This isn’t personal drama, just the sober realization that I might not make it through this pandemic, just as others have not, and will not. I’m sixty-five. In this country, I (and so very many others) are expendable. It’s not just older people, it’s queer and trans and gender diverse people, and Turtle Island first nations people, and POC, and immigrants caged… poor people, homeless/houseless… Yeah, I try to put all this in perspective, and to be personally stoic but spiritually open to the fact that my “wyrd” may consist of dying alone, without the people I love.
I’m mainly worried about my cats: Popoki, Niblet, Freya, Varda, Keola, Kia’i, and Arya. Who will feed and care for them? Someone do that for me please!
And my kids–they’ll miss me–and any opportunity for closure they may have needed for some of my most stupid child-rearing mistakes will be gone. All the things they wanted to say, all the things I wanted to say… (I love you, I love you, I love you!)
Unless they say my name and light a candle after I’ve gone. Unless they deal with me as an ancestor newly among many, part of a vast company prepared to shower blessings from beyond, as if I’m present to them in another way, and open to healing. The dead can change…
Thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, for the last couple of years I’ve been doing “ancestral medicine” work with my ancestors. My work is not complete but I’ve asked for and then felt healing with most of my stickiest, most painful family quandries (not all, but most). I am at peace with the lineages of my grandmothers and grandfathers. I ask for blessings for my mother (still alive) and for my kids. I’ve even mostly cleansed my relationship with my deceased, neglectful, narcissistic, alcoholic father. I don’t feel love for him, just a kind of pity, and the comfort of not having him as an ever-present, gaping hole in my life. My wounded child is mostly okay now, as far as he goes.
I’m not being morbid. It seems to me that the real work of this liminal waiting time–the time of social lockdowns–is to be spiritually and personally introspective and to make sure that all the relationships that truly matter are cared for in ways that are more forgiving and loving. And to shuck the others that are meaningless or toxic, to wish them well and wave goodbye. Out with the dross. Out with the pointless and thoughtless habits… in with the new, to make a new world. Can I live up to this lofty agenda? I don’t know but I will try. And if I can’t live up to it one hundred percent, I’ll die (eventually) into it.
I’m blessed. Past spiritual teachers of mine have recently come forward with new offerings to the world. Those of us who are clustered around the modern version of flickering firelight–the cold electronic light of our screens (if we’re privileged enough to have them!)–can easily partake. I’m hoping that other offerings of generosity and bravery are showing up beyond the internet: local mutual aid, more food banks, more emergency housing, grocery shopping for seniors and disabled people, and so on.
My affairs are mostly in order. I leave behind cats, books, trinkets, a house, a few bills, and my writing, whenever I do go.
So remember me with forgiveness if you can’t remember me with love. And children, light a candle for me. Find me among our ancestors. Say my name.
The ancestors and the dead are much on my mind these last few days. This is coming up in so many ways.
For one thing, I just began reading Micheal W. Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, which I ordered after reading one of his articles (he writes for The Guardian, among other places). In this book, Twitty explores his ancestry, the connections between American culinary history and chattel slavery, and foods of “the South” (there are many “Souths” and many layers to each). This book is too deep and complex for me to describe it in any way that does justice to it. Just know that it is amazing and we should all buy and read it. (I’m also giving a copy to my youngest son, an aspiring chef.)
“I will examine the process of the construction of the international transracial adoptee as a ‘mimic’ Swede in adoption narratives, and discuss what this mimic identity entails and implies.”
It’s the cruel predicament of the “mimic identity” with all its colonial and racist impositions, as inflicted on foreign adopted children, that makes me wonder if Daniel Foor’s teachings of “ancestral medicine” could be one way some adult adoptees could deal with the emotional impacts of the conditions described in the article. (This train of thought, however, was not within the scope of the article.)
Descendents Also Make Me Think of Ancestors
My two children have their birthdays in the next week and a half. One will turn twenty-three and the eldest will turn thirty. When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I became passionate about genealogy. There was something about gestation that made me long for “roots.” I also wanted to find out more about my own father, a mysterious and elusive “deadbeat dad” (now among the ancestors himself). I spent many hours at the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I tracked some of my father’s movements through city directories of San Diego and Honolulu. I also discovered my connection to many New England families, especially around Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
The good news: it was a lot easier to research my family tree as so much has been done already. (New Englanders seem quite obsessed with ancestry.) The bad news: a direct line to family histories of slave ownership and/or economic benefits from chattel slave economy via cotton trade in the North, as well as complicity in the displacement and genocide of First Peoples. (I’d figured this out in a general way, much earlier in my life, so this wasn’t a complete shock. But now this is more “up close and personal.”)
Every person alive has a complex ancestral history, with villains, heroes, “nobility” and “peasants,” family feuds and bitter wars, all rolled into the coils of their DNA. Our ancestral memories are nightmares. My Scottish Highland ancestors were persecuted by my English ones. Ditto for the Irish and the Welsh. My English ancestors may have suffered at the hands of the Norse ones. How many ancestors died in plague epidemics, wars, and childbirth? And certainly my more recent ancestors were active participants one of the cruelest periods of history–one that is still ongoing.
So while I delight in finding new names for my family tree, it is the delight of a satisfied sleuth, not the delighted pride of ancestry (except for a possible link to Alfonso the Slobberer, a King of Spain, whose nickname does make for a good story…).
So this brings me back again to “ancestral medicine,” a method of healing lineages. The first key premise is that the dead can change, but only with the help of ancient, robust ancestors who are “well and fully seated” (Foor’s language). The other key premise is that the dead can and do enjoy contact with us, the living.
In the method Foor teaches, we begin with a meditative effort to connect with one or more of those fully seated ones. We then ask for help and healing for the lineage, and protection for ourselves while it’s done. We begin to nurture our ties with our ancestors by making offerings or simply talking. We also get out of the way so the wise and ancient ones can bring their healing forward through generations of descendents, all the way to the living and our own descendents. And we continue to nurture our ancestral relationships.
