Happy Holidays

There is a certain damp chill to the air today and the trees rattle their leaves like some many loose bones in the breeze.  The afternoon threatens those who would wander outside with the threat of skin-scouring mists and bone-numbing drizzle.  Crows are roosting in the snug safety of nearby branches, their silhouettes creating dark holes in the gold and russet arboreal tapestries. Their calls herald the arrival of autumn, a far better indicator of the season than any day marked on human calendars.

This time of year is by far my favorite and today and tomorrow are the most favored of the season.  Today is a celebration of both the secular and the sacred.  I’ll open the doors of my house to both trick-or-treaters and to the blessed dead.  Candy will be served to the children of the neighborhood and those parents who themselves never outgrew the spooky fun of Halloween.  For the dead, there will be offerings of food, prayers, and blessings.  The celebrations this year will be much more low-key than last, with the spiritual aspects being observed in my typical solitary style.

Tomorrow is set aside on my personal calendar as a frenzied celebration of the creative spirit.  November 1st kicks off National Novel Writing Month, so the day will find me writing wildly, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and occupying a world that exists largely in my own head.  I believe in celebrating those things which bring you joy… and for me, there is a great deal of joy to be found in seat-of-my-pants speed writing.  After a year that’s given little opportunity for writing, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in storytelling again.

Wishing you all a Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain, and Fruitful All Novels Day!

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Rethinking The Label of Solitary

297 days. That’s how long it’s been since my feet had trod the trail that’s been referred elsewhere in this blog as the Temple of Mud, Sweat, and Blood. Three seasons have come and gone without so much as a single footfall.  Physical incapacity has kept me away from this moving meditation for months; fear has barred my way when physical pain no longer prevented me from returning.

I returned to the Temple of MSB this morning for a slow and cautious hike, as there is still months of recovery before I can contemplate running again.  Today’s return was an act of sacred (but much dreaded) duty.  Not wanting to think too hard about why I’d come back, I focused my attention on the trail itself and some improvements that had been made in my long absence.  It occurred to me for the first time that I’d taken for granted the trail other than as it pertained to my own footsteps upon it.  Someone had come long before me to forge a passable path through wild nature; other hands left trailblazes to guide the way; an unseen army works unceasingly to clear trash and fallen timber; a forest ranger frequently checks the area for anything problematic.  Likewise, my ability to walk today has been the result of so many dedicated folks who made it their jobs to get me back on my feet.  Though I was walking alone through the forest, I could not have claimed this space as my own without the work and assistance of so many people.

I may have entered the woods alone today, but it was  not done as a individual acting in isolation.  Avoiding this particular trail has been an act of cowardice and denial on my part.  It is the place where I first met Sam.  In the days since his passing,  I have felt called there by his spirit. It is a call that I haven’t not wanted to answer, because I felt that I have failed him in this life. Michael ultimately pushed me to answer the call, by reminding me that, in denying Sam, I am failing to do the work that I’m sworn to do.  Damn his eyes for being both correct and logical.  In the end, Sam simply wanted to let me know that he has found the peace that he so desperately sought in life.

As I hiked out of the woods, I had a bit of an epiphany.  While I have long described myself as a solitary practitioner, the term is a misnomer.  As is the case with the Temple of MSB and with my physical well-being, I am not working in spiritual isolation. Ever.  Deities, guides, guardians, gatekeepers, helpers, and human souls are all a part of the work that I do.  Without the ubiquitous others, I could not do the work that has been charged to me.  There is never a time in my work when other sentient beings are not involved, never a moment when interdependence ceases.  Solitary implies that I am walking this path alone.  While the path is my own, I am never alone in my practice, never wholly independent.  Always, someone stands behind me, before me, or at my back, motivating me to continue this work.  For every one of those individuals, I am grateful.

 

(This post was written as a part of the Cauldron Blog Project 2015 for the July theme of Independence/Interdependence.)

 

 

Online Shrine Update

Just a quick update to say that the memorial shrine previously linked on this blog has ceased to be.  The website that hosted the shrine has closed down after an eight year run, to the disappointment of many.  Since I haven’t been able to find a good replacement, I’m creating a memorial shrine on this blog.  Link is at the top of the page.  It’s nothing exciting, but does at least give a space to remember and honor those who have gone. Memorials may be left as a comment on the page. I’ll give this a trial run over the next few weeks and if it looks feasible, will maintain it as a permanent part of the blog.

