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Uncoven Issue #29

Elbow Deep with Blackbird

Hey there Witch Friends,
Please enjoy this piece I wrote a while back regarding some thoughts and feelings on death.  I always take time in October to venerate, honor, and  work with my loved ones who no longer walk the paths in this plane.  I hold this month as most sacred, and am sometimes the odd woman out because I’m not necessarily into parties and dress-up.  It is a solemn, soul-searching time for me, and I’ve been told I’m a little too serious – imagine that!  ¯_(ツ)_/¯
This piece was originally published in the magazine Wyrd & Wise.

hands which whisper/ this is my beloved my 

Death is a casual stranger.  Sometimes I see her on the street and I smile and nod or sometimes barely look up.  I hear his voice, a visitor talking in the cubicle across the room.  I don’t bump into Death.  I don’t shake hands.  I don’t seek out Death’s eyes.  Maybe I want to, though.  Maybe I should.  I’m a line-strider, right?  A hedge-rider?  I’m a witch, aren’t I?  Aren’t I supposed to nuzzle up to Death like a warm blanket in the cold?

My English teacher from high school died in 2007, riddled with cancer all over her body.  I graduated high school in 1989, and we remained close friends, almost as if she were the mother/friend I never had in my own flesh and blood mother.  We spent countless hours in her tote-filled garage, totes full of granddaughters’ art, of old lesson plans, of endless Christmas decorations.  We sat among the tubs of these memories – chain-smoking, drinking Budweiser, and talking about everything.  Everything that life could throw at us.  Her husband’s illnesses.  Her son’s estrangement.  My…my what, exactly?  My 20-something-year-old drama, I suppose.  Caught in a thousand dilemmas of unrequited love, I struggled to maintain a GPA that was worth anything while I drank and smoked my way through the 90’s.  She read all my shitty poetry and critiqued it as if she were reading one of the Greats.  She was my confidante.  She was my advice-giver.  She was a partner in crime.  She offered comfort, love, and a house with no judgement.  I helped her write out checks for bills when her husband could no longer do it.  I took care of their house when they went on short trips.
I did help.  Didn’t I?
When she got sick, I didn’t know at first. I had called her to see if she wanted to go to lunch.  She told me that she couldn’t, that she had to go to the doctor because they had found cancer.  I swear she said it in her heavy West Texan drawl like “I’m sorry sugar, not today, I have cancer.”  How she said it – conversational, like it was a bug that would be gone by the next weekend – made me laugh.  I didn’t know.  We didn’t know.  My laughter was just a symptom of my shock and confusion.
Over the course of the next few months we discovered how bad it was.  Bad, bone and liver and all the other organs.  The doctors would try to treat it.  She was in immense pain.  Before it got to be unbearable, I would go visit.  We would sit on her patio outside (no more garage smoking) and watch birds.  One time I took a small voice recorder and had her tell me two of my favorite stories – the one about when she met her husband, and the one about when she met Steve McQueen.
She got worse.  She and her husband moved to a nursing facility, a nice one.  I visited maybe 2 or 3 times.  Maybe more.  I don’t remember.  All I do remember is getting a call from another ex-student that said if I could make it there right then, I should.  That she was going to be gone soon.  I had just started a new job.  I couldn’t get there fast enough.  She died surrounded by people who loved her, and I am glad for that.
But I hate that I wasn’t there to put my hand in her frail, warm, too-thin hand one more time.  I might have been able to be there.  I didn’t go.  I was scared.
I did what I could at the memorial service.  She had planned it in advance.  We had talked about it.  She wanted my mother to sing and she wanted me to speak.  My mother sang Ave Maria in a room off to the side of the chapel with a partitioned wall, so you could hear the music but not see the musicians.  I read an ee cummings poem and talked about how much she meant to me.  I choked back sobs.  The next day, I drove 139 miles away to sing at her graveside, the August Texas heat blazing a hole through the back of my black suit.
I visited her husband and sent him cards.  He died a little over a year after she did.
I took and took and took from them, from her.  In my youth.  I took her advice, her cigarettes, her beer, her love.  I took it all without thinking, without realizing what it would be like to not have our garage, our inside jokes.  I put the voice recorder next to her picture on my altar.  Sometimes I listen to it.  I bawl with regret. Grief. Gratitude.
Did I give, ever?  Was it enough?
When my own father was dying, I helped him.
(Did I?)
We were not close.  He may have thought we were.  Years of disapproval, stern looks, and a lack of demonstrative ability to really love had molded me, though.  Dutiful daughter, yes.  That box was entirely checked.  Filled out with the blackest of markers.
My father had a brain tumor that had grown back with a vengeance.  The day we learned that it was back, my father and mother stood on opposite sides of a medical center lobby.  There was no touching.  There was no love passed between them at that moment.  There was no hand-holding in comfort.  In their 57 years of marriage, they couldn’t do it.  Their fear was palpable.  I sat in the same lobby, not knowing what to do.  Who to sit by.  Where to go.  Judging them for not dealing with that moment differently.  I sat there.  Lost, angry, and small – like all the parentless days of my childhood.
My father got worse.  The tumor changed his demeanor.  About 5 months after the diagnosis, he had to be placed in a facility, as my mother could no longer care for him.  The last time I visited him when he was lucid, we shared just a few words.  The last words he said to me were “blue jay.”
The hospice room.  There was no TV.  He had only been there 3 or 4 days.  He was asleep when I came to visit.  He looked hollow, his breathing raspy, uneven.  I sat beside the bed a good distance away from him and recited spells in my head.  I told him he could go.  That everything would be ok.  That he should go.  That this was not a body that served him any longer.
I did not touch him.  I did not reach for his hand.  I didn’t want to wake him.
I was scared.
He died 24 hours later.
These deaths happened years ago.  More deaths will happen.  I am closing in on 50.  Aretha is dead.  Bowie is dead.  My husband’s twin brother is dead.  He shot himself:  Too young, too young.  42 and all the time in the world to…
I go to my normal job every day that is not too demanding.  I make pies and bread and other baked goods when I feel like it, and give them to others, sometimes sell them.  Sometimes I make offerings out of what I bake.  This time of year, I make soul cakes or breads that I place outside for my spirits of place, or the deities that I work with, or for my loved ones who are dead.  My loved ones.  Like I own them.
I burn those offerings.  I burn them wrapped in paper, letters to the people I still talk to now, regardless of the whereabouts or even the existence of a body they no longer inhabit.
I want to be better friends with Death.  I don’t want to be scared.  It doesn’t make sense.  Death will come for us all, and it is natural.  But it’s like we walk through this life with our hands over our eyes, fingers slightly splayed apart, knowing what is coming but not looking at it, like we watch horror movies.  Death brushes up to us, sits on a bench right next to us, stares at us.  We don’t stare back because we are scared.
I’m not afraid of riding the hedge, right now, in life.  I talk to my English teacher practically every day.  I talk to my father, with whom I have a better relationship in death.  They both visit me in the form of birds:  a cardinal, a blue jay.  I talk to my brother-in-law.  He is a large grey cat, and I have only seen him once, but I’m sure it was him.  Pulling back the veil a little is not the fear.

