A Rite of Memorial
Crossing the River
A polytheanimist Thracian perspective on creating, rebuilding, and embodying ancestral religions as living traditions in the 21st century. Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being.
PantheaCon 2014 began a little over two weeks ago, and ended a little under two weeks ago, and I am still not finished writing all of my post-PantheaCon-reflections and remarks, primarily because I have hit the ground running on my return to the Northeast (as I have yet another major move lined up in the next few days). That said, as I did last year, I will share my personal account of the conference here. What follows are collections of my reflections and meanderings through the long weekend in San Jose, edited for deployment here at Witches and Pagans.
I arrived in California from Boston's Logan International a few days in advance, and my pre-con activities included some time in the chair at one of my California tattoo artist's shop, getting some devotional work done, and generally socializing with awesome people between Berkeley and San Francisco, who I've missed the company of since my move.
The conference itself rolled into place rather quickly, and Friday morning was a mad-rush of assembling stuff for the conference at the home of two dear friends, with ritual items and mundane items and food items and tons of liquor items (and some fresh meaty offerings to be fed lovingly to the wilderness en route) piled in around us in the vehicle. It was certainly one of those "there is not enough coffee in all the world for today" sort of days, which I resolved promptly by consuming dangerous levels of caffeine and then an even more amazing amount of liquor, which served to suitably assist my feeling arrived and grounded. I began my day with a fresh bottle of Barbancourt 8-year, flasked for easy carry, and found my way into the company of a dear friend until the chaos of bag-stowing and room-finding needed to be addressed.
My first panel to attend was PSVL's talk on the Ephesia Grammata at 1:30, which is a thing I knew very little about beforehand (which is sort of folly on my part, but this is why one knows PSVL!) and I was very excited to dive in, though wound up being a little late in getting into the presentation. And then, just as I was settling, I was summoned away via vibrating text to tend to some logistics with ritual particulars for later in the weekend, and needed to excuse myself...
Which began an awkward few hours for me. The ritual logistics were squared away and several particularly noteworthy boxes of "things and stuff" were left in a room out of the way. I met back up with my friend, and we fetched some lunch and headed poolside for what I was told would be the Ekklesia Antinoou's 3:30 Sanctification rites for Rev. Eddy Hyperion Gutiérrez of the Unnamed Path and Olivia Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis, both of whom left this world in a much better state than they entered it, earlier this year. The rites would be the formal process through which each was made an elevated Sanctus in the Ekklesia's tradition. On arrival I saw some familiar faces, and many I did not know but which bore the familiar expressions worn when grieving one truly loved by so many. We arrived early, socialized with some beloved friends and allies, and then... time went on. And the ritual leader from the Ekklesia did not arrive. Concern began to grow; this was not a figure known for shirking responsibility or being late to anything. Phone calls were made, texts were sent; all unanswered. My concern grew to genuine, deep worry; there were grieving family members awaiting a major ritual at the pool, and nobody involved in the ritual was present. And so, being me, I went on a search... for just under two hours, scouring the hotel, consulting Programming, Con Ops, on-sight medical staff and security to ensure that there hadn't been any health issues or accidents. Searched and searched and searched and then.. finally... found somebody else from the Ekklesia.
It turns out that the ritual was at 5:20, not 3:30, and nobody really seemed to know where the miscommunication was. I was tired. I was relieved when I finally heard from the "not-quite-missing" ritual leader, and attended that rite... which was a blessed one. No, it was more than that. Much more.
