Update

Not sure if I’m really ‘back’, but I’m well enough to be looking at a computer screen for a little while? And to be able to face even glancing at social media?  Two and a half months…several very near brushes with death.  Bad hard scary times and a lot of physical (and emotional) pain.  I still don’t remember most of it, to be honest.  It’s like coming out of a thick fog.  I was drugged for a lot of it, mind.

Waiting on full treatment for spinal degeneration among other things, and also having intensive therapy for PTSD – thanks to the kind mercies of family, after having been quite literally left to die by bigoted public services while in health crisis (the ambulance was literally out again hours after they refused treatment).  (And when I did access treatment, life-threatening side effects nearly did for me, can’t fucking win…)  I’m walking a little bit again, on crutches (having discovered spine = too much pain to use a wheelchair).

It’s…very hard.  Going from doing 10 hr physical work days outside, on the land, with horses, to being bedridden, only seeing the ceiling…  I don’t remember a lot of it, to be honest.  Now I can walk a few steps, stand on grass at least.  My weight’s dropped 3 stone from this time last year, a stone of it in 3 weeks.  Loose skin from muscle wastage + fat loss; hope to god it’ll tighten up at some point (yeah vanity may be the least of my concerns in some ways but what else do I have?).

I’m having to rebuilt myself, my life, from the ground up.  Been through The Tower; now trying to rest in The Star, which doesn’t come naturally to me at all.  I always want to hit the ground running, work shit back up, and I just…can’t. A lifetime of doing that, of coping, led to the complete mental and physical exhaustion that let this happen.  I mustn’t, or I’ll end up back where I was.  Doctors say a year to being 5 on a 1-10 scale mentally, physical prognosis completely unknown.

Since I’m rebuilding myself I’m facing the same with my craft, too.  Unpicking the tangled stitches, going back to basics (which every time you go back – or forward – to them are deeper, wilder, wider, stranger…).  I don’t know how anything will look any more, including me.  To hold onto any old assumption now is to endanger myself — who or whatever this new self, being stripped clean of everything, is or will be.

Who owns those scrawny little feet?    Death.
Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face?    Death.
Who owns these still-working lungs?    Death.
Who owns this utility coat of muscles?    Death.
Who owns these unspeakable guts?    Death.
Who owns these questionable brains?    Death.
All this messy blood?    Death.
These minimum-efficiency eyes?    Death.
This wicked little tongue?    Death.
This occasional wakefulness?    Death.

Given, stolen, or held pending trial?
Held.

Who owns the whole rainy, stony earth?    Death.
Who owns all of space?    Death.

Who is stronger than hope?    Death.
Who is stronger than the will?    Death.
Stronger than love?    Death.
Stronger than life?    Death.

But who is stronger than Death?
Me, evidently.
Pass, Crow.

(Ted Hughes, Examination At The Womb Door)

Advertisements

Blossom of Bone

The oracle said: Summon the dead.

I’ve known for a long time it had to be done. It’s been over ten years since the palero said to me, The dead are looking for you. But I’ve shifted and fidgeted and avoided cos…well. When you get right down to it, it’s scary, isn’t it? I might’ve been doing this shit since the year dot, I might have had an unconventional upbringing, I might come from a family where people talk to dead relatives pretty casually, but I still grew up in this culture that says: dead people = scary.

The voices of singing women call us on the far shore.
It’s how it has to be.
What was that promise that you made?
Summon the dead.

I thought about doing it yesterday, but I was too sick to get out, and the oracle said: Abandon your cities for barbarian lands.

So today I went to the furthest boundary of my family’s land, where there’s a grove I discovered years ago. Now that that bit of land’s been in grazing use again, it’s easier to access, but it’s still there: a great spreading crabapple tree surrounded by hawthorn and blackthorn, with an entranceway between an oak and a holly.

The day was hot enough to go shirtless, with a mild west wind; crows and rooks and jackdaws hopped in the plough, larked and mobbed above it. The sky was unbearably blue.

IMG_4203

I didn’t have a plan.  I wasn’t even sure I was going to do anything.  I just sat down on the hard-baked ground, spring life rising up all around me, and…listened.  After a while I lay down; above sun came through the branches, dazzling-bright.

IMG_4215

And I realised: all this is the dead.

We think of them as grim, dark, frightening; tumblr spawns infinite blogs about ‘death witchcraft’ dripping in metaphorical black velvet.  But all this, this riot of green, the smell of fresh plough, the rough voices of jackdaws – all this is the dead, all this springs from them.  All of it is fed by them, consists of them.  The soil is full of them, the food chain, our very flesh: all is made of the dead.  At other times of year they may come grey and creeping or black and storming, but now, now – this spring day in green and gold glory, my body warmed by sun and hard ground – these are made of the dead.

