Winternights: Hailing the Ancestors

 Our mighty Mothers here we honor
 From womb to womb since Worlds’ beginning

Hail Alice Parcel, my great aunt, my mother’s father’s sister.

Aunt Alice was a very well educated, intelligent woman who served the US Navy as a Russian translator during the wars (I believe WWII and the Korean War, but I’m not certain). By the time I met her she was an eccentric, elderly woman who lived by herself in Capitola, never having married or born any children. She made absolutely beautiful decorated eggshells in the Russian style, and gave them to family members. I still have a couple, and my Mom has at least one more. I inherited her craft supplies when she died.

Aunt Alice would invite us to come out for the annual Begonia festival to see the floats in the parade – actually covered in fresh cut flowers and floated on boats in the river. Car exhaust and tissue paper never could compare with the smell of begonias mixing with salt sea air.

Aunt Alice died just as I was going through puberty. When I reached adulthood and began my spirit work, I found that she was the Ancestor most avidly guarding me. She would probably have been a spirit worker of some kind if she had been born in an era and family that could provide appropriate context and training for her gifts. Instead she suffered mostly alone with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia that may or may not have truly fit her symptoms.

So when I came of age, she began guarding me from hearing the spirit voices that had made her own life so difficult. She quite possibly prevented me from sharing her diagnosis. By the time I began to work with the spirits I was a mature adult with a supportive community, training, and context for my work.

I have many things my Aunt Alice never had, but most importantly, I have my Aunt Alice.

Hail Dorothy Irma Cooke, nee Daniel, my great-grandmother, my father’s father’s mother.

Dad’s grandparents came to California from England after the War (I believe WWI, but I’m not certain). Great-grandpa Leonard had asked Dorothy to marry him before he left for the trenches, but when he returned, he felt he was too broken, too shell-shocked to be worthy of her hand any longer. So he came out to Santa Barbara, and wrote to her from a distance.

Dorothy was having none of that, and left all her family, wealth, and connections behind in England to show up on her fiance’s doorstep.

“The hell you’re not marrying me!”

My Dad is especially fond of telling us again and again the story of how Great-Grandma Dorothy knew J.R.R. Tolkien, because he was a friend of her older cousin. The two would keep her awake far too late into the evening, chatting in the echoing stairwell, until she would get entirely fed up with Tolkien’s insufferable droning and fetch a pail of water to dump on their heads.

 And Fathers of the flesh and spirit
 Sacred seed itself renewing

Hail Wayne Parcel, my grandfather, my mother’s father.

Grandpa Wayne died before I was born. But I grew up with so many stories about him. He was a metallurgist who worked for Ames Research on missiles. He was brilliant, and geeky, and had a strange sense of humor. He liked to take things apart and use the parts to make other things – not artistically, like I do, but actually functional things. I remember my Mom saying he’d taken apart her bicycle to make a telescope, but it’s been so long since I heard that story I’m not sure I’m remembering it right.

The story I remember most strongly of him is that he got a job in a factory before he had the lab jobs. The factory culture was such that the men had a social hierarchy. He was taken aside and warned that he’d have to get into a fist-fight with somebody to establish his place. They looked over his slight, wirey frame, and suggested somebody he might have a chance to beat in this requisite fight.

Grandpa Wayne knew quite well he was unlikely to win any fight he got into. His only advantage was that he was hands-down the most intelligent man in the place. When the day came, he picked a fight with the biggest guy there. Everyone knew quite well he’d lose, so people wondered what he was up to. The guy he picked his fight with barely put forth effort.

He went down fast.

He stood back up, and got right back into it.

Over and over, he fell down, he got back up, and he got back into it. Only when he couldn’t get up anymore did he admit defeat – defeat everyone knew from the start was inevitable. But he earned his place in the hierarchy, and the respect of everyone there.

The next time a new guy came into the factory, Grandpa Wayne overheard a conversation:

“Parcel’s a small guy – I could take him.”
“Yeah, you could take him… But you’d have to.”

