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.

When the Dog Bites

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles,

Have you ever seen the movie The Sound of Music? If not, you should. People make fun of it, and it is pretty cheesy in moments. It is also much edgier and more relevant than a lot of us may realize. The story takes place in Austria right before the rise of Nazism and the occupation of that country, and centers around a family of children, their overly stern and demanding father, and a bright-eyed governess. Usually billed as a love story, it is also (and perhaps more) a story about how easy it is to look away from or ignore a situation that is growing worse with each passing day. It is a story about betrayal – and the choice to betray or not betray the things and people that matter most.

One of the most important moments of the film is when Maria, the governess played by Julie Andrews, summons up the courage to sing to the frightened children during a violent thunderstorm. The song she sings is called My Favorite Things and is basically a list of the things Maria really loves.

It is not easy to summon up the things you most love in dark times.

Now, if you have seen the film you know where the title of this letter comes from…here are some lines from My Favorite Things: When the dog bites/When the bee stings/When I’m feeling sad/I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad!”

I like this song. I like the film version, and I like this version by the great Jazz musician John Coltrane even better.

Now every lunar cycle I pull cards from a few different decks that I know and love. I sit with the cards over the two week period, beginning with the New Moon to Full, and then from Full Moon to New. During this period, I make sure to pay attention to what comes up in my daily life and experience. This regular practice can be a useful learning tool to see and reflect on bigger patterns that one might ordinarily miss.

Last New Moon at the beginning of the month, one of the cards that turned up was The Singer of Courage – a card from Brian Froud’s The Faerie’s Oracle, which I adore. The Singer of Courage is a card that indicates that the querent is entering into a time when he or she will need not only courage but to be a singer of courage.

What does it mean to be a singer of courage?

The teaching of the Singer of Courage, The Sound of Music, and My Favorite Things is that courage looks less like an act of clenching teeth and powering-through (although there may have to be some of that), but more like someone actively remembering and holding firmly to the beloved and good things, the true things – especially when it is easiest to let these things go.

Many of you also are experiencing your own unexpected dog bites and bee stings – I know I have over the past two weeks. And this, in turn, brings you your own moments where you can and you must call up the courage to summon up the things you most love in hard times.

On this Full Moon and Lunar Eclipse, we have the opportunity to spot patterns – especially the patterns that we are most comfortable with, most reluctant to question or examine too closely. Our work here and now is to see what patterns are asking to be seen, to gauge which events no longer serve us and need to change. We can only meet them with our courage, a virtue that is very much not a superpower but a native, natural, rooted in our soul soil, power – one that we have access to all of the time. How do we access it? The song tells us.

We remember our favorite things. We recollect what matters most. Say it. Dance it. Sing it. These are the sacred ceremonies that the Singer of Courage will recognize and not fail to attend to. They are the medicine-bringing magic.

Want to get more in touch with your native power of courage?
This candle ritual can help you fire it up.

And you can also consider this prompt for your writing practice:
What are the places that scare me the most and how can I best meet them?

Soulful Seekers Spotlight

Since courage is our theme for this letter I want to give two shout outs to some courageous ladies I know. Elizabeth who runs Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has created an incredible series of scents that raises money for RAICES, a Texas not for profit that is directly involved in addressing the crises we are experiencing at our Southern Borders. Refusing to turn away from horrors requires a special kind of courage. Purview the scents and purchase here.

Jacquelyn Tierney is asking those who will be in attendance at my book signing in Santa Fe to call upon their courage and allow her to witness their lives and stories through the lens of her camera. Details are here.

xo,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Animalia Stellarum ~ Libra

Ceremony and Ritual

L

ibra resonates with the element of Air, and is a cardinal sign. The Sun is in Libra from September 22nd through October 23rd. Libra is the 7th sign in the zodiacal wheel, marking the second equinoctial point of the year when the hours of day and night are equal to each other and ushering in the first day of Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere) and Spring (in the Southern). Represented by the Scales, Libra speaks to balance, justice, fairness, law, partnership, beauty, and love.

The Scales as Libra

Libra has the unique position within the zodiacal wheel of being the only inanimate object. Whereas all other signs are either animals, people, or some combination of the two, Libra has been viewed since Babylonian times simply as “the scales.” Ancient Greeks saw Libra as both the scales and also at times the claws of the Scorpion we know from the sign of Scorpio. In ancient Rome the scales were depicted as being held by the Goddess Astrea and sometimes even today Libra is depicted as the scales held by Virgo, but the core component has never changed: Libra speaks to balance and has long been associated with the the rule of law, culture, and civility.

