Work is caught up. The roommates are out for the day. My daughter is attempting to break her fingers playing video games. Time to take a break, and take a much needed nap. It’s hard to wind down again. Thoughts of what I still need to do once the nap is over keep intruding. I try to place myself in a light meditation, but my scatterbrained mind keeps grabbing at worries.
“Let go.” The voice comes from far away, like a half-remembered dream. But the words are relevant to my worries, so I comply. I release every thread of worry, including the worrying about worrying, and the worrying about not being able to sleep. But one, by one, the worries return.
Each time, I’m told by the voice, “Let go.” It takes effort to do so, and the concerns do creep back. But each time, there are fewer threads clinging to me, and it is easier to release them once I notice them. As the minutes melt into each other, the words “Let go” are less felt and more heard, as if the voice speaking them becomes less floating thought and more vocalization. An accent starts to creep in, along with a deepening of pitch marking the speaker as distinctly male.
I got to the point, where I thought I had released all I needed to release in order to rest, and I would begin wandering off in some attempt at lucid dreaming. Each time, the voice returned, with the simple command of “Let go.” I would pause, step away from what I had found myself trying to manipulate, and release control of the dream.
With each release of the dream, my appearance and clothing would change. Sometimes, in flowing dresses of lace and satin. Sometimes in worn jeans and filthy shirt. Sometimes, not clothed at all. But each time I try to settle into the dream, I am told to let go, and another layer of busyness falls away.
Frustrated, I close my eyes, and deliberately, willfully, release any ideas I had of what I was going to dream about. I spread open my hands, in a gesture of emptiness. I feel the dreamscape shift around me. A familiar scent embraces me. I open my eyes, and see I am at a dreamscape I have not been to in several months. The mountain terrace, that overlooks the valley where so much has happened before. This is my Interior Temple, where I have carefully constructed a mental landscape complete with altar points to the classical four elements. This is where I come to bridge the Here and the There. Where I perform my more elaborate rituals. Where the Lords of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth meet with me. I look down to see the seal’s framework still intact in the hard packed dirt. The compass points of the terrace still contain the symbols and the gates to each element. But the Lords are not here. I have not called them.
I am a few steps away from the center of the terrace, where my personal altar stands. Laying on the altar, is my cane. Really, it is the Embroidered Man’s cane. But for some reason, it obeys me as well. As I step forward, I note I am “dressed for magic”. A black trench-coat, white long sleeve linen shirt, black slacks, boots, gloves tucked in the coat’s pocket. An assembly I do not have in the Waking world. In the Dreaming, when I am lucid, I’m dressed for “business”. I assume since I’m here, there is “business” to attend to.
I glance around at the compass points again. I can feel the connection to the Elemental Lords, know they will come if I call. But the terrace feels strangely empty and void. Ah well, let me pick up the cane, and begin the call of myself to myself, or so I thought. I pick up the cane with my right hand, and bounce it into my left. As I raise the cane to begin, the accented voice calls across the terrace like a stiff wind, “Let go.”
The command carried in the words blew through me. I felt chilled, as if a stern teacher had turned his full attention onto me. Thought the voice spoke no more, the command hung in the air around me. I noticed a wind had indeed begun to blow across the terrace. At first, I thought it a southern wind, but as I turned around to examine the effects of the wind on the terrace, the wind shifted with me so that no matter which direction I faced, the wind was full in my face.
The wind slowly increased, carrying in it the unspoken echoes of the command. I lifted the cane to defend myself, but the wind blew even more fiercely. “Let go.”, was the wind’s answer to my futile shielding.
I meant to place the cane back on the personal altar. But the moment I released it, the wind snatched the cane away and shattered it in midair. So complete was the cane’s destruction, not even splinters danced on the ground, no dust collected in a distant corner. The wind had destroyed its presence from me.
The wind was also fierce against me. Now a howling gale, I was forced to my knees by the strength of it. On seeing the cane destroyed, here in my Interior Temple, I felt under assault and tried to stand to counter attack. But the wind pushed me back to my knees, every time. It pulled at the coat, threatening to rip it off of me. I pulled it tightly against me. “Let go.” The man’s voice was so familiar, but I could not place where I had heard it before.
It was familiar enough for me to recognize, he was not a threat. He was someone to whom I had promised respect, and in turn, he promised not to abuse that respect. I clutched tightly to my coat, not wanting to lose another piece of my identity. The wind only blew even harder, almost forcing me to lay fully on the ground to keep from being blown away. I released my grip on the coat.
The wind pulled the coat off of me in the blink of an eye. It did not destroy the coat as it did so, but the gale blew the coat off the terrace into the valley far below. The coat was lost to me. I tried to stand, intending to rush to the terrace’s edge to trace the coat’s descent, so I could retrieve it later. But the gale blew on me even harder. The dirt scraped against my face and hands, stinging with hurricane force.
