“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.”
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.
Categories of identity are pretty cool in a way. They allow us to find people like us or who think like us, to delineate between us and them (admittedly not always a good thing) and to organise to protect vulnerable groups (Transgender people, homosexual people etc). Those are good things. But there’s also a downside to it.
As teenagers, when we’re still figuring things out, it’s considered normal to change your mind about your identity. You are growing up, you’re changing rapidly, and so are your tastes, sexual attractions and internal identity. As adults those categories can become incredibly restraining. They can become boxes you can’t step out of for fear of ridicule, ostracisation or upsetting loved ones.
And that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Things have changed massively for me over the past few years and I’ve been very quietly reassessing many things. Among those things are questions around my sexual identity, my gender identity and, somewhat more relevant to this blog, my religious and magical identity.
As far as magic goes I dropped Pagan years ago. I’m not comfortable with it, nor with a lot of people who identify as Pagan. I remain part of the community anyway, because it’s where I find many like minded people and have many old friendships I won’t be giving up any time soon. I simply refer to myself as a witch, which is still fine and dandy in and of itself. It’s a pretty broad category covering a lot of people of all kinds of different paths.
Where I’ve been really hung up in recent months is religion.
My last post opened with “There’s a crucifix buried in the garden. Roses grow from it.” What it didn’t touch on is the urge to go find it or the confusion that it is causing. I grew up in a very loving Christian household, and when I chose to walk away from Christianity that household, my family, remained very loving and supported me in my explorations. My parents have never turned their back on me and have actively supported my choices. I was very lucky in that (even if it did mean I ended up with some truly woeful dragon statues over the years), but what I was never able to reconcile that household, and even many of my childhood churches, with was the larger institution of the Church and Christianity and the truly horrific things that have and continue to come out of it. Honestly that’s why I left – The horrific hypocrisy of the Church.
And yet I never really stopped believing in God. So now I’m grappling with where I sit, witch will never leave me but am I still Christian? I’m have the vague feeling the answer may be yes.
God is the divinity in all things. To me They are so far removed as to be unknowable. They are the divinity behind and in everything, and we are so tiny as to be flickers on the edge of Their perception. They do not answer prayers or inflict children with diseases. They certainly do not condone the actions of humans, anymore than They necessarily condemn them. They are too far removed to notice it all in my mind.
Which is where the spirits come in, they are the intermediaries. I believe this of all gods and entities including angels, demons, and even the one I refer to as the Wild God from time to time. He’s a big, very powerful, very old, spirit. The spirits and entities give us a knowable face, something we can comprehend and communicate with. Which ones we are drawn to tends to be dependant on where we’re at in ourselves and where we need to go.
And behind them all sits God, Divinity, The Creator. Whatever it is you wish to call Them.
I don’t really have anywhere to go with this. I just wanted to get it down.
As silly as it sounds I’ve been sitting on this for a long while. In part because of my natural loathing of a church that sees me and mine as deviant, corrupt and wrong and in part because there’s a low key fear that it will make those I love look at me like I’ve grown a second head. It’s out now.
I dream of an altar of stone, angled so liquids poured onto its surface trickle in to the centre then down to the ground below, nestled between olive trees and night blooming jasmine. I dream of lanterns and spirits, of offerings of honey, wine, oil and fresh bloodied hearts. Of the curls of incense reaching to the night sky. I dream of furs and blankets and union.
I dream of foxes eating hearts.
I’m undergoing a huge period of transition at the moment. In truth it probably started four years ago. The year prior I had spent in crisis – suicidal, isolated and distressed. The first of the last four years was the death of three relationships and the start of something causal an entertaining…
Or so I thought. We’re now due to be married so, casual, yes, that was a thing.
The olive cutting is showing signs of getting new leaves. It lives.
Over the past four years my life has made a series of transitions. The crisis was followed by a period of restlessness, another crisis then a period of rapid transition. My path has shifted with it. I noted about two, maybe three, years back that my path appeared to be shifting from the Chaos Magic I had practiced for over a decade to something a little bit more… Traditional was the word I used at the time.
The altar is in a cave lit by torches. Water is poured the tall thin man with one arm, and incense lit by the huge viking like-man. A small black goat is lifted and held by the viking looking one while his companion slits it’s throat. Blood washes over the stone altar and trickles to the floor.
The truth of the matter is that traditional isn’t really a good word for it and I think the Chaos never really went away. It all just shifted into a new form. There are now elements that resemble traditional witchcraft in what I do. The Fetch, Ancestors, more traditional land spirits (I live just off of a nature reserve in the suburbs now), and my altars are littered with feathers, bones, and candles.
