October 27, 2016

At Samhain-tides, our lessons speak of how each moment is both a death and rebirth; all things must die to make room for the new. I began this life as my mother gave birth to me, but I truly began living – living my sacred purpose – because of her death. It was a catalyst to who I’ve become. It is Samhain once again, the Grand Funeral, and I would like to tell you the story of her passing away, but this is not really her story I’m telling, as she alone knows her side of that tale; this is my story.

Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In previous postings, I’ve mentioned her death, and the hilarity of her Rapture Clause. She gave me some of my best comedic material! However, she’s also been a prime influence in my spiritual life. Yes, sometimes by showing me how NOT to be, but mostly by the example she made as a woman with a strength of character and devotion to her ideals.

How did I come from that Southern Baptist upbringing, to become the out-loud and proud, public witch and shopkeeper that I am today? As you can imagine, it is a long and wyrd trip down that memory lane, but it all begins with my mother’s death; when she crossed into spirit and became my strongest guide on the other side. Death takes its toll in many ways, but the ferrymen will have his due. Making that payment also brings benefits, just like a toll booth–you get to take a new road, but it’ll cost you in ways you might not expect.

We must start at the beginning, back in March of 2007. I wrote the following installments in the weeks after her death as a means of grieving, and to process the unfolding of many small miracles that would change the contentious relationship we’d had in magickal ways. This was a mere three months after my self-initiation into the Craft, and a mere month after my Imbolc dedication to work with the Element of Fire. Nothing touched by fire remains unchanged; all that does not serve your Highest Good is burned away…including your excuses.

Prelude to Dying

My mother Sondra died on March 9th, 2007 at only 59 years old. She was a very health-conscious person in excellent physical condition, which made her sudden death such a shocking tragedy for us, but also a blessing for her. She knew no sickness, and no suffering. She had her affairs in order, and was fully prepared to meet her maker. By my way of thinking, if you’ve gotta go, hers was an ideal way to check out.

Almost as if she knew her time left was short, she had a great last week of her life, deciding to stay home and enjoy some quality time with my Grandmother Frances while her husband went on a fishing trip in Florida with his own mother. My Grandmother Frances is 83 now and my mom lived two doors down from her in Paducah, Kentucky. This is where my mother grew up, and she and her mom have always been best friends, and especially close since my Grandfather Stormy died five years before. She chose not go on the fishing trip, because she wanted to make the most of the time she had left with her mom.

They spent that week like a couple of girlfriends, shopping, running errands, and going out to eat. It was my birthday week and so they had fun putting together my birthday box and mailing it to me. On Wednesday, March 7th, she called while I was on the playground with my kids, and recounted the tale of my birth–that call is a tradition between us. Thursday night they attended a funeral of one of her old friends.

Friday, the last day of her life, she pulled out the old high school yearbooks, scrapbooks and her diary from that era and spent time in her easy chair reminiscing. She called her best friend from high school to catch up, and had a nice long talk with Skip, her husband of 13 years, whom she loved dearly.

By this time, I’d received my birthday box, so I called her at 4:00 to thank her for everything. She was so proud of her gift to me. It was a beautiful wood and leather trunk. “Isn’t it just SOOO your style?” she asked. This time she’d gotten it very right. I loved the trunk and needed just that very thing as a new altar box, of course I wasn’t about to mention the witchcraft.

She joked that since it was an empty box, she just had to fill it up. Inside was a comfort shawl she’d crocheted by hand with soft, chenille yarn, coloring books for the kids, and about 5 Christian daily devotional magazines turned to March 7th with her own notes and highlighting throughout the lesson. Mom never missed an opportunity to witness for Jesus.

Sondra, Frances and my baby daughter, 2003
Sondra, Frances and my baby daughter, 2003

We had a pleasant conversation about her week: the funeral of her friend, and how much she liked that particular funeral home; the afghan she’d like to knit for me with all the fancy yarns she’d just bought on sale; and the visits she was planning for my kid’s birthdays that year. She spoke of baby sitting three siblings from the Sunday school class she taught and how she’d convinced them all to eat bok choy. She spoke to my children, Lauren and Nathan, in that last conversation. Lauren asked her to come visit for her fifth birthday and little Nate, who is two and a half, said “I love you, Grandma Sondra, Goodbye!” before handing the phone back to me.

At 7:00 that evening, while she sat in her easy chair I’m fairly certain she gave herself a manicure because her nails were perfectly polished–a point of pride for her.  She called my Grandmother Frances, and they were chatting away, when she said with urgency,  “Mom, I have a terrible pain in my temples.” Frances asked if she should come down there and Mom said “Yes, please come right away!” Frances drove her car the two driveways down to find Mom unconscious on the floor by her chair, the phone still in her hand.

Frances called 911 and had the paramedics there immediately. They got her on life support and transported them both to a hospital, and then transferred them to a second hospital for the neurologist they needed, because Frances knew about the pain in her temples the Doctors knew where to start looking.

When traumatic moments like this are unfolding, information travels like a web. We have a big family in Paducah, with many siblings, cousins and in-laws who look out for each other. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Joyce arrive, who work with the doctors to try and understand what is happening and help my Grandmother. While neurologists were running tests, they’d finally got Skip on the phone; he was on a boat in the middle of a lake when they found him. They could only tell him that it was very serious and he had to get home as fast as possible. He set out for home immediately.

Skip called me at 9:00 while driving to Orlando to catch his flight, but all he could relay was the sense of emergency and that she was still unconscious. All I could say was that I had just talked to her a few hours before as if this was some proof that everything was going to be okay. I called my Aunt Joyce to find her at the hospital. My dear Aunt Joyce…to this day I can still hear her sweet voice as she explained; there was an aneurysm, a weakened blood vessel in her brain; it ruptured…there was a cerebral hemorrhage.

There was this weighted pause, where I expected her to go on, but we just hung there in awkward silence. I didn’t understand. “What is next? Where do we go from here?” I asked, hopefully.

She replies so gently, so simply, “Honey, she’s brain dead. This is it.”


In the days following, my mother’s spirit would visit and guide me, give me clarity and strength, but I will tell you about that next time. For now, as a part of your Samhain preparations, do me a favor and go call your mom and tell her you love her…even if she drives you crazy.

Until next we meet, Samhain Blessings,
~Heron

The continuing story: Death Toll: Coming to Terms

November 14, 2016

My whole life changed for the better after the passing away of my evangelical mother, but not in the ways you might expect. The death toll demanded of me that first year of my witchhood was a high price to pay, but the road beyond has been well-worth traveling, thanks to her guidance. Our story began with Passing Away, Coming to Terms, and Psychic Agent.


Behind the Scenes

Late, after the family were all abed at my grandmother’s house, I sat in her kitchen to write the eulogy I’d heard myself offer to give at my mother’s funeral. I swear I was possessed when I made those plans, but it would seem that I had no choice. I borrowed a laptop, but I was unfamiliar with the keyboard and felt like it was fighting me for every word. I was getting nowhere and frustrated when my 2 year old son woke up at 11:30 saying he was hungry. I had barely seen my children all day while I was running between the funeral home, florist and cemetery. Their care was handed around between family members, and we’d grazed all day at a consolation buffet that flowed into the house from the neighbors, but no one could remember actually serving them a proper dinner.

So many feasts were served at this most sacred of kitchen counters. Easter 1998, Sondra (mom), Stormy (Grandfather) and Frances (Grandmother).
Easter 1998, Sondra (mom), and Stormy and Frances (Grandparents) in their kitchen with one of our family feasts laid out on my favorite counter. They are all in Spirit together now.

Nate was still wide-awake and munching when Lauren, my 5 year old daughter, woke up with 103 fever. She was whimpering, shaking and clinging to me. Looking through my grandmother’s medical supplies in the hall closet, I was excited at first to find a bottle of children’s Motrin. Until I discovered it expired in 1983, no doubt bought for one of us grand kids when we were her age. At 2:00 in the morning I drove to a gas station to buy some more. I gave up writing for the night and went to bed with a child tucked on either side of me in the same guest bed I used to share with my mother when we’d visit here over the summers.

But there would be no rest for us; three hours later I awoke to a thunk and screams as Nate rolled out of bed and hit his head on the nightstand. By the time he’d been comforted back to sleep I was wide awake, the third-eye headache pounding again and the eulogy whispering in my ears; language and anxiety were forming against my will.  I got up and in the quiet of those darkest hours before dawn, I sat with pen and notebook at the kitchen counter to write out my mother’s stories.

