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, December 29, 2010

Stillness, Goodwill

Written Christmas morning: Having no children of my own, through whose eyes to watch the day unfold, the morning allows me time to embrace the stillness of the day. All around the world, like a rippling echo of wonder and cheer as the planet turns, we wake and rise in waves of cheer and excitement. For this reason, above all others, today is a sacred day, where more hearts are turned to joyous purpose than any other. If we could wish for one thing, if we could set our minds to one singular purpose en masse today, I have to believe a miracle could happen. I believe, with that much energy, we could manifest peace.

If we can feel what we feel in our hearts today, why, then, can we not extend that emotion out to all our days? It’s a philosophy I espouse, rather than a reality, based on the bodhisattva teachings I have studied and the Buddhist practice of LovingKindness. It’s a life path begun in a UU church, where the belief that every person in the world has worth and dignity laid foundation in my heart.

Last week, I was checking out while holiday shopping when an elderly woman at the head of the line pulled out a checkbook. The woman in front of me immediately started huffing and stamping her foot, displaying the credit card-at-the-ready waiting in her hand. The elderly woman got anxious and made a mistake on the check and hard to start over, which made the woman in front of me mutter under her breath about how she should be allowed to go ahead of people who aren’t ready to check out because she had important places to be…
If the impatient woman had just been patient in the first place, the elderly woman would have been checked out before she would have felt the need to utter those words. It’s something I see every day and it amazes me that people don’t understand that they’re trying to make themselves feel better at the expense of someone else. It is disheartening to see that we’re trying to teach our children not to be bullies without realizing that we’re perpetuating the habits in small ways we don’t understand. We can learn to see. We can re-pattern the way our brains think. I’ve been doing it for the last three years, widening the field around me that is my world, making me feel more strongly a part of it and taking everything much less personally.

It is not enough for us to honor our ancestors. This is a theme you will hear me repeat. We have a responsibility to begin being good ancestors for our future descendants. Now. Most people think about their descendants as their children, and their grandchildren, and those who come after. For me, as someone who doesn't have children, I see the world's children and my descendants. Every choice I make will impact their lives. I put the faces of my nieces and nephew on that swath of descendants before me, so that the notion is important.

I want them to live in a better world than the one I live in. Just like my ancestors wanted for me.

At the holidays, we have the noblest opportunity to treat the world and our fellow companions in it the way we wish to see it. We speak of kindness and goodwill and we think we do our best. But again, if we can act on that conscience for a few days, why can we not carry it with us into more? For many of us, the answer to that lies in the stillness we cultivate for Christmas, and the fact that we lose it as the calendar rolls into the new year. Then what?

If you have never walked a labyrinth, I highly recommend it as a tool towards stillness. Walk the circuits with intention of letting go. Release your burdens as you make each turn and let your mind open towards that calm eye inside you that can weather the storm around you of bills and responsibility, and mad cacophony of noise emitted from various electronic devices. At the center, be at peace, and remember the stillness of a snowy morning. Remember that the world turns forward and the paused traffic resumes its rat racing, but that stillness doesn't disappear from the world. It's just harder to reach. It's true. The sun may rise in the morning but the stars are still above us, blinking. They're just harder to see. You can use to find the labyrinth nearest you.

Christmas Day allows me to stop and have a cup of cocoa, and feel the world open up to the wider web, reaching out to forgotten friends and distanced loved ones. We are each stars unfurling, entwining and reconnecting, spreading our map of the universe out. We feel connected. In that connection is that feeling of calm stillness and peace, of not being alone, but being alone at the same time. For me, the loneliness fades. It's this feeling that I carry with me into the world, through all of my days an interactions with people, when I can, in both large and small ways. With it is the hope that a momentary kindness of patience might ripple out into both small and larger moments of change. Envision the world you wish to live in, and start to live it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Christmas Legacy of Donna and Dick

Christmas is a time of year where I feel the space between the importance of honoring our ancestors, and trying to walk the path of being a good ancestor, now, for our descendants. My childhood memories of the holidays are tied directly to my Grandpa and Grandma Riddle. They have both passed on within the last decade, and every year, when the holidays roll around, I miss them.

There are not enough words to express the loss I feel, that they are no longer in my waking life. I know that I am not alone in experiencing this. We have all lost loved ones and faced the difficult holidays after. My Grandpa Dick and Grandma Donna are entwined in the memories of my childhood Christmas traditions and their spirit colors the choices I have made in how I create holiday traditions in my adult life.


Christmas Eve was a night out to dinner, dressed up at a nice restaurant. When dinner was over, we would drive around, digesting our good meal and take in all the Christmas lights on our way to my Grandma Pat’s house, my mother’s mother. There, we would have food and drinks and sit in the smoky back-room exchanging gifts. Some years I would walk through the galley kitchen into the formal living room and up the steps to the room that used to be my mothers. There was an organ in that room and I learned to play “On the Street Where You Live” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from the organ book. We’d totter sleepily home, the cold air startling away the smell of cocktails and cigarettes.

Invariably, my siblings and I would wake well before the allowed wake-mom-and-dad-up-time. My sister and I would creep into my brother’s room with our pillows and a blanket, whispering in a sleepy, excited, need-to-eat haze until eight o’clock. One year, because we’d been up so early the year before, my brother had bought and hid a pint of orange juice and a box of donuts in his desk. We watched The Three Stooges on his small black and white television, waiting until dawn. The one Rule we were not allowed to break was that we were not allowed to go downstairs.

When 8 am struck, we children would not be deterred from waking our sleeping parents. We were not afraid to open the east-facing shades or pull down the warm covers. Anything to wake them, to quicken the process of getting them up so that we could wait some more, while mom and dad woke up the downstairs. The three of us would scrunch ourselves together on the top stair while mom called Grandpa Dick.

My Grandma Donna was a pediatric nurse and worked Christmas morning so that the nurses with young kids could be home with their families. When I was a kid, she was Mrs. Santa Claus, doing a simple thing to give the kind of Christmas I experienced to the children of her co-workers. I saw the magic and the sacrifice of it, even as a child. She and my Grandpa would have their holiday when she got up for shift. He would wait for Mom to call and then he’d drive over to spend the morning with us. She’d put the coffee on and then we could come downstairs.

I know it was her favorite part, that look on our faces when we first saw the tree with all of the presents beneath it; so many presents that inspired my strong and whole-hearted belief in Santa Claus. In my life I have watched him transform from a story to a god to a saint to a man to a hero to a myth to a metaphor to an emotion to a state of being. That look on our faces when we were children- that utter joy and faith in something larger than what we knew… that is Christmas.

