I am sitting in this place again. There are the two trees, there is the lake. Behind me is the dark expanse of forest, under me is the bench.
“We see the darkness, and some go in.”
There are tears in my eyes. They rain from my face each time I walk towards this place, inundating my face. I know better than to hold them back.
“It is the Abyss.”
Three years ago, or a little less, I was last here, learning to see in the dark.
Three years ago, and a little less, I asked a question to the darkness.
“And some, I said, come back bearing light for the rest of us. They come back bearing torches and lanterns against the darkness, for how else would anyone see?”
My first pilgrimage, full of hope and wonder, terror and beauty. Gods had called me, magic coursed through me. I didn’t know what to do with any of it, and I was alone—the first time in years. There was no one to travel with, no one to return to.
Everything was raw being, unburdened life.
I walked through the darkness holding a candle. There was no other light, the ground was muddy, the path below me uncertain. Carrying that candle and a box full of stones, a bag with a wand and feathers and cards, wax burning my skin.
I found the place and sat, crying.
I’d just come down from a mountain, hiding in a cornfield from a goddess who found me anyway. Her words under that full moon were sparse, confusing. I’d climbed a mountain to meet her, just after viewing with my eyes the precise vision I’d seen months before in dreams. The cloaked man, a giant raven-cloaked bard straddled across a valley, the black fabric rippling in a wind.
It wasn’t a wind, I saw, as a million ravens flew away from him, leaving only bones which made a tower. And there, just below the cornfield, a 100 feet from the heather-strewn grave of a bard, I saw the valley, and further off a tower.
“You need to remember,” the goddess said to me, an impatience I could not understand.
“The stones—I showed you last time how to build this, but you forgot. We don’t have much time to protect them.”
I was so confused.
On my last night in Bretagne on that pilgrimage, I went to the same place I’d been 9 years before, a forested park just outside the city. It was there I first met Arianrhod, though I did not know her name then. I saw her written across the sky and the water as blue, rose, gold, and violet played against the sky after an endless arching silver.
My lover and I watched the storm in awe and the happyness that can only be felt along with great sadness, for we were to leave France the next morning.
“It smells like chamomile,” he said, and I agreed. We were almost drunk with the smell, and then we both noticed we were laying in a field of it, its bitter-apple blossoms deeply fragrant after the storm.
Three years ago, after descending that mountain, I came here again with that candle. Before I made my stumbling blind-man’s walk through the dark, I’d steeped cidre in chamomile and elderberry, poured part of it out for the spirits of this place and imbibed the rest myself.
And then I sat here, where I am sitting now, staring between the branches of two great cedars, seeing through the dark into a world I’d suspected existed just beyond our sight.
“Does it turn out okay?” a man asked in this place. “It becomes beautiful, right?”
I heard him say it again, and I cried.
“I don’t know,” I whispered back to him, three years from when he last sat here. “I hope so.”
I remember, I returned with such dreams.
I’d seen magic in alleyways and on street corners, in quiet groves and in fields lined with standing stones. I played my wooden recorder in a forgotten chapel and heard the stones sing back as devoted old women thanked me for the music.
I learned to read Ogham, and to know which direction was north even with my eyes closed. I drank from ancient fountains and built fires in crossroads, listened to the howls of fox and the snort of a wild boar rustling through my pack as I slept. I sat awhile with a toad, who did not flinch when I carried him. I heard hunters who were not there, had a necklace shatter before a statue I did not honor, followed the wanderings of a madwoman along a fence on a hill haunted with anger and delirium.
I walked along ancient fortifications of a temple buried beneath the abbey of a blind saint, gathering stag bones gnawed by predators who aren’t supposed to be wolves. I learned new magics, received sigils from strange figures in the time between sleeping and waking, and learned how to use them.
Everything was magic, and gods, and spirits of land and dead. Everything was beauty, and hope, and the beginning of power.
“Does it turn out okay?” he asked the light in the darkness, the candle wax covering his hand. “It becomes beautiful, right?”
“Sort of,” I answered, not sure myself. “At first, anyway..”
When I returned, I stayed for awhile with my sisters, and got my first writing ‘gig.’ I’d been writing already on my own blog, but this was the first time my words were elsewhere, and they became quite popular.
Not long after, I started seeing my words posted elsewhere, and started meeting people. A friend of mine who was also a writer had joked about the strange thing that happened to us both. “We’re being courted,” he said. I don’t think I responded.
Many of the people I met soon after were fascinating, and some have become very good friends. Others? Well, we’ll get to that part in a bit.
When you have something to say that no one else is saying, and when you have something to say that brings beauty and meaning into the lives of others, people don’t just read you, they tell other people to read you, too. And soon, I was asked to write elsewhere, and started writing for The Wild Hunt six months after I returned.
I then got invited to submit a proposal for a conference. It was accepted, and though I didn’t have the money to go, I was able to raise enough to fly across the country to speak there.
