Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Grief Poppets for Samhain

Without death, there would be no Ancestors to revere. With death comes grief. Ancestor practitioners spend so much time playing crossing guard and messenger that we need to have a tool box of ways to work through, accept, and integrate grief.

At Samhain, I tell people not to call on those who have not been gone for at least a year. That is partly so we do not hold onto spirits who were ready to move on. But it is largely an act of self-care. We humans need time to process our grief before being able to experience our friends as part of the slipstream of Ancestral Dead.

Some people need less than a year. Some people need more time. There’s no golden rule. It’s natural to fear and struggle with death. Humans cling to our science for answers to give us comfort. Death is perhaps the ultimate mystery for which there can never be any concrete veritas Truth. So we gather our personal truths and experiences with death in an attempt to flesh out the hidden image.

I have a simple but potent magic I use when I have a personal grief that sits heavy in my heart. I make a Grief Poppet.

They are not Voodoo dolls, although I consider Voodoo dolls to be a kind of poppet. Use of poppets in folk healing is old and crosses cultures. When I make a poppet for healing, I make the figure of it similar to the being it is meant for. They’re usually human silhouettes but I have also made cat-shaped dollies.

I always use cotton fabrics, something that can be burned or buried without further harming the Earth. I cut two shapes and put them wrong-side together, hand stitching them. While sewing, I focus my thoughts on happy memories of the one I grieve. I leave an opening in the head so I can fill it, then turn it inside out. This is poppet magic 101, for all poppet workings. Now I have a shell for the magic.

I use flaxseed as the base herb for grief poppets. It adds a weight to the fetish that feels good in my hand. I add lavender and rosemary internally for scent. I recommend investing in lavendin for grief purposes (not to be cooked with). It is a hybrid of two strains that produces more essential oil and has a potently soothing aroma to it. If my grief has sharp edges I add some nettle for protection.

The key piece of magic happens when I add the heart stone. I often use a piece of resin incense, sometimes a lotus seed, sometimes a small bean, or a small chip of a gemstone. The important part is that it is meaningful to the person I am crafting the poppet for.

Then I finish it off with an invisible stitch. I make it small enough to fit into a pocket but large enough to be weight in my palm. I carry it around with me for as long as I need. It is not a cure for grief. Grief is not a thing to be abolished or denied.

The depth of our grief is a reflection of the depth of the love we felt, lived, and lost.

Part of what makes the emotion difficult is the intangible quality of it. The poppet is something I can finger in my pocket. It’s less permanent than needing something to remind me of my lost loved one on a daily basis. It becomes a conduit for that grief. It becomes a container but it does not contain it. It takes in the excess but does not retain it. I use copal for grief poppet heart stones because it is a cleanser and purifier.

The nature of time is to lessen the hurt of grief. I will carry the poppet through my workings this Samhain, and burn or bury it at the next one (if I am ready), sending the remnants of that love back out into the world. Love is something death cannot take away.

Love is something death cannot take away.
When grief ebbs at your heart, feed it love.
Feed the world love that none will be hungry for it.
Honor the dead by caring for the living.
Be a good ancestor now.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Sandwich & A Spirit Message

I've posted before about how spirit talks to me. I've always been sensitive. It's not the same thing as being psychic or a medium. But I know when the room is full of more people than are standing in it.

That happens a lot.

That's not the same things as hauntings and I've investigated and experienced those. And hauntings aren't always done by spirits. More often I have experienced those as echoes of strong emotion from violent death; more poltergeist than man.

But sometimes spirit talks to me and a ghost walks through. Only, they don't talk to me. I get music. Sometimes the song lyric is important. Sometimes the artist is the clue. Sometimes it's the time period. If you ever hear me humming something repetitively, ask me what it is.

I don't always notice.

I was making a sandwich at lunch and this lyric I have written about before was running through my head and then I realized I was actually singing it out loud. It's a song I was not familiar with originally-- which is why it was a good choice to get my attention with. It's another song spirits use to let me know someone is knocking on the door.

Well, the one that is actually knocking is the theme song from the 70s sitcom Three's Company. This song lyric by Staind, "But I'm on the outside and I'm looking in... I can see through you, see to the real you" means someone has a message.

It's a fun new level-up in my sensitivity.

I caught on to the tune and I laughed. I mean, okay, someone is trying to get my attention. That's still not very helpful. I know someone's there, but who?

Then I started singing "Oh Darlin'" on my way to the garbage can and another Beatles song followed that one and I realized spirit was giving me more clues.

