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, October 30, 2013

To Honor the Recent Dead

When working with spirits, I don’t call upon those who are recently deceased. It feels cruel to call upon a soul that may be struggling to let go of it’s human skin. Or maybe it’s cruel to the human grieving. Maybe the more that time passes, the less human their spirits seem to us, and the easier we can open to them. Whichever side of the living or dead needs the time to heal, I don’t call upon or attempt to work with a spirit who has been dead for less than a year. In fact, with spirits who died unwell, I may wait many years before trying.
I keep that in mind in my daily practice, and again at Samhain and Halloween, when the everyday spirits who walk among us are more easily perceived. I make myself still my grief’s desire to call to those who have not been dead long. In my work, I refer to the spirits who die, from Samhain to Samhain, as the Recent Dead. This is the time when I call on my ancestors and ask them to help welcome and shepherd over the Recent Dead, specifically those spirits who might not yet have realized it is time to cross over.
I light my ancestor altar and call my ancestors, the lines of Eaton, Riddle, Ruston, and Art. I call out the names of some of the ancestors I have found on my family tree, calling in the ageless time that is the ancestral pool: Sibilia de Lea, Sir Henry Norreys, Captain Roger Clapp, Waitstill Wyatt, Heman Sears, Hattie Eva Dutcher; Gwethlin Wensliana, Robert Moulton, Rev. William Gylette, Freeborn Wolfe, Isaac-Etienne Paquet de Lavallee, Annatje Goedemoet, Thomas Ridel, Rosella LaRoche; Barnardus Jacobus Turner, Dafydd Riggs, Hester Mathieu, Albrecht Zabriskie, Emma Angeline Whitcher, Hiram King Wicker; Mary Dowd, John F. Pils, Katherine Maria Schmeelk, Margaret Loretta Burke.
I am because you were.
I call the names of my Beloved Dead, of those known in this lifetime, known and loved by me. They are the names of those I think of often and fondly, and though I miss them, I celebrate their memory in the act of reciting their names: Ruth Ruston Eaton, Harold Riddle, Mark Dutcher Eaton, Melinda Tanner, Elizabeth Fricke, Jeff Patterson, Willie Lingenfelter, Elsie Durant Riddle, Gabe Reynolds, Joel Pelletier, Victoria Eaton, Edward J. Jerge, II, Trent Illig, Donna Riddle, Jurgen Banse-Fey, Charles “Sienna Fox” Duvall, Jack Singer, Tommy Amyotte, Paul Seeloff, Richard James Riddle, Brett Elsess, Andrew Begley, Susan Alvarez-Hughes, Coswald Mauri, Norm Herbert, Jad Alexander, Dr. August Staub, Princess Leather Falcor, Martha Dayton, Melvin Chausse, John Croom, Karl Weber, Luna Jackalope, Thomas E. Malinowski, Albert Gritzmacher III, Luna the wolfe, Joshua Verity, Freya Moon Greenleaf.
            I am the better for having known you.
I pour water into a glass, offering a libation to my honored guests. I ask them to watch over and welcome our friends and loved ones who have died in this last year, and then I speak the names of the Recent Dead, known to me and my loved ones, lighting a candle for each person:
John M. Rosenburg, Jr.
Gary French
Joshua Fingerhut
Barbara Jean Schiffert
Bella, our beloved bear-cat
Russell Whitmire
Ken Koch
Soja Arumpanayil
After the candles are lit, I sing, because it makes me happy. I sing and I think about all of the warm, joyful memories I have with each of those I lit a candle for. I think about how much they meant to me, and my journey, and I let my heart fill. My heart becomes the focal point for the energy I radiate into the universe. Even in my grief, what I send out is love.
Afterwards, I thank the Ancestors with a Dumb Supper, a Feast for the Dead. We dine in mirror to what the spirits remember, from dessert to appetizer, offering them the first and best of each dish, our honored guests. What is left from the feast is offered to the animals of the natural world, as an offering to the living from the dead.
I owe my breath to all those who came before me. Good or bad, they are branches of living energy that feed down into me. I am because they were. My nieces and nephew are because they were. I honor and I remember.

