Episode 38 – Funerals for Pets

Old man talking to his dog while cat resting in his lap


The love people have for their pets can be seen on the calendar, from National Love Your Pet Day in February, to National Pet Day in September, to World Animal Day in October. So, what do we do when a beloved pet dies? How do we celebrate the life that gave unconditional love? 



Every other year, the National Pet Owners Survey provides valuable information for pet owners and supporting industries. 

The 2020-2021 survey gathered approximately 15,000 responses, and covered dogs, cats, birds, small animals, reptiles, freshwater fish, saltwater fish, and horses and, for the first time, chickens. 

Here are a few of their findings: 

  • About 67 percent of households in the U.S. have at least one pet.
  • More than 63 million American households own at least one dog. 
  • More than 42 million American households own at least one cat. 
  • There are 94 million cats and 89 million dogs in American households. I’m guessing that’s because more households are likely to have multiple cats than multiple dogs,
  • As for the most abundant household pet… Can you guess?  Fish. The National Pet Owners Survey says there are nearly 160 million of them in glass bowls and tanks across the country.
  • And here’s the last statistic I want to share, again, from The National Pet Owners 2019 survey:  Americans spent more than $75 billion on their pets in 2019. That number includes food, supplies, medicines, veterinary care, live animal purchases and grooming and boarding. 

It’s clear. The love owners have for their pets is real.  And that’s what makes the death of a pet so hard. 


A few weeks ago, I posted a poll on LinkedIn.  One simple question:  If you had a pet that died, did you have some kind of funeral?  In hindsight, I should have offered better options. That said, here are the results: 

30% Yes, and I’m glad I did. 

20% No, it was too much trouble.

0% No, and I regret it.

50% Other – They responded with their own words. 

Some people emailed me to answer the question or to add details to their response on the survey. I am grateful beyond measure because it is in these personal responses that we see a heart-opening aspect of our humanity.  Here are a few examples:  

Sandra said: I have lost two dogs and not had a ceremony.  I prefer to remember my dogs in my own way privately.  Losing a pet is heart wrenching and you just need to work through the grief your own way.  Only pet owners understand the feeling you get when a pet dies.

As I told Sandra, she expressed what so many of us feel. My cat has been gone for 20 years and, to this day, when I pull out a certain chair at the dining room table, I remember how she liked to sleep there, tucked under the tablecloth.

Louise responded to the poll saying she didn’t have a ceremony of any kind because she simply didn’t think of having one. 

I wasn’t surprised by her response. It’s only been in the last few years that I've noticed people having some kind of funeral ceremony when a pet dies. Not having a ceremony doesn’t mean people don’t grieve. It just means the concept of pet funerals hasn’t become part of our everyday world. I suspect that will change when pet lovers realize how helpful a ceremony can be for the healing process.  

Mary wrote to tell me about her black-and-white tuxedo cat, Horatio, who had come to her as a stray. She said:   I didn't have a ceremony, per se, but I was very intentional about the burial, which felt like a personal ceremony. I dug the grave in a special place in the pasture, put rose petals in the bottom of the grave, wrapped my sweet Horatio in my flannel shirt. This is a shirt that Bruce would always get out and let Horatio snuggle with, whenever I had to be out state. So I tied the flannel shirtsleeves around him, like I was hugging him and laid him in the grave along with some of his favorite toys. We covered him with flowers before covering him with earth. We put larger stones on top of his grave and I hung a wind chime on a fence post just next to the grave. All of these things felt important, in honoring his life, and what he had meant to us.

I’m a member of the School of Podcasting. The founder, Dave Jackson, had a very vocal cat named Bernie who would sometimes walk into the studio when Dave was on the mic. We could all hear Bernie. And we could all hear how affectionately Dave talked to him. For those of us who had lost a pet, hearing Dave talk to Bernie brought back good memories of our own. So when Bernie died, we understood Dave’s grief. We felt it, too. 

Fortunately, help is available. 


Until recently, I didn’t know about the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, APLB for short. On their website, they describe themselves as “a nonprofit association of concerned volunteers who are experienced and knowledgeable in the tender subject of pet death.”

They recognize that a lot of people don’t have their own support system for sharing the grief that comes from the death of a pet. So APLB offers free chatrooms. They are facilitated by specially trained pet bereavement counselors. You don’t need to be a member of the organization to participate. I don’t know of any other organization offering this kind of service. 

Sometimes, pet parents continue to celebrate the life of a pet they’ve lost. Referring to her cat, my friend Leslie said, We keep the little cedar box with her ashes on the bookcase in the living room, so she can watch over us. Every night, when we'd sit on the couch and watch TV, she'd sit between us. So now I put her blanket between us, and when we go to bed, we say, “Nighty night, little Punkin,” which we always did so she'd know it was lights out time. Silly, but comforting. 

Sometimes, grief can blindside. David Hooper from Build a Big Podcast told me how heart-wrenching it was to have his dog put down. Weeks later, when he felt he was managing his grief, he came home from a stressful day at work, immediately went to put food in his dog’s bowl and reality hit. He sat down and cried. I’ve been there. My guess is you’ve been there, too. 


