Tag Archives: spirituality

Do You Know This Woman?

The Mystery Of Hattie Reams Vande Riet – Part 1

What we know

“Hattie” Reams Vande Riet sat still in an ornate wicker chair at New York Art Gallery at 305 E. Broad St. in Richmond VA approximately one hundred years ago. This posed cabinet card captured her green, light hazel, or dark blue eyes and brown hair rolled into an ornate nest Gibson Girl above her head. Her neck scarf collar and broach with necklace and pinky ring are all carefully selected indications of her class. She was stunning and when I found her at Luxor in 2010 and fell in love.

What I know so far is that Hattie is a nickname for Harriet, Henrietta, Henriette, Helen, or many other traditional female names. Based on the type of cabinet card, photography chemicals used (gelatin bromide over Baryta I think – cannot confirm without damaging the photograph), and the style of attire, the photograph is from the 1890s – 1910s. Hattie appears to be at least 16, placing her year of birth to be in the 1880s – 1900s if she is exceptionally young looking and in her 20s. Given her lack of pierced ears, her jewelry, and her ring placement, she is educated and affluent or hoping to appear as such. It is unclear whether the photograph is pre or during World War I given the hairstyle, though the Gibson Girl fell out of fashion after World War I and during the Influenza Epidemic placing the photograph as no later than the 1910s.

One possible option I tracked down is here. There is some conflicting information between the name on the card and the name listed here. The cursive on the back of the card lacks the spaces and capitalization. So far this is my best lead, but unfortunately, all of the relatives listed on this family tree are deceased.

Based on the year of marriage listed to John Van De Riet, could this have been her bridal/bachelorette portrait? The hairstyle and dress are accurate to Virginia in November of 1906.

Do any of those names look familiar to you? Are they your parents, great grandparents, or great great grandparents? Is Hattie your family member?

Why?

I collect cabinet cards, but Hattie is special. Whenever I obtain a cabinet card with more information than a face, I can’t help but try to find out who these pictures captured. Early photography was a synergistic art form between timing, chemistry, and the capturing of minutes as opposed to hours in time in a way that was lifelike and included human flaws, and thus souls in the opinions of some, unlike portrait painting where commissioned manipulations by the upper-classes were more common (a study of the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous on this topic).

Hattie is someone’s relative and because I have her name I want to reconnect her though this archiving. So this is where our story begins with the first cabinet card I hope to digitize and reconnect with her descendants.

At the time I purchased her photograph, I also found one of an unnamed blond-haired post-mortem (the 1860s – 1880s based on photography method) toddler boy forever alone in his Christening clothes and forgotten by the family that knew him so briefly. I find it important that he never be alone again. I will never digitize his photo for ethical reasons. (I have a love of Hidden Mother Photography and other early child portrait methods. They fill me with warm fuzzies. I will go into these in another post dedicated to early child portrait photography.)

The Cabinet Card Descendants Project

The first cabinet card that is part of this project is Hattie. She was the first cabinet card I purchased with this level of detailed information and therefore I will focus on her first.

Very few cabinet cards have enough information to connect them with their families once they’re separated. My mom’s family is lucky enough that every cabinet card we’ve ever had taken is still in our family’s possession (that we know of) – including the (sometimes broken) glass negatives. Photography became related to spirituality in the South, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as family members died farther and farther away from home without the constant love and contact they once had. Families dispersed across the United States, mailing cabinet cards through the United States Postal Service to loved ones back home with the superstition that each one of these cards contained a small piece of their soul – a gift to be cherished. This bit of superstition was one relayed to me through family legend and is not one I can put much stock in (hope you enjoy the pun there), but many did at the time the photos were created.

I do not fault families for giving these away. Superstitions die over time and are entirely relative to where you are from. The belief in a soul and the afterlife is questionable in the face of modern skepticism. That said, I am making an effort to digitize every cabinet card I get that has names associated with the faces. I will then provide research to attempt to reconnect to the original portrait studios to see if I can start adding names to the other cabinet cards. This way they can be digitized and added to other genealogy websites.

