Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Holding Office in Traditional Craft

I know I've written about the topic of leadership before, but I feel moved by a recent spat of posts I've read by other bloggers to make further comment on this topic. One source was a discussion that came up on the Traditional Witchcraft in the Americas   forum that I help to moderate. I noticed that the moment that leadership or holding office came up there was a certain predictable tumble of words that came at me 'hierarchy', 'guru' and 'unequal'.

Now it doesn't surprise me that we think of office holding in this way, let's face it, we belong to a society that only seems to understand 'power over', everything from how we look to how old we are to who we want to bed and the pigment of our skin is fed to us in terms of hierarchy. From the word go we are led to understand that everything is ordered in terms of who is on top, and that those who are on top are there to boss around and lord it over those 'beneath'. It's hardly surprising given that we generally take hardly a breather to decondition from this programming before jumping into either joining a tradition, or worst still, leading one, that there are so many examples of misuse, abuse and just general failure to understand power as anything other than power over. At least Sarah Lawless, in her recent post that touches on this issue, jokingly admits that she would be corrupted by power! This is certainly some much needed self awareness.

However, you might want to call me an idealist, but I actually believe its possible to shed this kind of programming over time. I can't really lay out my methods in such a short post, but I see evidence to suggest they work. Not flawlessly, not so well that one will never come up against ego or power issues in one's group again, there are ways to unravel this idea that leadership is founded on hierarchy and power over, but it requires the willingness to radically question the way we assign people value in our society, before even touching on the business of providing teaching or leadership to others.

In my tradition holding office (and there are quite a few offices) is understood as an act of service. The first sign that you are suitable for office is that you aren't trying to get it! Offices are assigned by the people you do the job for. People who say they want to lead from the get-go are normally the kind of people who want to be boss not teacher. Being a proper teacher is non hierarchical, it does not involve power over it involves a dynamic in which both parties are made vulnerable by the process and in which both gain power. Everyone in the tradition is conceived of as equal, from Magister to newest student, their worth is the same but their rights and responsibilities are different. But these are not arbitrary, such as being brought up in our society would immediately make you assume. Nobody is born with extra rights, and responsibilities never fall to anyone who doesn't receive rights, as they so often do in the mainstream culture. Those who want to be more involved in decision making processes (decisions made by officers touch on magical issues they never control the personal lives of anyone in the group, people's freedom to leave or refuse something is absolute at all times) simply have to take on more responsibility. That's what office holding is about for us. You don't get input for nothing, you don't just get to turn up to a meeting and throw spokes in the wheel just to get your voice heard when you have no alternative suggestion, you have to work harder than the people who are less involved in running the group. It tends to cut down on, not breed, self importance. Most prefer to do less work and not hold office. There is so much more work than there actually are added 'rights' involved in being an officer in our tradition that there is no incentive for people who are power hungry.

Having offices, most of which involve magical specialties of some kind and specific training, such as is required for healing for instance, allows things to get done and get done to a high standard. Being a teacher to someone else is an epic responsibility and having a teacher is clearly a thing many people crave. As someone whose written a couple of books I can tell you you get a lot of letters from people seeking a teacher. Many people will tell you that they shouldn't want this, that we should all just learn from each other and muddle along like that because the risk of all the above mentioned social poisons contaminating our work is just too great. And maybe for some it is. But I would like to put forward the following thought nonetheless. There is no such thing as a world without teachers and leaders. When you blog on the internet you are going to be used as a teaching resource and looked to, over time, as a leader, whether you like it or not. Luckily for you though, you can abnegate all responsibility for that. You can say, well I just wrote books or I just gave very strong opinions on the internet, I'm not a teacher or a guru and I'm not responsible for your outcomes!

I disagree. You may not be holding yourself up as one explicitly but the very fact that you obviously think your opinion matters enough to share with everyone on a regularly basis means that you implicitly are claiming this role and even if you weren't people would thrust it upon you due to their hungry need for leadership. This to me is fandom, it works off hierarchy it works off some people's value being seen as more than others, it works off guru syndrome. You don't have to do anything for those people in return, you can just spout your opinion or even your advice, rituals, and things you say never to do, and people will go about doing them, hating what you hate, doing what you do and if it fucks them up entirely you have to take no responsibility for it.

Holding office on the other hand, if one can first create community in which hierarchical social arrangements have been questioned, destabilised and continuously worked against, is actually far more equal because clear service is performed as the 'price' of office. And the people who you work for ultimately get to decide whether or not they are happy with how you perform that role. Because they can leave or in extreme situations (in our tradition at least) withdraw their support and require the office to be reassigned. We encourage our people to be thinkers and we trust their judgment. We provide each other with reciprocation. What a teacher or leader does is just one job, it's no more or less valuable than the work of the person who cleared the ritual area and set up the fire (sometimes the same person), and there is no one no matter how much ritual and teaching responsibilities they have who is exempt from contributing to basic physical tasks. So as you are going to do equal work for your coven members towards feeding, cleaning and preparing ritual space and coven stead, and helping to watch out for or care for the children of the members and then also managing teaching and organising others, only a person who really loves the Craft and wants to serve it would be attracted to such a role.

I know our society has taught us that some jobs are more worthy than others and that leading is an opportunity to squash others but that idea only works in terms of the mindset of individualism. If you see yourself as part of a dynamic web or network with your community then squashing one of them is squashing a part of yourself. To promote your ego above their best interests feels counterproductive, because their is no greater thrill for a true leader than seeing the people you teach and serve blossom.

Now some will fall back on the whole 'it is isn't traditional to be part of covens, witches were meant to be alone'. The problem with this idea, often thrown up as an extra nail in the coffin of the idea of office, is that we aren't living in a traditional society. As witches or cunning folk we require a community to serve, it's in our nature, otherwise what we're doing becomes glorified navel gazing. Traditions are a way of forming community. Those who hold office are the people who have been shown to be capable of ministering to others, teaching them to better navigate Otherworldly experiences (even if not everyone is indeed designed to become an expert in that field, it is still enriching for many) healing, counselling and providing oracular seership for guidance. The people they serve are those who feel a calling to the Craft but who still require guidance of some kind to fully realise themselves.

