August Horrorshow

I think I'll do something a little differently this year, and keep track of what ghost stories and horror tales I consume. I'll write it up as I go and post it at the end of the month. (And now August is over, so I'm posting it.) Watching: Stranger Things, Netflix series, August 4-5 - Excellent TV, but not as scary as I'd expected. Young geeky boy in a small town in Indiana in the early 80s goes missing. Young girl with no hair turns up around the same time and can do strange things. People at the local vaguely-named government facility are freaking out and wearing containment suits. Creepiness ensues. Highlights include a Christmas light talking board, the totally awesome girl, the also awesome big sister, and lots and lots of D&D and Tolkien references. 8 out of 10, would watch again. Still, not as creepy as I wanted it to be. Not sure if that's me or the show. The Babadook, movie, August 5 - This is the one I didn't get to before August ended last year. Australian horror movie. A widowed mother and her sx-year-old son are struggling in so many ways. One of them is that the boy not only believes in monsters, but is convinced that he has to protect other people from them. So he builds shoulder-mounted catapults and dart-loaded crossbows. And takes them to school. Weird kid, obviously has some problems. Then one day he finds a pop-up book called Mr. Babadook in the house and asks his mother to read it with him. It tells about the really quite scary Mr. Babadook who, if you let him in, will make you want to die. If you don't believe in him, though, he only gets stronger... Boy believes, mom does not. Bad shit goes down, and there at the end there's a really interesting POV shift. I liked it a lot. The mom was good, the kid was good, the Babadook was an awesome monster and I want to adopt him. I was not as scared as I expected to be, even though I watched with my finger on the pause button. I'm really starting to think something's changed in me since last year. The Witch, movie, August 12. In Puritan New England, a family is banished from their town for having a variant view of the Bible. In the wilderness, things start to go wrong. A blight destroys their crops. While the eldest daughter is playing peek-a-boo with the (unbaptized, because of the whole banishment thing, this is a plot point) baby, and between one moment and the next, he's simply gone. Next, the young twins start playing with the black goat, talking to him, and refusing to obey their elder sister. The eldest boy goes missing in the woods overnight, and returns desperately ill, possibly bewitched. The children are convinced there's a witch in the woods. Good movie, very good, but not scary. The Possession, movie, August 12. A girl whose parents are recently divorced finds a dybbuk box, a chest used to imprison an evil Jewish spirit. Somehow, she manages to open the puzzlebox. Black moths, broken glass, white eyes, floating kid, convulsions, creepy voices. For a change, Jewish and not Christian folklore, including a Jewish exorcism (which I have no way of knowing how accurate it was). OK, this one was scary. I got through it only hitting pause once, though, and that was for other reasons. Big moths are going to freak me out for a while, and I suspect I'll be having that dream where I lose all my teeth sometime soon. The Shrine, movie, August 20. A reporter, against her boss's explicit instructions, takes an intern and her photographer boyfriend to Albania to investigate the disappearance of a young backpacker -- and five others over the past fifty years. Outside a small village, they find a strange cloud of dense fog hovering in and above the trees. Inevitably, they try to explore, and see something really disturbing: a statue of a demon that moves and bleeds from the eyes. The villagers, of course, have already tried to run them off once before, and now begin hunting them. There's a whole thing with an eyeless spiked mask and a sledgehammer and creepy priests. By far the goriest movie I've seen so far this month, and the one with the most jump scares, but I wasn't particularly impressed with it. The Lost Boys, movie, August 20. The cheeseball 80s classic vampire movie. I don't like vampire fiction, but even I'll watch this, since my wife wanted to. Silly, not scary, but I'm counting it. Monsters. Horns, August 23, movie. Despite the Halloween release date and the marketing, this turns out not to be a horror...

