What Comes After

“And some,” I said, “come back wielding light against that darkness. Seeing nothing, we bring back fire, we light lamps, candles, torches. We hold light that isn’t ours, as how else would anyone else see?”
We See the Darkness



I say uncomfortable things.

There are other people you can read, you know.  I heard of a piece where a high-waged Pagan worker at a tech company explains how we should stop worrying about how bad the world is.  Another piece will help you get more money, or bring in more energy to your altar.

You can read people who will tell you that composting a little more will help you get closer to The Goddess, or will explain to you how we can all get along if we just center a little more.  There are whole traditions that will help you get in contact with ascended witch-teachers who will make your life more fulfilling, or teach you to summon beings to do things on your behalf.

I don’t teach spirituality, you’ve probably noticed.  Almost everything I’ve learned is piecemeal, given to me by friends and gods.  I’m a bard, not a magician or a witch or an ascended master–I can’t teach you how to get a raise or get your lover to stop cheating on you or increase the value of your home.

If anything, I’m a skald of the darkness, a bard of Annwn.  Devoted to a goddess who drowns children, another goddess who cares more for the poor than the wealthy, another goddess who will strip you of everything, and a god whose head, still-dripping blood, was buried not to give wealth, but to protect the weak.  And yet another god, whose followers were often slaves and rebels, whose cults were stamped-out because the powerful feared them and him.

I’m from the forest–not the pristine wilderness you visit on weekends to ‘find yourself,’ but the caverns and gulleys filled with human trash, surrounded by barbed wire and oil pipelines, polluted by your cars.

And I’m from the streets–not the wide boulevards you stroll down to go shopping, but the piss-soaked sidewalks and alleys where the homeless people you ignore build homes from cardboard and villages beneath your distracted gaze.

I’m from The Commons, not the market.  I’ve no money to buy from you the stuff you sell, no coin to donate to your venerable causes. The most valuable things I possess were given me, not bought from local artisans.  I wear a wooden spear-tip given to me by a friend, fill my pockets with found rocks, read books gifted to me by the people who wrote them, ride a bike I had to beg to pay a little for, worship at an altar given to me by one who maybe never expected how much it’d mean to me.  Nothing of meaning to me cost in coin.

I’m from the uneducated poor, not the academies of the bourgeoisie.  All I know I learned in books, or from people.  I hung with high-school drop-out punks reading Baudrillard and Zizek, frustrated old-men and poor-but-fabulous single mothers whose degrees never earned them a penny and would teach us for free.  I’ve stolen books to find the knowledge therein, locked up behind prices which proclaimed, ‘this is not for you.’

This is me, and why I’m so uncomfortable.

And yet you read me, and ask me to hold your hand as the darkness I show you settles in, the horrors you’ve ignored are finally unveiled.  It’s okay, really–I know the monsters which hunt us, and the evil you’re just seeing in what you thought was a compassionate life.

I can hold your hand for a bit, yes.

But not forever.

Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul
–Emily Dickinson

The world underneath the world you thought you knew looks brutal, I know.  I’m sorry.  Like a foreign city and you don’t know the language, but worse–you’re just now realizing you’re the reason it got bombed and all the people here are poor.  The polluted stream where I sat was poisoned by the way you get to work–that’s not an easy thing to realize, like finding out you accidentally killed a kitten.

And it’s really tempting to go back, huh?  I’ve heard this–but I’ve nowhere to go back to, so there’s nothing I miss.

And most of all, it’s really tempting to blame me.  I guess I get this, too, like how people blame the dead Black man for showing us all how racist we’ve been, or the homeless woman on the street for reminding you that Capitalism grinds us all into dust.

It’s like we’ve all been drunk and are starting to sober up.  You seen DT’s, the addicted-body’s deadly-reaction to the absence of a deadly-poison?  That shit can kill you–I’m sorry.  Often we’ll see it in social work and offer them a beer to help ease them back into an equilibrium that is mostly just an unfortunate ‘normal.’  It’s called harm-reduction–keep the alcoholic safe so they don’t hurt themselves or others.  And in that moment, they’re most angry, having seen the abyss.

Once in awhile, though, you’ll find the person who’s done.  They withdraw, we worry.  We’ll offer them alcohol because we’re afraid the trauma of reality might kill them.  But no–they refuse.  “I’m done,’ they’ll say, sometimes after 40 years of addiction.

