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, September 30, 2015

My Ancestral Dead, My Beloved Dead

My ancestors are pillars of ice-blue fire, breathing in seasons like stars, stones and trees. The Ancestral Dead are firelight that blazes but doesn’t burn. This is the energy source I connect into when I work with my Ancestors. That is not so for the Beloved Dead. The energy of those who you have known in this physical plane, those you have touched, held, hugged and lost is not cool and calm.
Hot salty tears burn my cheeks with a fever as the grief washes over me. The recent dead are changeable water, tumultuous with grief in one minute, still with acceptance in another, and then raging against the feel of loss… they are uneasy waters. Unless you feel called to step further on the path of this work, I recommend stating with clear intention that you are honoring the Beloved Dead and asking nothing of them in return. I routinely call on the energy of my forebears to watch over my nieces and nephew, but I do not ask that of the Beloved Dead.
It may seem strange that I do not ask the spirits who knew me to help watch over us. That’s the good thing about generations though- we keep coming. There are plenty of lives to call on that allow me to leave the recently deceased be. It’s my belief that the Beloved Dead are transitioning what was left of themselves through the process of dying and moving on. I have experienced the moment of death with a loved one, and it opened something in me. When he died and his spirit left his body, when the life of him left the room, the air about me wavered and changed, as if a warm flame had been blown out. His body was not him anymore.
I do not claim to know what comes next or what happens to that bit of life. I don’t know what happens. But I have faith that something does.

My Ancestral Dead
You can’t discuss spirit without being metaphysical. As far as I’m concerned, spirit is energy and science has proven that energy exists. The way I talk about it is more romantic but that doesn’t remove the science; after all, I’m a writer, not a scientist. I believe what I believe because it makes sense to me based on what I’ve experienced. I am always open to adapting my beliefs. As I change and grow and evolve, so too will my concepts of faith and spirit.
Anyone who came before me that I did not personally know is an ancestor. Most of my known ancestors are a list of names with little known substance, but I bridge that by speaking their names aloud. It is a song that sings the story of my bloodline, calling in the four lines of my parents, known through the first seven generations:
Margaret Loretta Burke and Robert Joseph Art, Eliza Conners and Frank Burke, Katherine S. Pils and George Art, Mary Dowd and David Conners, Thomas and Ellen Burke, Mary Burzee and John F. Pils, Ana Catherine Blume and Adam Art, Barney Dowd, Wilhemenia Wernersbach and George Art…
Harold Lafayette Riddle, Emma Louise Burnah and George Francis Durant, Frances Ann Gillett and Lafayette Riddle, Rosella Lavalley and Albert Durant, Jane Berry and Levi Gillette, Sarah Clickner and Marquis DeLafayette Riddle, Rosella LaRoche and Francois Xavier Lavalle, Elizabeth A. Hill and Frances Berry, Mary Ann Boots and Ezra Wheeler Gillette, Mary Ann Hayner and William Clickner, Abigail Chaffee and Freeborn Moulton Riddle, Marie Amable Langevin and Alexis Lavallee, Gertrude Dixon and Thomas Berry, Harriet Gower and Josiah Boots, Abigail Hannah and Eliphal Gillette, Elizabeth Weager and Petrus Haner, Engle Angelica Coonradt and Johannes Georg Gloeckner, Deborah and Charles Chaffee, Mary Thomas and Joseph Riddle…
Ruth Emma Ruston, Minnie Estelle Wicker and Frank William Ruston, Emma Angeline Whitcher and Hiram King Wicker, Ruth Ireland and Charles Evan Ruston, Ordelia DeLozier and Bailey Harrison Whitcher, Cynthia Lusk and Thaddeus Rice Wicker, Phoebe Lenton and William Ireland, Anna Richardson and Richard Ruston, Lucy Raymond and Peter DeLozier, Dorcas Kittredge and Simeon Whittier, Rebecca and Elizur Lusk, Chloe Morgan and Pliny Wicker, Mary Wilson and John Lenton, John Ireland, Thomas Richardson, Jane Brooks and Edward Ruston, Lucy Richmond and Daniel Raymond, Eleanor Erkells and Oliver Peterson Lozier, Molly Bailey and James Kittredge, Elizabeth Dow and Abner Whittier, Mary and Elisha Lusk, Susannah Parker and William Wicker, Elizabeth Wright and Thomas Lenton…
Hattie Eva Smith and Royal Levant Eaton, Hattie Eva Dutcher and Silas Parker Smith, Theresa Cordelia Tenney and Bennett Eaton, Eliza Marsh Bird and Reuben Feagles Dutcher, Sophia Sears and Ammi Smith, Malvina H. Targee and Philetus Tenney, Hannah Ann Treadwell and Solomon Gould Eaton, Irene and Manly Bird, Cynthia A. Feagles and Martin Dutcher, Clarissa DeBois and Heman Sears, Betsy and David Smith, Ellen S. and Thomas Targee, Esther and Hiram Tenney, Fermicy Peters and Solomon P. Tredwell, Lucy Gould and Joshua Eaton, Molly Coleman and Edmund Bird, Jane Palmer and David Dutcher, Abigail Andrews and Isaac Sears, Abigail Darby and Reuben Tenny, Delilah and John Peters, Anne Arnold and William Gould, Jr., Hepsibah Skiff and Benjamin Eaton…
So many names, so many lives. And I now know so many more. These names are the direct line of people whose children bore children who eventually bore me. Were it not for them, I would not be me. The magnitude of that realization could feel like pressure bearing down, waiting for me to be something special or do something special. But standing in honor of these people doesn’t feel like pressure. Those lives are stones beneath me, giving me firm footing. I am because they were, whether they were people of good character or not.
One step towards strengthening your ancestral ties is to begin writing down the names of your family tree you know. Ask your parents who their grandparents were if you didn’t know them. Ask your Grandparents who their parents were. Get as much information as you can. Where were they born? Where did they live? What did they do? Where did they grow up? When did they marry? How many times? How many children?

