Hiking for Health and Food

Hiking is something I always loved to do and yet never seemed to do enough of. When I was a young adult in my mid teens, I loved to go out into the pastures and woods surrounding our rural home. I’d spend hours out there just sitting by the small pond next to the forest, listening to frogs and trying to spot turtles. The woods felt more like my home than my family’s house.

If I wasn’t by the pond, I was sitting under the trees or walking some dirt trails probably walked many times before by cattle and deer. I spent a lot of time in contemplation, maybe more than the average teen, although I don’t know the numbers to say for certain! This was also around the time I started to really grow curious about nature spirituality and the occult.

From those interests I also started to learn more about plants, foraging, and self sustainability. Although we didn’t have any wild fruit trees, I was still able to find plenty of wild onions, dandelions, and various other wild herbs to test out and satisfy my curiosity. It’s been a long time since those days and after deciding to cut myself off from all electronics for a few hours one day, I realized how much I miss that connection and how little time I spend outdoors compared to my days as a teen. Of course, now I’m an adult with a job and other responsibilities, but I find that to be more of an excuse than anything. Now that I find myself on beautiful O’ahu, surrounded by nature, I’ve made it my mission to do just that.

One of my new favorite hiking spots is the 4.8 mile ‘Aiea Loop trail. It’s a gorgeous trail along a ridge of the Halawa Valley on the Southern coastline with a total elevation gain of around 900ft. The trail, like many others, is lined on both sides with what seems like a never ending sea of strawberry guava trees (also known as Cattley guava and cherry guava). It also has a pleasant fragrance from the many lemon eucalyptus trees that were planted there back in the 1920’s. There is also an abundance of Norfolk pines, maybe more than I’ve seen elsewhere on the island so far. Also sprinkled in the mix are the endemic koa and ʻōhiʻa lehua (a species of flowering evergreen) trees. The ‘Aiea Loop Trail also features some amazing views of the Southern Coast and of the H-3 interstate running through the mountains.

With all that said, my focus today was on the ripe fruit of the strawberry guava trees. If you’ve never had one, the best way that I can describe the taste is sweet, bitter, tart, and a hint of fresh pine. They don’t get very big, but I find them to be pretty tasty and worth picking a lot. Many of the locals also tend to come out and pick them while enjoying the trail. These trees aren’t native to Hawai’i and their hardiness and low maintenance makes them a resilient invasive species. They also tend to grow happily in hard to reach places, like along the steep ridges of ‘Aiea Loop, Manoa Cliff trail, and the Moanalua Middle Ridge trail where it’s difficult or even impossible to manage.

Fresh strawberry guava fruit.

The first time I ever tried one of these fruits was during a foraging hike event with Slow Food O’ahu along the Manoa Cliff trail. Slow Food USA is a great organization with the mission:

Seeking to create dramatic and lasting change in the food system, Slow Food USA reconnects Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We inspire individuals and communities to change the world through food that is good, clean and fair for all.

https://slowfoodusa.org/about/

As someone who believes in the importance of ecology and sustainability, I am all about their cause and I was happy to see a presence here. Through that hike I learned a decent amount about local edible plants that can be found around the island. One section of the trail was a large grove of these guava trees which we stopped to sample. I really enjoyed their flavor, so I was happy to see they were also growing along the ‘Aiea Loop trail during my first trail run there. Although they are unfortunately an invasive species and are difficult to manage due to the nature of their growing locations, the positive is that they do provide fruits to enjoy to hikers and animals. I like to think that we can help a little by foraging for them and reducing chances for the seeds to spread even more.

I enjoy hiking, trail running, and foraging, so if I can combine them together, that’s even better. This is a bit of a random Blog entry, but I wanted to write a little about my thoughts and maybe even inspire others to look into the wild foods they can find in their areas. If you can find a local foraging group, even better! Developing a deeper connection to local land and plants is really an enriching experience. In our modern world most don’t seem to think much about where their food comes from outside of a super market shelf. That connection to the land and our food is but a small shadow cast in the back of minds with seemingly more relevant things to think about. I personally don’t feel there’s much that is more important than understanding the food cycle and our part in it.

For now, I’ll just keep enjoying fresh guava fruit and promote education when I can.

Should You Join A Druid Order?

Should I join a Druid group/Order/organization?

