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The Race – by Terry Lynn Pellegrini

In honor of Halloween, I have opted to re-post a narrative poem I wrote in 2017. The poem itself is a bit darker than I usually write, but it fits right the mood for the season. I hope you enjoy “The Race”.

The Race: Ancient plate showing Hecate with one of her hounds

THE RACE

From the crossroads I run
Bare feet striking hard packed dirt,
Jarred bones, ragged breath, arteries pumping.
I crash through the waist high weeds at the roadside heedless of the stinging of the nettles, the thorns stabbing my legs.
They follow.
Fetid breath upon my heels, bone white canines dripping.
Watching me with eyes made luminescent by the moonlight.
Terror. They are terror.

I race, away, away, I must escape. No rest, not yet, never again.
They pursue, closer, ever closer.
Their growls and barks echoing in my ears, competing with the sound of my frantic
heart, ragged breath, anguished sobs.
A sound, unexpected, sharp, then the pain.
I feel her scourge upon my back, punishment deserved, punishment meted.
The blood excites them, spurs them on.

I fall.
Down on all fours, then up.
Begging the Gods to aid me, to release me from my torture, from my lies.
A sound of gold changing hands, of delight, echoing through the trees.
No aid for the accused, no quarter for the wicked.
They are nearer now, the pack, these Hounds of Hell.
Racing forward, snarling, hunger evident. Their prize. My reward.
A deal gone bad, betrayal, murder, no regrets, evil embraced.

Still I race, legs moving, long past numb.
Head pounding, lungs bursting, my sweat dripping into bloodshot eyes.
I feel them. Nips at my heels, salty saliva flung into wounds by dripping muzzles.
A misstep, a stumble. I fall, finished.
I will run no more. Cannot. I am done.
They are upon me, tearing, gnashing, ripping, feasting.
With my last breath I hear Her laugh.
Justice has been served.

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Ancestral Altars – Creating Space for the Dead

As Samhain approaches and the veil thins we often become introspective.  We muse on the things we have accomplished in the past year, and ponder what we wish to accomplish in the next.  We think of the turning of the Wheel of the Year, the endless cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Our minds contemplate those that have passed before us.  This is the time of year when our ancestors call to us. This is the time for building our ancestral altars and creating space for the dead. A sacred place, a portal, where we can communicate and call to our ancestors, both of the blood and of the heart.

Ancestral altars are a part of many different cultures and religions around the world. Many homes in both the Japanese and Chinese cultures have altars for their ancestors that are used every day.  In ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, there were many different forms of honoring the dead and the ancestors. However, one of the most well-known celebrations for the ancestors is Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Celebrated from November 1st through November 2nd, those of Mexican descent erect ancestor altars and visit the graves of their loved ones to celebrate both life and death. 

Ancestral Altars - a gravesite in Mexico decorated for Dia de los Muertos
A gravesite in Mexico prepared for Dia de los Muertos

Ancestors of the Blood and of the Heart

Earlier in this blog I mentioned honoring your ancestors by blood and of the heart.  Those by blood are of course your biological ancestors, those directly related to you through your parents.  Ancestors by heart are those individual who have passed on in which we feel a spiritual or personal connection with.  These ancestors may include those of a different culture or spirituality that you connect with. Perhaps they were your favorite neighbor, a teacher or instructor, or your best friend from high school. Our ancestors of the heart are those that have had an impact on our lives, those we hold dear to us regardless of familial relationships. They deserve, and need, to be honored as well.

Creating Your Ancestral Altars

An ancestor altar may be constructed just about anywhere. It may be used just for the Samhain Sabbat or left up all year. Be sure to create the altar on a flat surface such as a table, fireplace mantel or hearth, a dresser, ora side table.  Some of the items you may wish to place on your altar are as follows:

  • Altar cloth – any color but traditionally black
  • Pictures of your Ancestors – these can be photos or other representations
  • Candles – I prefer black or purple but the colors are up to you.
  • A chalice with wine or water
  • An offering bowl or plate
  • Incense burner and incense
  • Favorite items of your ancestors – These can be articles of clothing, toys, their favorite drinks or foods.

