Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Dead You Know / Diaspora of The Dead / Holy Supper.

Memento Mori

I remember my first experience of "death" - it was a relative, I don't know who. I did not understand why everyone was upset and sad. I did not understand why someone was in a box. The second experience was my great-grandmother passing. I still didn't understand what was going on, or why maw-maw as in a box. But I understood that Maw-maw wasn't in there, not really.

Then, like a lot of kids, I had a short-lived pet and I thought I almost had it, then. It was ugly and awful and why would a good god do a thing like this? And then came living on a farm, where animals dying was normal, and explained. But people? Still clueless on that front, and then a... boy I really had a heart-on for died, and I turned into an emo little turd - I took his death as a personal insult from a spiteful demiurge and a source of torment from the world around me to punish me for some unknown crime.

Then my grandmother died... and I still didn't understand it completely. I understood the mechanics, I understood the biology. I did not understand the psychology - I was a pretty newly minted witchling, and even though she wasn't in her flesh, her spirit was never absent, always visiting in dreams and leaving the scent of her perfume around. She was in 'heaven', her suffering was done - Why are we crying? She was kicking it with big J and the Angels.

But I felt utterly, utterly, guilty for not feeling really, really, really bad. Now, another fifteen or so years later, my last grandparent has left the world. And I get it now. It took me a lot longer than most to leave the swoon of childhood innocence and skillful, wonderful, constructive self-deception to simply mourn.

Working With The Dead You Know.
The Ancient faiths from which modern Witch practices descend (in part) were not working with strangers from strange lands in most of their work. They were not working with vague archetypes, or spirits with no verifiable history. The only people who had ever died on their soil were their people, family members, ancestors, cousins, brothers, friends, and companions. And so, since that Ancient spirit-worker and I share the same sort of human brain, and the same sort of feelings of "love" and "empathy" - I've come to suspect that there was no fucking around when it came to their beloved dead.

I know a lot of people who will happily trudge into the muddy mire of discussing the suffering state of a soul or spirit - hell, I do it to when it is part of figuring the spirit out (see "Unseelie"). They will get down into specific details of it's rage, sadness, and ire. And I wonder, would they do it if that soul had been one of their tribe? Someone they knew, loved, treasured and mourned. I don't think they would be so quick to have a circle jerk of suffering.

The Not Fucking Around.
It's different. When a co-worker died a while back... He and I got a lot closer. I had gone to bed early the night his life ended, and dreamed what happened. I was there with him when he slipped his skin like an ecstatic, and never came back. I walked him through the first hours of his new existence.

With those gentle nudges and subtle words wizards are supposed to use, I find out the details behind "Jim" and his non-work life. His family are heartbroken, but they are also glad to have someone to vent to. And I learn that even though I did not know him that well in life the way I see him in death is a flawless image of how he was outside of the office. Which means it's not a dream. So, sometimes when I'm asleep I go out of myself and visit him. I take my time to explain where things are in "Project Get Jim Closure", and to use the full extent of whatever authority I can get to help ease his situation. I bring him things he likes, and try to cool his frustrations. I try to get answers to pass on - in that wizzardy way - and that's the worst part of all.The Not Fucking Around part - the part where I have to lie, and give lip service. And pretend it's not happening.

Death is a one-way street to most people. When you breach the line, and start to speak of the dead as though they continue on ("Is" rather than "Was") you're driving the wrong way in traffic. You're bringing back something unholy and unnatural - right? I mean, that's what the stories say. Everyone's unholy and unnatural when you resurrect even the shade of their memory.  It's hard... and it hurts.

I leave him things - Coffee, Cigarettes... sugary-carbo-treats. I lie by omission. Jim is dead and in heaven and at peace and at rest and death is a one-way street. No one drives the wrong way. We're all very, very, safe.

The Diaspora of The Dead.

I did the Holy Supper challenge last year, more or less. I made a pot of heavy oxtail stew and served a bowl to the nearly desolate crossroads. I had splashed the stone arch with a pint of beef blood that steamed and froze to it. And I thought that this year would be the same - Feed the spirits, share drink with them, walk away before I tread into territory that drove the wrong way in traffic.

December 19th - The Wild Hunt roared in.  It was loud and violent. If one listened with the right ears they would hear the fists of the dead beating at the windows, the gutters, and the walls.  I toss and turn, I am restless. It's the middle of Winter and I cannot help myself - I crack the window only slightly, and feel their hands rush in for me. I am gripped by the shirt-collar of some internal part of myself and I am wrenched from my flesh by bony fingers. I run, leap, slither and soar with them. I am as wild as the worst of them, and tree limbs break under our furious rattling.
December 20th - I leave my skin of my own volition this time. It is not the rushing madness that greets me, but a slow procession of souls. These are not the restless, these are the lost and wandering.  They cannot dissipate, because they are forgotten and because they have forgotten. The homes they would have returned to have dissolved into the mud, or been torn down. The world they know has changed so utterly, so drastically, that there is nothing left for them to recognize.
"Where am I?" One of them asks me. Her accent is thick, spilling over her lips with tonality of the Ukraine.
"Oklahoma. Er... Indian Territory? Er... essentially in the middle of the Continent? America." I explain.
"I made it, then. Good."
"Yeah, you made it, Ma'am."
"Good, good." She says, vacantly. She pats me on the shoulder and keeps walking - her eyes never stop their searching sweeps.

The world is blackness. There are fires licking at the sky everywhere, but the fires are dim and gray to me, surrounded by charcoal-drawn people of every culture and shape. And far in the distance, beyond shifting forms that come in and out of focus (as though into a circle of light around myself) I see a fire of red and orange bursting against the bleakness around it.  Yet, before I can reach it I wake, aching in my bones with cold.

December 21st - "The end of the world". The Wild Hunt, The Furious Hordes, they've come and eaten the unwary. They've sucked the sap from the trees, and licked honey from bowls until their tongues had rasped the glass like etching solution. The lost and wandering have trampled the grass flat at the crossroads, and secreted away the honeycakes. It is quiet.

I take bread and stew down to the crossroads. It's unseasonably warm, and so I stay there. I allow myself the potentially dangerous act of leaving my skin at that place (I salt it so no one else tries it on while I'm out) and walk through the gloaming world between the day and night. And I found my ancestors there. I may not know names, or faces, or places, but I have struggled to recall them, and DNA is reaching out.

I am a mutt. Because of that I feel hard-pressed to say I have a "heritage" - I have ancestors of Name that I can find among the Scottish clans, and of Irish farmers. Of English glaziers and shipwrights. I have German hill-dwellers, and Native American survivors. Spaniards and Frenchmen who piloted boats through black swamp waters. I have ancestors of Story who I cannot find, because they were not given the dignity of names or headstones from which to take rubbings. And a history with the soil under my feet that isn't even as long as my own life, but shockingly, personally, intimate.

None of my blood is from this soil. Not a drop of it. Not the Scottish, the Irish, the English, the Germans. Not even the Native Americans - this was only their land by force. Before that they were from the Great Lakes and the East Coast.

And yet, everywhere I go I take them with me. In my heart. Literally. In slow, thudding, rushes.  It isn't a one-way street. It is not a line. It is not a "Tree". It is the tidal surge of blood pumping out and returning. Life, death, life, death. Forgetting and being forgotten is just bleeding out.

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