Category Archives: Ancestor Work

Polytheist Problems Ancestor Edition LOL

I was meeting with one of my apprentices last week (as we do monthly) and we were discussing shrine work and she mentioned that due to space concerns she had her ancestor shrine in her bedroom. I used to live in a small New York City apartment so I know what it’s like trying to find space for shrines (especially when they keep growing!). I just nodded and made the offhand comment, ‘Be sure to cover the shrine when you’re ah….getting frisky.” The look of utter horror on my poor apprentice’s face was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time and we had quite a good laugh over it as the impact of what I’d said really hit home. This is a bit of protocol that most people aren’t generally taught and wouldn’t necessarily think of on their own so I promised that I would write a little something about it here. (Thank you, to the apprentice in question, for allowing me to use this as a teaching moment here on my blog!).

Now first of all I just want to say that I have amazing apprentices. They are all very devout, very talented, and very hard workers. That one of them did not know this is in no way a knock on her practice. It’s actually more on me because I should have thought to say something when she first set up her shrine but when you’re deeply steeped in practices for decades, it’s easy to forget the obvious.

So here’s the question: is it ok to put one’s ancestor shrine (or other shrines) in one’s bedroom.

The easy answer is yes, absolutely. Especially when living in a tiny space, we have to make do. There’s nothing inherently wrong about putting shrines in one’s bedroom. I have several in mine because I like to work at them (pray, meditate, make small offerings) before going to bed. It’s a good, practical space. Now here’s the caveat: because the bedroom is also the most intimate space in one’s home, special care has to be taken around the shrines. Allow me to explain.

Sex is awesome and there’s nothing wrong with it. LOL. It does however carry a measure of miasma (again, this is a neutral term. It does not mean it’s bad.) that should be cleansed away before approaching one’s shrines. More to the point, if it’s one’s ancestors, they probably don’t want to watch, no matter how skilled one might be a-bed. LOL. And I’m guessing that no matter how much one might love one’s ancestors, one does not want them watching either! A shrine is the home of spirits or Gods. It’s an invitation to those spirits or Gods to be present, a doorway or window into our world. Out of respect, I was taught that it is best to cover one’s shrines with a clean white cloth, if they are in one’s bedroom, before engaging in any sexual activity. It’s a simple matter of respect.

Now I have a huge folding screen that separates my shrines from the rest of my bedroom, which effectively negates this problem. The only shrines I might not cover are those to Deities that are specifically concerned with sex (my Freya shrine is also in my bedroom and I tend to leave it uncovered) though I might suggest doing divination to make sure the Gods in question are ok with that.

And, that is all I have to say on this topic.

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Distractions, distractions

ancestors

So a facebook friend posted this image on his page and a rather lively discussion ensued. Apparently the statement above is incomprehensible to some Heathens. I for one, fully support it and while it is a First Nations person pictured, I think it holds true for all of us. I can see however, I’m going to have to break out my logic.

At one point our entire world was polytheistic or animist. All of us have polytheistic ancestors. Monotheism was and is a very, very recent blip on the fabric of world religion. There was a time when all religions were, to some degree, polytheistic. Then monotheism came—doesn’t much matter which monotheistic tradition, they all operated under the same modus operandi: colonialism, conquest, and the eradication of all other worldviews. The result was, predictably in retrospect, the destruction of our traditions and the co-opting of our wisdom traditions (i.e philosophy), and eventually our scientific discoveries, literature, etc. Still following?

Then, after our ancestral lands had been converted, usually by force, our ancestors drank that poison and became the ones who went across the ocean and destroyed nations. The question came up in the course of the Facebook discussion, of what to do with ancestors who were Christian (or Jewish or Muslim I suppose, but in the discussion we were specifically talking about Christian relatives). My response was two fold:

I honor my ancestors, even if they were Christian. I do, however, view their religious choice (and in many cases for generations ‘choice’ didn’t enter into it) as a sort of inter-generational Stockholm syndrome. I honor them, but not for their religious choices. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t good or devout people. In many cases they were, very much so. Nor do I have a particular problem with their Powers. It’s the system of monotheism that I find poisonous.

I do not honor the generation that chose to abandon their ancestral traditions and contribute to the destruction of polytheisms. I will honor them when they step to the plate and start doing what they can to make reparation and amends for that crime. (Nefas) Would you be ok with an ancestor who raped children, or participated in genocide? Would you look at that person uncritically? They’re still your ancestor, but god damn they have a lot for which to atone. Adopting monotheism is no different, especially considering the consequences of that choice.

