Episode 54: Self-Care Rituals When Your Spouse Has Dementia

Today is September 22, the Autumn Equinox. Yesterday was World Alzheimer’s Day. As we go deeper into the dark half of the year, I’m going deeper into the rituals I want to share with you. This episode isn’t easy for me to talk about. It might not be easy for you to hear. Please don’t turn away. You might not need this episode. You might know someone who does. The focus? Self-care rituals for caregivers whose spouses have dementia. 


At the basic level, a caregiver is someone who provides assistance to someone who is ill, disabled, or otherwise incapable of taking care of himself or herself. That definition is too broad for what I feel qualified to talk about. So I’ve limited my focus to caregivers whose spouses have dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease in particular. 


My husband, Dick, and I have been married for 40 years. He has Alzheimer’s. Late stage. I’m his caregiver, his only caregiver, at least for now. 


Since 2014 when my husband was diagnosed with dementia and 2016 when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I’ve come to understand that my survival depends on accepting these two facts:  

  1. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
  2. The disease is fatal. 


If you’re on the caregiver’s path, here’s some information  you MUST keep in mind.  


Back in 2003, Ohio State University conducted a six-year study about caregivers and dementia. They found when it comes to family caregivers, like those of us caring for a spouse, — brace yourself —  63% of the caregivers die first, as in before the patient with dementia. That was 18-19 years ago. 


More recently, a 2018 study by Stanford Medicine referred to the strain on those caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s. Their estimates were closer to 40% of caregivers dying first. That’s certainly better than 63% but it’s still not good. 


Here’s what I think is a key take-away from that report. “It isn’t disease or accident that takes these caregivers, but rather the sheer physical, spiritual and emotional toll of caring for someone struggling with the Alzheimer's.”  


That same year, 2018, the National Library of Medicine, a member of the National Institutes of Health, issued a report. The National Library of Medicine had reviewed 17 years worth of studies about the effects of caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. They found mixed overall effects of being a family member caring for someone with dementia. 


They concluded that the caregiving itself isn’t directly associated with an increased risk of death of the caregiver. The report said, “Rather, an individual's appraisals of the stress and strain of care responsibilities moderate the effect of caregiving on mortality.”  


Now, that’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time! That speaks to the importance of how I view the stress I’m under. And I know how well ritual helps me deal with stress. 


That said, I know that people are different. You might not feel strong. You might feel motivated by the 2003 statistic I mentioned. If that’s the case and you are a family caregiver of someone with dementia and you want to outlive the patient, set yourself a goal.  Simple math. 63% of caregivers die first. You want to be in the 37% who survive. 


Ritual #1 – 37%

If you have pen and paper handy, grab it and write down 37%. Write it three times. If you don’t have pen and paper handy, use your finger and write 37% on your palm. Write it three times. Now blow gently on the paper or on your palm. You’re adding your breath, your spirit, to your intent to survive, to be in the 37% of the statistic. … You’ve just done a ritual: a visible act performed with invisible intent. It can be that simple. 


From now on, whenever you feel overwhelmed by the challenge of caregiving, write 37% on a piece of paper, on your hand, in the air. 


From my years as a certified handwriting analyst, I know that the physical act of writing stimulates something in the brain.  Will writing 37% make you feel less overwhelmed? Hardly!  What it will do is remind you why you need to take care of yourself.  


For all of us, there’s a big difference between knowing something in your brain and accepting it in your heart. Looking back to 2014 when my husband was first diagnosed with dementia, I can see how the disease progressed. He hadn’t driven a car in several years. Now, he couldn’t count money. He couldn’t read. 


Time passed. Things got worse. I knew I had to make changes to my will, power of attorney, and other end-of-life documents. I met with my attorney. He helped me revise everything to reflect the reality of our marriage. 

My attorney emailed the documents to me so I could review and sign them. It took me almost two years. Why? Because I couldn’t move past the fact that Dick would no longer have my power of attorney. He would no longer be able to make medical decisions for me should I become incapacitated. Now, you might think, well of course he can’t. He has Alzheimer’s!  I know. Still, in the margin of the draft of my new will, I wrote this note to my attorney:  “But what if there’s a cure?” 


It took me two years to realize that I was in denial. Alzheimer’s is fatal. There is no cure. 


Ritual #2 – Create and Destroy

Tibetan Buddhist monks have a tradition in which they create intricate, colorful sand mandalas and then destroy them. The creation requires patience, focus, and stillness. It can take weeks. The destruction is swift. 


There are plenty of YouTube videos that encapsulate the exquisite creation and the total destruction. The purpose is to remind all involved — those creating, those destroying, and those observing — that nothing is permanent. Caregivers of spouses with dementia need to remember that truth. Denying it can be deadly. 


There are plenty of DIY sand mandala kits you can buy online. To make the process a ritual for caregivers, simply add intention. How? 


Attach a loving memory of your spouse to every color. These are your memories so you decide which colors represent which memories. Here are three examples to get you started: 


When you use green, remember what you grew together. That could, of course, refer to having children. It could also apply to growing a business, or community, a garden, or support for a grass-roots cause. Remember, too, that when something grows, it changes. Its container breaks. It takes on a life of its own. The growing pains may give you a whole new role. Or, you may have no place in the new picture.  Accept it. You left a legacy together. Let that be enough.   


When you use red, remember the passion you shared. Think back to when you met, to that first eye-to-body contact. What did you see that you liked so much? What about eye-to-eye? Was there a simple curiosity or a magnetic attraction?  Voice-to-voice. Who spoke first? How did the conversation progress? What did you learn about each other? 

Hand to hand

Hand to head 

Mouth to mouth

The progression of contact continues to physical intimacy. As for the steps, use your imagination. I don’t want to jeopardize the “clean” rating I have on this podcast.  


Keep in mind that when an intimate relationship is in trouble, the first point of contact to disappear is… hand to head. I would always point that out to my students when I taught a class on writing romance novels. 


Long ago, many cultures believed — maybe they still do — that a person’s spirit lives in the head. That’s why you’ll often see skulls in rituals of ancestor worship. It’s not intended to be gory. The intent is to honor the ancestor’s spirit. 


Bring that idea into the present. Look at wedding photos, especially photos of the first kiss. As a wedding officiant, I’ve seen a lot of those first kisses. When the groom slides his hand around the back of the bride’s head, or she strokes his cheek, or he cups her face, a second before they kiss, I imagine that on some cosmic level each is compelled to touch the other person’s spirit. 


In other episodes, I’ve talked about how energy in the heart chakra is expressed through the hands, making touch the physical expression of love. You can see how the head, the heart, and the hands are all connected. 


Think about all the ways you connect with your spouse as you work with the color red. 


When you use yellow, remember how and what the two of you communicated. Laughter is the best medicine. How did you use it to boost each other? How did you use it to soothe and heal each other’s pain? Did you write and/or read poetry to each other? Did you call each other by a special name? Or, share a secret handshake? A coded gesture? Do you have a song you consider “ours”? 


You’ll notice that I phrased some of these examples in the past. That’s because the ability to communicate with a spouse who has dementia fades. It happens slowly at first, so slowly you might not realize there’s now a fracture in a connection you once shared. You might not even realize when the connection breaks. But then more and more connections break. And the day comes when your spouse doesn’t speak in sentences. Or, if he does, the words don’t make sense. 


Or, the words do make sense…and they hurt.


Yes, you can tell yourself that it’s the disease swearing at you, not the spouse you love. That can be hard to remember when you’re exhausted from continually cleaning  bathrooms, washing soiled clothing, soiled sheets, shampooing soiled carpets. 


If you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t get enough sleep, your nerves will feel frazzled, your own words will turn sharp. Feelings that rise in a moment of anger and frustration can vanish suddenly. But the energy of your words will hang in the air like a bad odor. 


So before you say something you’ll regret, walk away. Go outside. If that isn’t possible, go to another room. Break the connection. Defrag.   


As an aside here, you do not have to purchase a sand mandala kit. Go to your kitchen. Get a plate, the plainest one you have. Look in your spice cabinet. Pull paprika for red, dill for green, curry for yellow. Make a spice painting.  


When your painting (sand or spice) is finished, spend some time reflecting on the memories you honored in the colors you chose. Give yourself a few hours, or days. 


When the time comes to destroy the painting, light a candle. Fire is the element of desire, passion, will power, creativity. Remember that the purpose of creating and destroying a sand mandala is to accept that nothing is permanent. 


In your marriage, the time will come when you have to let go. Destroying your sand painting might help you accept  that truth. 

Ritual #3:  A Water Ritual 

In astrology, there’s a basic understanding about the four elements: Fire acts. Earth manifests. Air thinks. Water feels. I use those fundamental building blocks in creating rituals. 


Sometimes, the watery realm of feelings is labeled “wimpy.” I suspect that those who affix such a label fear the power of their feelings. We hear fear in the phrase, “a flood of emotions.” And yet we all know that water nurtures life. Viewed from another perspective, thirst kills. 


One of the most elemental things you can do to take care of yourself is to stay hydrated. Drink water. 


There’s something else you can do. Get wet! 


In many magical traditions, each of the four elements is associated with each of the four directions. Water is often associated with the West, the direction the Sun goes every day to die. The idea is that the Sun sinks into the water where it is soothed and cleansed. 


The concept is extended to humans. When a person dies, it’s thought that the spirit journeys to the west, to the realm of water. And there, the spirit is soothed, cleansed, and forgiven. 


As a caregiver whose spouse has dementia, you need to feel soothed, cleansed, and forgiven. 


You need to feel soothed:  People who know your situation will be quick to ask how your spouse is doing. Only a few will ask how you’re doing. I think they avoid the question because they’re afraid of your answer. Not because they don’t care. Because they don’t know how to help. 


Water is soothing. Stand under a shower, or soak in a tub, or step into a river, or walk in the rain. As your skin gets wet, invite the water to prime the pump for your tears. Mixed emotions — and you’ll have plenty of them — those mixed emotions can dam up your tears. You need to release them. 


You need to feel cleansed. I’m not talking about physical cleanliness, although caring for someone who needs help to eat, to toilet, to bathe, can create your own need for old-fashioned soap and water and laundry detergent. 


No, I’m talking about the need to feel cleansed as in a fresh start, a new day, another chance to get it right. I say that because you will make mistakes. Here are three examples, all from personal experience: 

  • You’ll forget to put the “traveling packet” of your spouse’s meds in your purse. When you realize it’s time for the next dose, you’ll realize you don’t have the medicine and you’ll realize you’re an hour away from home. 
  • You’ll overestimate how much energy your spouse has. Driving two miles to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up a few things won’t take long. But if the store is crowded or someone knocks over a display of apples, or a tired baby is crying, your spouse’s anxiety can escalate to agitation in seconds. 
  • If your spouse is male and you have no experience with disposable undergarments for men, you might put them on backwards the first time. 


You’ll also learn that the disposable undergarments are made for urinary incontinence. To date, there’s no good solution for bowel incontinence. You’ll learn that, too. You’ll learn to keep an emergency kit in the car — several pieces of disposable underwear, sanitary wipes, a full set of clothes, including shoes and socks, paper towels, and several plastic bags.


So, as you step into the cleansing water, say out loud: “I do the best I can.”  Say it three times. 


Finally, You need to feel forgiven.  More accurately, you need to forgive yourself. 


