Episode 57: Enchanting Your Tools and Talents

Image of wise old man working at a forge.

Are you an artisan, a craftsperson, a maker? It’s February.  If you lived in the Old World, in northern Europe, especially in the land of the Norse, you’d be getting ready for a very special festival: “The Charming of the Plow.” In today’s world, that means it’s time to sharpen your grinders and garden tools, your chisels, saws, and scissors, time to sort your fabric and yarn, paints, pens, brushes, and beads. It’s time to affirm your faith in your talent and get to work on the BIG dream. 

 

The days have been growing longer ever since December’s Winter Solstice. Two more minutes of light a day might not seem like much, but we’ve already picked up an hour. In no time at all, Spring will be here. If you lived in Northern Europe around the year 900 or before, you’d be out there in the field, trying in vain to break the heavy, clay soil with a wooden plow. You’d consider yourself lucky. The wooden plow was better than a stick.  

 

About 100 years later, the year 1000 or thereabouts, you could have a plow made of iron. That would be a heavy plow. And it would be a game-changer. Compared to the generation before you, you could cultivate that moist, fatty, very fertile soil of Northern Europe and, at the same time, cut deep enough to bury weeds, which would save you a lot of time in caring for your field.  You could plant more crops, feed more people, amass, often for the first time, real wealth.  

 

You might need a team of eight horses or oxen to pull that heavy plow. Chances were good that you didn’t have that much horse power. Few farmers did. So you and your neighbors would pool your resources. You’d share. 

 

You’d all do something else, too. You’d thank the Dwarves. Think of the seven you met in Disney’s movie about Snow White. Now think about them in a serious way.  

 

In Norse mythology, Dwarves are a race of magical creatures who live inside mountains and under the ground in a labyrinth of mines and forges. They’re said to have been created from the rotting flesh of a giant.  

 

Dwarves are said to be wise, creative, and strong. Four of them are so strong it is said they hold up the four corners of the sky. There’s Austri in the East, Sudri in the South, Vestri in the West, and Nordi in the North.  

 

Dwarves are also highly skilled. They know all about the gems and metals buried deep in the earth. They know about the great forge in the center of the earth. In fact, no one is more skilled at the forge than a dwarf. Dwarves are known to be kind to people who respect their skill….. and vengeful to those who don’t. 

 

If you were a farmer and you had a good, strong iron plow and you knew how to use it,… well, that was proof that you had a good, strong relationship with the Dwarves. Key to maintaining that relationship was taking care of your plow. 

 

Now, I have never been to the Scandinavian countries, at least not in this lifetime. So I’m imagining, and I invite you to imagine with me. It’s February. It’s cold. Patches of snow dot the ground. Icicles hang from the roof of your cottage. You and other members of your family bundle up. Working together, you haul your iron plow outside. 

 

You remind your children that their survival depends on the ability to plant a field and harvest a crop. You don’t have a chance without that big plow.  

 

So you purify the plow. You clean it with precious soap. Then you anoint your plow with herbs. You’d probably use thyme. It’s hardy and comes back every year. Thyme is known for its ability to protect. In the old world, women would wash the floor with water and oil of thyme. 

 

Of course, The Charming of the Plow is a big deal. You want to anoint your plow with several herbs, not just thyme. I see you sprinkling dried parsley on your plow. It’s another hardy herb that grows in that climate. Like thyme, parsley is an herb of protection. It’s also an herb used to encourage sexual attraction. How? Chewing parsley aids digestion and freshens the breath. I think that’s why nice restaurants often add a sprig of parsley to the dinner plates before they’re served. 

 

You anoint your plow with rowan berries too. Like thyme and parsley, rowan berries carry strong protection energy and strong sexual energy. In Norse mythology, the first man was created from an ash tree and the first woman was created from a rowan.  On the end of each little red rowan berry is the shape of a five-pointed star, the shape associated in many parts of the world with the five-pointed star orbit of Venus, the planet of love. Yes, you definitely use rowan berries. 

 

Little red lingonberries would be a good choice, too. They’re known as a superfruit for good health. You want your plow to be healthy. You want it to have a long life, too, so you add needles from an evergreen, probably a spruce. 

