The Fourth Archive

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Hello Darklings, 

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Thank goodness it is September. Just about every witch we know is tired of summer and is longing for autumn's cool kiss right now. 

September closes our print issue, Issue the Fourth, and opens this newly re-launched digital space -- once called "Digital Journal" -- now named The Archives, because you can read all of the digital archives at once if you like. 

Pour a cuppa, snug a familiar, and sink into THE FOURTH digital issue, which will come out week by week this month here in Freshly Pressed, and will be compiled for posterity in the Archived Issues space. 

We have interviews, rituals, recipes, poetry, short fiction and much more in store for you. And hey, if you like what you see, we read for The Archives on a rolling basis, so send your best stuff along. And if you need a little inspiration, our Pinterest board for THE FOURTH is here or our general board for getting stories started is here

In magic and mayhem,

The Witches of Wyrd & Wyse 

Transformations

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By Allison Carr Waechter

The first time Jupiter followed me into the forest his words were honeyed, his doe-eyes slick with unshed tears. He spilled his love and his fear like rivers of intoxicating blood. As pine needles crunched beneath our feet he talked and talked, and never asked me a single question.

It was hard not to salivate over him showing his true self to me. He is so loved in the village, after all. To be paid so much attention, by such an eligible figure was a powerful feeling. And yet.

Behind the crocodile tears and possessive proclamations of ardor lurked a familiar danger. I could not rest easy while he traced my steps. I could not enjoy my grandmother’s tea, when I knew he waited just outside the door. And so I snuck out, with Grandmother’s help, and made my way through the deep woods, ignoring the path.

My dreams that night were haunted with visions of Jupiter pushing me down stairs, breaking my grandmother’s gold necklace, and shouting me down, down, down a hole of belittled fear and shame. I woke, covered in a cold sweat, under the light of a nearly full moon and heard the call of the snowy white owl from the eaves of my roof.

I climbed out my window and onto the roof. The cosmos swirled above me, sparkling amongst the milky rays of the moon. The owl sat still as stone and I asked her,

“Sister, what will happen if I marry Jupiter?”

She answered in a creaking whisper, “You will die.”

And I knew this to be true, from my guts to my bones. But the wise one had more to say,

“If you reject him and he lives, more will die in your place.”

With that, she flew away. I watched her go further and further from the village, higher and higher in the air, until she was naught but another speck, another star for me to watch. What way was there to stop this from coming to pass? I confess, my mind rested solely on the wise one’s phrasing “if he lives.”

If he lives… the pine needles whispered the next week, and the next, as Jupiter followed me through the woods. The further I strayed from the path, the more violent his words became. The louder he shouted and the more names he called me.

Each day that Jupiter followed me, before we went into the woods, I walked to the well at the center of town. It is a great machine, a work of science and magic working together. I waited for Jupiter as pails of water were drawn up, purified and poured into villagers’ waiting vessels. When he arrived I stood and said loudly, each time, hoping every ear within hearing would catch my message up and hold it close:

“Jupiter, thank you for your attention, but I would like to be alone today. Please allow me to walk to my grandmother’s house alone.”

And every day, he would argue that lovers such as we should walk together on the path. To this I responded,

“We have never been and never shall be lovers, friends or partners. Please leave me be.”

But he did not, and though I saw heads turn and eyes narrow as they watched Jupiter follow me, none ever stopped him. None ever joined me in saying that Jupiter should perhaps stay home, and leave me be in the woods.

Nearly seven months after being followed everywhere I went, Jupiter began to send letters to anyone I spoke to, letting them know that they were infringing upon his “territory.” She is mine, the letters said, even when those were not the words he used.

Eight months later, Jupiter moved into the house across the street from my own so he could watch my comings and goings more easily. I don’t know how he managed to find someplace else for Sister Marigold to reside, but one day she was there, milking her spotted goats in the yard and the next, he was there, brushing his unhappy horse.

If he lives… sang the stream.

If he lives… called the mourning doves to one another.

If he lives… whispered the wind through the pine boughs.

One day, Jupiter caught me by the arm in the forest and shook me. “Why do you say no so often, when we all know that you mean yes?” he hissed. “Why do you resist what you know you truly desire?”

“What do you know of my desire?” I screamed. “When have you ever once asked me a single thing about what I want?”

For one moment, I thought he would let me go. But he pushed me down instead and called me filthy names. I waited for the blow. I waited for him to kill me, but he did not. Instead, he walked away, shouting.

My heart beat fast and I was, in that moment, every tiny prey animal I have ever killed in the forest. My body flooded with energy to run, but I felt my teeth sharpen and my heels dug into the ground. My fingers lengthened into sharp claws and my body hunched and bones broke as I shifted into something else. Something dark, and sleek, and magnificent.

On four paws, I ran through the woods and felt my heart beat quickly, but steadily. My sense of smell grew sharper and my vision clearer. My ears, so much larger, picked up a noise I’d never heard, and that can only be described as celestial song.

For when I found its source, I knew it to be so. The gaping mouth of the forest was open in a grove of sacred trees-- and in it I saw the whole of the universe, dancing there to the beat of a distant drum and I bowed to its grace. The bowing trees danced in time and I knew this to be the forgotten place of my people, of my sisters, of the witches of old.

This was the place of the storykeepers, the truth tellers, the ones we villagers so foolishly relegate to the place beyond the village, to the place at the end of the path. Here in the dim light of twilight I saw the truth of the trees we cut to make our straight road and the angry darkness we sense within the woods:

We must be made whole once more, and this work would be done by those of us who are not the light of the village. Instead it would be done by the spat upon, the pushed down, the ones with the least. I would make an army.

We would do the work, and we would call the others to us, knowing they are unlikely to heed our warnings. The ones who would not would meet a different end -- a different kind of transformation, but a transformation all the same.

This work would not be for the Jupiters of this world, who so long betrayed it. They must be swallowed, digested, shat out and made to fertilize the earth, so they might grow anew. And my army would be the vessels that filter them out and start them again.

That night the moon was dark and I went to thirteen doors in the village. Each knock was answered, and they drank from my veins and shifted too into wolves and we ran through the forest to the sacred groves and there we drank from the waterfall that fell from the mouth of the universe and were given a triple life, as human, as witch, as wolf; and in the place where all three meet, there is the power to divine a new world.

Our eyes glittered with new power and knowledge, but sacrifices would be made. We shifted into our human bodies and joined hands.

Who will be consumed?  I asked.

All who will not join us. They answered in unison.

The universe sang its blessing and asked for a gift to seal our bargain and make this world whole once more. The heart of the poisoned, it crooned. All eyes turned to me and I heard the wise-one’s words once more.

I nodded once and we walked back to the village in silence, though Tamyr took my hand before they went into their home and said, “Good luck, Ruby.” I nodded to them once, they squeezed my hand and I was alone once more.

The next day dawned cold and bright. I slipped out of my home when I saw a village elder knocking on Jupiter’s door. Even he wouldn’t dare scorn an elder’s call. I made my way through the forest to Grandmother’s house. When I arrived, she was sitting on her front porch, brandishing a knife, a beautiful knife. She smiled a wolfish smile when she saw me coming up the path and said,

“You’ve come for this, dear one. And tonight you fly, if you give the forest what it needs.”

I took the knife and ran.

It wasn’t hard to find Jupiter. He was shouting my name. Shouting obscenities. Shouting for justice, he said.