It’s pretty simple and straightforward. One of the beauties is that I don’t have to deal directly with my late father, and you don’t have to deal with your abusive Uncle Roger (or whomever). We can leapfrog over contact with the slave owners and Indian killers–we know they are there–but we don’t have to try to heal their sickness ourselves. We let the wiser ones deal with that. In time, and with our prayers, offerings, and nurturing of ancestral relationships, the ancient ones facilitate a process of (what I imagine is) some kind of responsibility, reconciliation, restitution, forgiveness, and peace.
My Own Lineages
In the last two years, I’ve completed work with three out of my first four lineages (with another four to go). My father’s father’s line (James Marsh, 1854-1938) was the first, and I have to say, is my favorite so far (which surprised me no end). This is the lineage of the “Bright Fathers”–going way back with a sort of flavor that might be Welsh, might be Norse, but is undoubtedly a mixture of all sorts of ancestors. There is a feeling of well-lit halls, feasting, music, jokes, and hardiness. I know, it sounds somewhat stereotypical, but that’s how the first willing ancestor appeared to me. Actually, he wasn’t the “first” I contacted in a light trance. There was a rather dour figure who just pointed me on my way before I “met” up with the Bright Father figure. The dour figure seemed almost “on watch.”
My mother’s mother’s line (Bessie Edmonds Rowell, 1875-1928) came next. In a light guided visualization, I “met” a cluster of fairly silent “River Women” in a landscape of high, mostly unforested hills. Of course, there was a river, and there was a sense of knowledge of water birds and riparian herbs, and the lessons of moving water, but the River Women are not very communicative yet. That’s okay. I haven’t asked them for much either, but I feel comforted by their presence.
The “Watchers and Archers” of my mother’s father’s line (Swift Milne, 1878-1913) were men of the forest. They felt quite ancient, perhaps Pictish, perhaps not. When I first connected with them, one shot an arrow which landed next to me. By picking it up, I signaled that I was asking for communication. This lineage contains some major trauma: my grandfather’s brain tumor, caused by watching the first nuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll; and Swift Milne’s death in the great flu epidemic of 1918. The women and children who survived these deaths had a hard time.
The line now in progress is my father’s mother’s line (Francis Kerwin, 1878 or 79-1953), part of my Irish heritage. I haven’t put in much time with this lineage lately, though I honor it with the all others in my daily rituals. Mostly what I’ve sensed here so far are green hills, standing stones, small houses, and an old woman who flicks away troubles with her cleaning rag. She’s rather “no-nonsense.” There is also a connection to the Celtic Brigid/Brigit, either as her earlier pagan self or later Christian saint or both.
Of the remaining lineages, two were healed without my active request, just due to their proximity to another lineage. The Bright Fathers did work that encompassed the lineage of James Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth Hutt or Houghton. And the River Women did work on the lineage of Bessie’s husband, William Fraser Rea (1876-1941). So that really just leaves me with Swift Milne’s wife, Elizabeth Harding (1880-1974) and her lineage, and the lineage of Henry Baxter Hodson (1868-1943), Francis Kerwin’s husband.
The idea is that we are less likely to unconsciously replicate family traumas and negative family patterns if we’ve accomplished healing for our ancestors. Ideally I would have done this work before having children, but of course that didn’t happen. However at this time of my life, ancestor work has become part of “getting my affairs in order.” Instead of leaving behind a “clean-looking corpse” (James Dean’s quote), I aspire to leave behind a cleaner collection of less problematic lineages so that my kids have less to deal with. It would be great if one of them got interested and began working on their father’s side too. It could happen. Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing, was recently assigned in the master’s program my oldest is attending.
Not Just One Way, But…All Our Ancestral Roads Lead Back to Africa
And so I note that the genealogy of Daniel Foor’s teaching comes from his learning in “European pagan paths, Native American ways, Mongolian shamanism, and West African Ifá/Òrìṣà tradition” and that he is “an initiate of Ifá, Ọbàtálá, Ọ̀ṣun, and Egúngún in the lineage of Olúwo Fálolú Adésànyà Awoyadé of Òdè Rẹ́mọ and student of Yorùbá culture” (from his bio.) Africa…
Obviously the hybrid method Foor teaches isn’t the only way to connect with ancestors. Let’s swing back to Michael Twitty. In his book he combines genealogy, history, and explorations of food and old-time cooking methods. He writes:
“I dare to believe all Southerners are a family…We are the unwitting inheritors of a story with many sins that bears the fruit of the possibility of ten times the redemption. One way is through reconnection with the culinary culture of the enslaved, our common ancestors, and restoring their names on the roots of the Southern tree and the table those roots support” (preface, xvii).
If that’s not a quest for healing–ancestral healing–I don’t know what is. And here I imagine what a lovely and potent thing it could be to go as far back as our Mitochondrial Eve, and implore her good offices in sending her healing to the rest of us, her unruly children, down through the long millenia.
In addition to other practical and spiritual benefits of doing this work, I’m not likely to have grandchildren. So why not end my own ancestral story with healing of all those who have gone before, and with a healing extended to my kids, the very last descendents?
I wish I could be there myself to marvel at how these two will weave together their teachings and their own inate wisdom, along with the contributions shared by the workshop participants, but I have surgery coming up. Instead I will marvel from afar!
Daniel Foor interviews Kumu Ramsay in this video, just posted a few days ago. Please watch it to get a feeling for the two teachers and for a sample of the vast, yet intimate, terrain which may be covered.
Podcasts and audio interviews with Daniel Foor may be heard here.
I am also quite happy to signal boost this event as Dr. Foor is quite sensitive and responsive to issues of colonization, cultural appropriation, privilege, and social justice. He is a humble man and has spoken honestly about the hard learnings that come when approaching another culture or spiritual tradition.
