Hearth and Home Vol. 12 These Things Will Change

Lineage and Legacy

L

ast October, my friend Danielle came to my home to take photos for my business and my family. One of the great things about having a professional photographer come into your space is that she will see things you might otherwise miss. Turns out I’ve been missing a lot!

Danielle gathered bunches of beautiful shots, including the unlikeliest — for example, our corner shelf which sits right by the piano (pictured above). This is the shelf where we drop our coats and jackets, bags, and purchases, and where we leave our shoes upon entering the home. It is not unusual to find an assortment of baby gear and toys, school papers, sports equipment, and a magical spray or two tucked into it this way and that. Danielle saw it and immediately captured it on film because as she said “This is precious. These things will change.” She went on to explain that the way that the corner shelf looked on that day in October will be radically different from the way it looks next year at the same time.

I’ve returned to this observation in the months since Danielle first made it because I find it to be such a potent reminder — these things will change. Big things change, as we know. We find new jobs, new lovers, we get married and go through divorces, we get sick, we heal, maybe we have children, eventually those children grow up, our dog dies, a little kitten decides we are their forever person…we’ve all experienced these types of changes. But in the background, humming away, are constant, much more subtle changes that, when properly grasped, can show us the progression of our stories with great detail. If we pay attention, we can find places that bear witness to these small changes. Becoming aware of and finding those places is one of the reasons I wrote Making Magic in the first place. They are often not the obvious places where you think alchemical transformation might happen: they are part of the every day – your closet, your morning cup of coffee, your front door, your corner shelf.

When it comes to magic, we tend to focus on the big stuff, the significant life changes. We seek ways to slow them down or speed them up, to get them jump started or to stop them altogether. In short, we often come to magic as a way of managing the big shifts and changes in our lives. When we approach magic in this way and pair it with wisdom and discernment we can experience awe-inspiring results. But seasoned soulful seekers look closer and go deeper, understanding as they do that the real sauce of magic happens not in the big moments and rituals and ceremonies but in the everyday knowledge that these things, all of these things, will change.

A trite saying is that every change carries with it an opportunity. I prefer to think that every change is an offering, cosmic hands stretched out holding a variety of choices and asking simply: What will you do today? Who will you be? How will you show up? Those options…and the ability to choose the best ones — that too is magic, some of the strongest that I know.

Some of the changes we have been experiencing in Casa de Saussy include:
Heath is this close to crawling!
Jasper loves playing basketball and Bach.
My book, Making Magic, is now available to pre-order and you can snag some lovely bonuses when you do so.
One of those bonuses, an audio recording of me reading the guiding story from the book was sound engineered by David (my beloved) who did an incredible job and delivered something fresh and gorgeous.
There are lots of new blog posts up at canto – some are talking about the upcoming Mercury Retrograde in the sign of Pisces that starts on March 5th and others teach rituals for having a healthier relationship to social media.
We are all obsessing over this album and I am loving this song which my husband introduced me to.

May you have a gorgeous New Moon in Aquarius and whatever else you choose – choose to be blessed and a blessing in turn.

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Will the real witches please stand up?

Lineage and Legacy

M

iracles,

If you have been paying even the barest attention to trends, you know that the word and concept of “Witch” is enjoying a surge of social media and commercial popularity. Why is this?

I contend that the role or archetype of Witch is not a goal in itself but rather a pointer to something deeper and vaster, and – in a sense – more universal. I contend that the something being pointed to is our magic. I have written at length about the importance of names, and this one, Witch, is one of the most important of all, so I want to take some time to really explore what is happening with Witch in popular culture right now.

Now, I live in (what I like to call) my magic mushroom doing my work, so these trends often go zipping right over my head. But with the recent Sephora dust-up, you couldn’t help to catch a glimpse of what’s happening out there.

You may have seen it. Sephora partnered up with San Francisco based beauty brand Pinrose and offered a stylish kit complete with scent – you can smell like a witch (what does a witch smell like?) – slated to be carried in stores everywhere – but then pulled due to accusations on the part of both witches and Native Americans that the witch-kit was an act of cultural appropriation. In an interesting turn, some Native American tribal representatives also accused (appropriately in my opinion) witches themselves of appropriation. The whole thing was a mess frankly – poorly conceived and poorly executed. Accusations that Sephora was trafficking in endangered White Sage were met by claims that Pinrose had employed Native American artisans to craft their smudge bundles (and who as a result of the dust up are now out of a job). Two words y’all: HOT. MESS.

