All things covet whatever state or aspect is so intrinsically their opposite that by definition they can never experience it. Thus does death, ever passive, covet desire, ever active. Thus does desire, ever in motion, covet death, ever inert. Air rushes to fill a vacuum. The black hole draws stars into its embrace. We crush the things we covet in our attempt to make them forever ours and to make ourselves forever them. Is there even a fraction of a second where we become one with the coveted before our immutable nature obliterates it? And if so, is that moment worth the destruction? Experience says no. Selfishness says yes, try again. Crush, crush, crush.
Oh na Morrigna, help me!
Teach me to fight an enemy no sword can pierce
To fell an enemy that neither bleeds nor breathes!
On what battlefield can we make our last stand
When our enemy is everywhere and nowhere?
Oh na Morrigna, guide me!
I long for the simplicity of steel on steel
The clean finality of victory or death!
Yet how can we ever achieve a lasting peace
When the evil we fight is so systemic?
Oh na Morrigna, free me!
Tear off my chains of fear and hopelessness
And transform my impotent rage into energy!
How can I squander my privilege with inaction
When so many less fortunate fight to their last breath?
Oh na Morrigna, lead me to battle!
The netjeru are
Fresh blood and hawk wings
Red in the setting sun
The Morrigan is change in all its forms. She is change swift as lightning and disorienting as thunder. She is change that draws blood and sweat and tears. She is the sweeping scythe of change that severs the wheat from its stalk and yet She is also the slow, steady millstone of change which grinds that wheat into flour. The Morrigan’s change is not always the cataclysmic storm; sometimes it is the gently falling rain which, over time, will weather what even the tempest could not touch.
I think I misunderstood the Morrigan’s lesson for me. She revealed to me the tower of my subjugation, that mighty thing built of sorrow and fear, but She would not use Her power to bring it down. I thought this meant I must tear it down myself brick by brick, that Her lesson for me was that only through violent destruction of my cage could I earn my freedom. Yet one day as I clawed at the mortar with weary, bloody fingers a raven passed overhead, a black silhouette against the bright sky, and I suddenly wondered, What if I don’t tear the tower down at all? What if I just… walk away?
Sometimes the Morrigan’s change is a wrecking ball. Sometimes Her change is slow, hard labor. And sometimes Her change is choosing to leave something behind. Time will wear this tower down all on its own. Rain will soften its stones; lichen will grow in the mortar’s cracks. Flowers and grasses will take root and, seeking the sun, will break apart what is no longer strong. If I return, all that will remain is a ruin slowly crumbling back into the earth, and ruins hold no power over the present.
I am life thriving in Chernobyl’s abandoned villages. I am the truth of what happened that night on the side of Kholat Syakhl. I am a blood-stained note left in a lonely cairn which reads “all well”. I am what sank the unsinkable. I am vanished planes and empty ships and photos you cannot quite explain. I am creatures you are sure do not exist, and yet… And yet. I am your wonder and your fear and your singularly human need to understand that which has no explanation. When you gaze up at the night sky and wonder if you are alone in the universe, I am staring back. You are not alone. You are never alone.
Since I work in emergency management, my supervisor has been urging our team to document our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s good advice; nothing of this magnitude has happened in the recent past and it’s obviously fucking up a lot of our established paradigms. When experts say we won’t be able to return to the way things were Before and we need to embrace a “new normal”, they aren’t exaggerating. COVID-19 has shaken human society in a way even our recent megaquakes, which have literally shaken the entire globe, could do. So it’s good advice, yes. The problem is just that everything I have to share is so gods-damned bleak and I don’t want to seem like I’m whining when others have it much worse. I guess there’s wisdom in the telling, though, and I’m sure I’ll value these words years down the road, so here goes. I’ll go easy on you and start with…
In July 2019 I made a much-needed career pivot into my dream field of emergency management. I was hired by the Washington State Emergency Management Division (WA EMD) as a Tsunami Program Coordinator, and thus my day job consists of preparing locals for The Big One. For the last 3+ months, however, WA EMD has been activated for the COVID-19 response. This is unlike anything WA EMD has faced before and so it’s all hands on deck 24/7. That means instead of worrying about being laid off or furloughed, I’m actually working more hours than ever. My team is currently on a three-week rotation, meaning for two weeks I work my normal job and then the next week I’m activated Sunday through Saturday for 7 12-hour shifts in the state’s Emergency Operations Center. Not only is the extra pay providing a much needed financial buffer (you’ll see why), I’m receiving some great hands-on experience. No amount of online or classroom training can really prepare you the way an actual disaster can, so even though I’m way outside of my comfort zone I’m very conscious of how good this work is for me. I’m also relatively healthy, at least immune-system-wise, and glad I can help the effort to keep others safe. It’s pretty surreal to be even a tiny cog in this great machine. That being said, here’s…