It’s a question I’ve seen popping up around various Druid oriented groups on social media. This is usually met by some typical response demonizing Druid organizations as being strict, greedy, and forceful with their beliefs, controlling, snobbish, etc. by individuals who even say they are not a part of a group and haven’t been. This is also typically met by many other supportive comments about individual experiences within groups, but then you also have comments from solitary Druids with no real interest in joining a group.

See how this can be confusing to someone seeking advice or information on Druid organizations? Because of that, I wanted to do a little blog of my own on my thoughts and experiences with groups. I am a member for 3 Druid organizations (OBOD, AODA, and DOGD) and have also studied with other esoteric Western Mystery Tradition group (Builders of the Adytum, Ordo Aurum Solis, and Fraternity of the Hidden Light). I was a solitary Pagan and Druid for about 8 years before I joined up with any group. This wasn’t because I didn’t have interest, but because I didn’t have the time and resources with being in college at the peak of that time and before then I was too young and clueless. I’ve been working with groups for of 6 years now.

With my experiences in a number of groups, I feel like I can speak fairly and informed on the topic. Do keep in mind that these are groups of modern Druids and we do not claim to do things completely how they were done in ancient times. We are a new generation of Druids in a completely different world with different needs. If the fact that none of us practice or know a replicated ancient system of Druidry is a problem, Druidry may not be the path for you. I would also recommend listening to discussion on the topic of authenticity vs. validity with John Michael Greer and Philip Carr-Gomm on the OBOD podcast “Druidcast” episode 68.

What is the reality of joining a group? Is it strict, controlling, and money driven like some unaffiliated people believe? Quite frankly, no, and I find it a bit unfair for someone with no experience with a group to put it under a certain label and present that as fact to others. Before I go any further, let me preface with this: If you do find a group that tells you that you have to believe a specific thing and that it is the only truth or if they seem focused on monetary gains, or are just plan rude and controlling, run the other way. This is not a group you want to affiliate with. Fortunately, I have never come across a group like that in my journey.

My experiences in groups have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Do keep in mind that different groups may have different beliefs and approaches to the world, but they typically aren’t enforced like universal law and you’re typically encouraged to find your own truth. If something doesn’t fit with you, you change it or replace it with something that does. Year long correspondence and candidate courses are common to give you an introduction to the flavor of the group and it provides you with a framework from the group that you can build upon. This doesn’t mean that it is strictly enforced and that you have to believe in a specific way rather, it gives you a base level understanding of the groups dynamics, their style of Druidry (or Western Tradition) and whether or not it feels right for you. If not, no hard feelings at all.

What are the benefits of joining a group? I personally believe that the strongest benefits of belonging to a group are the community, structure, and support. The communities of people I have met and conversed with have been some of the kindest and most interesting people I have met. They have been extremely supportive of one another in their journeys into spirituality and Druidry, even if it doesn’t match with what they believe. The Druid groups I belong to encourage the individual to discover and craft their Druidry into a personal spirituality or practice that benefits them through various methods such as research and experience. The different organizations do have their different focuses and benefits, so I will do a brief breakdown of the three I belong to at the end of this blog.

Another topic I see discussed is money. I agree that if a group is focused more on financial gain than spirituality, you have to be wary. However, just because group has membership dues doesn’t make them a financial based group. Membership dues help to keep the group functioning and typically go towards website costs, administrative and clerical functions, group events, and group educational materials. Even secular professional organizations can have membership dues. I pay for re-certification costs and annual dues for professional organizations I belong to for my job, EC-Council being one. By members of EC-Council paying annual dues, the organization is able to continue providing professional certifications for people in careers relating cyber security and e-business.

What I’m trying to say there is not to jump to any conclusions if a group has dues, take a closer look and see what they are doing with those dues. Some people turn their noses when they see the cost of OBOD’s Bardic course without taking a moment to see just how much material is included in the course. The value of that material is up to the person and refunds are available for those who don’t jive with the course. Expecting an organization to send that much material for free, paying for all of the material costs to produce the course and the shipping costs out of their own pocket (and I’m not even counting the Ovate and Druid courses), is unreasonable and OBOD probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the membership demand and wouldn’t be able to fund it, ending up a defunct organization.