I take the question of cultural appropriation seriously. In fact, one of my guest teachers for Spinning Gold this year, my good friend and head of Dartmouth College’s Native American Program, Sarah Palacios, and I met to talk about the problem of appropriation in the Sacred Arts because make no mistake – it IS a problem. We do need serious and clear thinking about human culture and our roles in making – or unmaking – culture.

But when it comes to Sephora’s mass-consumer product, a make-up ‘witch-kit’, it is in some ways not easy to know what we are dealing with here.

There’s an argument to be made that all mass-consumerism has been nothing but a corrosive agent to human culture and aspiration for as long as it has been around. In this light, Sephora’s ‘witch-kit’ is simply a tiny part of a much wider and more serious long-term, on-going exploitation of human culture. Getting rid of the witch-kit – making consumer culture cleaner and more culturally sensitive – doesn’t get rid of the underlying structural problem: it just makes it harder to see. A “kind” slave master is a slave master all the same. The rim of the poison cup may have honey on it, but it is poison nonetheless.

Secondly, trends are just that: trends. They come and go. Witchcraft – or some shadowy idea of it – has been part of kitsch consumer culture at least since the days of Wizard of Oz, the crooning Sinatra and the 1970s TV sit-com, Bewitched, and then more recently, Harry Potter.

But folks who used to make fun of “woo-woo” now begin their sentences with “not to get all woo but…” as they then proceed to do exactly that, get all, you know, woo on you (whatever the heck that means!). There are the popular writers who have never mentioned sacred arts or rituals in their work and now are making them a core part of their “marketing strategy”. There are the life and business coaches who are adopting “witch” or some variation thereof to their list of job titles. How much of this represents real learning? And how much of it is merely following the trend? Underneath all of it is there any sense and any respect for what Witch is really about? And what happens when the trend shifts, and blows in a different direction?

I would hope that many continue discovering their magic and a broader stream of Sacred Arts, but I suspect that all-too-many of the voices we hear “witchifying” everything will eventually turn to something else to ‘market’ themselves. Who knows? Maybe one day the trend will turn to adopting the inquisitorial “look”of crucifixes and monks, or the“look”of Puritan witch-hunters. Wouldn’t that be fun? Instead of lots of instagram ready pics accessorized with crystals we will accessorize with what? Burning coals? Pyres ready to be lit. A hangman’s noose?

If you have grown up in North America, and have participated in Halloween as a child, you’ve heard of witches. Witches are fun. You’ve ‘seen’ them too: in posters and images, movies, songs and costumes. You know, the green skin, hooked nose, broomstick wielding and black cat loving old biddy. You’ve of course heard all about the Salem witch trials and the witch hunts. Not so fun. And you hear the term witch-hunt appropriated in the political sphere today – even less fun.

The word itself has an old history, well before North America was first colonized by Europeans. The women and men called witches have always been associated with a dangerous power – even as large institutions (like the Church or later the Scientific Establishment) have claimed that they have no power, that their beliefs and life ways were built on mere fantasy. The women and men called witches have been, and in many places still are, harangued, accosted, harassed, and killed. Groups of people who experience such are not sought out and molested because they are seen as powerless, but precisely because they are seen as powerful, as dangerous. Persecution is always a tacit admission that the group persecuted has power. What is more, the sources of their power are not understood, easily rationalized, visible, and/or controllable.

So when we use a word like“witch”, we are – unconsciously – calling upon both a blood-stained history and at the same time kitschy commercial stereotypes that seem like harmless fun. Those are two strands of the lineage carried in the word Witch. Here is another: sovereignty; sovereignty for all.

Witches make magic. That’s what they are supposed to do (besides scare children in graveyards or seduce married men, I guess). The idea of magic appeals to so many of us right now because we are (if I may put it bluntly) so tired of the pall of fatalism and hopelessness hanging over everything, especially in politics. It is so tempting to feel like we are on a runaway train, headed to the brink of a precipice. Magic – when practiced correctly, we sense – leads to the discovery of hitherto unseen choices and possibilities – on our own terms. Magic, especially our own wild magic, poses a brilliant alternative to the fatalism, hopelessness, and victim hood that the air can feel so very thick with these days.

