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Reflections on Spiritual Changes Since My Mom's Death

A lot has changed over the past year. Obviously, many of the changes are not of a religious nature, but since this is my heathen path blog I'm focusing on the spiritual changes. My mom died in February. That was just before the Covid restrictions started. I was able to hold a normal, traditional wake for her with family who had flown in from out of town and many of her local friends, including the folk dancers and some members of her bridge club. I handled it. It was hard but I handled it. Then I was alone. The lockdowns started and I was alone. And then there was Tom. My companion Tom Newman died in September. More about that in a moment.

I've already blogged a lot about the experiences I've had since mom passed on.

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In the days leading up to Tom's sumbel via zoom, I had some encouraging signs. I posted this on my social media: "Dragged out to the store and look what I saw lol pine cones! Pine cones are a Zisa thing. And then guess what? I went to [name of liquor store] but apparently the nonalcoholic sparkling wine is a specialty winter holiday item and they didn't have it. But guess what they did have? Zirbenz! The drink of the goddess Zisa! I had been looking for it last week because I had a radio appearance on Sept. 28th which is Zisa's holiday, and had asked for it by name there. They hadn't had any then, but this is how capitalism works lol because I had asked for it by name last week, this week they had some. Even though I already had made a toast to Zisa on the air with something else and today is a few days after the holiday I bought it and went home and had some. It's remarkably similar to the de sapin that I had instinctively offered to Tyr, Zisa's husband, years ago. Then I went into the kitchen and there was a rainbow on the wall, symbol of Heimdall, Tom's patron. I looked where it was coming from and it was from the tiny crystal ball on a wizard statue that I had put in the window because I had been setting up Tom's idols on the back porch this morning."

Before the sumbel, I had already confirmed that Tom made it across the Rainbow Bridge to join Heimdall's company. He had new things to learn, new friends, new duties. Heimdall is the Guardian, and the humans he attracts and to whom he is attracted as patron are likewise guardians. Tom spent most of his adult life in a career he saw as being a sheepdog for his country and countrymen. That's a common metaphor in his profession, but it has a special resonance for a Heimdall's man, as one of Heimdall's sacred animals is the ram. About a week after the sumbel, Tom became my personal guardian spirit. The dead can still affect things in the living world under certain circumstances, and being one of Heimdall's is one of them.

The sumbel itself was not a positive emotional experience for me. Although I'm pretty tech savvy under normal conditions-- I actually worked in cell phone techsupport for a while--, I did not have the brain space to learn anything new, so I asked a kindred member to handle the technical aspects for me. The zoom format was just alien enough so I did not interact with it well, and I have a mental blank spot for everything anyone said via the net. There were a few local people with me in person, and I remember the in person portions of the ritual. I also remember singing along to a song written by one of Tom's and my old friends, who had called in via my phone and was on speaker. I'm not a digital native and whatever made it so I either didn't hear, didn't process, or didn't encode in memory what was going on via zoom didn't affect my ability to listen to a landline. (My kindred member is making a file for me of the recording she made, so I hope to be able to hear what I missed eventually.) I made a couple of embarassing mistakes in non technical areas that seem to point to my reverting to just the knowledge I had as a teenager or in college. I could not handle performing as gythia at this sumbel and ended up handing off the ritual to a kindred member right in the middle. A few days later, it caught up with me that she is also a gythia now, and I communicated that to her via fb chat, because the kindred isn't meeting regularly during these times; a very few of us got together just for that one special occasion.

We held the sumbel on the back porch. I had held some rituals on the back porch before, when the kindred consisted of just me and Tom. I also often hold my coffee ritual out there, both my everyday morning coffee and the spontaneous coffee or other toast I raise to Thor when it rains. A porch is a liminal space, neither fully outside nor fully inside, so it seems like an appropriate ritual space. Also, it's a great place to watch the rain, because it's under the house roof and thus protected from lightning, yet I can hear, see, and smell the storm as if I were outside. In any case, Tom's sumbel was not the first back porch ritual, but I did choose to have it outside due to the necessity of taking precautions against Covid. Since that's what Tom died of, it would not honor him to take foolish risks.

I'm doing my best to handle Tom's estate as the executor of his will. I thought we had gotten all the religious items out of his house before he died, but the next time I went to his house to collect the mail and do other necessary tasks, there was a box sitting right in the middle of the room formerly used as a storage room, which my helpers and I had already cleared out. The box contained candles, cups, an iron cauldron, and a marble cauldron stand deeply carved with a pentacle. Tom's Strega supplies. Tom had been Strega before becoming Asatru. The box also contained a pretty shell, presumably picked up on the beach near where he used to live in San Diego before he moved to Las Vegas. Who knows where it came from or how we missed it before, but it was like it was just put there for me to find, as a kind of sign of approval. I had been feeling like a failure for the dumbass mistakes I made and for having to get my kindred member to finish the ritual for me, but everyone told me I did fine and should not expect too much of myself in my grief, but that was words on fb and on the phone and it didn't register for me like finding a literal box full of witch supplies where there had been empty floor. That was Tom making sure I had his full magical legacy. I took the supplies home, and out of the box I took a glass candlestick and a black candle-- for mourning and also to dispel negative energy-- and lit the candle. I watched it burn and it was red underneath. Love shining through the mourning.

