Of the Dead and the Living

Yesterday some of my students came to class in costume.  With a few of them, I wasn’t quite sure if they were dressing up as somebody or something else, or if they were wearing an extreme version of their own true style — if those sunglasses, that muscle shirt, that fringe was what they would be wearing every day if it was socially allowed.  It made me think, I wear my costume every day.  Tonight I get to put on my real self’s clothes.  

I drove up to Fort Collins with a few friends (now that I live in the city, I can carpool!!  Much excitement!!) to attend a Samhain celebration that included both ritual and Dances of Universal Peace.  Oh, it was lovely.  The facilitator asked all attendees to wear black.  Although we were all invited to invite in loved ones who had crossed over, and this aspect of the holy day is the one that was most explicitly talked about, when I saw all those sisters and brothers dancing in unison in all-black sacred attire around a black-cloth-draped altar that really looked a lot like a cauldron, I felt most strongly connected to the starstream of my anonymous spiritual ancestors — pagans of ancient Ireland and Rome, blood-related to me or not — who have ever celebrated this, or anything like this.

Throughout the evening I kept imagining what it was doing outside — the wind blowing leaves, clicking along the concrete sidewalks and down the roads; the energy zapping back and forth across the sky.  As an adolescent I called this season between October and the New Year “the gathering together of power.”  I could feel it, though I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it.  I wouldn’t say I know those things now, but maybe I’ve developed a closer relationship with the mystery since then.  It’s sweet.  And wild.

Here’s a poem from the faculty reading I was part of this week.  I wasn’t sure what it would be like, reading without the usual academic costume.  It felt lighter than I expected.

“On the Cusp”

On the cusp, the world changing so quickly
or seeming to change around me, and I with it
know I am changing –
I am running both backward and forward –
 
Caught up in the spinning she tells me,
Abandon everything you have tried before.
Carefully reading the signs with eyes growing accustomed to new light,
She says, Those fables suited earlier times
when humans needed myth to shroud and disguise the Truth
so what they feared could sneak like a beautiful thief
into their hearts, to steal away their fear itself
and leave the jewels of faith behind.
Now we are grown, or part-grown anyway, enough to let go of the precious lies of childhood.
We must gird ourselves, be scientists, be brave,
take the laws of the Universe into our own hands now
and wield them without sentimentality to carve our way through to Love.
 
My soul, yearning for freedom, terrified of missing the chance to be
released from its captivity behind my questioning, worrying, analyzing mind,
like a soldier, rises at this reveille and scrambles to attention
gamely to follow the new orders –
but even as it leaps headfirst into the new day
there falls from the blankets the relic of the beloved saint
scent of the temple incense still clinging
much folded, much handled, and tearing at the edges,
but tightly grasped in sleep:
the letter from Home – the promise of reunion.
 
Though our memories of that time retreat more rapidly than Avalon,
and the great Teachers’ voices dim with distance
still I pick up the fragments they drop as they speed away.
In the palm of my hand the pentacle still glows with inner fire.
The crescent in the night sky still cups wisdom secrets
that may be poured out in crystal drops to the thirsty.
In poems, in spells, in gospels, beneath the tapestry of words
that decorate and hide, the Truth still whispers into the ear of the seeker.
 
Not every herald carries the Queen’s message.
For every true word that is spoken aloud,
songs beyond number are murmured by spirits
that fade from our senses and blend almost into silence.
Those ancient roads have not ceased to exist
but only made themselves hard to find.
Don’t be fooled: the signpost is not the road.
We will all arrive at the same place in the end
but some will see more beauty along the way.
 Milky Way Over Forest

4 thoughts on “Of the Dead and the Living

  1. Thanks for sharing the “beauty along the way” that others may become more aware and open to it! Ah… the manuscript of nature…. we are truly blessed.

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