Feelings & Reality, Life & Death & the Samhain Gate

There are two parts to this that need each other — the first is science (or opinion) and the other is magic (or science) (or religion). First, the science —

I read something in Second Life (a virtual world) yesterday on someone’s profile page. She (or possibly he) wrote, “The only things that are real in Second Life are feelings.” I suspect she assumes that the feelings are firmly attached to “real” people outside the computers.

So, feelings are real and everything else in Second life is pixels, and pixels ultimately are just excited dots of energy on a computer screen. Ideas are what we manifest there — ideas of objects or people or whatever we fancy. They appear to have three dimensions, but that’s just an illusion on a flat two-dimensional screen. Wait… they also have the dimension of linear time — or appear to do so. If I think too much about this, it may give me a headache.

In our current version of our so-called “real” world, there seems to be a huge muddle about the differences between truth and opinion and reality and belief and experience and fact. I think this may be important — this idea that only feelings are real. I do know this “feeling thing” was only being said about a “virtual world” that only exists inside a computer.

But I’m not so sure about the “reality” of our world where a lot of people seem to feel that only free range opinions matter — certainly more than science or facts, which according to them are only opinions too. In that view, no one’s opinions matter more than another (except mine, of course, and that’s sort of a secret until there is conflict). This seems to soon turn into a sort of “my way or the highway” kind of thinking, where the biggest gun matters the most.

Think about it. Physicists believe that everything is composed of sub-atomic pixels sorry, particles. These are said to be tiny bits of energy in a whole lot of nothing. They even have names in the Standard Model that include: Six “flavors” of quarks: up, down, bottom, top, strange, and charm; and six types of leptons: electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau, tau neutrino.

(I think perhaps I love physicists more than I knew — anyone who thinks up names like this has to be delightfully whimsical at least some of the time. The same is true of the philosophers who come up with an elaborate notion called the Raven Paradox, which is, in part: The raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens, is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black even though, intuitively, these observations are unrelated.)

This problem was proposed by the logician Carl Gustav Hempel in the 1940s to illustrate a contradiction between inductive logic and intuition.

It goes on from there quite extensively and even dizzyingly. But the whole thing is based on the concept that “all ravens are black.” Any one real, actual white raven (not an albino) brings the whole structure down. And we now know there are actual white ravens</a>. They may not have existed in Hempel’s time. But they do now, and it’s no longer factual to say “all ravens are black” even though it may be an opinion still strongly held by many, who may choose to say that a white raven is a “fake”.

Or, perhaps the physicists and the philosophers who come up with these knackerty knotions are, like the white raven, so rare as to be virtually non-existent. If you find one, perhaps you should record it carefully as proof that whimsical scientists do exist. Or perhaps these bursts of whimsicality happen as rarely as white ravens, promptly dissolving into vapor like brief whistles of steam from an overheated boiler. Forgive me, I get… Ooo! Shiny! Ahem. So…

All of those wee bits of energy/matter would crumple into nearly nothing at all but empty space if their excitement didn’t keep them spinning or whatever they really do. Now that I think about it, this sounds a lot like pixels on a screen. To understand why I say this, you can find more than I wanted to know about pixels here.

Back when I first went into Second Life, I was doing a lot of thinking about Buddha and Buddhism, and I had an interesting experience. Flying along (you can do that in Second Life) I got distracted and fell. My avatar fell ungracefully to the ground and splatted right on my belly. Then, without me doing a thing, she/I scrambled up onto my feet and brushed the (imaginary?) dust off.

I was shocked.

I hadn’t told her to do that!

Then I wondered (also involuntarily, with what felt like the back of my mind looking over my shoulder) if there was someone behind me, watching me as I was watching my avatar, and if I sometimes did things that surprised it, things I hadn’t been told to do. And it felt like this someone was nodding and being amused.

I immediately shut Second Life down, turned the computer right off, and unplugged it, which was not something I usually did. Then, I went outside where I dug holes and planted bulbs until I felt like one simple, ordinary, real person again. But I remembered (and have never forgotten) that feeling of someone (me) sitting behind this me (this one that is typing), almost laughing, certainly amused at the confused typing-me and my surprise and shock — and thoughts. Then I thought how amused the Buddha might have been if he’d seen Second Life. It so beautifully demonstrates so many of his concepts.

