We Mourn Thee Mighty Thracian: Spirit of Remembrance

Many years have passed since the beautiful Thracian king and god ascendant graced the unknown bar hidden within the unnamed city. Orpheus ascended but did we have time to mourn him, to remember all that he was? We three, Spirits of Memory, Love and Dance performed our rituals but to what end? Someone important was missing, and She has come at last. The Spirit of Remembrance is the fourth element present in abundance within the Universe, there is one other, the Spirit of Divine Consciousness. Her time will come soon.

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Image: The Priestess John William Godward · 1895, Wikiart

Hail beloved sister! How your presence infuses our lives with serenity and meaning. You bring Rosemary for remembrance and purification for the mourning rites. How remiss of us to forget. Forgive us mighty Thracian. Dear sister Priestess we wait on your lead.

The Spirit of Remembrance begins the chant and we follow:

We rend our clothes and tear our hair, cry tears of salt and water bereft of blood. Hear our cries of pain and grief you beings of halls of silence and dread. Accept these offerings of Myrra, Mêkôn, Libanos, Helleboros and Daphnê in memory of Orpheus, our beloved King of Thrace. Green eyed god, vessel for divinity, and grief-stricken lover, who shall we minister to? Speak, break your silence and allow us to adore and pour salve upon flesh and spirit.

We four pour libations upon the ground and sprinkle incense upon ever-burning flames. Dread Persephone and Hades are petitioned, given sacrifice and prayers aplenty. We stand in a place not of time and of time, four faces gaze inwards, four faces gaze outwards. The space within lies empty, waiting another. So the chant begins anew:

We rend our clothes and tear our hair, cry tears of salt and water bereft of blood. Hear our cries of pain and grief you beings of halls of silence and dread. Accept these offerings of Myrra, Mêkôn, Libanos, Helleboros and Daphnê in memory of Orpheus, our beloved King of Thrace. Green eyed god, vessel for divinity, and grief-stricken lover, who shall we minister to? Speak, break your silence and allow us to adore and pour salve upon flesh and spirit.

A terrible silence descends, the emptiness hints at mysteries beyond all understanding. Then, it unfolds. His voice utters blessings, gives us solace. His form shimmers in the smoke, ah, green-eyed god how your beauty illuminates the darkness of the star filled heavens!

The power recedes and we are at peace once more. It is done, the mourning rites have been performed. Go in peace mighty Thracian.

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Image: photo credit: chiaralily Morgana via photopin (license)

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Dance of Consolation: Beginnings and Endings

This image of the Hindu god Shiva in the guise of Nataraja (Sanskrit – Lord of the Dance) is familiar to many people. Shiva Nataraja first appeared in 5-6 CE and the freestanding figure about 10 CE. It’s a persona that’s supremely evocative and inspires awe, if not a shiver down the back. I have a little statuette of the Lord of the Dance somewhere in storage, he needs to see the light of day now. My collection of statuettes all have a history behind them. Ganesh, Shiva and Vishnu have found their way to me over the years. I’m waiting on Brahma to grace me with his presence now. They were all bought in a little shop off Baker Street, central London. It was one of many little gems scattered across a busy city centre. The shop had a gorgeous statuette of Shiva carved out of sandalwood, how I wish I’d bought it at the time. It was too large to carry on public transport and getting a taxi home would have been expensive. My regret has lessened over the years. Honest, it has. Now, what of Shiva Nataraja?

As Destroyer, Shiva is one aspect of a divine triad consisting of Brahma, who is Creator and Vishnu, who is Preserver. The dance Shiva performs is called Tandava, and is said to bring about the destruction of the physical world and illusionary concepts of the Self. What is left thereafter but for creation and enlightenment to rise out of this ending?

The ecstatic Cosmic dancer has a smile on his face, perhaps knowing what he’s about to initiate? Symbols and motifs have a habit of perplexing the conscious mind, which act as a portal into the greater expanse of the subconscious. Music and dance are powerful keys to doorways hidden deep within the Soul. The many elements comprising this vision of beauty and luminosity sometimes leave me feeling overwhelmed and mystified. He’s like a book filled with mystical knowledge, unfolding his secrets when the mystic attains further insight. What is he conveying in his ecstasy? What is he conveying is in his pose?

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photo credit: aaRJay fotography Shiva Temple via photopin (license)

The god dances within a circle of flames representing the world of Maya (Illusion) and consciousness, the inner ring symbolises water and the outer is fire. His gestures convey five attributes:

Creation

The upper right hand holds a drum (damaru) representing the sound, a heartbeat, to which Shiva dances in his creation of the world.

Protection

The lowert right hand is held in the abhaya-mudra (what is called the “fear not” gesture, palm facing outward with the fingers pointing up.)  It is a blessing.

 Destruction

This is represented by fire held in the upper left hand (either in a vessel or his hand), symbolising the disintegration of matter. Agni (fire) cleanses and removes the result of destruction at the end of each epoch or Yuga. The lower left hand is in the gahahasta (elephant trunk) pose and points towards the raised left foot, conveying Shiva’s grace.

Embodiment

The right foot is placed upon the demon of ignorance, Apasmara, vanquishing him so that knowledge may flourish.

 Release

The left foot is raised, bestowing eternal bliss, grace and release.

Shiva’s unkempt hair signifies him as an ascetic and houses a crescent moon (the seasons are created through its waxing and waning), a skull, Datura blossom and Ganga, the goddess of the river Ganges. When her presence was needed on Earth Shiva’s hair broke her descent.

There are snakes coiled round Shiva’s upper arms and neck, signifying his power over these creatures. They are also symbolic of reincarnation and regeneration due to the ability to shed their skin.

