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, February 23, 2011

Unexplainable Things Have a Purpose

“If the wonder’s gone when the truth is known
there never really was any wonder.”
~ from the television show House

Unexplainable things have a purpose. It’s something I believe. It’s not the same thing as “everything happens for a reason” because I don’t believe that is true. That’s insinuating that something somewhere is orchestrating the event. In the natural world, things just are and what matters is how we take them. I believe that sometimes the purpose of unexplainable things is just to exist and/or happen, in order to serve as a moment against which we respond and reveal how we react to things unknown. They can be teachable moments, reflecting our vulnerabilities and levels of openness. We cannot control what happens to us all the time. The only control we have is how we respond to it.

Some people think of death as the ultimate unexplainable thing. We try to make sense of it in order to find some solid ground to stand on when we face it but we also meet the stories of those who have come back from death with disbelief and skepticism. We want to know but we want to know and have difficulty accepting an outside voice as truth, assuring that we can never truly have an answer.

Unexplainable things happen but even calling them that is a misnomer. It’s not that they can’t be explained. It’s more that we lack the understanding or language to put the experience into words that make sense. Maybe because we try to put into words something our intuitive bodies just know. We have multiple senses and each of these have their own language and way of responding to and translating the world around us. We spend so much time trying to figure out if what happened to us could have happened to us, we lose sight of the fact that the experience happened at all. Some of these teachable moments are not as grandiose as death. They can be small events that evoke a larger change within us.

In the summer of ’97 on a Smoky Mountain peak, I wandered away from my house at dusk, away from the chaos of all the people and towards the small creek that ran along the property. I was having one of those nights of feeling like there was no place to be alone in a house that 21 people lived in and I was looking for a little inner quiet. I must have sat on the bank of the creek, listening to the gurgling, rippling and singing of the water off the stones for an hour, unmoving, just being.

I almost didn’t notice the shadow fly over me and by the time I reacted the creature was sitting on a low branch above the creek five feet away. It was the first memory I have of seeing an owl in the wild. It was by the far the largest bird I have ever seen in nature. She was all white, with bits of grey tufted here and there. She wasn’t moving and her eyes took me in. They were large and round and the color of dandelions. She might have had horns, and in some recollections earlier on I was more sure- before my brain started telling me what could or couldn’t be possible.

I held my breath as the owl turned its head around. For the moment that we sat there, the smell of the air seemed to shift, filling with a muskier scent of moldy earth and grated wood bark. I exhaled and the owl spread its wings out and flew silently, not even a whisper, back out over my head and I fell, watching it glide overhead, in fearful intimidation. I remember her wing span was almost as wide as I am tall. In that moment, I felt like I had glimpsed an unaltered state of the natural world. It woke something in me and my eyes were open, seeing the wild in tandem with the modern. For years I studied every kind of owl looking for the scientific name of the one I saw. None fit the initial description of what I saw.

One day I asked myself, if someone told me that the owl I saw was impossible in nature, would I disbelieve the experience? The answer was no. Even though I couldn’t find the correct scientific answer, my nose remembered its smell. My skin remembered the rush and blur of air as the owl swooped in. My eyes remember with artistic grandeur the unfurling of those wings. And my ears recall the kind of silence that accompanies the presence of a predator in nature. I chose to embrace the truth that my interaction with this magnificent creature woke a connection in me and served as the catalyst for the spiritual path I have taken. Knowing the facts and the science about that moment would not diminish the wonder and magic of the experience.

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.
It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art
and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder,
no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-Albert Einstein

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Places of Power

Where were you born?
Niagara Falls. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.
Thank you to user Kgab who posted this photo (2007) onto Wikipedia Commons.
It is available for public use without restrictions.

I was born less than 2 miles from the Great Niagara Falls. To be in the presence of the sound, size and sheer natural force of it spilling over like a thunderous herd of water beasts is a humbling experience, whether you’re on the American or Canadian side, or whether you’re standing above it or touring the river on the Maid of the Mist at the base of it. There are rainbows at the bottom of its plunge that shimmer in mist that plumes when 4-6 million cubic feet of water (depending on height of flow) rushes down into river currents every minute.