A Note On Cultural Differences

For readers in the UK, please note there are cultural and chemical differences in cabinet card photography between our continents. I have run into the issue previously with discussing old photographs where readers from the UK (and for some reason only the UK) try to impose assumptions on antique photographs from the US based on cultural history and expectations associated with the Edwardian and Victorian eras elsewhere in the world and argue this without doing their research and fact checking. Please do not do this. This is not how history works. At all. Seriously.

The United States experienced a massive social upheaval from the 1840s through the 1940s in a very different way than that of the UK and rest of the world. Every culture and even subgroup has its unique history that can be contributed and needs to be exposed as opposed to erased. This project is about exposing what is objective. I cannot work based on incorrect cultural assumptions here and I need to be able to make corrections so I can reconnect individuals. Some of the unique experiences in the United States had to do with the size of our country and how its population spread out with the rise of the railroad and westward expansion. The rise of the Spiritualism movement (very different from Spiritualism in the UK) also had a role to play in photography at the time, but likely had to less to do with this particular photograph.

How You Can Help

If you have information that can help track down Hattie’s living family members, either by knowing someone that shares a name or if you recognize her face as a relative of yours, please feel free to share any leads you may have. I will take my time to check out each one and provide updates on this website. If anyone wants, I may even start a YouTube series dedicated to this project and tracking down the descendants so they can meet their long lost great grandparents through photographs.

You can send tips to lopotterwrites at gmail dot com. You can also help by liking, sharing, and talking about Hattie! Let’s help find Hattie together.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today. I look forward to helping Hattie find her family and moving on to the next cabinet card in my collection with information and will continue to post information on cabinet cards and the history of portrait photography and how it relates to superstition and spirituality in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A Yearly Renewal Of Vows

What is a wedding anniversary? Beyond being the day each year that the event of a wedding occurred, it is so much more! It is a day to reflect on the past, the present, and the future to come with your spouse and the communities joined by the union of marriage.

As we lined up with the last minute change to put me at the end

On September 2, 2018 I walked toward the rocky cliffs of the Maine coastline where my best friend waited for me, standing next to his father (our officiant) between our friends and chosen family. As they processed down the aisle, this instrumental version of A Thousand Years played. Amanda pulled me aside and reminded me that this was what I should pay attention to – this is what I will remember – the moment before everything begins. It’s important to have close, lifelong friends like this in our lives. Thank God I am blessed to have a friend like that.

Amanda looked so beautiful.

An instrumental version of Candle On The Water played as I walked toward Jacob – the rewritten duet I created for our wedding playing in my head.

Before us a community brought together through our lifetimes guided us through a ceremony of our own design (based loosely on old Norwegian and New England heritage waterman traditions. My father had to bow out of his role as a fiddler due to surgery on his wrist years ago).

Once we said our “I dos” and the community said their “We dos” we left to the Vitamin String Quartet’s version of Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.

I recently read an article that remarked a concern that I’ve seen repeated my whole life: is marriage dying? As long as there is love and there are humans falling into it – no. Marriage is not dying. I promise 2020 is not going to kill it.

Our marriage was not about legal benefit, it was not about a big party, and the ceremony could have proceeded without any legally binding contract or even the <50 people that were present. Marriage is about something much deeper. Marriage is about community and the joining of communities – the chosen families we accumulate through our lifetimes. And though we don’t plan to have biological children, we plan to raise children within these joined communities.

One of our flower “girls”, Calleigh, in her tiara and dress with a color matching mine

Marriage is valid even when children are not involved. Communities can be joined simply for love and to join families that are meant to be together. That may sound trite, but it is a beautiful, valid, amazing thing I will need to go into more detail on at some point. Marriages “of the soul” are valid, if not more so, than any legal contract – if two individuals remain together even though they are free to leave does that not make their union more valid than those who remain together out of legal obligation? I think specifically of a widow friend. Though never legally married, I will always view her as the rightful widow and the one and only true love of a late friend.

Every year we are faced with the opportunity to reexamine our union, and 2020 is no different. We are blessed to have joined our two families and to spend the rest of our lives with each other, and I promise there is nothing more healing than finding a friendship that sows seeds of love wherever it touches your life.

