Monday, December 21, 2015

Why This Black Woman Celebrates Winter Solstice

I am a woman of African and American Indian ancestry. The world has plastered many labels over my life. I've learned to move among them and find clearings that allow me light and breath. Embracing my ancestors as guiding spiritual beings has been life saving for me. Old ways are my ways.

For many years now, the solstices and equinoxes have been a part of my seasonal reverence and celebration. Christmas and other religious holidays have nothing for me. During these years the needle prick of guilt has always been present. The old lore of paganism in the British Isles and Northern Europe is long and rich. The drums of the Celts, the glowing bonfires, the celebration of deep night and the return of the sun have always pulled me in, but the knowledge that these are the people from whom my oppressors emerged has been a knife I have not been able to remove from my heart.

I have always known that my ancestry carries white folk among those in the Spirit World. Every African American does. It is the legacy of Slavery and White Supremacy. It is what is. Like many, I do not speak of it, have let it lie dormant in my spirit and mind. To embrace those ancestors would be a betrayal of the the ones in chains on the oceans and the ones whose bones decorate the way to Oklahoma.  So I have marked the longest night with a mixture of reverence and conflict.

When I had my DNA parsed, the more than 20% of Northern European and British Isle blood shook me up. The rest was no surpise--West and Central Africa, and American Indian with a tiny  amount of Southeast Asian. The number of white folks sitting in my family tree was bothering me.

So I've done what the old ways teach. I've sat with the disturbance and looked for what it has to teach me. Recently, I came across the Facebook page of Luisah Teish, the author and great teacher of African Spirituality.  Through this connection I found a series of youtube videos on ancestor reverence and fell into them head first. Her words held the wisdom I  needed.

My Celtic translated white ancestry is troubling, but I needed to deal with it--to heal the wounds created by it so that I  can continue towards wholeness. The healing is a process with many pieces found over time through music, through lore, through connection to old ways of those ancestors long before as Teish says, "history changed us."

Winter Solstice is sacred for me. Feeling guilt or anger for the white skin of those ancestors does not serve the balance and it does not serve the growth of my soul.  So tonight I honor the dark and its secrets revealed. I honor the old ones, all of them within me and their wounds which I am healing with the love I give away in the world.  Tonight my fireplace will crackle with sacred fire, all ancestors will be fed and honored, a Celtic chant will be sung and drummed.  I will keep my path, this night a part of it, which is for me and no one else, and tonight I  will no longer be ashamed of the peoples from whom I come.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lessons in Self Love

Every one of us has something to teach to and learn from others. Lessons come in unexpected and often hidden ways to be excavated over time. Sometimes the lesson is in how not to be, and always the lessons are meant, in my humble opinion, to ask us to look inward. I don't succeed all the time at that part. I don't like looking into darkness, but I've learned enough to understand that when  I'm really bothered by what someone says or does, it's because they are reflecting something in me that needs tending. It has always been easier to come to terms with my faults than to see the things that make me a good person.

I've learned from following my ancestral ways of Cherokee and West African tradition that duality doesn't serve the balance of things well. There is always more fluidity in life than we allow for in the Western World. Lessons don't have to be one type or another. Perhaps they can serve more than one purpose if I am open enough.

I was reading the post of an acquaintance on social media. I know this person in real life, not well, but enough to feel affection and some connection. The post was a rant about people who claim titles to which this person felt the people are not entitled. The post felt snarky, elitist, and most of all unhappy. This person is a gifted performer and wonderfully caring teacher whose students worship the ground they touch. So, why, I kept asking myself did they feel compelled to be so...not nice?

I was also stung by a disparaging reference to artists who work with clay and paint. I felt uncomfortable and insecure, which I often do about displaying my pieces to public view. This year I began posting some images of what I am working on--my effort to overcome the anxiety. So I was quick to take in the barb about no talent people calling themselves artists.

The post bothered and pinged me for several weeks. This morning I have rested on some lessons to meditate upon from this person's words:

~Being unkind in the way I express myself is not how I want to be. Taking the time to think through what I want to say, and recognizing that it is not necessary to say out loud everything that comes into my head will help me to think first before I speak--is it kind?

~Compassion for those who feel compelled to say unkind things that pull the legs from under others who don't do things as they do is something I need to practice. I don't always recognize that being unkind is basic to being unhappy within yourself. Instead of feeling hurt or angry about their words, it is better to feel compassion for the unhappiness that drives the words.

~ Instead of looking for ways to devalue what I do as an artist, it is an act of radical self love to give less time to what others think of my work and more love and appreciation for what the creation of clay art and water colors does for my spirit. Creating art so that others will praise me does not feed me. Creating something of beauty because the act of creating art is sacred and beautiful in itself feeds me beyond measure.