What is remembered lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Miss you and love you, Bella Bella.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Spirit Dreaming

I often get spirit visitations in dream world, which is fairly common. It’s easier for our Western minds to be open to seeing someone we know has passed in a world that we expect to be irrational. The spirits always appear different than their surroundings, as if they are watchers of my subconscious theatre, swept up in the story but not of it. They appear to me as if made of a separate quality of film overlaid onto that of the dreaming.
When I see a spirit, I take notice of the things that seem to pull my focus. They are likely to be relevant, whether I understand them or not. Sometimes it’s a word they say or the way they say it. Sometimes it is an item they hold. Other times it’s a reflection of myself in their eye. I bring these images and thoughts out of dream world and mull them over in my meditations.

Last Year’s Dream
I am walking a path in the wood. The forest is old and the trees are thick and tall. There is hardly any underbrush. Our village is in this wood. At the heart of the village is a large stone table. I approach it, alone. There are two people laying on the stone table, head to feet, a man and a woman. They are both naked. They are both old with white hair. They are flickering to fill the shape of themselves and I know they are ancestors of mine.
They take turns speaking, but I only hear their words in my head. On the stone table, their lips do not move. When I look at her I hear seagulls and I smell the cloying scent of sod and sea spray. Could this be a mother of my mothers from Ireland? I look at him and I feel the heft of an axe in my hand, in a younger wood than this one.
They are speaking in my head, overlapping now. I was chosen because I can hear them. The old man is crying; he never thought he would see this done. His relief is palpable. I hold his hand and I tell him that it is okay. I assure him that I’ll see it through. He sighs and passes on, his flesh and bones turning to stardust. Other stardusted spirits and people from my village in the woods gather around the stone table for the funeral.
I am standing at the back of the crowd and the old woman shows me a picture in my head. She is digging up an ancient drumming shield in a place I am familiar with. I think I am watching it backwards. I think she is burying it. There is a secret around this object. It is important to unbury it, even though I don’t know what the darkness around it is.
When I leave my village it is dusk and the shield is slung over my shoulder. In the dream I think of it as “her weapon.” The drumming shield is octagon shaped, with slightly curved edges that makes it’s shape like a bowl. When I strike it, it sounds like a drum. There is a small circle in the northwest quadrant and a crescent around it in the southeast quadrant of the shield…
…then I am standing on a ship. It is modern in appearance, but feels ageless and ancient at once. I see a friend of mine on deck. In the real world when I had this dream, my friend was on walkabout in the Celtic Isles. He does not recognize the face I wear in the dream but when I speak to him he sees me and gives me the biggest hug. I tell him that I am about to fix an 800 year-old wrong. He tells me to journey well.

Bits of the dream cling to me in the waking world, like puzzle pieces that would fit together if only I could see the larger pattern. They are wheels within wheels... the immediate pull to think on my maternal line... the secret with 8 sides... an 800 year-old wrong… the feel of being handed a quest. An 800 year-old wrong would put the ancestral generation somewhere in the 1100s. I meditate on the past, seeking shadows and blocks in the energy flow as I drift backwards through the bloodstream.
I trust in the dream, that there is something there, some secret unknown, lingering in the recesses of my ancestral memory. I understand that it may always remain unknown to me. Just because I don’t know what caused a shadow on the energy flow, doesn’t mean I am incapable of clearing it out so that the energy may move freely again… and perhaps remove the larger hamster-wheel patterns my family has been repeating.
I make offerings to the ancestors to let go of the things they held onto in death. I make offerings to appease the wrongs the ancestors of mine had done. I open my heart to forgiveness and embrace my ancestors for whatever lives they might have led. Good or bad, I would not be here without them. That is the comfort I inhale and the acceptance I exhale.

