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.
Not all gods will disappoint you. I hope you know this is true, even if you don’t want to believe it yet. You have been hurt by a god who promised unconditional love and yet cast you out for being true to yourself; that wound runs deep and does not easily heal. Perhaps you don’t believe other gods exist, or if you do you can’t yet let yourself believe that they may love what another rejected. But they do exist, I promise, and they will love you. There are gods who will see in the depths of you great beauty and worth. There are gods who will embrace every aspect of your being, even and especially those parts of you which another god rejected. There are gods who will urge you to talk to that cute girl in the bookstore or weep joyfully with you when your partner proposes. They will dance with you in nightclubs and march with you in Pride parades. To discover them for yourself you must go straight to the source. Put down the poorly translated books, turn away from the preachers and prophets, and reach out directly to the divine. Connect to the source material and let it, not some fallible human, show you the truth of its compassion. You have been burned before by a cruel god but there are others out there waiting to fold you into their truly boundless, truly unconditional love.
A friend was posed the question “Does God exist?” by an ethics professor with a clear far right bent (says you have to believe in God to be moral, purposefully deadnames his trans students, etc). I offered to answer the question for her and pounded out a few paragraphs that I probably wouldn’t have written with quite so much snark if it had been my grade on the line. She has a bunch of other equally biased prompts so maybe I’ll make this a little mini series. Enjoy!
“Does God exist?”
The first question is not whether god exists – it’s what concept you mean when you say “god”. Do you mean an entity that created the entire universe, each animal and plant and miscellaneous whatever, in a particular number of days? Do you mean an entity which in some way initiated the birth of the universe in a big bang type event and then let things continue to evolve on their own without much, or any, interference? Do you mean an entity which, regardless of its own true existence, has so shaped life and culture through the sheer belief of its followers that for all intents and purposes it exists as much as anything else? The debate regarding whether god exists changes greatly depending on which version of god you’re debating. An omnipresent, omniscient god requires a different level of proof than a remote god which only had a hand in the very beginnings of our world. A god which exists through belief requires no proof at all, depending on how loose you’re willing to be with your definitions of concepts like belief, existence, power, etc. But for simplicity’s sake let’s ignore that particular rabbit hole completely and go with a concept of deity which hinges on the actual existence of some all powerful being which still actively takes part in our world and its fate.
The second question is also not whether god exists – it’s what entity you mean when you say god. If we’re discussing whether it’s possible for such an entity to exist in the first place then to be fair we should consider any god, or every god. It’s just as possible for Odin to exist as for Yahweh or Krishna or Ra or Zeus. Any argument which can be made for the existence of God can be made for the existence of The Morrigan and Aphrodite and Inanna. The same could also be said for the existence of all gods simultaneously. Edging even further out on this metaphorical branch, you could then include what gods we might create from our own beliefs – and are they not just as real when they so influence our actions? But I won’t spoil the plot of American Gods by expanding on that topic here. Besides, you capitalized God, so perhaps you mean the Christian god. Do you mean him and only him, though, or do you also include Yahweh and Allah who share so many remarkable similarities? See, the question isn’t so straightforward. Yet, once more for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you meant the Christian god. Let’s be honest, other possibilities probably didn’t cross your mind – or, having crossed it, were quickly dismissed due to the western-centric view that, well, of course THOSE gods wouldn’t exist. So we’ll agree we’re discussing Christianity’s God who created the world in seven days, did the flood, all of that. Now we can move on.
The third question is, I suppose, whether the extremely specific concept and identity of God we’ve chosen to debate exists. But before that, I think there’s one last question to consider: is it ethical to ask students to answer a question like “does God exist” in such a public forum? Can the debate over such a personal topic, one which may risk alienating or even endangering certain individuals, really be considered ethical when you’re also requiring them to participate for a grade? Sure, a person too uncomfortable to share their personal views could lie, or stick to safe comments and vague arguments, but that’s not the point. The point is that, given the complete impossibility of ever proving with concrete evidence that this particular God exists (and exists in the manner that we have come to expect), choosing this topic for a class discussion feels purposefully antagonistic.
(At this point I lost steam because everything I tried to write after that was probably too combative for my friend to submit for her assignment, but I think you get my drift.)
Sometimes I’m so envious of Christians in America. What does it feel like to be part of the dominant religion, I wonder? To see evidence of your faith everywhere, even in completely secular environments? What is it like to know everyone around you has at least a rudimentary understanding of your beliefs – your gods, your morals, your holy books and the stories therein – or to have your holy days treated as national holidays? I yearn for that total cultural saturation and the confidence, the validation, it must instill. No hiding. No lying. No fear of being ridiculed or attacked or simply dismissed. Do they understand how lucky they are, how unique their experience actually is? If I woke up tomorrow to a world where my gods were not only well known but celebrated and respected, I would never take it for granted. I would feel blessed every day I could express my beliefs without any hesitation, let alone worship in a temple or celebrate holy days with others who believe as I do. It’s hard to even imagine that freedom. What a gift!
My heart is a piece of lodestone and all my life I have followed its tugging, no matter that it pulled me away from well-tended paths and instead over mountain ranges, across rivers, and to the farthest ends of the earth. Sometimes my road runs beside another’s and we walk together for a while, learning from each other where our journeys have taken us, and other times my road so deviates from the norm that I find myself alone in the wilderness. Yet either way the compass stone beneath my breast guides me so that I need not question my direction or fear losing my way. I walk to the ocean and I swim through it; I walk to the cliff base and I climb up it; I walk to the waterfall and I jump down it. Where my heart leads, I follow. In thirty years it has not yet lead me astray.