From the workshop announcement and registration page:
“We acknowledge this event is taking place on the occupied ancestral lands of diverse Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) peoples. We encourage participants to become educated on the history of the land, including the illegal occupation of Hawai’i, and to support Hawaiian-run organizations working to support traditional wisdoms and cultural wellness.”
Signal Boost Two: And Now Please Support the Pu’uhonua o Waia’nae community.
The organizers of the above workshop encourage people to support Hawaiian-run organizations. Since the workshop is being held in Wai’anae, a community on the west side of O’ahu, what better place to start than Pu’uhonua O Waia’nae! (A pu’uhonua is a place of refuge.)
From the website: “Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae not just the oldest and largest houseless village on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu, but a visionary laboratory for community that I think holds significant importance for all of us.”
You can donate to Pu’uhonua O Waia’nae here. Your donation will help to purchase land and other necessary things for the Kanaka Maoli who are creating a “place of refuge” and ongoing community in Wai’anae.
Because I am willing to write and talk about the unknown, the unseen, and the inexplicable, many people in my life have told me tales of transformative incidents–often spontaneous, often happening outside a specific spiritual context or structure. Things happen. The clouds part, the rock speaks, the ancestors beckon, the spirit descends…or erupts! Yesterday I sat in a homey Lake County cafe–nothing pretty or upscale about it–eating (rather greasy) hashbrowns and one egg. (The salsa was good, though!) I was with a new friend and collaborator and we began to tell chicken-skin stories. Originally our topic had been the Norse gods, specifically Odin and Thor, but we soon branched off into personal epiphanies and occurences.
All over the world, people have these experiences. Some talk about them, some don’t. Some, like me, blog about them. But it took me years to get the nerve to do it.
Several years ago I began to see certain incidents in my life as signposts, perhaps planted by me before I was born. (I know, sounds weird). But there have been too many incidents, too many coincidences, to not have developed this odd little personal philosophy. Trouble is, do the signposts mean “go thataway” or “make a U turn, now?” Do they appear at entries or exits? Or both? This is a problem in discernment.
As a self-proclaimed witchy person, I have to admit I just haven’t been drawn to Goetic demons. I’ve been more interested in other categories of beings, mostly in Celtic and Northern traditions. But I know people who work with the demons, like them, revere them, and who are respectful of them. And I am respectful of the knowledge and advice of these friends.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, the word “demon” has instant negative connotations of evil. They are imagined as horrifying, malicious, and perilous. But the original meaning of the word was more often positive or neutral. In Ancient Greek daimōn meant spirit or genius, or a kind of guardian spirit. In Latin, daemon or daemonium could mean deity or a lesser spirit (sometimes evil).
Now, there are forms of peril probably attached to most kinds of magic, just as there’s peril associated with all aspects of life in general. It doesn’t do to be stupid or naively romantic about motorists, food expiration dates, or unseen beings. I look both ways when I cross the street, so when I stumbled across this Goetic signpost in the middle of my Lokean life, I started looking both ways (as well as four directions, up and down, and inside and out). And of course I utilized my trusty search engines and pendulum to discover more.
So, I found info like this: Amy is number 58 in the roster of Goetic demons, is a fallen angel (therefore in Lucifer’s camp), and is an Earl or President of Hell. Amy also rules mediumship and possession, other forms of trance work (I’m a hypnotist), and likes snakeskin offerings. (I immediately thought of my gold snakeskin ankle boots from the 80s, carefully preserved, worn on stage during an Iggy Pop concert at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco…). And there was a bunch of other stuff I don’t understand, not being familiar with this tradition.
And here I pause to giggle to myself. I never liked the name “Amy.” My mother said she named me after Amy March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But now I dig it. I much prefer the idea that my mother was unconsciously and mystically prompted to name her firstborn after a Goetic demon–one who is sure to share my taste in boots–than the rather spoiled little sister of the peerless Jo March. Actually, the above could explain a lot about my dysfunctional upbringing and social difficulties.
Though I now have some information about the Goetic Amy, I have no idea yet what it means in the context of witchery, my mostly Northern devotional practices, and my life. Of course I check in with Loki (via pendulum and divination). The response is cautious/positive about my learning more, but the pendulum swing says they “get along.”
And there may be an ancestral connection as well. My context is the Ancestral Medicine practice from Daniel Foor. In his teaching, one of the discoveries we can make about our lineages are the spiritual traditions which were/are important for those ancestors, including those from pre-Christian times. For example, my father’s father’s line seems connected to Norse traditions and even to Loki. Another example: I recently started working with my father’s mother’s lineage. The Irish/Celtic Brigit showed up as being important here, which makes sense because this line brings my Irish ancestry. As a result, I’ve begun to add Brigit to my daily devotions. So it may be that the Goetic Amy was important to one or more of my ancestors. I’ve got some divinatory indications for that but they are too vague to say any more at this time.
So I’m giggling again. “Amy? It’s a family name.” And honestly, if this demon is known as a “president from hell,” he can’t be any worse than the one that’s currently seated you know where.
My life has been spent experiencing and responding to epiphanies. There have been many. Sometimes they have created massive upheaval. Other times they simply add understanding and nuance to what I’m already learning. Back in my punk rock phase, at the time when I was shifting into my feminist space activist mode (1980’s), I was suddenly struck by the epiphany of feeling myself as an “ancestor” in the making, as a link in a chain of being (though I didn’t have children yet). This prompted the making of two issues of a ‘zine, Young Ancestors, which I wrote and illustrated.
By the end of that decade I was married and expecting my first child. During my pregnancy I spent countless hours doing genealogical research in the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I had a deep spiritual hunger to know my people before bringing another life into the world. My mother’s lines were easy to research as there were dozens of early New England ancestors and tons of books and records. (New Englanders are apparently obsessed with genealogy.) My father’s people were harder to find as many of them were newer arrivals from Ireland and Wales. But I was able to track my missing father and some of his family through city directories in the midwest and San Diego. By the time my first child was born, I had a pretty good grasp of my genealogy, with some lines traced as far back as the 1300’s and more.
