Thursday, April 28, 2016

Altars and Ashes: a Salon on honoring the Dead who were stolen from us

Welcome to the Salon.  It is April 28, and the day is misty and heavy.    Today we are going to discuss a heavy topic, but a joyful one as well.  As magickal folk, we are often dealing with the realms of the seen and the unseen, the incarnate and the discarnate.  As people who are of color, we people who are deeper shades of hue and who share the collective super consciousness of the tragic historical scars of being of color in these United States of America, we often are struck with the magnitude of the continuous murder and shed blood of the ancestors.  Both new, and old, the diasporic victims of lynching, burning
Vanilla tea by J Atkinson & Co, Lancaster
, and other acts of violence are not names in many cases.  But these spirits are still here.  Who mourns for the lost, the hidden, the stolen deaths?

In Massachusetts, there is a ceremony currently scheduled to take place this April 30th, called Ashes to Ashes.  It is a homegoing ceremony.  And what we are here to discuss today is what something like this could be in a ritual if we as a magickal group did a homegoing ritual of our own. 
Hold on, someone is at the door.

Belladonna opens the door and lets her guests inside as she grabs a tea pot.

Come in out of this soggy weather.  There is tea already brewing on the table, and the lace cloth has been substituted with a nice thick black piece of satin.  Today, all the foods will be red, black, or white in theme, due to the topic of death, blood, and ancestor works.  But please feel free to help yourself to the pomegranate cookies.

It is an overcast day.  There is movement of … something….. just outside the peripheral vision in the Salon today.  A chill breeze is coming from the doorway.  My bells are beginning to tinkle.

So I would like to welcome you all here.  Please introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about how you feel about the relevance of an ancestral ritual for those who have been lynched, murdered, etc., if you please.

Rev.  Terrie speaks up quietly:
I am Rev. Terrie. As a woman from the Deeeeeeep South, I feel that this is an important and necessary thing for my personal ancestors. I’ve done the genealogy work. I know that for every named person in my family tree there are ten who have been, ahem, taken from this life far too early. Even if I don’t know their names, I wish to honor them.

The glass teapot is turning a deep shade of purple.  Violet tea is the only exception to the color theme.  It is in remembrance.

I am just blown away by the thought of the ceremony that is taking place this weekend and envious that we haven’t done a nationwide one ourselves.  There was one at ConVocation for Mother Moses that was conducted by Witch Doctor Utu.  This was an ancestral right.  However, we haven’t really seen much for the victims of violence who did not survive.  Have you?

Tia Gipsi:
I was at that rit. It was amazing. However the faces in the crowd were not a proportionate as needed. Saying that means there are not enough people of color celebrating and embracing and honoring our ancestors. After reading the article about the upcoming vigil, it did bring a certain aspect of inspiration, to think about something occurring that is so long overdue. It also invoked a little shame, because it's something that we as a community should have thought about and done too long ago.

Rev.  Terrie makes a face.

Door violently blows open, and the container of sugar falls over.

Rev.  Terrie rolls her eyes:

Yes I do remember Utu’s ritual. See here’s the thing. Do we all just assume that only those who are actively practicing Voodoo or other ATRs can do these types of rituals? Because those are the only people who seemingly have the stones to pipe up and do something public.

Rev.  Terrie reaches for her fan and opens it to fan herself.

I believe it is put down as “Black Folks Business” or something.  Just saying.  Last time I looked, though, we populate almost every Pagan or Paganesque group in this nation in some form.  So why is this not happening?  I am just gonna say it.  I believe it is because there is so much backlash and anger over the Black Lives Matter catastrophe when COG put out the All Lives Matter statement and got some folks riled up.  Not saying it is only about Witches or Wiccans, yup there is a difference, but it is a factor.  And not just to point out COG either.  I mean it has been a really hot topic.  Folks have actually tried to shush folks at rituals in public to not cause trouble about politics.  

Rev.  Terrie  bites her lips and hides her face behind her fan.

“Racism, classism, and all isms are of the worldly concerns, this is where we make magick and accept all to be more important than that”


The other guest quietly sits in genteel repose.  Belladonna pokes at her with a powdered sugar stick.  It breaks into powder.

