Holy Helper Mercury

Foundations

H

e (Holy Helper Mercury) is the fleet footed one, quicksilver tongue, knowing and speaking all the languages that ever were or ever will be. The idea that turns into a story that grows into a life, every tale ever told, every lie ever uttered, every truth ever hidden. He is the shapeshifter taking on whatever form he will, the one who travels and tricks in equal measure, the love of good words and fantastic tale. He is the student, the teacher, and the road between them. He is the truth found only in darkness and the lie that sounds like pure truth. He is the clown, court jester, Koshare, Coyote jingle-jangling his way into the feast, completely inappropriate with rattle and hat, spitting watermelon seeds at all who are oh so serious and grave – in these moments he is the teacher of reverence. He is every book you have ever read and all of those you have not yet and never will. He is every word on every page and every speech ever made or unmade. He is sound and scent and the one who delights in all the winged ones. He is the very breath we take and the space between each breath. Love of Crossroads and roadways and all who travel, first of the Mages who knows all the ways of transformation, bending, twisting, talking, and turning. His nature is change. Find him in the wind promising the seasonal shift and the quiet breath exhaled in the deepest night to fan the final spark of the campfire and keep the tale going just a little bit longer. He is mouth, throat, tongue. He is a voice. And it is voice most of all that we offer to him — our voices, our words, our thoughts, our wisdom and foolishness and the promise to use them well, to make something beautiful, compelling, or interesting with them, as long as we are in the dance. You can burn incense to honor him, feed birds or butterflies, put on good perfume. But what he likes best, as all of us who serve him know, is the telling of a good tale. Sit down, take a breath, begin the spell…once upon a time… holy helper mercury

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

You Are Here And You Are Needed

Alchemy and Magic

B

lessed Full Moon in Aquarius, Miracles. needed 

Today I have something special – a ritual designed for this Full Moon – that speaks to a trend I have been seeing of late.

In so many of the conversations I have had with students, clients, and folks who write to me after (or while) they are reading Making Magic I have heard the same refrains:

I am tired.
Worn out.
Tapped out.
Exhausted.
I just want to take a nap.
I’m over it.
Does any of it matter?

Underneath all of these perfectly understandable feelings I hear a bigger question: do I even matter?

And it can seem, in the face of global pandemics and crisis upon crisis, that we don’t.

It gets easier every day to believe there really is nothing a single person can do to make things better, to heal the hurt places, or mend the tears or protect what is precious.

But, here’s the thing, you are here and you are needed.

Mathematically, the odds are against you from the outset. Ancestor upon ancestor, the event upon event had to come together in just the right way for you to be right here, right now.

As is often the case, math points the way to magic.

You are here and you are needed because you have one of a kind, perfectly unique, and absolutely required magic for this world right here and right now.

This is a ritual that on the one hand, reminds us of that, and on the other, calls that magic – and whatever sustains it – forward. Because really loves, now is the time.

Ritual ~

If you want a PDF version of this ritual, you can download one right here.

Prompts for Ritual Petition/Prayer:
What magic do I have to share?
Who/What is it for?
What nourishes that magic and keeps it flowing?

Time:
As long as it takes. This ritual could be 5 minutes or 5 days or 5 weeks

Materials:
Ingredients for Sacred Bathing pre-ritual work. For more on Sacred Bathing go here.
Petition/Prayer
An object/image/word that represents the magic you know you are meant to share.
An object/image/word that represents whatever it is that nourishes that magic and keeps it flowing.
Birdseed
Any other ritual accouterments that you would like (candles, incense, altar, rocks, dirt, plants, talismans), students of mine will want to have their cords for this rite as they should for all rituals and ceremonies.

Timing:
You may begin this ritual on the day of the Full Moon but it need not be completed on the same day and most likely will not be. Feeling, thinking, and knowing your way into the prompts is, as always, the most important pre-ritual work that you can do, so as always, take your time with this piece, it may need several days to unfold, answers may come to you in bits and pieces, through dreams and snatches of song, and found letters – let the magic have its time to work and do not rush it. On the other hand, if you immediately know the needed responses then honor that as well and get down to the writing of your petition/making of your prayer.

