I know. Everyone does end of the year posts, yeah?. It’s apparently a thing to do. And I’m an anarchist and generally don’t like trends and almost never do what everyone else is doing, right?
Except this year I decided I like Rihanna and hipster ice cream. Rihanna’s indirectly the fault of a boy I fell for. The hipster ice cream was enjoyed with a dirt-mage occultist after a graveyard jaunt. It was Earl Grey-flavoured and delicious and not-at-all miasmic.
Also, I have a boyfriend. He’s awesome and amazing, and yeah, I know, having boyfriends is the thing to do, but he does make me feel a bit like Rihanna and also a bit like Earl-Grey flavoured ice cream.
So, if I’ve thusly sullied my rebellious nature, why not an end-of-the-year post?
The Dragon of the Land
As you probably know, last year I went to Newgrange for midwinter solstice. Sort of a big deal, since they only pick 50 people out of 40,000 applicants to go, and I didn’t put my name in.
But what was more profound to me, though, was what happened just before. I’d gone with a friend, a rather astute spirit-worker/shaman, to Gwynedd in Wales. We’d visited several places together while staying in a rather castle-like hotel in Caernarvon, catching up on a couple of missed years (he’d moved to Wales from Seattle).
“You’re to meet a dragon,” he’d told me. “He said he’ll teach you to breathe fire.”
I didn’t really know what to think about that statement, but more than anyone alive, he’s the most trustworthy human I know. Still, I didn’t put too much faith in his words as we headed to Beddgelert so I could go ask giants for help reweaving the cult of the Raven King.
[this is where one always notes how real life, as a polytheist, sounds much more interesting than role-playing fantasy games. Fewer swords, sure, but more meaning]
And…I met that dragon. What I ‘actually’ saw is indescribable. Didn’t look like ‘a dragon’ at all, though I can understand why any bard, mystic, poet, or artist having the experience I had there would later describe it to others as meeting a dragon.
Being who I am, though, I’d prefer to describe that encounter as ‘getting fucked by the land.‘ It felt physical, it felt like sex. It also felt nothing at all like sex, except for that part where your soul expands so much that it becomes also the lover whom you’re with, and the bed upon which you lay, and the music playing, the darkness or candlelight enfolding, the spinning earth below you and the wheeling stars above.
“I’ll teach you to breathe fire,” he’d said.
And that’s been this entire year.
The Fire Dance
I actually don’t know what happened this year. Poetic musing is a weapon against the indescribable, but I’ve no idea how to weave a narration ’round the last 12 months.
In January, I returned from pilgrimage and wrote Tomb of the Atheist. Arrived back in Seattle to find the house I rented had been sold and the lover who was going to move to Seattle no longer intended to. All sorts of nigredo, I guess, the blackening in the fire, much of your world falling to ashes while something more profound lingers in the blackened char.
Went to Pantheacon, celebrated my birthday with Alley Valkyrie by talking about Capitalism to an overflowing room of Pagans, and then got drunk later that night (it was my birthday, after all) and started Gods&Radicals.
Got a mage pretty pissed at me (a theme for the year–people get grumpy) with Perceval. That was quite the fire-dance.
In March, I moved into the attic of a Radical Faerie house, where I still currently live. Gods&Radicals published its first essay online that month, and we received $1000 donation from someone which led us to found it as a non-profit Publisher. I also published my favorite piece of writing this year (The City At The Gates of the Dead), the beginning of my journey into the realms of the Dead and what, in retrospect, turned out to become an initiation with Brân.
That entire spring was intense–I worked full time while setting up Gods&Radicals while writing. We officially launched May 1st, and while I’m sure many others were pretty impressed with the writing there, I think no-one was probably as astounded as I’ve been. I’d bemoaned for years that Pagans had utterly forsaken their roots as a resistance movement to Capital and Empire, but Gods&Radicals pretty much proved me wrong. More than anything, I suspect all that was needed was a space for such words, a breaking-open of the denkverbot in American Paganism that privileged white middle-class voices of appeasement over all the subaltern experiences.
I feel, honestly, that Gods&Radicals is merely an opened gate. The majority narrative of American Paganism had been one where deep engagement with gods was only tolerated if kept to oneself, and deep engagement with the world (and its horrors) was something actively discouraged, while glossy witch-craft and denialist white-light ‘let’s all get along’ witchcraft filled bookshelves and Pagan festivals. All the while, the seas are rising, the ice-caps are melting, Black folk are slaughtered, indigenous people are starved out and we all thumb phones made by slave labor.
Against all that there can be only fire.
Just after co-founding Gods&Radicals, Niki Whiting, P.S.V.L, and I threw the greatest party for the gods yet to have existed in the United States: Many Gods West. It was the second polytheist conference to have occurred in America (the first, the “Polytheist Leadership Conference” really doesn’t get enough credit, by the way), and was pretty fucking awesome.
Right after that, I wrote Dahut At The Floodgates, which got some other people mad at me, including someone calling me an “outsider colonizing polytheism with anti-capitalism.” Learning to laugh and dance in flames is quite the useful skill.
September and October were mostly a dark blur of words. Editing the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance involved lots of dead-work. Felt a bit like leading dead revolutionaries past the gates of Annwn into the rain-soaked streets of the industrialised, Capitalist future they bled and died to stop.
A Beautiful Resistance, by the way, might be my favorite thing I’ve ever done. It’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of, anyway, but for many of the same reasons I’m proud of all the rest of this.
Fire destroys. Fire creates. Setting flame to something transforms it either way, and this whole year’s been me breathing fire at stuff: sometimes something that needs to be destroyed, sometimes at stuff that needs to be born, and sometimes at myself for both of those reasons.
The Fires of Creation
As I mentioned earlier, Peter Dybing kindly named me an influential Pagan. Also, Crystal Blanton wrote some really humbling words about my work, too. And I guess…yeah. I probably have become that, which is a little weird for a boy who grew up in a collapsing A-Frame house with missing floors and an open sewer in Appalachia, and then later taking care of his little sisters and working to pay rent and buy groceries while going to high school because his mother went schizophrenic.
Or maybe it’s sorta because of that. And also lots because of gods. And a lot because of the fire of a land.
More than anything, I kinda hope that whatever fires I’ve set inspire others to do the same. If I could, I’d take others to that dragon, though I think his intention was that I’d teach others to do the same thing. And I don’t really know quite how to do that, except to write about this stuff, set more fires, burn down more petty empires, open more gates.
One of those ‘opened gates,’ by the way, is A Beautiful Resistance. Today we officially announced the call for submissions and that my favorite poet (ever), Lorna Smithers, will be the Editor of the next issue. Besides this being fucking awesome, there’s something else worth noting on this: too many of the really cool, profound, potentially revolutionary things that are birthed into the world get suffocated because the person who started it demands control. If I helped start a ‘second wave paganism’ (Peter Dybing’s words), then it’ll wither and become a tragic joke if it’s branded and trade-marked. That was the point of Perceval, and the point of Dahut At The Floodgates.
We don’t need leaders or emperors or masters or patriarchs or matriarchs.
We just need lots of people learning to breathe fire, bringing light and warmth to some, destruction and transformation to others.
My next book, A Kindness of Ravens, will be ready for release January 20th. I’ll be releasing it both as a print and digital version at the same time.
And Your Face Is A Forest is finally available in digital form, for $6.
Patreon supporters at any dollar amount can receive both of these now for free.
I hope this new year finds you well, happy, full of love and hope and, especially, breathing fire.
2 thoughts on ““I Will Teach You To Breathe Fire””
FWIW, you have lit a fire in me I thought was long dead. Bless you.
Thank you. ❤