Walking through the veil and staying there is.

Rock Candy – Get the Fuck Out

Halloween is when I ritually sweep my porch to keep all the ne’er-do-wells away.  Non-witchy types might imagine that when the veil is thinnest, they might need protection from the spirit world.  I’m still mostly concerned with the human variety plus well-meaning but out-of-place wild creatures that do not belong IN the house. This grid will work for what uninvited guests ail you, on whatever plane they operate.Black Tourmaline: Banishing, unhexing
Bloodstone: aggressive purification
Red Jasper: intimidation, force
Smoky Quartz: protection, warding
Howlite: dispels anxiety


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How to Worship Your Ancestors:
Just Do It

Wasn‘t expecting this to start out with a Nike slogan but whatever, I guess that‘s the world we live in now. A world full of technology and smartphones and social media and also like, modern medicine and indoor plumbing and shit so don‘t get me wrong, I‘m not about to knock modernity, I appreciate living in the 21st century. For the most part.

But, you have to admit, we as a society may have gained in some areas but we sure as fuck lost in others. And when I say society, I mean the European diaspora of the Americas, us white people, we‘ve lost shit. And we‘ve taken shit, but that‘s an essay (or books full of essays) for another day. What I‘m speaking about specifically, is that we‘ve lost our connection to the dead.

