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.
A fortnight or so back I did the Headless Rite, as laid out in Gordon White’s The Chaos Protocols. I already work with spirits so it was mostly out of curiosity with a nice dollop of ‘I need to stir shit up in my practice’.
My dreams are insane. Long, incredibly detailed and weird as fuck. A lot of the time their also kind of pointless, but the vividness of them and my ability to recall them is stronger than it’s been for years.
There was also that incident where I swam into some semblance of consciousness to find a spirit kind of… looming over the bed? There was another running back and forth across the window above the bed throwing shadows on the wall. Of course I’m not great when I first get woken up, so my increeeeeedibly appropriate response was to tell them both to fuck off because I was trying to sleep.
Curled on a low bench seat beneath a fig tree on a warm afternoon I knew immediately that it was going to be a lovely day. We gathered to celebrate the second day of Anthesteria. Libations and wine flowed freely, food and words passed around between old friends and new.
Lovely was not the definition. It was superb. I’ve never left a gathering of magical types so very happy. Arms had been thrown open, we had been allowed to be as vulnerable as one can be with strangers (and no doubt the wine helped), we had danced and sung, cast and divined.*
At the end this little group felt more like community than any I’d dealt with before. Of course, hours after we talked of potential future rites and gatherings, they handed me a tarot deck. And how easily it flowed there under the fig, in Dionysus’ grove.
I see good things ahead. Many good things.
It’s funny how sometimes you find what you’ve been seeking where you least expect it.
After midnight, by quite a bit, candles are lit and offerings are set out. He passed on commenting on the fact that I give them the expensive single malt I love so much. He doesn’t quite get that bit. He helped me carry the honey and milk, and water, to the bedroom for the second altar.
My New Year witching is simple.
Offerings for the Dead (alcohol, water, honeyed milk)
Food for the spirits (Water and honeyed milk)
Candles for both.
There would be hearts, but I think The Wolf would object in our bedroom.
Candles and well wishes for friends, family and loved ones.
The candles on the Hearth altar are left to burn out over night
The night was spent with the same, my family of the heart and our friends. It was, as always, a warm and laughter filled night. Quiet, but wonderful. We eschew larger, more energetic gatherings for this little one, and have for several years now. Although I found myself wishing for the comfort of bodies pressed together in motion by the end of the evening. I think a festival would be nice for the next New Year.
The new year brings a need, I think, to teach The Wolf about what I do and why. He tends to avoid involvement. Perhaps to explain why being referred to as his goddess tends to make me twitchy too. There’s some heavy work to be done.
My hopes for the year are that it’s a year of happiness, of building strong foundations, of love, of joy, of creativity and the satisfaction of work done. My hopes are that you too have a year full of these things.
We’ve never followed a conventional path, him and I. I don’t think we even know how. No words are ever spoken, not to start it nor to end it, truly. As always this is how our rites go.
I inhale the incense, letting it sooth away the aches and griefs of the past few days. Melting into the blankets as much as the shadow and flicker of the light. He runs his fingers over my face and through my hair. Sweeping them down my throat.
I still beneath his hands, letting go of everything but the sensation of his hands and my own breath. Still, quiet, sinking away. Palms sweep flat down my chest, fingertips drag across my abdomen… At some point a tug and pull of energy and I wake a little for a brief moment before surrendering, trusting, he acts in my interests as much as his.
The smell of the Woods is achingly familiar and foreign at once. This is the Dark Heart of the Woods. As rich with life as it is it smells of iron rich blood and decay in equal measure. Here is an underworld of it’s own kind. At it’s centre a tree large beyond measure with gnarled roots knotted through with bramble, littered with bones scattered by wild things. Above this, at the base of the tree where roots meet is the cavity where the bramble rise to form the Throne.
And on the Throne HE sits, or more accurately lounges, possibly slouches. One leg slung over what I take for the throne’s arm, the other stretched out. He has no care for the formalities that come with a throne the way you’d think one would. He’s barefooted and barechested, wearing naught bar worn leather pants. Draped across his shoulders is a wolf pelt, one that matches the colour of the Great Black Wolf’s. There is little light here and the air feels thicker than any I’ve known.
Here is the God of Wild Places.
Those are the words I wake with:
I see you,
I see Him.
The King upon the Bramble Throne,
The God of Wild Places.
He turns me over and I relax into his hands, awake now, aware of the pull and tug of energy more. I wrap myself around him and we sink together to other places built of breath and touch.
A bit corny perhaps but I recently announced my engagement so fuck off, I’m allowed my cornball moment. If it makes you feel better I’m not going to talk much about The Wolf here in the romantic sense. I’m feeling a bit more pragmatic than that. For reasons undisclosed I haven’t been able to live with them up until now. Nothing religious, just reasons. So I moved in this past weekend and they kindly cleared me an altar space. They’ve never bothered themselves but my altar for the past few years has been, uh, extensive to say the least of it. I came home tonight to find a blade on the altar*…
The Wolf is my first magically inclined partner. Like me he doesn’t really have a ‘path’ that is easily navigable by others. One place we meet very firmly as equals and on the same track is as lovers though. So we’re both queer as fuck, and yeah there’s occasionally sex magic involved and yada yada…
It’s interesting to have a lover who is also capable of being a magical partner. I’ve always worked solitary. Always. I’ve attended a tiny handful of group rituals, but my path isn’t something I’ve ever considered compatible with anyone elses. And now I have The Wolf and the longer we’re together the more little incidental things happen and make me wonder…
It’s the breath shared. The growl in The Wolf’s throat. The moments of absolute still. The moments of complete vulnerability. The snarl and bite.
Can this be something shared? Is there a place between or do we create something entirely new?
It’s ecstasy and breath, death and sex, at the core.
