#28HourWritingChallenge : The Day I Received Death

Naga Kanya Image from elikozoe.net
Naga Kanya
Image from elikozoe.net

I’ve always “walked on the Dark Side,” from my days as a high school Goth kid through my explorations of Witchcraft, I’ve never feared the shadowy depths. So it was unsurprising to me when I took a job working at a funeral home. I was 22 and knew that this was a part of my spiritual work. It was indeed an initiation of its own kind during a period of intense spiritual work and transformation, and I got a crash course in working with the Spirits of the Dead. Looking back I see how it was all interconnected.

I had been working towards my Reiki attunements for a couple of months. Receiving my Reiki 1 had left me a very sudden vegetarian, unable to stomach meat any longer. The Reiki work had opened up centers of compassion and empathy that I had not tapped in to, and I was feeling quite open and raw and vulnerable to the world.

It was now early fall, and our group was ready to receive the Reiki 2 attunements. Our teacher also coordinated regular shamanic retreats with experienced practitioners from the area, and offered attendance at the retreat to us as a part of our training. We met on Friday evening to receive our attunements, and then prepared for the retreat weekend.***

It never occurred to me that an initiation into working with energy that was considered “light” would open me up to a much more intimate connection with the “dark.”

Our first activity on Saturday was a women’s sweatlodge. As a bunch of women’s spiritualists/Dianics/Feminists, the general consensus was that sweatlodges were an ‘unnecessary punishment on the body’*** so everyone agreed to a modified sweat in which after each pour you could go outside if you chose. Of course, this was Florida and though it was fall it was still as hot and humid outside the lodge as it was inside.

It was here that I received my first strong encounter with Hekate. Her Strophalos spun in front of me and Her face radiated at me, from the steam, behind my eyes, all around me… I couldn’t tell where She was exactly except everywhere. Her message shook me to the bones.

Later, I went for a walk in the scrubby, swampy forest where we were camping, and came upon a tree that introduced me to the Phoenix… this spirit, this tree, had been burned multiple times, and also had a message for me. Life and Death were here, intimately connected.

The next day the whole group (the retreat was open to the community and to all genders) gathered in the hall for more teachings on shamanism and a journey. Many covens and groves held regular rituals here, so the place was already steeped in magic.

The teachers did their thing, talking to us about forms of journey work, and introducing us to the method that would be used. Finally we all settled down, lying on the cool floor or on blankets, and the teachers began chanting and drumming. My teacher spoke to us and asked for our guides to make themselves known.

Suddenly, the chanting I heard in my head was Naga Naga Naga Naga… and I saw a great serpent slide over and rise above me. First she appeared entirely as a snake, then she shifted and her tail was of a green serpent and her torso was that of a woman, large wings spread from her back, and snakes rose above her head. She too had a message for me, and then began to sing.

She said “This is your death song. Use it well” That chant would continue to reverberate in my mind for months, deepening and swirling in serpentine beauty.

I chanted it around fires of transformation, I sang it over waters of sorrow, I hummed it over the deaths of loved ones. I sing it whenever I encounter a land that has been raped and razed.

This was only the beginning of my work as a keeper of the dark, guardian of the unseen and the forgotten, unafraid of the shadow places and the depths of human and non-human suffering. The work continues to unfold, and sometimes all I can do is bear witness. Sometimes all I can do is sing.

And sometimes, I forget the power of it. I forget this gift that I was given. I forget to sing. And then, it will start to hum in my mind, the incantation never forgotten, the blended tones and cantillation of innumerable voices from aeons past and future reverberating in my body until I can no longer contain it and it erupts from my throat and pours from my mouth in an ecstatic sadness. The Naga rises above me again, her wings wide, her tail uncoiled, her hands cupping the joy and sorrow and wisdom. Then I remember the duty I have, the responsibility I have been given, the witnessing that I must bear. A tear falls from my eye, and I seek out the land that calls to be sung for.

***Since this time, my feelings about participating in “shamanic” retreats that incorporate spiritual practices of the First Nations have shifted. But at the time, it was a potent experience that eventually led me to a deeper understanding of Indigenous cultures.

#28HourWritingChallenge : May Day, MayDay

Hour Four (reminder that these are first thoughts and unedited)

Alex Grey
Alex Grey

Rise. Rise. Rise up.
Fire curling, swirling
at the root of you
Radical, root of you.

Do not resist
Desire burns within you,
This serpent of tantric flame
has a purpose far greater
than the physical, sexual.

It is burning you from the inside out
Razing you of your illusions
and your apathy
Re-membering you
of the power you possess.

Rise. Rise. Rise up.
Let the undulations root you
into the ecstasy of resistance
Resist the power outside of you
The passion filling you
and moving you
to action.

#28HourWritingChallenge : The (Not So) Wild West

71603_450779034367_1863101_nHour Three

It was Day Four of my westward drive, my overloaded (Subaru) wagon hauling me, my four-legged companion, and the possessions I had determined were worth holding on to toward our new life in the mysterious emerald city of San Francisco. The lush mountains of North Carolina felt very far away as I drove through endless miles of barren desert, desert sage scenting the air. I gathered a bundle of it from the roadside and placed it next to the Athena statue on my dash. “I’m not really sure what I’ve gotten myself into, but I’ll take all the blessings I can get”.

