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 28, 2013

Where Grief Meets Joy

Eating in private.
In the middle of June, we lost our youngest cat, just a few years after the death of our middle cat. We were just beginning to lessen our hard grief for Luna when Bella died, and it seemed incomprehensible to hold two times such a loss. And then Mara came.
We weren’t looking. Not yet. When Luna died, it was a couple of years before we could contemplate the idea of a new cat. We spent our time watching Bella come out of her shell and revel in her new position within the house. We eased our grief by watching her come into her own. And then she faded, just as quickly as Luna, and was gone.
The quiet in the house was overwhelming and we knew we needed new life, sooner than later. But the grief was a literal and physical ache. My arms wanted to scoop our little tortoiseshell monster up. I wanted to hear her raspy, croaky cry of demand. I wanted to sing the little songs I had made up for her when she was shy and still living under the bed. I wanted to fall asleep with her lying on my ribs, head on my breast.
I can’t open a can of tuna without a moment of sadness that Bella and Luna don’t come running into the kitchen. I missed the sass and backtalk of a cat that doesn’t want to do what you tell it to do. And then came Mara.
I think I might like to be with you now.
She might have been watching me for days without my noticing. It was heartbreaking to spy her hiding in the doorway to the basement next door, watching me in the garden with the stance of an animal ready to bolt should our eyes meet. So I ignored her while I weeded. I ignored her while I watered the garden. I went inside, put some food in a dish and put it out at the edge of our yard for her, and went back in. It was ten minutes before she approached the bowl and ate her fill, rapidly.
We did that for a few days. Every morning while I was gardening she was there, black and white with wide yellow-green eyes. I would talk to her softly while I trained the morning glory vines around the trellis. I put her food out before I started in the garden, each morning bringing the bowl closer to the porch. Each morning, she waited less time before approaching it. Then one day, a week and a half later, she came running to me as I put the bowl down. I didn’t try to touch her. But I let her rub against my ankles.
My heart was torn. I could feel affection growing for her but when I went inside, it was my girls I wanted back. The as-yet-unnamed cat was not the first we have invited to shelter at our stoop. In fact, she bore an uncanny resemblance to a brother and sister pair who were dumped as kittens. They were purchased for two children, and abandoned when the family moved, left in that same basement doorway. By the time we noticed them, they had grown into sleek and feral strays. They would shelter out the rain on our stoop and get regular, free meals from us. Neither were interested in being part of our family, but they adopted us as kin just the same.
One day, Little Boy came without Little Girl. We never saw her again. He came and went on his own for over four years. One time, after a lengthy absence, he strolled up our sidewalk with three kittens in tow; a black and white, a tiger, and an orange tabby. Little Boy was showing them where he scored free food. And like good patrons, we fed his wards as well, until another neighbor took them in.  
Little Boy eventually died after a bad fight. A neighbor took him to the vet but there was nothing to be done for him. So it was heartwarming to see the young cat hiding in the same doorway where we had first seen him, with such similar markings.
I don't think you understand- I live here now.
After she decided our house was safe, our new friend was bold about running to greet us when the door opened or the car returned. Then she stopped leaving at all, and was sleeping full-time on our stoop. We put out a tote with a towel in it for her, to protect her from the storms she hated. I started reading on the porch just to spend time with her. I didn’t forget about my grief for Bella; being around another affectionate cat made me miss her more. But I was aware, at the same time, that there was a special connection happening between us and I wanted to give it a chance. She and I were building a relationship that was all our own.
I thought about my ancestor work. I sat outside with her at night, to the sound of crickets, and told her the story of Little Girl and Little Boy. I told her the stories of Luna and Bella. I asked her if she wanted to live with us and she climbed into my lap for the first time and head butted me. She went to the door and stood up, pawing at it.
You are totally gonna let me inside.
When we pulled her name from the ether, when we called out the name Mara, and she looked up at us, we knew that if we could open ourselves to the moment, we had met another animal that could be part of our family. She was meant to be. We named her Mara Silver, for she was the silver lining in an emotionally dark summer. I made the practical decision to let Mara have Bella’s food bowl, though I cried when I washed it out. I was washing out the last bits of her. But I smiled when I put it down in front of Mara, and watched her eat her first meal in a safe place.

