The Bones of November

Yesterday I was talking to someone who had never heard of the three day Festival of the Dead that occurs in almost every culture in one form or the other at this time of year from October 31 through November 2nd. How is this possible I wondered until I realized that I have been a student of world mythology for almost forty years and have studied these cross cultural traditions extensively noting their startling similarities as part of my academic background.

For example, the pagan, pre – christian Celtic tradition of Samhain means Summer’s End marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter cycle and “darker portion” of the year. It is believed that the veil between the living and the dead lifts during this liminal time and the dead walk amongst us so that communication occurs easily if one is sensitized, open to such thinking/sensing/feeling. This is a time to honor all the ancestors, to pay respect, and to commune with them…

In western culture we generally scoff at such ideas making a joke or creating macabre distortions out of All Hallows, All Soul’s Day, the Feast of the Dead, perhaps to deal with our personal and collective discomfort with death. It is a fact the only days allotted by Americans to honor the dead occur on Memorial and Veterans Day when we honor soldiers who died “ in service to their country” – but then we are a violent patriarchal culture that acknowledges/celebrates death only as heroic, and in the context of war. It is up to the rest of us to honor those who have gone before alone, if we do so at all.

I have adopted the Celtic (eight spokes) Wheel of the Year because it follows the natural cycles that I see occurring all around me in Nature. For example, I can look out my window and watch the golden cottonwood leaves fluttering to the ground to become compost, even as a hole opens under the fallen canopy in the east allowing the rising sun to enter the house at dawn. Snow covered mountains and fall rain brings life to the high desert even as she prepares for winter’s sleep. Indoors, I gaze at the mountains I think of as Grandmothers as I recall that in most cultures the Old Woman, Hag, or Crone reigns during the dark half of the year – She who presides over death and creates new life. I light the first fires to keep us warm and my beloved dogs and I bring in the night leaning into the comfort and warmth of early darkness. I think this is a time to reflect upon the passing away of people and cycles because like the Celts and many Indigenous folk I believe the year comes to an end as the bears go Earth to sleep…

I feel that I am an integral part of an ancient cross – cultural tradition, even as I set intentions for the coming year. In many of these traditions there is a break between the end of one year and the beginning of another and this liminal period extends until winter solstice. I note that All Hallows/The Feast of the Dead creates the space for new insights to occur so I acknowledge the “space in between” as part of my own practice.

I also take time to give thanks for every gift given over the past year, the winding river and streams, the cedar outside my door, my beloved animals, this house that offers me a window into Nature three seasons out of four (in summer I have to keep the shades down to keep the fierce white heat of the sun at bay). I honor my dead, and give thanks for the people who enrich my life through friendship. And most of all I give thanks for the Unconditional Love I receive from the Earth through any of her manifestations. S/he is my mother, my father, my lover, my sister, my brother, my child and grandchild, without whose constant presence I would be bereft.

Precognition, Telepathy, Presentiment, and the End of the Year

 

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(painting by Susan Boulet)

 

Yesterday, I sat on the top of a granite glacial boulder on a carpet of green moss that overlooks a tired ribbon of sluggish water recalling years when this brook was a force of nature tumbling to the sea after abundant October rains. Summer temperatures kept biting insects active, and swarms of small gnats swarmed around my face like a plague. We will soon be moving into November and still the rains do not come.

 

I look around me at the withered leaves of many deciduous trees noticing papery skeletons devoured by insects falling into the stagnant pool below me, striking because the water is unmarked by a discernable current. The brook has dropped three feet below “normal.” The fish are gone.

 

Thirty years ago when I first lived on this land that was once lush with new growth and clear untroubled waters I dreamed repeatedly of a time when the brook would no longer flow, and the pools would stagnate. Many beloved trees would also be destroyed dreams warned me. I was so happy here in this woodland sanctuary, so full of gratitude and love for the cathedral of evergreens that climbed the mountain that I was totally baffled by these forbidding words and graphic images.

 

Another set of dreams ran parallel with the dreams of severe drought and tree destruction and these also haunted me. “Mean neighbors” would soon surround me and cause endless amounts of trouble. Since I had no neighbors and lush forested areas held me in their embrace this series of dreams made no sense to me what so ever.

 

Today, they do.

 

I couldn’t comprehend it then that the earth was trying to warn me about a future I would one day begin to live. The way She chose to communicate with me was through my dreaming body.

 

Sure enough, seven years later the first neighbor bought land behind me and logged most of his property, left piles of slash in his wake, and opened gaping holes to the sky letting road noise in. The one time I visited this man’s house I was horrified to see snarling bear heads complete with bear skins (some from very small bears) hanging from most of the walls. The second neighbor who bought land in front of me built a house and cut trees down on my property to build a bridge over my brook, as well as stripping his own land of trees. When I asked him to remove the bridge his response was that “he had done it for me.” A third neighbor built a house in front of me refusing to leash her free roaming dogs who bullied my animals for years beginning with the day she first arrived. When I attempted to address the bullying she told me her dog “just wanted to play.” (Last year after twelve years of this behavior I finally submitted a formal complaint to the state in order to get the bullying stopped. The town refused to help me). Finally a second hunter bought 100 acres next to the bear killer, and he cut huge swathes of trees including boundary trees on my land totally destroying what once was a wilderness area that I loved as much as my own property. The two miserable hunting/tree destroying neighbors who live behind me (and now others) treat me to random blasts of machine gun fire as part of daily reality. Fireworks split the nights in two.