There are many theories: it could be that Witch is the new face of feminism, a millenial battlecry, about claiming or re-claiming our personal power – and evidently then exercising that power in whatever ways we see fit. Witch is about allure, rebellion, seduction, and independence – all at the same time.

Meanwhile, actual witches are doing their thing, you know, living life. They are picking up kids from soccer practice, learning how to dance flamenco, trying out a new recipe, asking the cute girl or boy out for the third date, working out, trying out a new flower essence, planting seeds, listening to dreams, living life in the best way they know how. And that is really the whole point of the thing isn’t it?

So when “witch-kits” are introduced into the mass market encouraging a huge outcry, what are people crying out against? Yes, they are angry that their way of life has been packaged for profit. Yes, they are responding to a sense that to try and package a spiritual path, any spiritual path, is, all good intentions aside, an attempt to diminish both the path and the people that travel it. And yes, they are responding to their way of life being presented in its most vapid, superficial, and superfluous form. They are rightly reacting to a perceived threat and theft of their power. But both our fascination with Witch and our resistance against trading on the term for profit strike at something deeper than power.

Power, at the end of the day, is not that interesting. There are the forces that you have power over and then there are the forces that have power over you. The pursuit of power is almost always one way: we want to increase our personal power and we want to decrease the ways in which we feel dis-empowered or without power. Rarely do we hear someone say that they want to learn from power, rarer still do we find people interested in precisely the places where things are quite beyond our power to control. In fact, in today’s world we have all tacitly said that there is nothing, really, beyond our power to control.

Big science and big money are working in tandem to rule over and control everything – even up to and including Death. And those of you who have read your Greek Tragedy, your European fairy tales, your African and Middle-Eastern folk tales, your Native American legends, or watched Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy know just how well seeking to have power over everything including Death goes. Why do all of the stories agree? They come from different people, different times, and different cultures – how can they agree? Because the authors and tellers of them all encounter exactly what we do – the lust for power leading to ever more lusting for power, leading ultimately to the exact opposite of what we are actually seeking, which is not power at all, but something far more precious and subtle: magic.

Magic may appeal to many people because of some kind of promise of power, but magic goes beyond power. Its roots are much deeper, the word itself is rooted in an ancient word for wisdom, its shadow and radiance much wider. Any true power has a hint of magic – the ability to transform ‘water into wine’, waste material into good soil, a still heart into one that beats out the crimson taboo of life once more. This transformational power, must be exercised with wisdom and discernment: we need to make sure we really know what is good and beneficial in our sense of things, as we attempt to call in the good and beneficial while repelling that which harms and diminishes. We all make mistakes – we just do. That is one way that our magic goes beyond mere power and leads into wisdom ways. It embraces the mistakes, it learns from them, it does NOT pretend that they never happened.

More than that, our wild magic takes us beyond the over-simplified power dynamics and points out what is really interesting and worth wondering about: the warp and weft of the things that are not up to us, that are out of our power and how we live our lives in light of those things. Witches, whatever else they do, make magic. And this is why we love them and fear them and seek them out – because they overtly traffic in something we sense belongs in reality to all of us; and the best witches I have met (and I have met quite a few) would nod in agreement and say: well of course it does, dearie. Your magic has been there all along, waiting for you to see it.

Yes, witches make magic. But so do others: Magicians, Sorcerers, Priestesses, Prophets – they all make magic too – they all carry a whiff of the Witch. What about creative artists and good lawmakers and good business people? Yes, they too make magic, they too have the power to wonder and transform and bless, and so perhaps they too carry something of the Witch within them, perhaps we all do.

The role and concept of Witch is worthy and worthwhile in and of herself; but/and in her mysterious and twisty-turn-filled way she points to that which we all hold – or what holds us – in common, which is magic. When we diminish her, package her, attempt to render her harmless, we diminish ourselves as well. For she is both a reminder and a promise of our own wild magic. She is one of the oldest of old ones who calls us home, firmly back into ourselves. It is for these reasons that Witch cannot be packaged. One might as try to package fire, or the spinning of the stars, or birdsong.

