Here comes August

Last night, a strange thing happened. I felt almost eager for August to arrive. Normally, I dread this month, and feel much as Al Aronowitz did about it. August is the dead time, the dry time, the mad time. Every August, I feel sick, ungrounded, uncentered. This has long been an irony in my life. August is the month most sacred to Hekate, precisely because it is the dead time. The Dog Days of Summer are hers, under the influence of the Black Bitch's Dog Star. This is the time when she wanders the earth, when she hunts, when she comforts weeping Demeter and prepares resolute Persephone. It is her time. But I think that is precisely why it is so hard for me. It is sacred, but I have had trouble connecting to the sacredness, because I am so distracted by what the heat does to my body that I have had trouble involving myself fully in it. It has, I realize now, looking back over the past three years' archive of August posts, I begin to see an arc of change. Focusing more on Hekate and the Dead has grounded me more during the past few Augusts. And, unlike the past three years, this year I have an air conditioner for the bedroom against, which will make it easier to sleep and help with some of the physical impediments. This year I am already more focused on the Dead than I have ever been before, with not a nightly ritual from the Litany, but the introduction of the chief two figures of my spirit court -- I really must post about them -- and a ritual they gave me to open the way for the Dead who need help moving on called Pouring the Cauldron, which I now do every few weeks. (I need to talk about that as well.) Last year, August was relatively uneventful. I was focused on school a lot, being in my first quarter there, but I found the time to watch, read and listen to quite a bit of horror and ghost story. The year before, I focused my August on establishing a practice with the Dead. The year before that, I spent the whole of August praying solely to Hekate. This year, I feel secure in my practices with the Dead, I've just finished a period of more intense focus on Hekate (yet another thing to write about), so I don't feel the need to repeat my activities of 2015 and 2014. I will be watching a lot of horror -- my list this year is quite possibly longer than I can finish, but that's another post -- and I have another project, the investiture and consecration of a new tool, a Cauldron or Pot of Hekate. I think those two things will hold my focus on the sacred nicely. August also holds the birthday of my wife, which she doesn't care much about but I do, and a new friend I care a lot about. I'll be leaving for Florida and North Carolina for two weeks at the end of August, to go to my grandmother's 90th birthday and see various family members. And I'm actively looking forward to this year's horror movie fest. Weird....

Field of Dreams and Mirrors

Halloween night, I did my regular ritual, including a brief check-in with my Dead via oracle deck. (I used to do a whole thing for the Dead on Samhain, but the farther into Hellenism I get, the less interested I am in that.) And then I put down a few more cards to see what happened, and what happened was a message for a friend. Part of that message was, "If you build it, they will come." Which made me snicker at first. I mean, really, that kinda cheesy 80s movie Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner. What a funny thing to reference. A movie about a man who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield. And then a bunch of... dead... ball... players... show up... Huh. Way more relevant than I thought. Maybe I should watch that movie again... Which led to a new verse for the Litany: We pray to the Athletic Dead From ancient Olympians to modern players All you who strove in physical contests Who reached for the prize of pure motion We pray to the Athletic Dead Writing that verse led to writing others, seven in total, but I'll save the rest for the next edition of the book. A few more bouts of inspiration like that, and I might have enough for it by Anthesteria. And then somehow my wandering thoughts got onto the Dead and mirrors. It's a long association. The idea that the newly Dead can get caught up in or confused by mirrors leads to the tradition of covering them in a house of mourning. The tradition of mirrors as windows for the Dead and other spirits (think of Bloody Mary). And a classic tool for a Necromanteion, or oracle of the Dead, is a mirror that never sees more light than that of a single candle. And so on. And it occurred to me that a small mirror might not be a bad feature of an ancestor shrine, so that they can look at you and see themselves in you, and so that you can look into it and see them in your own face. I think it's not what I want for my shrine -- I want a serious necromantic mirror when I add a mirror -- but it might be nice for someone else's....

