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, 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.
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