Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash yesterday. My prayers go out to the entire family for the grief they are no doubt experiencing, and this event is also an opportunity to discuss something our culture avoids at every turn. Death is sensationalized in our popular media and gaming, but the authentic connection to those who are no longer embodied is rarely discussed in the over culture. My experiences of the transitions back to source tie directly into the intentions behind the Santos & Signs divination decks and the lifelong passion I have had for cemeteries, resurrection, and traveling between the realms.
Below is the story of how the Santos & Signs: Holy Intermediaries for Sacred Journeys decks emerged (along with the Madonnas & Virgens: Our Lady Oracle deck), with musings on how precious and ephemeral this life is, as well as how eternal and boundless.
Early Ancestor Engagements
The artwork in the Disintegrating Devotions decaying catholic cemeteries photography series taken in both Mexico and New Mexico comes out of a life-long communion between the worlds and with the dead. The series is a quest to find contemporary forms of honor, devotion, and communication between the worlds to reclaim the true heart of ritual and reverence. Since I was a child, I have had an acute awareness of the flawed belief in a single level to our earthly existence.
The Spirits have come to me since I was a child, both bidden and unbidden, with some of these exchanges being nourishing and others invasive and violating. This incarnation has never, ever been separated from the other worlds. My parents were also part of this destiny into non-ordinary realities, taking me to cemeteries and abandoned buildings since I was a toddler. These liminal places, where the earthly decay can have an astonishing beauty and power, became part of who I was.
My German grandparent’s home was a Grimm’s fairytale of dark corners filled with the ancestors. My German, Lutheran grandmother, had an Italian bust of the Virgin Mary that she oiled with a vaseline covered rag every day. Lutherans are not known for a major cult to Maria, and she was the one who covertly supported my natural spiritual leanings, keeping it on the down-low from my question authority Baby Boomer parents. That Italian icon sits on my altar to this day, a reminder that deity devotion has always traveled between cultures and communities, and humans have always integrated other traditions that have touched their own authentic spiritual souls.
As a teenager, one of my dreams was to travel the world, exploring cross-cultural burial traditions. Cemeteries always felt like home; they were quiet and held me in ways most of ordinary reality did not. When I was twenty and living as an Au Pair in Milan, Italy, my favorite place in that hectic urban center was the enormous cemetery filled with gorgeous mosaics and the imagery of the grave’s inhabitants transferred onto porcelain disks. Mama Maria waved back at you, beaming the vitality she carried in this last lifetime. It was a sanctuary within the city, a place where the trees and the birds and the insects found their own rhythms once again. And I continued my joyful apprenticeship to how we honor those who came before us.
Death and Rebirth
Death and birth have many similarities, having been blessed to witness two returns to the true home, and four infants coming into this next round of life. My husband’s death nineteen years ago was the turning point that catapulted me into new existences that my limited human ego could never have conceived of. The move to the desert Southwest was prophesized over two decades before it occurred with many different potent signs, but my conscious persona did not see it coming.
When I left the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest for the arid desert landscapes, there was a totally unanticipated kinship to these terrains. Part of this seven-year resurrection journey after Chris’s death birthed the Oracle of Initiation deck. With 70,000 ritualistic photographs taken, with over 40,000 of them alone and nude in subterranean graffiti tunnels and on the land in New Mexico, this was the physical, embodied communion that I had been seeking my entire life. The process was raw and real, disrobing to become one with Mama Gaia again, literally dancing between the realms. I became other, and there was a union that occurred during these Earthenbody processes that wed me to this enchanted land. I believe we are all seeking some form of sacred communion if we know it or not.
New Mexico Santos
Part of being between the world in this lifetime has been what I believe is bleed throughs from past lives. There are deep, visceral kinships to people, places, and things that the linear, single legacy lifetime theory does not explain. Falling in love with New Mexico was partly because the Santos are everywhere. There has always been an unexplainable connection to these holy intermediaries in my soul, with great respect for the communities which practice these living, vital traditions to honor them.
Almost anywhere you look in New Mexico, there will be a shrine or a mural to Guadalupe, Jesus, Santo Niño, and the Virgin Mary. The cemeteries are active sites of ancestral worship, and the jubilantly decorated gravesites speak to the belief that our earthly devotions to their memory matter. That part of how we are whole is by maintaining the relationships with those who are no longer embodied but remain present in spirit. These shrines to the departed are also humble, democratic memorials that touch into the essential human need for something beyond what we can see. An active act affirming our ability to ask for and receive support, trusting that we are never alone in this gruelingly beautiful earth walk.
Healing the Heart of the World Religions
Eight years ago, one of my teachers said astrologically we were in the process of healing the heart of the world religions. When I first heard that proclamation, every cell in my body sparked with the thought of what the world could be like if we could reclaim the essential grace, compassion, and beauty of our collective sacred rites. The Disintegrating Devotions series in the Santos decks is a pilgrimage to illuminate and share the humble power hidden in the Santos representations. These offerings are never meant to deny or minimize the horrors that have been perpetrated under the guise of colonialism and organized religion; they were created to celebrate the hardwired human need for rituals to navigate the complexities of this crazy life.
The Santos in the decks have traveled from many lands, all undergoing the natural process of syncretization, when cultures meet and share their traditions. At times this can be a brutal and complicated process, yet the deep need for spiritual intercessors continues to grow across the globe. Cultures create the sacred allies they need, embracing new characteristics to serve their localized situations. At our collective crossroads of crisis, the Santos called to have their images offered in a new format to access a broader range of modern mystics without monasteries, providing their transcendent wisdom, guidance, and support.