 

As you make each offering, you talk about what a fine, fine plow it is. You praise the skill of the Dwarves who fashioned this fine plow.  

 

You fortify yourself with a bracing beverage. You harness your own horses and several that belong to your neighbors. They’ll benefit from your horses in another few days. In the way a loyal football crowd cheers when their team takes the field, you and your family and friends cheer as you direct the horses to pull the plow. The horses strain and the plow inches forward. You hold your breath until the blade penetrates the ground. The earth yields. You cheer! Everyone cheers!  

 

The goal is not to plow a whole field, just dig one ceremonial furrow. As more and more ground turns over, the festive energy grows. Yet, everyone knows that despite the jubilance, this is no game. Your survival depends on it. 

 

Though I’ve never dug frozen earth – with or without a plow – I’m guessing it would take hours. Finally, a furrow of fresh earth stretches before you. 

 

In the belief that the Dwarves can influence your plow from underground, you show hospitality. You and your family and friends now fill the furrow with cakes and loaves of bread. As you thank the Dwarves, you also speak to the Norse Goddess Freyja in her aspect as Mother Earth. You ask her, and your female ancestors, and the female house spirits that live with you, to accept your offerings and to empower, or “charm,”  your plow so that you’ll be able to grow the food your family needs to survive. In magic, it’s never a good idea to rush your offerings. I imagine that charming the plow, digging the furrow, and making all these offerings took the better part of a day, maybe into the night. 

 

Those of us who follow an Earth-based spiritual path, immediately recognize the erotic aspect of charming the plow. In celebration of the coming spring, the Earth is willing to be penetrated by the plow. The red berries symbolize the goddess and the magic of all women who regularly bleed but don’t die. The offerings of cakes and bread is not only a hospitable act. These baked goods come from grain. They symbolize seeds and all that the farmer and his family hope to grow. Though I have no evidence to support this, I suspect there were a lot of babies born nine months after this festival.  

 

The erotic energy of “Charming the Plow” refers not only to the penetration of the earth but also to the idea of arousing the earth, waking her up from winter’s sleep, reminding her–praising her–for her ability to create. 

 

In today’s world, if you want to align with the energy of that ritual, ask yourself these questions:  

  • What idea is trying to wake you up? 
  • What are you called to create? 
  • What’s your big dream? You know, the dream right under the frozen earth? 
  • What tool is your equivalent of an iron plow? A pen? A paint brush? A hammer? A sewing machine? A loom? A jeweler’s saw? A microphone?
  • How will you charm your plow?  

 

I answered those questions for myself in episode 57 of my podcast Ritual Recipes. I also shared a ritual to help you align with the energy of season. Check it out. 

 

In the meantime, whether you consider yourself a creative person or not, these are good questions to explore any time of the year. 



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Episode 56: Hope and the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Silhouette of human hand with open palm praying at sunset background

Looking for hope? I found it in a shaman from Greenland, a shaman from Taiwan, a migration expert from Europe, an elder from Africa, and a spiritual healer from Central America. They opened a virtual gathering of spiritual and religious leaders from around the world. 

The gathering began with land blessings from Indigenous leaders from five regions of the world: 

  • A shaman in Greenland. He gave an ice blessing to “melt the ice in the hearts of men.” 
  • A shaman from the Paiwan Indigenous tribe in Taiwan. She called on the ancestral spirits to protect the world from the pandemic.
  • A Central Eastern European migration expert. She cast a protective, sacred circle and called on the old  Slavic gods. 
  • A professor and Xhosa elder from Africa who invoked the ancestors. She emphasized the belief that “I am because we are…and since we are, therefore, I am.”

A Currandera Espiritu, a healer of the spirit, from the mountains of Central America. She blessed the waters of the world and called upon the Creator to bless humanity and all the animals so that life around the globe would continue.

This past October, I attended the 8th Parliament of the World’s Religions. The Parliament is an international, interfaith gathering almost 130 years old. Its first conference, held in 1893 in Chicago, is considered the beginning of the interfaith movement. I joined the 2021 conference –virtually– with over 4,000 attendees representing 244 different faiths, large and small, from 79 countries all around the world. 

