magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters
ARRIVING on full moons each month.
e went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.” From Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol share
Lunching with two good friends last Spring, our conversation turned naturally to house and home. Spooning gobs of guacamole into Baby Heath’s happy and very large mouth, I bemoaned the fact that I was sure our house was too small for my two big strapping boys. They are both in the 99th percentile in each age bracket for height, weight, and head size. I mean, are we going to have to get a meat locker to meet their ‘feed-me-Seymour’ style appetites? But the thing was, I said, we really did not have a true third bedroom, so obviously we would need to move. Right?
Both of the women laughed and spoke in rapid Spanish that I couldn’t follow. This was, they explained, one of the American attitudes that were a particular puzzle to them, having grown up in Mexico. They could not understand why Americans were so determined to have every child in a home have their own room. It wasn’t because this attitude was privileged or spoiled or ridiculously luxurious that they took issue with it. They just thought that putting a child in his own room seemed so very lonely for the children.
They went on to tell me that in Mexico, even in grand and large houses, the children would naturally all come together in one room, sleep together, tell stories, sneak sweets – in short, do all of the things that children like to do. They would not dream of being isolated in their own rooms. After that lunch, I went home and a few days later my husband and I spoke to our eldest. We could, we said, look for a bigger house so that each boy would have their own room or we could stay put in this house and this neighborhood that we all loved, but Jasper would have to share his room. Jasper, in turn, looked at us with a mixture of incredulity and amusement that only an 8 year old can muster, rolled his eyes, and pronounced that OF COURSE, he was sharing a room with his brother, DUH. Considering the conversation over, he then went to his desk, got out his art supplies and replaced the “Jasper’s Room” sign on the door with a “Jasper and Heath’s Room” sign. David and I looked at each other, a little stunned it had been so easy and also thinking – Well, hell. Why didn’t we do that sooner?
Over the past week, three synchronicities have made me think about this story again and again. The first was a newsletter that contained an enthusiastic exhortation to soulful seekers to share with each other — their ideas, inspiration, favorite people and teachers, the best art and pieces of writing and magic making that stirred their souls. The author claimed (and had a good amount of evidence to back the claim) that online advertising was and always had been DOA and that as a result when we find someone or something that enlivens and inspires us then we have a responsibility to share that with others because that is really the only way we find each other on the internet any more. Sharing is how we make the web work.
The second moment was in an email with a friend who was distraught about a conversation she had had with a couple of her friends. They had wondered if she could marry them and she told them that she did not do wedding ceremonies. They were super disappointed and she felt horrible that she had to say no – bad to the point where she was thinking maybe she should do wedding ceremonies. I asked her if there was any part of her that was interested in doing wedding ceremonies, and she said: “absolutely not”. So then I asked her if she knew anyone who did wedding ceremonies. It turned out she knew three people! She went back to the couple and gave them the names. They were thrilled to have some leads and she was thrilled that she was able to support them after all.
The final situation centered around the shooting at Saugus High School in California two weeks ago. A few days after the shooting, I started receiving private messages and emails thanking me for a specific stream of posts I have shared on social media, hashtagged as #findthehelpers (these posts are about people and animals who help in one way or another). One of the reasons I left social media earlier in the year was because I grew so frustrated with the communal hand-wringing that seems to always happen when tragedy strikes, followed by (what feels to my sensitive soul at least) business as usual in the next few days. This latest tragedy was accompanied by the tragic chorus, but I was also hearing from people who told me that the things I had shared (mind you, I didn’t DO anything, I just SHARED some things) gave them hope when everything felt hopeless. One woman told me that the thread allowed her to overcome her anxiety enough to take a shower and wash her hair. A dad told me that after reading some of the posts in the thread he was able to get it together enough to talk to his son about school shootings. Someone else said that the posts reminded them that there really were good people in the world still and this knowledge allowed them to move through their depression enough to buy groceries and cook dinner. These may seem like extreme examples, but I saw the same theme repeated again and again. And they made me realize something. When I decided to return to social media, I knew I wanted to be a force of positivity and a voice for what is possible. I started looking for helpers – all kinds of helpers who are helping in all kinds of ways, even without really knowing why. When the latest school shooting happened, I understood why. It was because one of the things we are told after these all too common tragedies is that we need to “look for the helpers”. That’s what Fred Rogers advised. I realized I wanted to have a medicine cabinet for our community full of stories of helping so that when the tragedy strikes, we have a place where we can find the stories that might just give us enough juice to make it to the shower or to work, or to the grocery store, or to school. This whole story is to illustrate what the power of sharing can really do. It can restore our hope and keep us tender, both of which are probably the hardest things to come by nowadays.
