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....

Writing again

I've been so busy with school and work all this year that it's been almost impossible to find the time to do anything else. But yesterday, I carved out an hour or so, and got some actual work done on The Book of the Downward Labyrinth. Not a massive amount or anything, but enough to get a little forward momentum going that's keeping me rolling some today. My summer is packed. Not only am I taking three classes, which are trying to pack 11 weeks of information into 8 weeks of instruction, and tutoring, and being a teaching assistant, but I now have two freelance database jobs. With all that, finding the time to write is nearly impossible, but may be necessary as a balance. I've had some fascinating spiritual experiences lately. A few of us performed a Bacchic Mass, a kind of séance of the Starry Bull tradition, and I learned a lot. I finally found the identity of my... I'm not sure what the formal term for them is. Spirit guides? Gatekeepers? Those of my Dead who give the other Dead access to me, or deny it, and who act as hostesses in my space. I think of them as the Aunties. One should not have been a surprise. Aider Rebecca, the great-great(-great?) aunt I'm named for. She lived alone in the log cabin she was born in until the end of her life, the eccentric old woman in the West Virgina woods. She died in her 90s, and what it took to kill her was falling asleep on the porch, having the bottom of her corncob pipe burn through and catch her gunnysack dress on fire. She stumbled half a mile to the nearest neighbor's house with burns over 70% of her body, and lived three more days in the hospital before giving up. That's my Aunt AiderBeck. And apparently she's been keeping my spiritual house in order for me. For which I thank her. My other guardian was a big surprise, and a great honor. Medea herself helps out, and says that I may count her as the founder of my magical lineage. I learned a great deal from the both of them that night, and a new tool was recommended to me. A cauldron, and in the cauldron a skull. This is a crossroads, a gateway, I was told. A way for Dead who need help moving on into their afterlives to do so. And so I am developing a ritual called The Pouring of the Cauldron based on this principle. Right now it is very small and very simple, but it seems to serve the purpose in a limited fashion. I look forward to expanding upon it to achieve more effective results. The Book of the Downward Labyrinth continues to grow and to ramify, with new necessary topics coming up whenever I sit down to think about it much. It's a bit exhausting, and I despair of actually finishing it on the schedule I'd like. But at least some of the new ideas can go in the second book, which will be specifically for those looking to serve the Dead as kedemones and enchytristria. I don't plan on making this one publicly available, but on having Create Space make me a couple dozen copies, enough to get us through years worth of people who want to study this path. By the time we run through that many copies, I'm quite sure it will need a new edition with many, many revisions. That book, The Path of the Dead, is probably the next project, but will have to wait to be written until I've taught a class (or maybe two classes, one for the kedemon level, and one for the enchytristria) on the material, to give me a chance to organize it and see what works for others. I may also end up coming up with a class on preparing for Death. I don't know yet....

The Funeral Consumers Alliance needs help

As I think anybody who reads this blog knows, I've been working on funeral rituals. What you may not know is that I'm also helping people plan their own funeral, and figure out the laws in their states so they can best plan. And in this area, the work of the Funeral Consumer Alliance has been absolutely invaluable. Without the important work they do, I wouldn't have vital information on state laws, on caring for a body, on how to plan a home funeral, and many other things. The FCA runs on a shoestring budget of about $200k a year, and are still $50k short for 2016. If you can donate, even a little, please do....

Ghost Ship

On the night of December 2, a fire broke out in a warehouse-cum-art-studio space that was hosting a party at the time. Over a hundred people were there. As of the last I heard, the known death count had reached 30, with more than half the building left to search. A friend of mine lost friends in that fire. I grieve with my friend. Since I was writing threnoi anyway (on which more later), I was asked by another friend to write something for the Ghost Ship dead. Here it is. A Threnos for the Ghost Ship Dead Let it be known Let it be known To mortals and gods That the Ghost Ship dancers are dead Their names are many But they reached for the ecstatic And they died in flames May their journey be swift and sure May they pass lightly From the mystery of life To the mystery of death May the pain and fear Of their final moments Be washed away by Lethe May the joy of the dance Remain with them As they go their way Wherever they may go May their journey be swift and sure May they pass lightly From the mystery of life To the mystery of death May they walk in golden lands Or feast in golden halls May they find what end Calls to their deepest soul May comfort and compassion Be theirs for all time May they know ecstasy in death May their journey be swift and sure May they pass lightly From the mystery of life To the mystery of death Let their souls reach The pinnacle of their potential Let any judge pass them through Let all doors and gates be open To these dancers and revelers May all gods be kind to them And may peace be with them now May their journey be swift and sure May they pass lightly From the mystery of life To the mystery of death May the Ghost Ship Dead Dance forever as their ship Carries them beyond the horizon And into the Utter West May it sail in soothing darkness And in clean cool air Across calm waters May their journey be swift and sure May they pass lightly From the mystery of life To the mystery of death Rebecca Lynn Scott, 2016 CC Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike...

