Spring Equinox Vanitas Altar

Part of my practice is to redesign my vanitas altar according to seasonal themes. Marking the 2021 Spring Equinox, I’ve replaced the skull’s Autumnal caplet of leaves with a caplet of dried flowers and added a peacock feather, which was both an element of some vanitas paintings of the 1700s and, in Western superstition, a … Read moreSpring Equinox Vanitas Altar

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Poetic Faith and Nontheistic Spirituality

Nontheistic spirituality or spiritual naturalism are umbrella terms for spiritual disciplines that require no faith in the literally supernatural. Examples include Humanism, numerous forms of atheistic/secular Paganism, Humanistic Judaism, Secular Buddhism, The Satanic Temple’s approach to Satanism and so-on, as well as present-day revivals of ancient philosophies such as Stoicism and Epicureanism. My Way of … Read moreThe Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Poetic Faith and Nontheistic Spirituality

Falling Flower: a Simple Memorial Ritual

Oh, that sweet fragrance of falling petals…. With kind words, it is ended. Farewell. The time to go is now. Lee Hyong-Ki [1963] It may be that the people who would most benefit from symbolic ritual are those who are least likely to partake in it. The inclination towards formal, poetic gestures in moments of … Read moreFalling Flower: a Simple Memorial Ritual

Symbolic Immortality and Mortality Sapience

Terror Management Theory proposes that humans experience a fundamental psychological conflict between the instinct of self-preservation and the understanding that death is both inevitable and, to some extent, unpredictable; a state described as mortality salience. TMT is based on the pioneering theoretical work of anthropologist Ernest Becker, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning 1973 book The Denial of Death … Read moreSymbolic Immortality and Mortality Sapience

When the Spirit Moves Me: The Mudra of My Way of Life and Death

In devising Mr. Spock’s famous Vulcan salute (“Live long and prosper”), Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy was inspired by the Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim. This benedictory gesture represents the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), the three upward strokes of the letter being similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the gesture. The ritual practice of symbolic gestures is … Read moreWhen the Spirit Moves Me: The Mudra of My Way of Life and Death

Midwinter Solstice and the Notion of Genius Loci

My Midwinter altar – I think “locus” is actually more apt in this context – is a literal illumination of the vanitas theme, a union of wunderkammer and kamidana (wunderkamidana?) It’s an assemblage of objects whose symbolic meanings are both amplified and made more subtle by their interrelationships. I try my clumsy best to make … Read moreMidwinter Solstice and the Notion of Genius Loci

My Way of Life and Death

By Tony Wolf Beginning about thirty years ago, increasingly since my father died in mid-2016 and with great intensity since the start of this year, I’ve been developing an embodied philosophical approach to – and “poetic faith” in -the reality of death and its implications for living meaningful lives. It draws inspiration from aspects of … Read moreMy Way of Life and Death

“Like when a leaf falls from a tree”

Sometimes I think that death is like when a leaf falls from a tree. You look up and hear and see a rustling, colorful mass. But then one breaks free and for a glorious moment (who can say how long it may seem?) that leaf swirls catching light and casting shadows like it never has … Read more“Like when a leaf falls from a tree”


At midnight on November the first, 2020 – the first of the Days of the Dead in Mexican tradition, the night after Halloween when, according to custom and poetic sentiment, the veils between the worlds are thinnest and magic is possible, I consecrated my newly-assembled totenpass amulet. As I write these words, I can still … Read moreTotenpass