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.

Magical Missive: Home Sweet Home Candle Magic

Ceremony and Ritual

M

iracles,

A little candle magic Magical Missive to get your December off to the right start. As we know the holidays can be a really stressful time for our families. We are busy, often we get sick during this season, we are spending more money than we usually do…and on and on. There are practical ways to navigate these challenges (hello Vitamin C – I see you), but there are also magical supports we can call on to help us address them as well.

One of my favorites? This candle rite for a peaceful, sweet, and loving home and family environment.

What you will need:
1 blue or beeswax devotional candle
blend of the following dried herbs:
• dried lavender flowers
• crushed vanilla pod
• dried pink rose petals
• pen & paper
• blue & white loose glitter
• olive oil or a ritual oil for peace and calmness in the home

Significance:
Lavender is a sacred flower that has been used in soothing and restorative remedies since at least the Middle Ages. Its calming properties care called on today in herbal medicine, homeopathy, and cuisines as well. It is sacred to many Goddesses and believed to bestow a level of protection on the home as well, especially when planted near the front door.

Vanilla Pod is both sweetening and warming and called for in many enchantments where the goal is to warm people up to each other so that they are kind, gentle, and loving towards each other.

Dried pink rose petals emphasize love, friendship, and the ability to get along with each other.

Glitter to decorate your candle and make it pretty!

Ceremony:
General Instructions for dressing devotional candles ~

If you are working with a paraffin candle, poke holes in the top of it – I like to make 3 or 4. You may use an ice pick, screwdriver, knife or other tool for this.
If you are working with a beeswax devotional candle as I do, then you are going to have a much harder time poking holes into the candle. Instead you may proceed without the holes.

Combine your herb mixture. Sprinkle 2-3 pinches of your herb mixture onto the candle.

Drop 3-4 drops of oil onto the top of the candle.

Add any curios like clear quartz crystal chips, small chunks of rose quartz, or a light drizzle of honey and finish with glitter.

Note – you do not want to “drown” your herbs in oil nor do you want them to be so dry that they catch fire when you light the candle wick.

Write out your petition and anoint the petition paper with the oil you used to dress the candle.

Place petition underneath candle, bless the candle with focus and sincerity for the manifestation of your desire.

Knock the candle 3 times to “seal” it, and then light it, allowing it to burn undisturbed.

Obviously do not leave a flame unattended unless it is in a fireproof container.

Final act:
After your candle has finished burning, you may look at it and see what shapes you find in the glitter and debris. These may be construed as signs and give you information as you work to read the candle.

And, if you liked the above candle recipe or this one for fast action, then you might really like the Lunar Lights candle service. A candle lit on your behalf, with your specific petitions and intentions, every month on the full moon.
Order here. Deadline to order is December 7th.

Wishing you a blessed (and sweet!) season!

Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missive: Gathering Prayers – How to Make a Prayer Bundle, Mojo Bag, or Charm Packet

Alchemy and Magic

M

y first prayer bundle was so simple that it would not be until many years later that I understood what it really was.

This prayer bundle had a single ingredient: the first lock of hair ever cut from my head. The bundle itself was made out of scotch tape, by which I mean that the hair from my head had been sandwiched between two pieces of scotch packing tape. This prayer bundle, then, looked like a little unassuming packet, with a piece of hair caught inside it. Just from the looks of it, you would never know the kind of power it had.

This little packet was carried in the wallet of my maternal grandfather faithfully every day until he suffered a major stroke in 2005.

Years later, through study with teachers in various traditions and learning from my clients who also, blessedly and thankfully, come from many different traditions and walks of life, I was able to see my grandfather’s packet for what it was – not just way to keep a sentimental lock of hair, but a container for power and prayer. I discovered that charms and prayer bundles come in all shapes and sizes and in ways you could never imagine.

I understood that he carried his humble scotch tape packet for protection, for his and my protection, and also to remind himself about the significant life changes he made when I was born. We all need reminding of the pivotal moments of life. In these pivotal moments there dwells a magic force to help us live better lives. This charm packet helped him not only to remember it, but to raise that power of change for himself again and again in times he most needed it. For him it was the power of love, of second chances and a fresh start.