I absorbed what it meant to sit at that counter, remembering all the feasts we’d shared there; the cold watermelon sliced for after-dinner treats in the summers; holidays with giant roasted turkeys and Stormy’s signature pan of corn-bread dressing; celery sticks stuffed with pimento cheese, and hot coffee first thing each morning. So much had happened there in the 31 years since my grandparents built the house. Now that mom and her dad were gone, and my grandmother so elderly and frail, how much longer would that yellow, laminate counter be waiting for me when I came home?

Passing Away: Visitation

That day, my step-dad’s family all arrived from Florida; my husband’s parents arrived from North Carolina; my dad and stepmother arrived from Tennessee and all were enfolded by the family with open arms. I felt much better after they all arrived.  My dad was deeply mourning–as much as her current husband, Skip, it would seem. Dad mourned her death, but also the loss of his childhood friend, his first love and mother of his children, and his partner of 25 years. It had been more than 15 years since their divorce, but none of that seemed to matter anymore. The most beautiful part of the whole sorry mess was that both my mom’s chosen husbands could find solace in an embrace with the only other man on earth who could come close to knowing what the other had lost.

Line of Mourners at my Mom's Visitation
Line of Mourners at my Mom’s Visitation

By 3:30 we arrived at the funeral home, and the parlor we were given for the visitation was the same one used for my grandfather Stormy’s funeral 6 years before, and the funeral of her friend Paul she’d attended not even a week before. It was a large, pleasant room, like the sanctuary of a church with many long pews, upholstered with velvet cushions. The air was fragrant with the floral arrangements that streamed in all day. The light softly washed the sidewalls, accentuating the length of the room, and her open casket was front and center in a pool of flattering light.

Everything looked beautiful from the back of the room, which is where I wanted to remain frozen, but there was no avoiding that open casket that demanded an audience.  It was hard to approach mom’s body. She was swollen from the organ-donation surgery and three days of life-support. The body from which I’d emerged was now an empty shell, but that shell was tastefully groomed and miraculously dressed in her most cherished wedding suit. Her lovely hands, the only part of her that I recognized, were folded femininely together. Her nails were still perfectly painted in her favorite bronzy-rose color that, by no coincidence, matched her casket.

We welcomed our family and her many friends to come in and pay their last respects. The line was out the door for four and a half hours. She packed the house, which is exactly what I would have expected. As always, my beautiful Grandmother Frances was the gracious Matron who held court beside the casket for hours on end. She was so strong. Though we expressed our sorrow freely, she was as polished, lovely and responsible as ever. She greeted every single person like a long-lost friend.

There were moments when I’d feel a panic well up, as if I was an orphaned child with no idea how to “adult” my way through this maze of duty, but my Mama Frances was there, demonstrating how to rise up like a Lady and do the hard work. Side by side with my sister, Heather Anne and our step-dad, we shook hands, hugged, cried, laughed, remembered, told tall tales on my Mom about her charity and exuberance, and listened carefully as her friends came through to sing her praises.

Some of her Sunday-school students that she called her “rainbow class” came through with their parents. One of them was the father of the kids she’d babysit “so she could share her grandma love.” On the day she died, she bragged to me over the phone about getting those kids to try some steamed bok choy. They gifted my children with a toy Rainbow Carebear. He teared up as he spoke of how she could get his kids to eat their vegetables. Funny what little details will be most dearly remembered when we are gone.

With my daughter at her grandmother's Visitation, not always somber.
With my daughter at her grandmother’s Visitation, not always somber.

Rites of Passage with our Children

Several people asked if we were going to take the children to her funeral, as if death was something from which they should be shielded, or as though the demands for “good behavior” were a thing we shouldn’t even ask of small children. The very question pisses me off. Frankly, I think that it would be disrespectful to everyone involved not to welcome our children to our family’s rites of passage.

It is a parent’s duty to expose their children to the wholeness of life, and to engage them in their culture’s rituals, and ways of expressing emotions. Rites of passage are a necessary part of the growth process at all stages. The old folks need to see the babies at play; children need to hear the wisdom of old-folks in their dotage.

To pretend that death does not happen is unhealthy. For a loved one to disappear without any closure for the child, would be a trauma that denies them the benefits of the experience. Moreover, if you never give your children the chance to witness how to behave, and practice that behavior at both somber and joyous occasions, how will they ever know how to act?  Our kids were there with us every step of the way.

Lauren and Nathan both asked many times to go see their Grandma Sondra in the casket. We’d lift them up in a big hug so they could see. Lauren touched her hands. They were both very interested and calm, and said it looked like she was sleeping in a comfy bed. It had been 7 months since they’d seen her last, which was a quarter of Nate’s life away. They were neither upset nor tearful, just neutrally observing and offering us sweet comfort when they noticed we were sad. Lauren said “I’m sorry your mom died, I’m going to miss her, too. I love Grandma Sondra.” Otherwise, they politely played with their cousins.

My Grandmother Frances by my Mother's casket at the Visitation
My Grandmother Frances by my Mother’s casket at the Visitation

The Traditional Casket Picture

Before we left, we took a few last pictures by her casket. I’m not sure why it is in my family that they want a photo with their dearly departed as they lay there in a box. I’m claustrophobic, so that horrifies me, but it is what it is. When Skip gave her one last hug goodbye, he noticed that a blood-tinged tear had leaked, and was following the banks of a laugh line at the corner of her eye. The dam broke again, and we all had another blubbering group hug.

We spent the evening in my grandmother’s den, just like old times. Then I took another Tylenol to beat back the ever-present throbbing in my forehead and crashed for the night. The unwritten eulogy and the ball of anxiety forming in my gut would have to wait.


The funeral at her evangelical, speaking-in-tongues, rock-n-roll, dancing-in-the-aisles church, the eulogy I managed to hobble together, and her proper “Christian-burial” would be held the next day, but that is a tale for next time. ( Death Toll: Amazing Grace)

Thank you for reading, and for your lovely messages through my Witch on Fire FaceBook page, that encourage me onward in the telling of this tale. When we lose a loved one, grief is such an individual process, but the sharing of these stories can be therapeutic. I encourage you to share your stories as well. How do you honor your beloved dead?

Until next time,
~Heron

*All photos by Heron Michelle, or used with permission

November 12, 2018

Witches tend to have a wyrd perspective of death. Death does not frighten me, and I’m absolutely certain that there is Spiritual life beyond the grave, because I’ve experienced it first hand in hair-raising ways. In March of 2007, my Evangelical Mother suffered a hemorrhage from a cerebral aneurysm. She went from a vibrant and perfectly healthy 59 year old woman, to brain-dead organ donor, in under 3 minutes. Due to the zealousness of her Evangelical convictions, we had a troubled relationship while she was living. The miracle of this story, is that through her death we found acceptance and unconditional love for each other once again. At Samhain I honor her, and what she taught me.

Heron and her daughter, Graveside 2007

The following index of stories are my personal account of her sudden death, funeral, and the mourning period where I believe that she was guiding me through a psychic connection. Ironically, she continued to haunt me for years to come, nudging, guarding and inspiring me to leave my broom-closet, and live an authentic life as a Witch and Priestess. Then we were able to communicate via a Psychic Medium, as she finally went into the light. Since then, she’s occasionally returned to let me know all was well.

My whole life changed for the better after the passing away of my Christian mother, but not in the ways you might expect. The death toll demanded of me that first year of my witchhood was a high price to pay, but the road beyond has been well-worth traveling, thanks to her guidance.

I’ve written much about our journey together. I am continually affirmed in my own path, thanks to her guidance over the last 10 years. Below you’ll find the links to those tales; just click on the pictures to follow the story.

A Witch Remembers her Evangelical Mother at Samhain

“She could be a special sort of boundary-violating jerk, she carried her soapbox with her everywhere she went, and the message was clear: there was only one right way, her way. As you can imagine, we had a very difficult relationship, but because she was so entrenched and vocal about her opinions–on everything, without ceasing–planning her funeral was a no-brainer.”

Witch on Fire: A Wish Upon Dying

 Death Toll: A Mother’s Sudden Death

Passing Away

“There was this weighted pause, where I expected her to go on, but we just hung there in awkward silence. I didn’t understand. “What is next? Where do we go from here?” I asked, hopefully.

She replies so gently, so simply, “Honey, she’s brain dead. This is it.”

Death Toll: Passing Away

Coming to Terms

“A sense of peace swept over me like a big hug. My panic shifted into acceptance and I just knew that Mom was OK. She was still there; I could feel her, peaceful, light, and seeking me out as well.”

