A Wish Upon Dying, Part 1

[Originally posted on my column, Witch on Fire, on the Agora blog at Patheos, Pagan channel.]

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, my lovelies!  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.”

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Unbroken Circle

Broadway, Danny, Heritages Fine Art heritagesart.com The Circle Unbroken – Danny Broadway. $350.00

Today I offer you the lyrics to a song I wrote many moons ago. This is my idea of a pagan funeral song, speaking of how I would like my remains to be given to the 4 elements. Also, how I felt after my mother died, seeing that she lived on through me, and my daughter. We sang the christian hymn version at my Mother’s funeral. You guys can sing this version at mine. 🙂

Sung to the tune of “Will the Circle be Unbroken”

We were gathered in a meadow
on a cold and mournful day
There to watch those flames a burning,
flames to carry my mother away.

Oh will the circle be unbroken?
By and by, oh, by and by
For this fire’s been a’ burning
burning since the dawn of time.

I took some ashes to the river
my soul burdened and in pain.
As those sweet waters cleansed my sorrow
the river carried her ashes away.

Oh will the circle be unbroken?
by and by, oh, by and by
For this water’s been a’ flowing,
flowing since the dawn of time.

I gave some ashes to the east wind
as the sun sent down His rays
I felt the heartache, slip from my body
as that wind carried her ashes away.

Oh will the circle be unbroken?
by and by, oh, by and by
For this wind has been a’ blowing
blowing since the dawn of time.

I buried the rest ‘neath an old oak tree
as the moon beamed down Her light.
and Mother Earth then did receive her
with her blessings joyous and bright.

Oh will the circle be unbroken?
by and by, oh, by and by
for this old earth has been a’ turning,
turning since the dawn of time.

I watch my daughter as she’s playing
her hair shining in the sun
and in her smile I see my mother
and I know that she lives on.

I know the circle is unbroken
by and by, oh, by and by
that wheel of life just keeps a turning,
turning since the dawn of time.

Glamour: When the Mighty Fall

Zeus casting Hephaestus from Olympus with Hera unable to stop him.

A few years ago, there was a time when a “pagan leader” I’d once admired for his accomplishments as a teacher, witch, priest, and esteemed writer, fell from grace in a most horrible manner. I think it was fair to even call him a “Big Name Pagan,” but now it is fair to call him an infamous pagan. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

While he has yet to come to trial for his alleged crimes, in the court of public opinion, he is forever damned, and good riddance. When a priest of the old gods is suddenly, devastatingly, and absolutely ruined on all levels, I don’t need jurisprudence to inform me of his wrong-doing. Karma is a bitch, but only it you are.

This person that once deigned to teach me lessons of ethics and human decency, of personal responsibility to become a caretaker of this middle world in service to the Gods… was discovered to be grievously lacking in the same. He taught me that once you make vows to the gods, they are irrevocable. “Live by your vows and you will be abundant in their care; break your vows, and you will suffer.” He claimed he was a “real” Wiccan; old-school, lineaged back to Sanders, or so he loved to gloat.  Among the ethics he taught, Do as you will, but Harm None was non-negotiable.  His gods took him down, so I assume he broke his vows.

Sadly, the malevolent, selfish tarnish of his harm sullied the reputation of all the good people in association with him. Every good thing he ever wrote will never again be printed, or so his publishers have said.  The beautiful people he helped to guide toward the taking of their own vows of service to the gods felt this sting most bitterly, and my spirit wept for them because the witches and priestesses he made are skilled, amazing and doing The Work with great respectability. We are all interconnected; he was the weak link, and he let down everyone in his chain.

I think it was the lie and scandal of the thing that upset me the most. When the horrors of his arrest were first revealed across the national stage, and I was reeling in shock and confusion, I wrote this poem. That was years ago, but for the last several weeks, since Mercury, Mars and Saturn, and every other damned heavenly body, went retrograde, there is one line that keeps repeating in the back of my mind. This is how my guides whisper to me.

“Eyes wide; there are things of which we did not speak.”  Its as though there was a new message being delivered to me, asking me to pay attention to what else may need to be seen and spoken. When the mighty are viewed through the hazy, veiled glamour of fame, it can obscure what most needs to be understood. Let’s all pay better attention for a while, ok?

Glamour

by Heron Michelle

The veils fall, twisted and torn,
no silken glamour now to guise
unsavory truths.
Eyes wide;
there are things of which we did not speak.
Jaws slack;
illusions finally become clear.

Knowings, sharp as scalpels,
cut into our deeps,
dragging out such precious innocence,
birthed awake into this raw light.
The way we came is closed;
no dreams would have us now.
We are all exposed, ripped,
bloody and wailing of our discontent,
howls slice the chill of this new viewing.
Smacked hard to gasping,
we crave so desperately the teat and swaddle,
familiar succor of long-loved delusion
that is no more.

Sins of the father damn all his children.
Bastards now, left to die by the road,
exposed for their mutation and
heinous illegitimacy.
No gods will save them now,
no charm, no fame enough
to shield the unholy shame
carved now so deeply into his name.
Cries of the mourners are all that remain,
forlorn echoes of crimes
that should not be buried,
nor forgotten.