Monthly Archives: November 2013

On giving thanks

We’ve now come to the first landmark of the holiday season – Thanksgiving. Unlike many of my American friends, I don’t personally do the big family turkey-and-sweet-potatoes thing (and I will never get sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, but hey, that’s just me). And like some of them, especially those with Native American connections, I find the festival’s history troubling, to say the least, although I’m glad that those aspects are beginning to be acknowledged.

Unusually, the calendars are aligned this year so that Thanksgiving coincides with the start of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The surface story is about the rededication of the Temple, and the lamps burning for eight nights on one night’s worth of oil; the underlying meaning is about hope that lasts out longer than you think it will. A great miracle happened here, indeed. I’m no more Jewish than I am American (although if you’re making latkes, I’ll be more than happy to help you eat them!), but I can relate to that. In its own way, this is also a festival of thanksgiving.

Anne Frank (who, in her famous diary, mentions celebrating Hanukkah hidden away in the Amsterdam annexe) knew all about the value of hope. On overhearing her mother tell a friend to cheer herself up by being grateful she wasn’t suffering like some other people were, she argued:

How can thinking about the misery of others help if you’re miserable
yourself?…Think of all the beauty still left about you, and be happy.

Of course there’s nothing wrong – there’s a lot right – with not just thinking about the suffering of our fellow human beings, but taking action to help. But it’s when we start from a place of appreciating our own good fortune, a place of gratitude, that we can more easily reach out to those less fortunate.

It’s worth taking time – regularly, not just at this time of year – to think about what you have in your life to be thankful for. You might want to have some kind of ritual for this – maybe share them around the family table before you eat, maybe light a candle for each one? – but just listing them is often enough to bring your attention back to what matters.

Here, right now, are a few of mine.

I’m thankful for being alive and healthy. Physically and mentally, as I’m well aware that my mental health is something I have to consciously look after.

I’m thankful for having food on the table, clothes on my back, a roof over my head, a day job in which I’m treated fairly and reasonably, a working car, and money in the bank. In these times, you can’t take any of those things for granted.

I’m thankful for my husband, who continues to love and support me in everything I do; for my family, even though I don’t see them often; and for my friends, both ‘real life’ and online.

I’m thankful for ‘the beauty still left around us…’ – for the stark, but still stunning, beauty of this part of the Earth as we move into winter. With some of the trees still in leaf, but the weather turning colder, it’s all fire and frost here right now.

I’m thankful for creativity: for my own ability to write, make art and make music, and for the wealth of art, music and books created by other people and my ability to appreciate them.

I’m thankful for connection to Spirit, for all my gods, goddesses and guardians, and for guidance on my path, in the many forms in which it comes.

I’m thankful in particular right now for great television (Doctor Who 50th anniversary for the win!), bad jokes, Bach remedies, brownies, cats, red hair dye, thermal underwear, and ‘Cookie Day’ by Shonen Knife.

And I’m thankful for the wonders of the Internet, for the chance to share my thoughts here, and for those of you who may be reading this. Whatever you may be celebrating right now, I wish you the best of the season, and a long list of your own things to be thankful for.

Images of Spirit, part 3: Finding new images

Moving on, now, from the face of Spirit you were given, to the one you’re trying to find for yourself.

If you’re used to divine traits being treated as immutable, eternal facts, sketching out a more supportive vision of Deity may seem blasphemous. Is this like online dating, where you can decide what characteristics you want Spirit to have (non-smoking, dog-lover, GSOH)? In one sense, yes. Spirit will manifest to you in ways that couldn’t be otherwise, given who you are as a unique individual. It is about what you want, but only because you couldn’t want it any other way.

Easier, perhaps, to put it in terms of negatives. What can you not countenance Spirit being, to the extent that you’d have to be a completely different person to believe this? Look at what particularly turned you off in the view of Spirit from your past, and follow your gut feelings; logic is useful, but using it alone to get you to places where your gut refuses to go is usually a mistake.

Then turn it around and ask: What if Deity were the opposite of the characteristic that repelled you? For every place where your guts say a big no, what’s the alternative to which they (and maybe, led by them, your brain too) can say a wholehearted yes? That may be where Spirit finds you. And there’ll be other characteristics that follow naturally from those.

There may also be things you want to keep, or elaborate on, from the picture of Spirit you were given. That’s OK too. Some of us did derive comfort, joy and inner connection from some aspects of our childhood religion, and you don’t have to throw those parts out with the bathwater.