Death Toll: Coming to Terms

Psychic Agent

“I was wracked with guilt for all the ways in which I simply could not stand my mother; all the times I was horrified and embarrassed to be her daughter; all the intolerant things I’d ever said to her, and about her. But the Eulogy just kept on pushing forward, speaking itself to me aloud. Stories I hadn’t thought of in years popped into my mind. Themes formed.”

Death Toll: Psychic Agent

 Visitation

“Everything looked beautiful from the back of the room, which is where I wanted to remain frozen, but there was no avoiding that open casket that demanded an audience. It was hard to approach mom’s body.”

Death Toll: Visitation

The Funeral and Eulogy

“Then it was my turn. I assure you that this irony was not lost on me…of my being a Witch, and delivering a message from a Christian pulpit, at my loudly fundamentalist mother’s church. I knew full well that if the majority of the people in that room knew who was about to address them, they would have run me out on a rail. But *I* know that to Spirit we are all sacred beings, and what they didn’t know about me, wouldn’t hurt them.”

Death Toll: Amazing Grace

Mourning

“When the duty was complete, I wanted so badly to stay there among her things and take comfort at her house, but eventually I felt the pressure to leave. Life was marching on out there in the world. There was work to be done and alphabets to learn, a house to be kept…”

Death Toll: Peace in the Interim

Remembrance

“What I can tell you from my intimate experience with funeral planning, is that their purpose must be two-fold: To honor the dearly departed in accordance to their spiritual beliefs, and most importantly, to give the mourners a way to process their emotions while fully releasing their loved one to the Next Big Thing.”

Witch on Fire: A Wish Upon Dying

Hauntings

Into the Light at Long Last

“I choose to believe that my mother was released from the petty smallness of incarnation, suddenly knowing a higher truth to things. She knew how badly I needed to make changes in my life, and stuck around long enough to help me see my way clear, then make amends. That kind of closure is a precious gift that I will not deny. Besides, once you set your feet to the path of the witch, opening your mind and your heart to the greatness of the Universe, this is the sort of wonder you are asking for. Receive their gifts with grace for the benefits they offer.”

A Witch’s Carol: A Tale of Three Hauntings

Years Later, A Graveyard Visitation

My family wanted me to know that they accept me as I am–the Witch in the family.  I’d kept that last bit from all three of them while they were alive. “Well, they know now, and they are fine with it,” Denise comforted me. It was toe-curling awesome to be fully known by them at last.

A Witch’s Ghost Story: The Graveyard Visitation

I hope these tales brought you peace, as they have for me – peace about the immortality of the Spirit, and the triumph of Love beyond the grave. Most importantly, if you also find yourself in a difficult relationship with a loved one who condemns your witchery, I hope that you’ll someday know the reconciliation that I found. My wish is that it won’t take a tragedy to restore that common ground between you. For some additional advice on dealing with your own Christian family, I offer Broom Closets and Bible Belts: 10 Tips for your Coming Out Party.

Blessings of Samhain’s Rest,

~Heron

Broom Closets and Bible Belts – 10 Tips For Your Coming Out Party

November 18, 2016

This is the conclusion to the Death Toll Series wherein I recount the story of my mother’s sudden death, burial and the mourning process.

Doldrums

Journal Entry: March 20, 2007

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” Countless times have I heard these words over the days since my mother died…your loss.

My loss. *sigh*

cco public domain

I sigh a lot these days. I’m not sure why, except that breathing out completely like that happens spontaneously.

Tension, anxiety, grief…

It is a wind that blows from this empty place within. Until three days ago, I was like a sailboat cutting furiously through a tumultuous sea of duty and responsibility. Which casket? What flower? Find the wedding suit, deliver the right lipstick, and cry a river with the family and 200 friends as they pay their respects. Drag through 60 years of photos to pick the perfect 16 for the slide show presentation that will somehow capture a life into pixels and light.

I spoke the eulogy that burned in my brain until it was delivered. Like a woman possessed I worked to make it “right.”

Right. There was so much to make right. Guilt.

Then they lowered her into the ground…my mothers body, harvested, preserved with chemicals, primped for her rapturous rise, and separated eternally from Mother Earth by an air-tight casket, and sealed inside a concrete vault. Such as it is, with a “proper Christian burial.” The old cypress tree, limbed-up for the occasion, now shades that sacred patch of ground as my emissary.

When the duty was complete, I wanted so badly to stay there among her things and take comfort at her house, but eventually I felt the pressure to leave. Life was marching on out there in the world. There was work to be done and alphabets to learn, a house to be kept…

The winds carried me home, but when I arrived I found that the albatross was dead.

The seas, dead.

The wind, dead.

My Mama, dead.

Now the canvas of my sails sag pitiful and useless. The rigging slack, I feel adrift and aimless. I cannot pull myself together.

Can I be a mother to my own children while I am trapped in my role of orphaned daughter? Right now I am just a little girl who lost her mommy. My husband demands normalcy of me already; The funeral is over, get on with it, he says. I am alone and working without a net. I’d like nothing better than to curl up in fetal position under the shawl Mom crocheted for my birthday a mere fortnight ago, and drift in the oblivion of dreams.

How often have I asked some grieving soul to “let me know if there is anything I could do.” I said it because I genuinely wanted to help, but didn’t know what was needed. So many have offered, but what do you say? What do I need? Everything. Nothing. Leave me alone.

No, gather near and let me regale you with her stories. I’m awash in the rip-tides of emotion and need someone to throw the life-preserver.

…or better yet, let me drown. I’m in no right mind to decide. I need a mother to take care of me.

With my daughter by my mother's grave, a few days after the funeral. March, 2007
With my daughter by my mother’s grave, a few days after the funeral. March, 2007

The biggest help of all is acknowledgment that this SUCKS. It is a horrible thing to bury your mom, even if you had a difficult relationship–especially because we had a difficult relationship. It is a big, fat, hairy deal to plant in the ground the body of the woman who issued you into this world, and then just leave it there all alone…life is *not* normal.

Expect nothing of me. Routine feels…inappropriate. My kids play on, not caring one way or another that my connection to the only consistent home I’ve known for my entire life is slipping through my fingers. Though I am at such a low point, I am a stronger mother these last few weeks–savoring the sweetness of my children and enjoying the renewal of this spring. Ostara approaches.


Peace in the Interim

Journal Entry: April 25, 2007

My sleep was dreamless today. That is rare since my mother died, where she visits me. My dreams have been disturbing; I let out what I would not dare to express when awake. I finally stand up for myself, and I let rage pour out from me in hot, white waves. I know now that the heart-wood of my marriage is rotten, and I cannot ignore it anymore. Yet, I feel paralyzed within my identity as wife, bound by my love for who he was.

Since she died, I’ve thought long and hard about what I want from this life. Realizing that it is such a temporary layover, I’d like to make the most of it. I want to be self-aware and fully engaged in nature, community and time.  My mom’s passing away from his life gave me the opportunity to really examine what she taught me…not just what she said, but how she lived and the decisions she made.

She most certainly stood up for her right to be loved for exactly who she was, no apologies. She waited too long, I’m afraid, sticking it out in a negligent marriage for the sake of our security. She squandered her prime years being told in a thousand subtle ways that she was sub-par, embarrassing and foolish; that her love was optional. My sister and I contributed to that message, and it pains us to remember it.

Mom took this picture--she was constantly making us pose for pictures. We are probably 16 and 13 years old, and this is how we looked at her. Impatient, irritated, disrespectful... Now, I am so grateful she documented our lives so thoroughly, and ashamed of how many pictures we have where we were scowling at her.
Mom took this picture–constantly making us pose. We are probably 16 and 13 years old, and this is how we looked at her. Impatient, irritated, disrespectful… Now, I am grateful she documented our lives, and regret all these pictures that caught us scowling at her.

When I left home for college, she found the strength to pick herself up and follow her own star. That pain was excruciating for her. When she declared herself deserving of real respect, she also lost her children.

We were self-absorbed teenagers and we abandoned her the first chance we got, glad to be rid of her annoyances, and never to return. We’d grown up in a family where her eccentricities were systematically belittled by all of us in any attempt to tone her down, and enforce our own free-will against her religious fires. That was the family coping mechanism, I guess, but it wasn’t right.

To be fair, she was extremely difficult to live with because her christian convictions were so entrenched–this battle was her raison d’etre–to convert everyone within her reach–persistently, without quarter of any kind. She never rested in her attempts to indoctrinate us. This was how she loved us, by trying to “save” us from her fictional damnation.

That kind of “love” is abusive. This is spiritual violence. People of good conscience who are denied sovereignty will eventually revolt.

