Remembering Maris and Reflecting on the Sad Legacy of Suicide

Nine years ago today, my friend Maris made the tragic decision to take his own life; he was two weeks shy of turning 22 years old. He served active duty as a Senior Airman in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu, just blocks away from my former home at Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Maris was the middle son of Ray Butta and the Rt. Rev. Deena Celeste Butta, my former ArchPriestess in the Fellowship of Isis and founder of our Chicago-based Lyceum of Alexandria. In the fall of 2012, Deena herself was shockingly diagnosed with a rare brain disorder; in the 8 weeks remaining in her life after her diagnosis and the rapid onset of symptoms, Deena spoke often to me about how she relished to be reunited with her son–that she could literally feel his presence luring her towards the Mysteries on the other side of the grave.

Maris

Senior Airman Maris Michael Butta, 1987-2009

Shortly after Deena’s funeral at Imbolc of 2013, I had a series of visitations from both her and Maris for several weeks and knew that mother and son were indeed together again in the Afterlife. The two of them would stand motionless at the foot of my bed, silently staring at me. Both had completely white hair. Deena looked just as I had known her in life: tall, beautiful, and elegant, her dancer’s training evident in her poise. Maris, however, had appeared as he must have looked when he was seven or eight years old–Maris as a child, albeit with the surprise of the all-white hair. Maris only ever appeared to me in that state and always with his mother, whereas sometimes I would have visions of Deena walking alone on a moonlit beach and I realized she was aligning herself with the energies of the Lady of the Lake, one of her favorite Goddesses.

The shock of Maris’ suicide rippled across the Pacific. There were no indications that he suffered from depression. Military service runs in the Butta family and Maris was proud to have served his country in the Air Force. He left no note behind, no clues. He took his life in a public location in downtown Honolulu and nearby security cameras captured everything, quelling fears that he may have been the victim of foul play. In the immediate aftermath, Deena asked me about my experiences with what I perceived as profoundly negative spiritual entities residing all over Oahu’s lush, rain forest-canopied leeward coast, where Maris and I both used to go hiking. Could any of those hostile spirits have driven Maris to suicide? I do believe that such a phenomenon could have been at least partially culpable. I had a horrible, heart-sinking-into-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling that Maris’ spirit risked becoming earth-bound on Oahu and possibly subjugated to the more powerful, nonhuman entities that hold such sway over the island: as a result, a massive undertaking of repeated ceremonies of release, performed both on Oahu and in Chicago, went underway.

And all of it, of course, coincided with the energies of Samhain.

As it still does.

With the great gates of Scorpio swung wide open to usher in the season’s retinue of restless spirits in this liminal time between the ending of the ancient Celtic year and the beginning of the new, I take comfort in one of the maxims my Gardnerian coven used to say in ceremonies performed on behalf of the Mighty Dead: “May we meet, know, and remember, and love one another again.”

Tonight I will hail Maris at my shrine of my beloved dead. A Sagittarius in life, he wanders freely still–of that I’m certain. All I can do is pray that my love and prayers born of tremendous heartache can reach his spirit and the hearts of his living family members.

 

Postscript

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than twice as many Americans die by suicide each year than by homicide. Please seek help for a loved one in crisis or reach out for help yourself if you’re feeling suicidal: someone is waiting to take your call 24/7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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A Devotional Ritual for Nephthys to Bless and Protect the Dead

This past Saturday at World Tree Healing, I led a workshop on “Loving and Serving ‘Dark’ Deities.” It was a well-attended workshop and for the first hour, I engaged the participants in a series of discussions based on the following prompts:

  • How has staving off criticism from mainstream religions made Paganism afraid of its own shadows?
  • How do you help outsiders to your tradition distinguish between “darkness” and “evil”?
  • Has anyone ever had an experience of invoking Dark Deities in a group ritual context and then been castigated for invoking Them?
  • How is the function of the Trickster valuable to a society? Who is devoted to Trickster Gods?
  • In his Manifesto for his powerful Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey has declared: “We call an end to the pretense of respectability.” What are your thoughts on this? What do Pagans lose by attempting to claw their way to the interfaith table, begging for scraps of acceptance from Abrahamic religions?