Of course, many of us have feelings for animals that are not personal pets. I live on the East Coast. We hear about a beached whale and newspapers have photos and human interest stories of the people who rush to the shore to help save one of these giants of the ocean. 

Every winter, we see videos about deer that have fallen into a frozen lake. We watch the humans and their heroic efforts to save the deer. We feel relief and joy when the animal is pulled to safety, warmed up, and released. 

Last year in Australia when uncontrollable fires destroyed the habitat of koala bears, we watched wildlife rehabilitators bind the burned feet of the cuddly animals we’ve come to associate with gentleness. 

Here in the United States, parts of California and Oregon have been on fire for over a week even as hurricanes ravage the coast. Right now, the volunteer responders who work with the organization RedRover.org are providing an emergency safety net for animals displaced by the fires in our western states. 

The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) set up temporary pop-up shelters for animals when families must be evacuated from their homes and go to shelters. When the fire, or hurricane, or flood has passed, people work to reunite the animals with their families. We’ve all seen the videos. And we’ve heard the heart-breaking stories when families never show up to claim their pets. 

Some of those stories have happy endings. My friend Carol adopted an unclaimed dog that had been rescued in a hurricane. Now, Sam (that’s what she named him) lives in a home that’s filled with love and takes Carol for walks every day. 

There are organizations that work to prevent extinction. The World Wildlife Fund maintains a species directory of animals in danger of extinction.  

For instance, sea turtles are endangered. They help maintain the health of the seagrass beds and coral reefs. Fortunately, the  World Wildlife Fund is working with Arizona State University to create fishing nets that have solar powered LED lights that will deter the turtle. 

It’s no surprise that there is an international World Animal Day. It was organized by writer and activist Heinrich Zimmermann in Germany back in March of 1925, nearly 100 years ago. The date has since been changed to October 4 to coincide with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a Catholic saint known for his love of animals. The day was organized to start a movement to prevent animal cruelty. 

Today, when people ask the organization what they can do to help, the answers are simple: 

  1. Be kind to animals.
  2. Visit a local animal shelter and check out the volunteer opportunities.
  3. Adopt a pet instead of buying one.
  4. Donate to a program that helps animals in need.
  5. Spread the word. The organization also has a video you’re invited to share.  


For many children, their first experience with death comes when a pet dies. We’ve all heard the stories of the parent who provides a shoe box lined with an old towel, digs a hole in the backyard, and holds the child’s hand as they say good-bye to the pet they loved. Just like the funerals we hold for humans, saying good-bye helps the healing begin.  

According to an article earlier this year from Death Care Industry, over 11 million dogs and cats die in the United States every year.  Because of the close bond people have with their pets, the people are often referred to as “pet parents.” 

According to the International Association of Pet Cemeteries, the industry's trade organization, there are approximately 700 pet cemeteries in the United States. In a November 2017 article for the Chicago Tribune, journalist Christopher Borrelli writes about pet cemeteries. One of the people he interviewed was Linda Peterson, niece of Patricia Blosser who founded Paw Print Gardens in 1970. Since then, more than 5,000 animals have been buried there. Peterson said that in the early days, burials were held at night because “clients were too ashamed to be seen treating an animal that well.”  

That was 50 years ago. A lot has changed. A quick search on the Internet will yield lots of readings for pet funerals. Companies offer caskets and urns for pets. Artists will paint a portrait of a pet from a photo. 

If you’ve been asked to lead a funeral ceremony for a pet, here is an outline you can follow: 

  • Welcome everyone to the service. Say a few words about what you’ve heard about the deceased pet. 
  • Invite three people who were close to the pet to share a story. Sometimes, it’s easier for a grieving pet owner to tell a story if there’s a prop available. If that’s the case, you can set up a pet altar. Have the pet’s family gather favorite toys, a leash, a food bowl, a box of treats, photos, and place them on a table.

Someone could talk about how the pet came to the family and how the pet was named. 

Someone else could share a story about what life was like during the good years. If there are children in the family, say something about the relationship the children had with the pet. If the pet was a therapy dog, be sure to talk about how the dog made a difference to many people who were suffering. 

The third person could talk about what it was like when the humans in the family could see that something had changed, that age was taking its toll, that their beloved pet was in pain, that a decision had to be made. 

Talking about the final moments may be very hard for the person who shares that story. Don’t avoid it. Acknowledging the pain helps the healing begin. If you, as the one leading the service, have to tell that part of the story, do so. 

  • Sound can play an important role in the service. After the stories have been shared, you can ring tingsha (tin-sha) — two small cymbals joined by a short, leather cord. Or ring bells or chimes. You can strike a singing bowl. You can lead the guests in chanting Om. The chant is said to raise a person’s energy and calm the mind. The idea is to use sound to signal that you’re near the end of the service. 
  • If a coffin or urn is present, nod to it. Affirm that the pet being honored is gone though never forgotten. 
  • Close with a meaningful quote. Here’s one of my favorites. It’s from Anatole France, a French poet born in the 1800s. He said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  
  • If appropriate, remind everyone that donations of food, toys, bedding are being collected for a local animal shelter. Let them know where they can drop off their gifts. 
  • Thank everyone for coming. 