As we enter into the holiday season we will be told, cajoled, and commanded in every possible tone and tune to “share”. In both of these cases, the idea of sharing loses something, loses a lot. It becomes flat. It’s a have-to, not a want-to – a duty, an obligation, a responsibility. Buy the presents, get them wrapped, give money to the Santa with the bell on the curb because I’m a good person and that’s what good people do. I think that kind of sharing sucks. I actually think that kind of sharing is a travesty against real sharing and discourages it more than anything else. So I am going to say: if that’s how you share then maybe you should just give yourself permission to stop and not share anymore! True story: you don’t have to share.
But…if you are interested in pleasure, dare I say hedonism, then you probably want to share, like a lot. Share what you love, what brings color and depth, scope and breadth to your life. It is the most pleasurable activity because everyone benefits – the person who shares and those who receive the sharing. Like prayer, sharing can be done in a million different ways and like magic, our lives are not quite complete without the pure pleasure of sharing what matters most.
I know this was supposed to be a Hearth and Home so here is a quick check-in: Jasper dressed up as the Phantom of the Opera for Halloween and played the piano in front of his entire school. Heath was a baby dragon and those of you who have met him in person know that this was perfect. Dia de Los Muertos in town and at home was beautiful, quiet, still, and powerful. Making Magic is still going strong and I’m about to celebrate its 6 month birthday (if you loved it, please share that!). David and I just completed the Whole30 which is a whole newsletter in itself and we are feeling pretty strong and sassy. You too can #findthehelpers and see all of the ways that #magichappens on my Facebook feed. Star Stories is officially wrapped and soon will be sent to their owners (each one has to get a final proofread) and then I am diving into the next book.
Oh, and another book I contributed to, The Karma of Cats, is out and has a trailer featuring me reading part of the essay I wrote – so I am sharing that (a fitting ending to this letter) and wishing you all a blessed week!
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:
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:
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.
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 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!
his is the third in a short volume of writings on Mercury’s upcoming retrograde into the sign of Scorpio – which begins on October 31st. You can also find these writings at Canto and on my Facebook page where you may comment or ask a question if the spirit moves you!
Today I want to focus on another area that this Mercury retrograde period in Scorpio is likely to affect and that is…your money.
Among the things that Scorpio rules are money – specifically money that comes to you from other people and other resources. Some examples of the kinds of funds that are handled by the Scorpion include stocks, bonds, assets, inheritance (and wealth made from inheritance), investments, capital gains on investments, bonuses, etc.
A simple way to think about this is that Taurus handles your day to day expenses and cash flow – the bringing in of money, but Scorpio speaks to how you save and especially how you GROW your money.
So, as we know, Mercury retrograde encourages us to look at specific areas of our lives and ask questions like what needs to change? What needs to shift? This energy is the perfect planetary energy for reviewing, re-assessing, and re-structuring.
Bottom line: when it comes to your money and finances, if something is not working, this retrograde period is a great time to identify what specifically that something is and repair it. Obviously, though you have to see that something isn’t working before you can address it. If you aren’t aware or refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem in this area then the first thing that will happen is that this retrograde period will bring your attention to that issue by whatever means necessary.
This is why it is best to be proactive with Mercury retrograde. If you know that there is an issue in any of the financial areas described above, take steps before the rx period occurs to address them. Be on the lookout for funny money stuff – including false transactions, weird fees, bad advice on investing, and drama around inheritance. The retrograde period is NOT a good time to make any new investments or major shifts in your money but it is an excellent time to review your returns and make plans for moving funds AFTER Mercury goes direct once more.
Finally, because things are more likely to break off getting glitches during Mercury rx, the best idea is to go into the period with a little extra cash saved up!
You’d never know it was early September here in San Antonio. Every so often we get a thrilling hint of the big change coming, but most days the 100 degree temperatures will throw us off track. I was sitting at the edge of the sandy pitch of a field watching a football game the other week while the sun pounded down on top of me, wondering, how did this happen…? What wrong turn did I take?
It wasn’t just the heat. I was in this field, in the sun, to watch my son play football. This was not something I could ever have seen coming. Growing up in Texas there were a few things I made it my business to avoid: pushy Bible-thumpers, getting married too young, irresponsible gun owners, sport hunters, and…football.