There is a thing that I think gets missed sometimes in modern Polytheisms and Paganisms and otherwise spirit-traditions and religions overall; the living side of them. We speak of things too frequently in either the past-tense, or with a vein of "hypothetical" secular removal, even when engaging with wholly non-secular topics. We tend to treat religious events (outside of the "specifically personal") of note and "lore" as being a thing that happened in some distant past, never to be repeated. Things that come up for us today in our ritual lives or our sacred devotions or with chance encounters with the divinities that guide our worlds, we tend to either dismiss as coincidence or only make sacred space for in the individualistic, "personal revelation" sense. Well forget that. Forget "personal revelation", at least for the moment. What happened poolside at 5:20pm on the first day of PantheaCon was not about "personal revelation", nor was it some dressed-up ceremonial theater to make the present humans feel good -- or feel anything -- because it wasn't about us. It was about the making of two gods-blessed saints. This is not a memorial or remembrance, or an abstract elevation; this is a permanent and causally significant rite that has etched itself into the fabric of all that is for all the time that will ever be, and these two blessed humans will live on not only in the ways that all of us do, but as members of the Sancti, who will be called upon by a living religious and ritual tradition as elevate guides, guardians, and divinely risen agents for as long as there is breath to speak the words and, I suspect, well afterward.
There is nothing past-tense about religion or spiritual tradition, about living or about dying. Orion Foxwood describes the engagement with the ancestors and the blessed dead as, at its foundation, a basic acknowledgement of the "continuity of being" that we are all a part of; and yet so many times when rituals or sacred tellings or divine happenings are discussed or engaged it is with this modernist secular step-back that "others" the whole thing as being somehow separate from us, as if the literal engagement with living spirit tradition might somehow infect us.
Well, you know what?
I freaking hope it does. Because what happened at that poolside on Friday evening? That was nothing shy of miraculous; the gods and the spirits and the Orisa and beings I could not begin to name were present, were singing, were dancing, were watching from the ledges above us and the literal second that the energies raised through prayer and chant and invocation had fully amassed around us and the Ekklesia Antinoou's formal Latin prayers were completed, a freaking legion of winged messengers burst from the hotel's roof and carried all that had been done up to the heavens. I counted them, just as they counted us, and my eyes flooded and I smiled and I thought to myself: okay, I'm sort of glad to be here.
Which brings us to around 7:00pm.
This particular time-slot is actually a tiny bit disjointed for me, because I was tired from the "hunt for PSVL" earlier in the afternoon, sleep-deprived, not quite calibrated for the time-zone yet, and by that point I'd already finished off most of the Barbancourt and was moving into a bottle of 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, which was delicious. The primary highlight of this period, however, was the wonderful time spent in the Coru Cathubodua's hospitality suite -- one of the two rooms that they occupied, and shared with this humble feral Thracian, on the hotel's 2nd Floor, the other being a not-yet-at-that-time consecrated Temple one door down -- during which I got to engage in both theological discourse and purely fun socializing with dear friends new and old, sworn allies and beloved kin. In short, it was pretty awesome. And then (I think, anyway.. linear time isn't really my strong suit..!) a most unexpected thing happened. That thing is called...
John F***ing Beckett. I was engaged in some supremely awesome topic or another when suddenly my attention was drawn to my left, and I noticed a man sitting there, talking, gesturing, engaging -- and I realized I knew him. "John F***ing Beckett!" I exclaimed, and with those words, the tone for the rest of the Conference (for at least one of us...) was established for the ages. John looked over to me with this completely earnest expression of half-surprise and half-bewilderment at who this profaning savage beside him was. I lifted my con badge, which read "Anomalous Thracian", just as somebody else introduced me verbally. He lit up. His smile goes all the way to his eyes. We shook hands, and some fantastic conversations flowed and followed -- and he even drank one of my god Sabazios' favorite beers, while I continued to commune with the 2 Gingers -- and a whole lot more profane introductions took place. By the end of the exchange, everyone at the entire event was whispering about the rumored presence of John F***ing Beckett, and there may well have been some threats of revenge against my person from this seemingly mild-mannered blogging druid from the great state of Texas. (In seriousness, meeting and talking with John was amongst the highlights of the weekend for me. If you ever have the opportunity, buy this man a beer, and pick his brain. Be sure to address him by his proper profane name, and he'll know I sent you.)