Under any circumstances, being a caregiver to someone with dementia is hard. Being a family caregiver for someone with dementia adds a layer of difficulty because the relationship has a history and the caregiver walks with one foot in the present relationship and one foot in the past. 


Being the caregiver of a spouse with dementia is particularly hard. Not only are you constantly walking the liminal path between who you were as a couple and who you are now, you are also grieving the couple you will never be. 


One of the steps in grieving is anger. You’ll get angry at the universe, at God, at the Force, at whatever you call a higher power, or simply at fate. You may quote Robert Browning, the poet who wrote, “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be. The last of life for which the first was made.” You’ll quote him and swear or scream or both. 


Even if you’ve never heard of Browning, you’ll know the sentiment. You’ll feel that life cheated you. You’ll look at the reality of your marriage and say this isn’t what you signed up for.


Oh, but it is. You signed up for this in the vow you made on your wedding day:  “…in sickness and in health.” 


Water is soothing. Now when you stand under a shower, or soak in a tub, or step into a river, or walk in the rain, don’t flinch at the truth. Alzheimer’s is fatal. There is no cure. Forgive yourself for hating the truth.  


Eventually, reality comes into focus. When it does, you’ll see the road you’re on. You’ll recognize the child in each of you. You’ll see the depth of each other’s wounds. You’ll stroke the scars and cry. 


Connecting with words will be a one-way conversation. Instead, you’ll connect by sharing a bowl of finger foods, or by tucking a favorite blanket around chilly shoulders, or by holding hands as Anne Murray sings, “Could I Have This Dance.” 


These are gifts. They wait for you right over each hill, around each bend. You’ll miss them if you don’t accept the truth: Alzheimer’s is fatal. There is no cure. 


It’s also true that if you are a caregiver and your spouse has dementia, your appraisal of the stress and strain of caregiving has a huge impact on your own mortality. Rituals can help you stay balanced, stay strong. 


Finally, I’m exploring what it will take physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually to launch a second podcast. It would be about the dementia journey my husband and I are on. 


Do you know the journey from personal experience, or from the experience of another family member or close friend? Do you listen to any podcasts about dementia? Do you think there’s room for one more? I sincerely appreciate your thoughts. Email:  Zita@RitualRecipes.net  

Posted in Friendship, Home, Life in General, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals, Wedding Vows | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 53: YOUR HEROIC DESTINY? A Revised Folktale about Fatima the Spinner

The days grow shorter. Have you noticed the shadows? We’re midway through the dark half of the year. To survive the coming winter, we need stories of heroes. The story we need the most is about you. What happens to you after “Once upon a time”?  Let me share my interpretation of an ancient folktale and a modern ritual to help discover your heroic story. 


I live in New England. It’s September. Imagine that you and I are sitting on my deck overlooking the meadow. We’ve just enjoyed a dinner of baked salmon with a bourbon glaze, a medley of roasted root vegetables, baked apples, and popovers drizzled with honey butter. The sun is sinking fast, brushing the horizon with warm coral, and cool gray. We watch the birds disappear into the trees, roosting for the night. There’s a chill in the air. We’re wearing old flannel shirts, fleecy vests and our hands are cupped around fat mugs of hot vanilla chai. 


The autumnal equinox will occur later this month. We’re getting ready. How? By doing what I imagine my ancestors did. We’re telling inspiring stories of people who survived hardship and loss. Why? Because although the autumnal equinox is all about the harvest and the festivals it brings, the arrival of autumn also means… winter is coming. Winter, the season of hardship and loss. 


Just look at the common names for the coming full moons. Keep in mind that the moons were named for the arrival of some visible feature of nature: 

November – the frost moon

December – the cold moon

January – the wolf moon

February – the snow moon  


To help us survive the hardship and loss looming on the road ahead, I’m going to tell you a story. It was told to me years ago by astrologer Caroline Casey. It’s an old folktale from eastern Mediterranean area or thereabouts. 


Know at the outset that I’ve heard several versions of this story. The message is the same in all of them. Know, too, that I’ve taken literary license in my own retelling. 


Nows close your eyes…just for a moment. Imagine you live in a world far away, in a time long ago. Sand is everywhere as are palm trees heavy with clusters of sweet, sticky dates. Life is good. But a west wind valued for its gentleness has brought vultures. Death is near.  

Open your eyes. 

Open your ears.  

Open your heart. And listen. 


Fatima the Spinner: My Take on the Ancient Folktale

Once there was, and twice there was not, a time when a girl’s freedom was held hostage, when the world around her was destroyed, and life seemed hopeless. And so it was for Fatima. 


She grew up long, long ago, in a land far away. Her mother died when she was barely three years old, leaving Fatima and her father to rebuild their lives. 


Fatima’s father was a spinner. He taught Fatima how to spin wool from sheep and fibers from plants. The result was strong, stout rope they sold in the marketplace. 


He knew that had Fatima’s mother lived, she would want their daughter to know beauty. So he taught Fatima how to color the rope — madder root for red rope, walnut hulls for earthy brown, the leaves of woad for blue rope, and Persian berries for green. 


Time passed. Fatima grew beautiful and strong. On her twelfth birthday, her father took from his neck the small gold charm his wife had given him years ago to keep him safe when on the water.  


“Now then,” he continued, “prepare for a journey. Our rope is ready for buyers. This time, we’re going across the sea to a new market. Such colorful rope will bring a fine profit. And, if we’re lucky, we shall find a handsome and suitable man for you to marry.”  


Keep in mind, that’s how the world was back then. Girls were married young and even when they became women, they were not trusted to make decisions. They were thought too ignorant, too delicate. Or, perhaps the men knew the women and girls were just as strong, just as smart, as they thought themselves to be. Perhaps the idea frightened them. Who can say?   


Fatima and her father loaded their rope on the ship headed across the Mediterranean. She dreamed of what her life would be like if she, indeed, met and married a handsome man her age and they raised a happy family. 


Perhaps the other merchants on the ship were dreaming, too, for they were all caught unaware when the ship slammed against a hidden rock and was ripped apart. All the cargo was lost. And all aboard drowned — all except Fatima. 


Pulled in the currents, tossed by the waves, Fatima was thrown like a shroud onto a beach. For three days she lay there, unable to move, certain she would die. 

To her continued misfortune, Fatima had washed up on the shore of a village where the slave trade flourished. Mean men, rough men, dragged her from the beach into the village square and onto the platform where human beings were sold. Fatima’s future was bleak at best. And she knew it. She thought of the charm her father had given her. She had sewn it inside her clothing for safe-keeping. 


What Fatima didn’t know was that on that very day the strap on the sandal on the foot of a kind old man had broken, forcing him to pause by the slave block. While repairing his sandal, he saw Fatima. He had come to the village with just enough money to buy a lamb. But seeing Fatima, he knew he had to purchase her instead. 


The old man exchanged his coins for the girl. He explained to Fatima that he was a weaver. He would take Fatima to his home, far up the coast. There, she would be a companion to his wife who was in poor health and lonely since they were never blessed with children. He promised that in three years time he would give Fatima her freedom. With a heavy and grateful heart, Fatima resigned herself to her fate. 


As luck would have it, when they arrived at the old man’s village, they found most of it burned to the ground. The old man’s wife was still alive, but very weak. The old man panicked. He needed to care for his wife and he needed to weave cloth to sell. With the loom in ashes, he needed to build a new one. 

Old antique wooden manual weaving machine. Retro manufacturing.Fatima took good care of the old woman. When she was asleep, Fatima helped the old man build the new loom. Day by day, the old woman regained her health. She taught Fatima songs about strength for wrapping the warp and songs about love for weaving the weft. Fatima caught on quickly and soon mastered the art of weaving good, stout cloth. 


Time passed. Surely Fatima’s parents had answered her prayers, for Fatima bloomed in the village. The old couple loved and cared for Fatima as though she were their own. In no time, she had increased their production of cloth. Its sale brought modest prosperity to the couple. 


True to his word, when three years had passed, the old couple gave Fatima her freedom. She decided to stay with them and make the village her home.

Three more years passed. Much as Fatima treasured her comfortable life in the village, she always wondered what life was like in other villages. That’s what her father wanted to show her that fateful day they left their own home. 


So one day, Fatima ventured farther from the village than she’d ever gone before. From where she stood at the top of a cliff, she spotted an outcropping of berries, the likes of which she’d never seen. Perhaps she could use them to color the stout cloth she had just cut from the loom. 


She climbed down the cliffs to the beach. That’s when she saw the pirates. As luck — terrible luck — would have it, that’s when the pirates saw Fatima. They’d been hiding in a cove just beyond the berries. 


Fatima ran back toward the cliffs but the pirates ran faster. They couldn’t risk having her tell anyone that they were hiding in the cove or that they had just buried a chest full of gold under the berry bush. In no time at all, they set sail for the open seas, Fatima on board. 

 When it was clear she could not escape, Fatima resigned herself to her fate.

For the next six years, Fatima lived onboard with the pirates. Alas, I don’t have time to recount all of her wild and wondrous adventures for there were many. I must, however, share three things: 

  1.  With every port of call Fatima met new people, saw new clothes, ate new food, heard new music, discovered new plants, learned new stories. 
  2. The pirates insisted Fatima earn her keep. They taught her how to make the tall masts that hold the ship’s sails. 
  3. From the very first day, the pirates treated Fatima with respect, perhaps because of the charm she wore around her neck: a gold trident, symbol of Poseidon, God of the Ocean. 


Still, every night when the sky was clear and salted with stars, Fatima looked up and talked to the mother bear and her cub. Would she ever have the happy life she dreamed of long ago? 

As luck would have it, one day while the ship was off the coast of China, a terrible storm arose. Monstrous waves crashed onto the deck. Wind whipped the sails to shreds. Lightning struck the mast, sending it crashing onto the deck. In minutes, the ship sank and all aboard were drowned. All except Fatima. 


Stronger than she’d ever been and angry that fate had dealt her another blow, Fatima swam toward the shore. 


What she didn’t know was that in that part of China there was a prophecy. It had long been foretold that one day a magical woman would arise from the sea and she would bear knowledge of great value to the Emperor. 


Not knowing when she would arrive, the Emperor sent guards to patrol the beach every day. Of course, the beach was long, making it impossible for the guards to see all of the beach all of the time.  


But as luck would have it, the guards were in the perfect spot at precisely the moment Fatima came to shore. There she was, rising from the foam, shaking her fists at the heavens and shouting, “Why me? Why have you done this to me again?  Why?”


The Emperor’s guards rushed toward her. This time, unlike the slave traders, unlike the pirates, the guards knelt down before her.  


“Our Emperor has been waiting for you. You must come with us.” 


Fatima could see that if they meant her harm, she was outnumbered. If they spoke truthfully, she had nothing to lose by going with them. “Very well,” she said. And off they went. 


The Emperor, a distinguished man her father’s age, held a grand feast in her honor. At the appropriate moment, he stood and said, “If you are truly the one whose arrival has been foretold, you will accomplish what has, until now, been impossible.” 


And what if I can’t, Fatima wondered. A feeling of dread shot up her spine. Could her world be on the brink of disaster again? “What would you have me do?” she asked and fingered the trident at the base of her throat. 


In a most authoritative voice, the Emperor said, “Build me a tent.” 


“A tent?”


“Yes. I have heard of such things but have never seen one. If you can build me a tent, I shall grant you any wish.” 