When August Comes Around

Aaaand it's back. August. The month I hate the most, which is also the month most sacred to my goddess. Whee! Last week was hot, hot enough that I was unwell, and much hotter in the house that outside (as it always is; we have big west-facing windows and little ability to get a cross-breeze going, resulting in the house becoming a greenhouse). But overall, it's been a fairly pleasant summer, weather-wise. The June Gloom continued through most of July, and over the weekend it cooled back off. It was 55F when I left the house this morning! Woo! This August I will once again be honoring Hekate by reading, watching and listening to ghost stories and horror tales. For reading, first I'm finishing up my current book, The Burning City by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which has a bunch of death spirits running around. Then on to the ghost stories! I have two megapacks of ghost stories to pick from, plus Ghosts by Gaslight, ed Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, which is steampunk ghost stories, and This House is Haunted by John Boyne. (ETA: Also, Irish Ghost Tales by Tony Locke.) For viewing, the list includes The Babadook, The Shrine, The Witch, Horns, and The Possession (wow, lots of definite articles). Also giving Stranger Things a try, which may or may not count as horror, depending on who you ask. And for listening, well, I've already been enjoying the No Sleep Podcast, which is a podcast of horror stories from Reddit. (Not horror stories about Reddit, of which there are many, but horror stories posted to Reddit.) This year there's less of a ghost theme and more of a scary-stuff theme, but I think that's suitable....

August is over

(Sorry, there was some downtime there. Back now.) Truly, Fall started this year in the last few days of August. We had rain and a winter windstorm on the 29th. My house was without power for two days solid. That never happens at this time of year. The thermometer hit 100F in June, which is also pretty much unheard of here. It’s been a freaky year for weather, and I’m kind of scared about winter. I found a link to this essay by Al Aronowitz, called “August Blues”. He gets it. The sailing ships used to get becalmed in August. August is when dogs go mad. American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell was assassinated by one of his own subordinates in August. This is the month when the sale of tranquilizers goes up. Corporate executives get their heads chopped off. Groups break up. Organizations fizzle out. August is when you start seeing things. The stars fall in August. You wake to days with the feeling you’ve already lived through them. People pass out in the street and on airplanes. The moon talks to you. August is the month of visions. It’s over now, though, well and truly. Summer’s gone. Autumn’s here. Praise gods. I’m editing the Litany to the Many Dead, in hopes of self-publishing in October. I’m picking up studying SQL and CSS again, and probably Rails soon, too. I have an idea for a Twine game to go with the Litany, but I’ll definitely need some skills I don’t have yet to pull it off. Fall is here, and I feel awake again. Time to work on things....

What the Dead Want

I've been having very poor sleep this week. Even with sleeping pills, waking up after only three or four hours, being stuck awake no matter what I do until past noon, then falling asleep again for five to seven more. I think perhaps I've been taking too many sleeping pills, and it's having a weird effect on my dreams. Because after I got up in the early evening, I got very tired again only a few hours later, and so came up to bed. This time I took no pills. (I've been taking pills at night, when I want to be sleeping, but not during the day, when I'd prefer to nap more briefly.) And I slept, and I dreamt vividly. The end of August is coming, and the Dead have said what it is that they want, as offering, as part of my service. On the last day of August, around sunset, I should go to a graveyard, make offerings of food (they want cookies), and of wine and milk and honey, and I should read a large chunk of the Litany to the Dead. Not all of it, it would take me an hour alone, but the verses that fit best, that cover as many dead as I can at once. I should maybe try sleeping without pills more often, but the new sleep meds take so long to work that it's difficult. Still, something to keep in mind....

