“But the hour is getting late now. And when the stories we tell only have a human directive peering back at us we start to get very lost. We hypnotise ourselves with our own gaze. In such a moment it is quite possible to bury your heart under a rock and forget where you put it.But I mean what I say: the rough gods are still amongst us – and not just the porcelain ones that look a little like us on a good day, but the big bad bunch – the raggle-taggle, rhino tusked menagerie of the Original Ensemble, the Other Folk, the Gentry, the Benji. I know you’ve glimpsed them, once or twice. They’re about.
They are gnawing on the edge of these sentences.
The Otherworld is also this one, when it chooses.
It’s a convenience to believe that the Old Gods are leaving. Gives us permission for all kinds of nonsense.
That they are squatting in the departure lounge of Heathrow and LAX with hurt feelings, waving old bones about and shaking their heads. Clambering into some metaphysical elevator that’s going to deposit them in a nursing home for Abandoned Primordials on the other side of Pluto.
We have to stop saying that they die if we stop thinking about them.
That’s a degraded idea. Yet that’s what so many claim mythology is – us thinking these beings up.
But what if they were allowing us to think them? What if we were getting thought?
Not as manikin puppets, but as part of a profound conversation we can barely remember the moves for anymore.”
— Martin Shaw, writer, teacher, mythologist
(Via Serpent And Stang)
How many parts to this will depend on how fast I feel like writing.
Hekate is gone when I return along the path. Where she stood is a single silver coin. I use this and another silver ornament from my hair to pay the ferryman for my return ride.
When I return to the 7th gate, the black rabbit draped across my shoulder, He and I talk about the value I place on family and relations. About what it would mean to be alone again, and that I don’t ever intend to, but how it would change things…
My ring is returned.
The White Knight greets me when I return to the 6th gate, and asks me what I have learnt. I have learnt that I no longer need the armour. Some days it is nice to have, but it is not something I require to hide behind any longer. My clothes have become a form of self expression. I joke that I fear that all I express these days is ‘tired mum’ and that maybe I should fix that.
My shift is not returned. Instead I get an outfit, inclusive of boots. I get to wear shoes back.
The Guardian of the Gate meets me once again at the 5th. He waits. I have a complex relationship with this, my sex, sexuality and pleasure. I run the gold chain through my fingers. It’s wrong. It looks pure and whole, where the truth is it’s all messed up underneath the surface…
It gets very Not Safe For Work about here, but the result is a lesson in allowing myself these things without the shame I have been taught to attach to them, especially the shame attached to the shape of my body. I am to let it rise, ride it, know it.
I am told to take the chain and reshape it. I am not of gold, but flesh and blood.
The spirit at the 4th gate is called Rasputin, I may call him Rast. He laughs, acknowledging the beautiful cat of the same name owned by a dear friend. I can see him clearly this time, his colouring reminds me of my brother – Dark hair and eyes, tan skin. There is a playful air to him. I tell him I do not want the belt he took back, and that I have no use for those labels and what they once meant to me, to destroy it if he wills.
A flash of fire and all he is holding is the buckles. He asks what my next move is, and I tell him that I shall have to come up with better labels for myself. He laughs and flicks the buckles, and is fastening the belt round my waist.
“It doesn’t work like that, my darling Bones. You must work through them and heal the wounds. Perhaps not discard the good to destroy the bad.” He’s laughing at me again, but gentler this time. He can not help with the physical pain, but advises to persevere with the doctors and pace myself. Things will change.
Belt in place I move on.
Spider waits for me at the 3rd gate. He wolf whistles as I wander up, then giggles at himself.
“I like the new gear. So… have a cigarette and tell me what you learnt.”
“Integration vs. eradication. I need to integrate rather than segregate and push away”
“Succinct, I like it. A wrap ain’t gonna suit that nice new outfit.” He twists my wrap in his hands and turns it into a scarf. We also briefly discuss a particular set of issues that I promise to take up with my therapist (and have since done so) before he sends me on, happy with the work I have done.
I can not leave my mental illness behind, but it’s now a small part of the whole rather than cloaking me over.
I expected the 2nd gate to be harder. Much harder. Instead I was greeted, and sent off, with a kiss from my oldest lover. I had figured out, over my journey that there were a few specific areas to pay attention to – The two deities, the Ancestors, and the Land. The Fox and Rabbit (who had vanished from my shoulders and turned into a tattoo on my wrist by this point) were part of me and simply relationships that would flow.
