My New Book

It is small. It took me over a year. But it is done!

Grave Spirits contains a collection of my writing (some published some not) pertaining to death, ancestors, death rites, voodoo and more!

It also contains a bunch of my photography of various cemeteries that I have visited over the years.

If anything! I hope this book makes you a death positive person!

You can purchase it here!

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Death Denial

bc7df36ec1efdcedd1bae56db709ecf8One major flaw with humans is our ability to deny just about anything. Even when it’s right in front of our faces. Especially death.

After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic– no one ever discussed it. If it was discussed, it was in a passing comment or a three-sentence paragraph.

Same thing for the 1831 cholera pandemic in England and beyond. After more than 52,000 lives were claimed to cholera- it was never discussed or mentioned.

Oh yes, and the Black Death? The bubonic plague that decimated Europe for three years; again, rarely discussed.

The 1918 flu is never mentioned in textbooks when World War I is discussed; even though it killed more than the actual war itself.

Is it our fear of death that prevents us from actually acknowledging its existence? Even when its everywhere? Are we so afraid to acknowledge our own mortality?

I understand the trauma of seeing people dying every day. Seeing coffins stacked up. Mass graves being dug. But after it’s over…..

I recently had a patient who lost her grandmother. She was a wreck when she came into the office.  I offered my condolences and some advice on keeping healthy during a time of intense grief (I have experienced it way too many times). The following week she came back in, and while she looked tired, she didn’t seem like someone who just lost someone. I asked her the obvious question: How are you doing?

Her response was basically, “I am working two jobs and going to meetings so I can’t think about it.”

I jumped right away into healer mode. I explained to her how bad it was not to acknowledge the death of her grandmother, but also her own grief. Keeping in grief will only cause more damage in the future than actually dealing with it when its there. When I worked in hospice I saw it all the time. Family members not dealing with the reality that their loved one is dying. When death came they would just brush it off. The “we knew it was coming,” quote I heard a thousand times.

What about death is so frightening that when it’s right there we ignore it? Never discuss it. Never want to deal with it. Even those with strong religious and spiritual lives deny the obvious.

We are all dying.

Accepting our own mortality, even in the face of death itself, can not only empower us with the ability to live our lives to the fullest but also give us the strength we need when our loved ones pass away. We are not as fragile as we think we are. Pretending that death will not happen–or, that death happened on a large scale– is only denying our ability to recognize our own mortality.

And as for those who passed away- how horrible is it to just forget them? Forget what happened? Forget how they died? Never discussing it again. Don’t they deserve respect? I was so happy when I hear that the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia was holding a mournful march to honor those who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Finally acknowledging not only the victims but also death itself.

Until we can stop denying the obvious- we are never going to truly live.

 

Life. Death. Love.

“Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” – Walt Whitman

It is always hard for me to wrap my mind around why people are so afraid of getting old and afraid of death. After all, it’s going to happen to all of us. I can appreciate the wanting to live a good long life- free of disease. But why try to slow down the aging processimages? Why not accept the inevitable— and actually use it to create a well-lived life?

We started to die the day we were born.

When people first meet me, their initial thoughts are usually that I am a dark and mysterious girl with a morbid fascination. After all,  I make jewelry with vertebrae (human and animal). I paint animal skulls. I post images of death in all its forms. My home is decorated with all things death-related– skulls, skeletons, bones. My life is dedicated to the dead.

I have been fascinated with death since childhood. Being born on November 1st, it’s hard not to fall in love with images of death! My birthdays were always filled with bits and pieces of Halloween and All Souls Day. My work with dead goes back as far as I can remember-even within the realm of imaginary friends in childhood.

As I grew older, I began to realize that my life was destined to be entwined between the realms of the living and the dead.

Am I obsessed with death? No.

Do I venerate death? Yes.