Told you.
It was because of how deeply we loved Luna and Bella that there was enough love to fight through the grief. We had enough love to welcome a new member into our family. The legacy that those we lose leave behind is love. Let that be the light in your darkness. There is always love. Be the beacon of sharing that love with the world, and those who are gone will live on through your actions.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Beauty of Adoption

She adopted us a month ago...
There are people in your life that you meet, and you feel an instant connection to them. I’m not talking about attraction. I’m talking about that feeling of familiarity that comes before introductions. These people become your close friends. You let them in without realizing you’re doing it, because it’s organic when it happens. These people become your family, and it’s important to realize the ways family can be created.
Our new cat has gifted that insight to my heart. Never before, have I been so cautiously vetted, weighed, measured, and chosen by another animal. I know what day she decided she could trust us. I know what day she decided she was going to spend the rest of her life with us. And then she waited until we understood it, too. And she was right. We are not her family just because we took her in. We took her in because we felt that we were her family. I love her already. And I think about all of the beautiful children I know who are adopted. And all of the people I know whose family tree searches end when they discover an ancestor was adopted into their family.
I have always understood that my deep and lasting friends are my family, in addition to blood family. I have adopted them as such, telling stories about my second moms and dads. My best friend is also a brother to me, and it’s a bond that, whatever time and geographical distance may get in the way, is cemented in my heart. He is my brother, because we are all One people. We are all cousins. You, reader, are my cousin. That has to matter. We can’t be allowed to forget.
In genealogy, and the study of the migration of a bloodline, these people would not show up on your family tree. They would not be counted among the names of ancestors and descendants, and sometimes those of us in pursuit of our lineage overlook names that recur over and over in census reports, even when they are living in the same household. And sometimes we note a child who was adopted as an additional child, separate from the rest. I’ve seen it happen. Every time I come across it, I wonder what that family, who took that person in, would think about that historical aside.
This magical work I do allows me to go deeper than genealogy. I open myself to the ancestors of my bloodline and the ancestors of my heart. From a spiritual point of view, it’s easy to accept this as natural. Your intuitive body knows who is connected to you. It’s hard explaining this work in the beginning. You need terms and boundaries and guidelines to navigate the dimensions of spirit world. But once you’ve been practicing, you understand that all you have to do is open a way to connect to whoever you want that has crossed over.
When families merge together, an adoption occurs. In the perfect situation, there will be no line between blood and step kin. On one side of my family, there are many step siblings. And navigating the waters of who was born of what father was difficult for me as a child, as if children raised by my grandfather were not his ‘real’ children. On the other side of my family, my Grandma- the one who was part of my life- was not my blood grandmother but a step-grandmother. I never would have called her that and I never will. When I reach out into spirit world for my Grandmother, it is Donna I reach out to.
In my work, if you are adopted, you are doubly blessed. Not only do you have an ancestral heritage waiting for you to connect into it, but the family that adopted you, that took you as their child- no matter how things unfold within that family in your lifetime- their ancestors are your ancestors. Instead of two family lines, that of your mother and your father, you have four. That is how the spirit world works. And that is how your adopted family sees it; you are of their clan and kin.
We know that sometimes, people disown, deny, and cut off blood kin. This is why blood cannot be the lone measure of family. In my own tree, Charles Ruston and Ruth Ireland were members of the same parish church in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, England. Charles was the son of a wealthy and well-to-do landowner. Ruth was a servant in another household. They both came to America in 1881, just after getting married in defiance of Richard Ruston’s wishes. He was Charles’ father. When later family traveled to England, hoping to meet their Ruston kin, they were told that Richard did not have a son named Charles, in a way that very clearly stated that when Charles married Ruth, he no longer existed. Thanks to genealogy, we have records of Charles listed as Richard’s son on the England census prior to his immigration. So, despite Richard Ruston’s wishes, he is still my 3x Great-Grandfather. And his ancestors, unknown, are my ancestors.
If you were adopted, and you don’t know the names of your birth parents, their family tree is still yours. Your ancestors are still waiting for you to open to them. Just because you don’t have factual connections does not mean the spiritual connection isn’t there. It’s just sleeping. You can contact your blood relations, whether known or not. You can connect to the dead who are not related by blood. All you have to do is follow the threads of energy that bind you to those who have come before you. Follow them backwards and see where the journey takes you.

