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.

Tribe is Tribe

Foundations

M

iracles, tribe

I was in an import store shopping for my best friend’s birthday a few weeks ago. I had found a piece of jewelry that I knew she would love and as the store owner was ringing me up I was explaining to her that my bestie is originally from Iran and that while this piece is not from her home country she would still love and appreciate it.

The store owner interrupted me though and simply said, “She’ll love it because tribe is tribe.” Tribe is tribe. She said it with all of the confidence and clarity of a woman who has spent that majority of her life among and within tribes.

Tribe is tribe.

I know that in our never-resting news cycle the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio that occurred at the beginning of the month are old news for most of us. They have left, as all mass shootings have since 2011, their fingerprints all over me though and are still fresh.

As I fielded emails from people asking if I was alright and checked on my own set of family and friends with El Paso connections, I kept hearing that woman’s voice in my head – tribe is tribe.

And I wasn’t sure why but I knew it was important. Then I took a walk down one of my favorite streets where an Acequia was full of water and running at force and I remembered. What I remembered was a psych class I took about a hundred years ago.

We were studying mental health in indigenous populations and I learned that one of the indigenous populations found in New Mexico and Arizona – the Navajo People – have a very specific way of looking at mental illness (and many physical afflictions too). The understanding is that while one person in the tribe may show symptoms of illness, be it mental or physical, the entire tribe is actually afflicted and that any healing that is worth a damn will address not just the individual who is obviously ill but the entire tribe.

I have been marked by every mass shooting since 2011 because that is the year I had my first baby. And that is the year when I found myself worrying about everything: leaving out a tiny piece of something that the baby could choke on, losing him to SIDS, speeding cars, and falling shelves, and…going into a public place where my child could be shot and killed, or I could be shot and killed leaving my baby without a mother or my husband could be shot and killed leaving my baby without a father. 2011 is when I started taking it personally.

Every time I packed lunch for my little one to take to school I would lay down a prayer that my baby and every baby child would be protected from a bullet, that today would not be a day a mass shooter came to a school, a place of worship, a place of work, or a place of fun. Now that I no longer make his lunch I pray that prayer every morning.

And because my babies are beautiful, blond-haired, blue-eyed, boys, I also pray that they are never the ones holding a gun aimed at someone else’s baby – because the statistics indicate that my boys fall into the category of the ones most likely to commit a mass shooting as well as most likely to commit suicide with a gun.

I don’t go into politics in my work or my writing. I remember sitting in hard-backed pews at the Baptist church and resenting the hell out of a preacher who had the audacity to tell me who to vote for. Dressing up that unique kind of tyranny in the “New Age” trappings of incense and crystals don’t make me feel any better. I believe our founders knew what they were about when they separated church and state.

However, for better or for worse, I am a spiritual teacher and writer and as such, I have a community of people who look to me for moral guidance. When the bullets start to fly I am asked to give words of comfort, clarity, and wisdom. To be clear: this is a task that I in no way feel adequate to, but it is also one that has been laid on my shoulders by nature of my work. So this is what I say: Tribe is Tribe.

And the killings and the killers are part of our tribe. There are many people in our tribe who are ill, who are hurting, and who are sick, but at the end of the day, all that really means is that our whole tribe is hurting, is ill, and is sick. Any remedy that further separates us from each other is no remedy at all and any attempt to bring some of the tribe together while leaving others out in the cold has failed before it even begins.

In 2011 I joined a special club, a tribe within a tribe, of parents who send their children to school every day praying that today won’t be the day that their child’s classroom door bursts open and guns begin shooting. We pray that today won’t be the day our babies are shot, today won’t be the day our babies are killed.

But this is not just my club, my tribe, or my problem. Tribe is tribe. This is everyone’s problem. The fact that bulletproof backpack sales have gone up 300% before the 2019-2020 school year begins is not my problem or the problem of my other parent friends, it is also my Republican uncle’s problem, my Progressive mother-in-law’s problem, and it is your problem too. Because tribe is tribe.