I have never been afraid of the concept of death. I understand why most people are. It’s frightening to think about the unknown


I find death comforting. We are all going to end up there. Death is also the one thing in life that does not discriminate; Death does not care if you are rich, poor, what race you are, where you are from, who your family is, what religion you practice, who you pray to. Death is a bit of coming home after a long journey. For me, death is like a waiting lover. Open arms and ready to dance. Morbid? Not really.

My relationship with death has made me love life because Death is humbling. 

When I work with bones–I find it an honor. To hold something so sacred that ones supported the weight of a living thing is a blessing. When I work on a piece, whether painting on a skull or entwining vertebrae into jewelry, I think of what animal once owned those bones. What type of energy that animal had. Where it lived, what it did. I reflect on the essence of the being.

When I work on human bones- its an even greater honor. I think of the person, who they may have been, what they may have done. When I hold a human bone in my hand, I think of my ancestors– of all our ancestors– those who have walked this earth thousands of years before now. Its a sacred honor to me to hold those human bones in my hand.

Imagine if someone told you you had three days to live. Would you really live? Would you break the rules? Would you take risks? Would you be a kinder person?

This is why I love death. It made me learn to live my life with no regrets. I always reflect on the choices

I made, chances I took…things I have said– and I regret nothing.  I am getting older, I am learning that time goes by fast. Age is inevitable. But I have every intention of living my life my way.

In honoring and understanding death- I have learned to appreciate life. Death has humbled me beyond words. Working with and having human bones in my life is one of the greatest honors I could ever have. The dead remind me to live. REALLY live.


So yes, maybe in some strange way- I am obsessed with Death. But its an obsession of absolution. I know that someday I will be like those bones….that will be all that is left of me on this earthly realm. I have no fear of that.

 

The Blank Slate

I don’t like the saying “where ever you go there you are” — and I have said that before. It infers that if you go somewhere to get away or start over–you will always have your old baggage.

I can tell you, that’s total bullshit. I lived in Boston for 32 years and we were planning on moving out of the city when we could. We were not sure exactly where we were going to go, but after much debating and back and forth we decided Arizona. Flagstaff to be exact. I was NOT happy in Boston. It was to dense, to over populated, to noisy. I didn’t like the false sense of community or the “yuppy hippies” that were permeating the area with their fake idea of what it means to be free-spirited. It was suffocating. I was tired, restless and began to have a lot of health issues. Yes, I had baggage! Divorce, people who I thought were my friends who weren’t, a dead-end job that initially had the promise of growth.

So we moved. And you know what? None of that baggage went with me. It stayed put in Boston. I came to Flagstaff a complete blank slate.

And not only did I leave my baggage in Boston, but I left what I thought was “identity” there as well. For over 10 years I was “Zehara The Belly Dancer” — For 10 years I taught, performed, traveled across New England and hosted and organized more shows than I can remember. Zehara The Belly Dancer was who I was….or at least thought I was. I was initially given the name Zehara when I was initiated into the Temple of the Seekers, a Ceremonial Magick coven I had been involved in for 8 years. I was Zehara the Priestess LONG before Zehara the Belly Dancer. And Zehara the Priestess and Melissa (my given name) were always one in the same. But the belly dancer persona became my identity. She was who I was. My alter ego who was not shy, bossy, could take on the world, and had no fear. And when I started sprouting branches that went beyond the scope of belly dance, I found it increasingly more difficult to find that balance between Zehara the Belly Dancer and Melissa/Zehara. It became even harder when I started wellness practice. While I understood that I was outgrowing  my dance persona I just could not fully let her go. She was me. For ten years I created this person-This tantalizing, sexy, Snake Charmer. She consumed me. And whenever I thought I was ready to let her go—I would get a pit in my stomach and say “not yet.”

Then I arrived in Flagstaff. And one of the first things I struggled with was the Zehara The Belly  Dancer and being in a new place–where no one knew her or her accomplishments. She was just a new dancer in town. And I freaked out!!!!

OMG! NO ONE KNOWS ZEHARA!
I finally secured my first performance…..and….then…..

