Standing between death and the dead

This time of year is when I most strongly feel the ancestors around me.  Memorial Day was yesterday, and tomorrow is the anniversary of my father’s birth.  Six years ago my cat went missing on June 9, and I wonder if he yet lives, or I may honor him among the dead.  This past weekend I helped adopt someone who lived in my town until his death four years ago as a community ancestor.

Perhaps that’s why I found myself weeping as I wrote yesterday’s remembrance of Taliesin Myrddin, who died trying to prevent hate.  I didn’t know the man at all, nor any of his loved ones; this was not personal grief.  Normally I don’t feel the deaths of strangers deeply; there are far too many people dying in the world for me grieve them all and yet live.  His death touched me, and divination confirms that my own dead wanted it to.

First, a little something about Ludwig Montesa, a man “whose unconventionality, both mentally and physically, sometimes unsettled people who didn’t know him,” according to one obituary.  He died in 2013, while I was at a point in my studies of Hellenismos at which I was learning about Hekate, the Deipnon, and ancestor veneration.  I knew him as a friendly, if slightly peculiar, man who was a constant presence in our downtown; when news of his death spread, I found stunned to discover the number of people whose lives he had touched.  My first ancestor offering was made at the impormptu shrine which emerged not far from where his parents ran a gift shop.  It had much the look of many impromptu shrines:  flowers, candles, heartfelt messages of grief were included, but also Metro cards, which to him were the connection to his favorite metropolitan area.

In the years since his passing, I have come to know Ludwig Montesa better than I did in life.  He transgressed boundaries of gender and personal space, ignored the hobgoblins of shame and comparison to others, and embraced himself with joy and abandon.  He was known for high-fives that never seemed to end, karaoke performances unfettered by self-consciousness, and an enduring love for New York City (which to me was the most alien thing about him).  Each May since he died there has been a Ludwig Day replete with games, musical performances, and remembrances.  I’d never been able to make it for one reason or another, but it was clear that Ludwig Montesa had a festival in his honor, much like the heroes of old.

This year I decided I was going to lead an ancestor-veneration ritual for Ludwig.  It meant forgoing Rites of Spring, but local praxis should take precedence.  Family members were on board, and one of them was in attendance.  A photographer for our local paper was also there, and gave me some images from the event.

It was a short ritual, with about fifteen people in attendance.  I set up a low table as a shrine, using a black cloth and candle mostly because people in this color associate black with death.  Before it was a really stunning framed portrait that captures Ludwig’s eccentric flair.  I did a brief overview of ancestor veneration and how in Hellenic tradition the dead are down in the underworld.  I invited him to attend and poured out an offering of Diet Coke, one of his favorite beverages.  Participants were invited to offer flowers, Metro cards, and brief remembrances; I had some of the first two for people who were unprepared.  (Cards with money still loaded on them will be distributed to those in need in his name.)

This was the first public ritual I’ve ever led, and it went quite well.  I felt Ludwig’s presence and had the opportunity to honor him in a way befitting his near-shamanic life.  Our communities all have local heroes, and it’s appropriate to identify and honor them.

Coming off of that experience, and readying myself for this annual pilgrimage of mine, I found myself learning about a young man who stuck is neck out to help some strangers, and got a knife in it for his trouble.  It’s both hard to bear and completely inspiring.  How many of us would put their bodies between hate and harm like Taliesin Myrddin did?  Who among us truly knows the answer to that question without it being tested like it was for him?

There’s more to tell in that story, to be sure; a member of his family may be speaking with me soon, and his mother seems to be responding to this tragedy with a combination of love and activism.  Like her son, she inspires me, and I hope to be able to speak to her at some point.  Even if I lived in that town, I am not the kind of reporter who could knock on a door and say, “Your son was just violently killed.  How do you feel?”  There is a need for personal space and time which transcends freedom of the press.

For me, the time for honoring death will continue through July, as I intend on undertaking the Vigil for the Bulls again.  It’s curious that it is now, as spring bursts into life, that death is closest to me.  Such is the mystery.

In closing, some pictures of the ancestor rite for Ludwig Montesa.

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Cultivating sources

Rev._Paul_Beyerl

Paul Beyerl [Wikimedia Commons].

When I asked to interview Paul Beyerl for this week, it was because I strongly believe in preserving the wisdom of our elders.  Now in his seventies, Beyerl was easy to talk to in part because he’s not put off by the idea that he’s an elder.  What I wasn’t expecting from the conversation was news that his church’s center would be uprooted and moved in the near future, after 24 years establishing a botanical garden in the suburbs of Seattle.

That’s the joy of journalism: discovering interesting information that the people holding it don’t necessarily think is newsworthy.  It takes good questions, intuition, luck, and often a lot of time to get those answers.

Earlier in the week, The Wild Hunt posted an update about the Druid Daniel Scott Holbrook, based on a court transcript in which the prosecutor asserted in closing arguments that Holbrook had not downloaded hundreds of images accidentally, as he’s claimed.  There were people who had that information when I wrote the original article, but for various reasons didn’t believe it to be newsworthy, ergo I didn’t find out until I saw the transcript, and only then did I start asking questions.

The occasional detractor of the news site for which I write will complain about a lack of investigative journalism.  I have to wonder if such people understand what that kind of work requires.  While it’s not technically difficult, conducting investigations takes quite a bit of time.  Back when newspapers were the go-to source for news, there were reporters who spent weeks or months on a single story, talking to people and sifting through documents in search of the truth.

I would love to throw myself into that kind of work, but if I spent 40 hours a week on chasing down mysteries in the Pagan community, I wouldn’t have time for any other writing.  I contribute to several other news sites and publications, all of which pay me a flat write per story, stories which take time to research and write.  The Wild Hunt is no different in that regard.  My family couldn’t afford to give up those other sources of income, and The Wild Hunt treasury isn’t big enough to pay me what I would need to do that full time.

What’s required for deeper, more thorough investigations?  Money.  Lots and lots of money.  To turn just one reporter into an investigative machine would require more than doubling how much money is donated during the annual fund drive.  I base that on my own situation, which is unusual because I’m not the primary earner.  Replacing my lost income, plus adding a new reporter to the weekly rotation (because I likely wouldn’t have a finished story every week, and the ten-year-plus tradition of new content daily could not be broken) would run about $20,000.

I stand ready to do more for the Pagan communities.  Are Pagans and polytheists willing to step up and make that possible?