Tag Archives: death

Ogahm: Iolo – Yew

I – Iolo: Yew

Samhain & Winter Solstice

Metal – Lead

Planet – Saturn

  • I am the tomb to every hope
  • Death & Rebirth

Iolo is one of the five vowels of the ogham tree alphabet, representing our letter I.

Yew Cauldron

Yew is the longest lived of all British trees, holds great knowing and wisdom. It’s been the coffin-maker’s tree for ages. It was also the tree of weddings, the bright red yew-berries were thrown as good-luck charms over newlyweds, offering their sweetness.

Normally I would talk about this tree at Samhain but I saved it for winter solstice this year. Here in Britain this year we have snow, lots of it, an unusual occurrence for us for the past 20+ years. Now global warming is really cranking up the winters are changing and becoming more severe. No-one knows yet how the new patterns the Mother is making in the weather will pan out, we may get a set of hard winters and then a set of wet, soft ones … we must wait on her and see what she gives.

In case you didn’t know, Solstice is 21st December. Astronomically this may be slightly different each year but for purposes of celebration many folk stay with the 21st. this year we had the added blessing of a blood-moon this morning. The energies were amazing where I lived but I couldn’t physically see much because there was a high mist covering the whole sky. I could sense the covering of the moon, the eclipse, but not see it with my physical eyes.

The 21st is the beginning of the solstice period, the period of three days when the sun appears to rise at the same point on the horizon. This is very well marked at Stonehenge, and at other less well known stone circles. Our ancestors knew …

The three day period of apparent standstill ends with the sun appearing to move forward, rise in a slightly different place on the horizon on the 25th December. In our tradition it’s called Sun-Return and signifies the birth of the King. In early mediaeval myth here in Britain this became the birth of Arthur but before that it was the birth of the Mabon, the eternal child who brings us the journey of the soul. It’s not surprising that the Christians took it up and used it for the birth of their winter king who – like all puer eternis – shows us the soul journey.

Sun-Return is the day the sun begins to move again after the 3-day standstill of the Winter Solstice; i.e. 25th December, and is a symbol of birth out of death. Archaeologists still seem to like to say our ancestors would have been afraid the sun was never going to come back but this is a highly denigrating view. You only have to watch the sun return one year to see it will. If you’re particularly fearful then maybe it takes two or three years … so you’re probably aged five or so when you’ve got the hang of it, especially if your parents take you to rituals and give you the stories.

Besides, people who could build such accurate time-pieces as Stonehenge and the other circles would hardly be so dumb as to not know about the seasons, that would make no sense at all. Sometimes we appear to have gone backwards in our common sense and be trying to pull our ancestors back into the childish habits of thought many people live in now.

Yew’s watch-words are “I am the tomb to every hope”.

What does this mean? What is a tomb? The thesaurus offers the following …

  • Ossuary Grave Sepulchre Mausoleum Burial place Charnel house Necropolis,

A place where things/people are buried after they have died. In the case of ossuary it is a place of bones, a charnel house where the relics – the bones which take perhaps millions of years to decompose – are stored. The word necropolis refers to a city of the dead, a physical vision of the place where the ancestors live. It makes some sense of the habit the Christians picked up of “relics of saints”, the bones. They again use the idea from the far more ancient pagan tradition of keeping a small part of the body an ancestor had once worn as a link back to the ancestors. Unfortunately they mostly don’t know about this tradition and meaning, however the innate human knowing does usually get some sort of a handle on it.

But why the tomb of hope? This can sound frightening to many. Hope … what is this? The thesaurus offers lots of possibilities for this word …

  • Confidence Expectation Optimism Anticipation Faith
  • Chance Likelihood Possibility Potential
  • Desire Aspiration Dream Plan Wish Goal Yearn Long Look forward to

Hmm … what do you make of all that?

And then there is the Greek story of Pandora’s Box. The story goes that

Pandora, whose name means “giver of all” or “all-endowed”, was the first woman on Earth. Zeus command Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create her, which he did using water and earth. The other gods granted her many gifts – beauty from Aphrodite, persuasiveness from Hermes, and music from Apollo.

After Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus, Zeus sought reprisal by handing Pandora to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Pandora was given a jar that she was ordered not to open under any circumstances. Despite this warning, overcome by curiosity, Pandora opened the jar and all the evils contained within escaped into the world. Scared, Pandora immediately closed the jar, only to trap Hope inside.