Dead August

I've been feeling a strong pull to work more and more with the Dead this year. Between the Dionysian Dead theme (most of which was behind the scenes) for the Filled With Frenzy ritual and my own tradition of August being the Dead Time (which has multiple meanings), I've been putting off getting really deeply into it until the start of August. Now I'm devoting August to work with the Dead: the Dionysian Dead, the Hekataian Dead, the Ancestors, the Many Dead of the Litany. Any Dead. I kicked it off with the ritual group Bakcheion's private offerings and prayers to the Dead on Friday Night. I dressed in what became my "adventuring clothes" for the weekend, a black shirt with many tiny silver foil stars and black leggings with rhinestones up the side seams, plus my Dead Mask, a custom piece by my friend Dmitri at Tormented Artifacts made specifically for my ritual work with the Dead. I found myself at the lead of our procession (oops, I hadn't looked up where the park was; I put myself in the hands of Hekate, and found it anyhow). Originally, this had been a thing I meant to do for myself ahead of time. I told Sannion I was doing it, and he said, "Can I come?" Sure, I told him. "Can other people come?" Sure, but I don't write rituals for people, I'm just going to make the offering and say the prayers and that's it. "That's fine." Only we got to where I decided we were going, and I turned around and everyone was staring at me, expectantly. Well, shit. So I took the verses of the Litany that I wanted to use for the night, and made them a call-and-response. We pray to the Many Dead We pray to the Many Dead All over the world and throughout history All those who have gone before me We remember you, and hold you in my prayers We pray to the Many Dead We pray to the Many Dead We pray to the Beloved Dead We pray to the Beloved Dead Our ancestors of flesh and spirit 
We remember the names of those We knew We praise those whose names have been lost to me We pray to the Beloved Dead We pray to the Beloved Dead We pray to the Blessed Dead We pray to the Blessed Dead Those who lived great lives 
Those who were the chosen of gods 
May you continue in joy and glory below We pray to the Blessed Dead We pray to the Blessed Dead We pray to the Restless Dead We pray to the Restless Dead You whose names go unspoken You who died with things undone May you find release at last 
We pray to the Restless Dead We pray to the Restless Dead We pray to the Dionysian Dead We pray to the Dionysian Dead To the Children of Earth and Starry Heaven Whom we hope someday to join May you revel forever at our Lord’s side We pray to the Dionysian Dead We pray to the Dionysian DeadWe pray to the Many Dead We pray to the Many Dead All over the world and throughout history All those who have gone before us We remember you, and hold you in our prayers We pray to the Many Dead We pray to the Many Dead I told them that I had an offering, a promise, to make to the Dead, that anyone who wished to was welcome to repeat the lines after me, but that it was heavy, and they might not want to. Much to my surprise, two or three of them joined in, repeating each line without knowing what the next might be. I pray to the Silent Dead You have no voice; use my tongue to speak You have nothing not given to you; take my offerings You are with us always; let me know you I pray to the Silent Dead Which is scary, when you think about it, but that's what this August is about for me. And then I had done everything I meant to do, and they were still all staring at me. So I asked them if anyone else wanted to say anything to the Dead. That seemed to work. I performed the Invitation to the Dionysian Dead at the main ritual, too. Blessed Dead! Who walked, parched, past the river! Who found the spring of Memory! Who knew to say that you were Children of Earth and Starry Heaven! We are children of the same parents! We cannot yet come drink with you. We invite you to come and dance with us now! So that worked well for me. Sunday was wrapping up with Bakcheion and some Starry Bull stuff and...

I Pray to the Dead

Working on the Bakcheion ritual for Many Gods West (which we are still trying to raise money for), I am working with the Dead again. I want to establish a more regular practice with them, and possibly a necromantic one as well. At the same time, though, I've been sick, and there have been multiple miserable heat waves, leading me to scale back to the absolute most basic form of my practice, which makes expanding it at all even harder. I've been chatting with a friend about it. They're just establishing their practice as a Hellenic polytheist, and want to work with their ancestors, but are feeling a bit uncomfortable with it, partially just from being so immersed in pop culture about ghosts, and the show Supernatural in particular. I told them I've been seeing a thing around recently, I think it's a new book, suggesting that it was only after the Civil War that the American ghost story (as opposed to English ghost stories, which are their own genre) really got started. Particularly lost and wandering ghosts, like hitchhikers, certain kinds of vengeful spirits, particular battlefield spirits. That it was a psychological response to the war, an attempt to make sense of it, to deal with the aftermath. And I totally buy that. But I also wonder if that's the only reason. I said to my friend: It was an incredible psychospiritual trauma for our nation. It changed the way we, as a nation, thought and spoke about the spirits of the dead, and I strongly suspect it changed the way spirits here actually behaved. SO many dead so suddenly, so afraid and so angry when they died, with a much smaller number of spirits from the same cultures already around to help them, as had been the case before. And for the living, so many simply gone, usually just never heard from again. No confirmation that they were dead, of when or how. Just gone. All their sad hopes and dreams pinning spirits here. Families still dreamed, for years and decades, that their missing loved ones would come home, some dark, foggy night. Perhaps some did, and then were gone again, in the morning. And I made some suggestions to them on getting started. They've been reading Galina Krasskova's Honoring the Ancestors. I haven't read it, but Galina is good at what she does, so I assume it's a good book. But she's a spiritworker, a strong and devoted and specialized one, and from what my friend was saying, I was wondering if the book was maybe not a little too specialized for some people who are just finding their feet, taking their first steps. So I made a few suggests, just to get them started: It's always good to start where you are. Set up an ancestor altar. Nothing bit or fancy. A corner of a desk or end of a bookshelf. Put things there that are mementos of dead relatives. Throw in representations of ancestors of the spirit, too. Actually, a good way to start is simply to assemble for yourself an album. Old photographs, drawings, whatever. If your family won't let you have the physical pictures, scan them or take a photo of them. You can even assemble your album entirely digitally. For those too long dead to have had photos, even names and descriptions, or stories about them. Quotes from ancient poets. If someone has assembled a family tree, that's a good thing to include, too.... Before you go to bed, open the album to a random page or image, speak a brief prayer to your dead, pour out a little water or honey or milk. Thank them for their lives and love. That's all. That is the beginning of ancestor work. This reminded me of a project I've wanted to take up for a while, as a devotional act: genealogical research. So I'm starting to poke at it. My maternal uncle has actually done a huge amount of work on that side of the family, which is awesome and gives me a great place to start. On my paternal since, though, things are a little messier. My aunt, while she was still married to my uncle, did quite a bit of research on our family. She says that when she left him, she left all of that information with him. He says he has no idea what she's talking about or where it is. She's considerably more reliable than he is on most things, but all of that is still just gone. So I'll have to start fresh there. There are a bunch of genealogy sites that allow you to network with others, which would be a huge help, but ones like Ancestry, Geni, and MyHeritage, which are good for that kind of...

