My beloved dead

I kicked off this year with a journey to the underworld to truly confront my ancestors and ancestry for the first time ever. It took me longer than it probably should have to connect that with a Mercury-ruled 4th House profection year. And that’s what this year is about for me—finally diving into working with my beloved dead.

It’s not so much family history. That’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. For me, the dead and ancestor worship have always been topics that have made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure why, other than it’s likely some misunderstood holdover from childhood Christian teachings. Christianity sure has more than its fair share of venerated dead, so I clearly missed something in those early teachings. Or perhaps I just got the overly sanitised version. I mean, just look at all the bits of dead saints that are around the place.

Which is another interesting side effect of ancestral work for me. For the first time ever, I actually ‘get’ saints. Before this year I had absolutely no connection to saints whatsoever, despite a full on Catholic upbringing. It wasn’t until I saw them framed as venerated dead, as ancestors, that they clicked for me.

Turns out that the saint our family has looked to the most in the past is Saint Christopher. I inherited two small medallions of Saint Christopher a million years ago and both of them surfaced again this year after being lost in the bottom of drawers and boxes.

Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers, is sometimes depicted with the head of a dog. This connects him to Hermanubis and, all of a sudden, here we are back with Mercury. Hermes Chthonios is leading me back to my ancestors. (Incidentally, Saint Christopher’s feast day is 25 July.)

So after years of basically ignoring my ancestors, I created a dedicated altar for them. And, after years of feeling weird about putting up photos and making offerings of food, I finally gave that a go too. My goodness, were they just waiting for that. The immediacy and intimacy of connecting with your ancestors is something I did not expect. It’s beautiful.

Not everything is sunshine and roses, though. As a white person with mostly English ancestry, there’s a lot of terrible stuff that needs to be acknowledged and accepted. Working with my ancestors has brought that into sharper focus for me. I am much more aware than ever of my privilege.

On a spiritual level, there is a lot of trauma associated with the absence of ancestor veneration in my family. I’ve been working pretty consistently with my family lines for a few months now but there is still a sense of more people waiting desperately just outside the candlelight for the help of the living. But the dead, my dead anyway, are patient and they’re overjoyed to have finally gotten someone to the point where I am now.

And then on a personal level, there is my ancestor who, in life, was not a nice person at all. So far I’m leaving him well off to the side. I hope eventually there may be healing, because if he had not done the terrible things he did to those closest to him, I would not be here and nor would my family be as prosperous as it is now. But that’s a lot to try and reconcile. So, for now, I’m growing and regrowing my relationships with others of my family and they are some of the most beautiful and loving souls I have ever encountered.

For additional praxis, because I really want to go deep with this death-work, I strung a custom set of prayer beads to use to pray for my ancestors and the dead more generally.

The beads are obsidian and turquoise, with 99 in the main loop and 21 in each of the 7 tassel strings. Nine, seven and three are significant numbers for me. Each tassel string ends with a different charm that represents an energy or concept:

  • a feather for peace
  • a rose quartz heart for love
  • a piece of turquoise for healing
  • a cross for faith
  • an owl for wisdom
  • a labyrinth for the way (in the sense of the opposite of being lost)
  • and a tree of life for family.

I use these as focuses for prayer, either sending them to my ancestors or the dead who may need one or more, or to request my ancestors share them with me and my living family. I discovered that they can also have a divinatory use. Depending on who I’m praying for, one of the charms may activate or jump out to show the specific area of need.

After I first made the prayer beads, I took them to the local cemetery and spent an hour or so just praying for all the dead who were there. I found the experience to be incredibly calming. I had an unexpected and overwhelming feeling of rightness and almost a sense of coming home.

And then, just as I finished, an angel appeared.

Into the Underworld

Or

My recent visit to the Ngā Ariki Kaipūtahi pā site and Mangatū River with other Rune Soup premium members

Part 1 – The Gatekeepers

It feels significant that we started our experience in the Pacific Ocean. I only just realised that my hotel for the first couple of nights overlooked the mouth of the Waimata/Taruheru Rivers. Water is the theme of this experience, from source to river to ocean, blood and tears; Water is Life.

The stingrays at Dive Tatapouri have to be some of the most alien creatures I’ve ever encountered. Their shapes, appearance, movement, colour—everything about them is what the unthinking part of my mind considers ‘other’. They carry the endless inscrutable depth and expanse of the entire Pacific Ocean.

They also have names like “Tara”, “Pancake” and “Waffle”.