That’s where things started to go less than okay.
I remember the group of men who were at the conference. They stood apart from everyone else, they were a little bigger and more brusque, but everything else was so heady and interesting that weekend that I thought nothing of them until the night they almost started a fight.
The organisers had invited a group of Greek nationalists to the conference, and they apparently weren’t so happy about the queers and trans people in attendance.
I was only privy to part of the conversation which calmed them down. A quick thinking and relentlessly charismatic priest was able to calm them down, and they eventually even offered wine to the rest of us gathered on the periphery of their conversation. What was said I do not know for certain, but despite differences I’ve had with the man who calmed them, I know he’s no friend of bigots.
I didn’t think much of their appearance at the conference. Nationalists and New Right ideas have always soaked through Heathenism, but much less so with Pagans and Polytheists, I had thought.
“It becomes beautiful, right?”
“Sometimes. But then it gets really ugly.”
The summer, I moved back to Seattle after being away for a year and began to care for a forest. I’d spend hours in there during the day, stripping away ivy from the trunks of trees, hauling out broken glass and empty cans from a clogged stream bed. At night I would return and talk to my gods, listening to the sounds of high branches creak against the wind and later the relentless drip of rain off of leaf. I found places that wanted offerings, and gave them. I found the heart of that forest, and sat with it at night, hearing from that place the ghostly shadows of Others who watched, curious.
I fell in love with a man a few months before, and he came to visit me that September. A month of feral, intoxicating sex and laughter and magic ended one morning with an email from a friend. More magic and more gods had come, and suddenly the rest of my plans made no sense.
I published my first book just before I flew to Ireland to be inside Newgrange for Winter Solstice. If there’d been any doubt in my mind that the world was stranger than I conceived, it was the selection for that trip, 50 chosen out of 30,000, and I hadn’t even put my name in.
It’s funny to think on that while sitting here. About 2000 feet away from this spot is where I met an Irish couple 3 years ago, the husband of which, Ian, was heavily tattooed with the whorls from the stones of that ancient tomb.
“If you’re a druid,” he’d said, “you’ve got to go to Newgrange.”
“One day,” I’d answered him, hearing his voice still in my head the next morning.
“Does it all turn out okay?” I asked the darkness three years before.
“Pretty much, yeah. But–”
That next year was when things really turned weird. Just before Newgrange, I’d gone to Llyn Dinas in Gwenydd and talked to some giants and a dragon. I’d asked them for help re-awakening the Raven King into the hearts and minds of mortals, and they’d said yes. But I didn’t know what I’d been asking.
That February, I spoke at another Pagan conference to a packed room about Capitalism. It seemed almost a side-issue, a conversation to fill an odd void in the narrative of American Paganism. Most Pagans I’d met before becoming a writer had all gotten into Paganism specifically because they were anti-capitalists, yet the dominant inclination of the elders and elites seemed one of utter silence on the issue, if not a general libertarian bent. Alley Valkyrie and I spoke mostly out of a sense of duty, not of passion; it felt a bit too elementary, like teaching someone to find north without a compass.
A lot more people showed up then we’d expected, and from the questions (and the crowd in the hallway trying to listen), I knew we should do something else besides talk about this once a year.
Later that night, I had a bad experience with a Pagan elder, and I wrote about it, and got my first taste of what happens when you question Capitalism. Because that’d been my entire critique, anyway—an online activist conference for Pagans a few months before had managed to speak about absolutely everything except Capitalism. It was precisely on account of the absence there that Alley and I had crafted our presentation for Pantheacon.
Getting harassing emails and comments, and finding people whom you assumed to be friends suddenly turn viciously on you is never fun, sure. It’s definitely not beautiful, either, though a part of me wishes to return to those days, when I had not yet seen what might come. Because, for all the awful behavior from the man mentioned in Perceval, I knew at least his grand plans were born out of desire to protect people, not to destroy them.
The strange magic I learned to endure that time was new to me. Like all magic, though, it was mostly a new way of understanding the workings of the world and the wisdom of the body, finding my feet soaking wet in the flooded waters of an ancient Welsh lake while standing on dry land on the west coast of America. I don’t think there’s a tradition or cult that teaches that art. Only the land itself, and those who inhabit the land, seem to know its secret. That’s where I learned it, anyway.
And it’s precisely that which gives me pause now. The green waters of the small lake between these two cedars is rippling in a wind, fading daylight refracted into patterns I’ve tried to study ever since I was a child. A few light rains have passed over this land since I’ve been sitting here, writing. Tall, kind oaks have kept myself and my laptop dry, and I’ve paused several times to watch two magpies dance their comical dance across a field to my left. A hare watches them with me, but I cannot guess its thoughts.
What does this land teach? What is it teaching me now? What did it teach me then?
A friend messaged me a little while ago. “Go to the place of knowing,” she wrote. “And don’t ask me—I’m just the messenger.”
