Feathers and Ash

So I told myself I wasn’t going to post about this recurring dream/nightmare/experience, because it’s not like anyone would be able to understand or grok what can not be expressed in words but can only be experienced. And as if the recurring portion wasn’t bad enough, a thing happened that may end the series, but without the unexplainable context of the series, the finale may be just as indescribable.

Once again, @coldalbion​ reminds me I’m still a FNG at this and experience came long before I did and will be here long after I’m gone.

So. Fine. The damn memories are pricking at me anyway making me restless, like feathers poking out from under my skin.

The face of the Magician is never the same. Sometimes he is an old man, weathered and worn and too old for this shit so he is going to spend his last years setting shit on fire because what’s the worst they can do to him? Sentence him to death? He laughs, because he is already dead and he knew it the moment he began the working.

Sometimes he is a defrocked priest, still young enough to make something else of his life, still devout enough to pray for forgiveness before beginning, but now wise enough to understand the bodies in the cathedral are not the same as the spirit in the church and sometimes you have to hold hands with the Devil if you are going to see God.

Sometimes she is a cunning woman, lovely enough to have her beauty used against her, scarred enough to not be afraid to be scarred further, and ready to work by hand what her reputation could not achieve alone. She knows the difference between fear and cowardice, and how to stir both into the serving pot.

Sometimes she is a child, still bloody and ripped, newly brought into the wisdom that comes with the cruelty of others, newly realizing her childhood is over and her adulthood is forfeit. She offers what is left of her for she knows she is already dead and the only choice she has left is the method of her death.

Sometimes he is a youth on the cusp of maturity, knowledgeable enough to read and follow the directions in the book he was not supposed to find, ignorant enough of the warnings about what could happen if he followed through. He has the keys to every door and casket in his master’s library and he will open this door, too.

So many Magicians, so many faces and motives and dress and preparations. So many places where the circles are laid. Chalk on granite. Blood on cloth. Steel carved in dirt. Wood traced on carpet.

The words are whispered. The words are intoned. The words are sobbing cries. The words are angry vitriol. The languages are the carrier. The bodies are the carrier. The tools are the carrier. The symbols are the carrier.

The signal cuts through.

In recent months, the preparation of the scenes have become clearer. For years, there would be no preamble to the story and the dream/nightmare/experience would begin the moment I entered the circle. I was never the Magician, only something for the Magician to use. As I learned more about ritual magic, I began to recognize the role I played.

In some scenes, I was summoned into the circle involuntarily. In some scenes I had been assisting the Magician from the beginning. In some scenes I was bound and gagged. In some scenes I stood of my own free will.

I was the object the summoned spirits were to inhabit.

Possession. Yay, (fuck) me.

Up until a few months ago, I could not see any of the circles clearly. There would be as few as the one I was to occupy, there would be several in certain places relative to each other with connecting lines and ritual objects to enhance the focus. But there was always the circle I would occupy.

The most recent rendition of this dream started out with an obscured Magician and five circles laid out on the points of a cross that slightly overlapped each other. He stood at the “north” circle facing south. I stood at the “south” circle facing north. He had placed something containing an open flame in the “east” circle, something like a smoking censer in the “west” circle, and a collection of objects including feathers and stones in the center circle.

He was gloating, this time. He had everything under control, this time. He thanked me for assisting him and warned me that I may feel “slightly uncomfortable” when the actual drawing down (read: possession) happens, but that nothing would happen without my consent.

I had a cord around my hands that remained there only because I was holding it. Symbolic of the Magician having control over all the items in all the circles, it was supposed to keep whatever possessed me from leaving the circle, or worse, assaulting him.

“Wait. Can you wrap the cord around your neck?”

“I could. What kind of spirit are you after, anyway?”

“… A messenger.”

“You’re not going angel-hunting, mister. Stop bullshitting me. You have flame, ashes, and the contents of a corvid’s hoard. And now you’re asking me to emulate a hung corpse? What kind of fish are you trying to catch with all this deathly bait?”

“A messenger.”

Possession used to terrify me. Perhaps the years of abuse in certain Christian cult churches ground that into my psyche. Being ridden was not voluntary then, and I always came out with bruises, emotional and physical. But a couple years ago, my perception and attitude started to change, and possession in my dreams were not the devouring pits of despair they used to be. Having better control over my mind was certainly a substantial part of that.

I blinked in the dream, and felt the echoes of previous variations of this dream. I knew I was going to be possessed, again. I knew the circles weren’t going to hold it, again. I knew the offerings and preparations weren’t enough, again. The only thing I did not know was what was going to possess me, this time.

Sometimes you have to hold hands with the Devil to see God.

I did the Magician one better. I pulled a blindfold out of my pocket and tied it around my eyes. I had a second cord in my pocket as well, a specially prepared one the color of ash and cinders. I wrapped that cord around my neck thrice and tied it in a “safe” knot that fell behind me. I then wrapped my hands in his cord once more, took a deep breath, and stood in preparation.

He began.

In my (dream) mind’s eye, I saw all five circles in their original position, barely overlapping each other. I saw something like twists of light move from circle to circle via these overlapping portions. Nothing was isolated.

