All things covet whatever state or aspect is so intrinsically their opposite that by definition they can never experience it. Thus does death, ever passive, covet desire, ever active. Thus does desire, ever in motion, covet death, ever inert. Air rushes to fill a vacuum. The black hole draws stars into its embrace. We crush the things we covet in our attempt to make them forever ours and to make ourselves forever them. Is there even a fraction of a second where we become one with the coveted before our immutable nature obliterates it? And if so, is that moment worth the destruction? Experience says no. Selfishness says yes, try again. Crush, crush, crush.
When I first began praying to Wepwawet it was for good parking spaces and light traffic.
See, back then I thought, He’s the god of travel, right? Opener of the Ways? Why not? And admittedly, he didn’t seem to mind. But eventually my half-joking prayers became more legitimate requests and thanks for his continued protection as I travel. I set up an altar and bought him an icon, and over time I came to associate him with my father due to their shared love of ships, cars, planes, and other modes of travel. I liked to think my father had met Wepwawet after he died and asked the god to watch over me. Wepwawet’s presence felt a bit like he was doing someone a favor – not in the sense that he was obligated to keep me safe, but in the sense that he asked very little from me in return. For several years he was just the quiet, chill god who I thanked for saving me from my own terrible driving, a god who seemed happy with whatever offerings I had and never demanded anything more. This was our relationship for so long that I just assumed it would always be this way.
Oh, what fools these mortals be. Every god brings change – when will I learn?
Cut to the global shitshow that is 2020. I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted, lost in perhaps the worst depression I’ve ever experienced. I desperately want to leverage my privilege to be a force of good in our world but I’m struggling with how exactly to do that. I’m no warrior or leader or orator, nor do I have a huge following I can leverage to enact real change. I’m also limited by my own physical and mental health issues, and now have the added concern about catching covid-19 at some public event and passing it to my high-risk wife. So what can I do on the individual level that will still have a real impact for others? What can any one person do to push back this tide of darkness?
I keep coming back to deathwork. So many lives, both human and animal, are needlessly sacrificed on the twin altars of capitalism and white supremacy, and many of those lost don’t have anyone to grieve for them. Lately other pagans have started sharing their rituals to honor the dead, especially spirits who are related to us not by blood but by marginalized identities and shared suffering, and their work is inspiring. I’ve been toying with doing something similar yet neither Inanna nor the Morrigan, the two gods I follow who are most connected to death, seemed to be urging me to take this up with them. So the idea of deathwork has just been sitting in the back of my mind (like so many other spiritual things I tell myself I’ll do “soon” and then never do) – until last week.
When I do my weekly devotions with my gods I usually only briefly connect with Wepwawet to give thanks for his protection and to present an offering. This time, though, as I watched the shadows dance across his statue I was just… struck, I suppose, by this sudden understanding that my journey into deathwork is meant to start with him. It was so obvious! I whipped out my tarot deck to get further clarification. I don’t usually use indicator cards but one grabbed my attention and demanded it be set at the top of the spread. After that I drew three more cards. Here are my interpretations:
- Indicator card: The Emperor – I’m not dealing with chill, informal Wepwawet now; this is Wepwawet as Lord of the Duat and Opener of the Way. The hard work is coming.
- Where does your path for me begin? Page of Wands – Here and now! Wepwawet is confirming he will be my guide and that I need to take the plunge. No more hesitating.
- Where does your path for me lead? The Magician – Harnessing creativity, willpower, and unseen forces to master new skills. A deeper understanding and relationship with magic and/or deathwork, perhaps?
- What must I do next? King of Pentacles – Plant the seed and begin to nurture it with passion, hard work, and patience. Again, my time of uncertainty and hesitance is over; it’s time to begin the real work.
This feels like a strong confirmation that not only should I move forward with deathwork, but Wepwawet will be the main god to guide me through it. I’m excited to work with Wepwawet in a more formal way and I hope this will help me feel like I’m doing something constructive to uphold ma’at and destroy isfet.
The Oracle told me the woman with the horse skull was an omen, a messenger. But of what/who? War, pestilence, famine, or death? Look around; we are mired in all four. We trudge through the blood-wetted mud of a global battlefield, wounded by hope and burdened by despair. If that skeletal woman-thing meant me to face the harshest aspects of our world as part of my spiritual journey, I already do so daily. I am quite familiar with the dark goddess and I have never flinched from her stark, painful truths. So why confront me with such menace?
