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.

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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.

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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.

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“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 –

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…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)

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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.

Toad.

{A write-up from March, with some parts redacted for secrecy.}

Toad is a harsh teacher.  Old Toad Woman, who is close to Croucher At The Door.

I went down to find out who was knocking on my head with the seizures.  Horse carried me, Snake protected me.  {Redacted} told me I was his.  I entered an ancient smoky roundhouse, seated men shrouded in blankets, initiation.  A giant spider crouched on my chest, filling me with horror.  I think it came from inside me, perhaps inside my brain.  I learned I am a monster, I am monstrous, and that is a source of tremendous power, magic, strength.  I rode my keppen {details redacted} and beat on the drum with it, the World Tree and Mother Drum.  This is my magic, monstrous, weird, appalling to most.  {Redacted}

There was a time when a seizure spirit hovered over my face, a great round white-and-black face.  It was a lightning spirit.  Lightning struck through me at one point.

The Toad Ointment came on me and I read for {…}.  I was in a very altered state.  Spirit communication.  Insight that reduced her to tears and shaking.  Toad is *harsh* (the poisonous skin).  Wolf was there for her, scratching on the door.

Doing work for other people like that.  Being the go-between.

Earth – stone – leaf – bone.  Earth and stone, leaf and bone.

I am a witch of earth and stone.

My power comes from the earth – the literal soil.  No wonder winters here are hard for me!