I don’t have children. I entertain the possibility of adopting someone into my family, someday. I can see it in the future. There will be someone with no family, who will be welcomed into ours. I can feel it. I will open my family history to them and it will be theirs. I will create a ritual, a rite of passage, where I will take them as my kin and gift them my lineage. My history will be theirs to claim or not. My ancestors will be called to watch over them as if they were my own. And they will be my blood in the binding and creating of family.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Morning Glory in Meditation

Every year, I push the base of a wooden trellis into the fresh dirt next to our stoop. I watch as the small seedlings from the previous autumn poke their way through the earth and unfurl. I weed the bed and I water them reverently. As the vines grow, thin and spaghetti-like, I teach them to move towards the trellis. They grow thicker, covered in short fuzz. The leaves grow bigger, shaped like hearts. The larger they get, and the deeper the color, the closer they are to budding.

I spend each morning in a gentle meditation, wrapping the sweet vines around the trellis, and watching them catch on over the days, until they wind themselves, in and out. The trellis becomes a loom where nature and I create beautiful art together. Over time, the vines become a green wall, offering a sense of privacy.

When the buds first come, it is a morning treasure hunt to see where the blooms have hidden themselves. They are tight little spirals, growing bigger each day. When I can see the color threaded through them, I know they will open the next morning.

The flowers are full and thick and brilliant at dawn, staying to the shadows. The beautiful heart-shaped leaves act like umbrellas, extending their lives by shading them. At the right time, mid-morning, the blossoms glow with a luminescence that makes them seem otherworldly, tiny portals opening from within. This is my favorite time of day to be in the garden, to be sitting on the stoop with a book and a notepad, stirring my own creative juices in their wake.



I watch as the bees frolic and pollinate, leaving tiny dustings of pollen on the petals.

As the day lengthens and the sun climbs in the sky, the morning glory blossoms grow weaker, their petals more translucent. The softening flowers tear easily and stick to the leaves around them. By mid-afternoon those that have survived curl in upon themselves. At dusk the day-old flowers drop unceremoniously to the ground below.

Every day in the world of the morning glory is a new beginning, a new life. Their beauty doesn’t last because nothing lasts. The nature of life is that it ends. That is the magic of the morning glory for me. They are dead when dark descends, but tomorrow, there will be more.

In the fall, when the garden withers, small buds of seeds are left behind on the browning vines. They will dry and shrink and loosen their eggplant-colored seeds into the ground. There, they will slumber through winter, waiting to emerge come next spring. So even in their seasonal ending, there is hope. There is always hope. But for today, under the summer sun, there is still beauty and joy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Working with My Ancestors

