In the book Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarisa Pinkola Estes describes the folklore of “descansos.”
You’ve seen them, I’m sure: Little white crosses found by the side of the road in the Southwest states, Mexico, Greece, Italy and many other countries. They mark where someone’s life ended. Often they are decorated by the living who remember the deceased.
Estes describes exploring descansos by writing out the journey of her life, from beginning to present, on a large piece of paper. Where there is death, loss, transformation, pain or suffering, she lays or draws a cross (or a heart). These are places that need to be mourned, forgiven, released.
She says, “Descansos is a conscious practice that takes pity on and gives honor to the orphaned dead of your psyche.”
I was so pleased to see this tradition transformed into an actual ritual in another book I’m reading and reviewing, The Magical Writing Grimoire by Lisa Marie Basile.
I’m going to do her descansos based ritual for the upcoming dark moon (coincidentally on Father’s Day, June 21st), to recognize the hard parts of life, and help those dead memories, stagnant hopes, and jagged endings find their way out of limbo and into a place of rest.
This practice allows you to celebrate your life and your personal path, despite your pain.
An altar space
A bag of small votive candles
Flower petals of any variety, in colors that speak to you
Several small pieces of paper (however many you need)
Basile recommends that you do this on a weekend or during a time you won’t be interrupted. You will be creating a funeral for that which has never been properly buried or mourned in your life. Use a space that feels safe and clear from intrusion. Sacred.
In silence, sketch out the journey of your life. Childhood. Adolescence. Memories of loss. Pain. Grief. Being made to feel invisible. Being abandoned. Having to persevere without assistance, support, or a friend. Having to wear the mask of survival when you’ve been beaten down. Times in which poverty or illness or systemic oppression cut your path short. Eras in which you were alone. Homes in which you felt scared. The map-making of your life is a changing and personal process.
Draw your crosses at the appropriate spots on your map.
The author suggests filling in your chart with your beautiful moments later on, after you’ve properly mourned for what you have lost and suffered.
Next, write each of your eras, memories, homes, or moments onto a piece of paper and cross them out. This should be symbolic, sacred. Breathe through it. Light a single candle for each, and arrange flower petals around the paper and candle. You may choose other spiritual relics as well. Intuit this. Beautify the graves of the selves. Take time for each and every one that you write.
Don’t feel like you have to play into the gloom if that’s not your way. Instead, you can play the music you used to love, talk to your old self, and laugh about their mistakes. There is room for it all. The mourning process plays out differently for each of us.
As you look upon the map of self, say at each point, “You are loved and laid to rest.” Of course, you can say more: A song, a poem, a remembrance. Just be sure you lay that point to rest.
Happy Summer Solstice, Father's Day and Waning Moon.