Every baby that dies and every person who thinks they can solve their problems with a gun pointed at someone else is everyone’s problem, the only way to address it is together, most especially together with the very ones you don’t want to deal with. You know, the difficult members of the tribe who look different and talk different, the ones that make you uncomfortable, the ones you’d rather not talk to.

You know Miracles, the inverse is also true. If one person commits to healing, to betterment, to living a life of integrity and justice and kindness then the tribe as a whole is blessed by that too. One of my favorite stories to illustrate this comes from the Jewish tradition.

It is the tale of the Tzadikim-Nistarim – the hidden righteous ones. They are 13 people who, through consistent right action, uphold the entire world and make life possible for all. My favorite part of this story is that these righteous ones are hidden even from themselves.

Meaning that it could be you, it could be me, it could be any of us. Because what one of us does touches all of us. Because tribe is tribe. And because there is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be, but right here, with everyone else.

Here is a version of the prayer that I pray over my babies on a daily basis, feel free to work with it in your own life if it speaks to you.

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Creating Ceremony Lesson Three: Say it Loud

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles, creating

Welcome to the third lesson of the Creating Ceremony series! I call this one “Say it Loud” because that is what we are going to do.

At this point you have banished and then done what is probably the trickiest part of creating effective ceremonies – you have waited and communed with the Otherworld.

You are now ready to say your prayer, make your petition, state your intention, and/or declare your goal.

Magical ceremonies follow the same laws of physical matter in many ways. For instance, the law of Mass-Conservation tells us that matter is neither created nor destroyed – it only changes forms. This is true of magic too. When we create ceremonies we should think less about creating something out of nothing or annihilating something else – rather, we should think of our work as arranging and re-arranging things for the best possible result.

Keep this in mind as you create those petitions, prayers, and intentions.

Take some time to come up with the ‘just right’ statement. You will most likely need to journal and reformulate your words a few times until they have the flow you want.

That flow, by the way, is very subjective. For some people their petitions need to be as brief and simple as possible, for others they want long, flowery prose, some folks prefer to weave in words from other languages, while others like to write their petition in verse.

I often chant my petitions over and over again and/or sing them so personally that I prefer shorter petitions with rhythm and rhyme.

If you get stuck in this process, these prompts might help you:

What is the current situation I want to transform?

How do I want to transform it?

Who is going to help me do that? (This prompt is really asking you to consider what Holy Helpers will be allies for you in this endeavor but it might also bring up allies present right here and right now).

What is the final outcome and/or the possibility that I am yearning for?

Once you have created your petition, prayer, or intention I encourage you to say it and say it loud. There is deep magic in working with our voices and letting them be heard. Some schools of magic call this the “power of utterance.” So write it down, carve it on a candle, inscribe it in clay, but say it out loud too – once or many times.

xo
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Hearth and Home Vol. 13 Opening Prayer

Prayer and Blessing

M

iracles,

My seven-year-old is now an eight-year-old. It happened in the wee morning hours of Friday, March 1st and has been feted all weekend, as it will be throughout the month of March. I typically honor this moment, marking the birth of my first born child, with a blessing of sorts. Two years ago it was this one. Today I am sharing my Opening Prayer.

The Opening Prayer is a blessing I wrote ages ago. It is known by my students and clients because it is the blessing I work with to open the space before we begin to learn or work together. But it is an opening prayer in more than just one sense. It is a prayer created to open us up…to our experiences, our inner knowing, and to each other. A prayer to allow us to be open and at the same time to hold fast to the things that are most important, refusing to be knocked off course. For me, motherhood has been all about opening up. It begins with the body because to deliver a child into the world you must be physically open, no two ways about it. And then it moves from there like so many ripples in a pond…my heart is more open, my mind is more open, my time, my schedule, my checkbook, my sense of possibility, my arms, my hands, my borders, and my doors – all more open than ever before. And it all started at this time, eight years ago.

