[Pagan Experience] Silence

This is part of the Pagan Experience 2016 prompts. Each month brings a new prompt with options for alphabetical weekly prompts tied to the monthly topic. For this blog, I’ll be doing a monthly post on the associated topic.

“You have no concept of privacy,” Hawthorne’s mother says to me over tea. She practically hisses the words at me, except she is a bit too dignified for that sort of nonsense. I hold my teacup like a lifeline. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with you.”

“I won’t write anything,” I tell her.

“You’re a liar,” she says. She lifts her tea with grace I’ve seen shadows of in Hawthorne. His family home is incredibly regal. His mother watches me with hawk-like dark eyes, heavily shadowed with eyeliner.

I am a liar; I’ll end up writing about her all the same. The first time I sit down to write a story about her, I mumble an apology. I can almost feel her disgusted glare. Most of the spirits of the West are magnificent and awe-inspiring, yet they rarely leave the impression that I am less than them. Hawthorne’s mother can’t wait to bring it up through perfectly white clenched teeth. ‘Little bird’ is not an endearment from her blessed lips.

The idea of ‘being silent’ is as foreign to me as any writer. Writing, I’ve heard, is cannibalism. When my partner and I heard that, driving home and listening to NPR, I couldn’t help but exclaim my agreement. I struggled to articulate just why it was so true, though. Writing consumes.

My writing as a teenager was the shallow consumption of the self. Being a teenager is an exploration of who we are and who we want to be, though those adventures never really end. The hormones just stop slamming you face first into a brick wall (for a time). My teenage life was kicked off with a bleak adventure to the ‘otherside’ via a few handfuls of over-the-counter painkillers and a trip to the ICU. I was as self-centered as any teenager. For a year or more I wrote pages every day about my life. All the minutiae was recorded. My emotions existed to be stripped down to the page.

Rereading the journal months after I’d written in it, I fell asleep.

It was when I hit adulthood that I began writing more honestly. Having jobs, fucking up my life, reading more literature, coming to terms with the monster called depression – my writing morphed from the whining posturing of my teenage self into whining reality. I felt as though I were coughing up my own spine. And I realized how quickly I could switch myself around telling stories.

“Don’t turn this into a story,” I remember my mother telling me one day after I’d begun entering adulthood. We sat at a red light, waiting for it to turn green so we could turn down towards her friend’s house. I had no idea what she meant then. I have no idea what she meant.

Everything is a story to a writer.

I wrote about myself in roundabout fashion. I was never myself. I was always masked, always someone else. It made the feeling of my tongue being yanked from my mouth more tolerable. Half the time I wasn’t writing about myself but just a feeling. My deepening connection to writing came as I formed the Otherfaith. Writing became divine. When I was full of awe at the spirits I needed to capture it. I hammered it down with words. The emotion and experiences always fractured into pieces, but I was able to bottle some.

It was no surprise to me that one of my oldest spirits appeared, when I was in the throes of inspiration, to show me how to symbolically devour my own flesh. I considered it a useful spiritual skill. Of course it was a metaphor for my ‘process’ as well. Writing ripped off and processed all the parts of myself. I could break them down and string them out. I could make them better. I could edit them to shreds.

I could edit the spirits to shreds.

The Llewellyns

Evelyn Llewellyn, Hawthorne’s mother, only takes Lady Grey tea. I sip coffee and hunch my shoulders when I meet with her. Over a year of marriage to Hawthorne and I’m no better terms with his mother. Her long nails tap, tap, tap against the table of the cafe we’re meeting in. It’s one her family frequents. I scratch my neck. She sips her tea, her bright lipstick not leaving a trace on the mug. I wish I had half her sophistication.

“I’m sorry,” I offer.

“This is why I didn’t want my daughter marrying you,” Evelyn says. She shakes her head. Her hair is just as dark as Hawthorne’s but completely straight. Hawthorne is a hot mess; his mother is prim and proper and well-dressed. I’ve thought of bringing that up to her before. She’d probably blame me and my human cooties – or human influence. Same thing.

“I guess it’s why the Clarene wanted me to marry Hawthorne?” I say with a soft laugh.

Evelyn breathes sharply through her nose. I stifle a despairing cry.

“No concept of privacy,” she snaps at me, not for the first time. “You couldn’t keep your nose out of it even if you tried.”

I did try, for the record.

“She just wants your story told,” I protest. “I didn’t even realize how deep your history was until.”

Evelyn appears to slam her fist onto the table, but no loud bang shudders through the cafe. I certainly feel no tremble of the table against my own hands.

“Enough. *I* didn’t want the story told, much less for your fingers to be all over it.”

I grit my teeth. “You know, the story involves *my* family too, I have just as much right.”

She slaps the table this time, and the harsh sound does fill the room. The rest of the cafe falls silent and their eyes turn to us. I flush.

“I am the head of this family, which you are a part. You will not make an embarrassment of me.”

I lower my eyes to the table and nearly break a tooth with how hard I clench my jaw. The only one embarrassed here is *me*. Evelyn is one of the oldest spirits I’ve met in the West, yet she acts as if I have the power to topple her expansive empire. I knew marrying into Hawthorne’s family would provide its own challenges. But having Hawthorne *with* me while I deal with his mother might be nice.

“I’m still going to write it,” I mumble.

“I know you will,” she sneers. “You’re incapable of *not* doing so.”

I stare into my coffee.