This is only a brief glimpse into the symbolism of this mighty Lord of the Dance, one would have to meditate upon his nature to gain personal insights. I can’t profess to be a devotee but hold him in great esteem, perhaps my ancestors worshipped him at one time, I hope so. One day I’ll visit Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, India to visit the great temple complex of Nataraja. Legends tell of Shiva having performed his dance of beginnings and endings in a grove of Tillai trees there. Sacred landscapes are instilled with the essences of divinity, hence one of many reasons pilgrims undertake their journeys to partake of these energies. This is my virtual pilgrimage to pay homage to Shiva in his Nataraja form.

Ardent Suitor -Twittering Tales #60​ – 28 November 2017

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A Creative Commons Photo, Pixabay

My offering this week for Kat Myrman’s Twittering Tales. Who are the pursued and the pursuer? Nothing is what it first appears to be…

Armand relished the hunt, it filled his dead heart with fire. She was a worthy prize in this dark netherworld. The carriage stopped as their tryst commenced. Black eyes gleamed with hunger and crimson lips parted to kiss his throat. Ivory fangs sank deep, accepting his sacrifice.

(280 characters)

Guest Post: Lyn Baylis on “Ritual, Death, and Magic”, Part 2

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Chris Brock Photography

Post death

The ancient Egyptians ensured that the body was carefully prepared. Magic and lengthy rituals were essential to prepare each person for their eternal existence. The journey was fraught with perils, and to reach the destination the dead person needed ample provisions, the help of rituals and magic spells. In the end, if everything was done properly, the deceased had an opportunity to become a transfigured spirit, blessed with magical powers and ready to live forever among the gods.

The Egyptian concept of the soul, which may have developed quite early, dictated that there needed to be a preserved body on the earth in order for the soul to have hope of an eternal life. The soul was thought to consist of nine separate parts:

The Khat was the physical body.

The Ka one’s double-form.

The Ba, a human-headed bird aspect which could speed between earth and the heavens.

The Shuyet was the shadow self.

The Akh, the immortal, transformed self.

The Sahu and Sechemaspects of the Akh.

The Ab was the heart, the source of good and evil.

The Ren was one’s secret name.

The Khat needed to exist in order for the Ka and Ba to recognize itself and so the body had to be preserved as intact as possible.

The belief that the spirit of the person never dies but will in time return again to learn the lessons missed until they reach perfection.

(documented by Raymond Moody).

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Image: Foundry, Pixabay

I follow a broadly nature based spirituality and believe that death is not the end of our existence.

That all creatures possess a spirit or soul and that spirit or soul is eternal therefore when the body dies it is only a physical death and our spiritual journey continues.

If we look at nature we can see in all things a cyclic pattern.  It is so, I believe, with our lives.  Many honour this circle of birth, infancy, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. I believe they should also find honour in death, knowing that although the body undergoes physical Transformation, the Spirit remains unchanged.

I understand that those who have no belief in the continuation of the spirit may find death frightening, as the self they know will disappear forever. However, I’m convinced that when the spirit leaves the body it doesn’t necessarily mean that all ties to those left behind are disconnected. I know that Spirits have the power to manifest themselves to us and in some instances they also communicate with us. From my experience, specific Spirits are called upon to provide us with assistance relating to a particular need. They may be from our own family and can come to us during dreams or in visions.

When the individual is dead a light is lit which will represent the deceased person, and be a focus to remind friends and family that the spirit is still there. This soul/spirit requires help to undergo transition, a task usually done by the Elder, Shaman or senior member of the family while preparing, washing and anointing of the body. Incense is used to cleanse and to bring peace and harmony to the place where the body is laid out.

Cleansing and purifying the deceased

On the altar place two earthenware bowls, two flannels, and two towels.

Place to one side a clean winding-sheet or shroud (and coffin).

Have ready a candle, incense, oil – frankincense, (for birth) myrrh (for death), water in a jug, rosemary leaves (antiseptic) or similar sweet-smelling flowers and a piece of Yew.

Explanation of ritual

In this ritual we honour the one who has transcended the mundane and stepped through the threshold of life into the realm of death.  In many spiritual traditions the soul/spirit does not leave the body for three days, in others it stays close to ensure that those left behind can cope.

As guardians of the gateway we seek to ensure that our charge is ready to face the world beyond. Therefore, with full ceremony we wash and dress them as they would wish to be. They may then stand cleansed and pure before their Divine Ones and Ancestors.

The sacred flame has been burning since they died, or if not will be lit at the beginning of the ceremony.   Three drops of the three oils are added to the water in the jug, which is then blessed and poured into the two bowls and the incense is lit.

The clean robe/ sheet is placed next to the body and the following words recited:

“We acknowledge the sacred journey of your life, and wash you so that you may step through the gateway into the next world and face your ancestors and your Gods cleansed and with dignity.”

Take one flannel and start to wash the deceased. Start with the face, and neck, hands and arms and them torso to the waist.  Take the other flannel and start at the feet and wash and dry up the torso, the genital area last.

* If the deceased has been at home and is not suffering from a contagious disease there is no need to take special precautions.  However if the deceased has recently been in hospital it would be appropriate to wear gloves and cover all exposed skin as MRSA lasts up to 8 weeks and is easily transferable and CD lasts even longer.

Then place the right leg over the left leg, turn the deceased gently on the left side and continue as before, top to middle, then feet to middle.  Once you finish washing then place the sheet down the side ready to slide into place.

Take the myrrh (to mark and to honour the completion of life’s journey and the beginnings of a new life). Anoint the chakra points on the body plus the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and the lips.  Recite appropriate words, e.g. may these feet that have walked the sacred paths be blessed.

Position the left leg over the right, gently roll to the right and pull out the sheet. When the body has been anointed, fold the blanket right side first. Over the heart place a sprig of rosemary (for remembrance) or similar, then fold in the other side and place a spring of rosemary there. Continue to fold the sheet until it covers the body leaving the face free. Cover it with muslin (if the body is to be there for a few days it may be best to cover with a light blue muslin) until the time comes for the final journey.  Place the body in the coffin or bed, preferably on a hard surface, or board which will be used to carry the body to the final resting place.