What is remembered lives. What is remembered never truly dies. What is dead lives on within me.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

All the Ancestral Roads

Where I live, the trees are bursting with fire, revealing the true carotenoid and anthocyanin color of their leaves as the more dominant chlorophyll fades away. It’s a reminder that life has cycles. Even though the trees don’t die, they shed their leaves every autumn, to be reborn in the buds of spring. This is the time of year when we open to the ancestral energies around us, in preparation of honoring their memories at Samhain. But the ancestors around us are more than just the names and dates of those who lived so that we might be born.

Open to the Recent Dead, to those who have ceased breath since last Samhain. Open to the loss of the newly dead. Remember their lives and the affection you shared. Remember their struggles and their loves. Sing songs of them and make offerings to them, even as the grief wells raw within you. Wish them peace and safe passage as the veil opens to welcome them to what comes next. Take in breath and blaze through your days. Make memories in honor of those who no longer will.
What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Open to your Beloved Dead, to those you have known in your lifetime who have crossed over. Remember the years of love. Remember the touch of hands and the sound of voices. Remember the lessons learned and the laughter. Remember the false days as well as the true ones, for no one is perfect. We do better to honor them by remembering them whole, flaws and all. Remember who they were to you, and what part they played in the journey of your life. Remember paths diverged and merged. Remember the sorrow of loss beneath the joys of having known them. Remember to let the joy outshine the grief. Remember those you loved who snuffed out their own light. Remember those who had no choice in when death took them. Remember those who suffered and remember their lives beyond mother, father, sibling, friend, husband, wife, grandparent. Remember the stories they told. Remember who they were.
What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Open to the ancestors of your bloodline, to Those Who Came Before. Open to the mothers birthing mothers and the fathers seeding fathers. Open to the ripple of life flowing backward in time, beyond memory and language, beyond names and civilization. Those of us taking breath, our ancestors were among those who discovered fire and moved from caves to build shelters. Honor the lines of mothers and fathers that trail behind you, supporting you. Remember those, without whom, you could not exist.
What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

In some of our lives we are gifted with family we create. Open to your adopted ancestors, to the bloodlines of those who, in this life, claim you as one of their own. To those who claim you as daughter and son, brother and sister, grandchild… to them you are blood and that love opens a door for you to claim the energy of their lineage. Remember the ancestors of your family, both biological and built.
What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Open to the ancestors of your spirituality, to all the lips that have uttered the prayers you utter. To the hands that have worked the magic and faith you do. Remember those who braved a path and questioned what was known, who built the foundation for your practice. Remember those whose hearts were pulled in the same direction of belief. Remember those who died because of their faith. Remember all those who found the courage to belief what they did because it felt right.
What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Open to the ancestors of the land you live on, the city you live in, the county you reside in. Open to the energy of those who toiled and built and settled. Open to the energy of all those who lived in your home before you. Who farmed the land beneath you before it was a home. Who hunted the land beneath you before it was cleared for farmland. Remember those who saw promise in a wild landscape. Remember the wild that came before us.
What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Open to the ancestors of the lands your bloodline came from. Open to the energy paths of the migration trails the feet of Those Who Came Before tread. Follow the tendrils back across the waters, across the mountains, across the valleys and deserts. Those lives, those carbon footprints are energy sources for you. Remember that all our generations trace back to a single ancestor. Remember that all are relations. We are all brothers, sisters, and cousins. We are all streamers rolling out from that first big human bang. You are my cousin. Remember that.

What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Canning Autumn Applesauce

At Russell Farms, 2013.
Autumn is my favorite time of year to live in the Northeast. Even though I have always lived in the Northeast, I don’t take the changing of seasons for granted. Red, yellow, and orange leaves crunching underfoot, and apple cider. We are lucky to have multiple apple orchards around us like Russell Farms, Lone Maple Farm, Apple Hills Farm, and Torto’s.
Autumn belongs to the apples: Gala, Honeycrisp, Gingergold, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Macoun, Empire, Pink Lady, Granny Smith… Through the winter, spring, and summer months, I forget what apple tastes like until I pluck one from the tree and bite my teeth into that firm and crisp flesh for the first time. I eat fresh apples daily when they’re in season, because I know it won’t last. Spiritually, I am growing an appreciation for impermanence. It makes you appreciate things when you have them more. After all, our very lives are an exercise in impermanence.
Even so, it is nice to be able to carry a bit of this season into the ones that will come after. When the apples are their ripest, I make and can applesauce to get me through till next harvest. My mother canned. My grandmother canned. I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. I do it because I know that when I open a jar this February, autumn’s harvest flavor will be there. That taste of the first bite of a ripe apple will flood my mouth. No chemicals. No preservatives. No added sugar. Just apples, and a small stick of cinnamon.

