Author: Jarandhel Dreamsinger

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.

Where Have All The Lions Gone?

Due to recent changes in federal law, we have removed all of our lion products from Bones to Pick. The African Lion has been added to the Endangered Species List, making interstate sale of lion parts illegal in the United States, so we will no longer be dealing in them. The new law goes into effect January 22nd, but we are taking this measure preemptively so that there is no chance we will still have lion pieces in transit at that time.

For more information on the changes in federal law, please see the following links:
http://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/lion.html
https://www.rt.com/usa/326937-african-lions-endangered-species/

A Small Reminder

There are a vast array of laws in the United States and worldwide governing the sale, trade,  possession, import and export of animal parts.  A somewhat comprehensive list may be found here.

Due to the complexity of the laws involving international trade, we at Bones to Pick will presently not sell any of our pieces which involve animal parts internationally.  We will only ship them to valid US addresses.

Within the US, each state has their own laws regarding such items.  We abide by federal law and by the laws of the states we live in.  It is the buyer’s responsibility to make sure that the items they are purchasing from us are legal to own in their home state.

Finally, and this should really go without saying, please do not ask us to procure animal parts which are illegal under federal law.  We will bend over backwards for our customers, but we are not willing to commit a felony for you.  We are, however, willing to work with you to try to find a legal alternative that will suit your spiritual needs.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

While privately discussing the recent Palo and Homosexuality episode of Candelo’s Corner and the two posts here on Bones to Pick responding to it, Tata Walker brought up the fact that many paleros deal with the subject with a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule.   That struck a nerve for me.

Most of you probably remember hearing about a policy by that name implemented by the US Military from February 28, 1994 through September 20, 2011.   For me, the experience was a bit more personal.

I’m a bisexual male.  I’m currently 34, and I’ve known that I was bisexual for longer than I have had a word for it.  I can very clearly remember the first time I consciously recognized a crush on another boy – the first day of fifth grade.  I was 10 years old, I saw him from across the playground, and all I could think to myself was “Oh my god, he’s beautiful!”

It wouldn’t be for several more years, until I was thirteen, that I realized this represented something that made me different from other boys.  It was then that I read the Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and recognized myself in her fictional “Shay’a’chern”, in particular the character Vanyel.  That would be how I thought of myself for a few more years, until I finally got on the internet in high school and found the real-world terminology to describe my sexual orientation.  And even then, it would not be until close to the end of my senior year of high school, when I was 18, that I came out to anyone as bisexual and finally began my first relationship with another man.  This was 1999.

During the summer of 1999, my father experienced heart failure and was hospitalized.  At that time it was also discovered that he was an uncontrolled diabetic with a foot infection, one which required most of his big toe be amputated immediately.  He was in the hospital for over a month, and on disability thereafter.  It was a rough time for my family, and I made what I thought was the best choice possible to help them at the time.  I enlisted in the US Army.

My recruiter must have had some pretty good gaydar, because he reassured me numerous times that nobody cared about sexual orientation anymore.  He referenced the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy several times.  Thing is?  Recruiters lie.

My basic training was slated to be at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (or, as we not-so-affectionately referred to it, Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery) in November.  The very first day we arrived at Fort Leonard Wood we were told to sit down and watch some videos on the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  These videos painted a very different picture than what I had been told by my recruiter.  Rather than “don’t ask, don’t tell”, the real policy seemed to be “don’t ever get caught”.  The videos detailed extensively what the penalties for being caught would be.  Years in prison and a dishonorable discharge simply for kissing another man or holding his hand.  Even more prison time for actual sex.  And it was made very clear that this applied on base or off base, on duty or off duty, in or out of uniform, active or reserve.

Just dating my new boyfriend could get me put in prison.  That wasn’t what I had signed on for.

Thankfully, not long after that, a way out presented itself.  We were gathered together in an assembly and told that we all had one last chance, a “moment of truth”, to tell our commanding officer anything that we had not told our recruiters.  I took that opportunity, and was granted an entry level discharge for “homosexual admission”.  The actual process from that point on would take about a month, until early December.

Word spread fast.  Comments were frequent and derisive.  Marching cadences for my unit began including lines about meeting a “faggot” with my name.  More than once I had to defend myself from physical assault.

It was that last that really started to change things.  I’m 5′ even, and one of the people who assaulted me was one of the biggest guys in our unit.  Each of his punches literally knocked me to the floor, but I kept getting up again.  I had a black eye and a split lip the next day.  But so did he.  Neither of us reported the other.  The assaults stopped.  I’d earned some respect.

Not long after that, I tried something radical.  I agreed to answer any question put to me about my sexuality.  The questions that were asked made me realize just how sheltered a lot of my fellow recruits had been and how little they actually knew about gay or bisexual people.  I answered everything from who in the unit I thought was the most attractive man, to why I had “chosen” to be gay (it’s not a choice), to questions about “gerbiling” (I’d never heard of it and needed them to tell me what it was) which they’d assumed was a typical gay sex act.  No matter how ridiculous, I didn’t get offended.  I just answered them.  And people began to come around.

By the time my discharge went through, many of the people in my unit told me that I’d completely changed their views on gays.  Including the guys who had assaulted me.

See, that’s the thing about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies, and how it relates back to Palo.  These policies aren’t really about keeping gays and bisexuals out of the military, or out of Palo.  Gays and bisexuals were already in the military long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was officially ended, and I guarantee they’re in more Palo houses than people know about or would admit to.  What these policies are really about is keeping their presence invisible.  Making it impossible to acknowledge or discuss their contributions.    Making it impossible for people to get to know people who are gay within the religion, see the quality of their workings for themselves, and have their preconceptions challenged.  Making it impossible for queer paleros to earn the respect of their peers.