There is something about this dynamic that tends to replicate itself even when any structure or tradition is absent. Even amongst the growing number of those who identify as 'Traditional Witches' but reject being members of a tradition. As soon as such people begin to form up into communities you inevitably see spokespeople emerge and you find yourself thinking: 'well he/she is clearly the Magister/Maid, even though they "don't have one"'... Some people will always be more inspired than others, or even just more eloquent, or far worse just louder and more confident, they may not even be more inspired... We don't have to respond to difference with hierarchy of the 'power over' sort, there are other options. It may seem that simple, coming as we do from a society obsessed with assigning value to people, but different doesn't need to mean less valuable. If we can get over this idea that all spiritual leadership must be about domination, and we can be vigilant with not allowing these ideas or behaviours to creep in then office holding can be about serving something. It can be about excellence and maintaining standards, and about community building and working for that community, it doesn't need to be about gurus. But if that's impossible for you to conceive of, if all you can hear and see is power over then it's probably best if you continue to reject the notion of office and carry on as before.

In truth I don't write this to change anyone's mind, but just because the horror stories of out of control egos get all the air time and I believe that those whose traditions are working tend to be quiet and private about it. The drama is loud and the successes are quieter. So I thought I'd speak up for the quiet achievers, and point out that there are some traditions who do have office holders and who don't go around waving it about in everyone's face or lording it over, we reject the feudal model of such things. Because an office isn't a title, it's a job descriptions. Magister or Maid is just like Doctor or Council Worker, Farmer, or Baker, -if you assign more value to one of these than the other you might need to look closer at your own response and consider how you will get to your next coven meeting without someone mending your roads and what you will eat at them.

Unlike Bakers and Farmers teachers and officers of witchcraft don't receive a living wage for their work and you may think that this is where I ask you to respect us. On the contrary, as I do nothing for you personally you are under no obligation to respect me or to acknowledge my office. I find it silly when people outside my tradition make mention of it, it means nothing to them, it counts for nothing. I'm not even particularly butt hurt about the fact that there are people within the traditional craft community that revile office holding. The devil has always had his detractors and can deal with being thought ill of, there's a reason Devil is a synonym for the role of Magister or Man in Black. People are free to imagine and project at me all the egotism they can muster up from their own shadow. But let's just be honest about one thing: if you are writing online about witchcraft, or in books, or giving advice, or even airing your strong opinions in an authoritative manner you are still taking on the position of teacher, you may even be placed in the position of guru. You don't need a coven or any actual responsibilities for that these days and the world of fandom is a thing of hierarchy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Unless They're Wicked - teaser