The Coru's Temple was set to be consecrated ritually and opened to the public at 9:00pm, and I was eager -- for reasons which can be discerned if you know about my own Temple, and the years spent serving it almost 24/7, before my move from CA and its ritual razing -- to be present for that. However, the Spirits had other things in mind, as I was summoned elsewhere for other community engagements (whereupon a certain Haitian spirit gifted me with a bottle of Barbancourt White rum, and clean, tidy offerings were made on my behalf to other spirits at the recently risen altar up on the 10th floor). I got to spend time with blessed and beloved family, including my brothers from Chicago who run the Vodou Store and Big Liz of the Conjure Corner, Mambo "T" Chita Tann and others, too many to name. After a while, other community (and spiritual) obligations called me away from one family, and back to another -- back down to the Coru I flew. (Well, in honesty, I may have stumbled a little. It was very good rum, and my third-ish bottle of the night. I shared from that, too...)
It was a blessed night spent with people I either never get to see outside of this event, or else haven't seen since my East Coast relocation. It was emotionally hard for me to be "back", and this caused a stirring of conflict for me at some of the people and geographically-close connections I'd left in this move.
That night I had the blessing of spending the night in the Temple of the Morrigan itself, which was powerful for me for entirely personal reasons. There are very few people who understand what it was like to have the Temple that I had: the care and maintenance of which was a full-time job for years of my life, spent in humble devotion with my gods, and other gods and spirits not at all "mine" who came through or talked their way into being given space within those hallowed walls. There are precious few true Temples to be found around in our Polytheist communities; that there are some (such as Tess Dawson's Canaanite Temple, which I have had the pleasure and blessing of visiting and Working in!) is heartening indeed, but as Sannion once pointed out in his blog, taking care of a real Temple and serving a true Temple Priest is complicated, demanding, and freaking hard. I know this, from the years I spent doing that every single day; Tess Dawson knows this, and the Coru certainly experienced it as they traded shifts throughout the weekend priesting in this blessed space that they erected for the event. While I lay on the Temple's floor that first night, I wept for my own Temple, whose ashes I carry with me. I communed with the spirit of this Temple -- not just the Gods and Heroes and Spirits enshrined and invoked and fed and named, but the spirit of the Temple itself -- and I found that we got along well. It seemed to know me as a Temple priest, albeit from a different Temple, and a different sort of Temple, but there was recognition just the same.
I don't know what the conversations between the Coru priests and members were, as they planned for their Temple. I don't know what their intentions were, from the start, nor if what they wound up with at the conference was indeed what they had set out to call into being. What I do know, however, is that every single damn person who stepped into that space -- shoes removed, body washed in sacred waters, knees bent in reverence as they entered -- was graced with something entirely different than the rest of the weekend could offer, and in most cases I would wager entirely different than what could be brought into being in their own homes and shrine-rooms. There is a difference between a Temple and a shrine-room, between a "dedicated space" and a living, sentient and responsive Temple, which was big enough to contain all of the gods named and a thousand thousand left unnamed and all of the blessed and elevated dead and not a few wandering, misplaced souls (both of the corporeal variety and otherwise), which reverberated from inside with majesty and authentic, lived and experienced divine grace. Others have described the Temple in more detail than I will, here, because I don't really do descriptions.
What I can do, however, is a humble, completely unworthy acknowledgement: what was done with that Temple, by the priests whose care and crafting brought it from possibility to awesome reality and by the gods and spirits who guided and guarded the process, was important. Just as the Saint making from earlier in the day was of concrete, causal importance, the very existence of this Temple represents a thing so often lost in our communities and collective devotions: a present-tense of profound, lived magnificence. There was nothing past-tense or "ancient" or "removed" about this Temple, despite the ancient armaments that adorned most of the shrines: this was not a recreated thing from the past, not a reconstructed diorama or a theatrically reproduced installment. This Temple was stunningly alive, not because of what it reminded people of collectively or personally or mythologically or academically or literarily, but because of what it simply was, in a completely stare-you-down-and-breathe-on-your-neck sort of way. And so I give genuine, heartful praises to all of those who had a hand in its inception, and who guided it through into this world.
