rb-badger-wave-copyWe were borne before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it

~From Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

*This post reflects my thoughts as I’m trying to find ways to feel hopeful and positive in a world gone dark.

So I was just planning to write ‘Into the Mystic’ which was going to be about some of the spiritual experiences I’ve had but then I really wanted to write about the beautiful altars we are creating here and too, I wanted to write about the music video, Always Stay Humble and Kind. In the midst of all these thoughts however, I realized that the The Return of the Beer Fairy, actually just the Beer Fairy was somehow a part of this too.

So maybe I can bring this all together..anyway I want to try

Into the Mystery/Mystical Experiences

Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Probably the most influential and significant teacher I ever had was Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, pioneer in the field of death and dying and author of the international bestseller, On Death and Dying.

Elisabeth was a psychiatrist who worked with terminally ill patientsFile_01 ekr:khamala and she was also a chain smoker.  There was a lot of judgement about her smoking from judgemental people and she often wore a t-shirt that said “Bitching about my Smoking will be Hazardous to your Health.” She also had a t-shirt that said “Just Visiting this Planet”visit-planet

I loved her for many things but partly because of these seeming contradictions….she was a rebel.ekr-et She was no holier- than- thou person and when people at her emotionally intense and cathartic Life, Death and Transition workshops, screamed out their pain, their anger and hurled curses and abuses at God, she would say simply “God can take it”

My first what I would call mystical experience, happened after I came back from one of her 5 day live-in workshops.

I had felt peace, real peace at that workshop which was held atsan-luis-rey-arch the Old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside California. The overwhelming, ever present fear that I live with left.

When I got back to Texas though- I was living in Houston then, a strange thing happened: I had no thoughts and no awareness of time-an hour or an entire day were the same. I called my therapist who I was seeing at the time because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I felt totally at peace as opposed to, as one therapist put it, “Always on High Alert”. I was happy just to be and feel the peace but since I had no sense of time,  I was concerned that I would forget to pick my son up from school.

My therapist suggested a few things to bring me down and out of this state: I could either go visit my parents or drink a beer. I tried this and I went back to my normal state of fear and anxiety.

Several years later, the same thing happened again: I was about to watch a Shakespearean play that my son was in at the Point Outdoor Theater in Ingram Texas.point-theater The misty, foggy night reflected the spirit of the play at this theater which is on the banks of the Guadalupe River and a man dressed in a medieval costume had come with his falcon. Before the play started he would let his falcon fly over the audience to his assistant on the other side.

I remember that I wasn’t in a very good mood. I was sitting with some friends waiting for the play to start when the falcon flew directly over my head…. and I went with the falcon. It was the same experience as before: no thoughts, no worries, no sense of time..the peace that passeth all understanding”. But I was working on a photo/oral history exhibit at the time and in my peaceful state, I had no interest in finishing it. Again I chose to come down…. from the peace.

I have had some mystical experiences since though different. Elisabeth taught me a way to be in touch with my spirit guides/guardian angels and I do this often but I have never again experienced that complete sense of peace .

The Altars and the Beer Fairy

3-altarsflowers“An altar is like an airport where spirits take off and land”
― Steven Chuks Nwaokeke

“Through Gracie’s visit with the Beer Fairy, Robbins explores the theme of the Mystery, namely the idea that the divine is present in real life and that, as the Beer Fairy puts it, adults thirst for “that alternative to the unsatisfying reality men have constructed for themselves.” According to the Beer Fairy, a foamy brew serves as the vehicle that connects people, on rare occasions, to the transcendent and the mystical.”

~from Tom Robbins Meets the Beer Fairy by Lizzie Stark

Jody Armijo, my constant companion, who is sometimes known as the Brown Piglet is the creator of the altars. I have written about him here and here

About how his art began during the years he spent in prison earlier in his life.

In prison he made woven crosses and learned the handkerchief art called Paños/Pañuelos. In the last several years, he has done wood carving, made tables and started working with About a year ago he started making altars and is now taking orders for custom made and designed personal altars.:

His most recent altar was commissioned for a marine in Virginia and I decided to document the process and make a slideshow.

The altars are unique and beautiful on their own but part of what makes them so is who Jody is and what he’s been through. beccas-altarcandleseveArt has brought him out of a very dark place and given him a new life:



I started calling myself the Beer Fairy a couple years ago. Jody  really likes beer and since he doesn’t like to leave the community, it’s usually up to me to bring him beer.

But the concept of the Beer Fairy means much more than that to’s like Elisabeth and her smoking…it’s like you have to experience,  have to have both sides..

Some people  try to be perfect–they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they eat all the right foods. And there’s nobody there…no fire, no passion, no spirit..just milk toast and weak tea. These are the people who are very quick to judge others for habits they disapprove of…. Perfect people are very hard to relate to.

File_01 bunny and mI was 9 when my mother dad woke me up one morning to tell me that she had died the night before. I remember struggling to think of something nice to say about her. Finally I said “She was so good.” but that wasn’t what I felt. What I felt was that she was rigid and righteous and cold and I didn’t like her. To her family however, she was a saint: she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke etc..she was perfect which was why I could not relate to her.