This story is very like the creation of Blodeuwedd by Gwydion and with perhaps som of the same purposes. Hope is a funny, tricky thing. W often say things like, “my hopes were dashed”, “there’s no hope”. Hope can turn very sour and evil when we have pinned all our faith on it and it doesn’t come to pass as we expected … as we’d hoped!

This takes me to a gift I was given many years ago. One of my teachers told me he went into every situation “full of expectancy but without any expectations”. Do you get that?

He is open to anything that may come but without pinning his own ideas, wants, needs, expectations on it. He leaves room for the universe to be, he walks the universe’s path rather than trying to constrict the universe into walking the path of his own small desires.

So the watchwords of the Yew make some sense now?

If we bury our little personality hopes, desires, wants, then we make room for the big gifts the universe wants to offer us. The yew takes in these petty personal desires and composts them for us, buries them, allows them to decompose and go back into their constituent atoms so they can be remade anew into the good things that Life, the Universe and Everything really needs.

It also makes sure we don’t try to make everything live by our own scripts. We put space and boundaries around ourselves and allow others to be different. We can still grumble about the difference – inside out own space! – as long as we leave space for others.

So we put our hopes into the tomb the yew provides for us and go out to find the new path.

This is the death and rebirth thing of this time of year, of the going down of the sun and his/her return after the three days, to begin a new cycle, to begin the stirrings of springtime, of the herbaceous plants who demonstrate this so beautifully for us by dying down into the ground over the winter and then springing back up out of the soil as the seasons change.

Ponder on all this for the season of Sun-Return. I’ll talk more about the planet Saturn and the metal Lead later on today.

To a dear uncle…

I received a phone call today from my mother that shocked me. To be honest, I’m still in a state of denial. And that’s just how I’m feeling. I can’t begin to imagine how my stepmom feels.

Her brother Freddie was a truck driver, and one of the sweetest, greatest teddy bears I’ve ever known. They were very close as siblings, and Mama (stepmom is her partner of 20 years) loved Freddie like a brother. I felt close to him. Then again, everyone who knew Freddie felt a connection with him. He was open, loving, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’d been through so much hell in his life, yet he managed to conquer his personal demons and became an inspiration.

This morning… he passed away. According to the New York Highway Patrol, his rig veered off the road, hit trees, and a fuel tank exploded. They don’t know if Freddie had a heart attack, a stroke–whatever. There will be an autopsy, though, and then he’ll be cremated and his ashes scattered around blueberry bushes in Decatur, AL.

Love your family–no matter how far they might be from you.

Staring Death In The Face…

Back in 2005 I had a vision. I’m not prone to visions, I’ve had about 2 in my entire life. This one came as I was waking up. I did not open my eyes, but I was fully conscious. The vision came into my mind clear as a TV screen. I was in a classroom, with the old style wooden desk-chairs with the curved half desk table top. A green chalk board was in the front and a friend of mine was sitting in his seat in front of me in a way blocked the teacher’s desk. When my friend turned to face front I was able to see the teacher’s desk and sitting behind it, staring at me…was Death. Skull face, hooded robe. There was no doubt in mind it was Death, though I did not see the scythe. He was looking right at me. I was caught in his gaze and I kept saying; “Do not look away. Do not look away. Do not look away.” I stared him down for about 30 seconds to a minute. Finally, he lowered his head and turned his back on me. The vision faded to black and I opened my eyes. I told a friend of mine about this vision, and she said, “Death was the teacher?” It took me off guard, but she stated the obvious and I had not put two and two together. But she was right. Death *was* the teacher. And he was the one who broke the stand-off and turned his back on me. I am now living that vision. Death is the teacher and I am facing him down. I’ve had cancer for five months now, uterine cancer, at least starting in the uterus. Doctor thought it was a fibroid tumor. The Endometrium biopsy showed ‘negative’ results, but the tumor turned out to be an Endometrium Stromal Sarcoma. It carries a 15% survival rate. It’s a very rare cancer that hits 4% of women. Of course I would get *this* cancer. When they removed the uterus and the tumor, we had no certainty that the cells did not breach the uterus wall. The oncologist gave me a choice, which was really no choice. There was nothing to radiate, and no guarantee that they didn’t get all of the cancer and remove it with the uterus. I decided to ‘watch and wait’. I should have gone with the chemo therapy right then. The new tumor grew to the size of a softball within a month, located in my pelvic region right over my vagina. I was told this was an aggressive form of cancer. When the tumor finally showed, we had to start chemo right away. The good news is that there’s no pain, not like I had at the beginning of this fight. The second CT scan showed the tumor had not grown in two months and the lymph nodes around it had started shrinking. I had another CT scan this week, results TBA, But there’s no pain, not like before. Death is teaching me things. It’s been five months. Other than being ill after the chemo, I feel normal, I feel fine. As aggressive as they say this cancer is, it’s slowing down. It’s a long road, I’ve got a heavy fight still in front of me, but this day my blogs will be dealing with what Death is teaching me. I wanted to start with the vision, first. I’m facing Death in the eye and I’ll be damned if I blink first. He’s going to turn his back on me. He’s going to give up before I do. I’m holding onto that. With that being said, let the day begin. 🙂

