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!

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.

October Revisions

I no sooner finished typing up the October ritual than I realized that it wouldn’t be possible to do it as planned this year.  While not as physically demanding as some of my workings, the October ritual can be a bit challenging if I’m under the weather, but I’ve always managed it.  This year, however, I am largely immobile due to a knee problem and in a fair amount of constant pain due to the same.   I realized, after a failed attempt to shop for supplies, that doing a full-blown solitary ritual is out of the question for the foreseeable future.  I’m usually willing to push through pain and illness in order to get things accomplished, but this simply isn’t one of those times when sheer bloody-mindedness is going to work.  The October ritual, as I think I mentioned in the original post, is my most important and really isn’t optional as far as my practice is concerned.

I’d bemoaned very briefly on social media that I’d had to postpone my ‘Halloween’ plans this year because I wasn’t able to be on my feet long enough to make them happen.  An unexpected response to that post came  in the form of a phone call from Sam’s daughter, asking what she could do to help. I explained that there really wasn’t anything that could be done, as I was referring to something of a religious/spiritual nature.  If you can convey eye-rolling simply through tone of voice, she did… and reminded me that (in a momentary lapse of all reason) I’d given her a link to this blog so she was very much aware of what my Halloween plans were.  If you’ve ever lost an argument with a strong-willed teenager, you can probably guess the rest of the conversation.

In the end, I agreed to let her help.  I don’t know what form I was expecting this assistance to take, but it was certainly not what actually happened after I arrived at Sam’s house on Thursday.  Sam’s daughter had rallied a dozen people to assist with every aspect of the evening – from getting me into the house (lots of uneven terrain and steps) to laying out wards for the ritual space.  Not only did these wonderful people help me get through the mechanics of the work, they took an active part in it- breaking bread as silent group during the dinner,  lighting candles, reciting the names of their own dead, and raising their voices in song.  I am very humbled and grateful for their help and participation.

The span of those short few hours has given me a lot to consider and process. First, the personal, squishy stuff…  For those who might recall my previous posts about Sam, I want to share (and do so with his blessing) that he is healing well.  After months of physical therapy and being confined to a wheelchair, he surprised us all by standing, aided by crutches, during the reading of names.  Again with his blessing, I’ll add that we are beginning to work to bridge the gulf that has sprung up between us and that we talked privately and face-to-face after the ritual for the first time in months.  That he was willing to give help when it was needed in spite of a painful, silent distance between us says more about him than I can put into words.

Second, I just need to say very loudly and publicly that Sam’s daughter is an amazing young woman who deserves every happiness that comes into her life.  I know she’s reading this, so I’m just going to say that I am very grateful that I can count her among my friends.

Finally, I’m going to have to reconsider being entirely solitary in my practices, at least as far as this particular ritual is concerned.  I’m still processing the experience and I’m not sure yet where to take it from here.  I’d always believed that bridging the gap between worlds is more difficult when other living people are involved, particularly if those people are head-blind.  Thursday proved me wrong.

I need to give serious consideration to restructuring this as a shared ritual for future years.  Thankfully, I have a year to think about this particular aspect of it.  In the meantime, I have a gratitude ritual to prepare for November, including making a list of things and people for whom I am thankful.  There are many this year and Sam and his daughter will be at the top of that list.

All Hallowhain de Muertos

The title is a bit of a holiday mash-up, I admit, but I have yet to come up with a single name for the holy days that I celebrate this time of year.   As an eclectic practitioner who does a substantial amount of work with the dead and dying, this time of year has become my highest of holy periods.  There’s feasting, rituals,  offerings for the dead and deities alike, prayers,  a good bit of spiritual renewal… you name it, it’s a part of these important days.  Samhain has been my fallback term for the spiritual celebrations at this time of year, but I’ve realized that my way of celebrating the holiday isn’t entirely in line with the traditions of this holiday either.  So what is it that I’m celebrating then? Hallowhain? All Muertos?  The Grim Reaper’s Birthday? International  Psychopomp Awareness Day?  Damned if I know what to call it.

In any case, whatever you name it, that time of year has come around again.  I’ve had to scale back this year, largely due to mobility issues stemming from a recent knee injury.  Cooking a full blown Samhain supper was out of the question, as was hobbling down the steep embankments to the river to do my usual work there.  Even the usual purification bath got nixed this year  because getting up from slippery tub with a wibbly-wobbly knee wasn’t happening.  However, I did manage most of the usual offerings and prayers, libations and roll calls.  The deities to whom I owed offerings and thanks got those in plenty as well.  The vital work was done,  at the very least.  Maybe I should refer to this year’s celebrations as All Hallowhain de Muertos Lite.