If you’re doing a funeral by yourself for your pet:

  • Create a pet altar. Hold each item, call on your memories. 
  • If you had a dog and would go for walks together, put several items from the altar in your pocket and do a walking ritual. 
  • Or light a candle, sit quietly, and write in a journal. 
  • Or play music, close your eyes, and imagine your pet healthy and happy on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. In fact, if you have children who are also grieving, encourage them to draw a rainbow bridge. 
  • Or, create a collage of photos. 
  • If you have the opportunity to bury at least some of the items from the altar with your pet, or with the ashes of your pet, do so. 

If you’ve had to make the decision to have your pet euthanized, tell your vet that you want to do a ritual during the transition. One of my Life-Cycle Celebrant colleagues, Anita Larson, was asked by a friend to create such a ceremony when her dog had to be put down. Anita said yes. She knew a ritual would make the process more personal and less clinical. She wrote a beautiful ceremony, made copies for her friend, her friend’s children, and her boyfriend since they would all be present. 

Anita also made a copy for the vet. You can imagine how meaningful the ceremony was for Anita’s friend. What might surprise you was how meaningful the ceremony was for the vet who later hugged Anita, thanked her, and said she never gets to hear the stories about the animals and their human families.  


I think of ritual as a visible act performed with invisible intent. In all the pet funeral rituals I’ve mentioned, the visible actions are designed to begin the invisible intent of healing.

For someone who hasn’t experienced the power of a good ritual, she might ask, What’s the big deal? Simply put, rituals reveal the invisible dimension of life. In that dimension is where we can connect with the deepest part of ourselves and with the energy some call the Universe, the Divine, the Force, God, Mother Nature, chi. I see that dimension as the realm of all things spiritual. That’s where we can find meaning to who we are, what we do, and why we’re here. Ritual opens the door to that dimension. 

Have you had a funeral or memorial for your pet? What did you do? How did it make you feel?  I’m glad we now live in a world where no one need be “ashamed of treating an animal that well.”  


For further exploration:  

Anita Larson:  ThinkOutsideTheCoffin.com 

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement:  aplb.org

Red Rover:  redrover.org

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:  aspca.org

World Wildlife Fund (for directory of animals in danger of extinction): worldwildlife.org

International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories: iaopc.com

American Pet Products (for surveys)

National Love Your Pet Day

National Pet Day

World Animal Day




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Episode 37: Croning – A Ritual for a Woman of a Certain Age


Proud Crone

She's a woman of “a certain age.”  Our culture thinks those words are better than saying “she’s old.” Well, I am a woman of a certain age. I am certain of who I am,  certain of what I want, and certain of what I have to offer. I’m 72 and I’m a crone. I claimed that title in a ritual called croning. 

Last month, I spoke to the Women’s Mystical Collective in Austin, Texas — via Zoom.  One of the organizers, K, had found my website and podcast through an Internet search. She asked if I would speak to the group about rituals. 

It wasn’t until the night of my presentation that I learned that K’s Internet search was born of personal frustration.  She was looking for a ritual that honored one of the most dramatic changes in a woman’s life. Because of posts I had written about the triple Goddess known as Maiden, Mother, Crone, Google directed her to me.  

In the course of a lifetime, humans undergo various rites of passage. Some are dictated by culture or religion. Among them, a bar or bat mitzvah, a quinceanera, a confirmation. Some rites of passage are universal, such as  a wedding or the birth of a child. Each of those events involves at least one other person. In most cases, all of the events involve giving gifts. The giving of gifts is one of the ways society recognizes the significance of these events.

A croning ritual is different. 

For one thing, a woman can perform her own croning ritual, all by herself. Still, as with any rite of passage, it’s good to have family and friends  witness the transformation.  Continue reading

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Episode 36: Colored – A Black Lives Matter Ritual


At 9 years old, I didn’t care that my mother wasn’t funny like Lucille Ball, or that she didn’t wear circle skirts and twirl around the house like Loretta Young, or that she was no longer pretty like Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. I wanted my mother to be brave, like Annie Oakley. Not long after Rosa Parks sat on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in the whites-only section, I found out how brave my mother really was — and that Black Lives Matter. 

Let me set the scene…

On the afternoon of Dec 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress in a local department store, got on a public bus and took a seat in the section reserved for white people. Her actions, her arrest, and the bus boycott that followed became a landmark event in the Civil Rights Movement. 

I was the oldest of three girls, living in the suburbs of Portsmouth, Virginia, with my parents and sisters, Laurie, age 6, and Eileen, age 3. My dad was in the Navy and my mother didn’t drive. When we needed groceries and my dad was at sea, one of the other Navy wives drove my mother to the commissary on the base. When we needed something from the “civilian” world, we walked to the end of our street and waited for the city bus that would take us downtown. It came by several times a day.  