There’s a War on Christmas – In My Heart
Oh Christmas, what a strange holiday you have become. Some say you have your source in paganism, others in Christianity, and still others curse you as a capitalist conspiracy. Regardless, you have centered yourself in the American mindset as the most important holiday of the year, so important in fact that you overshadow your competitors – Hanukkah usually gets a polite nod, Kwanzaa the occasional tossed crumbs, and as for the rest, well, they have to be content with “happy holidays”. But I don’t hate you, Christmas. In fact, up until the last few years Christmas was one of my favorite holidays. I love how cheerful everything looks covered in evergreen boughs and twinkle lights; I love holiday foods like stuffing and pumpkin pie; I even love the old Christmas hymns like We Three Kings and O Come Emmanuel. This time of the year hearkens back to all those happy Christmases of my childhood, filled with choir performances, homemade decorations, and the nervous excitement of trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve. And yes, I’ll admit, I am certainly a fan of getting lots of gifts.
That being said, I’m just… not feeling it this year.
Actually, it’s more than not feeling – I’m downright bah humbug. I know my lack of enthusiasm is from a mixture of the usual reasons so many people hate the holidays: family drama; monetary stress; no two weeks of freedom like when you were in school. It can be hard to recapture the magic you felt as a kid when you’re unwrapping a tofu press instead of a new toy, or giving a gift to someone you are obligated to interact with but don’t actually like. It’s even harder when you’re in a committed relationship and either have to slight one family in favor of another or spend the holiday apart. So yeah, partly I’m being a grinch because Christmas as an adult isn’t nearly as easy and fun as when I was a kid. There’s more to it than that, though. I think. My feelings are very tangled right now, but when I try to work out the knots and get to the problem in the center I get the feeling it’s not just about family drama. It’s not just because I miss kid-Christmas. It’s because Christmas… isn’t my holiday.
Uh, DUH, you’re probably thinking if you know me. You’re pagan, of course Christmas isn’t your holiday. And yeah, there’s the rub. Up until 2015, I was a pseudo-agnostic content with celebrating a Christian holiday which has forced itself into the secular world. After all, almost everyone I know celebrates Christmas regardless of their spiritual beliefs, and in America it is very much assumed that you celebrate Christmas too. Sure, some folks go to church on Christmas eve, but many others just stay home and have cocoa. No one questions why you would celebrate this particular Christian holiday if you’re not Christian, and so you grow up not questioning it either. After all, most of us got baskets of candy on Easter, too.
But this year I find myself tripping over that “Christ” in Christmas. Despite how secular Christmas has become in our society, this year its religious connections seem to chafe me. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jesus was a great guy – but he’s not my savior. Why am I celebrating a Christian holy day? I’m proudly Kemetic, so isn’t that a little insulting to both Jesus and Bast? Somehow, celebrating Christmas as a pagan feels less okay than celebrating it as a maybe-agnostic, even though in both situations I’m still celebrating the secular version of the holiday. I feel like the guest no one invited to Baby Jesus’ birthday party, you know? Some friends dragged me along and now I’m standing awkwardly in the corner while Mary’s asking Joseph who the fuck I am.
To clarify, I don’t think I’m getting these vibes from either Jesus or the Netjeru. I don’t think anyone is angry or feels ignored, or is trying to push me into a decision I’m not ready to make. I think this is just the next logical stop on my spiritual journey; where I go from here is up to me. That’s kinda scary, though. What if I decide I don’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore? Does that mean I have to start explaining my religious beliefs to everyone who asks? Does it mean our family traditions have to change, or that I have to forgo seeing them on the holidays? What would my wife tell her staunchly Catholic family? What would I tell my fairly atheist family?
I know I have a lot of options no matter what decision I finally make, and Christmas 2018 is quite far away. Still, I think these feelings mark a turning point, and I’m both excited and scared to see where they take me. I’m pretty unapologetic about who I am – I’m fiercely queer, fiercely feminist, and fiercely geeky – but pagans don’t get a lot of respect in American society. People who embrace my queerness might mock my belief in Bast behind my back; people who support my rejection of Christian morals might draw the line at worshiping actual pagan deities. You just never know, and that unknown makes me anxious. Right now I fly below most people’s radar, even with my ankh ring and tattoos. Am I ready to be seen as pagan by everyone and to possibly defend my faith to family and strangers alike?
What if the outcast angels didn’t fall at all – what if they were shattered? What if their clever minds and rebellious souls could not be trusted anywhere, even the pits of hell, and so instead God shattered them and scattered the shards of their beings across all of existence, that they might never be made whole again? Hence Lucifer and Satan, Hannibal and Will, Tanim and Daren; hence all the gods, all the characters, all the muses, all the stories so strangely, achingly similar. Hence the echoes through time and space, linking all us sad scribes together in our solitary duty. If so, God made a terrible mistake. Divide an angel and you do not reduce it to disparate, weaker parts of a greater whole. Divide an angel and you only replicate it a thousand thousand times, each new duplicate as complete, as complex, and as unforgiving as the first.