Fan Mail

My last post generated a bit of hate mail, most of which has been laughable.  By far the most entertaining was the note that accused me of being a “wicked witch” who uses my “friends on the other side” to corrupt “poor unfortunate souls.”  As much as I’d like to reply to that correspondence, I’m far too busy trying to keep  up with Disney sing-along to bother with such trivialities.

Oh sorry, is my snark showing?

The rest of the mail seemed to be from disgruntled self-proclaimed paranormal investigators who took umbrage with my flippant (or is that flipping off?) behavior toward one of their own.  I’m not going to take the time to answer those individually, but will address some of the more salient points here.If conclusion-jumping were an Olympic sport, you all would be gold medal contenders.  I never said that I had a problem with paranormal investigators on the whole.  Nowhere in this blog have I made that statement.  Nor have I been dismissive of the field as a whole.  Nor was my response to the guys at the cemetery “completely unprovoked”.  What you have failed to grasp is that what  I posted was an anecdote, not the full story.  It would have taken away from the humor if I’d given the full tale. The short version of what happened: The cemetery is on private land with no trespassing signs clearly posted. Unless you have the combination for the lock on the gate, the only way in is over a barbed wire fence. The investigator and his buddy did not have permission to be on the property.  When I asked them respectfully to leave, they decided that an appropriate response was “Fuck off, bitch.”  So, yes, they were given the bird and a few choice words to go with it.  When the property owner (a sweet lady in her 80’s) showed up, they gave her the same treatment, first trying to get her to play along with their game of provoking the dead and then calling her names when she refused.  In the end, the investigator and his buddy were escorted off the property in handcuffs by a sheriff’s deputy.  See, told you it wasn’t so humorous in its full telling.
Rather going with a knee-jerk reaction when you think one of your own has been slighted, you might want to consider who’s side you’re actually taking.  The guy you were so quick to defend is giving you all a bad reputation.  Do you really want to be associated with someone who has no respect for anyone else and believes that calling himself a paranormal investigator gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, including breaking the law?
That just about covers this week’s fan mail.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to the Disney sing-along now.

In Which Sam Eats Crow & Someone Else Gets the Bird

It’s been an interesting week. Interesting as in “May you live in interesting times”. Interesting in a “For the love of all that is good and sacred, make it stop” sort of way.  Interesting as in “Was the universe really so bored that it needed to send all this fuckwittery my way?”

(I’m going to serve up a little rant here. There will be a generous helping of sarcastic humor with a bit of WTF sauce on the side. No birds or spirits were harmed in the writing of this post.  I can’t say the same for the humans. You’ve been warned.)

My friend Michael invited me a picnic earlier this week. It should have been a fun afternoon, hanging out at the lake with a bunch of people, eating barbeque, and relaxing.  It started out that way, just a normal social gathering.  I pride myself in being able to get through my days without setting off anyone’s weird-shit-o-meter. I am also fairly skilled at blending into the background in any social situation.  I almost made it through the entire picnic without so much as a sideways look from anyone.

Almost.

My own internal radar started pinging when the crows showed up.  Crows are common as dirt here, so a random crow doesn’t even warrant notice. Even a dozen crows perching nearby won’t generate any interest.  When several dozen perch in a circle of trees, all turned the same direction without a single vocalization… well, if you need an omen, look no further. One for sorrow, two for joy, but forty-two for what? The life, the universe, and everything? For knowing where your towel is? For a Douglas Adams tribute flight? I don’t actually know how many crows were there, but this is where my brain went while watching them.

As it turns out, the crows were watching a latecomer to the party.  Because the universe has a sick sense of humor, the latecomer was Sam, who I haven’t seen since the “it’s not you” conversation last fall. I forgot about the crows momentarily in anticipation of an awkward reunion.  I expected things to be civil between us, if not a bit short on words and uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was a confrontation.  When Sam saw me, he came over straight over and promptly start shouting.  We know enough people in common that he has been aware of the happenings in my life over the last few months.  Apparently, he does not agree with my decisions regarding my health and told me so in no uncertain terms while explaining what I ‘need’ to do. Bad idea.

