The completed wand still left a brush of oil on my hand if I gripped it hard. To be expected, as the grain of the apparently smooth surface of the worked wand lifted once the extra virgin olive oil started to soak in. I remember the same happening to my other wand as the dry wood absorbed the offering. Each day I will have to buff the wand with a shop towel to remove the loose particles and burnish the underlying surface with another layer of oil until it seals itself.
The wand was in my hand as it was too long to fit in the small shoulder bag holding the rest of my ritual gear. The two cumbersome items were the Book of Oberon itself and the large cotton shawl that was my working shroud. I had figured out a way to twist the thin fabric of the shawl into a compact knot but the book refused to bend to anyone’s will.
I stood in line with other would-be magicians. Ahead of me I saw the gilt framed doorway into a large white building and the two people gatekeeping it. They accepted some with only the inspection of paper copy of an identification card and demanded others prove the authenticity of a properly assigned and notarized card. Some they accepted without identification based on the contents of their bags, and others they violently rejected despite the bags being as complete as money could buy. I did not know the criteria by which they judged who was worthy to enter the white building.
As the line grew shorter before me, and I was able to see more of the white building, I questioned why I was in this line in the first place. I tapped the person waiting in front of me on the shoulder and asked a neutral question. “What happens to those who are rejected?”
The person turned their head to speak towards me but never turned to face me. “They are refused. It is their choice if to reapply or not. It is worth entering the club though. Doing so adds legitimacy and power to your work.”
I was able to see a sign above the doors. Large gold letters shone against a black background. “The Inner Sanctum” A smaller sign underneath the club’s title explained the club’s purpose. “A gathering for true magicians.”
Are you fucking kidding me?
“One more question, and then I shall leave you in peace. Is this a social club?”
The person whirled to face me. Trinkets and talismans attached to their hair and clothes clattered at the rough movement. “This is a most serious matter. Yes, there are those who use magic as a means for social comforts, but for true magicians, recognition and acceptance here is worth a lifetime of workings and rituals!”
I bowed slightly as if chastised. “My apologies. I did not mean to offend. I have just heard so much… chatter… that I wanted to be sure I knew the truth of things.”
The person sniffed as they accepted my words to mean my submission. They looked me over and wrinkled their face with obvious disdain. “It will take more than reading books and buying matching sets of toys and trinkets to be a true magician.”
“I agree.” They blinked in surprise as I nodded without added confrontation, then they turned forward and prepared for their own inspection. The line had shortened considerably as we spoke. I was now ten people away from the door. As I watched some be accepted and some be rejected, I realized the gatekeepers were capricious in their judgement. Each person was judged individually, but not to the same standard person to person. Some were being told to throw away their life’s work and condemn it as proof of their enlightenment. Some were rejected for no other reason than their name was difficult to pronounce and were told to change it to be acceptable. I considered how desperately did I want to be seen as a “true magician” by my peers, audience, and betters.
Was I willing to throw away everything I have done, learned, or acquired for the sake of being accepted by any one person that I admire, much less people I don’t even know?
Quietly, I slipped out of line. I have come too far to risk having it shattered for the sake of someone else’s ego. As I walked away, the people that were behind me were quick to fill in the gap. I moved to a rest area near the infinite staircase of a associated parking garage. I needed to distract myself from the sudden guilt and fear that comes with rejecting social pressure.
I tucked the hazel wand into the shoulder bag (it stuck out several inches), and pulled a deck of tarot cards from a waist pouch. The small square cards felt good in my hands. As I shuffled, an old man came up the stairs to my level. He came over to me and leaned on his staff as he watched me shuffle.
“Ah. Going to speak to the spirits are you? Is it really that easy for you to use these cards? I know of some who do so, but they are cads and cheaters, playing to win your money instead of the health of your soul.”
I looked up at the old man. His dark gray skin was wrinkled by age and circumstances. The crown of his head was bald and what hair he did have was long, thin, and shredded. Once upon a time, the clothes he wore were extravagant, colorful, and fitted to hang upon a well maintained body. Now they were even more gray than he, ragged and threadbare, and barely holding on to the near skeletal form underneath.
Yet, for his beggarly appearance, the jeweled gold rings on his fingers glinted to outshine the sun. His black-teeth grin was welcoming and sincere. His eyes had shrunken in his sockets and the eyelids had fused together from lack of use long before. The amber cabochon mounted in the middle of his forehead saw what his body could not. He felt very familiar but I could not place a name to what I felt.
