“The Witching Hour” and Psychic Quiet

This is still a raw thought, something I’ve been tossing around in my head for a few days (well, nights really, as you’ll see) and I’m curious to see if others experience something similar.

My partner Winter has always been a night owl, at least since I’ve known him. If my phone rings at 1a, chances are pretty high it’s him. And most nights, chances are I’m still wide awake and happy to have someone to talk to.

Likewise, my sister has always been a night owl. So much so that she ended up dropping out of high school and getting her GED because the rigors of having to be functional at 7am and throughout the day were too hard for her. And ever since, she’s favored jobs that let her work the graveyard shift; in fact, that’s how she manages to both work full time and go to school full time as well. When I talk about this to other people, I posit that in our frequently frantic and busy house, if she waited to get up until late in the evening, it assured that she could roam the house without anyone to bother her – she could be the lord of the remote, eat whatever she pleased, and basically avoid having to interact with the rest of us.

I was reading a novel the other night that takes place in a world similar to our own but where magic is a known quantity. (I had originally written “…a reality”, but upon re-reading it, I realized that magic is a reality in our world, duh.) It mentions that magic is easier during “The Witching Hour” because so many people are asleep that it creates less psychic friction for their willworking and gives them more potency and power. It goes on to say that although originally, the hour was considered to be between midnight and 1a, but ever since our society has been pushing our lives later and later, it was now more like 3:30a. (It’s worth mentioning that a paranormal television reality show I like, Paranormal State, also considers 3a the best time to witness ghostly phenomena.)

I know that one of the reasons I highly prefer living in suburban or rural areas to cities is because I find being surrounded by so many people (and non-people or post-people) psychically assaultive. I find it harder to concentrate, to follow conversations, and especially to do anything related to magic or Sight. It makes me sad, because cities tend to be havens for artists, mystics, and other generally odd people (and have more resources and networking for said), and being able to live in them would make some parts of my life a lot easier. However, even smaller-scale cities can sometimes be too difficult for me; forget meccas like New York or Chicago. Nice to visit, but longer than a day or two and I am overrun with fatigue and anxiety.

I wonder (aloud) if the same can be said to how many spirit workers and other magicians tend to keep later hours. Not just for doing magic, but for any activity that requires focus and intuition. I know not everyone has the luxury of keeping whatever hours they may feel drawn to, since most of us have to interface with the waking world from time to time, but I seem to function better when I can be unfettered by the baggage that comes with that. Even on days where I am alone in the house with no pressing plans, I always seem to be struck with the impetus to write a blog post, or work on a project, or send prayers of healing in the wee hours of the morning. Even when I was in college, I loved to take late night walks, because I felt I could better parse whatever was running through my brain at night.

I love the absolute stillness that comes with moving through the night. There are just less responsibilities, too – I can’t call the doctor to make an appointment or randomly check in with my Mom to see how things are going for her. It can sometimes be a little frustrating when your circadian rhythm is set to the nocturnal, as minor errands and the like are much more difficult when most places of business are closed. (And again, most urban areas have greater resources for us night folk, but again with the too much static.)

So I put this out there to those who dabble or are dedicated to anything mystical – do you find that the night serves you better? If you work during the day, do you find things to be more difficult or meet more psychic resistance? Do you tend to schedule willworkings late at night? Is this why so many Pagan sects worship the moon rather than the sun? Inquiring Del-shaped minds want to know.


“Please don’t write about this in your Livejournal.”

I remember the day he said this; we were having a pretty big fight and I don’t remember what it was we were fighting about but it meant a lot to me. It really bothered me that his first thought, the moment the fight had come to one of those awkward pauses where both parties have stated their case and no compromise was in sight (yet). He was worried that I would telegraph his contrariness, his unwillingness to fulfill whatever need the fight was about, to all of our friends and the masses of anonymous faces on the Internet; make him out to the be the bad guy, the mean boyfriend, the person who cared more about being right than being harmonious.

As time has gone on, the words may change but the sentiment is the same. Any time someone close to me has said or done something less than honorable, has lied or cheated or even was just less than the perfect partner/friend/associate, there’s been a moment where they’ve asked me to keep it private, to never speak or especially write about the turmoil of emotions and hurt feelings I was desperately trying to process. Sometimes it was even okay for me to tell each friend, individually, about what was going on, but never all at once, never in a way that allowed me to just bleed it all out onto the electronic page in one action and never have to have the six million painful conversations over and over again, answering their questions individually, probing into the same wound every day like I’m trying to see if maybe, just maybe, the clotting and scabbing had begun and I could feel a little less open, a little less prone the the infections, the systemic deconstruction of everything I had hoped and dreamed for whatever it was we were talking about, or building together, or tearing apart.