My Beloved Dead
As for my Beloved Dead, I remember those who have passed on from this world. For my work, I keep a list to remember those I was very close to, classmates I grew up with, people who helped shape and mold me, and people who affected a change my life in an important way:
Mark Eaton, Melinda Tanner, Elizabeth Fricke, Jeff Patterson, Willie Lingenfelter, Elsie Durant Riddle, Gabe Reynolds, Joel Pelletier, Victoria Eaton, Trent Illig, Edward Jerge, Donna Riddle, Jurgen Banse-Fey, Charles “Sienna Fox” Duvall, Jack Singer, Tommy Amyotte, Paul Seeloff, Richard James Riddle, Brett Elsess, Andrew Begley, Coswald Mauri, Norm Herbert, Jad Alexander, Princess Leather Falcor (beloved pet), Dr. August Staub, Martha Dayton, Melvin Chausse, John Simeon Croom, Karl Weber, Lunabelle the Jackalope (beloved pet), Charles Littman, Ellen Fitzgerald.
            Since I initially wrote this post in 2010, my list of Beloved Dead has grown: Thomas E. Malinowski, Michael Pullano, Albert Gritzmacher III, Joshua Verity, Freya Moon, John M. Rosenburg Jr., Gary French, Patches (beloved pet), Barbara Jean Schiffert, Bella the Bear-Cat (beloved pet), Russell S. Whitmire, Ken Koch, Soja Arumpanayil, Jane Palmer-Poole, Paul Slomba, Tracy Lee Flint Jr., Christina Adkins, Harry Brashear, David Ruston Eaton, Constance Salisbury, Ralph Hall, Arawn (beloved pet), and Carol Quagliano.

Remembering the Dead
Each Samhain night, I call out the names of my Ancestral dead to come and bear witness as I honor those that I loved, that I have known and held. I speak the names of the Beloved dead to remember them and hear memories stir within me at the sounds of familiar words on tongue. And then I add the names of those Recent dead, that have died since last Samhain, and welcome them into my Beloved dead, wishing their spirits peace.

