Ghosts Beneath

‘Wm. Bartley’.  How came you to think of running away?  Why sir, to tell you the truth I am afraid of a whale…

–Examination of deserters from the whaling ship, ‘Houqua’, 1835

Right now I’m sitting on the sofa inside a little coastside mobile home, ancestral property at the beach visited by generations of my family.  This place always makes me feel a certan kind of way.  I’m looking out the bayfront windows–the sky is a deep iron-grey and the wind is howling.  Water is chopping steadily against the riprap I often scavenge on.  Certain childhood memories pass through my mind, like  commuter trains roaring by in the dark.  There and gone again.  A tattered old paperback on whales sits by my side, and it’s earliest chapter featuring belugas takes me all the way back, to one of my earliest childhood memories.

I am a tiny child, clutched in the strong arms of my father, and it is probably my first visit at the city aquarium.  My parents used to be the cerebral sort, for the most part eschewing carnivals and Chuck E Cheese for museums and other institutions of learning, a habit which would have a strong effect on my spiritual and professional life in adulthood.  There is only one thing about that visit which will always stay in my mind.  We are up high, very high (at least, it seemed to me), on some sort of catwalk.  In a large tank under our feet, ghostly white shapes are bobbing below.  I stick my neck out, like some sort of curious fawn perhaps, trying to get a better look at them.  It is at this point that my father decides to hoist me up over the rail.  And there I am, hanging in the air, feet dangling over these spectral bobbing shapes, which turn out to be captive beluga whales in a large display tank on the ground floor.  I start squealing in terror, though I’m unsure, even now, if the terror was from the great height or from the monstrous white beasts below me.  My father, of course, thinks this is absolutely hilarious.  He tells me if I don’t stop screaming and squirming, he’ll drop me into the tank with the whales, who would promptly eat me up.  At the time I genuinely believed him.

Perhaps what sticks out in my mind the most was the bizarreness of these creatures.  They are, by default of their being, otherworldly–at least to us humans.  Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) have truly been successful in following the trail of their ancestors back again.  The earliest ancestors of both human and whale crawled forth from the sea, grew legs and walked.  But, while the race of humanity kept walking on (and then up into the trees, only to descend again), the race of cetaceans stopped in their tracks, and turned an eye backward from whence they came, and not once looked back again.  They could teach us a lot about turning to our ancestors and indeed, many indigenous societies and peoples viewed whales as ancestral manifestations and the mighty dead.  What immediately comes to my mind right now is the Yuquot, a Pacific Northwest coastal people, who used the ritually mummified bodies of their ancestors to call the whales for hunting, as the whale manifests from the land of the dead.  Their whaling houses are just as much houses of necromancy as they are ritual hunting. The Sea of the Dead is known by all who dwell by her side.

However, when you are that young, the world is still largely a grand and frightening mystery for the most part, and your parents are like arcane gods, incomprehensible and at times more than a bit frightening.  I really did genuinely believe that my father was going to drop me into that tank.  What perhaps increased the horror of my situation was that my screaming not only attracted appalled onlookers, but it also attracted the attention of the three whales below me in the tank, who thrust their heads out of the water and swiveled them on amazingly flexible necks to get a better look at the little human creature dangling above them.  In what I can only describe as unusual clarity and depth for one so young, I recall being absolutely convinced that my father took me to the aquarium specifically to give me as an offering to these ghostly white beasts.  I would be haunted by this event in dreams and nightmares for years later, only in the dreams I would slip from his hands and plummet towards the whales.  Over and over again I would repeat this strange death.  Many years later I would come to reflect on this, and wonder if perhaps that was what the sacrificial rooster felt in the hands of the tata standing over his prenda.

In a way, perhaps I was offered up to the white whales.  This was only the first in what would become a series of bizarre incidents in my life, the odd and quite literally death-defying encounters I would have with the sea.  All too often in these moments of solitude and silence I direct my gaze inward, reviewing the steps I have taken, and how these events have, for better or worse, made me the person I am today.  