“Very well,” Fatima said. “First, I will need strong rope in many colors.” 


The Emperor frowned, “I cannot give you what you need.” 


Fatima remembered her years with her father, learning to spin wool and plant fibers into strong rope, coloring them with madder root for red, walnut hulls for earthy brown, the leaves of woad for blue, and Persian berries for green. Could the Emperor get those for her? Yes. And so he did. And so, Fatima did as she had been taught those many years ago, and spun giant coils of strong, colorful rope.  


To the Emperor, she said, “Now I need stout cloth.” 


The Emperor answered, “I cannot give you what you need.”  


Fatima remembered her years living with the kindly old couple, the weavers. Could the Emperor have a giant loom build? Could he have the villagers gather flax? Yes. And so he did. And so, Fatima did as she had been taught those many years ago, and wove mountains of stout cloth. 


Now to the Emperor, Fatima said, “I need poles, taller than the tallest tree.” 


The Emperor answered, “I cannot give you what you need.” 


Fatima remembered her years living with the pirates, learning how to fasten several trees together at intervals to create the masts needed for the ship. To the Emperor she said, “Then give me strong men with axes and lead me to an old forest.” 


The Emperor complied. Several weeks later, Fatima assembled the trees, the stout cloth, and the strong rope. She thought about all the exotic ports of call she’d seen in her years with the pirates. And from the sum of her memories and her imagination, she created a massive, sturdy, colorful tent.

“Magnificent!” cried the Emperor. “You are truly a magic woman! And I am an emperor who is true to his word. What do you wish for? I will grant it with pleasure.”

There was no reason for tears and yet Fatima’s eyes filled. “Thank you for your kindness,” she said. “But my wish is to have my mother and father with me again. And I know you cannot give me what I need.” 


The Emperor stood silent. Then he instructed four of his five sons, all grown men, to bring their wives and children and join him in the center of the grand tent. He ordered food and drink and silk cushions for sitting. When all of his sons and their families were comfortable, the Emperor turned to Fatima. “Tell us of your mother. Tell us of your father.” 


Fatima complied. Telling the first few stories brought tears. Eventually, the stories she told made her laugh at the memories. Her laughter made the others laugh, too. By the time the Moon had risen, Fatima had given life to her memories. She thanked the Emperor and added, “You are a true magic man, for you have given me back my parents, just as I had wished. When I leave in the morning, it will be with a joyful heart.” 


“Don’t leave,” the Emperor said. “Make your home here.” My son will show you the city and introduce you to the people.” The Emperor called to his fifth son, a handsome man Fatima’s age, the only son without a wife. With great pride, he introduced her to the city and its people. Fatima readily engaged with the women. 


Time passed. And as luck would have it, Fatima and the Emperor’s son fell in love, got married, and raised a family. 


In the original version of this folktale, at least the original as it was told to me, Fatima marries the Emperor. In my retelling, I chose a man her own age. I changed something else, too. You didn’t hear about it in the main story. I’ll tell you now. 


You see, when the Emperor’s son proposed marriage, saying how much he wanted to have a family with Fatima, she reminded him of the knowledge she had gained in the many ports of call she had visited during her time with the pirates. She learned more than how to find her way by the stars, or how to read fortunes with cowrie shells. She learned the power of herbs and plants, particularly those to empty her womb should she be in distress. If she married the Emperor’s son and stayed in the city, she would share her knowledge with the women — for they should have the same choice. 


Fatima assured the Emperor’s son that she did want to marry him and have children, for she had been lonely for many years and longed for a family of her own. But she, and she alone, would have control over her body. If he could accept that, she would be happy to call him husband. 


The wedding was an elaborate affair. Everyone from royal to peasant attended. In the years that followed, Fatima held regular gatherings with the women. She taught them how to follow the stars. She taught them songs for strength and songs for love. She taught them about plants and herbs for coloring cloth…and more. And she told them her story, how each adversity taught her something she would later use to create her ultimate happiness. 


Yes, Fatima, her husband, and their children did live happily ever after. 


The Power of Your Warp and Weft

About 15 years ago, my friend Liz Aleshire and I spent a weekend at the home of our mutual friend and fellow writer, Paula Scardamalia. Paula was also a professional weaver. She has since retired herself from the physical warp and weft and has put her largest loom up for sale. But, at that time, her studio vibrated with color from the cones of chenille thread hanging on the wall. 


Paula had just published her first book, Weaving a Woman’s Life: Spiritual Lessons from the Loom.  She wanted to develop a hands-on workshop that would enable women to physically experience one of the most memorable lessons from the book — the power of the warp and weft. She asked Liz and me to beta test the workshop. In a flash, we packed our bags–and fresh notebooks — and drove to upstate New York to the foothills of the Catskills. 


After a delicious lunch, we gathered in the family room where Paula explained the purpose of the workshop. She began with a guided meditation designed to put us in touch with childhood memories. 


Notebooks in hand, we followed instructions and listed aspects of our childhood over which we had no control. Liz and I both listed: 

  • Family finances 
  • Family religion
  • Family politics
  • Siblings
  • Neighborhood
  • Education

I added: 

  • Rules about pets
  • My dad’s military service
  • My dad’s discipline
  • My mother’s early death
  • Threats of being placed in foster care


Liz added her parents’ anger towards each other, and her mother’s mental illness. 


Paula instructed us to assign a color to each of the items on the list. For those that made me feel sad or angry or resentful, I chose black, brown, and gray. I assumed our family’s finances were okay so I chose green. Liz’s colors were similar. 


We talked about how each item on the list had affected us as children and to what degree, if any, the item still influenced us as adults. 


Imagine yourself doing this part of the exercise. Even if you write down only three items and assign colors, do it. It will help you understand how profound the workshop proved to be. 


For the next step, Paula gave each of us a basket and a pair of scissors. She told us to bring those items and our list, go into her studio, and cut a yard-and-a-half of each color on our list. 


You need to understand, Paula had at least six shades of each color — at least six. So Liz and I spent a good thirty minutes selecting our yarn.

When we returned to the family room, Paula gave each of us a piece of foam core, about 12×17, and a wooden ruler. 


According to her instructions, we took the yarn for the first item on our list, looped it around the foam core, top to bottom and tied a knot. We continued to wind the yarn,  keeping each turn snug against the one before. 


Along the way, whenever we reached the end of a piece of yarn, we tied on the color we had chosen for the second item on our list. First, we had to make a decision. Tying on a new color meant there would be a knot. Did we care if the knot was visible on the front of our piece? Or, did we want to adjust the length so we could hide the knot in the back of the work? Each time we added a new piece of yarn, we had to make that decision again. 


Once Liz and I had wrapped all of the yarn representing aspects of our childhood over which we had no control, we assessed the finished look. Neither of us were pleased. Mine felt heavy, depressing, oppressive, something to be endured. Liz’s thoughts were similar. 


Paula guided us on another visualization. This time, we were young adults, on our own. We carried the image of our independence as many years forward as we wanted. 


We made a new list: aspects of life over which we did have control. My list included: 

  • Move to New England
  • Get a divorce 
  • Attend writers’ conferences
  • Teach at writer’ conferences
  • Write a book 
  • Take belly dance lessons
  • Buy a car I wanted


Liz’s list included teaching at writers’ conferences, too. Her list also included learning to quilt, getting involved in local politics, and keeping her Christmas tree up all year. 


Colorful cotton reels laying organized side by sideAs before, we talked about the significance of each item and why it was important enough to include on the list. As before, we assigned a color to each item, went into Paula’s studio, and cut yarn. When we returned, our baskets overflowed with turquoise, teal, cranberry, lemon, lavender, cobalt, purple, emerald, lime, coral, cream, silver and gold.

Starting at the bottom of the foamcore, we slid the wooden ruler over and under the warp threads. Then we tilted the ruler on its side, creating a shed. That gave us space to insert the yarns we had chosen for the items on our second list. This time, we wove right to left, left to right, back and forth, all the way up the loom, tying on new colors as needed. 


This time, we created a pattern. The design was up to us. We could weave over and under 2 warp threads, or over 2 and under 5, or 7, whatever combination we chose. We could change the pattern mid-stream if we wanted to. The choice was always ours, including whether or not to let the knots show.

I finished my weft. Liz finished hers. We both liked the end results. A lot! Paula, who has an MFA in fabric arts, explained the effect we wanted to achieve with our colorful weft would never happen without the foundation, and sometimes darker threads, of a strong, tight warp. My turquoise wouldn’t look nearly as vibrant as it did if not for the black and dark brown of the warp beneath it. Same for the orange Liz used. It popped like her neon earrings because of the gray and black warp beneath it. 


I liked the calm look achieved by hiding my knots. Liz liked her visible knots; she called them outlaws.

We talked for hours about the adversities of our youth and about how meeting them gave us the tools, the strength, and the wisdom that prepared us to create our happiness as adults. I suddenly realized I had been on my own version of Fatima’s journey. To this day, I remember the power of that ah-ha moment.  


My hope is that by learning Fatima’s story and by doing your own version of Paula’s warp-and-weft workshop, you’ll recognize how the losses, obstacles, and reversals of fortune in your life have given you tools unique to you. Because, some day, you may find yourself faced with an opportunity to create your ultimate happiness and all you’ll have to do is build a tent.  

~ ~ ~

Weaving a Woman’s Life

My thanks to Paula for letting me share her workshop with you. The book that inspired it, Weaving a Woman’s Life: Spiritual Lessons from the Loom by Paula Chaffee Scardamalia, is available on Amazon or on her website: DiviningTheMuse.com. For a signed copy, email Paula@DiviningTheMuse.com.  Paula's new book, Enchanting Creativity: With Fairy Tales, Dreams, Rituals and Journals, is due out in Spring 2022 from Schiffer Books.  It offers a new way to look at the creative process and path, using the familiar fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty as a metaphor, and the tools of dreams, rituals and journals as a way to stay receptively inspired and actively productive, restoring that spark of magical enchantment to the creative life.






Posted in Cultural Traditions, Harvest season, Life in General, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EPISODE 52 – THE WEDDING CEREMONY ARCH: A Modern Symbol with Ancient Meaning

What does a wedding arch have to do with a king’s scepter, a flag planted on the moon, and a Thomas Kincaid painting? Weddings are filled with symbolism. One that has been lost over the years is the original meaning of the ceremony arch. 

Show a photo of a beach, or a meadow, or a mountaintop. You have a beautiful shot of nature. Add chairs and you know that people are expected. Maybe there’s going to be a class on outdoor photography, or a lecture on climate change, or a sales pitch for real estate development. Add an arch and everyone knows what’s coming — a wedding!   

Now and then, florists and designers use creative license to alter the traditional curved arch into something more rectangular, even circular. However the structure is shaped, it still defines the ceremony space. It still provides a frame for wedding photos, especially for that magical first kiss. But there’s another reason, an ancient reason, an astronomical reason for the arch. 

Centuries ago, people observed the sky to understand the world they lived in. The practice was expressed in the belief, “As above, so below.” The professional observers were mathematicians who measured and calculated the activity in the sky and determined what the activity meant. Today, we would call those mathematicians astronomers or astrologers. 

It wasn’t until the late 1600s when science reasoned that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around as had been understood, that studies of outer measures, referred to as astronomy, and inner meanings , referred to as astrology, became at odds with each other. In time, astronomy was seen as scientific, and therefore, worthy. Astrology was seen as unscientific, and therefore, to be discarded, then shamed, then forbidden. 