It’s a story worth telling, damn it.

I call Hawthorne’s family the ‘Llewellyns’ out of ease. Whatever their name truly is, I can’t speak it. Evelyn would rather string me up by my entrails than let me know her holy name. I’ve called Hawthorne by ‘Llewellyn’ since I’ve known him. I only began applying it to his family as a way to differentiate between my spirit family and his, the one I married into when we wed over a year ago.

Hawthorne’s entrance into my life marked a decided shift in how I approached my magical and spiritual practice. Writing had factored into my religious life as a footnote. With his insistent appearance at my home, writing became the practice. Part of it was an attempt to cope with Hawthorne. I told him often he was just a character. I disavowed him in as many ways as I could. If I could just write him into smaller fragments, maybe he would disappear.

In hindsight, Hawthorne showed me how to engage in inspired writing. He taught me how to journey through words. Every attempt at cutting him down failed. He was certainly the starry, dark-haired brat I’d imagined him as, but he dodged all my flailing efforts to deny his selfhood. In trying to write him out of existence I was forced to learn the line between writing for myself and writing with the spirits. Writing journeys of him were infinitely more accurate than throwing my mental goop at the paper. (I eventually learned how to turn my idea muck into more concrete energy, though the experience of that was as unintended as most of my religious work.)

Being himself, Hawthorne didn’t mind being talked about. I could peel away his skin and pluck his heart out and he’d be happy as long as somebody was watching. He was, and is, a perfect match for me in a myriad of ways.

His family is another matter.

Evelyn – his mother – was a myth when I first knew her. She appeared as a silhouette in visions, her distinct profile striking every time I saw it. Hawthorne shrunk away from mention of her. I didn’t need to meet her to know she had an iron fist on her family. But as my journeys shifted focus, off of Hawthorne and onto spirit I’d never really know, she faded from memory. It wasn’t until we married that I had to confront her.

I offered her tea with a bowed head and many apologies. She sat stiff, like the Laethic spirits I’d met, and her hair fell in a determined line down her back. She was pale as the moon. Her lips could become a captivating smile. She never smiled at me.

She was an adopted sister to the Dierne. That much was obvious from the star imagery adorning every space around her. Her children were all part of the Dierne’s Court. It was later, when I was unintentionally stumbling into her history, that I saw her fighting alongside the silver god of sexuality and consent. She appeared far younger than I’d ever known her, blood dripping from a cut above her eyebrow and a gun dangling from her hand. She was muddy. I had never seen her with a speck of dirt.

She hissed at my knowing of her.

Writing is cannibalism.

Evelyn enjoyed my writing of her as much as any mother would. I can’t even count how many writers have horrid relationships with their family. Laying bare the sins and secrets of their kin earns ire. Writing puts down in ink our own perception of reality. The ink clashes with another’s. We cut them up and eat them so we can create sense, create beauty, create nice flowing sentences with the perfection combination of words. We find what tastes good.

And then we offer it to others.

Evelyn was, surprisingly, less defensive of her family than of herself. Then again, she trusted the rest of her daughters to have more sense than Hawthorne did, running off with a human writer like he’d done. But her ire toward me when I played with her origins was pale compared to her rage when I cracked open the egg of my own spirit family.

Star spirits seem exceptionally good at conveying a thousand years of disgust in one look.

The Blakes

I stare at Blake’s strung up body. Her stick-thin arms drape over the stone chair in the middle of the gurgling room. She is shadowed by the huge tubes behind her, the cords threaded from her body winding up and dumping some energetic equivalent of bodily fluid into the swirling, bubbling liquid in tubes. She wears the colorful silks I associated with the *Glateau Elves*, a variant of the Western fairies that make up the majority of spirits in the Otherfaith.

She tilts the remnants of her head sideways. I flinch at the slick sound, like eggs cracking against a counter. She has no mouth to speak. Her face is long gone. Instead of the flat-face the Glateau are known for, her neck meets a whirling mass of light and blood and sparks. Maybe I want to retch. My shoulders quiver.

A few months after my small spat with Hawthorne’s mother, I was completely and totally minding my own business. I didn’t have time for the epic journeys that used to influence my life. We were moving, for fuck’s sake. (A simple month or two of moving radically altered my approach to nearly every aspect of my life, but especially online.) I didn’t want new revelations or ideas for stories. Trying to get my life in order, I was thinking.

My beloved spirits had a different idea.

Alynah Blake came thundering it, as she does.

“Hey, little one!” she called, tossing a hammer half her height in the arm before catching it. She held it loosely as if it were some small paperweight. “Tell a story for me.”

“I’m kind of busy,” I protested. Busy cleaning dishes and listening to Panic! at the Disco.

“Story time!” she exclaimed. She yanked me toward her.

Alynah is electricity. She is also stars and fire. She’s a unicorn and a wolf and a kirin. Being close to her makes your eyes water. Static ripples through you. She hurts.

So I listened when she gathered herself around me. I plopped myself down in front of my laptop and wrote like she damn well wanted.

There may be some misconceptions about how I weave my stories. They don’t come fully formed. I have to string together inspired visions with more drab world-building. Part of why I slowed in my story-writing is because my vicious editorial side came out. She would roll her eyes at my works. I knew I could write better. I wrote what flowed, what felt good. My self-editor wanted what read well. Cut it up, piece it together, weave it back with marvelous ribbons.