Phoenix Nightshade (adjusting her Nebt-Het beads): I find it quite ironic that there is this movement from acknowledging our Earthly vessels and embracing the experiences and lessons they afford us in this lifetime, in favor of just ignoring them and “transcending” their limits; focusing on the Spirit and being ethereal. It reminds me of a saying:

“So spiritually minded that you’re no Earthly good.”.  

The curtains are moving ominously toward Rev. Terrie.  Suddenly a gust of wind from nowhere in this room flaps the fabric around her plate.  The cookie is gone.  The sound of laughter is just audible.  But from who?

Rev.  Terrie snaps her fan shut and smacks the curtains.
Daddy be nice!  My apologies everyone. Daddy always did like pretty girls, and good party and cookies. Mistress Belladonna you pay him no mind when he tries to flirt with you by discussing ancient Olmec civilizations.


Discarnate Daddies are allowed some flirting.  Plus, my husband is busy in the gardens.  Something about transplanting the nightshades.

I swear, Phoenix, the Dead and our Lost are SCREAMING to us through our cultural icons right now!!!  I mean, Lemonade was about Beyonce’s journey as a woman, but damn if THEY are not using this child as a vessel.

A thought that came to me.  Yep, I wrote it.

Belladonna:  I believe a good term for what you are referring to is an Gnosis Educated Fool, Phoenix.

Phoenix Nightshade: I will say this: She either has a damn good research and marketing team, or she is officially out of Fucks. Either way, the Orisha will speak through whom they chose.

Rev.  Terrie fiddles with her fan and takes a hard look around the room:

So here’s my question, since, as Mistress Belladonna said, this is considered, “black folks business,” why are only the “celebrities” doing anything? Beyonce’s got our back, sure, Utu is doing his thing, GREAT. What about the rest of us? I do my honoring on Fridays. It’s private, it’s personal. It needs to be public and bigger. And another question. When the backlash inevitably comes, who will have my back? I don’t have millions of raving fans.

A really large shadow crosses over Belladonna’s hand and moves toward the stove.  She follows it to find that the white beans and onions had almost burned.  She stirs them and grabs the white corn bread and places bowls in front of her guests.

Maybe because, we the young folks, are not doing it.  “The work is only done by those who do the work”.  That is the best quote I ever learned.  I learned it from Bro. Fuqua Bey of the Moorish Science Temple of America when I was going through my mandatory “Journey Into Black Consciousness of the Black Intellectual Seeker” phase.  And it is TRUTH.


What would that ritual look like?  I wonder, what could we make it?  Would it be a one time thing, a recurring one?  Would a standard Order of Service and Ritual be in the Memorial in order to ensure some elements are held?

Rev.  Terrie gives Mistress Belladonna “The Look”
And would the expectation be that it’s has a certain look and feel? Voodoo “style” ? ADF Eighteen step liturgy? Free form? OR something as simple as “Today we fast for those who had nothing and had their lives taken away.”

I BELIEVE, the artists that are speaking truth now are COMPLETELY FUCKNEMIC.  The Ancestors do not only have no fucks to give, they have begun snatching fucks from the aethers so that their descendents can get the messages.
The smell of cigar smoke fills the small space as the beans are ladled into bowls.  There is no one smoking in here.

Maybe if there was a certain set of poetry selections that could be used.  Or even better, our Bards (hell nawl, not everyone is a Druid who is a Bard, so do not start commenting with that ish) could compose them.  Those of us who are Called to Sing, and Chant, and Dance, and be Griots, and Drummers, and Artists, these are those who could make this flesh out fully.  I would even state that, personally, I have always felt the Blues represented the African Diasporic Experience here in North America.

REAL BLUES.  Not the commercial stuff that has no Soul, no Spirit, no Fire and Pain and Joy.  The kind that makes you smile secretly and brings to life that spot that says “home”.  The kind that makes the tips of your fingers feel like they were just wiped clean of chicken grease, your tongue feel like it just had a drink of something from a mason jar or a small plastic cup, those are my liturgical pieces.

The kind that has that feel that it could turn into a Call and Response or Shout.  Damn, can we have somebody write a damn Song for this?!