My hand did not falter.

The cut was quick.

He fell with a gurgle.

And I gave him to the gaping maw, which did not spit him out to fertilize the soil and grow, but kept him in and shone brighter than I’d ever seen. Time had no meaning and darkness fell while I watched the forest consume Jupiter, and when it was done I could fly.

Allison Carr Waechter is over sea and under stones, behind the barrow, counting the bones. Send tea. She is the Editrix of this magazine and you can find the rest of the Tales of Wolf Hollow by clicking the tag at the top of the story. 

No more. No more. 

H.K. Jedrzynski is a bi-sexual cis yarn witch who tries to write LGBTQ Urban Fantasy and lives with her girlfriend and her boyfriend in Las Vegas, NV. Together they have three children, three cats, and a dog.

Fury and wine pulse through veins so long unused that the traces under the skin had all but disappeared. Words like "Fuck" and "Off" screaming through red streams, igniting the soul.

The body, once dead, now moving of its own volition, the flames burning away the past, cauterizing the gaping wounds of heartache and torment.

Ashes, the remains of tattered emotional scars, rise from the heated skin, swirling, creating a dark cloud of Self Preservation.

Accusations of selfishness and declarations of eternal adoration, cajoling, stabbing, meant to hit insecurities with lasting, detrimental impact, are repelled by ash and flame, and alcohol.

No more will abuse control the body like it was animating a corpse.

No more will the Master of Cruelty have a foothold in this sacred vessel.

I am stirring, burning, sacred, and finally unapologetic for refusing to be used by the weight of criticism and derision and pain dressed as love.

Stumbling out of the dark and into polyamory (non fiction) (Transition) (Names have been changed by the request of the persons discussed)

A few months ago I was talking with my spouses about our worst memories, and I fell into my past, becoming horribly depressed trying to decide which was my worst memory. I’ve lived lifetimes of misery - first with my parents and then my ex husband, all of which were abusive. My brain provided a montage of horrific memory after horrific memory and I started to drown in them.

In an effort to find a life vest, I started of list of happy moments to fight my worst memories and spent time dwelling on the brightest spots - my counterspells, my torches in the dark.

Memories of holding my babies while they slept, of hearing their first words, watching them become independent little monsters. That day I had terrible bug bites all over my calves and stuck my leg on my boyfriends lap and told him to scratch for me. And he did, carefully around the bites in order to not make them worse. When I was sad about my kids having gone to their father’s and my girlfriend knocked on my door and asked to come in. I was laying across my bed and she asked if I always laid funny and I told her I do what I want. And then she asked if she could join me and my heart leapt. We laid there, with my head on her shoulder, talking about...US. Something that hadn’t existed until that moment. We spoke it into existence. The way it feels when my boyfriend kisses his wife goodbye, and then me too.

But the memory that burns brightest, that lets me summon my patronus to fight the dementors of post traumatic stress disorder, the counterspell that I have used the longest is this:

We had a girl’s weekend we had titled Sappho Extravaganza. The four of us had not spent time together, just us, ever. I was in the process of leaving my abusive ex and had never spent a night away from my children before. Only Luz and I had children and were married, she left her child and spouse at home too.

Reva had met Luz online years before and introduced her to Deirdre. Eventually Luz moved to Las Vegas and the three set up house - as friends. I met Deirdre at school - we took a Goddess Traditions class together at the community college and became family quickly. She introduced me to the other two. That was twelve years ago. Luz and I had slowly been getting closer over the last few years and I had developed one mad crush on her.

So when we checked into the two bedroom suite in June, I was excited and nervous. We got all of our things into the room. Luz and I walked to the market in the hotel lobby for smokes - we weren’t really smokers, but it seemed like something we would want considering the amount of alcohol we had brought. Walking next to her in the heat, the fragrance of the jasmine floating around us, chatting about nothing and about to begin a three day adventure was pure magic. It felt good. Felt right.

We got back and everyone had dinner - Deirdre made steaks and they were so good. We watched a movie, listened to EDM while coloring with markers and colored pencils. We talked about our First Times and Deirdre took a shower then walked around naked, looking like a goddess - soft and lovely.

We poured drinks and then drank them. Luz and I went out on the balcony to smoke. Buzzed and giggling, we held hands across the patio table, not looking at each other, the energy building between us. And then Reva came outside and we let go.

We had a fantastic time, children at a slumber party with no adults and a plethora of beer. I ended up giving all three of them back massages just to have and excuse to touch Luz some more. At 4 am, everyone started to crash. Reva to one of the bedrooms, Deirdre to a couch in another part of the suite. Luz and I stayed up on the other couch, now pulled out into a really uncomfortable bed, talking, inches from each other. And then she passed out too.

I stayed there, laying across the pull out bed, head level with Luzs thighs and staring out of the glass doors, past the patio, to the twinkling lights of the city below. I layed there, staring as the sun started to rise and the world was awash in grey light.

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It is the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: the sun slowly emerging over the curve of her hip, her black pants and studded belt hugging her curves exquisitely. Luz was glorious. Beyond her, the scroll work of the balcony and the light coming in over the mountains gave the impression of a black and white photo. I wanted that moment to last forever, to lie there and feast upon the beauty of the moment. I tried to take a photo with my mind. I felt more at peace than I had in years.

When the weekend ended, we went back to our lives. My ex husband spent three hours yelling at me for having actually gone on the girls weekend, telling me I was selfish and had abandoned my family for people who didn’t love me. I called Luz, crying. I held the memory of that sunrise in my heart. I existed through the next three weeks.

And then I moved in with Luz and her husband and their son. I brought a dog to a house of cats. I brought two more children to into the life of an only child. But they made room for us, in their lives, their home, and their hearts.

They knew how I felt for Luz before I moved in. There were no secrets. And eight months later, the three of us adults are in a relationship together. I’m more in love with Luz than ever before. I love her husband too. We work. We function. We are raising our babies together and the dog still chases the cats, and life is hectic and messy and deeply content.

And on bad days - days when the PTSD is haunting me and I feel like I’m shattering into a thousand pieces- that memory of the sun coming up over her hip and the smell of jasmine counters the trauma, fights it, beats it back into the corner of my mind where the abuse and cruelty belong.

The Light of Grief

Jessica is a psychic witchy mama, metalhead messy artist, tea drinkin’ moon worshiper and asskicking widow. She recently moved from Missouri to Oregon with her four year old little goddess. She has found joy and happiness in the next season of her life by surrounding herself with love and making the journey into the darkness when it calls her name. Find Jessica on Instagram and her Etsy shop

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I have defined grief many ways this year.

“A deep hole of darkness.  A dangerous climb to the top.  A journey with many winding turns.”

I heard him scream my name for help. I ran. I ran faster than I ever have had to in my life.  I was forced to look Death in the eye and made to feel powerless as I heard my husband take his last breathe.  I collapsed from exhaustion from trying to beat life back into his heart on our living room floor. My sister continuing the work as I saw his soul leave his body.  I may have screamed but the descent into darkness was deafening already.

I allowed them to work on his body for an hour even though I knew he wasn’t there. I knew where he was. Watching over our daughter as she slept through it all. The flashing lights, the voices of a dozen people. My screams and cries to the Goddess to give him back to us.