Long before the 1600s, all these professional sky observers noticed that while most stars appeared to move over the course of a night and sometimes over a season, they all circled around one star, the one we know as Polaris, the North Star. It never moved. Its position was steadfast and true. At the time, the observers drew two conclusions: 

Beautiful star trails over the rocky mountains. Polar North Star at the center of rotation.
  1.  A person could rely on the North Star like a compass. It sits at the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper. The dipper might swing up or down, pivoting at the handle, but that one star at the end of that handle, that star never moved. 
  1. The only logical explanation for how the North Star operated was that the sky was a giant dome and the North Star was attached to an invisible pole that ran from the center of the sky down to the ground. That North Pole held up the sky. 

Finding North star Polaris. Starry night sky with Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations (Little Dipper and Big Dipper). Space and astronomical design vector illustration.

Based on that understanding, whoever on earth held that pole had dominion over the sky. In a world ruled by kings, that celestial pole was symbolized in the creation of the king’s scepter. Some scepters even had orbs on the top. 

On July 20, 1969, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, they planted the American flag. Back here on Earth, the concept of planting a flag is seen as a statement of arrival, or dedication, or victory, or domination, or ownership, or control of the land on which the flag is planted. The flag planter acts on behalf of the country’s ruler and the flag represents the ruler’s scepter. 

Astronauts Set An American Flag On The Moon. 3D Illustration.

Centuries ago, the average person did not have a scepter or a flag. Such items were the province of kings, other royals, and armies. If you’re familiar with the traditional  Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, you know the empress and the emperor have scepters. So does the hierophant, the heroic driver of the chariot, and most of the kings and queens in the minor arcana. The Word card has two scepters. The ordinary people in the cards don’t have scepters. 

the deck of Tarot cards on white background, top down card the world

In time, towns got their own flags, with a pole erected in the center of the town. Many people were already accustomed to erecting a May pole in the spring to invite the physical union of the god and goddess. Their union brought fertility to the land. A May Pole was temporary since it was always cut up and disbursed for Yule logs. A town with a permanent flag pole had reason to feel proud. The town and its citizens were directly connected to the sky and its divinities. 

That pole was also a powerful phallic symbol. The land, seen as the body of the goddess, could not grow food without being fertilized by a king whose power was aligned with that of the god in the sky, the source of sun and rain. Proof that the king had a personal connection to the sky god would be seen in the crops. A good, strong stalk of corn or staff of grain was said to mirror the king’s… stalk….or staff.  

Over time, people gained a better understanding of the relationship between the Earth and the sky. On one hand, we know that the Earth’s axis does operate like an invisible pole keeping the planet in orbit. On the other hand, we know that no one person can hold a sceptre and control the sky. 

What does all this have to do with weddings? 

I’ll get there in a moment. First, I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Many of the stories I’ve learned about the sky came from mythic astrologer Wendy Ashley. I had the privilege of studying one-on-one with Wendy years ago, long before my wedding work.The first time I stood under an arch as an officiant, I remembered what Wendy taught me about the beliefs around the North Star and the imaginary pole. I got chills. 

In that moment, I also remembered something I had learned in high school. Back then, I took three years of Latin. Alas, I’ve forgotten most of what I learned. But I do remember that the word “sacrifice” comes from “sacer” meaning “to set apart from the ordinary,” “to make sacred.” 

Despite the mind-boggling advances the world has made in technology, ancestral knowledge–like sky stories–is embedded deep in our bones. We resonate with symbols buried in our psyche. 

As I said at the beginning, weddings are filled with symbolism. Picture an officiant standing under the ceremony arch. Acting in an official capacity, she or he opens the connection between the earth below, realm of the real, to the sky above, realm of the possible. 

The space where the magic will occur has been set apart from the rest of the area. The couple enters. They’ve severed certain connections to their families of origin to commit themselves to each other. Their sacrifice makes the space sacred.  

Later, when the officiant makes the pronouncement that the couple is legally married, we see these two people standing under the arch that represents their piece of the sky and we know, we know that they are, in that very moment, solidifying their connection. They are in the act of creating their own kingdom. 

young groom kiss his bride stand under floral wedding arch on marriage ceremony

The couple leaves the ceremony space and we shower them with rice, or bird seed, or flower petals, or bubbles, or the sound of bells. We don’t throw these gifts at their feet. We toss them in the air as though they are falling from the top of their new “king-dome.” 

And that brings me to the arches we often see in home gardens and gateways, and in paintings like those by Thomas Kincaid. Whatever your feelings are about Kincaid’s style, he has definitely tapped into the human longing for family, comfort, security, and the sense of belonging that comes from living in a house that has stood for generations. That’s what many of us feel when we see his cozy cottages, a welcoming home where at least one light burns, perhaps because a loved one is still on the road and someone in that house knows it, and that someone cares. 

Real estate ads claim an arch at the entrance to a front yard gives a house curb appeal. That’s because the arch marks the boundary between the hustle and bustle of the outside world and the sanctuary of home, a personal castle. 

At the entrance of a garden, an arch denotes the threshold between the mundane and the magical. Just ask any gardener! 

Earlier, I said that a flagpole represents a royal scepter and a flag itself identifies the royal in some way.  Put that idea in contemporary times. Notice how many homes and gardens have decorative flags. The big flags of old have become small banners that can be stuck in the ground or hung on a front door or a garden post. Even a little flag still says something about the identity of the person who planted it:  “Welcome” or “Happy Spring” or “Go Red Sox.” 

My daughter has a little flag in her front yard. It contains lyrics to the Louis Armstrong song, What a Wonderful World. That little flag is her way of reminding anyone who stops to read it that there is goodness in the world. Her flag is planted next to a decorative light pole covered with climbing flowers. That pole is the scepter that claims this plot of land as her castle. 

Not all officiants appreciate a ceremony arch the way I do. It can block the view for some of the guests. It can interfere with the bride’s gown and her ability to move. It can snag her veil. Decorated with flowers, it can wilt or be drenched in a sudden cloudburst. It can attract bees. I speak from experience. 

Do I still think having a ceremony arch is worth the effort. I do. An arch is not merely a decoration or a prop for photos. A wedding arch is a reminder from ancient times that we have dominion over our lives when we are like the North Star: Steadfast. Faithful. True.

Posted in Celtic, Ceremony Ideas, Cultural Traditions, Home, Life in General, Nature Based, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals, Wedding Vows, Weddings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Episode 51- Yemaya, the Yoruba Orisha “Mother of All” – Part 2 of Seashells and Ocean Goddesses

Illustration of African orisha Yemaya, ocean goddess

Science shows that all human life began in Africa. So it’s no surprise that on the west coast of Nigeria we find the orisha Yemaya, Goddess of the Seven Seas, known as the “Mother of All.” 

Yemaya is often shown with conch shells. She fills them with her comforting voice. She is also shown with cowrie shells. She fills them with the gift of fertility. As a nurturing mother, Yemaya wants her children to be their authentic selves. That’s the message in the Venus Comb Murex shell. Later in this article, you’ll find: 

  • A simple ritual using cowrie shells
  • A ceremonial ritual using the Venus Comb Murex shell
  • A ritual to honor Yemaya and the victims of the Middle Passage

My own Celtic ancestry and life experiences never connected me with Yemaya and other orishas. I learned about them through traditional research and through conversations with several friends. When they told me about their deities, the orishas, I likened the concept to the Catholic saints I’d grown up with, except the orishas seemed more powerful and definitely more personal. 

Continue reading
Posted in Ceremony Ideas, Cultural Traditions, Goddess, Goddesses, Life in General, Nature Based, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 50:  Sedna, a Ritual for the Goddess of the Arctic Ocean / Part 1-Seashells & Ocean Goddesses

Have you ever held a shell to your ear and listened to the sound of the ocean? You can dismiss the experience as the simple and scientific vibration of blood to bone. Or you can interpret the sound as ancestral. You’ve awakened your spirit to the feminine mysteries of the sea. 

This is the first of a two-part series on seashells and ocean goddesses. I begin with Sedna, Queen of the Arctic Ocean. 

In cultures around the world, we find goddesses whose stories connect them with shells and treasures from the sea.

Continue reading

Posted in Animal Totems, Cultural Traditions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 49: The Language of Shells ~ A Beach Wedding Ritual

Bride and groom on a beach. A large conch shell in foreground.


Mother Nature always leaves messages for us. Unfortunately, we don't always know how to read them.

What messages can you find in seashells? The answers are fascinating.

The answers are important if you're having a beach wedding!


Couples find walking along the beach romantic. We’ve all seen the photos. The couple holds hands as they stroll barefoot in the sand. Sometimes, they laugh with abandon. Sometimes the gaze intently into each other’s eyes. 


Advertisers tap into that emotional atmosphere. They add a colorful sunset or a full moon. All too often the scene winds up looking melodramatic or cheesy. 


Comedians jump on the bandwagon. They poke fun at personal ads that claim to want a relationship with someone who also likes to walk along the beach — in other words, a cheap date. 


Forget the advertisers and the comedians. I like walking along the beach. I do think it’s romantic. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I think there’s a deep-seeded reason people, partnered or single, feel good when they walk along the shore.  Simply put, it’s the fresh start symbolized every time a wave washes over the sand and leaves a clean slate.

Young couple stand kiss while standing on the beach

If you’ve ever played with an old Etch-A-Sketch toy, you know the feeling when you lift the foggy film and whatever you’ve written on the clipboard disappears. At the beach, that clean slate may suggest renewed effort after failure, forgiveness after pain, freedom after constraint, or love after loneliness. Or, what so many struggle with: self-love. Like the Etch-A-Sketch, the clean slate at the beach gives you a second chance.  Continue reading

Posted in Ceremony Ideas, Goddess, Life in General, Nature Based, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals, Sand Ceremony, Unity Rituals, Weddings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 48 – Renewing Your Wedding Vows

A senior couple sits in a park. He offers her a diamond ring.

Would you marry him again?

Renewing your wedding vows can be a powerful ceremony. You’ll remember the happiest times of your marriage. You’ll remember the most painful times, too.  


In the beginning, you date someone you can talk to for hours, someone who listens to you for hours, someone who sees the world the same way you do, someone who can finish your sentences, someone who thinks you’re perfect in every way. You think you’ve found your soul mate. With the vision of Happily Ever After, you get married. Time passes. Tension weaves its way into the fairy tale. Ouch! There’s a thorn on that rose!  Not everything is unfolding the way you thought it would. 


Wake up! Marriage is not one long date. At some point, often in the second year of the marriage, you realize how exquisitely your authentic selves fit together. Or, friction, once an occasional intruder, takes a firm hold. 


The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce is a little over seven years. In that time, you’ve each been evaluating the marriage. You see certain traits in the other person that you couldn’t see — wouldn't see — before. Now, you ask yourself: Can I do more, be more, with this person? 


If the answer is yes, you do something that your friends and family recognize as evidence of your commitment to stay together:  It could be something obviously connected to your marriage, like an anniversary party. Most often, the evidence focuses on just the two of you. You buy a home or renovate. You have a child. You start a business. In one way or another, you invest something of yourselves in having a future together. 

If the answer is no, you cannot do more, be more, with this person, you separate, emotionally at first and then, all too often, legally. 