In the process of telling me what he thought of my choices, he brought up and then immediately derided my spiritual beliefs. Really bad idea.

When then I tried to walk away, he demanded that I listen to him and seized my arm to keep me from leaving.  Very. Bad. Idea.

I’m not sure who struck Sam first – me or the crow that dived out of the tree. The crow was still trying to peck at Sam’s face when Michael stepped between us and tried unsuccessfully to shoo it away. Without thinking, I said “stop it” rather more loudly than intended.  The crow squawked once and immediately flew back to its perch in the tree. What followed was dead silence and all eyes on me.  So much for not setting off anyone’s weird-shit-o-meter (really don’t know what the crow thing was about, definitely not my doing). Fortunately, someone cracked a joke about Sam eating crow and the tension evaporated. Humans and crows both managed to get through the rest of the picnic without further incident. Although Sam did get a bit twitchy any time he looked at me or the crows. I think he was wondering which of us was responsible for his bloodied lip.

Sam has since made a half-ass apology for the way he approached the situation. When he expresses regret for his actual words, I’ll consider accepting his apology. Until then, the crows can bloody well have him.  I cannot continue to expend energy on someone who has consistently tried to push me away while at the same time refusing to let me go. I’m certainly not going to invest another minute in someone who disregards my personal sovereignty and attempts to use my own beliefs as a way to insult me. It’s been a fun ride, but I’m getting off now, thank you very much.

As if that drama was not enough, Michael has managed to break my brain. Since we met last Samhain, he’s become a dear friend and source of support and strength through the last few months.  I’ve actually been impressed with the fact that he always taken things in stride, no matter what I’ve thrown at him.  He’s been consistently calm and accepting of whatever is happening.  The weirdness at the picnic only seems to have amused him, as he’s taken to referring to me as “Crow Whisperer” at every opportunity and then laughs until tears are streaming from his eyes, cawing all the while. Did I mention that he’s very mature and reserved?

His laid back attitude was explained at lunch yesterday. When we were parting, a certain guardian of mine made a somewhat obscene but incredibly funny remark.  Michael snorted in response and I nearly fell over when I realized he’d heard the comment. Michael just grinned and said “What? Do you think you’re the only one who can see what others can’t? That you’re the only one on a god’s payroll?”  Bloody hell.  I bow to his ability to avoid setting off people’s weird-shit-o-meters. I was completely blind-sided. Michael escaped before my brain re-engaged, so he still has some explaining to do. So does my guardian. And so do some gods. The rest of the universe might want to chime in as well.

In other news, I had a run-in with a “paranormal investigator”.  There’s a distant cousin many times removed who was interred in this area more than a century ago. I try to get out to his grave at least once a year to grave-tend and leave an offering. When I stopped by this week, the investigator was setting up to film in the cemetery and asked if I would be willing to try to provoke him (the cousin) into “giving a sign”.  I don’t think the sign he got was quite what he was looking for. For some reason, he turned down my generous offer to repeat the sign on camera.  *adjusting my halo so that it doesn’t strangle me*  Bless his little heart,he got so flustered when I was just trying to help.

I’m going to have to stop rolling my eyes now or I’ll end up with a bigger headache than I already have. I’m hoping for a normal week – no shouting, no revelations, no crows, and most importantly, no fuckwittery.  I’m sure that’s too much to ask, but one can dream.

Sunset Blues

The birds sing their farewells to the sun as it slowly sinks below the ridge tops.  Shadows begin to muster for their nightly gathering as the frogs warm up to voice their hymns to the night.  Darkness is held momentarily at bay as the last golden rays float lazily across the valleys.  An ever-cooling breeze brings with it the somnolent sweetness of honeysuckle and the faintest whiffs of woodsmoke from a distant fire. It is the time of day that begs for stories to be told, for the voices of the blessed dead to be heard, and for the living to remember that which has passed.