Honouring my Grandmother

Had my grandmother lived long enough, today would have been her 90th birthday. Diana Patricia Beatrice Barton (Barty to her friends)  died a few years ago, and I still miss her. At the date closest to her birthday, I sing songs of hers at folk club, as a way of honouring her memory. In previous years that’s been a private thing, but my son is sharing it this time round.

In many ways, I am a pagan because of my grandmother. Both of my parents explored Wicca when I was a child, and I grew up in a house full of books on myth, folklore, magic… I met witches, had a few interesting experiences along the way. But none of these things actually made me pagan, they just helped when I realised I was.

 It all came down to one conversation with my grandmother.

Like many teenagers, I wasn’t an especially happy creature. There were reasons. Not extraordinary reasons, most of them to do with being a lost and confused young person with low self esteem, convinced that I was too fat to be loved, struggling with my parents separating, hungry for affection but not knowing how to do relationship, socially inept, painfully shy, self conscious, and full of need that nothing seemed able to answer. At the time it seemed like a very big deal, but I had only seen molehills and had yet to learn that mountains are something else entirely.

My grandmother had a much harder life. Hers included horrendous poverty, divorce when that kind of thing wasn’t very socially acceptable, abuse, and dreadfully poor health. She had far more to be unhappy about than I did, but she handled it with grace, and stoicism. As a self obsessed teen, I didn’t really appreciate that, but I think I see more looking back than I did at the time.

I can’t remember why I was having a bad day. Which says a lot about whatever had made me miserable. She told me, quietly and without judgement, that when things were getting to her, she would go outside, and look at the sky and the hills. She reminded me that nature is beautiful, and always around us, and that whatever else is happening, the beauty of nature is something to find joy in, take comfort from, and trust.

I took those words onboard, and from that day I started looking around me more, taking notice, and learning to care. Boys might be fickle and unkind. School might be stifling. Family life might be uncomfortable. The hills were always there, constant, dependable, full of beauty and their own kind of magic. Thanks to her words, I learned to see.

Since then it’s been a process, deepening that relationship with the natural world, letting it feed my soul and ease my heart. Most people are not much use in that regard, and it took me a long time to learn not to be so people-centric in my affections. The hills do not approve of me. I do not need them to. That works. I can cry into the wind, howl to the soil when my heart is breaking. Being able to do so makes it easier to manage those ever-challenging human relationships that tend to cause all the pain.

My grandmother considered herself Christian, but on her own terms. She could tell a person’s character from their handwriting, and had premonitions. She saw ghosts. I don’t know much about what she believed, I think it was a private thing for her. But she took me chasing rainbows as a child, taught me to bake, and some needlecraft, shared her art, stoicism, and love of nature. That I am a pagan now, is very much due to her. So today, I honour her memory.

All That Dies Shall Be Reborn

bloodiedquill

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
All that dies shall be reborn
Corn and grain, corn and grain
All that falls shall live again.

I never thought I’d be saying those words for a close friend who was not that much older than myself. James passed through the veil on January 17th at the age of 41. A healthy, active man for most of his years, it came as a huge shock to all of us who knew him.

I met James in December of 2003 on the advice of a mutual friend. He and I hit it off and began a relationship that never quite might it into fully romantic. We shared some common interests but the spark just wasn’t there. I was still hooked on someone else, really, and thankfully James was understanding about it. He helped me get through that loss by listening, by being there with a shoulder to cry on, by making me dinner and helping clean out two huge closets that contained a lot of miscellaneous crap from my marriage and past relationship. He helped me move on, just as much and in some ways even more so, than anyone else. He was the first one to step up and put paid to my never-ending divorce by rounding up some others and holding a ritual the night before I was to appear before the judge.