Rev.  Terrie  laughs:
The Pagan Gospel Choir lives!

Rev.  Terrie sets down her fan firmly.
We all know that we have to start with something - anything. Then, sadly, we have to advertise the thing like we’re dropping a new album. Yes. I went there.

The sound of a spark from a short circuit is heard.  The radio clicks on and starts to play in the kitchen.  The song is “Hole in the Wall”.  Belladonna laughs and shushes the air as she turns it off.

Phoenix :  Mmmm, mmm,mhm. See, this is why doves cry.

It begins to rain.  At that same moment, the purple liquid in the teapot sends up a single bubble.  Or maybe it was just a work of the imagination.

Rev.  Terrie transfers another cookie to her plate and takes a breath:
Seriously. I could do that. I *have* done it. I’ve dug deep and wept for my ancestors - alone. For those who wish to do this work? You will need someone to drag you back to the light so the grief and anger doesn’t swallow you whole.

Phoenix: the work of honoring the Dead is bigger than we can imagine. There just about needs to be a society, even ministry dedicated to it.

Rev.  Terrie:
I agree with Phoenix. I belong to a very very small group that honors the dead and dying pagans.. But not ancestors. Most in my circles don’t even bring up the “A” word in magickal practice - unless they are heathen or a Druid…. Or part of an ATR.

Phoenix:  And that is sad because EVERYONE has Ancestors. It’s not just an ethnic thing. We have those whom we’re related to and those who I refer to as Intellectual Ancestors; those who have contributed something to our, worldview, etc. I believe it is especially important in a community like ours, where a lot of us are cut off from blood relatives due to us not compromising our truths, to have a ministry where we can not only be shepherded into the next realm but to be actively remembered so that our lives are not forgotten.
This is one of those few areas where #AllLivesMatter is actually appropriate to practice!

The Black Moon Grove here in Michigan has an Ancestral Ritual called the Blood Feast.  It changes in format, as it is to be written by each class anew each year.  But the theme is the same.  It honors the Ancestors each October.  Which of course, is the time of the Blood Harvest.
No, I am not Wiccan, but I am a Modern Neo Pagan Witch.  So I do what I want regarding the seasons and time tables.

Another thing, though, is that many are hesitant to honor Ancestors they do not know, and also to honor Ancestors that are not their own.  Silly Rabbits.  We are of Blood lines undefined and unaging.  Somewhere in the DNA there is a strand that unites us.  We can Honor all that call to us, or to those whom we are Called to Serve in this way.

Especially those who have been murdered.  Lynched.  Burned.  Destroyed.  They, most of all, need our Songs and voices.  To anyone who says this is wrong headed thinking, they can kiss my entire Black witchy ass.

Rev.  Terrie eats her cookie and tries not to say what’s on the tip of her tongue.

This is a no censor zone, Rev. Terrie.  You can disagree with  me or anyone else and I will still share my cookies with you.  

Phoenix:: Revelate Reverend!

Rev.  Terrie sips her tea then swallows down the goodness:
Honoring the Ancestors, can’t just be every October. It’s remembering their birthdays. Remembering their death days. It’s venerating them when they pass on. We as those who honor them are literally making them saints in their own rights. My paternal grandmother, Miss Jessie, is the quiet still voice who reminds me that I deserve to have an education and to work my ass off for it. I remember her and all the things she was good at. Hell, I have her cast iron pans! And as I’ve learned from my colleagues in ATRs, if you need some magic work done? Go call your Ancestors. They will work for you faster than any deity or spirit. But that’s just my experience. Mistress Belladonna? Check those beans.


However when you do public vs personal practices, that is where we have to increase the presence of this mindset.  My private practices are NEVER asked about by my students.  After all these years.  Makes you wonder.

I turned the beans off when I made the first bowls, Rev. Terrie.

Rev.  Terrie  mutters to herself.
My apologies. Miss Jessie says check them anyway. Something about a hard crust? What does that mean??

Belladonna checks the pot.  The stove was turned back on and the smell of cigars is strong again.  A flash of red and black in the corner catches her eye, then is gone in a burst of aethereal laughter.

Now cut that out!!!!  Tricksters got jokes!

