deathwork, Pagan

A Prayer Upon Learning of a Death

In September, I helped a friend build a toolkit to prepare for the death of a family member that they wouldn’t be able to be physically present for. That toolkit included a prayer to offer upon first learning of the death. In this time when so many of us will experience that same physically isolated loss, I thought it might be helpful to others, and my friend graciously agreed to let me share it.

In a time when we are barred from many of the conventional rituals of death, spontaneity and organic growth of ritual can be the best way to go – individualized rituals of the heart that truly reflect who your beloved was and who you are. But I find that in that moment when you first hear that someone close to you has died, a shocked numbness often descends. You know you want to do something, but your brain can’t quite get together the what. Having a set prayer or action you can call on every time helps your voice and body keep moving while your brain catches up. If your religion or culture doesn’t have something like this, I humbly invite you to use these words.

A Prayer Upon Learning of a Death

[NAME], I honor the body that you were
The words you spoke
The passions that moved you
The love you shared
The life you lived.

These were not always easy to live
Or to live with
But they were always you,
And I honor you in that wholeness.

I grieve that you are no longer a living presence in my life
I regret that I could not be with you at the end
I allow myself to hurt and to heal
Whatever form that takes
However long it takes

Whole and holy Earth, take back the body of [NAME] that was formed from you
Make new forms and lives from it
May a piece of [NAME]’s life infuse the new lives that grow from it. 
May the passing forms of this life and the tears of our grief sustain the web of your creation.

Blessed be


This turn of the Wheel: a review

With Lammas 2021 behind us, I’ve completed my yearlong experiment in minimalist rituals. How did it go? How do I want to proceed?

tl;dr version: I loved it. I want to keep doing it. I need to make several decisions about how I’m going forward, but I feel I’ve prepared the ground well for those decisions and whatever grows from them. That’s the short version. Read on for the loooong version.

A photo of Earth from space. A circle is drawn around the Earth with the Wheel of the Year drawn around it in circles and lines.
Wheel of the Year with Earth by Bart Everson via Flickr
Continue reading “This turn of the Wheel: a review”

Lammas 2021: Autonomy

Bread is one of the the most fascinating human creations. It’s part science and part alchemy. It connects us to Earth, which gives us the wonders of grain, water, and yeast, and to millennia of ancestors who have fed themselves, their families, and their communities through this incredible process. Also, it’s delicious. So Lammas – literally a holiday for bread – is a big deal around here.

Of course there’s more to it than, “Yay bread!” (Although… “Yay bread!”) Lammas begins the harvest, when folks start to reap the fruits of careful sowing and tending. As a white person in the urban US, I have the privilege of year-round access to grocery stores and restaurants. I’m in little danger of starving to death even if my own personal harvest (mulberries. so many mulberries) isn’t enough to see me through the winter. In spite of that, or maybe because of it, I feel so much power in the reminder that, even if we feel disconnected from the land, we depend on it, and the people who tend it, for the food we need to live. Also, like any good postmodern neo-Pagan, I’m a sucker for a good harvest metaphor. I also feel a communal aspect in Lammas, related to the fact that, for many years, our Reclaiming community’s Lammas celebrations began early that morning, with many of us gathering in a community-member’s kitchen to bake bread for the afternoon’s ritual.

All of this is why Leora and I began our Lammas ritual this year by making skillet biscuit bread and mulberry quick jam (so. many. mulberries). While our cauldrons bubbled on the fire and filled our house with irresistible smells, we checked in with some tarot cards to see where we are and where we want to focus for this next segment of the Wheel. Then, in keeping with the day’s “autonomy” aspect, we parted ways for individual time doing whatever felt sacred to each of us in the moment. I don’t know how Leora spent their time (though I think wood burning tools came into play), but I spent mine lying on the ground in the backyard, doing death meditations and feeling my body dissolve into the body of the Earth. We ended by reconvening and – you guessed it – eating delicious bread and jam. (Seriously. If you like bread or fruit compote, try these recipes. So tasty and sooooo easy!)

Our Lammas altar

It was exactly the kind of ritual I love: logistically uncomplicated but so spiritually fulfilling. I missed the large community aspects of past Lammases, but in our community of two we celebrated both the autonomy and the interdependence that make our lives possible. We examined what we’re harvesting in our lives (besides mulberries). And we created space for spiritual practices that held meaning for us, not just whatever the ritual outline dictated came next.

Also: yay, bread!


