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.

This is how the sacred heart is born

Lunar Letter

D

ear Miracles,

December 25th approaches closer and closer, a day much of the world celebrates as Christmas. For many of us, however, Christmas is a tough one. By the time it is over, who isn’t burned out on the whole thing? It’s not hard to see why.

Our world doesn’t “do” depth well. On the one hand, we are flooded in all directions (earlier every year) by tinsel and commercials. On the other hand, attempts to restore the ‘reason for the season’ so often rest on surface interpretations of the old stories supported by dogmatic religious trappings. Those of us seeking the radical re-enchantment of our daily lives are not satisfied with surface tellings or interpretations of any tradition or any story, least of all our holy stories.

But just as we refuse to be satisfied with a dogmatic acceptance of holy stories, neither are we satisfied with the opposite: a knee-jerk rejection of those holy stories, a rejection which, in its own way, is just as dogmatic.

No, you and I like to follow a path of deepest affirmation, and we like to go deeper and truer into the heart and root of things in search of real insight, real medicine, real magic. In light of this, in this month’s Lunar Letter, I offer you a retelling of the traditional Christmas story, as I have received it from my own family and as I have struggled with it in my own life of soulful seeking and understanding.

And so now let us begin. Curl up, snuggle down, read the tale quietly or out loud to your best beloveds.  Our story begins not once upon a time but once upon all time – then, now, always…

 

 

I.

First, imagine the moonlight.

And the moonlight on the sand and how sand can feel so cold, colder than ice, colder than snow, when you are alone, in the desert, in the dead of winter.

This is the story of the time I found myself walking on a wild, untrammeled road. I followed no one’s footsteps along this road. For when it comes to the one unique path we all must sooner or later travel, the one we must bear sometimes and somehow in fear and trembling, what footsteps can we follow? Indeed we follow the path our deepest hearts reveal to us, no matter were it leads. There is no other way.

My footsteps fell hard and heavy on that cold moonlit sand. At first I could think of nothing but the moment we had received word from our dear cousin, word that the tyrant – that greedy madman – would soon arrive to destroy us and our new life. We had to flee at once, flee or die. There would be no time for good-byes. We needed to move in the dead of night to escape detection by the tyrant’s many spies. So we swiftly gathered our belongings, just enough to sling over the donkey without weighing it down too much, and we were out the door.

An old story, as old as the sand that I walked on, but it’s also in today’s news. Look and you will see. I held my breath for many miles, though my heart hammered wildly in my chest. One foot in front of the other, into that dark night we fled, endangered, unwanted, refugees.

And we didn’t look back.

 

II.

As it turns out, one foot in front of the other is not exactly exciting.

You easily get the hang of it. The hardest part is trying to keep the fear and the boredom behind you. But after trudging in the cold with my unborn baby and my beloved companion, the fear finally caught up with us, freezing the surface of our hearts like a frozen pond I had seen once long ago as a little girl. I began to wonder if it was all only a dream — the fire within, the angel’s iridescent rainbow wings, the call falling like life-giving rain.  I began to long for rest, for the deep dreamless sleep. Then I realized something had changed in the air.

“Wait! Is that smoke?” I asked my companion, deliriously. “Do you smell it too?”

“Yes!” he said.  “Yes, oh yes!”

The cold desert wind carried the sweet scent of wood smoke. Where there is wood smoke, there is fire, we reasoned. And where there is fire, there could be a human being, and, hopefully, a human heart. And sure enough, off in the distance, we saw a faint yet shimmering light, a light which was indeed a fire, a fire in a dwelling.

Our spirits mounted the sky and soared with hope. We clapped our hands. Would there be words of welcome on the other end of that fire? As we grew closer, we could see that the dwelling was made of earth and wood, and through the cracks of several shuddered windows, firelight glowed. The rich scent of cooking food, fat sizzling in flame, made my head spin with delight. At first the door opened a crack. And then the crack widened, and a burly man appeared, heavily bearded, with a fur thrown over himself to protect against the cold. His cheeks were red from honey-flavored wine. Beyond him, inside, we thought we saw several figures moving quickly around, disappearing out of sight.

