Deep into the Night

Preparing for Lent is a little like waiting for the next shoe to drop for me. Like, you see it on the high wire above you and know that its grip on the phone line is precarious. It’s going to come down eventually but the when is still up in the air. That’s what preparation for Lent often feels like because the Lenten season with its sacrifice and introspection rarely goes out without a bang.

Sometimes, I’m prepared ahead of time. I’ve taken the time to be introspective and find a particular thread to focus on. But, mostly, I often feel surprised by the start of Lent. I don’t really know why either because I put Lent on my Google calendar many months in advance and see it regularly when I scroll through the months to get an idea of what’s coming up. But even with the words LENT scrawled across 40 days on my calendar, I’m most often scrambling for something to focus on, to sacrifice, to internalize, to flay me alive and rebuild from the pieces cannibalized from my stinking corpse.

I chose to stop buying books. After two or three years of not reading, I got back into it. (Thanks, BookTok.) I was on a buying spree for longer than I care to admit. I doubt I’ll keep that up after Holy Week. My TBR may be 22 books deep on my end table and my wishlist is… well a lot bigger, but I keep getting sucked down different fiction paths that light me up again. I may have jumped headfirst into reading as a learned behavior to hide from reality as a child, but it brings me such joy.

I chose to donate the price of a book each Friday to some organization. I figured since I was saving money by not purchasing books so often, I could donate the proceeds. This isn’t new for me to do during Lent – it’s just the first time I’ve been able to do it each Friday because something Big and Expensive hasn’t come up yet. (My need of new breaks for my car has been a thing since before Lent so it doesn’t count.)

I decided to also add calorie counting again because my avoidant personality loves to cope with food. Food, food, food. Give me way too much to eat, full to bursting, and my fat ass is particularly content even if I bemoan the over-full part.

But the biggest thing to focus on was dedication on the religious front. It’s gotten sorely complicated and things I’ve wanted to do have often fallen to the wayside. So, I needed to evaluate and focus on what I personally need on this mystically, bewildering, meandering path of mine.

Wonder Where You Are

Reevaluation is something that we should all take part in, but my problem is that I’m so used to just sitting like a boulder in the middle of a river, I never take the time. I never make the time. Isn’t it easier to allow the water to burble and scream around me than to actually try and move? The water will eventually wear this boulder down, though, and the sharp edges of the rock face are becoming blunt with age.

It started off with the fucking calendar of course. It’s a lot. There’s too much. It doesn’t seem right and while interesting things crop up now and again that snag my interest, it’s still far too fucking much. It’s this weird mismatch, hodge podge of random anecdotes all swirling around in this sort of free form blob that gives me a headache to look at. It’s too fucking much but that’s how I roll. Overwhelm first; figure it out in pieces later.

And then the land shit. That part isn’t too much; it seems like it’s not enough. As if the wraiths and spirits and monsters tromping through my tiny bog each night are all constantly whispering that I need to do much more than I’ve already started to consider or have done. The spirits of the pasture, the craggy men in the mountains beyond, the burbling river have all joined in partnership to assure me that there’s more.

The tiny little snippets of those hags I talk to online have started to coalesce into something close to sentience in my mind. And the calendar and the local cultus are all adding into the mix in a way that leaves me confused and frightened. This is never what I saw for me. This was something to admire in others’ practice over the early morning coffee or exhausted late night social media doom scrolling.

Reevaluate before you suffocate, except that I’ve already started to suffocate.

Nothing Has Changed at All

This Lenten season felt a little like the world was frozen all around me and I had to explore that frozen tundra to figure out a way to get through. The chaos that consumed me was just another icy wind with gnarled fingers scratching at my face and mind, but it changed nothing coming out of it on the other side. The world was frozen and me right along with it.

There is no true feeling of success here. Sometimes, towards the end, I feel so proud of maintaining the right levels of sacrifice that I’m filled with excitement and joy. I am happy in those moments, a bragging swagger added to each step forward. But this year, the feeling is less about success and more a simple survival.

It is not as if I didn’t finish out this season doing the few things I truly wanted to complete (no new books/donate) but it still feels like even those accomplishments are bland. Or maybe, not bland per se. A simple fact that was never in question. I decided no to this and yes to this and therefore that is what happened. Everything else added to the tally were effluvia and therefore not as nearly as important as I built them up in my mind.

This all speaks to the need for change across the board. Again.

Fuck.

A Strange Light in the Sky

Towards the end of Lent, I usually begin reviewing my list of Items to Be Bought Later for my ancestors so that I can get them something. It’s kind of a “thanks for putting up with my bullshit” present. If I feel particularly good about how things went, I’ll sometimes add something for myself but not this year. They earmarked their present in February so I’ll grab it next week for them. I don’t know who is more excited about this.