Even now, I have both been guarded about what I say “publicly” about the dissolution of my marriage, a situation in which I was somewhat willingly unaware of the seeping infections that were eating away at my last real hope of finding a singular partner who would really and truly broach the gap between romantic partners and “family”, or Family as he’s desired for me to refer to it as, even now, even that I wake up in the morning and live an entire day without him knowing one moment of what I’m going through. He either refuses to read the things I write about my struggles online, or pretends to, unless I’ve written one negative word or phrase about him. He asks me questions about things I’ve explained in great detail on a blog or Facebook status or some other medium, as though he is happily ignorant of the fact that I’m still sharing the same things I was before. Except then, in the “before”, he had the background, he knew the whole story, he got the veiled references and the vague bitching about a particular person or situation; now he’s out of the loop, and either refuses to try to piece it together or is actively avoiding the parts of me I feel comfortable enough to display.

I have tried to explain to several of my ex-loves, this idea that my life is littered with passwords; there’s the stuff I put out there unprotected, the stuff I’m not worried if people see or steal or retell in their own words. Anyone can find it, probably without trying too hard. (Gods know there’s someone who continually googles “del tashlin”, with no capitalization, almost every single day, to find this blog. Which I find a little creepy. And I am guessing it’s the same person, because there’s never any variation, always the same two words written in the same way, like clockwork, at approximately the same time of day.) There’s another vault, one that’s pretty easy to crack if you’re just willing to talk to me directly, call me up on the phone or even just send me a text or email; I usually answer direct questions with as much honesty as I can muster at the moment. Sure, there are times I will shy away from things that feel too personal, depending on what passwords I’ve assigned the person – and sometimes that changes from moment to moment, depending on the social maelstrom of the day, or week; sometimes depending on who they’re connected to in their lives and if I can trust them not to work their metamour network hard enough that it gets to someone I’d rather not know my personal business. And like all relationships, sometimes there’s a magic moment where someone is granted a provisional password, I decide that our relationship has progressed to a point where I feel a little more comfortable with them, or honestly, if I realize that the person has something (information, skills, objects, time) that I am in need of, and think a little confidence here and there will gain me better access to whatever it is. I’m willing to trade secrets for things I need, and I know I’m not the only person who does this.

Then there are the ones I hold in my heart, the ones who have the administrative password, who are privy to the dirty details and the mess of thoughts and feelings I hold closest to me; the things that feel foundational to who I am as a person, those things that we sometimes feel could be turned into weapons against us if the tides change. I’m usually pretty careful with giving this out, although these days I wonder if I should exercise more caution about it. These people get the whispers in the dark, the opinions I’m not done chewing on, the truths I hold and usually dress up with diplomacy and tact for others, but they get the raw materials. They know how I really feel, what’s tearing me up inside, my insecurities and fears and stupid habits I wish I could rid myself of.

People notice. When I give them a new password, bring them in a little closer, decide that for the moment or for the foreseeable future I’m willing to be a little more forward; there’s usually this moment where they tell me I’m authentic, or self-aware, or sometimes it’s more like “Holy crap. I always thought you were this confident, put together kind of guy and now I’m seeing all the glue and chicken wire that hold you together.” They get to see me when I choose to cry (as opposed to those times when the tears are too automatic and I don’t have the luxury of choosing), when I am strong enough to face a fear head on; they get this awesome intimacy that has nothing to do with genitals or fluttery butterflies or flowers.

This is why I have people in my life that I fumble to give a title to. Our whole culture is built on the idea that the people you hold closest are either related by blood or touching your genitals on a regular basis, and we have words for that. Words that make sense, that carry weight. That awkward moment when you turn to someone and have to ask, “So, are you my boyfriend?” When I was younger, that moment happened more organically; there were clear cut behaviors and actions that qualified you for a title. If you held hands with me in the movie theater, we were “dating”. If you wanted to be identified as a serious part of my life, you were my “boy/girlfriend” – or sometimes that title happened after the first time we had sex. If we were feeling particularly grown up about the affair, we might use the term “lover”. And when we signed some piece of paper in the Court house, or stood up in front of some people and said the right things, we were “spouses” or “husband/wife”. Every body else was relegated to “friend”, or perhaps “acquaintance”, although I don’t know two people who joyfully describe their relationship as an “acquaintanceship”.

But “friend” is so insufficient sometimes; there’s a world of difference between the guy I play board games with and share pleasantries and go to his wedding and maybe get a holiday card from; and the person I choose to call first when something amazing happens to me, or when I’m in the deepest despair, or I’ve been jailed in a foreign country and I need someone to come bail me out. I fumble with the words, the titles, to explain to other people the vast valley that separates the mild affection I feel for someone whose occasional company I enjoy muchly, and the person I’m willing to divulge my most monstrous thoughts.