Lesson: If you can’t play nicely with others, no one will want to play with you.

Mom's wedding picture, after she'd found real happiness, and the infamous "wedding suit" in which she was buried.
Mom’s wedding portrait, after she’d found real happiness, and the infamous suit in which she was buried, and is wearing when her Spirit visits and can be seen.

Eventually, she chose to seek relationships with people who agreed with her, and she found her “tribe” without us. Fifteen years after my family went separate directions, she died and I saw how her new husband deeply mourned her. He’d truly loved all her oddities and quirks. He was proud of her, appreciated every loving little thing she did for him and everyone else she knew.

He shared her faith, politics, interests, supported her endeavors and humbly accepted the gifts of her love. It was inspiring to watch. Had mom lived on, I have no doubt that he would have worked the rest of his life to make her happy. He appreciated that she was sharing her life with him; he earned that gift in return.

That’s all I want in this life as well: acceptance, appreciation, to be needed and loved. Despite all my most petulant efforts, I have followed in her foot-steps. Now, I am the one squandering my prime years being told in a thousand not-so-subtle ways, that because of my witchery, my oddities and quirks, that I am sub-par, embarrassing and foolish–that my companionship is an option, disposable. And my daughter is watching.

Like Mom, I want to be in the company of people who understand the world as I do, to love someone who will protect and defend me, someone who would earn my place at their side and then mourn me when I die. I offer the same in return. That is how I want my kids to grow up seeing me: strong and self-respecting, cherished and honored.

My Mom’s heart broke when our family split. She gave up her husband of 25 years, her house, church and friends in South Carolina, custody of her children, financial security, and retreated to live with her parents in Kentucky again.  At 45 years old, she started over from scratch, so she could be loved and appreciated.

Can I be as brave as my mother? What must I leave behind in order to live honestly and be myself, true to my convictions? Can I surrender the same sacrifice to those transformative fires? I did dedicate to the element of fire this turning.

Visiting our family graves in June of 2007
Visiting our family graves in June of 2007

So much has happened to unfold this story over the last almost-ten years. As I re-post it throughout the Death Toll series, I am struck by how naive I was back then. This is why I encourage my students to journal about their process so that they can revisit it later and get that needed perspective so necessary to understanding how much they’ve grown.

Eventually, I did divorce, and leave my home and stay-at-home-mom gig behind. My mother’s life-insurance money helped to give me that freedom. Without the excuse of worrying over “what my mother would do if she found out,” I felt encouraged to change careers, and open my witchy shop, come out of the broom closet, and begin teaching the Craft. That would culminate in the founding of a coven, and my ordination into the priestess-hood–I found my own raison d’etre. Sometimes that crash into “rock bottom” is just the impact you need to bounce your trajectory towards happiness and fulfillment.

Thank you, Mom, for helping me regain my self-respect, and seek out the Tribe and partner who could love me, witchy-ness and all. Thank you for the many lessons you taught me through your strengths, teaching me about shining brightly and proudly, of helping people, and on how to be a devoted mother.

Thank you also for the lessons you taught me through your weaknesses, those alienating and abusive things I should NOT do if I’m to be an honorable witness of my inner truth. Through the grit of our relationship, I am more finely honed. I’ve found the benefits gained through our struggle.

Peace in the interim,

~Heron

November 15, 2016

When your mom dies, there is a previously imperceptible quality to the world that suddenly pales. You step into the gap she leaves, because you owe her that much; even when you thought she was ridiculous, and she embarrassed you, and you loathed everything she stood for. Even then, you feel lost without her. Our story began with Passing Away, Coming to Terms, Psychic Agent, and Visitation.  We continue with the day of her “proper Christian burial.”


 Memorial Breakfast

The morning of my mother’s funeral I awoke early, dressed quickly and slipped out of the kitchen door before dawn. I meant to find breakfast and a writing session in solitude. At IHOP, they gave me a booth in the back and I faced the misty, grey morning out the window, turning my back on the room.

Ordering was a ritual of remembrance; I had to have fried eggs over buttered toast like Mom always made. Then the cup of Lipton-brand, orange pekoe tea, served steaming hot with whole milk and sugar–that’s how Mom taught me to drink it one September night when I was five. We’d come in from a late summer harvest in my parent’s garden, chilled by the wet night. She served us from a tray in the living room. It was my first caffeine and I loved it; an initiation into a big-girlhood that I am reminded of with every cup. To this day, my children call this treat, “Grandma Sondra tea.”

Heron and her parents in their vegetable garden, 1979
My parents raised me among the garden rows, 1979

I was crying over my eggs and eventually my waitress Cheryl came over to check on me. I confided that I was there to write my mother’s eulogy and she let me tell her the whole story. Other people in the restaurant were talking about it, too. Her name pricked my ears from the low rumble of the conversation behind me, “Sondra Shearouse…so suddenly…aneurysm…tragedy…”  I tried to ignore them, spreading out all my notes and working for three hours to cobble together an outline that would trigger the stories and platitudes in the right order.

It rained some, and was predicted all that afternoon. We’d decided to conduct the graveside service outside under the cedar tree that guards the family plot, rain or shine; I’m no fair-weather witch. Still, I prayed in my witching way, cloud-busting, calling on the old gods, calling her god, just for good measure, that we be granted some sunlight over her grave, for just that hour. I felt so spiritually alone…only my husband and sister knew I was newly-initiated, and everyone else must have assumed I was just a prodigal Christian.

I called my friend Thalia in Ohio. She’s a priestess who’d taught me much, and we were raised in similar churches. She’d lost her mother too young and could talk me through this dark moment. When the call ended, I looked up to see that the clouds had parted, and sunshine poured in from a blue morning sky.

With that affirmation, I tipped Cheryl lavishly and left to get ready for the day.

Skip Girls Solomon
L-R: Step-Dad Skip, Heron, my sister Heather Anne, our Dad Solomon at the graveside service of our Mother, 2007.

Funeral Service

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007, at high noon, The Concord Christian Center opened their doors for my mother’s funeral service. Everything had been moved to the church sanctuary and it was just as lovely as the night before.

Her church has a wide, semi-circular stage in the contemporary style with a pulpit in the middle, directly behind her open casket. Abundant flowers surrounded the stage and floor below. Most of the family came for this visitation as well, but I slipped away to Mom’s Sunday-school classroom so that I could transfer my outline to note cards and gather my nerves. It was nice to be surrounded by her handwriting, videos, and pictures.

I sat at her moon-shaped teacher’s table in a tiny chair and wrote quickly. I was in a cold sweat and ringing with stage fright. Amazingly, I had exactly the number of note cards with me that I needed. I’d even thought of an opening bit of humor that *hopefully* would keep me from blubbering.

At 2:00, the funeral director gave us a final moment to say goodbye, then he discretely removed her jewelry, tucked the satin liner around her and closed the lid, sealing it with a hand crank.

The sanctuary chairs were divided into sections. The pallbearers processed together to one of the front rows. Frances and my mom’s side of the family sat with me on the front row of the next section and Skip and his family in another. For the first time I noticed the divide across the aisle and it occurred to me that we were no longer bound by their marriage–with death they did part.

My Grandmother’s Lutheran Pastor opened the service. His church was founded by my German ancestors a hundred years ago, and Mom was raised there, so he was invited to co-officiate. He’d looked back through the archives to discover the verse she chose to recite at her confirmation. It was very fitting. Then we all sang “Amazing Grace” and “What a Friend we Have in Jesus,” because she preferred the old hymns.

CC0 Public Domain ~ Pixabay

Witch Risks Lightning Strike

Then it was my turn. I assure you that this irony was not lost on me…of my being a Witch, and delivering a message from a Christian pulpit, at my loudly fundamentalist mother’s church. I knew full well that if the majority of the people in that room knew who was about to address them, they would have run me out on a rail. But *I* know that to Spirit we are all sacred beings, and what they didn’t know about me, wouldn’t hurt them. But my sister knows, so she joked about lightning striking me dead when I stepped over the church threshold. I’m fairly certain that I’m in the good graces of lightning-wielding Gods like Zeus and Thor, so I decided to risk it. 🙂

Joking aside, by that point I could have run onto the stage. Everything I’d been prodded to accomplish since I’d connected with my mother’s spirit had been in preparation of that moment and I was anxious to be done with it. However, when I arrived at that clear, acrylic pulpit I choked up as I expected I would. Though I barely croaked out my name, it got far easier with the flow of the cards. I extemporized just as the voice in my head had spoken them to me over the previous four days. I got laughs in the right places and weighted silence in the right places, too. I made my points and even garnered a few “Amens.” (1)

Next, her brother-in-law recounted the story of the 49 crocuses that I told in Coming to Terms, and friends in the church came up to speak of her kindness to their children. Mom’s friend sang the Lord’s Prayer, and another dramatically returned to Skip two enormous Tupperware containers in which she’d brought soup to his sick dad recently. He showed us all the lovely crocheted hat and scarf she’d made for his mom. Then he told a tale of a time Mom and Skip locked their keys in the car while boating at Kentucky Lake. The tow-truck driver got lost and they sat there for hours, so Mom spent that time picking up the litter from the banks of the lake and then befriending a lonely soul, eventually leading him through a prayer of Christian salvation.

