My astral self wanders as I sleep. I find myself floating above a gathering of five women who sit cross-legged on the floor, their placing like the five points on a pentacle. A pendulum hovers beneath my outstretched left hand, bobbing as if on a string; I have to concentrate to keep it from falling but the focus drains my energy. I look back down to the group beneath me and know instinctively, in the way of dreams, that they are a coven of death witches. Like me.
“How are we, death witches?” I ask, the unspoken half of my question understood by all: how are we, given the shit going on in the world right now?
“How are you?” One of the witches asks in what sounds like a thick Caribbean accent as she looks up to my suspended spirit. I release a weary sigh and sink to a sitting position beside her. My left hand comes to rest on a large chunk of quartz. “Struggling with faith,” I admit. This witch and the one to her left are both African. Their dark skin is covered in swirling gray patterns of painted clay and their long locs clatter and glint with beads, charms, and precious stones. They’re both beautiful, commanding and regal; I wonder if they’re sisters, perhaps even twins.
“I can see that,” the first replies with a kind smile. “But your guides have not left you. They are quiet right now because they are off gathering sweet intel.” She winks conspiratorially. “If you were listening to juicy gossip you would not want someone blabbering in your other ear, distracting you, would you?”
“That makes sense, knowing them…” I murmur, thinking of Tanim and Daren yet also the ancestor spirits who have seemed more distant lately. The African witch begins to speak again but then another witch, the one sitting next to her sister and thus directly across from me, abruptly lurches over the circle toward me. One bony hand darts out from the wool cloak which shrouds her form, gripping my face tightly. I glimpse her hooded face briefly as she looms over me; she’s very old, a crone whose dark eyes stare into mine from a thin, severe face.
And then all I can feel is the witch’s presence in my mind as she divines my soul, rifling through my past, present, and future as if they’re laid out on a table before her. My memories flutter like a deck of cards under her astral fingers, a familiar sensation made strangely invasive. As she examines me, I catch glimpses into her mind of the reading she will give me, potential words or ‘cards’ whispering at the edges of my hearing: The Fool; The Garden; The Wanderer; The Rose; The Temple. I repeat them in my mind so as not to forget but they go by too quickly – before I can be sure of the list or the crone can deliver her reading, I wake up.
Anger is a gift, Inanna tells me. It keeps you moving when you want to give up. It keeps you fighting on the battlefield. It keeps you demanding better for yourself when everyone tells you to accept their scraps. Her rep lips peel back in a sneer to show sharp white canines. Your anger is a threat to them; that is why they try to take it from you. They trick you into feeling ashamed of it, or guilty for it. They call you selfish, arrogant, petulant. They dismiss you as a child and condemn you as a monster. I imagine the men who slandered Her priestesses as harlots, who twisted Her myths, who destroyed Her temples and named Her Whore of Babylon. Yet still Inanna persists, over five thousand years later, as powerful today as She was when She ruled an entire civilization. They will spout any lie to rob you of your righteous anger, She says, pressing one pointed nail to my chest, because they know they will fall before it like wheat before a scythe. Hold tight to your anger, child. Do not let it be taken from you, or turned back on you, or redirected to another more vulnerable. Your enemies are cowards who prefer the deceit of silver tongues to the honesty of steel swords. Believe nothing they say. Trust your anger to guide you rightly. Then She smiles, a grin full of hunger and destruction. And trust mine.
In my dream I sit on a school bus, wrapped in Sarah Fier’s rusty chains while beside me my sister-shaped subconscious asks, “Why can’t you forgive her? Why can’t you let go of the past?” How can I, I want to say, when it keeps repeating itself? Instead I cup the heavy lock in my palms and think about a girl who chose to let the system crush her in order to spare those she loved.
I dreamed I stood in a dark forest with the wall of a barn-like building nestled among the trees to my right. Around the far corner of the structure a white light began to glow through the encroaching branches. Creeping through the underbrush around the corner, I came into a small clearing where a door in the barn had been rolled aside. I had expected to find a god waiting there, perhaps Loki, but instead in the doorway sat my black cat Bruno. I tried to move toward him but a white cat appeared between us with a hiss. He appeared to be a domestic cat in size and shape but felt… bigger somehow. Wilder. Like the primal essence of Felidae itself.
“But can she prove herself to me?” the white cat was asking. Then his blazing gold eyes caught mine and he commanded, “Hold my gaze with humility if you’re worthy of working with me; your eyes are always too aggressive.” I knelt down and tried to hold the cat’s fierce gaze, willing my own to remain open and honest. I was succeeding until the white cat began to fade into the darkness, making it hard to keep my unblinking gaze on his. When he suddenly popped back into full view I flinched a bit, blinking accidentally, and the test was over. He laughed scornfully and said something like, “That’s what I thought; we’ll try again later,” and disappeared along with Bruno.