So it says a lot when a couple chooses to renew their wedding vows!  


In a previous article and podcast episode, I shared a wedding ritual I created called The Seven Hills of Rome. I talked about how this gifting ritual could be used for birthdays and retirement parties. That same ritual, appropriately tweaked, can also be used in renewing wedding vows, or any vow you make to yourself.  


If you’re planning your own vow renewal ceremony, this article (and podcast episode 48) will prompt you to think about the gifts your marriage has already given you and encourage you to think about what you can give to each other going forward. 


If you’re a Life-Cycle Celebrant helping a couple plan their vow renewal ceremony, this article will help you shape the ceremony with sensitivity, honoring both the gravitas and the joy of two people still in love. 


If you haven’t read the previous article or listened to podcast episode 47,  here’s a quick recap. The Seven Hills ritual involved seven pre-determined guests at the wedding. Prior to the start of the ceremony, I gave each of the seven guests a stone on which was a word representing a desirable quality in a marriage — a gift. Think of:  Passion, Friendship, Fertility, Abundance. 


At a certain point in the ceremony, I talked about how the couple fell in love in Rome and shared their first kiss in the ancient Garden of Oranges. Then I invited the seven guests to come up, one at a time, and present the couple with the stone.  To tie the ritual to Rome, I did some research and associated each of the words with some aspect of the one of the seven hills Rome was built on. The associations were subjective. For instance, I said the Aventine, the hill with the Garden of Oranges, represented the gift of love because that’s where my couple shared their first kiss. I could have associated the Aventine with health because of all the vitamin C in the oranges. 


You do something similar for a vow renewal. Use the location where the vow renewal takes place, or the location of the wedding. Better yet, use both — especially if there’s contrast between the two. For example: 

  • An elopement at City Hall and a vow renewal at 5-star resort 

The gifts: Expediency and Success


  • A formal church wedding and a Las Vegas drive-through vow renewal, complete with an Elvis impersonator 

The gifts: Tradition and Unconventionalism 


  • A hastily planned wedding at the bedside of a dying parent and a vow renewal on the beach 

The gifts: Compassion and Nature 


  • A small backyard wedding and a vow renewal on a television reality show 

The gifts: Family and Fame

Expectations vs. Reality 

The location of the wedding and/or vow renewal provides the scaffolding for the ritual. The depth comes from who these two people are and the experiences they shared. A wedding celebrates a couple’s future. Sure in their love for each other, they imagine how life will unfold.  A vow renewal celebrates a couple’s history. That includes what they expected when they got married and what they actually experienced. Look for the gifts. For instance: 


  • Maybe the couple expected to put down roots and become part of a community, only to wind up moving every few years. Tie that experience with the gift of Adventure. 


  • Maybe the couple expected to have one child and wound up with triplets. Tie that experience with the gift of Fertility. 


  • Maybe the couple expected a modest lifestyle and won a huge lottery. Tie that experience with the gift of Good Fortune.   

The Struggles: Infertility, Bankruptcy, Infidelity

Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that marriage has its struggles. When appropriate, saying something about those struggles in the ceremony can add the gravitas that makes a vow renewal deeply meaningful. Look to classic wedding vows for inspiration. For example: 

  • “For richer, for poorer” — Maybe the couple anticipated financial security from their disciplined savings only to be bankrupt by a crash in the stock market.


  • “In sickness and in health” — Maybe the couple planned to travel the world footloose and fancy free, only to be anchored in place by a serious illness.


  • “In good times and in bad” — Maybe the couple assumed marriage meant happily ever after, only to realize that even in fairy tales family members turn on each other, or fall prey to addiction, or lose a child.


  • “To forsake all others” — Maybe one or both spouses broke their vows of fidelity. With time, counseling, and forgiveness, they want to recommit. That’s a sensitive situation, especially if children are involved. 


Many of the struggles a couple faces are obvious to family and friends. When that’s the case, no mention of the struggle could make the vow renewal feel hollow. Whatever the challenge, if you’re the couple, you decide whether or not to mention it in the ceremony.

If you’re a Life-Cycle Celebrant creating a vow renewal ceremony for your clients and they want to acknowledge a particular struggle, do so with compassion. If that struggle is infidelity, consider using language about their hearts needing to separate in order to grow. Say something about how a broken bone is extra strong in the place where it mends. Be sensitive, especially if children are involved.   


The Test of Time

There’s an inherent optimism in wedding vows, whether the couple uses traditional vows or writes their own..Each spouse wants to bring his or her best self to the marriage and rightfully assumes the other spouse feels the same. But at that point in the relationship, the vows have yet to be tested. Time will take care of that.    


A vow renewal acknowledges that the couple has faced those tests. Whether they renew their vows after ten years, or twenty-five, or fifty, the ceremony celebrates the growth of both people as individuals and as a couple. While the traditional wedding vows point to the common challenges in all marriages, every couple’s story is unique.  That’s why I encourage couples having a vow renewal to write their own vows. 


If that’s you, what do you say?  Whether or not you’re creating your own vow renewal ceremony, or you’re working with a Life-Cycle Celebrant, dig deep into what challenged you as individuals and as a couple. That’s where you’ll find the inspiration you need. 

Sources of Challenge, Friction and Growth

Of the many areas you can explore, here are a few of the big sources of friction. These same items can help build a strong foundation, too. For now, look at the list, think about how these items echo the classic vows of  “…for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad…” 


  • Money
  • Children
  • Health 
  • In-laws 
  • Physical home
  • Gender Roles 
  • Time 
  • Education
  • Spirituality 
  • Politics
  • Abandoned dreams
  • Shattered dreams 


Inspired by these areas of possible friction, let what you’ve learned about each other — what you admire and appreciate about each other —  inspire your vows. Here are four examples of how you could phrase renewed vows. Note that the examples focus on behavior, not promises to feel a certain way. 

  1. “Standing by your side all these years, I know how hard you work to help our family.  With gratitude, I’ll always be mindful of your devotion to our family’s comfort.”  Instead of “comfort,” you can substitute health or security, or safety, or whatever is appropriate for you.


  1. “In the many years we’ve been married, you’ve shown me the true meaning of  support.  With gratitude, I’ll always show you the same.”  Instead of “support,” you can substitute acceptance, respect, generosity, sacrifice, resilience, or whatever is appropriate for you.


  1. “Over the years we’ve been together, we’ve learned to encourage  without reservation, to communicate without illusion, and to love without condition. I’m grateful for the years we’ve had and look forward to many more to come.”  


  1. “The deepest joy of my life comes from raising our children. With pride, I’m eager to support our future grandchildren, knowing we’ll do that together, too.” 

The Ritual 

If reading this article makes you want to renew your wedding vows, or, if you are, like me, a Life-Cycle Celebrant who creates such ceremonies for your clients, here are two vow renewal rituals to consider.  

  •  Adapt The Seven Hills of Rome Wedding Ritual

Check out the recap of the Seven Hills of Rome ritual I referred to earlier. Decide on the number of special guests you want to participate. I recommend anywhere between three and seven. Fewer than three and you lack the repetition that creates the richness of this ritual. More than seven and you risk the energy dissipating.  


In the original wedding ritual, I had the special guests present stones. You don’t have to use stones carved with words. You can use a Sharpie and write the words on an 18-inch piece of grosgrain ribbon. (Satin ribbon will bleed.)  Tie the ribbons to a wreath, or to wine glasses or beer steins or coffee mugs. Or, have the presenting guests each place a flower in a vase primed with assorted greens. Or, have each guest present a gourmet cupcake with a word written in frosting. 

  • The Growing Flame

In the metaphysical world, fire is the element of desire, will power, inspiration, the goal that’s worth serious sweat equity. We often use words related to fire to describe the intensity of a romantic relationship:  instant sparks, flames of passion, embers of desire. With those associations in mind, I created a ritual called “The Growing Flame” for couples renewing their vows. The overall theme is that whatever kindled their initial attraction has continued to grow over the years. That makes this ritual particularly effective for couples who have been married at least ten years. 


To illustrate the ritual, imagine that the couple has four grown children and that friends and other members of the family are present for the ceremony. Have a table set up with a framed wedding photo of the couple. Make sure the table is large enough to hold other items. 


If the couple used a unity candle in their wedding ceremony, have that on the table, too. They can begin the ceremony by relighting that candle. 


Before the ceremony begins, designate four friends who knew the couple when they got married, and who, ideally, attended the wedding. One at a time, each of these friends brings up a tealight safely held in a votive glass. The tealights or the votive holders should be four different colors. As the four friends present the votives and place them on the outer edge of the table, they state an admirable quality the couple was known for at the time of the wedding. For example: 


Blue tealight:  “When you got married, everyone knew you as the couple whose door was always open.” 


Red tealight:  “When you got married, everyone knew you as the couple with the crazy sense of adventure.” 


Green tealight:  “When you got married, everyone knew you as the couple with a genuine love of nature.” 


Yellow tealight:  “When you got married, everyone knew you as the couple who rescued animals.”   


At this point, the Life-Cycle Celebrant, or whoever is conducting the ceremony, says a few words about how, over the years, if an admirable trait  is nurtured with love, it will not only grow but will also be mirrored by others. 


Now the couple’s four grown children come up, each with a blue, red, green, or yellow candle. These candles are big, thick pillars. Each child presents a candle, places it on the table, behind the corresponding tealight, and says something that echoes the earlier sentiment, this time from the perspective of the grown child. For example:   

Blue pillar:  “Because you got married, we grew up knowing we could always bring friends to our house. You taught us how to create a hospitable home.” 


Red pillar:  “Because you got married, we grew up unafraid of life and the adventures it offers. You opened our eyes to a wild and wonderful world.” 


Green pillar:  “Because you got married, we grew up determined to help protect our environment. You helped us help Mother Earth.” 


Yellow pillar:  “Because you got married, we grew up knowing there’s something we can do to relieve the suffering of the less fortunate. By your example, you showed us how to speak for those who have no voice.”


The Life-Cycle Celebrant says a few words about the beauty and lasting value of the legacy the couple has created, as evidenced by their grown children. 


As for timing, it’s right after this ritual, The Growing Flame, or the adaptation of The Seven Hills of Rome, that the couple should renew their vows. 

The Vow You Make to Yourself

I hope these ideas have inspired you to look at your own committed relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself. 


Do a little ritual with a tealight in a votive when you start that new book, or exercise routine, or graduate program, or cooking class. When you’ve reached your goal, repeat the ritual, this time with a large, pillar candle. Use a toothpick and carve your name into the sides of the pillar candle. Then light the flame and reflect on your journey. Bask in the glow…and let yourself be inspired for your next adventure.   


Posted in Ceremony Ideas, Life in General, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals, Wedding Vows, Weddings | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 47: The 7 Hills of Rome ~ A gifting ritual for weddings and living a magical life

Young couple make a "love" sign in Rome

Did you fall in love in Paris? Or Podunk?  How can a big city or a small town inspire a wedding ritual? What else can you do with this gifting ritual? 


The ancient city of Rome was built on seven hills. One of my couples, Thomas and Raffaele, shared their first kiss in a famous garden on one of those hills. I drew on the magic of that moment and that place to create their wedding ceremony and a particular wedding ritual. Let me give you some context.

In November of 2017, Raffaele and Thomas got married at the elegant and historic Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. I was their officiant. 

