Honoring My Beloved Dead– Trish, Chris, and Jinah

 

IMG_20170520_154751.jpgI know it’s the wrong season for this, but I didn’t get around to honoring Trish during the Samhain season. Feelings of guilt, compounded by the fact that Chris and Jinah just recently passed, made me want to write about the three of them now, rather than waiting until Samhain.

 

Trish

I was working the night shift at work; something I wasn’t accustomed to. It was a rough day and I needed to blow off some steam after work. I called all my friends and they were already in for the night before I had even left the office. Despite not having a partner in crime, I decided to go out on my own. I went to my usual bar in hopes that someone I knew would be there. Luckily, Trish was there.

Trish was a regular at the bar and I saw her almost every time I went out. We didn’t talk a lot, but sometimes our smoke breaks would sync up, so we’d talk outside. I considered her an acquaintance, but after this night, she became a friend.

Another man was at the bar and he began making homophobic comments. I asked him to stop and he responded by calling me a “fag.” Like most gay men, this is a trigger word for me and I was ready to fight. Before I could say anything, Trish stepped in.

“Joe might be a fag, but motherfucker, he’s our fag. So, if you’re messing with him, you’re going to mess with all of us” Trish said. At over six feet tall, Trish was an imposing figure. The guy paid his tab and left quickly thereafter. I had never felt so protected by someone who was basically a stranger.

Not long after, I stopped going to this bar. One of my friends broke up with her boyfriend, who also frequented this bar. We stopped going to avoid unnecessary drama. After almost a year, I got word that Trish passed away unexpectedly.

A few weeks ago, my friend Jamie asked to go to this bar in hopes of running into an old coworker. I agreed and was excited that I would get to see people I haven’t seen in years, including Trish. That’s when reality hit me. Trish was gone, I would never see her again.

 

Chris

Chris was a coworker at my previous job. He was a supervisor in our inbound sales center and I was a sales coach who focused mostly on our retail locations. That being said, I didn’t interact with Chris all that often. Chris had a myriad of health problems that eventually took him away from work for a while. While he was out, I covered his team. His return coincided with another supervisor leaving on medical leave, so I moved on to cover the other team.

Chris was a lifesaver for me. Whenever I had questions or needed support, he was there. He was also one of the few people on the floor who had as much nerd-cred as me. We spent so much time talking about comics and video games. He made work fun.

When I was offered a new position at a different company, the rest of my peers were resentful. They felt that I was leaving because I didn’t want to work with them anymore. Chris was the only one who saw that I was leaving for a better opportunity. He wished me well and helped me understand that I ultimately had to do what was best for me.

Chris passed away a few weeks back. I hadn’t seen him since I left my old job. The world definitely lost a good soul when he died.

 

Jinah

“So what are you going to do when we don’t hire you” the voice said from the phone on the desk in front of me. I was caught off guard. I answered the question and eventually this portion of my interview ended.

Jaime, the manager who was present in the room with me, shrugged afterwards and said “Sorry about that. Jinah’s just a little rough around the edges.” I left the interview knowing that I didn’t get the job. Fortunately, I received the official offer the next day.

When I began work, I sat a few seats away from Jinah. She was a middle-aged woman who had recently returned from medical leave. On my first day, she handed me a $10 bill and said “go get me Jimmy Johns.” I was shocked, but ultimately complied, because I wasn’t going to make a woman in a wheelchair go get her own lunch.

Over time, her rough demeanor softened and we became close. I enjoyed her candor and her impatience with stupid people. She made me laugh every day. Her battle with cancer was tough, though she tried to hide it. Over the past six months, I watched her deteriorate mentally. I knew she was sick, but I didn’t realize how bad it was.

Last week, Jinah went on short-term disability at work. By Thursday, she was moved to end of life hospice. On Monday, she passed away. It hit me harder than I expected.

I was cleaning my desk out at work and I found a card from Jinah. I had the flu a few months ago and she gave me a get-well card. It was amazing that Jinah, who was struggling with her own health issues, took the time to wish me well on a trivial concern.

 

Today, I lit three candles on my altar.

Trish, I thank you for your protection and your laughter.