I waited for them to tell me he was gone.  Fears flooded my body as I snapped back into this realm. I whispered to my sister, “Don’t let me become like them.” I didn’t want to be swallowed by my grief and pain like I had witnessed my parents do after the loss of our infant sister years before.

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I stayed awake for three days.  I was the only one left to protect our daughter.  I felt the tugs of others wanting to take control.  I stayed aware of my surroundings and refused any offers to ignore the pain.  I saw the journey ahead if I gave in just a little. I would not allow that to happen.

I took ahold of the power and love I held within.  The power my ancestors before me were robbed of by grief and pain.  The love my husband gave me every day for nine and a half years.  The love we shared when we created our beautiful daughter.

I drew it all into my heart and began to fill the cracks of my heart and soul.  I used my power to stand tall through the plans and decisions. I found my voice for the first time in my life. I said, “NO!” to those wanting to take away my newly acquired power.

I held my head up high as I carried my daughter down the aisle behind my husband’s casket.  As I pushed my way forward I recalled the last time I had walked down the aisle, my soon-to-be-husband ahead of me smiling. Tears poured out of my eyes as my daughter came to realize her Daddy was gone. I heard the gasps and sobbing of three hundred people behind me. As the church listened to the service, I tightened my hold on our daughter. Then I stood and muttered my own prayers to the Goddess. I thanked her for giving me the greatest love I had ever known. I thanked her for allowing me to share part of my life with a generous man and father. I thanked her for the blessing of Life and Love and Joy.

Through it all my light never went out.  It sputtered and threatened to be extinguished by my tears and cries of anguish.  Countless times I screamed at the shadows, “No. You cannot have me!”  I spent hours immobile on the bathroom floor. My body was in a state of withdrawal. Love is a drug that can be taken away without notice.

I fucking refused to be swallowed by the darkness.  I tore my way through the sharp, thorny words and actions of others.  I stood bleeding and bare to myself and my inner circle. I wrapped myself in the comfort of my loved ones and asked for what I needed without shame or hesitation.

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I packed up my home of ten years and moved from the Midwest to the Northwest. I did so without obligation to explain myself to others. I did so because I saw that my life was my own. I did so because I fucking can and will do what brings myself and daughter joy.

I am healing the part of me left broken and tormented in the darkest abyss I have ever known.

I am peeling away the layers of sadness, loneliness, doubt, pain, heartache, shame, regrets and hatred.

I stand now in my true form.

Woman. Mother. Witch. Lover. Warrior. Goddess.

I stand amongst those who have come before. Athena. Isis. Inanna. Freya. Gaia. Durga. Mother.

I am She and She is me.

I give thanks and praises to those who have surrounded me with unconditional love.

Those who SEE me as I am.

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All art in this post is copyright 2017 Jessica Werner. Do not reuse without express written permission from Jessica herself. Violators will be hexed. 

Conserve and Control

 Spec Fic for the Revolution

This interview originally appeared in Issue the Second's print edition, but we feel so strongly about supporting Otter's work that we wanted to post about it here on the blog as well, so all our followers can enjoy! And please, go buy both of Otter's amazing books now! 

For Issue the Second we wanted to start a new tradition of interviewing authors who are busting their butts in the indie world. We’re interviewing Otter Lieffe, author of Margins and Murmurations and Conserve and Control. Both out now and available for purchase via her website

Otter Lieffe, author of Conserve and Control and Margins and Murmurations 

Otter Lieffe, author of Conserve and Control and Margins and Murmurations 

Otter is a working class, femme, trans woman in and out of Brussels and Berlin. She has been involved in grassroots activism for nearly  two decades, in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and North America. At various times Otter has found herself involved in queer community organising, land reclamation and language teaching in migrant worker communities. She speaks between 3 and 5 languages and rarely sits still long enough to watch the seasons change.

Wyrd & Wyse: So the very first question our readers nearly always want answered is: Do you consider yourself a witch (or witchy)?  

Otter Lieffe: Let’s say that in my rare moments of rest I love to be outside, connecting. And when I don’t have time for that, I stare out of the window to watch my friends flitting from tree to tree. My writing is made out of those shared moments.

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Brussels is basically a concrete slab with very few green areas which haven’t already been turned into café terraces for the European Institutions or some hideous new construction project. But even here, in one of the most industrialised parts of the planet, nature peeks through. There are peregrines who fly over our roof hunting pigeons. There are polyandrous dunnocks who sing in the last elder trees behind our house. They are probably witches.

I write characters who are involved in connection work because I also write about activism, politics and social change. When those things are separated from our landbase—from the wider community around us—I feel we quickly lose direction. This part of me, the side that yearns to be surrounded by non-humans, is also the force that demands I dedicate my life to protecting them.

W & W: Most writers are ardent readers. What have you been reading lately that you’d recommend?

O.L.: Right now, I’m deep in redrafting so the only thing I’m reading are my own words over and over. Living and breathing my work is a strange kind of tunnel vision and it feels wonderful to get out under the sky sometimes to put it all back into context.

I did manage to fit in Lagoon (by Nnedi Okorafor) recently which was entirely magic with just the right amount of sea monsters.

W & W: Ooh, Lagoon is on my TBR! I love Okorafor’s work. Glad to have yet another glowing recommendation for it.

I am so excited to have just gotten my hands on Margins and Murmurations this week! It’s everything I dream of in terms of speculative fiction, so I’m really looking forward to digging into it. What are some of your favorite parts about writing in this genre?

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O.L.: Thank you! I never planned to write a book—much less fiction, much less speculative fiction—but sometimes life takes us in unexpected directions. As Margins was growing and getting ready for the world, I went through a few realisations. One of the most important was that speculative fiction has this incredible power. It gives us a certain freedom to play with elements of our world and see what happens. It allows us to imagine changes in power structures, for example, and how we might respond as a community. It allows us to create characters who inspire us to keep fighting. There’s a reason that speculative fiction has this long feminist and queer history and I feel really proud to be a part of that.  

W & W: Spec fic really does have an incredible power to change the world, and the way we think about how social change may play out -- and it’s certainly having a “moment” right now in popular culture. What spec fic has inspired you in the past?

O.L: The classics I guess. Ursula le Guin, Octavia Butler. I wish I’d had more access to it as a kid instead of all the mainstream science fiction about men flying spaceships and shooting each other.  

W & W: I know you’re finishing your second book. What should Margins and Murmurations fans expect? Is this a sequel?

O.L.: I won’t give too much away but Conserve and Control is a companion to the first novel. Time-travel makes things like ‘sequel’ a little complicated, but fans will definitely find some continuity. It also stands on its own as a novel entwining such complex subjects as queerness and class, the Conservation Industry and financial domination. Let’s say it’s pretty unique.

As with Margins, it has been wonderfully fulfilling for me to give visibility to some of the life experiences that rarely make it out into the world. There are working-class trans women, a central non-binary character, ecologists, healers and sex workers. I love them all dearly.

W & W: One of the reasons I was so drawn to your work and your writing is that you are doing the thing that I think so many of us want: giving voice and visibility to characters that are often left out of popular sci-fi and fantasy genres -- though I think we’re seeing better and better representation, as readers demand better and indie publishing gains traction. Speaking of, you are pretty successfully navigating the indie publishing world. What advice would you give budding writers who are thinking about alternative publishing formats?

O.L.: Be prepared to work incredibly hard. I’ve been working seven-day weeks for two years and almost never take a day off.

