Home & Hearth.

Years ago when I began interacting with other pagans online, I found myself fascinated by their discussions about how they had integrated their religion into their households. I would read their words about household shrines and practices, household deities and their veneration with a feeling of such desire it could choke me sometimes with its depth.

The prospect of including one’s religion in their home life was foreign to me. My childhood was not overly religious and to my mind, including religion in the home meant asking Saint Anthony to find something lost or my mother doing her Hail Marys before a long trip. It was the little moments that meant religion had some foundation in one’s household, not an entire subdivision of a religious practice.

This isn’t to say that the little things like those described above were not enough or integrating one’s ingrained religious beliefs into day-to-day living. They were what I knew as a child and were sufficient at the time. But as I explored myself and the religion I had found, I found such a deep desire in going still further than the little things.

I found myself wanting a household shrine, dedicated specifically to the daily running of the home. I wanted a god, or many, whose specific realm was all the myriad things that make up running an entire household. I wanted what I saw in others’ practice and wanted to make it my own. I found myself longing more and more but couldn’t find what I desired from a Kemetic standpoint.

Household shrines, according to Egyptologists, were most likely in use for the ancient Egyptian laity but how important those spaces may have been is an enigma. Even knowing that it is feasible that they did in fact worship gods in their homes is good information to have, but it didn’t help me over much as I floundered my way on my path.

I kept thinking that I just wanted a space for gods whose sole purpose was, as with Hestia, to be the deity associated with hearth and home.

There were some netjeru who could fulfill the role I was seeking: Hetheru, Bes, Tawaret, and Djehuty to name a few. But I found that my attempts to lure either Hetheru or Djehuty in this way failed. Every time I considered approaching Tawaret, something pushed me off of that line of thinking. At this point, one could assume from this that I then turned to Bes and went that route.

They’d be wrong.

My relationship with Bes had always been a sort of ephemeral thing; there was no substance behind it. It was just little things here and there but nothing beyond that. It didn’t feel appropriate to reach out to him then, so I left him alone while I struggled.

I went through altar porn and blog posts. I looked into how the Romans and Greeks did it in antiquity, trying to cobble something together that would feel right. But every time I looked into what they did, I found myself staring down a dark hole that seemed to have a giant neon NOPE sign blazing down in my face. The information I was learning was interesting, but it wasn’t for me.

I got tired of wanting and tired of not finding. With the sort of stubborn headed foolishness that is my personal knack, I decided I didn’t need gods. I didn’t need to know what other people were doing. I didn’t need any of that nonsense! It obviously wasn’t what I should be focusing on anyway!

So I began moving away from gods and others’ practices. I began looking deep within and all around, trying to find something that I could cobble together so that the want would finally go away.

Adventure seeker on an empty street, just an alley creeper, light on his feet. A young fighter screaming, with no time for doubt… – I Want It All by Queen

If I was asked to describe the one prevalent thing in my practice in a single word, the first thing that would come out of my mouth would be: foundations. I hear this so often from my gods, in my daily Tarot card pulls, and from a variety of other quarters. I am constantly being reminded to go back to the basics, go back to the foundations, go back to the start so that I can either build a new base or work on fixing up the existing building blocks in place.

When I decided that I wasn’t going to force myself into what I saw others crafting for themselves in the realm of their household shrines, I thought about the ongoing message about the basics. I had to build this from the ground up and the only way to really get there was to decide what I was really looking for.

Eyeballing pictures from other peoples’ altars was all fine and well, but that didn’t a practice make. Even reading their blog posts or comments on forums didn’t really help me.

I wanted a space that was about, well, my home. I wanted it focused on the people who inhabited my home, who lived here day in and day out with the good and with the bad. I wanted a place that sort of cried out to everyone about who we are as a family and what this place is as our home.

With whispers of “foundations” in my mind, I began trying to figure out what our home was about. And you know what? That was pretty damn hard. I didn’t know who we were as a family. We’ve been living in a very small place in general agreement that this living situation is temporary. Yeah, well, temporary though it may feel, we’ve been here for eight years now.

Even with all of that, it was still difficult to figure out who we were because we’ve never really put our mark on this place. It’s only been in the last two years that we’ve finally situated ourselves where we’ve come to the determination that we may leave this place at any given moment, but in the mean time, we’ve had to put down roots… roots that we’ll cut if and when we move on.

The transitory sort of feeling to our home made it difficult to figure out what I wanted to achieve for a foundation, so I started color-coding certain portions of the year on my Place of Truth, hoping that I’d get somewhere with this home and hearth altar eventually.

It was actually out of my four-times annual change out of my Place of Truth that I was finally able to come to a certain general idea about who I am as a person. And out of that, I was able to kind of define who my family is and what our home should be like:

  1. We’re in transition.
  2. We’re nerds in every sense of the word (books, video games, random facts, etc).
  3. We’re jokesters.
  4. We prefer comfort and functionality over frills.
  5. Our home is warm (sometimes a little too warm).
  6. Our home is filled with laughter.
  7. Our home is not very well lit, but at least the walls are light-colored so that what natural light is let in, it reflects… in our eyes…
  8. Our home has its problems, but we’ll work through it.

These ideas formed the basis, or foundation, of what I wanted my household altar to look like. I started adding little bits and pieces to my Place of Truth that I felt kind of indicated who we were based on my list.

I added toys from my son and from my significant other. I put bits of crystals and doo-dads that made me think it kind of indicated who we were. With my general color scheme, I was able to tie everything together into a cohesive theme until I felt that, well, I wasn’t doing too bad for all of that.

I made sure to spend time at the space. I would light Reiki-infused candles with a specific purpose in mind, depending on what purpose I wanted to achieve. I would pull daily cards for my son or myself there that had a more general message than anything specific. But above all, I felt that this place was a more than adequate symbol for who we are and what our home is like.

It took years for it to get built up to a point where it stopped feeling like something I had cobbled together on the fly and began to feel more like something established. It began to feel like it was something with… well… a solid foundation.

I gotta get me a game plan, gotta shake you to the ground. Just give me what I know is mine. People do you hear me, just give me the sign… – I Want It All by Queen

Once I felt comfortable, I was thrown another curve ball because Bes began showing up. This was partly my fault. For years, I had assured myself that I would purchase myself a protective amulet of Bes for every day wear. Not long after the amulet came home, I began to feel him haunting my already well-laid foundation at my household altar space.

It took some back and forth before I finally was able to get a straight answer out of him. He wanted to join this realm of my life, but before he could do so, I needed to get a solid… you guessed it… foundation in place. I was not surprised by this answer in the slightest.

Once I had come to terms with this, I realized that I felt comfortable with the idea of adding him into the place. What had first seemed confusing and a little weird, now seemed like a perfectly good idea.

When I began working on my home/hearth altar space, it seemed almost like adding a god or six into the mix would be like forcing them into a niche that wasn’t made for them. But now, I realized that out of all of the building I had been doing, I had still kept a space available for a god… if one decided to show up eventually.

Or maybe I always expected him to show up one day.

I looked around and found an icon that I felt would be appropriate for my small space and inserted him into something that I had worked hard on making on my own. As I set his icon in place for the first time, it felt a little like things were finally coming together in a way that I had always dreamed of but hadn’t really ever expected.

Bes, of course, brought friends with him to add to the space. It was not that long after I had added his icon to my space that he asked me to include Wenut and Tawaret, in whatever capacity I so desired, to the mix. I very quickly found hand-made wooden pieces of hippos, snakes, and bunnies that I felt would fit the bill. He seemed pleased with my selection and I was soon welcoming those two ladies into my home. They have proven to be far more quiet than Bes, who isn’t exactly a chatty type of god.

Now the three of them haunt my home and hearth altar. Periodically, I focus on the gods that haunt this space. And periodically, I focus on the family and home that this space is supposed to symbolize.

Together, we’ve managed to build things into a functional capacity that, years back when reading other peoples’ descriptions of their home and hearth related sojourns, I could only marvel at.

I’m a man with a one track mind, so much to do in one life time… – I Want It All by Queen

Nowadays, Bes and I are focused on a very specific project that I’ve been working on for actually a couple of years. Every few days, I light one of my candles and I give offerings to the gods that inhabit my space so that I can achieve a goal that has been a very long time coming.

I can only hope that once this goal has finally been achieved that the three of them will be coming with me on the next new adventure for my home, for my hearth, and for my family.

 

Advertisements

You Are Not the One You Say You Are.

Years ago, I followed a number of people who were deep into astrology. Sometimes it felt like they were all speaking together in another language when they would get going on their discussions regarding charts and retrograde and returns. I had a passing fancy back then that maybe I would learn what they knew and use it somehow in my own way. That never came to pass and most likely never will, but one thing that stayed with me was the concept of the Saturn Return.

At the time I found out about it, I wondered when I could expect that to happen to me. I never looked into when mine would appear back then but I sometimes found myself wondering when it would hit, when I could expect things to disintegrate so spectacularly as those astrology people described, and how I would look coming out of the other side. I, of course, never bothered to look into when my Saturn return would occur because I didn’t want to confirm that I was already in the middle of it or that it was still some ways off. It was better not knowing.

I have since learned when my first Saturn return occurred. Before I figured it out, I often wondered for a long time after the year 2015 had slowly died as years tend to do if that year was the start or end of my Saturn return. It would have explained so much if it was.

Saturn Return

I can’t trust anyone or anything these days. If you are who you say you are then show me your face. You came out of the ocean like you came out of a dream. Your voice it sounds familiar but you are not what you seem… – The Stranger by Lord Huron

Fear and hopelessness are two words that, when paired together, they form a very distinct image. They elicit a painting of some dark gray and bleak hellscape. When these two words are mated together in this way, the words can convey a certain nuance that the words, when spoken not in tandem, tend to lack. The desolation one can feel when these words are used to describe themselves and their situation is so absolute as to be inescapable. It’s suffocating, worrisome, and above all, horrifying.

I think “fear and hopelessness” does an adequate job of explaining my mindset three years ago.