In love and blessings,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Shining the Light

Lineage and Legacy

M

iracles,
​​
​​On Wednesday, June 13th, in the wee hours of the morning my beloved and I welcomed our second child, Heath Henderson Saussy, into this wide and wonder-filled world. The snapshot above is one of the first we took of him. He is held by his big brother Jasper and me, and we are all held by my incredible husband who is behind the camera. Though the image is blurry, it captures the closeness of our family and the feeling of these early days of getting to know this new bright soul.
​​
​​Many of you have checked in on me and us, sending sweet messages and gifts and all kinds of love. Again, words cannot do justice to how much love I feel radiating from our community. We are all settling in really well. I am healing quickly from labor and delivery, Jasper is taking to big brotherhood with his characteristic sensitivity, insight, and good-heartedness; and David, my ever-more-amazing husband, partner, and love, is making sure that not only baby H is well-taken care of but that we all are.
​​
​​The hours leading up to the birth were full of that stillness and depth that I have long associated with the most potent kinds of magic. One of the first things I did as early labor began was to call in my ancestors, for our lineage loves nothing so much as to welcome new legacy, the new stand ever strong upon the shoulders of the old; they are our foundation.

My ancestors form a colorful quilt around me – they hailed from the shores of Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, Germany, and France. They came from Mexico and Eastern Europe. They were among the First Nation peoples indigenous to this country. My ancestors were all, with the exception of my Native American and Mexican relatives, immigrants to not only the United States, but the entire continent of North America. All seeking out the promise, possibility, and safety that eluded them in their native lands. And so, enfolded by my ancestors, and doing the serious work of bringing new life into the world, I was also deeply aware of the crisis occurring at the border, which, as a San Antonian, is my backyard. Aware, as I held my own babies, that thousands were having their babies forcibly removed from their arms because they too, like my ancestors, wanted something in the way of promise and possibility; something in the way of safety.
​​
​​Summer Solstice is today. It is the day when the light shines the longest, a threshold moment that ushers in the second half of the year wherein the light will slowly begin to lessen a bit with each day. It is also a reminder that though the days darken and the shadows grow longer, the most essential light is not the one emanating from the Sun but the one we carry in heart, mind, and eye – the light by which we are seen and the light by which we see.
​​
​​And so a poem prayer for this Solstice – dedicated to my sweet babies and to the families that have had their babies taken.
​​
​​Light our way.
​​Not away from the dark, but deeply into the shadows, carry us.
​​So that we may see into the corners of cages,
​​And beyond the barrier of barred windows and doors,
​​Light our way, steady now, so that we do not, cannot, pretend to unsee what has been seen.
​​
​​Light our way.
​​Into the tear streaked sands of soul and soil.
​​So that we may touch and hold the outstretched, empty hands,
​​Grasping at the thin air that is rent by the mourning keen.
​​Light our way, steady now, so that we do not, cannot, pretend to unhear what has been heard.
​​
​​Light our way.
​​Back to the place of firm and strong standing.
​​Where the foundation stones are named decency, compassion, mercy, faith, hope, justice, truth, and love.
​​So that we may know ourselves both as we are, and also as we can be – best and worst.
​​Light our way, steady now, so that we choose ever and again to show up as our best, even and especially when we see how short we fall.
​​
​​Light our way.
​​Reminding us that it is never too late to right the wrong,
​​to lay down the threads of safety, protection, and connection.
​​Threading what has been into bright and blessed weaving of what is yet to come.
​​Light our way, steady now, so that we choose to heed the old stories and remember the old teachings as we create new tales replete with hope and hard truth and love that endures.
​​
For those who refuse to look away, you can support efforts to reunite families torn apart at the border by donating to RAICES directly, purchasing these scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs (with all proceeds going to RAICES), and/or supporting the ACLU.

From my family to yours,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missive: How to create an Ancestor-informed Tarot Reading

Divination and Dreams

N

ow is the time of year that many of us feel drawn closer and closer to the liminal, the medial, all that is ‘betwixt and between.’

