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 29, 2014

A Samhain Prayer (and samhain links)

Blessings to those who have gone before.

Blessings to those who have gone before.

I call to the ancestors who lived and died before I took breath,
to all the mothers and fathers who created life,
who created life,
who created me.
Walk with me tonight.

I call to the ancestors who lived and died in my lifetime,
my beloved dead, my family, my friends.
Those who made me laugh and shared in my tears,
who shared this journey with me,
who shared their journey with me.
Visit with me again.

My breath is your breath.
My bones are your bones.
We are all relations.
I drink water for you.
I take in food for you.

Together we light the beacon…
Together we stand in the doorway…

We call to the recently dead.
We offer your names to the air.
We offer your names in prayer.
            Paul Slomba… William Luke Dalone…
All of my ancestors,
all of our relations,
wait to greet you.
Safest passage to each of you.
You are loved,
you are remembered.

Be at peace.

(Sarah Lyn, 2014)

Links to Previous Posts about Samhain:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Basic Ancestor Altar

It’s that time of year in the Northeast, when the leaves turn, fall, and litter the ground, crunching beneath our feet.  Among such volume of nature’s skeletons, it is easy to understand why our thoughts turn to our dead. Halloween may be a commercial American holiday, but it has its roots in the pagan holiday of Samhain. At this time the veil between worlds is thinnest, and we can feel the nearness of spirit as it co-exists with our world. The easiest way to connect to that energy is to build a bridge to reach them, something I do with my ancestor altar.
What do I mean by veil? Not an actual veil. It’s a metaphor for a doorway, a place where two planes intersect and a way opens between them. It doesn’t just happen at Samhain, but it happens strongly and consistently at Samhain. If you have ever felt like someone has been in the room with you, or something has run past you, but nothing is visibly there, you have experienced a moment of intersection. I know it scares some people, but it gives me great comfort.
There are basic tools important to creating that bridge of communication in my work. What I am going to talk about are the ones I use, but that does not mean it is the only way to do it. I do believe that before you can learn to substitute, you have to understand the purpose behind the original recipe.

1) First you need a dedicated space for your altar. It can be as small as you have room for, but while using it for an altar, you should not use it for anything else. It is not a space to set a cup or pen down, even for a moment. It’s a lesson in commitment. I like to put a cloth down to formalize it, to remind me of its sacredness.

2) Place a candle on the altar. This is the beacon you are burning, like a lighthouse, to attract their attention. You can pick one candle that will burn through the season. If you are using a dedicated candle holder, tea lights are fine. I used to use Goya candles in jars, until I found a fossil tea light holder at a rock show that I lives on my altar now.

3) The last thing necessary for the bridge is a glass to hold libations for the ancestors. Plastic is not an energy conductor, so I try not to use it on my altars. Water is the best offering. It is what we need to survive when we are alive and comprises a large part of our physical bodies. Spirits are attracted to things that remind of them of their physical lives. Tend to the glass every day; watch the water level and keep it full.

4) If you have any photos of your ancestors, you can add them to your altar. You can also include photos of those you have known and loved in your life who have died, including animal friends. The only thing that is taboo is to put images of people who are still alive on your altar. If the only photo you have also contains living people, you can use cleverly cut post-its to cover the living image.

5) If you have any objects that belonged to the dead, their energy and familiarity will help pull their spirit energy to your altar, especially if you have items that have been passed down. If you know that someone had a favorite flower, you can a bouquet. If they had a favorite drink, set one out for them. It doesn’t just have to be items they held, but can be items that might entice them to come.

6) I also include an offering bowl on my altar as a place to leave candies and small food offerings to sweeten the draw to feed the spirits. Food is not just important to us, it was important to our ancestors, too. As with Dia de los Muertos celebrations, I find items with pungent scents or flavors work well.

These are all things that will help call spirit to your altar. You can also add items that will help you connect to that ancestral energy. If they are allies for you, bone items, stones, or fossils are good aids. But this is the chance for you to put your own touches on the altar, and truly make it a bridge between spirit world and you.
Start tending it a week before Samhain. Light the candle at the same time every day and take moment to think of your ancestors. Take a moment to call to them, either silently or out loud. It’s about dedication and desire. Remember to let your recent dead sleep and rest. Do not call them for your grief is too animal and too frightening for those in transition. Honor their memory and wish them peace. Ask those you call to your altar to watch over and guide them.