It was a great discussion that appeared to make two people with Abrahamic allegiances very uncomfortable, so they left after I had announced that we’d be taking a short break before our ritual to Nephthys would begin. Good riddance, I thought. I certainly didn’t want the miasma, or spiritual pollution, of their presences to spill over into my devotional ritual to my Patron Deity. The major risk of hosting a public Pagan ritual is that you never know what kind of people may show up, especially folks with overtly hostile ideologies (read: patriarchal monotheists) who attend solely to destabilize the gathering, which is why I absolutely favor doing private ceremonies in the company of fellow devotees I can vouch for.

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Pet Loss and Disenfranchised Grief

I just returned home from burying my beloved animal companion of the past 12 years–my cat Thor–on my parents’ property. I am exhausted, and tears have freely commingled with sweat and snot on my dirtied, makeup-smeared face. I look like a parody of a zombie meant to spring out upon unwary, cash-paying visitors to “haunted house” attractions in this Halloween season. Everything about me feels “off” today because it’s plain that my visible manifestations of grief, what used to be publicly acknowledged as mourning, are no longer welcome in this death-denying, youth extolling, commodifying, grinding capitalist world where productivity comes at the expense of our collective humanity. A grinding world where, especially when it comes to the loss of a treasured companion animal, one is met with snide remarks of “Get over it–it’s not like a person died” or “It was just a cat. The city is crawling with them; just go get yourself a new one.”

This grinding world is the locus of disenfranchised grief, which noted grief expert Dr. David Kessler defines as “a type of grief that other people might deem as ‘less than'” (You Can Heal Your Heart, p. 136). Pet loss is the most common form of disenfranchised grief; the losses women experience after undergoing an abortion or experiencing a miscarriage are even more glaringly absent from any form of public discourse.

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Inanna’s Ascent: A Fellowship of Isis Chicago Imbolc Ritual

She is rising, She is rising
From the pit.
Come, we will go to Inanna,
We will sit in the lap so holy,
Inanna is ascending, Inanna is ascending
From the pit.

–Lady Olivia Robertson, “Space Magic: Oracle of the Goddess Inanna” (From the FOI Clergy Booklet, “Urania: Ceremonial Magic of the Goddess”)

In the Chicago-based Fellowship of Isis Lyceum to which I belong, we have a lovely and emotionally impactful way of commemorating the descent of the great Sumerian goddess Inanna at our annual Samhain ritual as well as Her ascent at our Imbolc gathering. Continue reading

Novena to La Santa Muerte: Day 9

The ninth and final day of the Novena to La Santa Muerte should occur on a Wednesday. The third of the three-day white glass candles burned in Her honor should be close to burning itself out. Take time for quiet contemplation of the entire Novena experience: How did your devotional relationship with La Santísima deepen? In what ways have you changed–perhaps your attitude towards your own mortality? Or your understanding of the nature of prayer in general, or its contextualization in Mexican folk magic and religion in particular? Have any portents presented themselves at any time during the Novena, assuring you that La Flaquíta has in fact been listening to you? Did you feel Her bony fingers steering your ship of destiny in the past nine days in any way? Synchronicities often abound, in my experience. And it has always been my experience that my prayers manifested pretty quickly, especially if I was seeking payback against an enemy. And somewhere in the darkness, La Santa Muerte Negra grins Her skeletal grin broadly…

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Mitrovski Zadušnice: The Serbian All-Souls’ Day Heralding the Start of Winter

There are times when you don’t need to look at a calendar page to know that the Days of the Dead are upon you. All of Nature seems to be a manifestation of the restlessness of spirits on the move, of hungry ancestors clamoring for your attention and your ritual foods. It’s the way that fog banks roll into the city on a strong north wind, blotting out the rising sun. It’s the way that the chill autumn rains beat upon your windowpanes as you curl up under the covers at night, trying to blanket all thoughts of your own mortality out of the province of conscious awareness. That’s what’s been happening in my experience here in Chicago as of the past 72 hours, and it’s all very fitting as tomorrow marks one of the biggest All Souls’ Days (Zadušnice in Serbian, from the root word duša, which means “soul”) in the Serbian calendar. Continue reading