~I may not be enough for everyone and that's ok. I am enough for me and for those I love and those who love me. I am enough.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gnosis for a Mother Bear

Lighting my altars, making myself present to life and this day. As I turned East to greet Creator in the sunrise, I felt everything slow down as if time was suspended for just a few moments. In that place that I know but rarely am in, I heard the Grandmothers and the Ancestors--"She has always been protected and she is safe already safe." It was not my voice or anyone's here on Earth, but I know them. Know them in the way of Gnosis not knowledge--is there a word for this? I can experience it, feel it be there in it, but I cannot catalogue it, or put it in this realm in a way that sounds anything other than madness.

As quickly as the bliss came, it was gone. I am peaceful and above all grateful for this moment. As I've struggled and foght and warred with myself and the powers of men to save, to protect, to love, the one thing that keeps me in a state of despair is my resistance to letting go of control of what is beyond my influence. Social Justice is a sacred work and tight rope walk for spiritual sojourners. The fact that my child is a member of one of the vulnerable populations  I fight for makes it a more precarious walk in finding balance. How do we walk the path of warrior and nurturer in balance? For me it is one shaky, rocky, unknown step at a time. And faith, this where my faith in the ultimate goodness of the world has to guide me. I got a blink of that pure love during my prayers and meditation this morning. It is enough. Gratitude for this life and lessons. I am blessed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hoo Doo Healing

I am a Rootworker. I am fully aware of the stereotypes and stigma associated with spirituality and old ways that come from Africa and other Indigenous peoples.I can only tell you what Rootwork and Conjure has come to be for me. It means that I work with plant spirits, elements, guides, and ancestor wisdom for the purpose of healing, protection, and divination. I do this by making amulets, talisman, mojos, and hands. I never ask for or accept money for serving others, though I will work money conjure spells and recipes. I also work recipes and spells for healing and protection. I refuse to do crossing work. Do not ask me for jinxes or hexes. This work is not my path. Many traditional Hoo Doos as we are sometimes called worked the roots for the purpose of success in love, family concerns, protection from enemies, and spell work to harm those who were doing harm to themselves or loved ones. During the time of Slavery, these concerns were upper most in the consciousness of Black Folk. The origins of Hoo Doo and Rootwork come from my African Ancestors and Native American Ancestors. The Middle Passage ( the transporting of Africans across the Atlantic as slaves) brought the knowledge of herbal medicines, spiritual rites, and the Ashé of many individuals who learned from Native American Medicine people, collaborating and sharing knowledge. Not to be confused with Voo Doo, which is a religious practice based on Voudon from West Africa.

My journey is so far off the beaten path, there are no maps. Finding places where I fit in are scarce. I've tried churches, groups, gatherings. Seems my spiritual journey is a solitary one. Still, I connect where I can.

One of the best recipes I've come across for inflammation and pain in the joints, muscles, and bones has been a tonic made from raw honey, fresh ginger and mint. It's easy enough to make, but an important element to the crafting is the personal Ashé of the practitioner. Think of Ashé as your own Life Force energy that is connected to everything else in Creation. It is within you and surrounds you touching everyone and everything you come into contact with at any given moment. You can focus your Ashé to give strength to spell work. The first thing I do before making a healing recipe is to spend some time in meditation about my intentions, making sure my heart is in the right place. Then I gather my tools and materials. I make an offering to my Guides and Ancestors so that they will be near and touch my work. This particular tonic has been really helpful in alleviating much of my fibro pain. Jack Jack has arthritis in his back had been eating ibuprofen like candy. He is no longer taking that and has the honey ginger tonic three times a day. Good Stuff.

Honey Ginger Health Tonic

Fresh Organic Mint, 1 small bunch (I used the orange mint from my garden.)
Fresh Organic Ginger (medium size knob)
1 cup Raw Organic Honey ( I use the Wildflower honey from Marlene's)

Use stainless steel pans, bowls and spoons as they are non reactive with the plants. Wash and dry the mint. Remove the leaves. Set Aside. Peel and rinse the ginger and slice thin. Put both mint leaves and ginger into a stainless steel sauce pan cover with filtered or distilled water and cover. Keep the pan covered throughout the preparation so that the volatile oils and vapors stay inside as much as possible. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low simmer. Allow liquid to reduce by half. Allow to cool--this is important. Place the honey into a clean canning jar. Strain the liquid into the honey. Take the plant material that is left to the compost pile or bury outside so that it can return to Mother Earth. Seal the canning jar and gently shake to mix the ingredients. Take 1-2 tablespoons up to 3 times a day for aching and painful joints and muscles. This is also a good tonic for settling an upset stomach. Refrigerate and the tonic will keep for a month.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Weirdness Is a Gift

I'm blessed with space that lets me keep altars in my home. These sacred spaces are so important to my spiritual path and practice. Learning the traditions an old ways of my ancestors has made my life more sane, more peaceful, more meaningful. Last year I had my DNA parsed and was shocked at the results. My ancestors were West and South African, Celts, American Indian (Cherokee, I've found through the Dawes Roll), and East Asian. I also carry the genome for Neanderthals. No wonder I am so weird! I've come to embrace weirdness as a gift, though. I've always been drawn to certain practices and aspects of Creation without a reference point in this life.  It must be in the bones.

