Problematic Ghosts

The work that we do is personal and, sometimes, it can be difficult to know what to share. While the easier option is simply not to talk about it, there are times to be vulnerable and honest as well.

These thoughts are going through my head as I weigh how open I want to be when talking about how my trip to New Orleans reminded me of the importance of ancestor work.

If you hadn’t caught Josh’s blog entry on our trip, check it out here. It’s a good assessment of the vibe of New Orleans and why we enjoyed it so much. We didn’t start our trip there, though. First, we visited Josh’s cousin who lived 2 hours north of the city. While Josh and his cousin were off to pick up a rental car, I found myself with a little time to myself. I wandered around town, checking out the plants that I know as houseplants happily growing wild in front of abandoned buildings. I’m ecstatic as I identify orange trees and rosemary. There were plants there that wouldn’t survive the winter in my northern garden and my plant geekery was in full display.

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I rounded a corner to come face to face with a cemetery. The cemeteries there are visually very different, with the groundwater being so close to the surface. Instead of simple gravestones, there were concrete caskets that rose from the graveyard ground like a strange miniature city of the dead. I approached the graveyard, following the twisted sidewalk across from a trailer park where a BBQ was in the works. Passing through the gates of the graveyard with the background sounds of community and zydeco music struck me as rather surreal.

Then, I was distracted by the ghosts.

I don’t have the skills of clear communication with the dead like Josh does, but I can still feel them. And they were there. And some of them were loud. I could feel my brain kind of switch into a light trance as I walked amongst the graves. The cemeteries up North don’t feel like this! Is it because the bodies are above ground and not allowed to rest and decompose in the ground, I thought? After a little wandering, I had to sit down. My head was swimming and I was feeling spirits tugging at me, but I wasn’t getting any clear information. Eventually I stumbled out and tried to walk off the energy high that I was riding.

Fast forward a few days. Josh and I are exploring Charity Hospital Cemetery. If you’ve read Josh’s blog entry, you already know the deal. As we wandered through the central part of the cemetery, the two parts of the cemeteries on the sides called me. I could feel the loud spirits there. This time I was prepared, though. I made offerings of tobacco to the spirits where it felt the most intense (though I later learned that the traditional offering to spirits down there was coins). Some were just loud. Some were in some sort of spiritual pain. Things were certainly more complex than what I was used to. I was also certain that this had connection to what some of the living folks in the area, and how they were interacting with these spirits.

Inspired to learn a little more about the magical traditions of the area, we found a little bit of literature on the subjects of Hoodoo, Conjure, and Voudoun. What I learned that the flavor of practice in New Orleans is certainly a mixed bag of old Haitian religion, folk magic, and Catholicism. Oh, and ancestor worship along with working magic in cemeteries. While there are plenty of folks out there practicing their tradition to heal and bring balance, it certainly isn’t everyone. That was part of what Josh and I were feeling. There are those that work with spirits, and there are those that take advantage of the dead in a predatory way. As Josh said as we left the cemetery “I love this city, but I wouldn’t want to be buried here.”

It was the thought of the power of the dead over our living world that played in my mind as we flew home. I poured through the books that we had purchased, thinking about both how the dead affected us, as well as our ancestors.

Ancestors play a large role in many spiritual traditions. As Josh likes to say, it took many loves to get us where we are. We are a mash up of genetics and the environment that our parents and extended family created for us to grow up in. So many cultures make room in their lives for their dead. The fact that we don’t as Americans correlates well with our issues with death and the dead. That’s a whole other blog entry, though.

As I read about yet another tradition that dealt with honoring ancestors, I wiggled in my seat in unease. For the longest time, I’ve been dodging that work, instead sticking to the living and spirits of nature. Something began to become clear in my head. Ancestor work needs to be part of my practice.

And I didn’t want to.

I tried to do a little work with my ancestors before. At first, I had a bunch of excuses to skip that work. But it boiled down to one excuse, and it was a good one.

I had a relative who had created a whole lot of trauma for a young me standing in the way.

I remember the day that he had died. That night was, interestingly enough, a lunar eclipse. I was at a friend’s house with a whole group of people when I found out, probably 19 or 20. When I hung up the phone, I processed the information. The man who had abused me in my preteen years sending me in a spiral of self destructive behavior throughout my teens had died. I wasn’t much of a ceremonialist at that time, but I do remember what eventually popped up in my mind.

“Well, fuck, I don’t want him haunting me.”