The inanimate nature of Libra gives us our first clue about how this sign works, for as we enter into the 7th house of the Zodiacal wheel we embrace the equinox – when the hours of light and day are equal – and we experience the shift from a focus on the individual to a focus on the collective. Law, culture, civility, balance, and the possibility of harmony that balance suggests are not physical in the way that a woman or a lion are, but they are animating and life-giving forces that make civilization and existence possible for all.

The scales of Libra are first associated not with a Goddess but with a God, the Babylonian Shamash who was the Sun God and also the advocate for truth and justice. Shamash, and his Sumerian counterpoint Utu, both speak to the revelation of law and justice and Hammurabi, who wrote his famous code of laws, was said to have the laws revealed to him by Shamash. The connection between law and justice was reflected in the fact that Libra’s original ruling planet was not Venus but Saturn – a planet associated with time, law, and learning. The masculine influence that we see in the sign early on also speaks to the androgynous aspect of Libra. Though often interpreted as ultra feminine because of its later association with Venus, Libra and those with the sign prevalent in their chart often blend masculine and feminine qualities in various ways; just another way that the scales bring balance and harmony between apparent opposites.

For the ancient Greeks, Libra was seen as both the scales and as the claws of the giant Scorpion, Scorpius. The association with the sign of Scorpio makes good sense. For Libra’s scales admit of the struggles that occur whenever people come together in any kind of partnership, and also remind all that harmony and a lasting peace is possible; that while your struggle may be a part of your story, it is not meant to be the whole of it. This observation speaks to another component of Libra, that of marriage and partnership. The scales of Libra are associated with balance and with harmony but what is often forgotten or overlooked in that association is that both balance and harmony actually require tension – neither is possible without some tension and struggle. So it is with our relationships. Marriage and partnerships, both romantic and otherwise, rely on creative tensions and the work of bringing two (or more) people into balance with one another.

The ancient Romans associated Libra with Astrea, the Goddess of Justice and Law and also the starry sky. Within the sky, the constellation of Libra is surrounded on all sides by constellations that are chthonic in nature, and so many of the stories surrounding Libra speak to its ability to shine the light and purity of law and order into places that are shadowed and chaotic. In this way Libra is seen as a “civilizing force” who does not forget about so-called demonic forms like celestial serpents and scorpions but instead encourages right relationship with them. The sign later became associated with the goddess and planet Venus with the idea that women are also civilizing forces, specifically through sex and marriage. Venus’ association with Libra also speaks to the sign’s appreciation of art, beauty, and culture, generally speaking.

While it is common to think of law today as merely a list of do’s and dont’s, a deeper understanding reminds that most civil laws started out their life as sacred laws and that law is one of the reasons why we do not live entirely in a “might makes right” society. Law speaks to the intersection of what we want and what we need. The forces that help navigate those tricky waters are rooted in discipline and love, and Libra advocates for both – not only in our own lives but shared with one another in friendship and community.

The Libra as Animal: By Sara Magnuson

We have come to the one zodiac sign that is not depicted as a creature, but rather as an object – The Scales. It is appropriate then to consider what is the balancing force between all creatures; from insect to man, what is the great equalizer? My spiritual experiences and studies with Nature have led me to see it is the Heart that almost all creatures possess. (The only creatures that do not possess some kind of heart also do not have a circulatory system, like Coral, Sponges, Jellyfish, and the most microscopic of beings.)

What does the heart do? It is the center of the circulatory system. It moves life-giving fluids throughout the body. It is the creator of internal rhythm. It beats without conscious prompting. It takes in the depleted life-giving fluids, restores them, and pumps the freshly nourished nectar back into the labyrinth of the body. All Animals with a circulatory system carry an organ that performs this function. For our purposes, we’ll use ourselves and the human heart as it relates to The Scales of Libra. Let’s first think about how the heart actually works.

{Warning: brief and fairly painless biology lesson ahead…}
An organ made of muscle, it is divided into four chambers – upper/lower and left/right. In the structure alone there is the representation of The Scales. Our heart moves blood equally through all four chambers; that is to say, our life-giving fluid is processed in a contraption that is built in a balanced manner. This contraption, this series of chambers, serves as a place of replenishment; a place where oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor take up equal space; a place of filling, of providing, of giving and taking, equally. Balance.