The only sound I was able to hear above the gnashing of the wind were the thickly spoken words, “Let go.” I didn’t understand what else I had to release. Here I am, in my most Innermost. In the Interior Temple where not even my beloved can come. I have lost the cane that pierces worlds, and the coat that covers worlds. My Elemental Lords are now inaccessible. And I can’t even stand. What did I have left to release, other than myself?
Oh. That’s it, isn’t it.
That’s what I have to let go. My will. My will to be independent. My will to be my own person. My will to do it my way and however I will my way to be. After all, that’s what the mountain terrace represents, the fortress of my will. That’s what I have to let go. I turn my face up into the fierceness of the wind, feeling the tiniest of pebbles cut against my face. I open my hands in a gesture of surrender, and let go.
The wind ceased immediately. The descent of absolute stillness and calm is louder than the roaring of the wind. My ears resonate from the stillness. Still on my knees, I lower my hands down to my sides. The terrace has been wiped clean of every standing thing. I look around in quiet dismay. All the altars, are gone. The symbols that opened the gate to the elemental forces, are gone. The seal framework drawn in the dirt, is gone. There is only the bare dirt, and me.
I feel a movement from within my right shoulder. I turn to watch my snake familiar emerge as wisps of color, only to solidify and thicken as it wrapped around my right arm in the form of a rattlesnake. I almost cried to see him, and was very thankful and grateful to have him with me.
In the stillness, the voice spoke again, placing new words onto the air. “Now, you’re ready.” I yielded to the words, and the ground underneath me trembled and fell in on itself. I did not attempt to save myself, but fell into the devouring void. The snake had wrapped himself tightly around my right arm, and remained there as we fell, together.
My sense of self, of humanity, disappeared along with the light of day. I became the heart of the mountain, inanimate stone and unyielding pressure. I found myself in all things that ever existed, currently exists, and one day will be forged in the heart of a star. At the same time, I was nothing, abstraction and fleeting thought, forgotten sighs and fading taste. I was the movement of the migrating wildebeest, never stopping. I was the drifting of the icebergs in the northern Atlantic, and the current that moved them. I was the bending of the trees in the old growth forests and the wind that bent them. I was the flowing of magma from the volcanoes in the Pacific, and the rising of the steam from the magma’s touch to water.
I was the cliff face, the glacier, the flowered field, the tree stump slowly being eaten away. I was the corpse on the ocean floor, the bones left whitening in the sun. I was the crystal growing in the deepest of depths, never to be revealed to any man’s eyes. I was the zephyr, flowing over the land as water over the deep. I was a child’s laughter, ephemeral and fleeting. I was the unquenchable rage, destroying from without and within.
And then, a voice spoke to me, in all the things I had became, had become, and had yet to be. “Now, you’re ready. We begin.”
The different pieces of me that had been scattered across space and time were pulled together by his words. My first awareness as my “self” is that I’m dressed in my “magic clothes”, but I am still absent the coat and cane. I feel a covering on me, but my eyes are too stunned by the sudden darkness to see clearly. I shift slightly, and feel the snake still wrapped tight around my right arm. I look at him, in newborn wonder, and well remembered fondness. Then I realize, I’m on my hands and knees. The ground underneath me is worn wood slabs. A hardwood floor, but not of the type found in McMansions. This is an old floor, in an old house, that has seen many generations of feet walking over, and hands scrubbing with rough brushes.
I lift my head, confused to my location. In the distance, as if many rooms were between me and the sound, were the echoes and rumblings of drums and chants. The snake holds tightly to my arm, as I sit back on my knees and look at the floor under me. I see a circle, traced by a white dust. The dust had been applied so often, it is embedded into the wood. I sit in the middle of this circle, which is just large enough to hold me comfortably. There is a star circumscribed within the circle. When I’m not looking at the star, it is a multitude of points, innumerable to count. But when I look directly at the star, it is 6 points, and made of two opposing triangles. I look away from the star, and it explodes into a multitude of points again. At every point the star touches the circle, is a lit white candle. All are about 2 inches in thickness, but of varying heights. It is clear, they have been burning a while. Again, when I’m not looking directly at the star, there are so many candles, the circle is completely covered with them. But when I look at the star, there are six candles, one for each point of the viewable star.
“Your ordeal, it is not complete. Remain there.” The words are spoken softly, but the command is strong. I have no will to defy them. But then again, I have no strength to attempt to leave. I nod in compliance. Then realize, the words are not spoken on the air. The speaker is in the same room with me.
I wait a few moments to regain more strength. The snake still holds my right arm tightly. I look up, towards the source of the speech. It is the priest from the sacred place. The one that welcomed me to the study of Vodou. I see him more clearly now. And I wince at what I know is a shortcoming from my lack of knowledge.