Lux hated her father for allowing the fair to come to town today. With her mother still laid out on the table at home and the priest arguing about whether he would allow her in hallowed ground or not.... It was unseemly.
Debate raged as to whether faerie women were children of God who could be given Christian burial. Her father and older brother had been swearing and threatening, away from the priest’s hearing, that the old bastard would soon learn to mind their family better. The De Rue family fought at Hastings after all.
The image that this evoked, of armed men in chainmail, bursting into a church and harming a man of God appalled Lux. But then many of the things her father and brother did appalled her. Her brother was of a different mother to herself, and it had always shown.
Despite his wrath her father had still allowed the fair… There were bells on hats and jugglers, minstrels and fools. The occasional splash of animal torture, which seemed to bother none but her (a mark of her strange faerie blood that caused her to turn from the sight of blood), tinkers were mending pots and pans, telling fortunes and selling cures…  Children were running and playing everywhere… As Lux moved through the melee of it, it was as if her mother had never lived.
Yet the townsfolk minded her as she moved quietly through and passed them. These were the simple people who believed she was holy for her visions and because of who her mother had been. Her father and Mother Superior both had other words for what she was.
The people were somewhere between afraid and in awe of Lux. It wasn’t because she was Lux de Rue, daughter of a land-rich knight with aristocratic connections on his mother’s side; -a family who thought they were slightly more important than they really were. No, people were more interested in who her mother had been than who her father was. But none of them for either reason stopped to give their commiserations to Lux for the loss of her mother.
None of the simple folk believed that Agnes was really dead. The body back in the parlour was a ‘faerie stock’ placed there to trick mankind, whilst Agnes was taken back to her own again. Lux didn’t believe that. She knew this death was real enough. The smell of it was in her nostrils still from cleaning her mother’s body.
As she was heading for the tree line Lux didn’t even know where she thought she was going. Just away. Away from the noise made by people, noise that seemed to mock her mother who lay still and grey inside.
It wouldn’t be long before they’d send someone to fetch Lux back and scold her for being out of sight. Yet her older brother Geoffrey had seemed quite relaxed on mead last she saw him. It was he who so often watched her for father.
She was nearly to the tree line when she saw it. Lux had been seeing visions of things that no one else could see all her life, but this was strong. So strong that her heart leapt up in her chest and it was all she could do not to cry out ‘Mother!’ at the top of her lungs.
Forcing herself to walk at a fast but dignified pace, Lux headed rapidly for where she could see her mother standing in a shaft of sunlight, just within the trees. Lux had never seen a ghost stand in the sun like that. Somehow the simple folk were right! Her mother had just been taken by the faeries and wasn’t really dead after all…
Agnes retreated into the trees as she approached but Lux followed at a run as soon as she reached the green shade of the woods.
“Mother!” she cried out softly.
Turning slowly as she shuffled away through the early autumn fall, she came to face her daughter. Lux gasped when she met her mother’s gaze. Agnes was ghastly pale. A thin slither of blood ran from her nose, which she didn’t wipe away.
“Lux, my sweet child,” she said, her voice as flat as one who had never known emotion. Her pale hair was undone and uncovered, disreputably tousled like an unmarried girl. “You should come with me where I go. This world is cruel and its men are made of cold hard iron, where ours are made of starlight and honey dew.”
“But Mumma! You’re not dead! Come home with me. They’re going to put you in the ground soon if you don’t come home. Please!” Lux felt desperate. She loved her poor strange mother and she was also afraid. Without her mother there Father would be crueler to her still. It felt like there would be no one to understand now.
“Look, baby child,” Agnes whispered, her voice full of awe and child-like joy as she raised her skirt. Lux stared in horror as her mother exposed herself. “It’s all coming out now. All of it! All of that human mess.”
Lux covered her mouth with both hands and tried not to make a sound. Wide-eyed she watched blood, shit, and possibly parts of organs begin to clot and slither their way down her mother’s legs.
“It’s for the best, girl,” her mother was saying while it happened. “Can’t enter Faerie with that rot still inside me. No point being ashamed anymore. Humans and their stupid shame…” She crouched down then as if to better evacuate the toxic humanity in her. She made a sound of pain like someone in the later stages of childbirth. Something awful slithered out of her, and then she became nothing but light.
“Mother,” Lux whimpered, falling to her knees. She thought she had reached out to clutch her mother before she disappeared, but all she was holding to her chest was an armful of muddy leaves. Lux threw them from her in revulsion.
Before she could get up she heard a quiet but distinct sound in one of the trees above her. Lux jumped nervously and swung around. There was a young man sitting on one of the high branches, looking down at her. His relaxed posture suggested he’d been there for some time. Getting hurriedly to her feet Lux tried to brush her clothes down, thinking to run. He had seen too much already. Doubtlessly he’d heard the whole exchange and thought her mad. Lux barely noticed him, who he was, or what he looked like, she was too mortified.
“It seems we are stalking the same prey,” the young man on the branch said. He had a strange accent. Not just a commoner’s tongue, he was something strange. She felt immediately uncomfortable and her skin prickled. Something from deep in the base of her skull told her she was in danger because his voice sounded like that.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said stiffly, trying to stop crying and wiping at her face.
He swung his legs down so he was sitting up on the branch. She was able to see that he was wearing greenish brown leathers in a style that reminded her of the tinker men. When she caught a flash of the arrows in the quiver on his back she took a few steps back preparing to run.
She hadn’t been old enough to speak yet when the cautionary tales had started. The tales that involved men who looked like he looked, spoke like he spoke, those stories that never ended well for girls like her.
“You needn’t be afraid,” he said softly, as though she were an easily startled bird or a doe whose trust he wished to win. “I won’t harm you. I see them too, you realize?
The spectral lights, the faerie men and women? I see them, because I am one. And I saw you seeing them.”
“Who are you?” she demanded, crossing her arms and looking sternly at him.
“My name’s Robin.”
“I’m Lux de Rue.”
“Oh I know who you are, my lady.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Witchcraft of the Word - Parallel Stories and the Growing Threads

As I write this the cover and proofs for the second instalment in The Christopher Penrose novels is being designed. Some time around the beginning of next year it will finally begin to grace book shelves. It is a strange business to have walked with these characters, worn their faces and their voices for over a decade and then have to return to them in their early unformed state as I rework these early novels for publication. It's much like revisiting your younger self.

Earlier this year I put the finishing touches on Book Nine of the series, called  'Love in Fire and Blood' and thus brought Christopher's story to a form of conclusion. But of course when you consciously begin creating characters as a sorcerous working, weaving stories with magical intent, the accumulated power doesn't just evaporate upon completion.

Instead I find myself caught up in an ever expanding web of stories, or a kind of meta-story that threatens and promises to engulf all that I have seen and experienced of this world and others, alchemically distilling them into Art. For this reason when my new series began to take seed in the cauldron of my skull, putting down roots in the shadowy pre-rational base near the back of the neck and slowly growing forward like a vine, I realised that if I have ever been in control of this story, I no longer am.

Lux de Rue and her story and books that will follow, (interweaving with a cunning that seems to not belong to me but to her and the other characters), with Christopher's later story, have their own agenda and will to power. But I don't like to name it.

The moment you put words to the magical intent behind any work of Art you evaporate some of its power or make it into a didactic propaganda piece. You reduce it to less than itself. So suffice to say that there is much of my own Craft in both of these series, there is a strong story about rewilding and the wilderness within us. The magic is strongest at the places where the story threads of the two series touch and cross each other, like serpent lines crossing a ghost road, creating a new sacred site. But there is also an attempt here to breathe life into and synthesis the folklore of the past by bringing it alive through modern story. For this reason I relate to the term 'Folk Horror' to describe the genre of these novels, even though they are as much about beauty as they are about terror.

Although there is a great deal of witchcraft lore to be teased out of all these books for those in the know, it is my hope that the Lux De Rue Books will be able to break into a readership outside the witchcraft and pagan community and seed their strangeness there. In a way I think this new series, being set as it is hundreds of years earlier than the modern novels and perhaps a little less fraught with overt poetry, might have some popular appeal. Either way The Haunted Books have now increased their dominion, expanding into past and beginning to put out feelers into the future.

Below is the first hints of information about the new series to be released to the public, it's name, it's cover and its back cover matter. It is my plan to publish this series concurrently with The Christopher Penrose Novels so that the intersections between the fates of the characters in the earlier time frame and the latter may be better appreciated. This will also cut down the waiting time in between publication of the Christopher books, as I will be presenting this series independently.

Say his name three times at the edge of the forest and he'll come for you…

All her life Lux has been hearing the whispers. They say that her mother just appeared one day in the wolf pits, virid and mysterious. And that Lux is as fey and doomed as her siblings were. Sometimes they even say she can talk to Them. 