But I also think it depends who you are and what you write about. My gender and class mean that what I write has a unique voice but it also creates challenges to getting a book distributed. And I still barely make rent.

As a friend once said, ‘If you want to be successful you should probably stop writing about traumatised elderly trans women and radical sex workers.’ Truer words were never spoken. But I think that ‘writing from the margins’ has made the journey so much more worthwhile and has led to all these new projects and connections that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. In a way, precarity is at the heart of this project and self-publishing has been a big part of that. That said, I wouldn’t say no to a publishing contract and a holiday.

W & W: No kidding! It’s so much work, but it looks like people are responding really well -- and I know you’ve been traveling a lot, promoting the book. How has being on tour been for you?

O.L.: Life changing. I’ve already been on tour twice since last June and I have another three-continent tour coming up for the second book. I was terrified at first of public speaking or reading but somehow I really enjoy being in the limelight. My first stop was on a theatre stage in Marseilles reading to 150 sex workers so I really went in the deep end! After that, nothing has ever been so intimidating.

I love holding space for people to listen, think and chat about these big subjects. It’s a huge honour and I can’t wait to be doing it again.

W & W: You write prolifically on a number of subjects and genres on your blog, but I have to say the one I am most enamored with is your series on Queer Ecology. What inspired you to write about animals this way?

O.L.: I actually studied ecology many lives ago. I suffered a lot from the conservative teaching and the unspoken assumptions of the scientific method but I did learn how to process research data.

Biology is profoundly focused on cis-hetero relationships. As a queer human spending lots of time connecting with other species, I felt pretty sure that the world was a bit more interesting than that.

There’s this nature documentary narrative that shows straight male animals controlling straight female animals. If they don’t get eaten, they get to fuck and make little baby animals. And that’s the meaning of life. Very little of that resonated with my experience on this planet or the rich diversity I see around me. I got to researching and was very relieved to see it was all a lie.

W & W: I love that you went ahead and pushed through that narrative, because Queer Ecology is educational, fun and so utterly charming. Thanks so much for talking with me today. Before you go… In a war between zombies and unicorns, who wins?

O.L.: The elderly time-travelling trans women of course.

W&W: Of course. That makes perfect sense.

 

Wolf Coven

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By Allison Carr Waechter

In the days after, there has been much debate about whether the knife first belonged to her mother or her father. Some say it was her father’s knife. Some reason that as her father left before she could remember his face that the knife belonged to her mother. People miss the subtleties of the tale. For should it matter whose knife it was to start with? Perhaps yes, perhaps no, you must sit at my hearth long enough to find out. Come out of the dark night and sit by my fire.

It belonged to her when she sliced his chest open. It belonged to her when she watched his blood pool and freeze in the freshly fallen snow. It belonged to her as she cleaned it with his scarf so his blood would not touch her. It belonged to her as she walked off the path, and deep into the forest.

It is a matter of perception to say if this is where the story ends, or where it begins. It depends on who tells the story, and why they tell it. That is always the way with tales like these. They change shape and size, depending on the teller.

Men tell the story to remind you she is out there with her sisters, and our enemies the wolves, in the woods. They tell you to remind you they violate our laws in their monthly rides to gather the souls of the damned. Threats linger in their versions of the tale. Threats to their ways of understanding themselves. Threats to their ways of understanding their women. Their understanding of the story hinges on the origin of the knife, on their fear of the vengeful blade, on the sting of betrayal that women could choose wolves over men.

Women (of all kinds), and children (of all kinds), and “men of a different sort” (as the villagers say), tell a different kind of tale. Their stories sometimes hinge on the knife as well, as an instrument of justice, but more often they will tell you how she came to use the knife and the ways in which the alliance in the forest sparks flickers of hope. For the people who tell this version of the tale are seekers of hope, the ones with their eyes open wide in the murky dark of the world. The ones who venture off the narrow path from time to time, to see if solace lies beyond its purchase.

There is another muddy middle where truth matters little and the salacious nature of the killing governs the tale. This way of telling grows more popular every day-- the version that hones in on the sharpness of the knife, the surgical precision of her cuts, and the question of her sanity. This version bleeds into the other ways the tale is told and it keeps us from understanding the story whole, as it may be known.

Still, you came here for my version of the tale, my truth, and to me the story begins before she was born, before we all were born. You might think my truth dissolves our collective responsibility for how things have turned out. That is why you’ve come to me, isn’t it? Because you would like me to tell you that you are not responsible for the women in the woods bearing knives, accompanied by wolves who gnash their teeth and sharpen their claws on the bones of the wicked.

You would like me to tell you this is not your fault and that you may go back to your cottages in the vale and light your cozy fires, safe in the knowledge they are not coming for you. I cannot say this to you. I cannot reassure you or make you safe again. They are coming for us all eventually, as you will see soon enough, and you were never safe to begin with. That is a lie you tell yourself in the deep of the night when you hear the scratches of claws and howls of the wolf outside your door.

Long before the women you call Red Riders were born, this was a land in turmoil. This you know, of course, but I must tell the tale my own way. I believe that is part of the reason you’ve come to my door, after so long ignoring my kind. We remember the old webs of knowing. We see the filaments that string between us. We know the ways of the ties that bind -- and how to break them. You lost that ability, but deep inside you a longing to see and know again wakes, but it is tempered by the desire to distinguish between good and evil. You shall not remain sightless for long, dear ones. This I promise you. My tale will help you see.

For years upon years, we fought on our chosen sides to quell the never-ending conflicts between us, each side believing it knew best about how to live our lives on this land. Each side knowing the definition of good better than the other, each side knowing better how the forest might beckon or the wolves might circle. But the sides split into more sides, turning on each other, until none were friend and none were foe. We drifted so far from the old ways, building fences and cobbling stones when we should have been growing food and making medicine. Forging paths through the forest, when we’d have been better leaving things there well enough alone.

Everything does not belong to us, no matter what our leaders say. Things that should remain sacred live in those woods. Things that should not have been injured when we sliced our path through. When we began to cut the path, the trees were a sacred copse, but were no more than a few dozen tall pines-- separated from the larger forest that has always surrounded us, but now threatens to swallow us whole. Those trees were our own hallowed grove, to cherish and to tend to, not to rip asunder.

Yet, we craved order more than justice eventually and chose accordingly. We believed most in our narrow minds and forgot to see the bigger world. We believed in our winnowing, our constricting, our rules and our precise navigation through the woods. Our lives became smaller and smaller, we created a council of those with the most among us, believing that having more meant knowing more. We forgot the world beyond. We forgot the sea and the mountain. We forgot the ways of belonging.

We shunned the wisdom that our grandmothers taught -- that we the people, the trees, the wolves are a system, a cycle, a loop. And so we chose to cut a path through our sacred hollow to make travel between one half of the village and the other more comfortable. We did not anticipate that the trees would multiply in defiance. Some do not see the connection between the smallness of our minds and the multiplying trees, but this connection is the only way to understand what is happening now. The trees resisted our urge to make them smaller, as we should have resisted the urge to make ourselves so.

This growing smaller, even as we grew in numbers and strength, and the reaction of the trees, is the true story of how the Red Riders came to be, and how their leader came to wield the knife that cut the winds loose that thrash at us, even as I speak. You look incredulous, but you hear it outside the door, do you not? You say these are unrelated stories, but there are no unrelated stories. This you must try to understand. There is a danger we have forgotten in believing one story is more special than another.

