Ashes to Ashes

This writing is coming from my January 2, 2013 Writing Practice. The Topic: Write about ashes.

My first thought was the book Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. I really need to reread this book with the eyes I have now as opposed to those when EVERYONE was reading this book about twenty years ago.

This thought transitions me to the wonderful NJWPT Writing Retreats that I attended all thorugh the 1990s and early 2000s. I was introduced to the book Angela’s Ashes through NJWPT as I was to so many wonderful pieces of literature…many contemporary…through and annual reading list created by the directors, Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson.

Now, back to retreats and the thoughts of ashes. As tradition had it for this annual writing retreat, participants were encouraged to find a stick that spoke to them. Once found, this stick was to be used as a vehicle for a prayer, a hope, a wish, a dream, something personal, individual, and special that would be let go to the Universe. These sticks were everything from the tiniest twig to near tree branch size. The person’s supplication scratched on the bark surface or attached through elaborate decorations of string, feathers, or any other manner of decoration and beauty.

On Saturday night of the retreat, a BBQ was always held along the Guadalupe River. After eating, the group would congregate around an outdoor bonfire area. We listened to an elder of the group read something that inspired them and they wanted to share, the author in residence might share one more piece…book experpt or a poem, and/or any of our own might end up playing familiar songs for all of us to enjoy Listening to and sing along.

Before the bonfire was lit, Eddie would always remind us of the great sacrifice of a young Comanche girl in Tomi dePaola’s book The Legend of the Bluebonnet. As the story goes, a young girl gave her prized warrior doll to be used as a burnt offering to the Great Spirits in hopes of ending the drought. Ashes from this offering were scattered to the four winds. As a result, the drought ended and great fields of bluebonnets grew where the ashes landed.

Eddie would add ashes to the prepared bonfire from the previous year’s celebration and the fire would be struck for the new year. As the wood caught, we were encouraged to share wishes, dreams, prayers, supplications, etc. from years past that were carried to the Universe on the wings of smoke and fire and came to fruition. During this time, participants began placing their individual sticks on the communal bonfire for new hopes, dreams, wishes and prayers to be heard. This was always inspiring and uplifting as we heard the shared stories of joy and celebration. As the spirit of the celebration moved each person, all sticks found their way to the bonfire for a new year’s blessing of fire. Many times we sat and watched the flames in the growing dark before making our way back up the hill to the auditorium for the evening’s final gathering and wine and cheese fellowship.

Eddie sets the stage each year with an explanation that ashes from the previous year are always added to the fire so any supplications previously not addressed could be mixed with ashes from the new ones and carried once again to the Universe. To continue the legend and tradition, Eddie would collect a vile of cooled ashes the next morning to keep sacred for the coming year. Afterward, he would toss ashes from the bonfire to the four winds asking the Great Spirits of the Universe to hear the supplications. And, so it goes…Ashes to Ashes…Dreams to Dreams!

This was always a very special part of our weekend retreat and something looked forward to each year. Unfortunately, over time, none of my wishes, dreams, prayers or supplications came true…perhaps, I just did not believe strongly enough in allowing the Universe take over for me and let things in my life take their own course.

Always I wish you peace, joy, and happiness, but most of all I wish you LOVE.

As Ever, Annie

First published January 28, 2013


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