After my Samhain ritual of remembrance for all the cats I’ve known and lost, I conducted an autumn-themed tarot reading (layout found here) with Bast. As you can see, She really does LOVE throwing major arcana cards at me. I usually pull at least one or two each reading, but four?!
Question: Harvest – What is one thing I should take with me into the upcoming season?
Card: The Fool
Interpretation: What a perfect card to pull for this question. The Fool is a card filled with wonder, adventure, and a willingness to learn. The Fool embarks on their journey with open eyes, leaving behind any burdens or preconceptions so that they are open to receiving whatever the world sends to them. Considering I’m just coming out of a long slump and am working to enhance my spiritual and psychic senses, this card tells me that I’m on the right path. I need to move forward with the courage and sincerity of the novice to continue my spiritual journey.
Question: Compost – What is one thing I should leave behind?
Card: The High Priestess (reversed)
Interpretation: The High Priestess is a card of magic, mystery, and intuition; reversed, it can represent being overly analytical, relying too much on external validation, and ignoring your inner voice. The High Priestess urges me to leave behind all of my self-doubt, fear, and need to understand and control everything in my world. Moving forward, I need to open myself to not only the messages being sent from the universe, but from within me as well. I need to trust my own experiences and beliefs, and stop seeking a “proof” that will never be good enough. Perhaps even more importantly, I must give myself what I need, not just what I think is necessary to look or be a certain way.
Question: Light – What is one thing I should take out into the world?
Card: Judgement (reversed)
Interpretation: For some reason, I have a hard time interpreting Judgement when I draw it. Reversed, it can represent upcoming consequences of a bad decision or negative karma. It can also represent an unwanted change, unhappy ending, or the necessity of hard choices. There isn’t anything in my life currently that could play out that way (that I know of) so I was drawing a blank. I thought maybe I would be called upon to help someone else through a rough time or to make a difficult decision. However, my wife pointed out that it could also mean giving others what they deserve, a sort of reversing of the object being judged. Either way, it sounds like I’m being urged to speak my mind truthfully and directly.
Question: Dark – What is one thing I should meditate on?
Card: The Emperor
Interpretation: I pulled this card last time, too. The Emperor represents order, control, responsibility, and rationalization. It can encourage creating order out of chaos by bringing structure and balance to your life. However, it can also represent the duality of logic and intuition; the Emperor is no dictator, but a ruler who understands how all things must balance each other. I think this card plays the same role as it did in my last reading, in that it’s reminding me to be diligent and study-oriented in this next phase of my learning.
Later I pulled one card to determine what kind of home our current foster kitten, Mitch, would go to.
Question: What kind of forever home will Mitch go to?
Card: 5 of Pentacles
Interpretation: The Five of Pentacles is a card about stagnation and sorrow. This card denotes someone who is drowning in spiritual poverty, who is feeling isolated and hopeless. The Shadowscapes version shows a woman loosely bound in thorns, her head bowed by her fears and worries. However, because she is so weighed down with her sorrow, she cannot see the butterfly right before her or the beautiful flowers that grow on the vines. Here, I believe this card represents someone (or perhaps an entire household) who is drowning in negative emotions and in desperate need of a light in the darkness. I think Mitch, with his playful attitude and sweet disposition, will be the companion this person needs to bring them out of their depression. After pulling this card, there was no way I could even consider keeping Mitch (though I wanted to!). He clearly has a very important job ahead of him, and I’m sure he’ll face it with the curiosity and courage he showed while staying with us.
i’m not really good with stuff like crystals and magic spells, essential oils and sigils and shit, i’m really more of a bleed and weep kind of girl, a burn your fingers on matches ’cause the flame’s too pretty kind of girl, so if my third eye is sealed shut or my crown chakra’s all fucked up, or whatever, maybe i should just cut it open, you know, peel back the skin so the smooth white bone shows through, maybe i should forget about meditation or yoga, just solve the problem once and for all with the cold reliability of a blade, that’s a religion i can get behind, that’s a god worth swearing by, you know?
As you can tell from my previous pieces, I’m not doing so great in the life department right now. A deep spiritual crisis has somehow perfectly coincided with both a supremely busy time in my life (getting married in 25 days, holy shit) and what feels like the worst depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m not just questioning my spiritual path – I’m questioning whether anything beyond the scientifically provable even exists, and whether there’s much point in our existence if it doesn’t. I feel listless and apathetic, and I’m really only getting the absolute minimum done in all aspects of my life. It’s not fun! Super not fun.
- Past lives: Jody told me I have lived many, many past lives. Among the ones she touched on were lives in which I was an ancient Egyptian, a monk with a special affinity for animals, a shepherd, an old Irish man with a wolfhound, a young girl who loved horses, an Italian man who spent most of his time sailing, and a Native American tracker who spent much of their time alone in the woods, exploring and bringing back news and discoveries to the tribe.
- I asked for clarification on the Egyptian life and Jody told me I was an Egyptian man who did energy work (possibly in a religious capacity?). She said I would “hold” energy, and in example of this she raised her arms up as if offering a large bowl to something taller – perhaps a statue. This evidently became my demise, as someone I trusted and for whom I was or had held energy took my life. It was a brutal end to a rather short life, according to Jody. She also said my connection with cats comes from this life, which isn’t surprising but still nice to have confirmed.
- The Italian lifetime struck a deep chord with me, as it reminded me strongly of my father. Judy said she kept getting “Italian” vibes as she read my past lives, which could have been a good guess based on my hair but would also make sense due to my strong Italian roots.