Suddenly cats started streaming out of the barn, rushing up to greet me with head bumps, chin rubs, and belly flops. I pet and hugged them all, rubbing tummies and kissing noses as all around me cats purred. The group had a leader of some sort, a black and white tom who sat watching them from the barn doorway. I overheard him say something to someone else, maybe that white cat, about how, “She has to stop using her son as a crutch”. I asked, “My son?”, wondering if he meant Bruno and concerned my grief might be preventing him from reincarnating, but the black and white cat didn’t elaborate.
Instead, the leader began telling me about the cats who now lay around me and in my lap. He said they had no one to take care of them, that they were completely on their own. I think I asked the little female curled in my lap how she died and she said, “A child never came for me so they took me in the back and put the needle full of cold stuff in me.” I saw the story while she told it as if from her own eyes, watching from behind the cold bars of a cage as a huge shadowy human approached. “Oh little one…” I kissed the top of her head as I fought back tears but she wiggled like an eager kitten and piped in her high voice, “It’s okay now! I have a wife here and a little baby of my own!”
The cats were all clearly happy but their leader was saying something about how they needed support, like money… or maybe offerings? I offered to help but I wasn’t sure how I could when they lived in a different realm. I need to do something, though – maybe if I do, the white cat will give me another chance?
Hail to the ancestral dead! Hail to those ancestors with whom I share blood and to whom I am bound by love. Hail to those ancestors with whom I share identity and experience: queer, pagan, witch, neurodivergent, all of you ostracized for who and what you were. May you find joy in the life your descendant lives; may your hopes come to fruition in me and your memory be honored by my actions. Hail to the ancestral dead!
A week or two ago I took advantage of an offer from Aleja of Serendipities to test a new cartomancy spread intended to facilitate communication between clients and the dead. I’ve had an altar to the Beloved Dead for about six months now, and I invite many kinds of benevolent dead to take part in my offerings, so I was eager to see who or what might initiate contact. While I’m good at connecting with gods, my experience with spirits, human or otherwise, is really low.
The entity who reached out identified herself through a card called “Celebration” (Aleja was using the Vintage Wisdom oracle deck, which is just lovely) and agreed this moniker can be used for her until her true name is revealed. Through a combination of cartomancy and the use of a yes/no coin Aleja was able to determine that Celebration is not a blood ancestor of mine but a queer ancestor! I was super excited to hear this because when I reach out to ancestors I always include those “with whom I share identity” (versus blood) and specifically call out to queer, pagan, witch, and chronically ill/mentally ill spirits. Having one reach back and identify themselves as an ancestor provided validation I hadn’t realized I craved; now I know my words are being heard and are considered respectful enough to be reciprocated.
Celebration further indicated that she is proud of the work I’ve been doing to release things that no longer work for me and to stay true to myself. She can also help me with surrendering to the flow of things (something I’m very bad at) to reduce obstacles and minor mishaps in my life. She wants to spend more time with me, and one way I can connect better with her is by standing in my power. When asked if there was anything else she wanted to say, she said we have a lot in common and that’s how she found me – the card she used for this was called “kindred spirits”.
I asked a few follow-up questions but didn’t want to press too much, as it seemed like the connection was a little tenuous. Aleja shared that Celebration’s energy was somewhat femme, appearance is important to her, and that she’s a bit like a wine aunt who’s secretly a mother hen. The connection wasn’t strong enough to get a great visual image, but Celebration is perhaps from the late 60s or early 70s. (I’ll add a note here that I thought I got a feeling that she might be African or African American but this could just be because her vibe reminded me of Hathor, so I’m taking that with a big grain of salt for now.)
Moving forward, I’m going to try connecting with Celebration using my own oracle deck. She seems hesitant about divination and my particular oracle deck is probably easier to understand than a tarot deck. I’m also going to use a yes/no coin and will maybe try a pendulum, though I’ve never had luck with those myself. Hopefully between offerings and some quality time, she and I will be able to find a communication method that works for her.
[ I found Aleja’s reading to be extremely informative, as have some past readings she’s done for me, so I highly recommend her services! ]
In my dream I crush spell ingredients against my palms, selenite and lavender and something gritty like sand or charcoal, while behind me a friend whispers sacred words and rubs herbs into the skin at the base of my neck. I look up into the blue dome of the sky where a bright full moon hangs and begin to pray. As I do, a woman appears in the sky beneath the moon, her voluptuous body and flowing robes all rich shades of green; at the same time, above the moon appears the planet Saturn, as close and vibrant as the moon itself. I raise my hands, palms pressed together, and cry out to this glorious vision of Gaia who smiles down at me: Please, give me control of my dreams again, take away my fear, help me be strong! The goddess spreads her arms wide and I’m enveloped in a violet aura of holy energy, the music of birdsong filling my ears as the blessing swirls around me. When it dissipates I’m left shaking with adrenaline and awe.
