Mar
1
2021

Prompts and Practices for Accompanying the Beloved Dead

For Grievers – Practices for Soul & Spirit

My current project is a series of pieces woven of memoir, poems, and actionable tips for cultivating a loving flow between the living and the dead. The excerpt comes from the 3rd essay in the series, 49 Days and the Green Door of Death. The full essay with stories about how I found my way to these practices is available as downloadable PDF. 

HOW TO OBSERVE 49 DAYS

Traditions from across time and cultures convey to us that death is a journey. It has passages and stages that the Dead undertake. but that we, the Living, have a role to play as well. In Buddhism, the dead are accompanied for 49 days or 7 weeks of 7 days. Cross-culturally—from the Dogon of African to the medieval alchemists of Europe—7 is a number of completeness and perfection. In full piece, I offer a metaphor for where the dead arrive at the end of their accompaniment: The Green Door of Death which does not cut them off from us in life but initiates them into a death that can be fertile. The Door is opened with Love.

Thanks to Sande Gendel for this wonderful image.

CALCULATE

You could consider the day of death as day 0, and the next day starts the counting. But calculating is not the important part of the practice; it is just a steady place to start from when confronted with the upheaval of Death. Counting days from 1 to 49 is still on our skill list—probably. If you make a mistake—forget a number, for example—don’t worry. The mistake is fertile, brings you somewhere you wouldn’t have gone on your own, which perhaps is just what you need.

I offer that you can start this practice any time. Jump into week 3 of observance and follow to the end if the news of someone’s death is delayed in getting to you. The 49 day observance could happen years afterward if you feel your Beloved Dead could use the support or you would be nurtured by the ritual.

There is really no expiration date on the 49 days. Our beloveds are in eternity, afterall. They are beyond time. They are waiting for us to arrive when the time is right.

CLAIM

The busy world will not support you. In today’s mainstream culture, we do not pause much for death. You will have to claim and protect some space for your observances in each day. Take as much as you can, and don’t worry if it turns out to be less than you want. The intention and making a connection are what is important.

To keep on track, it is very helpful to have a set time, regular place, and specific practice. This becomes a container for all that arises.

Even if you have only a few dedicated moments a day, you could, for example, upon waking sit on the edge of your bed, maybe look out a window, and say aloud or within yourself a prayer, a poem, or a song (sung or the words recited). Your words don’t have to be particularly spiritual and certainly not religious. Pick something that is meaningful to you and your beloved, and let whatever is chosen indicate your accompaniment of them in this time of transition.

If you have a practice that you already do regularly—taking a daily walk, sitting in meditation, contemplating the Tarot—you could choose to do that over the 49 days with the intention of accompanying your beloved. You don’t have to create something new or add another To Do to your list.

No doubt, feelings will arise as you travel the 49 days. You may wish that your beloved isn’t dead, feel that the only thing you want is to have them back. You can’t stop these feelings and thoughts, even if they seem counter to your work of accompaniment. Instead of trying to hold them back, allow them to flow through you. You might imagine them flowing out through your feet and into the earth, who can take and reshape all things.

If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up—as the grieving tend to do. It is the accumulation of the days and the whole container of the practice that will carry you and your beloved. Just start again the next day.

END

On or shortly after the 49th day, mark the end of this phase of your beloved’s transition and your work of accompaniment with something that feels special to you. It need not be too elaborate, just a bit more than your daily observances. You may want to gather with others—or not. Find what feels right to you.

I turn to ritual for such occasions and offer the elements of my blessing ritual for my mother as a guide for you to create your own:

  • Have a special place or destination:I chose to go out in nature—to a place I’ve used before for ritual on the Mill River. You, too, could pick a special destination or stay in the place you have been doing your regular observances.
  • Begin:What do you want for your person? When accompanying my mother, I came to the realization that I wanted her to be blessed by the natural and the Divine as she moved into the next spiral of her becoming. What you want for your person might be blessings or peace or transcendence. Follow your heart and start from this desire for your beloved.
  • Journey: This could be physical or inner movement. I walked along the river with my mother. You may take an inner imaginal journey with your person. This journey is a microcosm of the whole 49 days. There is the possibility of clarity about what you have been doing through the whole observance opening up for you—or maybe that will come later.
  • Arrive: You have arrived at your destination—the Green Door of Death. Here you could think of your purpose as being two-fold. First, you are sending your person through that door where you cannot follow. You are not giving them up, but you are sending them on to what comes next for them. Second, you are marking that this phase of your work is done. A responsibility, perhaps a weight, is lifted from you now. It may be re-shaped into another form, but you have completed this spiral of the journey. Something is released. I released ash into water. You, too, might be guided by a basic elemental approach by speaking a prayer or poem or song into the wind, lighting a piece of paper on fire and watching it transform, or burying something in the earth, knowing the earth accepts and reshapes all things
  • Offer Gratitude: You have made it through to this moment. What and who has helped? Say words of thanks for these beings and practices. 
  • Return: You will have to travel back from your destination and return to the mundane world. You may want a marker to help you make the transition. Examples of what this could be are: eating a snack or a whole meal, taking a shower, talking to a friend or one who supports you with spiritual guidance, or getting some body work to revive your energy.
  • Tend Yourself: Even if the outward journey has not been one of a great distance, the inner traveling has been arduous. There may have been a storm of emotions, perhaps even some that seemed to be diametrically opposed. It is possible you may experience an emotional and/or physical crash after such a journey. If you can lessen your responsibilities for a bit after the 49 days, do so. Even if you cannot, recognize that you may not be at your best. Don’t berate yourself for not functioning at your best. Just as you claimed time to observe the 49 days, claim some time and space to renew yourself, perhaps with one or all of these: rest, spiritual practice, time in nature, time with a friend or a professional listener who can keep the focus on listening to you and your needs.

BEGIN

The end of the 49 days is the beginning of a new relationship. You and your beloved have changed. But Love exists beyond the boundaries of the body and still binds you together. Embrace this limitless Love. In my experience, this is an adventure with highs and lows, new challenges, and a re-arrangement of beliefs and priorities. But the reward … oh, the reward! … is a touch of the eternal feeding the flow of Love.

Mar
1
2021

Full Moon Revelations: The Star Meets the Hermit

For Seekers – Moonthly Renewal – Practices for Soul & Spirit – Sanctuary

The height of this moonth’s cycle comes with the full moon arriving overnight February 26th to the 27th (exact at 3:17am ET on Saturday, the 27th), and offers a revelation about how the lunar energies initiated on the new moon of the 11th are developing. The new moon, guided by its association with the Star, invited us to unite heart and mind to plan for a future where we recognize the interconnectedness of all. Out of the full moon revelation about this developing energy, we are issued an invitation to return a gift to the world in the final weeks of the lunar cycle.  

The exact moment of the moon’s fullness comes in the astrological sign of Virgo associated with the Tarot’s Hermit. The meetup of the Star and the Hermit offers us an image of bringing the power of starlight into usable, earthly form. As you can see in the iconic Rider Waite Smith image, the Star contained within the Hermit’s lantern becomes a beacon for reaching the top of the mountain. The mountain, of course, is a metaphor for the project we want to complete, our highest dreams, personal and collective demons we must meet, or living up to our fullest potential. What is the mountain you are climbing now? 

a 1909 card scanned by Holly Voley and retrieved from Sacred Texts.
Deck available from US Games

To support you answering these questions and encourage a revelation out of the meetup of the Star and the Hermit, you are invited to one, some, or all of these practices:

  • Moon bathe by sitting or lying under a window or outside on the ground. Let go of your thoughts and soak in the light.
  • Take out any reading or your reflections from the new moon and look at them in a new light. How does your understanding of the cards shift now that time has passed and light has shifted?
  • Work with your existing containers under the full moon light. You could do your usual practice even if it has been feeling stale to you and open up to the full moon giving you an infusion of energy. You might do the process from the new moon post that brings together heart and mind for planning.
  • Bring out your Star and Hermit cards from your Tarot deck and connect them to your new moon reading / reflections. You could place/imagine these cards on either side of your reading or above and below, and then look at how they add meaning into the story your original cards offered you.
  • Reflect on questions such as: What is the Star that is guiding me now? What practices will help me concentrate its power? What mountain can I climb? What/who can help me reach the top? What contribution to the collective can I make from this work? You could, of course, pull cards as responses to any of these questions. You may want to engage in Visio Divina to find the layers of wisdom within the cards.

