Hearth and Home Vol. 18: Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles, fold ’em

Blessed New Moon in Scorpio! This October has been a magical month for the family, mostly because, for the first time since having one child in school full-time, I went into October KNOWING and EXPECTING that it would be busy, busy, busy.

For those of you who don’t have children in school, let me take a moment to explain. October, which happens to be the month when I celebrate my birthday and my anniversary, and the month when many of us witch-kind celebrate Samhain and (in my neck of the woods) the Days of the Dead, ALSO happens to be the month when every school and music function takes place as well. If you are not attending an event for your kids, then chances are you are attending one for someone else’s kids. This just IS an incontrovertible fact – you can’t fight it.

So this year, instead of resisting, I went in with the expectation that yes, every weekend would be busy and spoken for and that yes, with a little planning and a dose of magic, we would get our pumpkins carved and our Halloween tables set up before the mad rush on Thursday night. I knew too that Mercury was going into retrograde on the 31st, so I’ve made sure that we have all of our ducks in a row BEFORE the tricking and treating begins.

Underneath all of the day-to-day busy-ness of costume selection and school festival attending, I have been paying attention to the theme of a lineage that is always present for me, but especially so this time of year.

On my birthday this month, I had a big realization about a piece of the lineage puzzle for me that I had been consistently enchanting around for many years. The message came loud and clear from my Ancestors.

“You have done the work on this, now let GO.”
Well, I said to them, “I mean, I’ve done it this way but maybe if I tweak it this way…”
“NO. LET IT GO.”
“So I hear what you are saying, I really do but I also think that if…”
“Are we not making ourselves clear to you? LET IT GO.”

So I did. I dropped it, I stopped enchanting around it actively, and I re-set some of the long term work to address other things. The very next day I received a very clear sign that this had been the right move. All of which is to say that, as the country song says, you need to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

The releasing work is also part of what it means to honor our ancestors and untangle our lineage. Interestingly, a few days after this occurred, I received another powerful message about a totally unrelated part of my lineage. My Beloved Dead are certainly active right now, as I know many of yours have been.

Since the last time I sent an update, I have received so many notes from people who are loving the two ongoing threads I have on FB: Find the Helpers and Magic Happens. If you need to follow something positive and inspiring, with the occasional interruption of silly or downright nerdy, then you will want to follow or friend me there. If you want to hear what is happening in book and business land, please like my page and join the newly re-vamped Sacred Artists group.

And…speaking of the book, if you have read it and enjoyed it won’t you please leave a review on Amazon? They really help other people find the book.

Oh! And more book news! I am very happy to announce that a work I contributed to, The Karma of Cats, is now out and available from Sounds True. Get it at your local bookstore or from Amazon. You can see a picture of our kittens and read about how they came into our lives and what they have taught us.

Our family wishes you a truly delightful Halloween, a blessed New Year for those who celebrate Samhain, and joy-filled Days of the Dead!

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missive: How Do You Honor Your Beloved Dead

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles, beloved dead

As promised, the next few Lunar Letters will continue a series I call “Magical Missives”. These are letters in which I share specific magic know-how for your pleasure and personal adaption. I know, I’m excited about it too!

For this Magical Missive, it’s only fitting that we work with our Ancestors and the Beloved Dead. After all, autumn is in the air, and we are nearing Dia de Los Muertos, or the Days of the Dead, as well as the day of Samhain/All Hallows at the end of October, beginning of November.

My goal here is not to overload you with information (we’ve got enough of that, don’t we?) but for you to walk away with a way to frame the work and some super practical ideas you can use to help you cultivate and enrich your relationship to your Beloved Dead.

I have seen quite a few articles advising people on the one true way to honor their Ancestors and/or to build the altars, make the offerings, etc.

The question I always ask and encourage you to ask, is: is this helpful to you? There are about as many ways to honor the Ancestors as there are Ancestors to be honored!

So in this missive I share with you how I do it and how I was taught, and how many locals in my city go about honoring their Ancestors, not as THE ONE TRUE WAY, but as helpful suggestions and enticements to you to get started in what is a wonder-filled deeply personal adventure.

Start Here: Discover and Reflect
So you want to cultivate your relationship with your Beloved Dead. Wait. Hold on. Why in the world would you want to do that?

Here’s why, y’all: your relationship to the Dead, paradoxically, nourishes and vitalizes your relationship to life. For real. If you want more vitality in your life, begin with the ways you are or are not honoring those who have passed away, those Beloved Dead.