And so, without further ado, on this second anniversary, I share the proof of the design project I’ve been working on with our vows. Consider creative ways to celebrate love. I decided to take our vows and re-write them into the shape of a lighthouse.

You are 
my best friend;
My partner in this adventure.
You have shown me the 
Definition	of	Love 
And encourage me to share 
that with the world
I will always have 
the time for you, 
And       for      us.
I   promise  to  be
Your   best  friend,
 Your	      Partner, 
And your  Spouse.
I	will	hold 
The     	   Boundary 
Between what I can do 
And    what    I    cannot; 
For  though  I  may  wish 
To make everything perfect
Life  is  about  experiencing 
All things: both good & bad.
I       will        support      you
 As	  you	  support        me 
And	at	the center of my life 
I  place  our  marriage  and  our  future 
as we raise a family and honor the generations 
of memories, heritage, and tradition that our families have passed down.
Through all the storms, when you are at sea, I will be your lighthouse.

The shape of the lighthouse is based on the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse (without the keeper’s house) in Bristol, Maine where we held our ceremony. There’s still room for improvement – I’m aware! For those using assisted readers, I have included our vows in the alt text.

Part of planning our ceremony was bringing a community together. Jacob’s mother’s wedding dress became the stole for Jacob’s father’s officiant robes.

My mother and Nana wove the knots and did all of the floral arrangements for the wedding, including my bouquet. As per family tradition, these knots were saved and are displayed at holidays around our home.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen carried lanterns that were an arts and crafts project labor of love between Becky, Kate, Heather, and myself. These beautiful lanterns were constructed using LED lanterns that can be purchased at a craft supply store like Michaels and bulk loose wooden flowers in the colors sage, sky blue, dusty rose, natural wood, and ivory. Those wooden flowers were used for decorating throughout the weekend, including on the cake.

After our ceremony, we proceeded back to the Bradley Inn. They provided an inclusive wedding package at a reasonable cost compared to other similar venues (that did not have on-site lodging) with gluten free and allergy conscious catering with menu options that acknowledged all of our heritage traditions. It was a truly remarkable experience. We were even able to set up a dance floor!

One guest made the comment about how they worried they were at the “gay table.” The hardest/most awkward thing we had to disclose later was that we actually had to put together a “straight table.” Welcome to the 21st century! As a reader may be able to tell our accent metallic colors were in the copper to rose gold range with some aged bronze thrown in.

We kept the invitation list very small. We invited fewer than 50 people and still have spare invitations for future memories to share. I guess in 2020 it’s valuable to share our experiences with planning a small wedding such as this.

It would be an absolute shame if I failed to mention our cake by Hippie Chick Bakery (pictured below). This champagne, ginger, raspberry cake was gluten free, dairy free, and 100% divine. The top layer kept in Jacob’s parents’ freezer for a year and a half with minimal freezer burn, so we were able to fulfill that tradition as well! It turns out gluten and dairy are not required.

Our very first dance as a couple was to a special duet version of Broken Road by Rascal Flatts. This was followed by the realization during the planning stage that we had both chosen Paul Simon songs as our Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances. The song chosen for that first dance with my father was Father And Daughter with each lyric carefully examined. This song captures my relationship with my father in a way I could have never predicted until I did that.

Jacob and his mother chose Loves Me Like A Rock for similar reasons.

One unusual bit of our wedding compared to others people may have experienced in America is that we had a dance that brings the community together as a singing/dancing hymn after the “first dances.” This hymn is called “Lord Of The Dance” and is a Shaker hymn. It’s important to note that Shakers do not traditionally believe in marriage and this is part of why they’re dying out.

File:Shakers Dancing.jpg
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shakers_Dancing.jpg
A close up of our dancing

But back to the lanterns really fast – we don’t have pictures of this part of the event sadly. As the wedding party lined up and we walked out of the reception, the lanterns were lit to guide our path into the future through the darkness. As we walked out, our wedding DJ (Bob Wilson – Maine) conspired with us to play Pachelbel Canon in D as played on rubber chickens as our exit song. Because this is Us.

Our friend Krieger doing his due diligence
Many thanks to Doreen at Seams Sew Elegant for all of the help!