Place flowers inside the coffin, or on and around the body – a sprig of yew is also often placed on the body to denote that death is not the end but a beginning and to confirm that like the yew each year the deceased will return anew.

Prayers can then be said to the deity, ancestors, spirits of place or those who watched over the deceased in life to thank them for being with them throughout life and asking that they watch over them as the await transcendence,  renewal or rebirth.  Many will hold a 3 day vigil- singing, talking to the deceased and sharing with family and friends stories of their journey of life, covering the shroud with reminders, or the coffin, with reminders or writing and drawings. (In this way even the children can have a part in making the coffin ready).

At the end of this period the body is taken to its final resting place, and the deity and spirits thanked for their help. Those whose job it was to help the deceased through life will also be thanks and given leave to depart.  If there is to be no vigil this will be done at the end of the washing ceremony.

The body is now ready for the Vigil or the Wake or if none are being held – ready to be placed in their casket for either burial or cremation.

Some Native American tribes still put grave goods and gifts with their deceased as do some Pagans, and other nature based spiritualities. Buddhist monks will chant when preparing the body for the funeral fire. They don’t call it magic but that’s what I would see it as.  The reason for doing this is to help the dead person to be released from their fading personality.

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Image: Pixabay

A third magic is sometimes used to ensure that the spirits of the dead do not come back and haunt us or seek vengeance on those they think are responsible for their death.

Sometimes this third layer of magic is used in conjunction with the other magic. The main reason for using this is to keep the spirits focused on their last journey. This ensures that they pass over without turning back, and that they have nothing which continually calls them back.

Many spiritual traditions believe that if the rituals are not done correctly, the spirit can return to cause mischief. This belief has led some cultures to burn the deceased’s house and all of their possessions. The family would move to a new house in a new location to escape the ghost of the deceased. The Roma also had similar practices with the burning of the caravan. The ancient Egyptians laid curses on the tombs so that the deceased would not be disturbed, and come back to haunt the living.

Our own Anglo-Saxon Ancestors funeral rituals placed grave goods with the departed spirits and these were also protected by curses. A runic inscription found reads:

Ragnhildr placed this stone in memory of Alli the Pale, priest of the sanctuary, honourable þegn of the retinue. Alli’s sons made this monument in memory of their father, and his wife in memory of her husband. And Sóti carved these runes in memory of his lord. Þórr hallow these runes. A warlock be he who damages(?) this stone or drags it (to stand) in memory of another”.

This last sentence puts a curse upon anyone who damages the stone or places it as a monument to another person.

Across the world there is a strong tradition of not speaking the name of a dead person at least until they have departed, as it will keep them bound to us. Photographs or depictions of a person who died may also be seen as a disturbance to their spirit. Often some families will put the photos away or will cover them.  Echoes of this are in the Jewish religion where the mirrors are covered and in our own traditions, made popular in Victorian times, closing the curtains and covering the mirrors. Some African cultures carry the coffin over water so that it cannot return; other take it to a cross-road and turn in around three times so that the spirit won’t be able to find the way home. Our fear of the dead is just as strong in the west but we hide it under a show of sophistication.

We don’t embrace death in our culture and we have so many ways to avoid talking about it.  However, it has been proven in very real terms that a good funeral eases the grief and can bring peace to the family of the departed.

A beautiful ritual as well as bringing peace to the congregation reminds those left behind of the life that was, and it brings hope and even joy to those who remain.  Perhaps this is yet another kind of magic.

 

Guest Post: Lyn Baylis on “Ritual, Death, and Magic”, Part 1

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Chris Brock Photography

My friend Lyn Baylis has kindly consented to writing two further articles shedding light on her work. This subject isn’t always an easy one for people to face but she has written sensitively and compassionately about care of the dying and dead. Without further ado here are her words:

As well as being a Chaplain and Minister, my other duties entail being an End of Life Midwife and Transition guide. This is doing the work of a psychopomp. The primary function of the psychopomp is to help the spirit or soul of an individual cross over to a safe place at the time of death. For many this role is part of who they are and they come to it naturally, others can learn the skill, but it is not as easy as many people will tell you.

Every culture, country, religion, and community has certain behaviours and rituals that govern their actions when a loved one dies. These traditions and death rituals are based upon:

  • Religious and spiritual beliefs
  • whether they believe there is life after death
  • What type of life that is
  • What happens to the body and soul after death
  • The social status of the person who has died
  • The connections between those living and those that have died
  • Beliefs about the human connection with nature
  • Superstitious beliefs about death

Many people believe that the soul/spirit doesn’t leave the body immediately at death and must either be looked after until it is ready to leave, or sent on its way. Many including some Native American tribes believe that the death ritual is part of the magic that helps the deceased to reach the afterlife, and works to protect them once they are there.

We’ve seen that our ancestors placed food, weapons, jewellery, tools, or pots within the burial site for the use of the deceased in his afterlife, so they clearly believed that the comfort of our dead was important.

So where does magic fit in and how much is it necessary for the rituals around death?

 There are three types of magic that occur around the dying and the dead:

  1. Necromancy – cursing to bring to death.
  2. Magic to enable the deceased to leave the body.
  3. Magic to ensure the soul/spirit doesn’t return to haunt us.

Necromancy

Often working with graveyard dust and other symbols of the dead they’re said to create  undeads or phantasmas  (apparitions).  It’s also supposed to attach entities which some people call vampiric magic.

All rituals to cause death, regardless of what people think of them are black magic. There’s one heavy and universal law, you have to pay for your right to use a curse of death, or to work to force the dead to do your will you may pay dearly.

Magic to enable the deceased to leave the body

The second use of Magic is to help the deceased leave their body and start their journey to the next life, the Summerlands, purgatory or to immortality – depending on their beliefs.