So, I knew I needed to do some sort of ceremony to release all of the trauma that I had been holding in. I don’t remember the details of the ceremony that night he died. I just remember lighting a candle, squatting in a driveway between a car and a wild garden as the moon slowly disappeared. I told him that I wanted him to move on, I would forgive best I could, and wanted healing for his spirit. While he had done terrible things to me, I recognized that he was a product of bad experience himself. He was passing trauma and grief onto me back then, but I was going to be the end of that cycle of pain.

It was a strong ceremony for me, but the healing of the wounds that he had created would still be part of my future shamanic work. It is something that is now a source of strength that I can draw on, no matter how messed up the situation was that brought the strength into the world. I would do work to continue healing, but I didn’t want to do ancestor work. He was there, and I’d rather not pull that energy into my life.

It was about a month before our New Orleans trip that I would be made aware that it wasn’t much of a choice. I have a friend who also does medium work. We decided to do a little work trade. She gets a little Reiki, I get a little reading. When she arrived at the studio, she was ready to go. She had a ghost who was ready to talk. As she described him, I’m sure my face turned a little pale. She was describing him. And he was there, feeling sorrow for what he had done. He was still there, looking for some sort of absolution.

He was still there on the plane as I looked at my ancestors in my mind. I could feel the nudge of my Guides as realization came upon me. Moving beyond the trauma of childhood abuse is one thing. I have more work as a shaman, though. I have to figure out how to heal the line of trauma. I have to do healing work for my abuser so I can properly connect to my ancestral line.

And, to be honest, that’s pretty shitty.

It’s at moments like this that I am reminded how full of shit the outlook of spiritual work being all love and light is. It can bring healing and balance, but to do that, there’s a lot of unpleasantness that you have to wade through. Sometimes, that might even mean taking on a deceased client who has done you wrong. It’s time to put this ghost to rest through ceremony and journeywork, so he can find healing and I can move past him to grow as a healer.

And these are my thoughts on ghosts that I have been tackling since New Orleans. I think that it’s good to share these struggles, as it shows a side to this work that you might not necessarily see. Thank you for taking this literary journey with me.




Be well

  • The Green Mountain Mage

Ancestral Homes

I was visiting my friend Sandy this week, talking about life, adventures, and magic. I don’t quite remember how it came up, but we began talking about the ocean. She mentioned how she appreciated the ocean, but it didn’t do anything for her that the mountains and rivers up here couldn’t do. This blew my mind. I love the ocean. I love the power that it emanates. I’ve even wrote about it. I always figured that most people in this work felt the same way.

I knew that some people had an adverse reaction to it. My husband is happy to live miles away from the ocean. All the reasons that I wax poetic about it are the reasons that he wants to keep distance between the ocean and him. When I visit the rocky New England coasts nearest to us, I feel the primordial power of the massive body of water that life crawled out of billions of years ago. This ancient nursery of life is this old power that is so much bigger than us, and a force of equal measures creation and destruction. It draws me to it, while Josh recognizes the power and stays the hell away from it.

He likes to say that he comes from river people. His family has deep roots in the area. My dad’s family comes from the shores of southern New England. I’ve recently been researching ancestry, following my dad’s family tree. I can follow my patrilineal line pretty far back to when we first came to America. After my 8th great grandfather bought land in Rhode Island, he returned to France, loaded his wife and son on a boat, and moved his family to America. While he died on the road over due to being on the losing side of a duel, his family took root in the coastal town that they considered their new home. Looking through the movements of my ancestors, we’ve always lived next the ocean. My brothers and I are the first in 9 generations (not counting my French ancestor that died en route) not to live on the coast.

While I stand by my belief that the ocean is a powerhouse that has a certain healing power, I wonder if part of this is genetic. Is there something that my ancestors passed to me that influence the way I think about and experience the ocean? I recently read a quick article about research in genetic memory, and a quick Google search reveals more research. It’s an interesting confirmation of certain branches of shamanic work, specifically breaking unhelpful generational patterns. While there can be unhelpful patterns that are passed genetically, can there also be connections to place (connections that can be formed in only a handful of generations)?

It’s been an interesting exploration for me, especially as one that hadn’t felt a strong call to ancestral work to begin with. It’s even more interesting to explore the idea that parts of my spiritual practice are colored by where my ancestors lived, even when I didn’t necessarily think of it as an ancestral connection until recently.

Just a few thoughts as I explore my roots and my past. A quick post on ancestors and the sea, the primordial womb of Mother Earth, seemed appropriate for Mother’s Day. So, I ask you: how has your family tree influenced your spiritual practice? How much does your family history shape your view of the world?