I AM SO STRESSED. Between work stress, personal life stress, and all these concurrent global crises, I am absolutely filled to the brim with stress. And lucky me, my stress always manifests as flare ups of my various chronic illnesses. These days I’m just constant IBS stomach aches, migraines, carpal tunnel pain, angular cheilitis, exhaustion that’s apparently at least partly narcolepsy, and some weird uterus stuff that I’m super hoping isn’t fibroids. It’s a lot. I’m honestly surprised my shingles hasn’t come back yet, but I’m sure it’s just biding its time. On top of that, my mental health wasn’t particularly stable going into this pandemic and weirdly enough witnessing preventable death on a mass scale because those in power care more about propping up the corpse of late-stage capitalism than saving lives isn’t exactly helping. So enter the panic attacks, severe depression, and uncontrollable dermatillomania. My wife has been wonderful, though, and is basically the reason I haven’t had an actual breakdown yet. Which brings me to…
I might be more willing to find the bright side of this whole mess if it wasn’t for everything that’s happened with my wife. Just thinking about it makes me so angry I’m having trouble getting the words out so I’ll give you the tl;dr version. My wife is a truly amazing person and the world enjoys crushing her for having the audacity to be queer, Asian, and chronically ill, among other things. When COVID-19 went down she was working for a company that pretends to be progressive but is really just out for the money (what a surprise). On top of that, her position required her to be stationed in a major retail space which is considered essential and therefore never closed, nor has ever really bothered to put any employee protection measures in place. Since she has severe asthma and catches pneumonia on practically a yearly basis, my wife and I were understandably very concerned about her being in such a public-facing position. COVID-19 could quite frankly be a death sentence for her (which I think about constantly because Anxiety).
Anyway, flash forward like 2 miserable months and her employer has not only refused every accommodation she’s requested, they are actively punishing her for asking. Last week they used a note from her doctor as an excuse to cut her hours enough that she’ll lose her health insurance at the end of the month. IN A PANDEMIC. This was the final straw (she’s been taking their shit for years) and I’m proud to say she walked right the fuck out of there. Problem solved, right? Except just to twist the knife a little more, they’re refusing to give her a letter stating when her benefits will end so I can add her to my insurance plan – a technically legal but absolutely unnecessary delay that will probably force her to go without health insurance for at least all of May. Again, IN A PANDEMIC. I really can’t express how cruel they’re being without sounding like I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it’s true, and it’s happening to countless other people right now because Capitalism™. This instance just especially hurts me in particular because she’s MY people.
But wait, there’s more! Yeah, we’re not done. So on top of dealing with aaaallll this shit, my wife is also being regularly harassed in public because of her race. Yes, even in western Washington, bastion of progress (that was sarcasm) and home to a pretty sizeable Asian population. It happens every single time she goes somewhere and if it wasn’t for her refusal to let me come with her I might be in jail right now with several murder charges to my name. It’s the fucking worst. If the various feel-good COVID-19 stories ever had a chance to renew my hope in humanity, that chance has been thoroughly crushed. We really are in the Darkest Timeline.
So that’s a brief glimpse into how my pandemic is going. Which is great. Everything is great and totally fine.
…Oh right, I was supposed to record some of my observations, not just wordvomit about my life in particular. Uh, here are some non-me-centric observations for history or whatever in no particular order:
– Traffic is so light that someone has been doing donuts on the Narrows Bridge, which is fairly impressive.
– Traffic has also been so light that I can see the Olympic Mountains every night as I drive home, something usually only possible on the clearest summer days. So that’s cool, but also horribly depressing because that means the reason I don’t see them as often is air pollution.
– You ever think about how there are probably a lot of kids who are only alive right now because schools closed so early in the year that their would-be school shootings never happened?
– You can’t find wheat tortillas anywhere right now. Who’s hoarding all the wheat tortillas?- I hate to be all “I was right” but when Trump got elected I totally predicted a wide scale disaster would hit the west coast and he’d deny us aid because we’re blue states. I just thought it would be a megaquake, not a pandemic. So close.
Anyway. Have a good apocalypse everyone!
Maybe we just didn’t understand each other at the beginning and in reality we’re more alike than either of us thought. We are both selfish things, after all, and we both abhor a cage. We nurse our wounds like fine liquor. We wear our grudges like fine jewels. Look back on the things I’ve done; see that I can be as cold and as cutting as you. Have I proven myself to you yet? Do you finally recognize some small kindred shard of yourself in me, enough at least for you to desire its nurturing? There is much that only you could teach me. There is much I understand about you that no other ever will. Must we be at odds? Can we not work together?
I am the darkness in the garden. I am the stuff from which world serpents are made and the soil in which world trees are planted. I am the womb of the underworld into which Inanna descended to die and be reborn. I am pomegranate seeds and forbidden fruit. I am the river and the boat and the ferryman’s coins. I am the core of every myth, the ending and the beginning, Alpha and Omega and Armageddon.