But you are itching to hear about the Riders and care little for the philosophizing of trees. Very well, stoke the fire. My old bones sing at its roar and crackle. I shall give you what you came for, though I cannot tell if you will like the result. As it was with Ruby, I care little for what you care for, but you know this already. That knowledge is in the trembling thrill shivering over your skin, yes?

We will address your tender skin soon enough, dear ones. First, the story you crave.

The man called Jupiter was a son of those you call society’s best. As such, from the time he was a child, his words were respected, regardless of their truth. His actions were praised and honored, regardless of their morality. His hard work was elevated, regardless of the fact that his success was compounded by the position of his father, his uncles, his brothers and his grandfathers.

And so he became accustomed to being loved and admired for his skills as a hunter; they proved he was a man of worth. When the girl called Ruby caught his eye for a wife it did not cross his mind that she might have other plans, or desires. It did not occur to him that she had existed, whole as the moon, before his eyes caressed her body. Before his notice made her real.

He was taken by surprise when she did not return his affection. He was wounded, true, but a deer craves the chase, does she not? And he, the hunter, always hits his mark. The depth of his reaction was cut deeper by the fact that he believed himself a good man, as does our village. Even now, when some tell this tale, they call him good.

Ruby cared little for his goodness or his accomplishments. You asked for a truth, and so I’ll tell you: Ruby thought little either ill or otherwise about Jupiter before he came courting. In fact, she had other concerns pressing on her heart. Concerns that made Jupiter’s wishes seem small to her, and not at all related to her purpose. In my view, her indifference was the first slash into him, before she ever laid eyes on the knife or ventured off the forest path.

We have all seen Ruby on the hill on the nights of the dark moon. We have seen her face alight with the sparkle of the cosmos. Each of us knows the whispers of strangeness stuck to her because of her unconventional resting place, her unusual attachment to the stars swirling overhead. Each of us knows that in our village, being strange is not the same as being virtuous, no matter how innocent your strangeness may be. Some insisted it wasn’t proper for her to walk and sit alone in the depths of the night. Who could know what might find her there on the hill and whisper and whisper into her open ears? Who could know what she might do with murmurs of the wind?

Conversely, there were those who couldn’t imagine the sin in watching the stars. After all, she was only a girl, dreaming alone on a hillside. With nothing but her strangeness to make her special, what real harm could she do? And whispers on the wind are figments of overactive imaginations and we villagers pride ourselves in knowing what is real and what is true.

Perhaps it was this strangeness that attracted Jupiter. Perhaps it was the light shining on her face that made her seem special, but even from my perspective, Ruby was not so unusual in looking to the stars for wisdom or listening to the wind, it was only her choice of seats. Many women in this village sit on their own rooftops at night to do the same, but few think to look for them there. You’ve guessed by now that those women on rooftops have become Riders, so perhaps if given the chance, you might look harder for them.

Of what happens next, we are all in agreement, because most of us saw it happen over weeks and months. We are a small village, regardless of the growing swath of shivering pines between us. Jupiter courted with bushels of flowers from the hothouse, with gifts of gold and sparkling gems taken long ago from the mine on the mountain. He came with promises of a large house on her favorite hill, and many strong children who would bear his name. Each gesture was met with a firm refusal, and a decided lack of interest.

At first we saw Ruby respond with kindness, despite her disinterest in Jupiter’s dreams. And why shouldn’t she? A good man asked for her hand and she should treat him with respect. This is where the tales told of Jupiter, Ruby, and the Red Riders diverge. You have heard Ruby grew mean and ungrateful and as Jupiter’s gestures of affection grew grander, she grew bitter and she was frigid in her rejection. You have also heard the other side, that Ruby felt trapped and afraid. That perhaps the action of her simple words falling on ears that refused to hear scared her.

I say it is somewhere in between. I say Ruby’s initial kindness and respect for Jupiter’s affection was nothing more than what was once common decency and civility, though others will say that had she been clearer about her feelings to begin with he would not have felt encouraged. I say there is rarely encouragement in plain refusal, no matter how it is delivered, but I know I am in the minority. I say that as time went on and Jupiter’s advances became more public, more ardent and yes, more aggressive, that Ruby saw another way might be necessary to make Jupiter understand. She began to see Jupiter as more than a suitor to reject, but a means to a particular end. She saw how Jupiter might indeed be the answer to her dearest dreams.

I say also that as time went on and Jupiter felt spurred on less by love and more by the desire to win Ruby’s heart, that Ruby became angry. We watched him follow her on her trips into the woods and we did little to stop him from doing so, for he was a good man, and what harm would it do for him to accompany her through the now-vast sea of trees dividing our town? She only travelled to see outcasts like myself, after all. Nothing so important that she could not be bothered by chattering bids for her love and attention, or so it is said.

Some even say his presence kept the wolves at bay, and if she had only accepted him the Riders would not threaten us now. They say if she and he had only walked the path together forevermore, that we would not be divided now in our disagreements about how the story should be told. As though agreement is the simple answer to our problems. Agreement is never simple, dear ones, that we should know better by now.

Ruby traveled often between your side of the village and my own, between her mother’s house and my own. Her mother was of the opinion that she should stay upon the path for safety, but I knew she would find succor in the woods, should she need it. And we know now she was not wrong, though you know littler of this than you think. I will tell you in good time, my dears. Fear less, fear not. We are closer now to what you deserve to know.

Whether you believe she was right in rejecting Jupiter or not, you would be cruel not to acknowledge that during this time, Jupiter became less and less like himself. I argue that perhaps he became more and more like himself, but I have heard it said most the other way ‘round. I say this to remind you that no matter which way you look at it, Jupiter’s affections turned sour. On this we agree. The more Ruby said no near the end, the more enraged he became.

On both sides of the woods we heard him shouting at her. On both sides we heard him disparage her character to whomever would listen. Some of you even heard him threaten to make her pay for her rejection, though I notice you admit it less now that the Riders go abroad. Perhaps you should reconsider your strategy, given their targets thus far. But I am an old woman, and you will reject my advice, as you have many times before.

Ruby’s sensitive ears, so attuned to the secrets of hill and hollow, caught wind of those threats. She felt them acutely when he followed her to the forest that day. When he made known to her his intent to take her as his wife in whatever way he saw fit, she did not hesitate. She pulled the knife from her basket and cut him down.

You know she cut his heart out, because he no longer had it in him it when they found him, but you do not know why. That part of the tale has yet to be told by any in the village, but let us be honest, this side is no longer the village. We have been apart too long, you on your side and we who are not like you on this.

Here is the truth this side of the village knows well: The knife was not her father’s nor her mother’s, by any definition of possession. The knife was my own, the blade forged by the hand of my mate on the darkest night of the year. The handle I carved myself from the sacred pine at the center of the forest, freely given when I asked. The two parts of the knife made one by the balance of intention between myself and the man I called husband.

Yes, you have heard tales of him too. A good man himself, back when the word good had a different meaning. He defended the wood from the path and was cut down with the trees for his efforts. Ah yes, avert your eyes. That part embarrasses you to remember. You didn’t come here to for me to spin yarns about those few brave protectors of the trees. You want the gruesome story of the forest and the menace of wolves. You want to know what Ruby wanted with Jupiter’s heart.