When Lux discovers an unspeakable secret her father will kill to protect, she finds herself on the edge of the forest ready to discover if it's true what they say about Robin Goodfellow. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

How to Learn From a Witch

A witch won’t just give you her magic and her secrets; they have to be seduced from her at the right time, with the right questions. A witch won’t answer the too soon or the too abrupt questions, but he will take note of what ones you asked and ponder why. 
Though she will be stretching you, she will not be testing you. That she has done already far before you realized. 
The witch skilled in the Art will gently stretch you in every direction, feeling out where you give and where you resist, before applying any pressure. –For teaching is healing by another name. 
If you want to learn from him pay attention to everything, to the way he sets out his home and the meaning of common seeming objects. 
When the moment feels right, ask questions about the things you notice, but don’t assume they are just common things or that because you’ve heard about them once you know all there is to know of them. There are stories upon stories to be unpacked there. 
Always ask a witch the silly questions, you may find she values your vulnerability more than your cleverness. Is that little jar just a pot or a spirit vessel? Why does it look like that and why do you place it there? 
If you want to learn from a witch you need to learn from the idiosyncrasies of her Craft, for there the reddened richness runs deepest. After all, Fate sent you to this witch, not to another.
Do not touch things in a witch’s home without asking, for you never know what spirit hides in a common seeming object or what was not placed there by accident. Above all pay attention. And when you think you’ve become good at paying attention, pay more attention. 
Practice noticing the way in which you listen, and when others have begun to breathe differently. When you’re around a witch try to be quiet enough to sometimes hear them breathing and to enter silence with them. 
A witch skilled in the Art will have hidden the magic under the tea cozy and next to the knives and forks and inside the most secret recesses of her home and heart. But every secret will only unlock for you to the extent that your own heart comes unraveled in the secret’s hands. If it stays locked shut, the secret will remain a common place thing to you, hidden in plain sight, right before your eyes, and unmarvellous even when revealed.
-Lee Morgan, 2014

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Sorcerous Working Couple

For many people the first thing that comes to mind when they consider couples who work magic together is the traditional Wiccan 'working partner'. -A single, monogamous, heterosexual pairing where the dynamic polarity at work is primarily one of gender. But this is not at all what the term conjures up in my mind, and so I want to write something about working couples in traditional witchcraft.

The primary difficulty in doing so, however, just as with many topics, is that you can't make across the board statements between traditions. Some traditional crafters may have little to no lore in this area, whilst another may place significant importance on such relationships. For this reason I can only really speak as myself and from observations made within the contexts of certain traditions I've encountered. Therefore my thoughts on this are not universal and will probably not apply to working partners relationships in all occult traditions.

Most Crafters I know have admitted to me at some point in our acquaintance that their 'ideal' relationship would be with another witch. -Preferably one of their own tradition so they could freely share information and experiments. But how common are these relationships and how often do they work out? Well, from my experience they are not very common. More often than not, I have found, relationships that appear to be a 'working partnership' on the surface tend to be driven by one party's passion and knowledge, with another more passive party who is sympathetic but barely actually does anything occult yet allows their other to call them 'working partner'. Or the other type, less frequent but still more ubiquitous than the 'ideal', is the 'together but not working together' situation. Where the parties are both committed Crafters or cunning folk but for one reason or another their work doesn't gel well enough for them to be a working couple.

What I would call the true working relationship is neither of these things. It consists of people who possess equal passion for the Craft and who are naturally drawn to work it together to achieve their goals. Because they are presumably having sex, a whole extra dimension of sorcery is open to them. In general, there may be some inequality of knowledge, at least at first, but this is viewed as a temporary situation rather than a built in inequality. Both are committed not only to the mastery of their Art, but to serving and supporting the same growth of mastery in their partner. In this the love for our Art and the love for the individual are linked, and one alone will not suffice without the other.

Now I like to think that the latter are actually more common than my naturally limited sample of friends and acquaintances over my life would suggest. Yet although I have not observed many, I have been in the position to observe some, both from the inside and out. These are some points based on my observations, for efficiently co-joining traditional craft and an intimate connection

1. Working partnerships must be 'outside the box' relationships, you can't be engaged in a very average, boxed in relationship which prescribes your partner to gender or other societal norms and then expect to smash through normative thinking into states of power and oneness together. If you have jealousy issues how do you feel about spirit congress? These are all questions you should probably ask yourself before setting out. You can't explore the weird and wild and challenge each other if your relationship is the essence of constriction or normality, served up to you whole with a side helping of stereotype. If it is that it will usually implode at the first touch of witchcraft anyway.

2. I didn't want to put this first and dwell on the negative but we must mention abuse. A 'working partnership' must be entered into by two people who both have relatively equal power. It should never be part of a prerequisite condition for learning such as, 'it will be impossible for me to teach you the rest unless you sleep with me so I can show you.' Of course there will always be forms of sorcery for whom that is exactly correct and it is exceedingly difficult for any tradition that teaches sex magic to work out how to go about asserting ethical boundaries without policing their practice out of existence. Witchcraft of all forms always possesses an element of danger and when properly sanitised it ceases to be witchcraft, so these questions will no doubt reign eternal. Let it suffice for us to say here that the above example of coercion would fail to qualify for a working partnership because it is not a relationship between equals.

3. Don't work magic together when there's friction in the relationship. Might sound obvious but magical relationships are pressure cooker relationships at the best of times. Getting into a circle with someone you have unspoken problems with is troublesome enough to the ambience of a group, when you add a sexual relationship to that it becomes a powder-keg. Above all else be aware of this if your working relationship with someone is part of a wider, coven or circle. It's bad enough when friends who are couples feud in front of you, so much worse when that feud is potentially sorcerously activated! If you're going to try having a working partner you require the self awareness to know when you need to step back from a working or group while you unknot a situation.

