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Posts Tagged ‘death’

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Daniel’s Memorial Dragon Garden – Photo by John Crump, 2017.

The transition from winter to spring was marked by a tragedy within my own community and grove. A friend, someone I started studying Paganism with back when I was in college, suddenly passed away.  It was very sudden and heartbreaking, especially as he left my friend (his wife), and their daughter on the corporeal realm.  After discussing his wife and daughter’s wishes, the grove (of which he was a member) came up with the idea to create a memorial dragon garden in his memory.  The Yoga Center, where we have most of our rituals, allowed us to keep it on their land near the fairy gardens.

We gathered for the Spring Equinox and created it as a magical working.  It was part to memorialize our friend, part to heal our hearts, and part to strengthen our bonds.  In addition to studying Wicca with him when I was in Utica, he attended Muin Mound Grove for many years, then joined Northern Rivers Grove last year.  The two groves came together to honor him in our working.  It was probably the hardest ritual I ever lead.    As we took turns placing stones or figurines in the garden, we shared memories.  There were many tears and hugs.

I spotted these daffodils growing in the hedge.  I wonder if someone tossed a potted plant and now they’ve gone feral.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017.

We focus so much on rebirth at this time of year. The death of a friend and grovemate has had me focusing on the death part that is so necessary for the cycle to renew. We get caught up with the flowers in the spring that we can forget the decaying leaves that nourish the plants. Honestly, thinking about how I will go back to the Earth and contribute to that gives me a strange comfort. All the same, it doesn’t make these partings any easier.

No buds, but the wildflowers were growing in late April.  I need to go back and visit…  Red trilliums are such a beauty to behold.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017.

I collected big, heavy bag of trash in the woods for Earth Day.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017.

I went into the woods around Earth Day to keep with my tradition of picking up some trash that time of year. I usually try to pick up some trash whenever I go into the woods, but I put in extra effort around Earth Day. The effort is my offering to the local spirits. I wondered if any of the Dead lingered in the woods, watching me remove the garbage…

We celebrated Bealtaine with laughter and joy. We danced around a Maypole and we jumped the embers for cleansing and good luck. We missed old friends, those who moved away, and our friend who passed beyond the veil. We called on the fertility of the land, and I contemplated the role our Ancestors have in abundance.

Shortly after Bealtaine, I took part in my friend’s very small and private funeral. We met up with his family, another grovie, and a friend from the eclectic circle in Utica. There were elderly people and babies gathered in a small circle of mud boots and umbrellas.  We were surrounded by trees that held great significance to my departed grovemate and the most magical balancing stones. The sky cried buckets.  While others moved soil, everyone chanted:

Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath
And fire my spirit…

I thought of all the Dead around us, mingling with the soil, the waters, the air, and in our own spirits…  It was a sublime moment.  One that will stay with me forever.

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An "Ancestor Gnome" I sewed for Bee - Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

An “Ancestor Gnome” I sewed for Bee – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

Another Samhain has come and gone in my household and protogrove. Some, like myself, observed it from October 31st-November 1st (sundown to sundown). Many celebrated this weekend, for reasons of convenience or celestial precision. I know of some people who honor it all month long, which is totally fine, as the veil between this world and the other seems to gradually “thicken” and “thin.”  As for myself and my tribe, 2015 Samhain has ended (though we may sense our ancestors from time to time).

I’m always a little sad when Samhain ends, being an adult who has regular conversations with her inner child.  I love the magic, the mystery, and the socially acceptable guising.  I also need, as most do, the emotional release that comes with meditating on and facing mortality.  I had a bit of a health scare at the beginning of October.  Everything turned out well, but it was enough to make me pause and prioritize!  The fact that a high school acquaintance died in his battle with cancer a few months before really added to my sense of how delicate and precious our time is.

Regardless of what we may or may not believe about an afterlife, the truth remains a mystery to the living.  The here and now, and our time in these particular bodies, is such a gift that should not be taken for granted.  Even when so many of us in the polytheist and Pagan communities believe in some sort of continuation after life, we miss our beloved dead.  Personally, I accept the ambiguity of what happens to our energy.  The fact that our physical remains will go back into the cycle of creation and destruction, and that our bodies will mingle and always be together in some way, is profoundly beautiful to me.  I take comfort in that, and I’m sure many in my protogrove do as well, yet we still mourn our dead.

Northern Rivers’ Samhain Bonfire – photo by Annette P.