Photo by Heron
Pall Bearers carry her to her grave. Photo by Heron

That was how mom lived; she walked her talk without fear. She fed people generously, clothed them with her own hands, helped anyone who needed help, and was a good steward of her patch of the World, just like Jesus. My fanatical, opinionated, over-bearing mother was consistently a shining example of her ideals, no matter the consequences.

Despite the fact that she and I differed vastly on every single point of politics, religion, and social ideology, for the first time in my adult life, I could see that she was teaching a lesson about the importance of “letting your little light shine” so that all could see it…of living outside of “the closet,” OUT-LOUD and PROUD. It took 33 years, but in that church I was finally proud to be her daughter.

Her Pastor preached the gospel in full-fervor, just the way she liked it, all the way to inviting the congregation to pray their own prayer of salvation. He was right that Mom would have wanted that at her funeral. She’d preached it every day of her life, so why stop with her death? This was her moment! We left the church singing “I’ll Fly Away” and clapping. I could feel her with us and she was pleased.

l’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away!
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away! (3)

A “Proper Christian Burial”

I felt giddy…I appreciated the familiar cadence of the Christian service, because I’d suffered through thousands of them as a child right there next to her. We’d sang these songs together countless times. My third-eye headache was completely gone, and the ball of anxiety in my guts finally spent.

I rode with my little family in the long procession of cars through town, and felt relief when we got to the cemetery. I grabbed my camera, and just as Mom would have, snapped pictures of the casket being carried from the hearse by all the young men of our family. Both ministers spoke briefly again: a passage of scripture, a prayer, and we all sang the chorus of “Will the Circle be unbroken” a few times through.

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, lord, in the sky. (2)

boy holds rose and sits on a gravestone.
My 2.5 year old son sitting on a gravestone in the cemetery during his grandmother’s funeral. Photo by Heron

As it has been in all the protestant funerals I’ve attended, it fizzled out without any sense of ritual closure. So, we all milled around, privately chatting, children playing among the headstones, while the workman on the digging equipment stayed a respectful distance away…waiting. Though I’d said I would stay to pitch my handful of dirt into the grave, I eventually succumbed to the pressure to leave with the family. There was a potluck to be enjoyed and I was hungry for the first time in days.

My duty was discharged, having seen to it that she was given the “proper Christian Burial” that was so important to her. As we pulled out of the cemetery, I could see through the fence to where a mechanical wench was lowering her concrete sarcophagus into the ground.

And with that, it was over.


Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see. (4)

Because of the fundamentalist, radically conservative, disapproving ways of my mother toward all other faiths and lifestyles, I was lost to her. When she died, I felt wretched, but through the Divine Love of Spirit she found me again. Because of her death, we were both finally able to understand the all-inclusive grace of that Spirit, and I came to appreciate the power and fulfillment we gain through living our convictions honestly and openly. We were blind, but now we see.

I Love you, Mama.
Peace in the interim,
~Heron Michelle

The conclusion of this story may be found at Death Toll: Peace in the Interim.

Engraved plackard on my mother's sarcophagus.
Photo by Heron

1.) There is no recording, or transcript of that Eulogy as far as I know. When I got home and originally wrote out these stories, I didn’t have the heart to recount it–much like a spell one releases to the fires, then never speak of again.

2.) Will the Circle be Unbroken, Written by: A.P. CARTER, Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC,
3. I’ll Fly away, Written by: DAVIS, REV. GARY /I’ll Fly Away lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
4.) Amazing Grace, Songwriters: O’HAGAN, EUGENE / O’HAGAN, MARTIN / DELARGY, DAVID / HEDGES, MIKE / SALLY, HERBERT / ISAAK, SALLI / TRADITIONAL, Amazing Grace lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Peermusic Publishing, DOWNTOWN MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC

November 1, 2016

It is the season of Samhain and I am honoring my ancestors of blood, by remembering them through song and story. I began with the telling of my mother’s sudden cerebral hemorrhage in Death Toll: Passing Away, and continued the story with Death Toll: Coming to Terms.


Psychic Agent

Mom lie in life support limbo for a total of three days. She was visited by so many mourning friends and family. They gathered around her bedside and prayed, cried and tried to wrap their heads around what was happening. One of my mom’s church friends sang the Lord’s Prayer for them. Eventually, the moment of parting came. Everyone said their goodbyes and took one last picture, then at 4:00 Sunday afternoon, she was taken for many long hours of surgery for the organ donation harvest.

At that same time, my little family set out on the long road from Greenville, North Carolina, to Paducah, Kentucky. My husband drove all night so that the kids and I could sleep, but whenever I closed my eyes she was there. Her voice rang through my head…there was a sudden fire burning so insistently with the eulogy I just knew I had to offer. But how could I?

I was wracked with guilt for all the ways in which I simply could not stand my mother; all the times I was horrified and embarrassed to be her daughter; all the intolerant things I’d ever said to her, and about her. But the Eulogy just kept on pushing forward, speaking itself to me aloud. Stories I hadn’t thought of in years popped into my mind. Themes formed.

She was always standing just over my shoulder, directing my attention to aspects of her perspective I’d never before considered; it was like a repeating litany, of the “moral” of all her stories, but far beyond the constant, harping sermons I was sick to death of hearing, all the exemplary lessons she’d taught by example coalesced into a filmstrip projected on the screen of my mind. See? See? This was who I was….this was my Christian witness…remember…remember that time when…

Heron and Heather Anne, Graveside. March 2007
Heron and Heather Anne, Graveside. March 2007

We arrived at my Grandmother’s house before dawn Monday morning.  We slipped into the guest rooms I’ve loved since I was 2 years old, these same beds, these same quilts I’d long ago shared with my own mother and father, now warmed my babies, as we snuggled them in between us for what rest could be had before the parade of duty began.

Seeing my sister, Heather Anne, was a tearful and cheerful relief. She’d arrived on Saturday and taken “hospital duty,” and our deal was that I would then take “funeral-planning” duty when I could arrive.  That morning we accompanied our Step-Father, Skip, down to the funeral home and made arrangements.  That week before she died, she practically laid a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow with all her burial preferences.  In our very last conversation just 3 days previous, she went into critical detail about what she did and did NOT like about the funeral she’d attended the day before. She said outright that she thought it was at the best funeral home in town. So, that’s where we started.

That’s when the headaches began.  I don’t usually have headaches, but from the moment we got to the funeral home, they lay on the surface of my forehead in a heart-shaped patch of pain. My skin was tender to the touch and extra-strength Tylenol could only drive it away for a few hours before it began to pound again. It felt like I was being stabbed from the inside out, and I believe this was in part due to the Spiritual connection through which she captivated me. She’d grabbed hold of me by the third-eye chakra and was dragging me around.

Arrangements

One good thing about having an opinionated, out-spoken mother, is that everyone was aware of exactly how she felt about…well, just about anything that crossed her mind. So, planning her funeral was pretty easy. We were all in agreement, and worked quickly. The obituary details were given, and the no-extra-frills package selected. We all agreed upon an elegant casket of rosy burnished gold with feminine crosses embossed at the corners. The service times were set: visitation on Tuesday at the funeral home, services at her church on Wednesday with graveside burial to follow.

Casket and flowers for my mother's funeral.
Photo by Heron Michelle

We then visited the cemetery to arrange the ground opening.  Another breadcrumb she laid down that week was in a conversation with my Grandmother about her desire to be buried in the family plot in Paducah, despite her assumption that her husband would eventually like to be buried in Florida with his own family. Behind where her father already lay at the family gravestone and under a large cypress tree, was a plot that was already hers, paid for by my Grandad decades before.