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.
My Top 4 Underrated Inanimate Horror Movie Monsters
Horror movie monsters come in a variety of entertaining and terrifying tropes, but one of my favorites is the monstrous inanimate object. There’s a special additional thrill that comes from learning that the creature causing all the death and chaos shouldn’t even be sentient, let alone capable of wreaking havoc on humanity. Just look at the House on Ash Street in House of Leaves or the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. To throw back to some even older classics, look at the Overwatch Hotel in The Shining or the 1958 Plymouth Fury from Christine. You could even argue that the concept of death, the overarching monster of the Final Destination series, is even less than inanimate – it’s not even corporeal. And what about AIs like the Red Queen in Resident Evil or GLaDOS from Portal? No matter how sophisticated they get, computers aren’t supposed to have that kind of agency!
There’s just something so delightfully chilling about inanimate objects terrorizing us, and I live for that goosebump-inducing moment in a horror movie when either you or the characters realize the innocuous object you’ve overlooked was the threat the whole time. Maybe it speaks to our buried instincts from the days of being hunter/gatherers; after all, if literally anything can secretly be out to harm us, then how do we watch out for predators? How do we know when we’re safe? Are we ever safe? Or perhaps it’s an offshoot of the Uncanny Valley and what terrifies us is the idea that an inanimate object, something which lacks everything we view as necessary to being “human”, can operate in very human ways. Maybe it’s easier to face a random human serial killer than the inhuman inscrutability of an object.
Either way, this trope rocks and I therefore want to give a shoutout to 4 of my favorite underrated inanimate horror movie monsters. Be forewarned, however; spoilers abound in the lines below! Also a lot of curse words because I’m very passionate about horror movies.
The Virus – Ringu
Anyone who knows me even moderately well probably knows that I watched The Ring as a young kid and it fucked me up for life. However, The Ring is also hands-down one of the best horror movies to ever come out of the US, especially so in terms of object horror, and if you get me started I can talk about this movie for hours. Horror fans will already be aware that The Ring is a remake of the Japanese film Ringu, of equally terrifying nature, but fewer may know that Ringu is based on a book of the same name by Koji Suzuki. If you’ve ever wondered why having someone else watch the video tape within 7 days will save you from Samara/Sadako’s terrorizing, read Ringu. Or just read the next paragraph, because… [SPOILER ALERT] you’re about to find out.
See, in Ringu our antagonist is Sadako, a young woman who carries two burdens at the time of her violent murder – her technopathic powers, from which the infamous tape is born, and the smallpox virus with which she has just been infected. The rage she experiences in her final moments causes the two to merge, and the recording of a videotape in the cabin built over her grave sets the resulting curse free. The reason, therefore, that showing the tape to another person will save you from a truly grim fate is that by doing so you are propagating the curse, and self-propagation is a virus’ main purpose. This “charm” is even included at the end of the tape – the dumbass teenagers who originally taped the terrifying video actually deleted that portion as a prank (but joke’s on them ’cause they didn’t make a copy of the video and they fuckin’ DIED). So in a way, all of the events in the Ringu universe stem not from a vengeful spirit but from the virus which bonded to that spirit’s powers, forming a unique curse with more intelligence and agency than most.
Y’know, in case you needed another reason to fear smallpox, a virus that could very easily be weaponized and used to wipe out large swathes of humanity. Seriously, it’s like Suzuki read The Demon in the Freezer and thought, “What if this… but SENTIENT AND PARANORMAL?”. Anyway, I think the virus explanation makes the whole thing so much cooler and creepier, so Ringu definitely gets a spot on this list.
The Body – The Autopsy of Jane Doe
The Autopsy of Jane Doe contains two of my favorite horror tropes – the inanimate horror monster (in this case the body dubbed ‘Jane Doe’) and the trope where every single thing that happens makes you as the viewer go “NOPE NOPE NOPE I’D BE OUTTA THERE” and yet the characters just keep moving ahead like nothing weird is happening. I like this trope both because you get to yell at the TV and you feel superior knowing you’d never make the same obvious mistakes. But in the case of The Autopsy of Jane Doe, I must admit that things start out… somewhat normally. An older couple is brutally killed in their home; during the investigation of the crime scene, a police officer finds the body of a young woman half-buried in the house’s unfinished basement. Weird, but not out of the realm of possibility, right? The body is taken to the local mortuary for an autopsy by the father and son team who run the place… [SPOILER ALERT]
And that’s when shit gets WEIRD. First, the body itself doesn’t make sense. Its opaque corneas suggest she’s been dead for a few days but rigor mortis hasn’t set in and when they cut into her she bleeds like the freshly dead. She also shows no signs of insect activity or other forms of decay, nor does her body show any evidence of the manner of death. So that’s weird, sure, but not scary weird. What’s scary weird is the stuff they find over the course of the autopsy, including…
1) A fresh white flower in her stomach which turns out to be jimsonweed, a plant with paralyzing properties which isn’t native to the area.