Ritual Framework for the Litany

Galina Krasskova, after using the Litany for the Many Dead in a group ritual, wrote to me to suggest that it needed a ritual framework. Not everyone who might use it has experience working with the Dead, she pointed out, and working with them can be difficult and even dangerous. The Litany is an invocation of a great many groups of the Dead, too, not all of whom might get along, with each other or with the participants. The idea was something of a revelation to me. Honestly, I hadn't thought very much about how it would be used, hadn't considered things that way. It worked for me, of course it did, I wrote it to work for me. But now I needed to make it work for others in a ritual context. So I wrote back and said, basically, that that was an excellent idea and I'd get right on it. I wrote this a little while ago, and never did get around to posting it. It will, eventually, be in a second edition of the book that I'm planning, with additional verses. The introduction to the new edition will also have the suggestion that if people have a problem with a particular group of the Dead that they simply leave out that verse rather than invoke spirits they don't get along with, or that might not get along with their ancestors. It's important to exercise some discernment in these matters, and some discretion. Reading it alone, over your ancestor altar, as a way of simply acknowledging those of your ancestors whom it fits, it might not be such a big deal, but in a group ritual, some of those verses can be a very big deal. It is, as Galina pointed out to me, a political work, and it's political because I'm political. Every verse in there represents some of my Dead, whether the connection is of blood or feeling. Personally, I feel like almost all of them apply to at least some of everybody's Dead (for exceptions I'm thinking specifically of the verse about the AIDS dead -- possibly not everyone knows someone who died of that disease -- and of course of the Shoah, Porajmos, Stolen and other very specific groups of the Dead), but everyone knows their own Dead better than I possibly could. When read privately, it can be that kind of acknowledgement and praise of one's own dead. When used in a group ritual, it inevitably calls on the greater body of the Dead. So use your own best judgement. (I'd prefer, of course, that people not leave out groups of the Dead based on bigotry, but there's not much I can do about it.) I feel like I shouldn't hold this ritual back waiting to publish, especially this month, when so many are honoring the Dead. So here it is. Ritual Framework for the Litany for the Many Dead This ritual can be done by any number of people, from one to many. If you have many people, you may wish to assign the initial ritual parts to different people, and to arrange attendees in a circle and give them each a verse to read when it's their turn, or you might wish to have it take the form of a presentation by a few people or one person. If you are two or three, you might want to pass the book or paper back and forth and take turns. If you are alone, you can do it by yourself quite easily. As part of the planning for this ritual, I suggest that you pray to your own ancestors, including making offering to them, telling them what you're planning, and asking them to act as a sort of crowd control. If you don't already have an active ancestor worship practice, know that you can just tell them conversationally. Summon them, using the Beloved Dead verse if you like, and just say, "I'm going to be doing this ritual for the Many Dead. Can you please help me with it?" Make an offering of some food or drink traditional to your family, or that particular ancestors liked. Call them first when you begin the Litany. Have ready a bell or chime, incense, one or more candles, water and a bowl or cup into which it will be poured, and any other offerings you want to make, either to the Dead in general or to specific groups or individuals. Wine, milk, honey and flowers are all good choices. For individual Dead, some food or drink they loved in life. Begin by creating sacred space and boundaries for it in whatever way your tradition usually does. Include a cleansing of the space and all participants. It is important to have both a space that is...

Ossuary Skulls Block Prints

So I'm a dabbler, a dilettante. I do a bit of this and a bit of that, as the whim takes me. And I enjoy it. I pick up new hobbies, do them for a while, drop them, come back around later. Once every several years, block printmaking seems to be a thing I come back to. Last time was probably six or seven years ago. I bought linoleum blocks, a carving tool, a brayer, and some ink. I carved one block with a winged cog (because STEAMPUNK), printed it repeatedly in silver and once in gold all over a big sheet of purple paper, and was done again. (I should really try to find that paper. I liked it.) A couple of months ago, I was struck with the idea to do a block print of a bunch of skulls, like in an ossuary. Then I sat on the idea for a while, because it meant actually going and finding tools and materials in the chaos of my house. I finally got around to it last week. This is an artist's carving block for printing. It's not actually linoleum, but something softer and easier to carve. It still tends to be referred to as lino block printing. This is a carving tool with five bits, which go inside the handle when they're not being used. First I started penciling a border on the block, using the hole on a ruler to do a scalloped pattern, and divided the space inside the border into six sections. I went and found this tutorial on how to draw a skull to get me started, but it got a little confusing since I wanted them to have no lower jaw. (Jawbones are often stored separately from skulls in ossuaries.) I'm not great at it, but they're recognizably skulls. To keep myself from getting frustrated, I went back and forth between cutting the border, cutting the skulls, and drawing. I probably could've stood to leave the first one alone until I finished, then gone back and fixed it up some, but honestly, I'm not sure my skull-drawing got all that much better. At least I can comfort myself with the knowledge that skulls actually do look weird without their jaws. The finished block. It was at this point that I discovered I couldn't find my ink or brayer (not that the ink would've been the right color, but I couldn't even test it). And I didn't have money to buy them. But a very kind person was interested enough to buy four cards based solely on the block, giving me enough money to buy supplies. Printing ink, brayer, calligraphy ink, and a new pen handle, since I'm doing a verse from the Litany on the back of each card. Oh, and the other thing you need is a pane of glass for the palette. You want a nice, smooth surface to spread the ink on, so it's even. Turned out the only pane of glass I had lying around was this one. Remember those gold-marbled mirrors from the 70s? I found this weird green-marbled one someplace or other, and meant to break it up to use in a mosaic. Never happened, but it means I had this cool palette. Spreading out the ink with the brayer. Then I rolled it onto the block as evenly as I could. Aaaaaand the first print! Not too shabby for my first time doing this in years. I made ten prints that night, and I have ten more cards to play with, either for this print or another... since I just happened to find two more uncarved blocks while hunting for ink. Both of them, plus this one, are thick enough that both sides can be carved. Woohoo, project for the break! Here are four of the prints, so you can get an idea of what good ones look like (on the bottom) and less good ones. That top right one is objectively a failure of what I was trying to do, but I like the ghostly quality of it, and I'm keeping it for sure....