 

Until next week

 

-The Green Mountain Mage

My Samhain Tradition

I apologize for the tardiness of my blog. I thought I would be able to finish it up before I headed to Connecticut this weekend to officiate my cousin’s wedding, but that didn’t quite work out. So, I’m back to the green mountains, in one piece.

A few interesting things from the weekend:

  • Ritual to help with stage fright is a fantastic tool. Even if it’s a little ritual. It can help give you a little boost in confidence.

  • Doing ritual in a strange place (such as your cousin’s bathroom post shower) is an interesting experience. I normally do my work in one room in my house, or outside, and I don’t notice much change in the space. When I did it in a space that has most likely never experienced that kind of work, the change was very noticeable.

  • Once you get over the fear of talking in front of a whole bunch of people, and the worry that you will mess it all up, officiating is a wonderful experience.

  • Finally, always do a pre-ceremony mic check.

 

I was going to go into more magic theory, but, in light of Halloween (or, as those crazy pagans like to refer to it as, Samhain) being tomorrow, I thought that I would talk a little about my tradition that I’ve done on Halloween for a number of years now.

Halloween may be one of my favorite holidays. I love the adrenaline rush of being scared in haunted houses. I love scaring people (safely!) with pranks. I love the creepy and weird. I love costumes and masks, how they are tools to step out of our own skin into someone or something else’s. I love how a largely celebrated holiday actually corresponds with one of the eight sacred holidays that I celebrate.

I don’t remember if my personal tradition started before or after I began my rambling Druid training, in which I am to commemorate each of the sacred holidays that I celebrate with some sort of ceremony. I do remember the thought process that brought me to my actions.

I was thinking about the origins of the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern.

The tradition of creating Jack O’Lanterns officially started in Ireland, a few centuries back. At that time, the preferred harvest veggie for carving out a face was a turnip. The purpose was to keep rogue spirits and unwanted shades from wandering to close to your house. If you want the longer version of the history of the Jack O’Lantern, the History Channel put out a little article about the story of Stingy Jack and the Jack O’Lantern (though I have a sneaking suspicion the tradition might be older than the story).

The story of the jack O’Lantern as a protective device struck a chord with me, so I took one of the pumpkins I grew, and started carving. After finishing my rather “handsome” fellow, and waiting for nightfall, I put in a candle, lit it, and began the trek up my road.

I know I have mentioned before that I live in the middle of nowhere. This is not an exaggeration. When I give directions to my house, the line “you’ll think you’ve gone too far, but don’t worry, you haven’t” finds its way in there. I live on a dirt road off a dirt road, in the middle of the woods. So, walking up the road, through the woods, with only the light of a Jack O’Lantern to illuminate your way can be unnerving. It’s not so bad when you’re close to full moon, but there have been some Halloweens where there was no light besides that candle. Watching it’s orange light dance across bare branches of deciduous trees and the drooping limbs of the spruces that line the edge of the woods does not help calm an overactive imagination.

Eventually, after about a half a mile, I come to the top of my road. Besides the top of the road is an old, small cemetery. I walk up to an exposed rock in front of the cemetery, and place my Jack O’Lantern. His job is to protect my road from any unsavory spirits out to create mischief on the night it is said the veil between the living and dead is the thinnest. Now, whether ghosts are closer to the world of the living at the end of October or not, I’m not sure. It does seem as good as time as any to honor ancestors, and those who have passed before us, especially with winter, a time of death and cold, just around the corner.

This brings me to the second part of my Halloween tradition. A drink with the dead. There are only about 20 graves in this cemetery, and I walk to each and make an offering of a drink to them. Usually a good beer. I then take a moment to remember people who were close to me who had passed. I make an offering of a drink for each name. I then make an offering to the spirits of the place, and the elements. I drink a few sips myself.

I don’t know exactly why an alcoholic drink feels the most correct to me in this situation. I often use tobacco and herbs as an offering in ceremony. Maybe it’s the informality of it. Maybe sharing drinks is something that has a lot of meaning in comradery, and just being generally alive. Maybe pouring good beer onto the ground is a serious sacrifice to me. It just made sense at the time, and still does.

It’s a very informal tradition. There are no symbols drawn, no tools besides a carved pumpkin and some beer. It’s a powerful thing for me, though. The artistic aspect of the Jack O’Lantern. The bravery it takes to walk up a dark road in the middle of the woods. The informal time with the dead, almost as if they never left. The honoring of their memory.

I didn’t grow any pumpkins this year, so I have to use the winter squash I grew, or buy a pumpkin tomorrow. Wish me luck on the carving and the walk. The ghosts and the drinks… that’s a little easier, though a little more emotional.

 

Happy Halloween. Merry Samhain.

 

-The Green Mountain Mage