For myself? I’m left with a list of questions and to-dos that sort of gets longer each day. The messages adding to those questions and things to see to are all being pushed in concert like everyone came together in a meeting and decided to push the same agenda no matter who is doing the pushing.

So, here’s to Lent and to the Tower card that keeps getting shoved in my face. I see it and maybe I’ll do something about it. Eventually. Probably.

Lent 2020: C’est Fini.

When I was a kid, I remember Lent being like every other time of the year. We went to church on Sundays but there was none of that giving things up or eating fish on Fridays. Of course, my mom had left Catholicism behind by then so that may be why we never did any of the traditional trappings of Lent.

I wonder now if my mom missed it. If there was a part of her who desperately wanted to turn back to the religion of her youth to pay homage in some form or way during one of the most common expressions of Catholic devotion. Based on comments she had made to me over the years, I doubt it. She had made her peace with leaving Catholicism and while she still reached out to the saints and said three Hail Marys before a trip, it wasn’t something she wanted back in her life.

I can understand that.

So It Begins

Every year, I have an ongoing debate with myself about whether or not I will be observing Lent. It’s not really my thing, per se, and while I desperately want to honor my ancestors in an expression they prefer, it’s asking a lot. I not only have to give things up but step up the game each year to ensure that I understand the overall point of what I’m doing. The ancestors don’t always win the argument – I didn’t actively do anything last year – but they tend to be really pushy about it until I make a decision.

This year, I figured I may as well. It wasn’t like I was doing anything worthwhile and I tend to use the forty days as a time of reflection. I never know where my thoughts are going to take me and it’s kind of nice sometimes to find a single thread woven through the season of Lent to the finish line. Other times, I feel worn out and cranky, ready to throw my hands up in frustration and irritation when it’s over.

When I agreed to observe Lent this year, the ancestors had two additional requirements for this year. I needed to find myself a rosary with a crucifix attached and a Bible. I said no but one early February day found me running errands for what they had requested. The Bible I found had a soft cover and I wound up with a St. Francis medal in addition to the rosary. They didn’t say why these things were requested; just that they were needed. I set them all up in an altar area after reading that some Catholics set up a little prayer space with their family Bible for Lent.

I gave up diet Coke for Lent. I had gotten the two requested items for my ancestors. For myself, I set up a pretty little area to hold all of these so I had a single place to practice my Hail Marys every morning for memorization. I was almost looking forward to this Lenten season. I had high hopes at any rate.

My Lenten altar space.

The Middle of the Road

Caffeine headaches are no joke. They started almost immediately and I was hating it. I tried other caffeine substitutes but wound up giving up on them eventually too. They didn’t have the same pizazz as diet Coke and they didn’t stave off the caffeine headaches very well. I remember someone telling me that one way to give caffeine up is to take a can of regular Coke and pound it down. I thought about trying this but stayed away from all sodas instead.

My diet suffered at first because I was shoving horrifying amounts of sugar down my throat to hide from the caffeine headaches. I started carefully cutting back, making sure to stick to the fruits and salad snacks I was used to. I had moderate success in that arena. But I stuck to my guns on Fridays, only eating fish for lunch and dinner. My husband and son hated it since they despise seafood; they’d eat burgers on Fridays and bitch about the seafood smell that lingered in the air each Friday night.

I practiced the Hail Mary every day after I had written down my daily Tarot card interpretation in my Tarot journal. I got really good at it and was almost able to memorize it by the second week. I’d forget the line “the Lord is with thee” or “Holy Mary, mother of God” depending on the day. Eventually it stuck. I was pretty thrilled when I got it right on the first try for the first time. My memory gets worse each year but I find it soothing that this prayer that my ancestors whispered frequently enough is now something that I, too, can say by memory.

A week and a half in, the pandemic really exploded. School was effectively canceled and while I was still in the office that first week, running things basically solo, I wondered how this would impact Lent for me. It didn’t, jokes from the husband about Lent never ending now not withstanding. I was more easily able to moderate my sugar intake. And on the days where it was warmer, I went for a walk after dinner to watch how my neighborhood reacted to the social distancing requirement and was blasted with news about what places were shutting down each day.

I wonder how the Catholics of my local parish reacted when the priest began posting videos of services on You Tube. They continued to post quotes and messages on their Facebook page – really positive and nice things that I appreciated myself – and lamented the inability to meet with the parish family during the season of Lent. I, of course, was mostly unaffected since I never intended on going to Church during Lent. That may change in the future, but not this year.

I felt a little lost when the pandemic started. I was still doing what I said I would but it was like… it felt a little like everything was slipping away even though that isn’t really true. I tossed myself into exploring others’ Lenten devotions. I was hoping to find something, anything really, which would help me to feel connected to it all still.