And all that I am.  The language I speak, write, frame my thoughts in; my genes; my culture; my gods – all are the dead, still here, still manifest.  I am the dead walking the land in which they still live.

Where do you think your power’s come from, all this time? – an amused question, and I both comprehended it utterly and mentally stumbled.  Well, the land…  But the land is them.  And it’s true: that’s where my power’s from.  Call it the land, call it the ancestors, call it historical cultures, call it my forebears of the Craft – all of these are true, and all of them hold, are shaped by, are the dead.

There is no separation, no distinction.  There is no life, there is no death: there is only this, this rook-tumbling long-stretched moment; they are interpenetrating, inseparable.  In front of me new growth sprang from the earth, and I looked at it and saw it as the dead uprising, returning, manifest among us.  And, filled with this understanding, I noticed behind it an ear of grain from the harvest gone.

Oh, how they speak.  How they speak to us.

IMG_4221

“To work with the dead” sounds frightening, grim, grief-full.  But this is it too, this which I have always done.  When I invoke my gods, I work with the dead.  When I put word after word to make meaning, I work with the dead.  When I walk and work the land, I work with the dead.  I am their hands, their voice, their magic in the world.  We are not separate.  We are not separable.

In that grove there’s a burrow, unused this year and full of dead leaves; a thick root bars the top of its entrance, like the capstone of a dolmen, a barrow-tomb: a door to the underworld.  I had no offering, so I pulled caught fleece from the brambles and spun it in my fingers into thread, knotted it into a circle: ouroboros.  When I laid it down it twisted into a lemniscate, life going out and returning, endlessly, to itself.  I straightened up, turned around, and –

IMG_4225

…Sometimes the powers speak subtly.  Sometimes they’re a bit more to the point. [1]

I say again: there is no separation.  There is no life, no death; no living, no dead.  We are not distinct.  We are not apart.

βίος. θάνατος. βίος. Διόνυσος!

***

Listen more often to things than to beings
Listen more often to things than to beings
‘Tis the ancestors’ breath
When the fire’s voice is heard
‘Tis the ancestors’ breath
In the voice of the waters
 
Those who have died have never, never left
The dead are not under the earth
They are in the rustling trees
They are in the groaning woods
They are in the crying grass
They are in the moaning rocks
The dead are not under the earth

Those who have did have never, never left
The dead have a pact with the living
They are in the woman’s breast
They are in the wailing child
They are with us in our homes
They are with us in this crowd
The dead have a pact with the living
 
Listen more often to things than to beings
Listen more often to things than to beings
‘Tis the ancestors’ breath
When the fire’s voice is heard
‘Tis the ancestor’s breath
In the voice of the waters

— Birago Diop

***

[1] Yes, that’s the joint-end of a longbone – almost definitely a sheep.  (If it’s not a sheep, I’m in trouble XD)

Never rip yourself
to pieces just to ensure
that others stay whole.”

— (m.f.) Haiku #83 (via artofephemera tumblr)

I’ve done this. I did it for *years*. I nearly died of it.Part of it’s childhood and social training (which is a whole parcel of individual situation and cultural requirements that particular people put their needs last). Part of it’s personal inclination: I can’t bear to see people I care about suffering (or hell, people full stop – I burned out bad in my old job partly because of this). And also – hey, ripping things to pieces sort of comes with the territory, and without a functioning/functional outlet for that it can be either rip other people apart (see above) or yourself.

(One *could* make a case that *not* providing it with its needed channel is an affront to the god, in which case we find ourself in Lykourgos’ situation, hacking at our own feet with an axe, but that’s a rather extreme possibility…which I’m none the less willing to entertain. Negative forms of madness from excessive constraint are certainly A Thing, and sparagmos as a response to social repression has long been a theory…)

It’s still hard for me not to do it. It’s a hard balance to strike generally, with issues from another post that I’m going to reblog if I can find it.

But. I’m trying to find that balance. I was only ever taught – as a child of an abusive house, as someone subjected to particular gendered conditioning, as someone in a previous controlling relationship, etc etc – that you tear yourself to pieces because the only alternative *is* tearing other people to pieces.

The abuse dynamic – personal, familial, cultural – that you can only be victim or violator. That we have no right to integrity, bodily or emotional or spiritual. And it is a lie. I’m trying, more and more, to remember that: that liberation is real, that wholeness is allowed, even where other people are afraid of or threatened by it. I don’t have to make myself small or silent, the way I was taught over and over and over again. I don’t have to tear myself to pieces.