We opened our stockings first, while my Grandpa drove over, and the cinnamon buns baked in the oven. The Christmas Orange was my favorite part, sticking out of the top of the stocking like the new morning sun, greeting us earlier and earlier every day now. I wish I could say we ran to greet my Grandpa with hugs and kisses when he came, but really we were excited because Grandpa’s presence meant opening presents. A few times we were chastised for not letting him take his coat off, but he always laughed and said he understood, smiling down at us with a twinkle in his eye like Santa, he understood that he was 'just Grandpa' and Grandpa's couldn't compete with Santa. We took turns opening presents. Grandpa would leave when were done, to prepare things for family dinner at their house.

Dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s was always festive and warm, with presents and dinner and games of scat at the kitchen table for pennies. There were always cookies and treats and the sound of laughter and knuckles knocking on the table to the woe of the other players. I would carry the smiles, the echo of laughter on the walls and the warmth of the kitchen home with me, against the bitter chill of winter.


Moving away from home years ago, in the absence of my family, I had to create my own Christmas. And first I had to revisit what the season meant to me. It’s about understanding and honoring family, in its many forms, and setting aside ego. Christmas isn’t about me, it’s about us humans, and the tapestry we weave as we journey through adulthood. It’s about all of the people walking the earth who mean something to me, walking and breathing and touching other people's lives. Goodwill to all beings is more than a holiday wish. For me, it's the only way to walk the earth. So for me, Christmas is the focusing of energy I feel year round. Which is something I hold fast to in the grown-up dance of scheduling around everyone’s family obligations. I am grateful for the moments of togetherness, and the new hugs and smiles and laughter that will sustain me through the months of night yet to come, peeling back a layer of darkness as the wheel turns forward.

In my own holiday, I’ve kept the cinnamon buns and the scent of coffee brewing, as well as the Christmas Orange. I set a cup out with a cinnamon bun for my Grandpa while we open gifts, in honor of the memories he gave me. Everything changes. Everyone who has come into our lives will go out of our lives, and we have more to learn from the waters of the earth and our bodies that we are open to hearing. It is in remembering the moments of togetherness and the lessons we learned from experiencing life through our elder loved ones' eyes that we are able to honor them at holiday time. These moments of togetherness are also a great opportunity to ask for stories about family members that you don’t know, and hear more tales of the lives of the ones you do.

I hold the moments of the past in my heart like a hearth flame. As I move about the crazy buy-this-now-if-you-want-someone-to-love-you battlefield of commerce, I have gratitude for the car that allows me to travel to those I love, and the home I rent that has heat. I try to share that gratitude with others in smiles and patience. In sharp contrast to the shopping days, Christmas morning is the one day each year that the country is mostly still and quiet, every family huddled around a vision of nature within their own homes. I always take a few quiet minutes to experience and enjoy the stillness of the world with my family, in my home. Blessings to you, in this time of celebration, and the Happiest Holidays from my heart to yours.

These are the collection of ornaments I received from my Grandparents over the years, kept carefull by my mother until I moved into my own home. They hold a place of honor on my tree every year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Solstice Offering

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Poppets for Grief

I’ve mentioned before that it’s hard not to talk about grief in Ancestor Work. Death is such an integral part to the work, that the issues of grieving, working through it and accepting it are pertinent tools. It is 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 are forced to find a personal truth with which to confront it.

When working through the death of a loved one, the holidays can be difficult. No one wants to be a downer during the festive celebrating of those around them. But grief is a monster that doesn’t take a holiday. The first Christmas without my Grandmother was difficult and I fussed over my Grandpa. The first Christmas without my Grandpa was a solemn affair for my whole family, but we did the best we could, and enjoyed being together. We talked about how much we missed him and shared our favorite stories of Christmases past.

This year will be my household’s first winter holiday since our four-legged companion Luna passed. Decorating our 34 year-old artificial tree, we found a small ornament of a cat with wings that suddenly meant more to me than ever before. And the one with the three cats… I struggle to remember, in idle conversation, that we are only a 2 cat family now. Instead of three cat toys, we bought two. Luna loved sleeping under the tree on the red felt skirt, nestled among the presents, as if we put all of it there just for her pleasure. She would cry and paw at the pile until we tied one of the colorful Christmas bows onto her collar, which she expected much cooing and fawning over.

Making a Poppet
Poppets 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.

To make the poppet for my luna-grief, I shaped the fabric into a little dolly. I hand stitched the two-sides together, leaving an opening in the head to fill it and then turned it inside-out. While sewing, I focused my thoughts on happy memories of Luna, who was the first kitten I raised. She was the first being I had to teach and protect and learn to let grow independently which made the sudden loss of her difficult. Not that any loss is easy.

I used a combination of nettles for protection and lavender to ease feelings of grief for filling the inside of the poppet. Another option, and one I use more often, is flaxseed as the base herb. It adds a weight to the fetish that feels good in my hand, and it can be heated in the microwave for a bit of warm comfort. An invisible stitch closed the top and it was finished.

It is not a cure for grief. For me, part of what makes that particular emotion difficult is the intangible quality of it. I can’t go and snuggle Luna to make me feel better, because she’s not here. But the poppet is something I can finger in my pocket, that is not as pathetic as carrying around her favorite little gingham mouse toy. And it’s less permanent than needing something to remind me of her on a daily basis. I will never forget her. The nature of time is to make the hurt less, and part of that is distance. When I think about her with more fondness and less sadness, I will burn the poppet in a fire or bury it in my spring garden and let it go.

I made a grief poppet out a favorite childhood flannel nightgown that I had scraps of the year my Grandpa died. I carried it in my pocket, and when I felt overwhelmed with missing him, I would squeeze it and take in the scent of lavender to ease the emotion. I ended up carrying that specific poppet with me for another few months until I felt like I no longer needed it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Interconnected Web

I know that I am lucky to know of the ancestors of mine that came to America on the Mayflower. I am lucky to have names and histories that trace back that far on my father’s side of the family and I am grateful for the knowledge. Years ago, I met a woman who could trace her family back to the Mayflower also, and she revealed she was descended from the children born of Francis Eaton and Christian Penn. So however many generations have occurred and spider-webbed outward since 1620, we knew that 390 years ago, we shared a common person of interest. It really does put things into perspective, and it spurred a thought in me that would be the seed for the journey I’ve been taking.

In my mind’s eye, I visualize a map of the country I live in. And I wonder what pattern would spread across the map if you could make every person who was in any way descended from Francis and Sarah Eaton light up on the map like it were a Lite Brite. What mini constellation would appear if you widen it to include any descendent of Francis Eaton? How fast would that pattern multiply and spread? And I could take it one step further and light up every descendent of anyone who came over on The Mayflower. How many of us would there be, living and breathing in this country, who trickled down from that one voyage?