It is so easy in this day and age to be closed. Ironically, in a time when we are supposed to be more connected than ever, it is now more than ever when I see us closing ourselves off – to one another, to whatever is right in front of our faces, to hearing different ideas or opinions, to dreaming boldly about the future. We build walls and erect fortresses of solitude and silence with our heads down, bent over an illuminated screen of one kind or another. We thirst for connection – for the stranger to acknowledge us with bright eyes and a smile, for our parents to ask us how our day was, for our children to tell us their stories, for our lovers to take the time to really hear what is on our hearts and for us to do the same for them. We don’t want to be closed off…not to each other, not to the extraordinary, but if not closely watched this is exactly what happens. I say: watch closely, hold on to your dear ones, prioritize love and pleasure and tenderness, dare to be open. May this prayer be of good use to you in the endeavor.

Blessed Ones, thank you for this day.
Thank you for the Earth beneath our feet,
And for the Sky above our heads.
Thank you for the breath running through our bodies,
And the blood running through our veins.
We ask that you give us eyes to see,
Ears to hear,
And hearts that know the right path to follow with wisdom and discernment.
May it be so by all your holy names.
Amen.

xo,
Bri

Soulful Seekers Spotlight:

These little cutie pies (and sons of one of community member Jennifer L.) need some dough to go and compete worldwide in robotics. Donate here.
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PS: I am starting a new community section in these newsletters (see above), the Soulful Seekers Spotlight. Do you have something awesome happening that you want to share? A challenge that you need a little bit of help with? A situation you would like to receive prayers and blessings for? Send it in here.

PPS: Next week I am hosting a second video chat and we are talking Money Magic + Tax Prep Mojo. This is the second one of these that I have done. Make sure you are subscribed to the Resources list  to get all the info!

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.
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​​And so a poem prayer for this Solstice – dedicated to my sweet babies and to the families that have had their babies taken.
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​​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.
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​​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.
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​​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.
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​​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.
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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.

Thoughts and Prayers: Footprints of the Heart

Learning and Community

M

iracles,

How do we heal?
What can the Sacred Arts teach us about healing?

As long as we greet difficult times and crises with the traditional “thoughts and prayers are with you” response, we have an obligation to express exactly how thoughts and prayers lead not just to action – which is the typical battle cry – but lead to deep, lasting, enduring healing.

How delicate we truly are becomes apparent when we consider not only the vast expanse of the universe we live in, but the tide the pressures, and even the dangers, of daily life.

Blaise Pascal, so long ago, trembled in complete terror at the the infinite without and the infinite within. Everything fixed dissolves. We are but fragile reeds, all too easily crushed by forces both external and internal.

That we can be hurt and that we are vulnerable in so many ways – body, mind and heart, even in ways we often aren’t always prepared to admit – cannot be denied, though it is popular to try, to claim loudly that all is well and proclaim “peace, peace” when in fact there is no peace.

While recognizing this fact of our existence – that we all have experienced wounds, that we all know what it means to feel broken – while acknowledging and even honoring it, the Sacred Arts perspective holds this knowledge in balance. Our struggles are one part of our stories; not the whole of them.

This is is what the Sacred Arts teach us. Take any practice of meditation or prayer, rituals and ceremony, any devotion to the movements of the body and spirit, any use of divination and folk practices of magic or storytelling. Look at Tarot or Astrology – for example – and consider the stories being told there, the situations unfolding.

Here is what you will find: just as we are delicate in ways we may not be totally willing to admit, we are also tougher and more resilient in ways that we also aren’t always prepared to admit, or in ways that we simply have a hard time seeing. There are possibilities – choices – we haven’t yet imagined, potentialities waiting for us in real life, here and now, like those newly discovered rooms and places that many of us come upon in our night time dreams.

We would like nothing more than to realize this about ourselves – that we are tough and tender, that we are broken and blessed – not either/or but both/and, and yet, it is so very difficult to see ourselves, to know ourselves, wholly. Much easier to flip through ideas and big abstractions, words and images, much easier to misjudge where the broken places and the blessings that emerge from them show up in our unique and particular lives.