Isn’t that what magic is made of?
* I’d pointed out to him that I’d like the space to be ours, not mine so not a shock or complaint. Just one of those moments of holy shit cohabitation!!
It’s the smallest and simplest of altars. A candle, honey and mead for the spirits on the longest night. No great feast, no over hauled three level altar, no lantern or fruit in the garden. A candle, honey and mead.
Sometimes we get blindsided. I was not meant to be home tonight, and I could have made good on responsibilities at the mid-winter gathering, but my head continues to throb and my body ache so I am here instead. This is not my home with the altar so I make do. I made promises, and I put in the effort to keep them…
Even if it means a simple altar in the middle of my Wolf’s kitchen table while he is out.
I think it is easy to forget that a little effort can go a long way, and that a promise kept holds power of it’s own even if all you have is the supplies in the kitchen cupboard.
Now the question remains, can I convince him to see in the dawn with me after this longest of nights?
I’d say we die thousands of little deaths (and I’m not talking about orgasms thank you kindly) in the form of betrayals, trauma and lost battles. Those deaths, like all deaths, change us. They can break us open or close us up, soften us or sharpen our edges to brittle razors.
Some deaths you recover from quickly and others force you to descend and hold you down there until you actively work to raise yourself up. And some of them are just fucking complicated and follow you around like the smell of an old corpse’s burst guts. I died a complicated death. I paid, I descended and I rose changed, but the fucker that caused it stench follows me like the corpse gut smell.
I’m tired of it.
I’m soon to be, among other things, doing some release work. I’ve talked about this before in a post about unhooking yourself from others. In this case it’s significantly harder than before as we’re dealing with someone who I had sexual relations with, had a very close bond with and who betrayed me utterly. My anger and distress have tied me to this person tighter than I was to start with in many ways and left me chained to them. A slave of my own pain. It’s emotionally fraught work and it signifies a death in and of itself.
Work like this isn’t easy. You deliberately put yourself through hell in order to heal. It’s a deliberate, carefully considered, self inflicted trauma that I know will drag me back into the underworld.
How to deal with these kinds of works?
It would be easy to dismiss this as underworld work and arm yourself, or advise arming yourself, accordingly. However this is a little different. I’m not going seeking the underworld and my allies that could help me there will have no power to assist me in this. There’s no real way to know where I’ll end up or how long the paths will take to navigate. There is no ferryman to pay, or gates to discard or collect objects from, nor guardians and deities to bribe *ahem* I mean honour and pay.
In this case your best weapons aren’t on that side. They’re on this side of the veil. Make time for this, make time to scream and weep. Make sure you have someone and somewhere to hide in while you hurt. Make sure you can avoid the person you’re letting go of.
Make sure there’s no unfinished business. If you’re letting go of someone who has seriously harmed you and you have rage then curse the fucker and his blood lines for the next 30 generations or be more constructive and release your anger in rituals… whatever it takes, get it done before you try to untie yourself or you’re leaving yourself open to reattach to them.
And, mostly, make sure you’re ready. It’s been over 12 months since I cut ties with the person I’m unhitching, and it’s time to. I’m ready to be completely done. I no longer feel the need to try and fix things any more than I need to kill him – not that I wouldn’t maim him if I could, but I don’t want to seek him out to hurt him. He’s simply an old festering wound and releasing him is going to cauterize that so I can heal completely and move on. If you’re not ready you’ll be lengthening the process, because as much as you want it done it’s not in your heart and mind and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to let it go.
This isn’t small work, no matter what method you use to achieve it. This is work that tears and rends and destroys parts of you. It hurts. It’s emotionally fraught, if not physically. You, I, am deliberately seeking a death and it’s one of part of yourself that has been trapped.
I have the occasional moment where I just drift off and my brain shows me things – visions if you will – and this was tonights. It was too intense to put in the day dream category, but what I can/will do with it is anyone’s guess.
The circle is cast by two, well clear of the light of the fire though containing it too. The crowd gathers round the fire, sitting in a circle and partaking of it’s warmth, as another ritualist steps forward and speaks. His voice rich and impassioned as he calls to the spirits.
Outside the circle of light they wait with blankets around their shoulders for warmth from the winters air. Faces painted, drums at the ready. He speaks on, louder, faster, louder faster. A final shout of ‘come’ and she moves.
A bone beater strikes the drum sharply thrice then a staccato beat is taken up. Blanket slips away, the Red Fox enters the circle. Furs at her waist, bells round her ankles. She dances twirling and yipping close the fire then close to the audience. Meeting their eyes. Engaging them in her play. The spirits come.
Then stops. Drum suddenly silent, body close to the ground, eyes intently staring into the shadows beyond the fire.
He moves forward, blanket slides away. Leather and bone. Larger and stronger than she. The Wolf steps forth. Drum beat slow and steady. She watches him intently as he sets a new rhythm, heavier and more powerful – a hunters song to her playful dance. He dances. Close to the fire, then to the audience. He howls low and growls deep. Engages them, meets their eyes. Brings them to the hunt. The spirits come.
Then stops, drum silent, staring down at the Red Fox, and she stares back unafraid. Slowly she sidles back on her knees and gets her feet beneath her. He smiles, teeth bared to her. She grins back, half feral, and suddenly they are dancing. Drum beats mixing as they stalk each other, dance each other, round the fire. Separating suddenly, encouraging the watchers to yip and howl, bark and snarl. Their drum beats faster, their feet move faster.
They stop. Face to face. Silence falls. The spirits have come.
As one they strike their drums.
Twice. A new drum is struck.
Thrice. All drums are struck.
The drummers in the circle strike the rhythm. The Fox and Wolf laugh and return to the dance, bringing the others to their feet.
The spirits are here, dance with us, dance with them, is the wordless cry.