These dreams of you are
Echoes from my subconscious
Just phantom limb pain
These dreams of you are
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.
Oh Starry Cow, your beauty fills the sky!
At dawn flowers open toward your radiant smile
Daisies, poppies, sunflowers, roses
At dusk flowers reach up to your starlit eyes
Jasmine, lilies, orchids, water lilies
And all through the day, all through the night
We your children dance beneath your benevolent gaze
Oh Golden One, your beauty fills the sky!
O trickster! O thief!
Return to me my heart
Given under falsehood!
This least valued of your treasures
Forgotten and unremarkable
What profit can it bring you?
Return it that I might lock it away
And never err again in offering!
The Sun baptizes me in the red lake of his heart, not a lake of fire but blood as bright and hot as molten metal, or perhaps he means to drown me for he holds me under as I scream and thrash, and only after an eternity of agony does he lift me up in his arms (am I dead? am I reborn?) while beside him the Moon casts his indifferent gaze on my charred body and observes, They burn up so quickly.
Your halls are sandstone monoliths
Your garlands flowering succulents.
Rattlesnakes shake their sistra tails in joy
Coyotes sing your praises to the moon.
Awoo, they cry, great is our Lord the Divine Jackal!
Awoo, they carol, great is our Lord the Giver of Life!
The first day after I swore an oath to Wepwawet to take up deathwork, I found a desiccated vole on the front porch. I have no idea how a mummified rodent would appear there, out of range of any overhang one might potentially have fallen from. It didn’t appear to have been snacked on much, though enough skin was missing on its face that my wife was able to rescue the skull fairly easily. It’s so small and fragile I’m afraid to touch it with my clumsy fingers. Was it a gift? A confirmation? I’m not sure.
The second day after I swore an oath to Wepwawet to take up deathwork, I drove past a dead cat in the middle of the road. It was just a few blocks from work and early enough in the morning that the road wasn’t too busy. I pulled over and gently lifted the poor thing – stiff, but not overly so; he hadn’t been dead long – and set him on the grassy sidewalk. He had thick gray-white fur and the healthy roundness of a well-fed pet. Someone will be looking for him (I hope), so I left him there for his family to find. Instead I just lay my hand on his soft fur and said a prayer over him, then went on with my day. But I can’t get his blood-splattered paws out of my mind, or his shattered hard palate. I hope it was quick. I hope it was painless. It probably wasn’t.
I never imagined I would walk this path. I can’t imagine where it might lead. I hope I’m strong enough.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?