If you are like most people who have grown up in the pretty conventional parts of the United States and Canada, you likely won’t even think it is possible, let alone desirable, to have a vibrant and active relationship with the Dead. You probably think building rich and creative altars for the Dead is, well, a little weird, a little morbid. In fact, you likely don’t even think about it at all. Honoring the dead with lovingly created altars is probably not even on your radar, except when we are hard-pressed to do it by necessity. And even then, many of us honor the dead as little as possible, and with as little as we can.

The truth is that honoring our Beloved Dead – as often as possible and with as much joy and love as we can – is a normal and deeply human preoccupation, something people have done in most times and places, all over the world from ancient times down to the present day.

The fact that we do and can relate to our Beloved Dead is one of those universal themes we see repeated again and again. Some of the earliest human habitations feature ritual burials placed lovingly, exactingly, right under where the current generation lived, slept, ate, and raised their children.

Traditions honoring Ancestors can be found in ancient Africa and Asia across the Mediterranean, throughout Europe, and of course in South and Central America as well as Mexico. The conventions around death in much of the U.S. and Canada and some parts of Western Europe are quite simply an aberration (and typically a sanitizing cover-up of more vibrant indigenous traditions that needed to be rooted out for political and religious reasons).

Despite our technological advancement, we seem to be the illiterate brothers and sisters of a wider world of humanity, peoples who are highly literate in the ways of death and honoring the dead.

Now different cultures have different rules and norms when it comes to how you relate to the Dead. The good news is that we can begin to learn again the ways we’ve forgotten and enrich our relationship with our Beloved Dead. But we have to be willing to listen and learn.

We have a great teacher in North America: Mexico and certain parts of the Southwest of the United States. Honoring the Ancestors and celebrating our Beloved Dead has become much more popular in recent years, especially with the release of movies like “The Book of Life” and “Coco.” Those of us who grew up with these traditions typically feel that this newfound popularity is well deserved.

Where I was born and raised, in San Antonio, Dia de Los Muertos is a big deal – the whole city celebrates it. In one area of town, a large community altar brings together people of all walks of life in a colorful a rich celebration of those Beloved Dead. Even if you are not Mexican, South, or Central American or of descent from those countries, you can learn from this tradition about your own relationship to mortality. For it strikes a deeply human chord, and resonates with the heart, with what’s true.

I always advise my students to first begin where they are. Do a little digging into your own background. I am not talking about taking a DNA test – although if you want to, go for it. I am talking about speaking to any living family members you have about death lore and death customs in your family. Maybe all has been forgotten, but maybe not!

You may be surprised to learn that you have more than you think you do. This, in turn, can lead to learning new things about your heritage and lineage deeper than modern memory, and it is a wonderful way to begin the process of honoring your Ancestors before you build a single altar!

Ancestors Alive: Who are the Ancestors?
Before we talk about how to honor your Ancestors let’s talk briefly about who the Ancestors are. Generally speaking, the term Ancestors simply means the ones who came before you and in common usage refers to relatives and family members (typically, but not always, related by blood).

You don’t need to go very far down this road before you discover that you probably have some ancestors that you did not know and did not hear stories about (and therefore have no relationship with) and you may have ancestors that you did not get along with while they were living and you do not want to have a relationship with them.

This is why I break the term of Ancestors up further and talk about our Beloved Dead. Your Beloved Dead are the people related to you through blood (family members) or spirit (the family members that you choose. The Beloved Dead can include well-known or even famous historical figures) that you have a deep relationship with and to. They are the ones you love.

There are more levels of Ancestors you can work with, but for starters, we will just talk about the Beloved Dead – they are the ones you will honor during this time of year and they are the ones who will be represented and nourished at the altar.

And while we are on the subject, let me remind everyone that our pets and animal familiars are also included in the category of our Beloved Dead! It is completely traditional to honor deceased pets and animal companions on the altar and to work with them throughout the year. So do include your wild ones when considering who your Beloved Dead are.

While there are many ways to honor and work with your Beloved Dead during this time of year and throughout the rest of the year, in most cases, the first step is to build them a house so to speak. This house is what we call the altar.

