I am above all things the scribe. That is my gender, my religion, my morality and creed. See these? They are the scribe’s bones. And these? The scribe’s breasts. Cut open my organs and watch them bleed ink. Uncoil the long strands of my DNA and see how words build its base pairs, not polymers: scribe, sesh, scrība, scríobhaí, grammateús, dubsar. The gods claimed me for their own at my spiritual conception, pressing their fingerprints into the soft surface of my newborn soul so I would carry their whorls and ridges forever. I do not know who I am outside of this role because I do not exist as a complete being apart from it. I am the scribe before every name I have ever borne and beneath every face I have ever worn. And I will be the scribe in every life, in every universe, unto the end of all existence.
Lady of Joy, your cup runneth over!
Like the Nile overflows its banks
bringing life-giving nourishment to withered crops
so your love inundates my parched soul
awakening seeds of hope within!
like a maiden plucking flower petals, so idly did She cast her raiment off
striding naked into the pit of the underworld, proud head held high
to welcome Her death with a queen’s grace, arms wide and eyes alight
in your cupped hands, a coal
your breath a spark ignites
my soul born from your sacred flame
blossom and bumblebee embrace
share a sip of sweet spring nectar
and part the better for the favor
through seven gates descend
surrendering ego to the inertness of death
and rise again a unified whole
Beware promises of unearned victory:
a true god will promise only
to put the sword in your hand
and teach you how to use it.
Devotion quarried the stones and raised the temples
carved the statues and gilded the icons.
Devotion preserved the myths and protected the tombs
dusted off the altars and restored the artwork.
Devotion carried their gods around the world
and devotion carries them into the future.
“The serpent tries too hard,” the Nameless tells me as she lounges against the oscillations of Egyptian dunes. “It’s almost embarrassing. Do I strive against your desert gods each night in hopes of wresting control of the universe from their grasp? Of course not,” she pops galaxies into her mouth like hothouse grapes, “because I know, as they do, that the ultimate fate of the universe is a return to the primordial chaos from which it first emerged. It’s just a matter of time. Why rush entropy?”
She is right at home on these white hot sands, her monstrous body a black void against the dancing heat waves. In my dream last night she murmured in my ear, “We have always been here,” by which I understood she meant that this dark triad I serve – Chaos, Desire, and Death – is older than even the gods of ancient Kemet. Older than gods themselves, for they are the concepts from which gods are crafted. Thus the Nameless is part of A/pep, just as a shadow of Daren can be found in Set, a fragment of Tanim in Osiris. Their triad belongs to no single place, time, or pantheon but runs through them all, encoded like DNA in every deity that will ever exist.
“You are a slow learner,” the Nameless laughs, licking plasma off her sharp fingernails. “But you get there.”
“I can’t,” you beg, “not this time, not again, there has to be another way,” and I’m trying not to wallow in your agony like a voyeur, truly, it’s just been so long since he last touched you with such tenderness, cruel hands gone soft to cup your tear-stained face, but you both know the refusal, too, is part of this passion play and the kiss you share is not a blessing for the present but an absolution for the future. Still, he holds you close and kindly does not command you to end his life before the disease rotting him from the inside does, and at least for a brief time you can be miserable together instead of apart. Between the bloodshed and bereavement I’d almost forgotten moments like this were even possible. For both your sakes (and mine?) I will not yet count the days until the solstice. I, too, can be kind.
Your heartbeat straining beneath my ribs; your choked breath heaving in my lungs; your furious, desperate tears leaking from my eyes. Is this euphoria? Dysphoria? Phantasmagoria, hypochondria? Transubstantiation or disassociation? All I know is that I never feel more comfortable in my own body than when you’re the one inhabiting it, my perception submerged in the dark depths of your consciousness, my autonomy overridden by the wild fluctuations of your fragmented memories. Even after you rescind control and I am alone I find this meatcage fits better for having stretched itself to your dimensions. For a little while I move with ease through familiar halls, not truly free but pretending so with room enough to stretch and turn. Soon the walls of my prison will contract around your absence once more; until then I savor the ghost of your presence contained within the emptiness around me.