Let your creative juices flow when setting up your altar. You may include flowers and special tokens from passed relatives. A wish/prayer box to send messages to your ancestors is great addition. You may wish to add scrying mirrors, crystal balls and other divination tools can be included as well. The only limits are your imagination and needs of your ancestors. 

Using Your Ancestral Altar

Use your ancestor altar to commune with the ancestors, to give them offerings of thanks for all they have done, for you and your family. You can sit before your altar with your family and friends and tell stories about those that have passed before you, their deeds, adventures, as well as misadventures. Light the candles and incense and then meditate or scry before the altar. This communion is when you may ask your ancestors for guidance and insight. But above all, use your altar to remember, to keep the memories of those that have gone before you alive and well.

For me, taking the time to sit, commune, and honor our ancestors has greatly improved my well-being and my Craft. I have been given information from my ancestors that I could have never learned in books. Many warnings have been expressed, ethereal pats on the back given, and admonishments sent. Once you have stood in front of your altar, given your offerings and then felt the reciprocal love wash over you, you will never be without an ancestor altar in your home.

I encourage you to go ahead, build your altar, light your incense and candles. Commune and honor your ancestors this Samhain Eve and know that you and they are interconnected, intertwined, and forever a family.  Blessed Be. 

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New Year, New Witch

Blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween to all. I’ve been looking forward to this day all year!  It is a time steeped in lore, traditions, mystery and fun. It’s the one day of the year I can run amuck, dressed in my witchy finery and no one bats an eye. Then, when the last of the candy and goodies have been given out and the last little goblin is home in bed, the ritual area is set, the fire is lit and the serious work of Samhain begins.

In many traditions Samhain is thought of as the Witches’ New Year and it is has always been so in my household.  While much of the focus of this season is on the thinning veil and working with our ancestors – a  worthy focus and one I share – I have another ritual I perform every Samhain, one I wish to share with you here.

On the calendar New Year, January 1st, it is a tradition here in the States to make resolutions and goals for the coming year.  We decide what changes we wish to make in our lives, write them down, tell our friends and then find ways to accomplish them. Goals such as “I will lose 20 pounds this year.” or ” I resolve to drink less and exercise more” are often made in haste or even during a frenetic celebration (I’ve heard more than one resolution being made after several glasses of champagne). These goals and resolutions don’t seem to last very long, some are even forgotten after the first week.

While I can be heard making these types of resolutions during the calendar new year, on Samhain, I perform a ritual where I make firm, binding resolutions and goals, all pertaining to where I wish to take my Craft in the upcoming year. These goals can be as simple such as increasing my meditation time, to the complicated – learning the Kabbalah or a new divination technique. No matter what the goal may be, it is something that I feel, at that time, is something I desire to make, create or nurture for the year.

Unlike the haphazard way I seem to make my calendar new year goals, my resolutions and goals made at Samhain are done during ritual, in sacred space.  Here, where the Gods observe and listen, they take on an importance, a spiritual commitment, that the other resolutions do not.  Those things I write down and then recite to the Universe, become a pledge to Goddess and the Universe to do my utmost to make these goals a reality.  Once ritual is complete I place those goals on the wall above my altar where they are a daily reminder of the vows I have given to myself and the Gods.

Each day of the year I do one thing to help myself achieve those goals.  If it is a new technique I wish to learn I order books, research, find an instructor and get as much information as I can about it.  I then study, absorb and practice, practice, practice.  If the goal is more ephemeral, such as planning a single ritual or creating a sacred object, I set short-term goals to accomplish it along with a time-line for completion. 

Yes, I sometimes falter, misstep, or fail altogether.  Life can get in the way, and the Goddess often decides that what is in my best interest isn’t always what I think I need to do.  But I try, each and every day, to achieve those goals, to heed the resolutions that I have made.  Is it easy? No, but having been initiated during Samhain, in ritual, they seem somehow more obtainable. It’s as if you have your ancestors, the Universe, the Gods, beside you, encouraging you, urging you on. You can’t help but be successful with that kind of cheering section. Just remember to stay focused, put forth the effort and enjoy the journey.