Northern Rivers Protogrove, ADF, gathered on October 31st at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center to celebrate Samhain.  Despite the biting cold, we had our ritual at their stone circle.  That in itself was an exciting homecoming, and with the added psychic and emotional intensity of Samhain, it meant for a moving ritual.  Many of us were already tearing up as we gave praise offerings to the Ancestors.  When we got to our traditional apple rite, something passed on to us from Muin Mound Grove, some of us actually had to leave the circle for a bit to calm our nerves.  As we passed the apple, a potent symbol for the Otherworld, we named those who had passed since last Samhain.  As we named them, we pushed a clove into the apple.  The group then intoned, “come to the light” to the accompaniment of a chime.  We called the “Young Ancestors” to our firelight to gather with the “Elder Ancestors” who know the ways back to the Otherworld.  Samhain always makes for a long yet intense ritual.

Today I decided to take my household Samhain decorations down.  As you can imagine, there’s always a little sadness as you remove the relics of festivity.  As I packed the skeletons and ghosts away, it felt like the veil closing on the dead. Yet, I reflected, the Ancestors are always there.  I can always call to them beyond the veil, and there’s a chance that they may hear me with the assistance of messenger spirits, strong bonds, or intense emotions.  The spirit world can be a strange thing in that way.  And just as the paper, metal, and wooden skeletons will reappear in my home again, Samhain will also be reborn next year.

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It arrived! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I’m ashamed to say that I never read the late Adler’s groundbreaking book, Drawing Down the Moon.  The news of her sudden death moved me to order it immediately.  I needed to read it; I needed to honor one of our community’s elders – now ancestors.  I had admired her as a journalist on NPR, now I definitely needed to explore this other side of her.

It arrived today!  I’m very excited to start.  I’m not sure how I will fit it in with my other projects – the various ADF study programs, sewing, crocheting, and managing a protogrove…  but I’m committed to finish it by Samhain.  In fact, I invited my grovies to join me in reading or rereading it with me.  We’ll periodically discuss things that jump out at us on our Facebook group, and have a final discussion towards the end of October.  We’ll then honor her further at our Samhain ritual.

I can’t believe it took me this long…

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I recently watched “Ghosts of Murdered Kings” on PBS.  If you follow the link, you’ll be able to stream it on their website.  This documentary focuses on the research surrounding the various bog bodies that have been uncovered throughout much of Northern Europe.  I was able to see some bog bodies in person, first one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and then in the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland (which I blogged a bit about here).  The later has several on display.  I felt a bit odd typing the previous sentence because there is something deeply humbling and even troubling to me about displaying dead bodies, especially if they were meant to be in the bogs…  But on the other hand, they have taught us so much about the Celts and their beliefs.  They also communicated something almost ineffable about mortality that stayed with me after seeing them.

“Ghosts of Murdered Kings” is another wonderful addition to the NOVA library.  It explores the most recent theories surrounding these bodies.  The prevailing theory seems to be that the bog bodies were usually royalty sacrificed to the land following poor harvests which relates back to the old ritual marriages between rulers and sovereignty Goddesses.  Even having been exposed to this theory before in history books and the National Museum of Ireland, the refresher was welcomed.  I learned several new things about how these theories came to be which gave me a greater appreciation for the scientists who work so diligently.

I recommend this documentary but caution that children might be frightened by it as it shows real corpses and features some minor dramatized violence and discussions of “triple murder” and “overkill.”  It will definitely make you reflect on the practices of our Celtic ancestors and their relationship with the natural world.  Whether such a sacrifice was or still is necessary is not the point – rather, why aren’t we taking our relationship with the land as seriously?  Each of us is married to the land whether we like it or not.  If we fail to respect her while also meeting our needs, what we will we have to give up to change the situation?  What habits should we commit to the bogs to better ourselves and society?

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Potion

Our beloved Potion. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 20??

 

Last night, we lost a very special little friend.  Potion the ferret has been one of our furry companions since my undergrad years.  I fell in love with her at a pet shop one day and couldn’t resist.  I had been researching ferrets already and was hoping to give one a home.  This particular ferret came from a breeder in Canada and was the only one at the independent pet store.  She was so tiny then…  And boy, was she a handful.  For such a little thing, she could sure bite.  She drew blood on more than one occasion, and it was only through the patient but stern training of my husband (who was still my boyfriend at that time) that she learned to trust us and have fun without chomping down.  After that, she was one of the most gentle little souls in our home.  She played with the cats, loved to explore inside the couch, and was always happy to lick our ears after a shower.  Later in life, she would show that same gentleness with our baby.  When she was younger, she regularly performed her “ferret war dance” with many a cluck.  Because ferrets are social animals, we brought home a friend for her – Puck.  They were the best of friends, although they also got into little spats.  It was a riot to watch them bounce around together…