In my head I spin a thin filament of light and connect those glowing pinpoints together, watching the weave come to life, stretching across the land. When the web is holding itself taut, I search the rest of the globe for those who have descended from a pilgrim and travelled back across the land or waters, for that has surely happened a few times over. I see a web of life, grown from a few seeds of hope, from an action of great change that a handful of people had the courage to embrace. And this web that shimmers in my vision, and glitters in the starlight above me, also road maps within this body that holds me.

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand,
you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors.
All of them are alive in this moment.
Each is present in your body.
You are the continuation of each of these people.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

For me, this idea translates out. I think of the clothes I wear. Someone packaged that garment up and shipped it to the store I bought it from. Someone sewed the garment that was packaged. Someone cut the garment that was sewn. Someone patterned the pieces that were cut. Someone created the design of the garment. Someone wove the fabric that was cut. Someone spun the threads that wove the fabric. Someone picked the fiber that was spun into thread. Someone tended the crop of fiber. Someone planted the seeds that grew. Someone cultivated the beds for planting. Think of how many hands touched your clothes and how many lives were dependent upon the creation of those clothes to put food on their tables and feed their children?

At some point, our connections transcend bloodlines. All ancestors are our ancestors. All descendents are our descendents, and they look to us to show them how to care for this world. At some point, we have to stop thinking about what kind of world our ancestors shaped for us and focus on how we can shape it into a better version for those who will call us ancestors someday.

Giving Gratitude at the Holiday Season
‘Tis the season for charity, and what better way to “be the change you wish to see in the world” than by spreading some anonymous cheer? Look into collecting and/or donating supplies to your local food kitchen. Donate gifts to Toys for Tots so that on Christmas morning, some child will have a bit of holiday magic they would have been without. Also, if you want to make sure it goes to a family in need, you can check with local churches organizing and collecting for low-income families who might not otherwise have a holiday and ask what they need.

Regardless of your personal religious persuasion, Catholic Charities is a worthy and well-reputed organization that does a lot of programming of benefit to our local community. If you have $20 to spare, you can buy a flock of chickens (or other animals, with prices going up) for a family through Heifer International. It’s one of the presents we give ourselves every year, donating in honor of someone we know. This year we donated a flock of ducks and a share of rabbits. It’s the kind of gift that feeds the soul.

Gratitude links:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mayflower Ancestors

Almost 400 years ago, my ancestors came over to this country, among the first pilgrims to try to tame a living out of its land. Sir Francis Eaton, a carpenter, his wife Sarah and their son Samuel, a baby. They came with the pilgrims, members of the congregation of Leyden separatists fleeing the jailors of England for the right to practice their religion to Holland, and then to the New World in 1620.

I wonder what Sarah, in her early twenties, thought when Francis, 23, told her he was taking their still suckling child on a voyage across the ocean to live in a new and uncivilized wilderness. As far as it is documented, it is believed that the voices of the wives and women of the congregation held no weight in vote of whether or not to partake in the venture to move to this unknown place. I wonder who among them saw it as a blessing and sanctuary. Did Sarah, young Sarah with her new baby, look forward to the new life? Did she support her husband, though quietly unwilling to leave her family behind, or did she believe their god would see them through this one more trial? Or was she terrified, a new bride and newly mothered?

She and Francis were wed in Bristol, and she is thought to have been from Bristol but there is no record of her before a marriage date, as well as no listing of her maiden name. Just Sarah, wife of Sir Francis, mother of Samuel. Sarah, who died the first winter aboard ship, never stepping foot on the earth she had crossed an ocean to meet. What records remained say she died early in 1621 but after January 11. Other records indicate she died in early spring. All of the accidental and surprise deaths were well-documented, so it is assumed that she succumbed to some form of general illness from the harsh winter.

Francis and Sarah married in Bristol in 1619, the place of Francis’ birth. Their son Samuel, named after a brother of Francis’ who died in childhood, was born before the beginning of the voyage from Holland in 1620. Such a short marriage filled with an intense uprooting... and for Sarah, a historically quiet death.

I like to imagine that Francis and Sarah loved each other, so young (to my twenty-first century heart, I am aware). I can’t imagine she would have willingly carried a vulnerable babe into that watery wilderness save for some greater danger threatening them if they remained. I wonder if Francis was ashore when she died, as one of the younger men aboard, or if he was able to sit beside her and whisper his goodbyes and apologies for bringing them across. I wonder if he held any regret for their decision in the loss of her, not knowing of course the place in history they were carving, or if he believed that their god brought them there for another purpose and that his heart breaking was a sacrifice required of him… And how he must have felt, left behind without lodging or food yet, with a young baby who would never have memory of his mother.

Francis wed twice more and had more children. His oldest son Samuel survived, grew into a man, married and had his own children, from whom I am descended. When Francis died in 1633, himself a victim of some sickness that swept through Plymouth, his estate at the time of death is listed as “one cow and a calf, two hogs, fifty bushels of corn, a black suit, a white hat and a black hat, boots, saws, hammers, an adze, square, augers, a chisel, boards, fishing lead, and some kitchen items.”

In my post-Thanksgiving feast haze I allow myself a moment of gratitude for my ancestors who had the fortitude to brave a new world (even if their western views originally biased them to see the Indians as savages, which allowed them to plunder the native’s food stocks without remorse that by feeding themselves they were leaving another people to hunger).

May my ancestors’ trials, triumphs and failures remind me to be brave and fearless when following the path and course my heart see as true. May it remind me to treat other living beings with as much respect as I wish to be given. May it mark the growth and evolution we have made in seeing ourselves as part of a larger interconnected web and may it offer patience and tolerance of the unknown.

Sarah Whispers to the Night Sky
I often dream of a woman in somber clothing standing at a wooden ship rail, staring out at the ocean… The cloying scent of the ocean air is a being all its own element and we are the aliens in its landscape. The world around us has turned to grey storm, where wave and sky cannot be separated, but become one canvas, as my son becomes against my chest, seeking his nourishment and light from me within this mural of fear and hope. We are travelling home, compelled by faith, to a place none of us have yet known. A place we will all rest ourselves when we leave this world of man. But when the waters calm themselves and the skies open to reveal the universe-in-splendor above us I am filled with the wonder of god. There is more to this world than we can know, and more than we should know. We are of godliness, but we are not gods and this ocean holds more wisdom and mystery in her than we can muster. I meet her, mother to mother, and the water within me knows this to be true- I see endings in her endlessness.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Due to a nasty virus in my computer files, this week's blog post is postponed until the 24th. Many blessings.

12.3.2010... My computer is being repaired for longer than expected. A new post will appear within the next week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unwanted Ancestors: The Ones You Know

Every family tree has some bad apples, it’s that simple. There are and have been bad people in the world. And every one of them had a mother and father, and perhaps siblings, and many of them have had children of their own. Trickle down far enough, and some of us will find ourselves dangling at the end of one of those branches. This notion is something that steers people away from ancestor work. They don’t know what kind of spirits they’d be opening their door to.