The Santos in the decks are predominately European and Middle Eastern in their origins, along with representations from Central and South America. The names of the decks are a respectful nod to the Spanish speaking origins of the locations the images were taken. Part of my draw to offering a range of Saints is to amend the colonialist delusion that Jesus and the Great Mother were always white. Some of the most devoted followers of the pantheon of Santos are in Latin countries, and to perpetuate the idea that Goddess/God/Source/Great Spirit is Northern European is disgraceful and simply wrong. Jesus was a brown-skinned Middle Eastern Jew.
Catholic means universal, a faith available to all, and Jesus and our archetypal Mother is for everyone. The Christ consciousness and the Divine Feminine energies, who are glorious in their pure states, have been co-opted and weaponized over the last few millennia. Yet across the globe, citizens have taken what they need from these holy figures and made them their own. These Santo images, taken with a beaming and reverent heart, are my small offering to reclaim dignity and justice in a world that is starving for meaning beyond self-gratification and the glorification of materialization. I see the Santos decks as offering solace for our fractures spirits, an entire corporation of otherworldly support opening access to personal, precious relationships with your own spiritual team of guardians and guides.
The call to explore and document the cemeteries in New Mexico amped up about five years ago. I cannot explain why certain subjects become profound passions projects, why they become activated to the degree that they will not be denied, but this lifelong fascination kicked into overdrive in the last few years. During this time, over 125 cemeteries have been visited in New Mexico alone. The process is consciously deferential, with the conversation starting at the gates to the cemetery. Permission to enter and honor for those gathered is always requested, with certain rituals and protocols followed.
This is the same consciousness that entering an abandoned building receives. These are liminal spaces full of Spirits, and being an artist and mystic with wide-open channels, there must be awareness and respect. As I enter the domain of the dead, my glee in the wildly imperfect beauty emanates off of me. There is something about the colorfully passionate, wild style adornments that are at odds with our idea of this being the end of our existence. It is a recognition that the decline of the body is merely another rotation for this particular soul, and by god, we should celebrate who they were to us. And one of the ultimate reasons I believe these images called to become decks was because this is one of the worldwide traditions that still actively feed the dead, and through those intentions, the Santos are alive. And that vitality is a calling to the collective to reclaim the worship traditions that our own cultures have discarded in this time of scientific empiricism. These Santos offer the energetic resonance of cultures that remember the original instructions, the old magic that could save us from ourselves.
Practices and Protocols
When doing this sacred work, I always ask if there are any other offerings requested, and throughout the process, continue to check-in and ask if it is OK to take images, thanking them for their splendor, presence, and support. They have said to me that my creative passion in these locations is a welcomed and honorable exchange; that having another living, embodied Spirit come and treasure these hallowed grounds offers them many gifts. These images are only taken with the deepest respect and gratitude for the tenderness that is encapsulated in these memorials to departed loved ones. Part of the draw to these decaying altars is how their crumbling façades remind us of our own ephemeral earthly existence. The decay is the paradox of divinity hiding in all of our clay footed impermanence.
These memorials can be an inspiration to people of any tradition, reminding us all that there is a sacred, soulful, nourishing energy available through living a life of devotion in motion. The Santos decks are contemporary icons that still carry the imprints of the ancient, indigenous goddesses and gods that we all prayed to. The ones who our fragile human souls made petitions to for another crop to survive, another mother to birth well, and another grandmother to have a good death and return to the true home. We need to know we are not alone, and many people are seeking traditions beyond the dogma of organized religion to heal their own beaming sacred hearts.
The Mystery of Creation
We are in a time when the hidden injustices are front and center, and many marginalized communities are having their first larger-scale access to voicing their experiences through social media and the internet. This is essential and long overdue. Being an Anglo who has been called to people and places beyond my lineages, it is a lifelong journey to tread respectfully within other communities. And in the realms of Spirit and the mysteries of creation, we do not know why projects come through certain people. There are higher authorities that are pulling on the webs of fate, and sometimes ideas wish to be birthed through the ones who are willing and available to do it. There is some portion of the web that that person is connected to that has value for this thing that the collective has called forth.
See Each Other’s Hearts
Two good friends of Latino descent emailed me recently voicing their hurt and concern that the Santos & Signs decks were culturally appropriative. It is an amazing thing when the people in your life are willing to tell you the hard things. Willing to love and trust you enough to be real and share some difficult things. One of the pieces that they brought up was the concern about profiting from another culture’s traditions. The imagery in the Disintegrating Devotions series is predominantly of Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origins with some of the First Nations and Pueblo traditions as well. They asked if I was donating some of the profits to the cultures that this iconography comes out of. This was so valuable, and I humbly offer that I had gotten so caught up in the whirlwind of creating the decks that I had not done this yet. I remedied that immediately, donating a portion of the profits to a local women’s shelter in Santa Fe and will continue to donate 10% of the profits in the future. I bow to these two beautiful women in my life who are on their own journeys of navigating the historical injustices we are all unpacking. And may we each see the love and honor in each other’s hearts as we travel these healing pathways.
I give great honor to the connection with the Ancestors and the unseen ones, as well as to those who are tending to the relationships between the worlds. We are family.