And a small ache that’s been in my chest for so very long became a distracting one. I have been restless, searching, reaching. I looked for community, and found an amazing one, but it didn’t stem the dull ache and restless. I reworked and tweaked my path so many times that I started to resemble a flakey new-ager chasing the latest soul saver to no avail. I worked harder, pushed more at the edges, and nothing changed.
He watches me quietly from the end of the bed. Taller than I, rangy and dark haired. No horns today. Those come and go as he pleases. He curls around me when I come to bed and in the moments between waking and sleep I feel fur and rough hewn blankets instead of silky sheets.
I still wanted. I still needed. Something was missing and I couldn’t name it.
So I settled. I worked with what came to hand and what fascinated me the same as I always had with Chaos Magic. Can’t say it went wrong even if I look back occasionally and wonder what I was thinking. I can see how I got from there to now. There are the skulls. There are the roses. There are the feathers. There is Babalon as sexuality and sex really took a front seat. There are the bones. The Fox showed up and I rolled with it. The Wild One became a magical partner as the sex took a turn for a whole lot more than just sex.
They catch my eye, a small flash of white in the dirt. A minute later I’m digging bones out of the dirt. Days later I’m presented with a small blue butterfly by my Wolf, always so considerate. Then there’s tiny vertebrae found caught in the fence. The Fox demands their skin.
There’s a bird wing drying in the shed, and a whole skeleton to be stripped and cleaned. I gather bright blue feathers from the ritual site and mourn the Bowerbird I couldn’t save nor give proper burial.
Things just come together of their own accord, they always do that.
And then THEY came knocking.
You want to know what I have actively avoided since the end of my first fledgling year of magic? Deity. But there’s something bigger at the end of this. Something so much bigger than any spirit I have ever seen.
That odd little dream I kept having with the altar… The slanted surface liquid was poured onto, that let it run to the earth. The offerings of honey, milk, oil, alcohol and blood. The hearts. The incense and olive trees. The Foxes.
Outside, low to the ground…
The foxes that ate the hearts…
The term Chthonic takes on a meaning outside of the hypothetical.
This is the black heart of the forest.The Fox is foreign here, this is not Her land, though she is well familiar. She leads, I follow, or we are one. I can’t always tell. Perhaps both.
The air here is warm and humid, ripe with rot and growth. The earth is covered in thick layers of leaves, yet I know with absolute certainty that the earth beneath it is rich black loam. This is a fertile place. I walk across moss and lichen covered bones as I approach. Thousands have perished here, feeding the Tree.
The Tree is huge. I can not see to it’s top. It’s gnarled roots are so immense that they stand well taller than I do, though I am only seeing what of them that is above ground. It is alive, it’s bark dark and rough, it’s sap a deep bloody claret red.
There is a bramble growing around the roots and trunk. It doesn’t strangle it, just grows. Follow it’s path up the trunk and there it gathers into a great chasm in the Tree’s trunk. In the chasm it twists and shapes into a throne.
And on the throne sits Him.
I can not see His face. The shadows consume it though I can feel the intensity of His gaze upon me. He lounges in his seat like a great predator. He is strong of limb, wrapped in dark leather pants with furs around His shoulders. His hair is long and wild, dark in colour.
I know these things:
1. He is not a hunter, though he wields a spear.
2. I name him the God of Wild Places instinctually.
3. I name him ‘The King on the Bramble Throne’ equally instinctually.
4. He guises with rams horns when he so chooses.
5. His form is human.
6. He is tattooed, not painted. I can not see the design but it is extensive.
7. He is not Norse.
8. I otherwise have absolutely no idea who he is… At all.
Some of us do Them and some of us don’t. And that’s ok.
“Most witches don’t believe in gods. The know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”
Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad.
The above is easily my favorite quote on deity and sums up the approach of quite a few witches I know. It’s not that They’re not huge, or often awe inspiring. It’s just that I don’t need to believe in Them. I know They are there.
And I choose to ignore Their existence in favor of doing my own thing.
If you work with Them daily and love Them, good on you.
If you don’t think They exist, good on you.
If you live in my space of They are over there and I am here, good on you.
There is not a right or wrong approach to deity within a witches practice*. A witch is no less or more capable for the presence of Deity in their life. So fucking stop trying to shove your shining mother goddess down my throat, k thanks. I’ll do my thing, you do yours, and we will all be happy with our own thing… unless you’re not then I suggest you change it until you are.
*Note: There is, however, certainly a wrong way to approach a deity. Be respectful and do your damned homework. They, like spirits, can totally fuck your shit up if you piss them off so don’t treat them like fluffy collectible kitties.