Every apple tree bears some bad fruit. Every orchard often suffers the rot of an entire tree. It happens. And sometimes blight will devour an entire orchard and kill off a species. Here’s the simplest truth: you are who you are because of every single person on your family tree that came before you. Even if they are not directly related to you, but hang off on some side branch, those people molded and shaped the generational peers who were directly related to you.

Everything is interconnected. Everything. Another truth is that, just as you control who you open your front door to, you can control what spirits you open yourself and your heart to, without keeping that door locked. As long as you remember and believe that, you can work with or around those unwanted ancestors with ease.

When Bad Seeds Fall Close to Home
It’s hard for people to contemplate what sort of ancestors they might have had when the only people they’ve known familial were bad seeds, like parents and/or grandparents. I have known people whose immediate families were so toxic, they had trouble believing in the possibility that they themselves were capable of being good people. That is where reaching backwards into the line of ancestors can be healing. Every pattern of bad behavior starts somewhere, no matter the catalyst or reason. Remember that, because your ancestors also existed before that moment. They are waiting for you.

It only takes one person to teach hate and fear, releasing it onto further generations. It also only takes one person to stop the cycle of violence, hate and abuse. If you can recognize the behavior, recognize the triggers that prompt it in yourself and/or prompted it in others, you can find the strength of will to stop yourself from repeating them. You are of your family, you are not your family.

In this world, we all have scars. It’s not a competition over whose are worse. It’s just a sad circumstance of our culture. For cases where the scars run deep, I heartily endorse and recommend therapy, as cycles of hurt are hard to overcome. It’s difficult to believe in a perspective outside of the world of hurt. Therapists, counselors and psychologists can offer that help.

For example, being able to see the cycle that your parent hurt you because their parent hurt them because their parent hurt them because… allows you to see the bigger picture and the larger energy. You can step back and see it without the personal attachment to it which allows you to decide that you don’t want to be a part of that energy. And your stepping out of it lessens it’s momentum. Life doesn’t happen to us. But sometimes we have to remove ourselves from one current of energy that’s polluting us, to a healthier one. It only takes one person. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” No one has said it better.

I do not argue nature or nurture. I believe in both. I have watched a boy, nurtured in a loving family struggle with his angry outbursts and violent tendencies. A boy who never knew his biological father and struggled with emotions he could not control until he was a man, meeting the mirror of himself in his father. Without having been exposed to him, the boy learned that his father struggled with the same fights he himself had. Growing up nurtured was one step of his evolution. Learning to nurture himself was the next. This is why it’s important to have a connection to something that reminds us of the length of time stretching before us and the length of time stretching after us.

You don’t have to do work with the dead who hurt you. You don’t even have to honor them. But if you allow your emotions to block their presence in your past in your heart, you block everyone who came before them too.

Ancestor Ritual of Self
Here’s a simple and symbolic ritual designed for attachment and detachment. It is specifically tailored here to help you disconnect from pain associated with specific spirits- not the spirit itself. This is not a cure-all, or a solution to feelings you have not dealt with yet. This ritual is not about forgiveness. A Buddhist teacher once told me that forgiveness is something you give when you need to because your anger is hurting you. It is never about absolving the other person.

We anger at those who hurt us and it’s natural. Anger is a response our animal bodies have to situations that hurt us. It is supposed to act like a little burst of energy to propel us out of a bad situation. What it has evolved into, culturally, is something greater than it was meant to be. In that vein, this ritual is also about walking your body through a physical action of detaching to help change your actual brain chemistry and emotional response to the ghost of the person who hurt you. And over time, to how you respond to being hurt in general.

Light a candle for focus. Gather two pictures. One of a deceased family member who died that caused you pain, and one of you- with no other people in the photos (you can cut them out). If you have no photos, write their name on a piece of paper. Tie the picture of the deceased to the picture of you with a piece of red cord or yarn. Call on your ancestors, however elaborate or simply you wish, to offer support and witness.

Concentrate on the red cord (remembering the therapy I recommended). This is meant for people who have done the internal work first. Acknowledge the hurt sent to you from the deceased person. When you are focused and ready, and clearly see the thread between you, cut the red cord where it meets your picture with the intention that you no longer accept the energetic hold the other person had on your heart.

Discard the other picture however feels natural in the moment, as it no longer means anything to you. This is not about being disrespectful, but about you making a point to yourself that the emotional attachment that was there, isn’t. Hold your image, free from tethers and feel that strength run up your arms and into your heart. Then hold it in your heart and pull it down into your core. Remember that strength. This is where your magick lives.

The bonus of doing this kind of work is that, as your ancestors see you working towards wholeness, you may be unknowingly equalizing a cycle of bad turns that allows your ancestral energies still in the ether some semblance of peace as well, and perhaps at last.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Bones of the Dead Beneath Us

I walked on old hallowed ground, though new to me, along the run of the Susquehanna River. From the start it was easy to see the ruination caused by the many floods that have plagued us here, but it also rings right that nature should retake that which she nourished. It is right that everything from the earth should return to the earth- not in a sealed box in the ground, separated from the soil. But perhaps that was true before there were so many of us trying to decay at once.

There was a particular statue that drew to this cemetery; a large winged angel that stands guardian along the road. Many of the tombstones were old, dating before this century. I would say that most of them spanned the turning of the century, with a small minority at one end that passed the Korean War. The trees ripple gold in the wind, their leaves chasing each other across limbs and into an autumnal freefall.

I found a moss-eaten stone for Catherine A. McLaughlin, wife of Michael J. McMahon, who lived 1882-1906. It’s the first tombstone of that time I’ve seen that listed a wife’s maiden name, which has proved barriers to many a genealogy hunter. And considering her age and the time of her death, it warms my heart. I like to imagine she was loved and that she mattered to her husband and her family.

There were many familial groupings like trees, with a central obelisk with one or two names surrounded by their children and grandchildren in circles or squares and then, as if there was a mass migration out of the area, one or two modern stones but no more.

So many tiny stones with sleeping sheep on them litter this graveyard in particular, for children who died. So very many. And I think of my niece Victoria, who I never had a chance to meet. Who died a week away from her birth. I remember the photos of her post-delivery and how I was just waiting for her to open her eyes and wake up. She didn’t look dead. But she was. And I think about my brother, my heart, who had to endure a loss that no one should have to. I see her haunting his eyes still. And around me, there are so many sleeping sheep.
            Our Little Joseph. We miss him.
            Helen Masser, 1909-1910.
            Natalino Giovannini, Dec 26, 1909 – Jan 8, 1910.
            Francesca Testane, Morto 1909, 19 months.
            Leos Bills. Mat Bills.
            Stephen, infant son, died 1912.

