The Grief of Art

Aya is the Fern Adinkra, symbolizing endurance.  Endurance through death  is a tough test.

You know, death doesn’t really come in threes.  It just comes. Usually there’s no warning and often the omens that the universe delivers to us before our deaths go unregistered or ignored.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a choice in ignoring the omens of death, after all, that’s part of why I developed in the occult; to understand myself and why death doesn’t hide from me the way it seems to hide from a lot of others.  Maybe that’s how most witches are born. I saw omens and signs but I never guessed who would be taken from my life next.

Soon, I’m going to bury another good friend of 17 years, a former roommate and a hell of a bouncer.  He had such a huge impact on people all over Seattle in the club and dispensary scene, even the ShowBox Pike Place paid him tribute this week, placing his handle on the headline overlooking the street- The Bulldogs however converged on the Rock (essentially an altar to the dead/victorious made from two huge boulders behind our alma mater) and painted his name, lit candles, told stories about his larger than life personality.  It’s a ritual we’re all sad to perform but we do it together, and the magic produced relieves our grief and reestablishes our relations down here in The Land of Hazelnuts. I miss you Grizz, rest in power.

Just up the very same street of the ShowBox is a sex shop by what used to be my old Metaphysical store, and in that lovely erotic store worked another friend I recently buried; the man who taught me how to find and identify mushrooms in college, a fellow green-path.  I miss you Zack, rest easy now. Earlier this year I said goodbye to my Grampa, who was one of my best friends, and to my mentor who had been part the umiak and canoe journeys of my adolescence.  I’ve been waking up in terror over my partner, worrying over them and suffocating with stress over how much paranoia these deaths are giving me.  But like with all death, some form of creation is born and while I’m still feeling numb, my hands are bringing feeling to the world.

When you’re hit by loss after loss after loss, the damage it can do to you spiritually can be as overwhelming a loss as death was itself.  I think there’s always a time in which a practitioner turns from their art and apostates a bit; goes on a spiritual sabbatical to reclaim some wandering fraction of their soul.  Back home in the Southwest you’d hear them call it susto  or even a kind mal de ojo and it can be cured with prayer, exorcism, purification and intervention by one’s ancestors to find the part of you wandering. Up here by the Green River in Salish territory, grief, like soul-recovery is treated with herbs like Devil’s Club, stinging nettle and cedar, and there ceremonies of purification varies by people but drumming, singing and calling to the ancestors and allies of the ailing individual is standard.  It is locally believed that one’s medicine may fall out of balance, and restoring that dynamic required balance with the surrounding plant and animal allies, with one’s own nature and with their people. It’s all about restoring a sense of balance after loss and I’m struggling with that intensely.

When I was a kid my sister and I suffered tremendous losses and with those sad memories come the healing magic that permeated my entire family; mom would make Gumbo, tía would make hemp tea, and sage would never stop burning.  Mom gave us worry dolls after Grandpa James passed away; she told us to tell them our worries and put them beside the bed while we slept. To me, grief smells like home: gumbo with shrimp, fry-bread, cannabis smoke, and most importantly, sage from the rez- not that store bought shit, I mean sage you roll up to the rez and visit auntie for because auntie got that good medicine.

Today I’m struck by the hollow detachment I’ve been feeling spiritually as I grieve the loss of another close friend.  I’ll be attending my 4th funeral/memorial of the year. Four people that I loved, that I laughed with, that gave me more memories to cherish than I can stomach to think on some times.  With each passing came a flood of grief that, to my surprise, produced something magical even when I felt cut off from the world. In my moment of despair I lit the candles of Brighid’s altar as I always do and was strangely surprised at how quickly I began to feel more solid.  That comfort turned to something warm and then, it turned to something fiery, a spark in the dark. I put my hands into clay and let out my sadness by making something beautiful. It’s an oath I made a long time ago; that I would give into creation where destruction once walked.  I think that’s what inspired me to finally get back to sculpting again, this need to make something from this feeling of nothing.

2018 made me long for those smells and wrap myself in the comfort of familiar grief magic.  But as things stand, I don’t have my sister here with me and my mom works too much and too hard to be cooking gumbo for her grown ass depressed kid, heh.  So what’s a witch to do? I turned my social anxiety into social justice work, I’ve turned my self-involvement into volunteer involvement and turned my blah-ass attitude into beautiful plant spirits in feminine form.  I wanted to personify the herbs I’ve been dating to escape from grief and anxiety. I have this vision in my head of all these ladies together in floral mass. I’m so close to finishing the set, and that’s driving me to look forward instead of backwards all of the time.  That's what matters to me most right now... look ahead. Create from destruction.

It makes sense that I was inspired to make Poppy and Tobacco in tandem; both flowers help deal with hexes, grief and sorrow.

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