I often walk in Lone Fir Cemetery in southeast Portland, Oregon. It is always busy with the restless spirits of the dead. Very few of them are tended, the dead I mean, not the graves.
No one I know is buried there. I am a visitor.
The first burial on this piece of land was in 1846. Now there are more than 25,000 graves scattered about under more than 700 specimen trees of 67 different species. Some of the trunks and roots have grown around and swallowed up the headstones. All of the trees are being fed by the bodies of the dead.
Today the cemetery was filled with the living. They gathered in the sunshine on lawn chairs and chatted. They lounged on blankets, reading. They strolled, they jogged, they roller bladed and parents helped their little one learn to balance on their bikes.
I wonder. Did any of them go there today to be fed by their dead or to tend them?
Or did they go there to be with their Gods?
Were all of us being fed unknowingly by the dead through communion with the trees that had consumed them?
Was it home?
Is it home?
“It is a reliable mark of indigenous cultures that their Gods live on the same land that the people do.” Stephen Jenkinson – Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul
What is it that makes a place home?
Are we at home when we live with our Gods?
Are we at home when we live with our Gods on the same land?
Is it more than that?
Is it knowing where our people are buried, knowing the ancestral bone yard?
Are we at home when we know the obligation of being bound to the land, to our Gods and to our dead?
The Othila rune is about home.
About ancestral home.
About the place of the ancestral bone yard.
About remembering who we are.
About remembering that our dead feed and sustain us as well as feed and sustain the land?
Is it possible that in light of all this there are many more of us who are homeless than we realize because we are not being fed by our dead?
I recently did a reading where both Cweorth and Ear appeared. The question they asked of the young man sitting with me was, what do you need to burn in your life this fall and what do you need to bury?
He gave me permission to post the poem he wrote, after our session.
You may wish to explore this question in your own life as well.
When things have come to an end, no longer serve us, no longer bring us joy or satisfaction, they need to be returned so their energies, their essences, their particles can be reused to bring forth something new. This is neither bad nor good. It just is.
Leaves fall from the tree when they're done.
So don't think you need to burn or bury only those things that you consider negative or bad.
The wisdom is, how to let go of something when it's finished so something new can grow.
Burn or Bury
warmth in the chill
death and the kill
pile it all up
dig deep and toil
some need ignition
some require soil
Winter demands loss
life requires Winter
collect all the crops
Nick Xavier, Freelance Writer, World Traveler 2018
*Photo of burning newspaper by Elijah O'Donnell on Unsplash
We all eventually hang on the barbed arms of Ear and we must all smell death, the dire necessity, the outcome of life, over which we have no choice.
Even those who eat no flesh eventually must come to know that in the end they will be eaten. All things live because of death. Our bodies return to the ground so they can be consumed, broken down into the elements and then be reused to grow the food that feeds all things living.
There is no rank in death. We may be remembered for what we’ve done during our lifetime but in the end we are of no importance other than to feed the earth.
Ear is connected to Othila who reminds us that the land feeds us the bones of our ancestors. Ear is often referred to as the rune of the grave and the grave doesn't give anything back.
It’s the rune of the slow process of breaking down.
It’s the rune of the end result, which is also the beginning.
Ear speaks to us of Hela, she who is cold and objective, she who is often considered unfair and uncompassionate. Her appearance, her very form which is half alive and half rotting flesh, reminds us that she does not hold with any kind of denial around death.
It’s still a common practice in the United States to embalm bodies prior to burial. It's a costly process that uses large quantities of toxic chemicals that eventually leak their way into the ground. Embalming makes the dead body presentable, and odorless and delays the decomposition of the corpse. In some ways it’s a trickery, causing the living to imagine the person is only asleep, thus prolonging the denial of death. This rune may appear to challenge your beliefs and attitudes around the treatment of your physical body once you die.
Does denial of the effects of death cause us to be out of harmony with Ear? Does this denial feed our desire to retard or somehow prevent the natural process of rot and decay?
Are we afraid to look at the natural face of death?
Some things need to be burned.
Some things need to be offered up in high places so the birds of prey can peck and tear and eat.
Some things need to be buried.
Sometimes we lay the body out on the kitchen table so to speak and forget that it's supposed to be buried. Ear will remind us.
When was the last time you dug deep down into the earth, below the topsoil to the place of burial?
What hangs on the barbed arms of Ear?
What have you been forced to offer up to the earth?