I write, sometimes, in entries I never post, about my insomnia, and what happens when my sleep pills (which I take almost every night) don’t work. I’ll take my usual half-pill (recommended dose for women is half that of men), put on an audiobook I know well soft and low, and set a sleep timer for thirty or forty-five minutes. If I’m still awake when it cuts off, I take the other half and set the book going again. If I’m still awake when the book goes silent the second time, I get up, trying not to wake my wife, and go downstairs. I get a snack, and some hot milk or cocoa, and I have a shot of whiskey. And then I wait a little while, reading.
One of two things happens. Either I finally, finally start getting sleepy, and I go to bed, or I find myself filled with an odd, restless energy and an altered consciousness. Sometimes I do something practical — cleaning some random thing in a disorganized fashion, or trimming the bramble that’s taken over the yard — but usually I find myself in the ritual room, doing whatever occurs to me to do. I do magic then, touching gods or spirits more closely than I usually can without extensive ritual preparation. I find myself building a frame loom from thorny branches, or chanting a new spell while I spin, or coming to better understand Hekate the Destroyer by cleaning the dead leaves and blossoms out of the vines in the window, or drumming softly but insistently for hours, or crooning as I grind incense. Sometimes I write about whatever I’ve done before I finally climb back into bed and fall asleep. The next day, it all seems distant and dreamlike, as altered states often do later, but there’s the loom, or the thread, or the incense, or the writing. Whatever I might have come to understand in those hours stays with me, though.
It’s not something I do on purpose, or indeed can do on purpose. Those pills put me to sleep far more often than not, and intentionally staying up after taking them does not have the same effect. Even if I could achieve that state deliberately, doing so regularly would make the pills useless for actually getting to sleep, and it’s unlikely my doctor would prescribe both those and another one for the same purpose. And I believe quite firmly that mind-altering substances used for ritual purposes should be used solely or primarily for those purposes, to treat them as sacred. (I do drink alcohol, including wine, for pleasure as well as for ritual, but I always drink them with an awareness of their sacredness, and do not get drunk except intentionally and ritually.)
I decided to begin my August observances with the dark of the moon, to track my ritual cycle of descent, madness and death to the lunar cycle. On the day of the dark of the moon, I thoroughly cleaned the ritual room and made offering to Hekate. On the day of the new moon, I dedicated a pithomanteia jar to Hekate, filled with little rolled slips of handmade paper impregnated with saffron threads and poppy seeds, each with a different devotional task on it. I drew one, and performed my task both then and before I went to bed.
But when I went to bed, I couldn’t sleep, and I spent hours in the ritual room, working. Four or five hours, I think. It went past the usual altered state and over into mania. I cleaned, too, the bathroom sink and the tub, unable to settle, unable to think. Since I’d first gone to bed around dawn, it was past noon by the time I went back and finally slept. Now I’m trying to roll my diurnal cycle around all the way, intentionally staying up twenty hours at a stretch, hoping to settle on a cycle that’s closer to my wife’s, and is more conducive to our lives. It is, however, much too likely that I’ll simply keep rolling, unable to sleep for much too long as a stretch, unable to stop, unable to settle. My body’s acting oddly in other ways. My ears itched and burned for an hour and a half. The skin on one knuckle — only one — is swollen. I had a speckle of red spots in a small area on my belly for a couple of hours, with no accompanying sensation at all. That’s just today. It’s hot out, and bright, and my head hurts, and I can’t sleep for many hours yet.
August is here, whatever the calendar says, and Hekate is the only refuge I have, cold comfort.