New Year’s

It’s New Year’s Day and two candles burn on my altar.  One is white and the other black, one for attracting, the other for banishing, one for dreams, the other for nightmares.  Each has been carefully carved on every surface with words, the whispers of potential for the coming year, all of the wishes and hopes to flow into my life, all of the fears and worries to be carried away.  Each is surround by herbs and filled with energy. The white candle is endowed attraction, tranquility, openness, prosperity, love.  To the black candle is given sorrow, depression, hatred, misery.  They burn equally bright and will be allowed to do so until each, in its own time, burns out.

The ritual is simple enough, but I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.  In fact, I don’t think I ever managed to do this one at all  in 2012, a.k.a. the year of not getting things done. I’d intended to do this ritual at Samhain but failed to go anything more than give it a passing thought.  Solstice, as well, came and went without this being completed.  So here we are at  the dawn of the New Year, on the threshold of 2013, and the candles are finally lit.  Out with the old and in with the new.  May 2013 be better than its predecessor and may you find yourself blessed with all that you need in the coming year.

 

Belated Holiday Blessings

It’s a bit late, but just wanted to say that I hope everyone had a good Samhain/Halloween/Dia De Los Muertos.

My celebrations were pretty low-key, more so than usual.  I didn’t have much time for decorating and there were no tricks or treats in our neighborhood this year.  I delayed celebrating Samhain until the astronomical cross quarter day mostly because it coincided with my Dad’s birthday this year.  He’d have turned seventy and I wanted to do something special to remember him.   This year’s birthday cake and ice cream for Samhain might just be a first for me, but who’s going to complain about red velvet cake?  Anyone?  I didn’t think so. 🙂

Happy new year for those who consider it such and many blessings for the coming year!

Celebrating the Dead

El Día de los Muertos and Samhain are quickly approaching and this is the season in which the dead are acknowledged and celebrated. Even for those whose spiritual paths do not include either holiday, this time of the year can embrace a celebration for the departed.

Some ideas for celebrating the season:

  • The Memory Circle – This is a gathering of friends and family to celebrate the life of a single individual. Choose a meeting place – private is usually better, as this can be an emotional event. Within your selected space, have everyone sit in a circle. In the middle of the circle, place photos and momentos of the person. Each person at the gathering then shares a personal memory of the deceased. End with a prayer or appropriate closing remarks.
  • A Dumb Supper – “Dumb” in this case means silent. A dumb supper is a feast held in silence to honor of the dead. Solemn and reverent, this can be a moving celebration. To enhance the experience, place pictures of the departed around the table, serve the dishes on black dinnerware, and dine by only candlelight.
  • A Ghost at the Table – If the idea of a dumb supper seems a little intimidating or more than you’re able to do, set an extra place at the table in honor of those who have departed. If you wish, speak to the departed as if they were joining you at the table- tell them the things that you wish to say and invite them to continue to be a part of your life.
  • An Ancestor Shrine – Various cultures have traditions that involve the creation of a shrine to honor one’s ancestors. You can do this yourself by selecting a spot to set up the altar (a small table or shelf works well). Drape with a cloth – black and white are both colors associated with the dead. Place on the altar items that remind you of your ancenstors such as photos and momentos. If you wish, you can include candles, flowers, and other decorations. Regularly spend time focusing on the shrine and the memory of your ancestors.
  • Graveside Picnics – This is a variation on the idea of dining with those who have parted. It is just exactly as it sounds – a picnic held near the graves of loved ones. These gatherings are typically much lighter in mood than dumb suppers and may include libations and offerings of food left at the grave. Please, please be respectful of the rules of individual cemeteries and of other people who may be visiting the graves of their deceased.
  • Memorial Tree – If you are celebrating with others or remembering a large number of people, this idea is a simple way to celebrate if you have a tree with low hanging branches on your property. To do this, you’ll need ribbon, small scraps of paper that have been hole-punched and writing instruments. Have everyone write out a message or memorial to a deceased friend or loved one and then using the ribbon, tie the message to the tree. If there’s a common thread such as those who have died from breast cancer, you can tailor your ribbon and paper colors to reflect this.
  • Offerings for the Deceased – This can be a simple as a libation of water poured onto a grave or a stick of incense burned in memory of the deceased. In some cultures, small stones and pebbles are placed on the the grave. Other offerings can include food, sweets, alcohol, coins, and for children, small toys. Again, if leaving offerings at a grave, please be respectful of any rules or prohibitions that the cemetery may have.

These are just a few ideas. No matter how you celebrate, the important thing to remember is that the dead were valued friends and family members and even now, deserve to be treated as such.