When you have your list, try making art pieces – in paint, collage, or whatever materials you choose – that express one or more of those qualities. You can depict the Divine in human shape, through pictorial symbols or metaphors (all our images are metaphors), or use more abstract arrangements of shape and colour. You can also collage snippets of text to add to the meaning.

The list that follows is one I’ve made from those pointers, and you can also see some of the resulting art, below. Before you read this, a very important note: This isn’t my attempt to convince anyone of what Spirit ‘really’ is; this is just what’s true for me.

Immanent. Spirit as one with all of us, with everything, is much more intimate than the distant ‘up there’ Deity, or even the Divine incarnate in one ‘special’ person. It means the planet and its life, other people, my own body, are all sacred – and that has to have an effect on how I treat them. So Deity is the energy within everything – but personal at the same time.

…But also transcendent. Spirit may manifest in worlds and dimensions far beyond the reach of our current limited senses. Awe and wonder are responses to the universe as it is, but also, for me, to something beyond, bigger and deeper and more extraordinary than I can begin to understand. Yet, that transcendence can’t be alien or scary or make me feel unworthy, because I’m part of it too. The night sky is jaw-dropping, but as Yoko Ono once pointed out, it comes all the way down to the ground and you’re walking in it.

Encompassing all genders and none. Deity as Ultimate Male (a particular kind of male, at that) doesn’t wash on a planet where we have hermaphrodite snails, seahorse fathers who give birth to their young, and lizard species where baffled herpetologists have never yet found a male. (Not to mention whatever intriguing arrangements life in other parts of the universe may have.) The Source of everything doesn’t need a gender of her own, but can include all forms of gender and sexuality in herself. That means she can’t be used to uphold any prejudice or injustice in how we deal with those issues.

(Note that I do tend to refer to Spirit as female when I’m not talking about a specific, gendered deity-form, because nobody’s yet invented a neuter personal pronoun that rolls off the tongue in English. And, it goes some small way to correcting the imbalance of centuries of a male Supreme Being, until we truly get our heads round a God who swings all possible ways.)

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Ecstatic, sensual, pleasure-loving. This follows from Spirit being incarnate in the world and in us. Denying the ecstatic potential of our bodies, minds and spirits makes us easy prey to be sold all the fake amusements and temporary painkillers that damage us, other people and our world. If we acknowledged that Spirit, through each one of us, wanted to experience, and give (because the two go together), as much real joy and pleasure as possible, I think we’d organise things a little differently.

Creative energy. British readers who grew up in the 70s may recall the TV programme, Fingerbobs, in which a hirsute chap named Yoffy entertained us with crafts and storytelling through the medium of animal puppets. The theme song, after describing these creatures, ended decisively with the words:
These hands were made for making,
And making they must do!

Creativity is part of human nature. Mythology tells us that Spirit is creative, too: in origin stories, the world is spoken, sung, danced, carved or moulded into being. I think this is one instance where we’re made ‘in the image’ of the creative Source; when we make anything, that same divine energy is flowing through us. The hippy might just have agreed with that one.

Playful. This follows on naturally from creativity, which is after all just a special kind of play. I feel there’s so much paradox and surprise and plain weirdness in the universe, that we might just be the products of a Deity who likes goofing around. Who does have a sense of humour. But who’s not laughing at us, but with us. Or would, if we’d just stop being so po-faced and join in with the Big Joke once in a while.

Loves curiosity. I don’t believe the Being who came up with the human brain is the kind who’d stop us at some arbitrary barrier and say ‘Don’t go there.’ Exploration, going beyond boundaries, is tied up with play and creativity as part of what the Source is. While many stories point out the dangers of curiosity, their real heroes are never the lawgivers – generally stern grey controllers, and in ‘Bluebeard’, a serial killer! – but the transgressors, who more often than not bring some good out of the situation. In myths of the Pacific Northwest, Raven and Bluejay are both involved in stealing the sun to bring light to the world. See, us corvids are smart enough to know when rules need breaking.

Shapeshifter. If it sounds as if I see Spirit as all things to all people, I’m following a long tradition. Author Jim Pym, in his excellent book on Buddhism for Westerners, You Don’t Have To Sit On The Floor, describes how Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, vowed to take on any form to come to the aid of anyone who cries to her – god, man, woman, child, animal, no matter if the form is even Buddhist: ‘Whatever is necessary, is possible.’ I think this could apply to Spirit in general. The goldfinch on the feeder who cheers up a grey day, the street guy in a bookstore who says something unexpectedly wise, or the writer of that song on the radio whose lyrics make me think…if those are the ways she knows I’ll take notice, who am I to argue?