Prayer and blessing, while two of the most common and universally spoken languages in the Sacred Arts, are also languages that can often feel too abstract, too “un-grounded”, like air plants that are missing a true root system.

And this is why, for as long as there have been prayers and people to pray them, there have also been ways to make those prayers physical, to materialize them. This is an act I refer to as prayer gathering.

While there are many ways to gather prayers, the magical object that we are left with at the end of the gathering process is often a special container that holds our prayers and keeps them tied together fast so that they are strong and resilient. Different traditions have different ways of containing prayers, but one of the most common that is found in all of the corners and sides and angles of the world is a bag, pouch, packet of cloth or paper, or satchel of some kind. The names for these special prayer containers vary depending on time, people, and tradition. Some of the most common include: medicine bag, medicine bundle, prayer bag, prayer bundle, mojo bag, mojo hand, gris-gris, charm bag, fetish bag, fetch bag, charm packet, angel packet, magic pouch…and the list goes on.

Just as there are different names for these objects there are different ways of making them and working with them. In some cases, your prayer bundle might be made to be visibly worn, seen by all, a declaration, testimony or even challenge issued by the person wearing it. In other cases the prayer bundles are made to be hidden, worn discretely around the neck or waist or cross-wise upon the body. In some traditions, no one can touch your prayer bundle but you. In other traditions, family members can and often will bump up against each other’s prayer bundles. Some prayer bundles are not worn by people at all but hung on branches of trees or set out on the ground as offerings or burned or hung above the front door. Other prayer bundles are kept close to their person all the days of the life and when the person has died and their body is burned or buried the prayer bundle goes along with them. Some of these little bags are temporary – made for a specific purpose and then released through burial, burning, or disassembly. And in some cases a prayer bundle is not made for a person, but for a space, home, dwelling, sanctuary, or specific ceremony.

When we begin to make our own prayer bundles, the first thing we must realize is that we are working within the parameters of sacred vessel magic. Here magic is ritually contained in a sacred vessel and expressed through various physical objects placed in a container such as a jar, bowl, eggshell, or horn. The container for prayer bundles is of course the pouch or bag and is typically made of cotton, silk, flannel, or leather, and sometimes embellished with embroidery, bead work, sewn charms, or fringe.

When we work under the aegis of sacred vessel magic, we do well to consider this question: how does the situation I am working on need to be held? You can take that question as practically or figuratively as you want, but I do recommend thinking about it and journaling on it prior to creating your prayer bundle. The time and effort you spend reflecting on your life is never wasted. You can go back over your thoughts and writings and find the themes and intentions that will form part or the whole of your petition.

As we turn to making prayer bundles it is useful to understand that they are basically composed of three parts.

1. The vessel – this is the bag, pouch, locket, satchel, or cloth that is going to hold the magical contents. Considerations to keep in mind as you select the right material for this include: whether or not you plan to wear it and if you do plan to wear it, how and where you will wear it. Also consider how permanent or temporary this prayer bundle is meant to be as well as how you want to enliven it or discard of it.

2. Contents – these are the magical ingredients that you are going to include in the prayer bundle and they vary widely from tradition to tradition and also depending on what your purpose is. Typically speaking though the magical ingredients used in a prayer bundle include: botanical or zoological curios, personal concerns, coins or paper bills, petition papers, crystals/minerals, and images of saints, deities, or other holy helpers. Not all of these need to be included in a prayer bundle but they are the general categories to consider.

3. Seal for the bundle – this might be a string tie that is already included in the pouch, a piece of leather or thread that is used to knot up the bundle, flexible beading wire, wax, clay, glue, or as we saw with my grandfather, ordinary tape! The kind of seal you will choose to work with depends in large part on the kind of bundle you are creating as well as the contents within it.

Making your bundle:

Experience has taught me that when it comes to fashioning prayer bundles, unless you are creating very simple ones (such as offering bundles filled with cornmeal or tobacco), you will need to give yourself some time to assemble the materials you have chosen to work with. Maybe you have a well-stocked pantry but chances are you might need to order something in particular for your bundle so this is magic that can be created on the fly, but often rewards a little planning and forethought. Here is the process I follow.