Nobody ever picked him for the fight ever again.

Hail Tom Cooke, my uncle, my father’s brother.

Mostly what I remember is that Uncle Tom liked to laugh and make other people laugh. It’s not that he was a stand up comedian or anything, he was just witty.

When he died, he was the mayor of Fortuna, and took a lot of pride in showing us around his town when we came to visit. Fortuna is a relatively small town, and he was beloved there, for being a hard-working statesman, rather than a politician.

Before that, though, his focus was his water district in Northern California – possibly the most important water district in the state, because much of the water needed to grow the crops and feed the towns further south ran through his area.

He told me about how he got the job, when he wasn’t really an expert on the topic. He’d been called in to apply for the position along with several experts, and he had no expectation of getting the job. He thought it would be a good deal if he could just really learn from the experience of being surrounded by all these brilliant, educated minds addressing the problems the water district was facing. So instead of trying to compete with them, he started asking them questions, and when he got confused, he started writing down what they were saying, organizing their ideas and sorting them out. He got them to slow down, not argue, explain their thoughts, take turns, and by the end of the meeting, he had a whiteboard full of organized notes for them all to consider and compare.

He got the job, despite being certain he was the one man in the room least qualified for it, because he had what it really takes to be a leader. It’s not the same as expertise. A leader is a facilitator, helping people work together towards shared goals, keeping them organized and cooperating instead of competing.

Uncle Tom’s advice about what it means to be a leader are what inspired me to go ahead and try running the group that became The Vanic Conspiracy. I knew I wasn’t an expert, but I thought maybe, if I could just get a group of like-minded people organized enough to honor and learn about the Vanir together, that would be enough. And I was right. Because Uncle Tom was right.

 And mindful Mentors, wisdom winning
 Sacred Skalds and holy Heroes

Hail George Hersh, mentor, counselor, and priest.

I’m pretty sure I first met George at a public Ghede devotional in Berkeley, but the first time I really talked to him was when I started going to him as a therapist. He came highly recommended by my Gythia as a competent, compassionate therapist who understood polytheists and mystics very well, and was polyamory, and queer friendly. (He was probably gender-variance and kink aware too, but it never came up.) I knew walking in the door that I could tell him anything, and he’d help me solve my real problems, not just try to make me fit a mainstream standard of normative.

My first visit, he asked me why I’d come. I said it wasn’t any one thing, nothing was really wrong, I just felt really overwhelmed by school, and some stuff in my love life, and some family stuff that was going on, and some religious stuff that was going on, and my hypersensitivity and seasonal affective symptoms were getting worse, I thought maybe, and I just wasn’t sure how to sort it all out without some help.

He said, “That’s not a few small problems. That’s your life. Of course you’re overwhelmed!”

And he helped. Gods, how much did he help! I have school-related anxiety with panic attacks. When I went back to college, I could barely handle 6 credits. With George’s help I finished two AAs and a BA, with honors, and was preparing for graduate school.

Ordinarily, at Winternights, I like to tell stories, memories of the people I loved who have gone on. But… I don’t have any brilliant stories to tell about George, because he was very good at being a therapist, and that means it was never about him – it was always about ME. All my memories of George aren’t really ABOUT George, they’re about George helping me.

But he was a good man, a fascinating scholar, a great therapist, and faithful Pagan clergy to boot. He passed away last spring. He knew he was dying well in advance, and said as many goodbyes as he could, when he was getting sicker. I missed my chance for a proper goodbye, but I attended his memorial, and it was a glorious affair with many of the respected elders in my local community and a handful of younger folks who had, like me, valued his experience and wisdom as a counselor.

And kind Companions, comfort bringing
Faithful Friends and helping Healers

Hail Rascal, tabby cat, companion.

When I was seven years old my Mom asked me what sort of pet I might like. I told her I wanted a rabbit. But she didn’t know how to care for rabbits, and didn’t trust that I was old enough to keep up with cleaning cages, and besides, she and my sister both liked cats. So I got a cat.