At the same time, knowing how we change, maybe the Source also changes her particular ways with each of us over time. Sometimes it takes a whisper for you to understand, sometimes only fireworks will do. Sometimes you need a hug, sometimes you need your butt gently but firmly kicked into action. Same Spirit, different approaches. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

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Messy and imperfect. Reams have been written about how to reconcile a perfect, all-powerful Deity and an imperfect world. You know what? I find it easier to relate to Spirit if she’s not omnipotent and flawless. Maybe you really can’t make an omelette without breaking a few cosmic eggs. Maybe you can’t produce a species like ours without using materials – like DNA – that wear out eventually. Maybe imperfection is built-in, and the universe, including all of us, is a work in progress. And maybe that might help us feel a little less guilty about being human.

Tender to the broken. Speaking of guilt, humans have been way too prone to justify each other’s pain on Spirit’s behalf: it’s deserved, payment for sin, a wake-up call, a lesson, the result of ‘negative thinking’… I use something I call the Samaritans Test: if this Deity, with this attitude, were to try volunteering for that helpline for the desperate, would she be taken quietly aside and advised to try a more suitable vocation? Spirit has to be better than the most compassionate human response, which is: I’m here. I’m listening. It’s OK. You’re OK.

(And maybe, when things are looking a little better: Here’s help. Except that part’s largely up to us, as embodiments of Spirit. Anything else is, to paraphrase the Buddha, arguing about what animal the shit came from and at what angle it hit the fan, when what we really need to do is – grab a shovel.).

Absolute Love. This is the one big thing all major faiths agree on. Trouble is, what we call love is always hedged about with our human provisos and conditions, so it’s hard to imagine it without them. Try anyway. Not ‘as long as you’re good’, or ‘as long as you believe the right things’, or ‘as long as you love me back’, or ‘as long as you don’t pay too much attention to anyone else’ – just love. As is. As you are. Accepted. Included. Always. If I didn’t have experience of feeling it, I think my guts would tell me that it couldn’t not exist.

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As I said earlier, don’t think I’m dictating what your image of Spirit ‘should’ be. You’ve probably already had enough of that; I know I have. Go within, listen to your deepest self, and find your own conclusions.

Images of Spirit, part 2: The God they gave me

Back to my exploration of the characteristics of Spirit, and in this post I’ll be looking back at the image of Spirit I grew up with. The God, if you like, that people gave me, or tried to.

Most of us were introduced to ideas about God via parents, school and/or places of worship, through childhood into adolescence and early adulthood. At some stage, many of us break away and start to explore other ideas about Spirit for ourselves. But this is about the God you had taught to you by other people.

(Because I was raised in a Christian culture, I’ll use the word ‘God’ in this post. For the same reason, a lot of this will come across as critical of Christianity. Please understand, the negative stuff I experienced came from a number of places: suspect doctrines, poor teaching, other people’s vested interests and emotional biases, not to mention my own youth and misunderstanding. I know many wise and compassionate Christians who’ve encountered much the same sort of issues on their own spiritual journeys. Also, my tone isn’t intended to be facetious…just to bring a little lightness to a sometimes rather unhappy account.)

It’s easier to do this in stages, so if you’re having a go at this exploration, try jotting your ideas down under headings, as I have below. Think at each stage not just about what images you were picking up, but what effects they might have had on you.

Childhood
In my non-church-going home, I first encountered God as:

Neat freak. Well, my mother was always telling me cleanliness was next to Godliness – although in our house, that meant God came a very poor second. He was invoked whenever I made a mess – from which I got the impression he didn’t like me much.

At my Church of England school, as at all UK schools in the 1970s, we had morning assembly, and occasional services at the local church. Here they told us God was:

Maker of the world. Without, it seemed, ever getting into trouble for making a mess! Oddly, no connection was ever made to my own, or other people’s, urge to make stuff.

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‘Up there’. Hymns and popular culture told us he lived in Heaven, in the sky. We didn’t question it, or ask how Space, as in rockets and aliens, fit into the same scheme. But it also led to an unspoken view of God as distant, remote, impossibly beyond human life. ‘In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,’ as the hymn put it.

Very Big Person – Laugh if you will, but I imagined God as an actual giant for a few years.