Summer Solstice 2021: Reverence

As has been the case for many of our rituals in this turn of the Wheel, this one had a lot of adjustment and adaptation. This raises an interesting question for me as a religious person in this 21st century, especially since my religion is rooted in the cycles and processes of Earth Itself: if circumstances (by which I mostly mean the weather) don’t favor the ritual I had planned at the time I’d planned it, do I postpone the ritual until more favorable circumstances arrive, or do I adapt the ritual to the circumstances? The former gets me the ritual I envisioned, with the spiritual impact I was hoping for. But the latter reminds me that I may be my own spiritual authority, but I’m rooted in the interdependent communion of all things, and I’m far from the authority of that. Pagan plans and Earth laughs, to mess up the old adage.

So, with temperatures unexpectedly (though not unwelcomely) tumbling after weeks in the mid- to high-90s F, dinner outside in the small but precious ecosystem of our yard turned into dinner by the open back windows, well bundled against the chill. The ritual’s basic structure stayed the same: dinner in sacred space, fully immersed in the nature that we are and are in, with no screened devices.

It was harder than it sounds. Leora and I have multiple identification apps on our phones. We struggled against the impulse to dive for them at the first note of birdcall, the first wave of an unfamiliar leaf, the first wisp of white. We desire to know, to sort into boxes labeled “house sparrow,” “creeping bellflower,” “altocumulus.” This desire is ancient within us, hearkening back to when our wellbeing depended on knowing whether an animal was friend or foe, a plant food or poison, a cloud a signal of drought or flood. Even without that necessity, sometimes it’s just cool to know what other lives I share my space with: what bird makes that mournful cry in the later afternoon? what’s that plant taking over that part of the yard?

But for me, when curiosity replaces necessity, the identification can sometimes disconnect. I gain “mourning dove” and lose the shiver of that haunting coo. I gain “wild geranium” and lose the particular delicacy and hue of each blossom. At those times, I have to put away my field guides and ID apps and be with and in all this incredible life. Present. Reverent.

After dinner, we did a three-card tarot reading. It was my first time looking at a deck since December. I think it’ll be a long time, if ever, before I bring the cards back into my personal practice. But as a way for Leora and me to look at our lives now and our path forward together, it’s pretty fun.

The ritual wasn’t what I had planned. It was what it needed to be. That is part of the Mystery.

Blessed be.

Photo by David Clode via Unsplash


May Day 2021: Embodiment

Yes, I see you looking at the post date here. Eli, you may be thinking, it’s almost June! Summer Solstice is three weeks away! Why are you just now posting about May Day?

The answer, gentle reader, is this: grad school.

On May 15, 2021, my beloved, smart, and persistent spouse Leora finished their Master of Social Work degree. May Day itself was smack dab in the whirlwind of their final assignments. Then, between post-school recovery and the flurry of well-deserved celebrations that basically took the place of an actual graduation ceremony, yesterday was our first chance to celebrate May Day. So we took it.

This is one of the greatest advantages to being a naturalist. I know my deity won’t be upset if I celebrate a Sabbat late, because my deity is too busy being the entire planet to worry about when (or whether) I celebrate its seasons. Was it weird to celebrate May Day this close to Summer Solstice? A little, yeah. But it still felt like a celebration of the energy that May Day represents: that burst of creative and generative energy, the speeding up of plant and animal growth and activity, the return of heat and fire, even to our chilly northern climes. For me, as long as I feel climatologically and atmospherically appropriate celebrating what a Sabbat represents, then I’m going to go ahead and do it.

The ritual itself was uber-simple, even considering our commitment to a year of pared-down celebrations. We acknowledged sacred space and went to the Midtown Farmers Market. We brought fresh local produce. Later that night, we put some of that produce on flatbread pizzas and made a simple syrup with the rest. That’s it. And that’s not it.

Ever since we moved to the Longfellow area of Minneapolis, the MFM has been a sacred place for us. Few years have passed when we haven’t attended the market’s first day, coming as it does so close to both May Day and our anniversary. One of those years was 2020, with the first Saturday in May falling in the midst of the worst of the early-COVID panic. Minnesota’s Stay at Home order was firmly in place, and chaos was mostly the order of the day. A stripped-down version of the market opened, but with the perfectly sensible restriction that only one person per household could enter the space at a time. Leora and I couldn’t bring ourselves to go alone. Market Opening Day has always been a family and community event for us.

This year, Leora and I are fully vaccinated, and most folks have a firmer handle on how to navigate each other in a COVID world. Also, grad school is done. Going to the market felt not like “getting back to the way things were” but moving forward in the way things are. A little more considered. A little more aware of our fellow human beings. What a wonderful way to celebrate the Sabbat of embodiment.

Image via the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization


Scapegoats vs. Systems

Hey, so, usually I assume everyone knows that this is my blog, the opinions expressed here are solely my own, &c, &c. But for this post it feels important to say explicitly: this is my personal blog. The opinions I express in this post are mine alone and do not represent my family, my employer, or any institution mentioned herein.