When I work with a couple, I look for little details that will help me shape their love story and create a unique ritual for their ceremony. 

This love story started when Raffaele, who lived in Connecticut, had to go to Rome on business. He mentioned the upcoming trip to a group on Facebook and asked if anyone knew someone in Rome who would be willing to show him the sights for the few days he’d be there. Thomas responded. He lived in Rome and would be happy to give Raffaele a tour. 

Though Raffaele’s family was from Italy, he, himself, had never been there before. Now, he got to see the legendary Seven Hills through Thomas’s eyes. In doing so, each man realized they shared interests, values, and visions of the future. And, though neither ever expected it to happen, they also shared another kind of attraction.   

It was on the third day that Thomas said he wanted to share his favorite place, a truly magical garden. Where some of Rome’s seven hills had gained fame for being home to the richest, or the most powerful, or the biggest, or the one with the strongest fortress, the Aventine was home to the ancient Garden of Oranges. It did prove to be a magical place for it was in that garden that the two men shared their first kiss. 

All too soon, it was time for Raffaele to fly back to the States. Learning how to navigate a long-distance relationship was next for the couple. It wasn’t easy but they managed. Love is a great motivator.

On one particular trip, Thomas came to Connecticut to help Raffaele with his business and to meet his family. It was on that trip that they bought wedding rings. For someday. 

It would be over a year before “someday” arrived. When it did, both men knew it was time. They set a date, November 12, three weeks away. Yes, three weeks!  Fortunately, the Connecticut wedding season winds down at the end of October. So, the men  didn’t have the usual challenges of finding a first class venue, photographer, and other professionals they wanted.

In designing their ceremony, I wanted to highlight the Garden of Oranges. Not only was it the place where they shared their first kiss, it was also the name of a new perfume. You see Raffaele Ruberto is the internationally known “beauty biologist,” famed for his highly successful line of skincare products. The perfume was his latest creation. At the rehearsal, I learned that the guests would all receive a bottle of the perfume — Giardino degli Aranci — in a special box commemorating the wedding.  

Drawing on the ancient magic of the garden, I wove three rituals into the ceremony. 

The Oathing Stone

Orange blossom painted on a stone


When Thomas and Raffaelle made their vows, they did so on an oathing stone hand-painted with orange blossoms by my friend and artist, Carol Chaput. First, Thomas held the pale gray riverstone, about the size of a large egg, in his opened palm. Raffaele placed his right hand on top of the stone and made his vows. Then Raffaele held the stone for Thomas. 

The concept of oathing stones goes back centuries. We hear it when people make a statement and say, “I swear on my mother’s grave.”  In the ancient world, it was an accepted truth that the spirits of those who had died were now in the Underworld and from that realm the dead the ancestors would guide and protect the living. 

That connection between the worlds was sacred.  In cultures that buried their dead, people would lovingly tend the graves of their ancestors. They would go to the grave to pray. They would leave flowers. They might leave a stone, or plant a tree. They might have a picnic. They might fence off a particularly nice section of land so that all their ancestors would be together. If all that sounds like something we do today, you’re right. 

The Underworld was, literally, under the ground. People believed that a stone or piece of a tree that came from the ground where the person was buried held an energetic connection to the dead. If you made a vow while holding that stone or piece of wood, then broke that vow, you would no longer have the protection of your ancestors. You put your life at risk. Literally. 

Turn back time and imagine living in a village. Everyone knows everyone else. One of your neighbors commits a crime. When he is accused, he swears on the graves of his ancestors that he didn’t do the deed. Eventually, the truth is revealed and everyone knows the neighbor lied. Far worse than lying, he broke a vow to his ancestors. For that, punishment could mean death. More often, it meant being banished from the village. How could he ever be trusted? 

That gravitas is inherent in an oathing stone. Of course, today most people don’t live in small villages. Many don’t even live in the area where they were born. So getting a stone or piece of wood from a tree on the land of their ancestors isn’t feasible. I offer hand-painted stones on my Etsy shop. Of course, you can use any stone, as long as it has meaning to you. 


Handfasting cord in orange, green, and whiteFor Raffaele and Thomas, I followed the vows with a meaningful, and a bit humorous, handfasting. I made their cord in green, orange, and white to echo the colors of the Garden of Oranges. I made it nine feet long because 3×3 is the formula for magic. Plus, with a long cord, they can add a knot as part of each anniversary.  


The Seven Hills of Rome

Earlier in the ceremony, before the vows and the handfasting, I had arranged for seven particular guests to present the couple with seven stones, each carved with an inspiring word. 

To make the ritual truly personal, I associated each stone with one of the Seven Hills of Rome. At a special point in the ceremony, I called for the gift of each hill. 

The guest came up and held the stone while I read what it represented. Then the guest gave the stone to one of the grooms who placed it on a little altar I had created. What follows is a slightly revised version of the language I used for Thomas and Rafaelle. Here’s how it might sound if you used it in a ritual:  

For as long as couples have gotten married, friends and family have given gifts to support the marriage. Couples today might receive anything from bitcoin to gym memberships. In  much earlier times, wedding gifts symbolized qualities desired in a marriage — fidelity, health, prosperity. Harkening back to those days and in honor of the Seven Hills of Rome, the ancient city where our couple fell in love, I invite seven guests to join me and bestow a wedding gift written in stone. 

1. I call for the Palatine.  /  The Palatine is known as the Beverly Hills of ancient Rome. Home of the Colosseum, the Palatine is the traditional site associated with the founding of the city. From the Palatine comes the gift of ABUNDANCE. 

2.  I call for the Capitoline.  / The Capitoline is considered by many to be the most important of the Hills. Its physical features create a natural fortress. Both the citadel and the Temple of Jupiter, “The Great Benefic,” can be found here. From the Capitoline comes the gift of PROTECTION. 

3. I call for the Esqualine.  / The Esqualine is the largest of the hills. Now a fashionable residential district, it is also home to the temple of Minerva. Like her Greek counterpart, Athena, Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, art, justice, and commerce. From the Esqualine comes the gift of UNDERSTANDING. 

4. I call for the Quirinal.  / The Quirinal is home to the temple of Mars and boasts the best quality of air in the city. From the Quirinal comes the gift of HEALTH. 

5. I call for the Viminal. /  The Viminal is the smallest of the hills and holds one of the world’s greatest collections of Greco-Roman art. From the Viminal comes the gift of BEAUTY. 

6. I call for the Caelian.  / The Caelian is home to an outdoor opera and to ancient thermal baths that can accommodate 10,000 at a time. From the Caelian comes the gift of COMMUNITY. 

7. Finally, I call for the Aventino.  / The Aventino is home of the temples to Diana and Ceres, and home of the ancient  Giardino degli Aranci, the Garden of Oranges. From the Aventino, comes the gift of LOVE.  


This ritual turned out even better than I had anticipated. Many of the guests had flown in from Rome to be at the wedding. From the comments they shared with me, I know they appreciated having their home honored in the ceremony. 

The pairing of each hill with a particular quality came from my imagination. I associated the Aventino with love because, well, that’s where Raffaele and Thomas shared their first kiss. If not for that kiss, I would associate the Aventino with health because of all that vitamin C in the Garden of Oranges. Instead of beauty, I might associate the Viminal with culture because of the art collections. Because Jupiter’s temple is on the Capitoline, I might associate that hill with good fortune. 

Other Occasions

Although I created The Seven Hills of Rome for a wedding, the ritual can be adapted for other occasions: 

  • A birthday celebration for someone who once took the trip of a lifetime to Rome 
  • A retirement party for someone who is eager to travel 
  • A student who is leaving home to study abroad

The theme of the ritual is gifting. The scaffolding is the city. 

You can use that concept to create rituals for any city or small town. Ask yourself: 

  • What is its history? 
  • What are its landmarks? 
  • What is it known for?
  • Who are its people?

Just as someone might associate New York City with museums and the gift of culture… or Broadway and the gift of entertainment, someone else might associate the Big Apple with restaurants and the gift of hospitality, or fashion and the gift of creativity, or history and the gift of a legacy, or immigration and the gift of opportunity, or neighborhoods and the gift of community. Your familiarity with a place will help you make your own associations. 

In the same spirit, I think of the little town of Timber Lake, South Dakota, where my dad grew up.  I was born and raised in Tidewater, Virginia. At least every other summer, my mom and dad and two younger sisters spent several weeks in Timber Lake. Technically, we spent our time at “the home place,” about ten miles outside of town. Six of those miles were paved. The rest were ruts in a dirt road. 

When I think of those summers, I think of nature and the gift of wonder. I think of an immense sky and the gift of perspective. I think of farming and the gift of food. I think of hard work and the gift of self-reliance, of windmills and the gift of change, of harvest and the gift of prosperity, of neighbors and the gift of support, of family and the gift of love. I think of the Lakota, the First People, and the gifts of legacy and spirit. 

Other Props

In re-imagining The Seven Hills of Rome ritual, you can use something other than stones to hold the gifts: 

  • Begin with a large vase half full of assorted greenery. Each gift is presented with a flower that the gift-bearer adds to the vase.
  • Begin with a large pot of chicken or vegetable stock. Each gift is presented with a bowl of chopped vegetables that the gift-bearer adds to the soup. 
  • Begin with an empty tool box. Each gift is presented with a hammer or screwdriver or other tool that the gift-bearer adds to the box. 

General Locations

You can also The Seven Hills of Rome ritual around a general location, such as the mountains, or the woods, or the beach. You can check out episode 6 for a ritual called “Gifts from the Trees.” Here’s an example from that ritual: 

FRIENDSHIP is the gift of the WHITE BIRCHStudy a grove of white birch and you’ll see they’re joined at the roots. That image suggests communication, good allies, like-minded people who are devoted through friendship.  

An Exercise in Gratitude

Even if you aren’t looking for a unique ritual for a wedding or birthday or retirement, it’s good to be reminded of the gifts we have, right in front of us. 

Take a look at the world right outside your door. Do you have: 

  • trees and their gift of memories 
  • a mailbox and the gift of communication 
  • a gas station and the gift of energy 
  • a dumpster and the gift of letting go 
  • a highway and the gift of adventure 
  • a crossroad and the gift of choice 
  • wildflowers and the gift of beauty 
  • running water and the gift of serenity  
  • a grocery store and the gift of nourishment 
  • a school and the gift of knowledge 

Whether you live in a big city or a small town, being able to see the invisible gifts all around you will help you live a magical life. 

What gifts wait right outside your door? 


Posted in Ceremony Ideas, Life in General, Oathing Stones, Rituals, Wedding Vows, Weddings | Leave a comment

Is Your Child Leaving Home?

Young woman stands by a stone wall, holding an opened map of an old city

As loving parents, we do things to show our children that there’s no place like home. They still grow up and leave. For the child, that milestone opens the door to freedom. For the parent, that milestone empties the nest. This calls for a ritual.  

Imagine that you’re a parent and your child is leaving home for college, or for a job, a physical adventure, or a journey of the heart. You’ve equipped your son or daughter with all the necessities of a well-appointed dorm room. You’ve packed favorite snacks. You’ve supplied for-emergencies-only cash and you’ve dispensed sage advice. You’re excited to see your child on the verge of a grand adventure. This is a milestone in your young adult’s life and in your own. Yet the grand idea feels empty. What’s missing?  A ritual. 