It had been hours since I’d passed through a town of any note, when suddenly I started climbing mountains. This was a welcome change for my exhausted and road-hypnotized eyes and I navigated the high speed (70mph speed limit?!) curves with pleasure. As I curved around the final mountain side and started a downhill descent, a city expanded in my vision, filling an entire valley. It had been a very long four days, hell four months really, and I was rather caught off guard by this, particularly following the hours of isolation.

The voice spoke: “This is Reno. You will be back here again. But don’t stay… do not stay.”

I swatted the voice away. It had been an exhausting four days, and an even more hellacious four months, and I was in no mood for strange messages. “What the hell are you talking about? I’m going to San Francisco! Why would I leave there for Reno?! Screw the desert.”

I could feel the sigh and pestering at the edge of my awareness, but I knew I had one of the most challenging, and the final, legs of my journey ahead of me. “Later. I need to concentrate.”

26 months later, I was driving a minivan behind a rental truck as we navigated Donner Summit at night in the rain, heading to Reno. I’d met a guy who after 14 years was getting out of the military… and guess what, had been raised in Northern Nevada, so he was ‘going home’ and I was going with him.

It hit me at that moment, remembering the message I’d received. Just goes to show, it doesn’t really matter if you listen or not. What Fate, or the Gods, have in store for you cannot be avoided.

I’ve been here two and a half years now, and the final part of that message is also ringing very true. Do not stay here.

Reno, and the entire Northern Nevada area, is a very strange place. Reno is it’s own little bubble in every way. To be blunt, it is sick. The land in the Reno area is some of the most damaged I have ever encountered, and I’ve been in some pretty fucked up places. I have theories about why this is – the Indian Wars, the long history of exploitation of people, land, and resources, gambling – it’s been the perfect mix of degradation and negativity for over 150 years. It’s a deep wound; one that I have yet been able to find the source of.

Once you get outside Reno, there is shockingly vast wild land. Or so it appears. Its ‘quieter’ here, and some places are almost pleasant. But there are other places, so many places, where the land and the spirits of that land feel like they have given up. Razed of everything of capitalist value, it is empty, hollow, sunken, alone. The spirits I have encountered in these places are but hollow skeletons, wisps of what they once were. Taken advantage of and then forgotten. And so desperate for someone to take notice, to listen to them, that they pull and tug and overwhelm the senses – dislocating me from time and place.

And that is a part of the reason I am here, part of my Work in any place I go – to listen. To remember. To share the stories. To heal and re-enchant. It is perhaps the most important work we have to do, before there is nothing left.

#28HourWritingChallenge : Cutting Off the Head of the Beast

V0045118 Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.Hour two

The temple incense rose from the sand lotus flower, wafting towards my in drawn breath. The candle flame danced atop its wick. I fixed Her image in my mind: black face, rageful loving eyes, wild hair, lolling tongue. I chanted an opening Om Ma, Jai Kali Ma…. and my face cracked, the tears fell uncontrollably while I sobbed, my face dropping into my hands. My heart shuddered, and instinctually I called in Kwan Yin. With Her hand upon my shoulder I felt my chest opening; ribs cracking open spread eagled with my heart fully exposed.

This feeling again.

Hekate was quickly at my left side, Her cool wisdom and guidance an ever present comfort. I settled in to the support of these three distinct Beings.

How do I manage relationships with these Goddesses from completely different traditions? Well, that is for another time… suffice to say, I do, and I love it.

I’m typing this on my laptop in my Temple room. I normally don’t do that – this is a no tech zone – but I needed to be in here.

This week – the Earthquake in Nepal, the uprising in Baltimore, the SCOTUS arguments on same-sex marriage. In addition to the work that I do every day. The pain of it all is overwhelming. And when things get bad, people true colors come out. The ignorance and bigotry is shocking.

Prayer isn’t enough. It will never be enough. I don’t care how many vibrations you raise – it will never be enough to change the system. But, at times like this, it is essential. Essential for my own well-being and essential to the Gods.

You see, the powers-that-be would like nothing more than for us to forget. Forget the Gods. Forget nature. Ignore the power that is inherently yours and the magic that surrounds you. Turn your back on all that is Sacred. It makes it much easier; easier to rape the land and tell you it is progress, easier to force you to put on the suit and leave the box you live in, to get into the box that carries you quickly past the land that has been destroyed, so that you can spend the day sitting in another box playing the part of a dedicated cog, to earn money to fill the empty box that your life has become.

Its time to chop off the head of the beast and dance on the fallen body of our illusions. This is not who we were meant to be.

Killing each other

because of the color of our skin

because of who we love

because of the sex between our legs

because of all of the boxes we put each other into

because that is what they have taught us, have done to us, have made us believe.

Its. Not. Real!

If you could see the enchantment that is available to you, the beauty of who and what you are, the power that you possess – Your chest too would crack open, your heart would expand outside of your body, busting every box you have been put into, exploding all around you in a thousand colors until you felt like you could hold the Universe in your arms.

