Having a birthday at the equinox has always brought some bonuses, most of them good, all of them interesting. This year we have a big full moon at the end of the week for an extra kick. But since the passing of so many of my family members in the last few years, I have had a lot of contemplation on the Afterworld that I would like to share.
I am calling it the Afterworld rather than the Afterlife, because I am very much of the belief that the “life” goes on, just in a different form – in the “other room” so to speak. I say that about my late husband Filip a lot. He’s just “in the other room.” I think I shall call it the After Room.
On the morning of the 22nd, I awoke to the most overwhelming scent of paperwhite narcissus. If you are a flower fan, you know the beautiful lily-like spice of the paperwhite. It is a herald of spring, but it was also the flower that my mother gave to me or planted for me on my birthday. “Hi mom! Thanks for the birthday wishes!” My mother passed in 2017, but she makes herself known in such ways. In fact, she is around more frequently lately than ever, and I am hugely comforted by just knowing she is in the After Room. I am not surprised, because I know she watches over her great-granddaughters from her seat there, as does my father.
For the remainder of the day, I “heard” from various members of my family. My brother Kevin was always the first person I heard from on my birthday. He called me every year first thing in the morning until his passing in 2019. I miss him a lot, but he did something to let us know he was here, too. My youngest son Shane was with me and we are both still laughing about it.
Last night I had a very intense dream concerning a number of people from my past, when I was in my early twenties, who are now in the After Room. We were in Australia (where I have many wonderful friends, although I have never been) and there was a kind of reunion. We were all staying in this big house for a week, just hanging out and making coffee and talking. One of my childhood besties, Della, was traveling with me (she passed in 2015) and another person who I once loved (in spite of the fact that he was, shall we say, highly problematic) was there, too. It wasn’t until I was on my way to the airport to return to the States that I realized that both of them had passed years ago, and that there was no way I could have just been in a house with them. I sat on the tarmac and contemplated all of this as I watched the planes take off. Metaphors abound.
When I awoke, I considered all the elements of it. What mattered in the dream was that everyone in the dream was happy, safe, and free of worries. My takeaway is that they are all well in their Afterworlds, and I really needed to know that about them. Della was an angel, so I have no doubt that she is all good wherever she is. But the Problematic Guy was not. He did some truly terrible things in his life, which led to an awful death. But in the dream he was untainted by the things that had tormented him in life, and the actions he had taken as a result. He was free of all those demons, and able to start over in a new land. Knowing that he is in an After Room where he is transformed is, for me, confirmation of something I have always believed: we are all going to a good place.
This could turn into an entire book of what I believe about the Afterworld, and perhaps it will become just that eventually. My recent time in Egypt has me thinking about it a lot because no other culture in history has celebrated the journey to the Afterworld with as much ceremony as the Egyptians. But I wanted to close this particular musing with something that Filip said to me in his last 72 hours here on earth.
Filip told me he was happy to go in to the Afterworld, that his room was filled with golden light which was the portal he was moving through, and that he could feel the euphoria and ‘lightness of being’ in that place. He was not only ready to leave this world, he was excited. He kept telling me how wonderful it was ‘over there’. There were moments, particularly in the last hours, where I caught glimpses of it – of the golden light, of the sense of movement between worlds. I could not feel the euphoria, of course, because my own grief was too heavy and consuming – although since then he has done his best to show it to me over the years. Filip also indicated the presence of Archangel Michael in the light to help him find his way to his new destination. That was something which would have great meaning for me in the coming years. I have since heard several other people talk about the golden light and the sense of peace, if not euphoria, as they were preparing to transition, in almost identical terms.
Filip also told me this very important thing: He had to leave because there was so much work to be done to fix our broken world, that he would be of far greater help to me (and others) from the AfterRoom. He assured me that he would always be there helping and that I would just have to find ways to work with him and understand that. And I absolutely have. I believe that many of the losses we have sustained in our lives these past years are loved ones who are working with us, just on the other side of the wall.
I hope that some will be comforted by these ideas and experiences. I know that I have been. Here’s to our loved ones in the next room. I appreciate all of their hard work.