I found marvelous books which gave me scads of dead relatives, such as The Descendents of Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. My mother even had a two volume copy of Michigan Pioneers, which gave me the abolitionist Swifts who helped to settle Palmyra, NY and then Flint, MI. I found Richard and Elizabeth Warren of the Mayflower. I had Rowells from Candia and Orford, NH. I found so many ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany–many of them settler-colonists who were most assuredly conveying a heritage of atrocities such as Indian genocide and African chattel slavery. Though my understanding of this heritage has deepened over the years, even at that time I was aware that my genealogical chart held horrible secrets and privileges gained at the expense of others. Still, I was eager for the knowledge of “my people” even as I rued their deeds.
Later I would also do a bit of research into my (now ex-) husband’s family tree, to learn more about the heritage that my children shared. My mother also was bitten by the genealogy bug, but some of what she’s logged within Ancestry.com is confused and confusing, and possibly contaminated by sketchy, not well-documented work of others.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that I started actively working my ancestors, thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, Ph.D., and his book Ancestral Medicine–Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. I also took his first online course in Ancestral Medicine. These content-rich classes have enabled me to connect with my ancestors in a dynamic way–requesting healing for each great-grandparent lineage from very distant “well and truly seated” ancestors who are capable of assisting the more recent dead to release inflicted and experienced traumas. This is truly healing work and also meshes well with my Norse-infused spiritual practices, as ancestors are quite important in these (reconstructed) traditions. Foor encourages working with the least messy line first, then moving gradually to the ones which are more traumatized.
Daniel Foor’s methods enable me to leapfrog over dozens of traumatized generations in order to make contact with much earlier “well and robust” ancestors, in order to bring healing to the generations who have experienced and/or inflicted more recent horrors of conquest, religious conversion, warfare, genocide, torture, disapora, starvation, plague, and slavery, as well as personal family traumas (abuse, suicide, alcoholism, divorce, neglect, etc.). “The dead can change” is a fundamental concept here. I experience Foor’s work as a form of ho’oponopono (see below), resulting in forgiveness and healing (though not forgetfulness).
This is also an opportunity to create an active, ongoing relationship with my ancestors. As I do so, I learn more about the blessings and gifts of each lineage. I have a daily routine of offering poems and acknowledgement to my ancestors and a weekly practice of making other sorts of offerings. I speak with them also, thanking them and asking them for blessings for me and my children.
At present, I have completed the initial stages with three lineages, and have just begun working on a fourth (my father’s mother’s line). There will be a total of eight in all. During the ritual meditations and imaging, lead by Daniel Foor via video in the online course, I have made contact with either individual ancestors or clusters of ancestors. Each line has a very distinct “flavor.”
The contact in my father’s father’s line is someone I call “Bright Father.” He seems to radiate a robust golden joy, a “feasting in the hall” sort of presence. He “told” me (via meditative journeying and pendulum divination) that his line “comes from the stars,” perhaps from Sirius. This is the most Nordic-feeling line so far, but there is also some link to Wales and a long wide beach backed by hills or mountains. I have a strong feeling of poetry, song, and stories from this line. Incidently, several months ago Loki agreed to function as an ancestor for me and he has since indicated that he is connected to this line.
My mother’s mother’s line yielded a group of mysterious “River Women” and a feeling of a mountain landscape with few trees, perhaps the Scottish highlands (or perhaps not). They are more remote and quiet and I probably have to do more work to cultivate my relationship with them, to learn more from and about them. The River Women feel quite witchy to me.
My mother’s father’s line manifested as several “Watchers and Archers” in a forest. One of them shot an arrow at me when I first approached. The arrow was meant to land next to me (not in me) and when I picked it up in my mind’s eye, I held it aloft to make my request for healing. I felt these particular ancestors may have been Pictish. The main feeling I experience with them is a sort of wariness, though they are also willing to work with me on the lineage healing.
I have written poems for each of these three lines and I recite them daily. Now I am in the process of writing a fourth. My father’s mother’s line has a lot of Irish and it seems the most mysterious for some reason. I also have a strong sense that Brigid is important (both as a pagan goddess and later as the saint). During one of the meditation journeys, the phrase and image of “Brigid of the long blue dress” appeared in my mind. There is much more work I need to do with this lineage and it is possible that I’ll be adding Brigid to my devotions.
I am devoted to this process of ancestral medicine as a way to help my children heal from residual trauma in my own lineages. (They’ll have to cope with their father’s stuff themselves.) It is also a way to prepare for my own death and transition. It feels like a developmentally appropriate work.
Years ago, I studied the Hawaiian process of Ho’oponopono with Kumu (teacher) Ramsay Taum, of O’ahu. I helped to organize two weekend workshops for him in Berkeley, and also took the workshop once more on Maui. (If you google “ho’oponopono,” please do NOT take the Joe Vitale method as being in any way authentic–it is an appropriated and commodified travesty of the traditional practices.)
When I began working with Daniel Foor’s methods, I quickly saw that this was a form of forgiveness and healing as profound as what I’d learned with ho’oponopono–and also quite complementary in intention and method. Through both methods, one can reach back through time and forward into the future, effecting subtle but powerful changes in spiritual and ancestral realms.