The Sacred Arts are not treasure maps where X marks the spot, nor are they a labyrinth where there is one way in and one way out. Rather, the Sacred Arts are like the pilgrimage pathways that can be found world over – they are knowings, they are practices, they are prayers poured out straight from the soul that give us the needed support as we go about literally re-membering ourselves, re-membering all of our parts, re-membering that every wound also calls forth a medicine.

There is not “one pathway to rule them all”, not a one-size-fits-all method, but many related, complementary mutually supportive pathways, woven together by each living soul. Maybe they are woven neatly, but often they are not. The stories, songs, poems, dances, rituals, wisdom books, prayers and blessings, the clothes and fabrics and foods, the architectural dwellings, the divinations and the magical ways and means, all serve to help us make those discoveries for ourselves, in our own time, out of our own raw and direct experiences of life – and this is what, at bottom, matters most.

That is to say – it is not “thoughts and prayers” that matter so much. It is your thoughts and your prayers, and their ‘metabolism’ within the horizon of your own life that matters. The specific ways you think and the ways that you act on those thoughts. The ways that you pray (with a reminder here that prayer was never meant to be uttered in an abstract, passive and impersonal voice). When understood in this way, your thoughts and your prayers are part of the blessing that come out of your particular wound. They are part of your medicine, and we are all a little bit more healed when they are shared. The actions that come from them inspire and help others find their own way.
Hearts heal differently than bodies. This shouldn’t surprise us because our mind and heart follow somewhat different pathways than our beautiful bodies do. This difference is precisely what makes ‘heart and soul’ healing so difficult to achieve – especially if we are locked into a single way of looking at the healing process, abstracting from the physiological processes of the body. It is why, when I write about healing, I also write about wholeness and holiness – they need to be kept together.

It is also why so many of our collective efforts so often come down to so many unsatisfying remedies and palliatives that never work – rationalistic ten step programs and three steps to happiness. We’re groping in the dark here. Mystery does not operate according to blue prints and soul tends to ignore the best laid plans.

And so we run. And in our culture this often looks like forgetting. It sounds like the banal “thoughts and prayers are with the survivors” that lacks all teeth, all presence, all gravity. It looks like getting really pissed and angry and righteously indignant and then getting tired and then moving on, until the next trauma emerges, be it personal or political or global, and we go through the whole cycle again.

All too often we never stop fleeing from our private sufferings, never stop reaching out for healing in systems and life-ways far away and apart from our own – sometimes even avariciously grabbing them long before they are ever freely offered. We gain as much distance as we can from our scars and brokenness, from our raw experiences, and we learn to cover up and distract ourselves in a thousand different ways.

But, as they saying goes, you cannot outrun yourself. To flee from what hurts is also and at the same exact time to flee from what can be healed. It is a betrayal of self and soul and it does not make for easy sleep or better living. Certainly it does not make a future that knows more in the way of healing, wholeness and holiness and less in the way of suffering, brokenness, and diminishment.

Our thoughts and our prayers. The expression has become a trigger for so many because it sounds like mere pablum. And yet. When you take the time to speak to people who live close to the marrow of life, you will also find that in the deepest shadow what carries through is exactly thought and prayer – perfectly aimed, correctly tuned, full of fierce passion and deep wisdom. What can illuminate our way so that we have more of the second and less of the first?

We might turn to the image of the Sacred Heart for help. Here we have the familiar heart symbol, but there is a fountain of fire pluming from within the heart’s division, the heart itself is encircled with lines of radiance, with barbed wire, with rose thorns, or sometimes wings. When we see it in its radiant glory, we may easily forget that the shine and radiance is that of a heart and spirit that has been to hell and back.

In image and imagination, every possible wound has been inflicted on the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart speaks to the scarred heart, pierced by a thousand swords, cut by a thousand pieces of glass, wrapped in rusty barbed wire and a crown of thorns; and sometimes, at first, we think that those scars are something to hide from the world, something to keep quiet, to keep covered up. In our modern parlance it has been dragged down, shot up, bruised, dented, banged around in all manner of ways and yet…still keeps on ticking.