Torque round my neck I moved on to the final gate.
He rises to meet me, and pushes my heart – now glowing hot with flame – back into my chest and points me through the gate with a smile.
Sometimes words are best left unsaid, and I return with my seven pieces.
He waits for me, this time unmasked. I quip about it and he fires back a comment about being a ‘great big fucking spirit’. We walk quietly as we ascend the stairs. It is companionable, He has been in my life a long time though I was loath to see it for a considerable period and… less than respectful in our initial dealings. When we arrive back the throne He lifts Fox into his lap as I perch on the edge of the hollow, and I listen.
“We’ll always be here. All those thoughts of failing at what you do is nonsense. All the reaching for the unknown missing thing is all in your head. Your relationships with us is… odd. Very. Perhaps because we had to work so hard to convince you we were real in the first place, and when you did come… We called you, but you came on your own terms. You are unusual in the manner. You give when asked, you do when asked, and in return we deal with your never ending sass.
You’re a lot like your little Fox, underneath it all, sharp, intelligent and good at surviving regardless – always on your own terms. You’ve done well. Keep working and giving. Accept the gifts that are freely given to you and return them with gifts of your own when you’re able. You are who you are, as long as you move forward you will be fine. You are loved.
I need to return now. You’re done here.”
I say my goodbye’s and put the Fox back around my shoulders for the climb down. When we are out past it’s great roots I look back to an empty throne.
I feel Light.
This gets heavily redacted for obvious reasons. This was, as previously mentioned, an extremely personal working.
What I find at the centre is Me. Me chained. Me bloodied. Me trapped. Me on my knees. Me with the white rabbit before me, wounded and still. Here is everything I have hidden and trapped away. The wounded soul, stubborn and defiant on her knees.
I can not remove the chains.
We talk of many things over the days I get stuck here (long story, but this was meant to be a two day ritual and ended up going a week). We talk, primarily, of integration and becoming whole, of doing the damned work and healing, and of living.
We discuss what the Rabbit thing is about, because that’s a new one for me.
When I leave I have some clarity on where to next and how to start breaking those chains.
He waits for me at the Seventh Gate, guised in his ram skull form. I don’t see this form often and I know to take it deadly serious. He is a God, not a spirit, and what he takes he can choose to keep if it serves me no purpose.
This one hurts, it turns out. I had figured it would be asked of me, but I hadn’t expected how much it would hurt when the time came. With my wedding band he takes from me my relationships – my friends, my family, my kids… My Partner.
There is no idle chatter, that will be left for the return. It is done, and I am devastated by the impact.
He sends me on…
There’s a break in the working here. I return to it a day later after having written everything down and started processing what had been and how I felt.
I return to where I left
off. Standing on the far side of the 7th gate. I continue down the path, black rabbit in arm, until I reach a river. The ferryman advises I bathe before crossing. I do, and I pay him the usual fare for taking me across.
I walk on, the landscape is different here. Rocky and blasted. It is here that I come face to face with the Lady of the Ways, Hekate. We speak, briefly, of altars and growth. She reassures me about what I have been doing so far for her and sends me on with the simple warning ‘It will be hard’.
And I find myself at the end, or is it the centre?
The Black Knight waits.
The Black Knight is a denizen of the city, I know this, but it’s the first time we’ve actually met. Although I’ve dodged past his feet in fetch form at least once. He is the knight of my childhood stories, strong and kindly. He refers to me as his child as if I were but a small lass and he my grandfather.
Unlike those that have come before him he asks what it is I have left to give. I have to stop and think about that a while.
In the end I place the black rabbit at my feet and I undress to hand him the shift I am wearing. It is, for this purpose, my armour. I use clothes to control how I am viewed, I use them as a weapon, or as a shield to make me vanish into the crowd. I use them to protect me.
He does not avert his eyes, but he smiles. Crows feet appear at the edges of his eyes. A good choice, he tells me, as we do not know if armour continues to serve its purpose if we never remove it to see.
These two went quickly so one post for both.