I find the prep work is the hardest. You have to wash all the jars in warm soapy water. Fill them with hot water and place them in the canning pot. Add enough water so it sits above the jars by an inch. Cover the pot and bring it towards a boil over medium-high heat. When it is almost boiling, reduce hit to a simmer. Keep it covered until you use the jars. [This part took me an hour.]
Then, in a small saucepan, pour two inches of water in the bottom. Add the lids and heat on low until it reaches a simmer. Cover the saucepan and take it off the heat. Set it aside until you’re ready to use them. Now, you’re ready to make the applesauce, which is fairly easy.

I had a small retinue of apples for this batch. Normally, I might add a splash of water for every four apples I use, but I have found that fresh apples rarely require extra moisture. I peel, core, and cut the apples into slices. Everyone does it different, I’ve found. No matter how you cut them, it’s important to keep the pieces of even size. Add as many cinnamon sticks as you desire to taste- a dash of ginger is always a nice complement, if you want a little tang.
Place everything in a saucepan, cover, and heat on medium for fifteen to twenty minutes. Use a fork to see how easily the tines pass through the fruit. If it passes through without resistance, you’re done. Turn the heat off, remove the cinnamon sticks and mash away. I have a potato masher that I use because I like to make chunky applesauce, but for smooth applesauce I whisk it after it’s been mashed. Now, you’re ready to can!

Remove the jars from the canning pot, carefully, and empty them of their water. I dry them out with a clean cloth. Fill the jars with applesauce, leaving a half-inch of headspace. When the jars are full, gently shake the jars back and forth to release air pockets. You can also slide a clean knife around the edge of the jar to help release them. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth. Use tongs to pull a lid out of the saucepan and set it on the jar. Screw a band in until it’s just tightened.
When they’re all done, place the jars back in the canner (beware of hot water). Make sure, again, that there is at least an inch of water covering the jars. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When the water starts boiling, process the jars for fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the pot stand for about five minutes. Remove jars onto a clean towel on a table or counter. My canning pot has a basket that I can rise to lift the cans above the water line. But before I found my canner at the thrift store (for five dollars), I used a large stock pot and heavy-grade canning tongs.

Give the jars twelve to twenty-four hours to cool, depending on their size. You may hear a strange warpy, metallic, pinging sound. That’s good. You want to hear that sound. It means the seals are locking and the canning worked. Don’t fret if you don’t hear it either, though. That’s happened to me. When the jars are cooled, press lightly on the seal. If it doesn’t give, it worked, and you can safely store them for up to a year, just in time for the new crop! If the seal gives beneath your finger, it didn’t take. That just means you can pop them in the fridge and eat them right away. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is Sacred? The Story of White Buffalo Woman

I am an idealist. I always try to offer another perspective, granting the benefit of the doubt to an annoying level to those around me. It’s a choice. I’m not simple minded. But I found myself listing too far towards jaded, so I chose to see a silver lining until I could see how dark the cloud truly was. Hope is my bread and butter. Not in a fanatical way. I’m no Pollyanna. I see the world the way it is.
If magic is in the manifestation of energy and words, then hope is the exhalation of breath. The unfurling seed. Hope is picking your foot up off the ground because you believe the only way out is forward and through. It’s returning a stranger’s dropped twenty dollar bill when you only have two dollars in your wallet. It’s the belief that people are good at heart; that we’re meant to be good. In this way, hope is sacred to me. What is sacred to you?

