I had emptied the ultrasonic oil diffuser yesterday evening to allow it to dry out overnight. Now that I look in the chamber, I am reluctant to fill it. The spirit had made his disdain of the “complicated device” very apparent. Yesterday he politely took offense of the diffuser being present on the table and stated the soft sound of the gadget was overwhelming his uncapped bottle.
Today as I prepared for the morning’s Cyprian working that would precede the summoning, I left the gadget alone and pulled out the tealight oil warmer instead. The very plain one-piece ceramic warmer had an interior chamber to place the tealight candle and a simple bowl above it. No designs or patterns graced the exterior. The glaze was a mottled tan that resembled smoothed sand.
With no other changes made to the morning routine, I continued on with the Cyprian working. Segueing to the summoning of the spirit, I dripped three drops of cedarwood oil into the heated half-full bowl of the oil warmer. The air in the room was noticeably dryer compared to previous mornings and the scent was more subtle but also more pervasive than the effect of the ultrasonic oil diffuser. The cedarwood scent did not clash with the fading frankincense scent but layered harmoniously.
I spoke the summoning words and made the gesture shown by the spirit while keeping my eyes open.
«Do you believe the gesture will compel me beyond what I have agreed to?»
I heard the words clearly despite no visual change to the room. “I think it’s a cool gesture, but I also think it would be good if I knew what it meant.”
«In time. For now, only know it is something between us. If another were to duplicate the motion, you will know that it is not I who performs it.»
I see a glint of light from the table and close my eyes in reflex. In the sudden vision that unfolds from the glint, I see [Patient Caller] seated behind a table, holding his hand in that gesture. After I recognized it, he folded his ring-bound hands in a patient clasp on the table as the glint coils into itself before coiling around his right pinky finger.
On the left side of the table as I am facing it (his right), there is a small cedar bowl that is more like the bowl of a large spoon than a serving bowl. In it is a pinch of burning incense. He picks up the bowl and waves it before me as if to cense me with it. The cedar notes are strong but in its wake the frankincense remains. The combined scents cause me to imagine a tiny cedar box filled with ground up frankincense.
He placed the cedar bowl back on the table. «Better. Much better. Before you were using Air and Water to release the scent as mist. How heavy is that Water and how impotent is Air to raise it! Water will drown everything it is given to carry unless you apply a greater power that will force it to release what it has seized captive.»
«Now you are using Fire and Water. The Water holds the scent in place until Fire releases it and causes it to rise. Now the scent comes to me and delights me. Enough so that if I were cross with you, I could be persuaded to ignore the slight if it meant the scent were to remain. Listen and understand.»
«The best is Fire and Air, but I do not require that and I understand your circumstances limits the use of that method. Perhaps later you can reflect on what waters to use with the oil burner. Do not assume that the water in the bowl is passive. There is water and there is Water. Scent is not the only thing water can carry until it is persuaded otherwise. What atmosphere are you trying to set?»
«But that is a discussion for another time, once your education has proceeded past lessons of survival. You are having difficult finding words for prayer, yes? You have [certain books] present to take inspiration from, but many of the prayers within them are lengthy and do not fit you where you are. Then write your own! Pray to the Sun and the Moon if you must. Different prayers for different times of the day, if you must. But however you pray, pray.»
He paused and I raised my hand. When I caught myself doing so as if I were a child in school I was embarrassed and lowered it. “You say to pray. What the fuck is prayer? I really don’t know. I have no conscious understanding of what prayer is? Is it monologuing? Is it the same as propitiation? Do I need to be in an altered state for it? Am I petitioning a god, or gods, or force of nature? What is prayer that makes it more than just words?”
[Patient Caller] clasped his hands again and bowed his head. Keeping his head bowed, he opened his hands as if to pray himself.
«Prayer… is the uttering of words you have faith in.» He raised his head and clasped his hands again. «There will be times when no language can capture the nuances of your faith, and your prayer will be silent, or expressed in actions, or nurtured in stillness, but regardless of how loud or vigorous or silent or passive the act of praying is, if there is faith, there is prayer.»
«You do not have to address a god or an angel or a force of nature or even yourself to have enough faith for prayer. You do not even require faith in yourself to pray. You only need have faith. And yes, even the lack of faith is a faith in itself.»
«You say you do not know how to pray. ‘Let me get through this fucking day,’ is a prayer. It is not as pious as those who think they are in power over you would like you to say. It is not kind. It is not soft. It does not yield. It does not comfort. But it is an utterance you have faith in. You prove that faith because after you say those words, you stand up and get through the fucking day.»
«When you write out your prayers for the day, for the four stations of the day as I have prescribed, do not write them for others to read. It is not for others to modify. Not for others to approve, to judge, to suggest alternatives, or to discard. These are your prayers for your benefit. This is your medicine, bitter as it may be.»
He pulled the small smoking cedar bowl from the side of the table to the space between us. Behind it, he clasped his hands and let his shaded face fall forward into the rising smoke. I had the sense that my audience was completed for the day.
I spoke the license to depart and closed the ritual.
being schooled: 14 minutes.
When I checked the oil warmer, I saw it had a few drops of water and oil still in the bowl. The frankincense I started with had long faded and the cedarwood oil remaining was already on the wane. Again I had the sense of a cedar box storing a quantity of frankincense and felt like I was being given a glimpse of a mystery holding some deeper meaning than the obvious.