We are in a small room, there are no windows, and a damp smell is settled here. It could be a basement room, with wood planks placed over bare dirt. The man is tall and dark. He is of black descent, but he’s ancestry is mixed enough to give him wavy hair instead of nappy. He is dressed in black boots, and black slacks. A black short sleeve shirt covers him. He wears many bone and bead bracelets on both wrists. Several rings that I can’t quite make out. A shiny, almost metallic belt. But the one feature that makes me cringe, is the face painted with white to appear as a skull. White painted lips with vertical black lines to mimic the skull’s grin. A formal top hat, graced the man’s head. It is a stereotypical image of a Vodou priest, and I am ashamed to know I only see this because I do not know any better.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Oh gods, I’m sorry. I don’t know better, and the way I see you… I’m sorry.” I lower my head and almost weep my apologies.
“What are you sorry about, girl? That this is all you see, or that you are seeing images of Death again?” His voice is mirthful as he teases me. I had not even considered the symbol of the skull, of his deathmask. I stop my sputtering and look up at him again, studying his painted face.
He holds still, sitting back on a table, flanked on either side with many skulls, real and created. Another multitude of candles, some feathers here and there, a scattering bf bones from various creatures. He is very much the appearance of the Voodoo priest that good Christians are warned about. But I am not afraid. Not of him, nor of the images of death he sits among.
“That this is all I see. I truly do not know better, and I am ashamed.” I realize I was holding my face in my hands, and the snake was licking my tears away.
“You only see this, because this is the only thing you know. As you learn more, you’ll see different.” He is not upset, but matter of fact in his speech. He chuckles, and lifts himself off the table. “Besides, how do you know you really don’t see the Truth of Things?”
I did not answer, but did concede his point. I really don’t know.
He moves closer to the circle. Now within arm’s reach, the heat from the candles reflect off of him and warms me. He smiles, almost mockingly because of the facepaint. “By the way, girl. Where is your coat?” The way he asks the question, reveals he knows very damn well where my coat is, and what had happened to it.
I am reminded of the gale blowing the coat away. If this isn’t my coat, then what is covering me? I look over my shoulders to see feathers. Shiny, black, glistening feathers. My face blanches in the realization. In the dancing candle light, I look over the cloak that fits my shoulders precisely. It looks almost identical to Ravenwoman’s cloak. Except where her fabric is brown, mine is black. Raven feathers from the nape of the cloak to about waist level, then unadorned black fabric down to the feet of the cloak. I do not understand how, when, or why I have this cloak. But it feels mine, as much a part of me as is the snake. It feels so much a part of me, at any moment it could turn into black feathered wings.
Now that my eyes are used to the light level, I look around the room in earnest. I bite my tongue and try not to whimper as I realize I am surrounded by various images and iconography of Catholic saints. I know the African diasporic religions use Catholic imagery in a syncretic merging, a way for the slaves to keep the old faiths while hiding the truths from their ignorant owners. But after my painful excursions as a Christian, the imagery triggers deep fears and the anxiety expresses itself in the form of itching skin.
The priest watches me closely. For a while he says nothing as I continue to look around the room. Finally, he chuckles, getting my attention. “The saints, they are watching you. You feel their gaze. But you do not run?” He is implying that I could run if I wanted. Even though he had commanded me to remain within the circle. I swallow my fear several times, feeling like I’m swallowing my tongue in the process. Finally, I am able to speak clearly.
“I admit, Sir, it is uncomfortable to be surrounded by the imagery. But that is a leftover from my fears and abuse. I will not run. I promised I would stay, and stay I will.” My mouth felt so dry. I knew I had broken out in a cold sweat.
He studies my face very intently. “And if I were to ask you to give praises and prayers to the God you rejected?”
I swallow hard, consider my words, and give him what I think is the truth from my heart, and not just what I think he wants to hear. “Then I will itch, and put lotion on my skin later. And speak what I need to speak.” When I finished speaking, the itching stopped.
He cocks his head to the side. So much so, the hat threatens to tip off his head onto the floor. He studies my face a moment more, then smiles and laughs. “Your ordeal, girl. This part is over. The rest will come later.”
He picks up a candle from the circle, holds it carefully in front of me. He looks at the candle, I follow his gaze. He looks up at me. Back to the candle. Back to me. I watch his face, wondering what he’s up to. Without warning, he blows out the candle in my face. All becomes black.
I wake up. The scent from the priest still strong in my nose. As I analyze the scent, I realize I have smelled this before. Bitter and acrid, with hints of dried dirt, peppery ash, roses, and must. This was the scent of the powder that was blown in my face at the sacred place. And the scent that filled my face when my friend was working to gain admission for me to a Vodou group. I added up the clues and realized something very fundamental within had been changed, and my path is taking a drastic and unplanned for turn.
I’m still learning what has changed, and what the ramifications are.
Make of it, what you may.