Traveling is not all waiting in places, but it is often waiting in places. It is waiting in cafes and train stations, sitting on pavement or benches, by rivers and cathedrals, waiting to arrive or depart.
I write this from a train station. I am neither arriving nor departing. I’ve already arrived: six hours before now I disembarked from Bristol into Bath to go cry on some stones and press my head into another man’s chest. Two days from now I will depart here, headed west to Cardiff before heading again east to London, then south to Marseilles.
I’m neither arriving nor departing now, but waiting to meet a friend.
It is a lot of waiting to meet friends, lingering over a flat white or a latte, a beer or a smoothie until it is time for them to arrive where you are, or time for you to depart to where they they are.
It is a lot of waiting.
But it isn’t the counting of interminable hours until a work shift is done, nor the impatient suspension of a world when another is late. If anything, waiting is a chance to rest, an expanse of uncommitted minutes and hours, rare time to pause. It’s in these moments—waiting—I am most myself, a body unregulated, a soul untimed.
It’s also when I write.
When I’ve traveled before, I’ve tried to stay in one place for at least a week before moving on. This time, I’ve been in no city longer than 2 days. Such a schedule means I have little time to write because I am always moving.
So I look forward to these moments of waiting in order to write, and to be a body alone for a little while, alone with all the rest of the world around me, waiting to see what I am becoming, and what we have become.
Land is a Body of the Witch: Shropshire, May 13-14
The first full sleep I’ve had since arriving was my last night in Manchester, sinking deep into a soft bed as the moon settled against the leaves of trees outside my rented room. The morning was happily slow: my hosts had already left for work, and I had time to drink several cups of tea, shower, and let myself wake up.
One of the things I noticed most about the folk in Manchester was their eagerness to help strangers. A bus driver laughed at my fumbling attempts to count out change and then counted it out for me. When I asked one person for directions, an entire crowd volunteered the information, and when I boarded a bus that morning to the city center, an immigrant woman wearing a hijab handed me her day-pass for the bus. This last bit of help reminded me of an old Black man, my next-door neighbour in Seattle for more than a decade, who’d run across the street to hand my his bus transfers so I didn’t pay. She had the same insistence: I did not fully understand her offer until the ticket was in my hand. “All day,” she said. “Don’t pay.”
One looks for little graces like this when traveling. I’ve written elsewhere about the ‘stupid tax’ one pays upon arriving in new cities: initial ignorance of a place means you always pay more for things that are cheaper if you’re not a stranger. My theory holds true still, though I’d add this addendum: the path to learning a city is in the bodies of those who dwell there, and in their kindness. And that it was an immigrant who saw my foreignness and offered help is not a matter of little note.
I ate lamb kefta from an open-air market in Picadilly Square, then bore my packs to the station to catch a train bound for Ludlow in Shropshire, headed to meet two people waiting for me at the station.
These people are Alkistis Dimech and Peter Grey. They’re the founders of the esoteric book publisher Scarlet Imprint.
Paganism, Witchcraft, and all the various related threads have had very few radicals until the last decade. In fact, it’s fair to say that talk of magic had become quite staid, conformist, timid, and otherwise irrelevant to those who actually hoped to engage with the world. Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft and his later essay Rewilding Witchcraft changed that trend.
My work, along with the work of Gods&Radicals, might not have been possible without Grey.
You can probably imagine, then, that I was a bit nervous to meet them. It was only my third day in England, I’d only had one full night of sleep since arriving. I was disoriented, jet-lagged, and I was on my way to meet people I thought the world of… yet had never met.
They met me at the train station, Peter standing outside their van, Alkistis inside, smiling. Peter’s got a post urban-punk look about him, with the sort of kind eyes that take in more of the world than most of us ever do. And Alkistis? She’s got the presence and beauty of a Parisian socialite with the fae and feral demeanor of the forest. She even let me try on her hat.
We wandered a bit in Ludlow, sitting in a pub, and then later Alkistis and I drank coffee in a sort of swank rural-hipster food shop.
“You eat meat or dairy?” Peter asked.
I’d dreaded this moment, actually. I’ve been both vegetarian and vegan in the past. It’s hard. I was too poor to do either well. But food choices can be a matter of an almost puritanical morality amongst witches and radicals. It’s a bit silly, of course, but never easy to negotiate, particularly when food production is so tied to industrial waste and environmental destruction.
“Uh…yeah.” I answered.
“Great. We’ll have venison sausage. I was afraid you might be a hardcore vegan.”
I laughed. I didn’t tell him then, but I’d been a bit worried too.
He drove us all back to their home and I had some tea. I bring tea along with me when I travel. Not good stuff, necessarily, but since I drink so much of it, coming with it anywhere means I won’t drink my hosts out of their supply.