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I realized that Zehara the Belly Dancer was gone. During the performance, I felt nothing. Zehara The Belly Dancer became a shell and Melissa/Zehara was emerging. It was a strange feeling.

When I got home, and washed away the glitter and changed into my pj’s….I said out loud, “I cant do this anymore.” It felt amazing. Slowly but surely I began to sell my dance wears—-and I felt no second thoughts, no regrets, no sadness. She had a good run. But now its time for her to go. I was finally being able to just be……..me……Melissa with my magickal name Zehara for my magickal work. I was no longer the belly dancer or snake charmer. I was just me.

Then I made the biggest and most difficult decision I have ever made in the 10 years I had been dancing and in the 15 years that I had them. I rehomed all my snakes. It was painful. I cried for about three days. But, while they were more than dance partners, I just couldn’t devote the time anymore. And also, after  my friend and dance partner Kaala died, the desire to snake dance died with her. She was special. She and I had a connection that I never had again with any of my other snakes. I was very fortunate to find an amazing woman in Flagstaff who has a reptile sanctuary They are all living happily in retirement. It was a decision I did not make lightly, but it was the right thing to do.

Finally letting Zehara the Belly Dancer go was an amazing feeling. She did a lot of amazing things! But now its time for me to be me again.

And with that, I became a blank slate. Creating a new destiny for myself. Creating a new chapter in my life (or maybe an entirely new book!).

I am focusing on my Reiki practice, branching out into animal reiki as well! And I am focusing on starting my own Coven in which pagans of the community can come together and celebrate the God, Goddess and Earth energy together.

I feel so blessed. So light. So happy.

The Dark Side of the Moon: When the Light Fades

There is always a light and dark side to everything in life. And for those of us with depression, the dark side tends to be the most prominent. I have battled depression most of my life, with an attempted suicide at age 14 followed by panic attacks later in life and then several shrinks. I finally found a therapist I liked and from 2009-2013 I saw her and a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner during the darkest hours. I am very open about having clinical depression because I have to be the voice for the thousands out there afraid to talk about because they are afraid of being judged. In 2014 I was doing great—so great my social worker decided that she only needed to see me on as needed basis and my NP tapered my meds. I was feeling on top of the world.

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Then, I recently, and abruptly had a life change. Within two weeks, my boyfriend and I were packed up and heading to Arizona. There we were on a Saturday night enjoying some wine and sake listening to some old school tunes in an apartment I lived in for 15 years to suddenly packing boxes on Sunday, renting a U-Haul and driving 2300 miles away from the only place I had called home. It happened so fast I had no time to comprehend what the hell just happened. The whole cliché of having the carpet pulled out from under you—is serious shit.

Here we are in Arizona and the adjustment has been difficult. We went from a major city to a new town. We know no one. Have np physical support system here and are basically fending for ourselves. I have to find a job pronto to make sure we can pay rent which means finding meaningless work to pay the bills.

And what happens but that the dark side appears. I woke up one day in tears. I was crying to the point where I couldn’t stop. My depression had returned. YES—the move was the TRIGGER—but not the reason.

People who don’t have depression don’t understand what it’s like. Imagine that you are just moving along a bright sunny day when suddenly someone throws a pitch black can’t see shit bag over your face and never ever takes it off. It’s like that. A dark cloud that just doesn’t go away. And thoughts-bad thoughts come in your mind. And YOU CAN’T HELP IT. It’s just there.

I have had so many people tell me it’s the move. To give it time. To find joy in the things around me. Believe me…I am trying. We have gone to canyons, creeks, walked, enjoyed the beauty of the place—but my lack of happiness isn’t with where I live…it’s chemically going on in my brain.