Boss of Everything. We could visit God on earth, in his big Victorian Gothic house, but you had to be extra good and quiet, and everyone spoke to him formally. A bit like my rather stern grandfather. You obeyed his rules, even if you didn’t understand them. This wasn’t a God you felt safe getting personal or, heaven help us, playful with.

Jesus’ Dad. To a child who put all myths on an equal footing, Jesus was as ‘real’ and interesting as Orpheus or Robin Hood. As I understood it, he did a lot of good (sometimes magical) things, but was killed horribly because he annoyed some powerful people. (Yes, I was already savvy enough to have worked that out.) The idea that he was God didn’t really register, but him being God’s (only-begotten) Son gave us the subtle message that he was special and powerful in a way we could never be.

Male. Theology says God has no body, parts or passions, but art and language always gave him a luxuriant beard and addressed him as ‘He’. As a girl, I wouldn’t find this odd until much later, but it emphasised the ‘not like you’ aspect.

For several years, the Church Army took us off our exasperated parents’ hands during the summer holidays for games, crafts, dire guitar songs (I recall the theme from Van der Valk with lyrics about Jesus shoehorned in) and evangelism, with God as:

Hater of sinners. Well, sin, really, but at that age you don’t get the distinction. Sin was, they said, like when you open the fridge to have a taste of the trifle your Mum made for tea, and next thing you know, you’re sitting by the empty bowl in a custard-induced stupor when she walks in an hour later. Their point, in this and similar parables, was that a teensy spoonful of sin, to God, is as bad as scoffing the whole trifle. Naturally, most of us thought: why bother even trying to be good, if you’re going to get it anyway?

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Demanding vengeance. Jesus’ feeding, healing and teaching people now seemed to be sidelined to the awful death he’d suffered – for us, so that we didn’t have to suffer in Hell later. The whole thing sounded over the top. God demanded his Son’s death, just to get us off the hook for premature trifle-tasting and other juvenile crimes? Were we really that bad? Combined with some of the Old Testament stories – all that smiting! – it made God look, well, a bit bloodthirsty. Which might actually have made him look cool to some of us eight-year-olds, but probably not in the way intended.

When the Commander asked us to raise our hands if we’d decided to ‘commit’, mine stayed down. With my theological doubts, Jesus clearly didn’t want me for a sunbeam.

Adolescence
By now I was at grammar school. The apostle Paul mentions ‘putting away childish things’, and by this time the huge, sky-enthroned God of my younger days did seem a bit ridiculous – but the evangelical Christian Union brought him back in other forms:

Censor. I’d started reading books about Eastern religions, astrology and other esoterica, but now I was told that if I didn’t burn the books (or at least stop reading them), God would be burning me. It was also censorship of ideas. Ponder whether God might be better described as a Force than a Person, and you were told to beware the Satanic wiles of the New Age. Dare to wonder if you could address him as She, and you got cries of ‘Pagan!’ (Well, they were right on that count.)

Perfectionist. Surely, if you were a decent person who tried to be kind and honest to your fellow humans, God would accept you, right? Nope. Nobody was good enough for God. But he loved you anyway, and if you loved him, you’d let him turn you (by any painful means necessary) into the sort of person he could accept. As this was the message I was already getting at home, it didn’t help my plummeting self-esteem.

Unfair. You could be accepted if you let Jesus vouch for you, even if you were a serial killer; but if not, you were out, no matter what good you’d done in the world. Gandhi was out. The Dalai Lama wouldn’t be going. Worse, an assembly on the life of John Lennon ended with the pointed reminder that ‘talent and fame are for nothing if you don’t accept Jesus.’ Imagine that. It was Heaven, the nightclub, where you could only get in with the right Friend. Picture a stony-faced bruiser angel, like the ones in the Jack Chick comics, in a too-tight tuxedo intoning ‘Your name’s not down – you’re not coming in’.

Substitute partner. Desperate for a boyfriend, I was told Jesus was the only man I’d ever need. What I really needed was someone to sit me down and explain why ‘You are nothing without a man’ – or ‘nothing without God’ – was a lousy message to live by. And why I should spend time, lots of it, working on my own self-worth. In hindsight, years later, I realised that ‘Love me and change to please me, or you’ll suffer and it’ll be your own fault’ was the keynote of all my most damaging human relationships. Shudder.

Ecstatic. There was another side. Dragged to a Mission at the local football ground, I saw the radiant faces of my schoolmates as they swayed, eyes closed, lost in praise songs. Part of me wished I could experience that surrender – but you can’t surrender unless you feel complete trust. And for reasons I’ve described, I couldn’t do that.

