Since last writing on the subject of Memento Mori, I’ve had two (minor) brushes with death. Also in that time, two public figures died, two of my friends lost people close to them to cancer, and an acquaintance suddenly and inexplicably dropped dead at a concert. So it seems I’m not through with the subject just yet. But is a witch ever really finished dealing with Death?
If you read the Memento Mori post, you’ll know that I lost a close friend at the beginning of August and was honored to sing at his funeral. August swept in with a veil of Death, and it lingered for the entire month, both metaphorical deaths and literal deaths. That didn’t exactly surprise me…Death tends to set up camp for a season when it visits. (It comes in threes as they say). Interestingly, I later noticed that the day my friend died (which was also the day that I had some proverbial doors-of-opportunity slammed in my face disappointingly), a Saturn-Neptune conjunction in my natal chart hit within 2 degrees, a strong influence. I’m still in that transit, and it comes within 2 degrees again in October, so it looks like I better prepare myself for another round of deeply-held illusions being challenged and unsettling conflicts as I’m stuck between these two worlds. Oh Joy. But Saturn has been wreaking havoc in my chart for a while now, with Pluto and Uranus leaving a path of destruction of their own. In the midst of this transformative astrological climate, my grieving process was interrupted by two close encounters with my own mortality.
I’ll start by describing the second incident because it just happened about two hours ago on the highway. Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic by focusing on how close we came to dying in this fender-bender, because the fact is that no one was hurt and the damage to the car was pretty minimal. But because the resulting adrenaline rush is still pulsing through my veins, keeping me tense, sensitive to loud noises, sudden movements, etc., I’m still painfully aware of just how close we came to becoming a roadside memorial.
My fiancé was driving me to work on the highway when a giant, angry-looking hornet flew in the open window, smacked him in the neck, and bounced off him. The poor stunned creature fell directly down my shirt and was laying between my boobs when it started to come to. Now I had no idea what was going on at this point, but it felt like a bean had been tossed in my bra.
“DON’T MOVE” my fiancé cried and I froze. He reached down to pull the hornet from my shirt and of course, it stung him. He screamed, flinging the insect out the window. This whole encounter lasted just about 5 seconds, but we were traveling 75 mph, and the road curved just enough in that flash of time that we barreled onto the shoulder and off into the grass, running over a mile marker pole that made salad out of his bumper, headlight and side panels, bringing us to a sudden stop. We sat there, stunned, on the side of the road for a while, making sense of what had happened. It was not lost on us that just a few yards ahead of where we stopped, there was a large tree that could have taken us out of this world for good if that hornet had stung him a second or two later or if we had been going just a little faster.
Shamans will tell you that when something traumatic happens to you, a little part of your soul fractures off and stays there in that moment, until you go and retrieve it in some ceremonial fashion (or have a shaman recover it for you). I’ve had my fair share of traumatic events, but nothing has ever made me as acutely aware of the soul-fragmenting phenomenon as the few car accidents I have experienced. You feel jarred from your physical body by the intense forces of velocity and impact. In that moment your body braces for the coming trauma, your soul also recoils, like some subconscious survival mechanism kicks in. After the accident, you become aware that something about you has changed. Physically, your muscles and bones may start to show you the true extent of the damage days after the incident, when the adrenaline wears off and the aches and pains start to manifest. Psychologically, the effect can be PTSD; spiritually, the effect can leave you tied to that moment, unable to move forward until the trauma is dealt with. I’m fairly confident that I left some sort of spiritual imprint of that moment on the side of the road outside Spring Hill. I can feel it in my bones.
Now maybe its one of my faults that I don’t believe in coincidences, but I tend to find a lesson in everything and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, even if I am scraping together a meaning out of random happenstance sometimes. But this event had some clear lessons in it. For my fiancé, the lessons were of a practical nature: firstly, maybe its time to spring for more than just liability insurance now that you have a decent, reliable vehicle and secondly, never, ever…. EVER… take your eyes off the road at top speeds on the highway, even if your two favorite body parts on your girlfriend are at risk of getting stung by an angry beastie. Boobs are great and all. Its still not worth our lives, or the lives of the others on the road.
For me, the lessons of this accident were of a more esoteric nature. There are the spiritual messages of Hornet to be considered. This was a close call with a powerful animal energy involved. I think that animal messages are very personal and can’t always be defined through a uniform list of attributes, so I intend to spend some time studying and meditating on why Hornet came to visit in such a dramatic fashion. My first thoughts note the coincidence that an insect often associated with the heart chakra came to rest on my chest, directly over my heart (nearly giving my fiancé a heart-attack as a result). Hornet seems to be an energy that always brings a wake up call so maybe there is something that my heart is trying to tell me and I haven’t been listening.