This brings me to what I really wanted to talk about here. I’ve always meant to write this down and here in the liminal space-time of Samhain (All Hallows’ Eve) seems like an appropriate time to consider Life and Death and What Comes After, especially just after reading Michael Tomlinson’s story, Two Men and a Dog this morning. I quote a bit from the middle: One of the men spoke of a friend of theirs who had died this year. A rich and robust character of a man, impossible to not like the instant you spotted him. “I heard him today, no shit. It was real. He was right there with me and laughing. I asked him aloud if he’d seen my mom and he just laughed really loudly in that way of his and said, ‘It’s not at all —ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, — nothing at all like you think it is,’ and then he just laughed louder and more happily until I didn’t hear him any more. I’ve been thinking about that all day.”

You know, dear reader, I’ve had very similar messages from a few people. I used to do a lot of counseling and healing with people in hospice or terminally ill, and some of them came back briefly after they’d gone on. It usually happened when I was half-asleep or in deep meditation. In one instance, Vera came back to tell me, “It isn’t anything like I thought it would be.” She paused and laughed. “But it isn’t like you thought it would be either!” And she chuckled again and faded away.

There was always that sense of wonderment and laughter — a kind of mellow, companionable chuckle or delighted laughter — and when there were words, they were always something like that — except…

One time was different from the others. No words were involved — only scents and touches and feelings. Well, there may have been words, but not words I understood. It was about four in the morning, and one of our weeks-old kittens was dying. In my lap, Mamacat Samantha washed and cuddled the baby as it went down and down, weaker every moment. At last it gave a tiny shudder as its soul shook loose from the body.

The space we were in suddenly seemed to be much larger, and in front of us stars and nebula formed an opening — rather like a tunnel made of light, with a brilliant light at the far end. Hidden in that star-filled glory I could hear a mother cat calling a kitten, and a warm, milky scent drifted through to us. Something in my lap (not the little dead body) stood up with a wobble and set off into the light on tiny skaky legs, calling back to the Voice we heard. As Samantha and I watched, the babe grew stronger and faster, scampering toward that Voice. Then it was gone, and Samantha and I were alone in an ordinary bedroom, silent.

Samantha leaned against me as she washed the tiny body one last time, then she pressed her face against my tear-wet face, and we both sighed. Slowly, she went to sit in the window and watch for the dawn. But we both knew.

From this and other experiences, I have hopefully concluded, that when you die, there is someone who loves you there to meet and care for you. But I could be wrong about this — we are not all as adorable and innocent as kittens. When I once spent 10 days sitting at Death’s door, there was no one waiting, no light to guide me, just a wonderfully peaceful and restful place to sit and wait for whatever happened next — and I hadn’t a clue what that might be and knew only that I just didn’t know.

Recently someone asked one of those Facebook questions — if you could live forever, would you want to? I was surprised by the number of people who virtually shouted NO! Several others said “for a while” and no one said “yes” — which says pretty terrible things about the society we have created. My own answer was, “I don’t know how long I would like to live. I still have a lot more that I want to do. BUT I shall know when I’m ready to go.”

At 80, it is nice to be clear about that. And there! I finished this before the witching hour, even if WordPress thinks I didn’t!

Writing & Other Simple Things

At the end of 2013, I did an inner journey for Yule. In it I really needed to take a look at some things from a different angle — with the help of the fae and Gran’ma Maple.

Some of what I wrote then was: Under my feet the path feels rough, irregular — not a well-worn path, but one that is not often used or has fallen into disuse. I have an impulse to stop and clear some of the clutter — the slippery leaves, the tumbled stones — and to rake it smooth. It will be much more use in the future if I take care of it now. Sometimes these impulses are just distractions but this one feels valid and a good beginning, so I spend a bit of time tending the path itself. There’s no point in having things be more difficult than they need to be.

The path winds between the great trees of an ancient forest, and I’m surprised to notice that clearing a bit of the path affects the whole — the clearness spreads so the entire way is easier to walk. That was easier than expected — sometimes intention is almost all we need. Intention followed by just enough action to fulfill it.

