Tag: mystery

Thematic Resonance in Civilizational Superstructure

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The human story, at its base, holds a fairly simple framework. An ape-ancestor, both a puzzle-solver and obsessed with time, stumbles over persistence hunting and ends up inventing both a great way to catch dinner and the curious social technology of telling a story. A few million years or so later, this results in a flowering of the human tree, one of the branches being homo sapiens. Homo sapiens uses this amazing tool to get into the heads of the landscape: both animals (its original purpose) and energetic flow patterns (winds, plants, landscape features). Somewhere along the line, they meet up with cousins from another continent, wolves, and the two co-evolve for a time, resulting in wolves around the planet and humans using pack technologies to form tribes.

This dynamic set up a repeating meme, where a group of lonely, curious or shunned humans would enter a new landscape and then completely adapt themselves to it, becoming pretty much literally an extension of the land itself. In turn, barring a major disaster (super-volcano explosion, meteor strike, invasions of Triffids from Beyond the Stars), the tribe could self-perpetuate its presence in the landscape in perpetuity.

Putting it in a slightly different light, seeds moved in and used behaviors to affect themselves physically between generations to fully become the People of the Land. Time would then begin, stories would flow. All would be well.

Seeds went out, adapted to the environment, became the world.

Civilization, on the other hand, was an upheaval of that story.

The foundation of civilization revolved around a traumatic break with the world, a mega-death that broke the idea that the culture was a part of the land. For Sumerians, that was unexpected seasonal flooding from both freshwater and seawater sources. For the Aztec, it was being chased from their homelands until they were deep into swampy territory next to a lake. From there, civilized cultures would start a hyper-specialized form of gardening–farming–where they would rip up everything so that the land would be forced to provide them and them alone with food. This created a war-mentality where one class would have to protect the food, one would have to grow and distribute the food, and one would have to make sure the constant input of manpower needed to make this work would keep on coming.

If you were to ask people about their deepest held spiritual beliefs before the coming of civilization, they’d probably look at you like you were crazy. Their beliefs came out of their interaction with the land; it formed quite naturally from that dialogue over generations. If you asked them specifics–like “Where do we come from?”; “Why are we here?”–they would have stories they could absolutely share with you. However, the frame was different. Life was a whole thing, not to be divided between ‘spirit’ and ‘not-spirit’ in a way that is generally understood now.

There’s a reason for that.

Civilization also faced similar questions: “Why are we here?” “Why are we putting so much effort into this crap?”. By all accounts, farming was a pretty shitty life.  Like, on the scale where you felt sick and had deformed kids level of “shitty.” And building cities, even worse. Especially the smell. The diseases. Faith–the ongoing dialogue between people and the greater world–was pretty much screaming “stop doing this!”

Someone, somewhere along the line, who really wanted to keep their job, came up with an idea. Faith used to be the comfort that you could take in knowing that a process much larger than you worked. Maybe, if you spent your entire life examining that process, but even if you didn’t that currently invisible mechanisms would still work fine. The new definition of faith by Mr. Go-Getter placed the emphasis on the invisible part of the mechanisms, arguing that (a) the invisible was more important than the visible and (b) if the invisible grew visible, it was no longer worthy of being called “faith.”

This boiled down to “we (the folks in charge) know you hate this life. But trust us: invisibly, this way of life is AWESOME!” As more people grew dissatisfied with this explanation, they had to come up with more and more invisible gifts to heap upon the deserving. You could serve in the afterlife (heck… sometimes that’s how you GOT an afterlife), it was a battle between good and evil and evil was all the lazies, a good afterlife only came to those who served well. Spirituality grew further and further away from perceived reality and gods dwindled from a multitude to handfuls per culture to finally two.  Even two wasn’t low enough. People were still miserable and trying to figure a way out.

This is where things get complicated.

Judaism comes in, in this world of divine kings and games of ‘our god is better than your god’ and awkward attempts at unification (“We’ve got to unify to fight the Bad God!” — Zoroaster). The common narrative is that the Jews responded to this polytheistic world by creating the idea of monotheism.

What if there is another way to look at this?

So here lies the context around Genesis. The Jews had battled their way out of generational slavery. They were a long ways away from their homeland, with not a lot of hope that they would successfully return. The kids were used to being forced to worship the gods of one (or more) of the same kingdoms who had enslaved them. How do you deal with that?

The Jews reacted by creating a clear pathway back to their land. An immediate-return religion.


YHVH — also known as the Tetragramaton, the name given to the Hebrew tribal deity. Loosely, it translates to “everything”.

Angel — taken from the Greek word “angelos” meaning messenger. Originally supposed to be “daimon”, which was a spiritual helper but the term was not used because it had both negative AND positive aspects. Applied to two different terms in the Bible: the Word of God, which encompasses emanations of YHVH so powerful it took physical form, and to the Elohim, which can be translated as ‘sons of god’


How do you explain to your kids that, even though they’ve spent their young lifetime watching Mom & Dad bow to a Golden Calf, that this is now wrong? How do you explain to them that the land they have never seen, never experienced, is so much better than where they were at? You tell them this:

“Look, my child. The universe loves us. It got us out of captivity. It protects and shelters and feeds us right now. And the gods in this universe? Well, if they rise up against us, the universe itself will shout out ‘I like these people! Leave them alone.’. So here’s some ground rules. There’s the Elohim and then there are foreign gods. You’re only going to truly know the Elohim once we return home. Until then, don’t bow down to these representations of gods. How is a single god more important than the favor of the universe? Don’t worship them. You’ve got enough to do! And once we get home. Once the home is ours again, we are in the hands of the Elohim once again.”

Obviously things didn’t work out as intended. I am secure in saying that if I laid this down at the feet of many Jews, they’d be scratching their head. But look at how absolutely utterly magnificent an attempt this is at trying to preserve a tribal legacy from the depredations of a foreign land and aid them in coherence in getting home. A way to preserve the embers of your spirituality so it can be fanned into the open flames of the heart, in an unknown future.

