Peg asked what utiseta was and I tried to answer her in a comment, but it seemed suddenly to be too complicated for a comment.
Utiseta means “sitting out.” It’s a divinatory practice where you go out and sit on the graves of your dead relatives in order to seek advice from them.
As I’ve mentioned to Shaun Groves, I don’t know what happens to us when we die. I hope I’ll go to be with my family, but I suspect I’ll just cease to be. Neither one of those options scares me. Being dead doesn’t scare me. Dying, of course, does.
I wouldn’t be so afraid to die if I knew for certain that we continued on in some form or that we didn’t. I don’t know, though–hence my fascination with ghosts, hence my inability to practice a religion.
I have no faith.
But here’s what I do know. I know for certain that my dead relatives existed. I know they did, because here I am. I might not know their names or much about them other than some vague generalities, but I know that they were real.
I also know, without a doubt, that, if they still exist in some way, that they give a shit about me, about my well-being. I know that, if they can, they care about me and hope along with me for the best for me, even if we might have different ideas about what that means.
I know that because I knew plenty of them who felt that way when they were alive.
I often doubt my family’s sanity; I often marvel at their fucked-up-ness; but I have no doubt that they love me and that, if it can, that love extends beyond death.
I also know that they left a great amount of stuff they thought was important behind–stories about gods hanging in trees, about a god born to a virgin in a stable, about giants and wolves and travelers and lost loves–and even if I can’t have faith that those stories are “true” in the literal sense, I know for certain those stories spoke important truths to the members of my family.
And because they were important to them, the stories are important to me. If those stories have literal truth to them, and not just metaphoric truths, then those beings are important to me.
I don’t quite feel comfortable saying that I think they’re literally real, but I think, in a large sense, that doesn’t matter.
One thing I think my ancestors were right about is that luck can be cultivated. The more you are in right-relation with your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your community, the more fortunate you might be. And not just you, but your whole family, and by extension, your friends, your neighbors, and your community. If you practice well-being, everyone benefits.
And part of well-being and tending to one’s fortune, I think, involves being in right-relation to your folks–the dead ones and the ones you aren’t even sure really exist.
So, I don’t go sit outside. For one, obviously, I don’t have any graves of my people to sit on and I think it’d be rude to go bother folks who have no stake in my well-being, and for the other, hobos. It’s not the kind of backyard one can just go sit out in all night safely. Plus, I don’t want to freak the neighbors. The crazy Christians are just now talking to us.
But I do think it’s important to just shut up and listen–to nothing, to whatever your subconscious puts forth, to maybe something else–and so I take nine consecutive nights every October and remove myself from my mundane shit and wait to see what comes forth.
In order to do that in a space that feels nothing, if not mundane, it helps to go through a series of things that say “now, this is different. My room usually isn’t lit like this. It usually doesn’t smell like this. These things usually aren’t present.”
And, obviously, the house never smells like burning sage–because sage really stinks when it burns. Which is why I find it useful and why I fight with the Butcher about it every year.