Dawn of the Dead

Death Cycles

At my morning walks along the canal this last week it has already become apparent that the winter is slowly fading and the sun is growing in strength. Nevertheless the all encompassing greyness and hardly visible but relentless February rain is just occasionally broken apart by blue sky and sunlight. From Capricorn to Aquarius, Saturn rules this time of the year and it seems appropriate. Before All Saints and All Souls got shifted towards the end of the year, the ancient Romans celebrated Parentalia during mid February - starting today and lasting for nine days of remembering and communing with the spirits of the dead ancestors.

To me it feels like a nice framing of time to connect with the dead in November and then again in February - almost like two twilight moments like dusk and dawn with the winter solstice at its darkest midpoint. It is the twilight between the world of the living and the world of the dead, liminal periods where the two realms bleed into each other and where it seems more easy and appropriate to have interactions between the two.

Magician and blogger BJ Swain has a brilliant chapter about ancestor work in his highly recommended book "Living Spirits". He touches on concepts and beliefs from the Kongo and how traditions there understand and conceptualize life and death. I found it very enlightening because it ties in with what I wrote in the previous paragraph about the worlds of life and death mirroring the daily and yearly solar cycle and puts in words what I could only describe as a feeling until now: the Dikènga cosmogram. It serves as a fundamental law of the universe and is especially suited to describe a cyclic relationship between the living and the dead. It also struck me as heavily resonating with ancient Egyptian cosmology:

Coded as a cross, a quartered circle or diamond, a seashell spiral, or a special cross with solar emblems at each ending - the sign of the four moments of the sun is the Kongo emblem of spiritual continuity and renaissance par excellence. [...] The horizontal line indicates the divide between the world of the living and the world of the dead. It also indicates the divide between night and day. The circles at each quarter point can indicate the sun, or they can indicate moments in the life and death cycle. This cycle is characterized not simply by each step feeding the next step until we return to where we begin, but also by the idea that life and death reflect each other. So when we are born into the world of the living we die from the world of the dead and vice versa. When the Sun is at noon in the world of the living it is midnight in the world of the dead. We do not simply exist in a step by step cycle but in a symbiotic reflection, where what occurs for us is coordinated with what occurs for them, and what occurs for them predicts what occurs for us and so forth. [1]

I dove deeper into the fascinating Dikènga rabbit-hole and found this description of the concept as a whole:

Dikenga

the stage known as Musoni is the stage of the conception of ideas, human beings, and ail things conceivable. Musoni corresponds to when the sun is at midnight and is represented by a yellow color. Although the sun has set and therefore cannot be seen directly by the observer, it is understood to still exist. Similarly, when a person dies, he/she is understood to still exist in the same fundamental way as the human being is conceived of as ntângu a môyo 'a living sun' (Fu-Kiau 1994: 26).' By the same token, matter is not created or destroyed - it simply changes form. [...] After Musoni, the next stage is Kola, illustrated in Black, which represents birth, sunrise, and [...] the beginning of the story. Next, Tukula, associated with the color red, represents the sun at noon. It corresponds to the highest point in a person’s life [...]. The next stage is Luvèmba, shown in a grey color. This represents sunset. This is the stage of the transformation that occurs when a person passes on. However, in the Afrikan worldview, this is not truly the end. Indeed, Fu-Kiau asserts that “Dying is not an end. Dying for the Kongo is just going on vacation” (Fu-Kiau 2001b). The underlying concept is articulated in the proverb "tufwanga mu soba — we die in order to undergo change" (Fu-Kiau 1994: 27) Luvèmba is where the story comes to its closing formula but continues to exist in other forms. [2]

Croissants, Coins, and Crows

The Romans celebrated Parentalia not only at home but visited the family tombs in the liminal space just outside of the cities to commune with their ancestors and bring them offerings of flower-garlands, wheat, salt, wine-soaked bread and violets. I really resonate with this practice and especially during these periods of the year really would like to do similar rites. But today not many of us still live in the same place where our ancestors were buried and we do not have a ritual space to be near to their physical remains. For me it is the same. I live around 700km away from my grandparents graves and I only have very few chances to "visit them."

But I discovered a magical solution to the problem - or it was rather Saturn who sent a cold black spark of inspiration that led me to a solution. But first let's rewind a bit...