I’ve dreamed each night the Moon dead and dying in his lover’s arms (early, isn’t it, this solstice blood filling my mouth) and as I drive to work the Sun admits to me, “I would rather burn him until there is nothing left but ash than cling to the shell he leaves behind”. I can’t blame him, not when my own arms ache from clutching the Moon’s lifeless body so tightly, not when my fingers so vividly recall the sharp edges of his jaw as I cradled his head against my chest. Were we to trade places, the Sun and I, can I say I would choose differently?
Tanim and Daren are gods who balance and oppose each other – sun and moon, summer and winter, light and dark. Yet, while I am certain that Daren is the chosen form of Death, it hasn’t felt right to say that Tanim is therefore the form which Life has chosen to take. He doesn’t feel like Life. Life, at least in opposition to Death, is a thing of creation and fertility, generosity and gentleness, and Tanim doesn’t embody those qualities. While he isn’t Death, he carries a shard of its mercilessness with him, too much to ever associate him with something so bountiful as Life. So I’ve been struggling to figure out what he is, if not Life, and I’ve come up with a two-part answer that (at the moment at least) seems to solve the equation.
First, what if we remove the labels of Life and Death and look simply at the basic drivers of those forces. For Death it’s stagnation, leaving, the ceasing of the beating heart and the sudden stilling from animate to inanimate. Death is inert. For Life, then, it’s growth, survival, advancement, the strangling by one plant of another to ensure its own propagation or the taking of life by a predator to provide sustenance for its cubs. Life is active. So maybe the equation is less Life versus Death and more Desire versus Death, as Desire drives us forward and Death is the moment all desire ceases.
Second, what if the equation was never meant to be a balance of two opposing forces, but three? That would explain why I haven’t been able to solve it yet. So let’s say there’s a third element here that would balance out Desire and Death. What would it be? We have Desire driving purposeful action, and Death as the ceasing of all action, so… what about Chaos as driving action without purpose? What if the Nameless is supposed to form the third corner of this trinity, so to speak? That would explain her presence and her seeming connection with Tanim and Daren, even though she is decidedly not part of their story. She also offers a bit of a counterpoint to their cycle of life/death/rebirth which is perhaps exactly what they’ve been missing. With Chaos included, Death and Desire don’t have to encompass an entire universe.
So that’s where I am as of several sleepless nights in Spring 2021. I don’t think these three are gods so much as forces of the universe taking form to interact with me, but gods is the easiest term so that’s what I use. Daren is Death, Tanim is Desire, and the Nameless is Chaos. This is not at all intimidating or terrifying and I am totally fine.
Your fingers like iron around his neck, your arm a statement of possession around his waist; ah, we return to tread familiar ground! You dance hip to hip beneath a moonless night sky and when the forest’s monsters come sprinting forth to take him down as prey they stop short at his outstretched hand. He reeks of you, of Death, and even these many-fanged and many-clawed beasts flee in fear of that primal entity so much older than they. You watch their retreat over his shoulder with a knife-blade smile, starlight limming the white skull painted on your pale face, and drag his mouth to yours.
In my dream, myself and two girls were led to a room where women in beautiful robes crafted elaborate porcelain masks. One of the women sat us at an empty table amid the group and served us tea in delicate china cups. Just one sip of tea sent us all into some sort of trance state and it suddenly seemed as if my face was submerged in a pool or bowl of bright water, yet I could still breathe easily.
I blinked and then before me in the water I saw the square of a great ancient city. Where the branching streets met in the center of the square stood what looked like a big fountain, though I couldn’t make out its shape. Then it moved and I realized it was a living statue in the shape of a lioness with white marble skin. The statue sat up, golden eyes blazing out of a lean face, and then on its head raised up a white serpent with matching gold eyes. I recognized Her immediately – my mother, the goddess Bast. Identical statues on either side which I had not noticed moved as well to mirror the pose of this one. Then another feline head, far larger, rose in the sky above the middle statue. Its eyes were as big and as bright as the sun; they were the sun. I knew then this was Bast, yes, but specifically the royal Bast, Bast as the Eye of Ra, the blazing sun, Queen of the Gods crowned in the sun disk and uraeus. I think I was crying from happiness, honored to receive a visit from Her in a dream.