Power in poses

I had, somewhere along the way during the time I wasn’t actively practicing anything, no witchcraft, no religion, also fallen out of the habit of grounding and centering in the Wiccan style. Which was damn silly of me, as that’s useful. I started making it a twice-daily habit again and adding it to ritual in August, as part of my practice with Hekate. I restarted the rest of my daily practices after the dark of the moon. Today, for the first time, it finally occurred to me to try grounding and centering before doing my morning yoga, which is part of my Dionysian practice. To draw, not only breath, but energy through the poses. Wow. That was amazing. I almost went into trance in tree pose. I feel absurd and foolish for not ever doing it before. It makes me more eager to try the work with ancient poses as trance induction Aridela Pantherina has talked about. Tree pose is still very difficult for me to hold for long, but if it was that powerful, what will these other poses be like? I’ve been meaning to try this anyway, but this excites me even more....

Ferguson

I started this, oh, a couple of weeks ago, and never did finish it, as things got a bit odd here at home. Here’s what I did write, though. August is the mad time, the dead time. But August is not what’s wrong in Ferguson, although there is both madness and death there. The death is that of Michael Brown, and the potential death of so many others there, every night that weapons are aimed and tear gas thrown, but the madness is not that of the protestors and crowds. The madness is the increased militarization of police in a world where cops are safer than they have been at any time in almost a century and a half. The madness is the cops behaving as if they are in a war zone when violent crime has been falling for decades. The madness is the police deciding that the people they are sworn to protect and serve are enemy combatants. The madness is also racism. The personal racism of individual police officers (and their supporters across the country, the racism of Darren Wilson, but also the institutional racism embodied in a police force of 54 members were 3 are black, in a town where the population is 67% black. The racism of a national media and audience that seeks to put the victim on trial because he’s black rather than his white killer....