Evening twilight has always been my favorite time of day but it’s rare that I take the time to watch the light fade from the sky and open myself to the stories wanting to be told.  There are always other priorities, other obligations that must be met. It seems that the more life becomes filled with things to accomplish and do, the further away I move from those things that I find most fulfilling. I have had a tendency to take on projects that aren’t my passion – whether out of a sense of obligation, duty, or just a need to be able to check things off of a to-do list. I broke from this pattern of behavior over the winter, as my focus had narrowed to recovery, rest, and very little else.  Now that I’m getting back to old routines, I find myself again getting wrapped up in the minutiae of to-do lists and projects. As I do so, the same old frustrations creep back into my thoughts.

Much of my discontent with my online life springs from this same source.  As I mentioned in my last post, my first priority was tackling those spaces over which I do not have significant control.  While I may occasionally check in or lurk to read interesting posts, I will be mostly absent from those spaces. Social media will probably also go the way of the dinosaur.  My plan is to continue this blog, assuming I can find both the inspiration and energy to write posts.  If priorities must be made, posting here will need to take a distant second to activities that are directly related to my practice.  It’s a fair trade-off, I think, as it’s hard to write about my path if I’m not actually following it.

This evening, I found myself sitting on a westward facing porch at sunset.  In the fading amber light, fireflies danced and shadows gained substance. The living drank toasts to those who had gone before and drew strength from retelling old stories.  The dead, in their turn, whispered of days past, ensuring that their memories will not soon be forgotten.  In these moments, I am most alive, most aware of the path under my feet.  I would not trade moments like this for all the screen time in the world.

It’s Not Me, It’s Not You, It’s the Ghosts

I knew it was coming, sooner or later, that inevitable moment when Sam would say “We need to talk” all the while avoiding my eye, looking about as if he expected phantoms to pop up in every corner. I won’t rehash it verbatim, but in essence, it was a conversation with which I am familiar.  It’s the conversation that usually begins with some kind of compliment or loving statement like “You’re a really nice person” or “I really like having you in my life” followed by an unspoken “but”.   Eventually, at some point after a lot of hemming and hawing, the speaker gets around to the heart of the matter:  “It’s not you… it’s not me… it’s the ghosts.”   “The ghosts” being some statement about the threshold work that I do.  The conversation ends usually with a severing of ties, either for the reason of non-belief (and the implication that believing is somehow a character flaw or personality disorder) or  of a fear of the work itself.

At the end of the day, the conversation becomes about the speaker’s comfort zones.  Modern western society is, on the whole, uncomfortable with death.  Spirit work tends to be dismissed in popular culture as a form of entertainment that attracts mostly curiosity seekers who want to experience the adrenaline rush of a good scare.  While most people can accept ghosts-as-entertainment, the thought that there might be something more to it frightens them.  Even those who profess a belief in spirits are often happiest when keeping them at arm’s length, usually as the subject of some distant tale to be told rather than something to be dealt with directly.

I am under no illusions that what I do will ever be widely accepted, so I do tend to limit my disclosures when dealing with people on a face-to-face basis to those who absolutely need to know.  Sam was on that short need-to-know list for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that he’s been on the receiving end of my work.  Samhain brought it home to him that the work that I do is a lot bigger and more encompassing than he  had imagined.  As he put it, it is one thing to hear about it second-hand or get a small glimpse of it, it’s entirely different when the person sitting across the table from you lives and breathes the work.  The “enormity” of it is not something that he’s equipped to deal with right now. I recognize that and would rather absent myself from his life than be a source of consternation when he’s already facing so many other challenges.

A long time ago, I made the decision that I would answer these conversations with understanding rather than resistance. There is no argument that I can put forward when someone tells me that they cannot cope with who I am or what I do. I am what I am and the work that calls to me is the work that I am meant to do above all else.  It is work that springs, not from some morbid desire to dwell in shadows and dark places, but from a well of love, compassion, and duty.  It fulfills me in a way that nothing else does.  I cannot change that aspect of myself for the comfort of others, nor can I cease  my work to spare the feelings of one person.  Letting go, and doing so as graciously as possible, is the only solution that I’ve found that limits the pain involved in severing ties.

I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to put all of this into words.  This post is perhaps one part apology to someone who will be hurt and angry that I did not fight to keep Sam in my life, one part warning for those who take up threshold work with any seriousness that there’s more than one way to lose someone in doing this work, and one part recording of where I wander as I tread my path.  In any case, there it is, ghosts and all.