The part of our heart that we can physically feel is the mechanism that keeps the valves of these chambers opening and closing with precise regularity. This mechanism is extraordinary and can function completely on its own. The beating of our hearts is controlled by two bundles of nerves – one coordinates the top half of the heart and one coordinates the bottom half. In layman’s terms, our hearts have their own batteries that can, technically, continue to operate without stimulation from the brain. These two bundles of nerves create their own independent electrical impulses and are affected by our nervous system.

There’s a lot of electricity moving around in our bodies and it’s the nervous system that coordinates all that action, voluntary and involuntary. Part of our nervous system controls all the involuntary actions of our organs and bodily functions and another part controls our “flight or fight” response. The nerves that create the electricity necessary to make our heartbeat are influenced by both responses from our body.

Just like The Scales, an equilibrium of tension and harmony is created within our heart. All the parts and pieces working together come in 2s – two sets of chambers, two sets of valves, two batteries, two actions from the nervous system. The function of the heart is all about that balance.

{mini biology lesson over}

At rest, our hearts beat at a regular tempo all on their own. Exercise causes a need for more oxygenated blood, so our hearts beat faster to keep up. Our thoughts and emotions also cause a reaction in our nervous system, thus affecting our heart rate. The batteries that control the flow of life-giving fluids through the chambers of the heart can speed up or slow down based on our thoughts and emotions. Think about that for a second.

I am someone who experiences panic/anxiety attacks in certain circumstances. If you have ever experienced this, you know that it feels like your heart is going to jump out of your chest. The cause of this feeling is ultimately based in thoughts and emotions. If I take long, deep, diaphragm-filling breaths, and tell myself I’m not really going to die, my heart rate slows down. If I am freezing cold and I can envision myself next to a warm, toasty fire, my muscles, including my heart, relax. When I feel like I may be in danger, my heart races until safety is clear. The physical feeling of my heart beating, independent from my conscious decision, influences what I decide to do.

Do I give in to the feeling that I’m freezing cold, that I cannot defend myself, that my car is going to careen off this bridge no matter what I do?

No. I do not give in to those feelings, but I would not have a barometer to gauge my reaction were it not for my heartbeat.

We see the memes all the time – trust your heart, follow your heart, listen to your heart. Whether we know it or not, our Heart is our Scale. The work comes in not basing decisions solely on what the scale says. Libra asks us to work with all the functions of our body, including the mind, to weigh out our actions. Libra asks us to pause and consider our physical response with equal reverence to our mental response.

Call on The Scales When…

  • You wish to find a lover, deepen a relationship, or bless a marriage
  • You want to go into any field dealing with law, justice, and/or community
  • You are ready to harness the creative power found in tension and stress
  • You wish to have more/deeper partnerships – romantically and otherwise
  • You are ready to debate, discourse, or speak in public
  • You desire harmony
  • You need to charm or persuade someone to see your side of things
  • You wish to have clarity amid the chaos
  • You would like to win a court case, or have success in mediation or negotiations
  • You are ready for balance

Be Wary Of…

  • Indecision – When the Libra project is rocking the scales are in balance with one another but when things go sideways the scales get wobbly and uncertainty prevails. What this looks like in real time is Libra not knowing which way it wants to go – do we have Chinese or Thai for dinner? Do we go see an action movie or a foreign film? Art museum or ballet? This can be especially confusing for those around Libra because much of the time Libra can seem very confident and sure of what it wants and what direction it wishes to pursue. The indecision often comes from a desire to please everyone and make everyone happy and, ironically, leads to a place where the exact opposite occurs.
  • Co-dependency – Libra likes to be liked and so sometimes Libra’s opinion is determined too much by the opinions of others. Naturally interested in harmony and balance, Libra may hide its true opinion of things and people in order to “go along and get along.” This is especially true in intimate and romantic relationships where Libra will go to extremes to keep a relationship intact, even if it is clearly not good or healthy for all parties involved.
  • Bossiness – As a cardinal sign Libra can come off as bossy. Because those with a lot of Libra in their charts tend to be good with people as a general rule, the bossiness is not as noticeable as it might be with say, an Aries, but it is still there and present. When those around Libra wake up to the fact that they are being subtly manipulated or charmed into doing something they don’t exactly want to do, the results can be the opposite of harmonious.

