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, August 29, 2012

Crafting Spirit Stones

Early in my practice, I relied heavily on the use of tools to connect with the larger natural world. Without them I wouldn’t have evolved such a deep understanding of the interconnected web. When I was learning how to trust my intuition, I used divination as a means to verify what I thought I was sensing. In the pagan world, we often use divination as a means of interacting with the spirit world to help clarify events and situations.
In our daily lives, it’s difficult to be in a situation and see it clearly, so we seek advice from friends or mentors to help us gauge how best to proceed. When we’re asking for guidance on the human plane, the best place to look for it is spirit world. For me it’s almost a therapeutic interaction. In Psychology, Cognitive Touch Therapy is used to help your body ferret out truths your mind is trying to keep you from. Your muscles betray your subconscious lies. Just like that, divination helps me tap into my intuitive body and see more clearly things I already know.
I am not psychic, not at all. But I have a high-sensitivity to the spirit world, which is why I have the interactions with ghosts that I have. The spirit world is active around us all the time and the more closely you vibrate in accord with the natural world, the more you will see some of what remains invisible to others. Divination acts like a translation tool between the energies you tap into and our own human language.
No one can say for certain if the energy used for divination comes from an external spirit world alive around us or whether it’s from an internal ancient knowledge that lives within our bloodstream. I believe it’s both. We humans are the conduits between earth and sky, the vessel that meets within and without. In my practice, magic and science are close relatives. I see divining as a gift of guidance, accessible when our intuition is finely tuned to the natural world.
I spent years looking into and studying different forms of divination: tarot, runes, ogham, scrying, obi, palmistry, reading tea leaves. The more help the divination tool used to speak to me, with the use of elaborate visuals or concrete definitions, the more unsure I was as to what I was intuiting versus what I was interpreting, so it was clear that for me, a simple casting method would work best. I began to understand that the way I was intuitively communicating with the spirit world was not represented well enough with any divining medium I learned. The spirit world I interact with and the work I do is not bound to a specific culture. My own ancestral lineage spans multiple cultures. I needed something with both an ancient history and a broad scope. I had to find my own language.
I found myself drawn to the form of casting lots. Many cultures throw bones as divination. It was a simple enough concept and memories of childhood games of Yahtzee made it an enticing one. As far as connecting to spirit, stone pulls me in best and helps me reach that vibration. To me stones are the bones of the earth, the layer where the ancestors are buried. It is that layer within and without I am trying to contact so I looked to throwing stones instead.
I chose to throw seven, as it is a magical number for me and one that resonates with my ancestor work. One stone would represent the intention, situation or question. Then I chose six stones, three of one kind and three of another, two sides of a coin. I used snowflake obsidian for my intention stone, which I used for meditations often, and snow quartz and black obsidian as the six vibration stones.
You can’t just get stones and cast them and expect answers. You have to create a relationship with them first. I spent a moon cycle with the snowflake obsidian, wearing it in trance as a means of harmonizing it to my frequency. I spent a moon cycle with the snow quartz, charging them with clarity, with yes, with light and harmony. I spent a moon cycle with the obsidian and charged them with confusion, mystery, chaos and caution. Then I spent one last moon cycle charging them with the energy of web and interconnectedness, dedicating them to my ancestors. I made them all equal parts of importance in a hive mind.
When I cast them, I ask yes or no questions. I chose to interpret them in a common way, similar to obi (divination with coconut or cowrie shells). The closer my question stone is to more white stones, the more favorable/true/positive the answer. The closer my question stone is to more black stones, the more unfavorable/false/unknown the answer, with all the myriad of uncertainty in between. It suits me and allows me to trust myself.
I make petitions of my ancestors, when I need guidance from them, when I need them to send energy to a specific situation, and I use the stones to speak to them. What do they need from me? What do they ask of me? Am I doing enough to honor them? Do they hear me when I can’t hear them? Just like my candle is the lighthouse I burn to call on them, the stones have become the medium I use to hear from them. It works for me, part of the path I have built for myself. It’s important to me that everyone finds their own way to meet and engage with spirit. It is the experience of working on your spirituality that builds trust within yourself, so that you may learn to trust in what you are experiencing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stones of the Earth

The human animals of the earth do not walk it alone. We share it with other animal allies, learning lessons on how to better ourselves through observing the ways they live in their habitats. It seems the more evolved our society got, the further from our primal connection to nature we moved. Our allies can help us rebuild that connection. There are more allies in the natural world waiting to teach us. We are surrounded by them: plants, trees, weather, minerals, gemstones, etc. My strongest natural allies are rocks, minerals and gemstones.
