The Cave

A few weeks ago, I received a notification on Facebook that I had been invited to an event. Monika Healing Coyote was offering an advanced journeying class, and I’d been invited to attend the first session. I was immediately interested, and so I agreed to attend and put it on my calendar so I wouldn’t forget.

It had been a while since my first time journeying under Monika’s tutelage, but I was excited to attend, so early this afternoon, I made the hour-long trek up to her house.

Psychopomps were the theme of the day, though my journeys veered down a bit of a different path from those we were attempting. There were three goals, one for each journey, that we had for the afternoon: to ask our helping spirits to bring us to a psychopomp spirit that would assist us in our work; to learn a technique for guiding a soul to the afterlife; and to learn a technique  (or more) for guiding large groups to the afterlife, all of which were more guidelines for my experience today.


The drumming began, and I closed my eyes, finding myself in the autumn orchard after a bit of a rough start. I made my way down the path between trees, heading to the grand yew I had encountered before, growing in the midst of a cemetery with aged headstones. The grass was springy beneath my feet, which I only now realize were bare. I slipped into the gap between the roots and began the long walk down the dark earthen tunnel.

Once more, I emerge from the tunnel between two tall stones; this time, I notice they are encircled by a string of bells, about head height. I lick my palms heavily and press the damp skin to the left stone, then the right, before sitting at the base of the right-hand stone, called for a helping spirit once, twice, three times, and then settled in to wait.

Soon, I caught a glimpse of movement to my left, and I stood as the red fox trotted up to me. Kit, as I would later discover was what I was to call him, trotted on my left side as we made our way through the scrubland that I had found myself in the last journey with Monika, back to the rich forest where I had come across my own body. We went back to that spot, and I lay upon my bones, burying myself with the earth around us, and soon fell deep below the surface.

We landed in darkness, feet first. I could feel the water beneath us, but did not feel as though I were getting wet. It was dark, very dark, and you could feel the moisture in the air.

In the distance, I saw a white light, a doorway of light, and we began to make our way there. Upon reaching it, we stepped through, and I found myself in a large white…room? Area? There was no way to tell, for everything was white light.

Anubis stood before me, and I quickly felt the Morrigan at my back. My other gods appeared, all of them save Hermes. I realize now this is because he is not included in the oath I made years ago, for he made his presence known years after those words were said.

Surrounded by my gods, I see also an old man, leaning on a staff. At first I think, this is Hermes, but that does not seem right. I then think of Tiresias, the elderly prophet from The Odyssey, and though I am not sure, this seems true in some sense.

There were no words spoken, but the message seemed clear enough. Monika began the recall and I made my way back to the stones wreathed in bells and my orchard.

***

Kit and I made our way back to the dark, damp cave, the same way we had before, with my laying upon my body and burying myself with the rich dark earth. This time, the lighted doorway was gone, but I could see a paler area in the darkness, a sort of greyness that I headed toward. Soon, I found myself at the mouth of a tunnel, with the water growing deeper here but still my bare feet are not wet.

Gradually, the tunnel opens up, and I see to my right a stony outcrop where a man sits beside a fire. To my left, a little farther ahead, I see another man sitting beside a fire. Kit walks ahead of me and sits before me atop the water. He tells me I must choose.

“If I choose one, will I be able to come back to the one I did not choose?” I ask. Kit tells me that the one I choose would be the one that set my path.

I choose left, and I make my way up the stone and towards the man by the fire. He is old, the same man I had seen before, I believe. Kit goes ahead of me, curling up in the fire, beneath the cauldron set atop the fire. I sit on the log, the man on another to my left, before he stands and begins to stir the cauldron with his staff. I can see various herbs, roots, and fruit in it: what looks like red potatoes and strawberries, and I somehow know there is rosemary heavy within its contents.

Soon, the man bids me to drink from the cauldron. I told him no, that I knew better than to drink or eat that which I find in the Otherworld. He seems frustrated, but asks me if I know of the legend of the kappa. I nod, I say I do. He begins to ladle the cauldron’s contents over my head, but it pools and forms into a bowl over my head, the liquid hovering just inches above my crown. A few moments pass, and then it falls, drenching me. I bathe myself fresh from the cauldron, ensuring I get every inch of myself covered in the reddish liquid.

Now, the man nods at me, and he points to the water just a few yards past where we stand. It is an underground river, separating us from where the other man had been, but his small rocky island is dark now. Not far past the entrance of the cavern, the stones I had been walking upon drop off suddenly, forming this large underground river. The man tells me that I can now swim the waters in the cavern, swim this river. I walk into the water and begin to swim, now feeling the presence of the water and the sensation of growing wet from being submerged, something I had been missing before. I swim the wide circular river before coming back to the man. He spoke something to me, told me something, but I cannot remember.

