bombzh”, a homeless man in an old army greatcoat, military trousers and worn jackboots. A visored cap rested on the bench next to him has he sat calmly and fed the pigeons in the little park and watched a group of children from the neighboring orphanage at play. Occasionally, he would smile at one of the children who ran by him, but as a whole, he was somber in his appearance. He had a somewhat sad look on his stern face, a look of longing. It was the look of a man dreaming of the past… of what “might have been”.

The American lived in an apartment building on the opposite side of the park. It was one of four monstrous, towering blocks of flats that formed a sort of wall around the pentagon-shaped secluded green area that contained a playground for the local children and a shaded grassy field for those who simply enjoyed the outdoors. As a rule the American used the well manicured little green as a convenient place to walk his dog. It was a safe place, and the little dog could run free for the limited time that he had to take her on such outings.

The park was fairly empty that day. There was an old man, sitting alone on a bench feeding the pigeons and a group of children from State Orphanage No. 4, which formed the fifth “wall” in the row of buildings surrounding the park. The American had seen the old man sitting there before. He was almost always there when the children from the orphanage were at play. But… this was the first time they had actually been in the park at the same time. He let his little dog, a black and tan Miniature Dachshund named Angel, off of her leash and casually walked over and sat down beside the man as he watched the dog run and play with some of the nearer children. It was a beautiful, warm spring day in late May. The grass was green and lush and the first of the flowers in the park’s manicured beds were beginning to show the first signs of color. The American was in no particular hurry. For a change, the first time in some weeks, he had all day, and intended to relax and enjoy the newly arrived warm weather.

With nothing better to do, he decided to try out his newly acquired Russian Language.  His company, the one he was under contract to at the moment, had invested quite a sum in his lessons. The film that they were shooting, on location in Moscow, required “realism”. That required some work on the American’s part, and he had often wondered, as he sat through the two-hour long daily sessions, why he had not bothered to learn the language from his grandparents when he had the chance. Of course, that was in the past now. Nothing could be done about it.  It was a lot of trouble, he thought, to go through for a single film, but perhaps there would be others. Now seemed to him to be a good time to put his newly acquired skills to the test and see if those lessons  had been effective. “Dob-rei Deen” he stammered to the man beside him on the bench.

” And a good day to you, too.” The tall, thin man said, in slightly accented but almost flawless English. “American?”

Definitely not a “bomzh” the American thought. He was far too literate, and definitely not drunk. He was probably a pensioner who lived in one of the adjoining buildings. The old man had probably come out to get a bit of fresh air, watch the children, feed the birds and look for the chance of some company as was the habit of many retired Russians who suddenly found themselves with a great deal of time on their hands. “Yes, in fact I am”.

“There seem to be quite a lot of you here, now. There used not to be so many. Not many at all in fact”.

“I know,” the American replied, becoming slightly more confident now that he was speaking his own language.  “Things are different, now. Better “.

“That depends on how you look at it,” the man said. “Those children, for example…”

“Yes, I see them here almost every day. They’re orphans,” the American said flatly.  Then he shook his head knowingly and said, “I know”.

“Not just that. Look at them. There isn’t a one of them that doesn’t look hungry. Look at the clothes they’re wearing… no better than rags. It wasn’t that way, once. It’s disgraceful. We didn’t permit it. Even in the darkest days of the Civil War, we managed to find food for the children. Some didn’t like our methods, we didn’t expect them to… Honestly didn’t care whether they liked them of not. But the children, after all, are our future”.

The American looked at the man carefully, intently. He was old, by local standards, but he wasn’t that old. Russian men tended to look older than their years, he thought… It was especially true of the generation born during, or just after, the “Great Patriotic War”, as the Second World War is known in Russia. This man seemed to be in his fifties, certainly not older than that. “You don’t look old enough to remember the Civil War,” the American said “let alone the Revolution. That was seventy some-odd years ago”.

“I remember them all right. You might say that I remember them too well.” That wistful look crossed his face again, as though he were bringing back bitter, but possibly bittersweet memories of  a time long past.