When the N——- first revealed herself to me I had a vision-like daydream of my creation. I saw Bast in a vast darkness, the darkness of creation, and between Her cupped hands flickered a small orb of light. I knew it to be the little ember of my soul newly birthed from the infinite flame of my mother’s heart. The N——- was there in the darkness as well, for she is witness to all forms of creation and destruction, and I thought I heard her say, “That one.” My mother nodded. I took this to mean it was the N——- who chose me as scribe, who first laid claim to my fate and thus determined the path of servitude I’d follow through every life. But I was wrong.
“You think it was she who chose you,” my mother tells me now, “but it was he.” And now I understand. There was a third there in that darkness, a third who is also witness to every moment of every life: death. He chose me. He set me on this path. Of course; how could I have thought it to be any other way?
Forgive me for the years I spent stumbling toward understanding. Humans process in stories; we need a framework, an archetype, a beginning and ending, something to shape what we experience. We crave stories and you made me your scribe, so how could I have known that for you there simply isn’t a story? That you transcend cause and effect, have neither a creation nor a destruction? You exist outside of any framework I could put to words; of course I couldn’t understand that as a child. I don’t even understand it now, I just have a better grasp of how little I truly know. So much of what you have presented me is theater, right down to the sets and costumes and metaphor. Only now am I starting to glimpse the endless totality within, like peeking backstage and finding no actors, no props, only darkness. And how do you capture darkness in words when words are meant to illuminate?
You become addicted to the fall, you know. You wake on rooftops, the edges of cliffs, at open windows. You test limits, argue, rebel; self-destruct, self-sabotage, self-fulfill your tragic prophecy. You long for both the sensation of falling – weightless, helpless, careless – and the moment of inevitable impact when all the world shatters around you. Only it is you who shatters and you are grateful for it, for the violence of that sudden fragmentation and the senselessness it brings. And then you wake at the edge of the open window and you lean forward once more.
Of course I would be the one to covet the regal arrogance of Lucifer Morningstar, to yearn for the grotesque beauty of Hannibal’s madness, I who was
(given sold chosen) branded at birth with the mark of the Beast, not three little numbers but your sickle-sharp crescent moon. Whether I like it or not I have always been yours above all else, my heart promised to the Devil long before I was aware enough to comprehend the consequences. You await me at the end of every road and lurk at the dark edges of every dream. Your judgement is a collar around my neck; your dominion is a veil across my eyes. I long to be worthy of your disdainful love, yet I fear what price I might pay to secure it. You are death itself, the void of infinite emptiness – can you comprehend how easily a human life is crushed beneath the totality of your attention? And if you can… do you care?
Every day I try and fail to pass as a proper human reminds me I am still just that feral child raised by rabid wolves. I chafe at the chains with which society would bind me: family, duty, privilege, complicity. I am truly loyal to none but they who nurtured me on violence and given the opportunity I would choose that wild, brutal life over the restrictions and safety of a tamed society. Blood I understand. Bone I understand. Bared teeth I understand. But expectations and disappointments and layers of artifice? Those I can’t understand no matter how I struggle. I’m not good at subtlety, I only know how to fight or submit. Can you blame me for always reacting on instinct when instinct is how I’ve survived this long?
Falling through darkness with Death’s iron fingers a noose around my neck, I called out to you. I begged you to intercede before he crushed my last bit of life but you didn’t answer. Your radiance never pierced the darkness and so I sank through the void for an eternity. I call for you even now but you don’t hear me, or maybe you just don’t care. Do you know what he’s doing? Do you know what he wants? What options have I left then? The Moon is right here, offering his hand, and here I am in need of one to take. Could you blame me if I did? You’ve taken it too.
I ask the Oracle why I can never get a pendulum to move for me and she says, “Pendula don’t work for you because you have no sense of direction.” She describes a compass needle spinning in a wild circle, unable to orient itself to one path. It’s not a bad thing, she says, but what good is a broken compass? I don’t want all the answers, just a few. Yes or no, hot or cold, none of this come-back-later bullshit. Is that so much to ask?
The oracle stands in our kitchen in her bathrobe and slippers and tells me blood is the ultimate promise. She says an offering of blood will erase all other promises and seal the door to their paths forever. It makes me wonder how far I’m willing to go, and for whom, and for what. Perhaps this is a warning to be cautious of giving more than the situation requires, and certainly there is great wisdom in such advice… yet I would shred my flesh for you, I would bleed rivers if they might somehow unlock the one door which seems eternally barred to me. But would even that be enough for you?