First I gather my materials and lay them out on an altar cloth, which for me most of the time, is either a white or red bandanna (yes I know, fancy!). I take some time with each object I am going to incorporate into my prayer bundle, beginning with the vessel itself. If you are going to augment or alter your prayer bundle in some way – if you are going to fix a charm to it or stamp it then in most cases you will want to go ahead and do that first. This is a ritual act so if you are sewing something to the bundle, beading, creating fringe, etc, you will want to do so in a prayerful frame of mind.

Once you are ready to begin working with each object cultivate calmness. Sit or stand so that you are able to breathe fully and then hold each item in your hands for a few moments. Spinning Gold students of mine who work with woven cords may place one end of the cord on the object and hold the other end of the cord in their hands for a deeper connection. Then, commune with the object. Introduce yourself to it. Tell it what you are hoping to accomplish. Ask if it is willing to assist you in your endeavor. Be aware that sometimes the answer will be no and if that is the case my advice is don’t force the issue. Ask the object what it wants to be called and how you can best take care of it. You will often find that specific objects in your prayer bundles need to be fed from time to time with various substances. Make notes as you go. As you can see this part of the process can take a bit of time, especially if you have more than three items you are adding to the prayer bundle, so it makes sense for this part to be day one of your prayer bundle magic-making.

After connecting to each part of the prayer bundle, gather up all of the materials on the cloth you have laid them out on and hold them in both hands, connecting to the prayer bundle as a whole. Follow the same process of cultivating calmness, discovering if your prayer bundle has a specific name, and learning how your prayer bundle might want to be fed.

Next, if you are including a paper petition in the prayer bundle go ahead and write it out. Anoint it in the corners and center with an anointing oil, saliva, tears, or blood, depending on the purpose of the prayer bundle. If you are including personal concerns like your hair or nails I recommend placing them in the center of the petition paper and then folding it so that they are contained within the paper.

Now it is time to place the objects inside of the bundle. This should be done in a light liminal state. If you are working with any hard objects like coins, crystals, pieces of metal, wood, or roots then you may want to anoint them with a sacred oil, saliva, tears or blood – again, depending on the purpose of the prayer bundle. Begin with the petition paper, next goes any hard, larger, objects, finally if you are adding any dried herbs or powders you can take a piece of paper, put them on it, create a funnel with it and funnel them into the prayer bundle.

Sealing your bundle:

Once you are sure that everything you wish to put into your prayer bundle has been placed within it, it is time to seal the bundle. There are many different traditions on how to do this, but a simple way I seal my bundle is to “breathe in a blessing” on the bundle and keep the purpose for the bundle firmly in my mind and heart as I do so. Then, as I breathe out I exhale that breath into the bundle itself and quickly seal it in whatever way I wish. This breath blesses the bundle with a bit of myself, affirming the connection between me, my purpose, and the sacred object.

Enlivening your bundle:

After the bundle has been sealed it is time to enliven it, to get its spirit stirring and working. Again, traditions vary but I was taught to first anoint the bundle with a bit of anointing oil or my saliva, then hold the bundle in my hands and speak over it, stating my purpose and asking for its aid in free form words. In my experience this part may start out a bit awkward but as it builds in power and purpose the words take on a rhythm and cadence all their own. Of course you can choose to write something out or recite something formally if that is more to your liking. The point is that with words, breath, and body movement – yes, you should be moving your body in some way as you enliven your prayer bundle, you start to wake up the energy in the little bundle and you will feel it flicker in your hands like a candle flame or a tiny bird. At that moment raise the bundle to your heart, to your lips, and finally to your head and conclude your blessing with an “amen” or “may it be so” or “it is done.”

