Absence instead of presence

We are in the Sacred Nights of Antinous, remembering the Beautiful Boy’s death and deification and honoring the powers that made it possible–Osiris, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys and Persephone, and the serpent power of transformation. Today, the 29th of October, we honor Antinous in the underworld. He passes through the gates of the realm of the dead, defeats the arkhons who would deny liberation to mortals, and becomes the ruler of his own underworld realm, Antinoos Bakkheios.

I think today of my initiation into this mystery, the anniversary of which is about three weeks ago. I have followed in his footsteps and passed the gates to confront the god of the dead on his throne, to die and be reborn as the god.

Today his shrine is stripped, the triptych of his aspects reversed so that I see only its blank white back. But it is not the only thing empty today. There is also an empty bird cage covered with a cloth. On Monday I lost my best friend, my bird companion of 21 years, my cockatiel Rembrandt. He was old, and he had been failing slowly this year, and he died in my hands. To say I was devastated is the bare minimum. He was not merely a pet; he was a pillar of my cosmos, particularly after my separation and divorce. We had two birds then, Rembrandt and Sandro (after Sandro Botticelli); Sandro went to live with my ex and the woman he left me for, but there was never any question that Rembrandt would remain with me.

Blank shrine. Empty cage. On the 27th, the fourth of the Sacred Nights, we reflect on the Ananke Antinoou. “Ananke” can mean necessity, fate, or destiny. Death is the fate of every mortal creature, human, animal, plant, or whatever else. Rembrandt had his ananke just as Antinous had his and I have mine. Even if a mortal becomes a god, they must undergo death to do so.

Tomorrow we will observe Foundation Day, when the body of Antinous is found, his deity proclaimed by the Egyptian priests, and Hadrian vows to build a city in his memory. Antinous is divine, immortal, able to die and revive again and again. Rembrandt will not come back. He will never again perch on my hand and lower his head, asking me to pet him. He will never lift his wings in the shape of a heart and make soft clucks and whistles with his face pressed to mine. He will never sit on my shoulder and fall asleep as I watch a video on my laptop.

I lift my grief, my loss, and toss it into the Nile, into the underworld, in the hands of my god. Rembrandt flies free in the otherworldly realm of the Forest Lord. And it is raining.

Two Hundred Boxes

(With apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford)

Some say robots will take all our jobs

I won’t mind if they take all the jobs

Let the robots win and I’ll shed no tears

I haven’t had a bathroom break in years!

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine

Went to the warehouse and got on the line

I packed two hundred orders for Amazon Prime

And the foreman said, “You’re doin’ fine!”

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

Lived all my life in an Amazon town

Mama said don’t let the company down

Coughin’ and sneezin’, I worked on the line, 

And Mr. Bezos said, “You’re doin’ fine!”

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

Home from the warehouse, I get online, 

Order my groceries from Amazon Prime,

Watch a new series on Amazon, too, 

Go to bed early, what else can I do?

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

When I die, no funeral for me

I still owe money to the store, ya see

Just pack me up in the biggest box

And ship me to heaven from the loading dock

You pack two hundred orders, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the Amazon store

The stone on my heart

I think my mother was a witch.

This is not a story about facts. This is not a report of family history or sociological study of the Craft. This is a story. It is not about facts at all.

First of all, there were the books. Not the bodice-rippers and horror novels stashed in the headboard bookcase of her bed, nor even the wildly explicit novel about the Roman emperor Elagabalus, one of Rome’s more… flamboyant emperors, that I peeked at when no one was home. But the newspaper insert with excerpts from Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. The illustrated book about witches with pictures of women holding chalices, clad only in long hair and cuff bracelets. The little book about talismans, and my mother’s conversation with the rather odd lady who worked the circulation desk at our neighborhood library and kept a pet tarantula. I never knew where these books came from; they were just there, in our house, to be stumbled over and perused cautiously. I was never warned off from reading them.

Then there were my mother’s amateur theater friends. I did amateur theater, too, though not as many plays as my mother, which is why I’m not particularly shy about taking my clothes off in front of people. I spent a lot of my childhood in crowded dressing rooms, and a lot of it in church wearing vestments, too. Dad had stories about one woman, call her Tara, who claimed to be a witch. She had seen ghosts in the theater, a basement black-box theater with some decidedly spooky storage areas. (Spooky and probably fire-hazardous.) She wore black all the time. One time, he said, she had summoned something and been unable to dismiss it, and it still followed her around. My father, a self-described atheist, related these stories with rational seriousness.

