“It seems the stranger’s always you….”
I came out of the Sacred Nights of Antinous deeply moved and, I think, deeply affected, though I cannot say how exactly, not yet. Then my depression came back for a visit, so between that and the absence of big holy days to prompt blogging, my gentle readers haven’t heard much from me.
Last night, however, I began a new observance, another first time–not just for me, but for many people. The International Trans*Gender Day of Remembrance on November 20th has been observed since 1999, but this year a group of pagans has proposed something that many have welcomed: A rite for Elevating the Trans* Dead, beginning on November 12th and continuing for nine days.
Many traditions make a distinction between the dead and the ancestors and teach that if the dead are not properly honored and guided into the afterlife, they may become restless spirits who bother the living rather than ancestors who help and bless. The rite of elevation sends prayers and offerings to the dead to heal disrupted relationships with the living, to improve their condition in the afterlife, and to empower them to become true ancestors in good relationship with us. All of those remembered on the Trans*Gender Day of Remembrance died by violence at the hands of those who hated their gender condition, their queerness; many of them may have been estranged from their families for the same reason. They need help from the living no less than those who died in battle or in some other traumatic way.
I didn’t want to post about it ahead of time lest I commit to performing this rite and then not follow through, but now that I have observed the first night, I feel safe in writing about it. The requirements of the rite are simple: A white cloth spread out for an altar, a white candle, and an offering of water. The cloth is laid on the floor, and on each successive day, it is raised higher by putting something under it–boxes, books, whatever works. Each day a fresh candle and fresh water are offered along with prayers to and for the dead.
PSVL posted two long prayers for the rite, one to Antinous, and one to the Tetrad++, an ensemble of new deities peculiar to the Ekklesia Antinoou. I printed out copies of these for convenience, along with the sigil of the Tetrad++:
First I had to clear the space, which involved sweeping up a truly frightening population of dust bunnies. (Ancestors, I dusted for you! Take note!) I mounted my printout of the sigil on a piece of pink construction paper and placed it on my altar of a white kata along with an unlit candle and a glass. I had a small pitcher of water nearby so I could fill the glass. I began by lighting a candle for Vesta (I always start with Vesta) and another for Antinous, kindling some lotus incense, and making a brief spontaneous prayer that my prayers for the dead would be heard. Then I sat down by the shrine and lit the candle with a prayer that it would light the way for the dead. I spoke to my own dead, first, to act as intermediaries, and then to the trans* dead. I welcomed them to be my ancestors and to claim me as their descendant. I told them that I stood with them, on the margins, that they were my people and I was theirs. I then read the prayers that PSVL composed.
I had some sense already that presences were listening. As I read the prayers to the Tetrad++, I had a quite strong sense that they were taking notice. “Oh, look–here’s someone new praying to us. Let’s go check them out.” Sitting on the floor, I felt as though very tall presences were standing round me, looking down with interest as you might look at a child building something with blocks. As I went on, I felt a slight chill on the back of my neck that might have been just a draft around my air conditioner or might not.
It didn’t take long to read the prayers. I poured the water into the glass in offering and then just sat for a while longer, being present. This is not something I do easily, so it seemed significant that it was what I wanted to do. I left the candles to burn out and then settled into bed, where I proceeded to sleep straight through the night. I thank the ancestors and my acupuncturist for that sleep, and I thank my acupuncturist for making me able to put the rite together and do it.
Hail to our trans* ancestors! May there be honor and justice for our trans* kindred in life!