This is what happened with my partner Winter. If you looked at us, you’d easily see that we have some bond that transgresses a casual friendship. We touch each other with a familiarity that lovers usually share; we have those quizzical inside jokes and references that long time best friends carry with them; we sometimes get naked and do things to each other that involve shiny metal things; we talk openly about our sexual desires and our irrational fears and our biased theories on how the Universe works. No one word can encompass all of this, especially since we’re not really “romantic” with each other, at least not in any sort of traditional way. We don’t go on dates or have long sessions of unhindered sex. We don’t have any long term plans that involve the other – he’s seriously contemplating moving to the left coast, and I have no plans to follow him even though my heart aches at the thought of the distance.

How do I sum this all up in a way that you, the casual reader, the one with the most basic of passwords, can comprehend? So he and I had this odd talk, where I told him that while I was teaching classes on sexuality and relationships that I felt compelled to talk about him, and so I had hastily decided on the word “lover”, even though that didn’t feel appropriate. And he agreed, that our relationship was much more intimate than “friend”, but there wasn’t a really good word or title to sum it all up. Over time, we’ve used various titles depending on the situation, but at least for me, I’ve settled on “partner”, because it not only connotes the idea of a long-term commitment to share lives, but also two people colluding on the same projects, ideas, and working together to bring things into fruition (like “business partner”).

He has the administrative password. He has permission to call me out when I’m being cruel or stupid or making a bad decision. He gets to hear all the gritty details of whatever I’m going through, down to the milliliters of fluid that are coming out of my drain. He’s usually one of the first people I call when something delightful or dreadful happens to me. He was the first person to dare tell me that my marriage was falling apart, that he suspected Mike was cheating on me, that he didn’t approve of the way I was being treated and regarded. And it was he that I called, as I sat on the stoop of the townhouse, when finally Mike and I had the conversation wherein he admitted he had been having an affair for a long time, that he was keeping from me because he was afraid I wouldn’t approve (and I didn’t), and it was Winter who was one of the first people to start helping me put my life back together.

On Sunday night, Mike and I did a “handparting”. It is the complement to a “handfasting”, the Pagan concept of marriage. Our society and most Judeo-Christian religions don’t have a ritual or ceremony for when a partnership dissolves because in their belief system that isn’t supposed to happen. It makes me wonder if part of the flight from traditional religions is this blind denial that more than half of the marriages end in divorce these days, and yet they still deny this occurs, deny their devotees a way to turn to religion for comfort and support when their heart is breaking. I very much wanted to do this, even though we can’t even begin to talk about legal divorce for another six or seven months due to Maryland divorce laws (you can only be granted an immediate divorce in the cases of abandonment or adultery, and in our polyamorous arrangement it would be difficult to define what happened to me as “adultery”, because the law states that I had to feel I didn’t have the same right to do what he did. Although that is technically true – I would never have started a deep emotional and power dynamic driven relationship without being completely up front with him – this is not something that the heteronormative and monogamous-assumptive legal system would be able to grasp the subtleties of.).

I needed to create spiritual space between us. I needed to admit in front of my guides and guardians that he was no longer a part of me, connected to me, where I was willing to accept responsibility for his decisions and actions that might have spiritual “splash back”. I honestly don’t think Mike ever really understood that I was willing to do that before, that I had done it, because he doesn’t see the Universe in exactly the same way I do, but it was something I needed to have happen nonetheless.

I needed to revoke his administrative password.

Because that’s the problem I face with the exes in my life, the ones who were once intimately involved in my day to day life, who were there for the secret tears and the midnight confessions and the tragedies that my Irish upbringing told me weren’t for public consumption. They knew the stories that never made it to the Internet, the veiled references and the vague ranting. And inevitably, whether days or weeks or months after they decided (and something I’ve been chewing on, it was almost always their decision) that I was no longer the person they wanted in their life; they’d hit a firewall. They’d ask a question I no longer felt obligated to answer. They’d read something on Facebook and want to know what I was talking about. They’d hear a rumor about something I’d done or not done, and want to know the whole story. Or they’d just want to talk about something that requires a different password.

They’d bounce. I’d say no, or change the subject, or sometimes would be forced to re-explain the whole password allegory, which I had told them when we first got together as a warning. It’s become part of my “okay, this is actually a relationship” patter – to explain the whole password thing and how my exes are continually frustrated for a while, because they are used to reaching out for something and being granted all-inclusive access, and then when things change they reach for the same thing and they are denied.