My father, while a good nurturer, was also chronically unfaithful, always in search of more sex. Was my mother making talismans to keep him from straying? Was she looking for love spells to keep his libido fixed on her? Did she charm herself to conceive at the age of 39, with a tumor lurking in her uterus, to keep him from leaving her? That tumor was my secret twin.

A couple of years ago, before the corona times, I had a soul retrieval done. The healer did not so much bring back parts that were missing as clear out extraneous gunk. One of those extraneous pieces was something lodged on my heart. My healer said it was a piece of my mother.

My mother was raised Methodist and sang for years in an Episcopal church choir. She liked the Episcopal church but did not convert. She was neither religious nor superstitious; she sent her daughters to church but never went to a service herself, though she supported all the bazaars and church suppers and bingos. She had none of those little ways that people talk about in witchcraft books, inexplicable things that their mama or nana or that strange aunty did. And yet. She read horror novels as lightly and voraciously as many women read romances or mysteries. She had a way of looking at you, a way of talking to you. She could be both hilariously funny and mercilessly cruel with her words.

Am I the daughter of witches? Does the power run in my blood? I don’t know, and yet. This is a story with an ambiguous ending. What do you think, reader?

When you really can’t go home again

“Home” is such a small word to mean so much. You can hardly say it without longing in your voice. Literature is full of statements about home that fall from people’s lips even if they haven’t read the source: “You can’t go home again,” “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in”. Maybe Spielberg’s E.T. was so successful because everyone, anyone could recognize the little extraterrestrial’s longing for his home and feel something of the same thing.

What happens, though, when you find out you really can’t go home? When you go there, and they’re ready to take you in, and yet you realize it’s not really yours any more and you don’t want to stay?

The last year and a half has been hard for everyone, except perhaps the culpably rich. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has hit burnout or some kind of blockage in their spiritual life, along with other areas. I’m sure it’s not limited to pagans and polytheists and magical practitioners, either. We’re having a pandemic, for gods’ sake, and a lot of people are not getting the help they need to get through, and a terrifying number of people are just outright denying it.

I’ve been tired. My spiritual practice has dwindled to what might be an all-time low. The gods are mostly silent right now, and I think maybe they’re tired, too. I think the gods care that over four million people have died, globally, and that many of those deaths could have been prevented, and the pandemic isn’t over. So here we all are.

A few weeks ago, I hit what felt like the bottom. Or the opposite of hitting the bottom; not having any ground to stand on. And after reflection, after prayer, with the blessing of my gods, I decided to start practicing Christianity again.

It was a matter of practice, of things to do. I grew up an Episcopalian, with an emphasis on praying together in the liturgy rather than on believing certain things. I never had to swear to any particular interpretation of a dogma, like exactly Jesus is present in bread and wine or the sequence of events at the Second Coming. Just sit, stand, or kneel with everyone else, sing the hymns, say the prayers. And if you want to be hardcore–which of course I did, and do–say some kind of Daily Office, morning and evening, and have private prayer as suits your temperament.

I told myself that it didn’t matter what I believed, that my gods weren’t upset about the decision, that it didn’t mean I would turn into a raging anti-queer anti-vaxxer; that I just needed a stable practice, and a community that was local and in-person and supportive. I went back to the church where I grew up, a small congregation in a small building (and even smaller now, in late summer, during a pandemic). I started saying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. I got in touch with some old friends of the churchy persuasion. I felt enormous relief to be doing something simple, stable, familiar, even dull.

Two weeks later, I’m done. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again. Even, sometimes, when you are welcome there. When they willingly take you in.

I grew bored with the Office. The words tripped off my tongue, but they didn’t engage my mind or my heart. I liked the same Psalms I have liked for years and disliked the same ones, too. Jumping into the first book of Kings was a bit like starting to watch an HBO drama two seasons in and not being sure why all these elaborately costumed people hate each other so much, and it wasn’t the least bit relatable. Over the last few years I’ve come to feel pretty strongly that the “Old Testament”, or more properly the Tanakh–the Torah and the other Hebrew scriptures–belongs to the Jewish people, and while there is wisdom and poetry in it that anyone can appreciate, it’s not my story. It’s just not about me.