When you are done, remember to offer gratitude for what you have received. Consider what gift you now want to return to the world. Pulling a card for guidance on the gift is always a fine thing to do. In the coming weeks and before the moon returns to dark around March 10th. offer your gift to the world.

Feb
11
2021

Reading of the Moon: Renewed by the Star

For Seekers – Moonthly Renewal – Practices for Soul & Spirit – Sanctuary

Because I love
There is an invisible way across the sky,
Birds travel by that way, the sun and moon
And all the stars travel that path by night.

Because I love
There is a river flowing all night long.

Because I love
All night the river flows into my sleep.
Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms,
And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

Kathleen Raine from Amo Ergo Sum

The new moon arriving on Thursday, the 11th (exact at 2:05pm ET), invites us to soak up the gentle light of the The Star and walk its pathways of:

  • hope;

  • renewal;

  • opening up to the grace and giftedness of the cosmos;

  • healing for us individually, collectively, and the planet as a whole.


From The Numinous Tarot

The Star through its natural connection to the open sky and its astrological correspondence to the air sign of Aquarius invites us to cultivate a clear mind—a mind that neither rejects nor is controlled by the more turbulent emotions on which it floats. The clear and accepting mind becomes a key to expanded consciousness supportive of renewal.

Our model this moonth for walking the path of the Star is the Knight of Cups. All Knights are on a quest to serve the Greater Than themselves. The face of the Greater Than that Knights see is inspired by their elemental association. Water calls the Knights of Cups to tend the flow of the Heart.


From the Mass Tarot deck

Symbolically the Heart is the home of Love. Romantic love, of course, spills from the Heart flooding the body with happy emotions and hormones. But the Heart has room for all kinds of love: of nature, friends, culture, country, the invisible spirits, Divine Ones, and the dead. In fact, as servants of the Heart, Knights of Cups recognize the flow of the Heart in how all the waters of the earth flow together without barriers. These Knights deeply sense that everything is connected.

And so the Star above and Heart below are mirrors of the interconnectedness of all. 

Interconnectedness is not only a theme for the moonth but  the whole year. This is the first of three moons on the Star path this year. Our gentle new moon light here in February opens the way for the bright illumination of two Star full moons in July and August. It is a gift of the cosmos that after the Tower-like turbulence of 2020, we will get to bask in the renewing energy of the Star throughout the year. (Find out more in my Solar and Lunar Overview of 2021.)

The 7 of Swords—in its form of the 7 of Air from the Gaian Tarot—as this moonth’s passage and practice card suggests we engage mind and heart to create a plan for making real our highest visions, not just personally but collectively. 


Close up of the Gaian Tarot’s 7 of Air

In the 7 of Air, the hiker stops to strategize about what will be the best way to scale the mountain. The clear mind looks ahead, considers alternatives, and lays out a way forward before beginning the journey. Like the hiker, we are invited to follow this planning principle: Start with the end in mind. To do this, you imagine your vision realized and then work backward to find the steps needed to arrive there.  

The ups and downs of the journey can also be considered if not fully anticipated. A client pointed out to me the many rivers and ponds on the hiker’s map. The watery places could flag where emotional challenges may be encountered along the way. Anticipating these emotional roadblocks can help you prepare to meet them. These watery places also present places to pause and rest so you have the energy you need to push forward to the top. 

Here is a suggested planning practice to work with this moonth’s 7 of Air energy: 