And it hurts. I know it hurts them, because they tell me so. They don’t understand that on Monday, they could have a casual conversation with my about my health situation, and by Wednesday that was something I no longer felt inclined to share with them. They’d push for details about a new relationship, or my future plans, or try to figure out what I meant by that very carefully worded answer. Eventually, it would come back to this conversation about passwords, and how they should have considered that having that administrative password meant more than just gaining access to my genitals, but it meant that they got to share the glory and awesomeness that is my life in all it’s gory details, and now they were just a footnote, a single chapter on love and loss, one more dead dream I buried in the backyard.

Then, it comes up again. They’re terrified or ashamed or frightened of what I could possibly be saying to those who still have access; that every little reference to them on the Internet might be rife with meaning they don’t understand anymore, and even a casual reference might be a coded insult to those who have the key. They get very paranoid, and they ask. “Please don’t air our dirty laundry for everyone to see.”

It was totally okay with them for me to write about other relationships that died, or to pour my happy emotions and thoughts about who they were and all the great things they did for me, but the second those feelings were the slightest bit critical, or negative, or could reveal that they aren’t the bastion of perfection that they loved reading about a year ago – what was once something they loved about me became something else, threatening maybe.

Back in the days of Livejournal, I used to tell people when they complained about what I wrote about them (always with aliases, but those in the know knew who I meant), that maybe if they acted honorably, or treated me well, or made decisions they weren’t ashamed of, they wouldn’t have to worry about that. That there are ways of ending a relationship without fear that I will write the truth about their cruelty or dishonorable behavior. Mike is very invested in this fantasy that he is a Knight, a faithful servant of humanity, an example of chivalry, one who treats those in his life with honor and respect. Of course he doesn’t want me to write about the many times he lied, or hid the truth, or did things that were anything less than that image he so desperately cultivated. He even has a damn tattoo of Tiwaz, the rune for Tyr, the God of sacrifice and justice. He took that mark knowing that others who betrayed Tyr’s ideals of loyalty and honor have suffered real life consequences. He still shows it off by rolling up his sleeves whenever he can. And yet, when things were falling apart, and I told him bluntly that there will be repercussions that have nothing to do with me or mine, and everything to do with this lifelong mark on his arm, this reminder that can only be lazered away with terrible pain and expense, to live up to an ideal.

In the handparting, Mike made it clear to me that he wants to have some sort of friendship with me, that he wants to find a way to relate to me as Family. No matter how many times I’ve told him I feel he broke his oath to me, that at our handfasting he promised before our friends and F/family, our Gods and guides, that I was now a member of his Family in a deep and meaningful way – and that you don’t treat your Family the way he treated me. He has said that he wants this, very much, to live up to this oath and find a way for this to happen.

I can’t help but wonder how much of this is because he’s felt that firewall, that uncomfortable feeling of knowing there is more going on beneath the surface and he just doesn’t know how to unlock the code to know it all. He may be struggling against becoming yet another footnote, a single chapter in the autobiography I’m writing in my head, the grand novel of that which is Del’s life. People who know me will attest that being a part of that story makes them feel something, like it matters in some way, and being dropped by the roadside as the merry band travels on is painful.

But what I can’t seem to explain is that is exactly what it feels like when you’re forced to fall out of love with someone. It’s not like it happens all at once, especially when it happens in a moment, a single conversation. When Saif dumped me, on Monday we had had this lovely date where we literally danced to Frank Sinatra and told each other how much we loved the other, and by Wednesday he wanted to demote me from being his primary to being just some person he dated, so he could pursue another relationship without restrictions. How the hell am I supposed to fall out of love with someone in three days?

My only respite is to revoke the password. It’s an immediate action, a defense mechanism of sorts, something I can do to make it clear that they’re not the only ones dishing out the pain and suffering. Not once have I read a single word, privately or online, or had a conversation wherein the person who killed my dream of a partnered future, admits to me that they, too, had to fall out of love with me in bits and pieces. I don’t know if this is hormonal, or something to do with socialization around birth sex, or if it’s just that I don’t operate like other people, turning the stream of love on and off like a faucet. My love is more like a raging river that now I need to find a way to dam, to seal off, in perpetuity, because I’ve never given someone who has done something like that a second chance, and luckily I’ve never been asked to. (At least, not that I remember. It’s possible Joey wanted a second chance, but there was no way on earth that was ever going to happen after what he did to me, and so there was no tension, no decision to be made really, about whether or not I was open to trying again.)

Then we’re back at the beginning. Now that they know the password is gone, and with it goes the sense of security that I will likely refrain from writing about their dirty underpants on the bathroom floor or the fights that go on for days or anything else that my Irish sensibilities keeps me from talking about lest people know that things aren’t perfect inside the relationship. But there’s no way I can hide all the logistical and emotional effects of being dumped, of a marriage coming to an end, the moving out and the name change and the feeling alone and the support settlements and everything else.