We didn’t go downtown often, maybe once every other month, if that. When we did, it was an event. Getting everyone dressed and fed in time for the morning bus brought its own challenges. My mother often sent me ahead to flag down the bus. Not because she dawdled.  She simply couldn’t walk fast any more. 

Three years earlier, while my mother was in the hospital giving birth to Eileen, something went wrong. I was too young to comprehend the details, other than she needed 3 big operations.  Something about tying tubes, cutting an artery, and taking out a kidney that was as big as a football and solid rock. That all happened from late-May to the end of June. One day, the doctors said she wouldn’t live through the night. Obviously, she did. But she didn’t come home until Christmas Day, and that was only for a few hours. 

Children under twelve weren’t allowed in the hospital, so other than Christmas Day, I didn’t see my mother for about eight months when she finally came home for good. By then, she was…different. She used to be the kind of pretty that made people turn their heads. Now, her hair, once long, thick shiny chestnut was dull and gray, the consistency of hay. Her skin looked pale like skim milk, watered down. It looked thin, as though a smile would tear it. She couldn’t walk without a heavy brace on one of her legs. She slept most of the time. 

Over the next two years, she gained back a lot of strength. By 1956, she could walk without the brace. It hung on the coat rack in the stairwell leading up to my bedroom. I saw the steel and leather contraption at least twice a day. 

Even before the three operations, my mother was different in other ways. Unlike some of the other mothers on our street, she didn’t eat potato chips, didn’t buy “trashy” magazines, and didn’t use the “n” word. She convinced my dad that we needed a complete encyclopedia, a set of the classics in literature, a regular dictionary, a medical dictionary, subscriptions to Life, Look, and National Geographic magazines, and Reader’s Digest condensed books.  She made sure we watched the news with John Cameron Swazey and Walter Cronkite. My mother knew what was going in the world. 

I guess because I was the oldest, she made sure I knew that the Supreme Court said segregation in schools was illegal. Not that anything in our town changed. 

She made sure I knew when four colored churches in Montgomery, AL, had been bombed and when the homes of colored leaders, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were also bombed.   

She told me a little bit about a 14-year old colored boy, Emmett Till, who was lynched and his body mutilated because some people said he whistled a white woman. She didn’t believe that’s what really happened but it upset her too much to talk about it. That was in 1955.  

Now, on this particular day in 1956, the four of us got on the city bus and went downtown. Portsmouth had two five-and-dime stores, Woolworth’s and Grant’s. The front of each store was for white people, the rear for coloreds. Woolworth’s had two lunch counters, one in the front for whites and one in the back for coloreds. Separate water fountains and separate ladies’ rooms were all in the back. 

That day, instead of sitting us at the lunch counter for white people, my mother took us to the rear of Woolworth’s and sat us at the lunch counter for coloreds. 

A colored waitress asked my mother didn’t she want to go up front. My mother smiled and said no and proceeded to place our lunch orders. 

Several white women came by on their way to the ladies’ room, the white’s only ladies room. One sneered. The other said something mean about my mother. I don’t remember the words. I do remember their anger. I wanted to yell at them but my mother shushed me and remained silent herself. 

After we ate, my mother ushered us, like three little ducklings, toward the ladies’ room, the one for coloreds. That was when the waitress came over and quietly suggested we not go in there, that if we did, there could be real trouble — for us and for all the colored people who worked there. She and my mother shared what I can describe only as a “knowing” look.  We used the white ladies room. 

Later that afternoon, our shopping finished, we went outside and waited at the designated area on the sidewalk for our bus. 

The bus arrived and, as was the procedure, we entered through the front door. The rear door was for exit only. My mother dropped the exact change into the glass hopper. She didn’t wait for the driver to confirm she had paid the right amount. She had counted it out multiple times while we were waiting on the sidewalk. 

She scooted me and my sisters down the aisle. I was in the lead. I spotted four seats together and looked back at my mother for her approval. She shook her head and said, “Keep going.” We were awfully close to the signs that said “Coloreds.”  Again, I turned to my mother. “Keep going.” There was a fire in her eyes that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. 

The bus was only half-full so when we all sat in the Coloreds section, I felt relieved to know we weren’t taking up all their seats.  

We waited for the driver to start the bus. Instead, he turned around and glared at my mother. With words that might read polite on paper and a tone that was anything but, he told her that we needed to move up front. My equally polite mother said, “We’ll stay right here, thank you.” 

The driver sat for another minute or two, muttering a string of swears we weren’t allowed to say in our house. Eventually, the bus took off. About thirty minutes later, I reached up and over my sister Laurie and pulled on the string to signal the driver that we wanted to get off at the next stop. There were still at least a dozen people on the bus, spread out in both sections. 

Hovering over the rear door was a giant mirror, like a full moon shining down on the steps. The mirror was positioned so the driver could see people as they got off the bus. 