He pointed to the cards in my hand with a black finger. “Those are not the kind of cards I have seen before. Are they a new thing?”
I looked back to the tarot cards. “This deck is new to me, but tarot cards as a whole, are not. And to answer your question, sometimes it is easy to hear what spirits have to say with them, and sometimes not. It depends on the circumstance, the question, and my capacity to hear an answer that I’d rather not.”
The beggar laughed at my honesty and slapped his leg. “Yes, good. Good! Knowing your limits is the first step to stretching them. Tell me. Why did you leave the line? You are qualified to enter, you know.”
“According to who? I could have all the people who read my words sign a petition for me to enter, and all it would take is one person with a larger pen and handwriting to strike them all out and deny me. What would pursuing formal recognition grant me? How would that help my life and the situations I have not spoken about? I only have so many resources to spend in a day, and chasing internet points isn’t a wise way to use them.”
The beggar watched me shuffle anxiously for a minute before speaking. “Or is it because you still can’t accept that you are a magician?”
I stopped shuffling. “Look, bitch.” I pointed to him angrily. “Get to the point or get going.”
He smiled, shrugged, and pointed back to the tarot deck. “I see some cards have portraits and some cards do not. Are the portraits those of people of distinction?”
I glared at him, knowing full well he was changing the subject. For the sake of civility, I allowed it. “It is suspected that early on in formation and use of tarocchi decks, that they were. Powerful people would be painted as characters of distinction. But I have a bastard’s education as to who was featured in which deck, and the mass-produced decks I have do not have such markers.”
I had looked back at the deck in my hands. I knew it was a tarot deck, but I also knew it was not one of my personal tarot decks. I was not yet aware that I was dreaming.
The beggar scooted closer to peer at the cards. He smelled of marble, dust, and cedar. The scent reminded me of old churches and older mausoleums. “Then if the cards you have now do not align with those that were, could they align with those that are?”
The top most card was [a major arcana card]. In certain decks, to have that card be the first on the table during a personal reading was to indicate a need to contact a certain associate of mine immediately without need for excuse or preamble. Other specific cards were also aligned with other specific people, so much so that we contact each other when certain combinations appear without pause. I only have five cards so designated, and the circumstances where they apply to those five people are very specific. I stared at the beggar and knew that somehow he knew this already.
The amber set in his forehead glowed slightly, as if lit from within by a candle flame. He tapped the deck in my hand, causing the bespoke card to slip onto the stack of already reviewed cards placed on the concrete planter edge I was sitting on. The letters of the name on the revealed card kept slipping into knots and tangles and the character kept changing position and dress, but the Hierophant was recognizable just the same.
“Then if this card were assigned to… someone… could that someone then take advantage of your tarot decks to speak with you in the fashion you are accustomed to?”
I stared at the amber, trying my utmost to identify this seemingly dead man who was animated and lively by the strength of his will alone. “That someone could… but it would have to be assigned via specific circumstances. And I reserve the right to restrict that communication to a specific deck as a measure of security.”
The beggar bowed. “Of course, of course. This is not a trivial decision. Exposure via non-traditional means always has non-traditional consequences. This must be your decision, Magician. Anyone who says you must do the thing regardless of your will has occulted motives not necessarily for your benefit.”
I noted the hazel wand was just as far away from me as the beggar. The oily sheen on the exposed portion reflected the subtle flame from the beggar’s amber. I moved as if to steady myself on the concrete perch, but really I was placing my hand in position to snatch the wand.
The beggar suddenly looked away from me. “Is that your car?” I followed his sight. There, across the empty landing of the staircase, was indeed my car. In the empty parking spot next to it, some bright haired and unusually thin people had set up a vending stall. Having run out of space in the spot to arrange the cakes and cookies they were selling, they had proceeded to use my car as display mounts. “You have attracted fairies somehow. Your wand is useless against them. You should have had your black knife in an outer pocket that you can snatch with the same ease as you are threatening to do with the wand.”
He looked back at me and smiled. The amber flared and as the unnatural light fell upon my face, I gained full lucidity and realized [Patient Caller] was manifesting in this dream. “Here, then, is your lesson for the day. Extricate yourself from this dream without falling into the trap the fey have laid for you. I will grade your attempt should you succeed in summoning me for ritual after waking.” He shuffled to the side and sat himself on the same concrete planter that I was now quitting. He leaned on his gray staff and without saying a word, shooed me towards the car. I sighed, left the planter, and went to the car.
