Death is on my mind today. Long-time readers of this blog will, of course, recognize that this isn’t really unusual, since I think a lot about mortality and our treatment of the dead. And certainly with an unusually awful early hurricane season combined with seismic activity in Mexico, I’m thinking about, and praying about, the dead and their survivors in Chiapas, in Mexico City, in Texas and Puerto Rico and Barbuda and beyond. But today I’m thinking specifically about Earrach of Pittsburgh, whose funeral is this afternoon.
Earrach was the founder of Pittsburgh’s Sassafras Grove (in 1992!) and the author of The Book of Sassafras. He was, I would say, a devotee of the sun; he was constantly gently chiding us ADF folk and pagans generally for neglecting the sun in our zeal for the moon. When we center ourselves ritually, we often speak of seeing in our vision-eye that singular star that shines for us, sending its light down to us through space. Now I never hear that idea expressed without also hearing his voice asking “Why not the SUN?”
I only met Earrach once, during a practical workshop on using the sun, our shared personal star, to ignite sacred fires (which I dare say he meant both literally and metaphorically) at Summerland in 2016. And yet I feel a certain connection and responsibility to his memory, because of the timing of the announcement of his death. Back in late August, the bards of Three Cranes Grove got together to do a livestreamed concert, and Earrach’s death was announced in the middle of our set. We shuffled a couple songs around and did a mini-set of Ancestors’ songs; I was deeply honored to play, for just the second time in public, “Seafoam and Rosemary,” which I’ll embed here (coded to start at the song, but if your platform doesn’t support timestamping, it begins at about 1:02:07).
I mentioned in the lead-in to that song that I composed it following the death of a friend and fellow singer, and I wanted to take the opportunity, here, to share more details about the vision underlying its composition. These are, with some light editing, my notes from the night I learned of his death:
Alex R. died, and we found out at rehearsal. That evening, I visited Manannán on his seashore. He touched my cheek tenderly, paternally. I told him who Alex was/is, and that I was sad at his death.
Manannán said, “come, get in the boat.” We rowed out to sea, and there netted out souls who had fallen beneath the rivers of life and washed to the sea. It was like something from a piece of medieval marginalia.
I asked Manannán if we were netting for Alex’s soul, and he laughed and said that this was all just fanciful imagery, not real at all.
I said that, still, I would appreciate Manannán’s aid in guiding Alex’s soul. Manannán turned very serious and nodded. I told him, “I bring whiskey, gift of earth distilled by fire. And I bring salt, both for your seas and for the tears we cry.”
Manannán asked, “would you like to sing the song?” And I did, singing “To the sea” as the seagod rowed into the starlight. I drifted out of vision as I tend to, and took photos of the candle and cup. I then wrote a prayer for Facebook:
Friend and fellow, now you depart. May our love and prayers shine as beacons for your journey; may you travel swiftly through the darkness of the dying and find your peace and comfort in the Otherworld.
And when you have reached that other land, then shine your light through the veil, illuminating our steps; help us pass from the dark of loss into the light of your happy memory.
Safe travels, Alex.
And safe travels, Earrach. May we hold you and your memory in our hearts, and may the sun shine on you brightly and warmly in the Land Beyond the Veil.
Header image: “Sunbeam” by John Flanagan/Flickr. CC BY.