Tonight is Christmas Eve for the Eastern Orthodox faithful whose churches adhere to the older Julian Calendar of reckoning the liturgical year. For my Serbian parents, the Advent fast is still being observed on this curiously named Badnjak Veće (the Night of the Oak Yule Log), and while there’s a sense of anticipation for the Nativity feast, tonight marks one more night of deprivation and meditation. Similarly, the offerings I am planning to give to La Santa Muerte Verde for tonight’s conclusion of my nine-night public devotional series of prayers to Her (I just know She’s going to love Serbian-style roast pork and our signature alcoholic beverage of heated rakija!) are going to have to wait until the morning light. The items are assembled, but shrouded with a white veil before my main altar to all aspects/robes of La Santísima. It’s a fitting way to contemplate the Mystery of the Bony Lady: Her energies and blessings on Her devotees are omnipresent, but only revealed at the proper time.
Last Night’s Peculiar Aviary Omen: Brought by La Santa Muerte?
Before retiring to bed, it’s imperative that I take my dogs out to relieve themselves one last time before sleep. When it comes to the safety of my Corgi/Beagle mix, I have become extremely wary of letting him out in the yard to run unsupervised: a pack of coyotes routinely patrols the riverbank adjacent to my property and the shrill cries of massive raptor birds (Cooper’s Hawks, Red-Tail Hawks, a variety of owls, and even migrating Bald Eagles) can frequently be heard during the day and at twilight and beyond, chilling my bones every time I hear them make a kill (poor Canadian geese sitting in the river!). Even if I’m standing in flip-flops and my pajamas in the snow, I make sure to tote my powerful (and heavy) stainless steel LED flashlight. I carefully shine an orb of light along the tree line of the woods and snow banks and the perimeter of my fallow vegetable garden, looking for any sets of eyes glaring back at me in the reflected light. I also briefly shine upwards in the towering old oak and evergreen trees’ massive branches, apprehensive about predators coming from above.
Well, I followed my said ritual and sighed with relief, at first, amused to see my two dogs (the other being a massive Pit Bull/Boxer mix) happily chase each other in the eerily luminescent snow. I relaxed my arm and turned the flashlight off. No sooner had I done so than did the hair begin to stand up on my neck. Something menacing was about to happen, and I felt surges of fear made worse by the fact that both dogs were roaming considerably far away (mind you, this is a rather large yard). I called out to them.
I heard a remarkable SLAM! or loud crash of what I thought was a wooden door, surely that of my neighbors to the west angrily storming out of either their garage or their backyard entrance. I expected my Pittie to begin her cacophony of savage barking, for she really doesn’t like them. I winced. She started to interrupt her play with my other dog and she swiftly trotted over to the fence separating my property from those neighbors. Oh, here we go! I thought. People will surely complain. It’s after ten o’clock. Oh good grief!
But no! I was wrong! Mind you, all of this occurred in a matter of seconds, much faster than my ability to relate it to you. There weren’t people slamming wooden doors next door: a pair of giant owls slammed onto the roof of my neighbors’ home, locked in some bizarre aerial combat! Both massive birds uttered shrill cries as they rose into the air again, talons exposed at each other, violently jabbing. My heart dropped into my stomach and I immediately felt like I would sink to my bare knees in the snow in terror. I immediately thought of my poor little Corgi: what if he gets caught up in the powerful talons of either bird? Were they in the act of hunting him, and one bird was trying to outdo the other for the fleshy prize???
Both dogs stared up at the aerial spectacle, not moving. I acted in the only way I knew how: I began to flail my arms with the flashlight switched on, shouting at the top of my lungs, “BABIES! BABIES!” hoping to rally my dogs to my side and to scare both owls away. I saw by the light of my flashlight and the eerily backlit snow that one owl was a giant Barred Owl, brown stripes clearly visible as it swooped past, and the other was the unmistakably horned Great Horned Owl. The latter began to switch its powerful sounds from screeching to hoot, hoot, hooting. I think it somehow wounded the Barred Owl/knocked it out of the air. I heard sad, raspy whimpering sounds from the losing bird from somewhere down the precipice behind the woods, leading straight down to the river. I looked up at the Great Horned Owl, which had, by this time, victoriously hooted again and perched on a massive oak branch of a tree located in my backyard. It stared at me. Wild, yellow, soul-piercing eyes. My dogs were directly below it.