I did some private prayer and deliberately took an approach of getting to know Jesus better, of trying to make contact with him. “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden,” he says in the Gospel of Matthew, and I sincerely wanted to go to him and put down my burdens–my confusion, my perfectionism, my burnout, my sheer weariness. But it was like calling for someone because you think they’re in the next room, only the room is actually empty. I have never, in over fifty years of life, much of it spent in the Church, had any real sense of Jesus, specifically and in particular, as a person or as a deity. He is the lead actor of a magnificent theatrical production who goes home immediately after every performance, never greets fans at the stage door, never reads or answers fan mail, simply plays his part and then disappears. And no one, not even the Christian writers most helpful to me, has been able to tell me how to contact him.

As I write this, part of me is decrying my pride and hubris and impatience at giving up on a practice after only a few weeks. I’d like to remind that part of me that I practiced Christianity for decades before really and truly committing to polytheism. And the results have always been the same: silence on the godphone, feeling that I don’t really even know Jesus and reluctant to ask him for what I need, feeling “sinful” but never sure what I’ve done wrong (confessing personal lapses that I now see were rooted in my then-undiagnosed depression and ADHD), confusion, frustration, and ultimately seeking elsewhere for a practice that makes sense to me and genuinely supports a thriving life.

I don’t know what happens next. But I have some core practices to fall back on, and Antinous and the Forest God are still there, still listening. I could start by cleaning their shrines.

POEM: The Flower Goddess

The power of desire is a thing that ought to be

worshiped: how it thrusts down deep into the earth,

knowing what it needs, seeking mineral-soaked waters

The way it raises a stem, grows taller, becoming

slender and alluring, extends one leaf, then two,

then many, to the satisfying sun; how, never losing

its ground, it seduces air and light and swells

at the attention, erecting a bud; how it never

forgets to push away that which is unwanted

(what thorns are for); how it opens, petal by

petal, that small bud turning into a display

that spirals inward, like a galaxy, like a dancer,

until her golden, glistening heart is revealed,

wet, lascivious, indomitable, capable of turning

death and rot and decay into perfect beauty.

Two poems and a flower crown

Colors for Antinous the Lover

Black

Like the fertile earth wet

With heaven’s rain, seed of Zeus,

Black like the noonday shade beneath

The cypress tree where lovers lie between

Its roots, black like the depth of night in which

True knowledge is gained, not by sight

But by taste and touch

Blue

As the Nile lotus, the ornament of

The Pharaohs, blue as the summer sky,

As the precious lapis lazuli inlaid in a collar,

Blue as the flame of desire in lapis eyes,

As the shadows cast on the afternoon wall

By lovers coupling

Purple

For the hyacinth, a fragrant life

Struck down, for the amethyst and its

Purity, purple for bruises and for sorrows,

Purple that is neither red nor blue nor pink,

A flame of the soul and the spirit of a body,

Purple for the drag queens and purple for the dandies,

Purple for the leather daddies and the lipstick lesbians,

Purple for Marsha and all her trans siblings,

Purple for our queerness, our sovereignty, our royalty,

Purple for all who worship the catamite who became a god,

The unconquerable Antinous, the Lover of body and soul

Andrew Hozier-Byrne in a flower crown

Colors for Melinoe

Melinoe, black

As Egypt, black

As Nebthet, mistress of

Wesir, mistress of the temple, black

As the vulture’s wing, the jackal’s eye:

Guide me on my journey through the Duat.

Melinoe, white

As Selene, white

as salt, white as snow,

White as old bones stripped

By vulture beaks and scoured by the rain:

Shine on my road in the night.

Melinoe, red

As Sekhmet, red

As bloody jaws, red as rage, red

As the sunset spreading over

The desert, red land west of the Nile:

Burn me clean with your passion.

Melinoe, golden

Lady, saffron-gowned, golden

As the autumn leaves, as the sandaled feet

Of Ariadne dancing the labyrinth

In the stars, golden as honey:

Turn wisdom to sweetness in my heart.

Springing onto the Wheel

Today is the spring equinox here in the northern hemisphere, and my local weather is cooperating with clear skies, warm sun, pleasant temperatures, and the blooming of daffodil and crocus.