A few stories did come easily to me. ‘The Red Room’, about Aletheia 003 and William, gushed out of me in a day. Most of the 2013 stories are like that. I cut open a creative vein and let it bleed everywhere. Now I’m more likely to chain myself up like Blake and seal all my wounds with cement. It hurts more when I rip them open. But it gives me a new feeling to write about.

Blake’s story was the more common drip-drop I’m accustomed to. Alynah Blake instigated my writing of it, but she gave little advice.

I knew a few things about Blake before writing her: she was the first Blake and who we all got our names from; she was from the Temple of the Fathers (a part of the West) and a Glateau Elf; she didn’t have a face. I’d heard from other spirits that she was a ‘time-traveling demon’ who had ‘erased her face’ from history. An over-exaggeration, of course. Story-building, I could see her face. She was foggier than most spirits, but she was there. An impression left on a pad of paper that you only find when you rub charcoal on it.

She’d had huge golden eyes, a tiny flat nose, and hair over five feet long. “Ridiculous hair,” I thought. Hair longer than I was tall.

And before I’d married into the Llewellyns, Blake had been the head of my family.

Not that it mattered. By the time I came into the picture she was already the deathly still body sitting deep within the house of the Blakes. Alynah had known her before she’d been reduced to that, though, and like any good chaos spirit decided to bring chaos into my life by overturning everything I’d known about my spirit family. I knew Hawthorne and I were twins (which in the West meant we were ‘created’ at the same time). I knew I was related to the Blakes. I’d known since I was little I was related to some of the older spirits in the Otherfaith. I had gone through pride, anxiety, rejection, and settled at acceptance.

Alynah struck down and insisted that, no, believe her, there was so much more to the story.

I wanted to know more anyway.

Blake had been young and naive and new to the West. And in a moment, as fast as a lightning strike during monsoon season, the pieces of my spiritual life fell together. The Blakes and the Llewellyns were so damn close because Blake and Llewellyn – Evelyn Llewellyn – had been close. At least before Blake’s skull had been split open to release all the potentials that she held in her.

Where the Llewellyns were restrained chaos, Blake was overflowing with energetic possibilities. I saw her pulling spirits out of her gut. She skipped through time leaving splotches of herself behind. And the more she pulled out, the less she could keep it all together, until her face started cracking, until she starting oozing out a toxic gas full of spirits wanting out of her.

That was where Alynah came in. Alynah and her hammer. She wasn’t a hive-off of Blake but instead forced into the family through her mother Althea, who gifted her the last name ‘Blake’ despite Blake’s own vehement disagreement. Blake had cursed Althea to be despised by Alynah. Althea knew that hatred couldn’t compare to what Alynah would do to Blake, though.

All that remains of Blake’s face is a violent splatter of light and magic. It glows to this day still. But Alynah cracked open her head and let out all the spirits dying to get out of that shell.

Evelyn Llewellyn flashes her claws at me when I tell the story. Maybe the wound is too new still. All the memories she and Blake had together, with Blake hopping through time and interrupting Llewellyn’s life with colorful explosions, shimmer around her. Or maybe she just wants me to shut up.

Writing is cannibalism, but I find myself butchered even when I’m holding the knife.

Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist god religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at ‘from stone onto sand’. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

[Hawthorne & Heather] Death & Slaughter

Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were.

This piece will deal with animal death and killing. If those are distasteful to you, you will not want to read farther. This includes an image with blood and feathers from the bird.

I’ve never killed an animal before. My family didn’t raise chickens or any other animals for the slaughter. We kept pets like dogs, cats, fish. I was aware from a young age that meat came from dead animals, my mother refusing to teach me anything else. She had learned of the brutalities at factory farms as a young girl and become a vegetarian. She wanted me to know that if I was eating meat, I was eating an animal that had died so that I could consume them. There were to be no pleasant obscured realities in her household.

Perhaps this is what led to me, as a pre-teen, to want to know about slaughtering and death. Meat of all kinds had always been my preferred food. But as I would look at slabs of meat at the grocery, I wanted to know how the animal went from their whole form to a simple chunk. I was not so much obsessed as I was curious.

I never became a vegetarian, like my mother. Or a vegan. I wanted to go on hunting trips with my family (not allowed, as I had not been born with the right parts). I wanted to fish and learn how to properly prepare a fish from living to gutted to ready to fry. When I learned of the traditional making of sausage and other ‘gross’ meats, I wasn’t repulsed but thought that using the most of an animal was appropriate. They had died, why would we not use the most of them we could? Wasn’t to do anything else inappropriate, disrespectful?

My mother didn’t take issue with my meat consumption. She went to extra lengths to buy certain meat from certain ranches – her issue was not with death-for-food but with the unnecessary cruelty.

I eventually decided that I wanted to participate in the slaughter of every kind of animal I ate. Ideally, of course, I wanted to always slaughter the animal I ate, but that wasn’t a possibility. I would settle for what I could. And I made a commitment to myself that if I couldn’t kill the animal, if I couldn’t even hold witness to their death, I had no right to eat them.

My mother took in chickens a few years ago, for the eggs. But some turned out to be roosters, and she didn’t want them and they would harass the other birds. So she decided to do what her grandmother did – kill them, clean them, eat them. I asked to take part in it, to see what it was like and to see how I handled it.

