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deathwork, Witchy

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

Witchy

Fall Equinox 2020: Balance

My lovely spouse Leora and I generated the list pictured here as part of our Fall Equinox ritual. The list begins:

  • Furnace check-up appointment
  • Window plastic 
  • Boots

It might not seem particularly witchy, but making it made me feel so profoundly connected to my spirituality.

Like it has for many folks, the current COVID-19 pandemic has me reexamining my relationship to my spiritual values and practices. I find myself stripping away, scaling down. Time outside, meditation, hand-crafting, acts of social justice and mutual aid have connected me to my values and to Mystery, while formal spells, rituals, and divination have felt like a veil dropped between me and them.

Just after Lammas, I started envisioning a year-long cycle of Sabbat and Esbat rituals that truly reflect my deepest held beliefs and values. Recentering the things that drew me to Paganism in the first place, rather than other people’s ritual and spiritual concepts that I’ve accumulated over almost two decades (!) of study and practice.

Leora and I spoke our intention and performed a pared-down grounding, centering, and acknowledging of sacred space. We ate a meal we cooked from local seasonal produce. We named areas of our lives that could use more balance and committed to one action we could take to shift that balance. We praised the areas where we’re proud of keeping balance. We made a list of actions we need to take to prepare for winter. Then we were done.

It was simple, and it was concrete. Apart from the conversation about balance, in which we used the balance of light and darkness to mirror balance in our lives, we were very literal. The harvest of the Earth, the pause to prepare for Winter. Very little metaphor to separate me from the All That Is. Maybe my fellow witches, even other naturalistic ones, would’ve found it boring. But it was exactly what I needed.

Leora has kindly agreed to show up for a whole year’s cycle of these simplified rituals. I have rough outlines for all eight of them (although they’re all open to adjustment; after this one I already know we need singing). I’ll try to revisit them all here. Who knows—maybe this kind of low-frills acknowledgement of the sacred is what you’re looking for, too.

Witchy

The Winter Confluence

For the past several years, I’ve been adamant about not celebrating Christmas or Chanukah. “Not my religions; not my holidays” was my standard response when someone asked about my plans.

I did this for because, one, it’s fun to watch people’s faces when I tell them that I don’t celebrate the world’s biggest consumerist holiday, even glancingly. Two (and more important personally), despite having been a practicing Pagan since 2001, the only consistent Winter Solstice practice I’d developed was staying up all night, which becomes increasingly inaccessible as I get older. I needed to step back and develop celebrations that neither appropriated an oppressed religion nor kowtowed to an oppressive one.

I needed that time away. It’s done me a world of good as a Pagan.

The December event of the Minnesota Threshold Network was called “Facing Holidays After the Death of a Loved One.” As I sat in that circle, talking about holiday traditions and honoring loved ones who have died, I thought about how, although I don’t celebrate Christmas or Chanukah, I once did, and my Ancestors have, for many generations. By choosing not to engage with these holidays, I’ve cut myself off from them, from using shared practices to thank, honor, connect with, and grieve for those who have gone before me.

So this year, I chose one action to acknowledge each holiday. Not a full celebration, since they’re still not my religions or my holidays. One act to connect me to Ancestors recent and distant who celebrated these holidays. To remind them, and myself, that though we walk different spiritual paths, they are welcome here.

  • Chanukah was easy: I created a… well, I hesitate to call it a chanukiah. It’s a strip of fabric set up under the Yule tree with LED candles. Every night I’ve been saying the blessings and lighting the candles. (The Yule tree, btw, is three birch logs lashed together in a tripod, wrapped with blue string lights and topped with seasonally appropriate cookie cutters. Because we are those Minnesotans.)
  • Christmas was more challenging. Other than attending the Christmas Eve service at church, which, just, no, my family of origin was much more connected to the holiday’s consumerist aspects than its religious or cultural ones. Being as anti-capitalist as a 21st-century American urbanite can be, those aren’t traditions I want to replicate.
  • I thought about food, instead. Specifically, waffles. My parents had a waffle maker. It was a wedding gift. They hated using it, considering it too unwieldy and difficult. It came out once a year: on Christmas morning. After we opened presents, Mom and I would watch The Nutcracker (Baryshnikov version) on PBS while Dad swore at the waffles.