It’s a holy day in a number of ways and traditions. Astrologers count this day as their new year and welcome the Sun’s entry in Aries, the fiery Ram. Wiccans call it Ostara and honor the Goddess as Flower Maiden, accompanied by rabbits or hares, birds, and dyed eggs. Druids call it Alban Eilir, said to mean “the Light of the Earth”, and have much the same symbolism as Wiccans do. Some devotees of Antinous observe the apotheosis of the empress Sabina, Hadrian’s wife, on the 21st, when she becomes Diva Sabina, a goddess. And in the Church it’s Lent right now, but Easter must fall near the equinox, and March 25th is the feast of the Annunciation, of the wedding of God and humanity in Mary’s consent to be the Mother of God’s Son.

But what if you’re not Wiccan or Druid or any of those things? Should you still celebrate the Wheel of the Year? If so, why? And how?

I say yes, you should, if you want to. I still do although I also observe holy days for Antinous and many Roman gods. I think it’s worthwhile because the Wheel, while it was first cobbled together out of multiple folkloric traditions by Gerald Gardner, the father of Wicca, and Ross Nichols, the father of modern Druidry, corresponds usefully to real changes in the natural world, and observing it can help us with various sorts of mindfulness.

That said, I have to acknowledge that in a lot of latitudes, there’s not enough seasonal variation to make a cycle of eight seasons relevant. If the Wheel is not really observable in your climate and region, don’t worry about it. Find your own way of relating to your place in time and space.

Because that’s what the Wheel is, for me. It’s not so much a re-enactment of a mythical cycle, though it can be connected with Antinous and with Jesus; it’s a way of anchoring in your land, being open to the skies, relating to what’s around you.

So I’d like to suggest some steps for working with the Wheel of the Year.

Step one, uncouple it from mythology, for now. Don’t worry about what any god or goddess might be doing. Just stop and look around you.

Step two, don’t think of the Wheel as eight isolated festival days. Think of it instead as a way of breaking the year into eight seasons instead of four. In the U.S. today, we identify the solstices and equinoxes as the start of a season, e.g., spring begins today. But old European traditions identify the cross-quarter days as the starting dates, and the quarter days as the seasons’ peaks. Hence the old terms Midwinter and Midsummer; the winter solstice is the middle of winter because winter began on Samhain, at the start of November. I find this more sensible, but your mileage may vary.

Step three, now you have eight seasons. So, look around. Pay attention. What is happening during each season of the year? What’s happening on the earth is going to depend, of course, on where you live. For me Imbolc means longer days but also colder, a greater likelihood of snow than in November or December, the possibility of early flowers, and the first signs of mating season for local birds. The season of the spring equinox means more flowers, especially daffodils, budding trees, increased bird activity, rain instead of snow, and of course, longer days and warmer temperatures.

Look at your local weather patterns, what things are budding, blooming, or dying, what the birds are doing, how the air smells. Tune into the energy behind the activity. For me Imbolc feels like a beginning because I always feel a strong surge of energy in the world and in myself. Spring equinox is stabilizing, but then brings in more energy as the days get longer.

Step four, look up. Look at the sky. Whatever hemisphere you live in, you are sharing that sky with everyone else who lives there. The eight seasons correspond to the turning of the Zodiac and to other solar and stellar events, such as the movement of Orion and the Pleiades, which have been important in myth for farther back than we have written records. It had not occurred to until a friend mentioned it that people in the Southern Hemisphere are not only celebrating the stations of the Wheel in opposite seasons to the North, but under different signs of the Zodiac. For me the Spring Equinox belongs to Aries and the Fall to Libra, but down under, Aries hangs over the Fall Equinox and Libra over the Spring. What effect does that have? Look at your sky and watch the movements of the moon, the sun, and the stars. They’re an important part of the seasonal pattern.

Step five, do something with your observations. Construct a ritual, or don’t. Plant or tend or harvest or eat something. Read or watch or listen to works of art that express the seasonal energy. And write, sing, play, dance something for that expression, too. Add a mythology back in, if you wish. Just go for a walk and breathe.

Or don’t, because your seasonal patterns are totally unlike this. But your land and your sky are still important for you, spiritually, physically, psychologically and I recommend getting in touch with them.