 

How was it possible that I had forgotten about those dreams in less than the four years it took for me to be surrounded by these hostile neighbors?

 

That the dreams suggested precognition or prescience doesn’t change the fact that precognition isn’t supposed to happen because it apparently violates the principle of causality. What is so hard to understand about precognition is that time as westerners experience it is not experienced in a linear sequence. Instead, precognition indicates that the future (personal and collective) is somehow present now and can be accessed through visioning, paying close attention to natural occurrences, or through dreaming. Dreams, I might add, are the language of the body.

 

Even rogue scientists like Rupert Sheldrake are somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of precognition, although telepathy, presentiment etc. are subjects he discusses with ease. For example, Rupert Sheldrake believes that telepathy is a survival mechanism that allows animals to communicate with one another even when they are separated by great distances, and that humans have this ability too, but it is not as well developed. From my experiences with animals wild and tame I would have to agree that animals have the edge here.

 

One other point that Sheldrake makes is that precognition may be less about seeing into an objective future and more about dreaming a personal future that will be experienced by the dreamer. If I look at my hostile neighbor experiences in this light, I can easily see that if other people lived in this house, perhaps hunters and lovers of guns, noise, and wild dogs, they wouldn’t experience the grief and rage that I have endured as a naturalist who loves stillness, trees and bears. But this doesn’t change the fact that I dreamed my own future.

 

Indigenous and country folk of all cultures took dreams seriously. I think they were able to maintain more open minds as a result, and probably routinely had experiences similar to mine because they lived in harmony with nature. It is my experience that when a person is aligned with the earth (and nature) communication between the two occurs in improbable ways. The earth body and the human body are part of one whole and experiencing this form of communication is an opportunity to see how well connected we really are.

 

We know through folklore that there have always been men and women who communicated with the Great Beyond.

 

Women in particular were associated with prophecy and these women came to be called witches during the very Christian middle ages. Witch, by the way is a modern word meaning to bend or shape; these same women were healers, and women who were also greatly feared because they could apparently discern what the future would bring.

 

When ancient shamanistic practices began to emerge this power was subtly transferred from women to men. Some men made journeys to the spirit world, leaving their bodies behind. Some were (and may still be) great healers, but prophecy wasn’t as important a quality to these practitioners, although some did engage with the future especially with regard to hunting practices through visioning, the use of hallucinogenic substances, and dreaming.

 

Indigenous women continue to practice midwifery/hospice, healing with herbs, and prophesizing, some “reading” tea leaves, cards, sticks, melting metal, etc. to help them see into the future; others receive this knowledge through dreaming.

 

One difference that stands out to me concerning Indigenous men and women healers is that men often leave their bodies in trance to gain knowledge, while most women remain in their bodies retaining a close connection to the earth in order to heal with herbs, or read the future.

 

In the Amazon I witnessed (over a period of three years 2005 – 2008) authentic women shamans practicing in their own villages, while male shamans traveled from one village to another with ease and were generally accepted as being more powerful. Is this an example of the hierarchical structure of knowledge over intuition? At the risk of sounding the bell of sexism I also wonder if men and women who live in communion with the earth are gifted with information that comes to them (in altered states) in different ways that somewhat depend on gender?

 

Today, shamanism is primarily a New Age commercial construction and almost all modern day shamans are men. It is very important to recognize that shamanism may also represent the first transference of spiritual power from a matrifocal culture to a patriarchal one.

 

But to return to the thorny subject of precognition, the fact remains that in scientific academic circles precognition is relegated to the absurd. I think this is why having dreams or visions that indicate precognition causes many individuals to reject their own experiences seeking other explanations.

 

I know I certainly did.

 

However, as a woman who has kept track of her dreams and visionary experiences (altered states of consciousness experienced without drugs that occur spontaneously when I am in a very open, receptive state) for more than 40 years, I was forced to come to the conclusion that precognition in some form does indeed exist.

 

After researching so called paranormal abilities in depth I recognized that for me telepathy works through my body when I am awake often affecting my nervous system. I sometimes experience an uncomfortable buzz when telepathy is occurring with people. Presentiment is a sense or a powerful (often totally illogical) feeling that something is about to happen, that I experience during daylight hours. Both can manifest for me through an animal sighting (or cluster of sightings), weather, or other natural occurrences and are reinforced by my dreams.

 

Years ago I began to put either a “T” for telepathic or a “P” for precognition at the tops of dreams and animal sightings that seemed to carry a peculiar charge of energy and/or message/ information. I also noted feelings of presentiment.