In the wake of such a sobering moment, a thriving patch of bright yellow flowers caught my eye. Mary Hopkins, died May 13, 1913. Almost a century ago. Yet the sight of those flowers lit a hope in me that someone came to honor her. Someone else planted those flowers, and maybe comes still and speaks the name of Mary Hopkins, strokes the grass above her, and offers a little light in the darkness of her loss. Maybe some other descendent looking for roots.
Another Mary’s modest stone lies lodged beneath a twisting tree being while ---e Quilligan has been sucked down into the dirt gone soft from the flooding waters. As did Bridget --- who died February 16---.

Mostly what I saw among the fallen leaves and green grasses, were monuments lying in pieces, carefully laid, where they could be, by cemetery caretakers during clean up, tucking small crosses into spire niches; in other places the pieces of rubble were stacked carefully over the plot. The ground buckled often beneath me. Gravestones teetered and tottered down zigzagging rows. From the road, driving past every day, the rows look pin-perfect. Poor Peter O’ Donnelly and James Roche, both died in 1865, both laid to rest in the same space, and both suffered stones upturned from their pedestals. With so much buckling above ground, what is the state of the graves below?

Then I came upon Philip Sullivan, died 1893, and Mary, his wife, who died in 1906. Mary who died after him and still died without more of a name. I repeated “Mary, his wife” over and over, reaching out to her spirit with the words. I want her to have a moment, somewhere in the past, somewhere when she was alive. I want her to hear her name and know somewhere in her secret inside wisdom that a daughter of Margaret, of Patricia, of Margaret is standing at her tomb, speaking her name aloud and knowing that somewhere in the web of life, she mattered.

And then I stumbled, and almost stepped upon, The Regan Stone, 1822-1934. This being of unknown gender flourished in a time of hardship. The man or woman saw the Civil War, the mass production of automobiles, and World War I, dying during our country’s depression. To have lived that long and leave only a simple marker… And I think of all those who have died who have not had family to put them to rest or whose bodies have not been found to be put to rest and I think that in such a time of financial crisis, perhaps Regan was luckier than his/her peers to be honored with a stone at all.

The ground was littered with small white mushrooms and, in the center of the cemetery, the ground actually pitched and cratered beneath my feet. The safe path brought me to Edward Hanefin, born 1856, his wife Mary Elizabeth 1865-1913, his daughters, Elizabeth 1890-1891 and then Marie 1892-1920. But there must have been no left to remember to engrave his date of death. Or he died away from here and unknown. Or… I will never know. But I saw his name and that he was born. And he lived in the world and added to it. Edward Hanefin, I remember you.

Walter Paul Bowen, Architect, 1902-1980. It was a modest, proud and accomplished marker. Smaller, older tombstones sat strewn along the river edge, worn and faded and covered in lichen and moss. There were old sections of Italian names and Greek names, foreign words etched on stone. The Irish monopolized the far end of the plots.

Nellie N. Hodgson, 1883-1930, and baby. That pulled me to the mirror world along the river, needing a moment. I felt so much grief in the carving of that truth. Twisting trees dipped down to meet themselves in reflection, showing the spirits doorways to cross over. Beside it, I found a section of stones fitted with porcelain oval photos of the deceased. Some were missing, some were damaged. I am familiar with this practice and I can’t help but think that’s what I want… a room with images of those who have passed on. A room of memories smiling at me out of life. I was warmed by the faces defining names.
            Miroslav Skiruvan, 1925-1930, spi sladce nas synui.
            Hedvika Nemgansky, 1920-1928, odpocivejv pokoji.
            Michael Pecha, 1879-1933, Paulina Pecha 1879-1932, nech odpocivaju v pokoji.
            PFC Alex F. Kuracina, WW2, KIA, 1912-1944.

It was the first time I have ever experienced the sensation that my feet walked over the bones of the deceased. It was also the closest I have ever been inside a cemetery so near Samhain since I have come into myself. I move quickly through the disconcerting sensations into a power grid of energy I am touching as I walk gently and quietly across the strange and spongy grass, watching for sinkholes.

There is one stone that won me in that space. One marker that made me long to know the woman it was erected for. There were various statues of Mary all over, overshadowed only by sculptural crosses: In Ever Loving Memory of Bridget McTague, born in Ireland, died in Binghamton, NY, October 13, 1955, erected by her loving children. Bridget’s stone had beautiful and engraved scrollwork with a niche cut out of the top. In the niche was Mary, the blessed Goddess, but in transformation. Her face, unblemished, unmarred, was sculpted into some semblance of cat or rabbit. And my gut felt that woman must have been a nurturer, must have been a wonder. And sixty years later, walking the resting place of the dead on a quiet afternoon, I touch that echo of her left behind.

Where are the bones of your ancestors in the physical world? What are their geographic locations? Mine have been turning to dust and ash in England, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York state… that I am aware of. After so many centuries there must be more, scattered across the worlds.

As each generation takes breath from the air, another generation decays and returns to the earth. As each body burns in fire, the tears of grief flow, nourishing the decay flourishing in the earth, and another generation is born to take breath from the air. Life is a cycle that will continue.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reflections from a Dumb Supper

My Great-Grandmother Elsie Durant Riddle (1904-1994) and me, 1989.

There were thirteen chairs at the table. Six bodies needing breathe, six invited spirits needing body and one shrouded place setting that was gateway to Otherworld. I called in the spirits to dine with us and then I invited my Great-Grandma Elsie to sit across from me, my hands on the sweater I had hung on her chair, her ring in a box beside her plate. And we began. After dessert, when the main course was served, I found myself swinging my legs beneath the table and when I focused on the emotion that was causing the physical motion, a memory within me opened...

I was sitting on the end of the twin bed covered with a white, woven bedspread that had little raised puffs on it that created a design on top of it. We only pulled this bedspread out when my Great-Grandma stayed with us for the summer. I remember noting, when I was a child, that I didn't know where the bedspread lived while she was in Florida. In the moment of the memory, I was sitting on that bedspread, swinging legs that didn't touch the floor yet, sitting with my Great-Grandma while she dressed for the day. When she was with us, I liked to follow her around like a miniature shadow. She was my mother’s Grandmother and I was aware that she had known my Grandfather when he wore diapers and that fact amazed me. I am not sure she liked us intruding on her routine, but she let us, and adored us in return.

It was our time, in the mornings, before we children ran outside to play with the neighborhood kids. In this memory, it is just her and I. I watched incredulously as she pulled on her knee-high stockings in the 98 degree heat and asked her if she was cold in disbelief. I didn't yet understand that for someone from a warmer climate, New York was colder in general. Then she pulled on ankle-length pants, a light summer blouse, and then a knit sweater with one of those clips that held it on her shoulders like a cape. Last on were these cork and cloth wedge sandals that she wore. Her skin was soft and paper-smooth, with some curvy edges that jiggled a little when she laughed. To me, my Grandma always smelled of cool baby powder…

...back at the supper, I could still feel the raised surface of the bedspread beneath my fingers and how, even in the heat of the summer, her skin was cool beneath my touch. Every silent supper I sit with her unlocks another memory, another treasure. I could feel the fullness of the room around me as if it were a choreographed dancing of currents moving in and out of and around and under each other.