Community doesn’t stop when we die. The web doesn’t dissolve when we are no longer physically part of it. We are all relations, all part of multiple overlapping worlds that are both visible and invisible. They exist whether we perceive them or not. So light your beacon, invite your Ancestors to enter, and open yourself to their visitations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Leave the Recent Dead to Rest

This is the time of year when neighbors decorate their yards with fake cemetery stones, when cobweb-covered skeletons hang from trees and porches. Leaves around us dry, fall and die, leaving the bare branches visible, and our minds wander to thoughts of loss. It is this time of year when those we have recently lost are close to our hearts and in our thoughts.
In my Ancestor practice, I talk a lot about actually working with your dead. For my purposes, there are three levels of dead. There is your Ancestral Dead, comprising those of your family line you never knew in life. Your Beloved Dead are those you knew and loved in this life that are passed, whether of your bloodline or not. And then there is your Recent Dead, those who have died within this last year, or since last Samhain, if you regularly wish your recent dead rest. Just remember that time is not consistent, for us or them.
I spend a lot of time honoring the Recent Dead in Samhain rituals, lighting candles for them and wishing them safe passage. I shepherd lost souls across to whatever comes next. I know some spirits wander because they do not know where to go. It’s like standing at a subway station and the train comes and the door opens and all that exists beyond it is space without firmament. The spirits who are still attached to their physical bodies don’t know how to move through that space, thinking in terms that no longer apply, so they don’t.
Mostly what I want to tell you about is why I don’t do work or call upon my recent dead. And why you shouldn’t either. It’s not about them. It’s about you.
Not all Recent Dead cross over, but mostly they do. Still, sometimes a part of them stays behind because they’re not ready, or they have unfinished business. And even if they do, that business can wait. Because you need to take care of you.
When we grieve, we are walking in two worlds. The world of the mundane, where life revolves and continues despite our sorrow, and the world where every moment is a reminder of how our loved ones are no longer with us. That’s the world where every time you reach out for them or you turn to talk to them, where every one of those moments is sharp and it cuts. And no one is in that world but you, existing slightly outside of the one everyone else is in.
Sometimes we forget that others around us don’t feel the pain we’re feeling. Sometimes they forget we’re still feeling the pain we’re feeling. So we are not in a stable place, even if we’re functional. That is extremely important. We use our intuitive bodies to do magic. Our intuitive bodies and our emotional bodies are not the same, though they overlap. And our emotional bodies are grieving.
I do not call on my Recent Dead for help or aid. I do not ask them to visit me in my work, in my meditations, or in my dreams. Because it would be too hard if they came. It would be too hard to open my eyes in the morning, after experiencing them, and re-remembering that they are gone.
A decade ago, friends of ours let us stay in their empty house while in town for holiday with my family. They were out of town for Christmas, as earlier that year my friend had taken his life in that house. His wife and son were recovering, choosing to spend their first holiday elsewhere. I woke in the middle of the night and he was standing at the end of the bed. He wanted to know where they were. It was Christmas. He came to be with them. Where was the tree? Where was his son? I took a deep breath. His eyes were so clear and bright, so much like the man I knew before his illness.
I told him he had to leave them alone. I told him it was too hard for them, because of what he did. I told him his being around made it hard for them to move forward. I told him he made his choice and he had to own it.
He was sad. But he disappeared. And I fell back to sleep. The human part of me wanted to ask my friend questions. But even spirits rewrite their own stories. It’s what holds them here. In hauntings, it is always the truth that sets the ghost free. And as a healer, as an Edgewalker, that was all I had to offer him.
Afterwards, my friends’ lives improved. The queer sensations that had been haunting them in the house stopped. Magic is real.
Magic isn’t safe.
So we don’t work with the Recent Dead. At Samhain, we ground that grief with flame and fire and we hold that light in our hearts. We know that peace of sorts will find us. And that we will accept the inevitable nature of death, even as it applies to us. Eventually. And that hope sustains us.

On All Hallow’s Eve I will offer the names of my Recent Dead and I will wish them peace. But I will not open myself to contact. I will not ask them questions. I will offer them tears and reach back to my Beloved and Ancestral Dead for comfort. Until next year, I will leave my most recently deceased to their rest. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Autumn Tree