My mother, when she has caught a bird to kill him, will not change her mind. She told me, after she killed her first rooster, that she hated it. It made her feel guilty, and she was worried about giving the bird a quick death. My brother – raised vegetarian, unlike me – tried the bird after he had been cooked, but he didn’t find the meat tasty. (He has, on occasion, tried meat. Once he could ask for it, he was allowed to try it. But he’s never been fond of it.) My mother ate the bird, of course. She wasn’t going to let his body go to waste.

“Hold him still,” she told me after she had wrapped him in a towel. “You have to hold him tight, because he’ll start flapping after he’s dead.”

I held the bird as tight as I could without hurting him.

The spot where we beheaded the rooster.

The spot where we beheaded the rooster.

It was strange, feeling him breathe, being surrounded by the group of young children as we were. (Most of whom had already killed and butchered animals as part of their family’s business or livelihood.) Feeling him still as we laid him down. My stomach became tied in knots. As my mother put it, the feeling is as if one is about to jump from a cliff.

‘Are we going to do this right?’ I thought. ‘What if we mess up?’

Of course, we were already well into the process, and with a thwack his head came off. Blood splattered across the ground and my hands. My mother tossed his head into a bucket and held up the body so the blood would drip out.

His wings flapped, and his neck – exposed and bloody as it was – twitched. For all the tension that had been building in me, there was none afterward. Perhaps I had been preparing myself for long enough, but there was no upset. There was a bit of sadness, but mostly there was a feeling of being embodied. My brother was watching, and his eyes were dark after we were finished.

“Are you alright?” my mother asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Are you upset?” she asked.

“No,” he said, and then walked away.

I washed my hands and went inside as my mother held the bird above the blood bucket and conversed with her friend. “How do you feel about the rooster?” I asked after I washed my hands.

My brother shrugged in that way that children do, loose and long. “Happy I guess,” he said, not sounding happy nor sad. “Now the rooster won’t wake me up in the morning.”

“No,” my mother laughed, “he certainly won’t be waking us up anymore.” As if waking the next day, she would miss the crowing waking her up at four in the morning. I had no trouble believing my mother would miss it.

I watched my mother butcher the rooster, her knife making steady cuts as she informed me how she cut him apart. “Different, isn’t it? Knowing he was just alive.”

I stared at the cut apart bird. “…not really.”

Maybe she educated me well enough.


I can seem overeager to kill animals. In a way, I am eager. I want to understand how death and slaughter works. I’m not eager because I think I will enjoy the process. But I feel a deep obligation to know what death for food is like.

There are a lot of spirits of slaughter and bloodshed in the Otherfaith. Some, like Alynah Blake, are in it for bloodsport. She isn’t a spirit of eating and consumption, she’s a spirit of cleansing and bloody revelries. This is in comparison to a spirit like Casimir, a protective giant who has ties to slaughter. He poses to us the reality of our food.

This is ultimately what I come back to. It is not an issue of dieting, no. It is one of accepting the realities around us. I cannot obscure that I am eating a living being without doing dishonor to creature I’m eating, myself, and my gods and spirits. (And this is all without touching on the incredibly complex nature of food in the United States, agribusiness, and such. And also while not touching on the nature of consuming plants. There is a lot to explore here, and these are all issues I was ‘raised on’, so to speak. I am not ignoring them because I am unaware of them but because they are complicated topics deserving of more time than I could give them.)

I was worried, as we were killing the rooster, that perhaps there would be more of Alynah Blake than Casimir in me. But there was nothing pleasurable about the death. It simply was. My brother, perhaps, grasped it best. It was what happened. We killed an animal, he was dead, now we would eat him. He was neither distraught nor gleeful about it.

We didn’t offer the chicken to the gods as we killed it. My mother is non-religious, sometimes anti-religious, and it was her home, her chicken, her hatchet. I had no business shoving my religion there, nor am I trained in how to sacrifice an animal to my gods. We thanked the animal for his life, but that is as close to any spiritual action we got.

I know people take issue with the arrogance of killing something to eat it. I’ve never understood it as arrogance. This accusation of arrogance is, of course, limited to the killing of animals, as if no other process in our consumption of food involves death. Or torture. Or brutality. Too often we are upset because we have killed something cute (similar to how endangered animals receive much more support when they are cute, or majestic, or appeal to us).

Certainly, after taking part in the death of an animal, I can’t understand terrorizing one or beating a creature. There was no sudden shift in my love of animals to a raging desire to hurt them in any way. I want their death to be swift, as non-stressful as killing can be. Of course, I have never been able to wrap my head around the idea that caring for an animal means I can’t kill it.

Perhaps I had thought it over long enough. Perhaps it was how my religion influenced me. But either way, I found myself arriving at that same spot my brother was. We killed an animal, with repercussions large and small. It was sad.

It was death.

It was.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Hawthorne & Heather] Homura the Younger

Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were.

For the time after Reunion, certain spirits part ways, going off to pursue their own goals and changes. Hawthorne and I have gone through this separation each year since we met. Originally, waking up to the sudden absence and energetic silence was strange and lonely. Now it is simply part of life. The spirits go about their own business often enough, after all.

Unlike other years, however, after Reunion finishes I begin meeting with my new spirit family. I am unsure what to expect with this spirit marriage, with finalizing and formalizing my relationship with Hawthorne in such a way. I retreat into my common journeying methods for comfort, writing in journals and letting the words sprawl into reality as I experience the spirits.

The edges of my identity blur as I do. The blurring is inevitable, I realize, and eventually a spirit states it outright.