And to everyone’s surprise, they were done.  They stopped, and four years later they’re still refusing to hide in oblivious half-bliss, seeing now the horrors they ignored, understanding the lie their life was built upon, and as Marx said, “at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

I won’t question why you still read me, despite how uncomfortable these words make you.  You can stop anytime, you know, go back to not-knowing.

Or maybe you can’t, because you’ve seen the abyss now, how our lifestyles are sustained on the backs of slaves and the poisoning of forests and how, you, too, have been imprisoned in gilded cages, surrounded by shiny things which opiate your pain.

I assure you, though–there’s a way through the Abyss, and what comes after is brilliant, and what you return with is even more beautiful, and no-one will need to hold your hand any longer, but they might want you to hold theirs.


13 thoughts on “What Comes After

  1. Have you been reading my mind? I was thinking so hard about what you wrote last time, the upshot of my deliberations was “What happens after you grasp the nettle?”


    Another great post. I’m writing an open letter in response, I hope that’s okay!

  2. I read what you write because it speaks to me. More importantly I read it because I need to do so. I swear to you that every web search I’ve made on a pagan topic in the last week (no small number) has led to one of your blogs. I am not sure how to take it, but somebody wants me to listen.

  3. Do you remember when you told us about strawberry jam and snowflakes on our tongues and leaving the stuck bus?

    I do.

    I hear how exhausted you are. And I’m sorry. I can’t even imagine how maddening it must be to hear people like me say, over and over again, how much your writing means to us, how it is challenging us and making us think and then….and then…and then…we do nothing. We stay on the bus.

    You say you write about uncomfortable things that make people want you to hold their hands. Yes. But you also write about wild things, and things like forests, and undines, and other stuff that fills us with wonder like lances of sunlight that murder doubt. All these treasures, such things many haven’t known. And you are saying; these are right here. Already. Right here on this earth right now. Why are you playing candy crush?

    When you tell me about that stuff, I don’t want my screens and my car and my comfortable life that murders the planet so badly anymore. I want stories told by candlelight and swimming in cold streams and forests to live instead of being poisoned and human beings to be fed instead of being collateral.

    You touched on something really important in the Spirit of Poverty that you came back to here. That you know you can live with nothing, that there is nothing for you to go back to so there is nothing for you to miss. I’m curious if you are disconnected with how deeply alienated most people are from that. How huge and deep a chasm that seems. How much like death it appears. If you hope to lead people out of it, you must understand that staring at it can feel like annihilation for so many. This is what keeps them on the bus. Stuck.

    I know you can’t hold hands forever. And that you are tired. But I know a little something about recovery from hopeless conditions and when we help people see that they are powerless over their addiction and their lives are unmanageable, we never forget to also tell them that true freedom is just around the corner and that the best is yet to come. All they have to change is everything.

    You are tremendous. Keep it up.

  4. I’m not afraid of depressed folk. Been there too much. I’m not afraid of folk who are hurting–I have shoulders and ears, and sometimes balm or healing, courtesy of one Goddess or another.

    I vote. I sign petitions. I write my legislators and others who have the power to change our society, bit by bit, towards justice and equality for all, towards the elimination of poverty, racism, and marginalisation. I recognize my privilege, and try to use it to help those reft of it in what they ask for. I have some hope yet.

    I’m listening and reading, and trying to translate that into positive action. I’m not quite a naive Pollyanna–I don’t have *that* much privilege.

  5. It feels callous to click “Like”, because I’m not liking it one bit. So much of me is bound to the old world. I have never known anything else. Yet it is your voice, and that of others, that stirs something inside my own soul. I have to go into the dark and see it for myself.

  6. I’m with you on this in the sense that Annwn for me is not (and maybe never was) the purely the blissful paradise in the medieval texts but is composed from the towns behind the towns our towns are built on. Many of them suffering terrible poverty. And the forgotten people there demanding recognition. And of course that poverty isn’t a thing of the past. It’s still going on now. And the gods demand we seek ways to change it.

  7. Your Spirit of Poverty post kept me awake more than one night recently, and I can honestly say that’s a good thing. I’ve seen the Abyss and I thank you for assuring me there’s a way through at all. I’m working on it.

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