I have also seen people taking issue with secrecy in groups and demand everything be made public. They seem to think that this is elitist, but allow me to provide another perspective. Traditions are kept whole and historically preserved through secrecy. If everything was put out into the public it would be taken from its context and diluted and warped into something else. Traditional Wicca, for example, is an initiatory religion with its own secrets. Once Scott Cunningham and other authors began releasing books on Wicca with a “do what you want” frame, public Wicca became something completely different for better or worse. Part of the secrecy is also part of the transformation of the individual.

Working toward a goal of initiation or reaching the next “level” is part of the fun and it allows for gradual exploration and experience preparing the individual for the next phase of training. Compare this to having it all available at once and it becomes a bit more difficult to go bit by bit and really focus on what you need to at that time to progress forward later. The element of surprise in ritual as well provides a fantastical and mystical experience during things like initiation rituals. The initiate is able to experience and be in the moment of the ritual without any preconceived ideas or expectations of what is supposed to happen.

So what about solitary practice? It’s completely fine as well! Not everyone wants to join a group or feels comfortable with a group and there’s nothing wrong with that. Solitary practice is still completely valid as long as it serves a purpose for the person. In fact, many organization affiliated Druids still consider themselves solitary due to no established study groups, groves, etc. being close to their location.

So would joining an Order be good for you? Only you can really answer that question. I feel that if you’re looking for a community of like minded people and you find that a structure to work from is helpful to your studies, you will benefit from it.

I can only really speak to my own experiences. Through Order study I have learned so much about my own bio-region and local environment. I’ve learned to play instruments, how to plant trees and care for plants, I’ve learned new forms of divination and methods of ritual work. I’ve also discovered a deeper spiritual connection to the land and Earth. But all of this does still depend on your own drive and initiative to learn and study.

More about my three Druid groups:

Ancient Order of Druids in America: U.S. based with members across the world. I consider AODA to be my primary mother Order. It is the first Order I came across through books and it was the first I wanted to join. The origins of this order come from the Revival Druid movement, Western Mystery Tradition, and an interesting mix of history. One of the things I love about AODA is the focus on the importance of your own local environment and bio-region. I personally feel that a practical education on local environment is important for a potential Druid. I also love that you are able to customize your curriculum to focus on the things that you are interested in learning about.

Order of Bards Ovates and Druids: UK based with members all over the world. Also has origins in the Revival Druidry movement and Western Mystery Tradition among its history. They have one of the most organized courses available. The different courses (Bardic, Ovate, Druid) are a wealth of information and are done in monthly lessons sent to your door on recycled paper. The price tag can be off putting, but I feel that the amount of material and information you receive is definitely worth it (I did a monthly payment plan instead of all at once).

Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn: This is a Druid magical order created and led by John Michael Greer. As a magical order the focus is on Druid magic rather than a religion or spirituality. As the name suggests, the system is influenced and inspired by early Druidical Golden Dawn groups.

Feel free to comment or message me if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer or try to provide you with resources if I can.

A Challenge

I have a bone to pick with the Pagan community, or any community that has a spirituality based on nature.

But first, let me give a bit of a disclaimer. This isn’t intended to be a hit piece or calling anyone specifically out. My goal is to bring some conscious awareness and thought to the day-to-day grind that so many of us are accustomed to living. No one is completely innocent of what I’m about to discuss, myself included, but I hope this serves as a reminder to us all.

We claim to love and worship nature deeply and spiritually, and I’m certain many of us have convinced ourselves that we are doing just that. Sadly, our statements of intent so commonly stay as statements rather than becoming tangible action. It’s so easy to get caught up in the modern lifestyle that we quite easily let them slip away into the background. Our actions, or sometimes lack thereof, becomes contradictory to the powerful vocal reverence we once sang out.

Loving and worshiping the earth is great, but we soon lose ourselves when single use plastics are more convenient. Recycling becomes an extra bothersome step in our routine causing our waste to swirl together like the “Great Pacific garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean–and possibly even becoming a literal part of that simile (look it up). We wonder why we should even bother donating a dollar or two to Eco-focused organizations when we could spend it on something a little more worth our time, like a coffee or McDonald’s.