And that is what our lives are like, touching each other, moving away to and into one another, bouncing off of and merging with… intersecting and separating. And even as the years since her death pull us further from each other physically, my work has allowed me to close that gap by recalling the past with a surge of emotional memory that brings it present. Everyone is a gift, as Elsie was to all those who knew her.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Halloween Gift; Blessed Samhain

By Joy Harjo

Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Setting a Place for the Dead

It’s pronounced Sow-en and it’s an old Celtic festival celebrating the transition of the land from harvested to resting. It’s also one of two nights in the year when the veil that separates this world from the last and next are thin, allowing us to more easily contact those who have come before and those who have passed on. The U.S. holiday of Halloween has its roots in Samhain, brought over by the Irish immigrants who found the New World pumpkins much easier to carve into lanterns than the turnips they had used in their homeland.

Before the Christians introduced themselves to the Celtic lands, the people had no human personifications of deity. Danu was not a woman who represented the river Danu or the element of water. Danu was the river that flowed through the land and she was mighty. The Celtic people believed the land spirits and elementals walked among them, visible at liminal times and in liminal spaces; the point between yesterday and today, between today and tomorrow, between light and dark. They saw a space between inside and out, as in doorways and windows (which is where the idea of carrying a bride over the threshold is rooted). After Christianity bonded itself to their pagan, or pastoral, ways, land deities were personified as human to match up with Saints.

According to Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion: "The Eve and day of Samhain were characterized as a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken. Not a festival honoring any particular Celtic deity, Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of non-human forces that roamed the earth during that period." It’s a night for divination and conversing with the spirit world, human, tree, stone, wind and other.

This is the time I long for… at the moment the harvest is in, the beds are put to sleep and there is a moment for some rest. There is time for some rest and quiet conversation with old ghosts. My house stands near the meeting of two rivers and I call on the energy of those forces of nature. I call on the power of the mountains ablaze in autumn color. I call on the energy of the steady stone, asleep beneath me. I call on these energies so that I may awaken myself to the beings that I share this space with. I call on the light of that magick and I call it into me, where it will join with my will and my flame and it will guide me through the dark months.

Mothers of my mother and fathers of my father, steady the flame within me. There is still a long way to go.

The Dumb Supper
On the night when the veil is thinnest, the dead walk the earth again, if only in spirit form. I visualize the different overlapping energetic planes as separated by veils, instead of walls. At Samhain, the veil lifts and the skin separating us is no more. We all share the same space for the duration of this holiday. Celtic people would put a candle inside a carved turnip in the window, to light the way home for their dead. The religious introduction of the devil condemned these spirits into demons. After that, scary faces were carved in them to frighten the evil away from the home; what had been a lantern and invitation to come inside became both a ward and warning.

When I carve my pumpkin, I intend it to be a beacon. I will place it on the altar when I sit down with friends, each of us and one of our ancestors or beloved dead sitting down to honor them at a formal Dumb Supper. While the specific Dumb Supper is Celtic in origin, you can find variations on this ritual in Korean, Mexican, Appalachian and Egyptian cultures veneration of ancestors.

In the formal dinner, a place is set at the head of the table, a shroud set over the chair. This place setting is the Spirit Chair and acknowledges all the spirits your heart and home are open to. You may wish to set other chairs for specific ancestors and loved ones, too. One way I personalize the Spirit Chair is by writing all of the names of my ancestors and loved ones in silver sharpie on a dark plate that I bought at a local dollar store. Place a candle on the center of the plate, and any others intended for those who have gone before. Prayers and letters to the spirits can be placed under the plate. At the beginning of the meal, light the candle and speak the name of the spirit you are inviting out loud. These will be the last words spoken. A Dumb Supper is a silent supper, silent being the original meaning of the word dumb (as in deaf, dumb and blind). In a shared space I use instrumental music to help keep it focused and sacred.

The table itself is set with the service backwards from how you would normally set it. If your glass sits on the right side of your plate, you set it on the left. Same for your linens and silverware. Dinner is also served backwards, starting with dessert, main course, side dishes and ending with the appetizer. You can adapt this depending on what format of meal your family prefers; it’s all about the intention of mirroring the effect. Where possible, I have found it beneficial to make recipes that are meaningful or have history for you and the spirits you invite. When the food is served, course by course, the Spirit Chair is served first, and then the spirits, taking a note from the ancient Greeks and offering a good portion to them.

Enjoy the meal. Pay attention to memories that flood your body or images that come to you. Be open to accepting everything and try not to rationalize or process the experience as it happens. Maybe you will hear a voice. Maybe you will feel the strongest impression that you just had a conversation with someone deceased. Maybe you will be met in your dreams as you drift into Otherworld in slumber. Maybe nothing will happen for you. But the spirit you invite to the table will be honored, fed, and warmed.

When the meal is over, say a final farewell. If possible, leave the food on the table until the candle sputters out (I recommend tea lights) and let the food get cold. Then dispose of it with sacred intention. If you live in the country, you could leave the plate outside for the night (candle extinguished of course). If you have the blessing of composting, you can recycle the offerings.

In Your Home
This year, start your holiday with intention as you carve your pumpkin. Will it be an invitation for you to open your house for the night? Or will it be an offering in itself of honor, but nothing more? Which choice is right for you this year?

Invite your close friends over for a sit down meal with an ancestor or a shared loved one who has passed. Find ways to make it meaningful for yourselves. Of course, not everyone can set aside the time or resources for a formal dinner, especially not on Halloween when the children are trick-or-treating. Instead, try setting another place at the table while you eat your usual dinner. Light a candle on the plate and simply offer a bit of what you have to the spirit plate first. What impressions flow through you during your meal?

Listen to the wind and the skittering of the leaves.
Smell winter blowing in, like the shifting of the ocean current into the bay.
This is the water time. Change is coming. Change comes.
Pay attention to your dreams during the night.
What wisdom do the ancestors offer you?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Honoring the Recent Dead

All Hallows
In a previous post I shared the difference for me between my Ancestral Dead and my Beloved Dead. As we near All Hallows Eve, I want to share my thoughts on the Recent Dead, where the waters of grief are shallow and stormy, and easily stirred.

It is almost October’s Blood Moon, also known as the Hallow Moon, Shedding Moon and Winterfelleth, which means winter coming, and the New England earth is giving the last of her harvests. The tomato beds have been cleared and put to rest. We have passed the Equinox and turn towards winter and the longest night.