I found some interesting things but it was mostly selfies of Catholics from “happier” Lenten times or some positive motivational quotes. Boring. Boring. Not for me. Not what I was looking for. Not what I needed. It took me no time at all to begin obsessing over what new Lenten devotion Ms. Dirty would post, amazed at how I could just feel how she must have felt as she went through each moment. I was breathless and said to myself often: I want that; that’s where I need to go from here.

It was after one of her posts that I began writing the brunt of my post on Ra. I’m not saying her post had much to do with my reflective thoughts on him, but I could see a similarity between what she seems to be doing as part of her religious path and what I am doing as part of this newly found one. I can… I don’t want to say “see” because it’s not a vision, but I can… sense where things are going for me and part of it entails a very similar evocative practice as that espoused by Ms. Dirty.

Perhaps one day, I’ll finally get to that practice and maybe, just maybe, my posts on said practice will resonate with people.

Beyond giving things up and wanting to feel connected and desiring the ability to have an evocative practice, Lent is about alms-giving. I don’t have spare change to give out much anymore, but in years past, I would donate money to causes that spoke to me on each Friday of the Lenten season. This year, I combed my house for things to give to the Good Will once Lent was up.

I have a very large box of things and two bags of clothes to donate, but I don’t dare donate them now. I’m going have to wash everything once this quarantine business is all over so that I can give it away, knowing that I’ve ensured the items to be good and ready for a new home. I’m hoping next year that I can do likewise, but maybe with a few charity alms interspersed. I guess we’ll see.

The End

Whether I observe Lent or not, I am acutely aware of the timing if it. I always know when it will end and usually, around mid-Lent, I get the feeling it’s time to book an appointment to donate blood. I do this every year on Good Friday. It’s an homage to my grandfather who was big on donating blood. I’ve gone every Good Friday since this Lenten thing began for me to a little local church that has provided space for the local Red Cross chapter.

Except for this year.

I’m still getting the emails and sometimes the texts from the Red Cross alerting me that my blood donation is needed. But with the pandemic still in full swing, I couldn’t go. I don’t have the ability to buy or make a face mask and I couldn’t chance it. And now that the Red Cross has stopped its Blood Mobile travels this year, this means my yearly appointments will have to take place a half hour away instead of right down the street.

I told my grandfather that I was sorry I couldn’t go this year. Assured him that I would make an appointment once quarantine let’s up again. I was… devastated frankly at the idea that my one ritual of most importance [to me] could not be observed.

And in someone else’s voice he assured me that the health and wellbeing of myself and my family is far more important right now than my homage to him. I could feel his love shining to me through that message and while guilt gnaws at me still a bit, I’ve come to accept it at least.

The second ending ritual for Lent in my world is a gift to myself for seeing through the entire 40 days of Lent. Obviously, this only occurs when I’m successful and I can admit that while giving up diet Coke may sound easy, it wasn’t. I still haven’t had a single fucking sip and I’m still bitchy about it.

I usually look for something early on so I have it in my mind’s eye. A sort of carrot on a string to pull me along the next forty days. This year, I couldn’t really find anything that I thought met the bill of “a gift for not giving up”. I perused my various “I want” lists over and over again but nothing really spoke to me. I went into Lent without an image of anything in my mind and came through three quarters of the season without anything, so maybe I don’t need that dangling carrot anymore. Or maybe, I just didn’t need it this year.

I was really just messing around a few weeks after the shelter-at-home orders went out when I looked up “mourning ring” on Etsy. I like mourning jewelry, so why not? I ended up finding a replica mourning ring within the first two seconds of my search that said, “I’m your gift. And I’m going to come home to you.” And that ring, that beautiful damn ring, stayed frozen as a pretty little picture in my mind up until the evening of Good Friday when I finally bought it.

Usually, my gifts are intrinsically tied to me, but this one is definitely tied to the ancestors. It speaks to me of them and whispers their names in my ear. Looking down upon it sitting happily on my finger, I can feel the connection between us.

The mourning ring being purified by incense.

This year, Lent was a lot of things. It was short and sweet (time has no meaning really right now but my personal relationship with relativity says it was fast). It had fewer candle led whispers and rituals than I had originally planned for. It had more jokes and stories between my husband and I. It had a lot more seafood than I am used to and it had a lot less feeling of connection to anyone or anything than I usually do.

To end this entry, I’m going to retell a story the husband told me shortly after he told me that Lent will never end since the Pope closed down the Catholic churches, which means that Holy Week and Easter is canceled.

I was talking with one of the old-timers at the club and he mentioned that he was giving up the usual things for Lent. I asked him what was the worst thing he gave up and he said, without thinking about it, “potatoes. I give up drinking and smoking and gambling every year without missing any of it, but potatoes was the hardest. You don’t realize how much food is made from potatoes until you can’t eat any.” I looked at the old-timer, trying to figure out how many side dishes I ate every week that had potatoes in them and nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah I can see that.”