We walk across them every day. We kick them around, we dig them up, we build structures with them and we crush them down to be used in composite materials. Most people take little notice of them but stones vibrate for me. They have energy. They transform it. They act as a conduit for it. They store it. And sometimes they release that energy back into the world.
Predjama Castle in Slovenia contains a torture chamber that saw 700 years of violence. It stands now as a museum and is internationally known to be haunted. Employees and volunteers have heard the same voices repeating from the ether of the dungeon bowels. What was discovered beneath the fortress was a cavern of quartz, iron, salt and water, all of which are components for creating a quartz battery. They theorize that the combination of elements actually recorded sounds from when the dungeon was actively used. It is believed that the repetitive voices heard today are captured moments from a previous time, held within the quartz deposits.
Some world wonders are discovered accidentally. After pumping water out from underground in the process of mining for iron and silver, the Cueva de los Cristales, or Cave of Crystals, was discovered 300 meters beneath the Naica mountain in Mexico. The caverns are filled with gypsum crystals which had been submerged under water for 500,000 years. Under high temperatures and with the presence of mineral-rich water, the selenite grew to an awe inspiring size. The largest of the crystals is estimated to be about 600,000 years old and over 10 meters long. That’s 33 feet in length. Pollen removed from a water bubble in one crystal approximates that 30,000 years ago that desert was once covered in dense forest.
I haven’t been to either Slovenia or Mexico, but I’m fascinated by the world’s natural stone formations, especially caverns. Being surrounded by stone on all sides is an amazing experience, as was my trip to Howe’s Caverns in New York. At one point in the tour, we were adrift on a boat on an underground river in the pitch black… wonder-filled.
My experience with the physical world stretches as far south as North Carolina, as far north as Toronto, east to the coast of Maine, and west to Michigan, save for one flight to Texas. I am fascinated by caverns and also find myself drawn to the mountains over and over. I cannot stand on the mountain top and not feel the energy of the mass of stone beneath me. It sits beneath the soil, beneath the flesh of the earth. I am known for picking up random stones on my travels that speak to me through shape, color or feel. In fact, they’re littered throughout my home altars and outdoor garden.
Stones are the bones of the earth. I have stood on the spines of the earth where the smoky mountains meet the blue mountains. I have felt the pulsing heart of the mountain chain writhing above the lush green landscape. I have felt the firmament of planet beneath me, high above the other mountains and I have stood in that moment full of wonder at the world stretched out before me.
I have been to the shore of Maine, climbing over stone slabs that look like petrified wood, and I felt the calling of the ocean across its great expanse. The stones I stood on, slick with algae and years of seawater, were once joined to the Western bluffs of Ireland, before the plates split and shifted. I felt an ancestral stirring in my bones, beneath my flesh, standing at the edge. I wonder what the stone of the ocean floor feels like beneath all that water. The ocean is cradled by stone.
In the Narmada river in India, there is a place where seven currents converge. In this conjunction, the currents shape river stones into oblong spheres called shiva linghams. They are spiritually powerful stones, where the male shape is created by the female waters. I have found them to be wonderful stones to meditate with. I also have a preference for meditating with chunks of petrified wood, specifically for my ancestor work. The pieces I own are the bones of old sisters and brothers, the remnants and ghosts of long dead forests and groves, transformed into stone.
Our ancestors built stone cairns to mark their way, placing them on trails, mountain peaks and shorelines. Over the centuries we have covered the dead with stones and entombed them within it. Even now we use stones to mark the burial places of our dead. I use them to communicate with the spirit world. The simplest and most powerful ancestor altar I could imagine would be a small cairn built of a stone from every homeland my ancestors have known. Simple, no frills, but a structure emanating with the power of multiple landscapes, holding the memories of lands walked by those who came before.