Deck Ideas

So last night I could NOT sleep, and had one of those times when the ideas come sleeting in and just will not leave me alone, and I have to write everything done. And last night it was oracle card decks. I've been thinking for a long time of making a deck of cards of the Litany, to be used as prayer cards. I've also been thinking of getting or making a more nuanced and complex oracle for my Dead. (The Earthbound Oracle is FANTASTIC, but it mostly allows for short sentences.) I really want to do a bone casting oracle for them. But last night it occurred to me that I could also make my own oracle deck. Something that, like the Earthbound, could give me sentences, but something that had more verbs to work with, and that was more personal. I also want something that will work with the Litany. Like, you pick a verse (either on purpose or by chance) to define who you're trying to speak to or receive a message from, and you read off the prayer and ask them to talk with you. Then you have a conversation by the medium of the cards. I'd want them to be lino cut prints (which I can do a little of, with fairly simple designs), white on black, with the card name written on in white ink. (Link so I can find it again: double-sided lino blocks for cheap in a size that will do well for poker sized deck. Originals should be 4" x 5.6", which fits well on a 4" x 6" block.) So I was really excited by this idea, and started coming up with cards. And then I remembered this post of Sannion's on bricolage, and I thought, wow, how much fun would a bricolage deck be. I could do one on my own, but we could also do them as group projects. The Bacchic Underground could do one. The Starry Bull tradition could do one, and give decks to new initiates. We could make small decks together on retreats. The possibilities are ridiculously broad. So I did a bit of divination, and my Dead kept warning me away from doing the Many Dead deck now. Cards like Deceit and Obfuscation kept coming up. Finally, I asked if I could do it eventually, and was told in another cycle of the sun. So next year. But the divination said I could start small on the bricolage deck! I really do not need any more projects. Really really. But a project where I can take an afternoon every now and again to throw together a couple of pieces, especially when I feel like it doesn't strain what I know how to do, that sounds doable. Why do I have to get great ideas right before finals?...

Reviews

I know I don't have a huge number of readers, and many of you won't have the Litany, but if you've read it, would you please be so kind as to go give it an honest review on Amazon and/or GoodReads? I would really appreciate it, as there are none at the moment....

Explaining the Litany

So I went to Florida for a week. I found myself attempting to explain the Litany to various family members at various times. Some of them shrugged and didn't try to understand, but just said things like, "Well, you just write whatever you want!" (Which was said with warmth and as genuine encouragement, and I appreciated it.) Others said they liked it better as "pray for the Dead", which is of course a perfectly valid modification (much of my family is Catholic). My father, on the other hand, thought it was very beautiful, and praised it repeatedly, but could NOT understand what the point of it was, no matter how I tried to explain it. He could not grasp why anyone would want to honor so many of the Dead, or indeed any of the Dead who weren't people they'd known directly. I tried explaining it as a way of remembering and connecting with the past -- which it is, though that's not the most important thing for me -- but he didn't get that. So I tried saying it was like how he understood himself better when he thought about what his parents were like, and he got what he did, but not how it applied in a wider context. I tried explaining this concept a couple of other ways, and then gave up, flummoxed. Certainly I couldn't not even attempt to explain to my father (who's very casually an atheist from a Baptist background, and doesn't even really have a concept of praying for the Dead the way my Catholic relations do, and has never really attempted to understand anything about my religion before) that I was really praying to the spirits of the Dead, as real entities, to praise and comfort them. That would have gone nowhere at all. (He also encouraged my sister-in-law to read the Litany, but not the introduction, because he hadn't understood or liked it.) It's interesting, the way trying to explain it to outsiders -- family, but outsiders to my religion and my understanding of the world -- changed the way I talked about it. Happy New Year...

Musician Dead

Three new verses: We pray to the Singing Dead Your voices rung out clear and strong Or soft and quiet, for some ears only Your song filled the hearts that heard it We pray to the Singing Dead We pray to the Playing Dead You made music for the world to dance to, To weep to, to laugh to, to live to Your music lifted listeners like a tide We pray to the Playing Dead We pray to the Drumming Dead Your beats rolled on unending Supporting the heartbeat of the world Your drumming filled your listeners' bones We pray to the Drumming Dead...

Terence P Ward reviews Litany

At a suggestion from a friend, I sent off a copy of A Litany to the Many Dead to Terence P Ward of The Wild Hunt for review. His response could not have been better. The post on his blog is a moving description of his experience of reading Litany rather than a traditional review, and I am just fine with that. He was also kind enough to send in a verse of his own, which is already up on The Litany Project page. We pray for the childless dead You who left no issue of blood to honor your names, by your own choice or that of the gods. May you be remembered by all humanity. We pray for the childless dead. A beautiful and much-needed addition to the Litany. Thank you, Terence....