The image faded and in the water I saw next the sweet, smiling face of a domestic cat. The little cat said something like, “You see but you don’t understand. Understand.” It was ‘understand’ with the implication of trust, though, like I can see the truth of divinity but I’m not letting myself trust enough to embrace it fully, or to trust that it’s meant for me, and that’s blocking my ability to fully grasp the gods’ messages. Something like that. I just felt so much love from Her, filling and overflowing every corner of my being. Then the trance state lifted and I was back in the room with the mask-makers. The other girls were too. We looked at each other in wordless wonder for what we each had separately experienced, tears streaming down our faces, then hugged each other tightly. The woman who had served us the tea smiled and escorted us out.
Beyond rock bottom is the void
waiting to wrap you in chaos.
She is not capable of love;
isn’t that comforting?
“Incitement of the Morrigan”
Warriors, why do you let your weapons fall?
A battle lost is not yet a battle done!
Does the outnumbered wolf bare her throat
to await the killing bite? Never!
She fights until her very last breath
no matter how much blood she’s lost
or how her vision darkens!
Her snapping jaws are ever at the ready
to take one final foe down with her.
Pick up your blades, warriors;
fight with every heartbeat left!
I consult the Oracle while she sweeps the kitchen floor; my spilled guts collect in little piles with the cat hair and the pine needles. Tossing this detritus in the trash, she tells me to let go of the presumption that my gods have abandoned me. She reminds me that I am no more the person I was when I met them half a lifetime ago than they are now the men they were that same fateful day. People grow; why not gods? I cannot expect our relationship to remain static when we three have changed so much, nor can I expect the old methods of communion to yield the same results. I have to discover who and what we have become in the years we’ve walked this shared road, and where we are meant to go from here. To do this I must have faith, the Oracle says. Faith is not a passive state, it is a choice we make actively every day. I must let go of my death grip on the past and choose to have faith in the gods to which I pledged myself, and trust that everything will work out as intended.
The Oracle’s words are wise, I know they are, and I cannot ignore the truth in them. Yet I’m so afraid – too afraid, perhaps, to risk the rest of my wounded heart solely on faith – and so I make a face at her and go back to playing on my phone.
This January marks six years since Bast called me to begin walking Her path. Like a kitten first opening its eyes to glimpse the warm presence which has nurtured it from birth, comprehending now that Mother is an entity unto itself, so I went from stumbling agnosticism to sudden unwavering faith. With eyes wide open I saw so clearly all which had seemed before too good to be true; spirits, magic, witchcraft, other realms, and of course the gods.
Bast kindled my conscious spiritual journey that year. Under Her patient tutelage I waded into the waters of polytheism and the modern pagan community. Though I had long believed in “something”, even felt as if that something watched over me, only now did I have a name and established frameworks to build from. There was so much to learn! So much to unlearn! I felt every bit the uncoordinated kitten, yet an uncoordinated kitten who could take chances and make mistakes in the safety of mother’s watchful presence.
Other gods came in time – Inanna, Wepwawet, the Morrigan, Hathor – and their paths often required more focus than Bast’s, yet She remained always at my side. Even in my deepest depression, when I questioned not just the existence of the gods but the very concept of the soul and all that animated the universe, still I felt Her beside me in the darkness. I could not doubt Her existence when Her inextinguishable flame burned in my own chest. I am a child of Bast; it was She who shaped my soul into existence and it will bear Her mark for eternity.
So here I am, six years along on a journey I never imagined I’d take. My spirituality threads through every aspect of my life and plays a major role in all that I do. I am many things now – proud kemetic, proud polytheist pagan, proud witch – and no longer the uncoordinated kitten, though neither am I yet the confident adult. I’m still learning and unlearning, making mistakes, discovering new paths and identities. Through it all Bast is here to guide me and I remain so honored, so humbled, to walk Her path and do Her work in this world.