Unforgotten

I know a fair handful of people who, in various traditions, work with the forgotten dead.  With gravesites that have been abandoned or poorly tended, left unvisited.  With dead for whom no offerings are made, and no stories told.

This is important work.  Many of these spirits are hurting and hungry, and they need the help of living spirit workers in many ways.  But I wonder, sometimes, is what we do enough?

Perhaps we’ll clean up their gravesite, lovingly tend it, leave offerings to them.  Perhaps our service to them will last our entire lives.  Perhaps we’ll even pass it on to others, when we ourselves pass on.

But what if we could do more?  What if we could help them connect with their families again?

Recently, as part of my spirit work, I’ve been reaching out to some of my own forgotten dead through genealogy research.  It’s been a very interesting process.  I’ve found ancestors I’ve never known about, some who lived and died long ago and far away in countries I have never seen, others who barely lived at all and were buried less than an hour’s drive from my own home town.  Names which had been lost to time, not even preserved in the stories of my family.  Now I know them, I know their names and where they are buried and at least a portion of their stories.  They are mine, and I am theirs, and I have done what I can to preserve their memory for others.  They are unforgotten.

Here is what I propose.  If you are going to be spending time in a cemetery as a spirit worker, making offerings or pacts or gathering dirt or other materia, take a little time to do something more.  Take photographs of the tombstones, record their locations, then share that data on sites like http://www.findagrave.com or http://billiongraves.com or http://usgwtombstones.org.  Also, consider joining groups like Honor Fairfax Cemeteries which work to preserve, maintain, and document historic cemeteries.

And, even at home, get involved with sites like familysearch.org or ancestry.com and document your own family history as far back as possible, and in as much detail as possible – you and your immediate family may know these names and dates and stories, but other branches of your family may not, and it may be forgotten in the generations to come.  And if you’re good at such research, consider helping others with their own research so they too can find their forgotten dead.  So the dead can be, at last, unforgotten.

The Role Played by Spiritual Practitioners With Regards to Endangered Species

You know, I’ve tried real hard to sit on my hands on this, because I have literally zero tolerance for (online) drama, histrionics and related bullshit. But already the flames from this small trash fire have wafted into my yard. People are asking questions, and I’ve been asked to weigh in. Alright, I’ll give. But you’ve been warned.

I don’t mean to come off sounding trite, but this little saying does hold true, particularly in this case: Things aren’t always as they seem. A relic of an endangered animal that happens to be a family heirloom is not illegal. It’s illegal if you try to sell it across state or federal borders. YMMV, of course. There are various local laws, which is why it’s very important to educate yourself if you collect natural objects or use them in your spiritual practice. No one will do this for you.

If you happen upon a tiger head or a leopard skin coat or what have you in a local junk shop (and yes, this happens far more often than you may think), and it predates the founding of the Endangered Species Act, and you decide to take it home, guess what? Legal.

We start to navigate the very murky and treacherous legal and ethical waters when we ask the question: What do you DO with what you get, or what you have, that happens to be a relic of an endangered animal? Therein lies the rub.

Honestly, occultists and spiritual workers can be a right shitty bunch at times. I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve been approached by folk requesting the relics of rare and endangered animals for their workings. Most especially the endangered big cats. It all seems to me like some giant dick-measuring contest. The drive for the biggest, the baddest, the hottest. The need to impress. Most, by far, are attributed to small men needing to look big and bad. But that’s a similar theme all across the world. The very desire for a bigger penis has literally wiped some animals almost entirely off the map. The human ape is like that. Humanity is by far the worst and most destructive invasive species. Therefore, our burden is that much harder.

And yet, occultists and spiritual workers can be some of the absolute best kinds of people as well. I’ve known folk who have done wondrous works with these truly sacred relics. They serve as speakers for the dead, engaging in environmental activism, dedicating precious time, resource and money not only to their spiritual community(ies), but the greater human community as a whole. People need to see these relics, hear the stories they have to tell, see the grim numbers and statistics. It is no small irony that taxidermy may be one of the major ways in which these lost species are preserved, enshrined not only in our museums and educational institutions, but also in the hands of those spiritual practitioners and educators who work hard to preserve their life remnants and stories. Marginalizing people, and consigning these precious remnants to the storage facilities and incinerators (where most byproducts and relics of endangered animals end up) is not only wasteful but may only add to the problem long term. Bear with me here.