“Sweets! Sweets and sucks! Hey Lady! We saw you talking with that dried up kindling! Want something nice to chew on instead?” When I looked directly at them, they looked like young children. Faces full of innocence and wonder and voices that could never speak harm. When I looked away, I saw glimpses of people too tall and too thin to be human, even considering marfan syndrome. Fingers with too many joints and smiles showing too many teeth moved with eagerness to snatch me.
“No.” I sat on the ground behind my car. This was the only place surrounding my car that was not covered by their offered goods. I was able to push slightly against the car with my weight, causing their carefully balanced cakes and pies to rock threateningly on the rounded surfaces.
“The cakes! You’ll tip them!”
“My car. You’re using it.”
“Lady, you have to be still! Quit rocking the car!”
“I’ll think about it.”
“If you smash a cake, we’ll get you!”
I stopped rocking the car and observed the androgynous fey trying to stare me down. “Then I won’t smash a cake. I’ll let them fall instead.”
The fey looked at me confused. “Okay. This I want to see. How are you going to let the cakes fall without smashing them?”
“Because I’m dreaming, and neither I, nor this car, are physically here.” I snapped my fingers and the car disappeared from under the cakes. Each and every pastry the fey had placed on the car fell straight down onto the concrete and broke to pieces revealing dirt and bugs under the decorations and pastry tops.
The fey stared at the mess on the ground and muttered to itself, “Well, I did ask to see it.” It looked at me and sighed. “Can’t touch ya. Go as you will.”
So I went.
As I silenced the alarm with a well practiced swing, I stared up at the ceiling and processed the dream. I wrote notes of the high points in the dim light, then reflected and replayed the dream from beginning to end several times. When the details did not change no matter how I tried to look at the scenes from different points of view or interpretations, I knew to keep it as “significant”.
The physical hazel wand left the same subtly oily streaks in my hands as it did in the dream. The grain had lifted more than how it did yesterday when I had put it away. As a result, what was a dry and polished surface was now exuding a thin sheen of oil. I remember my other wand doing the same for the first month that I had it. I buffed it with the cotton shop towel before placing it with the rest of the ritual gear.
The words of the ritual flowed easy. I made it a point to intone “Cados, Cados, Cados” with all the solemnity as required by the original words. I speak my favorite four names of God with over enthusiastic vigor (as usual). I speak the final portion of the conjuration most necessary in Latin and stumble a bit over the syllables, take a breath to steady myself, and then command [Patient Caller] to appear.
I am immediately suffocated with a scent I recognized as the warm and moisture-heavy feces of a physically ill person.
I held my mouth to keep from gagging, and without leaving the circle, check my own clothes and chair to see if I had soiled myself. Verifying that my own physical integrity was intact, I looked at the windows and doors to verify with my own eyes that they were closed and locked. The central air conditioning system was off and we have no pets to chase after. Ruling out any “mundane” source of the sudden and intensifying stench, I rolled on to the next logical step.
Oily or not, I picked up the hazel wand and the black knife and pointed them “standoff style” away from me as I stood. I slowly turned in place, focused on no particular thing as I moved, breathed through my mouth, and talked shit.
“I stand here not on my own power, but by the grace of the Lord Most High, by the mercy of Jesus Christ, and by the strength of the Holy Spirit. I am guarded not by any force I can bear, but by the warring and warrior angels dispatched to protect me, and by the cloak of holiness poured over this place by the sempiternal God. No spirit, celestial or earthly, divine or infernal, carnated or intangible may interfere with what has been placed here in the name of Agla, the name of El, the name of Adonai, and the name of On. Let now all spirits not summoned depart and this place be purged of any that would counter, confound, or condemn me. Amen.”
The stench ceased immediately.
Still holding the wand and the knife and with my eyes wide open, I commanded [Patient Caller] to appear and to make himself manifest.
Visually there was no change to my environment. But the mahogany and cedar scent of the unlit candle was suddenly so heavily present, I could taste the scent on my tongue. I stood still for a few breaths more, then slowly sat down and placed the wand and knife back at my feet. Settled in my chair again, I closed my eyes.
The scene was forced into my mental vision with vigor. The false flame on the candle was like a flame from a butane cigar lighter. A shadowy hand bearing rings on each finger and thumb raised itself to the flame. At the movement of command, the false flame quieted itself to the half-inch abiding flame I was used to. [Patient Caller] clasped his hands and rested them behind the shewstones.