I drank tea, and then stared at their bookshelf in awestruck wonder. Being so nomadic these last four years has meant I have no bookshelf. Books I buy or borrow or receive don’t linger long with me, they’re passed off to others when I leave one place for another. I miss books, having the books I like most around, the books I might want to refer to later, the books I want to pick off a shelf and show someone else.
“You have all the special editions of the Scarlet Imprint line,” I said, joking but still with some awe.
We all build up people in our minds whom we haven’t met. Some do this with actors or musicians or athletes. I do this with writers and theorists and witches. Other people do this with me, I’ve found. In fact, had I never had the experience of meeting strangers who esteemed me highly, I’d probably have been a blathering idiot.
When you’re thought highly of by a stranger because of your work and you meet them, it’s a bit one-sided. They tell you all sorts of things about you, about how you’ve inspired them or changed their world, about how they love your writing or work, and it’s all rather awesome to hear. But then, you’re supposed to say something back, and you want to say something meaningful, but you don’t know anything about them at all. They have all the information and advantage. You? You can only say “thank you,” or “I’m glad,” which all sounds a bit hollow and almost self-important. You can’t really say, “I like your hair” or “that’s an awesome shirt” because you sound like an shallow idiot.
So I try not to do that to others. I told them that, actually. And then added, “but I still have to say–you’re my fucking hero.”
And then we went to go save a lamb.
We didn’t actually set out to save a lamb. But maybe we did. We climbed one of the nearby hills from their home, picking our way through muddy trails ever upward. Alkistis introduced me to Beech; Peter told me the story of the river 40 feet from their home, a river once red with blood from ancient Welsh resistance to invaders. They both showed me the trees, the line where forestry land shifted the landscape and life of the hills to monocultural emptyness. She spoke to birds and sheep as we climbed; he untied rope and other markings from trees.
We crossed a stream into which water cascaded down a fairy stair, a natural slate formation appearing to be hewn and carved stone. Soon after I got a bit dizzy, felt myself drowning in pine clambering up a slick hillside. I was staring at roots forming the skulls of two beasts who’ve haunted me for awhile now.
We crested the hill finally, an open expanse of pasture. Alkistis was talking to a lamb wedged between two felled sections of a massive tree. The beast had likely leapt in, become wedged, and could not escape. From the amount of sheep shit below it after we’d freed it (and its frantic sprint to its mother) it’d been there awhile.
I think we were all aware of how odd the timing. The need for the counterbalance to synchronistic experiences extends across oceans: they joked about planning it, I later suggested all the lambs upon the several hills had all been chattering afterwards about the feat.
What’s magic, though, except such moments? What’s magic, except knowing better how to find such moments, to be in such intersections, to know what the land needs around you and respond helpfully?
We walked through one of the few oak groves still remaining, talking of their impending deaths from global warming. The late-day sun shone through the leaves, illuminating the myriad of bluebells below. Such places seem far from the apocalypse of the anthropocene, yet they’ll suffer first.
The next morning, I did some sewing while staring at the hundreds of books in their den. Their home is stone and old wood. “Patching clothes here is totally medieval punk,” I said.
What I also said, later, was that I was fucking happy to be there. Some 48 hours of relentless conversation about the world, magic, the body, leftism, the state of English occult, the transatlantic divide in Paganism.
We climbed part of another mountain, this time crowned by standing stones and burial sites.
A cold wind blew from the north; Peter pointed out Snowdon, Alkistis called to birds and talked of the feel of the earth below her. We ate chocolate while leaning against burial stones, remarking on the hats of some archeologists.
I have met many fiercely magical people, but there are few who seem forged from the land around them, speaking with its voice as well as their own, an edge of kind sorrow and soft fury. Alkistis and Peter are the sort around whom it’s quite difficult to deny magic, the sort around whom it’s silly to apologize for uncertainty, but also completely unnecessary to speak on the matter at all.
Something happened later, some time in-folding and I lost my words mid-conversation. Some memory from later, arising in the before, suddenly inhabiting the now. I didn’t need to explain why I walked barefoot across the road to step barefoot through nettle and stare at the moon in the river, nor pretend I knew why I even did so. Knowing smiles, a kind solidarity. “This happen to you?” I asked, and they nodded, and that was all what was needful to say.
Such a witchcraft is hardly just a matter of magic. Rather, it’s a way of relating: to a land and all within it, of course, and all the unseen things, sure. But such a relating is also to the body, and to the body of others, to others-as-bodies. What are we, anyway, but all bodies composed of the same materia which composes the bodies of the forest, the rivers, the mountains, the world? If revolution might ever spring from any of our occulted wisdom, it will rise from that place, which is anyway the place from which we all start and the place into which we all end.
And it is in the place, I think, that we are all currently waiting.
Previous Pilgrimage Journals:
Can You Tell Me How To Get? (Brooklyn: May 10th-12th)
Across Water Are Other Memories (Manchester, May 12-13th)
Next: Bristol, Bath, Cardiff, London