I introduced him to another friend, Mel. Despite a slight difference in their ages, they did hit it off, and she moved to BC when he got a job out there. They married secretly in 2006, a ceremony performed by a Justice of the Peace with only the secretary and a passerby as witnesses. Swept her off her feet, he did. Mel has always said (and I tend to agree) that their spur-of-the-moment elopement was extremely romantic. The pair of them introduced me to S. not long after and that began a complicated long distance relationship that to this day I still hold very dear and still haven’t quite figured out.

Later that same year James, Mel, S. and myself formed a writing circle under the pseudonym Rhada McKai. At the present time we have one novel and a handful of short stories that were in the ‘Work in Progress’ file. When Mel is ready, we’ll talk about continuing our work in James’ memory. For now, Rhada’s only appearance will be in Courting Morpheus (currently in progress for publication with Belfire Press).

The wake and passing ritual were held Sunday night, and memorial service on Monday. S. recited a poem by Mary Frye used at both pagan and Christian ceremonies alike:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

As I lit my candle last Monday after receiving word of James’ passing, I spoke the following words, which began the healing process, and I hope helped give comfort during his passage to the Otherworld.

Nephthys, carry James swiftly and gently to your realm. Hold him as dear to your heart as we here have held him as dear to ours. Give him the strength to meet the next life with happiness and health. So Mote It Be.

James’ favorite novel was Watership Down. I ended my personal blog with this same phrase, finding it fitting for one such as he.

My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.


Jodi Lee is publisher and editor in chief of Belfire Press and The New Bedlam Project. Her writing has appeared in several recent anthologies as well as magazines on and offline for the past decade. Having shelved her first novel for the time being, she is currently working on two (or three) novels set in the fictional town of New Bedlam.

Laying the Past to Rest

In my journey through pagan spirituality, I have experienced many past life regressions – usually as a shaman or medicine woman. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the karma attached to me. I’ve even uncovered the foundation of some issues I have now, like why I hate apples (one of my previous incarnations choked on one and died) and my fear of bugs (my previous war torn child-self forced to live in roach infested ruins). Whether those visions were real spiritual experiences, or just my subconscious mind concocting pictures to explain trauma doesn’t matter. Either way, they have proved to be invaluable in the understanding of myself, and my purpose in the world.

I’ve had many past life sessions with therapists and readers, and each one taught me something new. But the main lesson taught in any session is how to let go of the pain and negative habits gathered in previous lives. And lately, this knowledge has come to help me in this incarnation, helped me to deal with issues in my youth and recent history.

Sometimes a spiritual journey is not about venturing into past lives, but purging the lives you’ve lived in this existence, in this body. It is amazing how many lives you have within one lifetime.  Every major occurrence in our lives can be viewed as an event unto itself, an experience that shapes who we are – whether its relationships, moments of epiphany, etc. We all know the basic cycles: childhood, puberty, young adulthood, adulthood, menopause, wise woman days, aka maiden, mother, crone, and the cycles in between. Each time we begin a new cycle of life, the old cycle dies. And much like a past life experience, we have to lay it to rest, and take the lessons from it and move forward.

However, we often forget that within each of those cycles is a depth of experiences we don’t honor and mourn appropriately. Instead, we marinate on them, the problems and shame running through our minds over and over again. And suddenly, our decisions in the present are based on our experiences in the past.

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t that how its supposed to be? Well, yes – we are supposed to remember and use the wisdom of our past, but not to the degree we sometimes take it.  We spend so much time worrying about things that have already happened that we often miss what’s happening in the here and now.  Our history should be a point of reference, but not have a hold over the current time.

Each moment of our lives has power, a center of its own, and when an incident ends negatively it is very much a death wound to our spirits and energy. If we were to look at each time we have been hurt, disillusioned, disheartened, wronged, we would see just how many deaths we have experienced in this incarnation. Mourning these experiences is vital, then “consciously forgetting” them can be viewed as a type of reincarnation, a way of rebirth.

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes discusses the process of conscious forgetting:

“To forget means to aver from memory, to refuse to dwell – in other words, to let go, to loosen one’s hold, particularly on memory.

To forget does not mean to make yourself brain-dead. Conscious forgetting means letting go of the event, to not insist it stay in the foreground, but rather allow it to be relegated to the background or move off stage. We practice conscious forgetting by refusing to summon up the fiery material, we refuse to recollect. To forget is an active, not a passive, endeavor. It means to not haul up certain materials, or turn them over and over, to not work oneself up by repetitive thought, picture, or emotion. Conscious forgetting means willfully dropping the practice of obsessing, intentionally outdistancing and losing sight of it, not looking back, thereby living in a new landscape, creating new life and new experiences to think about instead of the old ones. This kind of forgetting does not erase memory, it lays the emotion surrounding the memory to rest.”