Over the next week I did a few other things to get rid of bad energy, and so did my friends. I think I'm doing better now. The key for me is I can't keep up the pace of working on handling the estate all day and trying to handle all my own business in the evening that I was frenetically pushing myself to starting the week before Tom died when we started getting the religious items and weapons out of his house and turning the storage room upside down looking for his DD-214 (which our kindred member found) that I kept up right up until the sumbel. I have to give myself time to just be. To cry, if I feel like it. To just sit around listening to old songs on the radio, if that's what I feel like doing. To go do something fun with friends, if I can manage to do it safely (as I write this, I'm planning to attend a Renfaire Picnic held by a few of the guilds in lieu of the actual Renfaire, which was canceled. The Picnic is outdoors where the Faire usually is. I made myself a new costume that includes a full silk veil that goes down to my waist. It should be at least as effective as the cotton masks I've made, but looks Faire appropriate. I'm planning to take pics and post them on my social media.)

We held Tom's funeral sumbel via Zoom because many of his oldest friends and his kindred members from when he used to live in California could not come to Nevada for his funeral, due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic. I polled the people who wanted to attend to see what sort of online function would work best for everyone, and Zoom won because it could be accessed both via the net and by people who did not have internet and needed to use a phone. An online funeral just is not a good substitute for holding one in person. The extreme emotions present during a mourning ritual just don't mix well with trying to use cutting edge technology.

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I raised this horn to my companion Tom Newman when I dedicated this shelf on my bookshelf to him. This is his shrine now. I moved some of the things from the temporary altar onto here. I added the photo of us at the San Diego Zoo, and some things I found when I unpacked the Patient Belongings bag I picked up from the hospital the day he died. Those things were candy that I had brought him that he had not opened, and greeting cards, both from me and from his out of state friends which I had picked up from his mailbox at his house and delivered to the front door of the hospital (I was not allowed in because of Covid restrictions.)

The day before I set up this shrine to my late companion, a fellow heathen had told me that she received gnosis that I was supposed to have elecampagne. We chatted online about the idea and finally decided that meant folk art, not the actual flower itself. So when I unpacked the Patient Belongings bag and saw the unopened card from me with the yellow flowers, I knew that meant I was supposed to keep and display this card. I had been thinking about throwing that one out because unlike the first two cards from me that I dropped off for Tom, it was less sentimental and more of a report of what I and our mutual friends were doing at his house and the plans I was working on for him, letting him know we were getting him set up with what he needed to qualify for a military funeral. But then after that conversation about the yellow flowers I knew when I saw the card that I had to keep and display it, even though it was unopened and he never saw it. He can see it now, from his viewpoint in Asgard with Heimdall. The other cards are in the stack on the left side of the photo. The final two cards he received were from out of town friends which I delivered to the hospital in the morning on Friday with a note asking the staff to read them aloud to him. (He could not read them himself because he had already been unconscious for several days at that point.) He passed that afternoon. I hope he got to hear the cards read aloud and that it may have brought him some comfort even if he didn't fully hear or understand.

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When one hears the phrase "near death experience" most people think of an awesome spiritual experience in which one sees light or their god or ancestors. That's an experience very few people have. But almost everyone will have to deal with death sometime, their own or their loved ones'. The common way to be near death is to know a loved one is dying and to be trying to handle their affairs and set everything up for them to succeed at being a newly dead person. One succeeds at being a dead person by having one's cremation or burial, funeral and / or wake set up in advance. One of the major goals of a funeral is to provide the rites that help a dead person cross. If the dying person and the person doing the arrangements and the person handling the funeral are all the same religion it makes things a lot easier, but for many pagans and heathens this will not be the case.

There are things the dying person can do in advance, years in advance, to prepare for death. Among those things is to speak to one's patron deity or ancestors about where one is going and how to get there. There are also things one can do for another before the person actually dies. Most of those things will be mundane things in the mundane world, but one can also send blessings, even to someone one can no longer visit in person.

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Hail Hel

Hail Hel, goddess of the dead.

On Feb. 4th, 2020, in the words of my brother, "My mother won her last struggle to free herself from the limits of her form, emerging from an outworn body as a transcendent and radiant being into the limitless possibilities of the Infinite and the unknown."