It was during a visit in my hometown around Christmas two years ago. I was on the way to visit my sister at her home to have breakfast together. Before, I wanted to buy some croissants and other delicacies at a French bakery around the corner of where she lives. Upon entering I checked my wallet to see if I had enough cash. In my usual early morning pre-breakfast clumsiness I managed to drop a handful of coins on the street right in front of the bakery. Mumbling curses I managed to pick most of them up and realized that among them were also three Chinese coins that I occasionally used for I Ching divination. There were only two of them on the pavement and I crawled around looking for the third one. Then I saw the gully...

Pointing my phone's flashlight into the shaft while dodging confused customers who tried to enter the bakery I spotted the lost coin. It was lying on a layer of rotten leaves that had clogged the shaft, just a few centimeters below the gully's opening. The slots on the lid were too narrow to put my finger through so I decided to try again on my way back after breakfast.

Two hours later I returned, confident of victory, armed with a magnet, a string, and a coat hanger made of wire. The first blowback was to find out that the damn coin did not stick to the magnet, so I tried it with the coat hanger. I got more frowns and suspicious looks from bakery customers and owner, crawling around on the floor poking around in the gully.

Eventually...instead of managing to stick the end of the wire through the coin's square hole, I poked a hole into the layer of leaves and the coin dropped right through it and disappeared in the darkness.

I chuckled when I looked up, still on my knees - because the bakery's entrance had a little black iron crow as decoration of their doorstep - and they had dressed it with a red scarf and a Santa hat for the Christmas season. It seemed to mock me - I guess I deserved it.

Crow

Graveyeard Wormholes

I don't remember if it was on the same day or a day after, but in the afternoon I walked through my favourite cemetery that I use as a shortcut on my way from my parents house to the inner city. Some of my relatives from my mother's side are buried there, so I decided to visit their grave. When I walked past the beautiful crematorium building in the middle of the cemetery that was built in the late 1900s and looks like an antique temple I was suddenly struck with an insight and a plan:

Today was Saturday, the day of Saturn. The crow in front of the bakery: a Saturnian animal. It all suddenly made sense to me now and I instantly knew what to do: I remembered that had wanted to collect earth from my ancestors graves for some time already and I also remembered that in the African American Hoodoo Rootwork tradition you offer coins to the spirits in exchange for graveyard dirt. In this particular moment these two thoughts developed into a magical idea...

I walked to the crematorium because I remembered the beautiful mosaic of a skull and a sand clock it has on the floor of the front gable. I placed my remaining Chinese coins on the mosaic, recited the Orphic hymn to Kronos and did an impromptu request to Saturn to cleanse the coins of all previous influences. Then I asked him to aid me in fusing all of my Chinese coins together to one etherically interconnected network of magical tokens that by themselves should act as portals to exchange magical energies with each other across the network. I waited for a moment and recollected the coins.

Skull

After I went to the grave of my grandparents and uncle, recited a requiem prayer and asked for permission to take some dirt. I placed one of the freshly created Saturnian portal coins into the earth and told my ancestors that through this object we will be connected with each other beyond space and time.

A few days later I did the same at the grave of my father's parents on a different cemetery and also at the grave of our old neighbors who were close to my heart because they were also like grandparents to me when I was a child.

Portal

Back home in Berlin I placed all the collected earth from the graves into a beautiful glass container and put another of the Saturnian coins on top of it. This acts as a proxy or portal to the physical graves of my ancestors and when I want to give offerings to them I pour libations over the coin or wave it through incense smoke and imagine how the offering's energies travel across the etheric network and reach their graves. I also imagine the portals to be open for exchange and meditate on this image while communing with my ancestors spirits.

Feel free to use this idea yourself and see if it helps you to be closer to your ancestors if you whish so. It certainly helps me. I can also imagine that instead of coins you could use a rock or other item broken into pieces or make up a batch of tokens with the same sigil on it.

Spirit Communion

The general protocol that I have currently settled with for my own practice of communing with my ancestors is mainly based on the ritual outlined in this highly recommended Sphere & Sundry article, but also heavily inspired by a Shinto ritual that I love for its powerful minimalism. I combined the two and I work with Tehuti as psychopomp, because I already had a relationship with this god through my Tarot practice.