Cueva de los Cristales, Mexico.
*Tune into my blog next week for a look at the stones I crafted to communicate with my ancestors.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Experiencing Death IV: The Body at Daggett Lake

This is the fourth installment in a monthly thread, where I am looking back at the early experiences I had with death and reflecting on how those moments shaped my views and fears of it. In order to change my relationship with the concept of death, I have to understand what shaped it to begin with. Our ideas and philosophies are meant to evolve and change, to grow as our own experiences do.

My family went on a camping trip every July for two weeks. We would do a different theme every summer, exploring the sights there were to see in our state: the Finger Lakes, the 1000 Islands, underground caverns and gorges, the Catskills, the Adirondacks, etc. The Adirondacks were one of the last theme trips we took, being the furthest away, and we fell in love with them. We discovered a campground near Lake George that was surrounded by mountain called Daggett Lake. We found ourselves returning there every year and we cultivated a relationship with both the place and the other people drawn to it every summer.
We had a site we liked on the water, where we could dock our little rowboat. We had made close friends with a couple from NYC, Andy and Mary, who camped two sites down from us. Right beside us was one of the best sites on the lake, with a bit of wood attached to it. This specific summer, a lone man was camping there in a pop-up trailer. He got up early each morning and took his boat out fishing, and came back at dusk. He was quiet and not unfriendly.
We had returned from the beach for lunch and a car pulled up to our neighbor’s campsite. A woman got out, not quite dressed for the outdoors, and knocked on the trailer door, calling his name. There was a feeling in the air of disconnection. It’s a feeling I have come to know quite well, one of foreboding that something is out of place. Perhaps I was the only one who felt the change. Maybe it was my high sensitivity, but it felt important. When she asked us if he was in, my father told the woman that the man had been fishing all day every day.
She thanked us tersely, clearly annoyed that he had known she was coming, and went down the little path in the woods to where he moored his boat. The air felt wrong to me, I can remember it clearly. My parents told us to eat and we all sat down with our sandwiches and chips. A few minutes later, the woman came back up the path alone. She began pounding on the door of the camper but it was locked. She came around the end of the trailer and asked when we’d seen him last. His boat was still at the water’s edge.
I think then, we all knew something was wrong. Something had changed. There was a presence in the air around us that was unfamiliar and all the same, we knew it.
My dad told us to stay where we were when the woman asked for help. She was a bit beside herself. She and her husband were in the process of getting a divorce and they were supposed to be meeting for the weekend to see if they could work things out. She was starting to panic. We had a pop-up of our own and my dad knew the canvas snapped onto the frame and he began to take up the end closest to the road.
I will never forget the shrill wail of grief that pierced the sunlit afternoon as the man’s bloody arm became visible. All at once, the woods were altered and we knew that what was visiting with us was death.
What I remember most was the sudden silence in the woods. The woman wailed, a banshee cry of mourning, and every bird on the mountain stopped singing. Every insect in the woods was still. Even the trees paused in their seasonal breathing. Even the natural world paused in the face of death.
Others came running from all ends of the campground at the sound of her despair. Like every mother, mine immediately put herself between death and her children. The quiet old man who had been enjoying his vacation alongside us had been diabetic. Whatever had happened, he had slowly allowed himself to bleed to death in the trailer beside us, quietly during the night. He had insulin in his trailer that he hadn’t used. There were bloody paper towels and rags strewn throughout. The coroner came and took him away and the owners of the campground sat with the woman until her parents folded time to get to the mountains from Rochester.
I knew when my dad was unsnapping the end of the trailer that the man inside it was dead. Maybe it was the absence of life inside that I sensed. Maybe it was the subconscious scent of blood that lit my animal instinct. But when my dad walked over to the other campsite, it felt like I was holding my breath, waiting.
Whatever it was, we had all sensed the wrongness of what was unfolding. Like when the phone rings for the fifth time in a row, but this time, this ring, sounds like bad news. And after you answer the phone, you discover that your gut response had merit.