The year had started off so strong. I had worked diligently for the preceding three or so years to get to where I was. I had gone through a lot of shit both on a personal and spiritual level. I had developed new avenues of insight and networked to a point where I was mostly comfortable with the community I had crafted around myself. I had spent time moving as hard as I could, pushing things into place and reorganizing as I felt the need arose.

I had developed a strong relationship with a handful of gods who I loved and succored. I whispered their names as fervent prayers and I worshiped them truly. I cared for them in a way that I cannot convey verbally, that I cannot write. The emotional connection I had with them and they with me was often intense, often personal, and above all, it made me feel fulfilled in a way that I had never felt in all the years before and all the years since.

I had faith.

I had belief.

I had a lot of things that people talk about every day about their gods, about their spiritual lives, about their religions. I had all of those things and I could wear them like a strong, beautifully rendered blanket around my shoulders. Or a tapestry strung upon the wall, crowing to the world around me that I had love with my gods and they loved me. It protected me against the negatively and nay-saying. It made me feel safe and loved in return. It was security. It was safe.

But the thing about blind faith is that it doesn’t always sustain you. It’s not something that can always fill you the way that a good dinner can. It’s nothing that you can survive on. My blind faith, my blind love, began to fray and the warm, beautiful blanket began to erode around me. I grabbed for the pieces of it and I tried to re-weave it but I had my eyes opened when I died for the first time to be reborn into a useful vessel for my primary goddess. The death was necessary; the manner of it, in my opinion, was not.

It’s hard to get back to loving your gods when they have used you. It’s not impossible, but it can be so very hard to be the bright and shiny youth you once were after going through something as traumatic as all of that. It came to a head, all of my pent-up emotions on the topic, in 2015 because I was being asked to die all over again. I needed to be reborn yet again, not just for myself but for my god as well. I needed to die so that we could both live.

And I was so very angry that after only just dying, only just healing myself, only just coming to terms with all that the original rebirth’s changes had wrought that I was being asked to do it all over again. To be sure, the purpose has always been necessary and I have always been headed in that direction. But I needed to come to terms with what had already happened in conjunction with other changes I was going through; I wasn’t fucking ready.

It never helped that all of this chatter about death and rebirth was always, always couched in terms of Bigger Picture. We always come to this statement, this fucking phrase, and for those of us who do spirit work, we have to ask ourselves what in the ever-loving fuck is the point? Our lives are all supposed to be for this Bigger Fucking Picture but damn if it doesn’t make any fucking sense when paired with what our woo has shown us to be the reality of our gods’ current situation.

Why should I die yet again for this Bigger Picture bullshit when everything else is complete and utter shit?

I never got an answer to this question and I decided that it wasn’t necessary then.

I know this sounds petty. I know this sounds like I was having a temper tantrum. But the one thing I cannot illustrate enough is how much that first death traumatized me. I was passive in that death; I allowed it to happen without a peep, without a cry, without fighting back against it because I wasn’t ready. Even if I was unsuccessful, I often think back and castigate myself for not fighting back.

I should have fought back.

Rebirth

All your words of comfort cannot take away my doubt. I’ve decided if it kills me I’ll find out what you’re about. I can’t trust anyone or anything these days. – The Stranger by Lord Huron

It would be nice to end this entry here, to lay blame in its totality at the feet of the gods. But I, too, must admit to my culpability in what went wrong that year.

The years preceding had been dedicated to the hard work of creating an open forum community, primarily taking place on Tumblr but in other areas (WordPress, FB groups, etc.) of the web as well. The hard work had sort of paid off because we had managed to network a wider arena with more and more people joining our shared tags as time went by. It was nice… for a while.

My primary issue at this time was that there was a lot of growing pains going on for the wider community. I watched and aided as I could in these growing pains – growing pains that occur with every major group – but some of the things I saw, sitting on the sidelines, made me vastly uncomfortable. There was a growing group of voices that seemed to have negative points of view relating to spirit work, god spouses, and various other “woo” related arenas that made me distinctly uncomfortable.

The totality of 2015 for me was, well, “woo.” It had been forged with “woo” and it was supposed to end with “woo.” Spirit work was the name of the game in my world and the constant negative comments coming from wider and wider quarters left me feel disenfranchised with the community at large. I began to feel like I needed to keep my experiences to myself instead of sharing them just so I wouldn’t have to deal with any negative backlash.

You see, I was nay-saying my experiences all my own; I didn’t need to see it coming from some other quarter. I had my own issues related to all of this. How can this be happening? How can this be real? Even with outside divination, intuition, lining up “upg” from other sources, and a variety of other confirmation sources, I doubted heavily what was going on. I didn’t need another negative voice to add alongside my own.

Beyond my personal doubt regarding what was going on with my religious shenanigans and the fear of hearing my very own doubts parroted back to me, the community continued to grow and with it, more and more people with a historically informed background began to show up. The issue I found with some of these people is that they often came across as exceedingly condescending when I would get into both private and public conversations with them.

While I understand that being classically trained in various areas will give you a leg up in certain areas, this doesn’t mean that the people you are communicating with who aren’t classically trained are stupid or unread or unlearned. It just means that they’re coming at it without that background and because of this, they’re probably taking away a completely different perspective because their focus is in other arenas.

I didn’t need to be condescended to. I didn’t need to be talked down to or talked over or shouted at in public group messages because I disagreed about a variety of things. It only lent credence to my belief that I needed to effectively embody the hermit card from Tarot and isolate myself from the community at large.

So I did.

I not only distanced myself from the community at large, but I effectively cut myself off from those who didn’t make me feel like I was some sub-human waste of space with my woo and my different opinions. I compartmentalized so much that I stopped talking to even those of my friends who weren’t part of the community and wouldn’t make me feel like I was losing my mind if I revealed all the stuff that I had gone through earlier in the year.

It was just easier, I told myself. It was simpler to keep to myself and just keep trucking on with my fallow times and my worry that I was probably making up all the woo from earlier in the year. Better to hide away from the wider world than to engage and possibly be judged false.

I should have told myself to fuck off instead.

Bees

But I know what you want and why, Of all the strangers you’re the strangest that I’ve seen. I’m not afraid to die. I can’t trust anyone or anything these days. – The Stranger by Lord Huron

To be fair, the year as a whole wasn’t that bad. I had come to accept that I had woo though I did run away from it later for both of the above reasons listed. I had entered into a marriage with a god, which has been in effect for the last three years and seems to be going well. I had found out who my friends were because we’re still going strong three years later.

I could catalog the good things to counter all the pain and suffering, all of the hopelessness that had been intermixed with it. But at the heart of the matter, the year was not a good one and that was exactly why I disappeared; why I went off the radar. I had taken to heart the idea that I needed to hide, to keep to myself. I no longer trusted, no longer could engage in the reindeer games. I wasn’t safe; nothing was.

I had built up the house and failed to continue the growth I needed. Both my practice and I have become inert and we both suffer for it. After reading this post by TTR, I realized that I have a decision to make much like they realized they had.

Sometimes you have to shit or get off the pot. I’ve been on the pot for three years now so I guess it’s finally time to move on.

You are not the one you say you are
Now that I’ve seen your face, I’m haunted by the letters of your name
– The Stranger by Lord Huron

Be Faithful in Small Things…

The first two weeks of school herald a sort of liminality between good health and illness. You always assume that someone in your household is going to end up with a head cold, or worse, but you’re never quite sure who is going to be unlucky enough to finally come down with whatever illness has been foretold by the smell of back to school sales.

My son came home a week and a half after the first day of school with the obsessive need to blow his nose every five minutes. I side eyed him and muttered about keeping his germs to himself, but it was a foregone conclusion. He was sick and it was only a matter of time before I joined him.

The scratchy feeling in the back of my throat began Friday afternoon and developed into a full head cold a few hours later. As my S.O. tried not to laugh as I ripped open a box of tissues before officially buying them so I could blow my nose as soon as possible, I knew my nice relaxing weekend had gone out the window. I was officially sick.

I spent much of Saturday mumbling in melodramatic cadence about wanting someone to cut off my head at the neck. I felt awful and no matter how faithfully I followed the prescribed DayQuil/NyQuil regimen, nothing was making me feel better. As I looked over the paraphernalia of illness, I realized something key was missing.

I had gotten the tissues and the medication. I had gotten the chapstick and my pillow. I had my stuffed animal (don’t judge) and my dog. I had shows to binge watch on Netflix and a book to pick up when I got bored with all of that, but there was something missing: the chest rub.

As a kid, it was one of the first things my mother pulled out after I came down sick. I can remember her rubbing the camphor-scented grease on my chest when I was young. I remember following the same prescription when I got older. But I hadn’t thought to grab some when we were restocking on illness ware.

I got some that night and immediately applied it. I felt better of course; good enough to eat something besides Ramen. (Don’t talk to me about soup. Ramen is as close as I’ll ever get to soup.) It was probably a psychosomatic feeling of general wellness but it was exactly what I needed to stop being so melodramatic for five minutes.

And the realization that the scent of camphor could do more than the liquid medications, the box of tissues, and even my beloved Professor who has seen me through many illnesses over the years, it got me thinking about the little things.

Maybe everything really does come back down to the little things…

As polytheists, the push of advice from any quarter can typically be summed up by the necessity of doing ritual. We read the posts of those more advanced on their path about larger rituals that they undertake for some reason or another. And in the minutiae, they mention the daily rites that they undertake for their gods, their spirits, and for their ancestors: offerings and libations, dedicated moments of prayer, etc.

We are constantly being shown that it is by the very act of ritual that we will forge the relationships we seek to make. And in turn, we will grow ever further on the paths that we have chosen for ourselves along with those relationships. We will find things that work and things that don’t, but at the very foundation of it all, it is in ritual that we should begin.

We are instructed by our elders, and those of us who have been around long enough have regurgitated the advice, to start off small with daily action and then to work ourselves up to the big. It is the same advice that we give children: baby steps with a few or many stops and starts before the child is walking. This methodology is pushed out into our communities to the neophytes who join us.

But the bond is more than simply built upon ritual. Yes, it is important, but it is not the only thing necessary.

Ritual can be considered the bricks, perhaps, that we use to build up those relationships with our gods/spirits/ancestors. However, any bricklayer can assure you that bricks are only part of the whole which is necessary to create a building. Between the bricks, they lay mortar to bind the blocks together in their efforts to tease the building into the sky.

