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.
cupped in my palm
weary bee sipping honey
we talk of lavender
I dream that I have failed. The tiny, struggling cat rescue I’ve spent years trying to help keep afloat has finally gone under. Where will all the cats go? I think. Where will they go, who will feed them, who will bind their wounds and shelter them against the cruelty of the world? As I walk numbly through a grassy field toward rows of kennels, perhaps to say goodbye to the cats inside for the last time, I whisper the names of those already lost so that I won’t forget them. Yet when I reach the kennels I find their doors all open and the cats streaming through the grass past me. They run eagerly, all in the same direction, as if toward some destination I cannot see. Even the littlest day-old kittens with their ears still buttoned down and their eyes still squeezed shut try to stumble through the tall grass after mothers and older siblings. I have to stop walking or I’ll step on someone by accident, so I kneel down in the grass and begin gathering babies up in my arms to keep them safe. Some older kittens climb into my lap as well, or up onto my shoulders, and soon I’m weighed down in a blanket of warm, squirming bodies. Their purring vibrates through me so loudly it drowns out my thoughts, my frantic heartbeat, a glorious pean washing over me in a crescendo of wordless voices. Within its embrace I finally break; I bury my face into sweet silken fur and add my own wordless, animal howling to the hymn-turned-lament. I let grief wrack my body in violent sobs as if I am a bean sí crying out the world’s doom. By the time my exhausted body has no tears left to shed nor sound to utter and I lift my head once more, everything around me has burned to ash and I am alone.
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!
crow scavenges the dead
coyote devours the crow
the Circle balanced
life for a life
then coyote falls to fire and gunpowder
the Circle shattered
life taken only
for man’s boundless greed
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
no songs in the underworld
instead I listen
and learn the value of silence
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.
lotus bloom unfolds
open arms and open heart
My fifth zine is now available! Worship the Monsteresses is dedicated to the monsteresses and maligned women of mythology. It explores what we can learn from their stories by tapping into the ugly parts inside us all. This zine features 22 pages of my original prose, poetry, and hand-drawn art.
PDF copies are free; physical copies are $5 plus shipping. Check it out at my Kofi!
A lioness’ jaws
snap bones, crush windpipes
drip with the red gore of her prey.
A lioness’ jaws also
gently carry the straying cub
back to the safety of the den.
Perhaps we should have let her burn.
Perhaps the flames were a gift,
a divine invitation to free ourselves
from this obsession with edifice and artifice.
Perhaps if she had burned to the ground,
we might have seen that sacred space
requires no cathedral to exist.
“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.”
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.
Deathwork and the Preservation of Life
I had one of those “oh my god, DUH” epiphanies the other day. I was thinking about my increasing call toward deathwork and how that’s reflected in my life. In some ways it makes perfect sense: I was always that weird kid who was a little too obsessed with morbid historical events like the sinking of the Titanic and the cataclysmic fate of Pompeii; all of the gods I follow have ties to death or the underworld; and my own life has been touched by death in many ways. On the other hand, I have never felt any desire to go into forensics/criminology, mortuary sciences, end of life care, or other death-related career fields. I’m happy in emergency management and I have no plans to leave this field. That must mean I’m not really a death witch, I thought. If I was a legit death witch, I’d feel driven to become a mortician or a coroner or something… right?
Then it hit me. My passion career-wise is emergency management and in emergency management your top priority is always preservation of life. And isn’t preservation of life just the opposite side of the deathwork coin? Aha! Death itself is inevitable for all living creatures, true, but many deaths are entirely preventable given the right mitigation and response measures. Every day I do work that will hopefully save lives in the future when Washington state faces its next major tsunami. I do this work in honor of those who have faced similar fates, especially those who lost their lives in the 2004 Indian Ocean and 2011 Japanese tsunamis. Now I realize that by working to prevent unnecessary deaths, I’m filling a necessary role in the greater field of deathwork. It’s a small role, obviously, but I’ve never minded being one cog in a greater machine. What matters is that lives are saved.
When I told my wife about this stunning revelation, she predictably stared at me with her trademark blank expression and asked flatly, “Wait, this just occurred to you?”. Which, fair. It really was quite obvious but I’m known for not connecting the dots when it comes to what’s right in front of me. I just never made the connection that part of honoring death is preventing it when you can or that emergency management could play a significant role in this work. It’s proof to me that I’m on the right path and correctly interpreting the vague “feelings” that constitute my intuition. It also aligns with my most recent oracle reading which urged me to trust that the universe is working in unseen ways to guide me on my path. Point taken!
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.
Worship the monstresses, girl;
they are hungry and fathomless.
Feed your rage to Ammit.
Feed your sorrow to Medusa.
Feed your terror to Charybdis.
Lay your howling at the altar of the Nameless
and let her fill you with the cold vacuum of the void.
Worship the beast queens, girl;
they will teach you to devour your oppressors.
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.
tsunami’s skeleton lingers
tanker carcasses, prefab husks
concrete seawall spirit tablets
restless plates rattle memorial bones
decaying half-lives, funereal mud
seventy thousand pine tree ghosts
Beyond rock bottom is the void
waiting to wrap you in chaos.
She is not capable of love;
isn’t that comforting?
I thought Tsunami would be a feral thing, silt between her teeth and gasoline rainbow hair tangled with fishing nets, distorted siren wail vomiting toxic black sludge. She’s frenetic, ravenous, a cataclysmic Charybdis, right? But Tsunami was scoured clean when I met him, a china-white skeleton in black robes like a Buddhist monk’s. Such silence in the sockets of that rictus face, such stillness, such unwarranted serenity! We look the same beneath, he told me, and I saw that I too had rotted down to fragile paper crane bones. The revelation did not disturb me; it was comforting to be done with the meat and its attendant miseries. We did indeed look identical, Tsunami and I. Just two skeletons clad in black, smiling through eternity.
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.
When your raging heart demands justice
and you can stomach no more sour lies
cry out to the Goddess.
Hers are the swift claws of judgment.
Hers are the red teeth of retribution.
Hers is the molten heart of the sun
that annihilates all shadow.
Even Ra the Great and Powerful
sends forth His bright-burning daughters
when evil demands holy reckoning.
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.