In this video of Ramsay Taum, talking about the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, which he teaches as well as ho’oponopono, there is also a discussion of our relationships with our ancestors. Ramsay Taum says:
“We have to make sure that everyone is in alignment…and when you’re out of alignment, when you step away from your kuleana, your responsibility and obligations, your ancestors have no identity because the line stops with you, see? So when you’re lost and you’re out of balance and you step away from your responsibilities and from your place in community then interesting enough your ancestors, your line stops, there’s no more future… Everything that they’ve [ancestors] done–good, bad, or indifferent–we own that and they’ve created that space and we’re now standing at the end of the line and we just follow their footsteps. And the challenge for us living in today’s society is that you know we say that, ‘I’m following in the footsteps of our ancestors. I take comfort in that. I take pride in that.’ But when we get to the end where they stopped it’s beholden upon us to take the next step for the next generation. It takes individuals who are standing at the edge of the line to walk, to take the next step because now our ancestors, their legacy lives on through our steps, but more importantly we are now setting direction for the next generation. So when I step back in line, now I am giving my descendents identity… Our daily practice should include that meditation, that thought, what will my great grandchildren, seven generations from now, say about us, about me, what did I do? So that really speaks to kuleana.”
Working within the methods of ancestral medicine and ho’oponopono, I do truly own what my ancestors have done but take steps to cleanse the residual trauma–allowing the dead to change and reach their full potential as ancestors. That seems to me to be part of my own kuleana. And when I do this, I can walk without hesitation, transforming the path ahead now that the previous “footsteps” have been healed and cleansed.
As I once realized that I was an ancestor in the making, doing this makes perfect sense. With this practice, perhaps I can ease the path ahead for my own descendents, releasing them from the burdens of ancestral traumas.
Sometimes snark is where I park, but I’m less and less enamored with those who consistently bludgeon others with harsh verbal assessments, in the name of whatever. I prefer civil discourse, manners, tact, and even wit. Part of this is personal preference, part is professional training. And in a time when so much communication takes place on the internet, without the complexities and subtext of nonverbal and visual cues, I believe it behooves us to weigh our words and how we wield them.
I have a book of Hawaiian proverbs, called ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, collected by the great scholar Mary Kawena Pukui. Here is one that has always stayed with me:
I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make.
Pukui’s translation: Life is in speech, death is in speech.
Ahapunanaleo.org translation: In the language is life. In the language is death.
The meaning of both translations is clear: “Words can heal; words can destroy.”
My copy of ‘Ōlelo No‘eau was given to me by my ho’oponopono kumu (teacher), Ramsay Taum of O’ahu. Ho’oponopono is a traditional conflict resolving and forgiveness ritual (please avoid the appropriated and commodified version sold by white people). Kumu Taum gave the book to me as a gift for helping to pull together a workshop for him in Berkeley, CA, many long years ago. He inscribed it with words that are also good to review:
E ho’oulu i ke no’ono’o ke kino a me ka uhane.
Protect, preserve and care for life.
Right now, as I write, I am seated in front of my living room window. Mt. Konocti has been obscured by mist but blue sky patches are beginning to appear and parts of the mountain are being revealed. The mist also loves to move close to the surface of the lake, so I can see it gliding (north west?) above it just a block away, beyond the nearby trees I see clearly. I know that the pelican flocks, egrets and other water birds are feeling that same mist glide over their feathers as they sit in the water.
And at the moment, I am one mixed up human being, trying to make sense of people and where I am. I am hoping for a little mist removal of my own. I feel it glide over my eyes as I strain for vision.
In Hawai’i, which has a people and a culture colonized and brutalized by folks like me, I did not find the life I was hoping for, a happy ending with a great love, a life which was filled with people who lived with such proverbs and thoughts in their heart. Yes, a few people do live that way, but overall I was mostly conscious of my own intrusion, my own lack of suitability there. I was mostly lonely, always homesick, and often in truly deep despair. I could not feel cared for, though I tried to care for others. And spiritually, the message (which I had to accept with good grace and a sense of the inevitable) was “go back to your ancestors.”
(And the “great love?” It was pau. Unknown to me, it had run most of its course before I even arrived on Hawai’i island.)
Sitting in my jungle home, I got the message at last. I prepared my departure. I set aside the Pele chant I’d been learning and offering in my final months in Hawai’i. I took rocks that had been given to me by that Hawaiian love and gave them back to the land, with discreet ceremonies of thanks. I placed some of those rocks in the Ahalanui Warm Ponds, now covered by last year’s lava flow. Pele took them back in truth, just as she took back the delicate little lava tube fragment that had been taken by Michael Rossman, and which I also returned to that area after his death.
So in the last quarter of 2017 I left Hawai’i in a financially devastating and physically brutal manner. I settled here in Lake County, CA. My body still suffers damage from the physical exertion of packing up an entire house, alone. Parts of my heart are still in tatters. But I took the inevitable beating knowing that a fresh adventure awaited. I just didn’t know how lonely–and yet rewarding–this next phase would be.
Since my return, I’ve been working with a few deities in the Norse pantheon, as well as exploring the “ancestral medicine” (lineage healing work) offered by Daniel Foor, which I have mentioned so often in this blog. I am learning as much as I can. The Norse heritage and traditions, described as “hyper-masculine” by Jackson Crawford? They’re brutal, man!
I turn again to proverbs to try to show you what I mean. Instead of e aloha kekahi i kekahi (love one another), the “Havamal” (known as “The Counsel of Odin” in The Poetic Edda) says: “Do not sleep in the arms of a sorceress or else she will lock your limbs” (113) (Jackson Crawford’s 2015 translation, which I have at last).
(And here I am, steeped in witchery, oathed now to Loki the “mother of witches!”)
Now obviously I’ve just cherry-picked two proverbs to illustrate differences between two wildly different cultures. However the ancient Hawaiian culture was not all sweetness and light and aloha. There’s plenty of snark in ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: “Kamali’i hupe kole” means “runny-nosed brats” (1471). A lazy person is said to be “huli ke alo i luna, helu i ka ‘a’aho”–“lying face up and counting the rafters” (1141). And the bone-breaking Hawaiian martial art known as Lua (also taught by Kumu Ramsay Taum) sometimes uses shark tooth weapons. It’s brutal, man!