Magic to ensure the soul/spirit doesn’t return to haunt us

When we talk about the soul/spirit ordinary language is mostly inadequate. Various ancient spiritual traditions have stories of individuals who have had near-death experiences We can enter this realm through ritual and ceremony by shifting the mindset of the individual. The spirit rises transcending individuality and seeking oneness with the divine or the infinite being.

Once In this state the person no longer dies in fear but reaches a place of peace and love,  where should they wish, they can stay conscious for the journey ahead. The first thing to do is to create a peaceful soothing atmosphere that will trigger all the senses and thus help the dying person and all present to get a sense of and to feel close to the Divine.

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Image: Pixabay

For maximum effect it’s important to work with all the senses:

Sight

Set up an altar/sacred space and arrange spiritually meaningful articles or pictures on it.

Cover unsightly furniture with beautiful cloth.

Arrange for soft lighting or candle light to bring feelings of peace security and safety.

The sight of beauty all around brings solace even to the most troubled mind – working in this area you can see the person start to relax as you transform their space from a hospital/functional space to one that calls to them.

Smell

Use scented candles, incense and oils.

Place fragrant flowers in the room.

All these heighten the senses and bring a higher understanding of the divine within, so as the smoke rises the scent calls to the dying person to rise with it to seek the other world. (Make sure they like the odours selected, and if possible that they have meaning to them).

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Image: Didgeman, Pixabay

Sound

Prayers in keeping with the dying person’s tradition are there to remind them of the love that surrounds them and the infinite love that awaits.

Reading of much loved books or poetry.

Recitation of psalms and reading of scriptures. In Islam the Qur’an is read.

A guided meditation to take the person to the place they wish to be.

Gentle chanting, and soft and evocative vocals.

Other music or sounds that will sooth and inspire.

All these are chosen by the family and the Elder/Shaman whose words call on the old magic; using good memories and words of love to encourage the spirit to transcend the mundane.

Guided by holy words or the love of those who care deeply, they call on the dying person to surrender, so that their pain will end. This enables each person to experience the ecstasy that comes with release from the temporal body and the joy of the peaceful state. (Hearing is the last sense to go and loud, high frequencies may make the person uncomfortable and distressed. So, best avoided).

In this liminal place silence is often more important than sound, so it’s good to remember the value and necessity of simply sitting in silence with the dying person. After having assured them that it’s fine for them to go (an important statement often forgotten), you then allow them to make the journey at their own speed.

Touch 

Water, as in “holy water” or “spirit water” is often sprinkled on the dying person to prepare them for death, in some traditions even a baptism is performed. Oil also is sometimes used to anoint the person and to make them ready for the transition. Some people will at this point close the chakra points along the length of the body, leaving the head chakra open to allow the spirit or soul to escape.  Personally I wait until I am anointing the body after death.

The Sprits of our Ancestors are often called by the Elder or Shaman at the point of death to guide the spirit onward into the continuing journey.

The most important thing to remember is that this time is for the person dying. 

If rituals are created with that in mind, and rooted in love and compassion, then there is no right way or wrong way to do things. Be aware that rituals can bring things to the surface. They may help us see things more clearly as they bring to the fore feelings that’ve have been buried in our unconscious. Be mindful that these may trigger emotional outbursts in friends and relatives.

Part 2 deals with rituals undertaken post death. These will be elaborated upon in the next post. 

 

 

Je Suis Mort – Twittering Tale #56 – 31 October 2017

By Smokefish at Pixabay.com

My offering for Kat Myrman’s Twittering Tale challenge this week. A chilling visitor from beyond the veil makes an appearance:

“Je Suis Mort” she says. “I am dead”
Crimson shroud veils all but intense gaze and whispered words
Do we flee?
Face our fate?
Destiny calls

(135 characters)

 

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Anubis in “American Gods”

I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s book and loved it, a reminder that the gods are always with us in one shape and form, although not always in familiar guises! It raised many questions. Do the gods fade into nothingness when our worship and faith cease to be? Do they become phantoms lurking in the recesses of the World Mind waiting for an acknowledgement, some sign that we still love them, fear them? This isn’t either a review of the book or series, but a whisper of something lying hidden within me. Perhaps the gods are asking where I’ve been and where I’m going…

I was brought up in a different spiritual path to the one being practised now and this scene resonated strongly with me. Although the ancient Egyptian gods were always  a source of fascination even when I was a little child. If we give them a place in our thoughts and memories they will not forget even beyond death. Hopefully His Nibs, as I like to call him, will meet me at the portal when my time approaches. The actor playing Anubis was well chosen.


As for the next scene, what emptiness and hopelessness she has within her! One wonders whether the character truly believes that there is either no hope or possibility of something better beyond life. When the Scales don’t balance the possibility looks bleak…

Road Trip to Hades

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Image: Pixabay

It’s been rather difficult thinking of suitable subjects to write about lately, then it hit me, I need an adventure to get my teeth into. The Shed’s rather quiet at the moment as most of the lodgers are on their holidays. Anubis has been absent for a while, probably engaged in guiding duties. Not in the Egyptian Underworld but in Bloomsbury, central London. I think he’s got a pretty good gig going on there. The place is crawling with denizens of the underworld. I had my suspicions for years but could never prove it. Odin and Sekhmet are on a walking holiday in Crete. Apparently Odin has distant relatives living there. Who knew? As for the White Rabbit and Mad Hatter, I prefer not to think about those two at the moment, they’ve caused enough havoc. Azrael, the Angel of Death and Cerberus are coming back from their respective road trips soon.

Reflecting on past encounters with the above archetypal figures, it seems evident that these individuals appear as “heralds” in our life. Joseph Campbell comments in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” that the appearance of such beings acts as “the call to adventure”[1], precipitating the Hero into life changing experiences. Of course there have been many occasions when I’ve refused “the call to adventure”, only to face inertia and negative situations.  The gods will only take so many refusals before making an offer that can’t be refused.