Ritual cannot be the mortar if it is already the building blocks that we are using. There must be the binding paste that we can lay between each brick, on top of each layer, to add onto our relationships with our gods/ancestors/spirits. And it is through the small things, the tiny things that may not necessarily occur to us in the moment, that we bind the bricks and mortar together.

These small things that we use as the mortar of our relationships are inherently personal. They will never look the same between one individual and another; and they shouldn’t. They should be as individual as the relationships we are building with our ancestors/gods/spirits.

And as the weeks, months, and years pass by, we may find that some of the mortar has rotted away or perhaps been chiseled down over time. It is through yet more smaller moments that you restore the edifice to where it needs to be to continue the process you began when you started to build these relationships with your ritual building blocks and your small moments mortar.

But all of these things are just as integral as the necessity of ritual because without them, you will never get beyond the first few layers before what you have built crumbles around you.

Remember the small things

Though the story I told above about being ill may have come across as a non sequitur, I can assure you it served a two-fold purpose. The first was to give you a little background before I began to discuss mortar. The second was to give you a hint as to what some of my mortar might look like.

A tub of mentholated grease may not seem like a clearly obvious bit of binding I can use to cement my ritual blocks in place, but it is. My mother instilled in me a need for the chest rub as a child, which was in turn instilled in her by her mother who has been in the west for many years. It is through the bond I have with my mother and this family connection that I take my veneration of my grandmother out of my offerings, out of my rituals, and bring it and my love for her into my daily life.

It is through this small act – and many others – that I have forged the bond beyond what is typical, beyond what is often advised, and into the realm of the workable. It is this realm – the mix between ritual and the little things – that we must push ourselves towards if we are to succeed.

And it is these little things that will cement things more firmly in place than merely through the act of ritual.

The Art of 2D Communication

Recently, my boss took myself and the other supervisors from my job on a field trip. I got to spend two eight-and-a-half hour days in an auditorium with decent acoustics so I, and my coworkers, could listen to important people in leadership positions talk about, well, leadership. The leadership conference was simultaneously boring and thought-provoking. After coming home on day 2 and being asked how it was, all I could really say was that at least I wasn’t in front of my computer all day.

There were some very interesting tidbits, but I didn’t really bother to take too many notes or pay close attention through most of it. I found much of what they discussed all but useless. Or they were things that I already knew so I promptly tuned it all out.

However there was one presenter that had a piece where they discussed, and I quote directly here, “2D Communication in a 3D World.” I found myself sitting up and actually taking an interest. That interest was not because of my job and how I work behind a computer screen every day. The first thought I had after she said that was, “the community.”

Too often, we are communicating with meat suits across the Internet separated by computer screens or tablet/cell phone screens. While this networking can be stimulating and aid us, it can also be frustrating because we live in a world where we are raised to listen to nuance and read subtle body language to determine a person’s emotions relating to a topic. They may be speaking monotonously but you can pick up by their body language or by the way they over enunciate just how they may actually feel about the topic at hand.

Pen pointed neatly above my notebook, I waited for some amazing piece of advice to resolve conflicts that may occur because of our failure to read facial and body cues. And the answer from this amazing presenter was to get up and go have a conversation with someone instead of sending that possibly confusing email.

Well, by golly gee! What wonderful advice… for people who are close enough where that’s feasible.

Since there was no great advice, no great secret ready for me to use the next time I accidentally found myself in some deep shit because of the very 2D communication problem that is very real for all of us, I had a silent fit and then wondered how I could use this. How could this complete lack of a substance from an alleged leader help me, help the community, help anyone for fuck’s sake?

Well…

One of the first pieces of advice we supervisors will give to new or established employees is to “slow down.” Too often, we have emails flying in and out of our inboxes, blowing through our work flow as quickly as possible to open us up for non-client facing work. However the desire to shoot off a quick response can cause trouble:

  1. Strategic words missing
  2. Words misspelled
  3. Run on and confusing sentences
  4. No concrete purpose or substance

Any one of these can cause a world of hurt for us, but all four taken together could potentially lead to disaster.

In an effort to prevent something horrible from happening, we tell everyone to slow down, to re-read what you’re writing, to take a moment before hitting send to make sure that everything in the email is appropriate and what you needed to say. People claim that they do this but I can tell you that the amount of times that I have gone through my employees’ emails, whispering, “what the fuck,” to my computer pays the lie to their assurances.

So the first piece of magical advice I have is: “slow down.”

As exciting and thrilling as it may be to get some word vomit out and into cyberspace, when you are working on building interpersonal relationships with strange meat suits across the world, the more important thing is to make sure that what you’re saying makes a lick of sense. From conversations about our gods to disagreements about word meanings, we all need to take the time to step back and really review what it is we’re trying to convey.

Many of us with blogs already do this, so it’s not as if it’s an impossible exercise. Most of us take the time to be clear, concise, read and re-read what we want to convey in our blog entries. Most of my entries can take a week, or more, before they’re as ready as can be to go out onto the Internet. So it’s not necessarily a difficult thing to begin to add into this step into our inter-community discussions in forums, servers, and Tumblr posts.

If we all took an extra five minutes, or even more, to re-read and think about to the list of four things above before sending out a response, we could prevent a large amount of miscommunication (or auto correct fails).

One of the second pieces of advice we give out to our staff is to have someone else read over what you’re trying to say if the need arises. In our world where our conference call recaps can span a good three pages in a Word document, we have to make sure that we are being as clear and concise about what is being done and what the next steps are for our projects. Any one of the four things listed above can cause trouble on some of our projects, but taken all together, we’re asking for trouble.

We let our staff know that if the email they’re trying to send out is long-winded or convoluted, beyond slowing down and re-reading what they’re writing, it’s always best to have someone else review the emails. I will send my more confusing emails to other staff members – both supervisors like myself or other staff in the office – to have them take a look and make sure that I’ve hit all of the salient points that need to be touched on. Not all of my staff use this either, but they’re learning more and more as I guide them on how best to communicate with our clients that I’m always willing to do a quick email review to make sure nothing gets missed.

So my next piece of magical advice would be: “beta readers.”

We all have friends in the community that we bounce ideas off of or share issues with. These are the people who you can rely on, if they’re around at the time, to review something you’re trying to get out and onto the Internet. Fan fiction writers tend to have beta readers that go through and offer feedback; why not people who are trying to work within a community entirely derived over the Internet?

When the topics at hand can be as personal or impassioned as can be, we need to take the time to find someone to read through what it is that we’re saying just to be sure that nothing gets missed. I have done this for friends’ blog entries as well as response posts when the shit has hit the fan. I have also had my friends do this for me to make sure that what I’m saying is accurate, concise, and as clear as possible. This step may delay the post going live, but sometimes waiting for that person to read through what you’ve written is more important than immediately publishing whatever comments you may have.

If we took the time to have someone review whatever it is that we want to say, it could also cut down dramatically on misunderstanding across the community.

Sometimes, I must have difficult communication with representatives, clients, and vendors that I work with on a regular basis. I am not a person who enjoys having these types of high level conversations, but occasionally we need to have difficult conversations in order to save the relationship, to ensure that the issue that occurred doesn’t happen again, or because whatever process we determined could work here didn’t in fact work and now we need to come up with a new one.

Leading up to those types of conversations, there is usually a flurry of back and forth between myself and whomever I am ultimately going to have this conversation with. And quite often, when someone thinks that their point of view is the only point of view that matters, this can lead people into a state of high dudgeon. This is when it is always best to step back before heading into that conversation.

If I walk into these types of conversations in the midst of a paroxysm of anger, I am not doing myself any favors. And I am not going to be doing anything productive with that conversation because I’m too busy assuming that what they’re telling me is wrong or a lie.

So my next piece of magical advice is: “take a break.”

When it comes to facilitating a community, especially a text-based one, I think this is probably the most important piece of advice that we can give to ourselves and to others. Tempers can snap or fray because the conversation is so close to who you are as a person or to something you deeply believe in. Arguments can stem from an emotional reaction or the reading of tone where none was meant. It is always best to step back and walk away than to give in to the temptation to either defend yourself when no defense is necessary or to think critically about what has happened and how best to respond.

If we can give ourselves even ten minutes of time to walk away from the conversation and focus on something else, you can come back to it a little bit more clearer minded. This can help you to decide how best to respond, if you even feel a response is merited at that point anyway. Taking a break can give you that extra time you need to come down and determine how best to proceed.

Communication

Unlike my job where I have the option for phone communication and in-face meetings, a purely text-based community is going to have its issues with miscommunication. No matter how often we refer to magical advice or do our best to hypothetically put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, it is going to happen; it’s inevitable when other human beings are involved.

The only magical piece of advice for when it finally does happen to you is to be able to be critical enough of the situation and yourself to think about where it went wrong. Instead of doubling down on who is right and who is wrong, figure out where you may have made mistakes when communicating and learn from those mistakes for better communication in the future.

Further Reading

  1. Boat Paddling: The Second Rule of Kemeticism

All Other Ways of Mortification are Vain…

A friend of mine posted a link last month on their Facebook that I found particularly thought provoking. The original author, whom we all know as “the Henadology guy,” has a particular way with words that will make your sluggish brain move whether you want it to or not. I definitely had no intention of falling into a pit, following thought process after thought process as they circled down the endless drain of my internal meat space. Unfortunately, one’s intent is not always the way of things.

After hours spent feeling both irritated and thoughtful, I came to a single conclusion:

Way to call a girl out like that.

Sometimes, my life is little more than an old meme come back to bite me in the ass.

The exploration of the polytheism hemisphere can often start out with almost a lackadaisical sort of defiance. Raised as many of us are nowadays in a stringent monotheism that pollutes the civic world as well as our personal lives or in a laissez-faire environment where a lack of belief can be seen as currency, the profession of belief in the many can be titillating.

We move from a world of seeming absolutes – a single deity or none at all – into a realm which offers up a platter of possibilities. Gods and nymphs, ancestors and demons, guardians and spirit: they are all there for the taking. Not all fruits of the tree are ripe, but they are all there nonetheless for people who have found the status quo of their parents’ religious lives (or lack of) stifling.

