“My love is the blood and the bone
The voices that live in the stone
The long dwelling night
The absence of light
And the shadows watching all alone”
“Pressure, pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down”
– Queen and David Bowie, 1981
Anyone who has ever worked for a Deity will have a story about how deities have a way of seeping into our lives and enacting changes. Many times these changes are mutual agreements and arrangements, contracts of conduct us devotes sign off on willingly. I am a firm believer that actual contact with any of the Divine currents has a lasting effect upon those humans touched, and that the truth of those contacts are seen in the transformations unleashed within the person by that Divine spark.
This idea of transformation as a mutual endeavor looks very pretty on paper…Too pretty, actually, when you get right down to it. And again, anyone who has dealt with a Deity will have other stories to tell as well. Stories about when a Deity decided to throw that person into a pressure cooker just to see what might develop.
Pressure cookers? Not really fun places to be. Crisis and uproar, physical pain, relationship breakdowns and breakups, near-death experiences, having to re-live a personal shame for the whole world to see… The list of outside pressures that Gods can use to enact change within us (or just test our resolve) is nearly limitless. If you choose to work with Deities of the Infernal variety, you had better be ready to have your world shattered every couple of years as they blow stuff up around you for reasons you will not fully understand at the time.
I could go into numerous personal anecdotes right now, but will refrain for the time being. What is more important than my personal “What” is the intriguing questions as to “Why?” Most often for myself, that question leads me into places that most sane people just steer clear of or ignore. Places within my inner landscape that hide a treasure trove of both personal horrors and well-hidden strength. Places I would have never discovered if I had not been poked by these outside events to do so. And, I’m fairly certain that that is the key.
I have told many people over the years that a frictionless environment is a recipe for mediocrity. Untested ideas, ideologies, people, and philosophies are all good starting points, but that is ALL they are. It is through testing, research, and real-life trials that these things are honed, refined, and turned into things of worth. Some of the things in this life that have broken me down to my lowest are also the exact things that have made me stronger than anyone (including myself) ever thought I could become.
The best example I have of this happened in the very early spring of 2012, when a specialist had to do an emergency surgery that became the equivalent of yanking half of my facial structure out. While the surgery saved my life, the next year became a testing ground not only for my own personal ideas of identity but for just how dedicated I would remain to my Gods while everything I was supposed to be was crashing and burning under the weight of a year of sickness.
And, while it’s nice to give face time to those transformations that are mutual and agreed upon, I have to say that those times when I was thrown into the pot with pain, misery, and a helping of onions taught me far more important lessons then I could have learned the easy way. Even recently, while having old shames made very public and many a band-aid ripped off old wounds, I saw that M’Lady Night had not only a hand in it, but that She had a reason or five to do so. Was it an uncomfortable experience? Most certainly. But it also served as a platform for growth… growth that I would have hidden from forever if I would have had my own way.
And if anyone takes ANYTHING away from what my experiences with the Gods have been, I would have it be this: Spiritual growth will NOT always be under controlled circumstances. The Gods have agendas for those of us with ears to listen to them, and sometimes, the only thing that will make our ears ready for that listening is The Pressure Cooker.
Have your onions ready.
“Darkness, Darkness, be my pillow, Take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow, In the silence of your deep
Darkness, darkness, hide my yearning, For the things I cannot see
Keep my mind from constant turning, To the things I cannot be
Darkness, darkness, be my blanket, cover me with the endless night”
“Darkness Darkness”, The Youngbloods, 1969
One of the very first times I ever spoke up about my work with Deities of an Infernal nature, I was met with fairly heavy disdain and informed that working with “Those Kinds of Gods” was a dangerous enterprise. “Why?”, I was asked, would I ever open my life up to such currents of death and pain and madness? At the time of that first asking all those years ago, I didn’t have a very concrete answer. I only knew that I had always felt a deep pull towards the various Underworlds, so much so that I often found myself seeking entrance during my sleep into what I knew were forbidden places.