            I know, as I age, that my list of Beloved dead will only get longer. It is the price of living and loving and I hold it close to my heart as proof that love is stronger than any magic. May you always remember that those who walked this earth before you walk with you still in the echoes of places their feet once touched the earth. [Revamped from a post originally published October 6, 2010.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When Spirit Walks Thickly

The Autumnal Equinox marks the first day of fall and opens a door into my favorite time of year. The leaves are dessicating and dropping, skittering across the sidewalk as the cooler winds blow in. In the northeast, we throw open our windows and let the new winds curl through our homes, licking at the corners and cleansing the edges of our rooms, and our minds.
We prepare ourselves to lower the storm windows and turn on our furnaces. We stock the woodpiles and harvest our fall gardens. We ready ourselves to turn inward and ride out the dark and cold days ahead. But they’re not here yet, and we relish in leaf piles and apple orchards, in pumpkins and autumn squashes.

The Equinoxes are balancing points. In the spring we tip both towards warmer days and the reality of shorter days after the solstice. After months of being closed up, we spring clean at the Vernal Equinox, sweeping out the cobwebs and dustbunnies and letting the warm air swirl through. In the fall we tip towards colder days and longer days after the promise of the solstice. At the Autumnal Equinox we also clean, consecrating and creating sacred space in the walls of the home we will depend on through the coming colder, dark days.
Cinnamon sticks simmer in a pot of water on the stove, the scent vibrating through the air, whispering to the ether in the house. Wake and walk, wake and walk. May all beings that wish us harm walk right out the front door. You are not wanted here.
Bundles of sage and rosemary are clipped from the garden and strung up in all the windows. May the ancestors protect all who dwell in this home. May the guardians watch over us. May they keep us healthy and safe.

Our cats run through the house, stimulated by the smells of the transforming world outside and the transforming home inside. And in their laps, the numbers grow. Two cats still of flesh and bone and two cats still beloved and every day missed. For the first time, all our babies are running together. It is a bittersweet sensation, both a gift and a heartache.
Have you ever been in a room with your cats, both sleeping, only to clearly hear another cat digging in the litter box? Have you ever reached out your hand to pet your animal, feeling them jump up beside you, before you remember that your pet is already behind you?
When spirit walks, we listen.
Equinox is a step closer to Samhain, towards All Hallows, towards the time of year when the veil between our world and spirit is thin. They walk all year, but this is the time of year that those who do not see may spy their shadows slipping past them. And this year, the spirits are walking more thickly earlier than I usually experience them, as my cats can attest.
My dreams are full of lost loved ones visiting and bringing me messages. Some of them are for me. Some of them are for people I love. And some of them are spirits who find me because I am an ancestral lighthouse keeper and I shine a bright light. Some messages I can’t deliver, some I won’t deliver, but I listen to what all the spirits have to say. Most of their messages are meaningful, but a handful of them are purely selfish. Still, I hear them out so they can move on.
This is my work and what I do. I listen to the living tell stories about their dead and I listen to the dead tell stories about their living, their loved ones, their descendants. And the spirits that follow the course of their family lines, a mirror of how I trace mine backwards, have just as much love for those they could never know as I have for those who came before me.
And this year, spirit is moving earlier than usual, reaches out to us and milling about, thickening the air around us. The only thing we have to fear from them is what they reveal to us that we have been trying not to look at, the things we have been trying not to see. The only fear is within us. Because they come with love. They come because they love us.
Call out to your loved ones as you close your eyes for slumber. Open yourself up to the spirit energy in the world around you. Open yourself to see what was previously unseen. And bring yourself to meet them in dream world with love in your heart.