At the beginning, it is frustrating or exciting or frightening. In many instances, it is all three at the same time. As we explore religious dynamics hidden from us, we run the gamut of emotions while trying to decide what works best. We try things we shouldn’t and go down rabbit holes that lead to dead ends. But it is oft-times the act of exploration that is the most exciting of it all because we are looking outside of our cultural norms for something that may or may not be missing.

We have all looked elsewhere for answers and sometimes, those answers lay in the shadows of polytheism. Before the Internet truly took off, it was a quiet place peopled in small groups of like-minded individuals looking to find something that felt right. With the Internet surrounding us, we have found more people like us and created virtual communities so that even the misanthropes like me can occasionally feel like we belong. We have found something that feels like it could work.

But in the background, we have basic programming instilled in us that we must recover from. A tag was once used on Tumblr – maybe it still is – for those indoctrinated in their culture’s or family’s staunch monotheism to reprogram themselves from that life. It is a paradigm shift for all of us going from the one to the many, the none to the many, or the possibility of one to the many.

Some shifts are easier to make than others. Some can bounce back from that programming easily. Others find it harder to break the cycle that may in fact be generations old. I’ve always been somewhere in between, but then, I’m hardly an example to live by.

As we de-program ourselves into better devotees, we find what works and what doesn’t. We all give the same advice for new people that worked for the generation preceding them: research as much as you can, find time to introduce yourselves to the gods, develop discernment for both resources and experiences with the gods, give stuff to the gods, and don’t be a dick for fuck’s sake. With various other underpinnings based on religious preference and the like, the advice is much the same (except for maybe the dick part).

But we forget sometimes to stress how hard this will most likely be. Each relationship and path is individual even within a group dynamic. What some found easy to reprogram in themselves may be the breaking point for others. As much advice as we can give, it doesn’t usually matter to the individual burning out the cancer of a religious doctrine, or no religious doctrine, that they always found to be lacking.

We all burn through what came before, building something new out of the leftover pieces of ourselves, or we don’t. We either succeed or we don’t. And sometimes the seeming failure in assimilating ourselves into a polytheistic religion can be enough to do what we wanted all along: to laugh in the face of preconceptions that always annoyed us.

And sometimes my life is a more recent meme, busting through the door and ready to kick me in the face.

As a child, my poorly defined idea of God had metastasized into the idea of a person living in the sky. He looked down on us on Sundays because those were the days that we went to church, but he mostly went about his life doing whatever it was that he wanted to do for the rest of the week without really taking a look to see what was going on. I’m not sure where this particular idea stems from (though I could take a few guesses) but that was what I had worked out on my own.

It was with this general idea in my mind that, as a pre-teen, I decided that I wasn’t interested in appeasing this idea anymore. I didn’t want to go into a very old building (without air conditioning in the summer and not enough heat in the winter) to pray to a being who lived in the sky. A being who didn’t seem overly interested in what I had to say when I did get around to praying. In addition, I had come to finally understand the Methodist sermons and was insulted often to be told that I was a sinner and had to work hard to be saved.

It always seemed to me that if this being had my best interests at heart, in some form anyway, he should reach out to me to tell me what I needed to do to get right with him. Instead, I was being told by a man (or woman) in a pulpit that I had to work hard to be saved. The Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ weren’t sufficient in my opinion to tell me how to go about getting salvation. The whole thing annoyed me and I decided that I was kind of done with it.

The general issue I found was that I had no personalized relationship with the deity in question. I waffled often as a child between belief and disbelief. When I believed, it was a disinterested human-shaped person living in the sky who watched my life with his own disinterest. When I didn’t believe, nothing happened and we were all going to die. I suppose one could say I was a dark kid.

In any case, finding polytheism was exactly what I felt that I needed as a child. It came years later and with it, I was able to develop that personal relationship that had so eluded me as a child. Instead of being told via a book and a man or woman in a pulpit, I could go direct to the source and we could game plan together to figure out what I needed.

But the overall issue was that I needed to like… do stuff… to make this happen. Before, I had sat down in an uncomfortable wooden pew that had probably been there since the church I went to had been built and listened in barely veiled boredom to someone talk for an hour. The idea that there was some quid pro quo that needed to happen was weird, but I went into it.

And I was embarrassed.

As I cleaned off flat surfaces and purchases statues and bowls and cups, I had to like bring food to them. They needed milk or water. They wanted honey. They wanted to hear my voice. They wanted to listen to music. They wanted so many things that I was okay with doing, but there were other people in my house. They could walk in on me doing this and maybe they would make fun of me?

This was another change that I had a hard time with. I had to go about my business, doing what I did, and maybe I would get laughed at or maybe I wouldn’t. I didn’t have to worry about that when I sat with glazed over eyes in church; everyone else was just like me. But now I was entering into a realm where not everyone else is just like me. And there would no doubt be questions.

How do you answer questions that make you feel like an idiot? After going through years and years of semi-belief in a dude in the sky to no belief whatsoever to an idea that maybe reincarnation is a thing to okay so all gods are real and I’m worshiping some of them, how do you speak to what you now believe? How do you adequately explain the changes over the years to someone you care about or a complete stranger? I kept everything closeted and private out of nothing more than the possibility of being embarrassed.

This is no way to go into a new relationship with the gods, but Mr. Butler is correct.

Often, we come into this with our baggage and we find it simply more believable to go through what we think of as a mortification in a large, over-encompassing way. I’m not sure about the vanity part though that makes sense. I can say that I would be more than willing to go through with something large and dramatic than something simple and small.

I can dress it up however I want. I can make it seem like this overwrought thing is more important because it shows the level of my devotion. I can make it seem like it is more important because I need to show the gods that I am all in and the only way to do that is in big, dramatic ways. I can and would dress it up in a way that I was able to feel good about it, to agree that this was the way of it and there was no turning back.

But the smaller mortifications that encompass the profession of belief and the requirements of that belief, I.E. putting out offerings, were too difficult to even by considered. Someone might see. Someone might talk to me about it. Someone might laugh at me. How in the world could I possibly do something so small, so simple, and so less-dramatic than a near death experience especially if someone walks in on what I’m doing and demands to know what’s happening?

Well that seems like a little too much, don’t you think?

How many more times am I going to see my exact thoughts in a popular meme?

The melodrama seemingly inherent in the ecstatic moment of one’s near death experience is a fairy tale we all tell ourselves. We see these posts and comments from others, wondering how we too could have our religious lives broken down and rebuilt in a single night, a single experience, instead of asking ourselves if we cannot achieve the same thing by pouring the libations, offering the food, and playing the requested music.

It is possible to live in a state of ecstasy in the minutiae that one’s religious practice requires. The rapturous joy of those moments are as few and far between as we allow them to be, but they are there. We are too busy looking outside when we should be looking within, listening within to the emotional connection these daily sacrifices foster between the gods and ourselves.

Not everything that we do for the gods will be big, glorious sound bites fit for public consumption. Sometimes it really is as small as placing offerings at the feet of a statue, but that makes it no less important.

(The title for this entry stems from this quote by John Owen.)

I Think About Righteousness and I Live By It.

The phrase stranger danger was coined back in the 60s, but it was something that continued to be used well into my childhood in the 80s. There were cartoon things schools would show kids to make them all aware that strangers could be a danger to you so be wary of them. I don’t remember ever being shown the cartoon or hearing my mom say the phrase, but I learned about stranger danger in other ways.

As a very young child, I lived in a neighborhood that had cheap rents and not a good reputation. I only lived there for maybe 3 years but it cemented the sentiment behind stranger danger to me. If we kids wanted to play outside, multiple adults accompanied us “just in case”. We weren’t sure what “just in case” really was, but they were there “just in case.”

Riding our bikes down the street or in the shared parking lot between my building and the next meant that there should be at least one adult for every child. That didn’t always work out for reasons, but usually there were plenty of adult eyes on us as we played outside.

When we moved to suburbia, the stranger danger mentality followed. We rode our bikes in roving gangs of children, we were to be inside by the time the streetlights came on, and my mom had us in an after school program when babysitters were no longer available to keep us so that we would be safe. We didn’t stay home alone for long when I was young and we made sure doors were locked, that we didn’t answer the door if our mom wasn’t home, and we stayed in the relative safety of our neighborhood when we hung out with our friends.

As a teen, I was a loner and stayed home more often than I had as a kid. My nights home alone were filled with music, books, and writing. I had friends and sometimes we would go out in semblance to the roving gangs of kids on bicycles from my childhood. Only now we had friends who drove where we wanted to go and there were usually at least 5 – 7 of us at a go. We were safer in groups as a kid and we were safer as teenagers because nothing horrible could happen to us.

Stranger danger shaped my childhood in weird ways. But the overall sentiment, no matter how safe we tried to be, did not always work out in everyone’s favor.

It is I who cause Osiris to be a spirit, and I have made content those who are in his suite. I desire that they grant fear of me and create response of me among those who are in their midst for I am lifted aloft on my standard, on my thrown, and on my alloted seat. – Spell 85 from The Book of Going Forth By Day

The disappearance and murder of Molly Anne Bish probably should have rocked my entire world when it hit the presses. Molly was my age and she had probably been taught the same things about stranger danger as I had. Maybe she watched the cartoons in school when I didn’t. In any case, she probably had a general awareness of her surroundings at all times, locked the doors when her parents weren’t at home, and did all the good things people and organizations tell you to do so that you won’t go missing or wind up dead.

But even with all of that, Molly still disappeared from her job as a lifeguard at a local lake. Her mother had been dropping her off each day and paid close attention to Molly’s surroundings before bidding good-bye and “I love you” to her daughter. The day before Molly’s disappearance, her mother noticed a suspicious looking white vehicle with a strange man in the parking lot with her, but she ignored it instead of calling it in.

The next day, June 27, 2000, Molly went missing and her mother remembered that strange car and the strange man sitting in it the day before. She was last seen by her mother wearing a blue bathing suit. At least her mother got to say good-bye, something that doesn’t happen often in these types of cases, even if she didn’t know it was the final good-bye.