And if someone else’s wholeness *is* genuinely threatened by something, and you want to help them – tearing yourself to pieces is not actually constructive or helpful. A twitching pile of limbs on the ground can do fuck all. A liberated whole person can.

And having *been* torn in pieces, or done it to one’s self, or “allowed” it to happen, doesn’t mean we’re weak or broken or failures, that we should have been stronger, freer, braver, wiser. The god, torn in pieces, returns to give us the Mysteries; driven mad, is healed and becomes the Restorer from Madness. So it can be for us.

Anthesphoria 2015

IMG_4084

While picking flowers in the field
all in the springtime of the year,
I heard the sound of chariot wheels
and was afraid with nothing to fear…

Demeter’s Daughter, Anne Lister

& what is the work of this god?

I turned thirty-five this weekend.

Thirty-five is one of those times when people go SO HAVE YOU FIGURED OUT WHAT YOU’RE DOING WITH YOUR LIFE, THEN? a lot. (Often, in my case, coupled with, “Weren’t you at law school anyway, what happened to that?” to which the answer “I was raped and had a nervous breakdown” is generally considered awkward and unacceptable.)

I’m putting this pressure on myself a lot right now, especially as my ESA won’t run a lot longer and I’ll have to do more than the ~permitted work~ freelancing I’ve been doing. Because of course what people mean is, DO YOU FINALLY HAVE A CAREER HOW ARE YOU MAKING MONEY NO SERIOUSLY WHAT DO YOU ~DO FOR A LIVING~. (And hell, what I’d LOVE to be doing is going back to uni to actually *study what I’m interested in* for the first time but ahahah money >.<)

And…they don’t really go for answers like “ritual sodomite” or “oracular madman” or “witch who does weird shit with bones and words” or “ecstatic devotee of gods you think are dead”. But…maybe I need to accept that that’s what I’m doing with my life and I actually *have* figured that out, in a way, really. I mean, it’d be nice if it paid more, but…I *am* doing those things, they’re what I’m ~doing with my life~, and have been for a hell of a long time.

Yeah, I need to obtain money because: got to eat, roof over head, poverty is exhausting etc etc. But I need to stop beating myself up because I’m 35 and I don’t Have A Career. Because…I have a Call, and an Obligation – and I need to stop buying into the idea that that’s less important than where my money comes from.

(…I still need some fucking money, ta.)

The Land

So this morning I was shovelling shit & coughing up blood (don’t worry, it’s nothing Drastic) and started mentally writing a bitter and jaundiced “Kentish Gothic” post, in the theme of all the “(Region) Gothic” posts going around on tumblr.  I imagined it taking in the ongoing history of agricultural labour exploitation and UKIP and extreme poverty next to extreme wealth alongside Romney Marsh and Things That Go Bump In The Night and Ma & Pa Larkin and Hengist & Horsa and Wat Tyler and –

– and then the mist burned off and the sun came out and everything smelled of blossom and warm grass and there were violets and a mild breeze and just…

…Sometimes loving this place is like an abusive relationship (& I have grounds for comparison). In so many ways it’s such an AWFUL place full of AWFUL people and it’s just…so beautiful and so fragile and so old and so terrible.  (Hell, that sums up a lot of England >.<)  And we can’t afford to get out if we wanted to.  And I *do* love it.

I don’t know.  It’s hard.  Maybe I’ll write the post anyway.  Maybe I’ll try and turn it into something else longer.  Just…such mixed feelings.

Frustration, Realisation

1. Frustration

Whether by inclination or teaching, I tend to want things to fit together neatly.  I want them to be a system, I want it to be coherent and consistent and comprehensible.

So of course my entire life and nature and experience and practice refuses to be anything like that, and every time I think I’ve got a handle on things something else pops up and throws the whole lot off-kilter.

It’s like an endless bloody game of personal and spiritual whack-a-mole; like trying to stuff a very large squid into a very small box, tentacles popping out everywhere and flailing all over the shop, knocking down the crockery.  Foreign gods and shifts in identity and weird happenings and magical systems that don’t square with each other and just…ARGH.

And yeah, I know that’s partly just ~the nature of the world~ but there’s also part of me that just plaintively bleats whyyyyy.  Why do things about and around me have to be *so* complex, *so* contradictory, *so* frickin’ hard to nail down?  One of my teachers used to admonish people to dig one deep well rather than many shallow ones, but every time I get down to a certain depth I hit all these bloody underground rivers and reservoirs that come bursting out all over the place and disrupt the whole bloody show.