4. It's important to pick someone with whom you have 'spark'. That means both that they excite your spiritual capacities and it also means that the sex works. It could be tempting just to go 'but he/she was the only straight/gay man/woman/other who was also a witch that I've ever damn well met! We can work on the sex! We. Will. Make. It. Work!'
I know this sounds extreme of me, but just no. If you are going to work magic together that includes sex and there is neither spark nor flow, you aren't going to be able to stir, seethe and boil the primal atavistic black fire until it kindles up into diamond clarity in your head with someone that was 'the only one you could find'. You probably won't even like each other much when you look back on this farce. -Just don't. I know there aren't many other witches whose sexuality matches yours, trust me (oh trust me I know of your pain and your search…), but let's act like there are, okay? Or lets not bother at all. Because this is serious business.

5. Don't get trapped in a polarity with someone. By this I don't just mean male and female. I mean this kind of thing: 'oh he's the healer and I'm the one who will blast you if you mess with him', 'she's darkness and I'm light', or 'he's the instinctual one and I'm the intellectual, he grounds me and I inspire him.' All magical relationships will probably start because something like this is true for you and your significant other or others, but for the partnership to remain of use to you both/all spiritually you cannot let yourself get stuck in a rut like this. And most importantly you cannot conscionable confine your partner into this expectation that they continue to provide a foil for you in some way. A true working partner should be dedicated to their beloved's dynamic expression, growth, unravelling, power and artistry. They should neither set themselves up as the one person who knows how that unravelling should look, nor submit to being told how they are expected to 'balance' the other person. A strong partnership between sorcerous people should look like a continually shifting field of force, involving regularly swapping, donning and removal of masks.

If all of that sounds a bit intense for you, or you simply doubt that there is anyone out there who could enter into it with you, well, you probably aren't alone. I, for one, believe that there is both power and extreme potential peril in such relationships. -As with all things worth having in life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Advance Teaser from 'The Bones Would Do' Book Two in the Christopher Penrose Novels