We lined up at the door. As soon as it opened, I went down the stairs. My sister Laurie followed. My mother, who was carrying Eileen, handed her down to me. As soon as I had Eileen safely in my arms, my mother came down the stairs. 

She had one foot on the ground when the door slammed shut and the driver took off. Fast! I screamed! People on the bus screamed…as the driver dragged my mother…a full block. 

Laurie and I ran alongside the bus. I clutched Eileen to my chest. Clouds of dirt, gravel, and spiky sweetgum balls from last winter exploded like a scene from a war movie. 

Finally, the driver opened the door. My mother tumbled to the ground like a rag doll. 

There was no air conditioning on the bus so all the windows were open. As the bus pulled away, I remember the arms of colored people reaching through the windows, frantically waving, shouting prayers. White people might have been doing the same but I don’t remember seeing them. 

I don’t remember how long we sat on the shoulder of the road, Laurie and I patting Momma’s bloody head, her bloody hands, her bloody knees, reciting the mantra we’d heard so many times. “You’re going to be okay…. You’re going to be okay…You’re going to be okay.”  

Eventually, she was strong enough to stand and we headed home. I carried Eileen. Laurie held Momma’s hand and found her pocketbook on the side of the road.

Momma lived six more years. In that short time, she taught me many lessons. Some were about “bad boys.” I promised her I would never again kiss a boy who smoked and wore a leather jacket if I didn’t at least know his name.  

Some lessons were about “good people,” like the woman in the fancy house a few blocks away who always let my mother pick pink camellias for our Easter outfits.   

One lesson was about the toothless, shabby man who knocked on our door looking for work. Momma gave him a cleaning rag, a bottle of Windex, and three dollars to wash the outside of the living room window. He thanked her profusely and got right to work. When he left and was well out of sight, Momma went outside and washed the window all over again to get rid of the streaks. I got angry. Why would she give the shabby man what amounted to three weeks’ of my allowance for a job he messed up? She said it was a small price to help a man remember his dignity. 

The biggest lesson came that day she got dragged by the bus driver. That was the day I learned about Black Lives Matter, though not in those words. The ones I heard my mother say over and over when she learned of an injustice were “That’s not right. That’s just not right.”  That day on the bus, I saw my mother put herself in harm’s way to help make it right. 


So, what can you do to help make it right?  Here are a few ideas: 

RITUAL:  “Colored”

Science shows we are all descended from Africans.

In the meantime, here’s a ritual.  I call it “Colored.” 

I think of a ritual as a visible act performed with invisible intent. The invisible intent is to recognize the beauty of our connection to each other. 

The visible act is to create a representation of your DNA, a gathering — by color — of your ancestors. 

Science shows that we are all descended from the humans who originated in Africa. Reflect on that fact, then immerse your hands into a bowl filled with dozens of papers in different shades of blacks and whites, grays and creams, browns and pinks, reds and yellows.  

If you have access to construction paper, you can cut strips of paper in varying shades. Or ask a paint store for discontinued paint chips. Since COVID-19 is still a serious threat, here’s an alternative that doesn’t require you to shop for construction paper or paints. 

Gather paper and tear it into pieces about 2 x 2 inches. You can use a brown grocery store bag, a sheet from a yellow legal pad, scraps of paper from magazines, ordinary white copy paper. You can also stain some sheets with tea bags. 

Pretend your job is to come up with names for the colors. Write one name on each scrap of paper, crumble the paper, then put it in a good-sized bowl, big enough for you to fit both hands. 

Here are a few names to inspire your creativity. As you read them, imagine a color that would fit the name.  Java / Chantilly Lace / Rootbeer Brown / Truffle / Pearl / Harvest / Acorn  / Maple / Straw / Heron / Ink / Plaster / Parchment / Butter / Cream / Clay / Charcoal / Cinnamon / Kindling / Khaki / Flax / Pale Oak — You get the idea.  As you imagine each color, look at your own skin. You might want to add Carob / Dunes / Wrought Iron / Linen. Don’t rush. There’s a lot of juice in this step.

Wrought Iron

Close your eyes, reach into the bowl, and pull out a fistfull of papers. Write down the names of the colors in your hand. They represent your ancestors, whether or not you ever knew them. Give yourself time to reflect. Look at your skin. Write down your thoughts.  


This ritual can offer valuable insights when done with a group. One by one, have each person take a fistfull of colors, take a photo of the names (to save time), and return the colors to the bowl before the next person chooses.  That's important!

White Heron

Flax seeds

After everyone has chosen colors and has had time to reflect and write, have everyone share their colors out loud. Do you share a color with someone else? Imagining the color as your DNA, how does it feel to share your DNA with the other person?  Shocked? Relieved? Excited? Curious? Proud? Ashamed? Guilty?   Empowered?  

A simple ritual like this can open the door to a conversation about race. And that’s an ongoing conversation we all need to have. 