When Puck passed away in the summer of 2012, it seemed like a little bit of Potion’s spark went with her.  Her friend was gone and she had less to do when we were away in the day.  We continued to take her out as often as possible and she still seemed in pretty good health.  She loved to chase and be chased by our little cat Samus.  When she got tired, she’d find a quiet place to hide and fall asleep.  This was always rather annoying because it happened before I needed to put her in her cage for the night.  It was a ritual that inevitably belated our bedtime. We used to have to coax her out by shaking a container of treats or gently kicking at the couch.  Sometimes she’d nip me through the fabric which always made my husband laugh.  She was gentle but could be a little spitfire too!

After I had my baby girl, we weren’t able to spend as much time with Potion.  We still took her out every night, but because we moved into a bigger house and had to attend to the baby, we kept her in our bedroom.  After a little while, I noticed that she was less active and seemed to be out of character.  She didn’t bounce and cluck like she used to.  She was losing fur and showing all the signs of the diseases that plague ferrets, especially the elderly.  It was everything Puck had experienced, but at a very rapid and sudden pace.  She continued to hide and fall asleep every night.  Some days it was hard to find her again.  I always feared I’d stumble upon her already dead.  I made a special point to tell her I loved her and gave her extra cuddles before bed just in case.  Puck’s death was a surprise and I’ve always felt bad that I wasn’t able to say goodbye…

A few nights ago, I noticed Potion was really out of sorts.  She didn’t seem to be eating or drinking as much.  Her stool was different.  She hardly wanted to move. I cuddled her close and stroked her head, looking into those little beady eyes that always shimmered with so much love.  I felt awful for not being able to do more for her.  Between all of our debt and medical bills, we just didn’t have the money to take her to the vet for tests that would only tell us what we already knew.  We opted to offer her the best comfort we could until the quickly approaching end.  We modified her cage so she didn’t have to climb to reach anything.  I carried her with me to the sink and gave her water right out of my hand.  We gave her soft treats which she still showed a great love for.

Last night I cuddled her close and whispered my love to her.  I noticed a couple of her nails looked long so I trimmed them to try and keep her comfortable.  I helped her into her hammock , stroked her little head, and said goodnight.

This morning I found her cold and still.  I pray she didn’t suffer long and I hope she knew how loved she was.  I hope she knew how much joy she brought to us even though the end was hard and she did not get as much of our attention after the baby.  Because it was anticipated, I don’t feel as shaken as I did when Puck passed away.  I had time to really come to terms with it.  I also firmly believe that Puck was waiting for her.  A few nights ago, she did something she’s never done – something that was Puck’s specialty: she stole something rubbery- my husband’s nice earbuds.  I was struck by how odd it was for her.  It’s like she was playing with Puck.  And last night, before going to bed, I picked up my baby and randomly started to sing “Reunited” by Peaches.  I feel like Puck was here, waiting to be reunited with her old friend.  And indeed, when the ground thaws, I will put Potion next to puck in the moon garden.

In case you’re wondering, no – I’m not planning to bring any more ferrets into my home.  Not now, anyway.  They are adorable and clever, it’s true.  They make me laugh and have so many good qualities.  They really do make great pets, however they really need a lot of attention and care – something I just can’t do with a baby.  So if you’re interested in caring for ferrets, please know that they need a lot of work.  Think about your current lifestyle as well as what you aspire for.  Think about whether or not you’ll have room in your budget for the end of life care they often need.  I didn’t think about that in college but I did the best I could …

As we enter the second day of the 12 Days of Yule and I place mementos of her around my Ancestral altar, I’m reminded of how precious life is.  No matter what you celebrate, take some time to show everyone in your life, including your smallest family members and friends, that you love them.  You never know when they will be called to the Otherworld.

 

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A White Coral Fungi – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

Originally, Northern Rivers Protogrove was going to meet today for a workshop and discussion.  That’s going to be rescheduled, but it gave me some free time to engage with Druidism in other ways.   I did something I’ve not felt up to in months – I took a walk in the forest. That’s right! It’s nice and cool so I donned a sweatshirt, long pants, and sneakers and crossed the hedge with offerings stuffed in my pockets.  I’ve missed the forest greatly, especially the clarity that comes from visiting.  It has the ability to put all of my petty worries into perspective and calm me into a more rational state when the less-than-petty things pile up.  Not to mention, I really needed to reestablish contact with the local wild spirits.  It had been way too long.