There are of course many books on this topic, Wiccan, Druid, and generically pagan. I’ve just started to read Yoga through the Year by Jilly Shipway, which suggests yoga practices and meditations for each of the seasons. So go forth and spring onto the Wheel, and happy springtime!

The McCoy Disclaimer

In one of the classic episodes of the original Star Trek series, “Devil in the Dark”, Dr McCoy is faced with a wounded Horta, an alien that is basically a sentient rock. Captain Kirk has only just learned that the monster that’s been killing miners is, in fact, a sentient person and a mother trying to protect her eggs, which have been crushed by the mining operation. Faced with trying to patch a phaser wound on a rock, McCoy balks and utters the famous line, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”

Being a doctor, McCoy improvises and successfully helps the Horta, and Kirk mediates a peace between the alien mom and the miners. McCoy got to make his disclaimer several more times over the course of the series, and while I’m a little behind on some canon, I’m pretty sure every other doctor in a Trek series has gotten to echo McCoy’s line at least once. 

I’ve been looking at witches, pagans, and occultists on various social media platforms lately, and my reaction to what I’m seeing can basically be summed up in a McCoy Disclaimer: I’m a polytheist, not a witch.

I’m a polytheist, not an occultist. I’m a polytheist, not a magician. I’m a polytheist, not a priest, or priestess, or priestx, even. I’m a polytheist, not a spiritworker.

What I am, what I do, as a polytheist, seems to me to be closest to what Christian tradition calls an oblate or a tertiary. An oblate or tertiary is someone associated with a religious order, usually with a specific local community, who is a lay person with a day job and a mundane home life, who also carries out certain religious practices in unity with the monastics. Benedictines and their relatives call them oblates; Franciscans and similar orders call them tertiaries (the “third order”, after monks and nuns). 

Oblates, like their monastic kindred, make promises of dedication, keep a rule, and keep in contact with the monastic community. But they continue to live “in the world”, in secular society, a kind of outreach of the monastic life of prayer.

The oblate analogy is not a useful one for everyone, to be sure. But even if it’s not, I have a little secret to whisper to the internet, in case you haven’t heard it.

Are you ready? Here it is:

You don’t have to be a witch to be a pagan.

No, really. You don’t. You don’t have to be a witch or any kind of magical practitioner. If you are a polytheist and believe there are many gods and want to worship some of them, you can just do that. You don’t have to learn Tarot, follow astrology, or cast spells. (Although Tarot is neat and astrology is useful.) You don’t have to cast a circle and call the quarters, You don’t have to have the witch’s tools (if you’re not a witch). You don’t have to work with crystals. (Unless you like them, which I do. Rocks are friends.) 

If your inclination, like mine, is to be a devotee, a religious person, rather than a magical practitioner, you can simply make, purchase, or even print a picture of a deity, put a tea light and a glass of water in front of it, burn some incense, and say a prayer. Start with “hi how are you I think you’re neat” prayers, perhaps something from historical sources like the Orphic or Homeric hymns (if you’re approaching Greek or Roman gods, for example), rather than “oh hi there please gimme X asap” prayers. Be respectful and a little formal. Asking for help can come later, once you’ve established a relationship.

Because that’s really all we’re talking about: establishing a relationship between a human person and a divine person. You don’t need magical skills to do that. There are magical skills that can help you in refining that relationship, but they aren’t absolutely necessary. You can proceed on the assumption that the Gods are available, that they have good will toward us, and that an offering and prayer respectfully presented will be noticed. 

You don’t have to wait for a sign or a calling. If you are inspired to worship Anubis, you don’t have to sit around hoping you see x number of black dogs as a sign that Anubis! wants! you! Do a little research, make a little offering, make a few more offerings, and–here’s another little secret for polytheists–give it time and see if devotion to Anubis enriches your life. I don’t mean expecting Anubis, or any deity, to hand you a new car, that big promotion, the really expensive Mac computer, or anything strictly material. I mean asking yourself if devotion to Anubis makes your life more meaningful, more coherent. If it gets easier to go with the flow and deal with your average daily level of stress. (Allowing for the fact that right now, especially in the U.S., we are all at above-average levels of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) If maybe you are inspired to make fancier offerings or to create something for the god, like an image, a painting, your own hymns and prayers. 

I have a lot more to say on these topics, I think. But I’m going to say them another night.