Questions to Ponder for Libra:

Libra, the Scales, shows up in everyone’s chart – there is no such thing as “I don’t have Libra” because it is a cluster of stars in the sky and it is always there. Wherever Libra occurs in your chart these questions will help you get to know it better.

  • What does partnership mean to me?
  • Where is the harmony present in my life, where do I wish it to present?
  • What does balance look like for me and how do I bring myself into balance?
  • What is my relationship to law and discipline?
  • What are my strengths when it comes to negotiating and speaking?
  • What is the role that culture plays in my life?
  • Whose opinion am I most concerned with?
  • What does peace mean to me?

Active Imagination Practice

The idea of balance has a lot of baggage attached to it. Some people say there is no such thing as balance. Others say that there most definitely is, but that it is hard to define. Libra however encourages us to embody balance and that is what this exercise will help you do!

Sit or stand where you are comfortable, close your eyes, and take a long deep breath.
Take several more long, deep breaths and with each inhale imagine the air filling your lungs and moving through your body down into your feet. On each exhale, push the air out through your core and imagine each muscle relaxing, from your toes to your head.
Affirm and acknowledge both sides of your body.
Feel into the right side of your body and allow yourself to observe what the sensations are.
Beginning with your right toes and right foot and moving, breath by breath up through your leg, hip, tummy, waist, rib cage, chest, back, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck, face, all the way up to the top of your head.
Take a moment to note what you have observed…is there pain in any of the areas? Is there soreness or tightness? Is there space and brightness?
As you are ready, lift up your right foot. You can brace yourself against the wall or a table if you need to, or simply lift your right foot a couple of inches.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel the sensations that occur when you release some of the support the right side of your body provides for you. What does your balance feel like here?
As you are ready, put your right foot back down.
Engage with your breath again.
Feel into the left side of your body and allow yourself to observe what the sensations are.
Beginning with your left toes and left foot and moving, breath by breath up through your leg, hip, tummy, waist, rib cage, chest, back, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck, face, all the way up to the top of your head.
Take a moment to note what you have observed…is there pain in any of the areas? Is there soreness or tightness? Is there space and brightness?
As you are ready, lift up your left foot.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel the sensations that occur when you release some of the support the left side of your body provides for you.
What does your balance feel like here?
As you are ready, put your left foot back down.
Engage with your breath again.
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel the mid-line of your body – how has it changed since you tried balancing on each side?
What have you learned?
Now, ask yourself again: what does balance mean to you?

Altar and Ritual

Libra the Scales marks one of the two equinoxes of the year, when the length of day and night are equal – Spring or Fall, depending on your hemisphere. It is during these times of equinox, these times of balance, that farmers rotate their crops.

The land that has been planted full, the soil nurturing sacred food for many months, has been harvested by the time Fall comes and the farmer’s earth is in need of replenishing.

The harvested land is turned and mixed and massaged. New crops are planted that help return nutrients to the soil. The loamy earth gets a break from all its hard work with a refreshing change that shakes up the old and welcomes the nourishing new.

As Libra shows us, this is a time of year for consideration, examination, and thoughtfulness in order to bring things into balance.

For this altar exercise, we invite you to “rotate your crops” in your sacred space.

Stand at your sacred space and really look at what’s there. Pay a little bit of attention to each item. Feel its energy and reflect on what this object means to you.

Is it still serving its purpose on your altar?
Or has it done its job and is ready to be “harvested?”

Take the items you feel have served you well and can be removed and set them aside. Once you have them all together, decide if you want to repurpose them in some other way, gift them to someone else, donate them to a charity/thrift store, put them in the recycling bin, or graciously put them in the rubbish bin. Be mindful of how you choose to move these items on in the world and do what feels right to you. Thank them for their service.

Now return to your sacred space. You are looking at the items you feel are currently serving you and working well for you. Take a deep breath and feel the gratitude for these objects swell within you. Thank them for their continued service.

Take a moment to acknowledge the balance that comes with moving out the things that no longer work for you and showing gratitude for the things that do.

Now take everything off of your altar.
Gently remove each item, including any cloth or covering.
Take off any flowers, plants, bowls of water or earth, old incense burners, etc.