I've been embarrased by my affinity for anything that wasn't based in my obvious African ancestry. This world loves to shame and label. I would let that shaming take from me to the point of feeling there was something wrong with me. No more. I embrace all of who I am, even the less desirable ancestors who  were, no doubt, the oppressors of my African and American Indian ancestors. I have to embrace my history in order not to be dominated by it. So now when I hear Celtic drums I dance with as much joy as when a Sorsornet call begins.  Tibetan Buddhist  chants draw me in like siren song. I play Native American flute as prayer--it heals my heart.   I own and play djembe, doumbeks, and frame drums.  Every one of these cultures reveres their ancestors and I practice this as well.

All of this is who I am spiritually, which is why I've never fit in with the Christian church. It's not that I have anything against Christians. It's just not my path. So I mostly travel alone and just connect where Spirit takes me. As Billy Fingers says, I "try not to take life too seriously" and get caught up with human stuff. It does not mean that I don't feel sad, angry, lost, afraid, or hopeless. I do, sometimes daily, but my spirituality keeps me from giving up. It keeps me from falling apart when faced with the reality of my child's misery and what it really is. If not for the spiritual stew of my ancestors, I don't know if I would still be alive. That's just the truth for me. So I'm blessed to be on the road I am on, and to those who see weirdness, and oddball I say, "Thanks."

My altar to Mother Tara, Ganesh and Lakshmi

Friday, September 4, 2015

Being Whole Being Broken

"...and that visibility, which makes us most vulnerable  is that which is also the source of our greates strength." ~Audre Lorde

Each day this week, once I've coaxed myself from bed, I go to my altars and make offerings and prayers. I pray for strength to continue. I pray gratitude for what is and that which is to come. I pray this even as fear gripes my gut. I pray this as anxiety tosses me around all night and leaves me beached and exhausted by morning.

I am in a perpetual state of raw and naked, nerves exposed, and wounds gaping. Some way I am still breathing.

Project P.E.A.C.E is the city of Tacoma's series of conversations with community members and the local police department. The goal is to have better communication between citizens and officers and to understand the ways in which structural and systemic racism perpetuate oppression of marginalized communities. The hope is avoid a Ferguson in Tacoma, though many believe it has already begun here. As the mother of a transgendered, schizophrenic, and drug addicted adult, law enforcement and the criminal justice system have been an unwelcome presence in my life for the past two years.

Over the years I've tried different ways of combining my spiritual path and practice with community involvement. Church, women's groups, volunteering, none of these ever fit me in a way that was in harmony with my world view of an interdependent web of life. Then I went to a march for Black Lives Matter. This one event opened a rocky path to connections with people who have a fire in their belly for social justice and radical change. I am walking with them, listening, learning, helping where I can.

This is the work that your life prepares you to do. I am vulnerable in ways that leave me drained and oh so done at the end of  the day. Telling a room full of people that includes a uniformed gun carrying policeman that police officers terrify me left me shaking. I showed my underbelly, my fear. Spiritually, it was a moment of growth, but growth is painful. And I am so so tired of pain.

Still, I can't bring myself to try the new age spirituality of "if we just focus on happy thoughts, nothing bad will touch us". Life is change. Life is struggle and pain, and along the way I  learn a deep appreciation for places of light and goodness and beauty. They do come, not as often as I think they should, but they come when they need to come.

So I go to my altars each morning and I say thank you for my life and I ask for strength to continue trying to make something good from something so awful because while I am lighting candles and incense, while I am making offerings and giving gratitude I am coming into wholeness from a place of profound brokenness. I may remain whole for only a brief time, but it's enough. It's enough that I have the capacity to experience wholeness even as I am shattered by life.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What the Living Know ~ For Jaimie

We are the stuff of burnt out stars,
Salt song oceans,
Million year old mud
Our bones tell us secrets.
We do not know this.
Sunflowers we planted
in April are 10 foot giants.
Russet faces smile down
On us even in the rain.
We know this is so, but do not know why.
The back yard is bereft
Empty of you sitting in your sun dress,
Your iced tea with a straw.
I was with you the day
you bought the blue gingham.
Your shoulders so thin and frail
I wanted to drag
you back into childhood.
Wanted another chance
to see the you I could not
fathom then.
We know this is called regret.
The shopping cart with
Everything you own is in the garage.
The police and the judge
Say we can't give them to you,
But that they could not stay
On the street where they
Took you, bruised and dirty
to Nisqually for 60 days or three years.
We know this is called the system.
The place where you are
lets you choose "transgender"
on your electronic profile
Before they lock you in.
We know this is called progress.