I have the names of my mother’s mothers and my father’s fathers, some skipping back a few generations and others stretching out into the early days of the Current Era. Like a personal totemic medicine wheel, there are four directions of ancestors that converge within me, in the lines of Art, Riddle, Ruston, and Eaton. They are the foundation I stand on, they and all of their ancestors standing behind them. I am the crest of the tip of a wave that has been travelling through centuries, to be here now.
This ancestor work is both firm and fluid. What was cannot change but what will be is always in motion. I have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 great-great-great-grandparents, 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents, 128 great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, etc. Even without names, I know that they lived or I wouldn’t be here. I know they took breath and bore children or I wouldn’t exist.
We don’t completely understand the nature of the natural world; the ebb and flow of symbiotic life, the repeating patterns in how things grow. We’ve broken down the science and we can explain the architecture and form of it, but we understand it as much as we understand what pins a soul into the human body. In our world, we accept that the soul exists. We feel it when we are moved, when our emotions are stirred, like tides answering to the moon’s gravity.
Our souls exist. When a person dies, it leaves their body. To us forest walkers, when a favorite tree dies, we feel the loss of it’s spirit. Where does it go? No one knows what that energy source becomes. But energy is energy and maybe it all just becomes that. So when we enter the natural world and touch the earth and hug the trees, we sense that larger spirit of life, that oneness of everything that has ever lived.
We may birth forth from our mother’s wombs, freed from the cord that connects us, but our connection to the earth beneath us is eternal. Our shared ancestor crawled out from the primordial depths to evolve into bipedal animals. The earth itself is our mother. Our heart beats in tandem with her. Our blood pulses in rhythm to her tides. The waters of our body feel the same pull that she does to the moon.
There are many elemental forces. The basics of earth, air, fire, water, and the spirit beings that crossover and inhabit these entities in our world. All the living things like plants, trees, animals are useful sources of energy. They are all product of our living ancestor. We’re not meant to drain these sources of their life force. That is never the goal with true magic. But we connect into it, we open a doorway of understanding and we try to learn from each other. We seek not to conquer but to become one with. It is a mutual exchange of energy. A boost.
The ancestral energy is no different to me. It is the timeless echo of every living being whose footsteps once walked this earth, whose lungs drew breath and exhaled carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. For me, the ancestral energy is just as tangible as the earth energy, as if passages of time were layered atop each other like floors in a skyscraper and I am staring down from an aerial view at each of them at once. All life exists in that moment, beneath me, layers of sedimentary rock. When I connect into it, I can touch the still-living energy of those long dead. And in this work, time magnifies the stream, as well as diminishes. It magnifies the echo-of-life-that-was, so the dead feel part of your life still, and it diminishes our human grief at the loss of the physical presence. It’s why I differentiate between working with the Beloved Dead, those we knew in life, and the Ancestral Dead. I am walking with my ancestors and they are walking within me.
I don’t deify them. But I reach out into the energy around me, for there is some echo of their life that runs through the soil still. I can touch it. And certainly some of that energy touches me while I am at my work.
When my garden is less-than-thriving, I light candles on my ancestor altar. I make a petition to the centuries of farmers who worked the soil before me. I pull on that knowledge they held, swimming in my bloodstream, and will it into my fingertips. I make an offering to them from the first of the harvest in gratitude for their guidance in watching over my hands as they toiled, so that other life may be nourished in the reaping; not just my household.
When someone I love is giving birth, I light candles and ask for every woman before me who has pushed life out into the world to stand in that room and welcome the new life into the world. I ask them to watch over my family, and my nieces, as they grow and begin their own families. I remember the toil and struggle life is for everyone, and it humbles me.
When death comes to loved ones, I ask the Beloved Dead to stand with the family, to be of comfort to the bereaved and grieving. I ask the Ancestral Dead to open the way for the newly dead to cross over, and welcome them into the next stage of being.
When a new job is on the horizon, I ask for the support of all those who ventured into new territories, or changed careers in uncomfortable times. I remember them, whether I have names or not, and I know that I am hardly alone in the hope for good things to come my way.
And when times are hard, as times get, and I don’t know how they’ll get better, I pray to all of those who came before me and I beg them for strength. I pray to those who endured hard lives, who survived war and murder, to walk with me, to curb the feeling of loneliness that hardship can bring. I know I can do it, because they did. And I forgive myself in advance, in case I lose a little grace along the way.
To those who have gone before.
To those whose names live in our hearts and dance across our lips.
To those whose names have been forgotten, lost in the sea of time.
To those whose bones lay buried within and above the earth.
To those whose ashes have traveled on the winds.

We, the living, remember you.
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