Lent 2020.

It was early February when I polled my office and asked them what I should give up for Lent. I’ve been out of good ideas for a long time, so I figured I would put the question up to group-think. It was practically unanimous: they chose diet Coke which makes sense. I drink a lot of it. There was one who “courteously abstained” from voting because “Lent is stupid and no one should have to give things up.” I made a polite remark about how I didn’t have much choice about this, and moved on.Diet Coke [again], it is.I suppose it could be worse; it could be something I’ve never given up before. I’ve given up diet Coke, and by that act, drinking soda entirely for forty days. I’m a pretty big bitch about it, too. Diet Coke is my afternoon caffeine intake since I dislike drinking coffee after the sun hits the zenith. (I don’t know why; just don’t.) Thus far, I’ve staved off the caffeine headache by shoving a ridiculous amount of sugar into my gullet, but at least I’m properly hydrated throughout the day for once.A few people at the office seem to think this is the start of me “getting healthy”. This of course means that I would be healthy by their standards, not my own. I know I’m not healthy by any stretch of the imagination (not including mental health in that assessment), but I also find it curious how the conversations always come back to “getting healthy”. It baffles me why they think the person who eats fruits, salad, vegetables, and maintains a calorie count of food intake somehow doesn’t have healthy eating habits, or the ability to manifest them?It merely goes to show that the people who think this is about healthier living don’t understand the purpose. I wouldn’t expect them to; they aren’t Catholic by any stretch of the imagination. And the gentleman who told me giving things up for Lent was stupid has his own preconceived beliefs and notions relative to this.Sometimes, I think it might be better to educate the masses than to politely listen to the ideas that others have about all of this, but then I think, why bother? Nothing I would say would change their point of view [probably]. It would fall on deaf ears and I would continue to have to listen to their own points of view on something that is an experience unto itself and has nothing to do with America’s fatphobia.I suppose I’m just bitter.The purpose of Lent is more than simply giving something up. We are supposed to be giving up vices; faults in ourselves that can negatively impact us. While one may not necessarily see where diet Coke can be a vice, I say that it is. It is a sort of security blanket against caffeine withdrawal the horrors of the world. Diet Coke doesn’t fail me (although it will with all the plastic that’s probably forming in my brain) the way everything else does.I knew one woman who would give up gambling and swearing every Lenten season. She would come into work on Ash Wednesday with her smudge of ashes and say that she would keep her language clean and her gambling at bay. She managed every year and she would save her gambling money and put it into her rainy day fund. She never completely gave up either vice of hers though; she needed them to get through another lackluster day just as I need diet Coke for the same.But this doesn’t really explain it all because Lent is about way more than simply giving things up. I’ve read up on it numerous times – and blogged about my findings for the last 7 fucking years – but I think it was the book I got for Christmas that helped to kind of solidify it all for me.

Remember that we are but dust and ashes, yet by God’s grace we have died in Baptism and have put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Each year we keep these Forty Days with prayer and penance and the practice of charity so that we may come to the Easter festival ready to renew once more the life-giving commitment of our Baptism.P 93, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

Also…

May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.P 95, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

And finally…

The Church asks us to give ourselves to prayer and to the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. The fasting that all do is together on Fridays is but a sign of the daily lenten discipline of individuals and households: fasting for certain periods of time, fasting from certain foods, but also fasting from other things and activities. Likewise, the giving of alms is some effort to share this world equally – not only though the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents.P 96, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers

People get hung up on the idea that something must be given up because that’s what forced down everyone’s throats. How many commercials have people seen about businesses offering fish meals on Fridays at a discount rate? I got hit with a blast of ads about it on various social media platforms as well as Hulu. How many articles have been re-posted or written anew about the giving up of things for Lent? Google gave me 110,000 news articles about the act of giving up things for Lent when I asked.But it’s also about the giving of charity; you know that very line item that most people seem to forget has a very specific and very central part to all of this? Alms-giving is as much an integral part of this as the denial of vice. We just don’t hear about that part as much because maybe it doesn’t sound as cool or as weird as the act of denying yourself something that you would really rather keep.And it also requires a focus on your religion. Many people use the time to focus on the reading of Scripture or the focus of prayer. I’ve been getting up in the mornings and trying to say a Hail Mary (I like those). I’m not familiar with the prayer and I stumble over it, but it’s an important part of the Catholic faith and I can remember my grandmother and mother saying Hail Marys when I was a kid. It seemed like a good focus.But for others, they read through the Bible. They choose maybe a book that they’re not as familiar with, or a specific theme throughout the Forty Days to focus on.At the heart of all of this, the purpose of the Forty Days is an act of rebirth, an act of renewal. People deny themselves these things and give things away in an act of public mimicry of Jesus’ 40 Days of Fasting in the Desert. At the end of it all, they are [hopefully] ready for the spiritual rebirth that will [again hopefully] occur as part of the celebrations of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.I always wonder how many people feel truly renewed at the end of Lent. It’s always been hit or miss with me.I’m not Catholic and have never been, baptized into the faith though I may have been. I was never confirmed and I don’t see myself going through that. At this point, my Catholic ancestors seem content with dragging me through the processes, directing me to educate myself on what I’m doing and why, and saying the prayers when they want. The veneration of saints has been a recent addition, but it’s here to stay. Besides, who can pass up a good prayer to Saint Anthony when your shit goes missing? (He always comes through.)I don’t go into the renewal aspect looking to renew my Baptism, or to learn more about Jesus. I always look at it from the perspective of my own chaotic attempts at religion. It’s a time of renewal – something that as a Kemetic I am keenly aware of in many ways – and I use it in an effort to do just that.I am hoping to renew my path, renew my desire to learn more outside of what I’ve already established, and maybe even renew my desire to continue forward. It can get really hard to want to be religious when everything seems like such a fucking crawl up the sheerest of mountain faces. But I’d like to renew, like to feel a bit of Zep Tepi during the Forty Days ahead. I’d like to… just remember what it felt like to be happy with what I’ve established at any rate.And hey, maybe I will get with this whole “healthy” business. I doubt it, so don’t assume I’ll succeed, but I’ve been known to surprise even me.

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.

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.

Advent 2017.

It smells like warmth in my home.

I kept Advent this year, an undertaking requested by the ancestors last year when it was too late to honor it. In the keeping of that promise to them, I discovered the smell of warmth.

It was home cooking at first. Gingerbread with its ginger and cinnamon undertone. French meat pie with its hint of sage and overdose of clove. Cinnamon buns and vanilla icing and birthday cake. It filled my home like the candles’ light and I pondered the meaning of it all.

Intellectually it was obvious. I’m keeping a calendar in colored candles. The first two purple, the third pink (for hope my mind shrieks out), the fourth purple. The four Sundays before Christmas, before the next week began, I was keeping the calendar for the season of peace, for the birth of a child of a deity who has never been my own.

My mother reminded me of my childhood and our Advent calendar in the explanation of what Advent was. She reminded me of the little bear my little brother and I would click in place on the sewn image of a house. He was looking for Christmas and the build up was infectious for two young kids, thrilled at the prospect of presents and colored lights and good home cooking. We would fight every morning about who would move Little Bear. I always cheated and did it before he got up in the morning.

“Where is Christmas?” Little Bear would ask and search his house from top to bottom with our help. No, not in the bathroom; not in the attic. He’d pass by the living room with his family and it’s Christmas tree in his search. The rational part of my mind would always ask, “why the fuck doesn’t he ask his parents?”

It didn’t matter what rationale there was even as I got older. Christmas was the calendar my mom hand made when I was still too young yo remember and we counted down the days from December 1st to December 25th. After he had found Christmas, I wondered what he did in his spare time before the new year began.

As I lit my final candle, I was reminded of the day after Christmas looking at the bear Advent calendar. What does one do when the build up is over and the time you’ve been counting down to is finally here? Where do you go from here when it’s all finally over?

The candles burned low, burned out, and I got stuck on what comes after. You plan up to the moment in question, but it’s not often that you think beyond what you’ve been planning for. What do you do after the final candle is lit, has burned itself down to a stump, and the final Sunday has happened?

For my ancestors, they would have gone to Mass if they were from the Catholic side. I can remember whispers about Midnight Mass from my mom’s family when I was a kid. I don’t know what that means really but that’s what they would do.

My Methodist family would have done something like the Boars Head Festival. Or maybe they would eschew the Methodists’ dislike of drink and have a few in celebration of the season. Either way, they would have been loud and boisterous and shrieking with laughter. 

For me, it’s an inexorable progression to leaving out presents and filling the stockings. Peppered in the holiday tradition of being up too late for my baby schedule. In the midst of all that, there’s the peace the season claims to be part of the season while I sneak away from my family to take a few minutes’ time out for myself.

Beyond today, beyond tomorrow, I don’t know what the calendar will bring. It’s all messed up and whatever hope I normally have going into a new year was burned out of me months ago. There’s just the steady, heavy, finite progression forward with the whisper of my Ancestors in my ears.

They tell me to take it easy, to stop blasting forward always looking for what’s next? They tell me that Advent isn’t just the keeping of time, of four Sundays with color coded candles, but it is also a time of reflection, of the peace spewing down from white doves’ lips on tapestries in my neighbors’ yards.

