Pre-caffeination ramble here, as I collect my thoughts from a week of travel, ritual, community, and devotion…
I arrived at Boston’s Logan International yesterday evening, having spent the entire 3,000+ mile flight doing some pretty intense ritual trance stuff (apologies to anyone awkwardly sitting near me on that flight…) and today is all about settling and spending the day with my corvid-kid, who is a feathery delight of excitement in seeing me returned.
But first, a brief overview of the last eight days of madness and travel and community and family and devotion.
I flew into California on the 12th, and coming in over the mountains by plane was *intense*, spiritually: I spent a lot of years with those mountains and that land and those waters and my blood is in them and they are in me somewhere near the marrowed core of who I am, today, because place fucking matters, even and especially when I am not with and in and around it anymore. Flying into the sphere of energy we call the San Francisco Bay Area — which I called “home” for over a decade — was like running into an ex and realizing you weren’t quite as over things as you’d thought, no matter how amicably things had ended. So that happened.
And then some dear friends and allies through the Coru Cathobodua picked me up at the airport — because how else would a Thracian arrive, but with a warband of corvids? — and there was promptly Guinness and the flesh of our enemies (and/or some cattle) served up in a pub. The later highlights of this day include handling Haitian boa constrictors (which were absolutely lovely) at the East Bay Vivarium (which I miss being local to…) before settling in at the home of another corvidy-allie for an evening of gyros, Raven Eye Imperial Stout, over-spending my liquor budget pretty much immediately (for offerings and rituals, mostly…) at BevMo (which I also miss…) and then somewhere in there I tried to eat some copper talismanic metals, which I thought were cookies, and then I think I was wisely put to bed.
Thursday was a day of tattoos at Dream Masters with Svetlyo, who is one of my best friends and conveniently also the artist of the in-progress devotional tattoo sleeve on my right arm. This was a high-pain day for me, not because of the tattoo process itself — I have virtually no pain response to tattooing — but from the contortion work I needed to do with my horrendously nerve-damaged and chronically maligned arm to get it in the right position for the work. This was a bit more physiologically triggering for me than expected, and brought up some felt (rather than remembered) flashbacks to times of restraint and breaking bones and burning — because childhood should always leave a mark or two — and I was humbly and deeply reminded of my own edges, and the staggering depths that await just over them, in those spots where the guard-rails have maybe rusted out a bit. I was reminded in this process just why issues of consent, boundary, and freedom are so immeasurably important to me on a human level, in addition to the fact that each of my gods emphasizes these as paramount in Their worship and rites. (It is an interesting quandary for the ages: did I encounter the sort of torture that I did in youth because of who my gods were, to highlight the import of those lessons and the liberties that lead away from them, or did my gods find me because of these experiences? Given that my memory of relation with and to Them predates my memory of such things, in a linear sense it would seem answered; but who amongst us is still fool enough to give merit to linear consideration?)
Post-tattoos there were many hugs and then off again, for many drinks and — most importantly — some very moving and intimate (no, not like that) offering rites with a certain War Goddess, in which we assembled priests (three in count) experienced and witnessed some interesting and somewhat precedent-setting moments. Witnessing ritual events that get taken up and driven by the spirits and gods of our traditions — or other people’s traditions, for that matter! — is always a beautiful and vitally affirming thing. However, witnessing ritual events that there is just no prior framework for, or given moments that defy the laws of physics — or even bend the accepted norms of certain spiritual technologies — is a blessing so humble and resolutely profound that I can’t begin to offer words to recount. So instead I will simply say, it was a good night, and it is a damn good time to be a polytheist. (It was also very very personally moving to make offerings at this particular shrine statue, because it is Her form from my Temple, left here in capable hands of capable priests, when I moved.)
The conversations of the evening were hospitality, place, sacrifice, death, warriorship in our post-post-modern age and — of course — alliance, kinship and friendship across distance, time and circumstance. I processed in sacred space my own edges from earlier, discussing from a place of rising calm the challenges that I returned to, with my arm twisted back. I laughed a bit, at my own expense, as here I am somebody who can break a leg and walk it off over a few months of living in -45 degree winters in a van, but having my arm twisted round for consented sacred and devotional tattoos brought an opening of floodgates and a prone warrior’s savage rage, breathed through and controlled; PTSD is fascinating, humbling, heavy, and I count the blessings of my gods when I am able to learn more about how that weave works its way through the somewhat tattered and stained tapestry that my gods have woven me to be. I thank my gods for the lessons, guidance, and blessings granted throughout my life, which allow me to sit in abject terror with a retained sense of dignity, and the strength to look at trauma and darkness and pain and see where I still have work to do. Because we all have work to do. What I do today allows me to be that much more useful to others tomorrow; this world has no shortage of others reaching for purchase to pull themselves to safety from similar in their own lives and stories.
People sometimes ask me why I would “choose” to work with gods who are as dark, or terrible, or painful, or extreme, or heavy as the ones that I do. Firstly, I made no choices, but I would choose Them in an instant just the same. In an age of complacency and comfort-seeking blindness, my gods have shown me just how versatile and exceptional human-formed beings and tenacious Will can be, when circumstances are shifted from comfort. I am sometimes mis-perceived as a “doom and gloom” Thracian, which is not necessarily untrue; but from this vantage in the gutters and burial mounds and wind-swept wild ditches, I see only hope in humans, and a flickering thing which can and should and must be rekindled to roaring light to move forward in our lives, our devotions, and our communities. I count my scars as blessings, for each carried a death in part or whole, and each of these brought me closer to understanding life; this is the language of my gods and the katabastic curriculum of my tradition. From the rubble resulting from a nine-day-fall, one can look up and around with a renewed clarity and perspective literally not achievable beforehand. My religion is built upon that tenth day, of shallow breath and spinning head and bleeding earth and sweat-stung eyes and if there is not at least a touch of terror, how can its opposites ever be appreciated?
Hail! to the Terrible Gods, who I know also in their lighter and more inspiring roles; but Hail! to Them here as the tarnished ones, the jagged ones, who oversee lovingly the spiking pains and hallowed depths that bring such clarity and grace, if given chance and guidance. Hail! to the gods of the spaces between all things, to those who overflow the edges and lay barren the rivers and then flood them again with the blood of every fear you can ever conceive. Hail! to the gods who hold a mirror darkly before us, in which we might finally meet ourselves as we are, rather than as we wish ourselves to be. Hail! to the gods, whose love is madness and death, and in whom I find hope in despair, strength in broken weakness, alliance in a sea of enemies and solid earth in a sea of change.
I could keep on going, but… this is merely the Prolog Blog, and soon there will be Part the First, of the PantheaCon sprawl.
Stay tuned. I need coffee.