Furthermore, why should we spend our time volunteer with local city or state park services to improve and aid our local environment unless there is an Instagram opportunity? After all, we could be at home with clean hands watching the new season of “Sabrina” or browsing the internet and apps to occupy our time. Our excuses start to pile up higher than the annual 50 million pounds of plastic toothbrush waste or the 10 tons of garbage left on the Virginia beach after Memorial Day weekend parties. In the end it’s all the same so long as I make it clear that I worship and love the earth, right?

So long as I can claim ignorance, even if it’s willful, I can’t be held responsible for my part. So long as I take a vocal stand, even if I keep it vocal, I can say I did something. So long as I do what everyone else is doing, regardless of morality, I won’t stick out. So long as I keep convincing myself that I’m making a difference while simultaneously doing nothing, I can say I’ve done my part.

Quite frankly, I’m done with this way of living and thinking, and I challenge everyone reading this to look honestly at your own impact. I can’t, in good conscious, proclaim a love and reverence for nature while doing nothing to aid it or advocate for it. Over the past two years of studying with an Order that makes the study of environmental sciences a priority and requirement, I have learned a lot about my own laziness and passivity towards environmental issues.

I have learned that even one person committed to making real change is better than being part of a droning crowd chanting “I’m only one person, I can’t do anything to make a change.” I would rather do all that I can to truly and honestly live my reverence and love of nature with minimal result than to be a part of the larger lethargic crowd and betray the integrity of my own beliefs and morals.

I challenge every Pagan, nature lover, or any other adherent of a nature based spirituality to also live your love and beliefs. I challenge you to go out of your way to make a positive impact on your local environment, your whole bioregion, country, or even the world. Plant some trees (there are organizations that will do this for you for as little as $1), switch to biodegradable single use items, reuse items, recycle, volunteer, and love the hell out of the earth with your words and actions. Become a living embodiment of your own spirituality. Truly connect with your local environment through physical contact and encourage the same in others. Get your hands dirty, Sabrina will still be there later to help you relax afterwards.

It’s not always easy, and mistakes are both fine and normal, but it’s worth it.

The Names of the 100 People to Shift Our Personal Responsibility On

I will assume by now most people have probably seen the article floating around social media about the “100 People Responsible for Killing the Earth” from the blog here. They talk about how it’s a myth that we can have more impact on our environment as individuals and that the only way to fix it is by calling attention to these 100 companies and their CEOs. They make light of the real issue of plastic wastes and place that responsibility solely on the companies. I want to discuss how damaging these articles are and how they serve to further a serious apathy problem towards the environment and climate change. The article is doing nothing more than allowing us a scapegoat to shift away our personal responsibility as consumers and as individuals living on this planet.

This article would have you believe that everything is the fault of these 100 companies and more specifically, their CEOs. The information they used to make this list comes from the CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017 on Green House Gas emissions specifically. Even though it’s a list of 100, 50% of those emissions can be traced to just the top 25 of those on the list. What these articles ignore completely is the effect on the environment from sources other than Green House Gases. The article is misleading and not well researched at all.

Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of reports are very important in determining real issues affecting our environment. Us being able to see these top companies does empower us as consumers to know which companies are causing problems and to avoid them. However, when the information is used in conjunction with misleading information, they become dangerous as well. Though they used primarily Green House Gas emission information for this list, they seem to think that also covers waste and environmental issues outside of GHG emission. They claim that it’s a myth that we can have any impact on our environment by making smart choices as individuals while making light of the plastic waste issue by joking about straws as if the CEOs of these companies are going out into the oceans and dumping tons of plastic waste as if consumers and our waste management crisis have nothing to do with it.

Let’s dive deeper into some of the waste issues. Did you know that forests help absorb a good chunk of carbon emissions? Did also you know that, in America alone, about 1 billion trees worth of paper is thrown away? Not recycled, thrown away. As individuals, we throw away about 7 trees per person a year. So if they’re not being recycled, more trees are having to be cut down to replace and continue production. Can you see the problem here? More and more studies are showing the importance of trees, especially old growth, in regulating our planet’s temperature, however we can’t rely only on planting trees, it’s just one piece to the whole puzzle. We also use around 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour and most of them are not recycled. Recycling in America is having issues due to public confusion and lack of education about what is recyclable which has led to more and more garbage being thrown into recycling bins causing even more problems. A Yale study showed that we’re only at a small 21.4% recycle rate in the U.S. due to this and other waste problems. Yale also found, back in 2015, that we were also throwing away double the amount of plastic than originally thought. As for the world as a whole, 91% of waste isn’t recycled.