I saw the flame in the east circle smother itself. I saw the censer in the west circle fall apart into clumps of rust. (I did not ask how bronze could rust.) I saw the feathers and stone and bones and roots in the central circle multiply.

The flames were put out and the censer was a cold pile of slag but the smell of smoke intensified. The hoard continued to increase as dirt began to heap under the distinct items.

I saw the Magician in the north circle flinch as some force burst out of the hoard. When the unseen force struck me, I felt no fear. I threw my head back and laughed. And by laughing, I mean I started screaming.

Seems like a completely appropriate response to feeling something large burrow into you, I suppose, even if you had already made peace with your impending death.

This unnerved the Magician, who shouted something to regain control over the ritual. Oh, you poor fool, you had ceded control the moment you began.

Possession feels like dying. (And yes, I’ve done that, too.) There is a disconnection from the body that some would say is dysphoria. There is a disconnection from the mind that some would say is disassociation. There is a cutting away from the physical you that you realize is 99.995% of your identity and sense of self.

Possession is a devouring. An invasion of your memories and likes and dislikes and a rewiring of what you thought were your thoughts and what you thought were your beliefs by this thing, this intangible thing that is leaving no marks on your body but you fall to the ground drowning on the foam coming out of your lungs and your eyes turn themselves over until you can see the ember of your fading soul as your blood sears your ears and you think your heart is about to rip itself in two as your brain panics at what it thinks is the body’s death throes.

(That has always been a hallmark of these series of dreams. Even when I am completely willing and yielded, the descent is brutal.)

Four of the circles collapse into one. Only the Magician stands alone, and he fails to see that his circle is still overlapping the unified circle. The pot that held the flame and the censer that held the incense are gone. Instead, there is smoke coming out of my mouth and my flesh is feverish to sight and touch.

I am standing on a mound of dirt. Feathers and stones and bone and roots are scattered around my feet, over my feet, and under my feet. The cord around my neck remains intact and has somehow tightened. The cord around my hands creep into flame and burn away without harming me. The ashes drip onto the collection of objects at my feet.

“I command you to obey me.”

“Which you?” I laugh. It is a harsh sound, more like barking. I can feel something slithering between brain and skull. If it flexes, my head will split.

The Magician pauses. “You, whom I have summoned! Obey me!”

My laughter subsides into as close to purring as a human body can grumble. “Heh. Name me, then.” The grumble throws a burst of smoke and sound out of my mouth. “NAME ME AND I MIGHT LEAVE YOU ALONE!” Another sharp laugh. “For now, anyway.”

The Magician launches into a list of well memorized names. None of them interest the intelligence turning my hidden eyes. The intelligence is more interested in me, in what remains of me, in the spark that the possession could not extinguish, in the abiding ember that is not trying to fight back.

You know my names.

How long until you remember them?

How long until you remember yours?

The Magician had fallen silent and was watching me, watching us, carefully for any sign of conquest.

“What did you summon me for?”

The fool took the question as proof of success. In this rendition of the dream, he stated he wanted a token from the invasive intelligence. He wanted an image by which he could summon power.

What is demanded from the “summoned” being changes with each version of the dream. Sometimes it is a working of necessity, to provide a desperately needed thing. Sometimes it’s a working of education, for the summoner to learn something that could be found no other way. Sometimes it’s a working for revenge, because what was broken can never be restored, but by hell the bastards can’t be allowed to get away with it. Sometimes it’s a working for greed, for no other reason than because the summoner can, the summoner will.

The reasons vary, but the responses has always been consistent. Necessity and revenge is always granted, but the cost demanded varies wildly based on what the summoner can bear to pay (plus a little more). Education is not always fulfilled in the manner the summoner expected, but there is a lesson to be learned if the summoner is willing to see it. But greed, greed always has a cost the summoner did not expect, is not willing to pay, but gets extracted out of him anyway.

What does it cost me in these dream series? Only terror. And even that is fading.

The delight the indwelling intelligence is internally expressing at the demands of the Magician is scoring high on the Terror-ometer. It’s good I don’t have control over my bowel movements at the moment.

The Magician asks again for a seal to be revealed to him, in exchange for the still growing piles of feathers, stones, bones, and roots at my feet.

The voice trickled out of my mouth. The syllables tasted heavy and acrid, like bile. “More.”

The Magician paused for a moment then pointed at my head. “You already have more. You have the body carrying you.”

Would you believe, I was not surprised at the sudden and inevitable betrayal?

The shrieks that assault his ears carry a word to him. “More! MORE! MORE!

He smiles. This was all proceeding to his plan. He pulls from his pockets a small black wrapped object. He reveals a clean bird skull. The bone is pale cream white and the beak is black and aged. “If you want more, you will have to come with me. Either give me a seal by which I can summon you later, or inhabit this skull and yield to me.”

He placed the bird skull on the ground before him bounded by the overlapping circles. As soon as he withdrew his hand, the skull rolled around before suddenly wiggling into the dirt, beak first. The skull buried itself quickly.