It is more than just being reminded that another week has come and gone. It is more than simply the need to keep a countdown in place for what we all know is coming. It is more, more, more they whimper at me and I listen.

My house smells of my childhood now.

I can remember the bread my mom would leave out on the steam heaters, the smell of yeast perfuming the air. I can remember the brownies she would make and the smell of meatloaf. Cinnamon wasn’t a huge part of my childhood in food, but my mother would leave out cinnamon sticks and make crafts peppered with that smell every year.

It smells like warmth. 

Some Would Sing and Some Would Scream.

I’ve been purposely quiet lately. The whole last month – last three months really – have been a sort of nightmare that Americans woke up to the day after the election. There is so much going on everywhere that it’s enough to send anyone into a spiral of darkness and depression, myself included.

Every single day, I wake up at 6am and spend a half hour looking through the news reports I missed out on while sleeping. I comb the various social media platforms I am on and reblog, share, and retweet the things that I find need to be shared. I spend much of my breaks at work or periods throughout the weekend doing the same thing. It’s honestly one of the few things that make the darkness a little more bearable.

It also tires me out. I mean, there really is only so much of these horrifying things you can take before you want to hide in a pillow fort for a few days. Life continues though, no matter how scary the real world has become and no matter how your mental illness reacts to it.

I still have to go to work and pay the bills. I still have to get groceries, do laundry, help my kid doing homework, and clean the old homestead. I still have to have the same arguments about fruits and vegetables with my son. I still have to feel miserable when shit starts flying at work. I still have my life to lead amid the nightmare fuel the world has seemingly become.

Sometimes it’s a wonder any of us can get up and greet a new day.

Fleur de Lis - Lily Style

You soon find you have few choices… I learned the voices died with me. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

During all of this, there has been some beacons of light in the darkness. I have turned to comfort from my ancestors. Some of the reason that I have turned to them is because of that old whispering commentary telling me to get right with my ancestors. But that’s not the whole of it.

I know enough about them to know that there were members who fought for freedom in some form or another. I figure they’ll understand all this stuff we’re going through now. My grandfather and his brother joined up during WWII, the time frame that seems to most mirror what we are going through today. I know they probably get it.

I don’t actually know what caused them both to join the air force. I couldn’t say if it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the atrocities committed by the Axis powers, or just a need to be a patriot. My grandfather once told my mother, after learning that I did not vote in the first election that I could have, that he was disappointed because the fight for that freedom to vote was something he had done or something like that. So maybe it was just the need to fight for freedoms.

I don’t know what, if anything, they had to say about the Japanese internment camps. I don’t know what they thought or felt about any of that and I will most likely never know. I have a romanticized dream that both my grandfather and great uncle thought it was just awful. Maybe the rose colored glasses will be ripped from my eyes one day or maybe not. I of course prefer my possibly false characterization.

Whatever their reasoning, I have turned to them, and my akhu as a whole, more and more often. Multiple times a week, I find myself talking to them, thinking about what they would say to me during this trying time if they were alive. Perhaps nothing; perhaps something. It is a comfort to me.

And that is predominantly why I’ve been so quiet.

The Keys to Bokeh

All you have is your fire… And the place you need to reach – Don’t you ever tame your demons. But always keep ’em on a leash. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

One would think that in such dark times, I would turn to my two warrior gods. They would be two whom understand fighting against a sea of swirling isfet, and to be sure, the world certainly seems full of that right now.

But I have found myself unable to do so. Whenever I think of it, I talk myself out of it. Things aren’t so bad for you. Let them focus on those who are in danger, those who truly need advice from two warriors during this trying time. I need comfort and wisdom too, of course, but in my mind, not as much as others.

I can feel them both like distant statues seen in the distance. The image is hazy even when squinting. If I were to move closer, I would no doubt have the image resolve itself. But I can’t seem to make myself move closer.

As I spend more time with my ancestors, I have found that they like being in the limelight less and less often. It seems very much to me that they lived quiet lives and want to continue that practice even in death. They have often asked me to be silent, to keep details back.

I have half a dozen drafts of posts that will never see the light of day simply because they have asked me to keep it quiet.

And to be fair, I often agree because the idea of going full on ancestor veneration under public scrutiny is disturbing to me. A little of that is because it feels lile breeching a previously unknown boundary.

But too it is also the idea that this world of akhu can get a little lonely.

Often it feels like a lonely little island with not so many other people discussing the subject. Since my ancestor veneration looks more like a cross with Kemeticism and Catholicism,  and an occasional pinch of Methodism, it seems like keeping it all to myself makes the most sense from all perspectives.