This is tricky, of course, because I shared the tradition with ancestors (living), not Ancestors (dead). But it connects me to family, and although my more distant Ancestors may not have eaten waffles on Christmas Day, I’m sure that most of them had special holiday food traditions of some sort, and this feels like sharing mine with them.

I am one moment in Time. The lines of memory flows from the Ancestors, through me, and on to the Descendants. And in this time of deep, healing, dreaming darkness, I stand with ancestors, Ancestors, and Descendants at the confluence of three winter holidays and greet the returning light.

Five days after Solstice; fourth night of Chanukah; Christmas Day

deathwork, Theater-Related, Witchy

Finding My Path(s), Again and Again

Just over a year ago, I was in Olathe, Kansas, for the Midwest Dramatists’ Center fall conference. It was a terrific weekend full of cool people, useful learning, and a lot of great theater. I came home fired up about kicking my theater career in the butt. This website exists in large part because of that conference, and my reflections on it formed my first blog post here. I am ever grateful for the experience.

Then, something incredible happened: my smart, talented, dedicated spouse was accepted into grad school. Suddenly, something we’d discussed for years as a hypothetical became imminent.

After a great deal of discussion, I committed to being the anchor for our household while Leora completes their MSW. The “stable one.” But I was equally determined that “stable” would not equal “stagnant.” So, as is my witchy way, I went on a lot of trance journeys, read a lot of tarot spreads, and made a lot of lists in sacred space to determine what I wanted to be doing with myself for the next two years.

I was quite startled when the answer that came back, time after time after time, was deathwork, not theater.

And so was born the deathication, a twoish-year-long exploration of my desires and options around “how to make a living at dying without killing what I live for.” It will involve everything from industry research and interviews with professionals to meditation, tarot spreads, and liturgical development. If everything goes according to plan, or at least doesn’t blow up too spectacularly, I’ll come through it with a solid understanding of where I fit in the alternative deathcare world.

I’m not turning my back on playwriting forever. If nothing else, I have six more plays to write in the Wheel of the Year cycle, because I want to know what else happens to these chuckleheads. I’ll probably never stop writing plays and attempting, at least desultorily, to get them onto stages. But when I think about the amount of time, energy, and perseverance required to really make it in either of these fields, deathwork is the one where I most feel willing—nay, eager to make that commitment.

So last weekend, I was in Chaska, Minnesota, for the National Home Funeral Alliance biennial national conference. It wasn’t perfect: the alternative deathcare movement as a whole struggles around issues of accessibility and diversity, and this conference was definitely a microcosm of those struggles. I loved every wonderful, challenging, frustrating, enriching minute of it. Even when I was pissed off, I was so engaged. I’m so fired up to keep having the vital, difficult conversations and do the vital, difficult work of making it better. That’s how I know my love is real.

Several Minnesota Threshold Network members attended the National Home Funeral Alliance biennial national conference in Chaska, MN, where we hosted a mock vigil, complete with cardboard coffin for attendees to decorate
Yarncraft

Finished Crocheted Object: The Cold Office Cardi

The formula most American offices use to determine where to set the thermostat was developed in the 1960s and is based on the body mass and metabolic rate of the average cisgender dude. Which I guess was fine in the ’60s, when the  majority of office workers fit into that category. Now it’s 2019; the same old formula is still in use; cisgender dudes make up about half of the American officeplace, and the rest of us are freezing.

office cardi 2
The things we do to stay warm around the office…

Continue reading “Finished Crocheted Object: The Cold Office Cardi”