Rev.  Terrie  mutters to herself and digs in her purse. She hands Mistress Belladonna a flask of rum.

Rev. Terrie:
I never leave  home without it.


I just had my phone go off.  Just a sec.  It was set to silent.  Someone is coming up the walkway.  Now wait a minute.  My phone has no charge.  Ummmmm.

Rev.  Terrie eats from her bowl and reminisces.

Belladonna sets another place.  The empty service at the end of the table is given a little more of each food.  She brings out the cranberry juice and vodka with a bit of blackberries in the vodka.  Gotta stay in theme.

Welcome Slayer Myisha.  Please make yourself at home.  Forgive my cooking prowess.

Slayer Myisha:  
I will tell you this, the honoring of ancestors is regular practice in my space, almost in the way that a Christian might say a nightly prayer or thank God when something happens. When the spirits of my grandmother's speak to me, they speak through me and I pay attention and honor them accordingly.. on the spot.. and will call their names. I, just yesterday, gave a shout out to the ancestors on national television and cared not about what they thought or perceived.

Maybe we could agree on a basic format for the ritual, and it could be a monthly one on the New Moon.  Or even better, during the time when the moon is actually waning, at the center point.  So that They are heading away and going home.  Like mid night, (not midnight) on the third night of waning.

What do you all think?  Preferably at a crossroads.

Maybe let’s play a little Robert Johnson right now.

Rev.  Terrie rudely points with her spoon

Rev. Terrie:
You know darn well, that A: if you want other people to do it, you have to make it fluffy bunny proof: simple instructions and easy to get or no tools. And B? For the actual practitioners, their timing is on them.  So we have to set the intention and see how it flows from there. We all can’t make it perfect.

Phoenix: I hate to say it, but the Good Reverend is right.
That doesn’t mean that it still shouldn’t be done. Let who will come, come and who will do ,do.
We are receiving this charge at this time for a reason. Every person, from every creed is hurting,and the only ones with answers are the Ones who have been here before.

Tia Gipsi:
Also I'm tired of the political BS. I'll do whatever rit I want when I want and invite who I want. Duck these opinions and what they say is right or wrong. If you don't want to come don't. I'm tired of the well it wasn't what I thought or how I would have, fuck that shit. Go practice your own fucking magick then. And stop criticizing mine like you are my fucking professor at Hogwarts.

Phoenix: This tea though!

Rev.  Terrie chokes on her cornbread.

Belladonna watches yet another teapot explode.  Dead and wilting violets are strewn across the table and the cigar smoke smell is stronger than ever.  She blots at it with a dish towel covered in skulls and cocks - roosters that is.

Tia Gipsi:
It needed to be said, like really. I'm not practicing Magick to get a A + in defense against the dark arts. I’m practicing because I want to and can and it's my calling, so the opinions need to stop. And the bickering and back and forth and everything else. Like build a community instead of try to “click” it up/divide it.

I mean we could have these rituals and events, if some of the shit flinging stopped. And I'm all about it. But leave the ego at the door, of your own house.

Said peace, drinks tea.

Door flies open again on its own.  The shadow of a child runs across it and passes right over Tia’s plate.

Belladonna:  TRUTH.  I had to do a lot of Shadow Work to ready myself again for the coming year.  It never ends.  Egoism is ugly when misapplied.  I had a lot of apologies I made, even when I was not wrong.  Because I chose the life circumstances that led to them.  I also had to hold many folks accountable and make tough choice.  That has had a direct effect on my writing, relationships, rituals, and spirituality.  And that is what the Ancestors demand from us.  They are always ready.  It is WE who have to catch up.  Sometimes you have to burn it down to build it right again.

There are too many damned lizards and not enough chameleons.  My ancestry also traces to the Congo, so there is a reference for you.

Slayer Myisha:
I would like to see a virtual ritual, something that could be attended by those of us spread across the lands that wish to be included. I mean we all do our own thing but there is something about that energy created when we come together from the four corners of the universe to pay homage.