The full protocol is suitable for first contact or special occasions and can be easily simplified for more casual subsequent communication. The calls to the ancestors in the ritual outlined below are a spin-off from a general prayer to the ancestors that I wrote a while ago and which I frequently use in other ritual settings:

You ancestors who came before me. I call you. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. All you, from whose community I came forth, whose blood flows through my veins, whose traces and memories I carry within me. With deep compassion, I think of your sufferings and your pains, through which you had to go on your life's path. With gratitude and love I think of your struggles, your dreams, your achievements, your courage and your strength. May your blessing and guidance bring out the best in me, for the benefit of all, whom I may meet in this life. Amen.

Full Ritual

Altar

Preliminaries

  • Ritual bath
  • Anoint with oil
  • Light candles
  • Light general incense (Frankincense)
  • Place a bowl of Natron or Butsudan ash powder in the center of the altar

Orphic Hymns

I prefer to do this rite during planetary hours that combine the hour and day of Mercury and Saturn. Hour of Mercury on Saturdays or hour of Saturn on Wednesdays. I start with the Orphic hymn of whoever rules the day, then the one of whoever rules the hour. For Mercury I use the hymn to Hermes Chthonios. You can find different versions of the Orphic Hymns. The recent translation by Patrick Dunn flow very well in English. Or use the free ones you can find here. For best pronunciation in Greek check Susan Chang's amazing video. Light Storax / Benzoin incense before you start. One for Mercury, one for Saturn.

Prayer to Tehuti

  • Burn some Egyptian papyrus or Kyphi incense and give an offering of Natron.
  • Pray the Hymn to Tehuti down to "Who enters duat, knows those in it"
  • Call to Tehuti:

Tehuti, I call you! Thrice greatest Tehuti, scribe of Ra, Silver Aton, leader of souls in the hereafter. I invoke you in your great, divine names: ALIPS, THABLIPS, STSILIPS, GAGARPAOTHAR, THANASIMA, QHAH, ORTHOMENKHROÔN, BALSA, ALABAKHABEL [4], Come to me here and now to this place that will serve as a meeting place for myself and my ancestors, guardians, and leaders who now dwell in the afterlife, whose blood runs through me, and all whose spirits have helped shape me.

Thrice greatest Tehuti, I humbly ask you to aid me as a messenger and as a light for those I seek. Open the veil between this world and the hereafter. Find my ancestors and make sure they receive my words, gifts and intentions.

Thrice greatest Tehuti, accept these offerings of smoke, light, water, food and wine. Accept them in gratitude for your help, and please spread them to the dead I call and invite them to attend and see to it that no uninvited intruder comes to this place.

Be praised, oh Thrice greatest Tehuti, forecaster of the future, notary of Ra!

Peret kheru ta, heneket, khau kau apedu, khut nebet noferet wabet ankhet netjer im. [5]

Offerings to the Dead

  • Place all offerings on the table, smudge them with incense.
  • Place a lit stick of incense into the bowl of Natron, a bit to the rear right of its center. This is for all women in your bloodline.

I call you: mothers and grandmothers, sisters and cousins, daughters and granddaughters. All you women, from whose community I came forth, whose blood flows through my veins, whose traces and memories I carry within me. With deep compassion, I think of your sufferings and your pains, through which you had to go on your life's path. With gratitude and love I think of your struggles, your dreams, your achievements, your courage and your strength. Come to this altar in your honor and accept my offerings, giving thanks for the sacrifices you made for our family. Accept these gifts, along with my gratitude and love.

  • Place another lit stick of incense into the bowl of Natron, a bit to the rear left of its center. This is for all men in your bloodline.

I call you: fathers and grandfathers, brothers and cousins, sons and grandsons. All you men, from whose community I came forth, whose blood flows through my veins, whose traces and memories I carry within me. With deep compassion, I think of your sufferings and your pains, through which you had to go on your life's path. With gratitude and love I think of your struggles, your dreams, your achievements, your courage and your strength. Come to this altar in your honor and accept my offerings, giving thanks for the sacrifices you made for our family. Accept these gifts, along with my gratitude and love.

  • Place a third lit stick of incense into the bowl of Natron, a bit to the front of its center, so all three sticks shape a triangle. This is for the lost and forgotten ones of your bloodline and the ones who are not genetically related to you, yet important.