Specifically, I got a tiny grey tabby kitten who had been abandoned by her litter as the runt, and half-raised by dogs instead. She did not meow, but growled. Being seven, I decided that the best way to solve this was to pet her until she stopped struggling, and shush her any time she growled. For the first couple years she was very quiet, not inclined to meow at all, really, but over time, living with two other cats and three loquacious humans, she grew very talkative indeed.

She was a smart cat, a very good hunter, petite, and a bit strange. One evening I remember in particular waking up to find her sleeping on my chest, both paws on my crossed wrists, staring at me. I thought I heard her telling me to go back to sleep so she could continue whatever she was telling me. I picked her up, put her on the floor, saying I was too tired for lessons, and rolled over to go back to sleep. Some time later I woke up again, in the same position on my back with my arms crossed and my cat staring intently at me.

Another evening I recall hearing her MEOW loudly in my ear, waking me up, only to find that she was actually at the other end of the house outside the front door scratching to be let in.

Rascal was the best feline math tutor a girl could have. I always struggled with the school system as a kid. One evening my Mom got fed up with my asking her for help with math problems every few minutes only to realize I knew the answer already. She told me to go to Rascal for help, and only if I could not find the answer with the assistance of my cat companion was I to ask Mom for input. Rascal sat with me for the rest of the evening, and any time I struggled, I would turn to her and explain the problem. She listened intently, watching me with green eyes, and purr when I suddenly realized the answer and returned to my work.

To this day I refer to a person keeping me company while I try to get work done, “being my cat”.

Rascal was my companion for 21 years. I have not had a pet since, and still miss her dearly, although she has been gone for seven years now.

Beloved Dead who came before us
Ancestors, be with us always!

Whether we knew them ourselves or learned of them from our loved ones, we all walk through life with stories, and some of those stories are about those who have come before us, those we loved and lost, those who walk with us now only in spirit.

Please share with me in comments here, or with links to your blogs, your own stories of your Beloved Dead.

And be well.

Hail the Ancestors!


About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
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13 Responses to Winternights: Hailing the Ancestors

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  4. Shannon says:

    I really miss my late husband, Richard. We shared a wonderful, mystical, spiritual experience together. Unfortunately, I am finding spiritual men like Richard are very rare.


  5. Trish McNeill says:

    Hail Wanda Hearn. Wanda had been my mother’s best friend in college, and remained her best friend until the day mom died. Mom introduced Wanda to her (twin) brother, Richard, and the two of them started dating and eventually married. Uncle Dick always called her “Toots”, because of her fondness for tootsie rolls. Aunt Wanda was probably the sweetest and most cheerful person I have ever met. She always had a smile for you, a hug when you were down, and was always willing to listen when you needed to talk. She was never too busy to help, to listen, to pay attention, or to care about what was going on in your life – no matter who you were, young or old. She loved to make funny faces for the kids, or the camera. She was always willing to be a little silly, to make a joke (or laugh at yours), to find the humor in life.

    Wanda passed away last December, and I was privileged to be able to visit her at her home a few days before her death. She looked frail and it was clear that she grew tired easily, but she was still smiling, still asking about my life, my sisters, and our children and families. She was still making faces, still looking for – and finding – the humor in everything.

    I miss her smile.


  6. Paka says: will give you a basic outline of who Ken Southworth was, but it can’t really give you an idea of what it was like to watch the man work. He was just an amazing artist by anyone’s standards, and I pretty much have him to thank for my brain clicking over to start crunching spatial relationships.


  7. Reblogged this on facingthefireswithin and commented:
    I reblog this mostly as an example as these are clearly not my ancestors but it gives you a good frame of reference. I will be posting something shorter later today.


  8. Hail George Hersh. My description of him, at the VC Winternights, is somewhat remarkably like yours, here. Or maybe not. I miss him very very much.


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