And here I am, in the place of knowing, the memories of myself three and 12 years ago threading through my own now.
“Does it turn out okay?”
What had made me ask that? Trilling with magic and sadness, so full of sudden knowledge and so lacking in wisdom to use it.
I’d been here first with a partner, in the fourth of our nine years together. When last I was here I was alone, and now I am not precisely certain what I am. There’s a man here whose given me his love, to whom I’ve given my love. Four weeks in, little can be known, and anyway there’s an ocean to cross eventually.
Had I been wondering about that? Maybe. But I knew back then to ask something broader, because though life is poorly lived alone, the goddess on that mountain had been worried about something else entirely.
“You fall in love,” I’m telling myself right now, aloud. “Many times, and they are all beautiful. And that love sustains you through the other shit.”
When the conference I co-organized last August turned out to be pretty leftist, I knew to worry. Sure—I was pretty fucking thrilled that so many people talked about gods and the world with the same passion that I had, and that most of them seemed intent on building an anti-racist, egalitarian polytheism filled me with awe.
There were the detractors, of course. Certain ‘luminaries’ that didn’t feel they were given privileged speaking time, certain priests who felt their gods were not thanked enough for sending their followers. A bizarre political contortion that seemed more lifted from a high school foreign affairs role-play or a dressed-down evening of live-action Vampire: The Masquerade.
In the days that followed, though, I looked away from my concerns and instead worked to bring the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance into the world. What had started on a drunken whim after our presentation at a Pagan conference exploded into something much bigger than I thought to envision. I wasn’t prepared for the strange path through the underworld that first edition would lead me through, nor really for the large shipments of print journals that arrived into my tiny living space in someone else’s attic.
Somewhere, giants laughed.
I busied myself with that, trying to ignore occasional jabs from people I considered friends but whose political goals I tried not to look at too directly.
One worried me a lot, though. A polytheist leader wrote a comment on my blog, recommending a friend for a guest post at Gods&Radicals.
“She’s a feminist, anti-capitalist, muslim woman of color—maybe her words would find a home there?”
“Fuck yes,” I thought to myself, and asked the friend to forward her information.
“Now we know Gods&Radicals isn’t about gods at all,” came another comment. “You would let someone like that write there?”
What part pissed the commenter off? Certainly not the south african bit, or the queer person of color bit, or the anti-capitalist bit, right?
“I don’t question the sources you find to help you do your work for the gods,” I replied, a little too honestly. “Don’t question mine.”
A few things bothered me deeply the second year. Grief about the destruction of ancient temples in Syria and Iraq by Daesh seemed to turn a little rabid. There was a mass ritual to curse Daesh presented at the beginning of Many Gods West, from which I abstained. While I am appalled at that group, the sudden attention on them—rather than white destruction of ancient burial mounds in the United States, or capitalist development of temples and holy sites in Europe, Mexico, and South America—seemed a bit off.
It’s the next morning. I woke in my tent to chill air and pale sun. I made several cups of tea while waiting for this laptop to charge in one of the shower cabins of the camp site. Like the rats in A Secret of NIMH, I’m stealing little bits of electricity in the dead of night, or in moments when the camp staff are unlikely to notice. To round out the comparison, they even drive a tractor along the paths of the campground, signaling moving day to the myriad of small rodents who call this park their home.
The air this morning felt autumnal, though July has only just begun. Walking from the campsite to this place of knowing I smelled the air and smiled. It feels like September, my favorite month in any place I’ve ever lived, when summer fades gently into the colder days and life settles down into pensive dreams and a quickening of the body.
“Does it turn out okay?” I asked.
Every time I write those words, I cry a little.
I don’t fucking know if it turns out okay.
And just as I start to get a little angry with myself for even asking the question, I look up at the cedar branches and see, on the lowest of them overhanging the lake, the patterned reflection of light-on-water rippling white and black across them.
“It becomes beautiful, right?”
Oh, oh yes. Little glimpses of sublime beauty whenever you stop looking for it. Moments of great warmth when you learn to wait for them on the wind, like now. The intermittent sun barely filtering through the oak leaves above me has warmed an open meadow 100 feet from where I sit, and when the wind shifts this place of shadow and chill is flooded with a warm wave of air from that grass.
“You learn to feel the wind around you,” I say aloud to myself as I type this. “To extend your body out past your body, to sense the warm upcurrents helping keep the dragonflies you are watching aloft.”
Last summer, I fell hard in love. I always fall hard, with abandon. It’s almost like I throw myself down in love sometimes, into a bed with another, or into their arms, or into their world.
I try not to quote pop lyrics, but “Wrecking Ball” comes to mind.
Last summer, I tried to love a man who was more than I usually dare. Strong-willed, aloof yet fierce. Beautiful, of course, not just subjectively.
Five weeks of that intensity without ever quite knowing what we were up to, and then he ghosted me.
