The Medicine We Need

Ceremony and Ritual


e need to make sure we have all the medicine we need.”

My husband tells me this offhandedly, on his way out of the kitchen with the two boys, the screen door shutting firmly behind him. I open the cabinet, what looks for all the world like an altar to health and convenience and choices. Cough syrups and lozenges, prescription medication to manage my chronic asthma, tonics and tinctures in strange brown glass bottles sitting side by side the Tylenol and Motrin. This is, after all, the medicine cabinet of someone experienced with specialized medicines for serious chronic illness – but it is also the cabinet of a witch. I would expect some dark glass bottles and dried bundled of herbs and homemade balms and I am not disappointed.

I stare at the shelves running through the lists of things a family of four, with two active young children, might need to see them through the Winter. I know I can go to the store to pick up whatever I don’t have, but I don’t take that knowledge for granted the way that I did before Covid, before March of this year, before going to the grocery store became a fraught affair.

How to know, I wonder? How does one know what is needed? The irony of a professional diviner asking how one knows what is needed, how one knows anything really, is not lost on me. I have an answer. I wrote it down in my first book. Pay attention. That is what I have to do, what we have to do, ever and always, pay attention. I look again and wonder aloud: what is the medicine we need?

Candles flicker on the Ancestor altar and the air is full of the golden spice scent of marigolds. Soon I’ll add the sugar skulls. Soon we will write the names of the Beloved Dead on each one. There is one medicine we need, a medicine easily forgotten: the act of remembering. Remembering our Beloved Dead, our lineage of blood and choice, and all of the tangles and gorgeous colors it contains, the stories of our Ancestors.

My gaze drifts over to the charm bag that contains the first locks of hair from one of my baby’s head. We need the medicine of memory and also the medicine of possibility, of dreams, of aspirations. Those are carried in the words I write, the seeds we plant, the sparkle of a gorgeous boy’s eye when he wins the game, and the salty tears of defeat when the day was hard.

I tiptoe out into the garden under the waxing moon, sit on the wooden swing with my cup of steaming coffee and watch as the little opossum we rescued earlier this year noses about in the plants and then scurries up his favorite tree. When he was brought into the kitchen, furry body hanging out of our proud dog’s mouth, I thought for sure he was dead. Then I remembered that opossums are quite good at playing dead. Later that day I watched him move, thinking, mmm, surely his back is broken, this looks bad. A day of recuperation at our local Wildlife center, prayers to St. Francis, and now he is rummaging about the garden as if nothing happened. Resiliency then, that too is a medicine that we need to carry with us through the Winter.

This year marked my 40th birthday. I rang it in by standing in line for 4 hours so that both myself and my beloved could vote. A group of women stood behind me. They all wore black shirts with silk screened lace collars. The shirts said: “We are Ruthless” in a nod of respect to Justice Ginsburg’s recent death. They brought doughnuts to the party, knowing it would be a while before we could cast our vote. Commitment to the possibility of something better. There is medicine we need always, and with plenty of back stock.

The Full Moon is on Halloween. Every elementary school aged child’s heart swells as this undeniable, unbelievable, too perfect to be true, fact. It is proof among the dead grass, sticky caramel-kissed fingers, and October pumpkin-filled air, that magic exists. In this year of all years, that too needs to be carried forward. The magic of an October Full Moon hanging low in the sky as the goblins and ghosts come out for tricks and treats while witches wait for the new year to be ushered in.

Now I’m paying attention. Now I see what we need and I know what to do. In addition to the tried and true medicines of the body, I’ll gather up some further things: Remembering, Stories, Dreaming, Hoping, Resilience, Recovery, Commitment, Betterment, Magic. Pour them into brown glass bottles, braid them together while the leaves are still supple, make a balm with them for chapped hands and lips and souls. I’ll tuck them into the cabinets in between the pain relievers and the thermometers. Now we have the medicines we need.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Families of blood and choice

Lineage and Legacy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

The Story Is Not The Struggle

Lunar Letter


ear Miracles,

Every descent into dark and scary places, every journey into the Underworld involves finding the right medicine, a medicine that can be retrieved and brought back into daily life where it may be put to good use.