“BABIES! BABIES!” and this time I managed to frighten the Great Horned Owl away; it majestically soared with one beat of its wings across the river many, many yards away, landing in a weeping willow tree on the opposite bank.
“LET’S GO, BABIES!” and my dogs breathlessly ran at my heels as we crunched our way in the snow towards the back patio. My flip-flops and toes were coated with snow, but amazingly I never slipped and fell. (Sometimes I think I’m a Hobbit!) I periodically continued to hear the sad, injured sounds of the Barred Owl. Did it fall into the water? Was it drowning or about to die of hypothermia? Was it bleeding out in the snow of the riverbank? I felt pulled to run back and see, but I maternally wanted to get my dogs safely inside first. (As an aside, I did return to the yard alone around midnight with my flashlight. I retraced the spaces of the aerial owl combat. I looked all over the ground and nearby trees and yes, the river for the Barred Owl. I saw no trace of it.)
This is some kind of peculiar omen! my mind endlessly repeated while racing. But what? It took me over an hour to calm down and have the adrenaline lessen its grip on me so I could accept the need to eventually go to sleep. But not for another couple of hours!
La Santa Muerte, is this a message from You for me?
Lady of Owls
The iconography of La Santa Muerte is constant, no matter which colored “robe” She’s wearing. She carries Her scythe in one skeletal hand and a globe in the other, for no mortal on the planet can escape Death. She also carries Her scales of Judgment (especially La Verde), and She typically has an owl draped on Her Person or perched before Her. If She’s depicted enthroned, the owl dutifully perches on an arm rest, yellow eyes gleaming forward.
La Niña Hermosa sees through the gloom of the Underworld with owl-like vision, navigating the Dark with ease. In many cultures, owls have the dual connotations of Wisdom and Death. Also, witches in countries as diverse as Zimbabwe and Italy and the Federated States of Micronesia are said to disguise themselves as owls in order to unobtrusively carry out the Workings of their Craft at night.
Did this spectacle of dueling owls come for me at the behest of La Santa Muerte Verde, on Whom I have been placing so much of my conscious daily intention during this Novena period? Is it an omen of victory…an affirmation of the legal victory She recently brought me, or is this duel of owls a warning from Her? Is someone in my family marked to die? (Really, we’re all candidates for that, but I worry especially about my elderly, physically frail and rapidly declining parents: my father’s cancer has vigorously returned and my mother’s neurological disabilities are worsening. And sometimes I think I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack from the stresses and heartache of desperately trying to be the caregiver for them both while juggling more than one job).
Or do I have a powerful enemy afoot, operating in secret, but whom will soon be flushed out and defeated by the Power and Mercy of my unfailing Protector, La Santa Muerte?
It’s a lot to think about. It’s a lot to engage in divination about, from consulting Ifá to doing readings for myself and asking other people to do readings for me.
A Closing Prayer to Mi Flaquíta
I invoke Your Presence, Holy Lady Death.
Stir from Your dark world.
On my knees with a heart both humble and joyful,
I ask You for Your special counsel:
Speak into my left ear and let me know what to do.
The horizon before me is uncertain and the future fearful.
Cast Your mantle of powerful protection about me,
My Sweet Lady,
And give me Your advice.
Let my dreams reveal unambiguous signs
That I may clearly receive Your message.
I patiently await Your answer,
Giving You thanks and praise,
Lady of Radiant Shadows!
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit
[Make Sign of the Cross],
Immaculate Being of Light,
I praise You for Who You Are
And all that You have bestowed upon me.
I implore that You grant this remaining favor
That I ask of You.
Until the last day, hour, and second
When Your Divine Majesty orders me to come to Your feet,
Dear Death of My Heart,
Do not ever leave me unprotected!
Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
[Make Sign of the Cross]
As it was in the Beginning, Is Now, and Ever Shall Be,
World Without End.