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I think that’s hardest thing about depression–people think it’s an external thing that can be “fixed”–when it’s a chemical thing that can’t be fixed just “adjusted”….and I appreciate everyone’s helping…. but depression can’t be fixed with a walk or giving my move time…if it were…I would be walking all day every day and loving every bit of Flagstaff. It’s hard for people who don’t have a clinical diagnosis to understand that depression is not always due to outside circumstances. I appreciate everyone’s kindness and offerings of advice during times like this, but want I everyone to understand that it’s not going to “fix” what’s happening inside my head. I can’t just flip a switch and “be happy”—nor can I flip a switch and decide that all the chemical mishaps in my brain will fix themselves.

Being supportive is awesome. Being able to just be there—and listen—is even more awesome.

The “M” Word

I am an intuitive empath—-and a sensitive…

No I am not “sensitive” in the sense that I take things personally. I use the word sensitive instead of the word “medium.”

There is a lot of misconceptions around mediums and I don’t like using the word. And its a part of my job that I do not participate in.

Why? I have a gift to communicate with the dead? I always have. Since I was a teenager, when I was really able to “tap” into the other side, I was always able to communicate with people who crossed over. And I was always able to prove it. Like when a an who died in Salem in the 1600’s came to me (and my family members in attendance). Not only did we later find his stone in Salem, MA….but we also discovered his death records in the library archive and were able to prove that he did, in fact, communicate. He is now one of my spirit guides (yes Nathaniel that is for you!)–or he always was but wanted to prove to me he existed!

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Later,  I developed a gift for automatic writing. Where you allow a spirit to enter you and communicate through writing. I did of course–“dabble”— with the Quija board–which I do not recommend–EVER..After several scary incidents,including one in which a spirit or spirits managed to knock a bird cage over, knocked candles on the ground and the bird died the next day..all witnessed by others…..my 1965 Quija board is now locked away  But, with a ll that said, I could always tell when someone wanted to communicate. My mother, grandmother and aunts all have the ability. Dreams, feelings. They all know when someone from the other side wants to talk.

When I was 17, my cousin and my mother were in one room using the Quija board, while I was in the other doing automatic writing. Something did not feel right–at all. The spirit was writing a mile a minute and I felt like he was grabbing my arm so damn hard it took all I could to make him get out….At the same time, he was communicating via the board and my cousin pulled back and said enough. We both got the same message from the same spirit. He died violently and was PISSED. That was when I decided to not ever do that kind of work again.

But as a sensitive, you don’t just “stop” ~ spirits come to you in dreams, in the middle of the day, before they cross over…I see and feel them–and occasionally hear them. Orbs appear in my home on a frequent basis. I feel energy shifts around people who have lost someone. I stay clear away from funerals. While I have been able to hone my ability better—and tell them to leave me alone–there are always those that like to know I “see” them.

In 2005 when a friend died, I saw and communicated with her…and I told her mother. Her mother’s response was “why you and not me.” And that broke my heart.

I dont know why. Things just happen. When a friend commited suicide, I communicated with him..but who could I tell? No one. I let it be.

When I do reiki sessions on clients, relatives will show up. Friends show up. But II tell them I can not pass on messages for them. Its not that I don’t want to give the client the message–to let them know their loved one is ok. Sometimes, I will just say “does so and so mean anything to you,” and leave it at that.

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Its because being a sensitive brings on  A LOT more responsibility — you are now the “medium” between the living and the dead. And it breaks my heart when I see grieving person who desperately wants to hear those words form their loved one who or wants to see what I see but cant.  Some see that as blessing. I know, without a doubt, this world is not the end all….Being a shaman — a “walker between worlds” I know this. I knew that before I could journey or astral travel.

Its a part of my job I do not allow myself to actively participate in. When the dead come through, I tell them, nicely, to go away.

And sometimes its painful for me to do so because I feel that it is part of my duty–but I cant bear to see more heart break on those who have lost someone.

Rather, I empower them. Speak to your loved one. They hear you. They see you. They feel you. You don’t need people like me to tell you they love you and care. Nor do you need people like me to be the “m word” — you have the ability to have that direct contact. It just takes and open heart and the ability to listen.

I use my intuition for other things…..the spirits are welcome, they just have their boundaries.