It must be so nice to have some kind of coherent, systemic existence and identity and practice that stays that way without sneakily slithering away and turning into something else every time you get a breathing space and take your damn eye off it for five fucking minutes. Whyyyyy do I, and everything I fuckin’ do, have to be so frickin’ contradictory and contrary and perverse, whyyyyy.

(Though I said, in that plaintive way, to Boyfriend, WHY when some god pops up and declares that they have ALL THIS WORK for me do I always bloody say yes, even knowing that it’ll probably turn everything on its head all over again?  And he said: because you want it.)

2. Realisation

So there I posted about whining about whyyyy is all this hard and contradictory shit always my life, whyyyy do I always end up saying yes when gods come knocking with This Thing You Must Do, whyyyy can nothing ever be simple, whyyyy does my head always get overturned (and how Boyfriend said, because that’s how you want it, or similar).  And then just now I read this:

“I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Dionysian (and, I’ll admit, sometimes cursing it too) – how we can never settle for something comfortable or safe, how we always have to be pushing our own boundaries (and sometimes other people’s), how we must be free no matter the cost. And there is great cost, it’s just not as great as not being free.

…And maybe that’s a kind of madness too, among His many madnesses… to choose to the hard road over and over, to choose pain and fear and loneliness when our most basic human instincts tell us to choose comfort and safety and gratification. But a Dionysian simply cannot do otherwise.”

Dver

Auf. Fnurgle. Arghlesnarg.

It’s not just Dionysos, though perhaps talking of “a Dionysian” is apt: those of us who are called by or to gods and powers of ecstasy and contradiction and liberation and strange comprehension.  Dionysos, yes, and perhaps the Old Man in various of his forms, and perhaps the Devil or Lucifer who is and isn’t the strange Unnamed god of the Craft, and some goddesses, too…  Some people I’ve known have called it the Witch-craft, yes (and some have said that’s something completely different).

To choose the hard road over and over, the endless sloughing of skins and arse-over-head reversals and tectonic fucking shifts.  It’s so fucking exhausting, and I want to whine and I want to say whyyyy and part of me does want to say nononono like the cat in the video and yet I can’t fucking stop it because it’s something about me or it’s something in me or it’s fucking me and it always fucking has been.

*takes a deep breath*

But.  Now there are people who love that about me, rather than just being terrified of it and doing everything they can to shut it down.  And that’s – that’s important.  That’s massive.  Because I’d have to do it anyway, but oh god, it makes it easier.  It does.

Among The Women

Ino’s niece is troubled.  The other girls laugh and chatter as they spin, clouds of creamy fleece twisting down into fine thread.  Ino’s niece frowns as she watches the spindle whorl twirl and twirl like a spinning top.  It makes her anxious, though she can’t say why, wobbling its widening path downwards.

Ino clears her throat, and her niece lets her face smooth out at once, puts on a small pleasant smile.  She has had trouble with that: she feels tense so much of the time, a fierce taut fury that she can’t explain and has trouble hiding.  It’s not ladylike, the older women tell her.  A girl should cast her eyes down and smile – no, not so much, you look as if you will tear out someone’s throat – yes, like so, a demure little smile that hints at mysteries that men may long for but never touch.  You are nearly a woman now.  You must think of these things.  She puts that smile on now, like a mask.

Ino’s sister’s child never, in later years, entirely loses that habit, even when the furious eyes are no longer cast down.

The fleece-tipped distaff is light in her left hand.  When she spins for a long time, watching the dizzying spindle until her mind clouds and goes strange, she thinks sometimes that the distaff-shaft grows longer, a light wand within her hand – that ivy twines along it – that it bears not fleecy wool but something dark and prickly as a pinecone.  Sometimes the yarn that forms seems to twist like a snake, thick and coiling.

The spindle-whorl twirls.  Did she have a toy like that as a child, a spinning-top?  In her dreamy daze she smells smoke, dirt, opened guts; a stab of pain all through her, and she casts the spindle away with a sudden cry, scattering the girls.

Ino and her attendants exchange troubled looks.  Ino’s niece is sent to bed without dinner, and she lies on her bed with fierce tearless eyes.  They are so much harsher with her than with the other girls; they watch her every move as snakes will watch a mouse, waiting for the wrong step to strike.  Why are they so anxious, her foster-mother and her women?  They never look so at the other girls, as if – as if they are afraid.