Altars, Altars, Everywhere
The first thing you will want to do before you place a single thing on the altar is deciding who and which Beloved Dead you wish to honor. Yes, you may have only one individual on the altar if that is the only Beloved Dead you have. Yes, you may have lots of individuals on the altar if you have lots of Beloved Dead. A couple of rules of thumb that are useful to keep in mind are:

  1. As I was taught it is inappropriate to honor the Beloved Dead that has not been deceased for at least a year. This means that if your Aunt or your beloved cat died in March or April they would not be included on the altar you build in October. There are exceptions to this and ultimately you have to do what feels right and in alignment for yourself.
  2. It is not appropriate to put the pictures of the living on the altar with images of your Beloved Dead. The exception is babies that have not yet been born (ie, ultrasound pics) may be placed on the altar. It is also customary to put items that belong to the living, especially the living you wish the Ancestors to bless and protect on the altar, just not their actual image. For example, you could have a charm bag that you made for one of your children on your Ancestor Altar but not the picture of the child. Again, consult your own best lights when following these guidelines.
  3. Family members can usually happily share an altar space together. This includes in-laws, so you may include all the Beloved Dead in one place. The exception to this is if there was a serious rift between certain family members. If there was, and you wish to honor both of them then it is a good practice, at least as you begin this work, to give them each their own space.

Keep in mind that the altars and offerings we make for our Ancestors are basically proxy centers for working directly with their graves. It is still typical in many places to go and feast right at the Ancestor’s grave. If you can do that then I highly suggest it. Pick one Beloved Dead to honor each year when you follow this protocol unless you have a bunch of family members buried in the same place in which place you can have a complete fiesta!

With these points in mind, the next thing to do after selecting which of your Beloved Dead you will honor during this season is to decide where you would like to place the altar. When thinking about your altar you mostly just want to have a place where you can set up a picture, candle, glass of water, incense, and a bit of food without having it majorly disturbed. It is quite traditional to place these altars outside and if you have young children or cats that may well be the best choice.

Once you have established where your altar is going to go ahead and cleanse it. You can get directions on that here.

Elements to Include
Once again, you will be the best person to determine what you want your Ancestor Altar to look and feel like but my recommendation is that you start very simple and grow your altar in cooperation and relationship to the Ancestors. The essential elements you will need to include are:

  1. An image or object to represent the Beloved Dead you are working with. Pictures when available are often used but other objects can be as well. For instance, I have the strings from the last guitar my grandfather played as well as his guitar pick on my altar. This is also where the use of sugar skulls comes in to play. The custom is to make (or buy) a sugar skull for each Ancestor you wish to honor. You write the name of the ancestor on the foil strip that is on top of the sugar skull’s head to designate that is is the stand-in for that particular ancestor. This is also why some altars have lots and lots of sugar skulls. Once the Days of the Dead are over you can remove the sugar skulls and set them out around your home where the late autumn rains and snows will melt them into the ground ensuring you have a sweet year ahead.
  2. A candle – any kind of candle works although beeswax is a traditional choice. Nowadays in San Antonio, I mostly see the glass-encased paraffin candles.
  3. Water – a glass or bowl of water is a mainstay on an Ancestor Altar because water is seen as both refreshing to the ancestors and it also creates a barrier between the living and the dead so that nothing gets confused.
  4. Incense – Copal resin is the scent of choice for many of us in the Southwest and Mexico but choose something that is pleasing to you and if possible that has resonance with your Beloved Dead. The presence of incense carries over into the marigold flowers you often see on Dia de Los Muertos altars – these flowers are associated with the dead because they have a pungent and sharp odor that allows the dead to find their way to the altar. For in several traditional understandings our Beloved Dead does not have possession of the senses we do. In fact, the only sense that is left fully intact is their sense of smell which is what they use to find their offerings and places of honor. This is why having a scent is so very important.
  5. Offerings – Offerings for the Dead call upon what they enjoyed in life. Where I live we make a special bread called pan de muerto which is offered, but we also offer up elaborate food: usually I whip up a batch of drinks using my family’s secret margarita recipe, add chips, salsa, cerveza, enchiladas, and tamales. I might make a big pot of chili and I always give my maternal grandfather a can of Big Red as that was one of his favorite indulgences.Offerings of tobacco and alcohol are also common. Some schools of thought encourage such offerings to be left out, but I have found that as long as the individuals being honored did not have a destructive addiction to their favorite substance it is fine to include it on the altar.It is fine to create a small plate of goodies and put that on the altar and then eat the rest of them yourself. A bunch of my family members are buried in a nearby military base so I make their margaritas and serve them up graveside!
  6. Flowers – these can be plastic, paper, fresh or dried. Flowers are not absolutely necessary but they do add a nice touch!

Timing
A very frequently asked question I receive is on the timing of all of this — when does the altar go up? When does the altar get taken down? What are the days when the altar is most active?

And the answer is…it depends. It depends on who your Beloved Dead are and what they want, it depends on your lineage and heritage, your culture, and traditions, and it depends on how you are working with your Beloved Dead.