I think it would be excellent and educational if said rituals were lead by practitioners of different paths on a rotation! It would be refreshing to not have ATR be put on stage to access the Dead all the time. I mean Damn, I know everyone has death rituals; we like to learn too!
You know, if we’re actually in the spirit of sharing and mutual education and not exploitation of power
* snaps fan open and waves frantically*

Rev.  Terrie has a moment where a cloud appears at her left. The cloud dissipates and a fortune telling teacup appears in the area. She checks the bottom of the cup and the note taped to it.

Apparently I’ve inherited a new ancestor, a Jewish / Romani ancestor, who would like a cup a tea.

Belladonna:  Well damn, this place has just become the “Do Drop Inn” I see!  (smiles).

A cup, decorated with violet motifs, is handed to yet another placing at the end of the table.  It is getting really crowded.  Maybe the leaf needs to be added.  A spot of tea is added, along with a glass of rum to the side.  The cigar smoke smell localizes there now.

Belladonna:  I am willing to put my money where my mouth is.  Damn, that would make me broke because I have a big mouth.  But anyway, I am willing to formulate and incense that can be reproduced freely for such a rite.  

Tia, I know you are an excellent person when it comes to magicks and ceremonies and rituals.  What would you like to do if we did design a collective rite?

(See what I did there?  All of you are on the spot)

The sound of water is heard in the Salon.  Flowing water.  The coin bank of Belladonna’s child falls off the shelf and two pennies fall out and roll to her shoe.

Belladonna:  I get the hint.  Time for the feta, black olive, and fig salad.  There is a side dish of plums for dessert.   I’ll be back with your plates.  And yes, I will set a place for the Ferryman.  (mutters to self about the Do Drop Inn again).  I will also bring some more tea, but damn, my supply of pots is dwindling.  Here we are, a nice blend of black tea with a little smoked salt.

Rev.  Terrie drinks her tea and ignores the gospel choir in her head singing “I’ll fly away” and “Going down to the River.”

Tia Gipsi:
I told you my thoughts. To bring those souls to the crossroads by the light of mama Moses flame. Let them know their freedom from this realm and that agony is here. That we deliver them to this pain and terribly haunting memory of the end they received.

We invite them to release the pain and story that ended their mortal life into the water that we place for them in the center of the space. Let them unburden and cleanse them as they prepare to walk to the other side. Remind them their stories will be told but not as the shame that was marked on them, but as the stories of that will be remembered as the price they paid for their people. The lessons we teach our young to be stronger, to work harder, to rise our people to higher levels, and strengthen our sparse village.

The ritual continues with dance and running with the flame to the other side of the crossroads as we let these people cross them. The water is carried over by the last person, chanting these waters don't cross with them, this pain is not carried by them. After the water is brought over all the way. 

“This door has closed behind them. This pain belongs only to those that inflicted it.” 

The water is poured to the west. The people don't leave yet they tell stories that remember these people they have a good time they celebrate these people they celebrate their people. They make friends they plan times to come together. They eat, they make family. And commit to doing it again. As the fire dies out they end this ritual. And plan the next one doing it again and again to honor, remember, and embrace the passed ancestors and the linage to come.

*Tia looks up, apologizes for her ramble*

Tia Gipsi:
Just a rough idea of what I saw happening.

Slayer Myisha:
*Formulates recipes of tobacco scented rum cakes*

Phoenix: I got the Beer/Water/ Gin for Libations. I can also Act as a scribe to record the names of the Dead , if known.

We need a Ritualist or Bard to write a poem or toast or tribute or rogation.  *looks at Tia and Rev. Terrie*

Let’s talk lamps.  I think 9 oil lamps for the rite.  An infused oil of saffron, rose, gardenia, and copal.  Maybe with some marigold seeds and a good amount of red Sumac.  Use a crock pot or cauldron.


Rev.  Terrie:
Yeah I know. Thinking of a refrain that can act as a spell to link back to the ritual at different times.

Belladonna ducks into the back hall to close the side door.  It blew open violently and knocked the masks off the wall.  A bottle of red wine has been moved on the shelf.  Without comment, Belladonna pours a glass and places yet another setting at the end of the table.  She has inserted the leaf, and extended the whole thing.  The ladies were kind enough to help get another black table cloth from the cupboard.