In that aspect, it worked. Jews, as a tribal people, have a resilient and coherent society even today, synagogues helping to cement that cohesion even while the only temple to the Elohim can exist in Jerusalem. It was an amazing, mostly successful attempt and I’m honestly in awe of it. It’s also sadly at the heart of the reason why they are persecuted (civilization really has a serious hatred for tribes, especially successful ones).

With that, I’m going to need to move on to where it all went awry.

About the time Yeshua was up to his/her hijinks (if you haven’t read this article, read it: [http://www.nthposition.com/jesusampalinsky.php](Jesus & Alinsky)), the Romans were trying out a new unity spiritual technology of their own: rebranding. They’d conquer a place, usher in some roads, and start lecturing on how their gods were pretty much identical to the local ones. So, if you wanted to continue your ways of worship, you simply had to call your gods by the Roman equivalents. And celebrate the Roman holidays too. And respect the Roman worship because, you know, your gods and the Romans were the same. Rebranding worked great for a time but like all the other attempts at explaining why our ‘world’ was crappy, it started to fall apart as the Empire slowly did.

Here’s where Saul of Tarsus steps into the picture. Saul’s a sad man. He’s a Roman but his Dad really talks about how cool it is to be a Jew. It gets so contentious, Saul finally ends up going out and hunting down Jewish apocalypse cults, like this Yeshua cult that says the Roman Empire sucks and it’s going to fall horribly because it’s filled with lechers and perverts and just generally terrible people. He gets a head injury and somewhere in the recovery period figures out his job was actually a bout of teen angst and decides to ‘become Jewish’ instead.

In context, consider how easy would it be for you, tomorrow, to become Maori or Saami or Tongva or Lakota.

Saul takes the Roman concept of rebranding to ridiculous heights, claims spiritual superiority, and takes the message of a tribal religion and applies it to the Empire. It probably would have stopped somewhere in there, except that Constantine spotted that it was a great way to unify his rapidly disintegrating empire.

“The Universe is OUR god. That means it’s so much bigger than your gods. And it likes us because Saul says so and Saul has talked to the Universe lately. Entry fee is: belief is Iesu. Thank you for playing.”


The above is likely not a direct quote from Constantine.


You really can’t get more detached from direct observation than saying ‘the universe loves ME more than it loves YOU’ and while this sham worked for a while, it ended up in the same division that claimed all the attempts to unify spirit. And as it did it gave birth to the ultimate twins of detachment.

Welcome to the spiritual technologies known as Science and Theosophy.

Science is the madness that results from faith being so long divorced from common practice. It looks at the last few thousand years of devastation and, instead of questioning the cultural wounds imposed on the people, says:

“There are forces in this universe but they are IMPERSONAL ones. They don’t care for us and they probably don’t even think or aren’t alive or aren’t of any importance.”

Tribal people from over forty thousand years of observation roll their eyes at its ignorance.

Theosophy is the rationalization that occurs when you are trying to fit all of those personal forces into a framework where they flat don’t fit. Theosophy appeared at the heart of the Spiritualist Movement in the late 19th Century and is best recognized today through both New Age and Waldorf movements. Theosophy wants to say:

“We are all part of a primitive space-time, the lowest of the low, and every ill we get, we deserve. In fact, we’ve asked for it. This is elementary school for gods. We (and the ongoing march of civilization as it progresses) are an “unfolding consciousness” (actual quote, btw) and once we’ve learned enough lessons, we will uplift from this precocious plane and enter the real Reality.”

And tribal people bang their head on the wall as theosophists try to sell dreamcatchers — summoning charms SPECIFICALLY made for the Spider God of a certain tribe — as special nightmare stoppers theosophists ‘made in their past lives as native american shamans’.

So what is the takeaway from this entire post? E pluribus unum? Infinite diversity, infinite combinations? Perhaps it’s something as simple as highlighting both a seductive but dangerous (and ultimately futile) spiritual technology meant to unify the planet AND an attempt by one tribe to preserve their identity long enough to return to its roots. Only one of these technologies is worthy of study

The other only exists to be discarded, except as a warning to future generations and a lesson of history.

Some concepts lifted from this article: http://discuss.rewild.com/t/the-trouble-with-one-long-post/2183 originally published on rewild.com January 2nd, 2017

In Ice, She Sleeps

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So one day I’m in this discussion about how the prince in Cinderella is obviously under the effect of fairy magic and why didn’t his parents figure that out? That inspired me to look a little deeper into fairy tales and start teasing out some deeper thread. With that said, enjoy:

Ω

That day was so clear to her. It marked the beginning of an end, though she didn’t hold that idea at the time. No… instead she felt she was in the bloom of her power; the blush of spring. Hair sun-kissed, cheeks rose-red, eyes like calm pools. He called her Beauty but she was no fool. She knew that all things could be lost with time. No, she was just herself. As beautiful as a rose. As thorned as a briar. She smiled, perfect teeth concealing a perfect tongue and she laughed, wholly and delightfully. That name she would take for her own… rose-red, briar rose; Rose.

She had been with the heir to this land some time ago, not too long past, and she was still flush from their encounter. At the end of their too brief rendezvous, he had gifted her with a bouquet of unique, magnificent thorned blooms from his mother’s garden. His tribute to her name and nature. Holding them close, she found that spot by the river she remembered from her youth, down the path that led to the hill and the People that lived beneath it. Dark and strange and faithful People. Memories from a lifetime ago. But it was a good memory and, above all, safe, so she lay there, happily exhausted by the day and she let herself drift off to sleep on a patch of soft black earth within the sound of the bubbling water.

She dreamed, restless, unexpected.

Of long ago times and far thrown futures. Her hand flung out from her as she dreamed, thorn ripped, and the flowers scattered. Three drops of blood fell to the earth from a torn thumb.  And in her swollen sleep, she whispered “Skin like snow, lips like blood, hair like night.”

