Yesterday I came across three dead birds. The first one I found on the pavement near the huge linden tree that I greet frequently. He was a tiny little yellow guy, what I suspected was a warbler, and looked like he fell right out of the sky. I always check to make sure they are not just stunned, and this one already had a few flies circling around. I went to the nearest bathroom and took some paper towels, wrapped the stiff, feathery little body in the towel and brought him to rest underneath the Great Linden. I asked the Linden to keep him and bless him as his spirit flies.
I walked a little ways and then came around to the linden that is opposite the huge one, and found another little yellow warbler dead on the ground. I went into the same bathroom and retrieved more towels, wrapping this one and brought him to rest beneath the smaller linden, making the same request again of this tree, sending my blessings to fly with the little birds’ spirit.
Later as I meandered around The Knoll, and coming upon a large lump that seemed to have flies congregating around it, I found a large, dead crow. I suspected the bird may have died of West Nile Virus because it is like a plague to crows, who normally have fairly long lives, and I was just reading recently that they have a 100% mortality rate with West Nile. I’ll handle a small bird that is freshly dead, fully intact with paper towels because I do not touch them at all, but a crow is huge, and I had no paper towels. Handling dead matter can be really dangerous, and even inhaling the innards of a very decomposed thing can make a person ill (or so I’ve read), so I did not handle this poor, beautiful bird, but wanted to honor it with some dignified gesture. I brought over a bundle of walnut leaves to place upon his body. On my next break, I gathered the funerary plants yew and dandelion, then wrapped a few oak leaves around the bundle, and tied a white ribbon around it. As I left for the day, I brought the bundle and lain it next to the great, black bird and bid blessings fly with it.
Crows have a special place in my heart, and using their bones that have been properly prepared by an experienced taxidermist is very magically potent. I’ve read about the methods of collecting and cleaning bones properly, but I am yet to think it’s a good idea for me to try it. I live in a small, packed condo and there are only so many things I can drag home. (I’ve got snow in the freezer in case of magical need, I’ve started to collect dead bugs so that I may make resin charms from their perfectly preserved bodies, I collect woods and leaves and coins and keys and iron railroad spikes and washers and rusty nails and anything that sparkles.) While I would love to have a properly prepared skull to work rituals with, at this point I will likely either buy one from a ritual taxidermist, or if I happen to come across one made from some other material, like glass or pewter, perhaps I could use that. Real skulls in particular are extremely potent to work with, and I’ve read a lot about “tapping the bone”, a practice in which the practitioner literally breathes life into the skull, and (if done correctly) it is said they “come alive”, in a manner of speaking. I’ve read that it’s like being watched by the skull as if living breath breathes spirit back into it. Like any communion with the dead, it’s a subtle art. But really, a practitioner can use other things to achieve this, and can even do it with their own ancestors through the use of ritually prepared vessels. Like everything in the Craft, this can be tricky and dangerous work, but what the hell? So is stepping out your door.
On the subject of death, as the autumnal equinox approaches, a time that one can honor their dead, especially the dead matriarchs of the family or bloodlines, I am planning to have a proper Red Meal. This is another method of giving life to spirit, one that is perhaps more familiar to Muggles in modern times. People put out a Dumb Supper or a glass of wine to an empty place at the dinner table to honor deceased loved one. The Red Meal is a version of this wherein everything served is red to represent the blood of life. Water can be offered in lieu of wine for non-drinkers. The way I understand offering to the dead or to deity is that while we eat the physical matter, the actual food, the spirit “eats” or “feeds” off of the essence of the food or drink, the non-physical part or energy. This can also be achieved with incense, and certain plants have certain properties to be used in this fashion. I make my own blends as offerings, and you can also incorporate herbs that will also firmly send a spirit away when the rite is through. This is very important, even for a friendly spirit, because they belong in their realm, as we belong in ours. Offerings like this can be tricky as you would not want to “feed” a dangerous or unknown spirit as they gain strength from this. In other words, if you live in a haunted place and have not had good dealings with the spirit, it is maybe best not to give it strength until you know what you’re dealing with. I happen to believe that a person should try to simply talk to the spirit and find out why they are pissed. Some ghosts that linger just want to be remembered, to be recognized and respected. As I understand it, some malicious hauntings are not from deceased humans, however, and the entity may not understand human speech, and/or also may not be able to be reasoned with, and it may not even be human at all (we’re not the only lifeforms out there, of course. Wolves and bears gotta die, too, and other things which is an enormous topic that I won’t delve into here.) Then you definitely don’t want to feed it!
But if you just want to honor your deceased family, as I do, you may simply set a place at the table with food and wine, invite them by their FULL NAME, to join you. You would be surprised how quickly you can feel them come into the room! What I’ve noticed is that the more recently dead are much easier to communicate with, and they can seem downright chatty! The longer someone has been gone, like my grandfather, I got very “quiet” answers, and it was more feelings that I sensed. I was flooded with memories I hadn’t recalled in many years, almost as if it were his memories he was projecting to me. My grandmother was fairly easy to sense and “hear” although still far away, but my L’Ma I can “hear” as if she were talking inside my head! Her voice, her humor, her personality are so clear. She’s only been gone about 7 years, and I think she is so vibrantly tied to Earthly matters since she died fairly young and still frets for her children. When I call to her, she comes immediately. She has just popped into conversations I’m having with my husband, like the time he and I were discussing vaccinations and he was wondering if he’d had certain ones when he was young, she answered him through my thoughts! I stopped him and said, “Now, I’m just relaying this, but I just heard your mom say that yes, you did have that measles and rubella shot”. It was very strange. She even scared the crap out of me at a dedication we went to at the hospice where she died. We hadn’t been there since she died, and I was all weirded out about going inside to use the bathroom, so I went to the men’s floor (the patients are separated by floor, by gender) because I didn’t want to go to the one I’d so frequently used while she was there dying, and suddenly I heard her as if she were in the room. She said, “I want to thank you and (Hubby’s name) for coming to this. I know it’s difficult. I love you both.” I came back to the ceremony stricken, and my husband asked if I was ok. I relayed the message to him, and we both cried. It was difficult at first when I learned how to “listen” to the dead, but now it’s such a comfort and doesn’t seem near as scary or weird as it first did.
Back to the subject of offerings, some cultures believe that offerings to the dead should NEVER be eaten, and simply taken outside after the proceedings to let nature’s little critters remove the remains of the plate. Other cultures share their food and simply eat the physical part of the food as the spirit “eats” the essence. In the past, I’ve eaten “with” the spirits, but I’m not sure this is a good idea when I think about it. From a metaphysical standpoint, to ingest the energy of food that a deceased being has “ingested” maybe not the best route to take. The last time I offered red wine to my deceased mother in law, I sent it down the drain after the rite. Too bad the dead couldn’t ingest the calories in the food, and we could get the nutrients MINUS the stuff that makes us fat!