That day, broken open, I maybe gave myself over to something I wasn’t quite ready for, some initiation that had been coming and was needed but was so intense my mind reforged faster than I could track.
I could feel the Dead more clearly, hear their words more intelligibly. And what they said was what they always seem to say: watch closer. Listen to what’s around you.
Just after that, Many Gods West happened. I took the advice of the dead and became depressed.
I saw people for whom I’d had relentless respect, people I’d always thought walked in great light cast deep shade upon others whose presence seemed to threaten them. I saw shadows that I once took for gods show themselves twisted and misshapen.
I wrote “Dahut At the Floodgates” just after, attempting both to celebrate the hope I had seen while warning of what might come if the gods get used for personal power, if the gates gets closed to any who might seek the same magic.
That didn’t go well. The priest who’d talked the Greek Nationalists out of beating up the queer and trans people at the Polytheist Leadership Conference seemed to take that essay as a declaration of war. Many fixated on my statement that polytheism should be anarchist to be a crusade against their personal politics, rather than a recommendation to avoid the same gatekeeping mistakes Wicca and many ceremonial magic traditions had made.
Here in the Place of Knowing, it feels suddenly safe to say what I learned these last few months, what the Dead tried to show me, demanded I hear.
Polytheism, devotional or otherwise, is a both a religion and a form of witchcraft. And religion, regardless its type, is a form of power.
I noticed this again in October, when I wrote a review of Witches of America. I didn’t want to buy that book, nor review it, but a fevered knock to the head and the sound of slamming gates chased me to my computer to purchase a digital copy the moment it was released.
I read the book while ill and very hungry. I’d spent my last bit of money for a few days on it, and I felt as if possessed, compelled to read it. I’d nap and hear voices telling me to note certain bits. A woman’s voice, particularly–”see how she says this? See what she’s doing here? See who will benefit most?”
I wrote the review the day after I read it, and forwarded it to one of the main subjects so she could see it before it was posted.
“You’ll remove the following parts,” came the bullying reply in an email so threatening I could not believe I’d read it.
“When did a priestess of a warrior goddess become such a coward?” I retorted. “You stand to benefit most from this book, as thousands of people interested in witchcraft will be searching your name.”
A later phone conversation unwound most of those tensions, but the initial ferocity of the demands still wears on me to this day.
More than 10,000 people read that review. I made some friends from it, and some really strange enemies. Some witches I’d known for years had hoped the book would be the final deathknell of another in their tradition, but by focusing on the author of the book itself, I’d freed their trapped prey.
Later, I’d read their conspiratorial accusations in the comment section of a former Archdruid, whose piece warning of a ‘Wind That Tastes of Ashes’ became a rallying cry for those hoping for a stronger critic of my work than themselves.
A week later, I fell in love again, this time with a dark-haired violinist. We’d spoken only twice before we met; I took a chance, traveling from Seattle to Portland to see one of his shows without telling him I’d be there. After his show, I approached the merchandise table where he stood, talking to others. He saw me, hugged me, and asked me out on a date.
The next day I met him in a bar, and two hours later he’d invited me to his home where we fucked for 10 hours. We’d fall asleep entangled in each other for short naps before waking again to find other bestial ways of being bodies together.
A couple of weeks of conversations over distance, and I traveled to see him again. Another night like the last one, but in the morning he stood awkwardly and said, “I’m moving, and I don’t want a boyfriend.”
There’s a photo of me from the day I arrived in Rennes last time. I’m sitting against a hill which is mounded-over bits of wall from the castle of Rennes.
Fuck, I’m crying again.
I don’t know, mate. Not really.
I was in love with a man back then, a film-student in Florida. We’d talked for hours before I left on pilgrimage, we’d send each other epic emails.
I wrote him letters from Rennes, and from Carnac, and from Quimper. I wrote him letters again from Berlin, and delivered my last letter to him in person.
That didn’t become what I’d hoped. Too young to be in a relationship, he’d told me. Too uncertain of his future, even as he threw me down on a stone and mauled me under moss-tasseled Oak as a full moon illumined our faces.
“No” is never easy, but it’s easier than everything else, including “yes.”
What’s not easy is when a man tells you a god told him you’re not the right one for him. Or later, with another man, you see gods everywhere as you fuck and you think they’re telling you they approve but they’re actually warning you of everything else that’s about to come.
That November was really hard. They always are, but the sorrow of that ‘no’ was compounded by all the things I was learning about the people who’d taught me a way of relating to gods.
I’d heard stories, of course. Rumors to which I never gave any credence, as my own experience of them had been mostly one of respect. Some tried to warn me about the associations of some of the polytheists whose voices I’d helped amplify, but I ignored these warnings. At the time, I thought I was being loyal and honorable. Now, I think I wanted to remain ignorant.
The vision of a world full of gods is intoxicating. I see the same wild-eyed wonder in the writings of people very new to this form of witchcraft. Gods thought dead are reappearing and want our worship! How exciting is such a thing as that, especially for those weaned on fantasy while craving something more authentic than the vapidity of consumerism?