(A note: I separate true hauntings and poltergeist activity from normal spirit world antics. Often what we think of as hauntings are spirits simply trying to get our attention. If they’re turning your iron or your stove burners on, that’s different than knocking over boxes, playing with your pets, and turning on lights around the house.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Ancestry of My Computer

Written September 14, 2015:
My computer is dying. His motherboard is failing. I call him Frankenstein, as he is cobbled together from bits of new and old and scavenged parts. He’s one in a long line of computer-helpers I have had that were passed down to me.
Well over a decade ago, I was gifted a hand-me-down computer by friends. And when that one crashed and burned three years later, I was gifted another tower by another friend. That one got me another three years.
When that one puttered out, it was in spurts, clearly warning me the end was coming. Another friend of mine found me a tower, the same day, that was being recycled from a small business, for $100. So I pilfered the money I had saved up to fix my sewing machine and bought the new computer.
Since then, another friend of mine has been the guardian angel of my writing and is my go-to computer guy. When the machine blinks or burps or blips I call him. We have replaced the sound card, wiped viruses, uninstalled and reinstalled operating systems, and dealt with hard drive issues to keep it going. After one call to him about strange noises in the fan and pages loading weird, my beloved Frankenstein was given a death sentence. We didn’t know when and we didn’t know how, but he was slowly shutting down. His motherboard was draining power from the other organs of his insides and piece by piece, they stopped working.
So I watched what I demanded of him. I didn’t download or upload any heavy programs. And he chugged along for a couple more years.
Last week his poor little brain started spazzing out, trying to perform at 100 CPU even though nothing was running. And today his exhaust fan stopped working. Tomorrow his meat gets a brain transplant and a new skin. It’s not a big upgrade, but it’s a similar brain with far fewer miles on it, another machine that had been destined for recycling.
Someone else’s upgrade was an answered miracle for me today.

I get attached to the pens and machines I use to create my stories. And even though it will still be my computer’s hard drives in a new box, I am sad to see big, clunky, noisy Frank go.
His new, temporary home is a small, sleek white cereal box of an tower. I have already started calling her Leia, for the dark patches on either side of her white face. And then I was reminded that Frank had another life before me, just a peon worker in some small office somewhere. It seems fitting somehow that Frankenstein has come full circle, finding a new home with Leia’s motherboard, another tower whose previous life was with a small business.
That thought, of his life before me, prompted by a friend, lead me to contemplate his life before that office space, when he was just separate pieces- a motherboard, exhaust fan, disk drive, sound card, video card, hard drives, etc. He was bits and pieces built separately, sent to some factory and assembled together. Before that he was bits of wire and metal and plastic and tungsten, cut, soldered, and cobbled together to form working pieces. And before he was bits and baubles, he was precious minerals mined from the earth- gold, platinum, palladium, copper, aluminum, steel, oil and tungsten.
I can’t help but think, with gratitude, at how far these precious resources travelled and evolved to be built into a machine that was sold to a business and then second-hand to me. I hate my reliance on technology I can’t afford to keep up with. But I am grateful for Frank, my Frankenstein, who is becoming FrankenLeia. He was gifted to me as a tool to start writing my stories. He is the vehicle I use to search for submissions and send out my work. He is what makes my weekly blog that people are now reading possible.

My gratitude is boundless.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Compassion for Those in Grief

