The Ways of Life-Death Stories and Soulful Seeking
People turn to the Sacred Arts when they are ready to get real. What I see over and over again is that those drawn to the Sacred Arts and the stories that have carried them down through time do not come from any one specific area of life. I could not do a marketing profile or customer avatar for them if I tried. Of course this makes sense – the Sacred Arts have been practiced and developed by all sorts of different people through all times, so in a very real way they belong, and they call to, all of us.
But whether it is a college professor, a doctor, a lawyer, or a potion brewing witch that I am speaking to, here is what I have seen and heard: the return to the Sacred Arts comes about because each individual is ready for an experience that is more real. The sense that we are sleeping through life as surely as the Miller’s Daughter slept through the transformation of straw into gold is no longer acceptable. We have been jolted awake and the world of weak fantasy no longer has a hold on us.
Frequently what jolts us into wakefulness is a vision of beauty, the breath of Enchantment on our cheek, a plain, every day, occasion that turns into something no less than a straight up miracle. But sometimes the things that jolt us awake are painful, traumatic, and the causes of great and deep suffering. Stories work with both sets of experience as well as the mundane moments when the Otherworld just shows up unannounced in the form of a Fairy Queen washing clothes or a cat that talks.
Stories that deal with pain and suffering are actually much more common than we think. Many of our best beloved stories have bloody parts that were deleted by later adapters and collectors in order to “protect” children. In some of the oldest versions of Cinderella, for instance, the evil step sisters have their heels and toes sliced off in order to squeeze into those damn glass slippers. (Of course, in the oldest version of Cinderella the slippers are not glass at all but warm, fur-covered moccasins – how far we have drifted from that older than old telling). In the Tale of the Handless Maiden, a perfectly sweet and innocent young girl’s hands are chopped off by the Devil, and Handsel and Gretel are two young children who find themselves starved, neglected, abandoned, and then almost cannibalized in turn.
So many of our stories deal with pain and suffering because they are experiences that we all have, and, as I said earlier, they are experiences that season us so that we are ready to wake up and get down to business. Among my clients and students, few experiences carry the power of wakefulness that Death does. This is what the sister stories of Medea (from Ancient Greece) and La Llorona (from Indigenous Mexico) speak about. They tell us about Life-Death Stories and the many ways it comes in and makes itself at home in your kitchen and at your table. They speak to us of the destruction that occurs when oaths and vows are broken. And, more than that, they challenge us to find a different way, tell a different story, and make a different ending.
The Sacred Arts speak to Death and contain many rituals for the moments of Death that we all experience, as well as ceremonies and healings when Death approaches and for the aftermath Death leaves behind. Soulful seekers understand that Death is part of a natural cycle of Life and as such we honor it and create magic to help us relate to it in ways that are healthy, whole, and holy.
Our next guest teacher introduction is something of an expert on Life-Death Stories. Martha Jo Atkins. Dr. Atkins founded the Children’s Bereavement Center in San Antonio, Texas. She has, in her own words, always had an affinity, curiosity, and comfort around dying. She is also a magical woman who understands the needs to create meaningful ritual and ceremony around the roles that Death plays in our lives. Listen in to a clip of our conversation and learn more.