“You must have been a small child, then…I’m sure that it was a difficult time”.

“No” the answer was simple and matter of fact.

The American considered the situation. It just wasn’t possible that this man was that old. He had to be a little off in the head Maybe he had been a child, a very small child, at the time, but it was impossible that he could have been more than that. He almost certainly couldn’t possibly remember those times. Maybe he was dredging up stories that his parents had told him.

“You know, my wife and I we lost our only child” he mused “That ‘s why the orphans have always been special to me”.

“That’s sad,” the American said . It must have been a terrible experience. I’m not married myself… no children. But…I can understand how you feel, though”.

“Yes” the tall man said as he rose to leave. “It was very sad. It was a terrible time, the worst of my life. We were never able to have other children.  That’s why I did all that I could, all that was in my power, to make their  lives better”. He gestured toward the playing orphans with a broad sweep of his long thin arm and almost skeletal hand.  “They needed everything, schools, homes, doctors and medicine, kindergartens, training for jobs and useful work… They needed food and warm clothing”. He rattled off the baleful litany in quick order. There was no doubt that the old man had strong feelings about the parentless children. “They need it all, and our Revolution needed willing hands to build the future… a better future, we thought… for all of us. We got it for them. We got all of it for them. It cost us dearly, but we did it, and they built our future, or tried to”.

Things were getting stranger and stranger. The man had to be “off his rocker”. He was claiming credit for things that had been done three quarters of a century before. He looked at the strange old man again. He couldn’t have been more than a toddler back then, if he’d been born at all… He couldn’t possibly have had any part in what he was describing. Maybe he had been one of those orphans… It was hard to tell.

“Well, I must go,” the old man said. “I only have so much time each day that I can spend here watching them. I’ve really not much time at all. That’s rather funny,” he mused quizzically, “all things considered.  But… you know how it is. You know what they say, “no rest for the weary and no peace for the damned”.

“That’s right,” the American smiled. That was something that he could understand well enough. There was never enough time for anything in post-Soviet Russia. In the last year or so, Russia had undergone a transformation, and it was still going on. Things were in a state of near anarchy, and no matter how hard one worked, there never seemed to be enough time to get everything done. There were certainly never enough hours in a given day. This very day was proof of that to him. It was the first day off that he had enjoyed in six weeks, and he had at least another six exactly the same to “look forward” to. “No peace for the damned” he repeated softly.

“Why don’t you do me a favor? If you are going to be here for a bit longer, would you mind walking across the street with the children when the Matron calls them in? The streets here are dangerous now not like they once were”.

The American thought about it for a moment, then agreed. It couldn’t hurt, and the man looked so concerned… Even if he was a bit eccentric, his heart was in the right place. “Certainly, ” he replied. “I’d be glad to”.

“Thank you,” the man replied as he rose to leave. “You know, only a few years ago, this was a quiet street. We didn’t have so many automobiles then”. He used the quaint term “automobile” as though it was used every day. He stood, stretched, and put his cap on. A shock of his thinning hair protruded from under the visor. He turned up the collar of his long woolen coat as though against a non-existent wind. Then, without another word, he sank his hands deeply into his pockets and walked slowly away. The children didn’t seem to notice him at all, even though he walked right through the midst them as they kicked a scarred soccer ball around the center of the park. The American glanced away briefly when he heard his little dog bark. When he looked back up, the old man was gone. He must have already entered the nearest building, about 50 meters away. Funny, the American thought, he hadn’t seemed to be walking that fast…

A few minutes later, the matron of the orphanage, a short, plump woman in her mid-forties with a harassed and harried, but motherly look on her face, behind her tiny wire framed glasses, called out for the children to stop playing and come “home”. She said that it was time for supper. The American, noticed that this woman, obviously rather senior in the orphanage’s hierarchy, was hardly dressed better than her charges, and that her hair, tied in a severe bun at the back of her head, looked prematurely gray.  True to his word to the strang old man, he rose, called his little dog, put the leash back on her, and slowly walked across the street with the departing children. He continued with them until they were through the rusting wrought iron gate that guarded their home, and inside the austere brick walls of the orphanage compound. The place, he thought, had obviously seen better days The stucco was cracking and falling from the brick wall and the paint was fading, the stucco on the walls of the buildings themselves was cracked in many places. In places, the chipped orange-red bricks were visible thorough holes in the veneer. The place, he thought, had the look of one that had once been lavish by Soviet standards, but had fallen on hard times… very hard times. But, he mused, that could be said of much of Russia of late.