“Excuse us, sir,” we asked, in one voice. “Is there a place here. A place to rest, to lay down, our heads, to bring new life forward?

I thought with rosy cheeks like his, he would surely have said “yes”.  But the man’s small eyes looked down at my belly, and then they fearfully darted to the left and to the right. He shook his head and muttered something of which I couldn’t make out because he spoke a different tongue. But just as quickly as he opened it, the heavy oaken door slammed shut, answering our question, leaving us to the desolate wastes outside. My beloved companion’s face became the color of ash and his brow darkened with rage and contempt.

“No! Don’t you do it,” I said, suddenly, discerning at once what he was about to do, and I gripped his hand, which was reaching for a sharp implement. “Don’t you dare. You think you are showing strength that way? Think again.”

“But how can he do that?” he said, jutting his jaw, grinding his teeth.  “How can he just shut the door on us that way? I’ll kill the bastard.”

“You can’t understand it,” I said.  “You can try, but it is dark fact of our nature. But I will tell you something, dear beloved, something I know for certain now. It is true we are now exiles, refugees, in this land. But I know one thing: I know how unbeatable the spirit within is. We are in truth built for rough terrain, you and I.  For where else but in rough terrain might we expect to find sacred heart?”

My companion sighed, and the light returned to his face, and he looked into my eyes finally. It was the familiar look of my constant companion, the man who refused to flee when so many others did.

“Where indeed!” he said, placing an arm around me. “Then come, we must keep moving.”

 

III.

In later times I would be known as Blessed Mother, Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, She Who  Carries The Light Of The World. But when I think back to that time, all of those grand puffed-up names make me chuckle a little.

No light tip-toeing demurely for this gal, who walked over rugged hills and sprawling seas of sand that seem to go on forever under moon and starlight. This girl didn’t walk on air, like a floating cloud, as I would be depicted in those marvelous Florentine paintings. No, she walked on her feet – her blistered, swollen, carrying a nine month pregnant belly, feet. And where was my golden royal train? Even though I was huge, heavy with child and all of the discomforts that come with the ninth month of pregnancy, in truth I was very small with the scent of sweat, exhaustion, the sour smell of rejection and fear.   But underneath all of that there was still the lingering scent of faith, of certainty, of energy and action.

Do you know I finally laughed, when we stepped into the barn? I did! Even after all we had gone through, I never expected it would be here that the sacred heart would come into the world.  I always thought there would be a shining palace, marbled, with stately grandeur, perfume-scented water running through the aqueduct-fed pipes and canals.  Even the trees and birds outside would bear the imprimatur of a stately cosmic royalty.

No, in fact, what we had was rather ripe, rather smelly, by contrast! Here was a tiny building, dark and dusty, with sleeping, shuffling animal sounds, scented to be sure with sweet hay, warm milk, smooth fur, but mostly surrounded by lots of very rich manure. As we bedded down in the corner of the barn, I saw the soft, drowsy, eyes of horse, cow, sheep and goat, eyes that sparkled like stars. It makes me blush and laugh again to say it now, but I heard the animals talking that night. And in this laughter, you know, that crazed tyrant who pursued us, who threatened to destroy us, that tyrant Fear Itself, was long-faded and long gone, utterly chased away.

Feeling the safety and the comradeship, the donkey immediately felt at home and nuzzled against the milk cow, whispering as it did so into her velvety ear.

“You know, dear cow, something very special will happen before this night is through. This one is a holy woman! You can tell. Look at her feet and hands!”

And the milk cow, nodding head up and down, lowed into the cold air.

“Yes, you are right. Oh, how wonderful. Here let us help her, she can lean against my side when the worst of the pain takes her and I can be solid and steady for her.”

Draught horse blew air out through his fuzzy, soft lips, and with eyes blinking, stomped impatiently.

“A child! A child! A living child! How special, how wonderful, we do not see enough children. I can stand still and strong so that she might grip my mane when the pain is at its hardest. I have heard the women folk say that pulling and stretching and pushing is what birth giving is all about.”