The ones that live under the ground and in the trees and in the water and in the good clean earth heard her. They blessed her and the words she had spoken.

Rose found herself that day with child.

‡ ‡ ‡

She had decided the child would be born alone, as was the old way, out deep in the forest, where the roots of life itself ran deep and her grunts and sounds could not be heard by her people. In customs of ancient times, her family would be waiting a short ways off to aid her after the birth and protect her should anything go wrong. But her father had died young and her mother… she didn’t talk about her mother anymore. Rose believed in herself, in her strength, in the knowledge of the forest because of her time with the people under the Hill, her cousins and aunts and uncle not by birth but by need.

So here she was, her and her swollen belly and the child inside her straining to be released, to come into the world.

The child’s head crowned as a great cat appeared at the edge of the glen. It scented the blood and, in the way that cat-kind can do, it allowed its pleasure to be known. Food was near. The cat’s opinion, of course. The child’s mother had another notion. Rose snarled, both in pain and in frustration. She saw the cat fully, knew its intent. She would not give up, this close to bringing her daughter in the world. And then she laughed. That laugh that only the mad truly understand. She howled, much to the cat’s irritation.

Her howl was answered.

A pack of wolves drawn by blood and curiosity came to see what the fuss was about. At first they challenged the cat. A meal was to be had. This meal would be theirs. Or not, if the risk was too much. Snarls were met with ears bared back, a warning hiss, and teeth bared. The great cat was not here to play with some feral things. She wanted her food and she wanted it now. Rose howled again and the first among the pack came out, old and experienced. He sniffed the air again. He growled but it was different this time. This person he recognized. She was not a meal. She was kin. She was birthing.

She would be protected.

The pack charged across the glen, meeting the cat halfway. Its heft was more than them; it was older and more powerful. But they were determined and tenacious to the point of stupidity. Back and forth, so close, at times a hair’s width away from the cat’s prey. The next moment, almost back to the forest.  Rose sobbed with effort. Her cries grew louder until they overwhelmed even the sound of the fight. Then a new sound burst through the air. Young, robust, vibrant. Skin like snow, hair like the night. Her child in the world.

The first among the pack watched as a strange claw the color of his stormy eyes flew through the air and embedded itself in the cat’s neck. Surprised, the cat stumbled back and then forward, slumping down for the final time. The youngest ones in the pack, still jumpy from the fight, nipped at the corpse, ripping at the fur looking for meat or a fight.  The first looked to Rose and there she was, baby on her breast, fingers frozen in the same place as when they’d thrown the knife. The two stared at each other for a while, then the first chuffed, and signaled for the pack to leave. They left her in peace, dragging the meat towards the woods. The loss of the knife was worth it.

Snow White had been born.

Rose felt it swell in her and tears fell. She was a Lady now. The land accepted her as kin and blood and her lord waited for her, impatiently, at home.

She left joyfully, her daughter sleeping close to her heart.

‡ ‡ ‡

Something was wrong.

There was a chill in the air, in a land where in living memory people only remembered summer.

Rose’s child had grown to be a wonder, a dream made flesh. She had an impact on all who knew her but none more than her father, the crowned lord of the land, and her mother, the lady of the land. There were gifts in abundance at her home, for Snow White’s birthright, for her mother to commemorate her trials, for her father in exchange for a promise to keep and protect them until Snow came of age.

Among the gifts provided were ones from the Children of the River. Tall and fair and as enchanting as a summer sunset, they had given several to the lady Rose, among them a comb that would tease out bad thoughts, a set of leather lacings that tied themselves, a set of charms that would bring only beauty to the eye, and finally Rose’s favorite gift: the silver bowl. The bowl was, more often than not, her constant companion. In quiet times it would show her reflection. In others, the spirits of the land talked to her. So many of them were ones she was familiar with, from her youth. Robust and full of life and whimsy. It took her more than a week to find one that embodied the chill that lurked at the edges.

“Lonely spirit, mirrored there, is the world not full and fair?” she asked.

“Lovely lady, kind and cruel, as your troth fades, so fails the world.”

The tones in which it delivered the news was heartbreaking. Her troth—her loyalty and her fidelity—was the core of her very being. It was reflected in her face, in her looks. Her looks… She gazed at her reflection in the bowl.

Didn’t she look tired?

The effect startled her and she took time to contemplate it. The lines she hadn’t noticed before. The shadows underneath her eyes. Her hair, losing its color. The frown at the corner of her mouth. When had she lost faith in the world?

She did not feel like a cruel person. How could she be seen as cruel?

No. She had never lost her faith in the world. She understood that now.

Her faith had been taken from her.

There was something she never told anyone about her daughter. She loved her fiercely, as any mother, but the truth was–and it was a truth she turned over and over each night—quite often she didn’t like her daughter.

They were opposite in composition. Rose was always full of exuberance, opening her home to revels and celebrations, fiercely dedicated to the health of the people of her lands. Snow, on the other hand was quiet and focused. Her eyes were sharp and clear and incisive and a single word could cut the conversation to the bone. It was not pleasant arguing with Snow, and Snow’s sporadic blustery angers were already the things of legend.

Snow was not a bad person. She was simply different. And there was nothing her mother could do about it. Often Rose prayed it was a phase Snow would outgrow. But she also understand that might never be the case. It was frustrating but not important.

Until now.

Those who took care of the land reflected the land and the land reflected them. If the family was divided… the land could die.

Rose’s attention to the problem grew with a deadly focus. It did not take long for her to confirm what the spirit had touched upon. As her daughter grew in vigor, her own strength failed. Her husband, her lord, would not listen to her, even when the leaves themselves began to change color from brilliant green to other less savory hues.

When his health began to fail, she knew what she would have to do.

She resisted it for so long. She combed her hair with the magic comb, removing the thoughts time and again until the comb itself dripped with poisonous intentions. It made no difference.

She couldn’t see that she had a choice.

Snow White had to die.