And the Northern traditions are not without moderation and kindness. There are parts of the Havamal which counsel mindful speech: “you will often get repayment in kind for the words you speak to others” (65). There’s even an echo of the Hawaiian view on the death-dealing power of language: “I saw a bad woman’s words bite a man in the neck–a lying tongue was his death and not even with good cause” (118).
So I ponder, wondering why I am drawn to both these traditions, among others. How do I reconcile my deep craving for community aloha with steely notions of personal honor and individualism? In some ways, it comes down to a sense of psychic temperture. Hawaiian traditions seem “warm,” even the less pleasant parts. Norse traditions seem “cold”–even when hospitable and pleasant.
Hawaiians have a multi-layered tradition of language, known as kaona. As you can see by the examples above, language that is multi-layered and allusive is just as apt as blunt, unadorned statements. And yet the Norse also have a tradition of kennings, poetic and fanciful names for most of their deities which contrast with the stark advice offered in the Havamal.
But as a counselor who uses hypnosis in my work, I am also quite aware of the power of language, how it can impact people consciously, unconsciously, and somatically. Some people respond well to authoritarian commands and direct suggestions. Some will only respond well to indirect suggestions and permissive language. I am the latter person. An authoritarian command brings out my aggression, not compliance.
Words can trigger states of sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight) or lull us back into a calmer parasympathetic nervous system state (sometimes known as “rest and digest” or “feed and breed”). But mostly, people seem to listen better when they are calmer and don’t feel under attack.
In other words, an allusive (and slightly humorous) comment about “counting the rafters” might be more effective in getting a languid teen to take out the garbage than a sharp remark about “lazy bones,” which might cause resistance and defensiveness.
Because I’ve seen the effects of language in a professional capacity, I don’t recommend blunt force verbal trauma applied to a person or a situation in the name of honesty or “tough love.” I think that “tough love” can only work when the people involved have an established intimacy–family, close friends, lovers–so that the reality of truly committed caring is what enables the troubled person to hear the stark truth. That caring will come through nonverbal and visual cues, to soften the pain of the words.
I do believe in the necessity of stark truths, yes, but how these truths are conveyed can vary. Stark truths can be delivered with surgical precision and timing, with compassion and empathy based on how much that person is capable of hearing and listening in that moment. Otherwise, what remains may be emotions of shame, embarrassment or anger and not the important truth that needed to be heard or acted upon.
In some cases, language which is too blunt may be received as aggressive and uncaring. This is a good article about the effects of aggressive and/or abusive language. The article references studies which show “the circuitry for physical and emotional pain appears to be the same” and also that “the effect of verbal aggression is greater than the expression of love.”
All things considered, I feel that erring on the side of caring or indirect language is generally a more responsible and effective way to communicate.
A Perfect Case for Ho’oponopono
I know that most people have said stupid and hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. My “love affair” with Hawai’i and with a particular person there ended with a last example of words meant to “kill.”
There were a few days at the end of last year when I actually thought we would reconcile, under somewhat different circumstances. During that time I confided about my new spiritual path and how rewarding I was finding it. But when it became obvious that reconciliation was not going to happen after all, it was painful. My former love, a life-long opponent of the “blood quantum” policies that adversely affected him and many Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiians), declared that his kids, who are part Scandinavian, have more blood-right to my current spiritual practices than I do, because they have more Scandinavian DNA. It was probably the strangest and most unexpected parting shot I could have imagined.
It makes me wonder how he could have put up with me for all those years, when my interest in supporting Hawaiian causes and learning about the culture was so keen? I had no “koko” (Hawaiian blood) but he used to acknowledge and even praise my spiritual connection to Hawai’i. He encouraged it and it also formed a basis for our own relationship. But that connection certainly had no foundation in my DNA!
That parting shot was made of words designed to kill–to kill my self-confidence and my self-esteem. To make me ashamed. To make me feel a fraud. And to make me pay for leaving him. However, since I am strong with my practices and strong with my patron deity, Loki, nothing died as I read those words except my belief in this man as a someone who truly lived by his stated convictions, his word. Otherwise, he would have respected the honor of my path just as I had always respected his.
And so, after this long ramble, I wish one thing. I wish that we would save our harshest words for those who are truly our enemies and that for the rest of the people who touch our lives (even ex-lovers and people on social media and those who make us feel impatient or annoyed), that we use speech that is thoughtful, kind, tender, and face-saving, even as we must sometimes deliver a stark truth. Because we can make life with our words, or death.
Let’s all try a little tenderness. And I’ll go make some ho’oponopono…
When I was little, I could get lost in the rain, the waves, the sparkle of dew on the park’s grassy lawn. Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove brought me face to face with moray eels and the neon-bright children of garibaldi, California’s state fish. Sunrises and sunsets, and that sad time before both, were numinous moments for me. Anything that emerged from the fog was…magic!
And then I grew away from all that, reaching instead toward that which seemed bright and glittering and adult. And then later, all that which was in reality tarnished, ironic, and dystopian. I drew strange pictures in pen and ink, created costumes of vinyl and electrical tape, and always dreamt vividly.
Later, as a new wife and mother, the immense mystery of gestation, birth, and the unfolding of child spirit and development consumed my interest. Nothing has ever been as remarkable and humbling as this. And I worked with a will at the (usually thankless) household and parenting tasks in spite of my chronic illnesses. And I tried to bring “magic” into my children’s lives through books and special occasions.
My own longing for a sacred homeland of imagination and spirit remained. By the time I hit my early 40s, all of these submerged capacities and longings for sacred experience came busting out in a series of absurd spiritual epiphanies. I’ve written about some of them elsewhere (here and here). Some, like my Hawaiian experiences, I haven’t chronicled yet.
Today, December 15th, is actually the second anniversary of my final divorce decree. I bring that up because my marriage was so very “secular” and when the spiritual stuff came bashing through, I was embarrassed to confide in my husband. And when I finally did, well, we just didn’t understand each other anymore. I tried at one point to engage him with tantra. That was a huge failure. The rift worsened. Neither of us was capable of mending what we’d once had.