A few years ago, I knew I wanted to write something meaningful about Good Friday. I have always taken issue with the name of the day. “What’s so good about a day when something so truly violent and terrible occurred? Surely this day was an example of the worst of what humanity can be?” And whereas I am well aware of what traditional teachings tell us – that it’s a “good” day because Jesus sacrificed himself for us – that didn’t work for me. But what could I say about Good Friday that I have not already said? I wrote over 400 pages in The Expected One to make my point about Good Friday. Was there anything left for me to say?
I awoke on that Friday
morning filled with trepidation, a sense of fear deep in the pit of my stomach.
It took a few minutes to realize the fear was not mine, it was not today’s
fear, it was not of this time or this place or this person. It was the
fear and trepidation of almost 2000 years ago, of another time when it all went
terribly wrong. When the players were ill prepared for the plot twist
that was thrown to them. And in meditating more upon that concept, I knew
what I wanted to write.
Since The Expected One was first released – in 2006, could it really be that long ago? – I have received countless messages in all formats about how that book and its re-telling of the Passion story has impacted my readers. I often receive those messages at this time of year, and it is absolutely the greatest of Easter gifts. Usually they are of the theme that The Expected One and its story of Jesus (“Easa”) and Magdalene brought the reader back to a version of Christianity she/he could embrace – usually after a long absence due to disillusionment with traditional religious dogma. I cherish those message, and all the others, above any other motivation I have to write. They are my reason for being.
But back to the
trepidation. Within the thousands of letters, emails, messages that come
from almost thirteen years in 50 languages and 100 countries, I have also
received thousands from those who were moved by this version of the story
because it came alive for them. Many have told me that they feel like
they were there in that place and time, others feel that they are connecting to
the archetypes or have a deep soul connection to the events.
The story of the last
week of Jesus’ life is etched so indelibly upon our human psyche that many of
us experience it in a deeply visceral way. For some, it is intensely
personal, a “I know I was there somehow” feeling; for others it is a
powerful expression of their faith, the day that changed the world.
None of this is revelatory. It’s not news that Good Friday is a powerful, emotional, energetically challenging day for many of us. There are two billion people in the world on that day who are focused on the unjust and terrible death of one of humanity’s greatest teachers, at the very least. That amount of energy alone would cause any empath to feel emotional, tired, challenged or worse on that day every year. But I think it goes far deeper than that for so many of us. I believe the events of Good Friday have scarred us for eternity. The Crucifixion inflicted a deep wound within our humanity, carrying a daunting message that says “The good guys don’t always win.” We aren’t entitled to our happy ending and are meant to suffer. Tragedy and sacrifice is our lot, and we must accept it. Traditional religion insists that we welcome it and embrace it.
I believe that this
deep spiritual wounding needs to be addressed. Maybe, if we all recognize
it and work on it together, it can even be healed. I believe that it is meant to be healed, and
perhaps that is controversial in traditional Christian circles.
I call it “Crucifixion
Many of us live in the
shadow of fear and worry, secretly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I
have seen this so many times with people on a spiritual path. No matter how
optimistic, positive, spiritual, Present-in-the-Now we try to be, there is that
voice in the back of our minds, whether we hear it literally or feel it
intuitively, that says, “Even Jesus couldn’t win this one. Just
when we are about to create Heaven on Earth, it all goes very, very wrong.”
The events of Good Friday have programmed us to expect that we cannot succeed
on our highest spiritual paths, and have programmed us to accept struggle, pain
and even martyrdom as part of the package.
We have to address the
basic belief systems of what the Crucifixion means, which is always
controversial. If you read my books and follow my work, you already know
that I do not subscribe to a fundamental belief that Jesus “died for our
sins” which is why it is “Good Friday.” I do not believe
in a patriarchal God that requires a blood sacrifice of his most beautiful
creation to wash away our evil thoughts and deeds. My God is a God of
love, a Creator and Creatrice who love their children as all good parents do.
So I reject that it was a Good Friday. For me, it was one of the
greatest tragedies in human history – and I think that is true for many, based
on the responses to my books.