If you do this ritual, alone or with others, please let me know how it went. What was your reaction? The reaction of others? Will you do the ritual again with other people? Why? Why not? I'm not asking only because I'm curious. I'd really like to know how I can make this ritual better. Send an email to: zita@ritualrecipes.net.  

If you know someone who grew up in the 50s and 60s like I did, if you’re having conversations with friends and family about racism — and I sure hope you are! — please share this article with them. Help make it right.  


That's me in the middle. Laurie on the left. Eileen with her granddaughter on the right.
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Episode 35 / Fairies: How I See Them. How You Can, Too.


On April 29, I received an email from Singapore. The writer said that people in her country don’t believe in fairies. She does. But when she talks about fairies, people think she’s crazy. She wanted to know “how to find, see, meet the fairies during Beltane.” 

I answered her from my heart. I doubt it was what she wanted to hear. 

To me, fairies are thought forms of good energy — helpful spirits — invisible and accessible. My belief was shaped in childhood. As a girl, I had a vivid imagination.  I remember when my dad planted a tree in our front yard. He said it was a Chinese Elm. I was certain that the roots went all the way to China, and that if I wanted to go there, all I had to do was dig under the tree.  I remember when a traveling photographer took my little sister's photo dressed in a cowboy outfit, sitting on the photographer's pony. He gave my sister a horseshoe. Later, when my father told my sister she could absolutely not have a pony, she planted the horseshoe under the elm, believing she could grow a pony. At the wise age of seven, I knew horses came from farms, not trees. But what if there was a horse farm in China?  

My dad planted two gardenia bushes by the front steps. On summer nights, when the gardenias were in full bloom, I would sit on the steps, snip off a green, waxy leaf, and use my fingernails to carve out a face. I was certain that there were spirits trapped in the leaves and that if I could give them a face, they would have a voice and be free. The hardest part to make was the mouth. I had to break the backbone of the leaf. The kids who lived in the house behind ours had an abusive father. Often, after being beaten, the girl who was my age would come looking for me. I got used to seeing the swelling, the burns, the bruises and belt welts. I showed her how to make a face in a gardenia leaf. Continue reading

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Episode 34: Love Knots – A Nautical Wedding Ritual

Actual knots used in a wedding ritual for a couple who loves to sail.

Long ago, when sailors navigated by the stars, when seabirds carried the spirits of sailors lost at sea, and when everyone knew that the bust of a naked woman on the bow of a ship could calm rough waters, a sailor would carry a cord with three knots. Bound in each was the wind itself. 

As a writer, I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” After three historical romance novels, a novella, a play, and several print and online magazine articles, I’ve learned to recognize the fertile soil where ideas grow. Several years ago, when one of my couples, Chelsea and Bill, told me they loved sailing and that their ceremony would be held on the waterfront of the historic seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, I got an idea. 

Thanks to another project I’m working on, I have a small library of books on maritime lore. With a little research, I selected the knots I wanted to use in the wedding. I watched videos on YouTube to learn how to tie them. The first two were easy. The knot in the shape of a heart proved more challenging. 

I practiced with ribbon, clothesline rope, and shoelaces. Finally, with a rustic heart in hand, I went to Home Depot. I explained my situation to one of the clerks. He enlisted help from another. Together, they found the perfect rope — flexible with a white pearl finish appropriate for a wedding. 

On the day of the wedding, I met with the three people Chelsea and Bill had selected to participate in the ritual. I gave each a pre-fashioned knot and a card with a corresponding blessing for the bride and groom. 

Here’s how I introduced the ritual during the ceremony: 

Here in Mystic Seaport, the history and lore of sailing surrounds us. Knots are a big part of that world. We associate knots with sailors, but they aren’t the only people known for tying knots. Knots are a part of our lives, too. We tie ribbons in hair, cord on packages, and laces on shoes. Some knots are for utility, some for beauty. 

It was the same in the Old World, too. Back then, when a sailor put out to sea, he carried a knot he had tied on a windy day. Should he veer from the Tradewinds and get stuck on the doldrums without wind to fill his sails, he would untie the knot and free the wind. 

When sailors embarked on ocean voyages that kept them away from home for years, many of them carried a sea bag for what they called “fancy work.” With findings from exotic ports of call, they would string shells, carve wood, and etch whalebone. When the voyage ended and the sailors returned to their home port, they had belts and bracelets, rings and hair ornaments — gifts for family and friends, particularly for a sweetheart. When a wedding followed, there would be more gifts. 

 In fact, for as long as couples have gotten married, friends and family have shown their support by giving gifts. Couples today might receive anything from a kitchen blender to a crystal bowl. In earlier times, wedding gifts symbolized qualities desired in a marriage. Harkening back to those days, and in honor of our groom’s love of boating and our bride’s love of the beach, I now invite the presentation of three special gifts, three special knots. 