I spent a majority of my spring and summer focused, as many other Pagans, on birth and life.  Indeed, there was much life in the forest – white coral fungi, the chattering of chipmunks and squirrels, green leaves clinging to trees, and lots of ravenous mosquitos!  Returning to the forest, I was suddenly struck by so much decay.  There were large gray mushrooms littered across the forest floor that had been partially eaten by other creatures.  I’d never really thought about it before – the fungi that feed on the dead are, in turn, food for the living.  Life and death are two sides of the same coin and exist together in a dance we often don’t witness or care to admit knowledge of.

Driving the point home, I came across a very sad sight – a dying red squirrel.  He or she startled me at first because I frightened the poor thing.  S/he struggled to move, flopping clumsily, face pressed into the ground, before once more collapsing into a heap.  I watched, scared stiff that I might have stumbled onto a rabid creature, yet also deeply sad for the tiny life that was passing before me.  I didn’t see any wounds or foam at the mouth, so I’m not sure what brought about the squirrel’s demise.  I recognize the fact of death, and I think I’ve come to a certain mature understanding of it despite the sadness it still brings me.  It’s the sight of suffering that impacted me so.  I don’t often feel that when I see half-eaten mushrooms and I couldn’t help but wonder – were they also suffering – in stillness?  After all, the sight of a maimed tree makes my heart tighten – so why not a mushroom?  Even while recognizing the reality of death, there is nothing wrong with feeling sorrow that another must suffer.

Yet how to deal with that suffering?  Sometimes people talk about starfish washing up on the beach; you can’t put them all back.  Watching the squirrel writhe in pain then collapse, I felt helpless. I did what most people in such situations do – I prayed.  I wasn’t sure who to pray to.  I prayed to An Morrigan.  I prayed to An Cailleach.  I prayed to the spirit of the forest.  I prayed that the squirrel would not suffer long and would find peace in the Otherworld.

 

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Rest in Peace, Papa

My grandfather as an infant. Photographer unknown.

 

My grandfather’s health had been declining steadily since the Winter Solstice.  He came down with a form of skin cancer and the treatments they utilized didn’t heal him.  He had started to decline mentally as well, and we heard from his hospice worker that it wouldn’t be much longer.  Honestly, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did given his condition.  Papa was always a very strong and stubborn man.  He didn’t like to ask for help and he didn’t like to stop working.  I imagine letting go was difficult for him for awhile.  But his quality of life just wasn’t there anymore.  He hardly had his wits about him, or so the rest of my family says.  The last time I saw him was during their annual Christmas Eve get-together.  He was in a lot of pain because he hadn’t taken his medication yet, but couldn’t until it was time for bed and the guests had left.  It meant for a very rushed visit, and he could hardly hear us.  I gave him a kiss on the head and told him I love him.  Because he developed a bad infection, I was warned not to visit since for fear it would complicate my pregnancy.  It was prudent and practical, and I hope he understood/understands that…

Last night, I talked to my parents on the phone and it sounded like his condition was worse.  I prayed to Brighid before bed and asked that she would comfort him and help him rest.  His last battled had been drawn out so long, so painfully…  During sleep, I saw him in my dreams.  He didn’t look well.  His neck was all raw, his face puffy, and his right eye red – but he smiled.

I got off the phone with my mother a little while ago and she told me he passed away around 3.

I knew it was coming, prayed for it for his sake, and know it is part of life.  He had lived a very long and, overall, very healthy and active life.  I cried all the same.  When it comes down to it, despite my very practical side, I’m quite sensitive.  From a very early age, when he “hired” me to help mop his shop floor, rake leaves, or paint his fence, he taught me the value of hard work and a job well-done.  He always said he would die when he stopped working – stopped doing the things he loved.  That always struck me as a very positive attitude.  Not that rest isn’t valuable, but he never saw aging as an excuse to be lazy or to let others do a job for him.   He mowed his lawn, plowed his driveway, and fixed things around the house until he was no longer physically capable.  And his mind was almost always occupied with something – local history, learning how to use computers, writing books, and genealogy.

That last interest would also turn out to be a huge influence on me.  He taught me about some of my ancestors and showed me how valuable it was to learn about them.  Truly, some of my spirituality comes from that respect he had.  I know more about where I came from because of him.  He taught me to love and honor my ancestors, and now he is one.  I pray that he meets the ancestors he read and wrote about in the Otherworld, and that he learns all the mysteries he searched so tirelessly for in life.

Hail to you, Papa!  Hail to the Ancestors!

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