In case the whole concept of ritual is new to you, let me say two things:  

  1. The way I see it, ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent. 
  2. If you’ve ever made a wish and blown out the candles on a birthday cake, you’ve performed a ritual. It can be that simple. 


There are different kinds of rituals. Some, like weddings and funerals and having children, are rites of passage. They mark unmistakable before and after points in our lives. 


Some rituals are designed to support through times of traumatic change or loss. Examples include going through a divorce, or getting out of prison, or losing a home in a natural disaster.  

Some rituals celebrate the change of seasons. Those rituals align us with the cycles of nature, and connect us with the spirit of our ancestors. 

If you ever questioned the importance of rituals, think about what the 2020 high school graduates missed last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic:  no class trip, no prom, no graduation ceremony, no graduation parties. My grandson, Logan, and hundreds of thousands of fellow seniors across the world, missed all that. 

His summer job was canceled. He was to be a manager at a large boy scout camp, having attended every summer since he was a cub scout. Last year, he achieved  the rank of eagle scout. The ceremony was canceled.  As a college freshman, he looked forward to meeting new people on campus. Instead, he stayed at home and is taking classes online. This last year hasn’t been easy on him. Or on any of the other 2020 grads.  

Here it is, April of 2021. My daughter just told me that the court of honor to bestow the rank of eagle scout on Logan and two other young men will be held next month. A real, in-person ceremony. Yes, attendance will be somewhat limited and masks still required. That’s okay. By then, everyone in my family will have had both vaccines and will have passed the waiting window for the vaccine’s magic to take effect. 


Spring is a time when energy speeds up. No surprise, after a year of Covid confinement, our grandson is eager to get out into the world. One of these days, he’ll leave home and build his own nest. That will be a big event.  As a society, we don’t have rituals for that. Oh sure, we have parties. But we don’t have rituals. I want to change that. 


Here are a few ideas.  


Memories and Mashed Potatoes


I call this first one “Memories and Mashed Potatoes.”  As rituals go, this is a support ritual. It’s for the child leaving home and for the parents and siblings left behind. 


No surprise, from weddings and funerals to Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, food has long been a staple of family gatherings. For me, Sunday dinners meant pot roast and mashed potatoes. As a kid, I sculpted the potatoes to make a lake for my mother’s homemade gravy. As a teen cook, I cursed the lumps I could never conquer. As an adult, I experimented with chicken stock, heavy cream, light cream,  cream cheese, sour cream, roasted garlic, and shaved parmesan to improve the classic add-ins of milk and butter. Some efforts were more successful than others. In time, I realized there’s a reason mashed potato bars became a popular feature at wedding receptions. Comfort food, like mashed potatoes, pair with events designed to make memories. Let the power of nostalgia seasoned with food work for you. 

During the week before your child leaves home, serve his or her favorite meal. It can be a dish you make yourself, or something from a favorite restaurant or even take-out. The key ingredients are not in the food; they’re in the memories. While everyone is eating, make a point to talk about the food and the future. 

“The next time you eat eggplant parmesan, you’ll be in Italy!  When that day comes, what will you remember about the eggplant parm we’re having tonight?”  If there are siblings, encourage them to share a favorite memory made with the one leaving home. 

If the meal is homemade, give your child the recipe. My daughter emails her favorite recipes to me all the time. I print them out and add them to a three-ring binder I keep in the kitchen. When she comes to visit, she often cooks. She could open her phone for the recipe but she prefers to use my binder. She says the 14-point type is easier to read. 

I think the real reason she uses my binder, or any of the cookbooks in my little library, is that whenever I follow a recipe, I make a note in the margin.  

I might write that I substituted an ingredient or had to increase the baking time. Most of my notes, however, are like diary entries: 

Crispy Cobbler:  

1999 Sept 29 / Dick [husband] home from 6-month hike on Appalachian Trail. He has mixed feelings.  I’m trying to understand.

2010 Nov 25 / Up early with Tim [son-in-love] to prep the turkey. Such fun to cook with him.

2016 May 27 / Bad news from Dick’s neurologist. It’s Altzheimer’s.

2020 Dec 6 / Logan [grandson] here for 10 days. Helped me set up the Christmas tree. Can’t manage it by myself anymore.

When you give your child the binder, add notes to the recipes. Think of your notes as sourdough starter.   

Crispy Cobbler:  “Perfect dessert to console or celebrate.”

Shortcut Chili: “Go easy on the hot sauce. Don’t give your friends indigestion.”

Chicken Soup: “Be sure to make a wish every time you taste-test!” 

You’re nurturing a new level of parent-child relationship with this binder whether or not your child ever cooks. 


The Enchanted Map

When Logan was about five years old, we made a treasure map from a brown, grocery story bag.  We tore the edges to give it a rustic feel, then pressed wet tea bags all over it to make it look old. His artistic talents were evident even then, so he drew a map. It had a castle, a magic forest, assorted monsters, and a treasure. We rolled up the map like a scroll and tied it with a ribbon. 

That evening, we went to the wooded area near my home and played a game we called Magic Castle. We wore costumes I had made and placed battery operated tea lights at the base of the magical trees and hid a genuine treasure chest. Then he opened the map and our search began. Yes, we knew where everything was. That didn’t matter. We used our imaginations. He had an adventure. I made memories. 

As it turned out, he made memories, too. He’ll be 19 next week. Not long ago he came to visit and said he wished all kids could play Magic Castle like we did when he was young. (Yes, my heart melted.) 

Don’t worry if you don’t have a map your child made as a young squire, a space traveler, a pirate, or a princess. You can invest in the oracle deck, “The Enchanted Map,” by Collette Baron Reed. There are 54 cards. The images are intriguing. One is of a white, heart-faced barn owl holding a make-a-wish dandelion puff while sitting on top of an egg that sits on top of a Grecian column in a field filled with fluffy dandelions.  


In the accompanying guidebook, each card begins with a sentence or two that condenses the wisdom of the card. Then the book goes deeper. It  asks thoughtful questions about the people, places, conditions, and challenges we meet on our journeys, both the physical and metaphorical. 


For example, the owl with the dandelion is on the card “Intention.” The message in the guidebook is about the power of having clear intentions and sending those intentions into the world, allowing  synchronicity to do its magic. That’s an excellent card for a child about to leave the nest. It’s perfect for the child’s parents, too. 

Other cards are equally evocative. The Bone Collector is my favorite. It’s another card that can apply to the child or the parent. 

Picture a slender old woman with twinkling eyes and a bright smile. She wears a long, earth-colored, Bohemian style dress.  A cloud of white smoke gathers around her nearly bald head. She’s sitting on the ground, in the center of a circle formed of stones. On her left is a clock, on her right is a rabbit. In her hands, she holds a peacock feather. The sun is setting on the desert background. Animal skeletons hang behind her like pendant lights. 

From the guidebook, we learn that the Bone Collector was there at your childhood wounding. The intensity of that wounding varies, of course. But we’ve all experienced some kind of limitation or disappointment as a child. According to the message, that’s when we lost some part of ourselves. All these years, the Bone Collector has kept safe what was stolen from you in that wounding. The challenge is for you to see yourself in a new way. She’s there for you, right now, as you reclaim your power. 


When you or your child leaves home, it’s good to be reminded of the power of your intentions. It’s good to be encouraged to claim back your power. 



Create a Ritual with the Enchanted Map Cards 


Here’s a simple ritual for how to use the cards in a ritual with friends and family.  This ritual would work well for a child leaving home for a career, the call of the wild, like backpacking across Europe, or an adventure of the heart. 

Each guest selects a card, sight unseen. At an appropriate moment, the guests take turns reading the corresponding condensed messages from the guidebook and giving the cards to the guest of honor. The guests are encouraged to add a personal wish. 

Give your child a container that can hold all the cards. Encourage him or her to pull one of the cards each morning as part of a daily ritual. If your son or daughter doesn’t have a spiritual practice, this ritual is a safe and simple way to begin one. 

Ritual:  Super-Hero Map

Remember the map I made with my grandson? Make one for your child. If you don’t want to use a grocery store bag, get a piece of butcher’s paper, newsprint, or packing paper. 

Let’s assume your son or daughter is going off to college. On the paper, sketch a road with starting and ending points. One point is your home address; the other is the name of the college. 

Let the guests mark on the map something the new freshman might encounter along the 4-year journey. For instance: small dorm room / great roommate / join thespian group / join sports team / join debate club / join band / party / learn you really do need to sleep / tough exams / repeat course / meet someone…special


Have each person also write along the edges of the map some super-hero quality the student possesses:  Smart / Confident / Creative / Resourceful / Popular / Honest / Compassionate. Have the guests write their own names on the map, too. 

Remember that intent is what makes an activity a ritul. When the guests have presented their cards and written their messages on the map, roll up the paper and tie it with a string.  Pass it among all the guests. Encourage each person to hold the map while saying, “Remember your way home” or something similar. 

When the map has been anointed with the good will of the guests, present the map. Make sure your child knows how well-equipped he or she is for the journey ahead.   


If you’re a sibling of the one leaving home… give your departing brother or sister something that represents you. That could be a photo, especially a photo of the two of you. It could be a stuffed animal, or a bandana, or a stone on which you’ve written your name. 

What if you’re the parent of the one leaving home?  My sister and I talked about this a few days ago. I told her that when my daughter left home I cried. Whenever she’d come to visit and it came time to leave, I kissed her and waved good-bye, then closed the door and cried. That was the routine for three years. I’m not exaggerating. 

My sister reminded me that back then, there were no cell phones, no Facebook or Facetime, no Zoom or Skype or WhatsAp. Long distance phone calls were charged by the minute. It was easy for an average $20 monthly phone bill to wind up in the hundreds of dollars. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways parents and children can stay connected these days. That can lessen the anxiety of having a child leave home. Still, the empty nest needs to be acknowledged — with a ritual.  

Ritual:  The Fledgling

The idea for this ritual is to create a symbolic nest to represent your child’s new home, wherever that might be. 

You can find a hand-crafted nest in a craft store. Line it with dried moss. You can find that at craft stores, too. Or, line it with strips of an old piece of clothing, or fabric in your child’s favorite color. 

Keep a pen and a pad of notepaper near the nest. Whenever you feel sad, tear off a slip of paper. Write your child a few words of encouragement, or a wish, or an affirmation. For instance, you might write: 

  • You have a lot of wisdom to offer.  Share your voice.   
  • Someone needs your smile. 
  • Go ahead. Try something new. 
  • Find your open door. 

Fold up your message and put it in the nest. Later, you can give the nest to your child, complete with notes. You might even add a Hershey Kiss or two or ten to the nest. 

In the end, when you take concrete action to affirm your love as a parent and to support your child’s new venture, you create a ritual. Though the pain of missing your child doesn’t disappear, it does become easier to bear. 

Posted in Cultural Traditions, Friendship, Home, Life in General, Rituals | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 45 – Hawk & Falcon Medicine for the Spirit

Peregrine Falcon


Does the story of the noble hero on a quest to find the feminine grail stir something inside you? If so, the hawk calls you. Does it cry “Beware!” or “Be aware”?  

 Are you drawn to the Egyptian falcon-headed god Horus and stories about the soul leaving the body when a person dies? If so, the falcon calls.   

 The falcon is the consummate hunter. Known for its speed and precision, it can catch its prey mid-air. The falcon teaches us how to make progress by blending speed and focus. The falcon also helps us send energy to a dying person, so the transition will be easy. 