Chris, I thank you for your wisdom and your support.

Jinah, I thank you for your candor and your guidance.

Blessed may you all be, in this world and all others.

Honoring My Beloved Dead – Linda

When I was in middle school, I met a girl named Mary who would become one of my closest friends. Later when I came out, she became a fierce protector and loyal ally. Standing by her side offering support was her mother Linda. Throughout the years, Linda was a surrogate mother when I needed to run something past her before talking to my parents. She was pivotal in making me realize that I was in control of my life and I could choose what I wanted. However, Linda was also incredibly willing to tell when I was being irresponsible or thoughtless.

When I grew up and moved away, Mary and I lost touch for a bit. We synced up again on my 21st birthday, but didn’t remain close. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she moved back to Columbus and we began hanging out more.

Last Halloween, I went to Mary’s house for a small party. Linda was there and we spent several hours discussing what was happening in her life since we last talked. Linda brushed that topic off and asked how I was doing.  Mary, Linda, and I talked all night and it was probably one of the best nights I had in while at the time.

A few weeks, maybe months, later, Mary and I got into an argument stemming from each of us having too much to drink. The next day, I got a call from Linda. She acted a mediator and all but forced Mary and I to work out our disagreement.

A little more than a year ago, a friend sent me a text to check Mary’s Facebook page. When I did, I saw that Linda has passed away the night before. Linda was out mowing her yard. Her neighbor felt that she was mowing her lawn too late in the evening and shot her.

My friend group from high school surrounded Mary with love and we made sure she was taken care of while grieving. A few weeks ago, Linda’s killer was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. The sentencing brought some much needed closure for the family and for that I’m thankful.

Today, while writing this, I read back through her obituary. Linda was a single mother who worked her ass off to provide for her family. She started off as a phone operator for a local railroad company and worked her way up to Superintendent of Operations. She graduated from BGSU magna cum laude. She was an activist working for social justice and environmental conservation. She was an amazingly generous and overall badass lady.

Tonight, I light a candle for Linda on my altar. I thank her for her guidance and ask her to continue guide and protect her family.

 

Honoring My Beloved Dead – the LGBT Ancestors

Most of the people I celebrate during Samhain are people I knew personally in my life. However, today I want to write about people who helped pave the way for the rights of LGBT people.

In October of 1998, I was 13 years-old and had been closer to accepting my sexuality. I told a few close friends and my family, all of whom were extremely accepting. Soon after, a friend told someone else and the rumors began. I was the victim of taunting and got into a few fights, but overall, people were adjusting their attitudes towards me.

On October 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked in Laramie, Wyoming. As news coverage continued, I learned that Matthew Shepard was attacked for being gay. Days later, Matthew passed away from the injuries he received during the attack. This was the first time I really understood how dangerous it was to be gay in a small town.

Willard, Ohio, where I grew up, was pretty similar to Laramie. The town was situated in an area dominated by farming, railroads, and factories. Saying Willard was conservative in an understatement. I’m pretty sure there are still more churches in Willard than traffic lights. With this in mind, my safety became a constant worry. My family wouldn’t let me walk home from school anymore. My friends and I were resigned to spending time at each other’s homes, and the taunting and physical threats increased.

However, after Matthew’s attack, the presence of LGBT allies increased. I remember being shoved in the locker room in gym and having to (aggressively) straight football players come to my defense. Another time, I was being bullied while waiting for my parents to pick me up. A parent of another student overheard and waited with me until my parents arrived. Although I felt like an even bigger outcast than before, I was humbled by the support I received around me.

One of my biggest bullies was this guy named Chance. He came from an ultra-conservative family and made it his mission to make my life hell. I didn’t take it too seriously because he was a grade lower than me and by the time he began his barrage of torment, I had grown more secure in who I was. I remember that we had a conversation during a study hall one day. He tried to harass me by saying “How can you be so disgusting? Are you really okay with people thinking you’re an abomination?” I simply replied “Yeah, I couldn’t care less what someone like you thinks about me.” That was the end of the conversation and I don’t recall any other encounters with him.