So the Beer Fairy, the concept to me anyway, brings balance, brings humanity and humility.


I heard this song several months ago and it stayed with me. Recently I thought about it again when it won Best Country Song at the 2017 Grammy Awards. I looked it up and came across this music video and I wanted to post it because of its simple message which could change the whole world.

Somewhat like the teaching of Humility from the Anishnabe People of Canada which says:

“Much of the division we see in today’s world is because people have not understood the spirit of humility: to understand the spirit of humility is to understand that no one is above another human being. No one is greater than another human being in this life; no one is lesser than another human being.

To be humble is to see us equally in the eyes of the Great Spirit through the unconditional love of the Great Spirit. His love is expressed to all of us in the same way that the sun will shine on us. The sun does not choose to shine on any one person alone or any one race of people, it shines on all.”

~Anishnabe Elder, Dave Courchene


becca-rosesdove-gold-heart“The God Ones do not need to carry an umbrella for they are one with the rain, one with the sun, one with ALL THAT IS”

~words I heard on my Ayahuasca journey

I am the sun, I am the moon
I am the dream that ends too soon.
I am the deer, I am the lumbering bear
I am the catch that eludes the snare.
I am the grass, I am the flower
I am a lifetime or one short hour.
I am the tree, I am the leaf
I am a place beyond

I am the light, I am the dark
I am the arrow that hits the mark.
I am the snow, I am the rain
I am the touch that heals the pain.

I am the flame that keeps you warm.
I am the calm before the storm.
I am the hurricane that blows.

I am the thorns that guard the rose.

“One of our universal understandings is that every part of the universe is half of a duality, that for each thing there is its opposite, and that we cannot have one without the other. We cannot have day without night. We cannot have joy without sorrow. We cannot have life without death.”

~Cree Chief, Noel Starblanket

*I haven’t felt much like writing lately. Like many people I’ve felt discouraged and depressed, just trying to survive in a world that’s gone dark. Sort of like being stuck in a plane with mechanical problems, wondering if it will it ever get off the ground and looking out the window, the skies are grey, it’s raining and there’s dirty slush on the runway. Longing to be free, to rise above the clouds where the skies are blue again.

So I haven’t written anything but last week, a friend ordered one of Jody Armijo’s amazing altars and as he began to create it, I decided to document the process and create a slideshow. In the midst of ugliness,  to make something beautiful.

I wrote this blogpost about the creation of the altar and the journey it took me on…


“Nobody would do anything if they knew what they were in for”

~Amarante Cordova/The Milagro Beanfield War

Several years ago-more than several..probably nearly 30 now, I was living in Austin, Texas. I had recently participated in several Life, Death and Transition workshops given by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and like many who experienced her workshops, I decided to start my own helping organization. Since AIDS was in the forefront, I decided to start a hospice type organization to provide home care for people with AIDS as well as education for the community. I named the organization AIDS Care and Assistance and a little later changed the name to RITES OF PASSAGE.

RITES OF PASSAGE  was never anything I really wanted to do but rather something I knew I would do. And  I had NO IDEA what I was doing–I was only going by a vision which had come from working as an occupational therapy assistant for a local artThe stress for me was enormous and constant: trying to hire caregivers [a lot of people were afraid of being around people with AIDS then], making schedules and then making sure the caregivers showed up, meeting with grieving family members…File jason aids amband then too, all our patients were dying.

As the director of a non profit, mostly volunteer organization, I was on call day and night–I had a pager that was constantly going off: one of our patients needed something, one of the caregivers didn’t show up, the health department was making a surprise visit….. it was endless…endless and we had no money.

One night for a break, I went down to a restaurant/bar that was close to where my son and I lived. It was called The Pier on Lake Austin and it was possible to either drive there or go by boat. There was often live music and that particular night, a man named Jim Heald was playing. He sang and played guitar but I didn’t pay much attention until he sang a song called, The Thorns that Guard the Rose.jim-heald-performing

There was something about the song-the words and the music. I felt it was expressing so much of what I was feeling about the work of  RITES OF PASSAGE at that time: having to watch first- hand the devastating effects of AIDS and the heartbreaking moments when patients were rejected by their families but also seeing the positive and beautiful things that were happening: the love that was pouring out for these patients and a community that was coming together. We were living then in the very center of Life and Death.

When Jim finished playing, I went up to ask him if we might use the song in one of our documentaries. I think he said we could talk about later..we did and Jim and his wife, Laura became good friends.jim_laura_early They helped in many ways: with fundraisers where Jim performed, Laura with grant-writing and The Thorns that Guard the Rose became a sort of theme song for RITES OF PASSAGE.