In the times of old we could turn to the wax masks of the ancients hung in our homes, we could look to their graves and tombs that sat on our ancestral lands. Here in the Americas we have no ancestral land, the land we occupy is not our ancient homelands. Modernity and the choices of our ancestors has left us in isolation. We wander and we move and we forget.

When we the last time you visited a grave? Do you have graves to visit?

Can you lay flowers on the name stone of an ancestor, a loved one? Do you whisper their names and sing to them when you cook?

I‘m not here to make you feel guilty, who has the fucking time right? But if this is a path you‘re searching for, I am here to help you find it though overgrown it may be.

Okay, cool, what now?
Start with your family tree. Your ancestors and direct family have a vested interest (I‘d assume) in your life so I‘ve always found it makes the most sense to start with them. Begin with the most recently departed and build from there.

I‘ve never met these people, how can I get to know them?
I don‘t know, Karen, how do you get to know anyone? You talk to them. A name has power. Say their name. Hang their picture. Just start a dialogue. I never met my great-grandma Antoinette, she was an Italian immigrant and a devout Catholic, but when I‘m cooking tomato sauce using her recipe, I know immediately when something is about to boil or burn. She tells me. She tells me because I listen to her and when I‘m cooking I talk to her.

I say, “Bisnonna, I know Mary was sacred to you, I know you had a shrine for her in your house, I’m lighting her candle for you. Bisnonna, I know you taught my grandma this recipe and she taught my mother. Bisnonna, come visit me and my daughters, teach us how to cook.”

And she does.

I have met these people, but their deaths are too raw.
I get it. I talk to my dad all the time and I always cry. When I talk to my great-grandmas there is no grief, just joy that I‘m connecting with them. When I talk to my dad there is grief. There is so much fucking grief. Go slow, don‘t rush and when you‘re ready, talk to them.

My ancestors are assholes.
Ignore them! Don‘t say their names! You‘re under no obligation.

What about my way far back ancestors and shit?
Get to know them too. If you haven‘t taken up a journeying/soul-flight practice now would be a good time. If you‘re open and ready, your ancestors will find you. It‘s my opinion that when journeying your ancestors are in fact the easiest to communicate with. They‘re already there inside you, everything you are is made up of them.

An ancient grandmother of mine spoke to me on a rocky beach when I thought I‘d never have children. She told me I‘d be a mother, that I was always a mother and she was right.

Alright break it down, give me steps.
Step One: Learn ancestors’ names
Step Two: Say their names
Step Three: Talk to them like you‘re a crazy person
Step Four: Hang their photos and leave them offerings
Step Five: You are now venerating your ancestors

Just do it.


An Ancestor Invocation 

If you want to light a candle, light a candle or some incense or whatever makes you feel witchy. Conversely, you could simply stand in your kitchen and say some words. You‘re a witch because of what‘s in your soul, not because of how you perform a spell.

I speak into darkness
I say your names

You who are called [list your ancestral maternal surnames]
You who are called [list your ancestral paternal surnames]
I am [say your full name]
Daughter/ Son of [say one or both of your parents name]
Granddaughter/son of [say one or four of your grandparents names]
And I call to you by our bond of kinship
I call to you by our bond of blood

Come and be welcome here

Offer them something! My ancestors like mead, beer, pasta, and cigarettes but who knows what yours may like! It‘ll probably just be nice someone is talking to them again.

Trick or Treat Yourself

Scarlet’s current autumn obsessions.
1898 Bathery’s body butter is thick will make you smell like a treat.  My go-to scents are Carnival Noir, which smells like buttery kettle corn and incense, and Pumpkin Head which is my favorite variation of pumpkin scent there is.
I’ve been playing the new album by Italogaze band Rev Rev Rev constantly.  If you like wall of sound type shoegaze a la My Bloody Valentine with a touch of 90’s triphop and industrial, this hypnotic noise is for you.
Strange Fire and Fumery’s incense is heady and luxy.  My favorite, Black Goat, is currently sold out.  Alack!  But Dirge is a close second.
Trader Joe’s seasonal Candy Corn Popcorn is so good I actually told it to “shut the fuck up” when I tasted it.
Hey! Shameless self-promotion!  Scarlet’s very own Diablerie shop is offering 20% off to all newsletter subscribers with the code UNCOVEN20.  You can even pick up this month’s Rock Candy grid, loose incense, homegrown datura, and balms.