Rev.  Terrie:
Rogation: The week of Beltane and the week of Samhain, including death days and birthdays. For more in depth connections, the waning moon the day before the dark moon. My personal practice is to fast for most of the day to honor that many of my folk only had one meal a day - if that.

Slayer Myisha:
Tobacco Coconut Flakes
1 cup firmly packed sweetened coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups brewed coffee
3/4 cup cola
2 teaspoons molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Tobacco
Water (recipe follows)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
14 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons chopped tobacco leaves (reserved from cigar used to make Tobacco Water)

Tobacco Water
1 good cigar
2 cups warm water
1 cup good rum

1. Preheat the oven to 355°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. To make the tobacco water: Peel half of the layers off the cigar and discard. Separate the inner tobacco leaves. Reserve 2 tablespoons' worth of chopped leaves to use in cookies; set aside. Rinse remaining leaves under warm water for 3 minutes. Fill a small bowl with the 3 cups warm water and steep the tobacco leaves in the water for 10 minutes. Strain the water and discard the tobacco leaves. The tobacco water will be quite strong, with a nicotine sting.

3. To make the coconut flakes: In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut, coffee, cola, molasses, sugar, and tobacco water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for about 20 minutes, until all the liquid has been cooked off. Transfer the coconut flakes to a baking sheet and allow to cool to room temperature.

4. To make the cookies: In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir together with a fork. Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler. Allow to cool slightly.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, and tobacco. Stir into the chocolate mixture, then stir the flour mixture into this batter.

6. Spoon the dough 1 tablespoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheet. Leave room in between for the cookies to spread while baking.

7. Top each cookie with a little of the tobacco coconut flakes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookie tops crack but the cookies are still soft in the center. Let cool for 3 minutes before handling. Lift with a spatula and transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Or let cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to a week
That's pretty long... But yeah.. here's a recipe

Tia Gipsi:
Though in the ritual we should probably have people wear masks to symbolize the people that passed and are going over.

It actually works better that way, in my experience.  But that is just my experience.  I demand fried yard bird!!!  Chicken.  And I want some damned Blues, too!

Rev.  Terrie:
If no masks, perhaps veils?

As long as people are careful.  Remember the number one rule:  Don’t burn the witch.

Tia Gipsi:
We can make masks. We should make masks to put the energy further into the work.. I can't play blues but I can play a gypsy scale on my guitar. Blues are hard.

Rev.  Terrie:
The “gypsy”s scale is haunting enough. The Romani had hard lives too.

Two of the guests bid farewells and leave.  Rev. Terrie and Belladonna split their cookies.

Rev.  Terrie puts away the extra tea cups.

I think we have a good bare bones start here.  I think we can revisit this, but anyone who is reading this right now should be able to take what we have so far and do a kick ass ritual template, at least with components.

I am making you a plate, Rev. Terrie.  And I even have a some extra cookies.

Rev.  Terrie:
Thank you! Daddy likes the cookies!

Starts taking plates outside to the Witch’s Garden.  It takes several trips, and a giant tray for the drinks.  A small crow sat at the rosemary the whole time, scratching at the hyssop’s base.

Well, we’ve gone and done it again.  We have taken a perfectly good section of your lives and brought you into our Salon to spin away the minutes in discourse and a good meal.  Rev. Terrie, I am honored that you stopped by this little parlor.  I look forward to inviting you again.  Before you go, would you like to leave some insights on this topic that we may not have touched?

Rev.  Terrie:
My personal insights are both simple and complicated. Yes, we should honor the unnamed, those who have gone before who were unjustly denied life. Their souls cross ethnic boundaries.  We should honor them in both our own ways and in ways that can be followed by others.  My concerns are deep. These practices must be shared. They will attract haters. They will generate backlash. They must still be done. If anyone decides to take this path? Reach out to someone who supports you and carry on with the good work. You don’t have to be in an ATR or be a Druid or a heathen to do it. Just make the magic.

And that, is perhaps, the best path that can be expected of any of us.  We give honor to you who have spent this time with us.  We give honor to each other.   But most of all, we give to the Ancestors.  We especially give honor to the Fallen and the Lost Ancestors with this column today.  

You are not forgotten.