It is as I have told you, Ruby cared little for Jupiter himself, one way or another. He was a means to an end, an end that is also a beginning. Now comes the part you are dying to hear, but that is still not the part you should want to know most, dear ones, but we will get there soon. We will.

Ruby cut the heart from Jupiter’s chest to give to the forest. Your stories of witches doing such things holds truth. This is why you feared coming here, yes? Much as you want my wisdom and truth, you fear what might happen to your heart if you enter the house of a witch.

Ruby is my grandchild. Though her mother, with all her love for the path, is a disappointment to me, Ruby is not. She took my knife when I passed it on to her and cut out the poisoned heart of a good man, if you still wish to call him that, as an offering to the forest. As proof that she will do what needs to be done to make things right. As fuel for its greater purpose. Sometimes violent acts precede the greatest good.

She stepped off the path, with his still-beating heart in her hands. She walked deeper into the forest, until she reached a dark place, a hollow. The place where all the whispers come from. This is not a secret place, you only have to want to find it, but so few of you thirst for true wisdom.

The light from the sunny sky above was gone in this shade of the trees. Indeed, all daylight disappeared from the world, sucked into a whirlpool of glittering darkness. It would seem a gaping maw to your eyes, dear ones. But Ruby saw something in it. She saw the swirling cosmos, familiar to her after those nights listening and watching on the hill. Trusting the way her heart beat in time to the dance of the stars, she tossed the heart into the mouth of the forest.

The forest ate it and was pleased. It asked her what she wanted and she whispered: “To be whole again.” I see you nod to each other, and your smug smirks of knowing. You imagine this is the part of the story where the forest negotiated an alliance between wolves and bad women. That Ruby sold her soul and Jupiter’s heart for the joy of betraying you. You imagine this is where Ruby recruited those that ride with her each month on the night of the dark moon.

You are right and you are wrong. The forest did gift Ruby with something special, but it was not an alliance with wolves. You see, the wolves are not the Riders’ allies, dear ones, the Riders are the wolves. What you see when you glimpse them is their double nature, their ability to be both wolf and woman at once. Because you have given into the winnowing of your mind into something narrow and small, your sightless eyes see a pack of wolves, ridden by a coven of wronged women. Women you believe intent on wreaking havoc on this good village for the bitter glee of revenge against those who’ve wronged them.  

You believe the gift the forest gave to Ruby was a deadly alliance between your enemy the wolf and your enemy the woman who will not be silent in her acceptance of your truths. The truth, dear ones, is Ruby could always turn into a wolf, as any witch can. And any woman can be a witch if she so chooses. All women are witches; all women are wolves: it is only choice that keeps them from these wild truths. You see now, you have never been safe, so it is impossible be safe again.

The gift the forest gave Ruby and her wolf coven was a transformation of another kind. Instead of teeth that craved flesh for food, they grew teeth that craved flesh for fuel. Eating villagers is not revenge, but rescue. When the Riders feast upon villagers, they take the poison in and digest it. It slides through viscera; the poison breaks down and filters out. The villagers are remade. So it must be.  

You tremble. Are you afraid? I would not lead you astray, my dears. You walked the straight path to my door and heard my truths and now you shall be rewarded. It is time to be eaten and digested, translated into something old as the forest itself. It is time to make a return to the soil that grows the trees. This is the truth of Wolf Hollow: A woman, a witch, a wolf, chose to be whole and chose for you to be whole as well.

Now you are well and truly frightened. You knew the Riders took lives, it’s why you call them “Red” -- their jaws smeared with the blood of their victims. But dear ones, they are not victims, they are simply the first to be consumed. How they are destroyed remains to be seen, does it not? How will you know how you might change until you are re-integrated, re-translated, re-formed?

Don’t go yet, dear ones.

Stop clamoring for the door; you will find it locked.

The forest wants us back dear ones, and the only way to get there is through the jaws of a wolf. Every coven has its elders, and we are not above dirtying our claws. Be still now while I work. I would rather not chase you, but I will.

Yes, dear ones, my ears are large. The better to hear you cry in the night. The better to hear your stories and your wicked words, your struggles and your pain.

Yes, dear ones, my eyes reflect the maw of the hollow, the better to see your good, as well as your evil. The better to see your kindness and your cruelty alike.

And yes, dear ones, my voice is a mournful howl now, the better to drown out your explanations, and call my coven home. You may raise your howl to mine if you like; it might hurt less if you do.

Oh yes, dear ones, my wizened fingers sharpen now into claws. The better to tear this world apart and sew it back together again when I am woman once more. For I will always be woman and wolf and witch. The mother and midwife, the teeth and claws of justice, the alchemist of truth. The world must have me all ways.

Turn round, dear ones, I’ve told you the door is locked.

My teeth have grown large and sharp, my jaw wide and open, my throat slick with sweet saliva; the better to eat you with. You may climb in if you wish, but if you do not I will swallow you all the same. The time for running and begging has passed.

You wanted truth and so I have given it. All stories have their price and this one requires you surrender your life, your beliefs, and your comforts, all of which were destroyed when you stood at my door and knocked.

I opened then and you came through, as you must now while I close the cage of my teeth around you and gulp you down. Into the dark you shall go, dear ones, as must we all.

Who will you be on the other side?

Allison Carr Waechter is over sea and under stones, behind the barrow, counting the bones. Send tea. 

Going Under: A Podcast Recommendation

Allison Carr Waechter is a witchy woman living in the bold North, with a naughty red lynx-cat, a perpetually grumpy old pup, and a partner who consistently refers to her as his "feral wife." She is a storyteller by trade and provides council to struggling writers. If you're a writer who needs help, visit her here, if you're a reader who needs a tale, visit her here. She is also the editrix of this publication and dearly loves to recommend good stories to others. 

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Despite the fact that some of my own writing has been considered "scary"-- I am a big fraidy-cat when it comes to creepy stories. Which frustrates me to no end, because I love the delicious feeling of being creeped out-- an eerie finger of fear sliding down my spine, a sharp intake of breath at a surprise -- all feelings I enjoy. 

Being grossed out, unable to sleep, or simply too terrified to be alone in the dark are not among my favorite feelings though and so that makes anything in the horror genre automatically a little dicey for me. Especially because so much horror seems to be geared towards a cis-male audience (often written by cis-men, even when the characters are primarily women). So it's been hard for me to find a creepy fictional podcast that had all my favorite elements: 

  • Moments of spine-tingling tension and an eerie vibe 
  • Great writing: Great plot, great pacing, great characters, engrossing worldbuilding
  • Written and lead by women/femme/non-binary/trans folks 

Maybe it was too much to ask, I often pondered -- maybe fictional podcasting just hadn't quite reached the place where stuff like that was being produced.... But I know how this works. The best stuff, created by the folks I love to read and consume isn't being talked about the way podcasts like The Black Tapes, Limetown and Welcome to Nightvale are. I was going to have to dig deeper.... And there I found Mabel, the podcast I always wanted. 

*Very* minor spoilers ahead - As Mabel is going into its 5th season, a tiny bit of spoiling is necessary to tell you why I love this story -- it won't ruin anything for you, but if you hate to have *anything* spoiled, just go check out Mabel now and start listening

Mabel is "a podcast about ghosts, family secrets, strange houses, and missed connections." But it's more than that -- it's a love story between its main characters Anna and Mabel. It's a marvelously creepy tale about what haunts us, whether it's our past, love, a house that won't stop interfering, or a mysterious force luring you underground.  