Interacting with them was like being accosted by curious, slippery and over-enthusiastic couch cushions. I was equal parts nervous, weirded out and enchanted. From their bizarrely adorable little smiley mouths to the instinctive and cultural feelings of avoidance their tail barbs engendered, they are fascinating, strange and beautiful creatures. Feeding them was like having a piece of fish vacuumed out of your fingers while the aforementioned couch cushion tried its best to climb your legs. That close to the surface, they make snuffly cow-like noises when they breathe. That was my biggest shock. How such a familiar, relatable sound could be made by these mysteriously majestic alien creatures. Needless to say, enchantment won out and I could have spent hours standing out in the water in those unflattering green waders until the stingrays got bored and left or pushed me over to try and find any food I was carrying.

Those stingrays were the gateway guardians to a watery underworld I wasn’t prepared for.

Part 2 – The Descent

Ironically accomplished by driving up into the hills—crammed comfortably in a car, enfolded in the scent of fresh herbs, with people I’d just met who turned out to be some of the most beautiful human beings ever. And that description applied to everyone on the retreat—amazingly beautiful human beings; so happy to have met them, so sad I had to leave.

I was not prepared for the singing requirement of the pōwhiri. Singing in front of anyone else is not something I do, let alone in a completely unfamiliar language. I have a just good enough sense of pitch to be able to hear how bad I actually am. But the earnest enthusiasm of our driver/choirmaster quickly had us all singing along, practicing—for which I was very grateful when we arrived.

The pōwhiri itself didn’t match anything that I expected from my pre-arrival preparatory google. Surprise. It was us moving here and there, with the formality of a chess game, in response to the movements of our hosts, accompanied by long speeches in the beautiful Maori language. I didn’t understand either movement or words at the time but I felt like I was a puzzle piece filling the correct shape and place and time. Hovering in the air throughout the entire site is a feeling of something deeper and older and yet-to-be, waiting to be filled in by physical objects.

After passing through the gates and challenges and greeting each other in language and song, we sat down at one of the biggest tables ever to eat. There we introduced ourselves by speaking our names and our ancestry, our blood, and the lands in which that blood now flowed. Now that we were in ceremony, even such a simple thing held meaning enough to catch heart and tears.

I was not at all prepared for such depth of feeling.

Part 3 – The Underworld

Marcus compared the path down to the pā site to entering the Underworld. The site sits on the slope of the hill below the marae and has its own spiritual energy that is utterly disconnected from modern Western concepts of linear time. That sense of underworld energy, of timelessness and of being within cyclical time permeated the entire weekend.

The retreat itself was one big long ceremony that contained smaller ceremonies within it and smaller ceremonies within those as individuals or smaller groups performed their own rituals or actions of meaning. Time became largely meaningless (which I’m sure annoyed Gordon and the other organisers at times), but from where I walked, everything was perfectly arranged and landed in exactly the most impactful way.

I can’t go into everything that we did there. I don’t have the words to do it justice. And I’d probably misquote Gordon’s amazing talks enough to get a justifiably exasperated tweet. But I can tell you that we spent hours poring over what ended up being an absolutely stunning despacho, filled with many prayers and wishes and the greatest of all intentions—right relation.

We went on a short hikoi up the Mangatū River. I should have worn thongs because walking barefoot over those river rocks was incredibly painful. Learning that those beautiful braided river beds should have been deep flowing streams instead of choked with silt made me feel like I was sharing the pain of the river itself.

We visited an old pā site of Marcus’ family that had been flooded and silted up so often from the erosion caused by European farming practices that it had to be abandoned. In less than 30 years, the ground level had risen to the roof eaves of the old broken building. The first thing Marcus did on our arrival was thank us (many of us white people of European descent) for coming to that place—an action of such grace and regal dignity that my heart broke and I descended into a blubbering mess for the rest of that visit. While Marcus spoke of healing, joy and family there, I mourned quietly for what my ancestors had done. In the end we were all healed.

We did intentions and lunar mansion mantras for the flourishing of the pā site, for wealth and for the healing of people and the river.

We received the gift of the children of the Mangatū River—white quartz stones—and blessed them with many sacred waters so that we could seed that magic across the world.

I received a romi romi healing session from Ariana that dragged me down out of my head and poured me back into my body and the earth below my feet. It was an incredibly deep and confronting healing experience.

We sat on the grass under the wide night sky and discussed conspiracy theories, the construction of the moon and ancient stories of the stars.

We made music and sang and told scary stories around a sacred fire, tapping into an ancient space, time, place and practice that was also new and yet-to-be.

We conspired in the latest and darkest hours of the night to make the world a better place.

We slept in the painstakingly constructed traditional buildings of the pā site, in the uttermost peaceful, dream-filled depths of the Underworld.

By the end, walking barefoot and sitting in the dirt on the land was normal. Tears were normal. Conversations of magic and astrology and visions, spirits and dreams were normal. Feeling the hopeful and beautiful future shape of the world was normal.

This retreat was transformative for the soul.