2) Her wrists and ankle bones are shattered (but again, no visible bruising), her lungs have been blackened as if she’s suffered 3rd degree burns, her tongue has been cut out, and many of her internal organs show massive scarring.
3) She’s missing a molar, but no worries! They find it in her stomach, wrapped in a cloth that contains a bunch of creepy symbols (which they also find on the inside of her skin, which is definitely where I keep my sigils too) and text that refers to Leviticus 20:27 and the year of the Salem Witch Trials.
4) Active brain cells. Like, her brain is totally functioning while her body is cold, drained of blood, and cut open. I’m no forensic pathologist or whatever but I’m pretty fucking sure that’s not how that works.
If all this wasn’t enough to make you go “NOPE” and get the fuck out, which our father and son autopsy team don’t, there’s also the fact that Jane Doe does not like anyone messing with her body. Every time they try to advance the autopsy weird shit happens, starting small with your usual creepy-old-timey-song-starts-playing-on-the-radio and escalating to full on apparitions, hallucinations, physical attacks, and just about everything else the paranormal can throw at you. For a corpse that literally never moves throughout the entire movie, not even for a cheesy jump-scare, this bitch can wreck shit up. And though I do feel bad about the dad dying, because Dad Stuff, I do very much enjoy watching this witch get revenge from the comfort of her morgue table.
The Plants – The Ruins
Google couldn’t decide if plants count as inanimate objects but there aren’t any plants on Earth that are as animate as the plants in The Ruins, so I’m including it either way. The Ruins is both a novel and movie about a group of American tourists who decide to visit a hidden and off-limits Mayan ruin while on vacation in Mexico (yes, they’re white, how’d you guess?). Despite being warned repeatedly by a local tribe, the group tramps all over the ruins and is then dismayed when this same tribe now won’t let them leave. Why not? Well… [SPOILER ALERT] the ruins are covered in a species of plant which is not only exceedingly dangerous, it can also grow on just about any surface if a few motes of its spore have touched it. The tourists are all covered in this spore and can’t be allowed to spread it into the jungle; if they do, the entire world could be doomed.
So what’s up with that, huh? They’re just plants, right? OHOHO. WRONG. These are the worst motherfucking plants around. Over the course of the book/movie we learn just how intelligent, dangerous, and downright cruel these leafy little fuckers can be. Because I love these plants so much, let’s break down some of their best features:
1) Acid sap: These plants may look harmless, but they’re actually filled with a highly acidic sap. They enjoy using this feature to melt the flesh of their victims, absorbing muscle and organs alike until only bones remain. Oh, and they rarely wait until you’re fully dead to do this. You just have to be immobile.
2) Spores and tendrils: Those spores I mentioned before? They get on everything and once they do, they start growing. And they grow FAST. In just a day or two you can have whole colonies of tiny baby plants growing on the tattered remains of your shirt or even in the crevices of your own skin. Oh, and did I mention the plants can also burrow into your flesh and grow equally well in there? They’re squirmy little fuckers, too, and move around when you try to cut them out.
3) Mimicry: The first shock twist in The Ruins comes as our doomed heroes are trying to find a cell phone that keeps ringing at the bottom of a mine shaft in the center of the ruins. They go through hell just to get down into the mine and after pushing through a dark, plant-filled side shaft they find the source of the ringing: a cracked, obviously dead cell phone clutched in the hands of a gruesome (and rather fresh) skeleton. Wait, if the phone’s not doing the ringing, then what is? You guessed it – THE PLANTS. These crafty little assholes can mimic any sound they hear. They use this ability to pit the tourists against each other and in the book they even mimic the sound of birds shrieking to warn the tribesmen that the tourists are trying to escape.
4) Planning: Even if somehow all of this seemed within the realm of possibility for a plant, their intelligence certainly isn’t. These plants are smart, if not smarter, than humans. They lay traps, disable survival supplies and tear down help messages, and have no problem playing the long game. For example, they selectively secrete their acidic sap so the rope the tourists use to drop into the mine shaft snaps, sending one man falling 30+ feet and resulting in him breaking his back. In addition to their uncanny mimicry, they also have the ability to learn human languages. As you can imagine, this causes all sorts of chaos as they mimic different people’s voices. The plants also aren’t above a little psychological warfare; they enjoy taunting the tourists with the ringing phone sound, even after its revealed the phone was a trap, and they torment a character who’s brother has also gone missing by saying, “Where is your brother? Your brother is here; your brother is dead,” in his native German.