The White Buffalo
One of my main totem animal guides is Buffalo. Buffalo is my earth, my grounding radiance, my Buddhisattva ideals. The buffalo is sacred to me also, in my practice. Last week I wrote about Buffalo Brother, and how I adopted him as a guide for my work with gratitude, compassion, and loving-kindness. Among the legends of buffalo you will find stories of the white buffalo, sacred to the many Native American tribes, including the Lakota, who call it Tatanka Ska. While the white buffalo is a message that all living beings are connected and interdependent, it is also considered to be a warning to the Lakota. The birth of a white buffalo is a sign that it is time to focus on creating a healthy, harmonious, and peaceful world.
The legend of White Buffalo Woman originates with a starving people; the game had disappeared. The seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Sioux were joined together in their suffering. Two men went into the Black Hills of South Dakota to hunt. They came upon a young woman dressed in white. One hunter tried to claim her by force and she turned him into a pile of bones. She told the second hunter to return to his tribe and tell them she was coming. She came, carrying a sacred pipe. She laid it down, facing east. She stayed with the people and taught them to pray, to respect the earth, to respect the buffalo for their sacrifice so the People could live, and all of the rituals and ways to share in the smoke of the sacred pipe.
When she left, she said she would return in a time of peace. She walked away, bending to the earth and rolling over. She transformed into a black buffalo, then a brown one, a red one, and finally a white one. After her visit, the buffalo returned to the earth and the Lakota thrived. The image of the white buffalo became as compelling a symbol to the People as the peace pipe. John Lame Deer says, "A white buffalo is the most sacred living thing you could ever encounter." The lesson of White Medicine Woman is that, if man can live in true harmony with the natural world, as part of it, not above it, then he will see he has everything he needs around him.
There are four reasons a bison calf may be born white. An albino will remain white their entire life, with pink eyes and, most likely hearing and vision problems. There is a rare genetic condition where the calf is born white but their coat turns brown as it matures over the next two years. A beefalo calf is more common, born from bison and cattle crossbreeding. The white coloration comes from their cattle ancestors. And then there is the leucistic calf, a buffalo born with white fur and blue eyes. The odds of a leucistic birth is one in ten million. In the last 200 years, only a handful of these births have been reported.
On May 11, 2011, a white calf named Lightning Medicine Cloud was born to Buffalo Woman at the Lakota Ranch in Greenville, Texas. I followed his exploits on-line, but not for long. Before his first birthday he and his mother died of a bacterial infection called blackleg. After his death, Arby Little Soldier, the 3x great-grandson of Sitting Bull, and owner of the calf, said, "The Native Americans see the birth of a white buffalo calf as the most significant of prophetic signs, equivalent to the weeping statues, bleeding icons, and crosses of light that are becoming prevalent within the Christian churches today. Where the Christian faithful who visit these signs see them as a renewal of God's ongoing relationship with humanity, so do the Native Americans see the white buffalo calf as the sign to begin life's sacred hoop."
An Oglala Medicine Man from South Dakota, Floyd Hand Looks For Buffalo says that, “the arrival of the white buffalo…will bring about purity of mind, body, and spirit and unify all nations- black, red, yellow, and white.” A month after the death of Lightning Medicine Cloud, a white calf was born on a dairy farm in Goshen, Connecticut. Four elders from the Oglala Sioux Tribe performed a naming ceremony for him, along with members of the Cayuga, Lakota, Mohawk, and Seneca tribes. Yellow Medicine Dancing Boy will be cared for and raised as a symbol of hope.

What is Sacred to You?
Because of my work, the image of the buffalo, white or brown, is a sacred symbol. Trees are also sacred to me. When we sacrifice them they become shelter, paper, fuel. When they are rooted in the earth they are oxygen. It makes me sad to see the human population multiplying and the tree population dwindling. They are necessary. They are life bringers. Look around your world. What in it is sacred to you? In this, world, the other thing that is sacred to me is kindness. Goodness. Those ways of being, of breathing, are their own message of hope. I walk towards them every day, my feet on the ground in prayer.

"People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. Afterall, it was never between you and them anyway." - Mother Teresa
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