Hawk sitting in tree.

The hawk’s medicine is inward and deep. Where did you come from? Where are your roots? Who are your ancestors? The hawk wants you to see your life from a broad perspective. 

 The hawk wants you to let go of unnecessary baggage, the kind that is heaped on us when we’re children. Even the most well-meaning parents do it. Because they, too, are carrying baggage.  

 When the hawk comes into your life, the invitation isn’t to your family. It’s to you. The hawk wants you to recognize the significance of the events in your life — including past lives.

Did you give to someone, help someone, teach someone, inspire someone? Was that how you were treated? 

 Did you take from someone, ignore someone, criticize someone, cheat someone, hurt someone? Was that how you were treated? 

 It takes courage to look at ourselves, at our family stories, with the keen eyes of a hawk and fortify the honorable qualities and remove the vermin. 

 Working with hawk medicine awakens the vision we have inside us, the one about who we really are, what we really want to do with our lives. 

I’m reminded of the words of the late playwright Florida Scott Maxwell. She was born in 1883 and lived into her nineties. She said, “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

 Fierce. That’s a good word to associate with hawk medicine. As parents, hawks practice tough love, or so it seems. Once their young can fly, the parents stop feeding them and send them on their way.  Then again, maybe that’s not tough love. Maybe it’s the way hawk parents express confidence in their offspring. 

 Maybe a sense of confidence is what gives birds of prey their fearless quality. That fearlessness makes them the ideal companions for shamans who travel to the realm of the dead to obtain cures, to learn the wisdom of animals,  to honor those animals, and make alliances. 

 In The Druid Animal Oracle authors Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm write about how Druid shamans would enlist the aid of a spirit-ally to venture into other realms. Different birds offered different gifts, different tools. The swan brought grace; the raven initiation. When it came to the hawk, the gifts were nobility and stature, dignity and pride.

We see those qualities in the legend of King Arthur. The Knights Gawain (the Hawk of May) and Galahad (the Hawk of Summer), each one a masculine solar figure, go in search of the feminine Holy Grail. On their quest for healing, completion, and illumination, each in his own way asks: Who am I? Why am I here? 

 We ask those same questions. Even as the hawk soars upward toward the sun, a metaphorical image of our quest, we know on some level that the answers we seek lie within. 

Just as hunters valued the hawk for its ability to see, circle, and hover over its prey, Druids valued the hawk for its ability to see what needed to be cleansed from a person’s spirit. It’s in that cleansing that we can claim who we are, and that we can become, as Florida Scott-Maxwell said, “fierce with reality.” 

 That kind of inward cleansing is something you must do by yourself. The relationship is one-on-one. Birds of prey don’t fly in flocks like geese or gather on the beach for a flash mob dance the way pink flamingos do.  

 In her book Bird Signs author G.G. Carbone writes, “If you have just met someone, take your time and get to know the person through observation. Hawks mate for life, so once you decide to commit to someone, the lifelong journey begins.” She suggests that to align with the energy of Hawk, take time to observe the little things in life. 

 My friend Carol Chaput is a fine artist who draws, among other things, owls and hawks. She’s also a poet with a passion for the natural world. Years ago, I asked if she could teach me to think like a poet. In response, she taught me to keep what she calls “the quarry.” Each day, she lists ten things she has observed. The hunt isn’t for pretty language, or even full sentences. The task is to train the eye to observe. 

 I kept my own quarry for several months, until I buried the book with the rest, residue, and remainder of so many other creative endeavors. I came across the book yesterday. Here are four items on my list for a day in January 2014: 

  • The ticking clock on the wall
  • A picnic table and two benches, all one piece, a deterrent to thieves
  • A discarded plastic dump truck
  • An endless stream of error messages scolding from the monitor

At the time, I was too close to events to see a pattern. I wasn’t looking for one. Now, seven years later, I can see that when I made those observations I was still processing a professional loss I had suffered more than two years earlier. 

 Seeing a pattern was not the purpose of keeping a list. And yet, there it was — the emotional vermin I needed to remove. Seeing the pattern made it easy to break the pattern. 

 In these last seven years, I’ve acquired three of Carol’s original works. Two drawings are of solitary owls. One is of three baby hawks. How interesting, how encouraging, to think that the Owl and the Hawk have been with me all this time. 

G.G. Carbone offers another lesson from the Hawk. Stop circling. Take action. In her words, “Maybe you have remained on the sidelines too long. With Hawk as your ally, you can experience life more actively.” 

 That idea of being an active participant in life is explored by the late Ted Andrews in his book, Animal-Speak. Focusing on the red-tailed hawk, Andrews draws a parallel between the red of the tail feathers and the kundalini, that spiritual energy coiled at the base of the spine, that, when aroused, moves up through the chakras, breaking through energy blocks, often at a time when a person is discovering her soul purpose. 

Andrews says that if the hawk has become your totem and your kundalini has been activated, “It can also reflect that your childhood visions are becoming empowered and fulfilled.” 

 He talks about how hawks are often attacked by smaller birds and cautions that with the hawk as your totem, you are likely to be attacked by people who won’t understand your creative energy. “They may attack your ability to soar.” 

 Should that happen to you, know that the red-tailed hawk can bite off the head of a snake, even a poisonous snake.   That’s because the hawk’s legs have scales that protect it from snake bites. Of course, as Andrews points out, if the red-tailed hawk has come into your life, you, too, have the ability to bite off someone’s head. Proceed with caution. 


Like eagles and owls, falcons are found all over the world. In her book Animal Magick, author D. J. Conway tells us that here in North America, what we call a duck hawk would be the peregrine falcon in old European falconry terms. In similar fashion, our pigeon hawk would be the merlin, and our sparrow hawk, the kestrel. 

 The word “falconry” refers to the practice of hunting with the use of a trained bird of prey. Records show falconry being practiced as early as 680 BCE in China. 

 Training a falcon required a great deal of time and patience. A falcon would be taken from its nest as a baby then trained to be comfortable with humans. 

 In the 9th century, falconry reached England. It became a popular sport of European upper class and a status symbol of sorts with the clergy. On the Richard III Society website, Shawn E. Carroll writes that the nuns of some religious orders were rarely seen without their falcons on their wrists. (I attended twelve years of Catholic school and was taught by two different orders of nuns. I can’t picture any of them sporting a falcon on her wrist. Times change.)

 A trained falcon gave a significant advantage to hunters. In her book, The Shaman’s Guide to Power Animals, author Lori Morrison notes that in 14th century England, the punishment for destroying falcon eggs was a year in prison. A poacher who took a falcon from the wild could have his eyes plucked out as punishment. 

 Eventually, falconry became common. The local blacksmith might have a falcon. The baker, too. And the dressmaker, the shoemaker. In the same way today’s dog owners say something about themselves based on the size or breed of dogs they have, centuries ago men and women made statements about themselves based on size and type of falcon they carried. Ah, but not everyone was equal. The peregrine and the gyrfalcons, the “long-winged” birds, were reserved for the nobility. 

Falcon-headed Egyptian god Horus

The falcon played a key role in the mythology of ancient Egypt. That’s where we find the god Horus the Younger, son of Osiris and Isis. Horus is often shown as a man with the head of a falcon. Sometimes, he’s shown with two heads, representing the union of upper Egypt and lower Egypt. 

 The name Horus means “he who is above.”  Horus was thought of as the protector of whoever was the current  pharaoh. In fact, a pharaoh would be called “the living Horus.”

 Horus had a jealous uncle whose name was Seth. (Think of Simba and Scar in The Lion King.) The two often fought. In one battle, Seth ripped out Horus’s left eye. Destroying someone’s eye would be horrific under any circumstances. For Horus, there was more to the story. 

 Horus’s eyes looked like the eyes of a falcon. Of far greater significance was that his right eye was the masculine, mathematical Sun; the left eye the feminine, intuitive Moon. 

 As the legend goes, it was when Seth ripped out Horus’s left eye, the Moon eye, that the phases of the moon began. Fortunately, the god Thoth (a version of the Roman god Mercury, the Greek god Hermes), was able to restore Horus’s eye. In the same way, a new moon is reborn every month. 

 Even today we see the famous Egyptian image known as “The Eye of Horus.” The symbol represents the right eye, the masculine, logical, math-minded eye. Healers of the day would use mathematical proportions in the Eye of Horus to determine how much of certain ingredients were needed to effect a cure, a prescription of sorts.   

 The Eye of Horus was also known as the Eye of Ra, the Sun God. Sailors would paint the symbol on their ships for the Sun God’s protection. 

 The mythology around Horus focuses on healing, protection, and restoration. Those qualities are all part of what we call falcon medicine. 

 Falcons are found in Greek mythology, too. That’s where we find the goddess Circe, a sorceress, daughter of the sun god Helios. When she was born, instead of having the expected soft, melodious voice, she sounded like a squawking bird. Her name, Circe, means hawk or she-falcon.  

 In Norse mythology, the goddess Freya wore a cape of falcon feathers. The cape made it possible for her to astral travel, to see beyond the limits of the physical world.

 The whole idea of seeing beyond your limits is a key theme of falcon medicine as used in this safe and simple ritual: 

 RITUAL:  The Big Picture

To begin, if you resonate with the energy of the falcon, be sure you rest in a place with a panoramic view. Yes, travel is still restricted because of the pandemic, but don’t let that stop you. Watch a nature show on television, a show that has a lot of panoramic views. Pause on an image you like. Embrace the vastness before you. 

  • Do you feel free, that you can do anything you want?
  • Do you feel lifted, as though you’re in the air, the realm of thoughts and ideas? 
  • Do you feel focused, that you know what you really want? 
  • Do you feel brave, ready to face whatever stands in your way? 
  • Do you feel ready to take the plunge and go for what you want? 

Feeling free, lifted, focused, brave, and ready — those are the gifts the falcon offers. 

RITUAL: Tiger Eye

When you feel unfocused, flustered, like you need to defrag, get a piece of tiger eye. The stone is a mineral, a member of the quartz family. It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to find. In her book The Shaman’s Guide to Power Animals, author Lori Morrison, says tiger eye is the mineral associated with the falcon. With the eye being important to the magic and myth around the falcon, I understand the link. 

 Tiger eye is brown and gold. Think of the warm, golden sun, vitality itself, pouring onto the dark, fertile earth. The sun penetrates. The earth receives. Equilibrium. Hold that thought as you hold that stone. Feel it warm the palm of your hand.

 Remember that ritual is a visible act performed with invisible intent. Close your fingers around the stone. That’s your visible action. Your invisible intent is to embrace the vitality and equilibrium from the stone, and in doing so, let yourself feel free, lifted, focused, brave, and ready. 

 Finally, if you know 

  • Someone who needs to see something clearly…
  • Someone who is ready to let go of old baggage… 
  • Someone who has been on the sidelines of life too long…

Tell that person about the medicine of the hawk and falcon. She’ll thank you for it. 


Zita Christian is a writer, ritualist, Life-Cycle Celebrant, and unabashed woo-woo woman. She hosts and produces Ritual Recipes, the podcast that helps spiritually-minded people create safe and simple rituals to give real meaning to seasonal cycles and life events. Write to her at: zita@ritualrecipes.net 

Posted in Animal Totems, Nature Based, Ritual Recipes Podcast, Rituals | Leave a comment