Every time I journey is it as if I am filling a form that is beyond me. It is as if I have been scattered to the winds and only when I wake can I separate what was Other and what was me. The majority of the time, the journeys are Others, simply my eyes looking through theirs. Slicing apart what is Me and what is Them is like trying to puke everything up.

So I stop. Not even consciously, but I stop journeying like I do and instead consider the spirits from a more abstract perspective. So I try to put them in perspective.

Of all the spirits I met during my post-Reunion week with them, the only one I can speak of is Homura. It is far from her true name, instead one I gifted to her due to her resemblance to the character. Most of Hawthorne’s family is resistant to giving me names, leaving me to refer to them in an ever-confusing pronoun game.

It is not the first time I’ve met the spirit Homura. She has appeared before Hawthorne before, curtsying condescendingly. All of Hawthorne’s family carries condescension and arrogance around them, comparable in my mind mostly to purebloods from Harry Potter. They have their own familial language and behavior, one I don’t feel confident enough to crack. Homura mocks and derides Hawthorne, lips curling into smirks and sharp grins, but when she interacts with me she is cold. I may be part of her family and, as such, have certain obligations to the spirit, but she views me as little more than another human nuisance.

Unlike the girl she is named after, she has no time traveling abilities, no great purpose to save some damsel in distress. She is simply one of many Smaller Spirits, child-like entities carrying pure elemental forces in their tiny bodies. Homura, as I feel her, is split into many selves, unclear in her powers to me. She simple vibrates with many faces. More than the electrifying or burning children spirits, she is disturbing.

I already know, simply brushing against the spirits of Hawthorne’s family, that I have joined something more dangerous than I intended. Homura both exemplifies and soothes this danger. She is power, her tongue holding no kindness for mortals like me, yet restrained. She is, after all, the one who warns me off journeying. (And perhaps I have been mistaken, perhaps she does carrying some time-traveling ability that lets her see the traumas of past and future, or perhaps that is simply what spirits do.)

I wait for the week to end, wait til I can remove my head-covering and be part of this world again. My journeying journal has already left my hands before then. But Homura stays near me, hovering like some ghostly rider. She visits me in dreams. My dreams turn dark.

I dream of songs that unmake the world and sew it back together, and I forget them when I wake. But the taste of them is left in my mouth, heavy and horrid. When I consider journeying again in that flowing authoring way I do, Homura’s presence becomes heavy around me. The more I contemplate her many faces, the more she stands as a warning.

Mortal me, I cannot wear so many masks, so heavy they tend to fall.

I have always been susceptible to story and song. I lose myself in them, take on new traits for better or worse, only to find my soul shining through the makeshift personality. Those masks are more than enough. Looking through the eyes of a spirit is pushing myself more than far. And the lines between who is riding and who is being ridden are too muddled. Homura warns me off first, but it is my own fear that warns me off soon enough.

I find myself knowing Homura, many faces and blurry as she is, without having to set foot into the world of the ethereal again.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Hawthorne & Heather] Concomitance

‘Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were.

Two years ago, Hawthorne grins at me over the first coffee I buy for him. His eyes glint. They are brown and rich and unexpected.

“You’re mine, you know,” he says matter-of-factly. His smile sharpens into a smirk.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snap, defensive. He laughs.

“You know what it means.”

This month, when the air is finally cold, the sun not always piercing, Hawthorne hums near me. I can practically hear the cracks of thunder gathering around him. His fingers tap on the kitchen counter.

“I’m not going to wait forever,” he says, mouth drawn in a firm downturned line. He grimaces. “Well, I will, but the gods won’t.”

“I know,” I say, and I stir my coffee.

He huffs, blowing that elegant hair of his up and away from his face. What envy I have for a spirit. “Honestly…” he says.

I sip my coffee and don’t look at him. “If it’s all the same, why can’t I just marry another spirit?”

If I were better situated in the otherworld, I would feel as Hawthorne bursts the air around him like glass baubles. As it is, all I have is the knowing, the vague intellectual impression of it.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” he hisses. “You’re mine.”

He leaves me with a gust of wind.

“Who is waiting for you?”

Religious jewelry.

Religious jewelry.

From the beginning, my relationship with Hawthorne has been rocky. He wanted recognition – through all his bravado he is a delicate spirit, true to the order of Delicacy he joined, so opposite my own glass exterior which concealed only a mean soul underneath. Often I offered recognition only in a warped fashion, at times hyper-spiritual and others eagerly sexual. “He’s a sex spirit,” I assured myself. “He won’t mind if that’s all there is.” Of course, Hawthorne is more than a sex spirit, more than some imaginary boyfriend, more than a snarky commentator in my life. I had thought I understood what being ‘his’ meant, in that shallow way I only seem capable of.

He wasn’t what I expected from a spirit, leaving me clinging to my expectations as often as I tossed them completely away. I wanted to belong to him in the simplest of ways. I wanted to belong in the deepest of ways. I ached for the simplicity of apartments in mysterious worlds, dark bed sheets and the smell of comfortable addictions, for the wonderful world that opened up when he took my hand.

He was as young as I was (am), in his own way, but he understood belonging far better than I.

“I’m going to marry you some day,” he would say, voice bright. I would laugh awkwardly, unable to see past his beauty compared to my body. His superficiality was overwhelming. Why would a handsome spirit like Hawthorne ever marry me?