The other lesson that really sticks out to me is the one that I alluded to before. It had been a long time since I’d had an experience that so tangibly reminded me that “soul-splintering” is a thing. Any spiritworker should be doing “regular maintenance” as a part of their soul growth and sometimes that requires you to revisit the traumas and losses you’ve experienced and call back the missing pieces. This is something that I used to do regularly, and it helped me overcome some major phobias and spiritual traumas, but I hate to admit that I haven’t kept up with it. Today’s accident reminded me of the importance of these practices and made me aware of several recent incidents in my life that require this sort of shamanic attention. (If you are interested in learning more about soul recovery, or looking for a great guided meditation that walks you through the process, I’ll leave some resources at the end of this post).
One of those incidents with spiritual implications that I may still need to deal with is the other “brush with death” that I mentioned in the introduction of this post. You see, today was the first day that I was out and about and back to work after being bed-ridden for the last half of August. The culprit was again a tiny thing, a little smaller than the hornet that flew into my life, but despite their diminutive size, both of these tiny grievances ended up threatening my life. I had a badly impacted wisdom tooth that caused a small crack in the molar next to it. You know how they always warn you that the worst case scenario is that food particles will get up into those cracks and cause an abscess that will infect your blood system, spread to your vital organs and kill you dead? Well, that’s very nearly what happened. A few weeks ago, I went home from work with a high fever and a bad headache. My throat was sore, nose was running and my nodes were swollen. Just a cold, I thought. But the fever kept getting worse. I had lost my voice and developed a deep cough. I was getting terrible headaches everyday and nothing seemed to help.
The dentist tells me that if I had ignored the problem any longer, I likely would have gone into septic shock. The infection had already spread deep into my sinuses and down into my respiratory system and could’ve easily spread to my brain. I’m the sorta girl that doesn’t go to the doctor unless parts of my body are literally falling off (not because I want to be, but because I don’t have insurance and live paycheck to paycheck…that’s a political rant fit for a post of its own, of course). Fortunately for me, that’s literally what happened. I bit down into a crunchy French fry and the infected molar broke in half. I tasted the infection draining into my mouth. It was disgusting. It tasted like death and rot and decay…because well…that’s exactly what it was. I pulled out the broken part of the tooth which had blackened. In that moment I realized, this is not just a cold…
By the time I finally got to the dentist, my face had swelled up and my voice was completely gone. The fever had gone down a bit though, likely due to the drainage. The dentist scolded me and put me on a ten-day course of heavy antibiotics.
Thanks to modern dentistry and antibiotics, death by tooth is pretty rare these days, but it does happen. When they first started keeping Cause of Death records in London hundreds of years ago, tooth abscesses were the 5th leading cause of death according to doctors of the time. If I had been born before everybody’s favorite Scottish Nobel Prize-winning doctor/knight Sir Alexander Fleming had accidentally stumbled upon penicillin, its pretty safe to say that this tooth would have made me the main course on the menu at the Wormfood Cafe. And while it’s rare, it does still happen today. A study from 2013 found that between 2000 and 2008, more than 61,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. for periapical abscesses, and of those cases, 66 patients died.
This past Monday, the rest of the offending tooth was pulled, along with the wisdom tooth next to it. Between the infection, the antibiotics, the pain pills and the liquid diet, my whole body was put through the ringer. I spent much of my bedrest time in a depressive state, exhausted and anxious about the procedure, distracting myself with Golden Girls binging and catching up on podcasts and sleep. But sleep was no relief. I had terrible nightmares and sleep paralysis. I was isolated and fearful. I was angry that my plans and goals for August had been derailed. I reverted to bad behavior like nervously picking at my skin and facebook stalking my exes (ya, we all do it, but I like to think I’m passed that). It was a dark time.
The last time I had dental work of this nature was a similarly dark time in my life, right around my Saturn return (Ya…him again). I was still married to my ex, certain in my gut that he was cheating (he was), but I had no way of proving it at the time. I felt stuck in a loveless marriage, stuck in a faith-based job in a religion that no longer matched my beliefs and values. Stuck in a lease for an apartment I wouldn’t be able to afford if my husband left. Stuck in a mindset that allowed for phobias to control my life and for anxiety to call all the shots. I isolated myself back then, never letting anyone too close, afraid that I might spill too much truth to the right person at the wrong time. It was in that depressive spiral that one of my wisdom teeth abscessed badly, causing me the worst pain I’d ever felt in my life up until that point. I suffered from an intense phobia of dentists in those days that was all wrapped up in shame and trauma from my childhood. I almost wanted to just let myself die from the infection rather than face my fears and get the damned tooth out.
