Field of Dreams and Mirrors

Halloween night, I did my regular ritual, including a brief check-in with my Dead via oracle deck. (I used to do a whole thing for the Dead on Samhain, but the farther into Hellenism I get, the less interested I am in that.) And then I put down a few more cards to see what happened, and what happened was a message for a friend. Part of that message was, "If you build it, they will come." Which made me snicker at first. I mean, really, that kinda cheesy 80s movie Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner. What a funny thing to reference. A movie about a man who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield. And then a bunch of... dead... ball... players... show up... Huh. Way more relevant than I thought. Maybe I should watch that movie again... Which led to a new verse for the Litany: We pray to the Athletic Dead From ancient Olympians to modern players All you who strove in physical contests Who reached for the prize of pure motion We pray to the Athletic Dead Writing that verse led to writing others, seven in total, but I'll save the rest for the next edition of the book. A few more bouts of inspiration like that, and I might have enough for it by Anthesteria. And then somehow my wandering thoughts got onto the Dead and mirrors. It's a long association. The idea that the newly Dead can get caught up in or confused by mirrors leads to the tradition of covering them in a house of mourning. The tradition of mirrors as windows for the Dead and other spirits (think of Bloody Mary). And a classic tool for a Necromanteion, or oracle of the Dead, is a mirror that never sees more light than that of a single candle. And so on. And it occurred to me that a small mirror might not be a bad feature of an ancestor shrine, so that they can look at you and see themselves in you, and so that you can look into it and see them in your own face. I think it's not what I want for my shrine -- I want a serious necromantic mirror when I add a mirror -- but it might be nice for someone else's....

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....

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....

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....

More Mirrors

I was reading a piece on The Toast called Games You Shouldn’t Play, which includes the famous Bloody Mary and a couple of games out of Reddit’s creepypasta called the Midnight Game and Three Kings. I don’t know if the Midnight Game includes mirrors, but Three Kings apparently does, and sounds like some form of divination. (There are links to more about them, but I’m offline as I write this, and haven’t investigated them yet.) It goes on to talk about some of the optical effects that create the scary things we see in mirrors when we look at them too long, especially in low light, like Troxler’s fading and the Caputo effect (go look at the article, it’s got explanations). Many skeptics are of the opinion that demonstrating that these effects occur, figuring out what physiological or psychological causes they have, naming them and studying them disproves that magic and divination that makes use of them works, just as they think that proving that the human brain will construct patterns where no pattern can be empircally proven to exist somehow means that no patterns actually exist in places where some people see patterns and others do not. (They also, as my wife pointed out, assume that because there is one identified effect, all vaguely similar phenomena can be attributed to that effect, which is absurd.) I say that instead, they demonstrate some of the mechanisms by which these magics and divinations work. Magic and divination both work partially by means of altered states of consciousness, and by means of symbols. Randomizing elements and them observing them to find patterns tells us things that we can’t easily learn otherwise precisely by giving us access to patterns and to other states of consciousness. Many magicians and diviners and spiritual technicians have said these things over the years. We’ll continue to say so, and skeptics will continue to scoff, and I don’t really care. But mirrors. Mirrors are magic....

Mirrors, Liminal and Interstitial

I have been, for as long as I can remember, fascinated with in-between places. With doors and windows and elevators, with foothills and beaches. Crossroads. Corners. Thresholds. Gaps. Cracks. Magic, of course, is always bound up with these things, with the liminal and the interstitial. And Hekate, of course, is a goddess of these things. Hekate of the Three Ways, Hekate of the Threshold, Hekate Who Stands In the Gate. My fiction reading lately has been stirring up some of this. First it was The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein, which is laced with fairytales and doorways and unused rooms, with spiders and enchanted sleep, and with magic hills. It never uses the term “liminal”, but this is precisely what the title refers to. Child of a Rainless Year, by Jane Linskold, uses the term liberally, in ways taken from mythology, psychology, magic, art theory, and more. It discusses both the concept and the practicality more directly. The magic in it makes much uses of mirrors, too. I keep sort of… brushing past mirror magic. Flirting with it, glancing off it, doing some research and then backing away, buying mirrors and then leaving them in their boxes. It’s complicated for me. As a woman, I’ve been told my whole life to care greatly about my looks, and to be incredibly critical of them, and as a fat woman I’ve been told to hate my body. When I decided I didn’t want to do these things, my reflection became something I avoided, since it tended to trigger a relapse into self-criticism. I lost track of what my own face looked like. Later, I would force myself to look in mirrors, to really see my face and body, to understand them, to find things I liked. I was fascinated with mirrors as objects, but had trouble with them because of my own reflection, which always got in the way. When I moved into this house, the first house I owned, I bought a lot of mirrors, whatever appealed to me. I wanted to hang them all in the bedroom, make a wall of mirrors, in different shapes and sizes, with and without frames. I bought an antique dressing table with a triple mirror, and an old freestanding full-length mirror, both in dark woods. Most of the mirrors, though, stayed in boxes or bubble wrap, and none of them were ever hung. One, a large round mirror framed in driftwood, is now the centerpiece of my Dionysos altar, although it remains draped unless I’m actually working with it, because it’s not meant for casual gazing, and not meant to be seen by others. Actually, most of the mirrors — the standing mirror and the ones on the vanity especially — that aren’t in the bathrooms are usually draped, as if in a house where there’s been a death. My wife dislikes looking in mirrors more than I ever did, and doesn’t want to catch one unexpectedly. I have no problem with that. She feels what she feels, and I am, of course, going to respect that. It turns out to be a good thing I never put up all those mirrors. I doubt I could ever have convinced her to spend time in my bedroom (before it was ours) if they were there. There’s power in an exposed looking glass, an eye on the world, showing us what’s there, making us look at reality by showing it to us backwards. Standing as a window, a doorway, to other places, too, showing the house where Alice went, where she found the Garden of Living Flowers and the Chessboard. Giving spirits a glimpse of the mortal world, letting them look out at us. That’s where the tradition of covering mirrors when there’s a death comes from, you know: a newly-dead shade, looking for the way to the next life, can be trapped there, too caught up in watching their loved ones to move on. Covered mirrors have power too; secrets, hidden worlds, an implication that the dead visit here. Our mirrors are not covered with intent, and the mirrors left uncovered break that symbolism, but they stand to remind me. But the act of covering and uncovering my altar mirror does have intent and meaning, stands for a mystery I have seen, allows me to touch on it again. I think now of necromantic mirrors — necromancy in the Greek sense, divination by communication with the dead — of transformative mirrors in triplicate, to stand between, and find the change I want among my many reflections, and bring it forth; of mirrors of illusion. I have a mirror for truth and a black mirror for scrying already, though I use them rarely. Child of a Rainless...