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An on-going list of political and social action items to keep you aware in these rage-inducing times.

-5 Cemetery Road Trips for the Ultimate Taphophile

-Abortion Doulas, With or Without the Title, Provide a Critical Service

-Dr Jen Gunter interview: ’Wellness sites are selling patriarchy and calling it feminism‘

-Dr Olivia Petter, gynecologist, talks outdated sexual health myths, selling patriarchy as ‘wellness’, standing up to Gwyneth Paltrow

Still useful stuff:

 Resources for teachers, education volunteers, and students on empowering students to vote.  Curriculae, planning a registration drive (4-week action plan), start a club (sample club constitution), and more!

Four Ways to Destigmatize Abortion in Everyday Conversations

-What You Can Do to Help Women in States With Extreme Abortion Bans via the Cut.

-Use the Americans of Conscience worksheets to make and Action Plan and Self Care plan for 2019.

-Complete Guide to 2019 Artist Grants & Opportunities

– Check out Jen Hoffman’s new year activism challenge with her activism plan worksheet and a bonus self care worksheet.   Sign up for her weekly newsletter which is so ridiculously more thorough than ours!

– Join the Handmaid’s Resistance!  Get updates about events, resources, organizing your own event and more.

– fire up that cellular device and oppose the rollback of birth control coveragedefend childhood immigrants and DREAMersdenounce Trump’s ban on transgender troops, tell DeVos to maintain title IX protections for campus assault victims.  Or pick any other five issues from 5 Calls, there are 31 active issues!  Bonus points: follow up with emails and faxes through an app (see below) or good ole snail mail.

– Try the Stance app. Record a voice message and will send it directly to your representative’s phone.

– Head to the House of Representatives website to find your rep in congress and contact them! Emails are great, phone calls are better, but do something. Contact them until the poor, unpaid interns who have to answer the phones all day know you by name. Contact them until everyone cries because you will not stop until your rep knows exactly where you stand on all the issues.

– Follow your congress(wo)man on Twitter or periodically check-in (if clouding your social media feed with their trash is too repulsive), representatives will often tweet about upcoming town halls. Attend town halls.

– If you are in a time crunch and want to contact your senators or representatives but can’t get to a town hall, check out this genius texting bot called Resistbot.  You will have to come up with a short message, but the bot will fax your legislators DAILY if you so desire.  Resistbot is now available on Facebook Messenger, with even more features than ever.  If you are not using this, it is simply the fastest, best way to contact your state and federal representatives.

– The Women’s March is a goldmine of resources and suggested actions to combat the growing voice of racism, bigotry, and sexism. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as well!

– Check out The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) handy-dandy doc Know Your Rights for when you’re out there on the street peacefully protesting and expressing your motherfuckin’ right to civil disobedience. In fact, while you’re at it, donate some cash monies if you can. Here in ‘Merica we vote with our dollars.

– **NEW!!** Indivisible has released a brand new version of the Indivisible Guide.  New congress, new rules of engagement.  Check it out!!

-If you are a Texas resident, you can go to the Texas Legislature Online and sign-up for an account, allowing you to view legislative content and add bills to an alert list. Whenever a bill you’ve put on your list is updated, you’ll receive an alert. Also, feel free to check out our list of Texas legislative bills that we are monitoring and updating. Stay woke, witches.

-Check out Planned Parenthood Texas Vote‘s guide on attending legislative committee hearings where the public is given the opportunity to provide input and feedback on proposed laws.

– Don’t over extend yourself! Yes, we’d all like to fix all the problems right the fuck now, but that’s not practical. You will burn yourself out if you try to keep up with everything in this country (and world for that matter) that needs fixing, so we recommend you come up with a short list of the most important social issues to you. This does not mean you don’t care about everything! We know you do! But we can’t all be doing everything all the time.

Full ImageHocus Pocus, bitches.

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