I see an iron nail being driven into blood-soaked soil as dusk deepens to night. In my mind the N——- chuckles and speaks in her black smoke voice, They have tried to contain me since the beginning yet they always fail. They cannot bind me. They cannot banish me. They cannot burn me. I was the labyrinth as well as the monster within. I was the darkness in the garden. I am the house on Ash Tree Lane. How can you constrain the void?
I find the
An ocean as still as the grave
A sky as deep as the ocean
A grave as dark as the sky
You struggle to define me because you want to sort me into pre-existing categories. You see parallels with chaotic deities like Loki, Kali, Set, and knowing I am vaster than they you want to think of me as their progenitor. But I am a mother like fire is a mother; I do not create, yet what I touch I change. If I had hands, every atom in this universe would bear my fingerprints. What and whom you would see as my children are more like statues shaped from my clay or vessels containing a portion of my infinite waters. Once you’ve superseded the level of gods the rest of it is not so easily parsed. You are in a realm beyond labels now, child. You must let go of your reliance on language.
The face Bast shows me is not young. Artists always depict Her with the ripe, vibrant bloom of the maiden, all hourglass curves and taut brown skin, but this isn’t how I see Her. My mother’s face is lined by little creases above Her brows, the corners of Her eyes, the edges of Her lips. Silver hairs glint in Her long black braids. There is a softness to Her breasts and waist like one who has given Her body to the birthing and raising of many children. Her beauty is not that of potent sexuality; it is the beauty of experience, of wisdom, of time and its endless flow of joys and sorrows. It is a beauty shaped and weighted by so much care that only a goddess could bear it – but oh, is She all the more beautiful for bearing it with pride!
Reveal yourself!, I command the raging spirit as it snarls at me. Reveal yourself! It bares long fangs; its red eyes roll wildly with a feral madness. Reveal yourself! It lunges but I do not back down and I do not lower my outstretched arms. Reveal yourself!, I cry and the monstrous spirit howls in fury as my words finally dismantle its menacing facade. It shifts, shrinks, and by the time it regains its true form the howl is only a pitiful wail of despair. I kneel and pick the tiny spirit up, cup her in my hands and hold her close to my heart. She’s just a baby, a kitten barely six weeks old. That’s all the life she got this time around – six weeks. Six short weeks of fear and pain, enough time to experience the world’s cruelties but not enough time to understand them, and then death. She’s not even given the dignity of a grave because there is no one to mourn her. No one to remember her. No one to name her, even posthumously, so her spirit might know peace.
Fear, pain, death. No wonder she became so warped.
I realize I’m weeping, curled over this trembling little soul as if I can shield her from the horrors she’s already faced. Mother, I sob. Mother, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. How am I supposed to do this? I’m not strong enough to bear the weight of these truths; I’m not brave enough to open my heart to these sorrows. I fear they’ll drive me mad as well, that I’ll become a monster if I can’t gentle this awful tide of despair rushing through me. But that wouldn’t be fair to this spirit or the millions just like her who deserve recognition and empathy. If I can’t change the world completely, if there will always be innocent lives falling through the cracks, I should at least offer the solace of grief. Someone should carry the memory of all those lost souls so their brief lives weren’t in vain. I am a daughter of Bast; it is my duty and my honor. I don’t think I’m strong enough, it’s true, but I know my mother thinks I am. I must trust that is enough.
The Nameless is vast. The Nameless is ancient. The Nameless has always been and always will be. She is an old, old idea; older than humans, older than gods, older than the universes which birthed them. She is the chaos before creation and the chaos into which all creation will once more degrade. Inevitable, unstoppable, and infinitely patient. She is without fear or apology, a thing of pure will who only ever does as she pleases. She drinks galaxies, she devours stars, she cracks open planets to swallow down their molten cores. Her sharp nails unravel the tapestries of space and time, rewriting realities, tangling fates, tearing apart entire civilizations on a whim and using their bones to weave strange new worlds. Nothing escapes the Nameless; she sees all, hears all, knows all. The universe dances at her whim and so do we.
The Nameless is The One Who Never Loses. Do not think her magnanimous because she lets you choose the game; she does so because she cannot be bested and it amuses her to offer you false hope. Dice, cards, duels, riddles, you may choose any form of contest you like for she excels at them all. She won her wings in a wager, though she had to take them by force from their owner, and her fingers drip with the jeweled spoils of her triumphs. Be careful what you wager, then, and be sure it is something with which you can afford to part. However, if you are very, very clever and no small part lucky you may succeed in giving the Nameless a good challenge, or at least an enjoyable way to pass the time, and you may still come away with a blessing. Of course, whether this blessing shall actually benefit you is something you can never know until it is too late to give it back.
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 am the sun disk
I blaze! I burn! I destroy!
I see all, know all
With these words I buy
A moment of sanity
Precious yet fleeting
They slew the goddess
Buried her temples and name
Yet still she rises
Endless golden fields
Reeds whispering in the wind
There lost love awaits