And the Beatles make me think about my dad. They will always mean my dad. Ding, ding, ding! Bells went off. I went through the people who have crossed over that would reach out through him and at one name my heart sighed at the same time as the hairs on my arms lifted.

It was a simple, personal message. Nothing life-altering, thank goodness. As much as I love scary movies I don't want ghosts telling me that someone is coming to get me. Ha ha. But the brief visitation made me smile. Hearing their voice again made me happy. There are so many ways to connect with Spirit and I am grateful that I find an easy bridge in music.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hello, Louise Burnah

Emma Louise (Burnah) Durant, dated 1909
I wrote a post in 2012 called Looking for Emma Louise Burnah, about my search for my great-grandmother's mother's family. My great-grandma Elsie was the bee's knees and I am desperate to learn more of her family line, but not so much so that I want to jump to inaccurate conclusions. After months of fruitless research I landed on a few possibilities.

I figured that if Elsie didn't talk about her history much then maybe her children misheard names and places and the few breadcrumbs I was working with might not be accurate. (Which cued some deep sighing now that everyone else in the family is gone.)

Another possibility was that there was not much extended family to be found and there were no missing cousins waiting to be discovered. You get so used to finding families numbering a dozen kids, that you forget sometimes only a few survived to adulthood. I've seen it happen.

At the time, I was looking for the surname Burmah, which was what was passed down. And I had found her birthplace listed as Redfield on a child's marriage license. But I was holding out hope that we were of some relation to the slew of Burnahs I found in Redford, NY. It seemed a wishful jump but I tucked it in my notes anyway.

I started to accept the fact that we just might not ever know for sure. But one of the additions to the Ancestry DNA kit includes a tag to other people you may genetically be related to (who have taken the kit), and what ancestor it is you may have in common.

Amazingly, I got a few hits showing that I am genetically related to one of the Burnahs of Redford, NY! Now I know that Emma Louise's parents were Samuel & Mary Burnah. I know that Emma Louise's mother Mary died two years after she was born. I don't know more than that yet. I might never have more than that but it's more than I thought I would find.

I never discount a breadcrumb until I have proven it to be untrue.

And then a trip home this summer led to even more good news for me. Actual photos of Louise, and then a photo of Louise and George Durant, together with some of their children, including my beloved Elsie. It is a true treasure to find faces to put to names. What a good looking crew.
L-R, Durants and some of their children: Edward, Elsie, Mary, Louise & George, Bill, Rose

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Taking the DNA Kit

I was excited when I got my DNA test results. Due to my genealogy research there were no big shocks for me but it did verify and validate some of the intuitive leaps I took in assuming who my family members were. 

That’s exciting news, Ancestor Hunters!

The kit itself is straightforward. No drinking or eating for a half hour. Spit in a tube to the line. Package it in the packing they provide. Put it in the mail. Wait for an e-mail. They say 4-6 weeks for results. Mine came in 4 weeks.

These results are the 50% of DNA I received from my mother. I am curious now for my sister to take it because she may have received different maternal genes than me and her percentage make-up may vary. Because women are XX we can only map the X code. We have no Y to trace. If I want to know the paternal DNA, which I do, I have to poke the nearest and closest male relative on that side of the family. That’s my dad. The ideal option would be a brother but dad is second best. The further away you go the more variations that occur between what they got and what I got, so the percentages quickly become guesstimates. But it’s closer than not knowing anything.

Culturally, all of my ancestors are all of my ancestors. I only exist because they each existed. So to layer that with the concept that there is actual genetic code from some of them in my body now... I think that’s cool.

I should also note that men have a choice to do maternal or paternal or both as they have both the X and Y. I'm a bit jealous of that.

When you do the kit you have to activate it on-line first which involves creating an account on I hesitated to do it as I already had an account with my dad but it goes to his e-mail and he doesn’t check it often and I didn’t want to have to wait on him getting them to me- haha! Totally true. So I started a new account so I could get the results as soon as they were ready. And it afforded me the chance to try it out from a fresh perspective.

It’s free to do. And it ended up being better than I expected. When my results came in, they included a list of other people who have been tested and who allowed for their tests to be shared for this purpose. So my results came with a list of second and third and fourth and fifth and sixth cousins... Their messenger feature allowed me to send messages to some of my new-found cousins to see how we related to one another!

Then I was offered the ThruLines option. If I plugged in a family tree I’d be able to see what ancestors all those new cousins and I shared in common. Cool! I figured that this was going to be where they were going to asking me to join a membership. Nope. Making the family tree comes with the free account. It's researching their archives that costs money. 