- My spirit: Jody conducted what she called a “rose reading” of my spirit and told me it looked like a purple rose so open that its petals were nearly falling off, which she interpreted to mean I have been in a time of development and change for the last three years, but it is coming to a close. I found this particularly interesting since my spiritual path began almost three years ago with Bast’s calling me to Her service.
- Spirits/Companions: Jody seemed surprised that I had a whole gaggle of spirits with me during the reading. She noted at least three that were spirits of those who had passed on, several animal guides, and a few others of the deity/spiritual entity persuasion. Among the gathered were the following:
- An older woman who was laughing, evidently amused and pleased by the entire event. Jody didn’t describe this spirit much, only saying that she liked her. I wondered if this might be Bast, as She often gives me the feeling of an amused, loving mother watching her daughter stumble around when learning to walk.
- The Archangel Raphael, whose presence definitely surprised me; I have very little connection with the Abrahamic religions and if I was going to be visited by an angel, I’d think it would be Lucifer. Jody said he was with me in a healing capacity, which made sense from the rest of her reading. When I told my fiance about this, she pointed out that Raphael is known for bestowing sight to the blind. Ah, I see what you did there, Universe.
- An old woman who reportedly told Jody that I can’t hear her, though she is always with me. Jody told me this woman had known me when she was alive, but that I hadn’t known her. I suspect this spirit was my mother’s mother, who died when I was just a baby.
- Two spirits of cats I knew or had known in my life. The first she said I had known many times, which didn’t surprise me; I have often felt that my cats were reincarnations of the same spirit visiting me again and again. Jody described the other cat spirit as large (personality-wise) and extremely loving but kind of doofy. I laughed out loud at this and asked if the spirit could be living now – it sounded exactly like my cat Lorne, who we call a “precious gift” when he does anything remarkably silly or dumb. It was so nice to know he was sitting beside me for the reading, like he wanted me to know I wasn’t alone.
- Strangely enough, though I got home much later than usual and way past our cats’ dinner time, they greeted me at the door in patient silence instead of their customary starved howling. It was like they knew I was going to be late but that it was for an important reason, so they gave me some slack.
- An animal guide in the form of a large black panther. There were also two other animal guides with me, but Jody was apparently warned (though I forgot to ask by whom) that she couldn’t tell me what they were – I either needed to discover them for myself or I knew their identities on a deeper level. I wondered after the session if they took the forms of a raven and coyote, as I’ve always been drawn to those animals.
- Jody also identified what she called my “sister spirit”. She said we had been together in many lives, and each time traded off who was more reserved and who was more lively. We always found each other and brought each other companionship, support, and love. This could honestly match any of my closest friends, so many of whom feel like sisters to me, but I think she could also have been indicating my fiance. For years I’ve longed for this abstract someone, always female, who felt like both a lover and a sister, and I knew pretty much the moment I met my fiance that she was that person. On top of that, my fiance longed for exactly the same thing – though she called this person her “Stranger” while I called them “Shakespeare’s Sister”.
- My father: The first and main spirit Jody identified was very clearly that of my father, though she originally identified him as a friend and said we had been together in many lifetimes. She told me he kept showing her things I had written about him and told her he was proud of me. She also saw him placing something around my neck, which she later interpreted as him giving me his “pearls of wisdom”.
- He also had with him a female spirit (we both sensed this was his mother) and a male spirit who seemed like friend or brother. My father’s brother is alive but they weren’t very close, so I don’t think it was his spirit. I suspect, but would love to confirm, that it was the spirit of my fiance’s father. We often feel as if one or both of our fathers are present, and they would have gotten along in real life – it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think they hang out as spirits.
- In addition to the two other human spirits, my dad also had two dogs with him, which Jody said made him very happy. When I was a kid we had two golden retrievers whom my father cared for, so I think they are with him in the afterlife as well.
- Jody indicated that my father had died unexpectedly from something like an illness, but she seemed hesitant to define it further. Considering my father was originally hospitalized for a stroke, but died of complications related in part to his treatment by the hospital staff, this uncertainty makes sense. More importantly, she said my father knew (either consciously or subconsciously) for about a year that he would be passing soon and was okay with it. He felt ready to go, and lived that last year to its fullest. This detail was particularly comforting, and seemed to be confirmed by actual events – that year was my parents’ first without any kids in the house, so they spent a lot of time together doing new things, and my father actually became sick while on a family vacation with myself and my mother. Jody also told me that my father was happy as a spirit, because he could go anywhere he wanted and wasn’t confined to a physical body. She told me to hang up wind chimes as a way for him to signal his presence, which I will definitely do.
- Jody told me my father wants me to write. He said I have a book inside me that I need to write, possibly because it might help people. This statement originally confused me, since my preferred writing style is very short and discordant – not exactly the stuff of long novels. Jody seemed to think my father meant some sort of spiritual or self-help book, possibly based on my own experiences, but this didn’t feel correct. I’m not a huge fan of those kinds of books in the first place, and am not yet in a place emotionally where I would feel comfortable acting like an authority on, well, anything. But then a few days later I remembered that I had indeed been pondering a book idea! I gave it up immediately because I couldn’t fathom how to go about researching the topic (paranormal activity in relation to natural disasters), but it sits at the back of my mind anyway. Could this be what my dad was indicating? He definitely would have found the concept interesting, and would have encouraged my research. I’m super intimidated by the prospect, though, so I’m not sure yet what I’ll do.