Process:
There are two pre-ritual actions required for this work. The first is to work with the given prompts (or the personal prompts that they inspire) and from your answers craft your petition/prayer. You may craft your petition in formal language, in rhyme, in image or movement or song. You may craft it with beads or sacred waters or sacred smoke – it is up to you as always. I recommend words, uttered or written, straight from the heart. If you find you need a little extra assistance, here is a guide:

Blessed Ones whom I hold most dear, thank you for this day, for all the days that I have known and for all the days I have yet to experience. Today I come ready and willing to share (name your unique magic) with the world and whomever or whatever has need of it, especially (name who or what your magic is especially for). I honor this deepest part of myself by ensuring that it is properly cared for, fed, and nourished by many acts, especially (name the actions that most nourish your magic) so that I am able to give and receive in right and good measure. For I know that I am here and that I am needed. I hear the call and always will respond as I can in the ways available to me. Amen/May it be/And so it is

Once you have your petition/prayer you may gather up the rest of the needed materials, including the ingredients you will want to incorporate into your pre-ritual bath.

I will not tell you what ingredients to use because this is your pre-ritual bath and I trust that you know what ingredients are most appropriate for YOU and for this particular work.

Set up your working area so that the image/word/object that represents your magic is at the center of your working space and the birdseed is on top of it. Below the pile of birdseed is the image/object/word that represents what nourishes your particular magic. It is positioned below because what nourishes your magic is the foundation from which your magic springs.

Arrange any other ritual accouterments as you like. Those who work with a cord or lasso, make sure that it is applied to the part of your body where it will be most supportive.

Cultivate Calmness.
Open the space for ritual in whatever way you are accustomed to. If this is brand new to you, you may simply say:
I stand between the worlds where space and time are limitless and absolute. As I talk, may I speak, as I hear may I listen, as I look may I see, as I smell may I sense, as I taste may I savor. May my Holy Helpers, Ancestors, and Descendants bear witness to my work as I strive for right relationship with all beings. Amen/May it be/And so it is.

Scoop up some of the birdseed into the palm of your hands.
Take in a deep breath of gratitude for your physical body and as you exhale in thanks blow your breath into the birdseed.
Take in a deep breath of gratitude for the land where you live and the creatures seen and unseen who are part of it and as you exhale in thanks blow your breath into the birdseed.
Take in a deep breath of gratitude for the ones that you love and as you exhale in thanks blow your breath into the birdseed.
Take in a deep breath of gratitude for the many paths you travel and as you exhale in thanks blow your breath into the birdseed.
Take in a deep breath of gratitude for the ones who have come before and the ones who will come after and as you exhale in thanks blow your breath into the birdseed.
Finally, take in a deep breath of gratitude for your magic and as you exhale in thanks blow your breath into the birdseed.
Place the birdseed back where it was.

Utter your petition/prayer over the working space in whatever way is best. If your petition/prayer is a dance then you dance it, if it is a song then you sing it, if it is a painting then you show it, etc.

As you are ready take the birdseed outside and either fill up a bird feeder or scatter it on the ground, as you do so, you may say the following:
With each seed taken up by each winged, furred, or fanged creature, so my magic is taken up and into this world that so sorely needs it. For each life that is somewhat sustained by this food, so my magic is sustained by (insert the name of what it is that nourishes your magic) and I commit to ensuring that I am as well nourished as I can be at all times. Amen and may it be so.

You may close the ritual space as you like or say the following:
Gratitude to my Ancestors, Descendants, and Holy Helpers for bearing witness to my work. Gratitude to the winged, furred, and fanged creatures for carrying my magic forward, here in between the worlds I have learned anew to savor, sense, see, listen, and speak. May these acts bring and keep me in right relationship with all beings ever and always. Amen/May it be/And so it is.

Conclude the ritual with whatever it is that nourishes your unique magic.

Place the images/words/objects that represent your magic and that which nourishes it somewhere where you can see them and learn from them over the next month.
needed needed 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missive: How Do You Honor Your Beloved Dead

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles, beloved dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.