The ultimate takeaway is this: We as a human species not only have a duty to honor those relics left, but by laying eyes upon those pieces and recognizing their profound sacredness, with the ultimate understanding that these animals are more valuable to us ALIVE than dead (rendered into consumable pieces and commodities). It is such a huge and important responsibility that their stories be told. No ego. No drama.

Attacking people for owning precious family heirlooms is not the answer.

Attacking, insulting and deriding practitioners of ancient spiritual systems, let alone the systems themselves, is not the answer, and is a symptom of a greater disconnect both spiritually as well as socially.

Though in death the stories of these endangered and extinct animals may be preserved, the only way new stories may form and grow is through the preservation of the even more sacred flame of life within each of these precious, sacred animals. The only way that can happen is through education and bridge-building, which will never happen if we allow ourselves to be controlled wholly by our emotions and the dissemination of misinformation.


This article was written by Joseph Atreides, who has years of experience in wildlife and habitat education, conservation, and volunteerism. He is a certified wildlife educator and for years has held presentations and educational programs on endangered species and wildlife, and has donated much time, resource and finances towards the preservation of the world’s big cats.

On “Respect” in the Occult Community(ies)

Respect is a funny thing, especially in occult circles.  People crave it.  People demand it.  People give it way too freely when it isn’t owed nor deserved.

Too often people walk around feeling as if respect is something they are entitled to, that should be automatically given them.  Funny thing about that.  It takes more than titles, or pretty altars or flowery prayers written on Facebook, or who you know, or what you write.  It’s about what you do.  It’s about how you do it.  Whenever I hear someone cry about being offended, about not being granted respect, I wonder more about the person doing the bitching than who they are actually bitching at.  People who genuinely deserve respect don’t need to stomp their feet and squall like injured babies.  They work hard, for their spirits, for their magic, for their community. Work hard, and the respect comes.  Give respect (and give it the right way, to the right people), and respect will be given in return.

It’s all about the spiritual umwelt of the magus or spirit-worker.  I am not a product of my environment, the environment is a product of me.  Now granted, there are a great many things–and people–that one simply cannot control in one’s environment.  The trick here is this: how do you choose to act?  Or, how do you choose to REact?  Time is precious.  So is energy.  It’s also valuable.  The village dog will bark and lunge at the passing lion, and to his brethren he may seem absolutely fearless, and the lion cowardly for not engaging.  And in the tiny world of the village dog, the lion is a coward.  But in the world of the lion, the little dog is not worth even a passing thought.  He has cubs to protect, and hyenas to kill.  He will not waste his precious time on a skinny, flea-ridden village dog.  He is entirely above that petty nonsense.

Too many people spend so much energy worrying about respect, when they should be worrying about the spirits and the community of people they’re in service to.  They should be worrying about themselves.  Otherwise, it really makes me question what the hell their motives are in the first place.  Where do you choose to channel that energy?  Arguing over who’s wrong on social media?  Worrying over your public image and whether or not you’re being respected as the big, bad magus/shaman/spirit-worker/tata/yayi/whatever?  Then I begin to wonder when a fervent prayer on social media becomes just a string of hollow words, and a pretty altar just that–pretty, with no actual substance.

Then again, there’s always what my dad used to say: Don’t write checks with your mouth that your ass can’t cash.  Conduct yourself accordingly.  Don’t call yourself a priest if the only altar you worship at is the one you built for yourself, using whatever god or gods or spirits as props for your swollen ego.  As a Leo, I’ve always said that having an ego is a good thing, if you didn’t you’d might as well be a reptile.  However–having an ego is much like having a penis.  It’s fun to play with and stroke on occasion, but you shouldn’t force it on someone else, and there are certain times and places where you should not be taking it out and playing with it.