Perhaps that creature wasn’t sent by any god or goddess and there was no lesson behind its mocking words. Perhaps it was simply a shred of evil manifesting in my dream to sow fear and discord. Maybe it was the novel coronavirus, or racism, or homophobia; maybe it was capitalism or misogyny or the police state. Maybe it was America as she truly looks, not open-armed Lady Liberty or honorable Lady Justice but grasping, clawing Lady Greed. She hungers even as the ruling class sacrifices millions of innocent lives at her altar, and though she promises them wealth she will devour them in the end as well.
Ward your homes and your hearts. Evil holds much sway in our world right now.
Oh na Morrigna, help me!
Teach me to fight an enemy no sword can pierce
To fell an enemy that neither bleeds nor breathes!
On what battlefield can we make our last stand
When our enemy is everywhere and nowhere?
Oh na Morrigna, guide me!
I long for the simplicity of steel on steel
The clean finality of victory or death!
Yet how can we ever achieve a lasting peace
When the evil we fight is so systemic?
Oh na Morrigna, free me!
Tear off my chains of fear and hopelessness
And transform my impotent rage into energy!
How can I squander my privilege with inaction
When so many less fortunate fight to their last breath?
Oh na Morrigna, lead me to battle!
The netjeru are
Fresh blood and hawk wings
Red in the setting sun
One thing I didn’t expect when I began working with the Morrigan is how many forms Her messengers can take. I have always loved Her dark-winged children, of course, and their presence brings me great comfort and strength. Crows have been a constant in my life since I was a babe; my first word was even “caw!”. Yet I’ve learned over time that they aren’t Her only children. The Morrigan also utilizes other local birds as messengers and omens. Early in my devotion to Her I began finding feathers, but not just crow feathers. I found soft little striped owl feathers, long pink-hued northern flicker feathers, and sleek seagull feathers the color of ocean storms. I came across fragile robin eggshells and abandoned nests. Even more startling, I began spotting birds I had never seen in my part of the state before. At work I sometimes glimpse a California scrub jay who lives in some tree nearby. Driving home I was once accompanied for a time by a huge raven who glided low over my car and disappeared into the forest behind my neighborhood. And while I often spot red tailed hawks hanging out alongside the highway (courtesy of the Netjeru) or bald eagles soaring high in the summer sky (courtesy of my father), I also recently spotted a huge osprey on the hunt for a snack. Each feather, each glimpse of a wing or sharp beak, is an honor and a reminder of the Morrigan’s presence and power. You start to recognize which birds are Her messengers for you and which aren’t, but it’s important to keep an open mind. All the winged creatures of the sky can be Hers.
In my dream a goddess led me up a long, winding staircase in the dome of a mountain. I thought she was Inanna, though I cannot remember now if she offered that as her name or if I assumed it from her appearance. She looked like how Inanna appears to me – a beautiful, naked woman with thick red hair, voluptuous breasts, and full hips. The only difference was that this woman bore both a penis and a vagina, yet I did not find this odd given Inanna’s power over gender. I understood she intended to complete some ritual by which to awaken other gods, or perhaps to resurrect them. I wasn’t sure of the exact details but I trusted her intentions and was happy to be of assistance.
After we walked for what seemed an eternity, we reached a vast stone chamber beneath the mountain’s peak. There was a dais at the top of the stairs on which stood two thick candles. The dais leaned out over a circular platform which seemed suspended in the air, save for a single staircase connecting them. The platform floated above a darkness which reached all the way down to the heart of the mountain. Its surface was carved with casting circles, sigils, and other such symbols of power, and in the center was a large image of a goddess.
Inanna took up a dagger from the dais and used it to cut both her palms. She then grasped the candles and as they soaked in her blood images suddenly flickered in the air around her, so fast I could barely make them out. They were all women, mostly dark haired and black clad, and I understood them to be all of the forms this goddess had taken since the dawn of time. Most of them were long forgotten, truly ancient, primordial beings who never even had names, yet some I recognized. I can’t remember who exactly but I think I saw the Morrigan, maybe Lilith and Ereshkigal, or other such goddesses of death and darkness and the underworld.