Like Inanna or Ishtar, Dionysus, Jesus Christ, Persephone or San Juan de la Cruz, we will choose to harrow hell in order to find healing, wholeness, and true, bone-deep, holiness.

So we go, we go to the crossroads and then we descend down into the belly of the world where we are asked to see not with our eyes but with our hearts, minds, and physical bodies. We learn to see a crisis for what it really is: a choice. And to make that choice wisely and descend into the unknown is often the hardest part requiring the greatest courage

As I see it, many of us, many of you, in our own ways have agreed to this task. We have signed up to look at our own scared and scarred places, and many of us again, through various activisms, have signed up to confront the shadowy realms we find in our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, our regions, and our countries.

Yes, we say again and again: yes! We will go into the unknown places, and we will do the hard work!

And we do. Bless us and all that we are. There are so many of us, far more than I think are typically recognized or acknowledged.

But in the doing and confronting, in the healing and the dealing, in the hard truth-telling and the brave action-taking, we often forget that the struggle itself is, after all, not the story. The struggle is only one part of a much greater tale. The end, the goal, is the gleaming treasure, the victory, the cup of blessing, the medicine that restores life, not merely the struggle, the bitter, the challenge.

The Underworld in the old stories is traditionally understood as the most dangerous realm not because of what you encounter there. Every demon was, after all, once upon a time, just another angel. No, the Underworld is the most dangerous realm because it is the place that will trip you up and keep you stuck, mired in a swamp of your own waste.

This is why Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell is not the hottest part of the Inferno, but rather colder than cold, frozen in place and time, still and deadly. It is what can happen to each of us as we confront our shadows. We can remain locked in a never-ending struggle, like the figure Sisyphus in the old Greek tales.

But hear this: our lives are not meant to be lived as one eternal and exhausting Sisyphus-like struggle. The underworld, also traditionally known as the realm of illusion, has pulled one over on us, so that every victory we accomplish is not met with a period of peace and rest as it should be, but instead is met with yet another crisis to solve, another journey to go on, another descent ever deeper this time, to make.

Does anyone else feel stifled and even hopeless by this scenario? So what can be done?

The answer is clearly not to go back to the surface and become satisfied with superficial answers and options to tough choices.

No, the answer is found when we look again to the ones whose footsteps we first followed: Inanna or Ishtar, Dionysus, Jesus Christ, Persephone or San Juan de la Cruz. Descent is followed by ascent. We go down so that we might come back up to the topside world, changed and carrying the needed treasure, the life-saving medicine.

Or, if that seems abstract I would say this: in every cave and every underground place physically in the world, you go down far enough and you will hit water. Even and especially in the most dry, deserted, heaven forsaken places this is true, go down far enough and you will find water, you will find life. And when you do finally find it, the water surges and springs up through bedrock and shadow, through cave and root systems it springs up, enlivening and enriching everything it touches until it reaches the surface where it flows and nourishes all creatures and the land upon which they live. The spirit of this life-saving medicine we seek works for us too in just this way.

Even in the places receiving the least light, places which leave us feeling most terrified, most empty, most bereft.   Even here, if you will go down far enough, you will find a well of water, a well of life, that given half the chance will spring up, healing what is hurting, mending the broken pieces, calling forth restoration and carrying you back up through the shadowlands into your one, blessed life.

You and I, all of us, have what it takes to confront adversity or necessity. Go down far enough and you’ll find it too. Necessity, once known as an ancient and powerful Goddess, demands from us our most creative and inventive aspects, makes us stronger in ways that matter, and provides the occasion for betterment. She is a whetstone against which we sharpen our minds, a deep note with which we may attune our Souls.

And so for those of you who feel the weight of crisis after crisis, who feel it is always a struggle, always so hard, and rarely getting easier I simply say this: there is a well, deep within. It is time to dig down let it spring forth!

In love and blessing~


magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.