At year-end, the day before Samhain, I take those goals off the wall and review them.  Did I accomplish everything?  If not, do I know why?  Are some of these goals still in progress? What do I need to accomplish this year? I then sit, write down a first draft of my new goals and resolutions. I then meditate, read them again, polish it up and commit to a final list.  This I take with me to ritual the next day. The circle is complete and I am ready for the upcoming new year.

I encourage you this Samhain to start your own tradition of the Witches’ New Year Resolutions.  Create or re-create the witch, the magickal practitioner, that you’ve always wanted to become. Let your heart take you places you’ve never been and allow the Universe, the ancestors, and the Gods show you what you are capable of. Remember, new year, new witch.  Make this the best year, the best you, ever.

Blessed Be!

 

 

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A Haunting on Estates Drive

In the spirit of the season and all things that go bump on a Halloween night, I wish to share one of my own personal ghost stories.

It all began simply, with a house. At first glance it was intriguing, and completely run down.  Overgrown bushes and trees obscured the floor to ceiling windows at the front of the house.  Built in 1979, it epitomized its somewhat tacky and bold era. Stone clad sides and entryway, large, carved double doors and an opulent three car garage impressed the onlooker. Even in its semi-dilapidated state you could see the potential.

Inside was even worse.  The roof had gone bad years before and a gaping six foot hole marred the otherwise inviting dining room.  Gold and silver foil wallpaper hung in tatters in the entrance and the sliding glass door leading to the huge covered patio hung crookedly from the frame.  Hideous gold fringe hung in nearly every window and metallic wallpapers and gold-veined mirrors seemed to leap from every available surface. Elvis, it seemed, did not die but moved himself and his decorator to Turlock.

A large, well laid out kitchen sported solid oak cabinets covered in green and black mold. Many of the finely crafted joints had “popped” from the excessive moisture caused by a broken water line to a missing icemaker.  The carpeted floor squished as you walked, courtesy of the same icemaker. The grout on the countertops showed years of neglect though the tiles covering them were beautiful.

The wall next to the sliding glass door in the spacious family room had mushrooms, yes mushrooms, sprouting from the drywall.  Burnt orange shag carpeting, covered in layers of dirt and grime, literally cracked beneath our feet.  The house did have one saving grace, the beautiful double sized fireplace flanked by built in bookcases in the family room.  This fireplace (and the four large bedrooms) is what sold me on the place. Despite the dirt, water and smells, I was home.

Cleaning began immediately.  It took my husband, with the assistance of myself and our two young children, nearly three weeks of scraping, scrubbing, and repairing for the house to be habitable.  The beauty of the place began to show through the layers of old cigarette smoke and dust.  It also began to reveal to us its hidden inhabitants, those entities that silently shared our space.

It was little things at first. Noises in the night.  Strange feelings in the hallway and family room. A cold spot here and there. Items missing then showing up on top of your pillow.  Then the “old man” would visit. We learned from the neighbors that the original owner of the house had died in his front room watching a football game. He was revived by paramedics but later succumbed in the ambulance.  It seems that this house was his pride and joy.  So he didn’t leave.  Every time we began a new restoration project in the house we would smell cigarette smoke – none of my family smokes.  Then my daughter would tell us that the old man was sitting in the chair again.  None of the rest of us ever saw him, but that wasn’t unusual.  One of my daughter’s gifts is seeing the spirits around us.

He wasn’t our only visitor though.  At night or in the early morning hours when all was quiet a small shuffling could be heard way down at the end of the lengthy central hallway.  At first I thought we had a mouse or some other rodent.  However when the kids asked me to make the shadow man stop appearing at the end of the hallway, I knew another ethereal inhabitant was about. It felt very harmless, almost protective, so I told it that it may stay in our home, but to please refrain from manifesting at the end of the hallway and scaring the bejeebers out of my kids.  Kindly spirit that it was, it stopped appearing, but we could still feel its presence.