As if it had anything to do with that sort of beauty. I was a fool, wrapped up in simple pleasures, not knowing that marriage and belonging to a spirit meant so much more.

His crystal voice, hopeful for our future, cracked as I averted my eyes to his talk of marriage, of love, of togetherness. This was not the natural wilting that we two went through as we experienced our gods’ mysteries. That, painful as it always is, at least had discernable purpose, had a satisfying beginning, ending, rebooting. Every deflected advance just added to our murkiness, making sludge underneath the calm lives we were living alongside each other. It bubbled over in violent outbursts or emotional meltdowns, but always we would return to the status quo.

I’d laugh off every comment, and his voice would splinter more and more.

“Well, we could always just get married,” he says gruffly this year. My rejection has worn through his voice into his skin, or what I know as skin. This is his solution to the pressure the gods have put on me, on us.

Our time together rushes in at his words. Through all the interactions I have given words to, when all I hold is impression of him, vague forms and air. In the recesses of my mind I knew there would be a day when I could not laugh off or ignore his call. (Just as, even if it seemed otherwise, I could not ignore the gods.)

Two years sounds too short. I feel so much older.

Hawthorne is holding out his hand, waiting while I fear his claws. He’s chosen now, when the gods have come to bear on me again, now when the sweetest holiday is held, to throw out that battered suggestion for the last time.

The energies of his heavenly father swirl about him. Perhaps if we had more time we could arrive at a place where he isn’t stiff about the proposal. Maybe I’m a romantic fool for wanting a candy-sweet proposal from a spirit.

Either way, we’re out of time.

“Who are you waiting for?”

A few days after Hawthorne proposes – and I still lay in indecision – the Clarene tells me to put away my shrine.

“Commit, or don’t,” she says, voice darker than ever before. “I’m sick of this.”

I don’t even attempt any apology. I just pack up my supplies, unable to answer my boyfriend’s concerned questions.

the Clarene has always been patient with me. She is fae and god but often gentle with humanity. Her kindness is so easy. Underneath is her steel. As much as she is a god of consent, she is also a god of deals and agreements. And I had agreed to serve her daughter and her and all of them, all those gods – first and foremost in my life.

“They need you, you know,” Hawthorne says. Not that they need me to survive, but turning my back to them would cause so much to fall apart. Marrying Hawthorne is a move they’re tossing out. (It’s a move that I counter with the question as to why, if they simply want my hand in marriage as proof of commitment, it can’t be to any other spirit. Even cornered as I am, I push back.) My plea for ‘time to think’ isn’t well received. My plea isn’t received at all.

Weeks before Hawthorne proposes in his blasé way, divine pressure that I had thought absent rushes upon me. Disbelief hits me as it does, because surely, all this had changed? The gods had pulled back from my life and were leaving me to do what I would. But, unlike earlier this year with painful pricks and overwhelming sorrow as I thought the gods were telling me to put up or shut up, this pressure is different. the Clarene’s rich, earthy energy surrounded me, at once comfort and warning.

“What have you done for me lately?” she asked.

“I’ve written,” I would start to say, but then she would shake her head, bells seeming to ring.

“I require doing, not writing. Pretty words aren’t serving me.”

Gnawing anxiety crawled up my spine at her words, and then Hawthorne proposed.

I realize I can go along with the gods now, or I can end up kicking and screaming as my divine mother pushes me along. At the end of the day I won’t say no; I don’t want to say no. My soul has already made its choice. I’m simply petrified at the possibility of ‘yes’.

I’m so quick to flee, to break away – from everything. The gods, Hawthorne, my boyfriend, life. How any of them can exist in calmness is beyond me. I wrap myself in ribbons of excuses, my eyes always on the exit.

Hawthorne asks me why leaving is an option when I don’t want to leave. My boyfriend asks the same. I try to explain the simplicity of the option, and neither Hawthorne nor my partner have any of it. They’re both asking, in their own ways, why I’m running from them.

I wasn’t waiting for anyone. They were all there, even the gods as they told me to put away my sacred things and make up my mind. I can’t exist so divided. I was just waiting for the fear to lessen its chokehold.

Flowers from acceptance bouquet.

Flowers from acceptance bouquet.

Hawthorne and I have two days together. By the time this is posted, we’ll have less than a day. Midnight on Wednesday, and then we have to stay apart for the week leading up to Reunion. This has less to do with spirit marriage and more to do with our patron gods. I expect, as it goes every Reunion so far, once the sun comes up we’ll be glued to each other again.

I’m left debating whether we want to hold the ceremony at the start or end of Reunion. The marriage must take place before the New Year, according to divination. But Reunion, starting right on Christmas, isn’t exactly a quiet, peaceful time. There’s the secular family celebration, Reunion itself, and the birth of a spirit to prepare for. A marriage ceremony would be too many things.

Though, in divination, my gods effectively laughed at all the projects I would be expected to juggle.

I won’t be allowed to wear my religious jewelry until the ceremony. Nor will I be able to smoke. I have to clear off all my shrines, and heavy cleansings are in order. Veiling is in order as well.

An acceptance bouquet lays on what was once my shrine for all Four Gods. A pack of cigarettes sits near it, alongside an offering of booze.