For my part, I have found that the period roughly from Samhain (pronounced Sowen) on October 31st until New Years Eve on January 1st is a pause between the old and the new. For me, the time between the ending of one year and the beginning of a new year, is like the time between conception and birth, the space and pause between breathing out and breathing in. It is a time for gathering the internal resources to be able to truly call out, proclaim, celebrate or welcome the new year.

A large number of my ancestors understood October 31st to mark the end of the calendar year. Feasts were prepared and ancestors were consulted as tribes and communities prepared to enter into the dark season of the year when faeries, ghosts, but also miracles and saints were believed to walk among the living. Across an ocean and in a new land, another group of ancestors marked January 1st as the beginning of the calendar year – and handed down a number of revelries, divinations, and charms to celebrate and validate the transition from old to new.

What I have found is that my ancestors, though they came from many different parts of the world, spoke many different tongues, and all looked different (from each other and from me), also each had an understanding and insight that has been handed down from one pair of hardworking hands to the next until it was given to me. Part of that understanding is how to work with and view this particular time of year.

The nature of this time of year is liminal. If we know how to attune to it, we find ourselves able to concourse with a realm beyond time and beyond space. As such it is the perfect opportunity to do what so many cultures and tribes and peoples from around the world have done and continue to do – speak to the Dead, the Invisible, the Unseen, with an eye to the Living. The ways of doing this are myriad.

Here is a simple divination I performed this year in consulting with my own Beloved Dead, and I thought it might be of use for some of you.

Build an ancestor altar, and devote your time and loving attention to it.

I started by building our ancestor altar. The process commenced at the beginning of October right after Michaelmas. On the evening of November 1st we prepared the traditional foods and drinks that our beloved ones loved in life, and offered them up along with plenty of incense and candle light to help our old ones find their way to their temporary home. That first night we sat quietly together and remembered our beloved dead. We spoke to our little one who is four and who naturally understood that the hot chocolate and pan de muerto were supposed to be shared among the living and the dead. I thanked our ancestors for watching over us and guiding us throughout this past year and for being the strong shoulders upon which I stand. In this first night of bittersweet celebration there was no asking, but simply offering up good things and saying thank you.

Before the sun rises, get your cards, ask for assistance and get down to business.

On the morning of November 2nd I got up bright and early before the sun rose. I fixed a cup of strong coffee and chocolate for myself and offered one to the ancestors and then I sat down with a couple of talismans, my prayer shawl, and my cards to get down to business. I blessed all of the ancestors and then asked them to assist me in getting information for my family to better engage with our next year.

Major Arcana

Begin with the Major Arcana. Because this is a family matter, I pull cards not only for myself but for my loved ones too. This and one other time of year are the only times when I divine for our entire family.

Pull one major arcana card for each family member you are going to read for. The question that I hold in my heart when I do this is: what do I most need to know/what does X most need to know as we head into another year?

Remember that the major arcana cards are invitations. Ask yourself: Does the card present energy and understanding that you want to step into or is it something that you need to step out of?

For married couples you may pull one major for each individual and then a third for the relationship.

Minor Arcana

Then onto practical matters. Traditionally divination, especially at this time of the year is meant to be practical and concrete. So I turn my attention to the minor arcana.

After pulling the minor arcana card, I pull four more for each person I am reading for. They are laid out in a line and are read as first, second, third, and fourth quarter of the upcoming year. This allows the cards to be taken on their own but also placed in context so that a story can be told with them. If there is a card that needs more explanation then pull a fifth card to attain that information.

Don’t forget the BIG questions!

Finally, if there are BIG questions that the entire family is concerned with – projects, endeavors, big choices, you may ask about them directly and pull one card (I pull from the minor arcana with an eye to practical wisdom) for each question.

In my own practice, the divination lasts as long as the sun has not risen. Once the sun is up the session is over. I make a note of the cards I received for myself and for anyone else who wanted me to read for them, and then I go back to sitting with my ancestors, thanking them for the presence and their patience with me.

On the night of November 2nd we will have a final celebration where I will make more foods that are beloved by our way back people, load up the altar with more offerings, and then on the morning of November 3rd we will prepare to say farewell, for now.