As I lay in the darkened space, I became intimately aware of the Morrigan's eyes upon me. I opened my own, and my vision settled on one of the larger statues upon the main shrine to the Phantom Queen, and a severe comfort came to me; not the comfort of down pillows and warm baths and silk sheets, but the comfort of a rucksack and level ground beneath me and open sky above me (even with eight floors of hotel above...) and the ache of toil in my bones and a sort of stunned joy mixing with grief mixing with a healthy dose of familiarly staggering awe. In this rushing calm, I smiled: the statue was from my Temple, left with trusted priests here in California when I moved. In the shadow of Her phantomed gaze, I felt at home; I slept well that night, forgetting for a time all the business of record-breaking-cold and living in a van and struggling with snow and ice and warming myself with tea-lights and animal skins. For that night, I rested. It wasn't really sleep, and it was only moderately restful, but it was real rest. For the first time in months, and months, I felt that I had permission to clock the hell out and just surrender to the Night.
And I was not alone in this. Are any of us, ever?
Saturday morning I awoke on the floor of the Temple of the Morrigan, to the chanted devotions and benedictions of two of the priests of Coru Cathubodua who slept to the side of me. Fighting against the urge to stay-the-hell-asleep, I succumbed to consciousness and made myself upright. Caffeine flowed like blessed victorious allies into my veins, and I made myself decent enough to stumble out into the wild, whacky world of the conference. I managed to get myself some coffee before the big rush down at the hotel's Starbucks kiosk-of-waiting-doom, and then did some check-ins via phone after the welfare of my corvidkid, back East with a babysitter.
Saturday was the "fullest" day for me in terms of programming I needed to attend, including Sacrifice and Modern Paganism: A Panel Discussion which was put together by the Coru, Lupercalia 2014 which is an annual Antinoan rite performed by the Ekklesia Antinoou, and Danbala Sevis – Honoring the Serpent & the Rainbow a Haitian Vodou ceremony hosted by Mambo T's House, Sosyete Fòs Fè Yo Wè. I met up with Corvus Cardia before the Sacrifice panel, and we snagged some fashionably-not-quite-late seats in the back left of the presentation hall. John F***ing Beckett joined us in our row, as did another dear friend (clearly we were the cool kids).
The Sacrifice panel was a fascinated set of discussions, with a very knowledgeable group of five folks: Jeffrey Albaugh, Crystal Blanton, Dr. Amy Hale, Mambo T, and Sam Webster (links stolen from John Beckett's post), and was moderated by my friend Rynn Fox. John's summary of the panel is a good one, and it is not my interest to go blow-by-blow through the whole thing. In fact, as has been my theme with these recounts so far, I will share only my personal process and inner experience of the panel.
The panel's description, borrowed here from the Coru's event calendar, reads:
From offering the best wine and grain to the finest animal or tribal member to the Gods, sacrifice was a central part of many ancient cultures. But as modern Pagans we must ask ourselves: what is the role of sacrifice today? How is sacrifice relevant to our experience, and should we invest the time and energy to restore ancient sacrificial rites to their place within Pagandom? Or should we invent modern sacrificial rites, and if so, what would they entail? Explore these questions and others as we discuss the place of sacrifice within ancient and modern traditions.
Despite seeming to be focused more broadly on "general sacrifice", the major topic of discussion seemed to be specifically on animal or blood sacrifice, with one audience member bringing up (during the Q&A segment) the subject of human sacrifice. Sam Webster stated early on that sacrifice, if anything indeed could be considered such, is perhaps the universal theme connecting religious and spiritual traditions globally and throughout human history, which I thought was a powerful, accurate and evocative statement. While he, and several others -- including Crystal -- spoke of "other" forms of sacrifice (such intangible-made-tangible in the form of conceived thought put to word, or social activism), the focus and charge of conversation kept circling back to animal and blood sacrifice. It was very interesting to see the group of five assembled voices address the topic, and to note that amongst them, only one (Mambo T) had performed animal sacrifice.