«You did not panic. Well done.»
I have never wanted to punch someone so damn hard this year. Instead, I stared at darkest pools of shadow that were where his eyes should have been. “The fey in the dream were not your doing, so you claim. But what the fuck, dude?”
«As you are fond of saying, wrong question.»
“Hmph. Okay. Let’s dissect this then. That shit was a right fucking terrible stink. If I had not encountered it before and knew how to breathe with that kind of stench in the air, my gut reaction would have been to run to the nearest trashcan to throw up. Which happens to be out of arm’s reach, meaning I would have left the circle. The amulet can’t protect me if I take it off, or if I nullify its effect. Leaving the circle would have exposed me to whatever was waiting for me to become vulnerable.”
«Good analysis. But still not the right question.»
“Okay. I’ll bite. What is the right question in these circumstances?”
«Why haven’t you integrated clearing the room, by extension the house, of unclean spirits as a regular part of your ritual preparations? Just because you washed yourself yesterday doesn’t mean you can skip washing yourself today.»
Oh. Well. Damn. He has a point. “Isn’t that what consecrating the circle… um… ” I looked back at the procedure list I had written in the thin brown book. “I have an answer to that, and by answer, I mean an excuse, but I guess this just means things have changed and I have to change with it. I never considered it because this house has always been as spiritually open as a ripped sieve and trying to secure it has been foolhardy at best and backfiring as usual. I’ve just been lucky to be on good terms with the house itself and the underlying land.”
«You are a bright flame in a very dark land. As you refine yourself, you are going to attract more than the average share of things. If not for yourself, then for the sake of those within reach of you, be serious about your responsibilities and your boundaries.»
I did not accept the chastisement well. “You do realize, I am not the lord of this house, and that the persons who are, have done their damn best to undo each and every preventative ward and protection I have laid over years if not decades. If this were my house, you would be questioning how you even got the fuck in. But it is not my house, and I will not be responsible for those who go out of their damn way to be even more foolhardy than I. Not clearing my personal space, yea, I fell on that. But I will not clean after those who would soil me as their gratitude.”
We said nothing to each other for a moment as he resumed his smug pose and I calmed my anger. Finally I recalled the dream. “So. Did I pass the test with the fey?”
He smiled. «You did not leave the circle. So, yes, you passed. If you had attempted to use your own power against them, either in the dream or in this ritual, you would have failed.»
“I know I’m a small fish in a very big sea. And that my response to threats must take into account the environment and circumstance the threats are encountered. I’d rather not have those kind of tests again, thank you very much.”
«Your request has been heard.»
I opened my eyes because the facial expression I wanted to make just would not convey my frustration properly otherwise. The table was just as I left it. The exposed scented candle sat with an unmarred wick. The amber sat with the polished face angled so that it reflected the shadows behind me. The quartz sat beside it, ignored and forlorn. I shifted in my seat causing me to spy a flash of light in the polished amber face. It reminded me of another portion of the dream.
I closed my eyes and lifted my hand in the false scene projected into my mind. A black square deck of tarot cards appeared in them. “I don’t have these cards. I have never had these cards, and while they mimic a deck I have seen before, I am not going to get these cards. And besides, Servant of Cyprian, isn’t it more than a little daring and hubristic to claim the Hierophant as your card?”
«As my role here is advisory and not commanding, that card is very suitable [for my rank].»
Oh. Yea. Fuck. It is. “I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no. I’m saying I’ll consider it, and that you’re going to have to give me some damn good reasons to give you yet another hook into my life. Because what you’re asking for is going to continue long after this month, and my obligation, ends.”
We spoke of my tarot decks, of their varied meanings and how they may or may not have been used in divination before. We spoke of the Sola Busca tarot deck, the book “The Game of Saturn“, and my firm stance that I was not going to chase that goose. We spoke of his rank, that the fey in the dream referred to him as “kindling” (i.e.: a corpse), and whether or not he was in my physical ancestral chain or if Cyprian was up to a different sort of shenanigan. (He replied, “Why not both?”)
The conversation came to an end so I gave the Apophenia Invitation and the License to Depart. Psalm 54 was read with deliberate threat and vigor as I turned in the circle while holding the black knife out. The ritual ended, I put all away and braced for something, anything, to happen when I removed the amulet.
My ears popped, but the house remained still.
Total time: 45 minutes. It felt like half the day had passed.