I will hold the images and messages received in the early morning divination close to heart and mind over the next two months. I will dream, peer at the upcoming astrological transits, tell stories, remember stories that were told to me, go for walks with my beloved, laugh with my little boy, and listen above all. I will listen as the sun dips lower earlier, the wind caresses leaves and bare branches, and the squirrels with their mouths full of pecans scurry across our rooftops. I will listen to the ones who have gone before me and who see beyond me, and a little bit each day I will weave the story of my next year into being, carrying it with me wherever I go, listening and participating in other traditions of spying signs and celebrating the unseen, and preparing for all of the gatherings yet to come.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Blessing for the Dead ~ New Moon in Scorpio

Lineage and Legacy

M

iracles,
This New Moon in Scorpio also marks the eve of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and Samhain – all festivals that honor our Beloved Dead and our Ancestors. Those of us who have family members, living or dead, who are Catholic, may be familiar with the prayer cycles known as the Offices of the Dead that are traditionally recited on November 1st, All Saints Day.

Throughout these prayers and vigils there is a refrain spoken thus: The Fear of Death Confounds Me. The common understanding is that this petition, repeated over and over again, is meant to bring comfort to all of us who are, on some level, terrified of death.

But the deeper teaching can be found staring straight at us from the words themselves. The fear of death confounds me, meaning, a fear of death is a strange, confounding even, fear to have.

But why it is confounding?  Does it not seem at first glance to be a perfectly normal and reasonable fear? We do not know what lies on the other side of the veil and we feel, keenly, the loss of those we love.

We do not know, but our ancestors do. You may know their names or you may not. You may have blood relatives to honor or you may not. It makes no difference.

Each of us have ancestors of blood and spirit who have gone beyond the veil, gone before us, and they know. Click to Tweet

They tell us in a thousand ways that this fear, this fear that we all carry truly is confounding. There is nothing here to be afraid of. They gently nudge us to set this fear down and get on with the good work of living well.

Today our blessing is a call and response prayer to and for our Dead but also to and for each of us. It is written in first person intentionally and is meant to be read over yourself.

Blessing the Dead ~

These days are of the Dead and so I ask for blessing as I stand with, commune with, and remember the Dead.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my feet so that they will always find their footing and carry me along the paths it is now time to travel.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my knees as I dance all night long with them, reminding me that the dance is always allowed in all worlds.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my core and center so that it continues to be a strong and sound center point amid all the motion.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my heart in her red and blue robes, beating the ancient drums in tempo with her own bright, beat.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my throat, whispering into my mouth the words that they wished most to say and could not, giving me the gift of true voice.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my ears so that I can hear their stories, hear all that is said and unsaid in thousands of bird song languages each of stunning beauty.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my mind so that I know them, in all of their cracks and crevices and imperfections I know them for who they truly are, and I love them.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead bless my memory, expanding out with their slightest touch they call upon me to remember the pieces of my own lineage back together, and in so doing sow within the good, black, dirt that their very bodies have nourished, the seeds for the legacy that is to come.

The fear of Death confounds me.
For the Dead are of me and I am of them, and there is no place for fear within this sacred hoop, only the love upon love upon love that has led to the miracle of my own blessed life.

If you would like to join in our free community altar for Honoring our Beloved Dead you can do that here (open through 12/29 at 12noon cdt).
For more on this special time of year, I highly recommend this post by Terri Windling. For more on Death in folk and fairy tales faces check out this article.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Families of blood and choice

Lineage and Legacy

D

uring this season of remembering and honoring our ancestors and the Beloved Dead, and in the festivals that come after for many of us – the holiday season proper – it is unavoidable to think about family, and for many of us, those thoughts are not happy ones, and they are not simple. It can be a time of loneliness and despair, rather than cheer and solace; or it can be a mixed bag of both in such a way that leaves us profoundly confused.  If the unfolding season leaves so many people despondent, confused or alone with respect to family, that is because family really is a confusing and complicated thing. So many of us simply do not have families to turn to. Or if we do have families, so many others have relationships straining to the breaking point. Or others may even have no relationship: for how can a relationship be cultivated between people who stand on different sides of what seems to be a great unbridgeable chasm?