[It might be worth it to do the family tree and then subscribe to the site for a month and do research on the names you have.]

Even without the ability to search the archives, the tree maker is fantastic and better than any other free ones on the web. is constantly upgrading their applications and a new feature on the family tree offers you potential fathers and mothers for the names you plug in. You can accept or deny them, or even say 'maybe' so you don’t necessarily need to pay to search. helps you do that.

That meant I did not have to manually plug in the 2200 names I had already! It offered me about 1600 of the names I already had. I double-checked what they offered against my notes from the family tree my father and I have been working on together and what suggested to me was 98% accurate.

That was a feature I did not expect.

Along with the percentage results you get a map with the countries your people are from highlighted. 
A cool feature with the maps is that if you click on the seemingly random century timeline on the bottom it will show you where your people were at the start of each century. You can see vague migration patterns. And if you’re very English, like me, and your people don’t move around so much, you can zoom in on the map and see it in more detail!

I am very happy with this test. It’s the only one I’ve taken so I can’t speak to any others. I would like to take the 23&me test to see what genetic anomalies lurk in my ancestral blood and see how the results compare.

As far as genetic privacy goes, you have options when you activate the kit. You can change those options anytime you want through your account settings. They were explained well. I should say that the more private your settings the less matches you will find yourself with. I risked it. I don’t like making choices-for-now based on what might happen in the future. But it's a personal choice. You can have your account and dna deleted at any time. 

I’ll be posting about some of the things I learned in the upcoming weeks. Happy hunting to my fellow genealogists!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Thinning Worlds

At Samhain I honor my Ancestral Dead and formally welcome them into my home and hearth. It’s a common practice for witches, pagans, and ancestor worship practitioners. It’s also something I do every day, not just in autumn. The other side of the Halloween coin is May Day, otherwise known as Beltane, and it’s another time when the lines between the living and the dead blur.

The living, the dead, and the energy beings that bleed into this world from another. There are too many stories of fairy folk from differing mythologies for me to not be open to the possibility that they exist on another plane. I mean, once you believe in ghosts the door to what is possible stands wide open.

And I believe in ghosts.

            They visit me in my dreams. But when the worlds are thin I see them in the waking world as well. I see movements out of the corner of my eye, things tucking behind chairs and bookshelves that aren’t there when I look for them straight-on. I feel people entering the room behind me but no matter how certain my body is that I am not alone I cannot see anyone with my naked eye. And my scalp prickles as if a hand has gently touched me. It warms beneath another palm. I no longer reach up to check because I know it is not a physical presence.

This is how I live. The blurs are what I refer to as wayward spirits, harmless travelers drawn towards memories of being alive. The thinner the worlds get the brighter my inner lighthouse gets. I have a room lurker who is also an old fixture I call the German Guy. I know he belongs to my maternal Grandma Art’s side and as she passed last spring I am not surprised he has come to sit with me. The hand I feel on my scalp is my Great-Grandma Elsie. She is my spirit traffic cop, never far. When the worlds bleed across each other her presence is more vigilant.

I leave out cups of tea and horribly salted chicken wings as a thank you to her. Or strawberry shortcake in season. She lived with us in the summers and was alive until I was seventeen. There is a space in my heart that was shaped by her, a part of me that remembers how she molded me. She saw what others in my family did not see and now, from a grown-up perspective, her experiences with a difficult son dictated the advice she gave me:

You have to love, anyway. You can’t let the bullies stop you from living your life.

That goes for spirit bullies, too. If you are sensitive to them, they can crowd the room and demand attention. So when I clean my Ancestor Altar and refresh it I call in peaceful spirits that do not wish us harm. I take a shot of some pungent liquor and make an offering at the edge of our property for those spirits seeking offerings with no regard for the living.

There is room for them all to be honored…just out there. Not in my home.

In this thinner world I ask the Ancestors to safeguard those who may not yet be at peace and to watch over their families.

I still grieve for Recent Dead. It wells up as the thinning comes and I can feel spirits more viscerally. I am both reminded of their loss and equally hurt that their ghost has not come to visit. I wish them peace even as I grieve the loss of them, the loss of their physical presence, of their wisdom, of all the time we’ll never have to repair or strengthen wounds and hearts. And I am left to figure out how to move on from unfinished work.

But not alone. Those Who Have Gone Before aid me in my grief. The Ancestral Dead, the centuries of others who have felt such loss, have been deceased long enough that they can hold space for my sorrow. Their physical connection to the World They Knew is long gone and they are drawn to that familiar emotion of loss. Whether intentional or not, they sit with me. I know this. When I am open to it, in my darkest moment, I do not feel alone.