Where does it get all that power from? From what or where does it arise?

See for yourself. Sacred Heart speaks also to the scared heart, afraid because we know we can be harmed, frightened of our worst dreams coming true, scared that the wounds we are asked to face cannot ever, really, be healed. Experiencing the traumas to body and spirit that cut so deep, the ideas that bind us to a limited view of life and love, the habits that keep us from not just living life, but living life well, we are afraid that we will only ever be broken.

Sacred, scarred, and scared heart teaches us this then: the way to strengthen your thoughts and prayers into something real, something lasting, something that actually will bring healing is nothing more than to really learn to bear witness to what is broken, in the full knowledge that the blessing can and will be found.

Not either/or but both/and.

Buddhist traditions (like all spiritual traditions) also have their own Sacred Arts practices, and tell the same story: the radiant lotus blooming out of the muddy murky depths. The suffering of our lives and the deepest well-spring of joy and peace are not two separate realms or fundamentally different things, although they may appear to be. Our challenge is to face our own tendency to always look away, in the other direction, far away from that ‘muck’, for our joy – oh god anything but the muck! – and, in so doing, cut off the real sources of joy in our lives.

The Catholic tradition reminds us that to the Sacred Heart, what we call broken shards and scars are for it the crown jewels which bedeck and bedazzle.

And the Sacred Arts remind us that Thoughts and Prayers are not weak or insipid or pointless so long as they come from your own rich soul soil, for then they reverberate with effective power, opening blessing ways that come from within the heart of sorrow and the deepest wounds.

This is not an easy teaching, and I’m afraid many will find it hard to stomach. I would like nothing more to to tell you that there is a silver bullet formula, an easy five step program, and that when you learn magic, a simple magical spell will solve all of your problems in a flash.

Ah, but then you would never come to be reminded and to discover your own bone-deep knowing what real magic is, and that it is here, in your life, and it has been waiting for you, all along.

And if I insisted that it’s to be along a single path, why, you will have been misled along a fruitless direction and would consequently never come to know what gifts you truly do have in this life, and moreover why it is we have the Sacred Arts in the first place to lead us forward along the footprints of beauty, power, wisdom and grace towards thoughts and prayers that usher in real healing and enduring change.

In love and blessings,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Prayer for the Solar Eclipse

Lunar Letter

M

ay we shine.

And as we shine, we know that we journey, one foot in front of the other, carving out the regular cycle of our stories, the circular motion of cell and breath and life, and that during this journey there will be interruptions.

We trip and we fall as we wander our course, sure as the Sun and Moon also trip over themselves in their giddy rush to meet one another once more, falling into each other’s limned embrace.

And as we rise up with our skinned knees and elbows we might, if we are brave, we might, if we are something close to wise, say “thank you” – hearing within the interruption a call to attention and awareness, discovering grace in the fall.

Seeing too the patterns to which we have clung and agreed and perpetuated knowingly or not, and taking the moment of rising to decide if we still wish to walk in this particular way on this particular path, knowing that the choice resides within, as does the answer.

And as we choose, righting ourselves once more, traveling our path with greater purpose, we no longer fear the falling, the missing of the mark, or the wandering off the course and into the wild and star-filled woods. Rather, we welcome the moments of panic and loss, recalling the freedoms that they hold alongside our own true commitments, knowing that they bring us ever closer to the embrace of our own deepest Beloved.

And so, burnished by shadow and bruised by our falling, we shine ever brighter.

Image credit: The above image comes from the book Sun and Moon, which I first heard about from the fabulous Arts and Culture blog, Brainpickings. Sun and Moon is published by indie publisher Tara Books, dedicated to giving voice to marginalized art and literature, and featuring the work of ten Indian folk and tribal artists illustrating ancient stories about Sun and Moon.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.