It’s as simple as that, really.

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/29WWrph

Learn Bone Reading at Midtown Mojo Manufacturers!

The good folk at Midtown Mojo Manufacturers are giving a class on bone reading on Saturday, June 25 from 2PM to 3:30PM Central Time.  Bones to Pick is offering a 15% discount to students taking the class.  The discount code is valid now through the end of the year and will give you 15% off total purchase in store.  In the next couple of days new bone reading booster sets and some interesting curios will be put up on Bones to Pick for your bone-reading needs, and if you want to learn more about bone reading I strongly recommend signing up for this class, so don’t miss out!  For more information and to sign up do please check out their Facebook page.

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/1UE35Da

We Are Everywhere

We are everywhere. We are in your homes, your workplaces, your churches, covens, iles and yes, your munansos. We have been beaten, robbed, stabbed, and shot. We have been snuffed, silenced and mocked. Our blood is on the walls and floors of the only safe spaces we have. We risk everything–literally everything–just to love our partners and live our truths, and we continue to do so despite the awful violence being visited upon us. Ask yourselves: is this not what warriors do?

I am a transgender queer man who is in a relationship with another man. And, I am a Palero. I am unashamed of who I am and what I am. I am strong in myself and in my ancestors. I (along with so many others like me) have fought and endured a lot to live and love my truth. Contrary to popular images of hexing, blood and violence, my elders taught me that to be a Palero is to be a healer; to minister to the living and to the dead. Now more than ever we as spirit-workers need to step up to the plate, light our fires and raise our voices. We need to be as lions roaring in the night, broadcasting our truths, amplifying the voices of the living and the dead who have been silenced by violence and prejudice, in whichever hideous form it takes (racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc).

Part of what makes a warrior is one’s ability to step outside of one’s comfort zone. People all too often fear what they don’t understand, and Yoda was very correct that this line of thinking only leads to violence and suffering. So much suffering could be avoided if we spent more time trying to understand one another. The tragedy in Orlando should not be further dividing us along lines of religion or gender or skin color, it should unite us. It’s so much easier to harm than it is to heal. But this is the duty that has been left us. We cannot let fear, cowardice and the actions of the broken and corrupted control us.

So yes, light candles and say prayers, but go one step further.  Take to the streets, extend a hand, be there for someone.  To all of my queer sisters and brothers: You are not alone.  You matter.  Your life has meaning and value.  Stand strong in your ancestors and spirits, keep the faith, and reach out.  And know that you are not alone, because we are everywhere.

Resources:
*Pulse Nightclub Victim’s Fund
*Trans Lifeline
*Suicide Prevention Hotline
*Crisis Text Line

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/1U4Qh4S

In The Lap of My Mother

I rarely have anything serious to complain about in my life, but today was a rough day.  The hearing for my cousin’s murderer was today.  Long story short, he’ll essentially walk.  To add insult to injury, I’m sick with some sort of crud I likely picked up at work, so I’m off for a couple days (thankfully I have a massive amount of sick leave accrued).  On top of it all, my bank is late depositing my check in my account.  It’s one of ‘those’ days.  Times like this it’s easy to sit around and stew in impotent rage, mope, or feel sorry for yourself.  I think I transited all those phases today.  Then I turn on the news or look online, and it’s a long slew of political posts and bathroom bill rants and generally humans being awful to each other.  It’s hard to feel positive or upbeat.  I question my faith, and feel like the whole world has gone mad around me.  So I need to fix this somehow.  I’ve decided to tell a story.  It’s a true story, and I hope in the telling it may bring someone else who’s having a bad day a smile, or some sort of kernel of hope.  I summon up this memory when I’m feeling down, and it never ceases to bring me a smile.