 

The conference spanned three days. It included 583 programs, panel discussions, religious ceremonies, and spiritual observations. 

 

As I write this, 2022 is hours away. I don’t have to itemize the horrors of the last two years. The litany is long. Those who thought they could stay isolated from the rest of the world quickly learned that there is no wall – not in China, not in Mexico –  that can stop a killer virus. The pandemic opened our eyes to just how small our planet Earth really is. In the words of astrologer Amma Li, “Our apertures on reality are expanding.”

Alongside the grim reality of a killer virus, the Parliament of the World’s Religions envisions “a world of peace, justice, and sustainability.” Their mission is “to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities; and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time.” 

 

There’s no shortage of items on the list of critical issues the Parliament addressed. Here are a few:  Climate change / biodiversity / deforestation / lack of access to clean water / discrimination toward the LGBTQ community, especially social justice and the transgender movement / violence toward women / the divine feminine / school shootings / hospice and grief counseling / the plight of refugees / a worldwide response to war, aggression and human genocide. 

 

Separately, those critical issues are being addressed by governments, businesses, organizations, and nonprofits around the world. At the Parliament, I saw those same critical issues being addressed through the eyes of spirituality.

The Dalai Lama addressed the gathering, as did the Pope, as did author and activist Marianne Williamson, scholar Dr. Jean Houston, attorney and Wiccan priestess Phyllis Curott, and heathen Dianna Paxson. 

 

Overall, presenters included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Bahhais, Sikhs, Hindus, Pagans, Native Americans, Indigenous people. There were representatives of Celtic and Norse mythology, spiritual leaders from Africa, an Inuit shaman, a Mayan Curandera Esperitu, a Lakota grandmother, an African elder, and many more. 

 

As you can imagine, the spiritual beliefs varied widely. Yet, these presenters and those of us in attendance gathered to support the Parliament’s Mission: “To cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities; and to foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to address the critical issues of our time.” 

 

An ambitious task? Oh, for sure! In fact, after these last two destructive years, I’d say the Parliament’s mission was a pipe dream. 

 

But the more sessions I attended, the more I realized that while people may practice different faiths, or no particular faith at all, members of the Parliament don’t merely tolerate the beliefs of others. Members respect each other’s beliefs. Those beliefs may be attached to an organized religion. Or, in something “spiritual.” 

 

What do I mean by “spiritual”? Different people will have different answers.  For me, “spiritual” is a belief in something – an energy, a force, an idea, a philosophy – bigger than I am. That “something” makes me feel connected to everyone and everything else, that being part of something bigger also carries a responsibility to do more, to make a difference where I can.  For me, that bigger “something” is Nature, the life-and-death story that unfolds in the cycles of seed, root, stem, flower, fruit, and back to seed.  

 

I was raised in an organized religion. I left the church in my twenties. That’s when I formed my own checklist of what a religion had to provide in order for me to follow. My list had only 3 items: 

  1.  It had to make sense to me. 
  2.  It had to provide real comfort in times of sorrow. 
  3.  Living by its principles had to make me a better person than I would be otherwise. 

For me, the church of my childhood didn’t measure up. I began a search for something else. I got cynical. 

 

I’m not the only one to discard the beliefs I was raised with.  According to the Pew Research Center, back in 2007, 16% of adults in the United States did not identify with any religion. In 2021, the number increased to 29%. 

Another study from the Pew Research Center shows an increasing number of Americans self-identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” 

 

At the Parliament, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama acknowledged a world made up of people who believe in one god, or in no god, or in reincarnation and said we all have an important role to play, that we all have the potential to bring about peace and harmony, that we have to be active. He called on us to remember that compassion is the seed of peace. 

 

I’m not going to recap all three days of the conference. I just want to highlight a few. They give me hope. Maybe knowing that these conversations are happening will give you hope, too. 

 

For instance, there was a plenary session on grief and another on hope. In “Bereavement of the World,” presenters talked about the impact of grief on the human spirit, about the “soul sickness” we feel when we see environmental destruction caused by fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, the extinction of a species, the pollution of our oceans. Six experts on grief talked about how we can help heal our planet by having compassion for ourselves and each other. 