We see this even in the episode of Candelo’s Corner I mentioned at the start of this essay.   While people mentioned knowing gay paleros, not one gay or bisexual palero nor the godparents of any gay or bisexual palero were present for that discussion.  Instead, the debate was between paleros whose houses exclude gays on one side and neopagans on the other.  Rendering actual queer paleros invisible all over again.

Proper Decay

A few months ago I was struck by a beautiful turn of phrase in an article on the Basimbi: “They filter and purify groundwaters, encourage proper decay, provide stability and foundation.”  Encourage proper decay.  I love that phrasing, and its many implications.

Last night, my partner Joseph Atreides wrote a brief piece about the sacredness of decay and its role in the life cycle.  Simple, beautiful, and well said.  And it brought me back to thinking about that phrase again.

I have not worked as extensively with the remains of the dead as my partner, or my other spiritual colleagues.  I’ve had relatively little to do with that form of decay, though I am beginning to work more in that field.  Yet I feel a deep connection, a resonance, with the Sîmbi Nkagi Mayamba.

To a certain extent, it is a role I have played for much of the past several years – from December 2012 to March of this year, I worked as a live-in caregiver for an elderly gentleman with Alzheimers.  As his mind decayed due to the disease, I did my best to manage things so that he could have the best remaining time possible with his family and not harm himself or others.  Finally, he reached a point where it was no longer possible to care for him safely in-home and I had to push for his family to place him in a suitable long-term care facility, and this too was a process of encouraging proper decay — of letting go when the time was right.

So often in our lives, and even in our spirituality, we do not make room for proper decay.  We hold on to relationships, beliefs, and traditions which no longer serve us and which may even be damaging to us.  Instead of letting them go and letting the experience become fertile soil from which to grow something new, or a stable foundation upon which to build something, we fear the loss and clutch it tighter to our core.   Instead of proper decay, it becomes a source of infection.

As spirit-workers, we should all take a close look at what we believe, why we believe it, whether or not it is actually true, and how it serves us, our communities, and the spirits we work with.  We should look at the people we associate with and whether those associations elevate us, or drag us down.  And we should not be afraid to make room for proper, healthy, sacred decay in our lives.

Form and Substance

I have in my possession a small bag of magical tools.  I made it nearly ten years ago and I rebuild its contents on a semi-annual basis.  Occasionally I bring it with me when I feel I need to go into a situation “armed for bear”, so to speak, but for the most part I leave it at home.  It is linked to me in such a way that I am able to call on the virtues of the tools it contains from any distance, and so I do not really need to have it on my person.  A few years back I was going through a very rough time in my life for reasons that I won’t get into here.  I started carrying my bag of spiritual tools with me all the time because I needed its presence there as a reminder that I was strong enough to get through the problems that were facing me.

Two years later, when I had made it through those troubles and been strengthened by them and my life was looking much better all around, I no longer carried my bag with me.  I made regular offerings to the gods and spirits that work with me, I was deepening my interaction with my own ancestors and incorporating the ancestors of my partner into that practice, I was studying new forms of magic, I was learning about local trees and herbs, I had embarked on a new spiritual path, and I was even learning a new language specifically to study some magical texts that were not available in english.  But these were things I largely did in private, or at least didn’t broadcast.  And I no longer had my bag at my side.  So imagine my surprise and bemusement when, at a time when my practice was more vitalized than it had been in years, I was told by fellow spiritual workers that I needed to rebuild my practice.

Fast-forward a few months, and a new set of problems had cropped up in my life that took up much of my time and attention.  My offerings had become irregular.  My studies had greatly diminished.  But I had my bag with me.   So things had clearly gotten better.

You might think that those of us who walk occult or spiritual paths would understand the difference between form and substance in matters like these.  That there is more to a person than just what meets the eye, and that appearances can be deceiving.  After all, our work concerns itself so much with the intangibles of essence, virtue, and spirit.  But I find that’s often not the case.

A few months ago myself and a (former) friend who considers himself a spirit-worker were driving up to an occult convention several states away.  Along the way we stopped at a highway rest stop for some food and drinks.  My then-friend looked disdainfully at the other people who had stopped there and began an extensive commentary about the “Muggle-ass Bitches” he saw.  This commentary continued for most of the way up, every time we saw a group of people who appeared ordinary–even though my own attire had more in common with them than with him.

Nor did this commentary stop when we reached the convention itself.  In a hotel full of occultists, I continued to hear at length about how he was surrounded by “Muggle-ass bitches”.  Apparently occultists need to dress a certain way, outside the norm, in order to be taken seriously?  The high point of the evening was when we headed outside for folks to grab a smoke, and he starts to rant about the “Muggle-ass looking bitches” he sees outside the doors we’re approaching.  I couldn’t have laughed harder than I did when the doors opened and we found the group outside the doors were our own friends and fellow spirit-workers who were also attending the convention.

But now, thinking back on it, it doesn’t seem as funny.  Shouldn’t spirituality be about more than mere costume?  Shouldn’t occultism be less about how one dresses, accessorizes, and applies makeup and more about what one knows and what one can do?  How many of those “muggles” we passed on the drive from Virginia to New Jersey had a richer, deeper, and more powerful spiritual practice than the one who was criticizing them?  I’d wager at least a few.

Of course, none of these observations are confined to those I know personally.  My partner touched on this a bit in his recent post, On Being Feral, when he talked about people in the occult communities posting pictures of their altars, ritual spaces, tools, luceros, prendas, etc. on Facebook or Tumblr or other blogs and social media.  This may have the outward appearance of spirituality, but is there any actual substance to it?  Or is it simply a fashion accessory?

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