I found myself thinking about other conversations that I wanted to have on the subject, but made the assessment that the present venue probably wasn't the place. I was disappointed, I think, that the subject of "general sacrifice" was not discussed more in-depth (e.g. is there a difference between giving a gift to the gods, versus giving a sacrifice? why did so many people seem to have a recoiled response to the idea of transactional relationships? is there a difference between an offering and a sacrifice? does the value of a sacrifice increase if it is harder for the giver to acquire, or does that not matter to the spirit or god in question? how much do these things depend entirely on the tradition or path in question, etc.) and that, with animal/blood sacrifice as the clear "buzz topic", it wasn't addressed with more hands-on experience or specificity. Overall, I think that this conversation was an essential and necessary starting point, which ultimately took off as a fledgling from the nest without any crash-landings. From here, more steps-and-flights can be taken (through different trees, approaching the canopy...) to further explore and engage the subject.. and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here!
Next on the agenda was Lupercalia. As a Lupercai myself, I always love returning to this ritual. My initiation into the fabled ranks of lupine fellowship happened not at PantheaCon, but within (and then outside of...) my very own Thracian Temple of Night, some years ago. However, at this particular time, I felt physically unwell; travel is never kind to me, and while I as remarkably able-bodied this convention weekend, I have health issues and am generally using a cane for mobility assistance (which I wasn't, for most of the con.) I was critically fatigued, in the "I have a chronic invisible illness, and I ran out of spoons" sort of way, and spiked a fever for a short while. One of this year's Lupercai-to-be was a friend and family member of mine, and it was an obligation that I stay to support their process in the proceedings, otherwise I may well have needed to duck out to throw myself into a power-nap or a vat of espresso or a swimming pool or something.
The ritual itself is a powerful one, and despite some logistical snags -- delays in getting the right furnishings from the hotel's event staff, stalls and ritual modifications due to those delays, and some communication snares -- this year's expression was not lacking in potent deliverance. PSVL recounts the ritual here, and eir frustration at the logistics is clear, but I will say this: when the footrace came to a close and the energy built up through the rites coalesced and the ritual blessings -- first of victory, and then the removal of defeat -- were lashed out upon willing audience members, who lifted their palms to receive that which was offered, my fever suddenly broke and the muscles in my face stopped twitching and the fatigue gave way to a feeling of cleansed restoration.
Winged Victory struck through palms from flayed goat -- as if there is any other way to know sweet victory, daughter of Styx -- came and took stance at my back, which straightened out of pained slouch. She touched my shoulders and my head lifted and, damn, I felt pretty okay. (Anyone who has suffered from chronic illness, pain, or extreme fatigue will know how rare such a wave of restorative relief is... and how much of a true blessing it really is.)
With victory assured and defeat slapped away, I found myself finally feeling the ground beneath me.
And it turned out that I would need these blessings to make it through the rest of the night...
As I would be attending the Danbala Sevis later in the evening, I was abstaining from alcohol for the day, and so I made do with 5-Hour-Energies and smoked salmon to keep myself upright and human-shaped. I changed into my ritual whites -- which was quite a sight, for those who hadn't ever seen me in that mode -- for the ritual, and prepared for that with the rest of the House. There was a memorial service for Eddy scheduled immediately before the Sevis, and there is a lot of overlap between those who were at that and those who would be attending or participating in honoring Danbala. I am told that the memorial was intensely powerful, and completely divinely profound and important; however, it also I think lent to a certain tension in the air transitioning the space for the Sevis, which was a thing that could have been logistically coordinated better by Programming. Part of the problem with an event like PantheaCon is that it is really damn hard to coordinate all of the moving pieces; however, I think that sometimes the very real and concrete nature of some of the energies invoked and brought literally down into spaces for certain rituals is not necessarily factored into decisions of this kind. It is just not a good idea to have certain sorts of events happen back-to-back in one space; but no Programming team can be on top of every single thing.