‡ ‡ ‡

It had been some time since she bled on her own, so she took a knife to her palm and raised it to the wind. The moon was a silent sliver overhead. She had shed her clothing at the edge of the glen to let the world know she was there.

She howled.

And they answered.

She was shocked to see him at the edge of the forest. When she’d last seen him, at the birth of her child, he was old, first among his pack. But now he was younger, an adult full in his years. Somewhere in that time, he had adopted two legs and the body of a man. A horned mask covered his face but his stormy eyes and his pack-mates, now older, gave him away.

She made her demands. He did not approve and he made it known.

But she was Briar Rose. She was the lady of the lands. She would not let her words go unanswered.

For the land to live, Snow White must be taken to the far part of the forest, where life was rooted deepest and she must die.

She heard a deep snarl come from his chest but she silenced it. With tears, she showed that the burden of this rested on her just as heavily as on him. And in the end, he gave in. She let him go.

The deed would be done.

‡ ‡ ‡

Her daughter disappeared the next day.

On her bed the next night, the Huntsman left a gift to remind her of what she had done.

A heart. Snow’s heart.

It reminded her of an innocent doe.

She cried for a week and none could staunch her pain. And then she was done with tears forever.

‡ ‡ ‡

Her husband was dying.

The world was dying.

Despite her sacrifice, nothing had changed.

Finally, she returned to the bowl. It had been an age since she’d used it and her friends, those spirits who had filled her with laughter and humor, were gone or hidden or lost.

The answer they gave to her queries was the same. It led her to only one conclusion. Snow White was still alive. Whether the Huntsman had betrayed Rose or not made no difference. Somehow, Snow had made her way to the People Under the Hill, her relatives and her aunts and uncles.

It was… frustrating, to say the least, that those same relatives had not bothered to mention this to Rose.

Snow was living currently with the dun men, who mined and crafted and worked metals and jewels for the people. It seemed to be a comfortable arrangement but it was obvious that with her still alive, her influence on the land was still spreading. The dun men, by tradition, would not interfere.

The leaves were falling, and Rose was prepared to sacrifice anything to save them. An exchange of years off her life for the land could likely bring summer again. Giving up her time wasn’t quite enough, though. She had to fool her daughter and for that, she needed to change her appearance. Rose used simple mummer’s art to disguise herself and her voice. Playing the part of the wandering trader, she gifted her daughter with the magical laces.  Her hands shaking—what a relief and a horror to see her daughter so strong, so vigorous—she helped lace her daughter into a new vest… and then quietly commanded the laces to bind her. She fled as her daughter reached out for help, death swiftly approaching.

It would have worked. It should have worked. But later Rose found out that the dun men had been driven from their mine. Knockers pounding on the walls, making it unsafe. So they came home early for lunch and they found Snow not breathing. They cut the laces with a fish boning knife and brought her back.

The dun men were no fools. They knew something unseemly had happened and foul magic had deliberately entered their home. They hunted the forest for the wandering traveler but could not find her. Rose had covered her tracks well. They did not tell Snow that the actions of the lacing was intentional. Life went on, for Snow at least. The world was still dying.

‡ ‡ ‡

The next time, Rose waited until Snow went to market. While the dun men protecting Snow were distracted by apples ripe for the cidering, she appealed to Snow’s vanity and presented her with a comb, the same comb that the Lady filled with her poisonous intentions. Stunned by its lethal beauty, Snow traded for it and walked off with it in her hair. She barely made the edge of the market before the tines of the comb pierced her scalp and the poison sank deep into her.

The dun men returned her to their home as quick as they could. They pulled the comb from her head and treated her feverish state with unusual mushrooms, herbs and hot stones. Some returned to the market, suspicious, but they found no vendors selling combs.

This time they prepared. They gifted Snow with charms to protect her from magical attack. In their foolish pride, as hosts, they didn’t tell her how close she’d come to death. They were confident in their skills. That proved to be a mistake.

‡ ‡ ‡

Snow was out walking the forest when she heard unmistakable sounds of delight. Then she saw the old woman, basket full of apples, coming through the forest. The two talked and Snow was surprised how much she liked this grandmother, how much they shared in common. As the two conversed, the old woman wound a bracelet of holly and lavender and marigold around Snow’s wrist. A gift, the grandmother said, for such a fine young lady. The grandmother told Snow in the most convincing terms that she had found a branch on a tree in the forest that, for this season and this season only, produced sweet apples. It was a rare find and such a gift this late in the year! A gift she was also willing to share…

Snow knew that the charms given to her by the dun men saved her from hostile magic. She had faith in their skills and their protection. So, she picked an apple from the old woman’s basket and she bit into it with relish.

The moment the soured apple, picked from the courtyard of her dying father, hit Snow’s throat, she began to die.

The charms Rose had wound around Snow were old ones, a gift from Snow’s birth set to only allow its user to recognize beauty. Not hostile magic at all. Rose stared at her daughter’s last moments with a deep regret. She had won.

Snow White was dead.

The world was saved, wasn’t it?

‡ ‡ ‡

In a silent castle, in a silent land, a lonely woman sat on a throne of stone.

In her courtyard were the mourners for her husband’s funeral.

In her forest lay the corpse of her daughter. As was their custom, the dun men gave Snow White’s body to the river.

The lord was dead.

The world was dead.

Snow White lay silent in shallow, translucent ice as the waters froze over.

Rose’s white-haired howl of grief was enough to shake the world. Nothing grew. The forest floor was covered in a crust of snow that nothing could penetrate.

The dun men finally sought out who had broken tradition, who had come to kill their beloved Snow White, their adopted cousin. They found Rose, all alone.

When they came for her, she offered no resistance and followed them into the lands under the Hill into the Dark.

‡ ‡ ‡

The howls of his brothers and their various complaints were loud. At times like this, the Huntsman regretted giving up his fur for his current form. In his defense, it was a useful body and it was taking years off his age. He was supposed to be hunting for food for his people but the land was stubborn. Honestly, he wasn’t searching for food so much as absolution.

He had been party to a murder and the stain had never left his heart.