As I look back on that day, and all of the work that went into making it happen, I do have one regret. My eldest sister had a speech prepared and the person hired to make sure microphones got into the correct hands and things went smoothly handed the microphone to the wrong person. As in, the exceptionally wrong person. Things did not go smoothly. Feelings were very hurt. Two years later, this still hurts. My sister still hasn’t shared those special words with us and I can only hope that someday we will be gifted with the honor of hearing them.

But given we planned a wedding from over 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers) away and that’s the hardest lasting hiccup, even though I purchased a used dress that needed extensive alterations, left a toxic PhD program, and started a whole new journey focusing on my art and writing… The truth? It’s all better than my wildest dreams could have ever imagined.

At the end of the day, through all of the stress, we joined two communities: one from the North and one from the South. We did this through the efforts of everyone involved in making the day happen. And we did end up signing a legal contract because it’s America.

We still ended up married and many more people will continue to get married. For this, we give thanks.

Credits
Bei Capelli – Hair and Make Up
Love Pop – Invitations – we chose their now-retired lighthouse design.
James Allen – wedding bands
Adair Jewelers – Lo’s engagement ring setting
Tiffany & Co. – Jacob’s engagement ring
Kate Crabtree Photography – Photography

This post contains no affiliate links. Feel free to click and follow – I’m not earning any money from this.

Thank you for joining me in honoring our 2nd wedding anniversary. I hope that this inspires those looking for ways to celebrate their love in a time of social distancing and more intimate celebration restrictions. If you enjoy this post, please like, comment, and/or share. It helps me know which posts my readers enjoy most.

Things That Influence My Writing: Scientific Magic

Well, that’s a loaded title! In this post I will be answering some questions that have come up during discussions on writing techniques I use and my own personal practices. I promise this is less scary than it sounds to those that are already nervous. With each question I am going to discuss how the topic influences my writing and how it is all part of the tools that are useful in writing, meditation, and introspection.

What Is A Hedge Witch?

A hedge witch is a solitary individual practicing Hedge Witchcraft. If you want to be silly about it, think of someone that really likes playing with rocks, trees, sticks, and plants while practicing mindfulness in everything they do. Let’s emphasize the intense, solitary study of plants and their unique properties. The image conjured is meant to pay tribute to the wise woman that lived as a hermit on the edge of a village or “beyond the hedge”. The idea being that they found “magical intent” in everyday routine and the natural world. Like a fine wine, they age uniquely into the perfect storybook character: my life goal.

That said, I’ve always been someone that has trouble with anything that could possibly be defined as “magical thinking”. I have concepts of what is and is not ethical, and prefer to break something down into its smallest part – understanding the systems that govern it from the inside out, or bottom up depending on who you’re talking to. I want everything to be evidence based and peer reviewed and it turns out that a lot of what I consider to be magic has very little to do with what many would consider religion. Nothing in this practice has anything to do with worship, rather it is devoted to the study and understanding of a natural world.

Is It Like A Hedgehog?

No.

But I have heard of hedgehogs being tamed and kept as pets and the name comes from a similar etymology relating to “hedge”. Also, Jacob really likes hedgehogs.

Do You Make Magic Potions? How About Herbs, Plants, & Tea?

When I lived in the Castro of San Francisco, I worked as a clinical herbalist. This meant that I worked with a lot of terminally and chronically ill patients looking to regain their autonomy wherever they could by replacing supportive medications with herbal equivalents supported by peer reviewed research. I worked with pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to ensure everything these patients used was safe for them and no critical/essential medications were ever replaced. This was not *that* kind of place and we were absolutely not a dispensary. For clarification, at the time in the state of California clinical herbalists could not practice with medical cannabis products due to separate regulations, nor did I want to deal with the liability and legal grey area. This never stopped random people from stopping in and asking if we sold anything that could get them high, at which point I had to direct them to a sign that specifically said if they asked that question they were required to leave the store. If the individual had a medical card in the state of California, did not ask that question, and was simply confused, I could direct them to other businesses within the same neighborhood.