When the call is accepted supernatural aid appears at the right time. Enter stage left Azrael, Anubis and Cerberus. Two chthonic deities and the angel of Death assigned as planetary angel of Pluto in Qabalistic and medieval magical tradition. The power of Three consolidated. Containing within themselves the beginning, middle and end, past present and future, body, soul and spirit.

“Quite a lot to think about, isn’t it?” A voice mutters from stage left.

I turn to face three figures grinning at me from the shadows. Azrael gives a thumbs up and the canine terrors wink like mad. Not what you expect from these entities, beings traditionally associated with death, initiation, and dissolution. They also embody secrets and wisdom hidden deep within the Self. That’s been my experience, I can’t speak for anyone else.

“You want adventure and here we are, ready to offer you an experience of a life time as the cliché goes” Azrael comments quietly.

He watches carefully, eyes sliding to the fire escape. An eyebrow lifts in question. What are they up to? Cerberus pulls back a curtain to reveal a rather sweet looking VW van. It screams road trip. He then flourishes a sign with something scrawled on it. It’s written in beautiful copperplate script. HADES. Be still my beating heart! Is this the offer that can’t be refused?

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Image: Pixabay

The Road Beckons

The van is packed and this strange band of travellers gets underway. I’m not sure where they got the vehicle from, it’s like a Tardis inside. Anubis puts a toy Dalek on the dashboard and mutters something about the three of them being Dr Who fans. Azrael is outside checking his motorbike. The Angel of Death is a biker, well, well. We finally depart after a few minutes. The green landscape of North Wales flash by and then the road towards Ruthin and Llangollen is taken. The landscape changes soon after as a detour is made towards the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran in Llangollen. A portal opens near the ruins and the van whizzes through. We face an endless road in a desert landscape. The sky is bright and cloudless, the air is still, almost filled with expectation. Feet up, I’m busily scribbling my impressions in a notebook. How’s the journey so far?

It feels like we’ve been travelling for hours but it’s only been half an hour. Time moves in strange ways in this place, wherever this ‘place’ is. There are a variety of figures walking on either side of the road, one is holding a large clock, and its hands appear to be moving in an anti-clockwise direction. They smile at us and carry on walking. Each figure that passes bows their head in deference. Our exalted companions are the focus of their attention. The bleak but beautiful landscape is soon interrupted by a building that suddenly appears on the horizon. It’s an American style diner. Quelle surprise!

We disembark and find a booth to sit. The clientele are an odd assortment, consisting of shades of the dead and what appears to be the cast of “Frozen” ( I loathe that cartoon). Azrael greets a striking looking woman adorned with beautiful tattoos. She hugs him enthusiastically and kisses my other companions with as much energy. Finally she approaches me, her stare being quite intense. I stare back, kindred souls it appears. Hail mighty Ishtar!

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Image: Pixabay

The image of the figure holding the clock appears once again and the great river of time washes over us. The Goddess retells the story of her descent into the Underworld over a cup of coffee. Her hands and eyes convey the passion of her experiences, poignant and illuminating by turns. Her story is the story of our Soul, mirroring its many losses, regret, sorrow and moments of understanding. Her descent into Darkness, dissolution and eventual ascent into the Light show the way to new beginnings. She pauses and winks. A small box is pushed across the table, it’s a gift for us. Nestled in blue velvet is an eight-pointed star. An important gift, we must take note of its symbolism. She advises me not to eat or drink anything that’s offered in this place. Although this prohibition doesn’t apply to the Psycho-pomps offering me anything though. “Remember” her voice whispers in our head. She blows a dramatic kiss and then disappears. The other diners are still entranced by the tale of the Goddess, emboldened even by her resilience, also saddened at the prospect of no return. They eye Cerberus and his companions nervously.

At this point I’m thinking “if Cerberus is here, who’s guarding the gates of the Underworld?”

Cerberus pipes up “my cousin Cyril’s doing me a favour. I haven’t had a holiday for, oh, five thousand years. Sorry, I lied. There was that time when Anpu and I went on a bender at New Year several years ago.”

Wish he wouldn’t read my mind! I remember that incident, it was rather embarrassing trying to break the news to Hades. The canine terrors had to perform community service in a dance studio in Buenos Aires, teaching tango.

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Image: Pixabay

As soon as we leave the diner it vanishes into thin air. A memory of things dreamt of by a younger world. Such phantasms litter the highways of the inner landscape, being stopping points for weary travellers. Dylan, our VW van carries on down the road. Azrael now leads, a magnificent presence enshrouded in divine light, all-powerful, all compassionate. Such beings rarely show their true appearance. It would mean certain annihilation for our spiritual and material forms, such is the magnitude of their power. Cerberus is chatting away with his adoptive brother, they laugh briefly. A few minutes later we hear cursing from outside. Cerberus has his bottom stuck in the window, it seems he was mooning at a passer-by. Well, Herakles had it coming, fancy kidnapping Cerberus from the Underworld as part of his Twelfth Labour. I think they’re even now. Dylan kicks into life and zooms down the road. We hold our collective breath, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions after all…

From a distance we spy a lone figure pushing a huge rock uphill only to see it roll back down again. Sisyphus, king of Ephyra (Corinth) was condemned for all eternity to carry out a futile task for his hubris, deceit and egotistical nature. We decide not to stop and make our way past Sisyphus. The fields surrounding the king are filled with Datura plants, a bad omen indeed. A warning is issued by our companions not to be deceived by this individual. The crimes he was condemned for in life are still valid in the afterlife, such as it is. He cheated death at least twice but was eventually dragged back to the underworld by Hermes.

Rituals, Blessings and Farewells

Dusk is falling and the night sky is now filled with gleaming points of light. We stop to camp by the roadside, no sense in travelling any further as it’s the dark of the moon tonight. There are rituals to be performed for the dead, one of many before we enter the Underworld proper. We sense them gathering around us, so many that are known and unknown. Prayers are said, offerings made, and respect given. Many have passed through the transition alone and unmourned, even unloved. For them these rituals are a balm and blessing. A release more importantly.