Lantern on snow

I knew that something would always rule me… I knew the scent was mine alone. – Arsonist’s Lullabye by Hozier

The akhu have filled a sort of empty niche, willingly placing themselves at my disposal. Maybe this is the road I need to be on while I “get right with them.” I guess I’ll  find out eventually.

Causing a Soul to Live.

O Nut, Nut, I have cast my father to the earth, with Horus behind me. My wings have grown into those of a falcon, my plumes are those of a sacred falcon, my soul has brought me and its words have equipped me.

– excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.

It began months ago when I drove by a Catholic church that I have always driven by. The church is a memory staple of my youth. I can remember riding up that long main drag with my family and watching it flee into the distance. I had always wondered who Saint Catherine was and why she was important enough to have a church named after her.

The church looks the same from my childhood. All tans and grays with thick bands of the deepest green grass. The soccer fields are filled with players in spring and autumn, the lone cop obviously sitting idly in his speed trap all year round, and the people happily bonding in their religious community.  The place seems, well, friendly. Cheerful and happy; welcoming, I guess. Not all churches feel that way in my experience. This is one of the few in my area. For the church, time hasn’t passed, not really. Another day, another month, another year is immaterial to the friendly building that takes up an entire city block.

This wasn’t the church of my ancestors. Their places of worship were either miles or cities away.

But as I drove by that day, a whisper told me to go inside and check it out. The whisper reminded me that I had always been curious about what Catholic churches were like. That I wanted to know what it would be like to confess to a priest and get told to pay penance with whatever prayer sets an alleged sinner like me needed to get right. The whisper was forceful yet seductive. Don’t you want to know? it seemed to ask.

Not that badly, I decided, and left it alone.

It was a hum after that, no longer a whisper. It was a quiet, near-constant hum in the darkest recesses of my mind. There were no words, just sound. It had a sort of harmony in it, but it was little better than white noise. It would get louder when I drove back by St. Cathy’s church but faded out as I kept on going.

One day as the noise got loud, louder, loudest, I muttered, “man, I got to get right with my akhu.

I couldn’t say what made that come to mind. I frankly couldn’t even understand what the hell the idea meant. I knew things were a bit tenuous with my grave-tending just about nonexistent and my lack of offerings or care to my ancestors, but what had I done wrong that made it seem like I needed to “get right” with them? Fuck if I knew and they weren’t really saying.

I muzzled the whole thought, the whole damn thing and the white noises faded out when the church popped up on my drives to wherever. I breathed a sigh of relief: no more obsessive desire to step foot in a friendly building that simultaneously repulsed and beguiled me. It was like that wayward thought about the church and the ancestors was dead and gone.

I kept congratulating myself on a job well done. I figured my discernment was fucked ten ways and I needed to figure all that out later. Whenever the fuck later actually was.

I never did pull out my Tarot cards to figure it out. I didn’t need to. The painful bit was over and I was doing fine.

Pyrenean Starry Skies

You have opened up your place among the stars of the sky, for you are the Lone Star of the sky… – excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.

Weeks back now, I woke up from one of those calming dreams that you’re loathe to wake from. The vibe of the dream was the utmost tranquility, soothing, and sweet. It was like finding yourself in a moment so perfectly encapsulated by the word “serenity” that you can only marvel at the perfection of it. I’ve had rare moments like that, typically in the some area outside, surrounded by plant and animal life. It was nice having it in the dream world.

In the dream, I held two things between my hands. The first were a pair of cool beads. When I looked down at them, I realized that I was looking at a mother-of-pearl rosary. At the cross section was a medal of some kind and the crucifix was a sort of tarnished color along with the saint’s medal. The beads had a glint of rose within the confines and handling them added to the overall calm. I could feel my maternal grandmother in them.

In the other hand, I held a scrap of cloth. It was made of flannel and was black-and-white plaid. The fabric was raspy between my fingers. As I clenched my fist around it, I felt a sort of stabilizing influence. I could almost see my father’s face in the whorl of the fabric, though I knew that I couldn’t see anything in reality.

Behind all of this in a sort of blurry after image. I could see what looked like a table lacquered in a dark color like mahogany with curtains on either side. Across the entire surface of the table were golds and ambers, pinpricks that caught the light. It was like I was seeing it all from under water. The picture was kind of clear if I focused on it for a few moments but then the blurriness overshadowed everything else.

Again the peace of the dream kind of caught up with me. Maybe it was the knowledge that I was filled with so much peace that finally woke me up.

When I finally climbed out of the soothing vision of the dream, I sort of pondered the meaning behind it. I could kind of see what it was that was going on here. The symbolism was pretty clear. The rosary was for my grandmother; the plaid flannel for my father. Of all of my ancestors, these are the two that I am the most connected to and the most willing to reach out to when I need them. Though they have been quiet in recent years, it seems like perhaps they have finally come to terms with the fact that I will honor them, but I’ll do it in my own damn way.