The sun was rising on a fruitless, bitter night when he came across the river.  And much to his shock, there she was.  The thorn that had turned inside him. Snow White, frozen and gone. His knees failed him and he found himself by her side, above her, weeping.

The mask—that crown he so proudly wore—he couldn’t bear it any more. He removed it and let hot tears spill like years onto the ice. And under that gentle, heartfelt pain, the ice melted. When he saw her forehead, unburdened by ice, he understood he was younger than he once was and that the mantle of the land had passed to him. Its responsibilities he shouldered and accepted gladly, in her name.

In gratitude, he placed one sun-touched kiss upon her forehead. And she awoke. Transformed… hair sun-kissed, cheeks rose-red, eyes like calm pools. She looked out and she saw him as she rose, slowly, from the water into a new life.

As spring to summer. As fall to winter.

“Beautiful.” He said. The word rolled over her. It was important but not the whole of the story.

Her love had come. The world would live again.

She would live again.

She smiled. The day was becoming so clear to her.

It marked the end of a beginning.

Categories: Magick, Short Story, We Rise Tags: Tags: , , , ,

A Day in the Life of Midgard

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I’m in one of those thoughtful moods this morning.

Loki, son and heir to the line of Ymir, first power in the universe and the substance, was known as the god who shakes things up, the trickster.

One of his children was an apology to Odin for messing things up (long story short: he impulsively took a bad wager, almost lost everything for the gods and managed to fix things by getting a magic horse laid. Funny story). Loki gave Odin the ability to travel through the universe at top speeds, which likely enabled some of Odin’s greatest deeds (like discovering a universal language / writing).

Loki’s more infamous children are the Great Wolf, the World Serpent and the One who Watches the Dead. They’re the ones I’m thinking about.

His sons: Fenris, the threat to Asgard, who represented heavenly wrath and anger and righteous fury gone awry, only able to be stopped (temporarily) by sacrifice and the power of dreams. Later, only the master of poets could defeat him, but at the cost of the death of words.

Jormungandr, who represented the dangers of the material world. Consumption so profound that it spanned the world and could not be stopped. A monster familiar to those fighting the “black snake” in North Dakota today (sideline). Unlike Fenris, they couldn’t figure out a way to contain it so they ignored it. Only the power of the storm ultimately overcame it.
Then there’s the daughter. Never fully born. Half dead. Hel, in charge of those who lived half-a-life, who never fully embraced their spirit, their own individual fates. She took care of their anger at being judged, at wasting their time in the Middle World. She contained their memories and desires to be made whole. And when the time came, she released them to work their own kind of judgement on the world. She was never overcome. Then again, she was the gatekeeper.

In the wake of Loki’s critique of Odin’s world made flesh, the carefully constructed balance was shattered and then re-born. Another chance given. I’d like to think somewhere, the trickster loves the new world, out of his control, and those of Asgard, and has reconciled with his adopted father, still reeling from being eaten by a wolf.

I was talking with the kids a minute ago and reflecting on how Ymir had to die, for time and the universe to start. But that was also a horrible tragedy. Odin, whose name basically means “mad poet”, won by tricking Ymir into death, by naming Ymir out of existence. Ymir’s sons reflected Ymir’s power but only Loki, Ymir’s grandson, reflected Ymir’s death. He was in the form of Odin.

And in that form, he both honored his grandfather, avenging Ymir’s death, and his adopted father, by setting the stage for a different world from the last.

He’s the villain in the story because the skalds recognized that you can’t -encourage- that behavior because it will lead to disaster 9 times out of 10. But I think they preserved it, hidden there, for us to find it when we looked.

New Short Story: “No Love For Emily”

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This tale was inspired by someone looking and me and snarling “Why should we follow your laws?” This would be my answer, complete with a fair bit of body horror and ancient rituals. You have been warned.

And may you have a happy Hallow E’en.

Ω

The first thing Conny learned about Emily was that she was never comfortable in her own skin.

That’s what everyone said, when she was growing up. She went through a goth phase and an emo phase and a pop phase and a punk phase and a princess phase and a power phase and a panicked phase that lasted all the way through middle school.

He checked. He talked to her elementary teacher, an old friend, the high-school counselor, even managed to sneak a peek at a psych eval from the local J.C. and that wasn’t easy.

So it really wasn’t much of a surprise that when she stumbled across her family heritage, she joined a coven.

According to the plaque hanging outside the Millgrew House (scene of the infamous 1673 witch trials), Emily’s great, great grandmother had served the dark Master of the Hunt in exchange for belts of wolfskin. Her coven wore the belts for years, terrorizing the locals in the shape of wolves, until some brave soul hunted Emily’s ancestor down and shot her.

The belt Emily’s ancestor possessed had been part of a display in the Millgrew House until a few years back, when it was destroyed thanks to some teenage prank.

Conny believed otherwise. He thought Emily took it.

He had met her, briefly, in an online forum. Her coven had posted a dissertation on the hidden history of witchcraft in West Virginia. He had defended her ideas in the comments section and she had even thanked him in her reply. They chatted a bit back and forth. They had a connection. Enough to make him think of fates, entwining. Enough to make Conny follow up on her.

Tracking her down wasn’t easy. Witchcraft was a more tracked phenomenon in places like New England or maybe California. But in West Virginia? There were a few books written about hoodoo root traditions. Some local fringe cults and weird murders. Fewer news reports or conspiracy blogs. Still, they were out there. Conny was sure he could find them.

A reverse-image search on her picture. Keywords from the post. A whopping hundred dollars to secure some information about her family and Conny found his first big leads.

If you were to ask around, and Conny did, you’d probably get an earful from the neighbors about the house on the hill. It was bad for the neighborhood, low morals. Old mill house, probably a century old. Falling apart.

Bunch of older women up there, smoke out of the chimney, even on the hottest days and it stank. Youngsters visited it at all times of the day and night. Those brave or stupid enough to ask what they were doing up there got the answer that the women were making medicine.