  • Set aside about an hour of time to devote to your planning.
  • Get a calendar with monthly and weekly overview or other detailed planning tool. You may also want to have Tarot or oracle cards handy to help you. 
  • Tune into your heart. If you have a meditation practice use this to make a connection. If you don’t have a set practice, just seat yourself comfortably, close your eyes, and breath feeling your heart rise with each in-breath. Do this for 10 minutes. Feel free to call the Star, Divine Ones, Beloved Dead, or Ancestors into your heart to help guide you in your planning. 
  • Now bring to mind two goals that you want to have realized by/around the final Star moon of the year on August 22nd (which, by the way, has the same three guiding cards as this new moon). Let one goal be focused on you personally and the other goal be more collective. You might pick a card for each to be a visual representation of the goal achieved. 
  • Break the goals down into 7 monthly or moonthly steps each. Write these steps across the top of each calendar month February through August.
  • Now turn to the weeks, and write 1 – 3 actions each week to move you toward your steps that move you toward your goals. Feel free to pull cards to suggest the action that should be taken. 
  • When you’ve done this planning, drop back into your heart. Spend some moments there. Then review your plan and make any adjustments your heart calls you to. Especially evaluate if you have built in enough time for heart-renewal, tuning into guidance from the Star, and connecting with potential helpers and collaborators.
  • Plan to check in on your plan each month or moonth and know that you will be making adjustments along the way. 

To prepare the way for your planning, you may wish to reflect or read on the guiding questions of the moonth:

THE HEART RENEWED: What vision is being born or renewed in my heart this moonth?

A STRATEGIC PLAN: What is most important to pay attention to as I make a plan to achieve the vision?

MANIFESTATION: What can be made real during this year if I follow my plan with a clear mind and open heart?

I do offer this as an e-reading in my collaborative initiative format for $23.  Sign up with Pay Pal or email me about sending a check. When I receive notification, I’ll be in touch to let you know about when to expect to receive your reading by email. I generally have openings to do these readings on Mondays and Saturdays.

NOTE: The figure on the Knight of Cups is my late partner John Laux. Twenty one years ago to this new moon day, I had my first encounter with him over the phone. We didn’t see each other but we certainly got to know each other: we talked for hours, maybe three, certainly two. And I am talking with him still, though certainly not in the same way. It has been my experience that healing grief comes through creating a new kind of relationship with the Beloved Dead not in “getting over” them. There’s more of this story and practices to support you, too, in keeping up a loving flow with your beloveds in Speak Soul to Soul: Communicating with the Beloved Dead , which I offer as a gift to those who may need it.

Feb
8
2021

Dark Moon Release with Tlazolteotl as Guide

For Seekers – Moonthly Renewal – Practices for Soul & Spirit – Sanctuary

Before the moon is made new on February 11th at 2:05pm ET, it returns to the place on the astrological Wheel where it began its moonthly journey. The energy gathered through the moonth now flows away into moonless nights. What will you send with this energy to be transformed in the dark?

The moonth we are concluding began and now ends in Capricorn which corresponds to the Tarot’s Devil card. In the Dark Goddess Tarot, the Devil is Tlazolteotl, Aztec Goddess of Filth and Purification (XV, Corruption). Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, creator of the Dark Goddess Tarot, description of Her includes:

She is called the Sin Eater, the Mother of Midnight, Death by Lust, and She of Two Faces. She is the contrary-natured Aztec and Toltec Goddess of filth and purification, of fertility and disease, of prostitutes and midwives. In one hand she holds a cob of maize for the powers of life, in the other a rattle, symbolic of the scourge of illness.

The Goddess is vomiting out what she can no longer stand to have within. The expulsion of the disease will then be the pathway to renewal. She invites us to similar practices of purification. The 2 – 3 days/48 hours leading up to the new moon’s arrival is a potent time for engaging in such ritual.

The ritual’s most important element is your clear intention about what you want to release so begin with reflection and finding your focus guided by Tlazolteotl and your own desires. Writing down your intention is a helpful practice to support clarity.

Your ritual can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like. You can even dedicate an action you planned to do anyway to meeting your intention. Physical action and work with the body are particularly aligned with this moonth’s connection to the earth sign of Capricorn. Here are some examples to inspire creation of a ritual that fits your unique needs and style:

  • Pick a drawer or a closet or a shelf to clear out. Remove everything from there in a dramatic way: for example, take out the drawer and dump it on the floor. Sort out the items and remove what you don’t need. If you keep anything, put it in a place of honor as it represents something important to be retained. Then clean the empty space. It is now ready to receive the new coming in the next lunation.
  • Steam yourself. This could be a in a hot shower or by steaming your face over a pot of water with herbs mixed in. Let your intuition guide you to the herbs you need to meet your intention. For example, I’ve found myself using rosemary lately for facial steaming, and am now seeing that it is associated with purification.
  • If you should actually be sick on the dark moon, tune into the illness’ beneficial side effects that could be of slowing down, learning lessons of the body, or more time to sleep. Dedicate the illness to your intention. Of course, continue to take care of yourself as needed to move through the illness.
  • Bring some of Tlazolteotl tools into your ritual. You could, for example, work with a rattle. Shaking it all around yourself as you observe with your imaginal eye that you are disrupting and dispelling negative energy, personal or collective limiting beliefs, or fears that keep us from evolving.