 

When I review my journals once a year I continue to be struck by the accuracy of these T’s and P’s. Many of my experiences are telepathic. And because I already had a dove who had been reading my mind and vocally responding to my thoughts on a daily basis for many years and had repeatedly entered these vignettes in my journal I had developed an open mind years ago. Lily b, taught me that telepathy was real, so I am not surprised that experiences of it are so commonplace in my life. I have lived the same kind of instantaneous “knowing” with my dogs, my children/other members of my biological family/friends/foes/ and in Nature with wild animals, especially during my study with wild bears who apparently communicated with each other and with me through what I still call the “bear grapevine” though we were/are separated in space/time.

 

I’d like to give the reader a personal example of what I believe might be objective precognition. In 1997 I dreamed that my mother developed cancer in her left breast, and that she was operated on and survived without a reoccurrence. Just before receiving this information I was in a yoga class and heard my mother’s voice singing a song she loved in French in a plaintive frightened voice. Simultaneously my body cringed with some kind of irrational death fear that I was unable to shake. A year later my mother did indeed develop breast cancer and was successfully operated on. The cancer did not return.

 

How else do I explain this experience if I refuse to acknowledge precognition? Telepathy may have been part of this soliquay (the song coming through the air) but the cancer itself hadn’t been diagnosed yet. Of course there was always the possibility that the seeds of the cancer were there in my mother’s body and I picked that up telepathically.

 

On another occasion I dreamed that my youngest son was going to have a terrible accident. He was in college at the time and working construction over the summer to pay tuition and you can imagine his reaction when I told him not to go to work the morning after I had this dream. He ignored my warning and almost cut his hand off. Again, it could be argued that telling him he was going to have an accident may have made him more likely to have one.

 

The night my son was in what could have been a fatal car accident, I woke up hearing him cry out to me at 3 AM in the morning. The next day I learned that the accident occurred at 3 AM.

 

I have literally, hundreds of personal stories, some more fantastic than others but together these accounts have taught me that at the very least I must always keep an open mind.

 

Although unable to stay in my body under stress – I have an anxiety disorder – unconsciously, through my dreaming body and consciously through a powerful sense or feeling I seem to have a direct link to other ways of knowing. Believe me, some days I am really haunted especially since there is no consensual reality to access for confirmation unless I consult cards or throw myself on the mercy of Nature.

 

I have written this essay to raise questions about how we perceive reality, and hopefully, to open people’s minds to new possibilities. As the reader can surely understand my experiences raise some questions that I cannot answer.

 

It is my intention to put my queries out there to allow the forces of nature to provide new insights if they are so inclined. All Hallows is almost upon us, signifying the end of the year for many Indigenous and pre- Christian cultures, a perfect time I think, to query what we mean by “reality,” because the veil is thin as we move into this dark time of the year. I think of this passage as a holy time, a time to honor the dead and to give thanks for life, as we set new intentions for the coming year.

Hecate’s Moon

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Hecate’s Moon

is the piercing thorn

of a wilted white rose.

 

Frost covered, she rises over

bare trees shorn of leaves –

crackling obscenities.

 

Fog obscures her face,

obliterating any attempt

to categorize or capture essence.

 

Blood stains the river

that flows unimpeded

in this crack between her

worlds.

 

Listen, and you will hear

wild cats screech,

coyotes howl,

owls shriek.

 

I lay low.

 

She is what She Is,

A force to be reckoned with,

this Dark Side of

the Moon.

 

 

Working notes:

 

So many feminist spiritual traditions attempt to lighten the dark powers of this (Greek) mythological underworld figure who is multi -valenced and can be found in some form in every mythology. She lives underground seething in  silence and acts as a bridge between above and below as she moves between worlds. She slices our nights in two – living through the dreamtime – a specter unseen but experienced when the Earth turns dark. I think she comes now not because of the changing seasons but because gun violence*, rape, and the deaths of thousands of innocent people, trees, plants, seeds, and animals have become the new “normal.” Unspeakable acts of horror have come to define who we are as a people.

 

Hecate is, above all, the transformer holding living and dying in precarious balance until the scales tip too far. When she steps in with a scythe in her hand, beware because her force is deadly, and none are spared. Hecate’s wrath is boundless, her time draws near…

 

This month Hecate’s appearance also informs us that the end of the year is almost upon us. Her Full Moon, and the Feast of the Dead which is held over the last days of this month and stretches into November, ushers us into her world – a three way crossroad – Cairns mark the place between that which has gone before, the present moment, and whatever is destined to come.

 

Hooded, she walks alone and we spin through her once starry spirals turned to dust in dense matter. Spirals, patterns in Nature, remind us that as we spin out of control we are destined to implode.

 

*Note: in the middle of writing about gun violence at twilight, massive machine gun explosions cause us ( my dogs and me) to jump out of our animal skins. We live in a war zone,  one as yet, legally undefined.

The next morning hounds howl in a frenzy as they tree a hapless bear who will then be shot.