Part 4 – The Return

Before I left home, knowing Marcus’ work with the rivers in New Zealand and at Standing Rock, I walked to the head of a tributary of my local river. I’d seen this tributary soggy but never flowing, because it’s a seasonal stream and I think a lot of the water flow happens in the earth. Also the surrounding suburbs channel a lot of the water runoff away to other places. I was allowed to select a stone to take with me as a gift to the Mangatū River, as long as I brought back the blessings of the waters I received over there.

I found a small piece of white quartz.

I gave this stone to Marcus and Ariana before I left.

When I returned home with the blessings of many waters, I found this:

The same place where I found the stone, which a week before had been dry and dusty, was now flowing with clear water. I’m not taking credit for the ridiculous amount of much-needed rain that the entire east coast of Australia received while I was away, but this is one of those ‘coincidences’ that let you know that magic is happening and that you’re in right relation with the land and more-than-land.

Another sign that I got (which is probably only going to make sense to those of us who heard Gordon’s talk at the retreat that mentioned bees) is when I returned to work and re-noticed the canvas I’d hung up behind my desk 6 months ago of photos I’d taken on holiday the year before:

Do bees work? I don’t anymore, although I still have a job.

I have a job that helps 5 million people … in an office that overlooks a river … that received the blessing of many waters … from a gift I gave to a man … who walked the rivers of an island … after starting to rebuild the pā site of his ancestors … who journeyed there an age ago … from across the Pacific Ocean.

#WaterIsLife

Disclaimer: I’m a white Australian with English, Irish and German ancestry. My knowledge of and contact with Maori history, culture and language is limited to non-existent. I’ve tried my best to be respectful and not screw anything up, and I’m documenting the experience from an outsider’s perspective in a way that should, I hope, convey my respect and wonder. Please let me know in the comments if I stuffed anything up.

When Venus meets Pluto and why learning CPR is important

A few months ago, transiting Venus in Libra conjoined my natal Libra Pluto and formed a square with transiting Pluto in Capricorn as it conjoined my natal Capricorn Venus. This was a fairly significant astrological moment and I’m sorry to say that I completely missed it. I wasn’t expecting anything at all.

Once you attune yourself to the planetary energies, however, they can get a bit shouty if you don’t pay attention.

It started with hearing birds and their alarm calls outside my apartment door. I noted it as something mildly odd, didn’t think more of it and continued to get ready for work.

Stepping out of my apartment door to head to the train, I was confronted with a man, slumped in a corner of the stairwell (which, while decoratively hidden from the street is actually open to the world) being bombarded by the local birds.

I jumped and made a very manly sound of surprise, called out to him and dithered for a second wondering what to do. I vaguely remembered my CPR training, did the checks you’re supposed to do in these situations and called the emergency services. He wasn’t breathing so I started CPR.

Fortunately, the paramedics appeared within a couple of minutes and were able to bring him around. When they finally got him to open his clenched fist, it turned out he was clutching an engagement ring and a gold, heart-shaped padlock charm.

Symbolism much?

Within a couple of hours of the perfection of a major Venus/Pluto aspect (that doubled its energy for me personally) a man holding precious tokens of love collapsed outside my apartment and nearly died. In fact, if I hadn’t gone to work that day, he wouldn’t have been found for hours and would have died. I’m the only one who uses that part of the stairwell in the mornings and where he slumped in the corner, he was completely hidden from anyone else.

I didn’t think of the astrology at the time. I put it down to an unusual event and something to tell my friends about.

Then, a couple of weeks later when the Moon activated that aspect again, I heard the birds.

This time, I immediately stuck my head out the door in my pyjamas to see what was happening. A few steps below where the man had been was a dead kingfisher, its body being picked at by the raucous local birds.

Not knowing what else to do and never having seen a kingfisher in my area before, I grabbed a towel, shooed the birds away and gently picked up the body. Luckily I was holding it very daintily (being not at all squeamish) because as I carried it into my apartment, it suddenly jumped up zoomed off.

Guess I won’t become a veterinarian anytime soon.

This was enough to get my attention so I googled around to see what I could find about the mythology of kingfishers. Turns out there’s a Greek legend about Alcyone and Ceyx, a very loving couple, who died/were killed and the gods turned into kingfishers. Alcyone is also the name of the brightest star in the Pleiades, although the mythology is unrelated.

Guess which constellation was rising at the moment I found the kingfisher?

That was enough to send me scrambling for my ephemeris (read: astrology app) to see what else matched up and that’s when the whole thing with the man and the ring and the death and the bird and Pluto and Venus all crashed into me.

Obviously the stars were going to extreme lengths to get my attention.

The message? Don’t die alone in someone else’s stairwell. It is very definitely and urgently time to let go of the walls and barriers keeping other people out. Or you’ll die. Alone. Emphasis on the dying part. Dead.

Message received.