|This material originally was published in the Oct. 25, 2002 Merrimack River Current. It is reprinted here with permission of Community Newspaper Company.|
|Awaken the spirit: While the
body of eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter rests at the Old Hill Burying Ground,
some Waterside folks have invoked his spirit for some All Hallows Eve
fun. But will Dexter rise to the occasion?
By Rob Marino
Friday, October 25, 2002
Last Sunday afternoon was the perfect day for an interactive sťance. After all, it was the afternoon of the waxing full moon before Halloween, also known as Samhain.
"Ancients believed it was then that the fabric of our reality is stretched to its limit," says Newburyport resident Dominique Dear about Samhain. "That the veil between the worlds becomes thin and the boundary between the living and the dead is obscured, and that during this time, the living may cross to the 'Otherworld' and vice versa."
The Gaelic word which translates to "summer's end," Samhain is also considered a time of changing seasons and new beginnings. Indeed, each Oct. 31 marked a new dawning for the eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter, who followed the "ould wayes" and the Celtic lunar calendar, Dear says.
"It's a time when anything is possible," Dear says. "There's nothing like that sense of a new beginning."
Although Dexter passed away in 1806, his peculiarities forever earned him a permanent place in Newburyport history. Self-styled as the "greatest philosopher in the Western World," Dexter embraced the belief that the "sole is the thinking part," Dear says. She knows what she's talking about, having penned a thesis on the 18th century merchant adventurer.
In his book entitled "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones," an anthology first published in May 1802, Dexter freely shared his thoughts about life. A believer in reincarnation who thought he could metamorphose to human form through a dragonfly, Dexter wrote in "Pickle" that he may some day return to Newburyport to "see houe you all goue on." In other words, to "see how you all go on."
Indeed, Dexter's "spirit" has emerged in the past, including last year during Newburyport's 150th Celebration, where he made way for an inaugural procession. "Occasionally his lordship is invoked 'sole to boddey' for the doings at hand," Dear says.
But will Dexter emerge again in the spirit of All Hallows Eve? After all, conjuring such a powerful soul isn't easy, as author J.P. Marquand once noted about Dexter. "There is hardly a more outrageous character in all our social phenomena than this untrammeled individual. There is such a quality of abandon in all his ventures and such disregard of binding fact and regal defiance of the impossible that he has become more than a legend in a time which is almost too busy for folklore," Marquand writes. "There is today a horrid irony in his laughing shadow...no ordinary muse can be invoked to conjure Dexter back."
Perhaps it takes the open mind and enthusiasm of a youngster to beckon such an unrestrained spirit successfully. Eight-year-old Christian Farren, along with his mother and father, Pamela and Sean, were among the participants of last Sunday's invocation, facilitated by Dear and her husband, Ken.
It was apparent that much preparation goes into an invocation. First, there was the ablution, or the cleansing of the space, in which a ceremonial broom was used to sweep away negative influences as part of that important beginning step. Upon completing ablutions, the "merry meet" was officially called at 3 p.m.
After making introductions, the small group took three breaths together. The first breath was with the Earth, the second breath was with the sky and the third breath was with the spirit of "this place," referring to the children's room at the Newburyport Public Library, the setting for the invocation.
"Given the eccentric merchant adventurer resided in the library's Tracy's House from 1791 to 1796, it has been rumored Dexter makes his presence known in this old haunt," Dear says, "especially now, with his artifacts on loan from the Cushing House Museum through the end of October."
After asking for guidance and inspiration, the group briefly spoke of Madam Jane Hooper, Dexter's spiritualist, providing "insight about her insight," says Dear, who played the role of Hooper during the invocation. Known for her fortune-telling abilities and supposed supernatural powers, Hooper was labeled "a witch" by superstitious minds in the community and was feared by many children.
"When she appeared on the street, children ran from her, frightened at her whimsical dress and strange demeanor, but she evidently did not seek their approbation nor attempt to win their confidence," wrote author John J. Currier about Hooper. "As a fortune teller, she soon became famous and sometimes startled her visitors with statements that convinced them she was in communication with the Prince of Darkness and could rely upon him for assistance and support."
"She was not a frightful person," Dear says, "but some thought she could look into your heart and see the person you were."
The group gathered in the children's room at the Newburyport Library worked on a pentagram, using a grapevine wreath as a circle and branches cut from the "Forum Tree" across from City Hall's front door. Dear says, upon properly aligning the pentagram, "we asked for harmony of our lands and our hearts as we trace the pentagram just completed. One also showed the pentagram-shaped candle holder from Candle and Mug, and that its candle, along with other candles, had their wicks tipped by the Flame of Peace blessed by the Dalai Lama and dedicated to world peace."
Eight-year-old Christian then served as verser, reading the following passage:
Grant, O Spirit, thy protection,
Bunny in the moon?
After Christian read the passage, one mentioned the full moon and the gatherings that fall on the full moon three days before and three days afterward. During this conversation, a ball candle with a bunny image on it was passed around to explain that if one looks closely enough, they can see a bunny in the full moon.
"Christian did not know of the bunny in the moon, so we discussed the fact," Dear explains. "A bunny's movements were sometimes used for divination...a bunny or hare is often associated with transformation and with the receiving of hidden teachings and intuitive messages. Dexter followed the 'ould ways' and the Celtic lunar calendar, so perchance he saw the bunny in the full moon."
