At Pantheacon this year, I and my delightful team of Dustbunny Feris and kin presented I’ll Fly Away: An Ole Time Good Spell Feri Pagan Tent Revival. The Oathmother of most of us, Valerie Walker (aka veedub) shuffled off this mortal coil last year, and her Husband, Ron Miller, two years before. We wanted to put together something that would do our Elders proud. I think we pulled it off.
We began, as we do, with a rousing version of “Old Time Religion” tailored to honor the Matriarch and Patriarch of the Feri Tradition, Cora and Victor Anderson. From there, we talked a bit about what the Revival is and then sang some more (“This Blue Light of Mine”) After which we set circle space, and then enjoyed some super sweet and spicy invocations of our God/ds. Then we sang some more (“Down in the River to Pray”) mingled in with reminiscences about our dearly departeds. We also invited the congregation to call in their own Beloved Dead to enjoy our shenanigans.
Without further ado, here follows the sermon I preached that night.
My beautiful kindred. Today we have come to revive ourselves and offer some energy to the All-That-is, yes, and to honor all those relations of blood and/or spirit. They who have shaped us with their beauty and their courage, their strength and their wisdom, their challenges and their gifts. We are the ones who carry on, our lines live in us, in whatever form we choose to bring that forth.
Now, I would like my ushers to come forward and take these baskets of bones. I invite you, if it is your will, to take one of these memento mori, these reminders of our mortality. To have and to hold as a connection with the temporary nature of our selves.
So the theme of this Revival is “I’ll fly away”.
I will tell you that one of the primary inspirations for this theme was in remembering the last Revival that Vee and Ron attended. At that time, he was too ill to manage the rehearsal schedule, but they sat front row and beamed and clapped and sang along. As per usual, our recessional song was “I’ll Fly Away” and as everyone was heading out, they stopped at the door with the choir and sang with us. Ron was as off-beat as ever, and full of enthusiasm. “I’ll Fly Away” he sang. And two months later, he flew away. On 4/20/16, like a boss.
Our beloved Feri Godbunny, Vee, lived 2 years after her Consort died. She missed him terribly. She loved to be alive, but it was getting damnably inconvenient being in pain and having to be taken care of. Being unsure what was ahead. I truly feel that when she was ready to go, she left. Not without her body’s arguing (bodies don’t ever seem to want to give up the ghost), but with her Godself’s full consent and support
The last time I visited, Vee and I were looking at pictures on her phone. She showed me the last video she’d taken of Ron on a visit to the area, as they were preparing to move to Portland. They were heading up the trail leading into Powell Butte Park and he was a bit ahead of her. He said something indistinct and she said, “what?” He turned back, his beautiful presence framed by the green beauty of the place, and said, “This will be fun to explore…”
I’d like to think they are exploring together as we speak.
Now, we understand that these gorgeous bodies were never meant to last forever.
We choose to take on a fleshly physique and submit to the rigors of physical reality. We attach ourselves to this being called Earth and from then on, we are sustained by her body.
That’s the deal we made when we came here, to accept the limitations of mortality. To become temporary. To forget how it was before we came and to know only this tiny little bit that our mortal minds can comprehend, our mortal bodies can experience.
But we also know that, as sure as the flesh falls into the body of the Mother, the sacred rises and falls into the heart of the Mother.
And there is a great sleight of hand involved here: don’t look at the pea, look at the cups – don’t look at the spirit, look at the body. We can forget if we don’t try to remember.*
One of my favorite quotes on this subject comes from Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford: A little later, remembering man’s earthy origin, ‘dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return’, they liked to fancy themselves bubbles of earth. When alone in the fields, with no one to see them, they would hop, skip and jump, touching the ground as lightly as possible and crying ‘We are bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth! Bubbles of earth!’
Beauties, you are meant to fly.
You came from the stars. You are made of stars. When you came into life on Earth, you knew that someday you would die. But until that day, you get to play and learn and sing and grow with others. When you were one with all things, you couldn’t do that.
You have chosen to submit to life as a singular self and with that, mortality. The Oneness of all things is eternal, the singular must always die, to be taken apart and used for something else; solve et coagula. Dissolve and remake.
We choose separation so that we may come together in different combinations and forms over and over again, in spirit-bodies or physical ones. We hold ourselves apart like two magnets so we can feel the force of desire that draws us together. Magick happens in that dynamic place.
Remember that you are a spirit, making a conscious choice to take on the limitations of form, giving up some measure of freedom, so that you can enjoy what mortal life has to offer: a rare steak, a deep kiss, an excellent wine. Without your body, there is no scent of flowers, no feeling of skin on skin.
I love the dirt life, with the spit and blood and babies and dogs. I love the laughter and the dancing. AND I have watched a friend’s spirit rising over the land she adored, as she was freed of the bonds of her broken flesh, and such joy I’ve never seen before or since. Clearly there is something very good awaiting us after we loose these chains.