When my Uncle died, one of my family members took the day off of work to attend his funeral. She didn’t get paid for it, which I understand. But she got docked for it. They took money from her paycheck- but, if they weren’t paying her, they weren’t losing money. So it feels more like she got punished for having a death in the family.
I have a problem with that. I have a general problem with the way business handles death in general. The list of how many days employees get off for each different variation of family member is unreal to me. Like someone in a room can decide how much time a parent, grandparent, child, or uncle is worth. For you. I am far closer to a few of my friends, my adopted family, than some of my blood family. If my best friend were to die it would be like the loss of a parent or partner. But as far as a workplace is concerned, he could mean nothing to me.
When my grandmother died, I was too young to know that my workplace didn’t have to give me the time I wanted off. I called my boss at home and told him I was going to my hometown to be with my family, that I didn’t know what the arrangements were, or when I was coming back. I told him that I would let him know. I was gone for a week. I could have lost my job. I wouldn’t have cared. Nothing was more important to me than that time with my family. They needed it. I needed it.
Death is never convenient. It is never a good time. Even if you expect death will come soon, you are never prepared when it does.
There’s been another death in our family. My Great-Aunt Carol, my Grandma’s younger sister, recently passed. It’s hard to say, but it’s true, that she is in a generation where death is common visitor, for my age group. It doesn’t make it easier. I hadn’t seen her in decades. It doesn’t make it easy.
My world has changed again. That sphere of loved ones surrounding me in the grandparent generation has shrunk again. My outer sphere of living family members has shrunk. My ancestral spirit world has grown. Life changes. Life goes on. Somewhere.
I’m good at grief now, but it wasn’t always so. I was five or six when my first friend died. She was crossing the road to get to the mail when she was hit by a semi truck. Then my Grandpa, a friend from dance class, a friend in high school, my Great-Grandma, etc. All before I considered myself an adult. There have been at least fifty since then.
I didn’t handle grief well as a young person. I was still trying to understand what death meant other than I would never see them again. But even if you know how to handle it, it doesn’t mean you will when it actually happens. I’ve watched my parents suffer their own personal losses, the deep aching ones I have yet to experience. I know what lies ahead for me. Not how it will be for me, but that it will be.
So, knowing that we are, or will someday be in the space of grieving, what can we do when other people in our lives are grieving a loss we don’t feel? We can have compassion for our grieving friends and give them the space they need. If you can be there for them when they need to vent, sit in silence, or have a cup of tea, even better. Isn’t that what you would want for yourself?
If we disagree with how our friends grieve, or we feel the need to judge how long it’s taking them, we can keep our mouths shut. It’s the sweetest kindness when those we love are in their dark places. It’s a journey they have to take in order to find their way forward.
And if we can’t be there for them, if we can’t watch, if it pokes places we fear to look into, we have the choice to walk away. And if we are the grieving party and it’s been multiple years and we still sit in our bathrobes on birthdays and anniversaries, we have to accept that not everyone can take that journey with us. We can’t be angry at others for needing to move on before we’re ready.
It’s okay if you’re not ready yet. But honestly, you’ll never be ready. Sometimes you just have to do it. Moving on doesn’t mean letting go or forgetting. It’s not disrespectful. I know that step is scary- worrying that you’re replacing the loved one, worrying that if you move on, or that you’ll forget them. We all worry about that. But think about the depth of your grief. How could you ever forget a love that deep?
While you are grieving you are edgewalking between two worlds. The one in which nothing changes and the one in which everything does. You, on the inside, feel more strongly the ways in which everything has changed. While your friends are grieving they are edgewalking between two worlds. You, on the outside, are imbedded in the world that doesn’t change. It is your friends who suddenly fall out of sync.
All those who have lost will recognize the foreign journey the grievers travel, but they will not have the answers for the griever as to how to traverse that new terrain- it terraforms itself into individual experiences for each griever. But those who have been there will be able to be trail markers and touchstones, witnesses to the journey. Because they know that someday, we will all come out the other side.

Thank you for being a light in my life Aunt Carol. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Morning Glory Meditation

Every year, as spring begins to blossom, I push the base of a wooden trellis into the fresh dirt next to our little stoop. I watch as the small seedlings from the previous autumn poke their way through the earth and unfurl. I weed the bed and water the small beings 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 is the loom where nature and I create beautiful art together. As the weeks pass, the vines become a green wall, offering us a sense of privacy; our nature guardian.
When the buds first come, 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 and it will be a morning treasure hunt to see where the early blooms have hidden themselves.
The flowers are full and thick and brilliant at dawn, staying to the shadows. The beautiful heart-shaped leaves act like umbrellas, extending the lives of the blossoms by shading them. At mid-morning, the blossoms glow with a luminescence that makes them seem otherworldly, as if tiny portals are opening from within the heart of the flower.
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. I watch as the light fades from 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 life again.
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 last of summer sun, there is still beauty and joy.

[Originally published August 14, 2013; new photos.]
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