Reunion has, usually, brought with it some change in my life, usually sweet. It brought the same this year, though there was bitterness too. The gods called upon a debt I didn’t think I owed, but which I did, which I have for a while. I’m not setting both feet into their world, but I’m finally rooting myself in this practice like I’ve been afraid of doing. Commitment without an exit is frightening. But I have to learn somehow. This is something people won’t teach me.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Hawthorne & Heather] The Bird & The Snake

‘Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were.

Hawthorne has a snake tattooed on his left forearm. It is a remnant, a memory, and he hides it away under lop-sided shirts or dozens of bracelets. He hides the rose the snake is lurching for.

Before I met him, I hated roses. They were overused, boring and typical symbols of love. Hawthorne adored them. He grew them in his apartment’s window-box, opening the glass pane to let the scent of them in. He was always bursting with rose imagery.

He never smelled like roses himself though. He smelled like cigarettes and alcohol, old alcohol. The scent drowned out anything natural about him. If there was anything natural about him in the first place.

But past the snakes and roses and booze, he was as much a spirit as any I had met. He was made of wind and stardust. It was easy to forget when roses were blooming around him, or when I was smothered in that cloying scent of old addiction. But he was as much a faery as any, with strange forms underneath.

Late 2012

His roses begin to wilt when we meet Althea Altair. She is a Younger Spirit in the Otherfaith and a child of the Laetha. She acts, for all purposes, as the Laetha’s right hand. When we meet her, in some bright café patio with wrought-iron chairs and flowery cushions, she is blonde haired and red-eyed. She wears white and red silks, and she holds her teacup delicately.

Althea is the first Laethic spirit I meet properly, and I do not notice the firmness with which she holds herself. I am too captivated by her beauty, cold and crisp and not at all the fire I expected.

“You’re the spirit from my vision!” I exclaim as Hawthorne and I sit across from her.

Althea purses her pink-white lips. It will take me a while to learn the restraint that defines Laethic devotion, and my education in the spirit world will be slow to take in our embodied one. I am too much fire and burning, too wild. I bring to bear so much humanity and assumptions that will take decades to tear down.

We meet with Althea to discuss my devotion to her father. She is the channel which all Laethic devotees much go through, the initiator of her father’s energies. And she is the epitome of devotion to the contradictory fire god, lacking emotional reaction and focused purely on her duties to the god. Or, at least, that is the impression she gives when I sit across from her.

Being open to the Laetha as a devotee, in the sense that I wish to be, longing for that intimacy with the god, that ecstatic connection, requires an energetic ceremony. Althea explains it to me, the expectations and rules. And with each word Hawthorne tenses more and more, and the closer we draw to my formal devotion to the Other People’s god of fire the more his flowers wilt away.

My journeys into the otherworld are perfumed with smoke I can’t get away from, with how often Hawthorne burns through his cigarettes. They begin to burn strangely, from delicate grey-white smoke that forms playful shapes into big globs of black smoke, like tar, oozing from the cigarette and Hawthorne’s mouth.

He tells me not to go through with the ceremony.

I learn, eventually, that Hawthorne’s purpose was to act as a challenge. The type of devotion I sought to the Laetha wasn’t easy, and by setting myself upon that path I had spun us both into a twisted up cycle of push and pull. It was not a conscious purpose, just as many of my actions driven by the spirits or in the spirit-world border the line between conscious consent and divine influence. We were caught in forces greater than ourselves.

Of course, Hawthorne being a force himself, he struggled against falling into that flow. It was as I prepared for that first true step of my devotion that I saw him as he was, not a companion or guide or sweet-talking spirit but a faery capable of controlling elements, bringing windstorms with his anger, his soft beauty replaced with an ethereal glow, able to confront Althea as she became more insistent upon my initiation to the Laetha.

Even with Hawthorne’s warnings and cries that I stay away from the god of fire, that I turn back before it was too late, I still went under Althea’s knife.

The Heart-Taking Ceremony

Hawthorne had a snake on his left arm. I had a phoenix on my right. It was one of those unshakeable symbols that had written itself on my energetic body so long ago I often forgot about it. But as I lay on the cold table, shirtless and exposed, Althea caught sight of it.

She was wearing a plain white gown, plain white buttons going up the middle, her plain white hair tied up, her stark red eyes watching me. She picked my arm up.

“A phoenix?” she questioned, and her voice was full of condescension. Her lips twisted, and then she was laughing, the first time I had ever heard her laugh. We were alone in the cold clinical room, and her laughter bounced off the walls ominously.

“I,” I gargled out, stunned by her show of emotion. “It’s just. It means something to me.”

“Those things usually do,” she said, setting my arm down. She was short, short like I was, but as I lay on the table she seemed to tower over me. Her fingers – and for all the clinical atmosphere, she wasn’t wearing latex gloves – brushed against my face. She was freezing. “I have to ask if you really want to do this.”

“Do I have a choice?” I laughed, nervous. The lights in the room were casting everything into shadow. It felt – stark.

Althea gazed down at me. “You always have a choice.”

This was as true in some ways as it was a lie in others. But as I lay there with a glittering spirit made of cold fire and sand, I nodded.

Althea picked up a dagger and jammed it into my chest.

When the Laetha and her aides ripped open my chest and tinkered around my ribs, there wasn’t pain. When Hawthorne ripped my stomach open, there wasn’t pain. But my chest had ached for weeks before Althea stabbed my chest open, and there are no words for the pain that she sent through me when she began taking my heart out.