Field of Dreams, the movie

So, after that message at Samhain -- a message that wasn't even for me -- I decided maybe I should watch this old movie, give it another chance. I remember seeing it when it was new, probably on VHS. My dad liked baseball movies. I think I liked it at the time, when I was 12, but as an adult, I just assumed it was cheesy, corny, if I thought of it at all. A lot of 80s movies were. And Kevin Costner, though he was a big, big star in his day, is kind of a joke now. Ever since Waterworld, a movie that doesn't quite deserve its reputation. But now, as an ancestor worshiper, it looks very very different. Spoilers ahead. Ray Kinsella came of age in the 60s, attending Berkeley, as far as he can get from New York. Alienated from his father, missing his dead mother, he simply ran away. His father was an old-fashioned man who once played a season in the minor leagues, and whose hero was Barefoot Joe Jackson, one of the Black Sox, the eight men permanently suspended from professional baseball for supposedly throwing the 1919 World Series. Ray's parting shot to his father was that he couldn't respect a man whose hero was a criminal. In the 80s, Ray's wife Annie convinced him to buy a farm in Iowa. One day, out in his cornfield, Ray heard a voice whisper to him. "If you build it, he will come." Again and again he heard it. No notion of who "he" was, none of what "it" was, until he had a vision of a baseball diamond there in the corn. So, with his wife's support, he plows under a couple of acres of his crop, and builds one. (If this movie were made today, she'd fight with him about it, not support him, and their little girl Karen would be a teenage boy.) A year went by, and then one evening as he's trying to figure out the bills with his wife, as they agonize about the diamond that has cost them crop land and might cost them their farm, his daughter says, "Daddy, there's a man out there on your lawn." And there's Barefoot Joe, who just missed the field and the play. And then with him come the other Black Sox, who missed it too. Men dead for decades, back at their prime but with all their memories, back to play ball, walking out of the cornfield. The voice comes again. "Ease his pain." After a book-banning incident at the PTA, Ray decides that the "he" in this case is Terence Mann, his favorite author from the 60s. Finding an old interview in which Terry said he'd seen Moonlight Graham play the one half-inning of one game he got in the majors, and that his childhood dream had been to play a game with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Ray sets out to take Mr. Mann to a ball game, and eventually to his own field in Iowa. After some initial reluctance, Mann joins Kinsella at a game, where both of them hear the voice whisper, "Go the distance" and see the stats for Moonlight Graham appear on the scoreboard. Together, they head for Minnesota, on a baseball odyssey. There, they discover that Archibald Graham became a doctor after retiring from baseball, and has since died. But on the way back to Iowa, who should they pick up on the side of the road but a very young Graham. Graham joins the ever-increasing number of dead ball players on the Field, which turns out to be lucky, as he's able to save Ray's young daughter from choking on a hot dog. But having become his older self to do it, Archie can't go back to the game, and he vanishes into the corn all the players come out of. Ray and Annie's financial situation is getting worse and worse, and Annie's brother Mark is trying to convince them to sell to his group so they can stay in the house, before the farm is foreclosed on. They refuse, standing by the field and the ball players, the latter of which Mark can't see. But Karen and Shoeless Joe both insist that "If you build it, they will come," that the existence of the ball field and the game will draw people from all over, people who don't know why they've come, but come they will, and they'll pay for the privilege. And then, finally, one more player steps out of the corn and onto the grass, a young rookie from the minors name John Kinsella. The "he" the Voice keeps talking about. Ray's father, whom he never apologized to, who never met Annie or Karen. And Ray gets to...

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...

Ancestor dream

I dreamt last night that I was walking in a garden of an old, huge Gothic house on an island, and there I found a woman who looked something like my mother, but wasn't. "Mom?" I said. "No. I'm your great-grandmother." "Lil?" "No. Another one. It doesn't matter." She told me that my project (there was some project I was working on, in my dream, something with food plants, but it's not the clear part, so what it was isn't relevant) wasn't helping enough people, that I needed to be putting in more skin. That I needed to be helping more directly. (In the dream, I started giving the plants away to people who needed to be able to grow their own food.) It stands out so clearly, now I'm awake. So different from the rest of the dream, that melted away quickly. So I'm taking it as a true visitation. But I'm not sure what to do with it. My big project at the moment, of course, is The Book of the Downward Labyrinth (the book of Starry Bull funerary rituals I'm writing), and the Polytheist Death Guild. I want badly to become a death midwife, which would allow me to help people more directly, but I can't afford the training. I'm having trouble affording the basics right now. I don't have many readers, but those of you I do have, if you know of any pagans or polytheists who've lost someone and want help planning funerals or mourning rituals, please feel free to point them at me. I can be reached at hexdotink@gmail.com. Other than that, all I can think to do is keep writing, and publishing the generalized versions of things to Polytheist Death Guild so people have the tools to do things themselves....

La Catrina: A Revolutionary Death

La Calavera Catrina, the Elegant Skull, the Dandy Skeleton, is probably the best-known Mexican representation of Death. The lovely skeleton in the wide-brimmed woman's hat, and usually a fancy dress. You may know her as La Muerte from the gorgeous animated movie The Book of Life. (And if you don't, go watch the movie as soon as possible.) The above image is by Jose Posada, a late 19th and early 20th Century Mexican printmaker. Posada died in obscurity, but after his death, his calaveras, costumed skeletons that were often featured in his religious and/or satirical cartoons and images, because famous later and his work was revived. Today, they are associated with the Dias de los Muertos, and are famous as folk art and the inspiration for much more folk art. Among the things I was surprised to learn about La Catrina is that she's quite recent, though her antecedents go back to the pre-Columbian era and the death goddess Mictecacihuatl. Posada's is the first depiction of her, and one that satirizes wealthy and bourgeois Mexicans who spent a great deal of money on European fashions before and during the Mexican Revolution. Death makes all equal, she says. Posada's La Catrina zinc etching may be the first image of her, but the one that made her famous was Diego Rivera's 1946-1947 mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central). At the center of the image, a child Rivera stands with his wife Frida Kahlo, La Catrina, and, on the skeleton's other side, Posada himself. Like Posada's engraving, the mural is highly political, showing the middle-class aspirations and social complacency just before the Mexican Revolution in 1910 -- the year La Catrina was likely made. Both artworks are deeply associated with the Revolution and with revolutionary politics. The Elegant Skull herself is an image of those who aspire to the heights brought low, and a way of laughing at and celebrating Death. Truly, a revolutionary Death in many ways....

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...