For three hours on that day of June 27th, families came and went with their kids to enjoy the cool water on such a beautiful day. They all noticed that the lifeguard was missing, but no one thought to ask themselves why the lifeguard had left their water and bag of things out in the opening – which included their lifeguard whistle – and why the first aid kit was left open by the lifeguard post. Someone even took it upon themselves to pull the whistle out of Molly’s bag and use it as they played fill-in for the missing Molly Bish.

The police were finally contacted and immediately began trying to find Molly. There was no usual story about being a runaway; it was clear that Molly had not left her post willingly. What teenage girl would leave her things behind? A search was immediately organized, purported to be one of the most extensive and expensive searches in Massachusetts history.

They came up empty.

The police cordoned off the lake and turned it into the crime scene it was, but the detectives admitted that the evidence they collected was contaminated. The woman who had taken Molly’s whistle had trampled some of her things. Someone put the first aid kit away. There was evidence taken from the lake, but too many had come through and trampled it for the evidence to be the solid lead the police needed to find out what had happened to Molly.

As usual, the police looked at Molly’s family and friends, hoping to find a jump start on the case there. The police looked into her father’s job – he was a parole officer – wondering if this disappearance was linked to a disgruntled convict under her father’s thumb. But it seemed that her father was well-liked.

There were some thoughts that maybe she had taken off: a friend of hers had been injured badly and there was fear that she wasn’t going to make it. But everyone knew that Molly wouldn’t have left without telling someone. Or if she had left at all, she would have made the journey with other friends and not on her own. They kept coming back to the bag of things she had left behind with this theory too. Why would she have left her things at the lake even if she had gone off to visit with one of her friends?

The one thing that the police and Molly’s mother kept coming back to was the white car with the strange man from the day before. Other locals had seen the vehicle too in various places around the lake: in the parking lot, down the street, and in a campground that was reachable through a path in the woods from the lake. But no one seemed to know who it was who had been driving that white sedan. Flyers asking people if they knew who it was to call in to the tip line went up.

Tips came in, but nothing concrete surfaced.

In late fall of 2002, a local hunter was walking through the woods about 5 miles from Molly’s parents place when they saw something blue in the distance. The something blue looked like a bathing suit. That man didn’t investigate what he was seeing for whatever reason, but when he shared this story with a friend of his almost half a year later, his friend put two-and-two together and notified police.

The police found Molly after an intensive search. Her body had been strewn about the area known as Whiskey Hill due to predation. No cause of death could be determined. All they knew was that a happy, healthy 16-year-old girl had gone missing and her body found three years later, almost to the day, with no understanding as to what had happened in between.

Since the discovery of Molly’s body, no less than four people have been interviewed as persons of interest. In each case, the family is given a modicum of hope only to have those hopes dashed.

It seems like every other year there is talk of some new lead in the case. Two years ago, twenty-six pieces of evidence were submitted for enhanced DNA analysis to a lab in Texas. The police on the case were quoted a year later as saying that there is “cause for optimism based on some of the things we’ve tested.” Last year, detectives began searching the woods where Molly was found after a tip about a buried car – possibly the suspicious white car her mother saw the day prior – in the area. They took ground penetrating radar in the hopes of finding the car, but no new updates have entered the local headlines since last year.

Molly’s family continues to fight, pushing however they can for justice for her. Her sister said that she will keep fighting, a sentiment echoed by Molly’s mother repeatedly over the years. They won’t give up, or give in. They’ve hired private investigators to aid the police in their investigations.

In addition to the above, Molly’s mother and family have humanized her in a way that not many victims with cold cases are able to do. The fact that Molly disappeared and was murdered only 18 years ago gives the case a more humane persona than Danny Croteau’s news articles ever conveyed. The articles are less sensational, more to the point. Molly was a human being and we were able to learn about who Molly actually was versus what the newspapers would like us to believe.

I don’t think Molly was any different than any other 16-year-old girl. She wrote a letter once to a local mother who had lost her daughter in much the same way that Molly’s mother would lose her. She belonged to clubs and had a boyfriend. She had worries and concerns; she had plans and a future. Molly probably could have been one of my friends if we had gone to the same schools.

The only difference between her and I is merely a matter of circumstance. I came home in June 2000 if I went out at all; she never did.

I am Nun, and the doers of wrong cannot hard me. I am the eldest of the primeval gods, the soul of the souls of the eternal gods; my body is everlasting, my shape is eternity, Lord of Years, Ruler of Everlasting. – Spell 85 of the Book of Going Forth by Day

The word justice is a word that seems to have lost a lot of meaning. We hear it thrown around on true crime shows and fast paced drama TV shows. It’s in many headlines nowadays and all over the internet. It is justice that people speak of in situations like Molly’s where, for so long, we have wondered what happened and when someone will face charges.

But it isn’t necessarily justice that the family or those of us who have been heartbroken by the circumstances of this case that we’re looking for. The desire is to have the person responsible for this crime held accountable for their misdeeds and to pay for what they took away from the family when they took Molly from the life she had been cultivating for herself.

It’s been a little over 18 years and the family still holds out hope. They appear in the news about once a year, not always related to the possibility of new evidence or the re-hashing of old evidence. But they continue to spread a message of hope that one day, they will know what happened to their daughter and the person responsible will be held accountable.

We know it’s possible; the murder of a local teacher was solved just last fall and earlier this year, another murder case from the other half of the state was possible. With the changes in technology, it is absolutely feasible that the person who did this will one day be brought up on charges. But that day has been a long time coming and those who have held their breath, waiting for it to finally come, are still waiting.

I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Spell 85 of The Book of Going Forth by Day

May He Live After Death Like Re Every Day.

As a kid, I loved being terrified and mystified by the television show, Unsolved Mysteries. The theme music, the voice over of Robert Stack, and the 80s visuals were all exactly what a kid like me wanted to scare the ever-loving shit out of myself. And there were plenty of nights where I wondered how the fuck I was going to fall asleep after that nightmare of an episode. Maybe I was just a weird kid.

In 1993, an episode aired that caught my attention because I knew the name of the victim. The year before, she had been murdered and there was no new information about the case so they turned to the public for help. I don’t know if that episode really did help at all because it was only six months ago that the killer was finally arrested.

When I finally read the articles about the arrest, I wondered if this would be just the first in a long line of cold cases to be solved. Earlier that summer, there had been hints of another cold case that had “new developments” though nothing more had been/has been released on the subject.

I was kind of right.

Another cold case was solved in the last month, just not the one I was keeping an eye out for. I only knew about this unsolved crime because of an article done early last year where the victim’s sister was interviewed. I can remember reading that article last year and thinking, how are they going to solve that?

Well they seem to have anyway.

On March 11th, a man was arrested for the 31-year-old crime. Based on the news coverage, it sounds like the suspect has all but confessed what with his story changes and all. Again I began to wonder if the cold case with developments from last summer would get an update finally; I had been following it since I was a teenager and if there were “new developments” then it stood to reason there were new leads.

But so far nothing.

I began to wonder what it must be like for the victims who have to wait so long for justice. Could their souls really move on if that’s their belief system anyway? Or do they wait around their families and around each new police detective assigned to their case, hoping that someone will finally confess or that some clue will blow the case wide open?

What made my questions worse was the knowledge that unsolved murders are a dime a dozen according to the county’s cold case database. It’s a long and depressing list, some recent and others not so much. Some will most likely never be solved; others may still have a chance.

One of them stuck with me after reading the victim’s name. More so even than the case with developments last summer. I can’t stop thinking about it. I remembered the name whispered by the adults when I was a kid and I can’t stop thinking about him.

O Lords of Justice, put an end to the evil harm which is in me. O you companions of the God of Justice, may this god be gracious to me… – Excerpt of Spell 14 from the Book of Going Forth by Day

The murder of Danny Croteau happened a decade before I was born, but all of the adults in my family remember it. This subject matter will be difficult and I have to warn you all here for triggers for sexual abuse and the Catholic scandals. For those not willing to read about this for mental health reasons, skip down further past the second picture below to the third paragraph in that section. (In addition, I have ceremoniously desecrated the name of the priest in this post.)

One of the things that the newspapers like to highlight the most about Danny is that he was an altar boy. Most articles reference this fact either in the title or within the first paragraph. They’re hoping to drag the reader in, to illustrate that a pure-hearted innocent was murdered. They also want to remind as many people as possible the abuse of power from the priest when they begin to pepper the details into their articles.

What they’re forgetting is that Danny was more than this two-dimensional news article image. He was an altar boy – an important position according to other kids who also held the role – but he was also a kid. He was a Boy Scout and maybe, if he had lived, he would have one day become an Eagle Scout. He helped out an elderly neighbor for nothing more than milk and cookies. According to one childhood friend, he was the kind of kid who would give you the shirt off his back if you asked him with no questions on why.

He helped his parents out around the house. He did chores and maybe he complained about the doing of them, but he did what he was asked. His family was big with a total of six kids and his blue-collar worker of a father working two and three jobs at a go to make ends meet.

But beyond all of that, he would go out and play with his friends. They would play pickup games of whatever sport in the street: baseball or wiffle ball. He would go fishing at the local watering holes and talked about, maybe, one day being a priest. He wanted to go to Africa, not as a missionary, but as a scientist. He would stay out late in the dark, hanging out with his friends and doing what kids did back then.

Danny Croteau had hopes and dreams. The articles rarely remind you about the fact that he was a kid and he had his whole life ahead of him to plan out. His life was cut short and the secrets that slowly spilled out after he died would, eventually, lead to one of the biggest scandals in the state of Massachusetts.

When the local parish priest first came to St. Catherine of Sienna church, he made an impression. The older members were discomfited by this youthful priest, who introduced modern music to the choir and preached against the Vietnam War. The phrase “hippy” was sometimes thrown out and around by the elder members of the church, but they couldn’t deny that he was bringing members back to the Church in droves.

Not only was he outspoken about his political views about the illegal war, he also made himself useful. The Croteaus weren’t the only family to receive the priest’s largess. He made himself useful. He would raid the church’s freezer and bring roasts or steak. He would give them money if they needed help to float the bills. He would babysit the kids, giving the parents a break when they needed it. He was helpful and kind and everyone who were helped out by him remarked that it was a status symbol:

The priest was seen eating at so-and-so’s home the other night, they would murmur. It was a mark of favor. It was supposed to show that he was part of the community centered around the church.