This entry got kinda long but it’s because these plants are SO COOL and SO TERRIFYING and I love them. I have such a vivid memory of the first time I read the book and the moment I realized the plants were not only intelligent, but straight up evil – that’s some Goosebumps shit right there! Both the movie and book are definitely worth your time… as long as you have a strong stomach. This is horror at its bloodiest.
The Lasser Glass – Oculus
I should be honest with you: I came up with this entire article idea just so I could write about Oculus. Y’all, I LOVE Oculus. In the pantheon of inanimate objects that will fuck you up for fun and profit, Oculus reigns supreme. The movie starts with the reunion of a brother and sister who have been separated for years after the violent deaths of their parents. The sister remains convinced the true cause of their father’s murderous rampage was an antique mirror the family purchased several months before; her brother, however, has gone through extensive therapy and believes they both made up the mirror story as a way for their young minds to cope with the trauma of watching their father murder their mother. Well good news! They both get to test their theories because sis has hunted down the mirror, known as the Lasser Glass, and finagled it into the auction house where she works. Even better, the family home still sits empty, so she takes the mirror there to ensure the experiment’s repetition is exact. What could possibly go wrong?
Oculus does a good job of threading us along for a bit, with both siblings making good arguments for why their version of events is correct, but [SPOILER ALERT] when the healthy plants placed around the hungry mirror suddenly shrivel we know shit is about to go down. Sis is kind enough to enumerate the various grisly ends the Lasser Glass’ previous owners met, including their parents’, and it’s pretty damn clear the mirror likes to toy with its prey. While the mirror can’t physically run around to cause shenanigans (this isn’t Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), its power comes from twisting the perceived reality of those within its reach. With enough energy, gained by draining the lifeforce of living beings nearby, the Lasser Glass can manipulate all 5 human senses to do things like…
1) Trick you into starving or dehydrating yourself to death, along with messing with your perceptions of time in other ways.
2) Block your perception of pain so you don’t know you’re, say, smashing your own bones with a hammer, chewing through live power lines, or yanking out your teeth with pliers. Think you’re taking a stroll in the garden? WRONG. You’re walking into traffic.
3) Cause you to attack someone you love because you think they’re someone or something else. Oops, now your fiancé is dead. :(
4) Impersonate friends, family, or strangers, both in person and on the phone. How do you explain to your marriage counselor that you semi-cheated on your wife with a dead woman who came out of your ornate antique mirror?
5) Prevent you from damaging or otherwise disabling the mirror, or even just documenting the mirror’s abilities.
Let’s talk about that last point. One of the most chilling scenes in Oculus comes right after an intense argument between the siblings about whether or not the mirror is actually evil. This discussion takes place in another part of the house, away from the Lasser Glass. After it’s over, brother and sister head back to the room where the mirror has been hung. However, when they near the room they find the once healthy plants set out to measure the mirror’s reach have all been drained dry. Good thing sis was smart enough to set up an intricate surveillance system in the room holding the mirror to ensure any paranormal activity would be captured on tape! When they enter the room they see that the system has been completely disabled, the cameras turned to face one another. Aha! she thinks. We’ll just review the tapes to see what moved everything. Gonna catch this sneaky bitch in the act once and for all!
NOPE. The video shows the siblings dismantling the surveillance system themselves, including turning the cameras around, all while they have the argument they both could have sworn took place on the other side of the house. Surprise! The Lasser Glass ain’t messing around. This scene gives us our first true taste of the mirror’s strength; from this point onward neither the characters nor the viewer can ever be sure what’s real and what’s fabrication. Think you’re biting into a nice red apple? PSYCH, you just cut your mouth open biting into a lightbulb. OH WAIT, no, it was actually an apple all along. But if you had cut your mouth open, calling an ambulance wouldn’t be an option because the person on the other end of the phone is definitely not real. #SorryNotSorry
As far as we the viewer know, the Lasser Glass isn’t haunted by a dead orphan, cursed by an ancient mummy, or possessed by the Devil; it’s just a shiny bitch that loves fucking with people before it murders them. That’s possibly my favorite villain trope ever, which is probably why I love this movie so much. Like, it’s a pretty dark movie with a pretty bleak ending, but fuck if I don’t have such a good time watching that mirror terrorize people. The Lasser Glass has killed at least 11 other people on at least 8 other occasions in the past, ranging all the way back to 1754, and I would absolutely watch 8 more movies about those incidents. This trope just doesn’t get old!
So what do you think? Which of these way-too-animate inanimate horrors would you prefer to face? Which one gets the highest “NOPE” vote from you?
