The card I drew for February in my 2016 oracle spread was Balance. I had had an idea of its intent when I drew it, but as with January, I asked someone to do a clarifying reading for me, in order to avoid my own personal biases that may occur if I were to do my own. My friend Sionnan graciously agreed to do not just one but two readings for me in regards to clarification of the theme for this month and my shadow work focus for February.
Clarification about Balance: Death | Resistance | Growth
“So, some spreads are “balanced” spreads, where the left card and the right card are contrasted against each other, while others are “story” spreads, where the cards lay out in such a way as to write a sentence. I don’t decide what the spread is– I just figure it out once I read it. This is a balanced spread, contrasting the death and growth cards across the resistance card. What feels significant is that the skull and the jar are the same general shape, just reversed, rotated 180 degrees around the stone.
It almost feels like it’s being swept around the rock by the current.
The water rushes into the vessel as it rotates around, washing out the poisonous flames and noxious smoke.
It definitely feels temporal though, like you’re shifting from position A to position B.”
As February approached, I’d had a sense of what I needed to focus on this month, but as I said earlier, I wanted to avoid my own biases and get another opinion. The above spread confirmed my thoughts, but Sionnan graciously did the second reading, too:
Shadow Work Focus for February: Water | Protect | Achievement
First thing I get is an impression of rising in elevation from sea level to land to the mountain peaks. The black feather is a crow feather, birds being one of the few beings that can access all three locations easily. Right now the crow is on the land, unlocking old, hidden paths for you. You’re coming up on some sort of significant point in your path. It looks like the midpoint, but there are only three cards so it’s hard to tell. Actually, no, sorry– You have just unlocked something. The next stage. Cue the video game music!
In the end, we agreed: I needed to work on my fear of death.
For the last several years, February has always been extraordinarily hard for me. Many years ago, a shooting occurred on my college campus. I was shaken up by it, though at first I thought I was fine. Now, after only a few sessions with my new therapist, I’ve been told that I likely have PTSD based on this event. It’s something that’s been suggested before, but now I had a professional making the comment, giving it more weight. I’ve struggled a lot with the idea of death and dying, even though the macabre has always fascinated me. So, too, is the theme found amongst the deities I work with and worship: Anubis, god of embalming, of preparing the body for burial; Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and consort of Hades, Lord of the Dead, Queen of shades and spirits; Hekate, the psychopomp of the dark moon, Lady of Necromancy; Odin, the Hanged God, Lord of the Breathless, He who Governs the Gallows; the Dark Hound, with his similarities to Arawn, the Welsh god of Annwn or the Celtic Otherworld, and who may very well be the same as the Dark Hound I have honored for several years; the Morrigan, Irish goddess of the battlefield, She of the Carrion Crow.
Death has always had its place upon my shrine, thought I kept my back to it, not wanting to look too closely at the darkness.
When I was in my early teens, I struggled with spirituality, with the concept of what happens after death. Having been raised a non-Christian and not yet aware of the non-Abrahamic options to me, I did not believe in Heaven, nor in Hell. So I lay in bed one night and tried to conceptualize the idea of Nothing.
I royally fucked myself up. There is no way to imagine Nothing, though I tried.
That has stuck with me ever since, and it is closely entwined with my fear of death.
But this month, Death has made its presence known, and there has been no way for me to avoid it.
I spent most of this month with the concept of Death in the back of my mind. Hard not to, with the anniversary of my school’s shooting coming up. But when my mother called me, for the first time in two months, to tell me that my grandfather was hospitalized and not likely to make it through the night, I had to sit down and take a good long look at myself and my relationship with death.
I didn’t know my grandfather well, and now I won’t get to. He passed away two days later, after stubbornly hanging on for two days, because that’s how my family rolls. I prayed for him to pass easily, solicited prayers from others as well, for his easy passing, a painless death, for peace for my family in this trying period.
My grandfather is the first close family member to die for me, the first family member I have lost. In his death, I found the push I needed to make a more conscious effort to become okay with Death, with my own mortality, something I have vehemently rejected for the majority of my life.
This last Saturday, I made a large first step towards my own personal peace with Death. Chase, Sionnan, and I made the trek up to Frederick, Maryland, to Hood College where they hosted a Death Café, something I have been wanting to do but too scared to do since I first heard about it a year or so ago.
We sat and talked with complete strangers about death and dying, about things that have held a stranglehold over my life for several years. We discussed green burial options, and the physicality of the body, about what we want done with them after we have passed. This has always bothered me, freaked me out, and made me deeply uncomfortable, this notion of my body past my time with it. But that’s no surprise, as I have always had a very physical sense of self. We talked for two hours, and I spent most of that time listening, chiming in here and there with my own ideas and my own experiences with death and fears of it. I think I spoke a grand total of three times in those two hours, most of the time staring at the tablecloth while I listened to this table of women discuss their experiences with death and the dying.
We three left the Death Café around noon, grabbing lunch in Frederick before heading on to Mount Olivet Cemetery. Cemeteries have also always been an intense place for me, a place so sacred (yet frightening) that I have never been sure how to deal with them. But having Chase there helped, as she frequents her own local graveyards and has a better sense of how, what, and why we do things there.
After parking, we discussed the gatekeeper of the cemetery, which was quite obvious with the large monument at the gates of Francis Scott Key, who is buried there, and Columbia, with her sons War and Music. We left pennies for these keepers of the dead. I slipped mine between my lips, coating it in my saliva, something that I prefer to always leave at a cemetery, which is a rare occasion. But it feels right, to leave a part of myself for the dead, and so I lay the slick coin beside the goddess’s foot and turned back to leave her domain.
We walked a good ways through the city of the dead, which went on and on for a while. We barely traversed a third of it, if that, in our hour or two of meanderings, talking in quiet voices of the dead, admiring the delicate carvings of stone, and sharing what stories we could parse from names and dates. As we headed back, Chase sang the hymn she had written for Persephone, for our upcoming ritual this equinox. As she sang, we walked, eventually pausing, the three of us, at the same grave while Chase sang the last line, and all was quiet.
I may not be over my fear of death, but I feel less terrified of it than I did when the month began. My books have begun to arrive, books recommended to me or that I have found, on death, on dying, on the cities of the dead. Each is beautiful, in its own way, and though it scares me to delve into their contents, it is part of this longer journey that I must take towards death acceptance.