Yet I try. Other than obliquely reference that infidelity was involved, I don’t say anything outright mean or cruel. I don’t call him names, or say bad things about his mother, or bring up anything I know he told me in confidence. I also ask those close to me, who are sometimes just as hurt as I am, just as betrayed, because they, too, bought into his image of honor and fidelity, not to vent their rage and/or sadness where others can see. Even when we as a group or one of us singly has to interface with him, like working at an event or even just being at the same party, we have gone to great lengths to treat him with general civility and kindness, even when under the skin we are seething to do something, anything, to make him see what terrible decisions he has made. We even go so far as to never name the person who he cheated on me with, never say anything about her at all, partially because we know she would love to find that chink and turn it into a dramatic soap opera, and we’re not willing to give her that satisfaction. (Even when she tries to tempt us into it, calling me names and insulting me in places where they can plainly see.) We hold our heads high, and know that we are being the better man collectively.

It leaves me to suffer the most only in conversation. The deepest wounds of any breakup involve the secrets, the close confidences, the weak and fearful parts of ourselves that we open up to another person, that now are shredded like a top secret document, beyond all ability to recognize ever again. The parts that take the longest to process, to move through the pain and get to the scab and finally the scar; they require information that hides behind passwords, that the general public don’t get to have. I hide my sobbing and my rage in moments when I am alone, or with someone who can hold that space for me as sacred, as a trust that cannot be broken.

Today I decided I think I need a new tee shirt. It will say:

Warning: I am writing my autobiography as we speak, so be careful what you do or say to me.

The Gradients of Life

For now, I am still a madness shaman. Part of that job is to speak for those who struggle with their madness, who suffer from the inside from something our medical science has yet to learn how to treat effectively.

In that role, I feel it is my duty to say something about the terrible tragedy that happened in CT today. Before I say anything else, of course I have great sorrow for all the innocent children who were wounded or died, and the adults who tried to keep them safe. I have not forgotten them, nor do I intend to. But I think it’s easier for most people to hold that grief for me, to support those families and those souls, and I am only one person with only the focus of myself, and so I choose to look at this from a different angle.

No sane person wakes up and thinks killing innocent kindergarteners is a logical way to spend a morning. I do not feel saying that Adam Lanza had a mental illness is an insult. I have a mental illness, and I do not feel ashamed to say so. It is why I was chosen for this path in life, to speak for these people; it is what made me special, different, and skilled in the Work that I do.

First of all, I grieve for all those in Adam’s life who lost a friend today. Dorothy Hanson, his grandmother, not only lost her grandson and daughter today. His older brother (whom the press has not named) lost a large portion of his family today. And I’m sure there are others, who are ripped apart at the knowledge that someone they cared for and knew was suffering so deeply, so completely, that this was what it lead to.

This year, my friend Jon killed himself. And although in hindsight there were glimmers of things he did or said that may have clued us in, everyone in his life were pretty shocked that it happened. And although it’s not exactly the same, I know what it’s like to sit with your family of choice and wonder how you failed him. Why he didn’t reach out. Why he didn’t seek help, or say something, or even just act more like a stereotypical suicidal person so we could have seen what was going on in his head. He was a smart kid, and I know he knew that if he did, we would have done something, and that might have stopped him. And it hurts, deep in your soul, to feel like you failed as a friend, and for me, as one who is dedicated to helping those who lose themselves in the land of crazy. I, personally, felt like I had not only failed my friend, but failed my vocation.

I can’t imagine how much this is magnified with the shame of having your loved one being immediately branded as evil, sick, demented. I know these words are thrown around because it’s too hard to see things in shades of gray – it’s much easier to think of the world as good vs evil, sane vs. crazy, criminal vs. victim. We need someone to vent our frustration at, a figure to express our rage that things like this still happen. And in a way it’s safe, too, because he’ll never fight back. We’ll never find out that maybe he called an anonymous hotline last night and told them he was afraid of doing something bad, and they failed to stop him. We won’t ever have to deal with the gradients that come with knowing what lead him to do this, why no one saw it coming. Not that I think there’s ever a redeeming reason for killing a bunch of kids (y’know, unless they’re zombies or something), but it would be much harder to hate him if we knew the depths of his suffering.

But the shame his family and friends will bear, will long outlast the country’s notice of him. People barely know his name now, and as soon as the next big news story hits – the next storm, the next political disaster, the next tragedy – we will quickly forget anything about him at all other than he was “evil”. His family won’t be able to talk about him to outsiders; they won’t be able to hang pictures of him on their walls; people will feel odd looking through yearbooks and seeing his picture there, smiling like everyone else. No one will be allowed to feel sad for him openly, to talk about anything good he’s ever done in his whole life. His biography will be written by people who never knew him as a child, who saw him as a complex creature – it will only be, “That guy who killed those kids in CT”.