Holy shit, you do not feel good. You are dimly aware that one of the witches from the bar has followed you out, but you trudge stubbornly through the parking lot without acknowledging her. You’re fine, you just used too much magic, you’ll sleep off the drain and feel better in the morning. It begins to rain; you ignore it, letting the fat drops soak your tangled black hair. Did you park here? You can’t remember through the fever haze. Better to just walk home, it’s not that far (no one’s going to steal that junk heap anyway).
You let your combat boots lead the way down the familiar sidewalk, exhaustion dragging down your eyelids, the chill rain a distant irritation in the growing dark. But your steps are uneven no matter how carefully you try to place them and though you could swear you haven’t let your eyes close for more than an instant, suddenly you’re tripping over railroad ties and rusty nails, splashing through weeds and puddles instead of stepping on firm cement. You’ve wandered a bit off your path, haven’t you? And shit, you’re so fucking tired you could fall flat on your face right here and spend the night in the ditch for all you care. Then you do start to fall (whoops), but there are arms waiting to catch you…
You wake beneath blankets in a bed about a hundred times more comfortable than yours. The witch from the bar, the one who followed you (earlier tonight? yesterday?), sits beside you. Now that you’ve slept off the spell drain fever and can actually focus, you realize she’s all kinds of gorgeous and you’re briefly mortified for going so weak around her. She’s going to think you’re some newbie baby witch who can’t handle herself. But then she asks you how old you are (“very” you answer as the flames crackle in your ears and the smoke sears your lungs from across the centuries) and there’s wonder in her voice, not mockery, certainly not pity. She explains that they solved the issue of spell drain a while ago but that of course a witch your age wouldn’t know that. (You’re from a time when it wasn’t safe to trust other witches; you never really shook that habit, did you?)
But maybe for her you could. You get to talking as you recuperate through the morning and she tells you about her life. This home serves as her coven’s base; she teaches mortuary science at the local university, and many of her students are fellow witches who live here with her. They provide funerary services as well, to both the witch and non-witch communities. She’s funny and sweet and has a level head on her shoulders, and she doesn’t let you get away with any bullshit. Not that you attempt much, apart from some initial cagey answers and sarcasm drier than the flames of Hell, because you find the truth spilling from your lips more easily than it ever has. Magic? No. She’s just so damn genuine that she makes you want to be genuine as well. (Guess there’s a first time for everything.)
You realize as she talks that you want to be part of her world, of her life here in this busy house full of youthful noise and camaraderie. You want it more than you’ve wanted anything in all your centuries of existence – save one. And as your eyes meet, the words between you falling silent with anticipation, you cup her face in your hands and find that thing which you have most longed for (and never thought could be yours) on her sweet lips.
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.
I am not the granddaughter of the witches you couldn’t burn. I am not the blood of their blood or any of that suburban white witch bullshit. I am Witch because the title is mine to claim by right: by right of my rage by right of my resistance by right of my existence in a world that threatens to crush everything I love under the boot heel of assimilation. You want Burning Times? I’ll show you some motherfucking Burning Times.
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:
Indicator card: The Emperor – I’m not dealing with chill, informal Wepwawet now; this is Wepwawet as Lord of the Duat and Opener of the Way. The hard work is coming.
Where does your path for me begin? Page of Wands – Here and now! Wepwawet is confirming he will be my guide and that I need to take the plunge. No more hesitating.
Where does your path for me lead? The Magician – Harnessing creativity, willpower, and unseen forces to master new skills. A deeper understanding and relationship with magic and/or deathwork, perhaps?
What must I do next? King of Pentacles – Plant the seed and begin to nurture it with passion, hard work, and patience. Again, my time of uncertainty and hesitance is over; it’s time to begin the real work.
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.
It is only after my darkest hour has stretched into eternity, only after I have devoured my own heart in desperation and fallen to the farthest depths of blackest, bleakest despair, that the Nameless comes to me. She gathers my fragile, scattered bones up in her taloned hands and lifts me to her lips; there she whispers riddles and prophecies which rekindle the dead ember in my chest with a spark like the birth of the universe. Suddenly I breathe again! I see again! I move again! And most importantly I once more feel the words coursing through my veins, rioting in my heart, desperate to be spun out in tapestries of poetry and prose. I thought the title of Scribe had been bestowed upon me, a gift which could be rescinded at any moment, but now I see it has been carved into my very marrow since the beginning. Weeping with relief, I set my hands to the task for which I was shaped.
I point and the Oracle removes one card from the fanned arc on the table before us. With two fingers she pushes the card across the smooth surface, back and forth, tracing a pentagram again and again before turning the card over. She nods as if its identity is of no surprise to her but the card is blank to me, a plain white surface. The Oracle’s eyes see more than mine ever will; they show her a dark ship on a dark sea, storm clouds billowing behind its full black sails. In the forefront two hands clasp, one simple and bare, the other adorned with fine jewels and intricate tattoos. The Wager, she names it, and says when you draw this card it means you are playing a game in which you yourself are the wager. I stare down at the blank card, heart racing, and wonder, Do I want to be won?