I value the restoration of our traditions far more than I value the comfort of …collaborators. It is true that they may have been acting in good faith, or out of fear, or to protect others, but their actions had consequences that were horrific for us, consequences that transformed our world the repercussion of which each and every one of us today is having to endure .

Because of this particular generation, we now are tasked with restoring those traditions in circumstances that are unbelievably difficult, corrupt, and poisonous. I will honor them when they step up and do what they can to right the wrong. If they are doing that, then they are welcome to partake of the offerings I give to my other ancestors. If they are not, let them be hungry and thirsty for all eternity, their names and deeds erased from memory and time.

Apparently this makes me a “bigot,” which is fine: I’ve been called worse by better.

Piety should have prevented the abrogation of our traditions. (Think about it, there were plenty of people through its nascent years who recognized it for the insanity and pollution it was and who clung steadfastly to their traditions preferring death on their feet to a lifetime on their knees in homage to an alien power). This wasn’t just a matter of “personal choice,” it was a conscious severing of obligations to our Gods and ancestors. It was devastation and we’re bearing the brunt. We are having to clean up a mess of monumental proportions. While we’re doing so, we are denied functioning traditions and are under attacks by successive waves of aggressive monotheism, which they could have ended (or at least died trying to do so).

I think it right and proper to demand that the generation that began our long descent into darkness step forward to help correct their error. And I consider it respectful: they have the choice to try to make reparation and restore their honor and alignment with the rest of the family and most importantly of all, the Gods…or they can live with the situation as it is. If they want to remain in those beliefs, aligned with this tyrannical power that’s their right. It doesn’t mean I need to have anything to do with them. Their willingness to fuck and breed or more pointedly, my great great many times great grandma’s decision not to swallow doesn’t obligate me to pour out offerings. I’ll save those offerings for ancestors of worth and value, who need them in order to continue fighting on our behalf and on behalf of our traditions.

To excuse it unquestioningly, because we are here as a result, is to place our existence above the devastation of generations. At the very least, we can work to rebuild. We need to stop jumping through hoops to avoid obligation and look the problem right in its face. 

Noble Nations of the Dead

My husband just finished a book of poetry titled “Wine Dark” that will be available shortly. I’d direct you to his site, but he’s going to be taking it down soon (he does this periodically because he is a pain). In this poetry book, in one of his poems, he refers to the realm of the dead and its denizens as ‘the noble nations of the dead.”

I was quite struck by the phrase, that epithet: noble nations of the dead. I read that and thought, ‘yes, exactly. What a perfect descriptor.”

I think I’ll be using this phrase from now on: noble nations of the dead. May they be hailed.

In Memoriam: Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza 1950-2010

I wasn’t planning on writing this particular post (and in fact, most of it is revisited from a memorial post I wrote several years ago). I realized this morning though that tomorrow is the anniversary of my adopted mother’s death and I don’t think I’ll be posting tomorrow so I decided to share this again today. We are so disconnected from the Gods, from our ancestors, most of all from each other. It can destroy a soul. I carried the weight of that sickness for more than thirty years, until the Gods blessed me in a way I never, ever would have thought possible: They gave me a mom.

This woman was my heart, my gentleness, the witness to my life. She loved me with the ferocity of a mother lioness. She taught me to live and love and laugh and do something other than bitterly survive. She, for whom life was always such a terrible burden (she felt the weight of the world’s suffering deeply every day of her life) taught me to love and cherish life. She taught me to cherish connection. She rooted me in Midgard and she opened my heart to the Gods in ways I never, ever thought possible. She wove herself into my wyrd (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Gods did that) and we ate of each other’s hearts. For seven years she graced my world. For seven years she called me her miracle daughter. For seven years, I had a miracle mother.

People ask me how we met, because almost immediately our relationship became one of mother and daughter. I can’t think about this too much…it’s like a pretty toy with a surprising and unexpected sharp edge and it hurts to think about how easily this meeting might never have taken place (though I suppose in Their wisdom the Gods would have managed to get it done some other way). We met when she read a poem that I had published in an anthology titled “The Pagan’s Muse.” She was immensely moved by it and wrote a letter to the publisher that was later forwarded on to me. I had the opportunity over lunch, years later, to thank the editor of that volume but I don’t think she quite understood the tremendous gift and blessing that she had facilitated. Once I received the letter (which took awhile to wind its way through the publisher’s offices), I wrote back immediately and we began a fast friendship that within a year had turned into something else: we became family. She redeemed the word ‘mother’ for me. (Ironically, because of this, I later found myself able to enter into a relationship with my biological mother cleanly…a tangential blessing I also never expected). What terrifies me to the point of nausea is this: I almost didn’t submit anything to that anthology. Moreover, I nearly didn’t submit that particular poem.