For a long time, Hawai’i was a spiritual beacon for me. That’s because those islands are so alive (so conversational!) and what remains of the cultural traditions are so wise. But while I was attempting to be true to the astonishing things and connections that happened to me there, I was also aware of how alien I was to the place. I still don’t know why I went through what I did in Hawai’i instead of having some Celtic or Norse deity call me home. But I do know that my contact with the Hawaiian islands (mostly Maui and Hawai’i Island) brought out my full desire to live daily in a sense of the sacred, to cultivate practices and relationships which would be grounding and numinous. I tried a lot of things to try to get to that place.
Once my marriage was truly over, and the paperwork was filed with a judge, I moved to Hawai’i island, Moku o Keawe, for nineteen months. Unknowingly, I moved to an area that used to be known for fearsome sorcery. The island kicked my`okole and though I tried to stay pono (appropriate, balanced) there, I was in reality a’ole pono (off balance) pretty much the whole time. I was surprised by this, as I’d prayed for years and asked permission to move there. I thought I had been granted that permission, finally, or I wouldn’t have gone. (So maybe this was a case of spirit saying, “Yeah, sure. Come on over–and then we’ll kick your ass back to California!).
I was immensely homesick for my children. I developed pervasive social anxiety. I was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.” I was frequently suicidal. And in the midst of all the turmoil (which also included the sad souring of a long-term, long-distance relationship), I was learning some important lessons. The islands were now turning me firmly toward my own ancestors and heritage. The message seemed to be, “Okay, you’ve hung out with us long enough, now go back to your own.” And that’s when I began to seriously study witchery and western magic and create a regular, daily practice of devotion and gratitude.
Finally, I was establishing a daily connection to the sacred. In a way, Hawai’i midwifed this birth for me. Magic was saving my life.
Once back in California, I continued to study magic and also took up the learning and practices of “ancestral medicine” (based on Daniel Foor’s work). I began to explore devotional work with a few Norse deities, first Frey, then Freya and Gerda. (Loki came later.) I also began to acknowledge and make offerings to the local wights and ancestors as a “thank you for letting me be here” practice. (I’m on Pomo land and I know a bit about the brutal history of this place.)
I could never go back to the merely secular life, ever again. Through magic study, mystic experiences, and devotional practices, I’ve been able to bring my child self home and simultaneously face growing old and older, and to view my eventual death in a balanced way. If I ever have another intimate human partner in my life, that person will have to be someone who already shares similar values and approaches to the sacred side of life.
And the close relationships I have with my ancestors, guides, and deities–particularly my patron Loki–will never be neglected or set aside. This is the stuff of life to me now.
I want to describe what I like about solitary, eclectic witchery. I just had a lengthy text session with a very old friend, where I was attempting to describe the how and why of what I’m doing now. Texting is inadequate for that kind of conversation so now I’m thinking, why not just write a blog about this? (As if I needed an excuse to blog!)
I was a weird kid, and a weirder teenager, okay? I read widely in occult and Eastern metaphysics literature when I was a teen, and at various points in my later life. But I had to admit that as a teen, the closest I ever got to working a spell was taking a piece of spearmint gum, shoving it between two banana halves, wrapping it all in foil and burying it in the back yard for two weeks, then digging it up. No incantations. No nothing. I was solely in pursuit of intoxication (chewing the banana infused gum–hey, the next artisan delicacy!) because one of my best friends assured me all the kids in Berkeley did this to get high.
And even with all the years of all sorts of woo weirdness (some of it chronicled elsewhere in this blog), I didn’t approach a determined study of magic and witchcraft until 2016, when I was living in Hawai’i and I began my first fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. In my elevator speech, this is “a tale of mid-life magic.” It’s what happens when a bunch of Elves show up at a post-hippie/post-punk commune in Hawai’i and a group of middle-aged (and older) people discover they are heirs to a magical legacy. They have to learn magic real, real quick too because (surprise!): bad guys. So because I was writing about magic and witchery, I had to learn about it. And to learn about it, I had to plunge myself into it, as any good Scorpio would.
Yes, magic has become a consuming special interest. No one who knows me well is surprised by this. I am always consumed by one thing or another.
“Magic is the art and science of influencing change to occur in conformity to will.”– Jason Miller.
This is one of my favorite descriptions of magic. I think the source is this Down at the Crossroads interview with Miller. I have two of his books, The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery and Sex, Sorcery, and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic. I recommend them both. Here’s his website.
Turns out learning the rudiments of magical theory and practice was a lifesaver as well. So good for my mental health, which was seriously eroding in the aftermath of a divorce, a sadly souring love affair, separation from my children, and the election of 2016. I began my research with a Magic in the Middle Ages course from the University of Barcelona and offered through Coursera.
My first actual “how to” witchcraft education came through Ariel Gatoga’s online Witch’s Primer and DCW lectures. Ariel, with his delightful personality and well-organized wisdom, got me through some very bad moments and helped me to muster the courage to move back to California from Hawai’i. However, all his podcast links on the internet have been corrupted or have vanished, so you can only find working links to his material here. This is a treasure trove for beginners. I am not kidding.
The Down at the Crossroads podcast, hosted by Christopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire, has also been a fantastic source of information and inspiration. I’ve bought many books after hearing interviews with authors on that show. I also cannot wait to get my hands on their first book, Besom, Stang & Sword: A Guide to Traditional Witchcraft, the Six-Fold Path & the Hidden Landscape. I pre-ordered. Release date is December 1st.
Of course, I now range widely through books and the internet in pursuit of tips, tricks, lore, and history, but as a witchy autodidact, my larnin’ is sketchy on such topics as Crowley and the OTO, variations of Wicca, and so on.
