The Medicine We Need

Ceremony and Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Creating Ceremony Lesson One: Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Ceremony and Ritual

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iracles, blood

I am sure most of you have heard the expression “blood, sweat, and tears.” We usually call upon it when we have made a huge effort at something. And, like many common turns of phrase, it hides a deeper meaning in plain sight.

Blood, sweat, and tears, are some of the most valuable prizes we possess. In countless fairy tales, a single drop of blood has the power to destroy the most powerful kingdom or overcome the finality of death, where the sweat of physical and mental exertion can show the true nature of a character. And then there are the tears. Tears turn into magical, life-giving waters. Tears heal and thaw out frozen hearts.

In fairy tales and folklore, blood, sweat, and tears are substances that become valuable once they have been shed for the sake of something…or someone else.

We see it in Cinderella. Once the little Cinder girl has realized that she really cannot escape the house…cannot escape her life and cannot go to the ball – which stands for all that is possible and hopeful for her – she begins to cry. Big, body-shaking, river-forming, tears.

The cry of the heart is the action that opens the door and opens the way. Cinderella begins to create her own ceremony. Her tears are what garner the attention of the common creatures around her, creatures whom she has cared for. And her tears are what call in her fairy godmother as well.

Cinderella engages in the first step of creating ceremony: she is banishing.

Banishing is an old word that basically means releasing, letting go or casting out. People often talk casually about ‘letting go’, in order to manage stress. But you’ll also hear on occasion someone talk about the need to banish a room that feels like it is full of funky vibes – they might cense the area with a sacred smoke or recite a prayer of protection to make the area feel cleaner and safer.

But before we talk about banishing rooms or objects, we have to look inwards at our own inner landscapes and ask what needs to be released and put down once and for all.

When we banish, we can take a few moments to acknowledge what is hurting or weighing on or frustrating us. And then we perform a ritual action to release it.

Banishing is the necessary first step in creating ceremony, the thing you do before anything else because it opens the road and it clears the way. When we drop whatever it is that we are clinging too tightly to, we are able to breathe a little easier and see with more clarity and objectivity. Clarity and objectivity of mind are qualities that must be in play if you want to create a ceremony that can really change things from the inside out.

There are lots of ways to banish. There are prayers you can recite. There are specially formulated incense blends that call on the elements of fire and water to assist with removing what is no longer needed. Some traditions call on making noise – like clapping, yelling, ringing bells, or stomping your feet – to clear the spaces both without and within.

Bleeding, sweating, and crying are all forms of banishing – and they are so powerful because they involve our physical bodies and the substances within them. Another beautiful (and simple!) way to banish is simply through breathing. Here is an exercise you can try:

  1. Take a breath in and allow it to move from the soles of your feet all the way up to the crown of your head.
  2. Before you release that breath think of one thing that you need to release and let go.
  3. Breathe it out and into the earth where it can be transformed into something good and useful once more.

There may be many different feelings that this exercise conjure, some very subtle. Each person will find responses in very different ways. But don’t be surprised if you start to tear up a little or have an all-out crying fest. In fact, that is usually a sign that you are on the right track to creating ceremony that really will change you from the inside out.

For more on Banishing, check out this article.

xo
Bri

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.