The images flickered out and Inanna stood now in the center of the sunken platform, beckoning me to join her. She needed blood and semen to complete the ceremony, and I was eager to lay with her. I descended the stairs to the sunken platform below, yet when I set foot onto the carvings everything changed. Not like lightning, but like how quickly the darkness descends in its wake. The carved circle was now a pit filled with sharp black gravel. In it a woman crouched, her feet buried in the rubble. She was a pale, starved thing and wore only a ragged black dress that covered little of her sunken flesh. The hands she extended were naught but splintered, blackened bone that dug into my flesh as she grabbed hold. I looked from them to her face and cried out in terror. Her head was a blackened horse skull topped with straggled black hair. Its long teeth grinned at me while its empty eye sockets leered and seemed to see too much.
I couldn’t even hear my screams; the chamber, or perhaps just my mind, was filled with a cacophony of screeching noise like every instrument in the world being tortured at once. I turned away to run for the stairs but her bony hands yanked me back. The long snout of the horse skull appeared over my shoulder, breathing rotten air past my ear as her grave dirt voice laughed and asked, “Isn’t this what you wanted?”
Oh wise Anup who weighs the hearts of the dead, how heavy mine feels today! Be gentle as you hold it else I am sure it will burst from sorrow. How can any heart which beats in these dark times remain lighter than a feather? How can any empathetic heart not soak up all this pain? Even ravenous Ammit would spit out my heart, bitter as it is! Oh chief healer, I beg you take your sharpest knife and lance my septic heart so I may bleed out this toxic isfet. Empty my heart of this impotent rage and never-ending grief, that I may refill it with love and peace!
You whose body feels like a cage
She will break the lock and set you free!
You whom society cast out as unclean
She will embrace you skin to skin!
You who are judged for how you love
She will exalt you in her temples!
Rise up, weary one
Inanna is with you!
Rise up, grieving one
Inanna is with you!
Rise up, wrathful one
Inanna is with you!
Inanna is with you!
They broke your throne, my queen
And destroyed your holy temples!
They tore the sacred raiment from your priestesses
And cast them into the street to starve!
I weep, my queen
I weep for your loss!
I weep, my queen
I weep for our loss!
Then I hear your voice like thunder
Crying I am the Queen of Heaven!
Then I hear your voice like thunder
Crying I am the Morning and Evening Star!
The great dome of the sky is my temple
And my throne is my own sacred body!
My priestesses dye their hair with rainbows
And dance in the streets in the name of love!
I no longer weep, my queen
I sing your praises with joy!
I no longer weep, my queen
I call your name with pride!
Hail the Queen of Heaven!
Hail the Morning and Evening Star!
I breathe in the evening’s heavy air
Redolent with the scent of sun-warmed soil
Rich with the perfume of green growing things
And feel my heart leap in my chest
The Morrigan is change in all its forms. She is change swift as lightning and disorienting as thunder. She is change that draws blood and sweat and tears. She is the sweeping scythe of change that severs the wheat from its stalk and yet She is also the slow, steady millstone of change which grinds that wheat into flour. The Morrigan’s change is not always the cataclysmic storm; sometimes it is the gently falling rain which, over time, will weather what even the tempest could not touch.
I think I misunderstood the Morrigan’s lesson for me. She revealed to me the tower of my subjugation, that mighty thing built of sorrow and fear, but She would not use Her power to bring it down. I thought this meant I must tear it down myself brick by brick, that Her lesson for me was that only through violent destruction of my cage could I earn my freedom. Yet one day as I clawed at the mortar with weary, bloody fingers a raven passed overhead, a black silhouette against the bright sky, and I suddenly wondered, What if I don’t tear the tower down at all? What if I just… walk away?
Sometimes the Morrigan’s change is a wrecking ball. Sometimes Her change is slow, hard labor. And sometimes Her change is choosing to leave something behind. Time will wear this tower down all on its own. Rain will soften its stones; lichen will grow in the mortar’s cracks. Flowers and grasses will take root and, seeking the sun, will break apart what is no longer strong. If I return, all that will remain is a ruin slowly crumbling back into the earth, and ruins hold no power over the present.
