Gunfire in my dreams, and beyond the canvas tent flaps a humid jungle landscape I will never visit but perhaps lives in me somewhere as ancestral memory. Inside I see my father as a young man, clean shaven and handsome as a movie star. A doctor is telling him his blood pressure is too high and that he’s being honorably discharged. What they can’t say, because they don’t yet understand this phenomenon, is that it’s caused by PTSD. He must have been so ashamed, I say. It’s not bullet wounds, or an amputated limb. Not something visible at all. Our eyes meet and all I can think is how young he looks. Or maybe he was relieved.
Can you really blame the gods who saw what humanity had become and chose to just wipe the slate clean, start anew? Perhaps when Ra or YHWH or Zeus looked down upon an earth crawling with mortals they saw not present vices but future crimes; not idolatry and rebellion but nuclear war, global warming, and the creeping, inevitable extinction of every beautiful species they themselves created. Maybe the gods saw all that shit and thought nope, gotta get these guys the fuck outta here. Tell me, and be honest now, can you say with perfect certainty that you would not have done the same, had you been in their position? Or would you also send a worldflood or hungry war goddess to handle the situation in your stead? For the bees I might have. For the bees and ice caps and rainforests.
these days I dream mostly about atomic bombs and solar flares, with maybe the odd radioactive meltdown thrown in for good measure (don’t want Chernobyl to feel left out), and so I’ve gotten pretty used to that hot white flare and the instantaneous incineration which follows, after all I’ve got a decent imagination and I bet I’ve died a hundred times in this particular apocalypse, so many times in fact that it’s gotten so I’m not even that scared anymore, really, I see the light on the horizon and I’m just like Oh, okay, here we go again, and then in more or less the same second I’m decimated, annihilated, exterminated, all those good long verbs you hope can’t ever be applied to your physical form, but it turns out they don’t actually hurt too much so that’s some good news, yeah? and uh, anyway, I didn’t really have a point to this except maybe that dreaming constantly about the end of the world isn’t so bad if it means I’ll be emotionally prepared when the real one comes, like Hey buddy, took you long enough!, and I swear I mean that in a positive, hopeful kind of way but damn, it doesn’t really sound so good when I say it out loud, does it?
Hand pressed to the thick glass, she watches as beyond the radiation shield the dark sky blooms with bright flowers trailing petals of fire, and though the glass dome seals out all sound she imagines she can still hear the screaming of those trapped outside. How many dead now, since the first bomb fell? Millions, perhaps tens of millions: those too close to the epicenters to escape; those who could not buy their way onto planes and ships and caravans and so perished somewhere along their thousand-mile trek to safety; those who arrived at the safe zones with nothing but the clothes on their backs, exhausted and sick with radiation poisoning, only to be told there was no room for them. “No room,” she scoffs, and tries not to weep. She’s only safe inside this shelter because she’s necessary to its function, as so few of her team remain who can run the machines and reboot civilization when it comes time. That’s why she’s in here, a young black woman among so many old white men, and thousands of equally worthy people are out there awaiting the end. And so she wonders – is there even a point to trying again? Will there be enough humanity left in humanity to make the struggle for civilization worthwhile? Or does this dome just ensure there are sufficient witnesses left to testify to the finality of the apocalypse? She doesn’t even know for sure if the machines will work – and maybe that’s best.
I ask the Morrigan what side of Her I need to better understand and She shows me the Five of Pentacles. Traditionally this card portrays a ragged individual huddled in the snow outside a stone building, their gaunt features highlighted by warm light pouring from a nearby window. I realized when the Morrigan gave me this card that I make several automatic assumptions based on the image. First, that this person is a soldier, with the bandages on their arms or legs suggesting wounds earned in battle. Second, that this stone edifice they shelter beside is a church with a service currently in session. And third, that this soldier stands in the snow outside the church, begging for a coin or bite of bread, because the church refuses to succor them. Why these assumptions? I do not know, but I feel they are the core of the Morrigan’s message regardless of the card’s classical interpretation. To me, the Five of Pentacles shows how the church has turned away this old soldier and yet the Morrigan stands with him in the cold darkness. After the war ends, after the victories and defeats have faded to mere history, the Morrigan remembers all those who fought on both sides. She remembers – and She understands. She understands the ache of old wounds which refuse to heal. She understands the weight of memories too dark to share with loved ones. She understands the difficulty of returning to a society that values war yet devalues those who must wage it. The Morrigan is not only a goddess of battle; She is a goddess of war, and war does not end just because one has left the battlefield.
It seems strange that I have to justify my intentions. Look around; is this world really worth saving? Is it deserving of your blood, sweat, and tears, or even your very life? Hardly. You only need open your eyes to see what humanity has done to the Eden it inherited. Concrete cities, cardboard slums, humans packed as thick as maggots on their planet’s moldering corpse. In only a few thousand years they’ve managed to irreparably poison the land, water, and air, orchestrate the extinction of hundreds of thousands of innocent species, and invent countless ways to torture each other daily based on race, religion, and creed. They are locusts devouring everything in their path; they are a plague worse than any deadly virus or unbreakable curse. I speak only the truth and for my evidence can but point to any place on the globe and detail the horrors unleashed there since civilization’s birth: pride, greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, wrath, humanity’s chronic rot touches everything. Given all this, is it still a wonder why I want to wipe the slate clean? Why I no longer think humanity can be redeemed and this world salvaged? A fresh start isn’t so bad, is it, when you consider how many more centuries of war and death must come before the inevitable end performs its final undeserved mercy and snuffs life out for good.
What’s in your head, zombie?
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.
Sometimes history’s repetitions are comforting, the knowledge that others have come before to fight this fight, to suffer this suffering, to stand with arms linked until the tanks or the tear gas or the water cannons mow them down. Sometimes it is enough to know this moment’s horrors aren’t unique, that we will never be the first to want these things and can never be the last to die before they are won. Sometimes being able to stand back and watch the great wheel turn, turn, turn through all of humanity’s existence offers the necessary perspective, the needed distance to see the wisdom of the larger picture.
And sometimes the wheel’s inevitable turning crushes us beneath its rim, presses us into the mud to join the bodies of those who came before. Sometimes knowing the wheel spins in place, ever turning and yet going nowhere, is a cruelty we cannot bear. Sometimes fighting the same old fights, suffering the same old sufferings, facing the same old tanks and bigots and bullets is just too much, and we wonder if there’s any point when those who come after us will face these things as well. Maybe we haven’t figured out how to learn from history yet – or maybe as long as the wheel spins in place, we can’t help but repeat the past.