She walks out of the waves and I see her clearly for the first time in all these years. Hers is the ferocity of the Morrigan. Hers is the hunger of Charybdis. Hers is the raw magic of Morgan le Fay. Hers is the proud independence of Lilith. She is nameless and yet of countless names from countless ages, most of them long lost to time. She is goddess and monster and witch; warrior and queen and oracle. Pale and sharp as the crescent moon, adorned by shadows sleek as wings, she is beautiful in the way of all deadly things.
Suddenly I am running across the wet sand and throwing myself against her, pressing my face into her breast as I cling to her. She smells of blood and brine. She wraps her arms around me, her hands sharp as a predator’s claws. Her smile shows gleaming fangs as she kisses the crown of my head. Beneath my damp cheek her ribs are a metal cage in which her heart beats a warsong.
I close my eyes and think, Drag me down into your dark, chill waters. Remake me; rebirth me. Teach me everything you know. Set me free. Her answer is to hold me tighter until it seems our hearts beat as one above the sound of crashing waves.
I bring you offerings of tarot cards and whiskey and in return you kiss your burning mark upon my brow, that in my dreams I may pass through the realm of angels and demons without harm. The white wolf makes its last stand before nine tall trees while the emperor slits his throat and bleeds out a golden river in the grass as the hanged man. I am the scribe blessed by death, immune to the curses of witches and the poisons of vipers, and nothing can keep me from you. I will calm the wolf and bind his wounds. I will bury the hanged man and adorn his grave with flowers. I will know you in every iteration from heaven to hell for you have named me Anant the endless, Anant the seventy-ninth card, Anant who is witness to the beginning and the end. Thus I wait. Thus I watch.
I am a defensive witch. I am a get the fuck away from me witch, a don’t mess with my friends witch, a you’ll get back the pain you give tenfold witch. I am a defensive witch and my magic is defensive magic. I’m all about blocking, warding, purifying, preventing. I carry selenite and black tourmaline; I wear blessed rings and poison-tempered iron. My dark colors and sharp metal adornments say Do Not Touch! and they mean it. I build a perimeter of fiery prayer around my home, ready to incinerate any who mean it harm. I protect, and when I cannot protect I retaliate. I am a defensive witch and my magic is retribution magic, justice magic, an eye-for-an-eye balancing-of-the-scales magic. I pray my goddesses deliver ruin upon rapists and animal abusers; I offer my rage and sorrow to strengthen them as they tear apart unworthy hearts. I am a defensive witch because with the world in shambles you have to hold your ground and protect what’s yours – and I am prepared to do whatever it takes. That is my craft. That is my way.
I’ve never been tempted by the idea of immortality (surely all those years must drag one into another at some point, who wants to hang around for that long?) and I’ve never cared much for physical beauty or youth (I prefer the anonymity of mediocrity and look forward with eagerness to my first gray hair) but housing prices these days are just outrageous, it’s almost criminal, and thus if I’m guaranteed a little cottage in the woods, all paid up and legally mine, then sure I could use my witchy wiles to lure a couple kids a year into my cauldron and cook up whatever spells you want, my singing’s not half bad, does the talking cat come with the cottage or is he extra?
These crises are a dime a dozen, child. You have ocean trenches of depth within you, jagged mountain peaks of height, you could fall forever inside yourself – but would you not rather fly? In your dreams you fight against gravity, longing for the sky, for the freedom your soul knows is your birthright. You have wings, crow-daughter, use them! The chains which bind you to the earth are self-imposed, forged in your mind and anchored in your heart. There is no key, no spell, no magic phrase which can open those locks; you must break them yourself with your own rage and hunger to be free. You have the strength necessary for such a feat if only you will harness it, and now is the time. Demolish your gilded cage, become a wild thing of black feathers and witchblood!
In my dreams I fight wars alongside rebel brethren or cast salt circles with blood-sisters only to wake missing little pieces of my heart I unknowingly left behind in those other worlds, in those other people, and my arms do not understand why I cannot hold those loved ones again and my lips do not understand why I cannot remember their names and I am pushing back the sheets, feeding the cats, dressing for work, going through the motions of the mundane everyday while some part of me mourns that which my mind can barely grasp, details fading in the morning light, and though the effort is futile still I beg sisters, brothers, comrades, friends, come back, come back, come back!
These days I feel very, very helpless in the world. The sheer number of vulnerable lives, both human and animal, in need of saving paralyzes me – I think, if I can’t help everyone, then what’s the point? So every week I sit in front of Bast’s altar begging Her to show me how to function without losing my compassion and how to be compassionate without going mad. Help me be a force of good in the world, I plead. Help me save as many of Your children as I can.