The active compounds in plants are sold in 3 primary ways: dried matter, distillation, and infusion. Dried matter is ground and prepared based on how the active compounds in the plants are best extracted: fat soluble vs. water soluble. This has to do with chemistry I don’t need to get into here. What it comes down to is that many patients elect to consume their medicine by drinking custom compounded tea.

Having worked in agricultural research and alongside herbal medicine practices culturally practiced throughout my life, I loved this job and was sad when the location I worked went out of business due to high rent prices in San Francisco and the low profit margins associated with these types of products. Where I worked was replaced with a high end shoe store that I doubt helped any AIDS or cancer patients.

I recently assisted a friend with an herbal combination and it reminded me how much I love this practice. People often forget how much control they have over their own symptom management when it comes to chronic conditions and it brings me joy when people take that back with something like using chamomile for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder under the supervision of a trained medical professional (see peer-reviewed double-blind placebo controlled studies 1, 2, 3).

Plants are a major focus for pharmaceutical discovery. Some people forget that the majority of medications on the market are derived from natural products like plants, their endophytes (such as Taxol from yew trees and salicylic acid from willow bark) and molds. Through ethnobotanical studies, the study of how cultures around the world use plants, we gain insight into medicinal compounds derived from plants. The synthetic products we see on shelves are often based on these natural products that may even have been viewed previously as poisons. The dose makes the poison, after all.

While reading “The Moon Hunters” by Anya Pavelle, I immediately understood the significance of a character consuming copious amounts of parsley. For the same reason, I found a friend of mine’s lifelong infatuation with parsley mildly humorous. Let’s be honest – who doesn’t like parsley?

Though I no longer professionally work in this field, I enjoy plants as symbols in writing and I pay attention to how authors choose for plants to be used in their stories. I sometimes talk at great lengths about this to others if they make the mistake of asking. At least now you can make an informed risk!

Tarot Cards, Oracle Cards, And Rune Stones

I have always been fascinated with divination, but not for reasons beyond self reflection, meditation, and helping me see the world in a new way. I don’t believe that any of these tools can predict the future. Instead, I think they can help the viewer gain personal insight into potential outcomes of their own actions as well as new understanding of the past. There’s no “magic” to this beyond what someone creates within their own mind. Think of it like creating a structure or system your brain can map information onto.

I guess there is something magical about personal insight. That feeling of epiphany when you make a connection that you didn’t previously understand. I admit I may be addicted to that feeling to the point I constantly seek out new information and incorporate it into my world views so I can change and adapt. The personal insight gained from any 5 card spread or runic cross is not dependent on the actual cards or runes drawn though. It’s entirely dependent on the willingness to see the interpretation and how it is relevant to you. What pieces of your life in that position (distant past, near past, present, near future, distant future – or however you lay the cards) match this symbol? The beauty of this is that there are no situations where someone could fail to gain personal insight unless they choose not to.

I like to combine three methods because I think this provides the most input to think about and it’s the most helpful when it comes to helping me write. I’ll explain that more in a bit.

Crystals? Scientific Magic?

I love rocks. It’s a family trait. My sister has this amazing gigantic geode slab in my nephew’s bedroom and while I’m not a believer in crystal healing, I do love that before the age of one he’s already the fourth generation to love rocks. Our grandfather was a geophysicist and taught us geology. One of my favorite subjects tended to be how heat and pressure could cause crystalline structures to form. I’ve always been really into molecular structures and how these invisible forces govern the universe. When I look at shiny objects, that’s what my brain is reminded of: invisible forces governing the universe. That glitter.

I love the sciences and am a supporter of science education. I believe the sciences are forms of magic we can often see with our eyes. We can use the sciences to predict the weather, understand the universe around us, and transform matter from one state to another in the same sense that the original chemists called themselves alchemists. If ever there was a way to believe in magic it would be through the study of the scientific fields. Many forget that this is the origin of magic – a pure wonder and pursuit of understanding of the mystery that is our existence.

How Does This Help Break Writer’s Block?

I mentioned that I like to use tarot cards, oracle cards, and rune stones in writing. I find that it’s particularly helpful in cases of writer’s block and will use the results to outline a story. I’ve considered writing on this topic in depth with more examples, but I’m not sure how it will be interpreted by communities that take these practices as communication with a spirit realm, or a number of other more religious focused forms of these practices. I have no intention of conveying disrespect.