The year after I graduated, I got word that Chance had killed himself. I didn’t ask too many questions, but felt sad that someone would kill themselves before they really had a chance to live. A little while later I heard that Chance had come out to his parents, who abused him physically and mentally, before ultimately disowning him. I’m not sure if any of this is true because small towns are ground zero for rumors, but in a sick way it made sense to me. People tend to project their own insecurities onto other people.

On Samhain 1998, I lit a candle of my Samhain altar for Matthew. I mourned his death, but thanked him for giving the ultimate sacrifice to bring national attention to the dangers of being gay in the U.S. On Samhain 2004, I added a candle for Chance. I prayed that regardless of the situation that led to him taking his life that he would find peace in the next life.

After reading Gay Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak, I found an ancestor prayer for the leant their hands to the gay rights movement. Every year since, as I do now, I light a purple candle on my altar and recite this prayer.

 

“To Sappho and Socrates, Aristotle and Alexander, we call to the ancient ancestors of our tribe.

To Caesar and Hadrian, we thank you for your power.

To Michelangelo and Leonardo, we thank you for your visions.

To Byron and Whitman, Wilde and Stein, we thank you for your words.

To Uncle Aleister and the Faeries past, we thank you for your magick.

To Those with the Triangles who died in the concentration camps.

To Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, and all those who gave their lives in the struggle for awareness, equality, and healing.

We thank you for paving the way for us. Blessed may you be in this world and in all others[i].”

 

[i] Adapted from Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe by Christopher Penczak

Honoring my Beloved Dead – Anna

My grandma Anna was an amazing woman. Before having 11 children, she followed her dream of getting a college degree from Berea College in Kentucky. Granted, she pursued a degree in Home Economics, but she was vocal about the necessity of an education.

One of my earliest memories of my grandma is when she came to visit my family while we lived in Florida. There was nothing she wanted to do more than to take her grandsons fishing. I remember sitting on the jetty in Port St. Lucie with her all day. I don’t remember catching anything, but I remember having an excellent time. After we left the jetty, she took my brothers and me to a Chinese restaurant. It was my first time eating Chinese food, and we gorged ourselves on fried rice and dumplings.

My grandmother was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. Because of this, she didn’t tolerate laziness. She passed her work ethic down to her kids, and I got my strong work ethic from my father. My dad says that I also got her temper, passion, and quick wit from her too.

My mother told me that she learned to cook from my grandmother. Apparently, my grandma was not happy that her oldest son married a woman who didn’t know her way around the kitchen, so she made sure to fix that. My mom says that she was offended at first, but is grateful that Anna took the time to teach her. My mother and I spend a lot of time cooking together now. In fact, I inherited a few of Anna’s cast iron skillets. I think of her every time I use it.

Today, I place a bobber on my altar and will prepare a meal of fried rice and dumplings using Anna’s skillets. I remember her and thank her for helping my mom to give me the love of cooking and for helping my dad to instill a strong work ethic into me. I’m also pretty stoked that she passed along her fiery nature to me.

Honoring My Beloved Dead – Grace

It’s the first day of October, my favorite month. Samhain has always been my favorite sabbat, and I’ve loved celebrating by honoring my ancestors and sharing my memories of them. Since my spiritual path has evolved in the last year to include ancestor work, this makes the sabbat much more important to me.

With this in mind, my posts for October will be focused on sharing the stories of my beloved dead, both those of my bloodline and those who have influenced my path.

To begin this month of posts, I want to start with my great grandmother Grace. Although my extended family is a mix of Catholics, Southern Baptists, and Pentecostals (oh my!), they still speak of her psychic ability.

My grandfather used to tell a story about his mother Grace and his youngest brother. When his brother was a toddler, Grace was hanging clothes to dry. She kept asking my grandfather about hearing music coming from the house. My grandfather didn’t hear anything. Grace kept mentioning the music, which she described as a church organ, and suddenly dropped the clothes on the ground and ran to the house. She made in the house just in time to stop his toddler son from reaching her husband’s shotgun. My grandfather thinks his mom was hearing the sound of an organ playing funerary music to let her know her child was in danger.