You may be a god, my love, but here on my blade you die like any mortal and here in my forest you rot like any animal. Fear not; I am here with you in your dying, just as I shall be with you in your rotting. I shall be with you when your laboring heart finally spasms and stills (not too long now, you have lost so much blood already). I shall be with you when your cells begin to slowly suffocate en masse, thirty trillion microscopic deaths triggered by your last shallow breath. I shall be with you as your cooling meat begins to spoil. I shall be with you when the coyotes tear at your choicest organs, muzzles stained red and tongues lolling (your godblood tastes so sweet, you know, it is the only drink I have ever hungered for), and the crows bicker over the honor of pecking out your eyes. I shall be with you as your flesh is consumed like holy communion to feed my host of scavengers and decomposers, leaving only your lovely bones behind as grave markers. And I shall be here still when fungi sprout up through the sockets of your whitening skull and wildflowers twine around the bars of your rib cage, nourished on the nutrients of your long forgotten corpse which yet enrich the soil. I am always with you, beloved, so fear neither the blade nor the breaking down. Death has ever been your dearest companion.
In another life I might have been a priestess, but the gods I serve don’t need a temple or a following. They need their story told. They need a scribe. So here I am.
I serve the Sun and Moon. The names they chose to give me are Tanim and Daren, though you will know them under other names: Satan and Lucifer, Will and Hannibal, Patroclus and Achilles, the Oak and Holly Kings. They’ve had many names and lived countless lives. Their stories may be familiar to you as well. Life, death; love, hate; sacrifice, betrayal.
On the winter solstice the Sun will die by his lover’s hand. The Moon started this cycle eons ago, though even I could not tell you exactly why. On the summer solstice the Sun will resurrect and slay the Moon in turn. Thus the wheel of the year is greased with blood, life paid for with life, death with death. Sometimes they go to their deaths willingly; others they struggle in vain against immutable fate; but always a solstice ends with death. Even gods cannot change such things.
As their scribe I record these deaths, whatever they show me in whatever form they dictate. Between solstices I continue to write for them, memories and dreams and scenes, anything they require. There’s not much here that’s lovely or light – it’s a mythos steeped in blood, full of cruelty and heartache, but there’s beauty in it too. And love, of a complicated sort. Love that cut down the host of Heaven and slayed a Dragon on a cliff side.
Take a dip into the dark river. See what my eighteen years as scribe have produced so far.
See past solstice pieces.
See everything I have written for and about them.
See pieces written from Tanim’s point of view.
See pieces written from Daren’s point of view.
The solstice approaches and I consider the death of gods. I think of Inanna walking proudly through the underworld’s seven gates to her death on the meat hook, of Odin hanging nine days dead on the world tree and Christ laying three days dead in the tomb. I think of Osiris, Persephone, Proserpina, Dumuzi, Baldr. Of Aphrodite weeping over Adonis and Achilles weeping over Patroclus.
And then there is you, Lord Sun, fairest and most beloved. The solstice approaches, yet you do not drown me in dreams of blood or deafen me with your cacophonous wailing like past years. Your halls are silent, your rooms are empty, and I wonder why. Could it be that you go willingly to your death this time? Have you made some sort of peace with it like those other harvest gods destined for the slaughter, those deities who sacrificed themselves for wisdom or were punished for being too beautiful, too good?
Perhaps this solstice you will bow willingly to you fate, to the dying and the decay, the rot and the long rest. The wheel on which the world turns must be oiled in blood. Yet though the solstice relies on violence, that violence need not be fueled by hatred or ugliness. Death can be beautiful, a gift of mercy or love, and your death on the longest night drives the resurrection of your brother-lover and the fallow time of winter. Thus the Oak King bleeding out in his Holly King’s arms; thus you, Lord Sun, spilling out your shining golden blood in your beloved Moon’s arms.
Maybe this time we can focus on the beauty in your death, not the tragedy. What do you think?