When gods talked to me, I certainly felt the same way. Even still, I find the dream enchanting; against a disenchanted world, what better way to bring magic back than to build temples and shrines to gods in the middle of cities?
I still like that idea. I’m just terrified of what some people are hoping comes with that world.
I’ve spent the day elsewhere. I took a bus into town to get cash and tobacco, but for some reason that much city overwhelmed me. I’d plans later to meet the man I’ve fallen in love with at a bar; I wanted to back out, but also didn’t want to miss seeing him. “I’d like to stay in tonight,” he messaged, and I was relieved.
Just before I came out to this camping site a few days ago, I’d been staying with him. That hadn’t been my intention, but we both got sick.
Worse, some whelm of heavy emotion was drowning me, and usual conversations felt more profound and more weighted than they should have been.
“I need some space,” he’d said, as he started to feel better. “I need to be alone.”
I did too, but I had trouble telling him that. I’m not sure why I hadn’t said that, except that I was feeling so vulnerable that I feared I’d say it wrong in either of the languages we speak in.
I cried. Though I knew he meant just ‘space,’ I feared it meant ‘we’re over.’
What was wrong with me I didn’t know, until I came here, to The Place of Knowing.
“Does it turn out okay?” I asked, but this time not from the past. “I still don’t know how is goes, if it turns beautiful. Can someone tell me?”
I leaned my head against one of the trees and sobbed.
Two months ago, I woke from a terrifying dream. I’d been napping, or more precisely ‘collapsing.’ It was still daylight outside, but I felt like all had become darkness.
In the dream, I’m walking through an ancient necropolis. I’m underground, staring at old tombs as other people pass by. A few of them greet me, two men, witches or druids of some sort, and we travel together through the vast halls. We’re happy, we’re maybe in love, I’m not sure.
I’m staring at a sepulchre whose lid has fallen off and shattered on the ground. It’s weird that it is empty, but it catches only my passing interest.
Just as I’m about to turn to rejoin my companions, I hear something terrifying, a sound that does not reach the ears but instead the body. Something had awakened, and I have to stop it.
The rest of the dream felt like a video game I could not figure out how to play. I was holding a sword made of glass, the only weapon which would kill the thing that had awakened. Just as I approached the place where it waited for me, I saw it was not alone; the walls shifted and moved, stone hands and strange faces reaching out from the very structure itself to grasp me, to pull me back, to hold me down.
I held the sword that would stop it all, but I could use it only once. It would shatter against any of the stone figures; I could not use it against any of the lesser assailants and still hope to stop the thing that had awakened.
I woke drained, more exhausted than I’d been before I went to sleep. And I remember shaking, not just in terror but in anger. “I was so happy,” I groaned to myself. “Why did that thing take my happyness?”
Knowing things is awful. Knowing things about people who others put their faith in is even more awful, especially when you feel you should shut up.
Do gods persist past the bad behaviour? I don’t mean just bad, but awful and abusive, stories soaked so heavily in untruth that the beauty you once found in it now makes you ill? When you realise you’ve been lied to by people claiming multiple initiations, when their accounts not only don’t add up but actually make you nauseous when you remember how you accepted them—what then do you make of anything they said about gods?
I can count on one hand the number of polytheists whose accounts of the gods I now trust, and only because their accounts are never presented as concrete. That none of them have sought power or influence over others (and even shrunk away violently from the idea) gives them more credence in my mind than anything else. None of them dare teach others, and they are all terrified of the notion of official priesthoods.
Only two of them know what I have known, what I have tried to carry like a glass sword through a dark necropolis, mourning my happyness.
“It becomes beautiful, right?”
Yeah, mate. It does. You just can’t see it from all the other clutter. It gets grimed up with other people’s hate, and your own fear, and your reluctance ever to admit your own power.
In January, I was told I’d lost my humanity. Because I don’t like war, and definitely don’t like wars fought on behalf of states and capitalists by men who are just doing their duty.
Soon after, I met ‘the witch,’ and got terrified. I called a friend that night and told her what I’d seen. “The others—the ones that attacked her?
They’re like the mean girls in high school. They weren’t defending their goddess at all.”
“The popular girls,” she replied. “And they’re popular only for a reason, because they’re so awful to everyone else.”
I read Agamben. I stared at my altar, confused.
“The gods are angry at Rhyd.”
I read that while I was in Florida, a private divination for someone else. “And they want blood.”
The gods in question were pissed because I didn’t honor them enough, nor did I honor their chosen priests. And they were now angry at others, too, and threatened to derail something I started.
I asked a new friend that day, but she didn’t answer directly.
“Never give them blood,” she said, smoking a cigarette.
In February, I wrote a short piece explaining what I’d finally learned. “You are also the altar,” I wrote. “The gods don’t drink the wine you offer, it’s the act of offering it which worlds them into this world.”