Bob Marley addressed the question simply and beautifully, “How long will they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? Some say it’s just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book.” Well, I don’t buy it and I don’t think Bob did either. I don’t believe that we have to fulfill that book or any other. I believe we have to break the cycle of fear. We have to realize that the trepidation that fills us when we get close to making a real breakthrough in our lives comes from ancient woundings that are in our DNA, our ancestry, our souls or even the collective. They are our challenges to overcome. We must insist that there will be no more martyrs, that we will not let the darkness of fear encroach upon where the light shines brightest. We can and must allow ourselves to feel bliss without the shadow of fear.
The events of Easter
Week hold not only archetypal characters, but also situational models that all
of us can relate to in one way or another: The fear and anger of the apostles
when Jesus is taken; Claudia Procula’s helplessness when her pleading falls on
deaf, patriarchal ears; a mother’s torment over the son she cannot
protect; a child’s confusion in the world of men and violence; a beloved
partner’s utter devastation in a loss she could not prevent and did not see
coming. These are stories of shame, loss, terror, rage, unutterable
heartbreak. These are stories of human suffering, and they belong to all
of us. They are etched into our eternal
These wounds deepen if
we continue to re-live them and allow them to bleed. But they
can become scars instead of wounds. A scar is a mark that is never
forgotten, that allows us to tell a story, but that bleeds no longer and no
long hurts us. We can bear our scars proudly as marks of our overcoming.
In April of 2018, I had the rare opportunity and privilege to spend the night in the most sacred site of Christendom, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The great Basilica covers the sites of both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. During opening hours, it is thronged with people, tens of thousands a day push through to see these holy places. But every night, the Franciscan guardians keep a special list of fifteen people who they will allow to spend the night in the enormous basilica. It’s called Nightwatch, and at 9 pm the chosen fifteen are locked in the Basilica, where they will stay until 5 am, when the doors are unlocked again at dawn. I was blessed to be chosen for this list, along with two friends. I am sure they would both say that they were impacted indelibly by the experience, as I was.
Nightwatch is a vigil. We were instructed kindly but firmly that we were not allowed to sleep. We had free roam of the basilica, access to all of the holiest places, as long as we conducted ourselves properly. No singing. Limited speaking. Stay out of the way of the cleaning and blessing rituals that happen through the night. Easy rules to abide in exchange for such a rare honor.
The sites which are usually crowded with people, where pilgrims spend hours in line for a few brief seconds of seeing and touching these sites, were completely ours for the night. There was something unreal about it, and at times I felt as if I were in a dream. My experiences in the basilica were beyond all expectations, and are perhaps worthy of a full chapter, if not a complete book. I have so much to say about that night, and I spent several hours of it journaling. But for the purposes of understanding Crucifixion Consciousness, I decided to focus my time there at the site of the Crucifixion, at the foot of the Cross, in the same place where Mary Magdalene had held her own vigil all those year ago.
As pilgrims enter the Basilica, there is a turn to the right which leads to a staircase. Walking up those stairs leads to the top of what was once the Hill of Golgotha, the site of the Crucifixion. The site is enshrined, glass covering the stone. The largest stone is split; it is told that the earthquake mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (27:51) created the fissure. A cut-out has been carefully enshrined in marble which allows pilgrims to reach in and touch the sacred stone. There is a type of alcove space (see photo below) where pilgrims can kneel and touch the rock. I decided to settle in this place, and there I was able to sit and pray and meditate totally alone and undisturbed. I had it to myself for over an hour. I’m not sure how it happened, apparently everyone else in the basilica was finding other places that spoke to their souls. But no one came near me, or even up the stairs, while I sat in the place of the Cross.
It was the greatest
spiritual gift of my life.
My time at the Crucifixion site changed me in ways that I am still processing years later. Because Mary Magdalene has been my muse and my guide for almost thirty years, it was to her that I entreated in prayer and meditation. One of the most impactful moments for me came when I was given this message:
“Leave your fears at the foot of the cross. The time of martyrs is over. Release your connection to fear and suffering and replace it with love and faith. Focus on Resurrection, and leave Crucifixion in the past. Only then will you heal.”