Instantaneous Spiritual Awakenings…..

~*Out of respect for those who have positive experiences or believe in the power of ayahuasca, I am omitting names of both people, groups and shamans from this post. Everyone has their opinion and this is solely mine. I know many people who have had life changing experiences and I respect and honor that.*~

Last year, while I was deep in depression and anxiety issues, I started hearing more and more about the magical plant “ayahuasca.” For those unfamiliar with it, I will sum it up this way: It’s a plant from the nightshade family and contains DMT. Done in small doses by a genuine Shaman, ayahuasca is meant to bring a profound and cathartic spiritual awakening. To quote someone who had taken the trip to Peru to try magical plant “its like psychotherapy on steroids.”

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I really needed something to shake me out of the funk that I was in. Drowning in depression, I began to learn more and more about this magical herb, which, if taken correctly is non-addictive (though illegal in the US). I am a deeply spiritual person, and felt that part of my depression was caused by a lack of spiritual communion. I went from daily routine to nothing. At the time, it felt though someone had taken my soul and left a void. I began to meet more and more people who had taken the ayahuasca journey with great success. I thought about it, sought out retreats (most of which are in the middle of Peru) and started making plans to go on a journey and take this magical plant.

After a few months, I began to notice more and more stories and retreats popping up. I know the idea that when you are aware of something you see it more, so initially I thought that was it. But the more people I met in the spirituality community the more I learned that ayahuasca was and is, becoming a new fad for the Westerners. Primarily because most Westerners think by traveling into the jungles of Peru and drinking a concoction of magical herbs and plants, they will receive instantaneous spiritual awakenings.

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When things become a “fad” its more than likely going to start turning into something that is not what its original intentions were. And that is what I began to see happening. More and more people taking ayahuasca…more and more “shamans” available. When I initially looked into retreats, there were maybe 2 or 3–now there are a dozen. Who is to say that the people you are working with are “genuine” ~ Additionally, there are very small groups who perform ayahuasca rituals in the U.S. – and to become part of the group you need to know someone who knows someone. A completely underground world.

The other thing I had begun to notice were those who were painting or drawing the ayahuasca visions–were all drawing nearly the same exact imagery. If there is supposed to be a personal spiritual experience during the hallucinations-why were all these people creating the same imagery. Additionally, some of the people were already using recreational drugs, so ayahuasca was just another “spirit journey” for them. And some of these people still had pent-up residual psycho-social issues. So their contrary words of the power of ayahuasca had really not changed them, aside from taking them on a trip.

Now, I am not saying that this occurs all the time. I know many people who are in a good state of mind and have had magical and transformative experiences with the drug. And I am also not saying that specific drugs, like peyote, under the guidance of a genuine shaman (one who has spent years studying plants) can not bring about a spiritual experience. I do believe in the proper hands, specific hallucinogens and ritual can create a deeply moving experience.

However, my thoughts are this. I believe most Westerners are looking for instantaneous spiritual awakenings. We live in a world where it is a get in now mentality. You can download music rather than go to store, order items on-line and have them the next day. There is no waiting or working. So rather than spend the years that are involved in spiritual atunement, they turn to a “quick” method of spiritual awakening. I have been working on my spiritual path for 20 years. And I am still learning. Spending thousands of dollars to spend time in a jungle to drink something – or finding an underground group who participates in ayahuasca circles, is not going to bring a lasting spiritual experience.

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A spiritual awakening is something you continually have to work on and maintain. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen by smoking or drinking a hallucinogenic. Sure these may “open your mind,” but you get the same effect from deep meditation and relaxation techniques. Or via ecstatic dance and drumming. I believe the people who do have the instant spiritual awakenings are those who have had near death experiences. Only because they have been to the other side and back. They have a new perspective on life.

If you want to become more spiritual you have to spend years working on it. You have to find your ebb and flow. You have to awaken your souls journey and take the long and arduous steps to get there.

There is no such thing as an instantaneous spiritual awakening,