“You are no different than John Halstead,” came one of the replies. “How dare you say Arianrhod doesn’t drink the wine?”
I laughed when I read that, but also cringed. I suddenly understood what was about to happen.
“Does it turn out okay?”
Yeah. Mostly. Until he doesn’t come home that night, and you worry because it’s four am and he’s never done that. And you check your phone repeatedly, and you see an email with a link from someone you were friends with, a post he’d written comparing ten quotes from you to ten quotes of Osama Bin Laden.
That night, you go to sleep knowing everything has changed, that way you go to sleep one last night in the bed of a lover who just broke up with you, or…
I’m crying again. I looked up from this screen and saw the sun was setting, a line of gold and green painted the tops of trees across the lake in brilliant hues. I put down my computer, ran to go look at it and suddenly started crying.
What does this place think of my tears? This tree I keep touching for comfort—what did it think when I just stared up into its branches, sobbing that I fucking loved him?
What does this place know?
That lover had awakened much more in me than any of the lovers prior. Not sex exactly, which was never quite good. But all the other ways that bodies relate to bodies, sipping cocoa together and feeding bits of french toast with maple syrup into the mouth of the other across a table, licking sweet tree sap out of each other’s beards.
And that night, he did crystal meth. Turned off his phone, fucked some other guy while I tried to sleep, staring, confounded, at my changed words. Phrases I’d crafted in beauty twisted to become anti-semitic, a photo of myself from when I was 23 wearing a used camo shirt after dancing all night with a lover next to a CIA trained murderer wearing the same jacket.
The next morning, 24 hours later, he still wasn’t home. I called a friend who worried over the other details, calling the hospitals and shelters, calling the medical examiner in case they’d found his body. “I checked John Does,” she told me. “Because you said he left his ID at home.They don’t have any yet.”
He came home later that afternoon, covered in his own piss. “My meth use isn’t about me,” he told me, his eyes unblinking. “It’s your fault too.”
We should have been over, but we weren’t. Friends demanded I leave him, friends who knew I’d never listen but needed to try anyway.
In the midst of all that, I read that same writer’s riot threat against me at Many Gods West and rolled my eyes. It seemed immature. Also likely dangerous if anyone read it wrong, but I said nothing. I was too busy trying to keep my boyfriend from doing meth again.
“Does it turn out okay?”
No, mate. Not that stuff, anyway.
But you were right. Someone read that post the wrong way, and got afraid. You tried to defend him even though he’d threatened you in an email a few days before on behalf of his wife, and even though you have years of emails from him where he praises Mussolini and Julius Evola and explains how he wants a sacred Dionysion monarchy. And then he sends you a blackmail threat as if you’d ever have released his emails, and yet you defended him again.
You defended him, just like you tried to hide your boyfriend’s meth use from your roommates, lied to your friends about how he agreed to go to counseling, lied to him about how you weren’t really angry about him not telling you and were just glad you were back.
And you lied to yourself too, mate.
You told yourself that you were convinced those priests weren’t who their many victims said they were. You told yourself that you could steer their really awful Fascist ideas into something beautiful, because that’s one of the few things you’ve always been good at, one of the only things you know you can rely on:
You can make anything beautiful.
That was a heron, I think, that just flew across the lake and alighted just past some large lilies (I think). The sun has set, the gloaming has begun, the time when light seeps from the land and with it, color. Everything is green, hundreds of greens, or thousands, but they are becoming all gray in the dimness.
Toads rose in chorus a little while back, then suddenly stopped. I don’t know why they stopped, precisely. Now a few ducks call to each other, and it’s become still enough that you can hear the distant highway beyond Rennes. A man, dressed all in pink and white is taking a walk along the shore of the lake, and his reflection in the water makes him look almost like a Care Bear. And he’s whistling, and starting to approach.
I could make him beautiful, I think. Create a story for him, one without his interaction or input, make him beautiful to you, and also to me. He seems in awe of this place, like I am, He’s staring across the water, now walking back, hobbling a bit. Maybe he’s happy.
I think I am, but it’s hard to know sometimes.
About a month after that writer was asked to withdraw from Many Gods West, an essay came into my inbox. It was long report on Augustus Sol Invictus, a Fascist running as a Libertarian for an election in Florida. Wants disabled people to stop breeding, wants a more hierarchical society, uses the fasces as his campaign logo.
I’d heard of him already. The Wild Hunt had ran a story about him which caused my friend to withdraw her art from their logo and several other friends to cancel donations. The story had been rather glowing, casting doubt on every obvious connection of his to fascism and instead reframing his campaign in the light of religious discrimination. It’d seemed irresponsible, and though I’d thought about resigning in protest, I needed the $50/month that news site paid me.
I read the article and replied to the author, scheduling it for later that week. “I should make an information sheet about the New Right,” I told him. “Most Pagans won’t have any background on this.”