My mother told me about when she was child, she would spend a lot of time at her grandmother’s house. During one visit, Grace stood up from dinner and told her grandchildren to put on their nicest clothes to go pay respect to her sister, their great-aunt, who had passed away. My mom said that they were all confused since they had just seen their great-aunt alive the day before, but they did as they were told. After they had dressed, one of my mother’s uncles came to the house to tell them that his sister had passed away and her last words were my great grandmother’s name.

My mother was also present for another premonition that Grace experienced. When Grace’s grandchildren would come to visit, they would go blackberry picking as a family. One morning as they were getting ready to head out, Grace told the children to stay home so they would be safe. Since this was out of the ordinary, the grandchildren objected, but Grace was adamant that they stay behind. While picking blackberries, Grace and her husband came across a rhumba of rattlesnakes and narrowly avoided being bitten.

It’s comforting, yet odd to know that a woman who is described as being devoutly Christian, would also be described as having such a witchy ability. It’s also interesting to note that other people in my family feel that she passed her gift along to her children, who did the same to theirs. As a Tarot reader myself, I like to think that my interest and aptitude for divination was handed down to me from Grace, who probably received it from one of her ancestors. Today, I place a picture of Grace on my altar and a dish of blackberries and thank her for passing down this gift to me.

My Journey to the Egun

Brace yourself…this is a long one.

As my previous posts have mentioned, I have been studying and dipping a toe in the practice of Santeria. Since ancestral spirits play an important role in the practice of Santeria, I began asking any relative who would listen to tell me stories about my ancestors. Many of these stories were familiar to me. As a Wiccan, I honored the spirits of my beloved dead every Samhain, but I never thought to pray to them for intercession or guidance, let alone build a relationship with them.

During a conversation a few weeks ago, I found out that several members of my family are buried in a cemetery about an hour away. Among these ancestors is my grandfather Joe, the man I was named for. When I asked why I have never been there, my mom couldn’t really give me an answer other than “It never crossed our minds…” So, tomorrow I will be visiting the cemetery with a friend and it has been on the forefront of my mind for the past week.

To prepare, I looked into the Yoruba lore surrounding cemeteries and the Egun. Among the first articles and stories I found mentioned the Orisha Oya. Oya guards the gates of cemeteries. With this in mind, it is important to gain permission before entering the cemetery.  Based on my research, I planned to give her nine pennies, a little red wine, and an eggplant prior to asking for her permission to enter the cemetery. I also wanted to take flowers for each of my family members. I went to Giant Eagle to buy flowers bought several bouquets, red wine, and an eggplant.  While there, I also decided to buy some ziplock bags in case I wanted to gather some cemetery dirt.

It snowed overnight, which made the hour and a half drive a little more daunting. I went anyway, I didn’t want to put off visiting the cemetery another week. I picked up my friend Garrett, dropped by a gas station to pick up a cigar and a few airplane bottles of rum, and we made our way.

Alger, Ohio is a village that time forgot. It’s super rural. I don’t remember passing a restaurant, gas station, or even a store that was open on a Saturday morning; all clues that residents of the town probably were not going to be too open-minded about a witch communing with his ancestors in their cemetery. I silently, actually it may have been aloud, prayed to Oya that no one else would be in the cemetery. Oya has a sense of humor, it seems.

While the cemetery wasn’t packed, there were enough people milling about that I had to be sneaky, without being suspicious. We pulled in and parked in the far corner of the cemetery and I began my offering to Oya. I laid the eggplant on the ground, encircled it with nine pennies, and encircled both with a line of red wine.

Oya, I pray to you! Please lift Your Head

Grant me swift entrance to the land of the Dead.

An ebo I’ve left in honor of your tradition

My Egun to meet, please grant me admission”*

I paused, waiting for a sign that it was ok to proceed. When I felt nothing, I feared that I made the trip only to be turned away at the gate. When I finally gave up and began to tell Garrett that we had to leave, a strong gust of wind blew through the cemetery. No, not blew, tore. I took this as my sign from Oya that she had accepted my offering and that I could proceed.