Working with your bundle:

The ways that you will work with your prayer bundle really depend on what purpose the bundle was made for. If this is a long term charm that you plan on wearing then often just wearing the bundle is enough to actively engage with it. You can take that a step further by talking with your bundle – just as you would a lodestone or a plant – or bringing your bundle with you when you do active imagination work. In many cases these long term relationships lead to all kinds of interesting things. I have personally experienced and had clients and students confirm that their prayer bundles have warned them of oncoming danger, provided needed support during times of emotional crisis, and facilitated rapid physical healing – even in instances when those qualities were not originally part of the bundle’s purpose. If you are working with a long term prayer bundle then I find that it is a good idea to cense it in sacred smoke at least once a week and to anoint it with a ritual oil. If you make a habit of doing this on the same day and same time then you will find that the actions carry even more magical weight. Most importantly though, you need to talk to your prayer bundle and find out how it would like you to work with it.

Care and feeding your bundle:

As mentioned above, it is a good idea to feed your prayer bundle with sacred smoke and/or a ritual oil on a weekly basis. This keeps the bundle enlivened and well nourished and, more importantly, it gives you some time to sit and be with your magical talisman, so that your relationship with it can deepen. You will notice after years of working with your prayer bundle that it begins to get a little funky on the outside. This is especially true if it is made of cloth. So it is a good idea to designate one day a year (and perhaps more if you sweat a lot or do manual labor while wearing your bundle) for washing and restoring your prayer bundle. Follow these steps in order to do this.

1. Untie or unseal the prayer bundle. Empty out all of the contents of your prayer bundle. Separate any hard objects like larger roots, coins, crystals, minerals, etc to one side and any dried herbs, personal concerns, and petition papers to the other.

2. Turn your bag inside out and remove any remaining debris. At this point you have a choice to make: do you want to re-use the same bag or do you want to use a new bag? I re-use as much as possible personally. But you have choices. You can choose to re-use the bag as is. You might decide to wash the bag first, you may hand wash it or wash it in the washing machine – I have done both. Just pay attention to any specific cleaning instructions related to the material your bag is made from. You may turn your bag inside out and use it that way or you can cut your bag up and sew part of it into a new prayer bundle. You can also work with an entirely new prayer bundle and if you choose to do this then it is best to burn the old bag and scatter the ashes at a four way crossroads.

3. Take some time to attune to each of the hard items. Re-anoint them with saliva or ritual oil and make sure that they are still willing and able to work with you. If they are not then bury them in your yard or simply give them back to the earth by placing them at the base of a healthy tree.

4. Read over your petition, and keep it in mind as you create a new petition. When you are ready burn the old petition and scatter the ashes at a four way crossroads or bury them in your garden. Do the same with the old personal concerns as you will want to use fresh ones.

5. Sprinkle the old dried herbs and flowers on the ground around your home.

6. Re-make your prayer bundle following the above directions.

Ritually disposing of your bundle:

While some prayer bundles are meant to stay with you until the day you die, others are meant to be disposed of in various ways. Again, the method of ritual disposal depends in large part on the purpose of the bundle, but generally speaking you can offer up the bundle and let the elements and wild creatures take it – this is most usually done by hanging it from a tree. You may burn the bundle and either bury the ashes in your yard, at the base of a health tree, or scatter them at a crossroads. You may also sink your bundle into deep water or bury the bundle whole without burning it. Each method carries a distinct flavor and intention with it, so the best thing to do is think about why you made the bundle in the first place and go from there.

 

 

It is not without reason that prayer bundles and magical containers have been worked with throughout time by our ancestors. They hold and create boundaries for our prayers, wishes, and desires, often strengthening and concentrating them while give us a clear doorway into the Otherworld. May you enjoy making one for yourself!

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missive: How to create an Ancestor-informed Tarot Reading

Divination and Dreams

N

ow is the time of year that many of us feel drawn closer and closer to the liminal, the medial, all that is ‘betwixt and between.’

For my part, I have found that the period roughly from Samhain (pronounced Sowen) on October 31st until New Years Eve on January 1st is a pause between the old and the new. For me, the time between the ending of one year and the beginning of a new year, is like the time between conception and birth, the space and pause between breathing out and breathing in. It is a time for gathering the internal resources to be able to truly call out, proclaim, celebrate or welcome the new year.