I am life thriving in Chernobyl’s abandoned villages. I am the truth of what happened that night on the side of Kholat Syakhl. I am a blood-stained note left in a lonely cairn which reads “all well”. I am what sank the unsinkable. I am vanished planes and empty ships and photos you cannot quite explain. I am creatures you are sure do not exist, and yet… And yet. I am your wonder and your fear and your singularly human need to understand that which has no explanation. When you gaze up at the night sky and wonder if you are alone in the universe, I am staring back. You are not alone. You are never alone.
Maybe we just didn’t understand each other at the beginning and in reality we’re more alike than either of us thought. We are both selfish things, after all, and we both abhor a cage. We nurse our wounds like fine liquor. We wear our grudges like fine jewels. Look back on the things I’ve done; see that I can be as cold and as cutting as you. Have I proven myself to you yet? Do you finally recognize some small kindred shard of yourself in me, enough at least for you to desire its nurturing? There is much that only you could teach me. There is much I understand about you that no other ever will. Must we be at odds? Can we not work together?
I am the darkness in the garden. I am the stuff from which world serpents are made and the soil in which world trees are planted. I am the womb of the underworld into which Inanna descended to die and be reborn. I am pomegranate seeds and forbidden fruit. I am the river and the boat and the ferryman’s coins. I am the core of every myth, the ending and the beginning, Alpha and Omega and Armageddon.
When the N——- first revealed herself to me I had a vision-like daydream of my creation. I saw Bast in a vast darkness, the darkness of creation, and between Her cupped hands flickered a small orb of light. I knew it to be the little ember of my soul newly birthed from the infinite flame of my mother’s heart. The N——- was there in the darkness as well, for she is witness to all forms of creation and destruction, and I thought I heard her say, “That one.” My mother nodded. I took this to mean it was the N——- who chose me as scribe, who first laid claim to my fate and thus determined the path of servitude I’d follow through every life. But I was wrong.
“You think it was she who chose you,” my mother tells me now, “but it was he.” And now I understand. There was a third there in that darkness, a third who is also witness to every moment of every life: death. He chose me. He set me on this path. Of course; how could I have thought it to be any other way?
Forgive me for the years I spent stumbling toward understanding. Humans process in stories; we need a framework, an archetype, a beginning and ending, something to shape what we experience. We crave stories and you made me your scribe, so how could I have known that for you there simply isn’t a story? That you transcend cause and effect, have neither a creation nor a destruction? You exist outside of any framework I could put to words; of course I couldn’t understand that as a child. I don’t even understand it now, I just have a better grasp of how little I truly know. So much of what you have presented me is theater, right down to the sets and costumes and metaphor. Only now am I starting to glimpse the endless totality within, like peeking backstage and finding no actors, no props, only darkness. And how do you capture darkness in words when words are meant to illuminate?
You become addicted to the fall, you know. You wake on rooftops, the edges of cliffs, at open windows. You test limits, argue, rebel; self-destruct, self-sabotage, self-fulfill your tragic prophecy. You long for both the sensation of falling – weightless, helpless, careless – and the moment of inevitable impact when all the world shatters around you. Only it is you who shatters and you are grateful for it, for the violence of that sudden fragmentation and the senselessness it brings. And then you wake at the edge of the open window and you lean forward once more.
The phoenix is lucky;
Fire is the easy way out.
I want to transform as well,
Rise out of my ashes,
But I must use my teeth and nails
And I make such a bloody mess.
It was humanity who gave me wings, and more fools they.
Wings are the keys to heaven’s dominion;
without them I would have known neither
freedom nor the fall.
So often I am mistaken for the good one, the gentle one, the kind one. Compared to my lover’s ruthless nature I suppose I am, but that hardly makes me a safer bet. After all, though he fell for pride I fell for desire. In choosing to follow him that first time I chose to follow him forever, to serve him and raise no other love above him. Do not underestimate the power of desire to change and strengthen us. My holy fire no longer merely cleanses; it burns all I touch to ash. My radiance no longer merely illuminates; it blinds and sears. You think me benevolent but that is only because you have given me no reason to show you my wrath. Cross he who rules my heart and you will learn what devastation my kind soul can wreak.