I am a scribe without a master, an oracle without gods. How terribly embarrassing, to be fired from your soul’s work! Is there a support group for people who have been repudiated by their gods? Or am I the only person in the history of mankind useless enough to require such drastic measures? I must have deserved it; I just wish my years of loyal, if disappointing, service had merited at least a severance letter, a by-the-way email, a “don’t bother coming in on monday” text. But ghosting’s your style, I know. I can’t expect otherwise.
You will find someone new. Someone better. Perhaps you already have. I was likely a mistake, a rare poor choice on your part. You’ve chosen well before, after all: Milton; Miller; Fuller; Koja. I was surely an aberration. Maybe I had potential I never quite managed to unlock, or squandered despite your years of guidance. Maybe I peaked early and everything since has just been the slow descent to rock bottom. Who knows.
I’ll try to look at this more like an internship that came to its inevitable end and less like being fired from the only job I’ve ever had and ever wanted. I’m grateful for the experience, after all. It will look great on a resume. Maybe some lesser god with lower standards will hire me and find my work sufficient, and I will at least be engaged even if I never again feel the passion I felt when I served you. At any rate, I can always witness what your other scribes create for you and know you’re in better hands than mine. That’s what matters.
These dreams of you are
Echoes from my subconscious
Just phantom limb pain
You will survive this
the Morrigan pronounces
staring into my dull eyes
bone shards and congealing blood
you took everything)
but the words are no kindness
only Her battlefield prophecy
impassive and immutable
You left me lost and disoriented
but Wepwawet guided me safely back to the path.
You left me stripped of all your gifts
but Inanna taught me to stand proud in my nakedness.
You left me barren as a desert
but Hetheru grew overflowing gardens in my parched soil.
You left me exiled in my own soul
but the Morrigan thrust a sword in my hand to win back my sovereignty.
You left me dead and cold
but Bast coaxed a roaring flame from the last tiny ember in my chest.
You left me
but kinder gods, better gods
My love for you is a dead weight I have dragged behind me for years now, a rotting corpse I somehow convinced myself I could still revive if I just kept searching this desert for the mythical spring from which flows the water of regeneration. I just needed more time, I told myself, always just a little more time, a few more steps, another chance for redemption and reunion. Yet I have stumbled across this desert for years and still I have nothing to show for my pains but a heart nearly as desiccated as yours and no hope, no hope left at all. I do not even hallucinate your touch or your voice in my weakest moments; I have no strength to pretend you might show me such mercy. Even your corpse contrives to ever avoid my eyes.
If there is an oasis here in this wasteland, it is the wind which gently brushes my cheek and whispers with my Mother’s voice, “You owe Them nothing.” And I am incapable of feeling sorrow anymore, for you or myself, but I might be ready to feel pride. And anger.
Hail to the Beloved Dead!
To those ancestors with whom I share blood, be welcome here
To those ancestors with whom I share identity, be welcome here
To those society cast out unfairly, be welcome here
Spirits who share this land with me, be welcome here
May this offering give you strength
May this sacred space bring you peace
May you find here what you most need
And may I be of help in your journey
You are not forgotten; I will remember you
You are not unloved; I will mourn you
You are not unclaimed; I will honor you
Hail to the Beloved Dead!
O prodigal sun, come wash your red hands clean in my fount. Your sins are forgiven, your trespasses forgotten. You who can do no wrong, let your tears fall free to bloom up roses in the dark soil. Bow your head; I will smooth your furrowed brow and straighten your crooked crown. See? Absolution is your birthright. Amnesty is your privilege. O son ascendant, do you not know your flesh is too holy to hold blame?
I understand now. It was never a city – it was your impact crater. You fell so far and hit with such force that shards like skyscrapers erupted all around you, a wasteland of steel and glass spires. He is always finding you broken and bleeding the red blood of mortality in that alley because you fell first, wingless and wounded, and he followed after. You are always dying in his arms because this place is stuck in an endless loop of the falling, the seeking, the finding, the parting. Is this your punishment? Your purgatory? Or your paradise? I suppose it no longer matters after so many millennia.