A large number of my ancestors understood October 31st to mark the end of the calendar year. Feasts were prepared and ancestors were consulted as tribes and communities prepared to enter into the dark season of the year when faeries, ghosts, but also miracles and saints were believed to walk among the living. Across an ocean and in a new land, another group of ancestors marked January 1st as the beginning of the calendar year – and handed down a number of revelries, divinations, and charms to celebrate and validate the transition from old to new.

What I have found is that my ancestors, though they came from many different parts of the world, spoke many different tongues, and all looked different (from each other and from me), also each had an understanding and insight that has been handed down from one pair of hardworking hands to the next until it was given to me. Part of that understanding is how to work with and view this particular time of year.

The nature of this time of year is liminal. If we know how to attune to it, we find ourselves able to concourse with a realm beyond time and beyond space. As such it is the perfect opportunity to do what so many cultures and tribes and peoples from around the world have done and continue to do – speak to the Dead, the Invisible, the Unseen, with an eye to the Living. The ways of doing this are myriad.

Here is a simple divination I performed this year in consulting with my own Beloved Dead, and I thought it might be of use for some of you.

Build an ancestor altar, and devote your time and loving attention to it.

I started by building our ancestor altar. The process commenced at the beginning of October right after Michaelmas. On the evening of November 1st we prepared the traditional foods and drinks that our beloved ones loved in life, and offered them up along with plenty of incense and candle light to help our old ones find their way to their temporary home. That first night we sat quietly together and remembered our beloved dead. We spoke to our little one who is four and who naturally understood that the hot chocolate and pan de muerto were supposed to be shared among the living and the dead. I thanked our ancestors for watching over us and guiding us throughout this past year and for being the strong shoulders upon which I stand. In this first night of bittersweet celebration there was no asking, but simply offering up good things and saying thank you.

Before the sun rises, get your cards, ask for assistance and get down to business.

On the morning of November 2nd I got up bright and early before the sun rose. I fixed a cup of strong coffee and chocolate for myself and offered one to the ancestors and then I sat down with a couple of talismans, my prayer shawl, and my cards to get down to business. I blessed all of the ancestors and then asked them to assist me in getting information for my family to better engage with our next year.

Major Arcana

Begin with the Major Arcana. Because this is a family matter, I pull cards not only for myself but for my loved ones too. This and one other time of year are the only times when I divine for our entire family.

Pull one major arcana card for each family member you are going to read for. The question that I hold in my heart when I do this is: what do I most need to know/what does X most need to know as we head into another year?

Remember that the major arcana cards are invitations. Ask yourself: Does the card present energy and understanding that you want to step into or is it something that you need to step out of?

For married couples you may pull one major for each individual and then a third for the relationship.

Minor Arcana

Then onto practical matters. Traditionally divination, especially at this time of the year is meant to be practical and concrete. So I turn my attention to the minor arcana.

After pulling the minor arcana card, I pull four more for each person I am reading for. They are laid out in a line and are read as first, second, third, and fourth quarter of the upcoming year. This allows the cards to be taken on their own but also placed in context so that a story can be told with them. If there is a card that needs more explanation then pull a fifth card to attain that information.

Don’t forget the BIG questions!

Finally, if there are BIG questions that the entire family is concerned with – projects, endeavors, big choices, you may ask about them directly and pull one card (I pull from the minor arcana with an eye to practical wisdom) for each question.

In my own practice, the divination lasts as long as the sun has not risen. Once the sun is up the session is over. I make a note of the cards I received for myself and for anyone else who wanted me to read for them, and then I go back to sitting with my ancestors, thanking them for the presence and their patience with me.

On the night of November 2nd we will have a final celebration where I will make more foods that are beloved by our way back people, load up the altar with more offerings, and then on the morning of November 3rd we will prepare to say farewell, for now.

I will hold the images and messages received in the early morning divination close to heart and mind over the next two months. I will dream, peer at the upcoming astrological transits, tell stories, remember stories that were told to me, go for walks with my beloved, laugh with my little boy, and listen above all. I will listen as the sun dips lower earlier, the wind caresses leaves and bare branches, and the squirrels with their mouths full of pecans scurry across our rooftops. I will listen to the ones who have gone before me and who see beyond me, and a little bit each day I will weave the story of my next year into being, carrying it with me wherever I go, listening and participating in other traditions of spying signs and celebrating the unseen, and preparing for all of the gatherings yet to come.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missives: How to Enchant Your Aid

Alchemy and Magic

W

ith all of the current events and weather patterns converging in the various ways that they have AND with the loving, compassion and deep feeling that is always inspired by the Full Moon in Pisces, we have seen the desire to give, pitch-in, help out, and aid in whatever ways we can at an all time high.