I can look back through my life and smile at the realization that I have yet to live far from water. I grew up along the Erie Canal, attended college and lived the first years of my adult life on Lake Erie. I spent my summers in mountains among creeks and lakes, hiking through creekbeds and climbing behind waterfalls. My idea of heaven was working in the Smoky Mountains, surrounded by waterfalls of incomparable beauty while the clouds rolled through the town at dawn and dusk. My current house sits mere blocks away from the meeting point of two rivers. It is water that feeds and quiets me most.

Where do you live?

Ancestral Places of Power
Mountains, forests, streams, lakes, deserts, plains, meadows, savannahs, volcanoes, hot springs, oceans, caves, jungles and tundras. The land beneath us is made up of different elemental composites and we draw power from the land we live on. We can also draw power from the land of our ancestors.

What natural landscapes did your ancestor coax sustenance and nourishment from? It can be as general as knowing you have Irish heritage and as specific as knowing that your family lived in Derry before immigrating to New York City. With the information gathered from years of family collection and research, I can trace a loose image of the migration of my family lines.

From the shire of Invernesss at Lochaber to Aberffraw Castle in Wales, with time spent in Y, Somme of Normandie France, they moved, with generations spending time in Malltraeth and Powys, Wales and a few on the Isle of Man. There are multiple generations after in Eyton, Shropshire of the UK, followed by Dover, Kent before emigrating to Watertown, Massachusetts. Then there were settlements at Dedham, Medfield and Norfolk, and both Ashford and Tolland, Connecticut before ending in the farmlands of New York. One generation went into Riley, St. Clair and Port Huron in Michigan, with the next one coming back into the farmlands they left in New York.

From the southwestern woods of Austrian Silesia and Dieppe, France another line came to the colonies at New Amsterdam, New Netherlands and New Haarlem, before settling at Hackensack, New Jersey for a while. From Needingworth, Doddington and Chatteris, England they journeyed to Haverhill, Methuen and Andover, Massachusetts, moving into the farmlands and fresh waters of New York where these lines would eventually join.

From Tyrone Co., Ireland they came to Brimfield and Monson in Massachusetts for a number of generations before moving through Vermont into Western New York. Years after colonies had become settlements and then towns, my forebears came from Hesse Darmstadt, Germany into the farmlands of the Great Lake in New York.

While I dream about walking through a town foreign to me where my ancestors built a home and farmed land from the soil, the reality is that you don’t have to visit the homeland of your people to call on that land as a source of power. I do advise doing some research into what the landscape was like during the time your ancestors lived there, but that’s more for visual curiosity and focus than necessity.

Symbol Magick
Look at a world map and print yourself a copy. Plot out the locations you have. If you don’t have specifics, outline the country or county of the cultures you know exists in your DNA. From here it’s totally an artist’s discretion. You can leave them as plots and take out the map background, leaving a personal constellation for you to use as a magickal symbol. You could connect the dots marking their migration leading up to your home town. You could also use the place of your birth, or where you live now, as a center point, connecting the other locations to that first one, creating a sunburst effect that shows you energetic lines. Whatever method you apply, this symbol is specific to you and your family, and can be used as a visual aid in trying connecting to your ancestral dead.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Weaving a Song of the Mothers

This is the time of year when the earth beneath us is sleeping and just beginning to think about waking up. We make plans for our gardens and outdoor projects, trusting that spring will come in the shadow of our dreaming and nature itself begins to hint at the wheel’s turning. The sun is shining earlier in the morning and we remember that, for those of us living in seasonal states, the grey slushy gloom of pre-spring is a cycle that also ends. I use this time of year for reflection as I sit in my heated home beneath warm blankets and surrounded by living beings that I love.

We’ve been snowed in a few times this winter and the child in me enjoys the days of forced hibernation. They give me a chance to catch up on my crafts and projects, when other responsibilities are put on pause. I have a lot of hobbies, not the least of which is crocheting. When I was a young girl, my Great-Grandmother Elsie taught me how to crochet and gave me her aluminum hooks, which I kept as sacred to me after she died, even though they went mostly unused. I wasn’t able to retain enough of what she had taught me during her summer stays to continue on my own when she returned to Florida. But I kept those hooks with me, most of them dainty tiny hooks for doing fine work. I had them with me until they went missing in one of my last moves during college.

