Tag: animism

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

On Working With the Relics of the Dead

Working with the parts and relics of the deceased in a spiritual fashion is a form of ecstatic union, connecting on a deeper level with the underlying spiritual current permeating what most conceive as “reality” (Kalunga is what would come to mind to the Palo practitioner).  At its most superficial I’d describe it as a form of psychometry, but what it really is is taking on the role of the psychopomp.  That itself takes on different manifestations, however.  A dog and a crow are both psychopomps, but both are shaped differently from one another and behave and function in their own unique fashions.  This also largely depends on who you are and what you are working with.  Not everyone is capable of being a psychopomp.  Taking on such a task without the mental or spiritual fortitude can manifest itself in mental imbalance, among other unpleasant things.  I’ve seen this numerous times over the course of years in my work with the dead, but I’m not here to tell stories of specifics, but to offer a general idea of what this kind of work entails, and the job I perform personally.

What do I mean when I say “relics of the dead”?  This could count as anything that is left behind at the moment of death, or relating in some way to the passing of an animal (be it human or nonhuman).  Similar to the Catholic understanding of relics, these take primary and secondary forms.  A primary relic would be the skin, hair, bone, nail or any other physical remnant of the direct body.  A secondary relic would be various items such as pieces of clothing, reliquaries, graveyard dirt and so on.  I’ve worked with relics of all kinds: animal bone, skin, blood, soft tissue, crematory ash, graveyard dirt, and numerous other items.  Each of these things have different attributes, spiritual imprinting, and function.  To keep things simple, I’ll start with the differences in spiritual function between animal bone and animal skin.

In my long experience, the deepest and longest-lasting spiritual connection one can find is within bone, particularly the skull.  While fur and leather and soft tissue decays and dissolves, bone will endure for much longer and serves as a lasting foundation and record of the animal (whether human or nonhuman) that once lived.  Numerous animistic cultures and spiritual traditions throughout the world make use of the skull as the primary focal point for spirit and for the personalities, thoughts and perceptions of the once-living animal.  It is the sum total of all wisdom, knowledge, experience and sensation, which is why skulls were so revered and held highest of all the remains of the dead in numerous animist cultures and societies. In Regla de Palo, skulls make up a very important part of various ritual workings and spiritual tech.  This has been the basic premise for a great many headhunter societies whose primary goal was to capture the head of the enemy and gain control over the fallen enemy’s soul.  The bones and particularly the skulls of the ancestors received similar preparation and treatment.  An example of this is the story of Odin and Mimir, when Odin preserves the head of the fallen sage through the use of various herbs and incantations, seating the soul within the decapitated head and accessing the wisdom and memory within.  The severed head proffers wisdom and knowledge to Odin.

Animal skins and hides also make up a significant part of animistic practice and tech that involves psychopomp work.  The skin is a very intimate part of the body, and is the external expression of ourselves, the organ by which we sense the world around us.  Skin-to-skin contact is a very powerful form of connection and energy transferral.  Much has been written about skinwalkers, berserkergangr (bear-shirt), and the shaman and his or her ritual cloak of shapeshifting.  The skin or hide of an animal, especially when ritually prepared, is a powerful tool by which the animist or spirit-technician can interface with the spirit and energies of that particular animal.  To give you an example of how powerful an animal skin can be, sometimes the simple act of draping one over a person can cause them to “go under” or become posessed by the animal’s spirit or energy.  Animal skins can also be used as containers or coverings for the storage and transport of ritual and holy objects or items, or mediums on which spells, sigils and so on can be written upon.  The spiritual charge within the skin or hide amplifies the work being done.

There are numerous examples of the above given, and I’ll write more on specifics later on.  Part of what I do is fulfill the role of ‘sacred scavenger’, which means finding and preparing nature’s relics and artifacts to be used in a spiritual or ritually meaningful way.  My methods range anywhere from scavenging roadkill to procuring tannery and furrier rejects to seeking out lost and overlooked treasures in antique stores, junk shops and estate sales, and the search itself is just as sacred.  Part of my search involves meditation, prayer and offerings to the animal I wish to work with (either personally or for a contact or client seeking my assistance), and usually it will present itself in some form.  An old skin in a junk shop, a skull at an estate sale, or a pile of bones in the forest.  Serendipity and ‘coincidence’ make up a large part of this–what many occult practitioners call synchronicity.

I’ll write more on this later, when my migraine isn’t kicking my ass.  Hopefully with pictures.  Folks do love pictures.  Keep up the great Work all!

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