Azrael censes me with incense, for this night is significant for me as well. I must finally relinquish my old self, make the descent and lay her to rest. The Universe peers at me from his eyes, which are like stars blazing in a lapis lazuli sky. Azrael is considered the Angel of Death in Jewish and Islamic angeology, but there is no reference of him named as such in the Christian Bible. Additionally some scholars have disputed the name Azrail being used in the Qu’ran, the angel of death is simply called Malak Al-Mawt. He transcends religion and dogma, the sense is that he WAS before time began. It’s not the biker that stands before me now but something profoundly powerful, infinitely compassionate and gentle. Not to be feared at all. As for my Muse, His Nibs (Anubis) approaches next and rests his forehead on mine. We haven’t had much time to chat, which I don’t mind. He and Cerberus rarely meet and this is a special time for them. He chuckles. Damn! This mind reading trick does annoy me at times.

No sleep for the wicked tonight. We sit around the camp fire and eat dinner, except for Azrael. His nourishment is, well, not sure what he eats and drinks. He looks at me with a wicked gleam in his eyes and mouths “smoothies”. How can I respond to that? This is a moment I’ll treasure, for the companionship, laughter, and silences.

The Sun rises and our merry band of explorers continues on the last leg of the journey to Mordor, sorry, I mean Hades. The landscape becomes even drier and the skies are bathed in a peculiar orange light.  A huge cavern appears in the distance, this is it folks. I glance over at Cerberus, his three pairs of eyes mist up at the scene. Homesickness. I wonder what his cousin Cyril looks like? The van is parked near the cavern mouth and we make our way slowly into the depths. The tunnel is wide enough to avoid being claustrophobic thankfully. There is illumination provided by torches lining the tunnel, which is a little strange. My companions don’t question this, so I take their lead. The presence of dread is absent, for our journey is one where there is a return, an ascent into Light again. I mutter a prayer silently, for myself and she who bids farewell to this life. She shall face Persephone and Hades beyond the waters of Lethe, but I won’t be sipping its waters.

The three heads of Cerberus rise eagerly and give out an ear-splitting cry, but I’ve come forewarned and already inserted the earplugs. There’s an answering howl and a large Blue Roan Spaniel rushes out of the gloom and greets Cerberus. This is cousin Cyril. A Spaniel guarding the gates of the Underworld, why not? Cerberus and Cyril remain at the gates, to prevent the “inmates” from escaping they say. What jokers they are…

Our obols are ready for Charon the Ferryman, all we’re waiting for now are the priests of Hermes to accompany the deceased as we can’t go any further. She’s anointed with perfumed oils and dressed in a linen shroud. Obols are placed on her eyelids. I kiss her forehead and offer a blessing for the journey ahead. A blue lotus and heart scarab are placed on her chest, a remembrance of the homeland. She’s entitled to that at least. Our priests arrive with a bier and place her on it. We hand the obols to the priests as Charon approaches in his boat. So the journey begins and ends here. How prosaic it sounds!

The living have no reason to linger in these dread halls, so it’s time for me to leave. The smell of decay and forgetfulness linger in our minds. How I yearn for fresh air and sunlight to banish the stench of death! My wish is granted as we soon pass the two canine guardians and emerge into a changed landscape. The ominous light has disappeared to be replaced by bright, sunny skies. The desert is blooming and the road is rather busy. Dylan starts up immediately and we speed off towards the horizon. Home is a welcome sight as we emerge through the portal into Llangollen. By now a huge number of crows have massed in the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, witness to our emergence. I’m looking forward to having a relaxing holiday, my companions are in agreement and we head down south to get the ferry from Dover to the continent. A holiday in Greece beckons! Suitably disguised we sit out on the hotel terrace watching the sun set into the ocean. Bliss.

[1] Campbell, J. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton University Press, 2004), “Part One, The Adventure of the Hero, Departure: Call to Adventure”, Chapter I, 46-47.

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Image: photo credit: DCphotography_ Tracy Chan-137 via photopin (license)

What are You Seeking?

Image: Pixabay

We are what you name Watchers. You may ask what our purpose is and we will answer, “Watching you”. There are others less benevolent and these you must watch for humanity. You are gifted with free will, and as such we cannot interfere unless you seek our help.

Why tell you this? Our tale is one that does not end happily, at least for one of your kind. He straddled the Light and Dark, consumed by desires that condemned, and ultimately destroyed him. The vestiges of humanity vanished from his soul as did the lifeblood from his veins.

The bridge between conscious action and blind instinct is a narrow one. He fell, rushed headlong into the abyss. We counselled him but he did not listen. Even though he called us. Such hubris!

An ancient evil heard his cries, opened the gates of no return. She seduced, played him like a lyre, brought forth sweet, sweet music. Then, she feasted upon this prize. For an eternity they lay upon cobwebs and veils of Shadow. Pleasure upon pleasure both sought and received. Such deception she rained upon him until the moment of annihilation.

It was done. We were too late. Another soul was obliterated from memory, imprisoned in her vaults of terror. This is his tale:

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Image: Pixabay

I asks what he’s seeking. He pauses, giving much thought before answering. Eternal Life, regeneration, passion, love, and perhaps even power. 

I read his thoughts, seeking the truth of intentions. What he desires to embrace is total and utter annihilation of selfhood and existence. How little he understands the path being sought.

This human is intoxicated with the concept of life eternal, but sees little else beyond the shadows and nullifying emotions. The ones who look for the vaulted mansions of the undead come away with only dust filled minds. 

The red and black contain a myriad of mysteries. Yin and Yang, blood, power, life, and death. These are the mysteries he seeks but has little understanding of. Those who pass beyond the shrouded doorway are blessed indeed. They see past veils of illusion, into worlds glimpsed in dreams and nightmares. 