Perhaps this is another lesson in the death/rebirth section of Goddess teachings. Cerridwen puts us in the pot, stirs it up; and we melt and boil and scream but emerge cleaner and wiser. Pele tosses us into the fiery volcano and we climb out with inspiration and new understanding. Persephone guides us to the underworld and teaches us how to rule as Queen.  The theology of the Goddess shows us exactly how to overcome the stagnation of the past; but instead of thanking Pele for the creativity and realizations, we bitch about how hot the lava was and tell anyone who will listen about the misery of the whole incident.

By practicing “conscious forgetting”, the power of our rebirths is suddenly visible. We become witnesses to our awakening; we can honor ourselves for all the times we have crawled up from the dirt and started again.

The fact that you are still here, still in an earthly body with a heavenly spirit, means that you have been reborn from a death. Reincarnated. Transfigured. It’s time to focus on the rebirth, not the death. Honor yourself for the strength it took, the courage you had/have to begin again.   Mourn, and then let it go.  It doesn’t mean the experience still doesn’t influence you, but it does rip the power away from the circumstances and the past, and place it back into your hands in the present. There is a difference between learning from your past, and reliving your past. The you from yesterday is gone.  Pay attention to who you’ve been reborn as today.

In short: let it go.

Are the Dead Truly Dead?

Egyptians gave as much attention to their dead as they did to the living. Some believe that the Book of the Dead is a morbid book of death but that simply isn’t so. Normally people flock the shelves and pull off one book translated by Budge, however, if you want to explore a more beautiful side to death, a more spiritual, then I’d suggest Normandi Ellis’ book called Awakening Osiris –A translation of the Book of the Dead. After reading that book, and believe me, I’ve read it many, many, many times, I began to wonder if there was something concerning the Egyptians, their mummies, and their outlook on death that we were missing.

Ancient Egyptians did not view their death with fear or hesitation. Death was but a doorway into a new existence…a new life…a new world. They spent their entire life preparing for this journey but also making the best of their life despite their place in society. For instance, a cook used his or hers talents to the best of their abilities because they believed that it was a gift from the Gods. A carpenter was the same way or anyone of any skill or trade.

Pharaohs spent entire lifetimes building huge pyramids and no matter who you were, when you died, those who loved you did not mourn with despair but rather made a ritual of bringing temple cakes and incense to your tomb each and every day where they would leave them for you.

That which can be named must exist. That which is named can be written. That which is written shall be remembered. That which is remembered lives. In the land of Egypt Osiris breathes. The sun rises and mists disperse. As I am, I was, and I shall be a thing of matter and heaven.—Normandi Ellis Awakening Osiris

Egyptians believed that as long as they remembered a person’s name, they would live forever. You can imagine their horror when Christianity and other forms of religions swept through, stabbing the stones of temples in a cruel attempt to rid the world of various Gods/Goddesses and then turning those places of Ancient stone into churches of their own.

Some people don’t realize this but the rituals for preparing the dead in The Book of the Dead were some of the longest lasting funeral preparations surviving culture after culture. They even saw their way into Rome and the only thing that prevented the rituals from going further is that each culture added their own mark, making them longer and longer. Also, eventually, Rome fell under the hands of a One God path so the old ways were long gone.

 

Here is the question though…

Did the Egyptians have knowledge of other worlds? They claimed that when a person died, they passed through the stages of the Underworld…a place that was a dimension all on its own. It was believed that the person would take their place by the Gods. Some believe that they passed through to another world while others believed the ‘other side’ was simply a reward, an experience spent until the time of reincarnation came.

 

If this is correct…are the Dead really dead? Perhaps the Spirits that we see are glimpses we catch when the veil is thin. Perhaps these are not spirits or souls lingering about, but actual beings living in another time, another place. And perhaps when the Egyptians believed that death was but a door into another phase of life…another world…they meant more by that then what we first imagined.

It’s something to think about.

 

Osiris returns from the mountain of sand to the green land of his birth. Morning comes to Egypt. Across an expanse of dirt and stone, cool shadows strain towards the mountain where in dry tombs the dead are yawning, wondering who has lit the temple fire and who has brought sweet cake. I, Osiris, rise and hurry into the two lands of the living. Black earth and red earth join a buckle of sky. I embrace the double horizon. I embrace the two mountains, the east and the west. I am god of the living and dead, embracing my soul and shadow. –Normandi Ellis Awakening Osiris