I can still recall the first time I was awakened in the middle of the night, the hackles standing at attention on the back of my neck.  Some one, some thing, was standing next to my bed watching me.  I could feel it.  It was tall, my daughter said, about 7 feet or so. It would just stand there, watching me, she said. It really bugged the shit out of me.  I don’t believe it meant to do me any harm, it was just annoying.  Those nights when I just couldn’t ignore it anymore I would say out loud “Go away.  I’m trying to sleep here.” Nine times out of ten it would leave. Definitely manageable, just irritating.

All of the little quirks, annoyances and eccentricities that went with the new place were manageable. You learned to work with, instead of against, our spectral housemates.  We even interacted on occasion. If something went missing, we would stand in the center of the house and ask that it would be returned.  A chilly breeze or a noise would indicate that the missing comb, hair ties, or pen would have been placed on our pillow or a few steps away from where we were.  We talked to them like friends or roommates. Yet, there was something else in the house, something that made the other entities nervous.  A being that did not feel benevolent, friendly. Instead, it felt cold, dank, old, and spiteful. And mean.  Downright mean.

This was the entity that would cause a cozy reading corner to go from peaceful to panic laden in moments.  Colds spots, areas of anger and agitation, smells of damp soil, a metallic odor like copper, these were its calling cards.  It didn’t seem to manifest often, but when it did the entire house felt wrong.  Our other visitors would seem to vacate and not return for a day or two, as if they were hiding from some evil.  It never seemed to stay long, but its impact lasted for weeks.

Then one night, I was curled up in a cozy chair in the family room reading a book.  The kids were in bed and the house was settling in for the night.  I was totally enthralled in my very cheesy romance novel when the very air around me seemed to shift.  A general eeriness descended and I suddenly realized that I was no longer alone.  Raising my gaze from my book and towards the open kitchen I saw it. An emaciated being with long stringy white hair stood looking at me.  A feeling of pure hatred  seemed to ooze out of the being.  He looked incredibly old, like it had belonged to the land way before this house was built.  He was dressed in a shiny black suit that seemed to hang loosely over his skinny frame.  Then he smiled showing rotting teeth. I sat, transfixed, afraid to take a breath.  It then raised a bony finger at me and wagged it as if to admonish me, for what I didn’t know.  I blinked, and he was gone.

Who was he?  I never did find out. I just know that it didn’t want my family there, didn’t want anyone there. It was if the land had belonged to him in life and he wasn’t giving it up even in death.  I do know that after the sighting we began to have some extraordinary bad luck and eventually decided to sell this house, our dream house.  It was a hard decision yet once it was made it was if the house sighed in agreement. The day we moved out I took a final look back, and spotted him standing in the window, wearing that creepy, evil grin.

Those that lived in the house after we left seemed to share in the misfortune of the place.  The house was bought, foreclosed on, and sold twice after we moved out.  The third owner still seems to be hanging in there. I’ve often wanted to knock on the door to see if the owners have experienced any of the things we did when we were there. To perhaps go in and thumb my nose at the greedy selfish ghost who tried to frighten me  away.  To give it a final “up yours” before I turn and leave it to forever haunt the house on Estates Drive.

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The Not So Dumb Supper

On Samhain Eve many of my fellow Witches and Pagans will sit down to participate in the tradition of the Dumb Supper.  To honor their ancestors they set a place at the dinner table then invite to their ancestors to join them. They then sit in silence and eat, waiting for the tingle that signifies the presence of the ancestors. In total silence. Waiting. Eating. Silently.

I’m not sure about you but I have a hell of a time with the whole silence thing.  I’m fine when I am alone, but with a group, at a dinner, not so much.  First of all, the chewing sounds seem to reverberate in the silence. Cringe.  Gods forbid if someone burps.  I’ll break with the pressure to keep silent and revert back to being a twelve year old girl and giggle.  Seriously, I try to keep my thoughts on the ancestors, wanting to honor and perhaps commune with them. However listening to one of your coven mates snoring in their fruit salad does not reverence make. For the sake of my ancestors and all those I may dishonor with my feeble attempts at not shooting cider out my nose when the High Priests farts, I would like to offer an alternative, the Not So Dumb Supper.