Adulthood
In my twenties I was, for six years, a nominally Protestant, broomcloseted Wiccan married to a non-practising Roman Catholic, with a very practising, old school, pre-Vatican II Irish mother, It was… complicated. My very first impression was of God as:

Sex-hating, body-hating, and deeply misogynistic. I got all these as a package, before I even darkened the door of a Catholic Church – from a very human source, although God was invoked to make it clear that my (actually quite staid for the early 90s) behaviour and dress made me…well, I recall the actual word ‘Jezebel’, among others. It hurt (even if I had fit the stereotype, that sort of shaming is never acceptable), and it sapped my confidence in myself and my body, which was only just beginning to recover from adolescence. And, without getting too personal, when boys are raised with these ideas, it doesn’t do great things to how they later treat women, either.

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Transcendent. In a good way. Ironically, the church I got cajoled into attending Mass at was a modern, very moderate one, to the disgust of the old ladies at the back. They didn’t preach any kind of hate, and they did organise pilgrimages, a few of which I went on, which – through the atmosphere, the setting, the ritual – touched something very powerful. I vividly recall a torchlight procession that had an absolutely numinous, otherworldly atmosphere. Snag was, the emotional focus of most of this wasn’t God at all, but his officially inferior Mother, the Blessed Virgin. (For whom, dogma be damned, I still have a soft spot, but that’s another story…)

I parted company with Christianity at that point – and have never since identified as a Christian (though, as I said, I’ve been on good terms with a fair few who do) – not because I no longer believed in God, but because I did. But in a God – and that word is baggage-laden enough that I’ll drop it now – who was bigger and wilder and less predictable than any of those old attempts to tie her down.

The writer G. K. Chesterton once noted that the danger, when people stop believing in (his) God, is not that they believe in nothing, but that they believe in anything. Damn straight. There’s a reason why that’s more threatening to orthodoxy: a real risk that out there among the ‘anything’, we might find something that fires up our hearts and imaginations more brightly than simple absence of belief ever could. Give yourself the freedom to speculate about Spirit, and you might encounter something truly radical and transforming. But that’s for the next part…

Ancestral voices

Samhain itself may be over, but the nights are still drawing in. I count the season as lasting into the first couple of weeks of November (which encompasses the traditional feasts of All Souls’ and All Saints’; the unrelated historical anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ Night, now more of a popular fire festival; and the secular commemorations of the war dead, Remembrance Day in the UK and Veterans’ Day in the US). With that in mind, I want to look at the other side of Samhain: communing with the ancestors.

Much of our culture doesn’t openly accept belief in an afterlife, let alone communication with it. I blame rational scepticism (and possibly Scooby-Doo). Even mainstream religions insist that once you’ve passed the departure lounge, all phones are switched off. Anything you may pick up from that direction is just interference, or possibly demons.

But in fact, throughout the world and throughout history (and probably prehistory too), it’s been normal for living people to talk to the dead. Why? Much the same reasons we maintain relationships with anyone in this world: for mutual support and help, to share news and information, to celebrate or commiserate, and just to know someone’s there. Shamans carried messages to and from the Otherworld, major religions had ancestor cults or traditions of praying for (and sometimes to) the dead, and more bereaved people than you might think will privately admit to talking to their deceased loved ones, and feeling their continued presence. It’s another basic human thing.

Any deceased relative you felt close to in life – or feel you might, if they died in your early childhood or before your birth, and you never got to know them – is someone you could contact as an ancestor. But as this is a blog about creativity, you might like to think about that kind of connection. Is there anyone from whom you get your sense of colour or rhythm or love of words, who encouraged your early artistic efforts, or who had talents of their own they never had a chance to use? You may want to ask them for creative support.

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Maybe the ancestors live on in a literal or mythic Otherworld; maybe they live in our memories (as valid a place as anywhere); maybe, according to some, a part of their energy remains in those dimensions while another part reincarnates back in this world. Whatever you believe, don’t think you have to have special psychic powers or break out a ouija board to do what our ancestors themselves did for millennia. If it’s hard to get your head round the reality or otherwise of this, try acting ‘as if’. Play with the following ways of making contact, and see what happens:

Talk to them. You can do this anytime or anywhere in your head, although wait till you’re in private before doing it out loud, or you may get some funny looks! Don’t worry if you find yourself crying, yelling or arguing; most of us have strong feelings around the loss of people we loved. In time, you may find yourself feeling calmer.

