When my father died unexpectedly in 1976 at the age of 39, leaving my mother a smashingly beautiful widow at 40 with 2 small children, everyone thought of fate and chance, odds and omens. I can tell interesting stories that have been woven in and out of the perspective of my life, but suffice here to say that I sometimes get an eerie feeling that revolves around an imaginary dialogue between my mother and my father: ‘Why didn’t it work out for us?’ my father asks, and mother answers: ‘Because you served the gods that were not my gods.’
Some two months after my father’s death, my mother, a logician and metaphysician of the dark, had a dream: My father was buried in his grave, but it was possible to see him from his waist to the head. He said to her: ‘Stop crying. I lived exactly as much as my life thread allowed for.’ She stopped weeping after that.
My father died in November in the house of my mother’s cousin in the country. My mother’s family has been famous for one thing: their generosity. We could visit any time we wanted and stay for as long as we wanted. At the time of my father’s death we were all there to enjoy the final harvest, the making of wine, and the slaughtering of pigs.
I witnessed the whole process: The ritual burning of the animal, the cooking, and the final touch to the sausages from the local German butcher. It was a sacrosanct tradition to always invite the Germans in the area to prepare the cold cuts. I used to think of them as the master alchemists. I still do.
It is as clear to me as daylight that the only reason why I remember all of this is because of the smells. It’s enough for me to utter the name of the place, to have my nostrils invaded by the glorious smells of traditional cooking. The women would prepare the intestines. A holy cup of blood was passed around for all to drink, and the roasted pig fat was overflowing the black cauldrons. These were big cauldrons that could fit the cooking of 3 whole pigs.
Only god knows what the Germans threw into them. The smell of spices and roots was very potent. The fact is that I know of no drug that is more powerful. Sometimes I think the butcher used a dash of juice from cold-pressing the nightshades. Everyone got stoned. Though most of the family just blamed it on the wine.
MAGIC IN THE BLOOD
Some ask me today: ‘So, it runs in the family, doesn’t it?’, without specifying what IT refers to, the assumption being that there’s some kind of magic in play in my life, or in the way I engage with the world. Perhaps. I think of the alchemy of the soul, and I’m convinced that it has to do with smell. How do we get to know God? Through smell, if you ask me. I try to give others a sense of my understanding of this, through my writings. Some get it. Some don’t.
And then the occasional surprises. Although I mainly write for myself and strangers, as good woman Gertrude Stein used to say about her own writing practice – assuming that one writes in a non- judgmental way when one does it for strangers – something to aim for, indeed – I often receive small gifts of appreciation for what I say from people I don’t know. This is the best kind of recognition, as it materializes the thoughts I try to articulate.
THE PERFUMED LETTER
Today I’ve received a letter, hand-written with a fountain-pen, containing 4 sheets of carefully pressed herbs and a fan made of peacock feathers. It came from a fellow Romanian living in Greece. Lady Madalina Chitulescu befriended me on Facebook some years ago, and we’ve had since then sporadic conversations. But Madalina informs me that she follows closely what I do and what I write and because she finds it all very inspiring, she wants to show me her appreciation. As my 47th birthday approaches, she decided to send me a gift in the form of smell and feathers to fan the smell with.
Speaking of magic, I have to say that this particular gift sent me straight back to the village I so often visited with my mother, and it reminded me of the most magical time we’ve always had there. I am thoroughly grateful for this gift as it allows me to connect to my ancestors through smell.
As October is the month when we seek to honor the memory of our ancestors, I asked the cards:
How can we honor our ancestral power?
The Hanged Man, The Devil, The Charioteer
The cards here have answered in an interesting way:
When life is suspended, and then sent to the underworld, the best is to keep going. We must acknowledge the bonds we have, but find a way to drive our own narratives forward. The underground forces can carry us through. They can be used as a vehicle for transportation. We are not the same as the dead. We must find our own gods to serve, and leave the ones that are not of our own making behind.
If in doubt, burn some incense, or cook something powerful with a bunch of herbs that will raise the dead and feed the living.
A grand thank you to Madalina. I loved this surprise. It tells me to keep going.
For words of power and other unexpected offers, sign up for a cool monthly newsletter.