It has been said by those wiser than I that “Fear and faith cannot exist in the same place at the same time.” Although I have tried to make this a mantra, fear has always been a strong component in my life. Many of us who have suffered tragic losses and unexpected trauma live in a place of waiting for it to happen again. We can’t feel happy when things are going well because we “just know” that it will all come crashing down on us because it always does. Nothing gold can stay. Even when we work through this with real purpose, it lives as a shadow in our consciousness, waiting to fall across us just as we are stepping into the light.
And Mary Magdalene, as ever, is the most perfected example of how to move through our fears and traumas. She moved away from the horrors of the Crucifixion, embraced the power of Resurrection as its primary witness, and went forward into the world to share her message of love, compassion and faith. She never stopped moving forward, and her message was always filled with wisdom and hope, and never fear or suffering.
My gift in the Basilica that night was allowing myself to feel this concept of replacing fear with faith through to the core of my being, a gift for which I thank the Magdalene. I embraced it, I pledged it, and I have worked ever harder since that day to make it key in my daily practice. The difference in my life over the last years has been extraordinary. I continue to be highly imperfect and my battles with fear still exist, but I have made real strides in them and my life is better for it. I am writing again at a highly productive level, which had all but left me after my husband Filip’s terrible death in 2012.
In my book about prayer, The Source of Miracles, I tell a story about the “White Sack of Sorrows.” It is a meditation in turning over your sorrows and worries to Jesus. I receive a lot of letters from people who have had great success with this. Leaving your fears at the foot of the Cross is perhaps the next step in this meditational practice of working with Jesus as a teacher and master, and it does not even require anyone to be a practicing Christian. Here, the Cross is a symbol of an old paradigm of suffering-as-salvation. In Christian terms, we have been focusing on Crucifixion when we should be focusing on Resurrection. In non-Christian terms, we have been attached to fear and worry when we should be putting our energy into hope and forward movement. The terrors of our past do not control us unless we allow them that power. We can – we must – leave the fear behind, keep the learning and the lessons, and move forward with faith and love.
In the Gnostic Gospels, and in The Book of Love, we are told that we must “Resurrect while in this body.” I believe that is the message I received in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher: That Resurrection of our spirit, our joy, our bliss is available through the potent combination of love and faith – right here and right now, if we are brave enough to choose it.
Thirty-three years ago today, my maternal grandmother, Pearl Ethel Taylor Rhodes, crossed from this world into the next.
Five months earlier, she had told me that she intended to die on Halloween. It was such a lovely time to die, and the passage through the veil then is so easy as to actually be enjoyable. Or so she said, and I have no reason not to believe her. She never lied to me.
My grandmother had been raised by a family of hereditary witches. No, this is not fiction, as much as I realize that it sounds like a line right out of an Alice Hoffman book. I have often wondered if Ms Hoffman herself came from such a line of women, given that her Practical Magic books have made me exclaim out loud a few times while reading them. She writes like a woman who knows what it means to have magic whispered into her ear at a very young age by women who have passed down secrets.
My great-grandmother’s birth name was Eliza Alverda Groves, although everyone called her Vert, which of course means that her name was Green Groves. I think it is a perfect name for a woman raised in a Celtic druidic tradition. Vert learned her craft from her grandmother, Sarah Ann McLain, who was descended from the line of the Wise Women of Mull. Mull is a magical and mist-encrusted island on the west coast of Scotland, most known as the stopping off place en route to the more storied, holy island of Iona. But Mull deserves its own renown. The Scottish islands are some of the most magic-filled places on the planet, and Mull was and is the hereditary seat of Clan McLain (aka MacLean and various other spellings). There is a legend that the lairds of Duart Castle married into a family of magical women, indigenous island people from an ancient race of fairies who dwelled on the islands of Mull and Iona and Skye, and other Hebrideans. It was said these fairy women could take the forms of animals and even mermaids. Perhaps that is the source of the ancient, time-out-of-mind magic of Sarah McLain’s family.
The Groves women – and there were eight of them – had their own brand of magic, although a few of them had no magic at all. It’s funny, but being born with hereditary magic is a bit like being able to sing or play the piano or do math in your head: not everyone has it actively bursting out of their cells, although it is somewhere in the DNA. Vert had enough for everyone, and as the oldest girl she spent a lot of her life as the caretaker in the family, and indeed in her town. She was the local herbalist and healer. We still have yellowed, decaying pieces of paper in my family with my great-grandmother’s herbal remedies scrawled on them, complicated concoctions with ingredients that are challenging to obtain in the 21st century. They are faded and mostly illegible, but there is magic still within those scraps.