I was overcome with an impetus to dig into the dirt at my feet. No sooner had I plunged my hands into the dirt under me than I felt something large push into them. I stood with my prize, a corvid skull large enough to replace the human skull on my neck.

The Magician frowned. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

The intelligence was furious at the Magician. I clutched the supernaturally large skull to my chest and shrieked loud noises of fury and mourning. It definitely wasn’t supposed to happen this way. There was a sense of wrongness, that something had been removed that wasn’t supposed to be removed, that something had been detached and isolated from a greater whole, and that crime had just been discovered.

Outside the two circles, the air shimmered and turned in horizontal knots of whips and smoke. The shrieking was attracting other spirits to the area. Only the boundaries created by the circles kept them at bay. The Magician looked around nervously before recovering his resolve.

“Return to me what is mine.”

The intelligence opened my mouth, presumably to shriek the word “No!” at the Magician. What came out was a series of caws. Coherence left what little awareness I had left and what I immediately remember is a series of disjointed sensations and actions.

My mouth kept trying to form the words “not yours” but anger was greater than reason and the gnashing of teeth bloodied my tongue.

Clutching the large corvid skull to my chest, I collapsed onto the pile of feathers, stones, bones, and roots. I could smell the dirt now. Dark and rich, I recognized where the thickness came from. Gravedirt.


The intelligence had had quite enough of the Magician’s shit. The last two circles collapsed into one, and suddenly the Magician was standing beside my seizing body. In one massive shudder, the intelligence left me an assaulted him.

Without the extrasensory perception of the intelligence, I was blinded and could not see what was happening to the Magician. I could only hear him shrieking in panic and fear. I could smell the warmth of fresh urine and the tang of fresh blood. I could hear something thicker than heavy cloth being ripped and the sound of something at first trying to scramble away, then trying not to be dragged away, then the receding sound of dead weight scraping the uneven ground.

The intelligence returned to cover me like a blanket. It touched against every bare inch of skin without trying to press into me. I could feel myself lying on a mound of soft, freshly turned dirt, surrounded by feathers, stones, bones, and roots. I was bounded by a circle made of five nested circles. Each one made or laid by a different method. I was on my side, clutching the large corvid skull to my chest as if I were shielding an infant child.

What do you want of me?

What makes this particular version of the recurring dream/nightmare/experience unique is the intelligence’s question. I had never been asked that before. I was always the tool of the Magician, to be used and discard after. Whatever possessed me only had interest in me for the time it took to take care of the Magician to their ends, and nothing more after.

I had many “wants”, but I did not feel this was the right time to speak of them. Knowledge of my other dream selves were starting to seep into this dream, and what the corvid skull represented elsewhere was pushing me towards rage and curiosity.

Since you cannot speak, I will give you what he wanted.

An image drew itself in my mind. So simple that I almost discarded it until I realized it was simple enough for me to duplicate, on purpose. I held the corvid skull tighter. The image drew over itself, each time marking itself brighter in my mind’s eye, each time marking itself deeper into my psyche. Finally, I found my voice.

“I don’t know what to do with this information.”

Keep it. You will find a use, or you won’t. But it is yours.

The intelligence lifted itself away from me and I sat up on the mound, removing the blindfold. I thought I saw something like a ring of birch trees surrounding me in the dark misted distance. The tip of the giant beak scratched me on the leg. I looked down to find I was completely naked and without any adornment of any kind. The feathers, stones, bones, and roots had begun to smolder and smoke from some great internal heat, but they felt cool to the touch.

The circles I had felt around me were gone. Instead there was a medium circle inscribed in the ground near my feet and inlaid with ash to make it stand out against the dark ground. On one side of my feet was a long hazel rod, long enough to reach across the medium circle with ease. On the other side of my feet was a medium sized ceramic pot without any markings.

Still holding the corvid skull with one hand, I lifted the lid to the pot with the other. Ash. I clutched the corvid skull tighter as some deep memory of mine twitched with enough recognition to be respectful but not enough to identify the source.

Which will you keep? The image or the icon?

I wondered if both were the same, just in different representations. I yielded to instinct to decide. Still holding the corvid skull in my left arm, I traded the ceramic lid for the hazel rod. I completed the marked circle to match the image the intelligence had shown me, and used the same rod to compact ash into the fresh markings.

Nothing happened.

Ah, I have to yield one to gain the other. “I choose to keep the image.” I placed the corvid skull on the completed image and realized the skull and the image were indeed both symbols for the same thing. “Do not mistake the symbol for what it represents.” The whisper came from my mouth but I did not have conscious memory of saying it.

I started to clasp my hands with intention of bowing, but the twitchy memory shifted enough to inform me I was making the wrong gesture in this circumstance. I yielded to the instinct and performed what muscle memory called for me to do instead.

The lines of the grounded image inflamed with blue tongues that quickly devoured and unmade the supernaturally large skull. When the skull’s unmaking was complete, I knelt before the image and closed my eyes.

The flames continued to burn the image into my mind.

I felt the intelligence pull at my body, tumbling me backwards onto the soft dirt.


I realized where I had seen this particular ring of birch trees before, and unable to comprehend the blending of imagery and paradigms, felt my mind completely shatter.

I woke.