Although there was a very brief period where I waved pom-poms and shouted cheers on the sideline of football fields, and the time I sang the national anthem to open up a state championship game, I did not like the sport. From my viewpoint, it was the source of never-ending budget woes for the fine art departments all across the state. Football was always the reason we couldn’t afford new costumes or light gels or sound systems for theatrical and choral events. But even more, I bought into the notion that all football players were dumb jocks and chose to ignore or overlook the fact that there were quite a few of them in my honors and advanced placement classes. Football was huge at my rural high school. It was everything to many people, life itself, and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t like it and so I paid zero attention to it.
After high school, I went to a very small liberal arts college tucked away in the mountains. The college did not have a football field, much less an athletic team. (We did, however, have “Spartan Mad Ball”, but that is a story for another day.) So I never really thought much about the game after the age of 18. I would watch the Super Bowl with my family for the commercials and I cheered when the New Orleans Saints won one year and when the Eagles won a couple of years back because I like come-from-behind victory stories of any stripe. But generally speaking, football was not a part of my life in any significant way.
Our oldest child is a gifted visual artist and musician. He likes playing basketball and soccer, and so I never really had cause to think about his relationship to football other than to look at the data around concussions and decide unilaterally that he would never play full contact unless the game radically changed.
Then, last spring, talk of flag football came up. Then again, in summer when registration opened. I found myself in both cases writing my son’s name on the lines of various lists, and it was like the experiences you hear people report when they die – of seeing themselves from a far off distance…it was like that, disembodied.
Before I knew it, a team had been formed and my son came home and told me he was playing “center”. My husband told me that our son would be responsible for “snapping” the ball. He said this as if it were perfectly obvious what all of those words meant. And all I could think was “damn, damn, damn, damn…I have no idea what is happening!!!”
If you know any kids, you know that every now and then they talk about stuff with this air of confidence and you maybe know .05% of what they are talking about. But you still know .05%. In this case, I knew precisely 0%. This was a first for me. So I woke up early as I do, worked on the upcoming book, and then found myself in the unfamiliar world of ESPN. And friends, it is a WORLD.
I learned the basics about flag football, the names of the positions for starters, and delved into the craziness of different plays. I discovered that many of the best college players are also outstanding academically and that some of the greatest pro players of all time were also dancers. I saw lots of articles on the various problems and hypocrisies of the NFL and of pro sports in general, but I also saw community outreach and the ways that these organizations are trying to do better. I was humbled by how much I didn’t know, and by how many wrong things I had assumed. I talked to a mom friend of mine who is sports savvy and I confessed my ignorance and new-found knowledge to her while she benevolently chuckled.
Now I am not sure that I could call myself a fan of football. In fact, I am pretty sure I can’t call myself that. And I have no clue if my child will play after this season or if his little brother will want to play at all. But none of those things are the point of this story. This is not about how I came to love football. Rather, this is about how I thought I knew something for sure – about an activity, the people who do it and the people who enjoy it – and how I crashed, face-first into how wrong those assumptions were. It was painful, what they call a “growth” experience, but it was also direct teaching about magic.
Think on it. Take whatever situation you would like to magically charm this way or that and ask yourself what assumptions underpinning your intentions you are carrying about the situation, about the people involved, about the external conditions, and most of all about your relationship to those things. What if your assumptions are off by just a little? What if they are dead wrong? What if there is a lot more territory to roam and explore within the situation than you originally were able to see? How does that change your magic? How does that change you?
You know if you’ve read my book “Making Magic”, that I never give a “definition” of magic. In my view and experience, no such thing is possible, because magic is radically particular to each person and each situation.
But we can describe some conditions for magic, and this is one of them, the moment when one of your most cherished beliefs is given a vigorous shaking by some experience.
Magic happens in the space these questions create. the changes that could flow from them, and our ability to follow them out where ever they may lead. It happens in the completely unexpected, un-looked for, and least likely places…like a hot football field in South Central Texas.
So, I’ll continue to sit there in the 100 degree heat watching a game that challenges all of my assumptions, because I want to see where all of this leads not only with my child but with my relationships and with my life as a whole. What friendships will be created, fostered (or even dissolved)? What new insights will this experience afford all of us? What magic will be made?
We are celebrating a Full Moon in Pisces today, and Pisces loves challenging assumptions. Let yourself celebrate by paying close attention to your dreams and taking a magical sacred bath.