Sure. Everybody knew what kind of medicine they were doling out. They were cooking meth. The local cops were well paid off and the operation wasn’t big enough to attract bigger attention.

The house was owned by Emily’s aunts. People who were already linked to coven activity. Conny had dug up some interesting deliveries to the place while researching it, stuff not necessarily connected to drug trafficking but probably linked to the occult. He had enough for a visit. Conny dropped everything he had onto his online server, opened up a folder for Emily, filed it under his /Mah_Bitches_;) directory and took off the next day.

The sun was just a scarlet slash on the horizon when Conny walked up to the house, another in a litany of strangers. Conny was taller than most, bit of a belly, big eyes. University boy (it showed in the clothes). He still hoped he would make a favorable impression.

His head was buzzing. He’d been three days without sleep, excited, and on caffeine pills. The world had taken on a slightly surreal and sloppy tone. The minute his feet touched the porch, Conny knew something was wrong. The silence told him. The door seemed unlocked. But he had come prepared.

Sacrament of the Temple of True Inner Light, the ‘flesh of god’ that produced revelations for the faithful.

DPT, dipropyltryptamine, clinical grade, mixed in with some other minor additions purloined from the School of Medicine to mitigate side effects.

He had dosed about thirty minutes after he met Emily at the front door and was coming up on the high now.

No. That wasn’t right.

He had dosed about thirty minutes ago and was waiting to meet Emily at the front door. Sometimes events in time got a little jumbled.

Old Death was here. He could feel her, in the house, squatting over her prey and nibbling up the unimportant bits. He knew the sack of souls she kept on her belt was far from filled.

Conny was unhappy. He couldn’t just walk in. Old Death would notice him. She’d react. He had to do something to take her attention away. Death needed to be fed.

He took out some candles he’d stolen from a small church. Couple of moon pies he’d bought. A small bottle of rum, snitched from a hotel mini-bar.

Conny set the candles up in a semi circle outside the door, opened up the moon pies and the bottle of rum and pulled out the lighter and pen knife he always kept in his jeans pocket. First, a thin slice on the thumb. A simple cross drawn on the floor, symbolizing a crossroads. Next the moon pies, a couple drops of blood on each to lure her with the scent. The rum didn’t need any extra oomph. Old Death smelled it the minute he opened it.

The moon pies and the rum went in the center of the cross and then the candles were lit. Conny thought he felt the presence in the house start to move. He waited a minute more, as a tremor raced through him, before he went over and broke a window so he could get in. He had a couple of hours, maybe a little more, while Death devoured the offering. Time enough.

Conny pulled out a hand-rolled cigarette, lit it up. Blew the tobacco out in front of him and plunged his face into it. Protection. Magic. With that, he went inside. Did he hear someone cry out? A brief flash of someone coming into the living room, shock on their face. An echo of the past.

The sight in the living room was one Conny wouldn’t easily forget. Roaches in the kitchen; light swarms of flies. Something had chewed its way through one of the windows, probably looking for something to feed on.

The layout of the house was big and rambling. Privacy was minimized in favor of being able to pack people in. From the front room, you could see the den, the kitchen, one of the bathrooms, a mud room, the entrance to the garage and the hall leading to the bedrooms.

Trying to understand what had happened, Conny assumed something had come out of the bedrooms, vented its anger around the house and then returned. There were imprints of someone’s head being rammed repeatedly into the wall. There were bodies everywhere, three in total; Conny was having a hard time keeping count. They kept multiplying as he watched them, echoes of violence that concentrated back into three corpses when he focused.

The body nearest him was no older than fourteen. Wounds on her body were ragged as if the killer shook while cutting her. With rage, he thought. It was obvious. Her eyes were open and unfocused.

Conny remembered the thing about the eyes. Old ways, 18th century: the last sight of a dying person was kept in their eyes. He’d need tools to collect it. Rosemary for memory. Fire to activate it; his lighter. Sacred smoke. He blew the smoke from the rosemary into the corpse’s face. So much blood. So young.

When the corpse moved, it startled him but it also told him the spell was working. He covered her mouth so she could not curse him and watched as she grew still again, silver light pooling around the corpse’s irises. He teased threads of it out with his fingertips. As enough emerged, it began to take shape and leapt right at Conny.

Instinctively, he almost fell over, trying to get away from it.

A wolf. A massive, huge, terrifying, beautiful wolf. Straight out of the descriptions at the Millgrew House. That’s what had killed her. Conny forced himself to breathe. This was not something he wanted to run into.

He closed the eyes of the dead girl and then quietly looked through what he’d brought with him. There was a salve he kept to reveal hidden things, based loosely on the same concoction witches used to empower their broomsticks. Some myrrh and a shell to burn it in, to summon or cheat death. Lighter, of course. Bit of charcoal to put the myrrh on.

He spread the salve under his eyes. Like kohl from the old days or the get-up of an over-enthusiastic football player. The thought made him smile. A little humor to keep sane. The myrrh went on the charcoal. A draft from the broken window gathered up smoke from the myrrh and it raced off, seeking the danger. One of the back bedrooms. Conny stood stock still, listened. Nothing moved, nothing breathed except him and the insects. Quietly, quickly, he followed the incense to its destination.

Emily was there. In the master bedroom, dead. Brunette, young. Early twenties. Recently pregnant. Each feature as distinct as her profile pic. Sharp jaw. A fighter, given the scars. She had come back here, after it was all done, and had collapsed in the corner after… after…

He had a hard time wrapping his head around the last bit.

It took him a moment to realize there were other things in the room. Of first importance, a spirit of agony had attached itself to the body. As he noticed it, it hid behind Emily’s eyes. Conny’s lips curled into a snarl and he leaned forward.

“I wear more than one skin too.” He lied.

The spirit fled.

There were two other corpses, too. The aunties who ran the house. Torn through like cotton, shredded and long dead. Conny turned his attention back to the woman in the corner. He had so wanted to meet Emily, but not like this.