First, a bit of background: I live on the east coast, just a little bit inland from the Chesapeake Bay.  The bay is like a second home to me.  I’ve been speaking to the bay since I was a small child, playing in her waters, eating her bounty.  I called her Mother, and thinking back on it, after initiating into Palo, how ironic that would all come be.  My family had a wooden boat, an Owens Cabin Cruiser, and I’d spend many weekends at the marina with my father working long hours on the boat, playing along the docks, or cruising the bay.  I’d sit at the bow of the boat with my feet dangling in the porthole, because there it felt like I was a shorebird, skimming the water.  I was both flying, and at the same time one with Her. 

One day while we were out cruising the bay, we encountered an enormous ship cruising into port.  It was a merchant freighter, one of the largest of its kind.  A floating city; each one of its propellers the size of our house (a 2-story).  To this day it was the largest machine I’d ever seen up close.  I was awestruck.  My father gradually guided our craft closer, but it was a dangerous gamble, as our little toy boat could get dragged by the wake of this great leviathan.  We drew up to the port side of the ship, and looking straight up, the hull looked like an enormous wall shooting straight up into the sky.  But at the very top of this wall I could perceive dark faces and people moving about.  This ship had come from the African continent, and who knows how long it had been since the crew had seen other human faces other than their own, after being out in the open sea for so long.  For my young self, it was like seeing people from another world.  But see….that was the magic of the Chesapeake.  That was our Mother.  She was a liminal space where people from all over the world could meet.  I remember standing up on the bow of the boat and waving and waving.  To my surprise and delight, the crew looking over the side broke into smiles and waved back. 

I wonder how I must have looked to them, perhaps like some tiny monkey clinging to the front of a little toy boat.  But I wanted more.  I thrust my tiny hand in the air, making a fist at them, then pulled it down, gesturing someone pulling on a lever.  I wanted them to blow their ship’s horn.  For awhile I gestured, until one by one they left the port side of the ship, disappearing into it’s fast depths, presumably to return to their duties.  Several minutes passed.  Alright, I recall my father saying.  Show’s over.  For a ship of that size, blowing the horn on a whim was something that wasn’t done.  My heart sank, but I understood.  My dad started the engine, and made to angle the boat back out and away from the ship.

Then it happened.

The sound slammed down on us like a hammer, vibrating throughout the bay and bellowing through the air, drowning out the sound of other boat engines, the calling of the birds, our own voices.  It made a long blast and several shorter ones.  What I recall is a feeling that I can only express as utter joy and ecstasy.  I was laughing and crying at the same time, I threw my arms wide, looking like the character Jack from that “I’m king of the world!” scene from the Titanic.  And then there they were–smiling faces, laughing, dancing and jumping up and down and waving.  I waved back.  I bounced, I cried, I shouted.  And it was there, that singular moment, where people from across the world connected.  For them to break protocol in order to bring joy to a strange kid on a boat whom they’d never met and would never see again, it was at once paradoxically such a small and yet such an immense gesture. 

To this day I’ve not forgotten their kindness or their smiling faces.  But now that I’m much older I think about this and compare it to a darker time hundreds of years ago, when Africans sailed into the Chesapeake Bay not as merchants, but as chattel.  I compare that time to what happened when I was a child, and what a strange dichotomy it is.  But it’s one that gives me hope.  I think about the magic that is the Chesapeake, and I think about how strangers from another part of the world performed an act of kindness for a kid they would only ever see in passing.  I think about it over twenty years later, and I still smile.  It’s a precious memory, one of many such gems I keep tucked away in my heart.  But it’s also a learning experience.  When I find myself becoming too bitter, I summon up that memory, and I smile.

In the lap of the great Mother Chesapeake, in that moment, we traded not in goods or human bodies but in joy and smiles.  And also, maybe perhaps, hope as well.

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/24nHX72

It’s Spirit, Not Meatpuppet Politics

I’m fortunate to know quite a few folk out there who have radio shows and so on.  Usually, due to my crazy work schedule and other rhythms of the day, I tend to miss these shows live.  I’m usually playing catch-up in the 1-2 hour daily commutes to and from work, in which I’m spending long periods of time behind the wheel.  One of the shows I frequently listen to is Candelo’s Corner.  Candelo has no problem bringing up controversial topics and cultivating much-needed discussion.  In his latest show, he invited the folks from Crescent City Conjure over to discuss a variety of important and interesting topics related to conjure and Palo.  One of these was homosexuality and the role of women in Palo.  This is a topic that’s been brought up more than once both on this blog as well as on Candelo’s show.  It’s an important topic.  Deeply important.  It needs to be talked about more.  It needs to be written about more.