It also depends, quite practically, on how long it is going to take you to create your altar. If you are working with a lot of ancestors and making lots of offerings then you obviously will want to give yourself more time.

All of that said, there are certain times of the year when it is especially auspicious to connect with your Ancestors. Some of those times are:

October 31st – Halloween/Samhain in some European traditions and it also kicks off the three days celebration known collectively as Dia de Los Muertos. Some folks build their altars on this day. Some choose to begin altar construction a week before, and some choose to build their altars beginning the day after Michaelmas (the Feast of Archangel Michael) on September 29th. There is a lot of Halloween/Samhain folklore out there pertaining to the Dead, probably the best known is the hosting of a Dumb Supper.

November 1st – El Dia de Los Innocentes or the Day of the Children (Innocents) – this is when children who died are especially honored and remembered. The altars are full of toys, sweets, maybe a favorite blanket or stuffed animal during this time. Children lost in miscarriages, stillborn, and aborted children are also traditionally honored during this time. The altar would be up and active by this point in time.

November 2nd – Dia de Los Muertos/Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead – this is the day when the Beloved Dead who are not children are honored – it is when we cook a lot of food! The altar is up and active at this point.

Once these days of the dead are over some folks take the altar down immediately. Some will leave the altar up past Thanksgiving (here in America) and some will leave the altar up through the Christmas season – which is also strongly associated with ghosts and the Beloved Dead, and take the altar down around Candlemas on February 2nd. Some (like our family) leave the altar up all year round because our relationship to our ancestors is ongoing.

Christmas/Yuletide Season – as previously mentioned, the days around Christmas and especially the Omen Days that follow Christmas are traditional times to make contact with ghosts and our Beloved Dead. Creating an altar during this season and/or refreshing an altar already built is a worthwhile endeavor.

Memorial Day – here in the U.S. the last Monday of the month of May is celebrated as Memorial Day and in the Deep South, it is known as Decoration Day. This is a traditional day when folks come together to clean up the cemeteries where their dead are buried, refresh their flowers and keep up their tombstones. It is also pretty typical for old time cemeteries to have their annual meeting on this day. Although it is in the thick of Spring this is a powerful time to contact your Beloved Dead, build or refresh their altars.

If you are working regularly with your Beloved Dead then the monthly upkeep of the altar is a good idea. You can work with the Dark Moons to clean off the altar and remove anything that does not belong and the Full Moon is a time to connect and commune with your Beloved Dead.

Communion
So, once you have your altar up and have decided to have an ongoing relationship with your Beloved Dead, then what? What do you do?

Traditionally we approach our ancestors the way we approach any Holy Helpers. We thank them for the goods and blessings in our lives and we ask them for whatever we have need of. In the case of our Beloved Dead we also welcome them, we feed them, we tell their stories to the younger generations, and we build an ongoing relationship with them. How do we do this? It depends on you and your family members, and what makes sense for you.

Simply the act of building your Beloved Dead a dedicated altar space and feeding them already lays a solid foundation for the relationship. You can speak to them, cook their favorite foods, play their favorite music, and write them a letter.

You can pray the prayers that they prayed in their honor and make special pilgrimages to the places that mattered to them. If you have household implements you inherited from your ancestors you may use them on a regular basis to further cement the relationship.

When my paternal grandmother passed away I did not receive much, but I did get a collection of the wooden spoons she cooked with (and the woman loved to cook) that I use whenever I cook. I always feel her presence with me during those times. The point is…these are your people, so you will have to decide what the best way of communing with them is.

Magic
Magic is deeply associated with our Ancestors and most of it incorporates divination of some kind. It is commonly believed that our Beloved Dead have the ability to “see” into the future in ways that we cannot. If you want to try your hand at this, here is one Ancestor-Informed Reading How-To I shared several years back.

Another very common way to work magically with our Beloved Dead is to appoint one (or more) of them as special protectors for the living. They typically line up to do this job, especially if they are being asked to protect and keep an eye out on children, ie, the Descendants. Seeking aid from your Beloved Dead in whatever situation needs help and support is also quite par for the course.

Typically this takes the form of making a petition, followed by an offering or a promise. As you work and get to know your Beloved Dead you will find that they will share other magics with you in due course.

However you choose to go about it, I wish you a happy, healthy, vibrant and wise relationship with your own Beloved Dead. Building altars to the Dead can be a fun and creative experience for you and your loved ones, not somber and grim duty. And as one friend from Mexico told me, don’t hold back. Have a party!

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

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.