All it did was give him more and more access to the victims he had chosen.

The priest, F/ather L/avigne, had had rumors swirling around his name since before he even entered the seminary. He had been in trouble as a youth for “immoral acts” with children. But the Catholic Church didn’t care or never learned of it. They failed the people who F/ather L/avigne would later victimize.

Danny’s secret was the same secret children at the priest’s previous parish kept to themselves. It was the same secret that other kids in Danny’s church kept quiet. F/ather L/avigne had a predilection for little boys. He would coax them with alcohol and Playboys. He would watch them change into their altar boy smocks. He took them camping and had sleepovers both at the rectory and at his parents’ home in the city next door.

Danny’s secret, most likely, led to his murder, but we’ll frankly never know.

On the evening of April 14th, the day before the fishing season was to open, Danny never came home for dinner. It was a Friday night and his parents weren’t worried. Friday nights meant that the Croteau kids could eat whatever they wanted for supper and could stay out late. When Danny still failed to come home after dark, his parents went looking for him but he didn’t turn up at any of his local haunts. No one could confirm when they last saw him.

So they did the next logical thing: they turned to the police to file a missing person’s report. Unfortunately, Danny had to be missing for 12 hours in order for the report to be filed. By the time the official report was entered at 2:11AM, it was too late for Danny.

On the morning of April 15th, a fisherman showed up at a local spot that’s no longer in use. A guard rail has been put up in the name of safety and there’s no easy parking for locals anymore to fish along the Chicopee River. Back then, you could pull right up to the river and stay as long as you wanted. You just had to be careful of the trash leftover from local teenagers using the area as a party space or lover’s lane the night before.

The fisherman found Danny Croteau lying face down in the river about five feet from the river bank. He called it in and the local police, followed by the state police, were on the scene very quickly. They could see impressions from tire tracks, one of which appeared to have been made in the mud by a car getting out of there pretty quickly.

The mud had been kicked up and it was clear that a struggle had happened. Danny Croteau had fought hard for his life, fighting back against his killer with everything he had. By all accounts, Danny was a big kid and he probably tried to use his size to his advantage. But in the end, Danny lost the battle when his killer picked up a rock and killed him. The cops took impressions and found the murder weapon, which had both Danny’s blood and someone else’s on it. They thought it would be an easy case to solve.

The autopsy revealed that Danny was legally drunk at the time of his murder. It wasn’t the first time the 13-year-old had been either. Two weeks before his murder, after a sleepover at F/ather L/avigne’s family home, he came home feeling ill and was sick a few times. His older brother had a similar experience after spending the evening sleeping over at the priest’s family home, but the priest assured the Croteaus their son got into his parents’ liquor cabinet without permission.

The Croteaus never went to identify the body, F/ather L/avigne offering to do that for them. He said that they shouldn’t see him that way. Maybe he really did want to keep them from having the image of their son like that. He also talked them into a closed casket, again citing that they needed to remember their son as he was and not how he had died.

This was just the first of many instances where F/ather L/avigne seemed to do things that would zoom him to the top of the suspect pool. He was found at the murder scene the very next day and when he was interviewed, he asked questions that all true crime readers and police detectives note to be suspicious. They’re the type of questions the murderers ask to check to see how the investigation is going.

But this was Massachusetts and even though the police suspected the priest, there was no way a Catholic priest could do this. Catholicism was the top religion in the state and is still the religion du jour according to the Pew Foundation. They had to tread carefully. Not only was the local DA a Catholic, but no one could believe that a priest would do something so heinous.

F/ather L/avigne lied during his interview, claiming that he hadn’t seen Danny since the sleepover where the child had come home seemingly hung over. A witness came forward to say that Danny had been at their home a week or so before his death and made a call to “his father” to pick them up. It was F/ather L/avigne’s car that came to pick up Danny, not his father.

After the funeral for Danny, presided over by the very man police were beginning to suspect in the homicide, F/ather L/avigne told Danny’s parents he couldn’t be seen with them anymore. Carl remembers being bewildered by the call, which came seemingly out of the blue. They didn’t know that he was a prime suspect or that he had abused their son. All they knew at that point was that the very priest who had helped them over and over again was now claiming he couldn’t help them during the worst moment of their lives.

F/ather L/avigne, with the backing of the Catholic Church, was brought in to pass a polygraph test. He couldn’t have done the horrible deed, of course, if he passed and that would put the whispers floating around the city to rest. For all intents and purposes, it sounds very much like he failed the first test. The newspapers claim it was inconclusive. Two further tests were completed at the backing of the Church and he passed.

F/ather L/avigne was transferred to another local church, St. Mary’s, amid the swirling rumors about his hand in Danny’s death. Most of the kids who had been abused by F/ather L/avigne could believe that he would do it. The priest, apparently, had an explosive temper and they, of course, all secretly knew why the priest would want to do such a thing. The police heard the claims and felt that the motive was not only damning but obvious.

Local opinion is that the police didn’t handle the case well. They seemed to tiptoe around the Catholic Church. This is true, by all accounts. While the police seemed to believe that, along with the local D.A., he had committed this crime, there wasn’t enough evidence to seek an indictment. The Croteaus were not only informed of the abuse their son had suffered, but some of their other sons confirmed they had also been abused. With that, they filed criminal complaints against their priest. But the D.A. said that there was no way they could convict a Catholic priest for the murder…

In the early 90s, when I first heard family members speak about the case, there was new heat on the case. In 1991, F/ather L/avigne was arraigned on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. His congregation was floored by the reports. Men and women and children all picked sides: those who believed the priest could do something so horrific and those who did not. The scandal threatened to destroy parishes – and in fact the parish where the abuse claim stemmed from did in fact break in half – and the first Catholic abuse scandal was born.

I won’t detail the long list of names that came forward, courageous people who spoke out against the priest. I’ll leave this link to the Bishop Accountability page for anyone who wants to explore it.

Suffice to say that the priest who was supposed to finally get his comeuppance for the abuse he had perpetrated, and the murder 20 years before, against the innocent never came. He pleaded guilty, but never spent a day in jail for it. He was never to serve as a priest again, but the Catholic Church paid him every month. He wasn’t defrocked, just retired.

The Croteaus were hopeful that this would do it; they would finally get the justice that their son deserved. The case was reopened by the new D.A. at the time now that victims of F/ather L/avigne’s were coming out of the wood work. They came out in droves, suing the Catholic Church and the priest himself, for the horrors they had suffered at his hands in long-suffering silence.

DNA testing was still in its infancy back then, but evidence collected at the scene was sent to a lab. Blood typing had confirmed that Danny’s blood type and another, Type B, was on the murder weapon and some of that blood was on a piece of rope found at the scene. The lab cleared F/ather L/avigne’s blood from the murder weapon, but couldn’t conclusively do so on the rope found at the scene. It wasn’t enough evidence for the case to go to trial as the D.A. believed they didn’t have enough evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt.” The case went cold again.

In the early 2000s, after I had moved out of state, the case came back under the lime light again. Litigation had been filed by a local lawyer to release the gag order on the documentation surrounding the sex abuse and murder investigation against F/ather L/avigne. The lawyer needed it to determine if the Diocese was complicit for the lawsuits that would eventually be filed. A judge ordered the documentation released to the public even though the D.A. fought hard against it. He claimed it would do more damage than good.

Maybe the D.A. just didn’t want to try or care anymore. After his failure in the early 90s, maybe he couldn’t face another failure or people claiming he had done nothing after claiming he would do something.

But maybe this was all that he needed to try, once again, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that F/ather L/avigne was guilty of murder. DNA testing had come a long way since the early 90s, something the D.A. acknowledged.

He sent the evidence in for testing one more time and the testing failed to link F/ather L/avigne to the crime. Thirty-two years after becoming the only suspect in the murder (as all other suspects had been ruled out concretely), hope for justice finally died.

Around the same time, a local priest began to refuse to give the tithes from his parish church to the Catholic Diocese until they defrocked the sexual abuser in their midst and stopped paying for L/avigne’s retirement. He was threatened by the Diocese but his parishioners agreed with him. Others joined in the fight, but it was Father James Scahill who pushed and pushed. He won his fight and L/avigne was defrocked.

That was the only justice the Croteaus would ever know.

… I shall be aware in my heart, I shall have power in my heart, I shall have power to do whatever I desire… – Excerpt from Spell 26 from the Book of Going Forth by Day

I can remember an aunt of mine saying emphatically, “that priest did it; he killed that boy!” I was at her house and I came into the conversation too late to make sense of it. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. It haunted me for a while because I couldn’t fathom – as many who viewed the abuse scandals of the early 2000s against the Catholic Church – that someone would do something like that to one of their parishioners.

She mentioned other names – kids she knew who had been abused by the priest. But it was the murder charge she levied against the priest that stuck in my memory. I didn’t understand it all until I saw Danny Croteau’s name on the cold case database for the county. It was the only time I would hear about it before I began digging into the case myself.

I visited the graves of the Croteaus some weeks back. Danny’s been joined by other family members, including his father. He’s no longer alone at least. The bench pictured above was the only thing I was comfortable photographing while I was there, paying my respects to a family who had survived the most horrific thing that I can imagine a family going through. All reports show that, even at the height of it all, the Croteaus never lost their faith.

As I stood before the stone bench on a cold Sunday morning, I tried to understand what it must have been like, not only for the family but for Danny too. His life had been cut short tragically and brutally. Thinking about it in terms of my own son, I am frozen by the intensity of my own feelings on the matter; I can’t describe the feeling at all. I can’t imagine how the family managed to survive at all.

As I thought about Danny the last few weeks while writing this entry and visiting his grave, I wondered about his soul. Was he resting in the arms of God? Or was he watching his family, waiting for them to join him before he went to wherever it is his soul has gone to? Was he angry that justice would never be served and that the likely murderer still lives?

I can’t answer these questions; maybe I’ll never know the answers but maybe one day I will.

