A Death Midwife’s Orison

I've been called pretty much everything — from “crazy” to “witch” — because I can easily sense things beyond the faculties of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, especially an animal’s sunset journey. Labels aside, I am me. Other people’s opinions of me are their business, not mine. I just keep walking my path, growing and changing as needed.

The day in question began like any other. My partner’s alarm went off at 5:30 am. (Damn … I swear it sounds like an air raid). After my nine-year-old stepson got on the bus around 8:40 am, I turned and slowly walked halfway up the gravel driveway. Suddenly, a barred owl’s call echoed from the marsh just down the road. Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? Something felt different, but I couldn’t explain the frissons overtaking my body. Regardless, I left for work, a bit more mindfully watchful than my norm.

I heard the distressed caw through my partially cracked window the moment I parked my car. Three times a crow took to the sky, then landed on the same white pine branch. A quick area scan showed a nearby inert mass of black feathers sprawled in the road. Snow shovel in hand, I walked over to the tree and spoke to the corvid.

I explained I wanted to respectfully move its companion’s remains to avoid further accidental desecration. The bird cocked its head to the side and eyed me. I grounded and awaited its answer. A few minutes later, I felt “yes” in my gut.

The intense energies of both winged beings swirled around me as I said a prayer and buried the corpse under a red maple in a nearby nature preserve. I sighed and leaned against the shovel’s handle. Knowing I had to open the health center for the day, I looked at the crow perched high in the tree, slightly bowed my head to it, and returned to the mundane 9-to-5 world. Later, when I went out to my car, I found a single black feather on the hood. I immediately knew the bird’s spirit had journeyed across the threshold and was finally at peace.

Despite differences in how we honor our animal brothers and sisters, I know we heal our relationship with nature just a little bit more when we reach out and purposefully interact with them. And slowly, as these encounters increase over time, may we finally harmonize our place among the three realms of sea, land, and sky. That’s what I told the corvid as I rooted its body deep in the heart of Mother Earth — a death midwife’s sacred orison.

Just Beyond the Threshold

I skirt the asymmetrical edge of the salt marsh, very much conscious of my movement and energy. My maternal grandmother, Mary, and my most recent herbal teachers, Annie and George, always emphasized leaving habitats as undisturbed as possible. The goal: very little to no evidence of bent or broken grass, branch, leaf, or flower; disruptive aura spikes; and trash. I smile, knowing I’m doing my best to make sure the area is cleaner than I had originally found it.

The hairs on my neck suddenly prickle and spring to life; I’m being watched. I look to my left and see a great blue heron calmly observing me from the elongated shadows cast over the muddy shallows by a white oak. From behind, I hear the dry croaking of a snowy egret as it lifts its legs with a slight splash and takes off for the airy cerulean unknown. And then, SILENCE. I ground and thank the Great Spirit for the day.

My family constantly marvels at my approach to life and my relationship with Mother Earth. Simply put, it’s intuitively embodied. Mary raised me on stories about the Good Folk, the land as sentient, and the connections we have with all beings on this planet. At bedtime, her mythopoetic yarns wove a tapestry of how past folks treated and honored All-That-Is and, in turn, each other. And so, my respect has naturally manifested in my words and actions. For me to stop would mean soul death. I’m one with the land, just as the land’s one with me -- with all of us, really.

Today, per Irish storyteller Eddie Lenihan, in an interview published by author Signe Pike in Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World, we have "tried to substitute things for things that you can't substitute anything for. Helpfulness, kindness, charity, human decency." His comments beg the question: have we forgotten how to live beyond the world of money and consumerism?

I can’t deny the validity of those from bygone generations saying they had close to nothing or were flat broke. I know my Scots-Irish forebearers had their ups and downs, coming face to face with situations I can barely even fathom. At the same time, they still had something: the richness of their beliefs and tales. I will not let their legacy die in this post-modern world.

My gran's tales can easily be relegated to the realms of both superstition and backwardness. However, after about four decades of (imperfectly!!!) weaving their energy into my life, I know they’re very much alive, both within and without us. So walk across the threshold. A warm cup of tea, a gentle smile, and a listening ear await you at my hearth.

Persephone's Descent

The light is slowly changing from green to gold. The crisp air creeps along exposed skin, reminding me to don warmer clothes, such as hoodies, flannels, and fleece. Bees still hum in the fields, ambling from flower to flower in search for pollen. Butterflies flutter here and there, finding a perch on nearby branches, leaves, and petals.

During my recent Sunday wanderings at a local preserve, I felt a pull in my center. Whether recognized in poetic terms as Persephone’s descent or simply as energy moving inward, I acknowledge this shift, both in my body and the natural world. The seasonal wheel is spinning in the direction of the Autumn Equinox, when light will finally yield to dark. I then wondered, how did those from the past observe the cyclicity of the seasons?

Like many Americans, I’m a Heinz 57 — a predominant mix of French-Canadian, Scots-Irish, Lakota, and Danish. My point, simply, is … because my background is varied, most likely, so were my ancestors’ celebrations. What keeps me grounded in the present, while uniting past and future, is the knowledge that the Autumn Equinox is, and will continue to be, the balance point between light and dark; that its energies and the sun’s position meant something to bygone generations. How my family and I embody the recurrent changes will be added to a long spiral of timeless festivities. Our actions are what truly matter.