Afterward, Heather Anne and I went to the florist to order the casket flowers. I had this fierce vision of large, sprawling, white tiger mums. It was the one and only flower that came to mind when I thought of her and it did not seem like an option. We designed an arrangement all in whites and creams with touches of pink: tiger mums, snapdragons, pale pink roses and tiny little clusters of deep pink blossoms. I remembered so clearly a day in summer when I was 6 or 7 when we’d planted snapdragons together.

On the way home, we picked up a feast-worth of “soul-food therapy” of fried chicken and fixin’s. The house was full of mourners, but the best thing about good, western Kentucky folks, is that they show up with with casseroles, roasts and pies, and all manner of delicious, southern condolences, so we feasted together.

Possession?

Mom’s pastor and his wife were there to talk about the funeral service. That is when this weird, thing happened for the first time in my witching experience. I think mom took over and used me as her channel. Suddenly, I found myself standing in front of the pastor, but as if I was looking over my own shoulder. I heard myself from a muffled distance asking him to work me into the funeral to give her eulogy, and which old hymns to sing, and who should be called to speak. As soon as I offered to do the eulogy a ball of tension and panic formed in my gut. What had I just done? Then she let me go.

Tiger Mums in the bridesmaids bouquets at my Mother's wedding, 1966
Tiger Mums in the bridesmaids bouquets at my Mother’s wedding, 1966

That night we had a long to-do list given to us by the funeral home, and we got to work, with the help of Skip, our Aunts and cousins. We found the wedding suit that everyone seemed to know that she intended to be buried in, despite the fact that there was no way she could still fit into the tiny thing. (Those Funeral home people do work wonders.)  We found the gold necklace of her name in Arabic my dad bought her in Saudi Arabia, the cross she always wore. We found the right lipstick and the only perfume she’d ever wear: Beautiful. That night we poured through 60 years of photo albums to find the perfect sixteen pictures to be used in the slide show playing at the visitation.

We also put together a nice memory board with pictures of mom’s adventures and accomplishments. It was so nice to be reminded of all that she had been and know that it was impossible to narrow it down. Mom’s running commentary through my mind, bits and notes for the eulogy rising to my notice… remember, remember…

The magickal moment of confirmation came late in the evening when we were absolutely exhausted. While searching through the wedding album of her marriage to our dad in 1966, I consciously noticed for the first time in my life, that the flowers in her bridesmaid’s bouquets had been large, sprawling, white tiger mums. Thanks for the tip, Mom. Message received!


Over the coming days, we had much to prepare as we readied the funeral services, and met with her mourners, but that is a story for next time.

Until then, consider setting up an ancestor altar as part of your Samhain preparations, with pictures of your beloved dead, candles, and keepsakes of theirs, like my mom’s bible. Yes, my mother’s bible is on my Witchy ancestor altar, and I see no conflict with that. I also give offerings of the material comforts they enjoyed most in life; consider what flowers, foods, drinks, or indulgences they most enjoyed…but don’t forget about their colognes and perfumes, too. To draw my mother’s spirit close, and her memory instantly to mind, I most enjoy offering a spritz of her favorite perfume, Beautiful, over the altar. I still have that last bottle that I took from her dressing table after the funeral, and each drop is a treasured possession that I do not share frivolously. That fragrance IS my mother’s memory, rendered into olfactory love.

Until next time, Samhain blessings,
~Heron

October 28, 2016

When I was 33 years old, and a freshly-minted, deeply-closeted Witch, my evangelical mother died suddenly. We began our story with Death Toll: Passing Away.


Coming to Terms

“Honey, she’s brain-dead. This is it.”

My Aunt Joyce’s words still ring in my memory. My mom is brain dead. Dead. The outer world sort of snaps, twists and shrivels in upon itself so that the only things left are you, the phone, and your connection between left dangling. So this is what is was like to get “the phone call.”

Mom and Skip with my baby daughter in front of her crocus beds, 2002.
Mom and Skip with my baby daughter in front of her crocus beds, 2002.

I went hysterical. “Oh no…” I sobbed. My husband held me while I wept. I was reeling. So many conflicting images, thoughts, and repercussions flooded my mind.

She’s not been left a vegetable; so glad I’d called that day; Nate’s too young to remember her; us standing in her garden when I was five; mugs of sweet, hot Lipton tea on cold mornings.

There was no trauma, no suffering. She died alone.

I’ll not get my afghan now, no birthday visits, no more arguments about religion or politics, or conspiracy theories, or health-food; no more vegetable-beef soup dinners in her sun room. No more of her delicious food…

There will be no need for cancer treatment, no nursing home, no expenses, no decline, no dependence on me.

No Mama…my biggest fan, my plan B, my safety net, the one who was always there for me, even when I neglected her, was gone.

My husband suggested I *do* something…you know, spiritual…to help me process things, which was sweet considering he is an atheist with no love at all for my witchery. I carved into a white pillar candle her name, hearts, flowers, crosses, and all my intentions. We anointed it with rosemary oil, lit it and I spoke to her, praying that she’d cross over quickly, gently and go with our love. I reached out with my spirit to connect to hers, following that dangling cord, and seeking to plug it back in–not to her body, but to her Spirit in that limbo that must exist between brain-dead, and physically dead.

CC0 Public Domain - Pixabay
CC0 Public Domain – Pixabay

A sense of peace swept over me like a big hug. My panic shifted into acceptance and I just knew that Mom was OK. She was still there; I could feel her, peaceful, light, and seeking me out as well. I started to think about how wonderful it was to check out so painlessly. I thought of all she would never have to endure as well as the joys she’d miss. I was bawling like a baby, but I felt comforted and my despair was replaced by a burning sense of what must be done. My fiery Sagittarian Mom, always the hostess with the mostess in life, needed me to finish things off right for her. We had a funeral to plan, and by God, she wanted a nice one! Its like she took hold of me by the third eye and delivered my marching orders: go take care of her final business.

Forty-Nine Crocuses

I called my sister, Heather Anne, in Florida to break the news. My feisty Leo sister was so shocked, reeling and angry that I was just accepting her death; she cursed me a blue streak, and hung up on me. I didn’t take it personally; we each grieve in our own way. By the time I called her back, she already had a flight booked and was able to arrive there at 11:00 the next day on the same flight as Skip.

Then, I called my Dad and Step-Mom in Knoxville to tell them. That was even harder. He was as taken aback as I was, and just as distraught –she was younger than him by a few months. They’d been childhood friends, high school sweethearts, married at 19 and for 25 years before divorcing. Back in January, they’d all gathered together at Mom and Skip’s house for a family meal, and so had developed a comfortable relationship between them in recent years.

Saturday morning at the hospital, the neurosurgeon ran many tests to check for brain function and found that there was none. They gave her 0% chance of recovery with 100% brain damage. The ventilator was the only thing keeping her breathing. An aneurysm had ruptured deep inside her brain, flooding the brain cavity, and damaging the tissue completely within a matter of minutes. She’d gone from this life a blink. She always said that she was going to go in “the rapture” and in a way, she was right. That made me strangely happy.

When Skip arrived he had many hard decisions to make. Mom was declared dead by two physicians at 12:10 pm, March 10th, 2007. She was an organ donor, having discussed it at length in the past and truly believing it was the best thing, and she wouldn’t need them in heaven. The organ donation people were gentle and informative, describing how her body could help up to fifty people. She was in such great health, and had medical attention so quickly, that they would be able to harvest everything on the list.

purple crocuses
CC0 Public Domain – Pixabay

But Skip hadn’t slept in twenty four hours, and had much to come to terms with, so he asked for the night to think on it, and be able to make a clear decision in the morning. He went home and prayed fervently for a sign that cutting off life support, and giving up hope for a miracle, was the right thing to do. When he awoke at dawn, he came out to find that Mom’s crocuses had bloomed in the front flowerbed overnight. My mother was an avid gardener, and her flower beds were her art-form. Skip didn’t know why he chose to do this, but he took the time to count that there were forty-nine deep purple blossoms.

He gets back to the hospital and spends some time at mom’s bedside with the Doctors and family. When the organ donation people come back, they explained that Mom’s heart had some damage after all and they wouldn’t be able to use the whole heart, but the valves were usable. They told him that she could potentially help forty-nine people with the body she’d left behind. Skip had his answer.


 

Little miracles, whispers and nudges, and out-right possessions by my mom’s Spirit, would continue to guide us as we said our goodbyes and planned her funeral, but that is a story for next time. Stay tuned!