 

In another presentation, panelists talked about how grief is taking a toll on the mental and spiritual health of our youth. Panelists noted that outside of organized religion society doesn’t offer the rituals we need to validate loss. I took heart. Not because of the situation itself but because I’m a Life-Cycle Celebrant. I create rituals. That’s something I can contribute. 

 

Presenters also talked about how art, particularly poetry, music, and meditation, can be used to help today’s youth get in touch with grief, process their emotions, help them heal. Are you an artist? Get involved in your community. Volunteer. 

 

The world is definitely not without hope. That was evident in the words of three women in a presentation titled “The Wisdom and Prayers of the Indigenous Grandmothers at This Time of Crisis.” 

 

  • Grandmother Flordemayo comes from a family of spiritual healers in the mountains of Central America. She is the founder of The Path, an organization “dedicated to the conservation and preservation of heirloom and heritage seeds.” 
  • YeYe Luisah Teish is an initiated elder in the Ifa/Orisha tradition of the African diaspora. She is the author of Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals. 
  • Unci Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance is an Oglala Sioux who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She is a Lakota keeper of the traditional ways. Much of her work is devoted to the struggles of single parents so they can best help their children.

 

There were Zoroastrian devotional songs, Sufi dances, a Pagan water ceremony, a Heathen ritual to honor the ancestors, an all–women Sikh worship service, a session on the Hindu belief in the divine feminine, the Great Mother. Recognition of the divine feminine continued in a reconstruction of an ancient Egyptian ritual to honor the goddesses Eset, the great goddess of compassion, Sekhmet the reliever of illness, and Maat, the goddess of truth and understanding and the greater good.

 

In another session, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Lutheran pastor, and a Muslim imam shared personal stories and hard facts they’ve each used “in public and closed-door events to dispel myths, stereotypes, and conspiracy theories about religion and interfaith dialogue.” They also presented a framework that students and youth groups can use to discuss religions. 

 

Yes, I know that the wounds of our world aren’t going to be healed overnight, or by any one person or group. If healing is to come, it will take time. It will take all of us working together. So, what can you do, right now? 

 

Listen to episode 9 of this podcast. It was all about Spirit Spoons and a Magic Soup Ritual to Heal the World. The soup ritual is for a group. Creating and using a Spirit Spoon is something you can do on your own. 

 

Simply select a spoon – a new one or an old favorite, dedicate it to your magical work, use it to stir something you’ve made – a soup, a stew, a sauce – something you’d like to share with others. The key is to build positive energy by stirring clockwise, the direction of the sun’s daily movement. As you stir, infuse your creation with your own blessings for the world. 

 

If you can share your creation with others, do so. If Covid concerns prevent such sharing, envision others benefitting as you consume your healing creation. 

 

For more details, here’s a link that will take you to the episode and the blog post. 

 

Here’s a link to the website for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The next conference will be in 2023, back in Chicago. Plan ahead. 

 

In the meantime, if you know someone who isn’t feeling all that hopeful about the world right now, please share this post. I know attending the conference helped me. Maybe hearing about it will help you, too. 

 

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Episode 55: A Thanksgiving Ritual for Your Home

My contractor barely touches the basement wall and it crumbles.

 

In this season of gratitude, be sure to thank your home. The walls reflect who and what you love. The roof protects you. The floor keeps you balanced. The windows invite adventure. 

 

Sometimes, we have to see our home with new eyes to appreciate what we have. 

 

For the last five months my husband and I lived with our daughter and her family while the foundation of our condo was being replaced — not repaired, replaced. 

 

The building is 36 years old. When the original foundation was poured, the cement contained pyrrhotite, an ingredient in some soils that, over time swells, cracks, and turns to powder.  Imagine placing the palm of your hand flat against your basement wall and the wall crumbles like an overbaked cookie. 

 

Now you might be thinking, well, if the walls were literally crumbling, why wasn’t the building collapsing? It was.  Reports of crumbling foundations in Connecticut started in 2015. Some homes were so bad, town inspectors declared them unsafe and condemned the buildings. The owners were forced to move out.  