It was there inside the walled compound, surrounded by the aura of past prosperity, that he received the greatest shock of his life. There, in the midst of the courtyard, atop a small marble pedestal surrounded by a tiny, but well groomed and tended flower bed, was a bust. The American’s heart skipped a beat. There was no possible doubt as to what he was looking at. It was the likeness of the man he had met in the park. A sudden chill ran through him as he surveyed the scene before him.  On the pedestal beneath the bust, an inscription read “Our Founder”. Below it, was yet another  inscription… one that literally made his blood run cold… It said “Felix Edmundovich Drezhenski, 11 September, 1877 – 20 July, 1926”.

The American’s thoughts went back to the days that he had spent with his grandmother… years before as a small child and the stories that she had  told him about her homeland across the sea… He knew who this man was…

Felix Drezhenski… Son of a Polish Aristocrat, who turned on “his own”. Drezhenski, one of the “headliners”, and alleged “hardliners” in the “Great October Revolution. For years, Drezhenski was the most awe-inspiring name in Russia… loved by the honest, feared and hated by the criminal. He was the utterly incorruptible and honest cop. “Iron Felix”… the man who could not be bought, the ideologue, the founder and guiding light of the Cheka, charged with cleaning up and bringing order to revolution and Civil War torn Russia. It was Drezhenski’s organization that later, after his death by poisoning at the hands of Stalin, inadvertently became the predecessor of the infamous NKVD and KGB.

Felix Drezhenski was the man who brought the post-revolutionary black market to its knees with a fist of steel.  He was for the whole world, “Iron Felix”… the man who unwittingly became a symbol of freedom when his statue was toppled one night in August of 1991. He was a man who, after his death, had become a scapegoat for a dictator who hated and feared him for his honesty and integrity. Under Josef Stalin’s careful orchestration, Drezhenski’s name became synonymous with evil incarnate. But, the people did not forget. They knew that he was also the man who founded Russia’s fine system of Children’s Homes, kindergartens and orphanages. He was the man who often worked 18 hours a day on nothing more than a few slices of bread and a glass of water so that the children in the homes he founded could eat the meals that he denied himself. He was the man who would trudge wearily home at the end of the day, in any kind of weather, because he refused a driver or car… more money saved for “his children”. On the way, he would stop at the nearest orphanage and deliver the food that he had carefully hoarded in a brown paper bag, then stand by and watch it distributed among the young people that he had taken it upon himself to guard and protect until they reached adulthood. He was the man who denied himself a decent suit of clothing and new boots, so that the money he saved could be sent to the foundlings who, in his heart, had replaced his own dead son. He and his wife had lost their only child to Typhus in the horrible, deadly winter of 1906. They had lost the light of their lives, and forever mourned him. But…like “Mr. Chips” of fiction, Drezhenski had other children… hundreds of them. And…that’s what they called themselves, “Drezhenski’s Children”. Most of them, those who actually knew the man, are gone now, but a few still survive. They will tell anyone who will listen about their “father”. They will tell anyone who will listen how they stood in the snow and freezing slush for hours for a chance to pass by his coffin as he lay in state, and how surprised they all were to see him, for the first time that any of them could remember, wearing a pair of new boots as he reposed in death.

Shakespeare, the immortal Bard of Avon said it best “The evil that men do in their lives goes on after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” Of course, the Bard had never met Felix Edmundovich Dreshenski .

The American stood there in the courtyard of State Orphanage No. 4, for the longest time, in absolute silence. If anyone had seen him, they would have sworn that he looked for all the world as if he’d seen a ghost…