Once you have done your new moon ritual, rest. As much as you can, let your resting reach into the arrival of the new moon on February 11th, which travels the path of the Tarot’s Star. Imagine your dark moon release opening being filled with the gifts of the Star. As the moon is brand new, the offerings will be subtle, but because of your lunar attunement you can trust yourself to receive the new gifts are arriving whether your receive them consciously or unconsciously.

Want to learn more about the path of the Star? Make sure you are on my e-news list.

Feb
1
2021

Prompts and Practices for Speaking Soul to Soul with the Beloved Dead

For Grievers – For Seekers – Practices for Soul & Spirit

My current project is a series of pieces woven of memoir, poems, and actionable tips for cultivating a loving flow between the living and the dead. The excerpt comes from the first essay in the series, Speak Soul to Soul: Communicating with the Beloved Dead. The full essay with the background info about how I found my way to these practices following the death of my partner John in 2012 is available as a downloadable PDF

There are rich traditions for connecting with the beloved dead and the ancestors. You may want to investigate some practices, starting with a tradition with which you have a cultural connection. My suggestions here are more about a mindset—or, rather, heartset—to cultivate and support connection with your beloved dead. They are not specific to any tradition but inspired by my wide reading about such practices. Because it has inspired me, I, of course, have suggestions connected to the Tarot, which, as a physical object, has a European origin, but through its symbols and images draws from global cultures across time. 

Be aware of the small, the odd, the weird, and the wild all around you.

As we rush about, there is so much we miss. Our busy consumer culture would rather we bought some item rather than find solace within let alone connection to the spirit world (spirits never buy anything). When you move more slowly and look at the little details occurring around you, you might notice the two dragonflies hovering together are above two lotus flowers and below two crows flying high in the sky gliding back and forth, their swoops seeming to overlap. And then to say to yourself, “Jeez, that’s a lot of partners.” Perhaps this is a mirror being offered of the world beyond shining into the physical world, catching our attention and reminding us of continued connection. 

Let your imagination lead …

Your rational mind might say “So what” to the small experiences around you, or it might try to stir up feelings of fear and doubt so you’ll rush on. That’s normal for the society in which we live. Just let these thoughts and feelings flow through you. No need to crush them. In fact, you’ll need the rational when you are going through many other parts of your life, but just not here. The imagination is your guide here. Once the doubt of the rational mind has passed through, let yourself ask and muse on: Ok, but why is this catching my attention? How could this be significant? Could this be a message? What is the message? Let a whole stream of possibilities move through you and take comfort in the generous flow. 

… and your heart receive.

Open up your heart to even the most imaginative and strangest messages. That wild message could be a break in the boundary between this world and the next. Let that break be an opening for love flow to you from the other world, and for you to send your love back. Remember that love always flows both ways. Be both a received and a sender. 

Find a talisman, or two or three or, really, as many as you want. 

The talisman is something in the physical world that keeps calling your awareness back to your ongoing connection to the beloved dead. The talismans facilitate your noticing of synchronicities and tuning into messages. When you tend them regularly (i.e. as you would do a spiritual practice or follow through on a gym commitment), they support you to experience the greater patterns in which we exist and that stretch from this world into the beyond. Almost anything can serve as a talisman if it has meaning for you. The object itself is not of utmost importance, but rather the awareness it invites. Here are some examples to prompt your search for a talisman that fits for you:

An everyday object – The object can be very mundane. A woman once told me that whenever she comes across dimes—randomly found, which happened to her surprisingly often—she feels like it is her mother reaching out to her. An essayist wrote about how she often saw the type of car her late husband drove at significant moments. 