As the earth quiets and stills and both we and the animals prepare to spend more time indoors than out, we can hear more clearly our own thoughts and emotions. My thoughts move, at this time of year, to the people I have lost in the last turning of the wheel. The celebrations of Halloween and Samhain are dedicated to the concept of the spirits of the dead walking the land. This creates a collective of thoughts directed towards this idea on October 31, whether in belief or mockery or fun. With such a large pool of energy to connect to, it is a fitting time of year to actively honor their memories.

Death as a Passage
Just as births are a joyous occasion and a rite of passage for both parent and child, death is also a rite of passage for both the deceased and their loved ones. It’s supposed to be a moment that alters and colors our lives. After a birth you spend your life learning to let go of what could happen and help your child grow into their own person. After death you are forced to understand the absence of the physical and the acceptance of the unknowable.

Do you allow death to diminish you? Or do you use it as a catalyst to make changes in how you relate to your world, and the people in it? If someone died that you never told how important they were to you, take steps to make sure that doesn't happen to again. Tell those who remain how much you care. If someone you admired passed, be a role model for those who may look up to you. If someone passed in tragedy, have gratitude for the abundance you have been given and share it with others when they are in need.

A fetus spends nine months in its cocoon, forming and birthing itself. As someone who appreciates the balance of the natural world, I believe that our spirits, once released from the larger physical cocoon, spends time to unform from the essence of who we are into… whatever comes next. Whatever you believe that to be. I honor the unknowable journey when I honor their memory.

What names sit in your list of recent dead? Who were they to you? What impact did they have on your life? What lessons did they bring that challenged you and helped you grow?

My Recent Dead
Karl Weber, a loved friend, passed last January in tragedy. He had the most exquisite crystal blue eyes and a smile that was infectious. He was always honest with me, and never knowing how else to put a thing, he said it direct. Karl told me that when he was younger he was not always a good person, but in the span of years I knew him, he was generous with his self, his heart and with his time. He is missed.

Lunabelle the Jackalope Cat, our beloved pet and family member passed March 4th. My baby, also known as Luna-No-Pants and Chicken McNugget. She was the first being I reared into the world and was my shadow and companion for almost ten years. She became suddenly sick and when we took her to the vet we discovered that she only had hours to live. She is irreplaceable.

Charles Littman was my kindergarten teacher and Ellen Fitzgerald was my fifth grade teacher, one of the first truly compassionate and open-minded adults I met. The world is a better place for the work they both did and the heart they gave. They touched the lives of hundreds of children who are now adults in the world, impacting change and creating new families.

I am a better person for having known them, for having been shaped and colored by their deeds, ideals, and service. I see the threads that connect us all more clearly every year. There are many ways to honor the memory of the recent dead. If they died from illness, you can make a charitable donation in their name or volunteer time at a hospice. If it was a role model of yours, see where you can give back, like maybe working with Habitat for Humanity, or reading stories to children at the library. The one thing death clearly defines is how important it is to be a part of the life around us. No cultural festival demonstrates that idea better than Dia De Los Muertos.

The Day of the Dead
I like how this festival joyfully celebrates the lives of those who have recently passed. I find that the funerary customs I was raised with actually attributed more to my struggles with how to grieve. For those who celebrate The Day of the Dead, there is no room for tears and grief during the three days of reverence that last October 31- November 2. They believe that an invitation to their dead for a party should be a party when they show.

Families decorate the graves of loved ones with candles to warm the hands of the spirits and their favorite foods to entice them to return for a visit. The more recent the death of the deceased, the more extravagant the altar built in their name will be. Families’ picnic and feast together in the cemeteries, decked with the scents of copal and marigold, and littered with Calaveras (sugar skulls). It should be noted that The Day of the Dead does not historically connect to Halloween. It traces back to a month long celebration of the Aztec people, which took place in the calendar month of August. When the Spaniards stumbled upon it, they moved it they moved the festival to correlate with their festival of All Souls.

Spend a moment and share the name of someone who impacted your life, in whatever way, who passed this last year. Offer a toast to their memory the next time you share a drink. Tell a story of something you learned from them, or share a memory that makes you laugh.

Every life touches another.
Every death vibrates in someone’s breast.
May those we have lost be at peace.
May those who have lost find peace again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Apples & Pomegranates: A Meditation

In the autumn, an apple, ripe, falls to the ground and rots as the nights grow colder. Seeds sink into the earth, nourished by decaying flesh, and sleep beneath the layers of soil and dying brush. As the soil warms in the spring the seed will crack open and a shoot will pierce the dense skin and unfurl, baring itself to the sun and rain. It will grow its trunk towards the stars until it is strong enough to branch and blossom. Those blossoms will grow and stretch and birth forth fruit as summer comes to a close, in time to nourish our bellies and stock our pantries and fall to the earth as the animals sleep sated, to rot and decay and deposit seeds on the earth…

In the autumn, Inanna went underground, passing through seven gates, passing down seven generations till she stood naked and bare. She went underground to meet her sister, her shadow self, so that she could know her own darkness. She was stripped bare, and still she pushed forward for knowledge. Inanna embraced her sister Ereshkigal and accepted her darkness. She stepped into the hands of death to know the deepest mystery. In order to remember, she had to dismember.

In the beginning of mythology, when goddess was worshipped with god, Inanna went down to meet herself and recover her ancient wisdom, her wholeness. In the darkness, they say, the pomegranates were bountiful. The pomegranate hangs heavy, with a thick, sour and bitter red rind to fool the blind into ignoring its treasure. For inside, the husk is filled, swimming and dripping with roads and paths and lines stretching out into the world and curving in and multiplying like endless possibilities marching off the edge of the world. Sweet, juicy seeds bunch like grapes, hanging on inner branches connected to the inner rind. So many seeds. So much food. So much to nourish the body and soul.

In tales, it was pomegranate seeds that Persephone ate from the fruit of the tree, securing her stay in the underworld kingdom. She could not unlearn what she learned or unknow what she knew, just as she could not repair the fruit to an unblemished state after breaking through the skin. She opened herself to the darkness, to the things she didn’t want to see. Going in to go out, eating the seeds to follow the fruit back to the branch, back to the veins, back and down like a rabbit tunnel tumbling back into the ground and down into the roots. Down into the roots to break through bone buried in the earth.

I am traveling back through the blood to find you.

Lilith was born of a seed, like Adam, and grew into her own self, but not so Eve, who was born of Adam’s bone and her own bits. She knew that under her skin she was made of Adam but she wanted to know what Adam was made from… what ancestor birthed the world? So Eve picked the apple to pierce the skin and bite through flesh to reach the seed of the fruit to remember… to remember what Inanna went down to reclaim.