My mother wouldn’t have considered herself a healer but she did bring healing to me. We made me a person and I grew up under her care. That’s the best way that I can describe it. There’s a German saying “Ich bin gut gebildet.” She did that for me. So let me tell you a little bit about her, just a few simple things, minimalist brush strokes by which to flesh out a life.

Her name was Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza. She was born in Paris, grew up in Venezuela, Italy and many other places. She considered herself Swiss by choice and nature (and indeed held Swiss citizenship of which she was tremendously proud). She spoke seven languages: English, German, Basel German, French, Italian, Spanish, and could read Latin. She had taught herself a smattering of Armenian and in her youth had studied ancient Greek. She called me “wombat” after a book that we read, that had a messy little wombat as the main character (I’m no house keeper!). I called her lemur, because she fell in love with the animal after watching “Madagascar” (and she said her eyes, with their inevitable rings from her nearly constant insomnia looked like lemur eyes). She loved to garden. She was passionate about protecting the earth and its animals. She was what in German is called a ‘putz-teufel:” a cleaning devil. Cleaning her home was her meditation and a devotional act to the Goddess Sigyn. You could eat (literally) off her bathroom floor. She was Heathen before we ever met (indeed, that was why she picked up the anthology that led to our meeting). She claimed kinship to Andvari and opened my eyes to His wisdom. She belonged to Loki and Sigyn and loved Them dearly and through her devotion she inspired me and many others toward greater love for their Gods. I taught her how to keep an altar. She was a holy woman.

She always said that she wasn’t an intellectual, that her gifts and joys lay with housekeeping, cooking, and gardening but she was better read than anyone else I ever met. She attended the Basel Conservatory of Music and was, for many years, a piano teacher. She loved medieval music especially, though it was not her area of study. Her singing voice was so bad (though she had a phenomenal ear) that she was one of only two students in her class excused from singing classes. Music was another language to her, a very sacred way of engaging with the world. She loved the operas of Benjamin Britten, the works of Dufay, Buxtehude, and Schütz. She loved Bach, particularly when played by S. Richter. She introduced me to the singer Fisher-Dieskau and also honed my love of counter-tenors. One of her favorite pieces was the ‘libera me” from Verdi’s requiem. I learned not only to listen but to hear through her tutelage.

Her favorite poets were Wendell Barry, O. Sitwell, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Sitwell. With all my warrior medicine, I surprised the hell out of her by loving the poetry of Wilfred Owen. She taught me to treasure children’s books and fairy tales, telling me as I got older, I’d turn to them more and more leaving the more serious stories behind; that there was wisdom in those tales that should not be overlooked. She loved my god-daughter as her own and they played often. She taught me about wine, developing my palate to the point that I considered becoming a sommelier and good food and wine were things that we enjoyed throughout our travels; and oh, we traveled. Once, as I was delayed at the airport while I was heading off to a major shamanic ordeal, and it looked like I wouldn’t be able take the flight, I called her and as we were talking, I said in frustration “I never get to go anywhere.” The cry of a child, I’ll admit and someone who spent most of her adult life very, very poor. She told me later it broke her heart and then and there she determined to take me to Europe. She did too, telling me that if I was going to teach ancient history, I needed to see the places about which I was teaching. I saw Paris through her eyes and fell in love with the Seine. She was proud of me until the day she died and inspired me to be a better human being.

She wrote with the grace of a medieval scribe. Her every-day handwriting was a thing of exquisite beauty. She told me when she was about twelve, she decided she didn’t like her handwriting and so she taught herself to write all over again, developing a hand that put most calligraphy to shame. She loved to cook. She had tremendous grace and graciousness. She was also the single most disciplined (and stubborn, oh my GODS, stubborn) human being I have ever met.

She taught me that grace and service happened by attention to little things, not in large, overwhelming epiphanies. She taught me that love was about the day to day choices. She taught me to pay attention to, cherish, and respect the small things in life and to do them exceedingly well. After her death, she continues to inspire many Heathens and Pagans of my acquaintance and we all look to her when our work becomes difficult. She mastered the grace of loving well.