I call you: all you forgotten dead, you unborn dead, you who died as children. I also call you, all you friends and acquaintances, and all those who have stood with and helped my family and me, whose influences and benevolence I carry within me. Come also to this altar in your honor and accept my offerings, giving thanks for the sacrifices you made for our family. Accept these gifts, along with my gratitude and love.

  • (Optionally, call the mighty dead.

I call you: you inspiring ancestors, you artists and magicians, poets and thinkers, you role models who have given your lifeblood for the benefit of all, you mighty forefathers, who have made this world a better one before your transition to the next world. With gratitude and love I think of your struggles, your dreams, your achievements, your courage and your strength. They live in me and flow through my veins, they inspire my existence and from them I draw strength. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Accept these gifts, along with my gratitude and love.)

  • If it is the first time you do this ritual, I recommend to say something about the collected earth and the Saturnian tokens:

Dear grandparents and dear uncle (or whose graves are connected with each other through the token network), through this earth and through the tokens, which are consecrated by Saturn and connected to each other beyond distance, I can always be close to your graves. All of you other ancestors, I ask you to acknowledge this earth as symbol also for the earth of your graves and to recognize the network of tokens also as a symbol of our inseparable connection.

  • Play music, commune with the present spirits, have a party, do whatever you want to do.

Closing the Space

Thank you all, my ancestors who have appeared. May your blessing and guidance bring out the best in me, for the benefit of all, whom I may meet in this life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hereby grant you a license to depart. Return to your resting places and do not stay in this house. But come back soon when I call you. My love and gratitude are always with you!

Thrice greatest Tehuti, make sure that all the souls called here today find their way and return to their resting places and close the veil again between this world and the hereafter. This ritual is closed.

Requiem

O Lord, grant all eternal rest. And let eternal light shine on each of them. May the souls of the ancestors rest in peace through Your mercy. Amen

Family Troubles

I know that it can be difficult to connect with the own dead relatives, be it because some of them have been abusive towards members of the family and caused traumata and grief, or because they would not have agreed with their descendants life-style, beliefs, sexuality, identification, etc. or vice versa. You can find important thoughts about these issues in the linked Sphere & Sundry article above or in BJ Swain's book, and many other places, but my own are as follows:

First of all nobody has to talk to the ancestors, there are other ways of getting help from the dead. A good example would be working with the "Lost Souls" in "purgatory", as I recently heard and read about in this great article by Agostino Taumaturgo or in the pure Shinto way. You can also tie Catholicism and pagan Roman rites together and do a kind of Parentalia Novena.

An important point that made a huge difference for me was involving a psychopomp in aiding to make contact with the dead. You can ask them to filter out unwanted ancestors, either by explicitly naming them or by asking him to not let the ones come who are not comfortable supporting your current life, or something along those lines. You can also ask them specifically to invite only your magically operand ancestors, or the artists among them, or the queer ones, and so on. Use them as a bouncer to your party.

Incarnations

Gordon White just announced a Rune Soup premium members course "Ancestors and the Dead" that I am much looking forward to. From experience with his other courses I suspect it will probably improve the way I honour the dead. So this post will very likely see some updates in the next months.

Coming back to the "Saturnian coins": I came across an article on Gnome School that had a quote from a book by Henry Rogers about very intriguing objects that I can very well imagine being used for such an "etheric network":

From the period 8500-3000 OLD, a large number of artefacts known as tokens have been found. There are small clay objects of simple geometric shapes: spheres, cones, tetrahydra, cylinders, disks, lens-shaped disks, etc. tokens of this period are known as plain tokens. They are associated with the beginnings of agriculture [and] were used for record keeping… some have been found stored inside sealed, hollow clay balls forming envelopes around the tokens… these envelopes represented a way of safegaurding the record of the contract. If there was a disagreement, the envelope could be broken, and the evidence of the tokens would be inside. [3]

This magical network concept lends itself also to many other potential magical applications. Some research revealed that it is apparently also nothing really new. The famous DKMU "Ellis" aka. "Linking Sigil"and Chaos Magick 101's Sigil Matrix followed a similar line of thought. My plan is to further explore this technology of linking talismanic tokens to each other.


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