I personally like to think that when we shuffle off this mortal coil, we go back to where were before we took on flesh.Rumi said it this way:
Imagine the time the particle you are
returns where it came from.
The family darling comes home.
Then when we get there and gather with our other family, we have big hugs and ‘there you are!’s with them, til we finally settle together on the couch of infinity.
Someone brings popcorn. Someone pours the sweet tea or maybe mint juleps if it’s gonna be a hard watch. Moonshine if it’s a really hard watch.
And we survey the video of our mortal lives.
From the moment of our birth, the cries of our mother, through our snot-nosed, sweet-cheeked childhood, awkward adolescence, know-it-all teenhood, confused adulthood, etc etc, we see our gatherings, our offerings. Our confrontations and our connections. We see ourselves with trembling knees facing down authority. We see ourselves dancing the joy of first love and breathing the sadness of love’s passing.
And our family is not quiet about it just like any other family you haven’t seen in a while:
Look at cute baby you!
Oh, brother, you really messed that up.
Awwww, you had a baby of your own!
Wow, that was a close one!
And so on.
Until you get to the final reel and it fades to black and everyone sits in silence for a moment. Then the flurry of questions: how long are you staying? Where do you want to go now? Should we go together? If we do, then I get to be the mom and you’re the baby!
I sorta think maybe it feels like getting off a scary roller-coaster and then choosing to ride again, again!
Truly, death is scary, because no one really knows what awaits us. But I hope that when my time comes, I will remember that death is a door that I must pass through to return to my other home.
But fam, since we’re talking about mortality and immortality, let’s get esoteric for a moment:
Above, we find the planets spinning around their suns, exploding into being and burning away. This is birth and life and death on a cosmic scale; so vast, it is almost unimaginable. New galaxies are constantly bursting forth, collapsing in on themselves, and turning inside out.
Below, we live our entire lives on just one of those planets, Terra, spinning around Sol, the sun, the center of our star system. Birth and life and death look different here on an earthly level, all beings becoming themselves, then separating out into their component parts, to be used again and again in the making of trees and concrete and butterflies.
Everything that has ever been is still here in some form, coming together and moving apart in an intimate, intricate dance of contraction and expansion, immanence and transcendence.
Above, there is an exhalation that began 13 billion years ago, spinning all things out from their center and into constant motion. We are all children of that pulse. Sooner or later, we will be breathed back into our first home.
Below, we come forth from the earth and grow up and into our own lives until we return to her darkness at our death. This may very well be a new birth. We really have no idea.
What we do know is that we live in a universe where, on every imaginable scale, everything is rising and falling and rising again, endlessly coming together and coming apart.
From the oneness that is at the beginning of all things to the separation and dissolution at the end, each of us walks our own individual path. The actions we take and the effects we leave behind are our footprints on the body of the world and they show where we’ve been.
We become aware of the cycles of our physical, mortal bodies on this planet. Our aging is a microcosm of the Earth’s seasons: birth, maturity, old age, death.
The Earth breathes out and pushes sap up into the green growing things and into all life. You rise. Later, the Earth breathes in and draws all of her energy back into herself. You fall.
All the love that flows from the Heart of the Earth to the Heart of the Universe flows through you.
This is how we orient ourselves, as children of the stars and of this single planet. This is how we know our place on the thin skin of our mother.
This is how we orient ourselves, between our past and our future.
This is how we know our time is now.
From Above, you learn to see beyond a single lifetime. You find yourself eternal, spun in and out of existence over and over. You recognize yourself as an infinite being.
From Below, you learn to connect deeply to your single lifetime. You find yourself mortal and learn to be in and of this world which is so lovely, but so deadly.
From your own heart, you learn that you are needed, exactly where and when you are. You learn that you are a gate between your deepest self and the shared reality, and it is up to you what you bring through.
You learn all of what makes you the only you that there ever will be. Broken. Perfect. Impatient. Beloved.
Y’all, we are so very blessed to be this strange animal/human/divine combination. We are able to grasp, on some small level, the possibilities of Above and Below and Within. We are able to move back and forth between the beats of the big black heart of God Herself and become one, then many, then all.
This is our gift and our charge: to fully inhabit ourselves and our lives, with courage and curiosity and creativity. Human animals touching infinity.
And then we sang “Amazing Grace” in honor of our dearly departed Teachers, Mentors, and Friends. Recognizing that this song may be problematic for some, we chose to sing it with a spirit of Redemption and Respect.
The only mar on a great night was that we’d not realized how tight our timing was, so we had to rush the energy raising. But I think we got some jubies moving up in there.
We cried and laughed (at least I did 😀 ) and decided that, yeah, we’ll probably keep doing the Revival as long as they let us.
p.s. If y’all have read my book The Secret Country of Yourself, you might recognize quite a bit of this last section. While writing the sermon, I realized, “oh dang, I already wrote this!” So there ya go.
*These few lines are courtesy of my own best beloved Poet, my husband Matthew Beachy.