All I can do is honor the boy’s memory and remember him. I can remember him as the wild child who hitchhiked where he wanted to go and wrestled at the YMCA. I can remember him as the prankster who stopped before running off that fateful April 14th evening to help his mom bring a rug inside and setting it back in its place.

I can think that maybe he’s a little at peace, even though justice will have to wait until the alleged murderer has to face his Maker whenever that will be. At least he’s back with his father now and maybe, I think, he probably did wind up in the arms of God. His mother always figured he had become an angel and if he did become one, maybe he’s the angel who watches out for those who need protection the most.

I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. – Excerpt from Spell 85 from the Book of Going Forth By Day

Lent 2018: C’est Fini.

I don’t ever really know what to expect when I observe Lent. I know what I would like to see happen and I know what I would not prefer to happen, but I’ve learned that expectations should be left out of it. In my experience if you go in with even a modicum of expectation, they’ll be fire bombed from orbit. It’s always better to not have them.

I’ve also discovered that, as the Lenten season progresses, I find myself feeling more and more helpless and hopeless. I always start off with some slight hope that my observance will be pleasing – to the gods, to the ancestors, to God, whomever really – but by the end of it all, I feel very much as if I’ve been marooned in the desert with nary a drop to hydrate myself with. It’s simultaneously frustrating and the whole purpose.

Forty whole days of sacrifice is hard. The point is reinforced over and over again through strategic points in those forty days. I’ve often wondered if the reinforcement of that point is something everyone goes through or of it’s something I, myself, go through because of my mental illness. The mind is always tricky and the constant belief that I have failed can be overwhelming.

In every instance, I have to remind myself that I signed up for this. I may not have had my eyes fully opened the first time this happened, and to be fair things were drastically different for me back then, but the constancy of my mind telling me that I’ve fucked it all up is even more draining than I can convey.

I often wonder if Catholics go through the same thing. I don’t have any I can really ask; all the ones I know intimately have long since lasped from that faith. I don’t think that they do to be honest. They have the ability to reach out to a deity who is not mine and feel the comfort therein.

I’ve thought about that too. Beyond asking the ancestors for some succor, what if I were to reach out to that amorphous deity or His son? In every instance, I am always reminded about why I turned away from the monotheism of my youth. I turned away from monotheism on purpose and while I’ve discussed some of those reasons here, not all of them have come up. I can say that the idea of reaching out to a deity who is not my own especially after my many years’ journey since I left is not a viable option.

Thus the hopelessness and helplessness.

It is, to be sure, why I always want to stop observing. But the ancestors are clear: if I am to have my way with venerating them, then compromise is part of that plan. And thus this compromise.

May we have communion with God in the secret of our hearts, and find Him to be to us as a little sanctuary. – Charles Spurgeon

This year, I gave up two remote concepts as opposed to anything realistic. When my mother finally asked me what I had given up, she sounded disappointed in my answer. My coworkers (who have always found it interesting evidently to ask what sacrifice I have planned for Lent) also seemed particularly disappointed in my response. This only made me realize how much outsiders always seem to view Lent as a physical sacrifice of X, Y, and Z thing. They never think of it really as bettering yourself.

But that was the point I was hoping to achieve. I had found my failings in the last few months after Advent and knew that I needed to step back from the obvious and move more towards the ambiguous. I needed things that while expressed in physical representations were more nebulous and vague than what I had done in the past. Besides after last year’s destruction, I felt I was owed, I guess, a little break from those types of things.

Sloth and gluttony are both part and parcel with my depression. Recently, a conversation with my son (who has a tenuous grasp on mental illness at 10 though he is starting to get it) pointed out that he thought my inability to do much after work was a direct result of laziness. I realized then that that was exactly what I thought too. I wasn’t taking into consideration my own limitations due to my mental illness. After a whole day of being on the go from the moment I wake up, I was more than entitled to take time out to rest.

The problem is, as many people know, the work/life mix that seemed easily found years before is no longer viable. But with all the other concerns that come along with working a 9 to 5 that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet, the work/life mix is difficult to achieve. Even with the knowledge that I am very much like most people in my very same circumstances, I did at least try to move beyond sloth and gluttony as much as I was capable.

The end result was less that I was capable of doing more but the realization that there are two other people in this house who consistently do less. After twenty days and an impending burn out, I made it clear to both of them that I needed help not simply because of mental illness but also because my job takes up most of my energy all day, every day. I need help and oddly enough, the call was answered.

Upon thinking about this, I thought back to The Empress card from the ancestors. They had reminded me that I needed to take care of myself too no matter what end game I was hoping to achieve. Self-care isn’t my strong suit in any way to be honest. But I needed to both better myself while simultaneously taking care of myself.

I think they were hoping I would speak out and ask for help.

I did so a few times these past forty days, not just at home but elsewhere too. I had found my limitations and knew that no matter how hard I would prefer to be able to move past them, those limitations were the end game for me. It was either, help me please, or continue to suffer in silence and run headlong towards the inevitable break down.

I can’t say for sure but I would assume that finding your limitations and being vocal in your inability to get past them is a step in the path to bettering yourself. The ancestors, anyway, seemed pleased with it.

While the hopelessness and helplessness of the previous month or more hasn’t completely faded from me, I am hoping that it will continue to lessen as time goes by. I would like to assume that this is a turning point; a moment in time where I remember that human beings, myself included, are not perfect and are not robots. Sometimes we need others to step in and help out.

It is the resurrection that makes Good Friday good. – Ravi Zacharias

I can always see the end coming when I make my yearly appointment to donate blood. This has been something that I have been doing for years, as long time readers of this blog can attest, and it has always seemed very fitting for me to continue the trend though the connotation has much changed.

Originally this was a devotional act. It made sense to me that Sekhmet would like it if I, as her devotee, would donate blood in her name. People who read this often were horrified at the prospect, focusing wholly on her destructive aspect and the blood soaked pre-world where she vamped her way through scores of hapless human beings at Re’s say so.

They always seemed to be forgetting entirely her healing prospect. And to be sure, donating blood is an act of healing. Not only can the blood be used for someone who needs whole blood, but it could also be used in various trials that require whole blood for the testing. Previously, in my experience, people were too focused on the word “blood” and not what the donation is used for. And since the health organizations are horrifically discriminatory against the lgbtq+ community at large, I often go to try to make up for an entire swath of the population who can’t donate due to that discrimination.

The funny thing is that blood donation as slowly morphed to a devotional act for Sekhmet to an act of remembrance for my ancestors.

A little known fact is that my mother used to donate blood before she started on medications that leave her out of the running. An even lesser known fact is that my maternal grandfather did the same thing. It seems appropriate that I continue the family tradition. I even brought my son this time so he could watch and start to think about whether this is something he would do when he’s old enough.

The sacrifice of some blood on Good Friday is a fitting ending to the season of Lent.

Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and new life. – Janine di Giovanni

In my final homage to both the ancestors and Lent, I spent time with them this morning. I sat in reflection of what the past 40 days were like and gave a very heartfelt thanks that things were easier this year than last year. The specter of my last Lent had stayed with me for about half the forty days before I was finally able to release it.

I asked the ancestors as I always do what I could expect now that I’ve come through this most recent season. They slammed me with The Magician. This card heralds the start of The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana and speaks to the beginning of the path ahead. While standard Rider-Waite iconographic interpretation discusses the fusion of the spiritual and mundane as well as hints at the use of all four alchemical elements present in Tarot, the deck I use for my ancestors is a little different.

The imagery of the Antique Anatomy Tarot is a little less obvious than the standard Rider-Waite imagery. The alchemical symbols for earth, air, fire, and water are present along with the symbol for Mercury, associated with The Magician card. But that is where the similarity ends. There is no overt symbolism related to the fusion of both the spiritual and mundane… except that there is. It’s just a little more intuitive than other decks.

As I sat there, focused on the metaphor of The Fool’s opening salvo for the journey ahead, I couldn’t help but wonder what more could be coming my way. A fusion of mundanity and spirituality has been something that I think many of us hope for but often fall flat of the mark that we set for ourselves.

The ancestors whisper of trust and care, of love and progression. They murmur of intuition and dreams, reminding me that a meat bag like I can achieve what I want most. I guess we’ll have to see.

Lent 2018.

The Lenten season decided to sneak up on me this year. One moment, it was the New Year and a decision about observing Lent was weeks ago; the next moment, it was only in a few days and I had to decide whether or not I could face it again. After last year’s fiasco, the ancestors couldn’t really blame me for being leery of the prospect.

The funny thing is that, even with how awful things were last year, once I was able to look back and take stock, I could in fact see how it worked to better develop my relationship with them. I spent more time with them during Lent and I found myself relying on their advice more heavily than I would typically. On that end, we could say it was a bit of a success.

And as always, I really don’t want to disappoint them. They aren’t able to take part in these little rituals anymore. It’s for them that I say an occasional Hail Mary or Our Father. It’s for them that I pay homage to saints and have begun adding certain saints’ feast days to my celebratory calendar. It is with my ancestors in mind and the knowledge that through me, they can reconnect with their physical representations of faith that I do these things.

So, as much as I definitely wanted to say, “oh no, I think not,” this year, I knew that I wouldn’t. No matter how awful things were last year, I could remind myself that the the point in the season is about deprivation, about preparation, and about reflection. I spent a good deal of my time last year doing all of those things and at the end of the day, even with the awful fallout, I can say that it definitely wrought change even if I didn’t really expect it to.

With that reminder in mind, I thought about what I wanted to give up. I have a habit of choosing really big things and then getting angry with myself for not following through or forgetting or just generally not going a full 40 days of deprivation.

I think, in all the times I’ve observed, I’ve been successful exactly one time. On the flip side, I can say that last year was a success in and of itself, just not in the way I had expected.

I’ve decided to get down to brass tacks this year though. I’ve decided to tackle two of the Seven Deadly Sins: sloth and gluttony.

sloth

Thou seest how sloth wastes the sluggish body, as water is corrupted unless it moves. – Ovid

One of my major failings – and I have many – is sloth.

I spend my entire work week having to complete things in very specific and predefined timelines. If I don’t meet the expectation that we have given the client for whatever item I am working on, then our value/add goes down in their eyes. And of course, I hear about it from the Big Boss.

