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.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

I was fucking terrified.

Every night as a child, I could tell it was just outside my window, staring in with malevolent intent. The only thing protecting me from it, from its teeth and claws and eyes, was a fragile pane of glass. I wanted to peek through the curtain to see if what I sensed was “actually there”. And I was too terrified to look or even move too close in case it was. The wolf in my window was my greatest childhood terror. I instinctively understood that it was there and not there and that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it.

Along with the wolf came the screaming. Unearthly high pitched wails that drifted out of the night, sometimes far off, sometimes far too close. They had a mournful, desperate quality, as though some lonely creature was wandering through the darkness, crying. There was never a physical threat component to these screams, but they terrified me as much as the wolf.

My response was to curl up with the blankets over my head, no matter how hot it was, because I knew that if the bad things couldn’t see me, they couldn’t get me. My doona was a shield against the horrors in the darkness.

The thought occurred to me—what if the wolf one day smashed its way through the window.

No.

Nothing bad was allowed into my house. And yes, that did include the screaming creature roaming the night. And no, preventing that one specifically from coming it did not somehow allow other non-specified bad things in. And no, it didn’t matter if they tried to force their way in through a window or a door. And yes, that did include doors or windows that my parents had left open. No, bad humans were also not allowed in. No. Yes, it did work for that. No. No. Yes. No…

Before I realised what I was doing, I had a nightly shielding ritual prayer designed to protect my house and family. It started out as a series of no’s and yes’s and qualifications as I imagined all the possibilities and tried to cover off on them all. Eventually, it evolved into a more typical prayer to deity, with the same focus and a lot of repetition until I felt comfortable enough to go to sleep.

This was my introduction to magical practice. I performed this prayer ritual every single night of my life, mostly from fear of what might happen if I missed a night. Taking on that kind of bullshit responsibility for all the world’s unfortunate chances wasn’t healthy and it’s taken me a long time to let go of it (still working on it). But it was what I needed to deal with the terrifying things that I was facing as a child and I did the best I could with the information and experience I had. So go me!

I’m just now realising the benefits of this slightly messed up practice.

My magical shielding is stellar. As soon as I extended my sphere of influence in my nightly prayers to the edge of our yard, the wolf at the window vanished. He came back once or twice, but a quick recitation was enough to banish him again. The horrifically screaming thing in the night turned out to be a bush stone curlew. My dad bought a bird book to show me what it looked like and my fear instantly vanished. Interestingly, no curlews ever ventured onto our property.

And the protection has continued. I’ve done it nightly for all the places I’ve lived as well as my childhood home where my parents still live. That house has to be one of the most well-protected places in the world by now after 10,000+ nightly prayers.

I’ve managed to turn a fear-based unhealthy habit into a powerful regular magical practice and I’m actually kind of proud of that.

Spirit dreams

I drive down a long dirt road through a magical forest of dark twisted trees and sunshine. Butterflies and bees flutter and buzz through the late golden and green light. When I wonder if the road will end, it does and there is a squat castle of stone and glass.

The castle is full of sweet blue smoke. I listen to the wind beating at the walls. It’s night and a lone ship on the ocean shines a bright light into the castle. The smoke becomes a shadowy robed figure who offers me a crystal cup. I drink. It tastes like a mouthful of soy sauce.

I lie on a soft bed and the smoke figure begins to pace and sing. I wonder what I’m doing there and if I’m supposed to do something. The song continues and I feel it in my body. Notes thrill up my legs. Pure excitement and joy builds in my belly, my solar plexus, my heart. It’s like being a kid on Christmas morning but more and better.

I start to shiver and twitch uncontrollably. I’m laughing. I didn’t know the human body was capable of feeling like this. It’s overwhelming and explosive and too much and sublimely perfect. My body rises up off the bed, drawn by the star newborn in my solar plexus.

Every sensation is overwhelming and joyful and perfect. Each one is another distraction, tumbling my awareness on and on. This must be what it’s like for a spirit incarnated into a body for the first time, I think. And that thought is perfection. And so is that one. I spiral in and out, folding and widening over and over again until I am almost at the centre of the universe. I reach for the nature of being but it is so, so intensely joyful that I laugh and the laughter tumbles me back through the sensations, beginning the cycle again.

Just as I am about to joyfully shatter into the endlessness of spirit, the smoke figure appears. She stoops over me. From her lantern spills a rain of sparkling starlight. Each soft silver drop that falls on me lightly presses me back into the bed, quenching the fiery star in my solar plexus, easing the pressure of purest bliss. A brilliant woman of bright white light and lightning tendrils withdraws. I had not seen her there before.

The smoke figure offers me another drink from the same crystal cup. I am nervous and reluctant. It tastes ever so slightly different. I lie on the bed again but now it is hard and scratchy and uncomfortable. The smoke figure sings again but it is grating and annoying. The noise jangles and clangs and I shudder again and again. It feels like my body is trying to get away, piece by piece, organ by organ, bone by bone.

I roll over and over, trying to get comfortable. It is the same bed but not. The ship’s light now glares in the darkness with bright white hate. I am afraid of it and keep to the shadows so it can’t see me.

The smoke figure is making me choke and gasp for air. Its sweetness is gone. A woman made of long, hard spiky green leaves steps forwards. Her thorny tendrils encircle me, cutting me off from everything. I mourn for the loss of bliss. This must be what it’s like for a spirit incarnated into a body for the first time, I think.

Somewhere outside someone is crying. I feel pity for them but irrational hatred for the sound. I wonder why the smoke figure does not help them. But she is standing over me, a red nurse in a red surgical mask, attending the green woman of spikes and thorns.

The red nurse stabs me with her silver scalpel, hundreds of tiny pricks and jabs.

I wake.

This must be what it’s like for a spirit incarnated into a body for the first time, I think.