Ghost Stories

The literary ghost story is, alas, a nearly dead (if I may be excused the pun) form in the US. Ghost stories are short things to tell around campfires to scare kids, and, as often as not, don’t involve ghosts at all, but serial killers or zombies or werewolves. Americans write horror stories, not ghost stories, and they’re relegated to genre fiction rather than being considered as having much literary merit. I love a good ghost story, though. The other day I noticed in a new-and-used bookstore a book called The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill. I was intrigued by the title and blurb, but didn’t pick it up, having no money to spare. I did make a note of it for later, though, as I often do. Saturday, the slip of paper that fell out of my jar said “read something creepy”. When we went out, I opened up a bunch of tabs from the Creepypasta Wiki and The Ghost in My Machine, one or the other of which will usually provide me with something to raise goosebumps. I also dug up an ebook of The Mist in the Mirror. Both Creepypasta and Ghost in My Machine failed me, the “random” button on the former providing really rather dully written and juvenile pieces, and the latter having several interesting entries I had not yet read, but nothing spine-tingling, no delicious frisson to remind me of the other side of fear, opposite the dull and mundane fears I gave up to Hekate. So I temporarily left behind the collection of urban fantasy short stories I’d been reading and immersed myself in the Victorian setting of the ghost story instead. I couldn’t put it down. Kept reading while my head ached and my eyes blurred. An excellent story, very much in the Victorian style, though published in 1992. (Ms. Hill is a much better-known author in the UK than the US, by the way. She’s written over 40 books, including The Woman in Black, basis for a long-running play, and has a number of awards and her own small press.) It was, naturally, the title which first attracted me, as drawn as I am to mirrors, but there were so many other delightfully and quietly creepy things: the ragged young boy following the protagonist, the weeping in the night, the malevolent presence that watches him, the appearing and vanishing doors and rooms, the parrot, the old woman in the scarf, the old woman in the Hall for whom he has searched so long, and, of course, the sinister mystery of the protagonist’s once-hero. The misted mirror shows up only a few times, but is used to good effect. This has turned into a book report, hasn’t it? That wasn’t the idea at all. Ghosts, the unquiet shades who walk the earth, are part of Hekate’s retinue. She finds them and takes them in, leading them on her own paths, eventually to rest, but first on many journeys. They run in her midnight hunts (and what does she hunt?), dance their half-forgotten steps in her processions. So inevitably, I love a good ghost story. It really is such a shame that we’ve abandoned them in this country. Oh, well. Now I have a trove of Susan Hill’s to read. Perhaps I ought to save a couple for December — Christmas is the traditional time for ghost stories in England — but I doubt I will....

Heat and Rain and Fear

Despite my complaints about the heat this month, this entire summer — since May, actually, which is spring here — there’s been an odd pattern of several days of heat (by local standards; I’ve had Christmasses in Florida that were this hot) followed by a few days of cool rain. The other day in particular was pretty oppressive. Hot and humid, hazy, not a breath of wind, with a high thin cloud cover. It was stifling. It’s why I didn’t sleep that night, didn’t sleep until 9am the next day, which continued hot and muggy. Before I first starting trying to get to sleep, in the gloaming of false dawn, I drummed to the Hyades and prayed for rain. It took eighteen hours, but the rain came. Then the last two days were cool with rain on and off. Rain is a great blessing. I am reminded that I seem to have received instructions to pay cultus to the Hyades, the nursemaids of Dionysos. But that’s for next month. It will be good to celebrate the renewal of the rains, after the mental and spiritual dry season of August, even a surprisingly damp August. But I must remain present in August for now, and not look ahead too much. Today was the thiasos of the Starry Bull’s Hekatesia, their festival in honor of Hekate. I don’t celebrate most of their festivals — one of the reasons I consider myself to be a fellow-traveler rather than a member, adjacent to rather than part of — and after reading the suggested ritual, I found myself somewhat ambivalent about celebrating this one, despite the way a festival in this month dovetails with my own work. But after reading this account tonight, I decided to do it anyway. I didn’t make it to a crossroads, for various reasons, but my ritual tasks for the day were a cleansing bath and a food offering (it’s unusual that two slips fell out of the jar, usually it’s only one), which seemed suitable to the ritual, so I combined them otherwise. I boiled three eggs, and took my bath, and then went into the ritual room. I inscribed each egg with a single fear, and made an offering to Hekate of both food and fear, to let her feast upon both. She is, among other things, a goddess of fear, because she so often inspires it , and because fears are so often hidden things. She is a goddess of cleansing and purification, and I hope that she will make me clean again, and that while she will not take my fears from me, she will take away the contamination they spread through my life. I have been devoured by these fears for months now, along with others that derive from them. These fears combine with my depression to paralyze me, to numb me, not only to many daily joys, but to the presence of the gods and spirits I honor. That is what I pray she will take from me. It’s up to me, otherwise. Only I can fight these fears. Only I can overcome them. Only I can make them untrue. She can help me when I cannot do it alone, but she cannot do it for me. She can only lend me strength, give me tools and advice....