So all day, every day, I am working with the knowledge that I have a finite period of time to see to whatever it is that I am seeing to.

Almost in response to this constant pounding nag that I have only so much time to do something, I tend to put off everything else in my life. I have to send out mail? Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. I have to flip my bookshelves because they’re bending again? Meh, I’m not in the mood so I’ll get it tomorrow. There’s a sink full of dishes and no bowls left? You know what, I’ll just get to it tomorrow.

The problem is that tomorrow never shows up because by then, the task has become insurmountable. Instead of dealing with things when it’s time to deal with them or when I realize it needs to be done, I continue to push it off in the hopes that either someone else will do it for me or I can nag someone else into doing it for me (with limited success).

When no one bothers to step up to the plate to do it, I end up doing it anyway and am disgruntled by how much harder I’ve made the task for myself. And yet, I continue to do this.

Tomorrow is a day that never comes and the cycle flourishes.

The best part is that I know what will happen when I tell myself I’ll deal with it later, but I don’t bother to stop putting myself in this untenable position over and over again.

I have a variety of reasons why this is a thing. If it’s because the chore in question is related to Big Adulting Stuff, the reason is quite simply that I am too anxious to do the Big Adulting Stuff. So, it’s better to ignore it (wrong – as I know) than to actually do it. If it’s the smaller things, then the only reason is because I’m exhausted and I frankly don’t want to have to deal with it.

As tired or anxious as I may be that doesn’t mean life doesn’t keep happening.

So, in an effort to continuing in this vein for yet another year, I’ve decided to take into consideration the fact that what happens when I get home from work tends to mean that I am not going to do whatever needs to be done.

During dinner, I get sucked into Internet or TV. And then I’ll read because I don’t want to deal with the things waiting for me. And then I’ll write if I have time or continue to binge watch whatever I was binge watching earlier that week. I have a lot of things that drag my attention away from where it needs to be, so I’ve decided to limit that.

Television off. Phone on vibrate unless I’m using it to listen to music. Books and laptop are not allowed out until 7:30. That gives me an hour and a half to deal with whatever thing I’ve been putting off that needs to stop being put off.

Gluttony

Gluttony and idleness are two of life’s great joys, but they are not honourable. – Julie Burchill

Another major failing of mine is a form of gluttony.

When I think of the word gluttony, the image those most often comes to mind is a Roman banquet of epic proportions replete with periodic stops at the vomitorium to make room for the next course. I can absolutely and confidently say that I am not like that – in fact, I’ve been losing weight fairly steadily since I flipped my diet last year prior to my gallbladder surgery.

But, I do have a tendency of eating out more than my budget can handle. And I have a tendency of blowing my monthly budget out of the water with idiot mistakes… like going out to eat more often than I should. To me, not following the strict budgeting I’ve put into place for myself in an effort to achieve a Big Adult Goal this year is a part of gluttony.

In a way, gluttony ties back to my slothful tendencies. As I was thinking on these two things to give up, it occurred to me that, very easily, the two go hand-in-hand. While I may not consciously push off cooking dinner, I always have a host of canned responses as to why I don’t bother. The phrasing of those reasons tends to be me highlighting how tired I am because of work and how I’m just so hungry right this second that I need to get something immediately instead of waiting.

I’m lying to myself every time I do this and I know that I am. Every Tuesday, or thereabouts, the kid and I make dinner together. (Usually tacos.) It doesn’t take me that long to get that dinner finished and every Tuesday, I come home “starving” and desiring to just dip into a bag of Cheetos or make something quick that I can eat that much sooner.

But because this important to my son, and to the S.O. when he comes home to leftovers, I know that the canned responses are, in fact, bullshit. It’s a carefully coordinated and class act, but it’s all bullshit for as far as the eye can see.

So, I will be saying good-bye, generally anyway, to junk food and fast food. Going out to dinner for a pre-planned [and therefore budgeted] meal with the S.O. or my son is one thing, but going out three nights a week because I don’t feel like taking the half hour it may take me to cook dinner is ridiculous.

And this way, hopefully, I’ll be able to, you know, stick to that budget that’s been crying at me every month when I look at my bank statements. That way, I can ensure that on top of giving up, I can continue to give back to the community and various causes as I was doing last year even if it’s just a few bucks here and there.

And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. – Luke 9:23

After my last fast food hurrah with my son yesterday, I took the time to clean and rearrange the ancestors’ place of veneration. I sang songs and made sure that I had everything set up with all the appropriate symbolism that goes into my relationship with them on a daily basis.

I sat down with the ancestors briefly (since I had to help out with the annual Valentine’s Day hoopla for the kid’s school) and asked them what sort of advice they had for me going into this. I reminded them about the concerns I had going into last year’s Lenten season and that, to be honest, I didn’t really have the same concerns but that they were there nonetheless. I pulled The Empress card in response.

Among other things, The Empress is about nurturing and creativity. These were two things that I failed to do for myself last year. Instead of nurturing myself and pushing myself forward, I was too busy beating myself up for every perceived mistake. Instead of going into the season with creativity and excitement, I went into it with a heavy heart and just about set myself up to fail.

As always, I don’t know what the next 40 days will bring, but it certainly will be interesting. Hopefully, when things get a little tight or I start getting down on myself, I can reflect back on The Empress and remind myself that success in something like this is measured less by the tangible and more by the feeling left behind.

Stasis.

Dust coats the flat surfaces of my altars. In passing, I can see the fingerprints and smudges from passersby. I keep asking myself if I should clean it; I don’t have an answer.

The battery candles pop on at the same time every night. I think about the batteries and ask myself if I should shut them off; I don’t have an answer.

The sun rises and it sets, the moon follows suit. I used to think there was some poetry in all of it and maybe a hint of the divine. I ask myself if it even matters anymore; I don’t have an answer.

Tomorrow is the first day of a brand new year. I keep asking myself if this means I should pay more attention to my gods; I don’t have an answer.

When the year was a little over half over, I was ready to write it off. I was tired of fighting back in July and wanted to stop having to try. Right then, when I wrote that entry and hit the post button, I knew what I could look forward to for the next five months: more bullshit, more disappointment, more fighting.

Why bother? I asked myself. I never came up with a good answer to the question. I would mull on it periodically, asking myself why I was bothering anymore. I stuttered on some answer, trying to jump start the next step, maybe rekindle a hint of hope. But I honestly couldn’t answer such a simple fucking question.

All of the little goals and the big ones I had hoped to achieve never got close enough. I knew back in July that what I had been looking to do for 2017 wasn’t going to happen as one thing after another went to shit. I blamed myself, cried furtively about it, and buried whatever new failure had reared its head behind a progressively growing wall of internalized nihilism.

For a while, I blamed the state of the world. Why bother when the world is crashing down and this is what we have to offer the next generation. Arguments and missile strikes and war and toxicity and climate change and “p.c. culture” and every other new fucking thing that’s hit us.

Hope is easy when there are rays of it everywhere or at least, visibly seen. Rays of hope are hard when the fucking shit is constantly hitting the fucking fan and there’s no pause between this round and the next.

How many Tumblr “please reblog and call your senator” posts did I scroll by? How many spot on fucking tweets did I see retweeted thousands of times and screen shot on FB with still the same fucking shit happening the next day and the day after? How many hatch marks could we cross off in the win column compared with the hundreds in the lose? It got to be too much. The daily worldwide overload was just as bad as the daily personal overload.

I think it was in October when I realized that I had given up. I woke up and did the bare minimum to get through the day. I had no plans beyond the day I had just started or just gotten through. I made little goals and maybe I’d meet them. Sometimes I did; mostly I didn’t. I shrugged off the feeling of futility and kept trucking on because forward, even slowly, was the only direction to go.

That’s when I stopped blaming the world and started blaming the gods. My theory about why the blame should be laid at their feet makes sense even if only to me: they’re not gods of the here and now. No matter how much political or personal heka I toss out there, they’re not from this time and place as much as devotees may try. Their finite resources are for the important bits – maybe like their own survival – and fuck everything else.

Well, maybe not quite like that.

Maybe they feel sorry about it. Maybe they just really can’t because shit is so fucked outside in the world and inside me personally that ma’at flew the coop long ago and there’s no more balance left to achieve. I frankly don’t know, but I’m strangely okay with it.

It’s possible this theory just sounds like doubt, lack of belief, lack of faith. The funny thing is that I don’t disbelieve in the gods. I’ve had too much shit happen to me because of them to suddenly turn atheist. This pet theory of mine… well, it just makes sense. But I can see why it may sound a little crackpot.

A couple months ago, I bought a wooden icon of Saint Anthony of Padua. It was a joke really. I had been looking for Saint Francis because of a story my mom had told me months before. I didnt like the Saint Francis icon the shop had and landed myself onto Saint Anthony.

I knew him of course. My mom invoked him, out of all the saints, the most when I was a kid because something she needed was always missing. It’s actually so ingrained in me to ask Saint Anthony for help when something is lost that it’s out of my mouth before I consciously think of it.

It didn’t occur to me until recently that maybe I always liked Papa Legba was because I had already felt comfort in the classic Catholic imagery he wears as a guise.

And then, I dreamed about Ezili Dantor in her Black Madonna imagery. I can remember the deep darkness of her face flashing against the white of her eyes and the gold imagery surrounding her like a halo. The child in her lap was happy.

I found it frightening and comforting to dream of a foreign religion, something I had set aside in an effort to further pursue a religion that hasn’t made me happy in so long. My Hougan friend said it was probably time for another reading, just like I did two years ago to see what this was about. I wasn’t thrilled with the advice – my last reading was kind of painful – but it makes sense.

I hadn’t really made much of a decision since the chat. Kind of yes, kind of no. I waffled because that’s what I do when I have to make a decision and make appointments.

Today, when I pulled the Skull of Flowers from the Halloween Oracle, I remembered the decision I hadn’t bothered to make. I thought about the changes that have happened for my Hougan friend since he went that route and all the stasis I’ve been sitting in.

What harm’s a reading anyway? Maybe Someone can finally tell me how to rekindle hope.