For some people the thought of ghosts is isolating and frightening. It can drive them from a space. We often feel such a way about things we cannot explain. I’ve always trusted what I am experiencing more than just my eyes. We do not see everything and we do not see everything the same way as everyone else. It makes our personal experiences valuable.

Ghosts are real.

Those blurs I see out of the corner of my eye are not all ghosts. After years of working with spirits you can sense/see the difference. Some are land wights waking after a wintry slumber. Finding a way to embrace the life-waking in the same breath as life-transitioning-through-death is a way to honor those who are no more.

Look up the histories of your ancestors and leave offerings appropriate to the lands of your people. I leave out bread and seed and fruit and tea to feed those just waking and I do it in the name of those I miss. In my grief I choose to feed life.

Open your heart to the thinning of the walls between this world and the next. Do not try to quantify or qualify. I will tell you that yes, your loved one is gone. And they are alive. And they are reincarnated. And they are with you. All of that is true, all at once, right now.

Now they are gone. Now they are everywhere.

How will your heart honor them?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Spirit Workings

Dream visitations are usually benign. I used to get them in the corners of my nightmares but they were always apart from the nightmare. You may be a Scrooge who has karmically earned a visit from Marley, in which case have fun. But there is no reason you should be scared of a dream visitation from spirit.

When you do a lot of work with spirits in dreams sometimes you are called to Work. There are ways to help the dead in their realm.

A friend came to me recently, in a dream. He’s been dead for a decade and his death was disarming and unexpected. As was the dream:

I’m in a hotel, wandering around. There’s some kind of wedding. We were right about coming there. Something cried out for help. We set a trap that involved pushing carts around unnoticed and drawing symbols on specific walls.

That night, another body shows up in bed with us. I hitch my breath.

He came to me as he saw himself, like Voldemort in the train station. He is wasted away to skeleton three-quarters his actual size. It breaks my heart and he cannot bear to look at me. He covers his face with his hands, crying.

He’s crying and apologizing for not working harder. He’s humiliated at how I saw him at the end, at how things ended.

I could ask him what happened.

I could ask him who did it.

I could…

But he is broken, swimming in regret and guilt and shame. And I remembered the light in the hospital that came to me when I felt most broken-- I remembered that and all of the things that he did that were good and made him someone we cared about. I pulled it up and shared that with him.

I took his face in my hands and repeated over and over again that he should be proud of the Work that he did, not what he didn’t do. I tell him to let the rest fall away.

I make him look me in the eye to see how I see him.

He removes his hands and his eyes are so piercingly blue.

It takes hours of unflinching gazing. And then he smiles.

In the end there was peace. For both of us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Getting to Know Uncle Frank

       I have mentioned my Uncle Frank before, in a piece I posted My Great Aunts and Uncles in 2014. He was the brother to my 2x Great-Grandfather Hiram King Wicker. Hiram was a well-to-do man in Lockport, NY but his brother Frank was a man whose career took him to New Orleans, Alaska, and Cuba.
       He was among the surveyors of Russian-America which would later be called Alaska, whose purchase was based on his findings. Frank Wicker worked for the Telegraph Company and while on expedition, he kept a journal of his- often monotonous- journey. 
       His journal is in a stack of photocopied pages. I have been working on transcribing them. It took me a few days to get the feel of his handwriting before I could get into a rhythm. But once my eyes adjusted to his script, I began to read 'him' within the words.
       Sometimes this work feels a lot like time travel.
       I'm in love with Uncle Frank's quiet and clever wit in how he manages the men and the captain. His journal is very matter of fact and yet I hear his humor and amusement and I feel I am getting to know him.
       I'm in love with the way he elongates his lower case 'p' and swirls his 'I' and 'S'. I love that if my brain reads 'r' it's meant to be 'w'. And if I see 'm' its really an 'r'.
       And he's a reader. He's currently working through both Hugo and Dumas. He and I agree about Hugo's unabridged works: "His descriptions are a little too definite and become tiresome and uninteresting." (I mean, who needs to spend 62 pages writing about packing hats?!)
       Uncle Frank is also very serious about how he represents the Telegraph Company. I can recognize moments where he was totally That Guy asserting Authority just to wave his dick around- which he only does when the Captain of his ship harasses his men and/or threatens the purpose of the expedition. But I can also see in him the man who survived the Civil War, who wants to help shape what his beloved country is becoming.
       I am almost halfway through. We have finally arrived at Alaska and are attempting to get through the mouth of the passage. It's almost my birth day, 110 years before I was born...
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