This is especially true in our Sacred Arts community. I mentioned it in the Full Moon letter but in case you missed it do you know how much our community raised in Hurricane Harvey Relief in 24 hours? $4500 – pretty remarkable right?!

At the time of writing this, Hurricane Irma is whirling her own path of destruction towards Florida. Hurricanes or not, we know that there is always stormy weather, hearts that are hurting, bellies that need food, and bodies that need shelter.

Fortunately, soulful seekers are not just up for the project; you all are ready and willing. Truly you all have some of the most generous hearts and wise minds I have ever encountered. And of course you also have something else: magic.

For while all people who are showing up and giving have good intentions, those of us practicing the Sacred Arts also know how to make ritual and ceremony; we know how to pray and bless; we know how to enchant.

This extends to the aid that we give – whether you donate a monthly sum to your favorite not-for-profit or are donating goods and money for a specific cause (like Hurricane relief) we know that the act becomes more powerful and makes a bigger, longer, impact when backed up by magic.

So here is one of my favorite ways to do that:

What you Will Need:

This is a Dedication of Merits ceremony so you will need to do something, usually physical, like exercise or garden or clean out your gutters.

This can be as simple as taking a walk down the street or organizing your closet or as complex as running a marathon. It can also be something that really frightens you but you are going to do it anyway – like public speaking.

The key word here is merit – whatever you do needs to challenge you in some capacity. (In other words if running a 50 mile marathon is easy for you it doesn’t count, maybe you need to do a load of laundry or figure out your back taxes or cook dinner instead).

So, pick out your activity that cultivates merit and the focus on where you wish to support and help – where do you want to enchant your aid?

Ceremony:

Before you begin the activity breathe in deeply, stating either aloud or in your mind: “I dedicate the merits of following act to (fill in the blank with the cause or intention you are focused on). May they strengthen, protect, and empower the aid that I have sent and may they bless me so that I am able to support this cause and all that I am dedicated to ever more fully.”

Do the activity!

As you complete the activity breathe in another breath, stating either aloud or in your mind:
“It is done and my merits have been dedicated. May I be blessed and a blessing in turn.”

Final Act: Your giving is in a direct relationship to your accepting. Accepting self-care, accepting rest, accepting pleasure and delight and beauty, accepting healing. We are called on to give, to help and to show up and we are only able to truly and fully answer that call when we also do the little and big things that nourish us. So your final act and way of sealing this particular magical deal? Take care of yourself my loves.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

The Stories that Sound ~ Blessed be our ability to listen

Lunar Letter

M

iracles

Most of you know that I love stories, myths, faerie tales, and folklore. I work with them as the primary source material from which the Sacred Arts spring and can best be taught and practiced.

Most of you know that I love stories, myths, faerie tales, and folklore. I work with them as the primary source material from which the Sacred Arts spring and can best be taught and practiced.

Many of the stories I focus on are faerie tales, because they are stories surprisingly and refreshingly made for all the risky, unsafe tough stuff of life. There’s some real medicine in those stories. And so many of these stories are well-known and well-loved, often with a twist or flourish that sets them apart from the “usual” ways of telling.

But the most important stories are all around us. These are stories that happen to us on a daily basis, stories that can – when seen by the right light and told in the just right way – show us not only the blessing, but also the best way to apply it to our life.

Here’s the thing about story. We usually think stories are “fiction”, and “non-fiction” is reserved for facts. But if you look into it, into the stories that really make an impact on your life, I’m willing to bet you’ll agree with me when I say that for the really powerful stories, the ones that make a difference in the way we live, the truer the better. They wouldn’t hit us if they didn’t have that ring of truth. The category that rigidly holds the separation between fiction and non-fiction? Um, not very useful, really, when you get down to brass tacks.