Following some discussion of Samhain, the group used the frog bank and the pouch of pennies from Dexter's chest, which includes several other items, such as a clock, stones and a special spoon for potions. Back to the frog bank, Dear explains that Dexter often made reference to the frog, symbolically comparing humankind to toads. The frog is also mentioned on page 36 of "Pickle," referred to as a kind of sign or omen.
Christian decided upon nine pennies for Dexter's passage from the Otherworld over the River Styx, the toll for Charon, who in Greek mythology is the ferryman for the dead.
"The conversation was quite interactive, with Christian asking if Dexter would really reincarnate," Dear says, "and we spoke a bit about how Dexter said 'the sole is the thinking part' and one drew the comparison about Santa Claus - how he represents the Spirit of Christmas - and how one loved Lord Timothy Dexter, and that Madam Hooper did as well, for she could look into his heart."
As the invocation progressed, the participants continued to delve further into Dexter's chest to see what he had left. Among the inventory was a written message from the eccentric one himself on how to invoke his spirit with incense.
Christian brought Frankincense to the invocation, and his mother, an aromatherapist, brought along appropriate herbs, including sandalwood and myrrh, to mix for an enticing potion to awake Dexter's spirit. "Myrrh is purportedly a wonderful herb to use in spells of spirituality," Dear explains, adding Frankincense has similar magical properties. "Sandalwood has many properties, including spirituality and wish fulfillment."
While discussing the wondrous properties of the herbs, Christian performed his alchemy, adding lavender oil to the concoction, which has the added potency for attraction and love, Dear says. Once the mixing of the herbal ingredients was deemed sufficient, an invocation using Dexter's tassels was performed, with Christian stroking the tassels with the potion, as another member of the group thrice recited:
Trim and tassels
Following the chant, everyone smudged the potion doled out by Christian onto their right palms, then held hands to close the invocation and recited:
We swear, by peace and love to stand,
At this point, it was getting close to 3:33 p.m., so it was time to make the "cairn," a pile of stones to indicate "that we had come this far," Dear says. Christian made the cairn promptly at 3:33 p.m. while recognizing that "3 3 3=9" is the most magical number. Many of Shakespeare's works recognize the power of three. For instance those who have read "Macbeth," most likely recall the three witches who chant, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air."
After making the cairn, "we ended the merry meet," Dear says, adding Christian's enthusiasm filled the children's room at the library. "Christian had a sense it was a deed well done, and just to be certain, and before we ourselves took refreshment, we went to the instrument table for more herbs."
Christian then rubbed powdered cloves on an apple to leave on Dexter's grave. "We spoke of the fact that the ancients would often leave an apple to provide sustenance for the rising spirit," Dear points out. Indeed, one who takes a walk through the Old Hill Burying Ground will find a clove-covered apple in front of Dexter's grave - unless, of course, a bird or squirrel gets a hold of it.
To ensure even further that Dexter would rise, Christian's mother provided dragon's blood, vertivert and rose dust, Dear says, all mystical blends to burn with sage during the waxing moon. "We mentioned that this we would do, for the power might be with us three days before and three days after the full moon," she says. "Christian and his family promised to look for the bunny in the moon."
If the invocation was successful, then Dexter could very well reemerge briefly for the Annual Waterside Halloween Procession this Sunday, Oct. 27. The Halloween parade, which lasts roughly an hour, kicks off at Atkinson Common at 2 p.m. and ends at Bresnahan Elementary School. In addition to the Halloween procession, Dexter could very well reemerge for other future events, but only time will tell.
Despite the invocation last weekend, Dear doesn't claim to be a modern-day witch. In fact, she's quite the novice when it comes to conjuring spirits to raise from the dead. However, you might call Dear an expert when it comes to understanding Dexter and his fascinating history in Newburyport. The history of Dexter, as well as his essence, is something that should be shared and celebrated - not forgotten.
"The invocation was an attempt at fanfare, at fanning the flame," Dear says. "Though dabbling in magical workings, there was no intention that His Lordship would suddenly appear, as in 'poof.'"
Pam Farren says her son shared his experience with all of his classmates and even his teacher and that they were quite intrigued. In fact, one of the homework assignments handed out was to see if the students could find the bunny in the moon.
"It was just really an intriguing way to be learning about Newburyport," Farren says about the invocation. "It's fun for the kids to learn about something but at the same time not realize that they're learning it. It's a fun way to sort of pique someone's curiosity and get them to wonder 'what else happened?' I think we need to know more about Newburyport history. It's kind of disappointing that there isn't more history given to us."
"I think what this community is (al)most missing is a philosopher. I think Dexter is that reflection of all humanity, in our failures and in our successes. He gets us to look at our hypocrisy," Dear says. "He was a paradox within himself. He had that quixotic way of thinking that anything is possible. To look at Dexter in his life is an opportunity for us to closely examine ourselves and our lives."
For those who don't already know, Dexter's spirit has come back virtually. Pay him a visit at www.LordTimothyDexter.com.
A clove-covered apple in front of Lord Timothy Dexter's grave at Old Hill Burying in Newburyport ground may help entice the eccentric's spirit to rise for All Hallows Eve. (Photo by Rob Marino)
Dominique Dear facilitates an invocation for Lord Timothy Dexter, holding hands with her husband, Ken, and Christian Farren, 8, and his parents, Pam and Sean, of Newburyport. (Staff photo by Mark Vasconcellos)