What strong limbs you have sweet one, and skin of honey. How his hunger gnaws away at manhood and mind. Soft breath, such soft breath. Dear, dear human! Should I admire your temerity in even approaching the gates of my temple? We watched your birth humanity, and cursed the day you drew breath.

To enter into the darkness is folly I tell him, but does he listen? No, he is beyond redemption. This I expected. What a distraction he will be.

‘Kiss me’ I cajole him. How easily he succumbs, pliant like clay in my hands. His lifeblood races through veins, flesh and bone. It calls to me, sings to me. 

Your scent intoxicates me, it calls to mind incense offered in my temples. Night blooming Hellebore, sandalwood, cedar, and opium poppies. See how he murmurs, yields to my ministrations.

The sun shall not rise for you again dear human. This is the twilight of your existence. The light fades soon from his green eyes, gone, gone. He sleeps now.

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Image: Pixabay

Is this the end you ask? Not quite. In the depths of his despair did he call out one last time to us and we readily answered. Do not be quick to mock, thinking our words reflect mere sentimentality and wishful thinking. The most precious part of this doomed soul we saved. His tiny spark we gathered in love, for the ancient one could do little to stop us. So did the hellish gates of her temple close, until the next time Nameless One. We wait and watch. So, what are YOU seeking?

Lyn Baylis: Life and Work of a Priestess, Minister and Psychopomp

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Image: Lyn Baylis, Chris Brock Photography

I’m rather excited about hosting my very first guest post. Lyn Baylis is a dear friend who has kindly accepted my request to write a piece about her work. You might say both of us have walked the mysterious path of the Psychopomp and serve the myriad faces of the god of Death, Anubis being one. Although Lyn’s work and service to the community involves much more. Lyn can be contacted at the email given at the end of the post if you have any questions.

Part 1

Introduction

My name is Lyn Baylis and I have been a Priestess for 40 years. My other roles under that umbrella involve being a LifeRites Minister (spanning over 20 years) and a Pagan Hospital and Hospice Chaplain.

I follow a broadly nature based spirituality, within which diversity is celebrated in all its colours as well as the ethic of equality. My belief in a single divine creative source also encompasses a belief in Gaia the Earth Mother, the Old Ones and spirits of nature. We are all bound together by the essence which we call spirit, the divine spark is within all beings. The life force is present within all. It is an energy which pulsates around us but cannot be seen, yet we know it to be real. It is omnipresent.

The energies of nature are consummately obvious when looked at in the context of the phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the cyclic nature of the seasons.  They are in the air, in the wind, in fire, in water, in trees, in the rocks and beneath the earth, in crashing roaring things, and in what the Irish call a soft day.  They are in all things and everywhere.

Each day I meditate as a means to focus before tuning into the energies that flow throughout the Universe.  It is very simple but takes time and effort.  I do not consider myself special, just a part of a worldwide community who are committed to guardianship of the earth and our fellow travellers.  My work is undertaken in the knowledge that whatever is done to others, will (if in a different fashion) be returned to me. Accordingly, these powers will not be used for evil. Those that operate in such a manner will flourish for a while but will over time be diminished as individuals.

Regarding my work, the aim is to serve the needs of the wider community while respecting the individual’s spiritual beliefs, culture and lifestyle choices without judgment. LifeRites allows me to work with many differing religious beliefs; often writing and officiating at Naming, Handfasting and Funeral ceremonies which embrace and include more than one faith. My work involves facilitating workshops to enable people to plan funerals in their own way.

I also believe that in our culture Funeral Poverty is not only a financial problem but encompasses culture, social, emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives. Funeral ceremonies can be so much more than what we have been used to. They can be written in a way that will meet the requirements and needs of the clients, not the ego of the priest, minister or celebrant.   Since becoming a member of the Brighton Death Forum I find myself facilitating more and more workshops in an effort to dispel the myths and taboos around death. The hope is that people will no longer view this subject with fear and therefore talk openly with their family, friends and even complete strangers without feeling embarrassed.

Part 2

Home Funerals: A Grandmother’s View

Did you know that family led funerals with limited input from funeral directors or even entirely without funeral directors are totally safe and legal?

 In working families, even as late as the 1900s, home funerals were what happened when someone died. They weren’t something special. It was just what was done in every family.

My Grandmother cared for her family and extended family when they were alive, when they were dying and when they were dead.  She was the village midwife, so not only did she bring new life into the world, she made sure that those leaving it were shown due respect and treated with honour and love.  Laying out the dead and performing the last offices for them, was to her, not only a sacred rite, but a labour of love.

The move to hide death away started with the moneyed gentry towards the end of the 17C. Until then, even for the wealthy, death was just a part of life, with most families losing at least one of their children to illness.  However, if you view tombstones from the 18C onwards, the stark statements are transferred into gentle metaphors. Sentiments such as “Here lies Fred, he is dead” cease to be visible and instead, tombstones talk of someone “sleeping with the angels” or being “gathered into God’s arms.”

With the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert, rituals around death became more and more formalised.  The care of the deceased followed prescribed patterns; even the behaviour for those in mourning was formalised.  The ensuing funeral arrangements were totally removed from the family and summarily placed behind closed doors, where the dead were painted, rouged and plumped up before being wheeled out for photos (with or without the family) or death’s head masks.  Then they were locked away again and packed firmly in their coffin, jaws bound and limbs tied tightly together in case they should make a noise that would distress the relatives on their final journey or when they were lowered into the ground.

These social taboos around death slowly seeped into the mind-set of the general population.  Death, which had once been accepted as just another part of life, eventually become hidden behind the closed doors of the funeral parlour, only spoken of in reverential tones or whispers. Even today, people are a little bit in awe of the funeral director and this, together with the numbness grief often brings, can cause them to accept  any arrangements suggested to them, pick expensive coffins , or settle for funeral arrangements that will cause them social, cultural or financial distress, accepting any date they are given for burial or the cremation. They forget that the funeral director is there to help them, to provide a service, and that it is they who are ultimately in charge of what happens.