The morphine fog gave way to a dream that came on cat’s paws. Soft, and so eerily quiet was its coming, leaving only ghost-prints across the surface of Christopher’s soul, that he never heard or felt it till it pounced. When he slid out of his hospital bed, stood up and wasn’t attached to a drip stand there was a moment of confusion, but it passed rapidly. There was something that he had to do, something so full of hot urgency that reason itself evaporated.
Christopher got down on both knees and pulled an empty box out from under his hospital bed. Gods … there’s metal everywhere. How am I going to get rid of it all? In a hospital so full of instruments, metallic beds and machines with an iron content, his mission barely seemed possible. Despite this fact the thought of giving up never occurred to Christopher. This is our war against heaven, he told himself, as he frantically boxed up everything made of metal he could lay his hands on. These are our champion deeds done beneath the sea … There were scalpels. There was a drip stand that Christopher somehow managed to take apart and pack away into the box.
When everything in the room was hidden in the box, Christopher pushed the bed itself away towards a large cupboard at the side of his room. He began to stow everything metal in that cupboard, which, like the box, seemed to be bigger on the inside than the outside. Even while he did this Christopher couldn’t understand the mania he felt to get rid of it all. True, recovery had turned out to be so much less romantic than injury. But the modern world that he had so consciously rejected, this sterile world with all of its metal and plastic, had put Christopher back together, replaced and removed his fluids and prevented his infections. For a time its machines had breathed for him; its intravenous drips had replaced his lost blood, hydrated and fed him. Why this sudden new vendetta against it? Not knowing the reason didn’t prevent what happened next.
Christopher frowned as he felt the strange rumbling sensation in the floor. The door was blown open by a feral wind that rushed into the room as if it were in a hurry to claim him as its own. Taking a few cautious steps toward the open door, Christopher peered through into the exposed hallway. There were no moving nurses, no visitors talking and moving, only the eerie whistling of the wind in the corridor. Then Christopher spotted something moving along the walls, something green and spreading. It wasn’t until it got closer that he saw it was moss. Moss that was growing along the walls at impossible speed, ivy that was claiming the walls and invading the masonry.
The invasion of the green was subtle at first but then trees were tearing up the floor as well and the hospital corridor itself was being swallowed by a forest on the march. When the tangled green parasites and invasive grass reached Christopher’s feet he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He knew this feeling … He had no words for it, no way to wrap his logic around it, yet he recognised this feeling in every pore of his skin. When something moved and peeked out its head from behind one of the ancient oaks that had ripped through the tiled floor, Christopher’s breath caught in his throat.
“Eugene,” he whispered.
He could only see half of Eugene’s face, only one of his strange eyes that regarded Christopher from behind the oak with one of his expressions that Christopher could never fathom. A deep sense of Otherness prickled its way across Christopher’s skin but his heart was beating too hard with excitement for it to become a cold sweat of fear. Eugene didn’t reply or even smile but his eyes remained locked with Christopher’s. Very slowly, he raised one hand with his index finger extended and made the gesture of silence across his lips.
As soon as Eugene had made this signal he disappeared, and Christopher made a quiet sound of protest and sorrow. The frustration almost woke him. But just as he became aware for a moment of his physical body tossing and turning on the hospital bed something heavier seemed to enter his awareness, rooting him deeply into the dream.
On and on throughout the half-trance of blood-loss and morphine, Seth had been a constant presence throughout Christopher’s recovery. Of course Seth was here now; it seemed only natural. It was, after all, one of those friendships that felt like it had always been there. It was impossible to measure in months the time they’d spent together, two orphans of civilisation, two vagabonds of modernity, huddled together in a threatened patch of wilderness, trying to find a space of quiet quiet enough. Trying to find a patch of darkness dark enough, deep enough, that they could fall into it and stumble onto something real …
“I owe you an apology,” Seth’s deep, gravelly voice intruded on the eerie green world around Christopher with a new sense of shadow and mass that hadn’t been part of the vision until then.  “I told you that magic would break your heart. I told you that hearts break like the waves of the sea, again and again in endless motion. Maybe I lied. Maybe the birth of the witch inside is a deathblow no one ever really recovers from. Because once you’ve seen what’s out there, over the hedge and out into the wilderness beyond, the world inside its borders and boxes will never satisfy you again. You’re stuck in between now. You don’t belong in the ordinary world and yet I haven’t made a full witch of you yet.”
“It never satisfied me anyway, the ordinary,” Christopher replied. “From the moment my eyes made contact with Eugene’s in the classroom that day the extraordinary had a hold on me. It wasn’t your fault.”
He wanted to ask where Eugene had gone but somehow he sensed that even Seth couldn’t bring Eugene back unless Eugene chose to appear.
“It’s more than that. I’ve failed you as a teacher. Sometimes I feel like you’re teaching me as much as I’m teaching you … There’s other stuff I should have told you but I didn’t. I’m not proud of myself.” 
Here there was one of those pauses that Seth would so often make, of the sort that Christopher associated with the indrawing, holding and releasing of smoke from his cigarettes. Christopher watched Seth leaning casually against the ghost oak that Eugene had only so recently peeked out from behind. There was an earnestness in Seth’s pitchy eyes that disturbed Christopher.
“But here it is, anyway, the bastard truth in all its rags of finery. I wanted you. I wanted your light like a drowning man wants the log he’s holding onto. I offered you the Art to bring you to me. Eugene was right about me. I brought you into my darkness and made you a part of my nightmare. Then I let you turn a light on inside me that I’m still dazed by and reeling. I even let that little beast at you and brought all of our disasters roaring into focus.”
“Eugene isn’t a little beast,” Christopher replied quietly. This topic had always been an ongoing dispute between them. 
Even though Christopher’s voice sounded quiet to him, Seth seemed to have no trouble hearing it. “Still harbouring illusions about your kid-guardian-angel-from-Hell? Even after he drained you almost to death?”
“They’re not illusions,” Christopher said, and then after a while he smiled. It was only a brief smile, and sadness lingered around its edges. “You taught me that I need to trust what I know in my guts and bones, and this is what my bones know to be true. When I was standing between here and there and Sophia was trying to bring me back, Eugene let her take me back to my body.”
“Even after he took you to the land beyond the mist you still don’t know what he is, do you?” Seth demanded, his arms folded and his eyebrows raised.
“I know what he is.”
“Tell me then?”
“I don’t have words for it. But I know in the pit of my stomach … he’s not like other people. I’ve always known that. I know what he is.”