After a long walk, we finally found the first of the graves. We found the grave of my two aunts, Rosemary and Jacqueline, first. They had both died as infants and were interred together.  When I learned of them, I immediately linked them to Ibeji, the Yoruba Divine Twins. I know this correlation isn’t exactly correct, because they are both female (Ibeji were male and female) and since my aunts were not twins. However, to me, my aunts became the symbols of play and innocence. I laid identical bouquets on their grave and introduced myself to them. I promised to bring them candy and toys the next time I visited.

After a moment, I realized that none of my other ancestors were buried near the girls. This made me incredibly angry, then incredibly sad. I mentioned to Garrett that I wanted to see how much it would cost to have their graves moved closer to the others. That’s when I noticed the grave of my Great Grandmother Eva right beside them.

My mother described Eva as being brutally honest with a quick wit. Honestly, she called her a bitch, but then added the other descriptors when she felt bad about speaking ill of the dead. She also told me the story of how two monuments in the cemetery bear her name. The first was the one next to the girls where she was buried. The other was with her second husband. After her husband’s death, Eva decided that she wanted to be buried alone and close to her granddaughters. This made Eva my ancestral symbol for fierce individuality and protection. I laid a bouquet of yellow, white, and pink carnations on her grave and introduced myself. I didn’t instantly feel a connection, but I’m sure after several visits, she will welcome me with (semi)open arms.

Garrett and I then drove around the cemetery to find my other ancestors. I was about to give up when Garrett said “Drive down there” and pointed towards the center of the cemetery. I did and still didn’t see anything. Garrett then said “right there” and pointed to a grave with my family’s name engraved on the back. Garrett attributes this to his observation skills, I attribute this to his spiritual sensitivity. He and I agreed to disagree.

I parked the car and made my way to my Uncle Leonard’s and Aunt Kathryn’s grave. My parents never shared stories about them and I don’t know much, but I still felt drawn to leave flowers. I briefly introduced myself and asked if they would be willing to talk when I came back. Much like Eva, I didn’t sense any response, but I’m persistent and will definitely try again.

Next to their grave is my Grandmother Anna. She is the only one of those interred in Alger that I met. Granted, I only remember meeting her once and it was when I was five, but the memory is strong. It was her birthday and she came to Florida to visit my family. We took her to the beach for a party and the beautiful sunny day, turned into a sudden downpour. We packed up everything and headed home, all of us “soaked to the gills” as I remember her saying. When my dad apologized for her birthday being ruined, she smiled and said something that I repeat to myself 25 years later. She said “Why bitch about the rain? Just take off your shoes and jump in the puddles.” I smiled at this memory and lit a candle for her. I left the candle, a bottle of rum, and a bouquet of white roses on her grave and promised I would be back soon.

Next to Anna’s grave is her husband, my grandfather and namesake Joe. I never met Joe, but I remember having a dream when I was little. In the dream, a man that looked a little like my dad told me that he just wanted to say hi. When I told my parents, they exchanged a puzzled look, and my mom grabbed a photo album. She asked me to look through the album and see if I recognized the man. I did as I was told and immediately pointed to Joe. My entire life, my parent have told me stories about him. He was a soldier in WWII. My mom liked to share stories of his bravery, my dad liked to share stories about the shenanigans he got into overseas. I learned that he was illiterate, but also that he was a gifted carpenter. In one story, he measured the materials needed to renovate our kitchen just by looking at it. When the lumberyard “corrected” the measurements and sent over the materials, they didn’t fit. When they measured the kitchen themselves, they found that Joe was right in his estimate. I smoked a cigar with Joe at his grave, then left the cigar, a bottle of rum, and white roses on his grave. Unlike the others, I felt his presence strongly. He was excited for my return and so was I.

As a Wiccan, I approach other magickal traditions as if I were an expert. I look for commonalities and go with my gut. In regards to Santeria, this may have been a disservice. I immediately approached Elegua and began forcing a relationship with him. I prayed and left offerings to the other Orishas and fostered my connection with them.  I did this even though everything I have read told me to start with my ancestors. Visiting the cemetery helped me to establish a connection with the spirit world and put the African diasporic religions into a personal context. I cannot wait to visit with them again.

 

*Adapted from Dorothy Morrision, Utterly Wicked