As the name infers, the Not So Dumb Supper, is not silent.  Quite the contrary, noise and merriment are mandatory.  As is traditional with the Dumb Supper, a place, or places, are set at the table.  The ancestors are then invited to join.  That’s where any similarity ends.  At the Not So Dumb Supper we toast our ancestors.  We call them by name. We tell their stories. We rejoice in those of the blood and of the heart who have gone before.

Let us forgo the silence and share their lives and hard earned knowledge with our friends and coven mates.  Enthusiastically, with raised glass, tell the story of your 4′ 11 grandmother who  would kill snakes with a simple garden hoe in the middle of the family corn field then, raising the snake into the air, holler “Dinner!” to her five children. Regale us with the tales of your Grandfather who was a gunner in a bomber in World War II and how he cried the first time he shot down a plane.  Perhaps you will tell of sibling who left this world too soon or the mother who gave her life that you may have yours. Sing of their victories and their losses. Give them thanks for all they’ve done. Speak up. Do it loudly and with great pride. Honor them.

Each story we share, each toast we give to our departed family and friends brings them closer to us, opens our hearts to them.  As we tell of the time Uncle Ed was kicked by the mule and landed 5 feet away in the manure pile or of the pie eating contest Cousin Sue won when she was 9, we feel our ancestors stepping through the veil, jostling for position around the table.  We can feel them as they take turns sitting in the chair left open for them in anticipation of their arrival. As we give them our love, so shall we feel theirs in return.

For those of us who have difficulty holding our tongues we can now can share in a new tradition which plays to our strengths. Let us no longer hold our silent feasts, keep our Dumb Suppers.  We shall be loud, but mindful. Raucous, yet reverent.  We shall feast, sing, shout and make a Klingon proud with our tales of ancestral valor. We shall honor them with our words so they know they remain valued, loved, remembered.

Then, when the night wanes, the feast is done, and the stories have been told, we shall be silent. Alone at last, tongues at rest, bellies full, we may sit in quiet contemplation.  In those  hushed wee hours of the morning we think of those ancestors we did not have the privilege of knowing, whose tales we have not heard, could not share.  We listen to the rustle of the leaves, the rush of the wind, waiting, hopeful. For perhaps in that silence those ancestors are calling to us, trying to tell us their stories so that we may share them come next Samhain Eve.

However you choose to honor your ancestors this Samhain, may they answer your invitation. May they feel honored and loved with your silence or your stories. Heed the call of the ancestors and feel the special richness, warmth and joy that only comes from communing with those that have gone before.

Blessed Be!

 

 

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The Race

The Race
By Terry Lynn Pellegrini
©2017

 

From the crossroads I run
Bare feet striking hard packed dirt,
Jarred bones, ragged breath, arteries pumping.
I crash through the waist high weeds at the roadside heedless of the stinging of the nettles, the thorns stabbing my legs.
They follow.
Fetid breath upon my heels, bone white canines dripping.
Watching me with eyes made luminescent by the moonlight.
Terror. They are terror.

I race, away, away, I must escape. No rest, not yet, never again.
They pursue, closer, ever closer.
Their growls and barks echoing in my ears, competing with the sound of my frantic
heart, ragged breath, anguished sobs.
A sound, unexpected, sharp, then the pain.
I feel her scourge upon my back, punishment deserved, punishment meted.
The blood excites them, spurs them on.

I fall.
Down on all fours, then up.
Begging the Gods to aid me, to release me from my torture, from my lies.
A sound of gold changing hands, of delight echoing through the trees.
No aid for the accused, no quarter for the wicked.
They are nearer now, the pack, these Hounds of Hell.
Racing forward, snarling, hunger evident. Their prize. My reward.
A deal gone bad, betrayal, murder, no regrets, evil embraced.

Still I race, legs moving, long past numb.
Head pounding, lungs bursting, my sweat dripping into bloodshot eyes.
I feel them. Nips at my heels, salty saliva flung into wounds by dripping muzzles.
A misstep, a stumble. I fall, finished.
I will run no more. Cannot. I am done.
They are upon me, tearing, gnashing, ripping, feasting.
With my last breath I hear Her laugh.
Justice has been served.