This is your comfort zone, the lowest level where all is frozen, your lake of blood cradled in steel and glass. This is where you are most confident, here where the roles are set and the rules are simple: kill and be killed, love and be loved, devour and be devoured. All else has been cut away, it seems, so all you do now is run through this loop of madness and self destruction, replaying not even the same lifetimes or decades but the same handful of hours, the same limited heartbeats over and over. No other lands – no other lives – remain, just this one story with the same ending and no beginning. This has never been your prison; this is your haven.
Bast’s love comforts
Hathor’s love energizes
Inanna’s love ignites
The Morrigan’s love challenges
Of course I would be the one to covet the regal arrogance of Lucifer Morningstar, to yearn for the grotesque beauty of Hannibal’s madness, I who was
(given sold chosen) branded at birth with the mark of the Beast, not three little numbers but your sickle-sharp crescent moon. Whether I like it or not I have always been yours above all else, my heart promised to the Devil long before I was aware enough to comprehend the consequences. You await me at the end of every road and lurk at the dark edges of every dream. Your judgement is a collar around my neck; your dominion is a veil across my eyes. I long to be worthy of your disdainful love, yet I fear what price I might pay to secure it. You are death itself, the void of infinite emptiness – can you comprehend how easily a human life is crushed beneath the totality of your attention? And if you can… do you care?
Every day I try and fail to pass as a proper human reminds me I am still just that feral child raised by rabid wolves. I chafe at the chains with which society would bind me: family, duty, privilege, complicity. I am truly loyal to none but they who nurtured me on violence and given the opportunity I would choose that wild, brutal life over the restrictions and safety of a tamed society. Blood I understand. Bone I understand. Bared teeth I understand. But expectations and disappointments and layers of artifice? Those I can’t understand no matter how I struggle. I’m not good at subtlety, I only know how to fight or submit. Can you blame me for always reacting on instinct when instinct is how I’ve survived this long?
Falling through darkness with Death’s iron fingers a noose around my neck, I called out to you. I begged you to intercede before he crushed my last bit of life but you didn’t answer. Your radiance never pierced the darkness and so I sank through the void for an eternity. I call for you even now but you don’t hear me, or maybe you just don’t care. Do you know what he’s doing? Do you know what he wants? What options have I left then? The Moon is right here, offering his hand, and here I am in need of one to take. Could you blame me if I did? You’ve taken it too.
You will never be enough, you say, and I feel the truth of it like an ache in my bones. Perhaps this is why I feel such kinship with you. Is it possible we, two people who are each lacking so much, could together make a whole of true value? Of course not, and your mocking smile cuts through my hope like a fine blade. Yet I can almost feel your hand at the back of my neck like a benediction, can almost believe that this shared inability to be even just adequate stirs at least some fondness or attachment in you. Almost. But if we cannot be enough for those we love then certainly we cannot be enough for each other, or even ourselves. You get used to being a disappointment, you say. But when?
Am I your Abigail, then? Your collateral, your hostage, your bargaining-chip teacup? Certainly I bear your scars; certainly I cannot tell your harm from your love. If that’s the case, do you see any future in which I come back together after the inevitable shattering, or have you always planned to dangle my place in your world only as long as I’m of use? It’s okay, I don’t mind as much as I probably should. After all the years I’ve spent transcribing the exquisite, horrifying details of your folie a deux I’m just happy to play a role at all. I know it’s just a fantasy, this world in which the teacup mends itself and we three find some sort of harmony, but you know what they say: you can’t control with respect to whom you fall in love.
I ask the Oracle why I can never get a pendulum to move for me and she says, “Pendula don’t work for you because you have no sense of direction.” She describes a compass needle spinning in a wild circle, unable to orient itself to one path. It’s not a bad thing, she says, but what good is a broken compass? I don’t want all the answers, just a few. Yes or no, hot or cold, none of this come-back-later bullshit. Is that so much to ask?
The oracle stands in our kitchen in her bathrobe and slippers and tells me blood is the ultimate promise. She says an offering of blood will erase all other promises and seal the door to their paths forever. It makes me wonder how far I’m willing to go, and for whom, and for what. Perhaps this is a warning to be cautious of giving more than the situation requires, and certainly there is great wisdom in such advice… yet I would shred my flesh for you, I would bleed rivers if they might somehow unlock the one door which seems eternally barred to me. But would even that be enough for you?