Will you get a response? Not, probably, an audible voice speaking to you or an apparition – even psychics rarely get those! But listen to the thoughts that come into your head. Keep a note of them. See if they feel like that person; you’ll know in your guts if they do. Be alert for any sense of a presence. Look out, in your life, for any synchronicities – a chance encounter or find, a favourite song on the radio – that might indicate a link to your ancestor. If they point you in a positive, constructive direction, you may have your answer.

Make an altar. Include photos, candles and offerings of whatever food, drink (and tobacco, if applicable) and flowers that your family member(s) loved. You might also want to include objects they owned, to give you a connection to them – a favourite piece of jewellery, for instance. Light the candles, invite them to be present, and share memories with them.

(How to dispose of the food? Eating or drinking it yourself, on the assumption that the spirits have partaken of its essence, the feelings behind the offering, is OK. If you don’t want to do that, offering it back to the Earth is fine. Best of all, give it to someone in need, if it’s the kind of food you can do that with.)

Write a letter. As with talking, feel free to tell them everything. You can burn these letters to send them into the immaterial, or bury them; or you can keep them in a special box or other container on your altar. (And be open for answers, in whatever form.). You can also do this as closure, with ancestors you don’t want continued contact with. It’s best to burn those letters.

Speaking of which, many people who accept the idea of contact have issues with their particular ancestors. There have been many debates over this, but I personally don’t see why you owe any honour or gratitude to family members who were abusive or otherwise harmful. If you believe that we continue to progress after death, those people may have realised the error of their ways – but that can’t be taken as read, or used to force forgiveness from anyone. Basically, if what they did then still makes you feel uncomfortable now, don’t feel you have to have anything to do with them. It really is not compulsory. The universe will not let them near you, if that’s not what you want.

What do you do, though, if none of the blood ancestors you know about are the sort of people you still want to talk to? Here are some possibilities.

Go further afield. A lot of people in the Magpie’s generation grew up with friends of parents as honorary ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’. Even the non-religious among us had godparents. You may have found a mentor and confidante in a friend’s parent, or a favourite teacher. These people all count as extended family, and you can treat them as you would any ancestor of your own kin.

Go further back. Close your eyes, relax, go in your head to a place that makes you feel comfortable, and ask one of your ancestors from further back in time to reveal her/himself. Visualise someone coming to meet you, and ask who they are and what their connection with you is. If you get on with them, go back there to speak with them again. This way, you can imaginatively bypass anyone in your bloodline who may be difficult to deal with, and at the same time, gain new insights into your deeper ancestry.

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Adopt an ancestor. Many mixed-media artists like using old, anonymous family photos as substitute ‘family’ in their artwork. You can take this a step further. Find a good flea market and have a rummage through a box of old photos until you find one with a face that speaks to you, someone you think you might like to know. Take it home, place it in front of you, maybe light a candle, relax, and talk to the person in the photo. Find a name for them and a relationship to you – is that your great-aunt Millicent or your cousin Harry? Ask them about their Iives, confide in them and see how they can help you.

(Why, yes, I did just suggest you do what’s generally called ‘making stuff up.’ As I said before, whether or not any if this is ‘real’ is less important than what it means to you.)

Consider your creative tribe. Buddhists and some Wiccans count their ‘lineage’ through teachers and initiators. On the creative path, the authors, poets, painters, musicians, actors and dancers who’ve passed on – but whose energy we can still interact with and learn from – are our lineage. You’ll already have a good idea of the people who inspire you. Read the books, put up copies of the visual art, get DVDs or look on YouTube for performances. Read biographies and interviews. And try connecting in the ways I mentioned above for blood ancestors. If you can find their influences, follow the chain back; you’re connected to those people as part of your tribe, too.

(Note: There’ll also, of course, be members of your creative ‘family’ who are still in this world. While you can’t always get to meet those people, you can usually write to them and show your admiration and gratitude – they may, if you’re very lucky, write back. Also, remember to pay it forward: if you have any chance to help or inspire other people in their creative path, don’t let it pass. This is how our kinships are made and affirmed.)

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Bear in mind, too, that it’s good to maintain a connection with our legacy, as people and as creative spirits, year-round. The veil may traditionally be thin at this time of year, but these are also good ways to connect with anyone in the Otherworlds you feel close to at other times – their birthday, perhaps, or the anniversary of their death, or any time when you need to feel someone’s got your back. After all, ancestors are for life – not just for Samhain.