And the lady animals in the barn all nodded sagely and agreed that this was very true. The pig, with its very intelligent eyes and oh, so sensitive snout, began to push the leavings out of its manger, and carried one mouthful of clean straw at a time to create a soft bed.

“I will let the new child have my manger as a place to rest its little head, on this soft straw that smells rich and sweet, in the exact same way we cuddle up our new born babies to keep them warm and clean.”

A golden-eyed cock and a line of fluffy hens that surrounded him with contented clucks raised up their heads.

“We will crow and cluck the news of the sweet child’s birth to the highest heavens! It will be the sweetest crowing and clucking you ever did hear!”

A goat stomped and butted her head, not wishing to be left out of the fun.

“I will share my rich milk with the new child and his parents, for they carry exhaustion in their bones and this will revive them.”

And a small lamb raised what sounded like a plaintive baa baa, but was actually saying,

“I will go out into the fields and find my mother the ewe and tell her so that she might tell the others and they might tell the shepherds to come and help us celebrate.”

The doves that lived in the rafters cooed to one another knowingly.

“We are in for a long night of it, let us make sweet and soothing music to aid these people in the work that is to come.”

And so it was that I heard each animal working out amongst themselves what part they would each play. And as the first wave of agony rolled through my belly and gripped my spine, I nodded my head, for I had a role to play as well.

 

IV.

 I hear that now we are taught that women forget the worst of their labor because of hormones or gooey baby gazes. I’m not sure about all of that, all I know is that I slept it off, falling into a deep and delicious sleep as soon as the Little Light of the World arrived and was put to suckle at my breast. When I finally awoke, I smiled and nodded, gesturing to the faithful grey donkey, the solid milk cow, the strong draught horse, the intelligent pig, bright eyed rooster and chickens, enthusiastic goat, devoted lamb, and gentle doves.

“Look, Yossef! We are surrounded by angels as soon as we entered the stable, they surround us still!”  I said to my beloved companion. He laughed and clapped his hands at my words. Then his look became somber.

“Miryam, there are several strangers outside who’d like to see you and the little one. They look familiar yet different. I’m afraid they…well, should I allow them?”

“Really, my love? After all we’ve been through? Of course.”  I shook my head. When will he ever learn?”

When they stepped into the stable, it was clear that none of them spoke our native Hebrew.  One of them sounded like a delighted goose when he talked. The other sounded like chirruping cicadas high in the trees at summer’s zenith, and the third sound like soft bells tinkling. I didn’t need to know exactly what they said. I could see it in their faces and eyes, and we recognized each other at once, all struck with wonder.

During our journey we had stopped at three places before finally, blessedly, arriving at the barn with the animals. We had been rejected and turned away three times by three men. Now those same men stood before me. And with tears in his eyes, the first – you know, the burly one – held in his outstretched hands gifts to us and in honor of the new child.

“I am sorry,” his eyes said. “We have wronged you. I know that now.  Please accept our humble gifts for you and this shining baby.” Yossef and I stared in amazement at the man,  at the fact that so closed and frozen a heart had melted in this way.

“Yossef, wisdom has descended upon these men,” I said, gesturing to all three. “They allowed their hearts to be pierced. Please make them a seat next to me.”

Now most stories say the gifts were frankincense, myrrh, and gold. But those would come later when the wonderful and wise magi who traveled from afar arrived. But I will tell you now, that the gifts of these wise men were not only the most meaningful, but they would prove most useful to us in the years to come.

What did they give us? Vanilla, and two foreign spices I can no longer live without. They called them “chile” and “chocolate”.  Have you heard of them? The vanilla was for warmth and compassion; but the chile was for spice and adventure, and the chocolate for the sweetness that lives hand in hand with the bitter. Let me tell you, in the days and years to come, we would needing a lot of vanilla, chile and, most of all, chocolate.

And so it was early, early in the quiet desert morning, moon gone to nothing, a few stalwart stars still shining bright in the just-coming-into-dawn sky. What better place than this, I ask you, could sacred heart come into the world? Coming into being, breathing in first blessed breath, among all of us together – creatures, companions and friends.

This, then, was how, one foot in front of the other, sacred heart is born. Then. Now. Always.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.