“Well, people have words for it,” Seth muttered. “We just try not to use them in case it encourages Them to show up.”
“He saved my life. Sophia admits that. She says it was his power not hers that got me back in my body, and that he did it because he loves me.”
Seth grunted softly in acknowledgment.
“Hmm, the boy-succubus has feelings huh? I can’t say as I can tell; all their expressions look the same to me. I’ll have to take your word for it. Well, a good teacher can admit when he’s wrong … But I’m not a very good teacher and I’m probably not wrong, so fuck that. Everything I know about Them tells me they are dangerous as all Hell, unfathomable in their motives and not to be trusted.”
“I trust him with my life,” Christopher murmured, his eyes lingering over the place where the green-clothed apparition of Eugene had appeared.
Seth snorted with something between amusement and disgust. “Yeah we all saw that, mate. Have I told you lately you’re a pain in the arse? Anyway,” Seth said, holding up his hands. “This was meant to be me apologising to you for how much I suck, so here goes. I was wrong. I knew what you wanted the Art for, that you were driven, that something was eating you up, gnawing at your guts from the inside. As your mentor, as your friend even, I shouldn’t have encouraged it. But I saw my own obsession mirrored in yours. And my obsession sung with new power in the light of yours. I should have been trying to save you, but I brought you into all of this to save me.”
“And how’s that working out for you?” Christopher asked sarcastically. If he’d been able, the faint smile on his lips would have been laughter. But for some reason he didn’t feel like his face was able to move enough to laugh.
Seth did laugh. “Oh, look, I don’t know. It’s been something, all right. Whether it’s salvation or not I don’t know; not sure if I’d know what salvation looked like if it bit me on the arse. But it’s been real. And Hell, that’s good enough for me right now. Nothing has felt real since Lucrece died, so I can only thank you. Plus there’s still time, ‘time for you and time for me before the taking of a toast and tea’.’”
“Feeling like disturbing the universe?” Christopher enquired.
Seth grinned.
“I think I’m fast losing that arrogance, my friend, to believe this great and terrible mystery with all its black holes and supernovas is disturbed by anything I do. But I think I still have to make it up to you for everything I did and didn’t do. Not sure what the going rate for opening your sister’s jugular vein is but I’ll do my darnedest. Then maybe afterward you can save me?”
“I don’t know if I’m in the position to save much of anything right now.” Christopher had to admit, there was something about experiencing your own physical vulnerablity, mortality and helplessness that really pushed along the growing up process.
“What? Have you got somewhere you need to be? I don’t think you’ll be keeping many appointments while you’re still taking a piss in a plastic bag. You just lie there and respirate.”
As soon as Seth said the words ‘lie there and respirate’ Christopher became aware of his body and his breathing. He became aware of the drip he was attached to and wanted to point out Seth’s factual error in that he no longer had a catheter, but he couldn’t speak. It was like sleep paralysis. He could hear everything Seth said but he couldn’t move.
“When I told you I learned the Craft from my father that was a half-truth. I learned a lot of folk practices and superstitions from him but that wasn’t really where it started. See, this is the problem when you try to tell a story; the story tells you and the real place you need to start is never the beginning. It’s usually somewhere around the end.”
“Then start at the end. Tell me everything and anything that really matters and nothing that doesn’t, like always.” Christopher was fascinated to hear words in the air that came from his own mind, when he hadn’t even moved his physical mouth.
“I never told you anything real about how I found the Craft, or how it found me, because mystery is half of magic. Or maybe that’s bullshit I told myself. I wanted to create a kind of magic for you that would be what you were searching for. You weren’t looking for origins or lineages when we met. You were looking for a dead boy, for fallout fragments of your broken heart. You were looking for a human explosion that would set your comfortable little world on fire. Well, you got that. Between Sophia and I we’ve emolliated every bit of predictability, comfort or normality in your life. -Don’t say I never get you anything.
“Now I wonder, if I’d given you my origin story right from the start, would you have found what I had to offer greater or lesser? You knew full well that the real Art wasn’t for sale in the crystal shops. You knew I was the real oldschool deal. But it wasn’t like the 17th century coughed me up whole into modern day Salisbury. I watched TV as a kid like you did. It was my dad who first realised I was different. But it wasn’t some quaint woodsman’s intuition that tipped him off to what was going on. He’d seen it before. Seen others like me. When he worked it out he made some phone calls. That was when my mentor came along.”
“I really want to hear all of this, Seth. But why feel bad about not telling me?” Christopher asked. “Maybe it was me that should have asked more questions. I was so na├»ve and wide-eyed when we met … I think I did feel like the 17th century coughed you out whole into my world.”
Seth laughed but when he stopped laughing his voice came out sounding slightly grim. “I’m telling you this now for a very good reason, because you are right on the verge, and the witch that you are is probably about to explode into your life in a way you aren’t prepared for. Some people go through an illness or emotional trauma when their initiation hits. They dream of being dismembered and taken apart by spirits and something, some familiar spirit or god, puts them back together again, stronger than before. They wake up a witch. They wake up already one of the dead, someone who has died before they die and glimpsed what lies beyond. You just did yours in a bit more style than most people and got yourself shot.”
“So what I just felt, that sense that I’d never breathed before, all that giving up and giving over and then deciding on life again … that was my initiation?”
“Uh huh. Shit is about to get real, my friend.”
Christopher wanted to laugh again. If shit hadn’t been ‘real’ before he knew he should probably be terrified to see what it getting real was going to look like.
“Okay … Well, could you tell me whatever you think I need to know to be prepared?”
“Yeah,” Seth muttered. “Of course, it’s my job as your teacher.” But Christopher could sense the reluctance in Seth’s voice. “My mentor was a man with a vision for people like us. He had a vision that I’ve never really stepped outside the long shadow of. I’m not sure I want to. It haunts me. I know there’s unfinished business for me at Winthrope. I’ve known that for a long time but I guess I didn’t want to poke it too much, didn’t really want to know. I also know I need a lot more time with you. The key to our going forward lies in Vincent’s vision. But the thing is, my friend …” Seth’s voice trailed away for a moment then, as though he were not really sure he wanted to continue. “I’m afraid of his vision, truly afraid, as I’m not of many things.  I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m afraid of what it will do to us when you know of it. You may yet drive me out of the hedged and fenced places with a stake in your hand and a flaming brand. But knowing that as I do, valuing your friendship above all living things, and even knowing how close we already came to this blowing up in our faces, I can no longer excuse keeping silent.”