 

Of course, all buildings settle over time. Vertical cracks in a foundation are not unusual and, usually, are not cause for alarm. But when those cracks widen, enough to insert a human hand, well, that’s a problem. 

 

With pyrrhotite, the hallmark is the horizontal crack. These thin, hairline fractures might be hard to see in the beginning. For one thing, most of the foundation of a building is below ground level. You’d notice the cracks from the inside, unless, like us, you had a finished basement. 

 

Instead, I noticed that closet and cabinet doors wouldn’t close. Deadbolt locks wouldn’t engage. When my husband left the water running in the bathroom sink, the sink overflowed, spilling water only to one side, running at a tilt through the bathroom into the bedroom. The backsplash behind the kitchen sink separated from the wall. The whole wall bowed. A fiberglass bathtub cracked. 

 

The process of arranging for my condo building to be repaired is a story all its own and not one I’m recounting here. This is about my home, my physical home. 

 

I believe in the power of place and the ancient view: As above, so below. As within, so without.  I see my condo as a living entity that reflects what’s happening in my life. 

 

Back in 2016 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I immediately made a plan for how I would tackle the disease. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could no more contain my husband’s decline than I could keep the doors of my kitchen cabinets shut. 

 

For a year or so, I watched my language, being careful not to use the word “Alzheimer’s” with anyone other than family and close friends. I didn’t want to be faced with questions I didn’t want to answer. All too soon, it became evident to anyone who spoke with him for more than a few minutes that he wasn’t, as the phrase goes, in his right mind. 

 

My social worker, Amanda, encouraged me to use the words “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s.” She said doing so would make it easier for me to find kindred spirits. And besides, I couldn’t keep the truth locked up, just as I couldn’t lock my back door. As the condo building slowly tilted, the components of the deadbolt lock refused to line up. In the last year before the foundation was replaced, my own contractor came six times to readjust the lock.  

 

In the metaphysical world, water is the element of emotions. If you read my previous article, the one based on episode 54 of my podcast, Ritual Recipes, you know that it took me more than two years to accept the facts that my husband has Alzheimer’s, that the disease is fatal, and that there is no cure. About the time I made peace with that reality, my husband left the water running in the sink of the upstairs bathroom. I was downstairs. It wasn’t till I carried a basket of clean laundry upstairs that I heard the sound and saw the river. It was a trickle compared to the flood of emotions I let go! 

 

I have a little cottage style kitchen with “little” being the important word. It works for me, especially because the window over the kitchen sink aligns beautifully with the path of the rising moon. I didn’t know that when we bought the condo. At the time, I was drawn to the nature center right across the street.

 

About 15 years ago, we did some minor renovations. I had the cabinets resurfaced with a chalky white ceramic glaze. I had the countertops replaced with a deep, forest green granite, and had a new backsplash of white textured square tiles. Every now and then, instead of a plain white tile, I have a decorative tile of variegated red and pink geraniums with variegated green leaves. I love those flowered tiles. 

 

In the mystery tradition I belong to, the essential oil of rose geranium is used in initiation. That’s because initiation is often held outdoors, at night. The essential oil of rose geranium is well known for helping repel ticks. 

 

The calk between the tiles and the granite cracked. The wall right behind the sink bowed. I have a black wrought iron baker’s rack near the sink. The rack is filled with plants. I know from experience that when a plant outgrows its container, the container can break. Six months ago, I would look at that bowed wall and think about how my husband’s Alzheimer’s has forced me to grow. I look at the geranium tiles and feel that I’m being initiated into a new reality. 

 

Now that the building has a new foundation and the building sits as it should, I’ve had the deadbolt on the back door adjusted again. The lock was jammed so tightly, the contractor had to use a crowbar to open the door so he could get to the lock. It works fine now. I feel secure again. 

 

I had a few plumbing issues that had to be addressed right away. Those have been taken care of. 

 

I can replace the calk between the kitchen tile and the granite. The problem now is just cosmetic. 

