Tag Archives: Celtic

Honoring the Dead: All Hallows

It is the end of October, Hallowe’en, All Hallows Evening or Samhain (pronounced sow-ain). In Celtic and early European traditions Samhain was the ending of the year, the harvest had been collected and the cold dark days began. Fears that the light wouldn’t return and that nocturnal and supernatural creatures came into the fore of most people’s thoughts. It was the time of the dead, when the veils between the worlds thinned. Those who had died the previous year crossed over and those who were dead could come through to haunt or visit their kin.

As Christianity worked its way through Europe the day came to be known as All Hallows Eve, and that which was hallow, meaning holy or to be revered, was honored. Christianity brought in All Saints Day, following on November 1st. Mexico combined their traditions into Dias de los Muertos, the day of the dead. Throughout many countries, but not necessarily at this date but often in this time of year, is the tradition of honoring the dead. Even Remembrance Day falls in the dark time (if placed on that date for different reason).

And so it is, with this dark and cold time I have found I’ve been thinking about people who I’ve known who have died. Unfortunately the list gets longer but we keep them alive through memory and love.

There was John “Bear” Curtis, part Cherokee, 6’7″, an actor, known as being a grumpy bear, but lover of art, generous and spiritual. He was a pipe carrier, had completed the sundance, and created various crafts from amazingly detailed collages to sculptures, drums and rattles. Bear was, in size and personality, larger than life. His strong spirit kept him going for over a year, after the unhygienic procedures of the hospital infected him with C-Deficil. I honor Bear for having touched my life and given beauty to the world.

I remember Lydia Langstaff, a young writer, born with a congenital heart defect and not expected to make it past infancy. White-skinned, blue-veined, as delicate as porcelain, Lydia never complained that she could never fly or even take a flight of stairs. She wrote and persevered and finished a first draft of her novel before she died at 28 in her husband’s arms. I still have the draft of her novel, and cannot find husband or family, afraid to throw it out and not sure what to do with it many years later. I honor Lydia and it was she who taught to use each day as best you can, even if I don’t always fulfill that.

I remember Jay Herrington, a bright star, a beautiful man, a powerful priest. Intelligent and gifted, he made amazing crafts and was just beginning to find his pace. He was witty and funny and did an amazing drag queen, High Joan the Conqueror. He died in a vehicle malfunction and never woke from his injuries. I honor Jay for bringing light and reverence into my life.

I remember Gerry Stevens, opinionated, strong minded, honorable and loving life. He battled cancer quite well, living longer than most. Gerry was a compulsive gadget fiddler, taking things apart and putting them together, to see how they worked, to figure out new ways to make things. A thinker, he created and changed and stayed involved. Gerry died with his boots on, staying strong till the end and saying, if it’s not fun, don’t do it. I honor Gerry for teaching something about dying with grace.

I remember Geoffery MacLean, Mischka and Berek Ravensfury who all left too soon from disease, car accidents and mental anguish. None of them were perfect men, full of complex contradiction. But all of them were impassioned, caring about people. I honor these three for seeing that heart mattered most of all.

David Honigsberg I only met a couple times. He and his wife Alexandra were vibrant, intelligent, creative, alive. They struck me as two people who lived very rich lives and only enhanced the bright flame within each other. David died suddenly of a heart attack and I was shocked, thinking someone so alive could leave so suddenly. Jenna Felice was a young editor at Tor, a firebrand not afraid to state her opinion or grab at what she wanted. She was another bright star on her way to greater heights when she died from an asthma attack. It saddened me greatly to see such a flame extinguished so soon. I honor Jenna and David for their fire and fervor.

There are more, ones I knew well, or barely knew. There are those people I never knew at all. There is my cat Figment, who was unique, maybe as all cats and people are. Intelligent, skittish, loving, playful, mischievous, I still miss him. I honor him for the unconditional love and company he gave me for 14 years.

All those who touch us, great or small, young or old, furred or flesh become part of our lives. They may not be famous but they matter to others, are loved and love. Immortality happens in memory, in honoring those who have move through the path of our lives. This is the time that the veil thins, as those who have gone beyond pass through our memories. Honor your ancestors, your loved ones, your acquaintances for we are all part of the great whole.