If stories do this, that can only mean there is something in life and experience that calls out for the telling. Every now and then – or even often! – life throws us a curve ball, a swerve, sometimes terrifying, sometimes wondrous, sometimes both – but always worth telling about, always worth remembering, always worth learning and growing from.

The stories I work with in teaching and crafting the Sacred Arts are stories that function like echo or depth-sounding in oceanography.

The greatest stories – and different ones will work for different people – penetrate our depths. They show us that we have untold depths first of all, and then they show us something needed about ourselves. They show us ourselves, or some aspect of ourselves we haven’t yet seen or felt. They make our bones vibrate and our hairs stand on end; we know them when we hear them or read them. They have the power to change us, not simply because they move us, but because they heighten, deepen and sharpen our awareness of ourselves and of life. They nourish our consciousness, which grows as a result – and this growth in consciousness is magic, possesses the actual power to begin unlocking and freeing our soul from those deepest most troublesome patterns, binds and wounds.

All of my work in the Sacred Arts, in a very real way, is about encouraging you to seek out those stories for yourself, the ones that “depth sound” your life.

And what I would love you to grasp, as this week takes us into the deeper than deep Scorpio full moon is this: the experiences and stories that depth-sound us, happen to you too, every single day. So it is that I say: blessed be our ability to listen, to truly listen, to what we see and experience and encounter; blessed be our ability to listen so that we might find our own stories that sound.

I would like to share with you one of mine own stories, one that depth-sounded my life, in exactly the moment I needed it. It is a true story, and is an origin story, showing me the way to the Sacred Arts standpoint from which I now work:

The night I saw the white horse, the moon was small and her light was dim. I had traveled with some of my family out to Fort Davis in West Texas, land at one time known only to the Great Spirit, the Comanche and Apache, and later few intrepid ranchers. And now those who had commandeered the top of a mountain did so under the unquestioned authority of science. And on this mountain, where perhaps one could watch a sunrise and know something of beauty, concrete had been poured and metal bolted down into the flesh of rock as glass-filled spaces where before there was only wind.

This was built in the name of science and for people like me who had poor vision from living in the city and rarely beholding a horizon. Built so that I might look through a lens and get a taste of the sacred and the vast that those who came before us knew as they knew their own breath or the blood dancing under their skin.

A dark moon is best for stargazing. But a small, dim moon will do. I looked through the lenses reflecting and refracting light into the galaxy with her milky thighs, and saw the scars on the moon. I beheld these things and wondered if the others around me—family and strangers—thought as I did that by beholding her scars and perfect light we might somehow better know our own.

The night grew darker and cold with a February wind blowing off the river and through the trees, singing a story of lowing cattle huddled together under the humid warmth of their breath, a story of a springtime full of wildflowers, tender green cactus and good pasture. We drove down the side of the mountain, quiet in wonder at ourselves, at our smallness, our hubris. The steep road twisted and turned until it spat us out onto the single main road running through what would have been another town, known more by the dead than the living, had it not been fueled by the stars.

Now the road was wide and black and the air was blacker still. Out here in God’s country, there are no streetlights; and the few houses we passed held darkened windows. It was late, and jobs being what they were, one got up with the sun and evidently went to bed with it too. And that is when I saw it.

At first I did not know what it was. A white blur in the middle of the broad black way. The powerful beams of the truck illuminated it, but the shape was so far away, that it could have been a woman drunk and crying, a spirit, perhaps even a concentrated and rapidly moving fog bank.

Except even then there was direction, electricity, and purpose. This was a creature and it was headed straight for us. As it neared, I gasped out “horse!” and so it was.

A beautiful animal at least eighteen hands high and in the flash between black and headlight, it was pure white. It swerved, and with eyes rolling, it passe our vehicle and continued galloping down that road, carrying with it a legacy of power, exertion, and grace that came up from behind and stole away the breath.