The recall drumming begins, and I make my way back once more.

***

It is our final journey of the day, and I find myself back in the cavern with Kit, my feet still wet in the cold water. I choose right this time, and join the old man sitting there by the fire. He is the same man, I believe, as I have seen in the previous two journeys, but I am not sure. It is much colder here, and I can feel frost upon my feet.

I explain to him the intent behind this visit, and he stands and begins to walk up the ledge that curves around the tall cavern. I begin to follow, before noticing that Kit has not joined me. He does not like the cold, it seems. I tell him he can sit upon my shoulder, and together we walk up the ledge.

The old man has not stopped, and I am following him up a very thin path very high up the cavern wall. At one point, I look down, and when I look back again, I see the man is now two men, one continuing up, and one continuing through a door on the right, glowing brightly.

“You must choose,” Kit says in my ear. I hesitate for a long while before continuing up the ledge where the man has not stopped, now far above me on the path.

There is a dark cave at the top, and as I approach, I find myself in complete darkness as I head into the cave, following the man as he disappears within it. I am walking for a long time, and then the drum beats change. I call into the darkness, stopping, and tell him that I had to leave. From the darkness comes his hand, bearing a lantern lit with flame. I take it from him and turn around, carrying it with me as I return to my body.

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Until We Have Forgotten Them

It was late October, and I had made the hour-long trip up to Mt. Airy, MD, to join some friends of mine for a journey group, led by Monika HealingCoyote. The aim was to contact the ancestors, and it had been some time since I’d done a journey.

I pulled in close to showtime, avoiding roosters and stable hands at the farm that was loaning us the space: a large barn loft, beautiful with its wooden floors and high beams. Inching my way past the caterpillar on the stairs, I made my way into the loft, carefully opening the door to avoid letting the warmer air escape, nor any barn cats that may be awaiting their chance.

Monika, the workshop leader, is a shamanic healer in the DMV area. I’d had the chance to meet her and attend one of her workshops at Frederick Pagan Pride Day this year, and I was both impressed and a bit smitten by her. She’s a sweet person, and conscious of her role in her own life and communities. Having enjoyed the workshop she gave and the short journey she led us through, I was intrigued to attend this journey session and see what I would see.


For the first journey, we aimed to travel to a helping spirit to bring us to an ancestor, so that we could ask them what gifts and blessings we received because of their life.  Monika began the music, and I pulled my hood over my face to bring myself into the darkness.

I walked along the path, finding myself in the apple orchard I frequent. A dry creek bed is hidden past the trees, not the flowing stream that I usually see. The trees are bare, their leaves gone for the winter.

I walk along the path until the orchard opens up into a clearing. Only a few years away there is a large graveyard,  headstones dotting the grass without order, their names illegible. I walk purposefully towards the yew, and make my way through the roots of the tree.

It is dark within here, but I find the tunnel and begin to make my way through, eventually coming out at the base of another tree, of My Tree, the large sylvan beast that I typically find myself entering this world from beneath. But, instead of standing at the top of the hill, before me spreads a wide expanse of dry prairie and scrubland, with two tall stones standing on either side of the entrance. I sit before one of the stones, and I wait.

At some point, the dog appeared, a collie snuggled beside me. He seemed larger than he was, but didn’t appear to be much bigger than others of his breed, at least not to my eyes. We stood and I followed him as we walked into the dry lands.

Cresting a dune, I looked down to see a large circle of people dancing in the dark, all clad in white, dancing around a fire. I watched for a while, unable to make out details from so far away, then followed my guide as he continued through the expanse. In the distance again, I caught sight of two men, battling with swords as they stood in the rain atop a ship’s deck. One slipped and fell to his knees, but the other did not kill him, though he was the victor. He showed mercy, and the scene faded.

At the far end of the prairie, we came to the edge of a forest. I began to crawl through the forest, over roots and fallen trees. In a small grove, sunlight broke through the thick canopy, and I knelt in the patch of light and began to dig, dirt quickly caking my fingernails. The earth was cold and wet beneath my fingers, and eventually I came to a skull, then slowly uncovered the rest of a skeleton—my own skeleton.

A crow came and landed on my shoulder, and at some point, my collie guide began a young woman, watching me as I dug up the skeleton that was my skeleton.

In the hole in the ground, I lay myself atop my skeleton in the damp earth, and I watched the trees above me until it was time to return.