“I’ll look at it when it’s done,” he replied, and I started writing.
A week before that, I’d texted a friend a long list. I’d been reading about the New Right for months now, and what I read bothered me less because of their ideas and more because they were near indistinguishable from most Polytheist programmes.
“Fuck,” my friend replied after reading the list. “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck.”
There’s a little ford I cross to get to this place. The ground is broken up to let a stream pass through between one pond and another. The stones there are set apart close enough to cross without getting wet, yet far enough away from each other to let the water pass through.
When I cross it, into the Place of Knowing, I let myself forget what I was thinking about before I entered. When I leave across those stones, I let myself forget all these emotions I feel here.
It’s mid-evening now. I’ve just eaten dinner, and I brought my coffee with me (I’m out of tea). There’s a light intermittent drizzle, but I am dry for now, until the tears fall again.
After my friend and I talked some more about those intersections, we asked a group we trusted to speak with us about them. Another polytheist had just written an essay attacking Gods&Radicals by declaring herself precisely in the camp of the New Right, as if she’d lifted the manifesto from Counter-Currents, the largest New Right publisher in North America.
That conversation didn’t go well. Both my friend and I tried our best to explain our concerns but were rebuffed by the two elders of the group.
One told me that there was ‘real fascism’ to deal with and my concerns were petty, by which I think he meant Trump. At the end, they asked if we felt our concerns had been heard. We both said ‘no,’ but thanked them for their time. One of the three emailed us later, concerned. That person’s no longer part of the group, for reasons I do not know.
Several academics checked my work, giving me advice and insight into “Confronting the New Right.” Several non-academics read over it and helped hone my language. The author of the piece on Augustus Sol Invictus replied appluadingly.
His piece, and the information sheet I wrote, were both published simultaneously. The last time I checked, Confronting the New Right has been read over 10,000 times, rivaling only a stellar essay by Sean Donahue and my review of Witches of America.
The emails started, and didn’t stop. Texts, messages, phone calls. Notifications from other writers that they’d written something against it. Angry comments.
“Why did you call all ADF druids fascist?” came one email. “You should have let professionals handle this,” wrote the same priest who’d belittled my concerns the week before.
“Marxist infiltration of Polytheism” seemed to be the most common accusation, with not a single Wiccan, Ceremonial Mage, non-ADF druid, Dianic, Shaman, Reclaiming witch, or humanist disapproving of the work.
I had called Polytheism “Fascist.”
In the last century, a group of artists, historians, writers, anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers, and mystics formed a think-tank named GRECE. The stated purpose of the group was to increase knowledge of European culture and pre-Christian religion, but the unstated purpose became apparent later when the group broke up. Several of the notables formed a political party in France called Nouveux Droit, whose platform demanded a defense of European Culture against Secularism and foreign cultural influences.
Americans like to think they came up with stuff first. The car wasn’t invented in the United States, nor was the airplane, but both are popularly held to be born from American ingenuity. Similarly, Devotional, or “Hard” polytheism is hardly an American invention either, and I do not mean it to be ancient instead.
Hellenic, Gaelic, and Germanic Reconstructionism has intermittently been used as part of Nationalist programs in Europe since at least the early 1900’s. And while Pagans tend to downplay, ignore, or outright dismiss the Nazi attempts to reconstruct ancient Germanic culture, we actually cannot ignore it, especially when so many Heathens and Astruar are first introduced to those religions through American Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements.
Hellenic reconstruction is a thing again in Greece. The fascist Golden Dawn party in Greece relies heavily on mythic elements for their political campaigns. I still shake my head in shame recalling when the men from that Greek traditionalist movement at the Polytheist Leadership Conference praised the Golden Dawn’s work and I said nothing
I have never talked about this, but it feels safe to say it here, surrounded by these trees in a foreign land. The last night of that conference, I was invited to a priest’s house for a fire and port. I was pretty honored, though felt things to be a little strange.
My erstwhile friend started prophesying. Unwilling oracle, I guess; he seemed angry and confused afterward, and our friendship was never the same after that moment.
What he said was all jumbled, partially incoherent. I remember talk of bees, a collapse of a colony with only the queen remaining. There was stuff about fire, and something about things scattering, and then a voice from his throat that still terrifies me to this day:
“Don’t fuck this up.”
“Who was that?” I asked, later.
“Apollo,” he said, after some evasion.
I still don’t know if I fucked this up.
“Does it turn out okay?”
No, dude. You learn too much and the horror of bearing those truths makes you run away to France and come back to the place you first asked that question.
A trusted friend lied about a conversation we had in person regarding that piece. He asked who the author was, I told him yes. I offered to skype with him the next day, since I was on my way to bring my boyfriend pastries at his new dishwashing job. I felt bad that I was going to France and he couldn’t come, so I bought him French pastries. I told the writer that in my conversation, that I was bringing pastries to my boyfriend at work.