As with all of the gifting rituals I’ve created, this is when the presenters come forward, one at a time, and present their gifts. In this ritual, each presenter held the knot so the guests could see it, read the blessing, then placed the knot on a small table in the ceremony space. Here are the three knots and their corresponding blessings:  

First, the Arbor Knot.  The Arbor Knot is used to tie new line to the reel. As you begin your new life as a married couple, the arbor knot is the first knot you need to learn. It’s made of two ordinary, everyday, overhand knots. It’s easy to learn and doesn’t have to be fancy to work. May this knot always hold your hearts with love. 

Second, the Lovers’ Knot.  The Lovers’ Knot holds two halves together equally and prevents either one of them from fraying. May this knot always hold your hearts with love. 

Finally, the Marriage Knot.  The Celtic Marriage Knot creates a weave of several paths into the shape of a heart. The pattern represents the idea that when two people independent and whole unto themselves are joined by love, the weave they create makes them stronger and more beautiful together than either was before. May this knot always hold your hearts with love. 

If the couple wanted to add a fourth knot, they could use the Double Fisherman’s Knot, sometimes called a Grapevine Knot. The blessing could say, This knot is often used in search-and-rescue missions, making it ideal for the inevitable times in a long marriage when one spouse rescues the other in some way. May this knot always hold your hearts with love. 

Another option is the Sailor’s Breastplate. It’s the ideal knot for joining two lines that are too big or too stiff to be shaped into other, more common, knots. The beauty of the Sailor’s Breastplate is that even when carrying a heavy load, even after being soaked in water, it won’t jam. That makes it the ideal knot for a couple marrying later in life, when both are set in their ways. The knot is also good for a couple of whatever age carrying a particularly heavy burden of some kind. 

When presenting a knot in a wedding ritual, the goal isn’t to give a lecture. The goal is to express symbolism for a wedding. Look for aspects of the knot that suggest joining, symmetry, strength, and trust. 

Knots for a New Business Partnership

The symbolism I’ve talked about for the arbor knot (simplicity), the lovers’  knot (fidelity), the marriage knot (beauty), the double fisherman’s knot (rescue), and the sailor’s breastplate (strength) make these knots ideal to ritualize a business partnership or other cooperative venture. 

A ritual is simply a visible act performed with invisible intent. If you’re starting a new project — a book, a painting, a journey, bind your invisible commitment into a visible knot. 

Magic Knots

The mindful use of knots goes back through time and can be found all over the world. Common in many tales of folk magic is the belief that energy can be bound by tying a knot, and released by untying a knot. 

Some cultures tied knots for love spells. Some believed that tying knots would prevent pregnancy and that untying the knots would make it easier to conceive. Disclaimer. I can’t vouch for either of those claims! 

Weavers would knot their fringe to confuse evil spirits fond of unbound threads. I suspect that temptation of the unbound was also behind the mandates in some cultures and religions forbidding women to cut their hair, yet insisting it be bound in braids or buns. 

Knots, Sex, and Responsibility 

We’ve all seen the movies in which a woman unbraids her hair, or removes pins and combs to let her hair fall freely. That’s often the sign that sex or danger or both are coming next. 

Imagine a man living in a strict, sexually repressed society. He sees a woman letting down her hair. He becomes aroused and acts on his desire in some way. When guilt and remorse follow, he blames the woman. If she hadn’t unbound her hair, he wouldn’t have been seduced into acting as he did. She released the storm that overpowered him. His actions are her fault. That storyline could be contemporary or historical.

Magical Knots and Sailors 

In historical times, such thinking also made it easy for a sailor to believe that a woman, a magic woman, had the power to snare the wind and bind it into a knot.    

Such a woman might be eager to sell a cord with three powerful knots to a desperate sailor about to go to sea for the first time. She’d make the first knot to free a gentle zephyr, the second to release a strong gale, and the third to unchain a tempest. 

Postponing Your Wedding? 

A special note for couples postponing their wedding because of Covid-19.  My Life-Cycle Celebrant colleague, Karla Combres, has written a blog post about the why and how couples should mark their postponed wedding date with ritual. You can find it here.   

Divorce and Untying Knots 

Finally, I’m working on a podcast episode featuring a ritual for divorce. The ritual taps into the power that is released when a knot is untied. To be sure you don’t miss it, simply subscribe to Ritual Recipes wherever you get your podcasts.   

In the meantime, you can contact me by phone: (860-402-4231) or email: Zita@RitualRecipes.net 

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Episode 33 |A Gathering of Ancestors

Collage of vintage wedding and family photos

On the wind, you dreamed

On the water, you traveled

On the land, you settled

On my family tree, you grew

Famines, fires and floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, wars, genocide, persecutions and plagues and more.  

Centuries of these catastrophes have left their marks all over the world. “Death counts” are estimated, declared, and recorded for posterity

What about the “life counts”?  That’s how I describe those who avoided, escaped, endured, somehow survived the catastrophes of their lifetime. These are the healthy, the strong, the resourceful, the resilient, the skilled, and of course, the lucky. Somewhere among them are your ancestors. Whether or not you know who sits on the branches of your family tree, they existed. You are the living proof.

Cultures the world over believe in the power of the ancestors to influence the lives of the living. So, in times of trouble — like now — it’s good to call on your ancestors for help. How? Through ritual. 