I dare you. Without Google, tell me something about Dylan Klebold, other than what he did. Or Marc Lepine. Charles Andrew William. Or Jeff Weise. I bet you only recognized one of those names, or maybe two, unless you grew up in towns near them, knew them, or have an obsession with school shootings. Even if you Google them now, all you’ll probably find is that short biography – “That guy who killed kids in a school.”

I obviously don’t condone turning these people into heroes, or to lessen the impact of what they did by excusing their behavior. I have never said, nor will I ever, that it’s okay to do whatever you want and then reason it away by claiming you are mentally ill. Everyone is responsible for their actions, even if they didn’t make them in a sane manner. But at the same time, we can’t forget that these people were people, not characters from some cop show called Reality. They are complex people who touched many lives, both positively and negatively.

So tonight, I am assured that many people will be there for the many families touched by this tragedy. I will be saying a prayer for Dorothy, and for the unnamed brother, and for everyone else who will live with this stigma for the rest of their lives.

That’s a Horse of a Different Color!

Sorry I have been away so long…things in my life have gotten a bit complicated with the upcoming surgery and all, so I haven’t had the spoons or the focus to do much writing. However, this post has been on my mind since late October; culminating in a dream last night that I was writing it, so I’m thinking it’s about time I sit down and bang it out.

I have done possessory work, both privately and publicly, for about ten years now. I can even say that I started before that, having done “drawing downs” for Wiccan covens as far back as 1996 or so. So let’s just take it as a given that I’ve done this sort of thing for a long time.

Not only that, but I am blessed to have many colleagues and friends that I can discuss possession with, including the authors of the book Drawing Down the Spirits, one of the only books I’m aware of dedicated to the subject of possession in Pagan religion. I’ve been on a few panels, and even a conference centered around possessory work.

Have I explained my bona fides to you enough, yet? 🙂

I found myself in an uncomfortable position in October. Without going into a lot of personal details, both mine and other people’s, the short description is that I found myself horsing a problematic spirit, one that I had voiced some concerns about with the leader of the ritual beforehand. And problematic spirits being what they are, it did some problematic things both to me, and to other people attending the ritual. This resulted in no small amount of dramatic aftermath, including one of the members of the group quitting and vowing never to return.

As I have said earlier, it is hardwired into my professional and personal ethics that I do not abdicate responsibility for something my body does, no matter who was in control at the time. It becomes a dangerous slippery slope that ends with people faking possessions in order to do and say things they don’t have the balls to do or say otherwise. Although I think it was pretty clear that the actions the spirit took were in no way things I would have chosen to do given my faculties, I did the best I could (which, admittedly, could have been better) to apologize to those who had been hurt or offended by what occurred; and made sure to make it abundantly clear that in no way was I excusing what happened under the guise of “well, wasn’t my fault”. If nothing else, it was my fault to make the initial decision to allow the spirit to take my body – although sometimes this can happen without any form of “allowance”, I admit that I did feel the beginnings of the possession and decided to allow it to continue. I also take responsibility that I had misgivings about inviting this particular spirit into our ritual space, and when it became clear that it was being invited, I should have or could have left the room and excused myself out of the area. It is difficult for me to “eject” a spirit once it takes hold of my body, but those present can attest that I did try to mitigate some of the damage by redirecting some of the harm it wanted to impart onto my girl, who considers doing such things a part of her own spiritual path.

But enough about this specific situation. I only share it with you because it made me do some deep soul searching about the nature of possession, the role of the horse in what happens during a possession, and the role of the other ritual participants who choose to attend rituals that include possession. Some of these conclusions are not the same ones that the group involved in the above incident agree with or support, but they are the ones that I came to on my own.

First and foremost: I feel that if someone has a desire to invite a spirit to physically appear at a ritual where others are present, it is their responsibility to know everything there is to know about said spirit. It might seem like a fun afternoon to invoke Loki into someone’s body in order to hear some dirty jokes and eat candy, but if Breaker of Worlds decides to show up instead of King of Fools, you better have a good idea what to do, what He will expect, and how to best protect the people at the ritual from being harmed. If you don’t know the culture from which the spirit emanates, something that looks like harm to a person might be a blessing from the spirit’s cultural expectations. You don’t want to offer the wrong drink, the wrong clothes, the wrong food, or say/do things that will insult or belittle the spirit. It’s not the ritual leader’s job, or the horse’s job, or the other ritual participant’s job – it’s yours. If you invite a spirit and things go sideways, you should be brave enough to stand forward and acknowledge that you were not fully prepared for what you asked for.