To me, it’s a time of thanksgiving and great generosity. I honor and share the year’s abundance, the results of the metaphorical and literal seeds planted last spring. My soul, too, recognizes that the days are getting shorter; the nights, longer. As the sun wanes, warmth comes in different forms, from gathering with loved ones to snuggling deep under comfy blankets.

Regardless, returning to the planet’s womb, to the dark, can definitely be an ambiguous transition. When I need a reminder, I remember this prayer:

O radiant leaf! You have made your descent to grassy ground, where the wind will tease your edges or whip you off to a different locale. Wherever your final resting place, you will be food for new growth and springtime dreams. There is consternation in this unknown. People tread carefully along this threshold. When I ground myself in gratitude and your message, wise little leaf, I know that I have found my theriac for fear. May your journey home be filled with blessings.

So I breathe and surrender to Persephone’s descent, choosing to consciously enter the mysterious wisdom and hearth of the Underworld. In your own way, will you join me?

As Above, So Below

To walk the artist path takes many lifetimes.

W

For me, meandering its many twists and turns has been a metaphorical burning at the stake. Yes, I know; so fucking macabre. But the marrow of that which no longer serves me must die, a cleansing by fire. Hate then becomes love. Thus, a phoenix soars from the ashes of my inner critic’s toxicity.

So why do I further advance down this road? Each step is a fiery communion with a force much greater than myself — a force felt between heartbeats; a force seen just below the surface of my reflection; a force that co-creates with me on a regular basis.

For after the bonfire, when all that’s left is ash, beauty arises from its compost. This wild hearth is the awen of my words and images … as above, so below.

Dandelion Wisewoman

Rooted in Green Mountain Piedmont,

Near winter-melt cataracts

And cloistered ephemeral pools,

A woman walks forest paths —

The dandelion her guide home.

 

The locals seek her sage advice

Over herbal infusions

And garlic-sautéed garden greens —

A feast simple and sacred,

Her prayer to the Great Divine.

 

Amid spiraling sweetgrass smoke,

She channels nature’s wisdom

To apprentices young and old —

Always one with the roots of

Taraxacum officinale.

 

But now, with George at its threshold,

The Otherworld's veil unfolds …

So she puts affairs in order,

Counselled by the plant spirits

Her soul recognizes as kin.

Though an indeterminate time

Remains of her blessed Earth Walk,

Her teachings and love will scatter

In numerous directions —

Dandelion seeds on the wind.

The Dragon Rider

My somatic agony:

Intense bone-deep pain,

A blazing neuron bonfire.

 

Very fatigued, I seek

Inner soul caverns,

Where primal power awaits.

 

No compass points to True North;

My guide, intuition,

The Fates from hearthside legends.

 

Corroded chains shackle my feet,

Kith and kin my judges

With unsolicited advice.

 

Love for them liberates me;

No damsel am I

Enslaved by their private demons.

 

The downward spiraling path

Is fire and brimstone;

Then I face my soul spirit —

 

A shimmering red dragon,

Its twilight eyes

Seeing me unguarded and naked.

 

So I become one with pain,

Constantly dancing

On dragon’s back skyward.

One Misty Sunrise

There’s a local place I like to frequent for sunrise sessions. And I’m not alone. The land vibrates with power and calls people to meander its garden paths and explore its shores.

During a recent visit, I found myself surrounded by mist. A part of me frowned at this typical New England change in weather. But I then stilled myself and listened.

According to Celtic traditions, the mist is both a teacher and an indicator of betwixt and between, such as locales where we can speak to and connect with All-That-Is. To be able to do so is at the heart of many religions and spiritual paths.

Frank MacEowen, on page 13 of his book, The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, and Seekers, recounts his own experience as a consciousness “ … that stirred within my soul that day the mist enveloped me. As it embraced me, I felt not only that I belong in the forest, but also that I belong to her."

Knowing this, I touched my silver Brigid's Cross pendant hanging just above my heart and reached out to the mist. She welcomed me, and I, her: anam caras walking the garden paths home — home to … belonging.

Siren's Call

New England’s coastline is steeped in tales about sailors lost at sea. But what about their wives, the women left to grieve at its edges? At best, they’re fragments mentioned in passing conversations. Their threads, however, are just as significant.

During this weekend’s creative session, I noticed how the tango between distressed widow and sea-as-lover simply took over. The land was offering me a glimpse of past lives: the harrowing progression from sadness to an all-consuming madness that has anchored spirits to place. And the sea, that siren, continuously chides themnow, just their shadows for something amiss in the relationships with their long-dead husbands.

So what happens when one mixes the aforementioned theme with an old Cape Cod lighthouse perched on high bluffs and the natural elements of partly cloudy skies, a setting sun, and a full moon? A haunting by F.K. Garland as the Lady in Black at Highland Lighthouse, in North Truro, Massachusetts.

In dreams I call —

A barnacled ode

Of wild waves and windy shores.

 They come to me

In search of . . .

Purpose, connection, home.

 I cannot specifically say,

For each sailor

Seeks something different.

 But the roots —

Well, they start with you:

Their wives and sweethearts.

 There’s something amiss

Between both of you,

And I …

 Their sea,

Their siren,

Their true lover —

 Will be there for them

While you haunt edges

Of wild waves and windy shores.