The now-smooth path leads me to a natural clearing in the forest. In the center, there is one ancient maple tree. I recognize her from my worldly life — Gran’ma Maple. How lovely! I lean against her trunk, comforted by her presence. I’m surprised by the amount of tension that drains out of me as I lean against her. And I suddenly realize that one of the things I need to release is the underlying tension caused by feeling that I have to do everything for myself. I don’t. I have help. Why do I feel that I must do “it” all by myself? And can I let that old habit go?

Intention and action… I have the intention, clarity is needed on the action. But first, I want to know more about what I need to release, and I ask Gran’ma Maple what else I need to do. I feel the movement of her silent chuckle. “You don’t think that is enough for now? You think that breaking a life-long pattern and replacing it with a healthy attitude is easy? You don’t think that way for other people — why do you not be as gentle with yourself as you are with them?”

I think about the big difference I felt when I let go of that tension and wonder how much of my energy usually goes into maintaining that “I can do it myself” attitude and self image — not into actually doing things but just into believing my old lie to myself? And then the doing things is even harder sometimes. But doing things for myself when I can is appropriate, while telling myself that I can do everything for myself is not only unnecessary and untrue, but apparently is stressful in many ways.

I get that. Now… I ask Gran’ma Maple about right action. And again, that silent chuckle happens with a rustling of leaves. “Dear! By now you surely have all the tools you need, and if you don’t, you’re perfectly capable of inventing them as the need arises. Blessings on the path!”

Here I am two and a half years later, approaching Midsummer and feeling overwhelmed by all the thing I want to do. I recognize the feeling and know I’ve been here before, but still haven’t quite let go of creating so very much to do and worrying about how little time there is to do it in even if I live to be a hundred years old. I am much better at letting people help me. Not perfect — I still feel guilty and “lazy” when I ask for help. (It would be so much easier if people could magically know what I need and, if they feel like it, just do it, and then I could simply say “Thank you!” but I do realize that this would still give me that uncomfortable feeling of not doing everything for myself.) Lesson not learned! So once more I decide to stop trying to figure this out in my head and see what my heart and soul have to say on an inner journey.

I bow to the Lady and Lord and ask for their guidance (that’s easy — I have gotten some of this asking business right!) and I light the candle symbolizing their presence. I ask them, “What do I need to do at this time to prevent or cope with my tendency to put myself into overwhelm?”

First, I draw a card from the Faeries’ Oracle to give myself a starting place. The card I get is …

She of the Cruach, the Great Yin polarity of the Universe is the many-named Mother of all. She is nurturer and protectress, and in her hands we are safe, secure, and grounded.

This gives us a secure base to work from so that we in turn may offer her nurturing, patience, and creativity to others through our own attitudes and actions.

It is very important for you to focus on that at this time.

Remember to balance that nurturing with the strength of He of the Fiery Sword and to channel their energy instead of using your own personal energy.

Faery blessings on the being!

Well, DOH!

What I love about asking questions of the fae is that they often fairly clout me over the head with the answer!

Of course I need to ask and allow them to energize these projects instead of Trying To Do It All Myself! It isn’t only humans who are willing to help. I could be channeling the energy of God/dess for the things I’m doing. This would be entirely appropriate as these things are my attempts to work in their service!

I know how to do this — it is just like healing. Each time I start to do the work, I can begin by earthing, centering, allowing the energy to flow freely into the writing. While working, I simply need to continue to stay earthed in their hands, their energy — and not to fall out of it into worrying or hurrying or criticizing myself. And when I find myself falling out of the flow and pushing myself, I can simply stop and rest or stop and reground as appropriate. I can even ask them to nudge me when it’s time to stop for a break — another thing I’m not good at remembering yet.

This is so obvious. I’d feel silly if I didn’t already know how silly I am. I’ve only been doing healing most of my life. This uses the same principles exactly. Now one more card, in case they have anything to add.

From Gran’ma’s Faery Wisdom and Gnomic Utterances: the Oracle:

The Unconditional Elf is one of Santa’s Special Task Force elves. This is the one that makes gifts for people whether they deserve them or not. He also delivers them out of season, so they might happen at any time at all. These gifts are not lumps of coal, unless the people are very, very cold and have empty fireplaces.