Content notes: discussion of the murder of George Floyd & the trial of Derek Chauvin, police brutality in general, and sexual assault

Minnesota has been in the news quite a bit lately. Most notably, for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police Department officer who murdered unarmed Minneapolis resident George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

This week, the trial has included several current and former MPD leaders and trainers, as well as emergency medical personnel who were on the scene, all testifying that Chauvin’s actions went against policy and procedure. The neck kneel that Chauvin used against Floyd: not taught in any official MPD training. Continuing to restrain Floyd after he stopped resisting: against MPD policy. Denying EMS access to Floyd: a big no-no.

On one level, I understand why this testimony is necessary. The laws around acceptable levels of force are so different for police in the US than they are for anyone else. In order to have even a shred of hope of conviction, prosecutors have to prove that Chauvin behaved outside of what is acceptable even for a cop.

The thing is… I had hoped, apparently naively, that Derek Chauvin’s trial could be part of the larger national conversation around police abolition or reform. That we could use it as a space to ask questions like: why is this considered murder only because Chauvin’s method was “not policy”? Why do we live in a society where one human being killing another is considered perfectly fine as long as the one doing the killing has a badge and the one getting killed has black skin? Why did Derek Chauvin, a man with eighteen complaints and two formal reprimands on his record, get to continue being a cop for so long? If we must have cops, why can’t we pay them enough that they don’t have to further risk their own and others’ safety by taking off-hours jobs as security guards?

I see how this case is shifting the narrative around police murder, at least locally. No longer “George Floyd died because he was a Black man caught in a system designed to constrain and shorten his life” but “George Floyd died because one rogue cop broke policy.”

Americans love scapegoats. We love being able to point our fingers and scream at someone else. Indignation requires little effort on our parts. We yell and wave our arms around, and when we’re done we feel kind of awful, and that’s how we “prove” that it was right, because many of us can’t tell the discomfort of Doing the Work from the discomfort of doing something we probably shouldn’t have. Also, scapegoating doesn’t implicate us. If those of us who are white in the US can point at Derek Chauvin and call him a loose cannon, or mentally ill (a scapegoating twofer that allows us to dodge our own accountability twice as much!), or “one bad apple,” then we don’t have to look at the racist core of US policing and our complicity in it.

Minnesota is also in the news lately because the state Supreme Court recently overturned a man’s rape conviction because the woman he raped had been drinking voluntarily (that is, alcohol hadn’t been forced into her by another person). Outrage across the internet was swift, furious, and often completely uninformed – the “yell first, read the article never” mentality that often plagues social media sites. In fact, for anyone who read the decision, it confirmed that what the rapist did absolutely was a crime; he had just been charged with the wrong offense due to something commonly referred to as “the intoxication loophole.” Justice Paul Thissen, who wrote the opinion, pointed directly to the intoxication loophole and called on the Minnesota State Legislature to close it.

But, again, doing the work is so much harder than getting really angry. If the problem is that SCoM is a bunch of woman-hating rape-lovers, then we (especially folks who live elsewhere) can rant and rail and wash our hands of “those rubes” in Minnesota. If we understand that the Supreme Court – any Supreme Court – can only uphold the laws as written, not change the laws to something they like better, then a weight falls on us, the constituents, to research whether our own, non-Minnesota state also has an intoxication loophole, to call and write our elected officials, to write letters to the editor, to talk to our nearest and dearest about the law, to educate the young people in our circle of influence that only yes means yes, ever.

These are just two of many examples I could’ve pointed to. They’re at the forefront of my mind because I live in the state where they’re happening. But examples are plentiful no matter where in the US we live. That’s the nature of systemic problems: wherever the system exists, the problem exists.

Not a single one of us is “a single one of us.” We exist within systems. Singling out individuals or groups within those systems as “the cause” of problems fixes nothing. Will sending Derek Chauvin to prison fix police racism and violence? Will yelling at the Minnesota Supreme Court fix rape culture? Absofreakinglutely not. It’s time for us to set aside our convenient scapegoats and get to the real work of dismantling and rebuilding broken systems.

A few things you can do:

  • Participate in the Justice for George Floyd campaign by purchasing a set of postcards to be sent to prominent figures in the trial to demand it be truly fair.
  • Follow @justiceforgeorge on Instagram to keep up with other action opportunities.
  • If you’re a Minnesotan, tell your state representative to support HF707, Representative Kelly Moller’s recently introduced bill that, among other updates to the state’s criminal sexual conduct statute, will close the intoxication loophole.
  • When you talk about these and other issues of the day with those in your life, try to keep the larger systemic issues at the center of the discussion, rather than falling prey to the siren song of an easy scapegoat.