The loss of those sacred objects acted as a catalyst for me to pick the art back up, and I struggled through some bad projects before I remembered enough of what she had shown me to begin creating some of my own stitches in lieu of a tutor. I enjoy crafting gifts for my friends and family and I feel accomplished making blankets that keep us warm in our home. I enjoy dearly the gifts I’ve been given that were handcrafted for me by loved ones: an afghan from my Grandma Donna, a blanket from Grandma Doris, a childhood blanket from my mother, a scarf made by a good friend.

 Hand-crafted by my Grandma Donna who passed away Mother's Day 2001.

I have been going through old census reports and have discovered that the men among my ancestors were Knights and Kings and Stonecutters and Carpenters, as well as Prison Guards, Civil Engineers, Shoemakers, Chauffeurs, but mostly Farmers on both the maternal and paternal sides. At the turn of the last century, many of my forebears were farming unpopulated land in Western New York.

The women are mostly labeled as “Keeping House” and all that it entails, with the few exceptions of Schoolteachers and Dressmakers. These women cooked, cleaned, sewed, nursed, darned and raised their families with more skill than I find myself capable of today. I am blessed to be able to go into a store and pick out any color of yarn my heart desires. As my hands do the dance of weaving over and around and under, like braiding, I lose myself in the rhythm of it. My heart opens to the line of women who came before me, some of them wives of farmers and others dutiful daughters sitting in parlors, refining their skill as they practice. I see their hands over mine, so many hands performing the same dance though separated by generations.

What of my ancestors, the wives of those early farmers, Frances, Jane, Sarah, Abigail, Katherine, Ruth, Hannah, Sophia, Cynthia, Elizabeth, and those unknown? Women who also cared for their families with the skill of shearing sheep, carding the wool, learning the art of the drop spindle to make yarn and thread. Women who wove textiles and knit blankets and sweaters. I think of these women as I make stuffed animals and crocheted toys for my nieces and nephew, imparting to them the joy that comes of creating with your hands.

It’s a legacy, handcrafting objects with love and intention. And then hands release them, sending them out into the world. Who knows where they will end their journeys or how many people they will touch. I love making scarves, thick and warm, to donate to charities before winter starts. My love, my wish for warmth, touching someone unknown to me.

A hodge-podge of my current projects.

Gratitude for a Blanket
I often have moments of gratitude for things, beginning with the object itself and tracing its origins backwards until I cannot go any further, as I have done here. The first one is for my ancestors. The second one is for today’s generation, and both assume the use of natural fibers.

Bless the hands that knit this blanket.
Bless the hands that dyed the wool.
Bless the hands that harvested the plants and prepared the dye.
Bless the hands that spun the wool.
Bless the hands that mastered the drop spindle.
Bless the hands that washed the fiber.
Bless the hands that carded the sheep wool.
Bless the hands that sheared the sheep.
Bless the hands that fed the animals.
Bless the hands that raised the young lambs.
Bless the hands that harvested the grain to feed the animals so they could flourish.
Bless the hands who planted the seed.

Bless the hands of the cashier who rang up my purchase.
Bless the hands that stocked the blanket on the shelves.
Bless the hands that unpacked the box in the storeroom.
Bless the hands that drove the truck of supplies to the store.
Bless the hands that loaded the box onto the truck.
Bless the hands that packaged the blankets in boxes.
Bless the machine that wove the blanket.
Bless the hands that managed the machine that wove the blanket.
Bless the hands that maintain the machine.
Bless the machine that dyed the yarn.
Bless the hands that poured the dye into the vat.
Bless the machine that spun the yarn.
Bless the hands that put the fiber in the machine.
Bless the truck that brought the fiber to the factory.
Bless the farm that harvested the fiber.
Bless the hands that sheared the sheep.
Bless the hands that fed the animals.
Bless the hands that raised the young lambs.
Bless the hands that harvested the grain to feed the animals so they could flourish.
Bless the hands who planted the seed.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Comes After

“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.”