Now, this sort of thing happens more often than you’d expect. Even someone who has been working with Anpu for years may end up with a face of that Deity that they do not know or work with, and it might not occur to them that someone other than the face they know the best could show up. Another way I have seen this happen is when Neopagans call down spirits that emanate from the Hindu tradition in hopes of a possession; I’ve seen some that have worked out well, but since Hindus see possession as an evil, blasphemous thing, I’ve seen some that have done physical damage to the horse. Not what you were expecting when singing for the Monkey King, no? I bore witness to Hanuman trying to “heal” the horse He was using of the possession while the ritual participants did energy work to try to make it “stick” better. The horse ended up with wounds that required medical attention.

If a spirit has more than one “face”, different mythologies that present the same spirit in different fashions, it can be the difference between a successful possession and a terrible catastrophe if you can only state aloud, both to the people present as well as the spirits, your intent for asking a spirit to physically present. After years of being a horse for the darker face of Hades – the kidnapper and raper of Persephone – when the person who wished to invoke Him made it clear she was interested in the lover and partner of Persephone, who had accepted Her fate with aplomb, it culminated in the exact experience the person desired.

In that vein, my second point is that if you are calling a spirit that is unfamiliar to others present at the ritual, it is best practice to take a moment and explain who the spirit is, what your intent is for asking for that spirit’s presence, and inform people what they can do to assist in creating the right atmosphere for the spirit once it arrives. Few people, especially Pagans from traditions where possession isn’t a frequent element, know enough about every culture and background for spirits, and might do something with benevolent intent, only to screw up the entire ritual by offending the spirit. Offering alcohol to Obatala, for instance; if you’ve attended a Voudun fete, you might notice that when a spirit arrives, it is almost always offered rum or some other form of alcohol. So it would seem to follow that when Obatala is sung for, you might want to be prepared and pour a shot of rum. However, Obatala is very opposed to drinking, and would be angry if you shoved a drink towards Obatala’s horse. A little detail, a small devotional act, gone sideways because no one took a moment to explain the spirit’s idiosyncracies to you.

Thirdly, I believe spirits have agency, and this should always be taken into consideration when a spirit is invited into a ritual. I have seen people try to script a ritual that includes a possession, as though when Aphrodite shows up She’ll be happy to recite Her lines from the paper She finds in Her hand. This never works. In fact, I’ve seen attempts at drawing down fail because the priestess had specific expectations as to what a deity would do once it arrived, that it would somehow fit the structure of the rest of the ritual, and that said deity would depart right on time so the ritual ends at 11 o’clock as promised. When I say that spirits have agency, what I mean is that they can (and do) make their own decisions, have their own wants/needs/desires, and once they’re at your little party they will likely not take your rules or format into consideration. After all, they’re just a bit bigger than us meatsacks, and even if we shake our fingers at the sky and say “You can only come if you don’t harm anyone”, doesn’t make it so. There are techniques to trying to limit the possession to what the invoker intends, but most of that involves deep communication with said spirit weeks, months, or even years before the ritual itself.

For example, I was asked to provide my body for Cernnunos for an ordeal ritual last May. I don’t know Him very well, but I had some idea as to what He would want out of a body, and what He wanted to do. I spent two months researching Him and His lore, spent weeks clarifying with the client what her expectations were, and then two weeks doing devotional work in hopes of setting boundaries and understandings about what He could and could not do with my body while He had it. And even then, He did and said things that although didn’t break the letter of our agreement, came pretty close to breaking the spirit of it. But that’s because He’s much bigger and stronger than little ol’ Del-the-shaman, and once you surrender your body to a spirit, you have to lay your trust in that spirit to at least take your boundaries into consideration.

And that’s my fourth point. Lending your open head (ability to be possessed) to a ritual is a huge trust. Especially if you’re holding regular rituals and expect the person to provide this service on a regular basis. When I agree to be a potential horse for a ritual, I am not only trusting in the Spirits to make sure I don’t wake up in jail covered in petrol and feeling slightly singed, but I am trusting the group’s leader (if applicable) and the other attendees to watch out for my body’s wellbeing. Although there is a spectrum of potential possessory experiences, from hearing faint suggestions as to what to do, all the way to having no control over your body and no memory of the experience at all – and frequently, us horses aren’t the ones who choose what level the possession will be at. As many times as I have been expected to allow a spirit to take me fully (to the extent where I have no control over my body and have no memory of the experience, which we call “locked in the trunk” in the trade) and I have had to use a code phrase for “Sorry, guys, I tried for an hour but the spirit isn’t coming!”; I have had experiences where there was no expectation for a possession at all, but putting on a piece of jewelry or clothing that is dedicated to the spirit forced me “into the trunk”. For all the times I expected a God to whisper answers to their dedicant’s questions in my ear, only to wake up two hours later stinking drunk in the middle of the woods with them, no memory of the last two hours; I have have times where the possession was expected to last over an hour, and the spirit ducked out the back door five minutes in.