But I didn’t do that. Instead I started doing guided hypnosis for phobias, finding them on YouTube. Out of that, I started to practice meditation. I found a dentist who specialized in patients with severe phobias and she was amazingly gentle and understanding with me. On the day of the procedure, I took a valium, went into the office without having a panic attack, and put myself into a meditative trance as soon as I got into the chair. I remember when I felt the pop of the tooth releasing from its socket, I started laughing. It had been so easy. All that anxiety and fear and stress and tension that I had been building up about that moment and it was all over with a painless little pop. I left the office that day feeling almost euphoric. I made up my mind in that instant that I would not let fear control my life anymore. And I didn’t.
Out of that rot and decay of an infected wisdom tooth grew a beautiful courage. I made it a point to start facing my fears intentionally and with abandon. It was because of that procedure that I had started to experiment with trance states and meditation, which eventually led me down the path to my occult studies and more and more psychological breakthroughs. Released from the fear of “what ifs,” I began to study witchcraft, shamanism, alchemy and the Rosicrucian orders. I found myself in those ancient practices. One of my first spells was to reveal the truth about my husband’s infidelities and shortly after, the clear evidence I needed was gifted to me by the universe. As my confidence increased, things began to fall into place for me to find the independence that I needed. I learned about True Will. I learned about my higher Self. I began to confront my Shadow. And I called back the pieces of my Soul that had been missing for years. My freedom was hardfought, and it was mine. No one could take it from me again.
This personal history was on my mind as I was recovering from the procedure this past week. The double tooth extraction had been much harder that the previous wisdom tooth extraction. There was no sense of euphoria after this procedure. Just a general malaise, and an impatience to get back to my life goals and my priorities, maybe some dissatisfaction with how slowly things have been moving forward lately. I’ve felt for months that I was on the final leg of a marathon, seeing the finish line just off the horizon, but it feels like it keeps getting more distant the longer I run. I forgot that sometimes, rest is a priority too. Sometimes, things have to die before new things can grow in their place.
While I was on bed rest, two of my friends lost close loved ones, both of them under sudden and tragic cicrumstances. I didn’t really get to be there for them, but I was in the astral plane. I mourned with my country over the loss of John McCain, and I cried big, sloppy tears watching Aretha Franklin singing “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. I got a little too caught up in political discussions from my bed/tomb and that’s a dark rabbit hole to find yourself slipping down these days. But everytime I felt myself slipping into the abyss, I remembered to slow down and enjoy the rest. Embrace the rest. I slept like I was in an ancient crypt a hundred feet under ground. No appointments, no assignments, no to-do lists.
I woke up this morning feeling refreshed. I took the last of my antibiotics. It was time to get back to work. I washed my hair, plucked my brows and put on my sexiest red lipstick. My fiancé and I went and had a big breakfast (the first meal of solid food that I’ve had in weeks) and afterwards we went and strolled around the graveyard at a convent by his house, taking pictures of the Saints and monuments. We were happy…joyful and optismistic, talking about his new job and what it will be like to be married soon. So happy and in love on the drive back to town to take me to work. And then a hornet decided to run us off the road….
Message received, Universe. It only took two close calls that ended up being not much more than a couple of inconveniences, but both of them made me stop and think, “Wow, that could’ve been it for me if things had been just a little different.” Both events reminded me how fragile my physical life is, and how important it is to take care of my health. More importantly, both events made me think deeply about my soul’s health. In a season where Death has made itself so close and tangible to me, I’ve had to readjust my perception to include a reality where any moment could be my last breath. In a society where the visceral realities of death and decomposition are so much more removed from our daily lives than it was for our ancestors, its an easy thing to forget. That’s what memento mori is all about. Remember that you are meat and bone. Remember that someday you will rot. Remember that you are dust.
Seeds of hope have been planted where there was once rotting flesh. I have so much to look forward to in the coming months. But before I go running headfirst into the newness of life, I better stop and make sure that I’m taking my entire Self with me. There are wounds that need tending. Splinters to gather up and incorporate back into the Whole. I find myself wishing that I had asked the dentist to let me take the damaged, extracted teeth so I could bury them with some sort of ceremony to honor their years of service and the lesson they gave me through pain. But just because I don’t have the actual teeth doesn’t mean I can’t still say goodbye and tie up loose ends in the spiritual and physical realms, honoring what has been and what has passed. Because each time I practice this, I see a little clearer, I grow a little wiser and I feel a little stronger. The stronger I am in my Whole Self, standing in True Will, the better I can light the path to help others find their wholeness.
And that’s why I’m here.
Further reading on Soul Recovery
Finding our Abandoned Soul , Dakota Walker, Gaia Wisdom School, $4.95
Soul Recovery, Dakota Walker, Gaia Wisdom School, $4.95
Ursuline Academy Grounds, Paola, KS- Rose Carpenter (C)2018