Emily wasn’t pregnant anymore. He slid in front of the corpse and let the myrrh drift around her body. He listened to what the smoke brought him. There… the faintest of sounds. Jazz on a Saturday. Wreathed in cigarette smoke. Dancing under the moonlight. The burn of booze and crushing kisses. Emily’s spirit seemed to fill the room. A sibilant whisper from beyond the grave… help me.

“I will.” he reassured her. Then he split her skull open.

Quickly now…

With a grisly load in hand, he went to the kitchen. A reasonably clean pot was easy to find; clean water, too. If he’d thought about it, he could have set this up earlier but it’s precisely because he didn’t want to think about it was why it wasn’t.

The brains had to soak for about an hour in cold water, letting the blood diffuse out so the brains would be clean. Conny took the time to collect all of the bodies save Emily’s in the living room.

The next step was to rinse the brains in a strainer, plucking out any stray bits of skull or skin, removing the odd hair and discarding it.

Connie had never done this before but he was familiar with the ritual from his studies and the cooking method he’d picked up from the internet. Apparently, it was a specialty in French cuisine.

Boiling was the simplest part. About a quarter of an hour on the stove until the brains were fork tender. Conny set them aside, covering them with a towel, to let them cool while he went looking for a pan and a knife.

The standards of any kitchen. Some butter. Some eggs. The brains now had the consistency of a cooked yam and sliced easily into quarter-inch cubes. Heat up the eggs in the butter and in went the brains.

The prayers started just as the brains began to sizzle. Prayers to spirits, to concepts, to gods long thought dead. Thoth among them, scribe of divinities and keeper of lost knowledge. Old Death, named as Anubis, of course, since she was on the porch. Conny’s given name was Khonshu; his parents named him after the god of moon and travelers. He hoped that made a difference now.

Some other gods of Death were added in as well, mostly as an apology. Conny knew he was treading on their sacred ground with this rite and he didn’t want to piss them off.

When it was done, it looked like a creamy scramble; the smell was palatable enough, even if it was fighting for space with the corpse smells in the other rooms. Eating it was perhaps the simplest part, if you didn’t think about it too hard. Conny wished he could salt it, but salt would disrupt the rite.

The meal hit his stomach with a silvery fire. He could feel it taking hold, seeking ways out of his stomach, back up his throat, out the other direction, some fibers finding where he wanted them to go — into his nervous system and towards his own memories.

He returned back to the bedroom, feeling powerful on what he’d ingested, stomach still roiling and he picked up the myrrh in the shell, blowing on it to start it smoking again.

Burning, desire, need. The lust was a surprise. Her feelings. Her wants. The rite was taking hold.

“As one.” He whispered. “As one.”

She was staring out his eyes; he was staring out hers. Looking down. His belly, her belly. Torn open. No. Her hands, bleeding. No. Bloody. No. Why? Why? WHY?!?

Memories.

Emily’s memories.

Childhood: stupid and useless, high school? A wreck. But now. Memory etched in argent: Emily was having the time of her life.

The covens find each other; maybe they’re compelled to. Sort of like an AA meeting for the terminally and supernaturally fucked up. They meet where they can; where normal people are the least likely to show up or be welcome. That old warehouse, the barbecue area at the edge of the park. That abandoned lot at the top of the hill.

Maybe it was a rave, or someone’s birthday, or a holiday, but whatever it was, they gathered from hundreds of miles around. Surrounded by people like herself, bound by the fact that magic ran through them, not trapped by human law or the rules of society. That was what tonight was about.

Bonfires outside and drinking. Meat and food in plenty. Laughing, wrestling, showing off, and pissing about. Nobody serious and nobody sad. That was the first time she saw him.

He’d come from somewhere up north of the border. Clean-cut close-cropped hair. Eyes that made you shiver and a full-lipped smile that drew you in with each breath.

Nice ass, too! She joked with the girls standing around her. He seemed to have that pull on all the young women. The older ones just looked disgusted. Emily proposed a toast to ongoing relations and with a deep-throated laugh, he seconded it. He’d team up with her anytime she wanted.

She definitely wanted.

But there were rules. There were always rules.

One of them was witches don’t play with warlocks.

There were exceptions, of course. Sacred sexuality during the Great Rites, arranged marriages and the like. But all of it had to be approved by the eldest of the covens. Otherwise ‘great tragedy’ could result. Some silly bullshit about the rules of magic and forces needing to be aligned. Blah, blah, blah.

You could screw normal humans but that was kind of like making it with a mannequin, right? How the hell could they understand what it was like to wield magic?

Stupid, medieval, conservative horse crap. Didn’t these covens know about birth control? Condoms? Feminism? Hell, even magic could probably conjure up a way to keep from getting pregnant.

His name was a proper legendary one. He was welcomed with open arms. Hero. He had a line of women waiting to claim him. He said he wasn’t interested. Not yet, at least.

But you could tell, just at the edges of that smile. While he was talking to those half-souled groupies with no magic, no destiny, he didn’t want them. They weren’t worthy. He needed something more.

It took about a year before Emily and her eye candy found themselves in each others arms. Under the moonlight, after raiding a church crypt, fighting off the ghosts and memories of dead saints to come out with powdered bones and secrets from beyond death. When he looked down at her, to check on her, she just grabbed him by the back of his neck and drew him into a kiss. To her delight, he kissed her right back.

Both of them knew they had problems if they wanted to keep going. Any hint of an unapproved affair would launch an investigation. At first, it would be prophylactic. The elders would warn them and find ways to keep them separate. If it was more serious, the local council would step in and punish them.

To get around this, they made pacts with unholy spirits and fed those spirits with their lust. They formed a new coven, one which overlooked the occasional indiscretion. And finally, they took on lovers, ‘proper lovers’ in the estimation of other covens. The key piece of camouflage to hide their activities.

The days were agony as Emily waited for the whole pattern to fit together. But then… but then… but then…

It happened. It all clicked. Shaking with desire, Emily found a place for them near the spot where they’d first kissed. That first night moved mountains.