As a transgender man I’ve faced the slings and barbs of both misogyny,
homophobia and transphobia.  As the rights of same-sex couples come more into the spotlight, us transgender folk still have a long haul when it comes to acceptance in various places, as the latest ‘bathroom bills’ in various states have come to show.  Some people out there may denounce me, may
call me invalid, or imply (or outwardly state) that I’m not a ‘real’ man and that nowhere else would I be taken seriously.  Their words mean nothing to me, and they won’t change who I am or how I view myself. I am strong in my
ancestors, many of which were men and women who went to battle together
for a common cause.  The true measure of a warrior is not what sits on
their chest or between their legs, or who they love, but in the strength they possess and
the skill with which they wield their weapon.  Ultimately, the ones that have the problem are the ones who point their fingers.  They have no effect on me, and it would be a waste of my time to address them.  I have places to go, and Work to do.

The endpoint, what it all boils down to, is Spirit.  As the speakers on the show pointed out–and something that my godmother and I have said time and again–is that while humans have their own agendas, Spirit speaks raw truth and comes out clear.  If Spirit calls you to a certain role or path, then that is that.  Gender politics have no place within the dictates of Spirit.  If Spirit says you are not destined for a particular path or role, then there has to be a reason behind it. As I’ve said before, biology is not destiny.  You are not defined by your genitalia or the structure of your body, but you are defined by Spirit by what’s inside, by who you are and what you’re capable of.  I often ponder about how much talent had been strangled, how many candles snuffed, all in the name of machismo and festering ego.  Look beyond the Meatpuppet Politics.  There you’ll find Spirit speaking, and there you will find the truth.  To do otherwise is to live in a darkness of one’s own making, and to impose that darkness on others is to feed the infection of ignorance and egotistical bullshit.  It stifles the flame, twists the soul, and any spiritual group with that degree of rot is bound to fail, one way or another.  Spirit alone is the final judge and arbiter.  When the Bakulu speak, it is our obligation and our duty to listen, especially if we dare call ourselves priests, teachers, workers.

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/1T42uYW

PSA on Bone Reading Sets

I’ve temporarily removed listings for bone reading sets while I replenish my stock.  This to ensure that those ordering sets aren’t waiting any longer than necessary–typical wait time for completed assembly of sets, depending on price and complexity, is 6-8 weeks.  Typically I’ve been able to stay well ahead of schedule, but I want to continue this trend, so temporarily I’ve removed the listings while I restock and get myself ready for the next batch.  All prior extant set orders have been shipped.

Soon also to come to Bones to Pick will be blog posts on a variety of topics related to sacred scavenging and theriomancy, as well as posts showcasing the products and services of fellow colleagues and practitioners.  Stay tuned.

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/1URmoti

Some Shipping Updates

Okay, just to give everyone a general FYI: I am currently, more or less, living at work. There have been nothing but back to back shifts and work conferences this week (I’m at one right now as I’m typing this), and any free time is usually spent sleeping before the next shift. As a result, I’m a bit behind in shipments of orders and services and things. Not by a large amount, but enough that I felt it necessary to post this. Starting NEXT WEEK I’ll be filling, packing and shipping orders. Next week things should be more or less back to normal. Work has been VERY busy for me lately, and I also put in a lot of unpaid time making sure programs and things run smoothly on the job. After today I need to rest and take some time to myself, as I’m approaching some degree of burnout, socially and psychologically. I haven’t ignored or forgotten anyone. Once I get my head screwed on straight, I’ll start addressing messages and shipping things starting next week. In the meantime I thank everyone for their continued patience and support.

Originally posted on: http://ift.tt/21pZL3m

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