As a child, I thought that the splash of autumn color was the final death cry of the tree, screaming against the end in red, orange, and yellow defiance. I believed every fall was a little death for each tree, except for the pines, the immortals of their world. I used to hug the trees, bare of their leaves, and whisper comfort to them, telling them it would be all right, that their leaves would come back in the spring.
There was a lot about death I couldn’t perceive then, but even in my misunderstanding, I created rituals designed to comfort the living.
It is in these last weeks before they die that the leaves are able reveal their true selves to men who might otherwise bow too humbly beneath their splendor. Could we stand against the awe and wonder if our world was painted so vibrantly around us every day?
As they die, as their chlorophyll drains, the true skin is revealed and the leaves fill our world with wonder. We honor them as they burst and burn and fall to the ground. We trample the bones of them beneath our feet, reveling in the crisp sound cutting through the air that signifies autumn. We make pyres of their dead, careening into piles, giggling as they crunch beneath our weight. Even in death, we can also find joy.
The pieces of them we crush and scatter underfoot nourish the ground beneath the trunk of their tree. Their bones are meant to be left to mulch and feed their mother, just as our dead are meant to be buried beneath the earth, exposed to the elements, to nourish the world around it. Nature shows us how to live within the pattern of the larger world, but we can’t perceive it from our square cities of cement and asphalt.
We don’t bury our dead unfettered. We bag up the leaves from our yards and take them away from their home. We do it because death isn’t pretty. Because we do not want to see the crisp carcasses decaying before our eyes, as if it taints the image of their beauty.

But all beauty fades. Should that make what remains less beautiful? Is it not beautiful that each tree sees multiple generations of humans come and go, just as we watch a generation of leaves bloom, grow, and die for each year that we are alive? Is there no beauty in death's place in our cycles of life? I stand in wonder, gazing at the mountains around me. I watch as red, yellow, orange, and russet fire meet their end.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An Ancestral Parade of Pictures

The store my 2x Great-Grandpa Hiram Wicker and his brother William owned, late 1800s (L), Lockport, NY.
The ancestors who came before us were people just like us, struggling to get by and chasing their dreams. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that about people we didn’t know. So I like to go through the pictures that I have of them, looking for small glimpses into their lives. May they guide my dreams and live on in my deeds.
 My Mother's Side
My maternal grandparents, Patricia Art (living) & Richard James Riddle (1931-2004) 

1x Great-Grandparents Harold Lafayette Riddle (1903-1975) & Elsie Elizabeth Durant (1904-1994)

2x Great-Grandparents Lafayette Riddle (1873-1938) & Frances Ann Gillette (1877-1963), front center two. That's my great-grandpa Harold in the light suit in the back row.

We are guessing the man behind my Great-Grandparents Elsie and Harold is her father, my 2x Great-Grandparents George Francis Durant (1871-1934). It's the only picture we have of him.

3x Great-Grandparents Levi H. Gillette (1845-1911) & Jane Berry (1841-1901) and their children. The girl on the left in the back row is my 2x great-grandma Frances.

4x Great-Grandparents Ezra Wheeler Gillette (1819-1849) & Mary Ann Boots (1825-1899)

4x Great-Grandparents Francis Berry (1816-1900?) & Elizabeth Ann Hill (1825-1899)

My Father's Side
My paternal grandparents, Mark Eaton (1915-1982) & Ruth Ruston (1916-1959)

My father’s mother’s line.
1x Great-Grandparents Frank William Ruston (1888-1971) & Minnie Estelle Wicker (1890-1964)

2x Great-Grandparents Charles Evan Ruston (1847-1933) & Ruth Ireland (1861-1940). They're the center two in the back row, surrounded by their children and their children's families.

2x Great-Grandparents Hiram King Wicker (1844-1908) & Emma Angeline Whitcher (1845-1929). Hiram and Emma are the center couple. This photo was taken before they had children. All the little ones belong to Hiram's brothers.

3x Great-Grandfather Bailey Harrison Whitcher (1799-1865) & Ordelia DeLozier (1810-1888)

4x Great-Grandmother Lucy Raymond (Lozier) (1789-1874)

My father’s father’s line.
1x Great-Grandparents Royal Levant Eaton (1873-1931) & Hattie Eva Smith (1882-1969). They're with their oldest daughter Helen.

2x Great-Grandparents Bennett Eaton (1847-1909) & Theresa Cordelia Tenney (1850-1930). In the photo Theresa is holding their son Hubert.

2x Great-Grandparents Silas Parker Smith (1851-1896) & Hattie Eva Dutcher (1857-1882).

3x Great-Grandparents Ammi Smith (1824-1918) & Sophia Sears (1829-1909)

3x Great-Grandparents Reuben Feagles Dutcher (1831-1908) & Eliza Marsh Bird (1837-1926)

May we all remember the many who have come before us. Whether we know their names or faces, may they live on in our hearts. What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.
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