The only question about the Unconditional Elf is: is he giving you an unconditional gift or wanting you to help him give one to someone else? Or both? Hmm? What do you think?

There are many Unconditional Elves, and this one is named Fred. “Fred” means “peace”.

Faery blessings on those who give and those who receive! May they often be one and the same!

Quite likely the answer to the question above about giving or receiving’ is simply ‘giving and receiving’. I’m receiving to give, and giving to receive. Marzipan’s Adventures, Gran’ma’s Faery Wisdom & Gnomic Utterances, this blog, the web pages, the prospective e-books are all just energy flowing both ways at the same time.

Filled with enthusiasm (but knowing it is well past bedtime), I bow again to God/dess and thank them for their helpful insights. The candle is blown out with gratitude, releasing the energy to work in O Universe, including me, and I saunter gently off to bed, hoping this will help you, just as it is helping me. Good dreams!

P.S. I was so excited about this that I woke up before 6 AM (after going to sleep just past 2 AM) and I thought, “I’ve got to try it!” And what happened? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Would you believe that it took two hours of frustration to realize that it was working — just as I’d asked. I was being given first a gentle and then a strong nudge that it was time for something else — time to rest, time to sleep, time to dream. That’s the necessary other side of Getting It Done. Sheesh. Am I slow or what? Yes, I’m slow. I really am. But they are patient and will try to help me, even at my most daft. I’m so grateful.

© Copyright 2016 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Great-aunt Nettie's Spice Cake

The first cake I ever made by myself was to Great-aunt Nettie’s Spice Cake recipe, and it was for Mom’s birthday. This recipe has been in our family so long that no one knows any more who Great-aunt Nettie was, but it has always been one of my favorites.

I wanted to make the cake as a surprise for my mother, but that was impossible. I was only nine and had to ask her permission to use the stove. Happily, she agreed and let herself be talked into leaving the house while I made it. I’d chosen this particular cake, even though it was a little complicated, because it was both my favorite cake and because it was so good that it didn’t need frosting. I didn’t think I was ready to tackle frosting yet. Mom did suggest that I ask the next door neighbor, Mrs. Cliffe, my piano teacher and spiritual adviser, for help if I ran into any problems. Mom also suggested that I double the recipe. I thought I could do that, but I also thought that she expected that I probably would have problems. Then she took my younger sisters over to a neighbor’s house to play with their children while the women chatted and did some creative crocheting.

The first stage of the recipe involved measuring and then boiling water, raisins, spices, sugar, and shortening in a big pot. I’d helped her make the cake before, but it seemed to need a bigger pot than I remembered Mom using so I had to transfer the water into a larger one to get it all in. But I finally got everything measured and in the pot. Then, standing on a stool, I stirred the mixture as it came to the boil and for the required 15 minutes of simmering. Next, while it was cooling, I mixed the flour and the rest of ingredients in a bowl. Again, it seemed to take an awfully big mixing bowl. It also took a long time for the hot mixture to cool. But I was committed now—I couldn’t do anything but keep going. When it was finally cool enough, I stirred in the flour mixture—or started to. It wouldn’t all go into the big pot.

I rootled around in the cupboards and found the largest pot—the one Gran’ma and Mom used for large family gatherings. The full pot was too heavy and awkward for me to lift and pour, so I carefully transferred the warm mixture a cup at a time. Then I slowly added and stirred in all the floury mixture. I had to get a chair to stand on and a long-handled ladle to do it. It’s a fairly thick and stiff batter when all the dry things are added. There may have been a small floury lump or two hiding still among the plump, boiled raisins when I decided that enough stirring was enough.

Cake pans—we had four—that should have been enough for a double recipe. I greased, floured, and filled them—and more than half the cake mixture was left. They didn’t begin to hold all that dough. By now I had realized that, even with all my very careful addition and measuring, I had somehow miscalculated. Numbers have never been what I was best at, so while not surprising, it was a little worrying. I could see that enough pans for all this would never all fit into the oven at once. I put the first four in to began baking. I borrowed two more pans from Mrs. Cliffe. Not enough. Another pan from Mrs. Rheisenover. And another two pans from someone else. I baked them in shifts, watching them anxiously. I knew how to tell with a toothpick when they were done, but not how long they should take.