She thanked the serpent who showed her the apple, who told her what she’d find in the seeds of the fruit, fruit the tree bore as one bears a child. Cut an apple in half at the fattest curve of it’s middle and you will find the star within, like the womb where the seed grows. The ancient energy of the birth of life. Every seed in the star, that helps power the generator of rebirth, contains a little death. Every small seed contains a small poison. Death is the shadow of life and one cannot exist without the other and that is what Eve learned and Lilith knew. It’s what Persephone could not unknow and what Inanna embraced.

We cannot cease to exist when we die, for if the shadow of life is death, than the shadow of death is life and we will continue on just as the seeds fall to the earth and bury themselves in dying leaf litter. Spring rains warm and feed them and they grow, sinking roots deep in the ground, breaking bone, as they grow up and out, reaching for the sun and stars and pushing our energy towards the world around us. Life is motion. We push our energy out and roll it from blossom into fruit, an offering for those who would also know truth.

I touch the fruit on the tree and feel the seed within. I feel the stem that connects it to branch and down through trunk and into the soil and through the roots crushing through bone. In this meditation we learn how to return to the beginning, to the death that created life and holds the promise of rebirth.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Ancestral Dead, My Beloved Dead

My ancestors are pillars of ice-blue fire, breathing in seasons like stars, stones and trees. My Ancestral Dead are fire that doesn’t burn.

Not so for the Beloved Dead. The energy of those who you have known in this physical plane, those you have touched, held, hugged and lost is not cool and calm. Hot salty tears burn my cheeks with a fever as the grief washes over me. The recent dead are changeable water, tumultuous with grief in one minute, still with acceptance in another, and then raging against the feel of loss… they are uneasy waters. Unless you feel called to step further on the path of this work, I recommend stating with clear intention that you are honoring the Beloved Dead and asking nothing of them in return. I routinely call on the energy of my forebears to watch over my nieces and nephew, but I do not ask that of the Beloved Dead.

It may seem strange that I do not ask the spirits who knew me to help watch over us. That’s the good thing about generations though- we keep coming. There are plenty of lives to call on, that I can leave the recently deceased be. It’s my belief that the Beloved Dead are transitioning what was left of themselves through the process of dying and moving on. I have experienced the moment of death with a loved one, and it opened something in me. When he died and his spirit left his body, when the life of him left the room, the air about me wavered and changed, as if a warm flame had been blown out. His body was not him anymore.

I do not claim to know what comes next or what happens to that bit of life. I don’t know what happens. But I have faith that something does.

You can’t discuss spirit without being metaphysical. As far as I’m concerned, spirit is energy and science has proven that energy exists. The way I talk about it is more romantic but that doesn’t remove the science; after all, I’m a writer, not a scientist. I believe what I believe because it makes sense to me based on what I’ve experienced. I am always open to adapting my beliefs. As I change and grow and evolve, so too will my concepts of faith and spirit.

My Great-grandfather, Harold Lafayette Riddle is one of my Ancestral dead, having died nine months before I was born. His life was a gateway between my ancestors and my beloved dead. Harold’s wife, my Great-grandmother Elsie, is one of my Beloved dead, an integral part of my life until her death my last year of high school. I may honor her on the same altar as I honor my ancestors, but I am aware that my connection to her is still partially in this plane, and not the other.

Anyone who came before me that I did not know is an ancestor. For example, my father’s mother, Ruth, is my ancestor; she died when he was five. Most of my known ancestors are a list of names with little known substance. Speaking the names aloud is a song that sings the story of my bloodline:

Marquis DeLayfayette Riddle, Sarah Clickner, Levi Gillette, Jane Berry, Layfayette Riddle, Frances Gillette, George Durant, Louise Burmah, Harold Lafayette Riddle, Adam Art, Katherine Maria Schmeelk, John F. Pils, George Art, Katherine Pils, Frank Burke, Robert George Art, Loretta Burke…

Sir Francis Eaton, Sarah Eaton, Samuel Eaton, Solomon Gool Eaton, Hannah Ann Treadwell, Philitus Tenney, Malvina, Bennett Eaton, Cordelia Tenney, Ammi Smith, Sophia Sears, Reuben Feagles Dutcher, Eliza Marsh Bird, Silas Parker Smith, Hattie Eva Dutcher, Royal Levant Eaton, Hattie Eva Smith, Ruth Emma Ruston, Richard Ruston, Ann, William Ireland, Phoebe Lenton, Charles Evan Ruston, Ruth Ireland, Thaddeus Rice Wicker, Cynthia Lusk, Bailey Harrison Whitcher, Ordelia DeLozier, Hiram King Wicker, Angeline Whitcher, Frank William Ruston, Minnie Estelle Wicker…

So many names, so many lives. These names are the direct line of people whose children bore children who eventually bore me. Were it not for them, I would not be me. The magnitude of that realization can feel like pressure bearing down, waiting for me to be something special or do something special. But standing in honor of these people doesn’t feel like pressure. Those lives are stones beneath me, giving me firm footing. I am because they were, whether they were people of good character or not.

A step to strengthen your ancestral ties is to begin writing down the names of your family tree you know. Ask your parents who their grandparents were if you didn’t know them. Ask your Grandparents who their parents were. Get as much information as you can. Where were they born? Where did they live? Where did they grow up? When did they marry? How many times? How many children?

As for your Beloved Dead, keep a list of those you were close to who have passed on from this world. For my own work, I have tried to keep a list that remembers those I was very close to, classmates I grew up with, people who helped shape and mold me, and people who affected a change my life in an enormous way:

Melinda Tanner, Mark Eaton, Jeff Patterson, Elizabeth Fricke, Willie Lingenfelter, Elsie Durant Riddle, Gabe Reynolds, Joel Pelletier, Victoria Eaton, Trent Illig, Edward Jerge, Donna Riddle, Jurgen Banse-Fey, Tommy Amyotte, Paul Seeloff, Richard James Riddle, Brett Elsess, Charles “Sienna Fox” Duvall, Andrew Begley, Coswald Mauri, Norm Herbert, Jad Alexander, Princess Leather Falcor (beloved pet), Dr. August Staub, Martha Dayton, Maurice “Strong Bear” Foxx, Melvin Chausse, Wilma Derbeshire Meade, John Simeon Croom, Karl Weber, Lunabelle the Jackalope (beloved pet), Larry Littman, Ellen Fitzgerald.

On Samhain, I will call out the names of my Ancestral Dead to come and bear witness as I honor those that I loved, that I have known and held. I speak the names of the Beloved Dead to remember them and hear memories stir at the sounds of familiar words on tongue. That is how I honor them, with voice and word and deed.

Known, or unknown, how best can you honor your ancestors? What legacy, in their name, can you offer your descendants?

*Looking Ahead: Some people are adopted and have no names that are known to them. Later on I’ll talk about working with your unknown ancestors, as well as taking on the ancestors of your adopted tribe, or family.
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