No wonder that, as soon as the times of coming together begin, so many of us withdraw, out of genuine need for protection, simply because when it came to family, we did not seem to luck out.

We have a saying in my family: we say “in-laws and outlaws” when lovingly referring to the extended family. You try to find a way to laugh, because sometimes that’s the only thing you can do, short of moaning. I’ve got some salty stories to tell about the generations way back, let me tell you, and I bet I’m not the only one. I’ve lost count of so many people who have a history of cruelty and violence in their family, a history that forces them to keep their distance at all costs. How do we honor such truths, and how do we tell such stories?  Aren’t they better left unsaid and forgotten?

A Sacred Arts perspective on the whole problem of family begins with the community of the living and the dead, the past, present and future. It begins from the vantage point of the whole, which for us is like gazing at the radiant sky and earth on clear and starry night. What might we learn if we start here? No matter what form family takes, no matter what it looks like at present, everyone has a family, and that means everyone has stories worth telling and listening to. Stories are healing, and so that means that we don’t have to go very far to let the healing begin.

The dead are all-too-easily forgotten – even the ones that deserve to be remembered. Out of sight, out of mind. So when we think of family, we tend to let only what we see and touch orient us. But if we start with the whole, family is not necessarily made up of people we can always touch and see with our eyes, nor are they necessarily related by blood. Not only in space, but even far away in time do they dwell. The living and the dead make up our family.  What this means for us is that there is a tremendous wellspring of strength from which to draw, starting with this enlarged sense of family.

One of the delightful older stories (it comes from the writings of Plato) has family and friends meet in the afterlife for what looks like a festival. Before moving on to the next phase of their journey, they pass their time strolling about together at leisure sharing stories with one another about their experiences.  Can you imagine getting all your people together to share stories? What an interesting and raucous time that would be – it would be a story in itself. If family is a mess, it is a divine sort of mess.

We wish our family could be the ones that care for us, laugh and cry with us, and love us always and no matter what. We wish all of our ancestors are the ones who stand behind us with their hands placed ever so gently upon our back and shoulders urging us forward, encouraging us to dream bigger and go farther than ever.

But we know perfectly well that families do not always do all of this for us. Families are composite, unfinished projects. They are not a single species, not a single static form, but rather an entire living, dynamic ecosystem, a forest or field teeming with life, with blessing and joy, with hurt and suffering, and – most assuredly – with the unexpected.
From a Sacred Arts perspective, the unexpected is the realm – and the discipline – of magic. And so family is too, those people who are so familiar to us, too close to us or even too far, those people whom so often we’d rather forget. What is most unexpected is that this enlarged sense of family – with all of its conflicts still intact – in fact carries us, supports us, sustains us in a surprising way.
From the vantage point of the Sacred Arts, the broken places in our lineage, our story, and our understanding are the same places that have been so deeply blessed. They are places from which the deepest graces flow unimpeded.
If we know how to listen and to look with open mind and heart, these family conflicts point the way to our own good, and they carry us, guide us, through difficult terrain.
The single greatest thing that family conflicts reveal is the mystery of our self-sufficiency and freedom: We are dependent creatures. In order to be truly free, we must be able to accept our real need of others.
What is the character or nature of this need? Our experiences with family can help us, in no other way, understand and accept the meaning of that need.
To be carried by what arises within the reality of family is not to say that we are not capable of standing on our own. It is, rather, to reclaim those darkest problems for ourselves, in a way that is life-giving, constructive and healing. We are carried by family in the same way the earth helps us stand on our own two feet, supports us as we move in freedom. We are carried in the way a camel helps us sit and move over great distances. This is the way families of blood and choice carry us.
The call of the season, starting at the time of this super full moon in Aries, is to look to what carries you truly. Look to the stories and the sights, the scents and the sounds that carry you day in and day out; there’s your family. Look to the ways that you in turn show up to carry others. Who are they? Whether they live next door, or a thousand miles away, it makes no difference; they too are your family. Where is care given and where is care received? Look to those places and you will find them among the living and among the dead – your people, your tribe, your family.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

The Man Who Taught Me About Magic

Lineage and Legacy

M

iracles,

You all know that lineage matters a great deal to me yes? I’m a strong believer that those who teach, as I do, should especially be clear and honest about their lineage – who are the people who gave them both information and inspiration? I’d like to tell you about one of my earliest, deepest, and truest teachers today, my grandfather.