Our friends Andy and Mary took us to the beach while they took the body away and went through the logistics of packing down the trailer and hitching it up to his vehicle. Andy put me and my sister in a boat and we took to the water, putting a little distance between us and the other playful children whose lives weren’t touched by the darkness that day. Andy usually called us by nicknames he had given us. I was the Professor and my sister, Half-Pint.
That afternoon he talked to us in quiet tones about death and how it just happens sometimes and we shouldn’t take it on for ourselves. And I knew as he stared at the water that he was thinking of the times he had faced death, and I suddenly understood that he loved life with the gusto that he did to balance out the darkness he had seen, which took shape in the water beneath us. Andy tipped the boat, passengers and all, in an attempt to distort the shadowy form and the moment was broken with squeals of laughter.
It was the first time that someone else’s death, someone unknown to me, had intruded upon my innocence and touched me whether I was willing or not. I wasn’t yet old enough to know it wouldn’t be the last. I don’t remember the man’s name. I don’t remember his wife’s either, the woman whose life-shattering moment I was witness to.
What I do remember is my physical response to death, whether you want to philosophize about it or anthropomorphize it. Sometimes, to process through it, we need to distance ourselves from death, but time will do that easily enough for us. Remembering that feeling has helped me sense it’s nearness in my adult life. When I remember that experience, I say a quiet wish for peace for both of them, the departed and the living, and I return from the moment to experience my own life as fully as I can.

Relevant Posts:
Experiencing Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)
Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father (published June 13, 2012)
Experiencing Death III: Squirrel in the Road (published July 11, 2012)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Be Good Ancestors Now

Those of us who do Ancestor Work, who take time to research those who came before us, do so with the idea that our lives are one focal point on an energy ribbon that stretches out behind us and weaves a path before us, disappearing from view on the horizon. We fade as all time fades but our lines will continue onward. But that notion, that fluidity is important.
In this lifetime I chose not to have children, but I don’t believe that relieves me of my responsibility in what world I leave behind for future generations. I want my nieces and nephew to have a better world to live in, like my parents did for me and my siblings, like their parents did for them. Much of my work, looking backwards, involves being able to stand in ‘now’ and see the world for what it really is, to be able to stand here and hold myself accountable for my personal impact on this planet.
What will our children say in five generations, or more, or less, when they look at our names on their trees, when they look at this time period and ask why we didn’t try harder when we had the chance? I can imagine a world of abandoned steel and concrete cities and polluted drinking water. I can all too clearly see the finite resource that is the Ogallala Aquifer. What will we do when our farmlands turn to dust?
It’s not a world I want to leave for those still to come. I am already a Great-Aunt and I look at that little boy’s face and I want everything for him. In thinking about this work that I do and what I am trying to impart, it comes to me that we need to start thinking seriously about the fact that someday, someone will be looking at our names in their family history and wondering why we didn’t do more. Because those who come after us will have much less resources than we have now.
All children belong to all of us. We are all responsible for the welfare of the generations yet to come, not just our own. We are all responsible for changing the world to reflect what we wish it to be for our children.
We all feel lonely. And the way we go about solving it is to close ranks and do for ourselves because the world is too hard. It’s a pattern we repeat, like beating ourselves against a brick wall. It’s a pattern we need to change. We may be animals of skin and bone but we have evolved to be better than that. We are all struggling our way through this world.
My family has made some hard choices for our lives, which puts us at the outskirts of our society’s culture. We don’t have cell phones, we still have a land line. We prefer our technology second-hand. When everyone is updating to blu-ray dvd players, we are happily taking their old ones. We struggle really hard to consider the difference between want and need, and we watch which one we feed.
Over the years we have made small changes in our day-to-day lives and the choices we make with what little money we have that make us feel better that we cannot impact more change in the world. We try not to buy anything in a package that cannot be recycled as our city has a good recycling program. We buy most of our groceries from Wegmans, a grocery store which supports equality and has a lot of programs to benefit the communities around us.
We buy local as much as possible and support the small business owners. That way, our money goes going directly into our community and if we don’t want our city to become another ghost-factory town, it matters. A lot of the changes we made were because we had to, not because they were easy. But we survived them and found we felt better, and they have become the way we live.

Some Simple Steps to Start Change:
  • Cultivate a relationship with the natural world by starting your own garden, even if it’s one potted tomato plant. It puts you in tune with the land you live on as you watch the effects of weather, or lack of weather, and blight.
