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....

August continues

Two days ago, I was composing in my head a post about how much good dedicating my August to Hekate was doing for me on a purely practical level. That night, I couldn’t sleep, didn’t sleep until after 9am, and have spent the last two days mired in depression and nastiness. It’s still been doing me a lot of good. The last two days are serving as a reminder of how bad August usually is. That it’s been only a handful of days this month instead of most days is amazing, especially since this year I’m enduring August without AC in the bedroom. I’ve mostly been getting to sleep while it’s dark out, and often waking up before noon. I’ve had an improved ability to concentrate on average (depending on the heat index for the day; today was shite). I’ve been able to spend time with friends and keep social appointments. I have yet to have a screaming hissyfit at anyone at all. I remain connected to the world around me, for the most part, instead of having my head in the Underworld. Which is not to say that things have been all good or anything. I am having most of my usual health problems with the heat, aside from the severe insomnia: loss of appetite and inability to eat leading to low blood sugar, mood swings, edema, aches and pains, random welts showing up on my skin, rashes, dehydration. I’ve been caring for all of those as best I can, trying to stay on top of food, taking long cool baths, drinking as much water as I can make myself drink, painkillers and cortisone creams. And the ongoing life troubles I’m having remain, well, ongoing. But The Problem of August is better than last year, better than most years I remember. I must be doing something right. I’m still trapped inside it, but it binds less tightly. Thank you, Hekate. I’m not writing here about the dreams I have or the insights I receive or my experiences during worship. I sometimes start to, but find, once again, that my worship of Hekate is far more secretive than my worship of Dionysos. The work I do turns out to be intensely private, even when there is nothing specific that ought not be told or even that can’t be adequately communicated. I am reminded, again and again, that Hekate is a goddess of Secrets as well as Mysteries. Hidden things are hers, and therefor many things that are hers remain hidden, even if they are plain to see....

The Curved Mirror

I have a pendant that my brother gave me fifteen years ago, during his fundamentalist Christian phase. That’s significant because it’s a triskel, which was the symbol I used to for Hekate before I could find a strophalos, the wheel symbol associated with her in the Chaldean Oracles. (Now I have that tattoo’d over my xyphoid process.) But then, I had never even seen it, just read references, and certainly couldn’t find a piece of jewelry with it. It’s still pretty hard. So I used a triskel, a three-armed spiral. And my bother, knowing I used it religiously, as a symbol of my goddess, nonetheless got me a sterling silver pendant with it on. It meant a lot. It’s domed, and the concave reverse makes a wonder worrystone, perfect for rubbing a thumb over to soothe yourself. It’s also, when it’s polished, a mirror, parabolic, focusing. A tiny mirror I’m wearing, hanging from my neck, alongside my cloissonne black dog under the moon and my mano in fica amulet. A mirror hiding behind a three-way crossroads, each road spiraling out and passing the others. I look into it and see my face, tiny and upside down and distorted. August, the month I give to Hekate, is a time of inward-gazing for me, a time of exploration and examination of self. This tiny, curved mirror is a reminder of that, a way to look at myself from a new perspective....

It's Here

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...

August is Coming

August is Coming For full effect, imagine that like the “Winter is Coming” thing from the Martin series/show. This is how ominous it seems on the horizon. I rather expect that when at last I come to die, it will be during August. I am considering laying aside my normal observations for the month of August (or possibly for the lunar month that overlaps most with August, July 27 - August 25; still thinking about that), and dedicating all of my worship to Hecate. I’m not sure yet what forms that might take. I might simply make a mantic pithos, and just ask her what she wants me to do each day. I may also take the time to finish the Hekatean oracle I’ve been working on for a while. Do some deep trancework. Explore Hekate’s entourage. But shut down everything else. Cover over the other altars, after giving suitable offerings, and do not work with those gods for the month. August belongs to Hekate, and I have, of late, spent an awful lot of time on Dionysos and his associates. I belong to Hekate, and for August, I will enact that fully in my life. But tonight, it is not yet August. After a record streak of days above 80F, it is pleasantly cool tonight, with occasional sprinkles of rain. I can think. I can string together a few sentences. I have a post up on the Boukoleon. I’ve been reading more creepypastas, and found more mirrors. I made a really tasty meal for which I had all of the ingredients I wanted to have, and which my wife was actually excited by. It’s a good night. And August is Coming....