A particular unusual occurrence – Strange happenings with lights is commonly reported by people after the death of a loved one. A special song playing on the radio as you are thinking of your person certainly stirs the heart. And you’ve already heard about my bathroom drain account. Maybe there is something odd happening in your life that echoes something of how your beloved was in life.

Special encounters with creatures – I met a woman with a hummingbird tattoo, and when I admired it, she sheepishly told me that they were special to her because she began seeing them regularly after her mother died. Many traditions identify birds as well as dragonflies and rabbits as messengers between the worlds. One of these creatures— either in physical form or through images—may suddenly show up for you, or a different creature special to your beloved may appear in interesting ways in your life. 

Tarot and Oracle Cards – For me, Tarot and oracle cards are effective talismans because I have a relationship with them. If you already have or want to develop a relationship with these tools, they are talismans that you can use regularly to tend your connection. As I’ve described in the stories above, I found cards that when they pop up offer a special meaning related to John, and I take them out into the world to guide me toward messages. I also created a card with John as the main figure. When our local group created a collaborative Tarot, I used a picture of John facing the ocean to create the Knight of Cups. I always tuck it into my latest traveling notebook to have it close by. 

Spend time by yourself … but not all your time by yourself. 

When they were alive, you probably had times when it was just the two of you. Solitary time then is making yourself available just to them in that same way. Without the distractions of others, the subtle feelings of presence or of messages have more of an opportunity to be felt. You just might find that when you are by yourself, but you are not alone. Of course, as in life, you have relationships with others that you don’t want to neglect. We don’t want to use our on-going connection to the beloved dead to get in the way of our relationships with the living.

Recognize that communication varies soul to soul and may change over time. 

As you can see from the stories above, my communication with John ranged from surprisingly clear and direct to just a sense of invisible presence. Who can say for sure, but perhaps this was because he died suddenly with much unsaid, or because he was a real talker in life. Or maybe both. Your beloved may be a different type of soul or have had a different death experience that impacts communication. A friend of mine visited a medium after her mother’s death from a long illness, and the medium said, “Oh no, she can’t speak now. She’s regenerating in the light.” If it takes a while to make a connection or the communication you’ve come to know seems to stop, don’t assume it will never come again or that it has ended. Messages between the worlds might be the ultimate snail mail, moving not on clock time, but in the flow of the eternal, where, I imagine, Nothing and No One hurries. And just as we change in life, my experiences have shown me that the dead change, too, including how they communicate. We need to evolve alongside them. 

Receive what you’ve been sent. 

There is the possibility that you will have strong and clear feelings and messages. Let those rare gifts fill your heart with gratitude. But more likely and most often, there will be just a fleeting wondering. What was that? Did I just feel them near? Receive that, too, with gratitude as a continuation of your connection. And as you immerse that ragged wisp of wondering in your gratitude, it might just grow. No matter the magnitude, you’ve been given a gift. It won’t bring your beloved back into the body you knew, but it feeds the flow between you.

All of this won’t bring them back. They—and us, too—are forever altered. And in that alteration, we have to create a new relationship to keep in connection. To remake a relationship in life is hard, so why would it be any easier in death? Like any relationship, time and tending and trust are required.

The new relationship will be strange. Many in our living circles will not understand, but would we trade their approval for this relationship? I wouldn’t. And after all, wasn’t there a strangeness to your living relationship? To be strange is also to be unique, and each partnering is unique.

The strange relationship will be a mixture of equal parts constant connection and never touching. Like the poet Ilyse Kusnetz wrote in lines written shortly before her death. “I’ll always be watching you go. You’ll always be / headed toward me.” 

Always. Forever. Without end. These are the words of pledges made to our beloveds. Always is a blade slicing an opening between the worlds. Forever is a knot tying Life to Death. Without end is the shape of our love. And this is how we go on.

If you would like more background about how I arrived at these practices, you can download the whole essay Speak Soul to Soul: Communicating with the Beloved Dead. There is also a piece on the practice of creating an Eternity Box to make the first—or second or tenth—anniversary of a death. I am close to finishing the next piece, 49 Days and the Green Door of Death; be sure to be on my list to hear about when new pieces come out. 

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Offering ~ I tend the sanctuary as gift to seekers on the unmarked path. If you find this site inspiring, I welcome a gift to continue serving you sustainably.