There is a lot humans can do to try to create the kind of experience they envision, but in the end, the spirits are going to choose what happens, and there isn’t a lot you can do to stop that from happening, short of not inviting that spirit back.

Point number five: I believe choosing the horse for a possessory ritual, if you are given that luxury, can be one of the most important choices you make. It has been my experience and the experience of those I have discussed it with, that most of the time a God will favor a horse that already knows how to do the things it needs the body for, rather than the person who resembles the God the way the dedicant envisions them. To go back to the Cernunnos example, one of the reasons He chose me for this particular ordeal was because it was to have a lot of heavy sadomasochistic elements, and I have a strong background in doing heavy play safely. On the other hand, if what He wanted was to knit a sweater, He’d be better off choosing a different horse. It is true that spirits can make a horse’s body do something the horse does not know how to do: I learned how to dance the banda after being possessed by Maman Brigitte several times and having Her do it with my body.

However, it is easier on both the spirit and the horse if the horse knows how to perform whatever the spirit needs the body for. So I strongly suggest that if you want a Deity to perform a certain task while they are embodied, to choose a horse who has some background in that activity. It also means that the horse can make sure, either beforehand/while inside/both, that the spirit is doing the activity safely. I have seen some cuttings and brandings go horribly awry because the Goddess was called down into a horse that had seen many cuttings and brandings, but didn’t have the training themselves. The Goddess knew what She was doing, but was having a difficult time getting the horse’s body to have the nuance and control that someone who had practice doing such things would come with automatically. Do you get my drift?

Along with this, I think it can go the other way, too. I believe that the choice of horse can color your experience with a spirit. It’s hard to put into words what happens inside of my head during a possession, but I do know that sometimes I get impulses to do something vague, and find my body starting to move towards doing *something* in that direction, but I’m left scrambling on the inside trying to figure out what the spirit wants my body to do. Obviously, this will then go through the filter of my own experience and intuition – for example, since I practice BDSM, if I get an impulse that a Goddess wants to hit someone, I may try to temper that impulse to focus on finding the right person, and doing my best to get the spirit to ask for consent; whereas someone who is fresh out of the Marines might just haul off and punch someone in the face as though they were an enemy. Same impulse, two vastly different outcomes.

It was said to me that there is a line, here; I don’t know if I agree with their opinion, but I offer it in case it is useful to others. It can be said that if every spirit a horse carries comes across as being angry, or grieving, or horny, or loving, regardless of the actual known nature and disposition of that spirit, it may be that the horse’s own issues are getting in the way of a real possession. I can sort of see that; going into the necessary trance states in order to achieve possession lowers one’s defenses to the world, and if you have a well of emotion hiding behind those defenses, you may take the opportunity of a dissociative state to express them. However, I think it can go both ways at the same time – someone may have a hardwired propensity to horse angrier spirits, so it makes them a good choice if you want to invite a spirit whose mythology describes them as being volatile and hostile, and it may be something to run an internal check on if you’re horsing a variety of spirits and they’re all coming across with the same baggage.

So where does that all leave us? Here is my summary list of things to consider when working with rituals focused around possession:

  • Whomever is inviting the spirit to be embodied needs to fully understand both the spirit’s lore, as well as the culture they come from, and communicate that to all of the ritual participants so as to better prepare everyone for what to expect and how to act. They are also the ones who should take responsibility if the possession goes in an unpredictable path, and make reparations as necessary.
  • No matter how much planning you do, how much negotiations you engage in, what kind of wards or rules or guidelines or boundaries you give the spirits before inviting them into your space, they have agency, and will make their own decisions based on their personal agendas and what They feel needs to happen in the moment. There are things you can do to try to mitigate this, but in the end, They are bigger than us.
  • If you ask someone to carry a God for your ritual, understand that they are putting a great deal of trust in you, and the leader of the ritual. The horse cannot always predict or control what a spirit will do with their body, and may not be able to figure out what the spirit is doing with their body until it’s too late. Cultivate a culture around taking care of those who provide this service; it is taxing, grueling, and terrifying work, and it is frequently done for no other recompense than the experience of doing it.
  • Choose your intended horse carefully; if you want Odin to come down and sing songs for you, choose a horse with a good voice. If you know beforehand what a spirit needs the body for, try to find someone who has that sort of task in their muscle memory already.

    Okay, maybe now I can sleep without dreaming of writing this post. Or am I still doing that?