The ritual itself was powerful, and also immensely challenging for me on several levels. Danbala is amongst the biggest and most potent of the lwa (spirits) in Haitian Vodou, and is greeted and treated with a huge amount of deference and reverence. Prior to this evening, He had not come down -- through spirit possession -- into a priest at any event I was present for, and so to be asked to feed and greet Him when He arrived was a tremendous honor, which I hopefully didn't fumble through too poorly. However, I will actually not be discussing the rest of the ritual in-depth here at all; Danbala had an interesting exchange with me as I knelt with Him, which -- to say the least -- left me spun and out of sorts. Under ideal circumstances, I -- or anyone else similarly impacted by the very real and very present and very in-your-face Divinity -- would have received care and intervention to alleviate some of what I was going through. (For that matter, in other sorts of ritual contexts, I would normally be one of the people doing this.) In this particular evening, however, the only Vodou priest present in the ritual was not longer present, because Danbala was riding her.
The remainder of the ritual is a blur -- a thing Rhyd Wildermuth might appreciate me referring to as "Divine Trauma" later that evening, but which was equally just a state of spiritual overload and physical depletion -- and my sequence in memory is mapped primarily by scattered images, shaky steps, and spinning rooms. I experienced high bouts of vertigo for the remainder of the night, feeling as though I were pressed against the head of a giant white serpent, who moved up and down through the sea and sky and heavens with such force that I was flattened and then lifted, weightless, and then pushed downward again. My equilibrium was vertically shot and I was loathe to get on an elevator -- but stairs were absolutely out of the question. After the ritual was closed, and the space cleaned up, with altars and adornments moved back up to the tenth floor, I felt myself needing to not be sitting still. (The vertigo was worse when I was still.)
I found myself wandering through the halls of the hotel -- probably ill-advised in my state, but we'll take this as a "don't try this at home" segment -- and was appreciatively taken in by an ally, priest, and kinsperson some eight floors down, who spent a few minutes helping me reorient. It is humbling to be the one stumbling about, as I am so often on the other side of that, helping to ground people back into themselves and into this place and into this time, with my own feet never too terribly far from the earth beneath. But this weekend? I don't know that I ever really landed.
Later I was blessedly collected by a supportive, nourishing presence and gathered up into the Temple of the Morrigan, where communion rites before the altar helped to calm the rise-and-fall; from serpents to ravens, I ended my evening in blessed darkness, safety, and prayerful repose.
Day three of PantheaCon was a day of reflection, of good company, of missed connection with some folks who hadn't been there on Saturday, some deepening connections with present parties. A significant chunk of the later day was spent off-site in smaller, private Thracian ritual. This was set to be a day of mostly off-books Work, less focused on formal programming -- though at the outside I hadn't actually intended to skip programming altogether! -- and that worked out very well until later in the evening. The night continued with some lovely couch-dwelling tenth-floor conversations with a good local friend I'd not seen in months, another not-as-local Lokean friend I've only actually been able to hang out with once or twice ever, and Corvus Cardia -- plus guest appearances by Lee Harrington and his lovely friend whom I met last year -- until I needed to scram for some long-awaited ritual cycles of the Thracian variety, with a small collective of folks assembled from all corners of the country.
Months and months and months of work, both ritual and logistical in nature, and not a small amount of money, had been put toward a set of private rituals happening in the late evening. Without going into specific details, it is sufficient to say that this ritual work did not in fact happen... and frustrations abounded. Communication issues, scheduling snares, and a number of items that left me angry, bitter, and immensely frustrated at logistical collapse and wasted effort. (Amusingly, all of that rage -- which was collectively shared by the unplanned war-council of ritualists -- was actually perfect for channeling into the ritual work planned, which was mine to facilitate, however there was simply no ritually safe way to do so on a short time-table without risking damage/strain upon the participants. Sometimes rage lends itself very well to Work; but that kind of work is best reserved for times where there is an appropriate amount of down-time on the far side of it, rather than airplane schedules and hotels and luggage and cargo...) And so we broke our council, parting on terse but good-enough-for-now terms, with messages from the gods arriving on my lips that brought a bit of order to the disordered eve's conclusion...
The night becomes something of a blur, after that, but I was collected by the warmest of company and in that was given the process to collect myself, resolve some stray inner "stuff", and see said company to their own lodgings safely, before returning to the Temple space to sleep.