On the way to work, I kind of tried to figure out if this had to do with that whole “getting right with the ancestors” thing from before. I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe all the puzzle pieces would fit eventually together and I’d finally get a glimpse of the overall picture. I started working on getting the akhu cabinet up to snuff, to sort of fill it in like the watery images from the dream.

Not long later, I dreamed about my akhu again. I was a little astounded to be honest. I’ve gone for years without hearing much more than a whisper here and there and then, within a month’s time, I had dreamed of them twice. This time the dream was a little soothing and a lot more obvious.

I was working in the closet that I’ve cleared out to make space for my akhu area. The closet is pretty large and the cabinet doesn’t fill it in completely. In the dream, I was moving the cabinet towards the book shelf that I call the Place of Truth and in the cabinet’s place was a sort of console table. It was pretty wide, maybe almost 20″ and fit neatly back against the closet wall. It took up most of the closet to be honest.

After rearranging all of the current imagery that adorns my akhu cabinet, I carefully placed an icon of Anpu across it. It’s the typical icon one sees of him in his couchant jackal pose. I have one, in fact, that sits on my cabinet now. The icon in my dream was far larger and sat crosswise instead of facing outward as my current icon does today. I placed the icon so that he was looking towards the east.

Well, it seemed pretty obvious that if I was to “get right” with my akhu, they wanted a fitting place to reside themselves. I had already compiled a decent sized list of things that I’ve been purchasing piecemeal. It will be a while before everything is situated appropriately – though I am still up in the air about whether the couchant Anpu is a requirement or merely a dream affectation – but I’m getting there.

Starry Night at the Camp

O, fair are the orders which you give to the spirits, for you are a Power; you will not go hungry… – excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.

The talk of one’s ancestors within our community is often a mixed bag. There are people who pay homage to them and those who don’t. All reasoning for why one person does something and another one doesn’t are completely valid. In my world, I have always wanted to connect to them in some way and found it difficult to do so.

The main reason why I found it so hard is because I always felt like my ancestors were an amalgamation of every piece of genetic heritage, or familial heritage (should no genetics play a part), that had come before. As a young Kemetic, I found the amorphous mass of my ancestors confusing. Wasn’t ancestor worship or veneration supposed to be a one-by-one deal? But every time I moved in that direction, I found a hive mind so to speak. I figured I was doing it wrong.

This is partially why grave-tending worked for me. The deceased in my neck of the woods were, like my personal ancestors, a mass of those who had come before. I was comfortable with it when the group mind had no personal bearing on me. It was too strange when it was people who, for all intents and purposes, were supposed to be my people.

Some time ago, I was reading a book by Kemp, which seemed to indicate that the laity only paid homage to the most recently deceased generation. It wasn’t because the other generations weren’t as important but specifically seemed to relate to the fact that, due to a smaller lifespan, it would have only have been the most recently deceased generation that would have had a connection with the living. This, of course, made sense to me: I found it easier to connect with the people whom I had known in life who had gone into the West as opposed to the names and faces from sepia-toned and black-and-white photos.

It wasn’t until I was reading through Society, Morality, and Religious Practice earlier this year that it kind of finally began to take shape. After running across this quote, it made my experiences with my akhu seem far more real than I had previously given credit. I had, as usual, had preconceived notions that impeded my ability to truly connect and by finding a canon source that aligned more fully with my experiences, I was better able to feel comfortable with my experiences.

Sometimes you just need someone else, even a faceless author, to help lend credence to your personal gnosis.

Since reading that quote, I have felt more connected with my ancestors than I have in a long time. The disconnect I was having wasn’t just on my end – I have personally found that your closest relations can and are opinionated even in death especially when it relates to how you honor them in death – but these books and quotes helped exponentially.

It’s possible that this is what was meant all those many moons ago when I found myself saying, “man, I got to get right with my akhu.” Or, perhaps not the totality of it. I can definitely say that by fixing up the space I’ve designated for my ancestors, I’ve also found it easier to turn to them and speak with them and rely on them. But there are other pieces to this puzzle, too: their pieces, their desires.

It’s a balancing act, really, to cause a soul to live.

And sometimes the soul isn’t just those who have predeceased you, left you roaming around on this planet without them there. Sometimes that soul is yours and the burning white-hot need to connect to people who loved you, took care of you, and were there when the shit hit the fan even if they made mistakes along the way. They forget to mention that part, about how you need your soul to live too and sometimes that living part means getting right with the dead.

I guess that’s just a part of the learning curve.

Someone stands behind you, and you have power; you shall neither perish nor be destroyed, but you shall act among men and gods.

– excerpt from Spell 177 from the Book of the Dead.