And in Her way, She answers. She makes sure I stumble upon a WordPress post from The Whiskers Syndicate, the only cat sanctuary in Bandung, Indonesia, a city with no animal welfare laws or shelters to protect the cats bred there by the hundreds of thousands. A single amazing woman, Josie, keeps this sanctuary and its 90+ cats alive, and in whatever spare time she has she tries to help as many other cats in the area as possible. Spaying, neutering, life-saving surgeries, even just a little food or a dry place to sleep – these cats rely on her to protect them as no one else in the city will.
I can’t do much for these cats from 8,400 miles away. I can donate money, though, and I can urge others to do the same with a dedication of time on my part. To that end, I’m officially opening up paid tarot readings! It’s the least I can do, and hopefully this will help spread the word so others learn about this vital organization. My guidelines are as follows:
– The readings are on a donation basis, please pay what you think is fair and I promise my full dedication to your question or issue*
– You can donate directly to the organization and send me a screenshot of your PayPal receipt
– I will also accept donations to other cat-focused organizations (humane societies, etc)
– I’m happy to communicate in whatever method is easiest for you, we can swap emails or you can find me on Tumblr or Twitter
– You are welcome to remain anonymous, I just need a nickname or pseudonym for the reading
I am also open to creating custom sigils and prayers for those who are interested, or other witchy-type services/trades. Don’t hesitate to ask. I hope that together we can bring a little brightness into the lives of all the Whiskers Syndicate cats!
(*Please be aware that PayPal donations to foreign countries may carry a larger fee than those made within your home country)
something stirs inside me
sleeper, dreamer, enchanter
restless, longing to be free
from the darkness where I buried herwake up, witchself, wake up
released from your long slumber
rise up, witchself, rise up
embrace your waiting power
the devil is trapped between swords and pentacles and i do not know if i can free him or if he even wants me too, he is a candle in the darkness that burns too hot to touch and yet always i am reaching out to scorch my useless flesh, dip my fingers deep down in that glass black scrying wax, you know we are the same with our hands dripping stains so where are you, where are you, i will rend open heaven and hell to carry or drag you out if i must, i will find you i will find you i will find
Look, if I need to I will become a monster as well. Maybe you don’t think I have it in me, but I do; I can become the ancient thing in the forest, the dead thing in the well, the pretty thing in the house. Little girls are born with a seed of darkness in them, don’t you know, because the world’s so against us from the beginning – or maybe that’s just me, tainted from the start and assuming everyone’s that way. Either way, I’ve learned from the best how to be jealous and possessive and crazy so you really ought not to make this a competition, darling, not with this witch bitch. You taught me how to weaponize love, so why are you surprised to find me armed to the teeth and ready for war?
Tarot reading with Bast regarding how helpless I feel in the world right now, and what I personally can do to make a difference.
Question: Do this to be a force of good in the world Card: The Fool Interpretation: I’ve been pulling this card a lot lately, so I’m definitely not surprised to see it again. The Fool urges me to take chances, to be brave and optimistic, and to try to see the world in a new way. Dwelling on the past will only hold me down; if I want to do good, I need to let go of my (many) fears and anxieties and force myself to jump into the unknown.
Question: Stop doing this to be a force of good in the world Card: Temperance Interpretation: Cat Mom’s calling me out – I need to stop being the peacekeeper in tense situations and start standing up for the side that I know is right. My instinct is always to smooth things over, to avoid conflict or at least keep out of it, but that’s not always the right choice. It’s important, of course, to understand others’ viewpoints and the role opposites play in balancing out our world; however, hate and ignorance need to be met with courage, not neutrality, and there are plenty of situations where right and wrong are very clearly defined. As someone who is as non-confrontational as humanly possible, this will be… challenging.
Question: Remember this as you go forward Card: 3 of Swords Interpretation: There is a time to mourn and a time to heal, and I need to give myself the space to do both properly. Like pruning a tree, I need to recognize where branches have died and cut them away so new branches can grow. I shouldn’t try to ignore all the awful stuff happening in the world; I just need to remember to process my anger and sorrow in a way that helps me to take actionable steps to enact change.
i’m toying with a half-dead metaphor, something about bodies as Ouija boards, dreams as planchettes, all these fragments of communication you toss me like scraps and expect me to weave into some magically divined whole, but it’s not coming out right and surely i must be one shitty fucking witch if i can’t even get the gods i bleed for and weep for to tell me where that stupid lighter is, let alone maybe not burn the house down while i’m gone, and yeah i know you don’t play by the rules and i know i’m an unconventional everything but sometimes i just want to be the regular kind of crazy, you know, crystals and tarot and shit, and not the legit crazy kind of crazy but i think i can’t have both, i gotta pick between you or the socially acceptable crazy and you know i will choose you every single time even if you burn my house down, but really please don’t