Monday morning came, and I checked in and promptly recognized that there was no way I was going to get up and functionally attend anything, which was a shame, as there were there bits of programming I waned to attend, including one I had been asked by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus to participate in. However, I am glad for my decision to sit things out. It turns out that six months of living in a van with very controlled doses of human contact do not actually prepare a person for the social-and-energetic immersion that a hotel packed with 2500+ Pagans winds up being. I was over-saturated, over-tired, and basically done by the time the sun rose on Monday.
And so I did my small social bits, and I enjoyed hugs and greetings and "wish-we'd-connected-more!" exchanges with folks, while sorting the logistics of my own luggage (half of which was loaded up to head to San Francisco with some friends), and arranged places to sleep the next two nights. Some pictures were taken with dear friends I don't get to see often enough, and I was gifted two bottles of whiskey and a bottle of wine... it was a good way to spend the morning and early afternoon. Later, I lunched with the Coru and had time to talk and socialize more in-depth with a few of them that I'd only been able to greet in passing through the weekend, and basically debriefing went down at a great little place in Santa Clara, where I ate what had to be the best cheeseburger in the world. I returned to the Double Tree and connected with my family from The Vodou Store, who I spent that night with. It was blessedly nice to just kick back and relax and banter and hang out with no pressures or schedules. Two dear siblings from La Sosyete Fòs Fè Yo Wè delivered food (and it occurs to me now, way way late, that I probably owe some money for that!) and generally a good time was had by all. I recall falling the hell to sleep mid-conversation and waking up at some point, giving some random and unprovoked (but apparently contextually appropriate) lecture on some particular spirits, and then crashing out again. I was exhausted.
I awoke on Tuesday morning to an empty hotel room. I brewed the hell out of some coffee (the crappy kind they give you for free in the room...) and drank it deep while I packed my bags (and some assorted odds and ends others had accidentally left behind in their exit). I had various phone-calls over coffee -- the hotel was empty of weird Con folk, and back to regularly dressed business-casual travelers -- and waited for a ride to arrive for lunch in San Francisco. I got to spend some time with my brand-new nephew (born in October), who has real werewolf teeth and monster-foot booties, and I tried on a magnificent fox-fur mountain-man-hat at a shop in the Mission, but didn't go home with it. We parted ways, and I settled into what is apparently the second-oldest pub in the city, cleaning out a bunch of pints of their house stout and giving an accidental lecture on evolutionary psychology to a room full of (mostly sober, and very interested) patrons. The bartender canceled out my tab and let me drink for free, and I gifted him a bag of unopened soda cans left over from the hotel room clean-up. Then things got weird, I don't actually remember how, and I used an incoming call as my excuse to slip out -- the timing was perfect.
I spent a couple of hours smoking some cigars on the side of the road in the Mission until the last ritual of my week in the early evening, with a large duffle slung up alongside me. A passing photographer stopped to take my picture and chat a little bit; he assumed that I was homeless, and I tried to explain to him that while technically this was true, I had a really awesome van that I lived in three thousand miles away, and was just in town for a conference. He seemed to doubt this, and I assured him that I was not lying, that I did not in fact hang out on that street corner every day (he seemed discouraged by this), and that I actually did professional lecturing on things like religion and psychology and so forth. I found his website later and, on assessing the images, confirmed that I did in fact look a bit strung-out and haggard...
Six o'clock rolled around and Morpheus Ravenna landed outside of the tattoo shop, and we swept inside for some long-awaited ritual tattoo work. She had begun a devotional piece on my left arm in mid 2013, and it was well and due for a "round two"; we worked into the later evening and the spirits of a thousand corvids circled around us and between as conversations and ritual banter and history geeking ensued. This offering of inky blood and flesh was the perfect end to the week, and both of us were fed by the process and the communion, charging up our little polytheist batteries on the whole process. Electrified and nourished and properly bandaged, we parted ways and I caught a ride to the home of two dear friends and fellow priests, where I'm afraid I pretty much fell asleep sitting-up in mid-conversation...
The next morning I was on a plane. I slept on the plane. It was in the sky. Then it was on the ground. And Boston happened... and it seemed that I survived it all intact-ish.
A Rite of Memorial
Crossing the River