A stranger waits at the Fourth Gate. I can’t pin down his features, only that it is definitely a male. He informs me that I shall be getting to know him, but it’s not a concern for right now. We banter a little, but for some reason I can remember very little of it when I come back. He takes my labels in the form of a wide belt that reminds me of a wrestlers belt. He takes the ‘fat’, ‘strong’, ‘weak’, ‘broken’ words from me.
I don’t think I need to explain the significance of that.
I see the gate clearly this time, whereas before I’d just passed through them. It’s the oval walkway you can see in the back of this photo from William Rickett’s Sanctuary. A place I love very dearly.
I feel lighter, cleansed, after stepping through.
The Fifth gate guardian is just that, a Gate Guardian. Unknown to me, immense, elaborately masked and robed in black. He takes from my a thin belt that is, in a sense, my womanhood . My sex, sensuality and pleasure. Something I have such a complex relationship with when all the elements of my gender and sexuality combine with mental health, personal hangups and physicality of sex itself. To let it go, at this point, is a relief.
I pass through that gate with barely a word spoken, and again feel cleansed*
*The lack of this sensation in the first three gates, I think, is more to do with how odd it felt to be without those elements of myself. Where with these I am almost relieved to hand them over for the time that I can.
The Artist waits at the third gate. Small, slight and kind-eyed. He teases gently, wanting to know if it’s now Ms or Mrs Bones, or do I skip the honourifics entirely being that I have only one name. We share a cigarette* as we talk about my mental health and the role it plays in my life right now.
We talk for quite a while.
When he asks for my jacket, and takes with it my mental health struggles, the fears I have for my future living with it, the motivations and identity that arises around. He doesn’t have to ask twice, if there’s a burden I am happy to live without then this is it…
And yet I feel oddly out of sorts and naked as I move on, through the gate and back onto the path.
*Weird fact: I smoke a lot when I’m dealing with spirits in spirit journeys, but I don’t actually smoke in meatspace. I’m asthmatic.
PS. Nik, this is who you think it is.
The path is exactly the same on this side of the first gate as it was on the other; Winding and overgrown with brambles and other unfamiliar plants. We come to the second gate rather quickly, I’m not sure if that’s a trick of my trance state or it is just a short walk, but regardless, it was quick.
If the guardian of the first gate was entertainingly familiar, then the guardian of this one is achingly so. The smile gentler than usual, the grey eyes soft, and the leather jacket as worn and battered as it ever was. He makes no pretence of authority and formality as he wraps me up in a hug.
“It’s about time, Bones. You need this, but you’re not going to like what I am to ask of you.”
And he talks, of witchcraft and spirits, of dependencies and paths lost, and of over complication for sometime… and he’s right. It’s hard. It’s hard to hear and harder to swallow when he hold out his hands, palms to the sky, and asks that I give him my witchcraft, my connections to the spirits, the Ancestors, and my ability to influence.
It is impossibly hard to submit, to comply with this request, but I consent. If I am to trust anyone with this part of my being then it is he. He gently removes a silver torque I didn’t realise I was wearing from my throat and takes with it anything that is not directly part of this working, this descent and return is no longer mine. I recognise it much later as the torc I wore on my wedding day.
“I’ll be here when you return, My Bones.”
The path is over grown and there’s not much of anything growing along it as we walk (yes, me and the bun are still going strong) at this point. This is the longest part of the walk, other than the stairs down here, and it’s so still and silent as to be unnerving.
When I finally round the corner that reveals the first gate I am to pass through I almost laugh at the familiarity of the Guardian. I knew going into this that it would be a very personal journey and not necessarily a deity driven one so I’m not overly surprised, but somewhat pleased to start with such a familiar face.
The Ancestor appears as he did the first time I met him. Blue tattoos from head to toe, warm hazel eyes and ancient despite his still copper hair. I note that I was mistaken in our first meeting, his hair isn’t in dreadlocks but rather many small braids with charms and bones woven amongst them.
I approach respectfully and He directs me to sit on the stone ground across from him, as I did the first time we met. He brushes his hands over the stone and dragged them back in the same motion.
The stone had become red earth.
There are no words. He traces images in the dirt again and the conversation happens in silence. He has never spoken a word out loud and I doubt He ever will. He speaks of passion, desire, will…
He asks my heart, reaches into my chest and takes it.
It glows like embers in his hand.