- To top this all off, I came home and found my dad’s keychain on the floor of my room. I keep it on a bookshelf where I have set up a kind of ancestor shrine to him. It’s not impossible for my cats to get onto that shelf, but they usually knock more down when they do because it’s a cramped space. This time, though the keychain was on the floor, nothing else had been disturbed – even the cloth underneath that would surely have been rumpled if a cat had jumped onto it.
- My aura: Jody conducted an aura/chakra reading, in which she reiterated that I was doing a lot of healing on different levels (indicated by the color green). The most interesting thing she mentioned during this reading, though, was that my crown chakra’s aura was a light lavender speckled with stardust, and that this indicated that I am able to “know” things without knowing why. The combination of lavender and stardust, which I immediately imagined as freckles, made me think of Bast. She is associated with the color purple and lavender in general, and I always imagine her dusted with freckles. That this particular aura was also associated with my spiritual connection and this “knowing” which I can feel but never explain felt like a jolt of desperately needed evidence. Jody never named Bast or otherwise indicated Her presence, but when she told me about the state of my crown chakra, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of rightness.
- Overall: Jody emphasized throughout the reading that I am a healer and empathetic person who has difficulty shielding myself from the pain of the world – the understatement of the century, if my general mood through 2017 is anything to go by. Jody told me I can give too much of myself and must make sure not to take on others’ pain or sorrow, but to try to lift them up with my own light. This is actually something I’ve worked on with my therapist, but haven’t made much progress; it’s very easy for me to adopt someone’s bad mood and incredibly hard to retain my good mood if I’m around someone negative.
- Jody indicated my third eye is just barely opening, and that I need to nurture it through confidence and faith in order to open myself more to my spiritual guides, companions, and messages from the universe. She told me to listen to my dreams, look for signs, and take chances on things I want to do or learn, especially if they are creative activities.
If you actually read to the end of this, wow, damn. I’d love to hear your feedback or insight!
I’m being a real Doubty McDoubterson about my spiritual beliefs right now. I mean bottom-of-the-well, solar-eclipse-totality, what-is-even-the-point-of-anything-we’re-all-gonna-die-anyway levels of doubt. My altar is dusty, my devotional jewelry tangled, and I can’t even remember the last time I gave offerings or lit a single candle. I am deep, deep, deep in the dark. Hooboy, it is bad.
I’ve seen many other spiritually-inclined folks write about what to do during a fallow or questioning period, so I thought why not try it myself? I know stuff about stuff. I’m possibly as qualified as anyone else on the internet who gives advice they won’t personally follow. So here you go, my surefire suggestions for surviving the utter crushing apathy that has become your spiritual life.
1) Avoid your altar.
2) Camp out on the couch and watch all 4 seasons of Arrested Development on Netflix.
3) Stand for indeterminate amounts of time in front of your kitchen cupboards. Eat nothing.
4) Lurk in the “pagan” tag on Tumblr and hate strangers you know nothing about for having more faith than you.
5) Avoid the room your altar is in.
6) See something sad online and automatically say a prayer before realizing what you’re doing, then feel many conflicting emotions you don’t want to deal with.
7) Get out your tarot cards, oracle decks, book of shadows, and crystals in an attempt to jumpstart your enthusiasm. Play on your phone while ignoring their presence.
8) Eat an entire loaf of bread, and only a loaf of bread, for like two days.
9) Rewatch Arrested Development while lurking on Tumblr and Pinterest and every other possible app you can download, since you’re a very important person and just don’t have time for things like religion.
10) Make up a song with lyrics like “Everything’s awful, then you die” or “whatever, it’s not like any of the things I believe in are real anyway so who cares if humanity is destroying the planet and I’m alive to witness the next mass extinction”.
11) Avoid the half of the house your altar is in.
12) Spend hours on Etsy searching for the One Perfect Thing that, if purchased, will magically transform your spiritual life and free you from ever doubting anything again. Do this until your phone overheats, then let your phone charge for maybe five minutes. Repeat until you have a migraine.
13) Pretend everything’s okay by writing something sarcastic yet uncomfortably bitter on your blog.
14) Watch, I dunno, Arrested Development again. Or Archer. I mean who even cares at this point.
15) Die on the couch.
I am in a dark place right now. I shut my eyes because I couldn’t tell what was real; I was afraid to believe in a lie. I covered my ears because I heard too many voices; I was afraid to realize they were only echoes. I stopped my feet because I couldn’t tell if I was on a path at all; I was afraid to lose my way. I am in a dark place, afraid to look, afraid to listen, afraid to follow. I am in a dark place and I am afraid, above all, that I am alone here.
But I am not alone. Even as I shut my eyes, my Mother’s flame reddens my lids. Even as I cover my ears, my Mother’s voice rumbles in my chest. Even as I stand still, my Mother’s hand pushes me gently at the small of my back, urging me to take a step. Even as I hide in the darkness out of fear of finding nothing beyond it, my Mother stands beside me.