There are places in the world that I shall never go again if I can help it—they would be barren places without her there. Her presence, the memory of our time together is too deeply imprinted on my consciousness to allow me to go there without pain. Carmel, CA, where she lived for over a decade (throughout the time she was in my life) is one of those places. Paris—which I saw first through her eyes and likely will never see again; parts of Italy. Going to Zurich, where she and I spent a great deal of time, a few months after her death (inevitable due to business demands) was it’s own special agony. I stayed at the same hotel she always visited and the entire staff lined up as I was having breakfast and came to pay their respects to Frau Plaza’s daughter. She was our memory keeper. She *saw* people, truly saw them and gave me something of the knack for it too. But there are places that I can now go only because of her. She encouraged me to go back to school and in fact, paid for my schooling. I broke down and cried like a baby when she offered. I could never have afforded to go on my own and I was deeply ashamed of my lack of a degree. I have my degree because of her. I have a life.

Her presence has been tremendously strong the past day or so. It’s been so immensely comforting to feel her so very close again, as though I could almost pick up the phone and call her. I miss her voice, high, with its elegant Basel accent. (Amusingly enough, despite the elegance oh, she could cuss like a sailor—a delightful thing to hear, even with the cognitive disconnect it initially caused!). A friend sent me two photos that she only recently found of a bunch of us having dinner together and in it my mom and I are laughing over something, a moment of shared delight. Those photos were such an unexpected gift, a treasure. In the two years after she died, I have found myself wanting desperately to collect every possible fragment of her life, every fragment that might remind me of her, carry a bit of her energy…it’s only recently that I’ve been able to put that painful desire aside, to realize that she is there, bound to me by something greater than blood: by a connection forged in fierce love. What are things in the face of that? They do not hold anything of her.

She has her own ancestral altar in my home, in addition to being represented on my primary ancestral shrine. In life, she dressed very plainly. It was part of her devotion to Loki. He called her his quiet pool (her name literally means ‘sacred pool’-in fact, there’s a bottled water company in Spain called “Fuensanta” which was very amusingly odd to see when we were there) and requested that she dress in calming colors: browns, dark greens, dark blues, blacks, grays, whites, and beiges. But she loved pink (a color we both associated with Sigyn) and craved that color with an almost painful intensity. She never wore it though, in obedience to Loki’s request. So now I festoon her altar with pinks: flowers, offering bowls, altar cloth…all a glorious panoply of pink. I give her all the things she loved but was too disciplined to eat overmuch in life: pizza, gourmet breads, gourmet cheeses and fine wines (the wine she did allow herself). I light candles and offered incense. I sit with her and talked of many things, and of how my life has unfolded since she died (not that she doesn’t know…I talk to her all the time and her shrine is never, ever inactive). I tell her not to fret—she always fretted about me so. I told her how I missed her, every moment of every day. Most of all, I gave thanks to the Gods for forging this connection, for bringing us into each other’s lives.

Connection is a lifeline. It’s a very sacred, blessed thing. When you truly connect with another human being, when you are truly known and seen (and know and see in return), when someone shares their life with you in whatever authentic way, it has the potential to transform Midgard. It is something to treasure. It is something to value. It is something to remember, always. I remember Fuensanta. I remember my adopted mom. Sancta.

A Tribute to a Sancta: Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza

My friend and colleague Kenaz Filan has just posted a beautiful memorial to my adopted mom, Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza. She is venerated by many of us as a sancta and the intensity of her devotion to her Gods, especially Sigyn and Loki knew no bounds. I wish that I had that level of devotion. Her example continues to inspire me and many others. 

Love you Mutti!

Read Kenaz’s piece here

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

lest-we-forget

Thank you for your service

Hail to our Fallen

It’s That Time of Year Again…

It’s that time of year again when most of us start thinking about our dead. Of course I’m of the mind that every day is the proper time to think about our ancestors, but many of our religions give special focus to them in autumn (Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, Winterfylledh, etc.).

One of the things that my ancestors like, and almost demand this time of year, is that I cook for them; specifically, that I cook traditional family/ethnic recipes. My German, Swiss, and British Isles ancestors don’t seem to care (They’ll eat anything LOL) but my Lithuanians really, really, really want me cooking recipes that I got from my father who got them from his mom, and so on. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have as many points of connection as I would like with that part of my line, or perhaps there are reasons known only to them, but they are most insistent that I cook for them in a traditional way.