Even more recently, a study found the U.S. produces 3 times the global average of waste and among the lowest performers in waste management. Not only that, but the world as a whole has been selling its waste to poor developing nations to deal with, causing more waste issues which has led to a lot of waste mismanagement and overload, causing it to end up in the oceans and other natural spaces. Along side this, shipping and online business has contributed to this waste problem as well. The various methods of shipping also contain their own challenges and risks that can cause harm to the environment. Throw in the shipping of food products all over the world and even just buying imported foods from the grocery store supports GHG emissions and other waste problems.

Now on to the call-out nature of the article. The list of CEOs of these companies itself is also a bit silly. Blaming the CEO alone while ignoring the shareholders, which also contribute plenty to issues, and the consumers is nothing more than blame shifting. It’s a way to satisfy the call-out culture and also a self pat on the back for pretending like something was actually done to help the situation by sharing the article without actually doing anything. Again, the article even encourages people to give up on the thought that individual action actually has an impact. We have a significantly larger effect on our local environments and bio-regions than these CEOs or their companies. In many cases, the company is the source, but it is our money that funds and supports them. We as consumers are fueling the fire, but as long as we have someone else to blame, we can ignore that fact.

Companies grow and succeed from the consumer. When we choose to buy single use plastics like straws over environmentally safer solutions, we are supporting these companies. The choices you and I make with our money directly has an impact on the whole situation. To blame these companies and their CEOs and then also encourage others to ignore the “myth” of personal responsibility in the same article is actually mind blowing. They are telling us to blame the company, but also continue to support them with our money by continuing to buy environmentally irresponsible products. The products we buy and use does matter to our environments. Buying, using, and throwing away products that don’t biodegrade is having a direct impact as an individual whether we like it or not. Your choices do matter. There are alternatives, but they require a bit more effort and that just wont do in our current culture of instant gratification and consumption. We do have options, we just prefer to go the quick and dirty route.

Your plastic bottle can last for 450 years in the ocean, but even then it never goes away, it just breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastic. Your toothbrush, if you’re in the U.S., contributes to an annual 50 million pounds of toothbrush waste alone. Remember the waste management issues? Imagine how much of that ends up in natural spaces like the ocean.

Being a responsible consumer and purchasing biodegradable products does actually help. Growing your own foods or purchasing locally sourced food does actually help. Choosing to not support these companies does actually help. Calling them out and then continuing to support them does nothing to help. We have a lot of issues, from waste mismanagement to cultural attitudes, that contribute to the issue of climate and environmental damage. Naming problem companies is good, but shifting your own personal responsibility to feel better about yourself while doing nothing to change the problem is ridiculous. There is little practical application or value of this list that will actually help the problem other than to serve as a way for people to think they did something by sharing it.

It is not these comapnies and CEOs dumping trash in State Parks. It’s not these companies and CEOs throwing trash out of our car windows. It’s not these companies and CEOs leaving behind our trash on beaches. These companies and CEOs are not putting the products in our hands and forcing us to buy them. It is not these companies and CEOs leaving waste all over our streets and roadways. No, these are a result of irresponsible consumers stricken with apathy towards the environment.

Unless you live off the grid and produce 100% of your own food and natural based products (even then, there are still environmental impacts, just not as wide spreading), your name should be right there on that list with those companies and CEOs, my own included. Every one of us is responsible for the situation, we are all “killing the Earth” no matter how much you want to put on your blinders and shift the blame. We all share a responsibility towards our environment and each other, and this article going around spreads nothing but increased apathy. Even as individuals we have an impact on the environment.

On top of all of this, we have a culture problem. People generally just don’t care enough about the environment to actually do anything and most don’t seem to really appreciate the Earth and its resources. We are so used to quick and easy fast food culture that any kind of effort required by us is met with outrage and anger. A good example is the reaction people have had to straw and plastic bag bans. Convenience is king over everything. We desperately need a culture change which places the importance of the environment and the world we live in over the lazy convenience that damages it. We need better solutions and people willing to actually think about these solutions. Putting our own greed and selfishness below the importance of our world is what is going to provide a vehicle for us to change our path.