And we would take it all back.

This Is Real. This is your birthright. This is who you were meant to be.

Let Us show you.

#28HourWritingChallenge : The Child’s Journey

Hour One

So, I’ve decided to commit to a 28 hour writing practice, one hour per day 5 days per week and two 4 hour “retreat” sessions. I’ve been a writer ever since I was little. I remember writing and presenting my first story in elementary school – carefully written out, with chapters and illustrations, in a 49 cent composition book. I won an award for it, but more than anything I remember the feeling of pride and self worth that grew in me from my teachers’ encouragement and praises. I was an awkward, asthmatic child from a poor family who didn’t quite know how to interact with other kids. So I escaped in books and hung out with adults – soaking in everything that I could. My parents were rather overprotective, probably due to my health (I was asthmatic, frequently sick, prone to injuries, and had a troubling condition that led to very frequent joint dislocations – none of which is very conducive to a child hood of wild play). I remember, although we lived in a pretty rural area where all of the houses (ok, trailers) were on acre+ lots, that I was seldom allowed to ride a bike beyond the outside perimeter of the fence. So most of my play was confined to the acre that we lived on, which meant lots of make believe stories, but it also meant that I was forced to examine every inch of that land, truly getting to know the trees and the flowers (this was west central Florida, near Tampa, so it was mostly sand and weeds) and the insects (SO MANY INSECTS) and the birds (we had a hawk that liked to hang out in the scrub behind the house). It was this way that I first heard the voices of the spirits of the land, first made my connection with the earth and the stars.

When I was too sick, or it was too hot, or I grew child-like bored with the outside world, or was having trouble making sense of life, I devoured books like they were my only source of nutrition. Books were my sustenance, my escape, my way of trying to make sense of things I could see and intuit but did not understand. Over the summers I would complete every book club challenge I could find. Finally, I volunteered at the library for a couple of years. As always, I was the youngest person, and I remember thinking it was odd that I was always the only young person around and how the adults treated me because of it.

I had a few close friends in middle school, and we let our geek side show in chorus and dubbing ourselves the Sailor Moon posse (I was Jupiter). The school chorus was definitely my first real engagement with competition and basing worth on performance. I loved to sing, but chorus killed the joy of it.

Gosh, so many stories.

I continued to write and draw, but it was in high school that my talent really took off. By then I had decided to ‘own’ my status of ‘freak’ and went Goth my Freshman year. It made it easier, giving everyone a reason to treat me differently, and gave me an automatic network of friends. Freaks gotta stick together. That was my first taste of ‘tribe’. I loved those people dearly, and we all faced the same bullshit from our peers (though we all dealt with it in our own ways). Ever the ambassador and world-bridger, I remained friends with many of the studious and popular crowd, but knew that they never really understood me.

It was always the adult figures that made an impact on my life, and I had some amazingly supportive teachers all throughout school. My junior year, I started taking classes with Ms. Seaman, who insisted I call her by her first name, Michelle. She was a poet, performer, and priestess and I had seriously begun my studies of Wicca and writing. She was the first to honestly and supportively critique my writing, and I felt so legitimized by her support and encouragement. I still have the assignment I turned in where she wrote in flowing purple letters “I am honored to call you student – You are a poet!”

It was through her class my senior year that I unlocked the Mystery, and I wrote my first “channeled” piece that I then performed at an event she put together. From there, I was hooked and began regularly performing my poetry around town.

I did more writing during my various stints in college, and was published in a couple of college journals. But though I never shied from performing, it has always been challenging for me to publish.

Since becoming an adult, I’ve gone through phases of writing and creativity, with long (LONG) dry spells. This capitalist, patriarchal world we live in sure tries to beat the creativity and enchantment out of you. Add to it a lifetime of being poor in finances and health, and I’m kind of amazed at what I have accomplished.

But lately, the barrier I encounter feels almost entirely self-constructed. After a period of intense creative output, I’ve gone dry. I’ve barely been able to bring myself to write a thing, and when I do the stress is intense – even if I never intend for anyone to read it. I’m not certain where it comes from. Part of it is a sense of inadequacy – that child who never fit in and never felt good enough. It seems like the more I engage with the blogosphere, with community, with other writers, the less I feel like anything I have to say is important. Which I know is not true. But sometimes I feel very “Bill and Ted” (we’re not worthy!).

So I’m just going to bust through that. I’ve gotten countless messages lately that I need to be writing, to be sharing, to fight my way out of the fog and cobwebs I’ve built up around myself and get back to my authentic shining self (ugh, I hate that word – ‘authentic’).

I have no idea what this challenge will bring. I have some projects I’ve been working on and set aside, but I have no goals or intentions for WHAT exactly I’m going to write. There’s a lot of processing I need to do, and I think the hardest thing for me isn’t going to be the writing, but sharing some of that writing. Which isn’t really the point of this… but I think that for me, it is. That’s where my fear lies, so that is what I have to face to break down the barrier that is preventing me from writing at all.

So, here we go.