  • Be aware of the garbage you produce that we all expect someone else will take care of. Here’s a way of being mindful of how much garbage you produce on a regular basis. Carry a bag with you every day for a week, and put all of your garbage in it, instead of the nearest trash bin. Take a hard look at how much waste you produce a day (i.e. straw wrappers, candy wrappers, empty pens, scraps of paper, etc…). How much of that garbage can be recycled? How much of your garbage is unusable again? Think about what will happen to that stuff when our landfills are full.
  • Carry a bag with you to pick up garbage you see littered on the ground and dispose of it appropriately. Someone has to and it might as well be you. Teach your children to pick trash up off the ground.
  • RECYCLE. Look at what garbage could be recycled, whether you have a recycling program in your city or not. Is there a place you could take it where it could be recycled once a month? If not, could you search for products with less packaging than what you currently purchase?
  • Be kind to people around you. Let your children and peers see you holding doors for people behind you. Don’t have an expectation that anyone should notice or even say thank you. Do it because you would want it done for you. I know I do it because I am trying to live my life the way I wish the world was.
  • Stand patiently in retail lines instead of huffing, tapping your foot and having private conversations publicly on your cell phone. Everyone has somewhere else they would rather be. Look people in the eye when you’re at the register. Connect.
  • Look into composting your organic waste, instead of throwing fruit and vegetable matter or coffee grounds into the garbage (the nitrogen in coffee grounds is good for compost). Items like egg shells can be crushed up and put in the bottom of holes when planting your vegetables, as the calcium they add to the soil is beneficial.
  • Turn lights off in the rooms you aren’t using. Turn off your appliances when they aren’t being used. Turn off all of the electronics in your home and listen to the difference in the sound.
  • When gift-giving, get creative and recycle brown bags as wrapping paper.
  • BUY LOCAL. Put your money into boosting your community’s economy. Buying on-line is sometimes necessary when you need something specific, but do it thoughtfully. Shipping products cost gas and money, which your local shops have already paid for.
  • In the summertime support farmer’s markets. The carbon footprints are smaller and the local farmers need your support.
  • Buy clothes made of natural fibers, which will breakdown over time when you discard them (polyester is forever). Shop at thrift stores. When cleaning out your closets, organize a clothing swap day with your friends and family.
  • Learn to love receiving homemade gifts. A jar of jam made by a friend is better than the television box set you’ve been hoping for. Think of the energy your friend put into crafting that item. Every time you enjoy it, they’re sharing that energy with you again.
  • Walk, because it’s good for you. Walk, because the commercials for how many diabetics are in America are heartbreaking. Walk, because you will live longer and spend less money on gas. Ride a bicycle if you have one for all the same reasons. And when you can’t, car pool with friends.
  • Drink water. Allow yourself one sugary beverage a day but try replacing your other soda or juice drinks with a glass of water instead. As my friend Joanna said, “The only thing that tastes like not thirsty, is water.” Have gratitude for the clean water you drink. Someday it will be gone.
  • When you go out shopping, bring canvas or muslin bags with you instead of bringing home more plastic bags. Most stores are starting to carry reusable shopping bags.
  • Be mindful and try to buy items made in America. If you don’t *need* it and it’s made in a foreign country, leave it on the shelf. Stores won’t start changing what they buy until they can’t sell what they have.
  • In the summer, save on resources and put a clothes line up to dry your clothes outdoors.
  • Be aware of your reliance on technology. Remember that our ancestors didn’t have these luxuries, and yet they survived.
  • Be aware of how often you have private conversations in public spaces. Turn off your cell phone when spending time with friends and family. Don’t let it interrupt your time connecting with loved ones (they were meant to be for our convenience, not the world).
  • One day a week (or more), unplug. Turn off the televisions. Turn off your phone. Get off the computer and do something in nature.
  • Be grateful for what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t. 
Sometimes we feel like our choices won’t make an impact or change, so we don’t try. We feel overwhelmed at how large the world is sometimes, which just means we need to narrow our focus. In one summer my family cut our garbage refuse in half by being more mindful. Now we only put garbage to the curb every other week.