I said those words in an earlier post. Faith. I do not believe I had the ability to understand the true meaning of that word. As a child I thought faith meant “believe it because I said so and I know better” and I trusted it was true. Now it means something more like “believe it because you feel it to be true even though there is no evidence you are right.” Faith means trusting your intuition, even when the world tells you they disagree. It’s one of the reasons I both respect and fear fundamentalism. That kind of faith amazes me. It has dense power that moves like strong current. But that kind of power is uneasily wrought by those who refuse to see another side. “With great power comes great responsibility” is not just a movie quote. I believe the truth is that there is no one right answer.

Stepping onto a path of faith is stepping closer to yourself. People disconnected from their own faith and intuition are more easily led by someone else’s momentum if the person of faith has complete conviction. What led me on my religious journey through multiple churches was that I wanted to have my own conviction. My beliefs have been defined by my experiences, both physical and emotional, and probably more emotional than physical. In my mind, it is more important that you stand firm in your beliefs, and that your roots are planted deeply in the ground of your own choosing. For me this is more important than what you choose to believe.

When my father’s father died in 1982, I didn’t understand what it meant beyond the fact that I wouldn’t see him anymore. I can’t say I understand it now much more than that.

When we separate from our physical body, we lose all the html code that created the cells and walls of our body, joining cells into strands of DNA, weaving strands into mobile, tangible structures. But it is our spirit that fuels movement and relation. When our spirit is strong we are invincible and when it is weak we are unmotivated. It is our spirit that dissipates into the ether.

I imagine all this spirit energy combines in a great pool. We cease to be me and you and all are One. It’s a cliché and it’s true. The newest arrivals swirl on the surface, where the emotional storms of spirits struggling through the transition are more frequent and severe. The further down into the unending well you travel, the stiller, darker, and stronger the density of energies. This is where the Ancestors dwell.

It’s important to understand that there is a cycle of energy that our spirits go through as we leave our bodies, even though there aren’t knowable answers to be attained. It is hard to do more than honor your ancestors if you do not believe that spirit/soul/anima/energy exists in the natural world. In light of this truth you have the opportunity to develop a cosmology or visualization that suits you.

Still water is a beautiful mirror of the world around and above it but beneath, still water grows silty and marshy. Insects roost and lay eggs and claim. In the silt vegetation rots and decays. Movement in water comes as currents break a way in, pushing and changing the flow of the water, displacing what doesn’t fit or stands in the way. Movement cleanses the water.

The motion of physically honoring my ancestors is important, symbolic or not. But the physicality of walking through the work I do creates movement in my physical body beneath the surface. This creates a new, shared experience of my physical, emotional, and intellectual bodies. The action of ancestor worship is creating a change in me, moving me towards the calm centeredness I long for.

Meditation for Connection and to Create a Devotion to an Ancestor
1) Sit in a quiet room. Think about the name of a Grandparent who has passed on (at any level). Pay attention to the memories flooding into your mind at the thought of their name.
2) Now speak their name out loud. Feel the emotion flooding to your heart center at the sound of their spoken name. Pay attention to the memories flooding your mind at the sound of their name.
3) Now speak their name out loud and wrap your arms around yourself. Hug yourself. Feel the emotion flooding to your heart chakra at the sound of their spoken name, and the feeling of arms around you. Pay attention to the memories flooding your body.
4) How has the quality of memories changed?
5) Now take that energy you have built and bring it out of yourself: Holding a candle in your hand, speak the name of your loved one. Think of a happy story you have about them and laugh out loud. Let that laugh grow in your core and rise to your heart. Let the energy of that happy memory fall down through your arms, into your hands, into your candle. When you light this candle, you honor that loved one.

Every time I walk through this meditation, it creates a wave of peace in me. Every time I do this I change. In worshipping my ancestors I am walking myself towards being a better version of me. In honoring my ancestors, I am taking steps closer to honoring myself.
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