Today is my grandfather’s birthday and if he were still among the living he would be 82 years old. He died on July 28th five years ago after living in a state that was very much in both worlds (due to a massive stroke) since October 31st, 2005. I miss him every single day; but I also speak with him every single day. That is one of the gifts of remembering your Beloved Dead.

I don’t think it would be too extreme for me to say that the first person who taught me to walk in both worlds; the man who taught me magic, was my grandfather.

From a very young age he instilled within me a love for story, for the wild and unruly (whether it be plant, person, or critter), for music of all kinds, and for the holy. It was on long walks with him through meadow and thicket that I found the roots of my own radical reverence; planting zinnia’s in row after row as a storm rolled in, sitting barefoot on the front porch shelling peas while he played his acoustic guitar, closing my eyes while he would take my hand in his own much larger, dark brown, work-calloused hand and listening with my skin as he would tap out the beat of a song and then ask me to guess what the song was – learning to listen, he called, it, with more than my ears.

My grandfather was a devout Baptist after meeting my grandmother (he himself was raised with the “old ways” and there was never much elaboration on what, exactly, that meant); but I knew from an early age through his teachings that church was not where one went to properly see and speak with God – in order to do that you needed dirt under your nails and dew on the hem of your gown.

Papa taught me where to hide offerings for the Little People, how to make a sacred vessel out of a bored out knot hole in a living tree so that the animals of the field would always be allies (you fill it with acorns and honey naturally enough), how to spot and harvest the wild onions and garlic that grow in the springtime, the Texas Persimmons that are ready right about this time of year, and the chili piquin peppers that show up in February. He taught me that the juiciest blackberries are always hidden beneath the most thorns and that it is worth the prickles and a few drops of blood to get to them, how to burn a piece of land to prepare it for sowing in new life, what rocks could be moistened and then used as red clay body paint, and where the fat horny toad lived. Papa taught me to help wherever you could, to never kill a spider, and what snakes were helpers or dangerous by turn. He taught me about how barn owls will come and speak to some people in their dreams and when they do, you best listen to their messages.

My grandfather was not perfect, not by a long shot. He came of age in a place where everyone was poor but even among them, his family was seen as especially poor. Considered a half-breed because his mother was Cherokee, the family grew up on literally the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Physical violence in his family was the norm as it was in so many families at the time and Papa told many stories of traveling over to the Black part of town (in highly segregated rural east Texas) and learning how to play guitar there. He would be “skinned alive” by his daddy when he got back home but it was worth it because it was music. Talk about a language that transcends. He was in many ways a hard man to live with by all accounts, with a terrible and often violent temper. The times with him were not easy, especially for those who loved him best.

Sometimes I am asked by students and clients if I think people can really change. This is an old, old, question. I say yes. No hemming and hawing, no qualifications. Yes. People can change. Fundamentally and deeper than deep; yes, it is possible. I know that because I know my grandfather did when I was born. According to our family it was sudden and extreme, as if much of the anger, frustration, and violence was breathed out of him in one great gust. He still had his moments – I remember a few of them myself, but with the arrival of me, his first grandchild, the storm raging inside of him mostly passed on. I would never say such change is easy or common; but is it possible? Oh yes.

I was talking to my grandmother yesterday about today, my papa’s birthday. She reminded me of the date of his death (I always forget) and I remember being able to sit beside his still body with my husband and my five-month old son. It was a blessing to sit there with him, hold is now-cold hand in my own one last time before we set about creating the rituals and blessing ways that we make when one of our beloveds passes on.

I told my Nana that I do not memorialize the time of his death, but rather I remember him at the time he was born and came into life, today, August 7th. His candle has been lit, I’ll make the cornbread he so loved and drink some Big Red soda pop in his honor. I’ll continue asking him questions, he will continue telling me stories, and when the owl shows up in my dreams now, I know it comes as a gift from him.

My papa loved to tell stories and he loved a good audience (Leo). I know he would like me telling all of you part of his story, and he would want each of you to go out, find magic, and tell many more stories of your own.

May it be so.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.