We the baby boomers of the 40s fought for the right to give birth at home, a right enjoyed by many mothers around the world now.  We have reached an age when our parents and others that we love are dying, and we do not want to just hand them over to some faceless funeral director however professional, nice or kind they may be.

We wish to make sure that our loved ones, and ultimately ourselves (when our time comes), will be looked after in death and afterwards by people who know us, love us and will care for us at the end the way we would like to be cared for.  We wish to hold vigils where we can say goodbye to our own with the rest of the family and friends in our own homes, not some faceless funeral parlour. To honour them with our rituals and talk to them while we organise the funeral, sourcing, making, or painting the coffin, and decorating it in a way our loved ones would approve.   We want to hold a wake as in the old days, raise a glass, share the old stories and spend time with those we love before we eventually lay them to rest in a celebration of their lives, not with an impersonal, remote ritual which often seems to be staged to be the ultimate separation from our loved ones.

I and others who feel the same will continue with this battle because it is ultimately for ourselves. It is, however, wonderful to see that more and more people are becoming aware that they do have options when it comes to caring for their dead.  They can use a funeral director to organise the funeral, or get involved and direct the funeral service making considered decisions, or have a home funeral if they so wish.

My aims are to let people know about their options, to assure them that family led or home funerals are legal and achievable (with or without help) if that is what they wish, and to remind people that they have choices. My hope is that, in some small way, I can empower families to do whatever it is they wish to do for their loved ones at the end of life.

For some, when they think of home funerals, the main drive is to offset the ever-increasing costs, but for many more, they wish to take control of a ceremony they find removed from them, depressing, morbid and not in any way uplifting. They wish to reflect the spirituality of their loved ones, treating them with honour, respect and love, making all actions sacred as the loved one dies and to continue this heart led care whether it is in person until they reach their final resting place, or in spirit walking with them towards the other realm.

Organising part or all of a funeral does make you aware of the reality of death, yes. You see the person you loved dead, but with a good death comes a serenity and peacefulness that is wonderful to witness, and this revelation can assist the grieving process and be a very healing experience. Therefore, if anyone wishes to participate in any way, or lead their own end of-life rites and rituals then I will help with advice and assistance if I can or alternatively put them in touch with someone else who can.

For those of you who believe you would find it difficult to have a body at home, and do not wish to even think of doing this, I do understand. When we talk about the dead, it is often the images we see on the TV or in films which are paramount in our thoughts, complete with dreadful smells and a decomposing corpse, but in actuality, that is generally not the case.

When we look at other cultures around the world, there are many whose death rituals are based around keeping a loved one at home for three days or three nights. It is only our distance from death these days and the fears that are triggered by these images that highlight the problems. In addition, with the help of air conditioning or ice packs, we can keep a body at home for a week if necessary, so three days generally will cause no problem.

However, if your loved one died in hospital or in a hospice, as long as you haven’t appointed a Funeral Director they will generally keep hold of them until you can collect them from there to take them to the crematorium or to the burial ground.  These same facilities can sometimes be used if the deceased has to be kept for some time, e.g. a son/daughter has to travel from abroad to say their goodbyes.  if your loved one dies at home, some modern funeral directors will work with you, while some green burial grounds have facilities to keep the body, or you can call upon an *End of Life Transition/Threshold Guide to help you.

If you belong to a spirituality which sees death as a rite of passage, then this usually begins with laying out your loved one after death.  Washing them, combing their hair, anointing them and placing them in the clothes they wished for their final journey.  Whether you are family, a friend or someone who has been called in to help. I can assure you (being a Grandmother myself now) laying out someone is a service of love and one which I always feel privileged to perform.

If you are leading a private celebration of the deceased’s life as part of a rite of passage, then first identify what it was the deceased achieved in life.  It could be a major thing or something they might not themselves have classed as an achievement, e.g. bringing up a family. Honour their achievements, whatever they were, and understand their passions, their hopes and dreams.  Open sacred space. (If you are helping a family that is not your own always ask them how the deceased would have done this.)  Work with other members of the family to get them involved choosing, prayers, poems, and songs that express the deceased’s journey through life, get them to tell the stories that they love and want passed down to the family, share photos, etc.

The decoration of the coffin can have its own place in these celebrations, whether it is weaving flowers into a willow coffin, painting or pasting photos onto a cardboard coffin or choosing a more conventional coffin and the items to be placed in or on it. You are only restricted by your imagination – and the practical requirements of the burial ground or crematorium.

If it is to be a spiritual ceremony, then call upon the deities/spirits that were significant to the deceased and mark a sacred space where you can hold the ritual and invite those with whom the deceased wished to share this special time. Many spiritualities believe that the spirits do not begin their journey for a while after they seem to have gone, e.g. some open the window to let the soul fly out. Whatever their ways, find out beforehand; if it’s family then, of course, you will already know.

When taking your loved one to their final resting place, you can use an estate or a van, as long as the body is covered it really is not disrespectful.  Getting friends and family to gently lift and carry the coffin into the crematorium or to the graveside feels somehow more natural, personal and meaningful to me. If you do not feel that you will be able to speak, then you can always hire a celebrant who will understand and honour the spirituality of your loved one and the family.

If you decide to have a home funeral and venture down this road, I promise you will find it a rewarding, moving and deeply transforming experience.

* this is the name agreed by the National Home Funeral Alliance in the USA to cover End of life Midwives, Soul Midwives, Death Doulas, Home Funeral Guides and any group or person who works with the dying before, during and after death.

For further information on Family led Funerals or how to train to be a Transition /Threshold Guide contact: lyndelune@sky.com