The next day he wrote a rebuttal claiming he ‘could only assume’ the author was me, as if we’d never talked at all.
I tried to stay off the internet, but I couldn’t. I still needed to do things for Gods&Radicals, co-ordinate the next journal and correspond with people I hoped to see in Europe. I’d open Facebook and see hundreds of notifications, and at the top of my feed was always some formerly trusted Polytheist friend disavowing my work.
I tried to stay calm, tried to take care of myself. I tried to hug my boyfriend more, let myself fade into his arms, forget that things had gone wrong between us.
He relapsed again. Fucked another guy, came back at 5 am, his face and eyes turned away from me.
“Thank you for coming home this time,” I told him. I meant it.
I needed to at least know he was alive, at least know what had happened. And I could see in his expression and hear in his voice something I was afraid to see—I saw how meth actually made him feel better, made him feel more alive, unburdened by the world and his physical problems and sexual inhibitions, his timidity and feelings of failure, of being a homeless ‘indian’ rather than a socially-accepted gay male with something to offer to the world.
A few days after that I went to my best gay friend’s birthday party. I intended to forget about everything, to let myself be human that night.
“So what do you really think of the military?” asked a mutual friend of ours after I’d finished my first beer. “I was reading someone else’s blog about you, but I want to hear it from you, too.”
I lost it.
I let everything go. I had a stack of books to send people and shoved them in a corner. I missed work, I drank, I started smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. A friend was having relationship problems, and only inviting her to come stay with me while she sorted it brought me back to humanity for a little while.
“Does it turn out okay?”
No. The managing editor of the Wild Hunt calls you to tell you your column is canceled that month. “It will bring the controversy here,” she says to you, as you listen to her voice slack-jawed in disbelief.
“I feel like I’m being punished,” you tell her after she finally gives you a chance to speak.
“This is my decision, and it’s for the good of the organisation. You need a rest. We’ll schedule your next column later when you’ve had enough time.”
“Does it turn out okay?”
No. You tell others about the cancellation and challenge the editor’s story about it and get fired.
“Does it turn out okay?”
No. People call you a traitor and an enemy of the very gods that drew you to this place to ask that very question. All that hope and wonder and beauty in your eyes and heart gets stamped out, crushed, mocked, and utterly obliterated, and you…you fool, you come back here again three years later to ask the same question, crying over a laptop on that same fucking bench.
And you know what else? You fucking write about it, because it’s the only thing you know how to do, your fucking glass sword that will shatter if you try to wield it against anything but the very thing you have to fight to get your happyness back.
You cry so much in this place that you feel something awaken in you, sorrow and grief felt in the same place below your heart where you feel deep love, the very center of your being, the place awakened that tells you that you’re truly in love, you’re truly happy.
You’re still crying writing this, and it feels like love.
“It becomes beautiful, right?”
I think so.
“Does it turn out okay?”
That’s why I brought a candle.
I forgot, actually. I left my tent a few hours ago quickly, throwing a tealight in my pack just before I walked here, to the Place of Knowing, watching Ravens wheel and call as I approached.
Three years ago, I lit a candle and walked with it from this place. I was learning to see in the dark, and learning something about the light we carry against the darkness.
I just remembered it, walking to the shore again. I was crying, staring up at the trees, and then I remembered it and everything else, too.
In Wales, two winters ago, I climbed a cliff-face to go ask the giants of that land for help to awaken the Raven King into the earth. They laughed at me and said yes, and I almost wonder if they were laughing not at the clumsy dream-soaked punk clutching for a tree to keep from falling onto train tracks below, but rather laughing at something they knew would happen later.
Of all the experiences I’ve ever had, all the strange mystical events that don’t quite make sense and can’t easily be explained, that day talking to giants has never faded from memory. No attempts by my rational mind have ever faded that event or what came after.
I climbed a small hill overlooking a lake with my best friend. “A dragon wants to speak to you,” he’d said, and though I’d only shrugged when he said it, I scrabbled up the wet, vertical climb to get to the top with him.
I took off my shirt, stood barechested at the top, unshivering. I felt warm; hot even. I’d placed a candle in the crook of a twisted cedar, a candle I’d made for that day. A drop of rain suspended from the branch above the candle, and in that drop of rain I watched the flame become something too immense to comprehend.
I felt something at my back, a hand on my neck.
There was no one there but the land itself, and someone awakening within it.
Yes. And you helped.
When you walked from this place after you asked that, three years ago, do you remember what you saw? Do you remember how the molten wax felt on your skin as it dripped from the flame, and how you learned something about candlelight?
Remember what you wrote after? How you don’t carry that candle for yourself through the darkness. You carry it because someone is looking for you.
You were right. And you keep crying again, but you’re also laughing, because the place of sorrow is also the place of joy, and both of them are here in the Place of Knowing.
And oh. It does become beautiful, and it does turn out okay, because just as you finish you see a rainbow and laugh,
(all photos taken while writing this piece).