Bring change into your community and let your community’s change show the world. Every one of us matters. Every one of us can be a beacon of hope.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.
As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Making Amends with the Dead

Death doesn’t always give us time to get affairs in order before it comes and more often, when it does, it leaves behind things unfinished for both the dead and the living. There are conversations we needed to have that are no longer possible in the physical world. In my own life, I needed forgiveness from one of my ghosts. I had a friend who ended his life, and my last words to him were said in anger, out of a place of being wounded. In a place of pain, I blamed him for an assault that happened to me and refused to speak to him. And then he was gone.
I never saw his pain. I never knew how deep his wounds were until it was too late and I tortured myself with the guilt I carried. When I eventually came to a place of believing I was worthy of happiness, and needed to take action, I did it for me. Because I was killing myself inside by hanging onto that old wound.
It’s not that I expected him to manifest from ether before me. It’s not like I expected to hear him say he forgave me. But whether we are seeking forgiveness or we are being asked to forgive, I do believe it is the humbleness of being in that moment that is more important than the outcome. If we are forgiven or not, whether we choose to forgive or find we are not ready to, at least the seeker can say they tried everything they could. At the very least, they can forgive themselves and move on. And that is what I needed to do.
I picked a dark moon, when there was no light in the sky but the stars, when the black around me was inky thick. I sat in a place of fear and allowed myself to face it and found that the guilt I carried was heavier than the dark around me. It was long past time to seek peace.
I burned some sage and copal to clear the space around me and call in protective energies to my heart. I called to my friend, using words that would pull his spirit, memories that only his ghost would answer to. I did this until the air around me felt thick with his presence. Whether he appeared on his own like a true spectre or it was my memories that wove him out of the air, the desired outcome was the same. I felt like I was standing in the grove with him.
I cried first, before my voice could find its footing. It felt familiar, the two of us stealing moments to analyze the chaos around us. The familiarity was painful in how pleasant it was. I told him how much I missed him. I asked him to forgive me for not seeing beyond my own pain. And I told him my secret, the one I had kept from him all those years ago.
I finally put words to the event that happened to me. I explained why I blamed him for not being there to protect me. I apologized for my anger. And in the weaving of words previously unspoken I was forced to see my life with clear eyes.
I had made a poppet out of red fabric. I held it in my hands, pouring pain into it as I spoke. When I had no more words to say I told him that I loved him and that I wished him peace. I threw it into the fire and watched it burn. And it burned through me for a moment. I was time travelling backwards to the moment of my past when I chose to lash out at him rather than tell him what had happened to me. Only this time, at that edge, I made a new choice.
It didn’t change the past. It didn’t rewrite history. Somewhere in my heart, I felt the change in me. I felt the pain of then and knew with certainty that today, even facing that same pain, I would never make that same choice. With that knowledge, the past wound was salved and began to heal. So in a sense, I was able to step back in time and make a different choice. That healing work, once finished, rippled outwards through my core, altering other places that had been affected by that pain.
I sought forgiveness for me. Even if he were alive, my guilt and shame might not have been enough to revive our friendship after all this time. But it still would have allowed me the experience of knowing I had changed enough to mean my words. That they were not born from guilt, but of repentance. I would have known that I was a new person who deserved to free myself of such incredible guilt. Even if he were alive and still hurting, I could have allowed myself the freedom to move on, and hope that eventually he would be able to as well.
My friend is still dead. My last words to him were still in anger, but it was a learning experience and a choice I have proven I would not make again. Since that dark moon ritual, I have not been plagued by the nightmares of guilt that I had been. I remember him fondly, without that pang of culpability I would feel over his death before. It was his choice that he made, for no one but himself.
What I can and have done, is to be careful of my words. I choose not to speak words that I may not mean after they burn through me. I have decided that the cycle of anger and hurt will end with me. I will not perpetuate it further.
This is how I made amends with a loved one who is no longer living. Had the rolls been reversed, I might have called on him to forgive him for his words to me as well, again so that I might move on. Life lessons mean nothing if we learn nothing from them. All our magic is for our own healing and growth and if we open ourselves to the larger world around us, we can find peace from those unspoken things that haunt us.
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