In order to add some practical value to this, unlike the original, here are some resources on how to reduce your impact:

https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_offices/armenia/help_us/eco_help_living/

https://www.greenchildmagazine.com/reduce-your-impact-on-the-environment/

https://en.reset.org/act/reduce-your-ecological-footprint-0

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” – James Gustave “Gus” Speth, U.S. Climate Change Adviser/ Advisory Council Represent. Us

Samhain 2018

Samhuinn/Samhain and Halloween have always been my favorite holidays and time of year. The build-up towards this time is one of the most enjoyable things for me. The trees start to turn, cooler temperatures and winds whisper faintly of the coming winter. The smell of soil and decaying leaves mixes with a feeling, a subtle and hard to describe feeling, that the veil is thinning. It’s a whole change of atmosphere and anyone attuned to nature and their local environment probably knows exactly what I’m talking about.

This year, like the last, I attended a charming circle and potluck organized by a few members of a local Gardnerian coven and hosted at a local metaphysical shop. At this time, it has been over a full year of attending their Sabbat circles. Although I’m not a Wiccan, it is nice to find a little fellowship in others on a similar path and it’s a great time for making connections in the local community of Pagans and witches. It is a much welcome change from no covens or organized Pagan activities at all that I experienced in my teen and young adult years growing up.

Last year one of my cousins was murdered, though I wasn’t very close to him in relationship or age, he was still honored among my deceased family. This year Samhuinn had even more meaning with the passing of my grandmother early this year. She was an important figure in our family and she and I were pretty close. With her in mind, I made my way to the circle with ritual garb and a barley soup contribution for the potluck.

Once there, the wonderful organizers gave a basic introduction course to the holiday to all who attended, followed by circle etiquette so there wouldn’t be any hiccups in the ritual. The clouds were dark and gloomy and halfway through the class, they opened up and pounded down on the building. There was concern that we would need to move the ritual inside to a much small space, but about 10 minutes later the rain stopped and allowed us to continue on.

I changed into my white robe wrapped with a golden yellow cord belt and made my way with the others outside to the circle. The main altar along with one for each direction was set up as usual, but this time a large cauldron centered in a fairy ring also accompanied them. The cauldron was filled with sand and was set to house candles for everyone to light in honor of their deceased loved ones and ancestors. At the foot of the table holding the altars were pictures of loved ones attendees brought to honor and connect with.

We started the ritual by constructing the circle and calling on the elements, followed by purification of all attendees. Once those tasks were completed, libations and food offerings were made to divinity. Then came the main event of the ritual, a dancing of the circle followed by the ancestor ceremony. We all took turns taking a candle to light and dedicate to our respective loved ones. Once this was done, the protocols for closing the circles were completed and we made our way inside for food and fellowship.

Although I enjoy the fellowship, I do still hold my own rituals and works outside of this circle that aligns more with my personal practice rather than Wicca. On the day of Samhuinn, I took the day off from work to give a brief video conference lecture on the history of Revival Druidry to a wonderful group of students in a Pagan society based out of a university in Wales. It was a fun experience and I hope to be able to do it again in the future. After that, I spent the day making offerings and tending closely to my family ancestor altar. Food and drink were provided, incense burned, and many candles lit to light their way.

Halloween for many is a time for candy and fun, but to many of us, it is also a time of reflection and mourning. It’s a time when the spirits return to visit and maybe even whisper secret messages to their living family. It’s a time of final harvest and preparations for the winter when the lands die to be reborn again in the spring and we are reminded that all things come to the end of a cycle and we too will someday perish.

May the Old One bless us with good health and fortify our minds and bodies.

Death and Monkhood

It’s been a while since I posted a blog now, but I haven’t stopped my planetary rituals. I took a long pause after the passing of my grandmother. I was pretty close to my grandma and she basically helped my mom raise my siblings and me in various parts of our lives due to paternal relationship issues.

She was already in bad health and had a small heart attack a few weeks prior to her death, but it still came as a shock. I flew out the next day halfway across the country to go attend her last few days before cremation. My grandma was a Thai Theravada Buddhist and she brought us into that culture and religion as clueless kids attending Thai cultural festivals and visiting the monks at the local Wat (temple). It was a strong hope that she would get the rites and ceremonies that she wanted and I’m glad that my uncles who are much more enveloped in the religion were able to coordinate with the monks for everything needed.

