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 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.
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.
Well, not literally, oddly enough. It would be fitting for an underworld journey to start with a rabbit hole, but in my case it starts with a Fox, the Tree and… well a fucking Rabbit.
I’m going to break this up into multiple posts for my own sanity. Also so I take the time to explore it all a bit more.
So, some background, very briefly. I read the wonderful Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith quite a while ago. A couple of year ago in fact, and while i thought about following it through it just felt slightly off to me, so I left it alone. Until along came the beautiful Dumb Supper held this Samhain where my spirits kicked me very firmly up the ass, and gave me some instructions on what to do…
They also demanded I make bread, repot the tomatoes next season and buy several new plants in their honour. Anyhow…
I unfurl as the Fox, unfolding, stretching, yawning, before I/we are running through the Forest towards it’s heart. It’s a journey that goes buy in a flash, one made a thousand times before, and intimately familiar. The shadows grow longer and darker as we reach the centre, and we burst into the clearing in our usual inelegant way. It’s home, really.
He’s not there. He wasn’t there at the Supper either. I drape Fox over my shoulders and run my hands gently over the knotted roots of the huge tree at the centre of it all as we walk towards it. Many are taller than I am, and I long ago stopped craning my neck in an attempt to see the top most branches. It is, simply put, vast.
I climb with the Fox remaining calmly in place until we reach the hollow where the brambles intrude then interlace to make His throne. Then she’s slithering from my shoulders and jumping to the almost vacant throne to sniff at the small, lop eared, black rabbit that occupies it. I watch them from a perch on the edge of the hollow until she curls up to sleep and the rabbit leaps into my lap.
I carry the small, warm, bundle of fur with me as I descend the stairs leading down into the darkness in the trees trunk. And I admit a certain level of shock when I slipped off the ledge onto something solid instead of just falling like usual.
Special occasions I guess…
He waits for me at the bottom and, rabbit in arms, the first trial begins. “Will you surrender…” he asks, over and over again. Sometimes the request is physical, sometimes it’s of my mental or physical self, sometimes it’s relationships, or parts of my self…
Will you surrender to me everything, everything you are, everything you believe, everything you love, everything you care about….
There is only one acceptable answer. As I kneel at his feet I give it over and over.