As I came back, I ran, fleet-footed through the forest and through the desert back to the boulder. I lay my hand against the rock that was not there, then licked both stones standing beside the entrance to the tunnel. We ran, and as I went down the tunnel, the crow cawed and flew back behind me. Eventually, I was back beneath the yew tree, and I clawed myself out from under it, digging my way back to the surface. Emerging from its roots, I took a handful of water from the pool near me, lifting it to my mouth, then spraying it back upon the yew’s trunk in thanks.

I ran again, back down the orchard path, toward the cliff where I had started, and back to my body.


Our second journey was once more traveling to a helping spirit, to ask about the struggles and blockages we inherited from our family. We were to ask if our ancestor(s) could help us, work with us to cut away that particular influence in our lives.

Once more beneath My Tree, I stood by the standing stones. A crow joined me from the air, and a snake beside my feet. Once more, we made our way to the forest.

It was the same forest where I found my body, but we did not go beyond its edge. I stood there, surrounded by figures dressed in white who surrounded me, encircled me.

I drew the knife from my pocket and reached forward until I gripped the heavy, cold iron cord that bound me to the woman who had nearly killed me, the one I had thought to be my best friend.

It was a thin strip of iron, not unlike rebar, growing from the middle of my chest, out of my own heart. It was straight and cold, black like cast iron.

The woman appeared at the other end of the cord, and as I sawed back and forth across the iron band, my ancestors would come with buckets of water, pouring them over the iron as it heated from my efforts. Finally, I made it through the cord, my arm becoming weightless as it no longer had the iron holding it up. I lifted my hands, and I blasted her with my desire for her to be gone, casting her out of my life and into the depths of the forest.

February in Review: Thoughts on Balance

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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.

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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:

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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.20160227_100326

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.


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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.

Remembrance for the Dead

white is the colour of bone and ash
to speak to the dead we bathe and fast
red is the colour of blood and death
we rub the bones and give them breath
black is the colour of womb and tomb
we sit in the dark to leave the room

.I.  Cleansing

In silence, I scrubbed the hearth and washed my tools, cleansing the bits of old and forgotten from pan, pot, and spoon.  I swept the kitchen floor and washed the counters by hand. And then I went to cleanse myself before making the offerings. With lavender soap, I cleansed and purified my body, murmuring a chant the whole while.

I cleanse myself for the ancestors, may you find me worthy of your presence this night.

I cleanse myself for the spirits, may you find me worthy of your presence this night. 

I cleanse myself for the gods, may you find me worthy of your presence this night.

Thrice for the ancestors, thrice for the three, and thrice again for the ancestors I whispered my words beneath the flowing water.

.II. Offerings

Rich tomato soup, roasted beets, and homemade bread. I cut and sliced and cooked mindfully, imbuing my intent into each food, each step, remembering those who had gone before. As I held the largest beet, now freshly peeled and still steaming in the chill October air, I marveled at how it looked like a fresh heart, so large and vivid and dark in my hands. I gave thanks to the ancestors in silence, thanking them for their trials that led to me standing in my kitchen that night, the steaming chthonic root still in my hands, staining my hands and fingers red.

.III. Ritual

Unplanned, we three arrived in red, black, and white. This chose our seats for the evening: each would sit at their color and read the words of the Necromancer’s Chant there before we began. We plated and poured, setting meat, bread, and wine on the table for us and for them. A meal to share with those gone by.

The table set and the seat veiled, we said the words and rang the bell. We ate in silence, pausing now and again to listen when we sensed we weren’t alone. The chair sat veiled, the meal before it, sweet red wine poured in the glass. We sat and we ate, thinking of those that had gone before, offering them to share in our meal, red as blood, red as life.

Once more, the bell was rung, once plates were cleaned and wine was drunk. We were free to speak again, and we thanked them for their presence, inviting them to stay if they would, or go if they must. We thanked them for their gifts and lives, and thanked them for their joining us this night.

Out came the cards, the pendulum, the acorns with silver symbols sketched on their shells. We shuffled and talked of what we had experienced during the meal, sharing wine and red juice and laughter. Once ready, we drew the cards, a spread of three, asking for each of us what would come next, what to do, and what to watch out for. We drew and we shared our readings, helping one another interpret the cards. Then each of us drew an Ogham rune from the bowl, the acorns inscribed with silver words, for further guidance on the paths we take.

The night was spent with good food, good wine, and good company, talking of love, of life, of witchcraft until the hour was late. Then, we cleared the table and said our goodbyes. Until next time.

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