The podcast has the same kind of gothic vibe that Shelley Jackson is able to evoke in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with a hefty dose of what feels like scary local lore about what happens out on that hill, or that house, you know the one. Plus, it's a sapphic love story and there's not much of that out there, so I am beyond pumped to be writing this recommendation. 

There are many things I love about Mabel, but if I had to pick out just one, aside from what I've already said... If I had to pick out just one thing to say: "This is why you should listen," I would say this: the writing is beautiful. It's literary, poetic, mysterious, lyrical and haunting. There are twists and turns that are there for the obsessive listener who loves to solve a mystery, but not so many that you cannot keep up with the story. 

If I could tell you one other thing to love about Mabel, it would be that I love it when women/femme identifying characters are allowed to be angry, without the implication that you should hate them, or be frustrated with their anger. It's a beautiful thing, and Mabel executes this perfectly. Hats off to Becca De La Rosa and Mabel Martin for writing such a wonderfully engrossing story and creating a world I love to get lost in. 

The next season of Mabel comes out in June 2018 to give its creators time to get married (yes, to each other!) Read their misty-eye-inducing announcement about their good news here and support them on Patreon. Just go listen and support these amazing creators... I mean honestly, what more could you want? 

 

The Key

Shawn is a kitchen witch, poet, and plant enthusiast who loves pies, books, ancient ruins, and old houses. She is also a founding member of the Hex Rated podcast. You can find her poetry on Instagram @blackbirdwyrd and more of her writing at pocketfulofvenom.com.

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As I wound my way down the Silver Strand Bikeway on Coronado Island, California, desperately wishing I had chosen to have, say, A BIKE rather than try to walk it on that unseasonably warm September day, I came across a message in chalk on the cement pathway: 

You Are the Key

That message, no matter who had written it, was for me.  Right then.  No one else. 

I had cried the moment I got to San Diego Bay.  I had cried with relief, with anticipation, with longing.  Who am I kidding, I cried a little when I got off the plane and smelled the amazing fragrance of California air, filled with flowers and sea breeze and promise.  I don’t know exactly what promise smells like, mind you, but the air was filled with nothing other than magic.  Every inch of my skin was tingling with what I knew to be true – I somehow belonged there. 

As a person who most of the time has felt like she belonged exactly nowhere, this explained my tears.  I have spent most of my time on this planet trying to be someone other than myself to feel like I belonged.  This often meant being more than just one different person – I needed to be one person for each different group of friends, another person for my family, and yet still another for work.  It was exhausting, it led to excessive and destructive behavior, and more than anything else, was a fracturing of my soul.  A soul I did not love or accept. 

The last four years have been a discovery of self – no rediscovery, because there was never an initial discovery in the first place.  After driving home late one night inebriated with my doggo in the car, I felt an outpouring of fear and remorse.  That feeling was replaced the next morning with the knowledge that it was high time I started a new chapter – one which did not include the cloud-ridden haze of operating under the spell of alcohol.  I never did use it as an occasional pastime.  I used it as one would use Thor’s fucking hammer to obliterate feeling.   ALL feeling.  That’s not to say I was a round-the-clock drinker – I wasn’t.  Yet.  When I woke up that next morning though, something inside me had flipped.  I’m a lucky one, so far.  No relapse.  No need to even touch alcohol now, because I know it’s not a solution for any of my problems.  Feelings, at first, were weird, hard, terrifying, impossible to name.  I’m getting better at this, but it’s a process.   This process has led me on a crazy, unexpected, and truly amazing journey, and it led me directly to that message in chalk on a Coronado Island bike path.  The message also included a chalk drawing of an actual key, and as I have developed an ongoing dialog with Hecate, this came as no surprise.  When I ask for signs, I usually get them, and the signs are most always incredibly, hilariously sarcastic:  YOU ASKED FOR A SIGN.  IS THIS CLEAR ENOUGH? 

It was.  In less than three months, San Diego will be my new home.  My husband and I are leaving Texas, where I grew up and have lived permanently for the last twenty years.  I have built a life here – parts of that life are mired in pain, regret, and sorrow, but other parts have been exhilarating and beautiful.  It has hit me only in the last few years that my deeper purpose is to integrate those experiences, both good and bad, to render myself and my soul complete and whole.  Everything – getting sober, taking chances, exploring my thoughts and feelings to whatever depths I am willing to plumb – is an act of integration.  Having this knowledge offers a new perspective; one that welcomes change while still fearing it, but knowing that I, all at once, shape this change as well as do not control it at all. 

That concept is hard to grasp, even now.  How can one not control anything but still shape the change in a life?  What I have begun to realize is that regardless of what I do, the universe will ultimately be the deciding force.  I can wield my power and magic as I see fit for any given circumstance, and I believe that the energy emitted from that exercise has value and purpose – but the natural and supernatural world that I move in has superiority over anything and everything I do.  It’s almost like, if allowed, we can work in tandem with the universe, as long as we are ok with letting go of our need to manufacture whatever we deem intrinsic – be that safety, money, love, et cetera.  I can manifest all day and night, if I realize that whatever is in my highest good will be the outcome.  I am sure you too have discovered that whatever is in your highest good may not always be the thing you think it should be. Or what you WANT it to be. 

But I digress.  This esoteric plane of thought can be brought into a more tangible, concrete example:  Last September, I made a trip to San Diego and fell head over heels in love with the area and with the feelings that were inside me while being there.  I know it is “just a place,” but it offered much more of some of the life qualities I seek.  I made baby steps to start putting energy into the universe that whispered, “I want to be here.”  The whisper became a voice, the voice became a shout.  However, I was not making any headway in a job search or a plan to physically GET there.  Suddenly in February of this year, an offer came for my husband.  There it was – nothing was perfect or ideal or the way I thought it would look, but there it was.  Once we decided to take that offer and run with it regardless of my situation with work, things just started falling into place.  I had no control.  Yet I shaped it.  I continue to shape it.  Is it messy?  Absolutely.  Am I frightened?  Of course.  I am physically leaving friends and family who have all been necessary for all the growth and progress I have made.  Through all of this, so many of those in my life that have been beside me continue to be right there, cheering us on, and wishing the best for us in our new home-to-be.  My physical presence or lack thereof will not change the bonds we have established.  Thanks to the amazing power of technology, I will still be able to talk to them, to see them on a chat.  It does not replace their hugs or their warmth, but they will be there for me. 

The transition of a geographic move leads me to examine other recent transitions – from destructive behavior to healthy behavior; from denying my soul to filling it; from never really pondering my actions or reactions to digging deep to discover the why of how I behave.  I cannot live inside myself without also examining the larger world around me – I am moved to tears then action by suffering and I am in constant awe of the beauty which can be found if I just take the time to look.  Once we give in to the idea that nothing is constant or permanent, that all is change, we can begin to accept it without judgement and go forward with intention.  The energy for all of humanity I want to emanate is that of examination of change, and how to move with the tide rather than against. 

Cypress

L. Harwyn is a genderfluid writing witch and intersectional feminist. Harwyn received her BA in creative writing with honors from Mills College, Oakland, California and attended Scottish Universities’ International Summer School for creative writing in Edinburgh, Scotland. Harwyn has been published by Tethered by Letters, Shoreline of Infinity, Nonbinary Review and elsewhere.

