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…
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
“Learning to live with one’s own mortality is the most universal of educations in reality.”
According to noted grief expert David Kessler (I highly recommend his book, co-authored with Louise Hay, entitled You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death), a person can be said to be healthily coping with the loss of a loved one when heartwarming memories of the deceased outweigh the pain of the loved one’s absence in the physical world. But the loving connection with the deceased is never severed, Kessler asserts, and the spiritual relationship between the deceased and the person grieving her or his loss on the physical plane takes on a new level of intensity.
That “intensity” is pretty much what the Samhain season represents for me and devotional practices to what we in my former Gardnerian coven used to call “the Mighty Dead” or “the Hidden Company” take center stage in my home and at the public Pagan rituals I attend at this time of year. Those who have gone before us, those who have made us the walkers of the crooked path that we are today, are rightly honored, remembered, given thanks and praise, and in many cultural traditions, literally fed. They may be ancestors of blood and bone or ancestors of spirit, mentors to whom you’re not physically related. I am glad that at this Samhain season, the loving counsel of those who have gone before me and helped make me the Witch and Priestess that I am today is as near to me as the rustling wind ushering fallen maple leaves, or the moon-kissed shadows that slink across the walls of my home in this season of encroaching darkness. Continue reading
Death. I’ve been acutely reminded of its omnipresence in many ways lately. Seeing the low angle of the sun at this time of year has begun to trigger my seasonal affective disorder. My nightly cemetery walks have been tinged with greater pensiveness and even despair. It’s a gloomy, cool day here in Chicago as the Sun gets ready to enter the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio, herald of the mysteries of death and rebirth. I’m still processing the devastating news I received on Tuesday when I took my 11-year-old cat, Thor (a feral kitten rescue from Hawaii), to an emergency veterinary clinic for an abdominal ultrasound and other tests. My regular veterinarian had performed an X-ray on Thor to determine the cause of his misshapen stomach and elevated liver levels revealed from recent blood testing. The X-ray indicated a mass protruding from Thor’s liver–one so large it had actually pushed Thor’s stomach at a 90-degree angle. No wonder Thor’s lost 9 pounds in a little over two months. Was it a tumor? If so, could surgery be an option? I was referred to the emergency clinic, which is equipped with an advanced radiology department, to find the answers. Instead, the main veterinarian there stunned me with the diagnosis: advanced pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lungs. And then those horrible six words, laden with the iron weight of finality:
“There is nothing we can do.” Continue reading
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness–
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way.
–Sylvia Plath, “The Moon and the Yew Tree” (1961, lines 17-22)
The more that I think about it, the less I believe what I experienced at 4:52 this morning was the ending of a dream. It was more of a spontaneous shamanic journey, the kind I’d had with disturbing regularity in the first two years of my brother Mark’s death. What I know for certainty was that I was in the Duat, and Sekhmet was next to me. She panted/grunted while scenting the air, Her lioness nuzzle awash in blood. Her pupils were massive, dilated, and gleaming like actual carnelian stones. Torch light either gleamed from behind or radiated from within Her. There was a wall behind us. We stood within a long, dark corridor. I knew unequivocally that Sekhmet protected me fiercely against evil entities that wanted to harm me. She fed on them. I was afraid–not of Her, but of where we were. I wanted out. And no sooner did I think that than did I feel myself being rapidly “plucked” upwards–in sheer nanoseconds. It was a jolting sensation, but I felt myself being pulled up out of the ground–even through my bed’s mattress!–before “crash landing” back into my body. I gasped and thrashed a bit–hitting my fiancé in the process–before sitting up and grabbing my iPhone from my nightstand. 4:52. Continue reading
R.I.P., My Cousin Kristina (1971-2015): Death and the Negation or Affirmation of Meaning (Or, Why I Hate Cancer)
During my four years of a self-imposed exile/major Underworld initiation on the island of Oahu (translation: a military marriage that uprooted me from everything I’d cherished in my life prior), I used to teach literature and writing at the undergraduate level…mostly to active-duty military personnel working on attaining their bachelors’ degrees between deployments. Honestly, it was a Kafkaesque arrangement–I never in a million years would have seen any of it coming. But happen, it did.
And I made the decision to teach for a variety of reasons: first, I wanted to work in a way that would actually put my advanced education to use, as well as share my immense love for literature in the English language and help people become critical thinkers and more effective communicators; second, the nature of the work was very time-consuming–my classes were five-hours-long each–and I was desperate to spend as little time alone while my then-husband was sent off to war (let’s just call it “Operation: Enduring Bullshit” because these were the Bush Years and the Orwellian motto of “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” was very much en vogue) because otherwise the depression and anxiety I felt in my empty Navy wife house in Pearl Harbor were just too overwhelming (I attempted suicide twice during those four years); and third, I wanted to better acclimate myself to the strange subculture of life as a military dependent in which I found myself, and I thought the best course of action would be to simultaneously “give back to the community” whilst trying to gain a better understanding of living within it–its plethora of rules, its penchant for acronyms dropped into casual conversation with dizzying speed, its organizational structure rooted in hierarchical, phallocentric thinking. Much alien. Very Kafka. Wow. Continue reading
By way of editorial comment: This poem of mine was published in Datura (2010), an anthology of Pagan poetry and essays by U.K.-based occult/esoterica powerhouse Scarlet Imprint.
If the Ides of March are past
whence comes this heaviness of heart?
He said it would be like this
in the silver half-light
the chariot steeds splashed across the waves
then I tumbled headlong into Lethe
No forgetfulness, though,
for She Who Never Slumbers Above
yet she caused the earth to slumber
her own body to be ravaged by winter’s withering
Golden poppy tresses
trembling with rage
as I found a new half-life for myself
the dead populace
and my beloved drank deeply
with my pomegranate juices
nectar more precious than wine, he said
cadaverous eye sockets
the mask of white loveliness
frozen onto my face like the folds of
the himation molded to my breasts
The pillars of this place
gleaming with the hope
of untold dreaming
the quiet denizens of this murk-world gape and shuffle towards me
The curve of the sickle
Warm lap of abundance
Fertile in fallowness
Gaze not with the imperium of the Judge
but as an unconquerable Protectress
The dreams they tickle me sometimes
Crashing through waking awareness
Than interpersonal speech
Stroking neck hairs
Forming goose bumps
On forearms Continue reading