Eventually they were all done and cooling on racks. There weren’t enough racks either, so I had to improvise by using the racks out of the oven. The cakes looked and smelled just like they ought — spicy and delicious. I arranged them carefully on the big table in the kitchen and put the card I’d made for Mom beside them.

Nine cakes! Far more than enough for our family and for singing Happy Birthday over. I fetched Mom and my sisters home. She appreciatively sniffed the aroma when she came in, but seemed a bit taken aback when she saw all of the cakes on the table.”But you said to double the recipe,” I told her.

“Nooooo,” she replied. “I said the recipe was double. I meant you to make half of it. But they are beautiful cakes!” Fortunately, she was a sensible woman and decided it would be fun to share it with some of the neighbors after we’d finished dinner. Heaven only knows how she explained all those cakes to Dad when he got home.

After dinner, we children were sent around to invite all of the neighbors in for coffee (or milk) and birthday cake, an impromptu party. As people began to gather in the house, someone suggested making ice cream. Various hand-crank ice cream freezers came out. A few of the men went off to the ice house to get blocks of ice and chip them up while women mixed up their favorite flavors. Older children cranked until the ice cream got so stiff that the men had to take over. People had to bring their own bowls and spoons—this hearty cake was fine in fingers with a paper napkin, but ice cream demanded dishes.

We all sang Happy Birthday to my mother, and someone fetched a big candle for her to blow out with her wish in lieu of the usual small candles on a frosted cake. God/dess knows what she was wishing by now! I watched with mixed feelings as the cakes disappeared into happy mouths. None of us in the neighborhood were rich, and birthday parties were usually simple and for children only. This was different. Fortunately, it was July—the 7th of July, just after the communal celebration of the Fourth, so everyone was ready for more celebrating.

The weather was warm and it didn’t matter that there were too many people to fit into the house. Women filled the big kitchen, children ran wild everywhere, the men all gathered out in the front yard and sat on blankets on the grass, like a picnic. After everyone was served, the women hung up their aprons and came out and sat on the blankets too, modestly tucking the skirts of their everyday house dresses around them. No one had dressed up; no one had expected a party. The neighborhood dogs laid in the grass, looking hopeful, and more than one person surreptitiously passed a raisin to their favorite pup. Twilight arrived, and the stars came out. Everything just happened. And all the cake somehow disappeared, down to the last crumb.

I used to wonder about Great-aunt Nettie—I still do. As far as I can remember, she wasn’t my mother’s great-aunt, and as best I know, Nettie wasn’t my grandmother’s great-aunt either. Since Gran’ma was born in 1886, a great-aunt already lost to her generation’s memory takes us back a bit into the mists. Who was she, really? How far back do we need to go to find the woman whose cake (and herself) made such an impression that her name is still attached to it generations later?

I know how recipes go—we tend to follow the instructions the first time, but after that, if we’ve a mind to, we experiment, trying adding a bit of this or substituting that. How many changes had that cake been through before it reached my nine-year-old hands? My hands—they are like my mother’s and grandmother’s hands, all the same shape and with our littlest fingers shorter than most people’s. Even the lines in our palms were very much alike. I remember comparing all three pairs of our hands when Gran’ma was eighty-eight—like and alike again. My grandmother and I even wore nearly identical wedding rings and they were the same size.

Healers’ hands, all of us, each in our own way. And how far back do those hands go? Mixing cakes, touching hurts, soothing children, making and mending, shaping and creating? All of those women stretching back in time, like many-colored beads on a string, some bright, some scratched or chipped, some probably dull. How far back would we have to time travel to find the original Great-aunt Nettie—a woman whose cake was special enough to bear her name through decades, even centuries? Did she have these hands? And how many generations back do variations on that cake go? Would it have been made with stone-ground whole wheat and honey once? Other grains? Other fruits and sweeteners and spices? Different… and yet bearing the imprint of the same hands?

I must look carefully at my granddaughter’s hands the next time I see her. When I was rushing along the road to be present at the magic of her birth, I remember hearing one of my Voices saying, “She has your hands, you know.” I assumed the Voice was talking about healing, but… now… well, I must look. And perhaps we should bake that cake together.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.