I sat under the cypress tree, looking out over the sand dunes, hot tears puckering my skin. It was October 2017, less than two weeks after our home burned down in a devastating California wildfire. I was mourning the loss of every little thing in our house and the innocent belief that climate change could be avoided. There was no doubt in my mind that the 80 degree temperatures in October, coupled with incredible winds, was responsible for the fire that destroyed thousands of homes and took lives from our community.

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The world was crashing down through the top of my head, like being pulled under one of the distant waves I could hear hushing and humming against the rocky shoreline. Behind me, stood the cypress tree, hairy limbs and perfect, round seedcones swaying above me. The branches creaked like rafters or sails and I found myself becoming quiet and listening to them scrape and groan against one another. 

I'd been working for months on acquainting myself better with the natural world and my own ancestry and woke one night from a fevered dream about the word "haegtessa," an Old English word meaning "hedge rider." I was beginning to walk this path with somewhat more certainty, collecting books and letting them sit boldly on my bookshelf, talking with more people about my beliefs and practices. So, when I looked at the cypress tree, I let my mind focus on the living being behind me, supporting my back while I wept. Looking at the rough, dark wood, I felt that I was sitting at a portal to the Otherworld and that this was an Otherworld tree. I felt comforted and whatever communion I experienced sitting on the soft bed of needles was incredibly calming and I found myself returning over the next few days, the pain in my heart seeping away as I sat under those low-hanging branches.

Thinking I was getting to know the tree behind my grandparents' house a bit better, I thought I should do some research on the cultural symbolism and beliefs about cypress trees.

If you're a magical person, this has probably happened to you before but I'm always somehow simultaneously validated and surprised when something I uncover in research confirms a magical experience I've had. When I looked up Cupresses sempervirens, I learned that it is planted the world over in graveyards as a tree of mourning. I had been drawn out to that lone shape in the sand dunes by sadness and had sat under a tree that has comforted mourners for countless centuries. What an incredible connection.

But my eyes widened as I scrolled further and read an anecdote, a few lines at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, under 'Other Characteristics.'

"In July 2012, a forest fire for five days devastated 20,000 hectares of forest in the Valencian village of Andilla. However, amid the charred landscape, a group of 946 cypress trees about 22 years old was virtually unharmed, and only 12 cypress were burned. Andilla cypresses were planted by the CypFire European project studying various aspects of the cypresses, including fire resistance."

I felt my heart quicken and that immeasurable sense of wonder that floods me when I feel like I've brushed against the supernatural. After losing our home to the flames, imagining all the ways that our things bubbled and boiled and fluttered and burned, after worrying about breathing in toxic smoke and the stories coming out of those who hadn't made it, friends who had narrowly escaped...I had sat down and prayed and wept under a tree with the ability to withstand and survive fire.

These are the moments when magic seems so obvious to me that I can't even feign sheepishness for the mainstream, wider world. There are mysterious things moving under the surface of what we know. The earth and something in my own knowing, somehow, were working together to heal my loss. I met the cypress halfway and she offered her medicine of grieving and protection from fire as only she could.

I felt renewed after this discovery. Every sense and emotion was heightened by shock and fear and worry in the days after the fire and this spiritual connection too was brighter, and more intense. At the peak of my grief, I took a chance and sat alone under a windswept tree. The swaying of its limbs lulled my heartache into quietness for a moment and maybe something in the cypress said, 'I know how to survive fire, and I know how to soothe sadness. Stay as long as you need." And I did.

ALL WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN THIS POST IS COPYRIGHT 2018 L. Harwyn. DO NOT REUSE WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM Lauren. VIOLATORS WILL BE HEXED. 

Listening in Color

Born with synesthesia, Deborah experiences color when she hears music. As a way to find healing and peace in her life she started creating mandalas based on the colors she sees while listening to a song. This not only became a cool gift idea for family and friends, but also helped her to manage her bi-polar diagnosis and the unpredictability of being a military spouse. Find Deborah at: @debbalynn on Instagram and on her Redbubble Shop.

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It’s happening again, but I can’t tell. I feel alive. I feel like I see colors the way they are meant to be seen. I feel like I can see the air breathing. The wind hums with my heartbeat and the trees sound like they’re singing just for me. I want to do yoga, I want to clean our house, I want to buy plants and completely re-do our yard. That part never lasts long, unfortunately. I wake up the next morning, and I feel so much anger it is scalding me and I am burning from the inside out. The world feels suffocating. There is not enough time, there is too much to do, and everything feels out of place. I am fighting with my husband, but I don’t know why. I am screaming and crying. A silent part of me watches as it’s happening, confused and upset. Suddenly, the angry part recognizes the silent part, and I am filled with terror. There are two of me! Which one am I?

In a panic, I put myself in the shower. I’m hysterical now, climbing out of the anger and into shame. I get out of the shower, and the world has lost its color. For some reason, I can hear every little sound, and it is deafening. My dog greets me in the hallway. I can’t pet him because his breathing is so loud it makes me nauseous. I open my bedroom door, and suddenly I am surrounded by thousands of sparkling fireflies. It is a forest of streaming, blinking, hauntingly beautiful golden lights. I reach out my hand hoping one will land on my finger even though I know they’re not really there. I hear a low, gentle whisper, “You’ve gone too far. You’ve shattered your reality, and now you’re stuck between worlds.” A shudder goes down my spine. Who said that? Was that me or my creator? I climb into bed praying the psychosis will pass and then spend the next week clawing my way out of a deep depression.

I was diagnosed bipolar several years ago, though I believe I’ve had it for many years. I didn’t start experiencing rapid-cycling and psychosis until my late 20’s and thankfully, I knew right away I needed help. When they said I needed medication, I gratefully accepted and thought that was the end of it, but it was really just the start. I had to uncover my triggers, learn about my biology, and dig into my ugliness. The latter being the hardest. We all have ugliness inside, the shadow self. Most of us bury it and try to hide it from others. When you are bipolar, that ugliness is rather close to the surface and always trying to gnaw it’s way out. It can feel like a portion of yourself is continuously striving to betray you.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot. I now know loud unexpected sounds, and abrupt changes in routine can trigger me. I also can’t have less than 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep or eat a lot of sugary foods, otherwise I risk a manic episode. Most importantly, I need daily healing rituals and a tender, empathetic approach for dealing with my shadow. For a while, I was content with my strolls through the garden and bubble baths, but eventually wanted something more creative to help with healing. This led me to start making art with another one of my conditions, Synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition that creates a crossed response to stimuli. There are many different kinds, but I happen to have the one that makes you see color when you hear music. It’s unrelated to my bipolar disorder, but a little reminder that brain chemistry can be imperfect but still beautiful. As a way to heal and create sacred space, I started using the colors I saw in music to create mandalas. The process was so repetitive and ritualistic, but still fantastically creative that my mind cleared and my spirit soared.

I now run a small business on the side creating mandalas for myself as well as for others who happen to wonder what their favorite song looks like. It’s been a way to not only heal myself but share my healing with others. I am also happy to say I’m (mostly)  stable in my bipolar disorder, but only because I work at it every single waking moment of my life. My best advice to anyone else who has mental illness is to find your medicine, and by that, I don't mean just pills. We are mind, body, and spirit and each of those things need different tools for healing. You have to discover what heals all three and seek it out in every way that you can.  

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Words and art belong to Deborah and are copyrighted. Do not repost, reuse or in any way reproduce without Deborah's express permission.