Meditating on the balance you want to achieve, clean each item from your altar. Wash or replace the cloth/covering, get fresh flowers, water the plant and prune off any dead leaves, refresh the bowl of water and/or earth, clean off or replace the incense burner, dust off each item and feel it in your hands.

Take a deep breath and observe everything before you. Look at it all with fresh shiny eyes! How do these items want to hang out together? Listen to the way they fall into balance with each other.

Begin rebuilding and rearranging your sacred space.

Balance does not have to mean balance between left and right, or top and bottom. Place the items on your altar in a way that feels balanced and aligned with your purpose.

When you are finished, take a step back and take a deep breath. Light any candles or incense and feel the space come alive.

Thank these items for their service to you and thank the stars of Libra for facilitating the process of finding balance in your sacred space.

About my Co-Author:

Sara Magnuson is a crafter of spiritual supplies, a reader of cards, a diviner of animals, and the co-founder of Candlesmoke Chapel. Her personal practice is eclectic, animistic, and ancestral. The guidance she provides is based in the messages of Nature and its role in how we move through this world.

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missives: A Mid-Summer Potion ~ The Golden Rose

Alchemy and Magic

M

iracles,

You are receiving your magical missive a bit early this week (so there will be no email on Sunday) because I wanted you to have this recipe available *before* Summer Solstice.

So in South Central Texas Mid-Summer is HOT. We have already had a couple of weeks where temps regularly exceeded 100 degrees – ick!

What’s a Sacred Artist to do? Make a potion of course! This is my current favorite Mid-Summer potion. I am giving you both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions because children love this too.

First, let me say a few words about Mid-Summer: like Christmas, Mid-Summer is actually a series of days and not a single event. There is Solstice which is tomorrow, but then there is also the Feast Day of St. John which is on June 24th – so basically the revelries continue through the morning of the 25th.

Many magical things happen during this time. Women gather herbs that are believed to be especially protective and healing – and then they wash their faces in the dew the hanging herbs have collected overnight – in order to see visions of their future.

Faeries are believed to run rampant, which means that wishes can be granted and treasures revealed.

One of my favorite forms of magic is potion-making. It calls to mind bubbling cauldrons and water-drenched buds, and potion making is at its best when the magic goes hand in hand with good taste. Don’t just trust me though, try it for yourself:

The Golden Rose – A Mid-Summer Potion

What you will need:
1 cup water flat or sparkling – I use Topo Chico
1 table spoon Saffron flavored simple syrup (I like Oak and Salt’s syrups)
1 table spoon Rose flavored simple syrup (or a splash of Rosewater)
1/2 table spoon Raspberry simple syrup
If you want a bit more zing to your potion add Lillet Blanc to taste
Finish with a splash of Orange Flower Water + a handful of rose petals
Ice

Significance:
Water is cleansing, healing, and nourishing
Saffron is wealth and abundance bringing, associated with treasure acquired through diligence (you try harvesting Saffron from the Saffron Crocus and see what I mean) – this is the “gold” part in the Golden Rose.
Rose is associated with love, romantic and otherwise, pleasure, sex, intimacy, and the Divine Feminine in her many, many forms.
Raspberry is resonant with themes of procreation, fertility, fecundity, flow, and creative work.
Orange Flowers are associate with joy, happiness, prosperity, wealth, and celebration.
I recommend Lillet as the spirit addition if you want one because it is an herbed apertif wine (stronger in alcoholic content than regular wine so do keep that in mind) and it is infused with oranges and other herbs that make it especially suitable for this potion.

Ceremony:
Make the potion and as you mix the ingredients together speak aloud your petitions, intentions, and blessings for yourself during this Mid-Summer celebration.

Final act:
Drink it up! Share it with friends and family! This potion is best enjoyed by moonlight, firelight, and in time of joy and celebration.

And if you want more Mid-Summer magic come and join the Feast Days for the Radically Reverent – it is free as always!

In love and blessings always,
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Blessed be our ability to love again, anew, once more.

Daily Blessings

Blessed be our ability to love again, anew, once more.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Blessed be the knowledge that love will always be more than fear.

Daily Blessings

Blessed be the knowledge that love will always be more than fear.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Blessed be our love of ornamentation.

Daily Blessings

Blessed be our love of ornamentation.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.