Happy Lupercalia, Presidents’ Day, and International Fanworks Day

Good morning, gentle readers! Thanks to the mythologized memory of Washington and Lincoln, I have this cold, overcast late winter/early spring day off, a perfect opportunity to stop in and say hello to all the new visitors I’ve been getting lately.

Hello! Welcome to my digital roost! Here are some things you might want to know about me:
–I write, obviously–fiction, fan fiction, ritual and devotional poetry, essays and musings.
–I am a singer and have been a paid church chorister.
–I am a bisexual, genderqueer, middle-aged person, in a longterm asexual romantic relationship with my cockatiel, Rembrandt van Tiel. He’s been in my life for over twenty years and that’s almost as long as my former marriage.
–I’ve been writing fan fiction since the late 1990s and have no intention of stopping. My fan fiction will always be available for free and archived at the Archive of Our Own.
–As a writer and thinker I’m interested in religion, sex, devotion, the creative life, science fiction, fantasy, and the connections between creativity and sexuality, sexuality and spirituality, spirituality and creativity.
–I’m a devotional polytheist who worships Antinous, the deified lover of the emperor Hadrian; Melinoe, the little-known underworld goddess who is addressed in the Orphic Hymns as the daughter of Hades and Persephone fathered by Zeus in disguise; the Forest God, that guy with the antlers and the deer legs, no, he doesn’t answer to any other name, just the Forest God; and the Roman pantheon, although I’m not religio romana or Roman recon or Roman revivalist, I just worship them.
–I have a Patreon, where for $1 per month you can read my public writing ahead of the general public and see other posts that might not go public at all.
–Capricorn Sun, Libra Moon, Aquarius Rising, INFJ, and lifelong Trekkie.

I intend to begin posting here again pretty soon, so please follow me and stay tuned, and consider dropping by my Patreon and sponsoring me. Also consider the possibility that Romulus and Remus may have been werewolves, because this intrigues me. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturnalia: Solstice Carol

Wreathe his brow with ivy now
Warm the wine with spices fine
Though the sun set low and early
Antinous shall make us merry

Light the night with candles bright
Raise a song and sing it strong
Though the dark come soon and swift
Antinous shall bring us gifts

Fragrant bough and holly now
Red and green and gold are seen
Though the days grow hard and chill
Antinous is with us still

Snow or rain may come again
Parties end, come freezing wind
Tomorrow is a longer day
Antinous has come to stay

Antinous as Dionysus, now in the Hermitage Museum

Veils of darkness and of light

The veil is thin this time of year, they say.

What veil? I wonder.

Between this world and the otherworld. Between the living and the dead.

The wall between this world and the other has been hard and thick for a long time, like the wall some people want between two countries, one “white”, one “brown”. But it is crumbling now, thin in places, broken in others, wholly absent where there is water, just as it has always been. Whether immigrants or Gentry, welcome or unwelcome, strangers are coming over the border more than ever now. That’s what I hear.

Is there a veil between the living and the dead? Have we not just been ignoring them, as we ignore the Other Kind?

People talk of the dead, the ancestors, the thinning veil, at the same time that they decorate with skeletons, bats, and spiders, frighten themselves with horror movies, make lanterns with terrifying faces that slowly rot and crumple just like human flesh. Is that what is on the other side of the veil? Horror and decay? Are people afraid of the dead, or only pretending to be? Do we fear the dark?

When I fear the darkness, I fear the things of this world: the mugger, the rapist, the distracted driver, the bomb dropped by night. The serial killer who looks just like every other harmless, trustworthy man by day. Men are harmless, right? I fear the boys who march by night with torches and chant their right to dominate the rest of us. I don’t fear dreams of my grandmother, my great-aunt, or even my unwelcome ex-husband.

In my mind I nudge aside the curtain, and what I see on the other side is light, tremendous light. A light so powerful I am blinded; a light not affected by the shortening of the days. Whether it is the light at the heart of the earth or a light beyond the stars, or both, or neither, the mystery of this season for me is a transcendent light. It is the light of Christ’s saints in the heavenly Jerusalem; it is the light of love found in the terror of the underworld and the realization that one loves and is loved by the god at his most terrifying; it is the light of the jack o’ lantern and the Christmas decorations that go up too early and the new candles of Candlemas, the light that shines in the darkness and loves the darkness and is loved by it.