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A Samhain Tale: Hecate and the Crossroads of Choice

At Samhain, when the veil between the worlds is thin and the mysteries of the sacred dark permeate the mundane world, Hecate calls to us. Never before has Her voice been so loud, so urgent. She speaks to us not only in our dreams and ritual magic, but also in the stark language of wildly erratic weather patterns, dying oceans and barren lands, and in the cold despair and hungry hopes of our own warm, beating heart.

It`s not easy to heed Her call. She raises our own spectral fears about the fate of our human society and planet home. Environmentally, socially, politically and spiritually, we are destroying the fabric of our physical and social world. We have reached a critical tipping point, and if we continue on this trajectory, things are not going to end well.

But how do we change? How do we shift from denial, apathy and despair into a place of hope and inspiration? How do we turn this destructive momentum into an evolutionary, birthing moment? And what is our personal part in weaving a better world into being?

“Come to my crossroads,” Hecate whispers on the wind, “Come and you will find the answers you seek.”

Take a deep breath, summon up your courage and say, “Yes, Hecate, I am coming. Guide me to your crossroads.”

In the world between the worlds, where the mysteries lie in wait, you will find Hecate. She appears before you in Her Crone form, with a thick mane of moonlight silver hair and intense, amethyst eyes that shine bright with Her ageless presence. She wears a cloak of midnight black that shimmers as She moves, as if brushed with starlight. An aura of light surrounds Her, a way-showing beacon in the enveloping darkness to guide travelers to Her crossroads. Her arms open wide to welcome you, casting a circle of illumination that draws you into its center. 

With a sweep of Her hands, two roads appear before you.

To the left is a neglected path, overgrown with the luscious fecundity of the wild realm.  Memories arise within you of the feral innocence of childhood with its simple pleasures of play and wonder in your dance with the outer world. And beneath this, older, ancestral memories percolate, of a time when humanity lived in loving, sensual communion with the powers and mysteries of the Mother Earth.  

To the right is a paved-over surface that obscures any trace of the living land under an unforgiving, tar black sheen. This path exudes a deadness that lays bare the tear in our human psyche from the natural world and our true, beautiful essence, and echoes with the keening pain of our battered souls and broken hearts.

“Behold the crossroads of these Great Turning times, where humanity faces a critical, precarious juncture in its spiritual evolution,” Hecate says, “Before you are two ways of living and dreaming.”

“One path holds the good dream of humanity where you walk the Earth in accordance with my life-centered ways and your best nature of love, generosity and communion with others. The second path holds the bad dream where your worst instincts of dominion, fear and greed lay barren the wild realm and the heart of your human society. It is this second path, reeking devastation on the living world, that rules humankind.

“Both of these paths exist inside of you and in your greater society. Humanity is neither good nor bad, but some complex weaving that includes the best and worst of your nature.”

With another sweep of Her hands, the two paths merge into one.

“This is my middle path,” Hecate says,” it holds the opposing paths of the good and bad dream of humanity. A mirror path exists inside of you that contains the joy and sorrow, and beauty and wounding of your life story.

“To transform yourself and your world, you must walk this middle path. To travel its ways is to accept and take responsibility for all that you are and all that you have experienced, and from this greater awareness choose whether the good or bad dream of humanity will hold sway in the core of your being. You must choose whether love or fear will rule you.

“Love is the way forward for you and your human kin — love that can hold and heal the sorrow and wounding that burden your soul and the world soul — love that chooses generosity over greed, and communion over dominion  — love that can turn the destructive momentum that threatens this world into a positive new beginning.

“This love is my way, the way of the sacred feminine, that is awakening within you and leading you home to your Deep Self and a better world.”

As Hecate speaks, the light that emanates from Her being shines brighter and brighter. This wondrous luminosity is the very love that She speaks of, offering a beacon of guidance and hope in these turbulent, Great Turning times. Hecate, the sacred feminine, all life on this stunning Earth, your life, are woven of this love. 

Hecate turns to you, taking your hands and squeezing them tight.

“Time is running out. Do not turn away,” She says, “By your choices, and those of your human kin, will your destiny and that of your Earth home be decided.”

She folds Her arms inward, drawing Her brilliant light back into Her body until She is gone, and you find yourself alone under a star-studded sky. Your hands still tingle from Her touch and the responsibility She has bequeathed to you shines strong and bright within you.

After the crossroads vision is done, the real magic begins. With your every thought, every word, every action, you choose which path your lives serves, and the kind of a world you want to create. Never have the stakes been higher; life as we know it hangs in the balance. To change this world, you must start with yourself.

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

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A Present from Hel

I was in my garden digging planting holes. This had been the asparagus bed for years, but it hadn’t produced any spears this spring and my mom wanted to put petunias there. I turned over several asparagus crowns, flat with thick roots. I wanted to replant them, give them a chance to see if they would grow again. I wasn’t thinking about last week’s ritual.

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