As the years wore on, I gained a deeper insight of what it was that was pulling me underneath the feet of the living, and into a world filled with What Is No Longer. I started cultivating profound relationships with both the Gods that called those realms home, and with the ghosts, imprints and non-human spirits that inhabited that plane as well. And as I walked within those shadows, I also began to cultivate an understanding of who I honestly was.
That sounds MUCH less painful than it actually was. For every secret I unlocked, I had to barter away a bit of my already tarnished innocence. For every forbidden place I snuck into, I knew that I was being watched for deeper transgressions by Deities who could, at the snap of a finger, destroy me utterly and completely.
And… you would not be out of line in asking yourself right now, “no really, why would you DO THAT?”
Unlike those first days, I now find that have a proper answer.
Beyond what this path of mine has done for (and to) me personally, over the last few years I have seen many people take up what I term “The Infernal Thread” of different paths. The many-chambered Underworld is being courted by many more people these days. People who feel the same tug to explore the Darkness are crafting practices that are renewing ties to not only our own Dead, but to the Deities who reside within those realms and reaches. We are renewing bonds that were cut away hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years ago. In some cases, we are establishing bonds that were never there before. For some, it is a balance to their Dayside practice, and for others (like myself) it is an act of reclaiming the Lands of Erebus from the monotheistic idea that the lower realms are worthy of nothing but scorn, and are by their nature places of evil.
That last idea is one that is strangely prevalent in Modern Neo-Paganism. That “The Darkness” should be avoided at all costs (both the metaphorical darkness and the literal), and those that reside within it shunned as evil-doers. Pagans of many stripes are still afraid of the Devil it seems, by one name or descriptive idea or another, and that fear is just extended to the entire Underworld once they make the move to Pagan Ideals. As a Polytheist, I find that kind of unthinking fear strangely unproductive. (Then again, I have never met an idea I would not poke with a stick.)
For the record, I am not implying that the various underworlds are safe places by any means. Nope. They hide dangers unlike any you will ever face anywhere else, but you can face them. The qualities one masters within the shadows have an immediate impact. The fears faced, the monsters mastered, and the false dualities imposed by society at large can melt away. Wholeness is found, power is discovered, and one can begin to see that the world has far more possibilities than what is illuminated by the Light alone.
And before this idea is simply dismissed, it should be pointed out that many times, a very large part of “The Heroes Journey” in many cultures was the act of descending into the Underworld, and coming back up changed. The word for it in the Hellenistic world, this trip into darkness, is Catabasis, a “descent or downward movement”. Often this descent was into the realm of the underworld, where only Heroes managed to go and come back from. This was more than a simple spiritual day-trip, it was a deep, life-altering transformation. And in those stories, standing at the Gates of Many Hells, was often a Seer or Oracle helpfully placed to help the Hero on his way. And these Mystics were not acting as gatekeepers, but as map-makers of the realms beyond our own.
In today’s world we have very few maps left to us, and in an unhelpful twist, the landscape has changed as well. And while being the Map-maker is not nearly as glamorous as being the Hero, it has a place of importance that has been quite overlooked.
I will wrap this up by being very honest about what I see my place as in The Big Scheme of Things. I do not see myself as an important leader, a humble guru of any kind, or the creator of The Next Big Thing. Im a mischievous explorer who by virtue of actions long passed has access to places I should not. That access (and my mischievous nature) has led to me being recruited as one of many New Map Makers that this new era in Paganism and Polytheism is giving birth to. My area of mapping just happens to be the Lands of Erebus.
Before the blaze I stand
Baptized in darkness
Blackened by memories
Broken by omission
The mask shatters
Its shards lie scattered
Lie twinkling with deception
Piercing the flesh that feels no more
Shadows behind be
The blaze before me
A heart lying dead
Hot, but warmth long gone
Consuming itself like all fire does
I stand motionless
Wondering where I should land
Time, flesh, breath
All so unimportant
As this spirit files free
And lands within the flame
Only it can survive the inferno
Relive this again and again
Only it can make sense of the yearnings
That run so amok in my head
I melt into shadows
I’m Small pieces of myself
The rest… I have given away