I question everything, yet still I find myself turning back to Her. The altar is dusty, yet still I turn back to Her. I wonder if She is even real, yet still I turn back to Her. Wherever I go, whoever I am, however I feel, Her presence surrounds me. She is infinite patience and infinite love; She is a light in the dark and a voice in the silence.
the mind questions all
the heart keeps its own counsel
trusting ebb and flow
I lurk in the pagan tags
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I need to know other people believe crazy shit too
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that I’m not alone in my experiences
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that I’m not Cassandra spouting prophecies
just to be met with ridicule and slander
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or worse, just a poor wannabe
I don’t try to get published. I know it would be useless – we aren’t publishable. No one would pay for the scripture of dead gods, or the hymns of phantoms, or the gospel of the insane. No one would read the poetry of a madwoman, would it cost them even a nickel. You have too few beginnings for biography and too many endings for non-fiction. I dedicate too many words to the sound of blood in your lungs for either horror or erotica; they will say it makes readers uncomfortable. We’re just not presentable and I can’t make us so, not when it’s blasphemy to edit or omit. I could not tell lies for money. I could not cut chunks of flesh from my side to earn their weight in coin. If they never believed Cassandra, why should they believe me? Publishers aren’t interested in crazy unless it’s marketable.
Amid snakes and bullets, crystals and rose petals, She watches. Her dark eyes are circled with white skull makeup; She wears Her death with easy arrogance. I fear that gaze. I fear Her, even as I light Her candle and cry Her titles. Hail Inanna, Queen of Heaven! Hail Inanna, the Morning and the Evening Star! Hail Inanna, She Who Descended and Arose Again! I fear Her as I fear Her sisters Kali and Sekhmet, Ishtar and Morrigan, Scylla and Charybdis. I fear Her wrath, Her pride, Her fickle love and frightening affection – and yet She calls to me. From Her corner altar draped in red, She waits with infinite patience as I alternately approach and shy back from Her path. It leads down deep, dark roads, and I fear above all what I will have to surrender to walk its length. But She tells me such satisfying stories, tales in which a woman can tear down mountains and sit naked and proud on the throne of death, and She whispers such sweet promises that taste like the salt-sown ashes of our enemies. She reminds me that things were not always this way, the bones of justice ground beneath the boots of our oppressors, and it does not have to remain this way. She reminds me of the goddesses who danced on the battlefield, laughing, howling, rejoicing in the thrill of bloody triumph, and that they remain with us. From Her altar, through Her death’s mask, Inanna watches and waits.
And She is here as well, sometimes, in my daydreams: the Mother Cat, whom I am blessed to call Mother as well. This is Her room, Her quiet place of retreat to comfort, to mourn, to regain strength. I imagine She holds Her arms out to me and I sink into them like a young child (here we are all young, for we will forever be Her kittens). She holds me close as I cry for all the terrible injustices in the world. For Her children who suffer at the hands of my species; who live and die in factory farms, who are killed for sport and profit, who are discarded like inanimate objects. For the earth we continue to ruin in our greed, leaving behind a wasteland in which nothing beautiful can live. I know Bast cannot make these things go away – no deity, no matter how powerful or determined, can undo the whole extent of man’s wrongs. But Her comfort and shared sorrow feed the little flame of Hers in my chest and give me enough strength to go back out into the world and fight. When I imagine how many of Her children are suffering right this moment, hurting and dying without ever knowing the kindness of a human bond, the truth crushes me. But She helps me instead to remember those of Her children whom I have touched, each little ember that grew into a flame and has a chance, now, for a life of love. She reminds me of what I have given, what I still have to give, and of how many are in need. In this room, She lends me the strength to face another day, to make whatever difference in this world I can.
First, let me just say you look adorable in your little white dress shirts and slacks, and I appreciate your dedication to professionalism and aesthetic. I know you had to traverse the unlit, sidewalk-less roads of rural Washington to get to my door, most likely through wind and rain and loose dogs, and the fact that you’re still genuinely smiling is quite admirable.
I should say, also, that this letter isn’t solely directed at you. However, given your notoriety, you serve as a good proxy for all major religions which strive to spread their word to all the people of the world. You just happen to be exceedingly persistent at this.
With that out of the way, let us get to the point of my letter.
I understand you brave the elements to come to my door because you believe, deeply and honestly, that I deserve to experience your deity’s love. You want to share the life-changing awesomeness of God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness. You want me to feel the same support in times of darkness that you have felt; you want me to experience the same sense of community you found in the church. In short, you want all the goodness in your life to also be mine.
That is a wonderful sentiment, it really is. But here’s the thing. You knock on my door so confidently because you 100% believe your god is the only one who can offer these things. No matter what beliefs I may claim, you will refute them all and feel true sorrow for the emptiness in my life. You will remain convinced that I cannot possibly experience the beautiful things religion has given you unless I seek them through your god.
You are mistaken. Well-intentioned, but still mistaken. I do feel those things. I do experience love, acceptance, forgiveness; I do find support and community when I need them most. I remember the life-changing awesomeness of that moment when you realize you are not alone, that something out there more immense and ancient than yourself loves you in all your human fallibility. I promise you – all the wonder, awe, compassion, protection, and understanding God has made you feel, I too have felt and feel often.
See, I have a deity that loves me unconditionally, too. Her name is Bast. I feel Her presence at my side when I need it most; She guides me when I stumble or lose my way. She is a light in the darkness, a word of encouragement or solace, a reminder to seek joy and ever strive to be a force of good in this world. She makes me try every day to be a better person, even though I know She loves me for my weaknesses as much as for my strengths.