I spend a significant amount of time building the settings in which my stories will take place, so any “divination” for the multiple characters within those places helps to decide which of these characters are going to be involved. Sometimes this is more interesting and provides better direction for writing than pulling character names out of a hat.

One of the unique aspects of this practice is that the meditation and personal insight do not go away when I’m using a tarot spread. Instead, I am projecting the epiphanies I have into whatever I’m outlining and creating.

It’s important to note that this is all in the pre-writing, outlining, and drafting stages. I doubt anyone can actually tell I’ve done this when they read my writing because all references are removed and replaced with the insights that they provided – that’s the point.

Is This Appropriative?

This is a loaded question. I’ve read numerous arguments about the use of tarot cards, oracle cards, and rune stones by themselves as cultural appropriation or not being cultural appropriation. I have seen those that argue it is only appropriative if you wear the costume of another culture that is not your own, while others argue anything purchased from a new age store is appropriation and that all new age stores should be burned to the ground. That article was a bit on the scary extreme side and I’d rather not provide traffic to any blog actively calling for violence and/or arson.

Others argue that imitation is the grandest form of flattery and we should embrace multiculturalism, or else those of European descent are left with practices that are historically governed almost exclusively by that which survived the cultural slash and burn of European history written by the “winners” (aka Christians). These practices themselves are problematic in their own ways and are the same ones that were forced on many indigenous populations. While there are some out there working to revive and focus on the mysticism of early Europeans that generations of conquerers attempted to erase (Hi Sean!), be gentle – they’re working with limited historical information and nothing is that simple.

In regards to my spirituality, that is a very complex topic for me. Philosophically, I have been a practicing Buddhist for 15 years. I do not believe in reincarnation. I do not hang Tibetan prayer flags, nor do I plan to take any pilgrimages that end in a hammered Sanskrit tattoo. I do celebrate some of the holidays privately, though I do not apply for religious exemption from an employer for them. These are my personal decisions.

Keep in mind that there are entire religions founded on multiculturalism, such as Unitarian Universalism. You can see their official statement on appropriation here.

I am not an expert on this and I do not want tell anyone what to believe on this topic. One thesis written by a student at the University of Maine, discusses what is and is not cultural appropriation and the controversies in extensive detail. Be sure to give that a read! Another great work by someone that practices in a different way than I do is Willow at Flying The Hedge. I believe that spirituality is a personal choice and how one chooses to practice is a similarly personal decision.

Does This Include Things Like The Age Of Aquarius And Wicca?

History time! The Age Of Aquarius refers to “the current or forthcoming astrological era” that follows The Age Of Pisces. According to some, The Age Of Aquarius started in 1844 with the founding or the religion of Babaism. I don’t put any stock in astrology. I know many have fun with it. I’m not judging those who do. I’m not someone who picks out the astrological signs for each of my characters. That said, this is an absolutely valid technique for character building.

In regards to Wicca, the phrasing is a little inside out. The set of practices used by a hedge witch, and the use of divination tools are included by some in their practices, but I am not Wiccan by any definitions it turns out. I am not a member of any organized group, nor do I seek out others. I am also not a writer on these topics. That said, if you are interested in reading about Wicca, it’s history, ethics, and spiritual awakening, I recommend checking out Jessica Baumgartner’s books, articles and essays and J Steger’s writing on its origins!

Does This Have A Greater Meaning To Me Beyond Writing And Meditation Techniques?

I love plants, rocks, and the natural world. I love the magic that science reveals. My undergraduate major, after a few changes, settled on plant biology. I love ethnobotanical studies. And I love writing.

Beyond bringing together things in my life that bring me joy, no, it doesn’t have any greater meaning to me, but it’s all relative. Where and how do you rank introspection and meditation that reveals new connections and information?

But You Have A Black Cat?

I have a black cat because I like black cats. It’s that simple. No deeper meaning. Nyxie is my precious, talkative little house panther. That’s it.

No, Like, Are You A WITCH?

…No.