It helps to know how some cultures “see” their ancestors. In many of the seasonal rituals I lead, I invite the spirits of the ancestors. Cultures all over the world recognize their ancestors. Some see them in:

  • Butterflies, especially the ghostly white ones
  • Massive old trees
  • Sacred mountains
  • Stones
  • Stars, especially those in the Milky Way
  • Plants that reseed themselves, such as corn and grain

Many cultures see white butterflies as ancestors.

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Episode 32 | “Imagine: For All the People” |a ritual for the pandemic

Listen to the podcast or watch the original interview with Mary Ann Handley on YouTube.

It's mid-March, 2020. The corona virus known as COVID 19 has been declared a pandemic. This post is not to provide information about the virus. I'm not qualified.  This post is to share information about the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, as told to me nearly two years ago in an interview on my show, Page 1.  

It was May, 2018. My guest was Mary Ann Handley, a retired history professor and retired state senator from Connecticut. A few days earlier, I had heard her speak at the Manchester Historical Society on the subject of the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, the third pandemic in world history. 

I was, and still am,  working on a novel that takes place during that time period. As a writer, I know that research can unearth the kind of details needed to make characters believable, plot plausible, setting vivid, and conflict compelling.  Because Page 1 is a show for writers, I framed the interview with them in mind. My idea was to explore the details from an event in history and find viable story seeds. 

One of the challenges around the flu of 1918 was that information was not as readily available as it is today. Because the news couldn't be disseminated with a tweet, preventing the spread of the virus proved impossible. We know now that people should have been self-quarantined. Instead, they gathered for parades and other large, public events.

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Keys: A Ritual for Weddings, First Looks, and Personal Talismans (Episode 31)

Couples getting married often use a key as a motif for their wedding. It makes sense. The mere presence of a key indicates something of value, a treasure worth protecting. That understanding is what inspired me to create a wedding ceremony ritual I call “The Key to My Heart.”

Throughout time, keys have protected physical items such as gold, silver, currency, crops. Keys have also been associated with knowledge and success, freedom and liberation, authority and power. Such associations have been around for centuries. For example, keys on a coat of arms indicate a lineage known for trust and loyalty.

Keys and Cultural Traditions

Cultures all over the world have stories about keys. In Ireland, many folktales feature magical keys that can open any door, especially doors to the fairy realm. That’s where mortals are known to go in search of health, wealth, and love.  Continue reading

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Episode 30 ~ Maiden, Mother, Crone (updated)

podcast graphic episode 30

Every Maiden isn't young. Every Mother doesn't have a child. Every Crone isn't old. what distinguishes them is not age, but energy.

Beginning in 1996 and nearly every summer for the next 20 years, I spent a week with hundreds of women writers from all over the world. The gathering is the annual conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild.  They ranged in age from teens to 90s! It wasn’t uncommon for mothers to bring their daughters. One year, we had four generations from one family, though one generation was still in utero.  

For at least seven years, I designed the closing ritual for the conference. In 2008, I wanted the ritual to honor the many Maidens, Mothers, and Crones who had come to share the stories they had written and the stories they had lived. In fact, for some of the women, reading their work out loud at that conference was the first time they had shared their voices in public.

The ceremony was held in a college auditorium. Picture a raked floor with two aisles, running from the top level down to the stage. Unlike many of the DIY rituals I’ve shared on my podcast, Ritual Recipes, this conference ritual was more of a production. For one thing, I needed music. I chose the song Diety by Wendy Rule. Both the lyrics and the melody are fiercely powerful. The song includes these three lines:  I am the Maiden. I am the Mother. I am the Crone.  

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The Blessing Box Ritual for a New Home / Interfaith Weddings, Chuppahs, Archangels, Astrology, and the Four Royal Stars of Persia – Episode 29


A Jewish bride and a Catholic groom.  As their officiant, what could I say in their wedding ceremony that would honor both spiritual paths — not only for the couple, but for their families?  In episode #29 of Ritual Recipes, I talk about interfaith wedding ceremonies, the four Royal Stars of Persia, archangels, and the elements of earth, air, fire and water. I also offer The Blessing Box ritual for a new “home.” 

 The need for ritual is as old as time. They reflect a person’s beliefs which, in turn, helps us find our tribe. So, it’s no surprise that rituals are performed in most, if not all, religions. 

A sudden downpour threatened this chuppa

Over the years, I’ve created wedding ceremonies for couples who come from two different religions or spiritual paths, or have forged their own path, or follow no path. Still, the couple might want spiritual elements to make the ceremony both meaningful and comfortable for their parents. That was the case in a wedding of a Jewish bride and a Catholic groom.

The bride’s family wanted her to be married under a chuppah. The groom had no issue with the chuppah. Neither did his family. But the bride’s mother was a thoughtful woman, sensitive to their feelings of the groom’s family. She asked if I could somehow honor both religions.  

Here’s a modified version of what I wrote for their ceremony:

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