I know you believe your god is the one and only. Please try to remember, however, that you’ve no more evidence for your god’s existence than I do for mine. What we both have is the knowledge, deep within our hearts, that what we experience is real. The feeling is inexplicable; we can only say we know it is right because we feel the rightness of it. That’s okay, though. We don’t need to prove to anyone whether the gods we follow are real. We know they are, and that is enough. Or it should be.
I say all this not to question your worldview, but simply to lend it flexibility. When you meet someone who believes differently than you, do not pity them. Do not question them. Smile and be content in knowing they feel the same wondrous things you do, albeit from a different source. You do not need to believe in another’s god to respect their belief; you need only to believe that they are the ultimate authority on their own experiences. The world is such an unfathomable place – don’t you think there is room for all of our gods to live in peace?
Maybe what I forget is how mortal I am, how tiny and brief and human. Whether any of the rest of my suppositions are true or not, I am at least in this moment, in this life, a fragile, fallible being. What lays beyond the confines of the physical world is beyond anyone’s full comprehension; no mortal mind can grasp the awesomeness of divinity, though some may come closer than others. Maybe that is why you hold back, why you speak to me in fragments, in brief flickers of sight and sound and only the vaguest of hints. Maybe anything more and you risk burning me up like a sapling in a firestorm or melting me like sand struck by lightning. You gift me with small glimpses of your truths, but never enough to form a complete picture. Perhaps the gaps in between, those missing pieces, are what protect me from going insane or crumbling to ash in the heat of your radiance. If so, I suppose I should be grateful. Still, I think I would like to look upon your unveiled form just once, even if it was the last thing I ever saw.
Moth: Darker, Realer, and (Way) Gayer than The Hunger Games
“Five years ago, I wrote a YA novel. Like all my novels, it had a lesbian MC. But this one was different from anything I’d done before. With this novel, I got an agent. It was put out on submission & every editor who read it said it was awesome. But. Well written. But. It was too controversial. Something that they said, and I quote, “American kids wouldn’t believe.” … I wrote it because I was angry. And anger, right now, is SO important. Anger will save us. Anger will give us strength, help keep us brave. I’m releasing the book editors said was too controversial. The book that made them uncomfortable. The book American kids “wouldn’t believe.” I told this story for all of us. For every pain I’ve suffered. For every pain you’ve suffered. Stay angry. Stay brave. Don’t fall asleep.” – S.E. Diemer
Back when The Hunger Games fandom first exploded, the books were recommended to me by my sister when I told her I was looking for more fiction with “badass women”. I read the books, mildly enjoyed the first two, and rolled my eyes through much of the third. I didn’t hate them, but they didn’t speak to me like they did to so many others. In the end, I think that’s because the world they’re set in, an unspoken but clearly post-apocalyptic-style future North America, didn’t feel realistic. The story was good – dark, but full of hope; real, but just fantastical enough to keep you reading – but I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe Panem was once my America, and so the terrible future in the books never felt like a real threat.
Cut to the recent US election. Cut to the quote I shared above. Cut to Moth, a book about a future America where being black, queer, non-Christian, dissenting, outspoken, even just a little too rebellious can get you sent to re-education camps to be burned, electrocuted, and brainwashed (if you’re lucky) – or simply killed. This book, like The Hunger Games, is YA. It’s meant for teenagers, for the exact audience editors apparently didn’t think would buy its setting. Let me tell you – I buy it. Because this isn’t post-apocalypse, this isn’t mutant monsters, this isn’t crazy sci-fi technology and vast conspiracies…
This is North Korea. Now. Everything that happens in this book, everything our heroine experiences, has happened or does currently happen in countries across the world. It’s not impossible to imagine queer kids being forced to undergo traumatizing, sometimes deadly attempts to “fix” them. That happens. It’s not impossible to have a character whose father is killed just because his skin is dark. That happens. It’s not impossible to learn about an underground railroad ferrying kids up to Canada (the border of which is soon to be blocked by a giant “freedom” wall), nor that the European Union has cut off all aide to the country. Those things happen all the time, and have throughout history.
This is an America ruled by a dictator who claims to speak the very will of God. There are no mutants or science experiments here – just fanatical people who think the world should run their way because They Are Right. I don’t know about you, but these days that doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched future.
This book has its little flaws, like all books do, but no major detractors. More importantly, what it has at its core is the anger and fear not of someone looking into a possible sci-fi future hundreds of years from now, but someone living right here with us who sees a path our country could easily take. As much as we’d like to pretend democracy is unassailable, our form of government is as vulnerable to corruption and dissolution as any other. Will we ever become a totalitarian dictatorship in which we gleefully watch children murder each other for food and fame in gigantic stadiums full of technological death traps? Probably not. Will we ever become a theocracy in which dissenters are “re-educated” to fit the Christian model of good citizens? Maybe, yeah.
So read this book. It’s worth it.