Overhead was a different light. Not star nor moon, not the glow of the animal itself nor the two bright headlights, but a spotlight from a helicopter looking for the animal. The owner must have been distraught-the horse looked well-cared for and healthy: someone loved it. And perhaps whoever was looking for the animal was concerned about it too – its loss, and the fear that travels in the wake of loss like a knife laid against the thin skin of your chest.

I want to believe it was not simply leather-handed men and women worried that a rogue horse with such power and at a full gallop could cause a wreck, or a death, or could damage something or someone and result in the spending of money. I choose to believe that they cared for both creature and family-desiring to put their job-calloused hands to the work of touching, repairing, healing and reuniting. I wanted it too, for inside the glass and steel vehicle, so like the glass and concrete observatory on the mountain, I had felt the eye-rolling fear, the steaming breath smelling like clover once warmed under a gentle sun, now covered with dust. But I felt also the thrill.

Oh, to run!

To run straight for the other side of the knife we call fear, cutting a trail made of celestial dust and star-fire blazing forth, so that those with courage might follow it to something new and unknown. The white horse was running, and I wanted it to run into the night, into what stretches beyond broken people and fractured places, where it is dark, and whole, and wild.

Under the light of the magical Scorpio Moon, with your divination tool of choice consider asking:

What are my depth-sounding stories?
What would change if I did listen to it, or share it with others?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Magical Missives: How to Seal and Bless Yourself

Alchemy and Magic

T

oday one of the greatest challenges I see for soulful seekers is developing skin” not actual skin, mind you, but emotional and spiritual skin. Our bodily skin is a beautiful thing: it is not a rigid boundary.  It offers protection to internal organs, while being a bridge of sensitivity to the the surrounding world.  Our challenge is not making thin skin somehow thicker; but trying to work with skin that appears to be missing in the first place.  Soulful seekers are delightfully and dreadfully opento possibility, to enthusiasm, to optimism, and enchantment. But with this very high degree of openness, also comes increased sensitivity to all of the stressors in daily life to those things that cause worry, anxiety, and suffering, to the point where reading the daily news cycle is an exercise in daily open heart and open gut surgery.

What is needed here is protection magic that is strong, simple, and durable.

This is a little ceremony that teaches you how to seal yourself and begin to get skin so that you are better able to choose what and who is allowed into your inner sanctum, as well as what and who is not allowed within your borders. The magic made here is not about cutting off or casting out in most cases, nor about being closed up; rather, it is about you, making the needed effort, to keep yourself inner and outer safe, yet dynamic.

What you will need:
A quiet place where you will be undisturbed.

An answer to the following question:
What place(s) in my physical body take in the most external information?
(My answers to this question are: eyes, head, mouth, heart, ears, and hands).

A physical gesture that you decide on to acknowledge each answer you gave.
(I use the traditional sign of making the cross over myself as part of my lineage is Catholic and also as I know that crosses are much older than any one faith tradition, speaking to the crossroads and the liminal).

Any other ritual items you might desire, like candles or incense.

Ceremony:
Cultivate Calmness
Take a moment to become aware of and connect to the earth beneath your feet, as you do so, breathe in the deep, green, energy of the earth and breathe out in gratitude thank you.
Take a moment to become aware of and connect to the celestial skies above your head, as you do so, breathe in the high, bright, energy of the stars and breathe out in gratitude thank you.
Take a third moment to become aware of and connected to your physical body and all that it does for you.
Acknowledge your desire to shield and protect yourself so that you walk in greater sovereignty.
Attending to the answer you gave to the question above, breathe in a blessing on yourself. Exhale in gratitude thank you, and as you do so make the physical gesture over yourself that you have decided upon.
Notice how it feels to be shielded and sealed.
If you want, conclude with a series of blessings.

Final act:
Repeat daily. I recommend doing this at least three times, morning, noon, and night, you can of course perform it more frequently than that.

Love and Magic,
Bri

PS: the above illustration is from the dark and wonderful story known as Catskin, Donkeyskin and Deerskin and is by Arthur Rackham, an illustrator whose work I deeply love. The story is all about the traumas that happen, even in the best” families and teaches how skins fit, don’t fit, and can be grown. Read the entire story here and for a wonderful exploratory essay on the story, check out this article from the Journal of Mythic Arts.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.