Until then, as part of your Samhain preparations, I encourage you to go to your altars in the quiet darkness, and seek out a connection with some lost loved one. Follow that cord of memory and affection that will connect your hearts throughout all time and space. Light a candle prepared just for them, offer a food or drink they used to enjoy, and speak with them out loud. Ask to be given some small, tangible sign of their continued guidance and protection of you, and their presence in Spirit over the coming days. Ask that their message be gentle, clear and understandable, but that when it happens, it will ring within your consciousness so surely, that you will truly know that Love and Spirit transcend the grave. Magick and miracles are everywhere, for those who have the eyes to see.

When it happens, you’ll know. May it bring you peace.

Until next time,
~Heron

To continuing reading the next part of the story: Death Toll: Psychic Agent.

October 27, 2015

Samhain draws closer and the witching season is in full, cackling flight. There are full moons to howl, parties to prowl, pumpkins to carve, costumes to sew, sabbats to dance, festivals to vend and initiations to attend–and that is just the next two weeks.  There will be shenanigans!  But that is only the mirthful half of the the magick that is afoot. There is much reverence on our minds as well.

For our rites, we’ve been asked by the priestesses in charge to prepare an offering in veneration of death–a poem, a song, anything we feel is appropriate. We also will honor our beloved family members who’ve died, and so my mother haunts my thoughts again as she always does this time of year. Right on cue, my father sends me this old photo of her. It is one I’ve never seen before and far more artistic than I’m used to. This is how the messages work between us these days. With this one, I hear her reminding me that she was once young and beautiful, fashionable and adorable. At this time in her life, she was a reasonable, intelligent, Lutheran woman, newly married.

Black and white photograph of a young woman
Heron’s mother, Sondra, at 20 years old / Photo courtesy of Heron Michelle

By the time she was 59 years old, she’d become more of the holy-rolling, bible-thumping, fundamentalist variety of evangelical Christian and basically the polar opposite from my liberal, feminist, witchy self.  Needless to say, I didn’t talk about those things with my mother because I loved her, and I was too chicken to drop the “W” bomb.  Even though she drove me absolutely bonkers, I craved her acceptance. Her love was unconditional, but the peace between us was not.

When she passed through the veil suddenly and unexpectedly in 2007, I rushed home to Kentucky to help with her funeral.¹  It was important to me, as a newly initiated Witch and aspiring priestess, that I give my extremely religious mother the ritual send-off that she wanted. That was how I needed to love her at that moment, by respecting her wishes and who she was as a person. Not because she would have done the same for me, but because it is how I would want to be treated. I know this because I once mentioned that I wanted to be cremated when I died, and she recoiled in horror. She told me in no uncertain terms that if there was an ounce of life left in her body, she would use it to make sure I had a “proper” christian burial, whether I liked it or not. I think the exact quote was, “You’ll be dead so there will be nothing you can do to stop me.”

Uh huh. She could be a special sort of boundary-violating jerk, she carried her soapbox with her everywhere she went, and the message was clear: there was only one right way, her way.  As you can imagine, we had a very difficult relationship, but because she was so entrenched and vocal about her opinions–on everything, without ceasing–planning her funeral was a no-brainer.

Now, I expected her spirit to rush gleefully into the light, because she fully believed that the arms of Jesus and all her loved ones awaited her on the other side of death. She was well prepared to meet her maker and looking forward to her one-way ticket to heaven so that she could spend eternity singing god’s praises in her own private mansion on a street paved with gold. Preparing for the afterlife was just about all I remember her talking about, well, that and her very fine cooking…and the grandbabies…and whatever Pat Robertson just said.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but she was so convinced that she would skip the whole death thing and be taken directly “in the second coming of Christ” that the words “in case of rapture”  actually appear in her last will and testament.  Guess who she named as executor of her estate when the four horsemen of the apocalypse came to town?  Yup. Me! Because we all knew I’d be left behind.  That shouldn’t be funny, but I’m kinda proud of that particular milestone between us. **For the record, in the unlikely event that it all goes down like it says in the book of revelations, I will admit my error and accept those consequences with all due contrition. <snicker>**

Ironically, after her sudden death she did NOT go into the light, she stuck around, and basically dragged me around by the third-eye chakra from the moment they cut life support, to the moment they lowered her into the grave–and then haunted me for another 4 years (that is a story for another day.) She kept me awake for days with a constant stream of memories, visions, and a rush of explanations about how she wanted to be remembered. There was a sense of urgent apology in there, too.  Now that she was in Spirit, there could be no secrets between us.

Like a woman possessed I heard myself, as if from a distance, telling her minister that I would deliver the eulogy, and exactly which hymns were to be sung during the service. Perhaps I was just suffering from grief-induced insanity, but there were things that had to be said, and I was the one that had to say them, apparently.  I did manage to deliver the eulogy without bawling, and without being struck down by lightening in the pulpit of her church, as my sister was just SURE would happen. Never fear, I’m pretty tight with several gods of lightening, so I had that part covered. (This story can be found in detail in my Death Toll Series)

Sondra's Casket / Heron Michelle
Sondra’s Casket / Heron Michelle

Then we all followed her to the graveside, and gathered around her coffin we sang the chorus several times to the christian hymn, “Will the Circle be Unbroken;” a final benediction to close the service before the workmen came to close the grave. It worked well enough because most all her mourners knew the tune and lyrics already.

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

The ritualist in me saw it as the power raising and release to send her spirit into the beyond with our wishes for reunion. Although the original lyrics don’t do much for me, seeing as I’m pagan, the familiar tune gave me some comfort when I needed it most.  Anyway, I’m confident that it was what she wanted, and that was the important thing at the time.

That got me thinking that I really wouldn’t know what songs to sing at a pagan funeral if I had to officiate one, and what instructions would *I* leave for my loved ones beyond, “cremate me.”  That is both a drawback and a benefit when you leave behind the religion or culture of your upbringing; you may not have traditional ways to fall back on, but you DO have the opportunity to create something new that speaks to your own, personal truths.

What I can tell you from my intimate experience with funeral planning, is that their purpose must be two-fold: To honor the dearly departed in accordance to their spiritual beliefs, and most importantly, to give the mourners a way to process their emotions while fully releasing their loved one to the Next Big Thing.

So for my Samhain work, I’ve been thinking about my own passing, and also what rituals may have better helped me to release my own mother. I guess I’m directing this wish to my children, though I hope they are sage and crone when I pass on.

light beams through a winter forest

My Wish Upon Dying

By Fire, surrender what remains of my dense matter so that it may be transformed into light and warmth. I have this romantic wish that an open funeral pyre was legal, and it would be just like Luke Skywalker cremating Darth Vader, but alas…I’m not sure modern people could handle ye olde barbecue method.  So, you can use your imaginations while the crematorium takes care of the grisly bits. Perhaps in circle you can burn my wand and ritual robes in the bonfire.

By Water, take some ashes to where natural water flows. Find where the great blue herons like to hang out, then stand in the liminal, one foot on land and the other in the water, and allow the emotional connections we held to flow. Dare to let yourself weep, laugh, sing without shame…let the cup run over as long as you need…then accept that nothing ever truly ends.

By Air, take some ashes to a high windy place where the view of the horizon is long and beautiful to the East, think on the memories we shared, the ideals I lived, what dreams I chased and caught. Read some poem of mine, or sing my pagan song Unbroken Circle …let it ring out on the breath one more time.

By Earth, scatter what ashes are left on the roots of a big, gnarly tree in some wild forest that you like. With just your finger, draw my name in the dirt to announce my entry there, but let it fade away with the wind and rain. Make no permanent marker on the earth, because I will not remain. I have been many people, and there are many yet to come.  This body was merely a temporary lay over, I was just a sojourner here, and I do not intend to linger long in any one place.

Samhain Blessings,
~Heron

1. As a process of mourning, I blogged the story of her Passing Away, the funeral and the wonders that unfolded through the organ donation process, and my subsequent revelations as she worked with me through Spirit. (back)

2. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is a popular Christian hymn written in 1907 by Ada R. Habershon with music by Charles H. Gabriel. The song is often recorded unattributed and, because of its age, has lapsed into the public domain. en.wikipedia.org. Text under CC-BY-SA license. Composers: Ada R. Habershon, Charles H. Gabriel. (back)


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May 13, 2019

If Witchcraft can change ONE THING about the general world view, I would choose this: There is no such thing as the “Supernatural.” Nothing, no matter how weird it seems to you, is “Paranormal.” Witchcraft defies the very foundations of those words. Wait…check that…I’ll take it a step further and suggest that those words are an affront to witchery, well…pagan forms of witchery, anyway. I believe that responsible Witchcraft must defy the very idea of the Supernatural and Paranormal if we have a hope of salvation from the environmental destruction humans are causing. Let me explain what I mean by that…

Witchcraft must defy the supernatural and paranormal if we are to save our environment from destruction.
CC0-Creative Commons – Pixabay

As any witch will tell you, words have power. Not just what you think a word means, but what it actually means deep down in its roots, its etymology holds occult power. Words are keys to creative control in the cosmos because they unlock thoughts, and thoughts create reality. It isn’t just my magickal religion that thinks so, either. In Hinduism, the sound “Om” was the prime vibration that was the “cause of the Universe, essence of life, Brahman, Atman, and Self-knowledge” source. “In the beginning there was the word, and the word was God.” Genesis 1:1 The Hebrew alphabet is believed to literally create the cosmos. Allegedly, all YVHV had to do was speak “let there be light,” and BOOM there it was.