 

The biggest physical change is that I no longer have a finished basement. My ritual room is gone, as is my sewing room, the cedar closet, and my husband’s work bench. Rooms that held important parts of my life have been demolished. 

 

I’ve been working on a new floorplan. I won’t be able to afford to renovate the whole basement yet. So I’m starting with one 8×7 nook. It’s going to be my podcast studio. Sometime after the first of the year, I’m launching a second podcast called “My Spouse Has Dementia.” 

 

RITUAL

In the meantime, here’s a simple Thanksgiving ritual to awaken and deepen the connection to your home. 

 

Carry a pretty bowl that will fit in the palm of your hand. Fill the bowl with water. If you want, add a few drops of essential oil. My go-to is always frankincense. 

 

Walk through each room.  Look at your walls. Do they hold art? Maybe something you purchased while on vacation. Something you made. Or  something made for you by someone you love.  Maybe you have a homemade growth chart showing children’s names and ages. Maybe your walls are bare, giving you space to breathe. 

 

What color are your walls? How does the color make you feel? Are you happy with the choice you made? Are you eager for a change? 

 

Moving clockwise around each room, stand before each wall. Use your fingers and sprinkle a few drops of water on each wall and especially into the corners. As you do, say:  Thank you, walls, for providing structure, shelter, and a sense of security. 

 

In every room that has running water — kitchen, bathroom, laundry room — turn on the water and say: Thank you, water, for helping me get in touch with my deepest emotions. 

 

Walk barefoot through each room. Stop for a moment. Feel what’s beneath your feet. Wood? Carpet? Tile? Stone? Be aware that a major energy point is the ball of your foot, right where the ball meets the arch. Called the kidney point, it’s a hub of energy for your whole body. 

 

For years, my daughter practiced reflexology. She told me some cultures believe the spirit enters the body through the kidney point on the feet. I immediately thought of the footprints on birth certificates. Yes, they’re for identification purposes. I think those ink prints also show an energy portal.  

 

You don’t have to believe that to get the benefit of grounding your body by feeling the connection between your feet and the floor. As you do, move your body, dance, or just bounce. And say: Thank you, floor, for always supporting me and helping me stay grounded.  

 

You can expand this ritual to acknowledge other parts of your home: 

  • The kitchen stove:  Thank you for enabling me to create nourishing meals.
  • A bookcase:  Thank you for holding knowledge and entertainment.
  • A desk:  Thank you for working with me to manage my household.  Or, Thank you for supporting my creative work. 
  • A bed:  Thank you for the healing sanctuary of sleep. Or, Thank you for this oasis of passion. 
  • A mirror:  Thank you for reflecting what I need to see. 

 

As you can imagine, this could be a long list!  What’s important is that you realize your home and the items in it have energy.  Thanking everything you put on the list can give you a new perspective about where you live. 

 

You can do this ritual over any number of days. You can make some aspects of it a daily practice. 

 

Take this ritual to the outside of your home. Acknowledge and thank whatever plants and trees are growing near you. Do they have a connection to mythology?  Are they known for medicinal properties? For me, that means: Thank you, weeping cherry, for reminding me that both joy and sorrow are part of life. 

 

Unless you’re Native American, you aren’t descended from the original stewards of the land you live on now. Acknowledge those First People. How? Sprinkle a pinch of cornmeal outside your front door and acknowledge those who came before you.  For me, that means:  I stand on the land of the Podunk tribe. I honor your ancestors. Help me care for this land as you once did.   

 

Travel has become increasingly difficult for my husband. So this Thanksgiving, our daughter, son-in-love, and grandson are coming here. Gathering with family and friends is always special. That’s true whether everyone is seated at one dining room table or feasting on scattered card tables and tv trays.  

 

However you celebrate the holiday, think about how the energy in your home can foster creativity, provide security, support healing, create a sense of peace. If you haven’t thanked your home for all it provides, now is a good time. 

 

One last thing. If you do use essential oils in the ritual I described earlier, do a sprinkle test on an inconspicuous place on your wall first!  



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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  





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Episode 53: Everything Happens for a Reason – A Folktale

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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
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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

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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

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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.   

 

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