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Cats and Gods

Cats, we all know them. We love them or we hates them. There are those of us who love them, and that’s pretty much everyone on my block. My neighbor had a cat that died a year ago. He’s just got two new cats. I have one but used to have two. My other neighbor has four, two of which were the children of my cat when she was an unwed, teenage mom (also abandoned on the street). There used to be three of her children but one died. And my neighbor’s other two cats were street cats as well.

My landlady, the Mother Teresa of cats, has adopted so many homeless cats over time. Her two current cats were adopted from the street. One actually abandoned his first owner and the other was taken from his rough tom days on the street. We used to have a fish factory at the end of the street and there was always a bunch of feral cats living there. My landlady captured them, had them fixed and released them. She also still goes and feeds them every day.

Neighbors across the street and down the block have cats or have had them. There are two or three dogs but the cats outnumber them and the neighboring blocks have many cats as well. I also at one point, when I had my previous cat, had an interloper, a very pregnant, little tabby female. It turns out that she knew how to use my cat door and at that time I didn’t have one that looked. It seemed obvious to us that she was going to have the kittens in my place since I’d found her sleeping on my bed several times.

So we cleaned out the bottom of the closet and arranged some towels for the inevitable event. My landlady had laid out a little bed in the sink in the work shed but the cat studiously avoided it. And sure enough, I went away one weekend and when I came back, the cat had had kittens, seven of them on the seventh day of the seventh month. That’s a large litter for a cat. She also had chosen to have them, not on the lovely towel bed we had made for her in my bedroom closet, but in the den on a bunch of fabric I had stored.

With such an auspicious number of cats with the 777, I decided they all had to be named after gods. I named her Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, because giving birth to all those babies made her a deity. The only black kitten, a female was name Kali after the Hindu goddess. There was one tuxedo cat that was named after a Celtic god but I can’t remember which one, Cuchulain rings a bell but he was a hero not a god. There were four tabbies, two with brown noses that I named Freya and Loki and two males with pink noses that were named Zeus and Hermes. And there was one longhair tabby male. I can’t remember all the names but I covered the Norse, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian and Hindu pantheons with the names. I believe there was an Isis and Osiris in there.

The cats went off to different homes and I don’t think any of them kept their original names. The longhaired cat became Smokey because of the color of his fur. Hermes and Zeus became Starsky and Hutch. I guess they weren’t meant for godhood.

 But then my other cat came along, she whose children were adopted next door. At the time I just wanted to name her after a god but I had no special reason. She was petite, with bunny fur and big eyes. Aphrodite seemed to big a name for such a small cat so I named her Venus. She did, after motherhood, fill out into a matronly form. However, she became less aloof after my other cat died and did in fact prove that I’ve named her aptly. Any time anyone enters my house my cat flops over at their feet and splays her belly to be rubbed. She loves attention all the time and being pet, even in the wrong direction. She doesn’t care as long as it’s attention. But she hates and is jealous of other cats.

Cats have been around a very long time and domesticated by humans for millennia. However, they have not been domesticated as long as dogs, the first animal that humans domesticated. And one can argue the domestication of cats, who maintain their independence. Cats are definitely more agile with their paws than a dog is, and they can go in litter boxes, eliminating the need for a daily walking. They are also pretty resistant to training, which dogs are not.

Between that life of ease, the aloofness, the independent behaviors, it’s no wonder that they have been associated with godhood. Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and mummified them, just like humans. And I believe that it’s the Thai people who believe that nothing perfect can remain on Earth, because it would ascend to heaven. Therefore the cat’s tails are cut so that they aren’t perfect.

So is it any wonder we name cats after gods? I always say I’m coming back as a cat in my next life. It wouldn’t be so bad to be pampered. My neighbor now has two new cats and my landlady and I think he should give them godly names. They’re Persians so they definitely look regal. It’s fitting to give a cat a godly name, because it goes with their nature. If one named a dog after a god, that god would have to be goofy or obedient, not exactly the way we see deities. Hail, the noble pussycat. 🙂

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