Witches know we have to speak our realities into manifestation with words of power: chants, incantations, and affirmations all day. We’ll throw down just the right rhyming couplet* to get the best parking spaces – speak it, and it shall appear. So mote that be! The witch takes it a step further and knows rambling randomly isn’t nearly specific enough; you have to spell it and pronounce it correctly, too. Even fictional witches know this.”Wingardium LeviOOHHsah. NOT LevioSAHH.”**

On the stupidity of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” Evan Moffic, a scholar of the Torah wisely states: “Words can and do hurt us. Words can trivialize, words can insult, words can stereotype. Words can, even when we do not intend them to do so, convey dangerous messages.” source I think these words Paranormal and Supernatural do all those harms: to trivialize, to stereotype,  and to convey a dangerous message about our world: that planet earth is separate from Divinity, and material things (including human bodies) are somehow profane. These dangerous words wrongly suggest that Spirit is outside of nature; Spirit is abnormal; protection and respect of nature and Her inhabitants is optional. Witches need to stop feeding this idea with our own power of language.

Defining Paranormal and Supernatural

Paranormal: adjective

  • Denoting events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. Etymology: para- ‎(“above, beyond; abnormal”) +‎ normal.



Supernatural: adjective

Panentheism: noun
A belief system which posits that divinity interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly beyond it. That the divine is both immanent within nature, AND has a transcendent consciousness. Everything in the cosmos is interconnected at a fundamental level, and is part of universal consciousness.
Etymology: meaning “all-in-God”, from the Ancient Greek πᾶν pân (“all”), ἐν en (“in”) and Θεός Theós (“God”)

I realize that I harp on and on about my panentheist form of Witchcraft. I realize that this topic in witchcraft isn’t trending right now, but I keep poking this dragon in the hopes that it will wake up and set a few fires. I firmly believe that a shift in human thinking which understands that we are interconnected, divine and RESPONSIBLE for the preservation and reverence of our natural environment is the only hope of “salvation” from the oncoming DOOM of global climate change that we are ALL facing.

Embed from Getty Images

This is the apocalypse, folks. The veil of illusion pulls back and we can see the truth all around us. Spirit is up in our faces screaming that we wake up and smell the heaping garbage. What is passing as “natural” should terrify you way more than any spoopy “paranormal” activity.

So, I’ll say again once more for the kids in the back: Witchcraft can and must defy the very notion of the Supernatural and Paranormal. We need to introduce a different viewpoint about Spirit, with new words that speak to our interconnection. If humans have a hope of salvation from the environmental destruction WE are causing, we have to fundamentally shift how we think about ourselves and our relationship with a divine planet. Our non-witching neighbors must also rediscover that we are all of the earth, and that earth *is* Divine – or at least worthy of our protection. If ever there was a witching gospel that could save the world, that would be it.

Let’s all choose our words carefully, and then speak a new reality. Moreover, let’s use this power to create real changes through social and political activism, by voting with our dollars, and through substantial participation in policy-making through the US election process. We have got to excise these Evangelical Christian yahoos from office before their theocratic policies kill us all.

What is a policy if not carefully constructed words enacted to bring about change in accordance with Will? Sounds like magick to me. What is your will?

Spread the “Word,”

~Heron


* Hail Asphaltia Full of Grace, Help me find a Parking Place! (Goddess of parking lots clearly favors her devotees who know these magick words.)

**Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by JK Rowling.

December 9, 2018

Yule is the Witch’s Sabbat of Winter Solstice. We celebrate the beginning of winter when the sun enters Capricorn, Dec 20-22, depending on the year. To find the exact time and date of this auspicious moment, I always consult archaeoastronomy.com. The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, because all of American society is participating in our pagan customs of decking the halls with wreaths, glittering evergreen trees, and illuminating the dark night with candles and lights.

Regardless of our religious persuasion, we can all share cheer with our neighbors through treats, and acts of benevolence. The best part of this season is the sense of wonder we can all get into. All together, we eagerly await the magical visit of our favorite jolly old elf, all for the joy this uniquely American mythology brings us; I just love that.

I’ve assembled below an index of my favorite Yuletide rituals, meditations, crafts, recipes, and sabbat games. Just click on the previews to explore the collection of articles further.

As you celebrate this season, try not to get lost in the commercialism and mad-rush of expectation. We can choose how and when we honor the darkness, and conjure a new light of hope. Nurture yourselves, too. Don’t forget to rest, and spend as much fireside time with a mug of hot cocoa and blissful silence, if that is what you need. Whatever brings you peace and happiness – do that thing.

May your holiday’s be merry and bright,

~Heron

Heron’s Yule tree Star

Magickal Crafts and Gift Exchange Games

I love to make hand-crafted magickal gifts for my coven mates around Yule-time. We have a tradition of playing a game of Dirty Santa at our Sabbat that is always a riot.

Dirty Santa Sabbat Game

The rules of the Dirty Santa game are that each attendee brings a wrapped gift with a value no more than $15. We aim to make these witchy gifts that our covenmates would potentially fight over. They can be hand-made, hand-me-down, nature found, or store bought. Hand-blended incense for various intentions, or prepared candles are always a hit. Anointing Oils, potions, and rare crystals never go wrong. Perhaps the passing down of a Deity statue you’ve decommissioned, or some raw material you’ve sustainably collected like an animal pelt, or bone. This year I prepared hurricane water for justice magick, that I could doll up in a witchy glass bottle.

Once we have a heap of gifts assembled in the middle of our circle of friends, we each draw a number – one for each player – so there will be the same number as there are gifts. For the sake of instructions, let’s say there are 13 players.

Number 1 gets to choose the first gift, which they open in front of everyone and we oooo and ahhhh over whatever magickal wonders lie within. But Number 1 doesn’t yet get to “keep” the gift yet, it must be left plainly visible.

Number 2 then chooses a gift, unwraps, ooos and ahhs, and then they can either keep what they are holding, or trade it for whatever Number 1 is holding.

It goes on from there, Numbers 3 through 13 have the choice to keep their own gift, or anything already open. EXCEPT a single gift can only change hands 3 times. If you’re the third person to hold the gift, you are safe.

Number 13 has the happy choice of everything else in the room, and once they’ve chosen, you’re stuck with whatever you’re holding. It can get pretty hilarious, so long as everyone goes into the game with the right attitude, and doesn’t take it too seriously.

The Yule candle craft linked below is what I took to last year’s Dirty Santa game!

Crafting a Yule Candle from Last Year’s Calendar Images

Yule Rituals and Meditations

A great crafty addition to any Winter Solstice celebration is a Yule Log. In this ritual, I’ve included recipes for a Yuletide incense blend and anointing oil that would also make a nice gift for the witches in your life.

Yule Log Ritual for Winter Solstice Magick

During the Dark season of Winter, this candlelight yule ritual with a meditation of Hope and Peace, is a great way to maintain balance during a challenging time of year.

Candlelight Yule Ritual: A Meditation of Hope and Peace

Recipes for Yule Parties and Sabbat Feasts

The Winter Solstice season is a great time to share festive treats at “Christmas” parties and Sabbat celebrations. Here are a few of my most delicious appetizer recipes. The Wassail recipe is also a potion to rekindle the powers of the fiery sun within us. It’ll heat you right up!

Here We Come A-Wassail-ing: a Yuletide Drink of Good Cheer

Witchin’ in the Kitchen: Sun-dried Tomato, Pesto, and Cream Cheese Torta

Witchin’ in the Kitchen: Yule Wreath Veggie Appetizer

 

Into the Darkness of Winter: What’s next?

But after the parties are over, and the tacky holiday sweater is stored away until next year, what next? The Wheel of the Year turns on, the meaning of the winter season is one of rest, reflection and turning our eyes toward the future of our Great Work.

The Great Work, Holding the Space after Yule

 

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