Sophia stopped walking quite suddenly. The styrofoam cup in her hand steamed and her sudden halt caused her to spill some coffee on her hand. She didn’t flinch much. The figure standing outside the door to Christopher’s room concerned her far more than the minor burn. As was always the case with Sophia’s second sight, she thought at first that a living man was standing by the door to Christopher ward. But then she’d realised he was naked, which made it far less likely that he was alive.
She held her breath. This was why she hated hospitals. Few places had so many revenants as hospitals. But the fact was, it wasn’t what he was so much as who he was that sent cold chills running all the way to her extremities. Even after being able to see ghosts all her life, Sophia had never really worked out what it was about her that caught their attention. Could they tell somehow that she could see them? Was it because she was staring and everyone else was looking right on past them? Or did they somehow sense her fear? She had a cold sort of sensation that it was probably the latter.
The shade turned to her. Sophia hadn’t needed to see the gruesome neck wound to know it was Josh. The insidious truth was that she recognised his naked body from the days when they were intimate. His deathly appearance made that fact seem somehow macarbe in retrospect. With an effort of will she tried to stop her breath coming faster. If any nurses or patients walk past they’re going to think I’m balmy! Sophia jumped when her new mobile phone started going off. Immediately Josh’s revenant began backing away from the noise.
“And Seth wonders why I love phones and gadgets and lights so much,” she muttered to herself as she took out her phone. Like so many other confused spirits that had died violently or suddenly, Josh would just be another one that she would walk away from when she left the hospital, she told herself. She watched him shamble away down the corridor out of sight. And yet, even as she told herself that that was his fate, something in her felt this was incomplete. Surely that isn’t all I have to do? Let Christopher and Seth kill him for me and then pretend I can’t see him? Let the problem wander away down the hall because someone’s on the phone …
For a moment she almost didn’t want to answer the call. As though answering it was tacitly saying that she rejected the witch she was becoming in favour of distractions. But then she saw it was her father.
“Hey, Dad,” she said, wedging her phone between her ear and her shoulder so she could talk to him and drink her coffee at the same time.
“Just checking up on you, Pumpkin. Even though that bastard’s gone now you must know how much you scared your mother and I?”
Sophia smiled with reluctant affection for her father, but then had to bite back a sarcastic remark about how her mother had a funny way of showing it. Today she didn’t let it annoy her that her father always said ‘you scared your mother and I’ whenever something bad happened to her, as though it was her fault rather than her stalker ex-boyfriend’s.
“I’m fine, Baba.”
“How’s Christopher?”
Sophia smiled again. She had never known her parents to like any of her boyfriends so much as they seemed to like this one. Maybe it had something to do with Christopher having saved her life and not being a sleaze or a thug, she thought.
“He’s fine too. Well … he’s coming along okay. It’s going to take time but the doctors are happy with his progress. Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you back. Love you.”
Sophia ended the call and put the phone in her handbag as she headed into Christopher’s ward. When she noticed Seth she didn’t jump at all. His presence was no surprise to Sophia. He had been at Christopher’s side almost as often as she had.
She closed her eyes because she didn’t want to see Seth so much as feel him. Her sleeping and waking hours were haunted by the shapes and sounds of dead men. Her mind was a place that straddled worlds, however much she’d tried to deny this fact all her life. It was only now that she was trying to refine how she used this extra sense, trying to work out if there was a difference between this spectral image of Seth and the visitations of the dead. She also wanted to know words for why the apparition of Eugene looked different again to Josh’s shade. There were so many questions …
As she sat beside Christopher’s bed it seemed that normality was something she no longer cared to cling onto. The fear that had driven that urge had mostly fallen away. Ever since Christopher had first taken tight hold of her and told her, ‘everything is going to be alright,’ the dreams where she was slamming and locking doors had stopped. She had felt his strength, not just the man’s strength in his body and hands, but something that came from belief, from conviction. Maybe it was a form of insanity to be as certain as Christopher was of some things ... Sophia had never felt certain about much of anything; she only knew that he had chased away those dreams when nothing else ever had.
Sophia remembered the dreams. She had spent her whole life running, both in her mind and with her body. Always closing doors and bolting them, slamming gates, or frantically patching up holes in walls or hedges by stuffing them with handfuls of grass. There were always too many holes, though; the wind would blow through, covering the lawn with the debris of the forest. The dead would poke their pale, clammy hands through those holes like so many dead leaves and grab at her ankles as she ran. The dead were a pervasive rising damp.
Christopher and Seth had come with their own ghosts. But they, at least, had understood. Christopher looked upon what happened to her, this thing that she could do, or was, as a thing of wonder rather than terror. She could never forget how he’d looked at her when Seth first revealed that she had the Sight. It was like I was something wonderful rather than just some crazy bitch.
There had been a terrible fate waiting for her. She could never decide exactly how it played out. Had it been Josh with his gun, coming for her as he had that day, and perhaps killing her if Christopher hadn’t intervened? Christopher seemed to have this power to change the course of bullets that had been marked for her long ago, to attract them to his own body and to close up the wound of fate’s gaping maw, leaving things changed and rearranged. He seemed to disrupt things, to throw a wild-card of chaos into the fateful weave of things.
Or was the true doom that had awaited her at her own hand? She pondered. Sometimes in the past, she had pictured herself at the end of a long pursuit, fleeing from her own shadow. She was alone, wet, cold, teetering on a rocky outcrop near the coast, swaying, waiting, and trying to find the resolution to jump. Afraid of falling and yet more afraid of leaving the sanctuary offered to her by the dizzy drop below. To let go was unimaginable in its intensity and finality, but to step away … to allow the pursuit to continue, that was unthinkable. Sometimes that image was so clear it was like a memory, as though it had really happened to her. In her imagination she actually felt the crumbling rocks under her fingernails as she held onto the sheer cliff-face and wavered.
“You saved me, one way or another,” she muttered aloud.
It seemed certain that if Christopher hadn’t come, and Seth too, that she wouldn’t be there to stand by this strange young man’s bedside as he dreamed fitfully. Even Seth, who at first had made her feel as if spiders were crawling on her skin, him too she felt a kinship with. Sophia knew they were exiles together. Creatures of the other-side of the crumbling stone walls, the hedges, and the bolted doors…
If the darkness inside Seth that yawned and came out roaring, seeking to be fed at times, beyond the confines of the frontal lobe and all social rules, if that darkness chilled her inside, still she couldn’t help but recognise herself in him. So, knowing that he was there in the room, speaking with Christopher, she didn’t need to suppress a scream as once she would have. Making a conscious effort not to eavesdrop on their conversation, she occupied herself with a magazine until Seth’s ghostly voice fell silent. When she couldn’t hear him but could still feel him, Sophia got up and went straight to where she felt him in the room. She pressed herself deep into that cold patch in the room as though she meant to embrace him.
“Seth, what do I do now?”
“Tell Christopher he can’t help me yet. It’s not time. Get him well; get him out of this place.”
His words felt like a movement of chill draft on her neck.
“Are you going to die?” she whispered.
“Don’t know if I’m going to get that lucky. Let’s wait and see, huh?
“Okay.”  At that she felt his presence begin to fade out. “Seth!”
“I trust you. Despite everything … I trust you still. I need you to know that.”

Seth merely inclined his head in a shallow bow and was gone. Sophia was left with a strong feeling of relief. There was something partial, something more like the shade of a dreamer or a witch in flight about Seth’s ghost. It didn’t feel as potent as she’d have expected Seth to feel as a dead man. Maybe he will still wake up. Sophia formed a wordless sort of prayer to the old gods of Artyn and Catrin’s people, for Seth to come back to them. Without him Christopher and I are magical orphans. Without him I have no idea what comes next, and no words to give to the shadows that follow me.

 © 2014 -Lee Morgan

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ancestral Home Calling

'It will be forever
my sea bird turn
and dip
horizon call
in cold air that
fossilises the ossuary
of my mind
like old seaweed,
chalk boned, this land,
hag-stone hearted,
just a taste
on my ancestor's tongues
dissolved, like salt,
into my tongue
till I am saliva-rich
with all their dead tastes.
A ninth wave carries
pebble song,
half-remembered gods,
worn smooth glass,
lost hairpin,

-Lee Morgan, 2013