My mother used to tell me stories of visiting Chinatown on a streetcar as a child in downtown Los Angeles, holding her grandmother’s hand as they knocked on doors in darkened backstreets. They went in search of the elders who received their herbs – and other exotic ingredients – directly from China. In the world of hereditary wisdom, the relationship between grandmothers and granddaughters is a beautiful and hallowed thing. Although my own experience with this falls within a Celtic tradition, I believe this is a natural truth in many cultures around the world. It is the way of the triple goddess: the grandmother/crone shares her wisdom with the daughter/maiden – as the mother is busy running the world around them all. These are the three stages of feminine life, maids, mothers and crones.
My own grandmother shaped my life in a way that was profound and unique. I traveled with her from the time I was very small, and she taught me how to listen to nature. She was a very modern woman who worked in television in Hollywood, and was something of a pioneer there. But on weekends she would escape to her cabin in the nearby mountains to spend rejuvenating days among the trees. That forest was my first “natural school” but my world expanded as she introduced me to the magic of the deserts in the Southwest. When I was a teenager, she changed my life when she brought me to Ireland for the first time, to introduce me to the Celtic magic there. Her father’s family was Irish, and his elder sisters had some magic of their own, not coincidentally – but that is another story for another time. Had she lived longer, we planned to visit the Scottish islands together, but that was not to be.
In the Spring of 1984, when I was 21 years old, my grandmother discovered that her body was riddled with an untreatable cancer. She sat me down and explained this to me, and then in her inimitable way said brightly, “But that means we must have one final adventure. I was thinking Jamaica. Shall we go?”
I was surprised by the choice, although the reason would become clear later. She had a motive for going to Jamaica, a motive that had everything to do with island magic. It turns out that all lands which are surrounded by the ocean are filled with magic, and it happened that her own hereditary islands were now too far and too chilly for her to return to them. The disease in her bones was made painful by the cold, and she needed to be in the sunshine and stay warm. But she knew of a magical man who lived in Jamaica and she wanted to find him – not for herself, as it turned out, but for me. He had something to teach that she wanted to leave with me, as I learned how to face “the burden of magic” without my greatest teacher and mentor.
And that was how I found myself on a beach in Jamaica, listening to my grandmother tell me all of the secrets that she did not want to die with her. Stories from my family that even my mother did not know, stories which it was now my job to protect and perhaps reveal when I saw fit to do so. And on one of those days on the beach, she told me she would choose to die on Halloween, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when the veils thinned and it was a simple matter of moving from this world to the next. She thought it would be fun, and looked forward to the adventure of it.
And that is precisely what she did.
Thirty-three years later in the Spring of 2017, her daughter Donna Mae, my mother, passed on the 26th of April – which would have been Pearl Ethel Taylor’s 111th birthday. This did not surprise me in the least. The women in my line are woven together like threads in an eternal tapestry. And there are interesting numbers at play here with the years, all of those 11s and 33s. My mother used to say, “Magic contains numbers.” She first said this to me when I was a little girl and she discovered that I counted everything: the stairs I climbed, the flowers in the garden, patterns on the wallpaper. I added the numbers in license plates, exclaiming that I was a winner when one of them added to the number 22, my own birth number. I still do that, something which my late husband Filip teased me about endlessly. But that, too, is another story for another day.
On Halloween/Samhain, I always feel these women with me, dating back to faceless and nameless ancestral women, women who healed on the islands of Scotland and in the West of Ireland. This is so strong as to be overwhelming for me this year, with my mother gone now for these six months.
But this year there is a new twist on Halloween for me. I am the grandmother now, and I have magical little twin girls who will one day hear the secrets of our people whispered into their perfect little ears.
Happy Halloween, Everyone. And remember… the magic is real.
Excerpted from my memoir, The Burden of Magic, coming in 2018/2019. Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.
Photo of my grandmother in Jamaica in the last months of her life, thrilled to have found a statue of the goddess!