However, I’m a solitary practitioner, partly by nature and partly due to disability, which is really a bore. I haven’t gone to a single Northern CA spiral dance (don’t wanna suffer from airborne essential oils) or a Reclaiming Witch Camp (camp=woods=mosquito repellent). I haven’t even made it to a PantheaCon! (It’s not just the multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness stuff that gets in my way. I also need a good cat-sitter.)
So what do I do all by my lonesome? Here’s a general outline.
Daily and Weekly Routine: a daily “energy” exercise and meditation practice for health and will power, plus devotional practices and offerings to my deities (Loki, Freya, Frey, and Gerda), ancestors, and guides. Food offerings to ancestors and land wights take place once a week, usually.
I’m pretty much a slacker when it comes to witchy celebrations, except for Samhain. If I had some other folks in my life who did this stuff, I’d probably enjoy this.
Divination: Learning Tarot and Norse Runes (very much a beginner). I use the pendulum often for certain kinds of check-ins.
Current Studies and Magical Interests: Ongoing ancestral lineage healing, as per Daniel Foor; cultivating relationships with unseen beings and ecologies (Aidan Wachter and his book, Six Ways-Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic, is a good influence here); and “charming” daily life, infusing it with magic (you can listen to Ariel Gatoga’s A Charmed Life podcast here). I’m currently learning practical spellcraft techniques such as sigil magic, witch jar spells, and solo sex magic. Plus, I’m an avid learner with regard to Loki and my other deities.
So, that’s the basic gist. Does this make me a bad or delusional person? I think not. It’s actually quite a wonderful pursuit for my declining years. Since I’m no longer a “young chick” (a term I never embraced, but ex-lovers have used), it’s kind of great to be transforming into an “old witch.” Especially if I could find a spell that would let me rock a spangly red costume like the one at right.
If you’re a fellow practitioner, would love a comment!
“Putting the fun back in dysfunctional,” was how one of my brothers use to refer to our family. But it’s been at least a couple of decades since anything even resembling “fun” has happened between my mother, sister(s), and brothers. And the family I created, with a husband and two kids, has evaporated as well, though ties with my adult children remain strong.
In the early 2000s I took up a “cleansing and forgiveness” practice, taught by a very reputable person, and have used it off and on to deal with much of the family crud, trying hard to metabolize the poisons of resentment and unfair treatment. But it’s been clear for a long time that this was not enough: I and other family members have been replicating old patterns that predate our birth. It’s the same old story, told over and over again, until someone writes a new one.
“Writing a new one” has been my deepest focus these last few years. How to do it has been elusive.
So in October 2017, I was delighted to find Daniel Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine. I was so impressed with the book and his online lectures and blog that I signed up for his online course in healing ancestral lineages. I’ve since “worked with” deeply archaic ancestors of two grandparent lines (paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother) to heal the troubles of the more recent dead and, in Daniel Foor’s terminology, “bring the blessings of that lineage” into my own life and that of my children. I’ve got to say I do feel a difference as I cultivate relationships with these grandparent lineages (the focus is less on individuals, more on the collective).
I am now working on a third lineage, my mother’s father’s line. I have just begun to apply the ritual sequences and format for engagement suggested by Dr. Foor.
Part of this work is to metabolize and transform family histories and patterns of poisoning.
On my mother’s side, my grandfather was exposed to radiation during the nuclear testing off Bikini Atoll. It killed him (via a brain tumor). Let’s remember that radiation experiments were being performed on Pacific Islanders during that time (Nuclear Savage documentary) and that Micronesians and others are still suffering the multi-generational health problems from the testing and “research”, incuding cancers and birth defects, as well as the contamination and loss of their ancestral homes–so tragic as my grandfather’s fate was, my family got off relatively lightly.
My late Aunt Mary’s twin, Jamie, died as an infant apparently from eating poison thrown into the backyard by a neighbor, originally meant for the dog.
On my father’s side, there was another infant poisoning. He was apparently careless with a pesticide and the baby got into it. (His third wife took it hard.) Plus, he worked as a cropduster for several years, during the first years of his marriage to my mother (his second wife and second “child bride”). It is no wonder that my mother and I both deal with environmental illness now, after those early and frequent exposures to pesticide residues and particulates. I note that my father also dealt with a brain tumor in his last years.
Like an underground river of molten lava, emotional poisons also run through my family’s history and current dynamics: resentment, lies, assumptions, envy, backstabbing… all there.
So going to the source–the quite archaic but much “healthier” ancestors–and asking for their help makes sense. Can’t hurt, could help, right?
In a recent attempt to organize my rather slipshod and eclectic collection of pagan practices and devotional offerings, I’ve dubbed Saturday as “Ancestor Day.” Sundays are for my Vanir/Jotun deities. Loki gets extra attention on Tuesdays as my fulltrui (“fully trusted one”) and adopted ancestor. As I wrote in a previous blog, part of the lore of Loki also includes a story of poisoning as a punishment. As a spiritual practice, I am dimly sensing a need to create ritual which deals with this part of Loki’s lore, as well as my own.
I have read of a practice called “Holding the Bowl,” in which some devotional Lokeans meditatively hold a bowl for a period of time, as Loki’s second wife, Sigyn, does, to collect the poison dripping on to Loki from the snake. Here is one beautiful account of this ritual.
According to astrology, I may be predisposed to this kind of work. In my blog post, To the Stars, I mention how astrologer/activist Caroline Casey identified a theme of “metabolizing poisons by conjuring the antidote” as a key focus of my astrological chart.
So, the challenge is to “conjure the antidote” as a way to transform and “metabolize” these histories of poison. One way to do that is via Daniel Foor’s collaborative work with ancient ancestors to bring healing to an entire lineage. In addition, I could find or create rituals that conjure forgiveness instead of resentment; generosity instead of envy. I want to consider and conjure these antidotes carefully. When it feels appropriate, I will use forms of divination to get advice.
Let’s see what happens. Can’t hurt, could help.
Are you a fellow traveller? Please chime in! “Like and comment” too!