Usually, they’re happy if once in awhile I make my grandmother’s bread, though they’d prefer if I made all the bread consumed in my house (not a possibility due to my health issues. It takes hard work and endurance to cook like that!) but around this time of year and generally through Yule they want everything: vertinas, apple cake, bow tie cookies, breads, soups, stews, everything. I started by making bread last night.

To honor them, I’m going to share some of those recipes here. I encourage y’all to share your own ancestor recipes too. The kitchen is the heart of the home. So much family lore, history, and bonding has taken place over the centuries in the kitchens, in the work that nourishes the family. It’s no wonder that our ancestors like us to remember that, as they nourish us too.

Weird Ancestor Porridge : )

The first dish that I want to mention is a traditional dish served for the ancestors in Lithuania. I don’t have an actual recipe. It’s just a porridge made from various heritage grains. I usually combine nine different grains, some oat flour, corn meal, etc. I boil them on the stove top adding a ton of honey, dried fruit, sometimes almonds, salt until it tastes ok to me. Then I put cinnamon, sometimes nutmeg on it, sometimes sugar, put it into a special dish I have and offer it to the dead. The combination of grains I use varies and sometimes I’ve substituted lentils or peas for one of the grains. Use what you have.

Mamoom’s Basic Sweet Dough

bread

Bread is such a powerful thing, almost a sacrament in Lithuanian tradition. It represents everything good and holy, everything that nourishes life, and it can even be used in esoteric cleansings. (I can’t do a damn thing with traditional egg cleansings, but give me bread and I’m good to go). This is my grandmother’s favorite recipe.

8-9 cups of flour

1 cup of sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 packages of dry, active yeast

1 ½ cups milk

1 cup (two sticks) butter

½ cup water

2 eggs

  1. In a large bowl combine two cups of flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast.
  2. In a medium saucepan heat the milk, water, and butter until very warm. The butter doesn’t have to melt all the way.
  3. With a mixer at low speed gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium and beat for two minutes. Stir in the additional flour and the eggs to make a soft dough. (At this point you may add a cup or two of raisins. I prefer to use golden raisins. This is optional).
  4. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about ten minutes. Shape into a ball and put in a greased bowl, turning all over so top of dough can get greased (I use butter to grease the bowl). Cover with a dry towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled – about an hour.
  5. Punch down dough. Cut into thirds or halves, cover and let rise fifteen minutes. Put in greased pans and let rise 1 ½ hours.
  6. Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes.

 

Dad’s Bow Tie Recipe

bowties

(eat them warm ^__^)

Every culture seems to have some version of this: dough covered in powdered sugar. It’s a little bite of bliss. They take awhile to make though so be prepared.

12 egg yolks

4 Tablespoons of sugar

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon rum

1 pint sour cream

flour as needed.

  1. mix all this up well adding five or six cups of flour gradually. Roll the dough very, very thin and cut into rectangles. Cut a slit in the center of each rectangle and pull one end through to make a little bowtie.
  2. Fry until golden in oil 375 F.
  3. Roll those suckers in powdered sugar right away

 

Vertinas

dumplings

(mine never look this good! They taste good, but never LOOK this fine)

I hate making these. I love eating them but I hate making them. They take forever but they are so very worth it.

Meat: four pounds of pork loin deboned (I don’t like pork so I use ground beef)

Dough: beat three eggs. 1-2 teaspoons salt, 2 cups milk. While beating add 5-6 cups flour until dough is soft enough to handle.

Prep the meat: 1 onion chopped fine, 2 slices of bread crumbled, 2 eggs with a little milk to soften, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper.

Roll the dough out thin, cut it into circles, fill the circles with a teaspoon of meat, and fold over, crimping the edges with your fork, or folding and pinching the dough.

Drop them in boiling water for 20 minutes. When they rise, they’re done.

Later this week, I’ll share some recipes from my adopted mom and bio mom. Enjoy, folks.

I’m back from a small ancestral pilgrimage

I’ve been on an ancestral pilgrimage since thursday. It’s been an amazing experience and more productive than I ever dreamed. I’ve written about it here and here.  I’ve a few other updates to make as well but they will have to wait until later this week. I’m just wiped out. 

Here is one though that I’ll share now in closing. The newest prayer card is by Grace Palmer and for Narvi and Vali. It’s based on art she did for my adopted mom. It’ll be available very soon. That is all.

narvi-and-vali2x4