She doesn’t remember falling into sleep, but when she does she dreams of blood, and the sound flesh makes when it tears.  It doesn’t make her afraid: she laughs in her sleep, and the other girls turn in their beds, their dreams suddenly shifting into wildness.  One dreams she suckles a leopard; another that she and her sisters rend limb from limb the man who sometimes touches them, in the dark corridors of the house, tasting his blood on their own teeth.  The suggestion of vines stirs in the heavy shadows of the room, writhes beneath the bed.

Ino’s niece doesn’t recall rising from her bed, but she comes to herself for a moment at the edge of the gardens, in the twilight; her bare feet have left tracks across the rising dew.  By day, here, she can smell the sea beyond the cliffs, but now the night wind is rising, bringing the sharp darkness of the pine woods beyond.  Her hair has come loose and tumbles about her shoulders, and the breeze turns it into snake-ringlets, whispering against her ears.

She needs to move, to run, to dance outside the formal set patterns of weddings and births.  Dry leaves rattle on the branches above, an echo of cymbals and tambourines.  Her body, which has lately started to grow and change in strange unsettling ways, itches all through with it, an ache in her long bones.  She glances back at the darkened house, as if Ino will come rushing out, her long skirts clutched up and her face contorted with that blend of anger and terror that her niece cannot understand.

She goes out of the garden anyway, into the dark woods.

The servants find her in the morning, and cry for Ino.  Looking down at her niece’s body, the woman feels a clutch of fear in her throat, has to put her hand there.  The girl is sprawled out in the dewy grass, bare as a baby; her soft child’s body is still innocent enough, only the soft curves of baby-plumpness at chest and hip – and ivy vines, inexplicable in the well-tended garden, have twined themselves to cover anything that might be seen at her groin.

Ino’s husband comes up beside her, summoned by the servants.  His face is dark and still and grave.  “It can’t go on,” he says, as slaves cover the girl and try to wake her.  She stirs lazily, eyes still closed, her lips a faint demure curve like an archaic statue’s.  Her face, soft with sleep, looks so very young; he thinks of the infant they took in, innocent chubby hands that clutched his finger.  “It’s starting to show more and more.”  His wife nods tightly, hands twisting together anxiously.

A peacock cries in the garden, harsh and strident, and they both flinch.  The shifting morning breeze brings the salt of the sea, the faint crash of waves at the cliffs’ base.  Ino shudders and draws up her shawl, and takes her sister’s child back into the house one final time.

“Zeus … gave birth to Dionysos, whom he entrusted to Hermes. Hermes took him to Ino and Athamas, and persuaded them to bring him up as a girl.  Incensed, Hera inflicted madness on them, so that Athamas stalked and slew his elder son Learkhos on the conviction that he was a deer, while Ino threw Melikertes into a basin of boiling water, and then, carrying both the basin and the corpse of the boy, she jumped to the bottom of the sea.”

Out of the wilderness

I think maybe I’m ready to start working with other people again.

I realised it’s been about eight years now since I regularly practised the Craft – or any magic or religion – with other people. I worked with my boyfriend sometimes when I was in Montreal, and did some work with a heathen kindred there sometimes, and occasionally with some other people, but it wasn’t a regular thing. Since getting back to the UK, I’ve made an intermittent effort to find a group to work with, but it hasn’t really paid off.

For most of that time, I haven’t missed it at all. Around ‘07 long-term rumblings in the community I’d been part of for nearly ten years, working intensely and teaching, blew up in the most godawful damaging destructive “bitchcraft”/witch war way, and it was *hellish*. It was around this time that I broke up with my former partner (though we continued living together for a while, which was…not successful >.<) who’d also been my very close magical partner for that time. At the same time again, one of the traditions I was working in underwent a massive dramatic unpleasant international schism. So…I had a lot of wounds to lick, basically.

Though I’m a grumpy misanthrope a lot of the time, I’m not naturally a solitary person. And since we moved here, we’ve been isolated on a lot of fronts (hello, conservative semi-rural area – someone PLEASE send me other non-straight ppl stat >.<).

So…I’m going to start looking again for people to work with. It’s not the easiest, in my situation, because I am *way* too tired of bullshit to deal with the “you can only work with us if you’re straight and/or cis [or willing to pretend you are]” bullshit. I’m going to get back in touch with the group in London who…I’m not really on the same page as, but they may open other doors, and you Never Know. There’s a trad group down in Arundel (about an hour and a half/two hours’ drive away) who I may want to check out.

Other than that – if any UK witches etc have recommendations for how to network, or good people/groups, please throw them at me? All my knowledge of that kind of thing is pretty much 10 years out of date. (I might write up a post for ppl to signalboost, idk). Are there *any* groups which aren’t superhetero in both practice and ideology? Argh??

Heavy horses, move the land under me…

« Older entries