It’s a fairly common Thai custom for youngest males across the generations related to the deceased to become ordained as a monk for a short amount of time to earn good merit for the person who has passed. This is something I found out a day or two after flying to my home state and I quickly and happily obliged. I would gladly make my own sacrifices to help my grandma pass along.

The night before her cremation ceremonies, my uncle, cousin, and I shaved our hair in preparation for the morning’s ordination ceremony. This would make it quicker and easier for the monks since they wouldn’t have to cut it for us.

The next morning we woke up early and made our way to the Wat that I’ve known for most of my life to meet the monks. Three of the monks sat us down in front of the large Buddha statue in one of the public worship halls and we proceeded to pass items like robes, incense, and candles back and forth while receiving blessings from the monks. We did a lot of chanting and prostrating, repeating back the Pali and Thai chants the head monk intoned towards us. After what seemed about 30 minutes of chanting and prayer, the monks presented us with our robes and helped us change into our new roles as novice monks.

After this, we went back into the living area for the monks and talked over tea. Eventually, lunch time came around and we took our seats back in the main worship hall among all of the other monks and passed along a massive selection of food the lay folk had brought to feed the monks. I saw one of my grandmother’s best friends who was also from the same place in Thailand as she was. She had such a big warm smile seeing us ordained in honor of my grandma. There was some more chanting before eating and the lay people present did some response chanting and then sat in silent prayer while we began to eat. A short time later the lay people all began to take their lunch from the leftover food. It was a very interesting experience.


After we ate I helped one of the monks wash the eating utensils and large alms bowls they ate from. Not long after that, the head monk led me upstairs to collect books on Buddhism that we would bring with us to the funeral home for the people who weren’t Buddhist to look through. With a stack of books in my arms, we all loaded up into cars and were drove off to do the last rites for my grandmother.


The three monks who ordained us sat in a small arrangement of chairs at the head of my grandmother’s casket with us novice monks sat right behind them. My other uncle had placed a white string on my grandma’s chest and led it up into an alms bowl to rest until the monks needed it. The chanting began and went on for about 5 or 10 minutes until the string was unwound and passed along the front and back to us, all of us monks holding it to pass along blessings to the deceased.


More chanting followed and the string was then passed back to the monks in the front. At this point various close family members like my mom, aunt, grandpa, cousins, and siblings came forth and held packaged monks robes that were to be donated to the monks and Wat, into the casket to pass the good merits on to my grandma. Then, starting with the monks, we all went up and took a dried flower from a large bowl and placed it inside the casket giving our last farewells.


Once all family and friends had placed their flowers, the casket was closed, the string still placed inside, and each of us monks once again took hold of the string, leading the procession outside to the hearse to place her inside. My ordained uncle rode in the car with them as one monk had to keep hold of the string and ride with the casket.
Once we all arrived at the crematory we again took hold of the string and lead the casket over to the large furnace. At this point, the string was pulled from the casket and the casket was loaded into the furnace, door closed. Then more chanting started, loud vibrating chanting that echoed through the large warehouse-like building even over the hum of the furnace that was being readied. At what seemed to be the peak of chanting, my uncle pressed the button to start the flames.


From here, family and friends lingered to talk and support one another. The head monk that I’ve known since I was a small boy came over and held my arm and spoke to me about how good of a life my grandmother lived and the impermanence of life. We then loaded up and headed back to the Wat, this time with family, so that we could be released from the Sangha (monkhood).


We all entered the much larger public worship hall that is typically used for the large crowds that come for festivals and events and the three of us took our place before the three monks in front of another large Buddha statue, prostrating ourselves three times in honor of Buddha’s teaching, the Sangha, and our own Buddha nature. We did more chanting, repeating, and prostrating for probably another 5 minutes before we were released to go change back into our regular clothing.

Once we returned to our spots, the monks chanted more and gave all the family present blessings, flinging holy water over us. We then sat and talked for a while, slowly making our way outside to the beautiful temple grounds.


It was an amazing experience that I am grateful that I was able to take part in. There was something special about being able to participate in the last rites and ceremonies for my own grandmother to hopefully see her off to the next life.

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