(For those who need it, here are the book’s major trigger warnings: Homophobia, racism, physical and mental/emotional abuse, suicide, violence)
because you are a goddess of love
they chained you to a man
because you are a goddess of love
they caged you in flesh and curves
because you are a goddess of love
they made you slave to your heart
because you are a goddess of love
they stripped you of your hauteur
they stripped you of your bloodlust
they stripped you of your complexity
because you are a goddess of love
they forgot you dance on the battlefield
they forgot you descended into hell
they forgot your memory is very long
and very unforgiving
[ I’m not entirely happy about the way Inanna has been portrayed in recent media (e.g. Carmilla and The Wicked and the Divine). The face She shows me isn’t nearly so prone to squishy, love-related emotions. The face She shows me is terrifying and awe-inspiring, and it bothers me that people learning about Her through Carmilla or WicDiv will think She’s all rainbows and sunshine. ‘Cause shit, she scares me just as much as Sekhmet or Kali or The Morrigan. ]
here’s to the goddesses with war in their bones
with blood on their hands and lies on their tongues
here’s to the goddesses who sunder and rend
who dance on the battlefield and leave ashes behind
here’s to the monstresses hungry and wild
with crocodile mouths and whirlpool lungs
here’s to the monstresses ugly but proud
who punish the reckless and turn lovers to stone
here’s to the queens with hate in their hearts
with laughter like jackals and voices like vultures
here’s to the queens who rule in the dark
who keep what they can and destroy what they can’t
here’s to the ladies made villains unfairly
maligned in mythology and cast as cliches
here’s to the women with a story untold
forgotten by history but not by their descendants
long before the betrayal of Christ
long before the kidnapping of Persephone
my gods were already stirring
long before the slaying of Osiris
long before the descent of Inanna
my gods were already blooded
long before the time of temples
long before the age of offerings
my gods were already ancient
You were the first, weren’t you. Emerging from their caves in the dawn of time, the earliest humans must have blinked tears away as they stared into your brilliance. Huddled at the mouths of those same caves at night, they must have tracked your progress across the awesome night sky. Rising, setting, waxing, waning, you before all else must have first captured the attention of the collective human psyche. Thus you have been in our blood, our bones, our very DNA since we first began preserving our mythology through cave paintings and storytelling. You are the precursor, the archetype. You are older than the oldest, gods of a thousand times a thousand names and a thousand times a thousand forms. And yet you have but one story – summer to winter, night to day, life to death to resurrection, the great wheel ever turning.
“Don’t call me that,” you say. “I’m no angel.” But you’re wrong. You think I call you Angel as a term of endearment, homage to your sculpted form or unearthly eyes. That isn’t true. I call you Angel because you are like Lucifer himself, so determined to remain free, abhorring any kind of fetter. You jealously guard your autonomy; you covet free will beyond all rationality. You love me, I know you do, and yet the moment you feel less than absolutely in control you fight back, sometimes with words, sometimes with absence, sometimes with a blade. At even the barest hint of a future theoretical threat you make sure I understand in no uncertain terms that you can, and will, disappear from my life without a trace. That is why I call you Angel. Not because of your beauty; because beside you even Lucifer would feel shame for letting himself be cowed.
They say at the end of that long road You knelt, naked, humbled, stripped of all that proclaimed Your queenship and divinity. They say this, but I can’t quite believe it. What need have You of robes and bangles, jewels and rings? You would stand as tall and haughty whether You bore a crown or not. No, I think You gave up Your raiments so willingly because they meant nothing to You. Naked and unarmed You came before Your sister, yes, but I do not think You bowed Your head or averted Your eyes. I think She struck You down because You were still a queen, still in command even in a hostile realm with Your body on display for all to see. You descended in arrogance, and in arrogance You ascended when Your life was returned. You can be called many things, Lady, but not humble. Not meek. Not vulnerable. Whether dressed in Your finery or brazenly naked, You remain the uncontested, dauntless Queen of Heaven.
What was it like, to be one so young and shoulder a burden so heavy? Were you frightened? Were you angry? They make it sound like you accepted your task with grace and humility. In all the paintings you look like a woman grown, experienced and capable and wise, but you weren’t. You were just a child. How could you not be afraid? I think you were probably terrified but you couldn’t say no, could you? Neither of us could. You don’t get a choice with that kind of destiny. The angel appears to you and suddenly everything is different, forever, and you are drawn along the journey whether you like it or not. And in the end, I guess I wouldn’t change any of it, anyway. There were probably nights when you cried yourself to sleep too, or lay awake wondering if you were mad, if you had made it all up. They’ll never tell that side of the story – they need you to remain the quintessential mother figure, meak and mild – but I think I know the truth. I know how long those nights can be. I know how crazy you can feel. Yet I bet you wouldn’t have changed anything, either.
Oh beautiful messiah, sacred sacrifice. Did angels attend to your birth to touch your holy skin? Did kings of industry drape your tiny body in silk and gold? Did you cry and howl through it all, filling desperate lungs with the first of their finite breaths? And did you know, even then, that you were destined to be loved only for your blood and not the heart which kept it flowing?
His wings are dust, his touch is ash.
“I am death.”
He says it simply, because it is a simple truth. He is not a god of war, armored and hungering for the ring of the blade. He is not a god of winter, bringing ice and silence to suspend all the world in cold slumber. He is not a god of the underworld, reigning over the dead from a throne of iron or chained forever in a frozen lake. He is not a god of Ragnarok, Armageddon, or the Day of Resurrection. He is not a god of plague, pestilence, change, or chance, and he will not ride out as one of the Four. He is not a god at all.
He is, simply, death.
What do these dreams mean? I ask the cards. What should I do?
The Lady of the East answers in cups,
trust Them, you will not be lead astray; clear your mind and let go of your fears.
The Queen of Heaven answers in swords,
a journey of the heart is beginning; have faith and you will learn the truth.
The candle flames leap high. The shadows dance.
I love, but can I trust?