Over the years, sometimes we were in touch and then lost touch. Jim and Laura moved out of state, I moved away from Austin. A few years ago, we got back in touch..they were getting ready to retire from their government jobs in DC and I asked Jim’s permission to use ‘The Thorns’ for a slideshow my son was creating for me–we were having a fundraiser and I wanted to show a short compilation of the work of Rites of Passage. [SEE BELOW]


“When the candles are lit, the altar becomes the center; it becomes a sacred place, a strikingly colorful, meaningful locus of power and source of light. It opens doors, it transforms ordinary space. An altar has a numinous, powerful presence. An altar to a dead person brings reconciliation, healing, consolation, comfort, it gives ritual expression to grief as it heals. It brings out the stories, the memories, the history, the continuity of life and the family. It unites”.

-Taos Artist, Anita Rodriguez

Jim and Laura moved to Florida..more time passed and then a week ago, Jody started on the altar I mentioned above…jodybeccas-altar-begin and I decided to document the process and make it into a slideshow [SEE BELOW] because like so many art forms including film, people often see the finished product and assume it just magically appears in its finished form.beccas-altar-finished

When I started working on the slideshow, I looked for the right music but nothing seemed to fit and then I remembered ‘The Thorns’ and I wrote Jim to ask permission to use the song. “Of course” he said and then for the first time, I asked him why he had written the song and he wrote back:

Laura and I were hiking in the mountains near Vail, Colorado in late September. We had got to a point where we could hear a mountain stream down a ways to our right. Two deer bounded down the mountain right past us. arroyo-forestYou could see an open meadow, again to our right through the trees. and we were hoping that we could find a way to get down to and across the stream to the meadow where we would be able to see the mountains. It was getting late and we knew we would have to turn around soon to get down before dark. We kept walking and I was saying in my head “Be here now” over and over. About 50 feet up the trail it split and you could see the right fork sloped gently down and there was a little bridge across the stream. We walked down and across into the open meadow, found a rock and sat down. It was overcast and a little chilly but we were able to see the mountains, maybe half a dozen peaks, I think to the South. Norte_mountainsBack at the hotel that night I scribbled down some notes….. The song attempts to pull together the feelings of being on that mountain at that particular moment”

But I thought, the song is way more than that, at least for me. It’s LIFE and DEATH and the balance, the understanding that everyone [well not everyone] seeks to reach….the balance between the dark [the thorns] and the light[the rose] and the understanding that everything serves a purpose. This is the reason I’ve never forgotten the song and it’s also explains in a way, why I loved working with hospice patients and very old people- because through them, I could be there in that place which I call ‘the Great Mystery’.file-dr-jim

“I am a lifetime or one short hour…….I am a place beyond belief”

And I thought then about a talk I once heard given by the Cree Chief, Noel Starblanket at an international conference on death and dying in Toronto…

noelgerri His wisdom brought through his words, reached the audience of 500 people at a very deep emotional/spiritual level and he couldn’t have been more surprised when he received a standing ovation from a highly educated, mainly Anglo audience.

“One of our universal understandings is that every part of the universe is half of a duality, that for each thing there is its opposite, and that we cannot have one without the other. We cannot have day without night. We cannot have joy without sorrow. We cannot have life without death.”

~Cree Chief, Noel Starblanket

Some years after that conference, I traveled to Brazil to participate in a shamanic workshop which centered around ingesting the herbal plant called ayahuasca. I don’t know why I went..dancers-brazil The ayahuasca, called ‘the brew’ made me and some of the others in the workshop incredibly sick and I would not do it again but on my journey, I heard these words which I’ve never forgotten:

“The God Ones do not need to carry an umbrella for they are one with the rain, one with the sun, one with ALL THAT IS”

jim-healdYou can learn more about Jim Heald and his fabulous music here

Below is the slideshow showing the creation of an altar. It carries its own message as it reinforces the message of ‘The Thorns’. Jody Armijo, the creator of this altar, spent several years in prison and jail earlier in his life. Struggling to find his way out of the darkness, he was able to find the light through his art.   I WANT TO GIVE BACK AND TO THANK THE CREATOR FOR MY ART THAT TAKES ME TO THE SECRET PLACE OF LIFE.” [‘THE GREAT MYSTERY’]


“An altar is like an airport where spirits take off and land”
― Steven Chuks Nwaokeke

*I write these blog posts from my heart..about my work with the First Nations People, about my teachers such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, about my time spent with terminally ill patients, about life off the grid in northern New Mexico. Though in some ways, I write for myself, I try always to share information and experiences that may be helpful to others, that are universal.

Last year was one of the most difficult years of my life-actually it was horrible and I’m not going into it but the story-some of it is there on my gofund me page  If you would like to contribute to to the continuation of these posts or me, there are 2 ways: the donate button on the side of this post, my gofund me page

I HATE trying to raise money and until pretty recently I’ve never had to but this process of being humbled and forced to ask, has brought some wonderful people into my life and with their help, I’m climbing out of a very dark hole. However-2 steps forward, 1 step back- this morning, with the electricity going out several times, I discovered that I have to spend about $4000 on batteries for my solar system. I’m thankfully off the grid but after 7 years, the old ones are failing fast.

BUENO AND THANK YOU!  I will prevail!

If you would like information about ordering an altar:

Rites Of Passage – Slideshow from Andy Pickard on Vimeo.