The next morning, she was bruised and raw and beyond exhausted. He wasn’t in much better shape. She never knew anything could be so powerful. So astonishingly worth it.

It took them a week before either one of them dared to show up in public. But patience and hard work had paid off. No one noticed. No one cared. It worked. Their plan worked very, very well.

Things took off after that. Each time Emily got together with him, it just kept getting better. Their bodies were made for each other. Their relationship made them a formidable team.

Familiarity bred contempt.

She was certain that they’d been safe. Had it been just one night? Did they get a little carried away? All she knew was this. The older witches ferreted out the pregnancy before she did. She was never sure exactly how. They stalked the two lovers until they had direct and incontrovertible evidence of the crime. Emily’s life came unhinged.

The stronger men seized hold of her man and stripped him. Around his neck hung a small vial on a leather thong. She’d never seen him take it off but it never seemed to bother her. Now, though, it was ripped from him.

Something seemed to flee out of him at that moment. Like his godhood, his good looks, his easy manner just left. He changed. Bit of a paunch, limp hair and sad, sad eyes. And she understood why the older women were so repelled by him. And she understood why she felt so compelled to be with him. Emily wept. She wondered what devil he had dealt with to get that charm. She wondered what she really carried inside her.

They flayed him. She’d heard of the term before. Never expected to see it. A part of her screamed as it happened. Another relished in it. They released him to the mundane world of no magic and jobs and universities and empty promises. Maybe one day he’d seek her out, find out what he’d caused, deal with it. Maybe not.

Then they turned to her. She could swear there was sadness behind their eyes. They touched her belly, each one, in turn, and then they turned their back on her. Banishment. They didn’t even have to say it. She was dead to them. No coven would deal with her again.

She crawled back to her dull, stupid, useless, good-for-nothing family. They put her up in the master bedroom, wood floor stained and creaky. A cradle set up in the next room. Her mom begged her to abort the kid. Emily said she’d think about it but it was all she had left of that time. How could she give that up? Wouldn’t that be a betrayal of her feelings, even if they were partly from an enchantment?

She was keeping the kid. These decisions were hers to make, however hard. Not her mother’s. Not her aunties. With her magical powers, she represented life itself. The idea of staining her spirit with the murder of the unborn…

The first time it kicked, it all changed.

Like jagged glass tearing her up inside. Claws… she realized. The child had claws. Even as she watched her belly start to tear and felt blood well up in her throat, she was lurching over to her supplies, pulling on the wolfskin belt, taking another shape to survive.

Only exhaustion forced her back to her humanity. The pain became a cycle of agony. The baby would move and tear her up, she’d pull on the belt and the magic would heal it. Lather, rinse, repeat. Her mother, frantic, worked with the aunts on things to keep the baby calm and content. The days became bearable. The nights though…

Her body would drift off to sleep. The baby, also asleep, would drift close to the wall of her womb and one of those claws would catch. She’d wake, shrieking. Her sleep dropped from eight hours a night to six to four and then less.

Six months in and there was nothing even the aunts could do. The baby was stretching, moving, preparing. At night, maybe she could get an hour or two in a row? Less?

That night, this night—was it now?—she was sure she hadn’t slept for days. The herbal remedies were useless; the medicinals—valium, morphine, oxycontin—her body and the child’s had built a tolerance. Any more and it would kill her. The world had vanished into a red haze and all she needed was some quiet.

There… just a moment when she could taste sleep. Time suspended.

Its fist tore through her. The howl of pain was intense. Someone came in, tried to hold her. In her fury, she broke the person’s arm. Others came running and she tore into them, beating them. The belt was nearby, calling to her. Pulling it on was a matter of habit. Every single scrap that whined or cried or made noise she destroyed. The whole house reduced to a gruesome silence. And then she went back to curl in a corner. That corner. Far side of the room. Next to the bed.

Even then she couldn’t sleep.

Emotions drifted out of Emily. As she looked across the room, her mother’s eyes glassed over as the last of her life dripped from her. Emily sobbed, quietly, for a while. Maybe minutes. Maybe hours. Nuzzling her belly.

The thing inside her kicked in reply.

She couldn’t take it anymore.

It had to come out and she snarled and tore into herself. The belt came loose in her teeth as she batted at something that fell heavily to the floor out of reach and bounced.

Blood loss and shock hit her all at once. Too much. Too much. Even for her. Without sleep, beyond exhaustion, her body was past its limits. Emily slumped down, feeling the last of her time running out.

She heard its cry. Heard it flop around. There was a hint of a smile as her eyesight started to blur. It’s a survivor, she thought.

As if in response, it pulled its way back to her. Numb, she couldn’t feel where the claws dug in, where the ferocious will to live wouldn’t give in. With the instinct of any newborn, it made its way to her breast.

She felt it nuzzle against her and take a bite.

Conny came out of his trance, tears smearing the kohl. He got up and wandered the house. Opened the door to the nursery. The devil’s child, he thought. He closed the door and made sure it was fully shut.

He wandered outside to find a car. Siphoned out the gas, using a garden hose. Rosemary for memory, myrrh for the dead. A lit cigarette. He put the gas where it was most needed.

The flames burst from the living room like a flower into the sky. Conny closed his eyes. Death would not go hungry. Emily was in the doorway. Her ghost, at least. She smiled at him.

He was coming off the drugs now and he felt empty, washed out. He found he was holding a knife. He wondered where it had come from. Gently, he laid the knife on the porch, under the eaves just starting to catch above him, and backed away. There might have been the cry of a baby in the night. Or it might have been the wind.

Wiping the kohl from his face, Conny stuck his stained hands in his pockets. He pulled out his cell and, with a sigh, deleted their chat logs and her folder. Tragic that it hadn’t worked out but there would be other chances.

Conny started back on the long walk to the university. His studies were waiting for him. The night welcomed him with typical indifference and the moon would not divulge his secrets.

 

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