I know I was crying. It was impossible not do. And I know Althea was speaking to me, soft soothing words that I never expected from her mouth. I know she took my heart, steaming in her hands, and placed it into a golden bowl, and I watched as it caught fire and burned to ash.

Althea did not sew my chest. She simply dragged her finger across the wound, and where once a huge hole was now a scar, dulled as if from years of fading. The spirit touched her own chest as I sat up, still sore from what had happened.

“I don’t have one,” she commented, eyes locked on my scar. “I was born without a heart.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was still reeling from loss, from absence, from not having the core part of me that had kept me running for so long. Instead there was nothing. My heart was not the only thing the Laetha had tugged out of me that day, but it was the heaviest. I had to lean on Althea to make it out of the room. Anything I could have said to her would have been cruel, so my silence was a blessing that would lead me to spending evenings in her living room, the cold of my new body against the cold of hers, until one day the sorrow of losing my heart turned into an awareness of all Althea was and would be.

When I was returning to reading about energy work, when I read about connecting to your heart, to the warmth that was supposed to be there, I reached inward. Since a child I had done energy work, taught by my mother and teachers and books, and I had always had a firm connection to my heart. There was nothing to grasp onto though. I was hollowed out.

Hawthorne was wearing stars in his hair when I saw him after the ceremony. He gathered me in his arms, feeling painfully warm, and squeezed me until I couldn’t breathe. Until I thought my scar would pop open and all the gunk of living would pour out.

I understood that the Heart-Taking would change my personality, would shift who I was. I expected a dampening of emotions. After all, Althea was remarkably restrained. But I realized that was all external. Inside, in private quarters, the followers of the Laetha were burning. I was burning. I felt like I was being eaten alive by flames, by my own emotions, by life. By the god I was supposedly serving.

I realized why Hawthorne didn’t want me to go through this.

In the otherworld there was a lot of puking-up of lava. In the embodied world there was a lot of emotional breakdowns and bad decision making.

All that was ‘me’ before burned away, as if a line had been drawn with my blood and ash.

Eventually, the Laetha fitted me with a new ‘heart’. Hearts for the Laethic devotees are steel, or wire, or gold, or coal. And we can’t look at our own, can’t pull them out and turn them around and find what is now part of our core, what thrums through our veins. We have to trust what the god gave us, just as we trusted her to rip out our heart but leave us alive.

Whatever heart she gave me, there’s still a hollowness. There’s still a lot of learning to do. Just because I’ve learned to watch my words enough that Althea no longer tosses water in my face doesn’t mean I’ve learned enough.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Hawthorne & Heather] on Disembowelment

‘Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were

Earlier This Year

My chest has been split open, right down the middle. the Laetha has spread my ribcage wide, and one of her attendant spirits tinkers inside me.

I’m being held up by a lance, I realize. My god has pierced me straight through. I reach for her, my arms shaking, and she graces me by tilting my chin up to look at her. This is her as Arabella, a version of her that is cloaked in green gowns and flaming orange hair, always ready with a gentle smile. But she still speared me. Arabella is the one who has put me in this position, where I feel another spirit’s fingers mucking about in my chest, where I hear the soft plop of organs onto the floor beneath me.

“You’re doing great, child,” Arabella says. She rubs my cheek with her thumb, and heat sparks through where she touches. She looks down abruptly. “Oh, did you find it? Excellent.”

The spirit underneath me pops up, their deep red hair matted with my blood. They wave a wrench in one hand and a pure black thorn in the other. “Yep. Should be all better, you can patch her right up. She’ll run fine now.”

The attendant spirit tosses her wrench and pats me on the head, coating me with my own blood. The wet and stench of it no longer phases me, having been split open and wrenched apart and remade so many times. Arabella smiles that sweet smile and rubs my cheek again.

Present Day

I blow out a long stream of smoke as I wait for the coffee to brew. Hawthorne sits next to me, back from whatever otherworldly trip he had gone on, and his presence is like a balm.

The coffee hisses, and the strong scent of it slowly filters throughout the room. Soon, I’ll pour some of it out for the gods. After that, it’s off to the gym for exercise which I have dedicated to two different gods. (I am, I find, more inclined to exercise if the spirits are involved.)

It feels like a century since the Laetha split my heart open. The time since she first split me open seems even longer. In truth, it is a frighteningly short amount of time, enough that I occasionally count back on my fingers and question all of it. The nightmares, the visions, the life I lived for two years. Another separate, stunning life that has now fallen away and left me living something new.

I blow smoke into an offering bowl and murmur out a prayer. I haven’t been keeping the prayers or the offerings like I should. Prayers are far easier, murmured out or whispered as I can. The habitual nature of them is something that is trickier and easily lost in the rush of life. Offerings are tougher.

I’ve begun learning that my spirits prefer some of the offerings I give to be discarded quickly. Booze, once standard, is now more of a special gift. I use an LED candle instead of a ‘true’ flame, to the same effect. (The flame is for the Laetha, and she is as much a god of technology as she is fire.) Incense ash builds up slowly in my holder, my impulse not to clean it away but let it build until I am given some sign to discard it. All of this is a slow process, learned in bits and pieces, sometimes trial and error.

Contrary to what some may expect, Hawthorne is largely useless when it comes to this endeavor. He sits at my table and smokes, smiling around the smoke as it flows from his lips. He doesn’t offer ideas or criticism. He sits and relaxes, as if this little apartment is some peaceful way station.

I realize it truly is. No longer do we exist in close contact we each other, almost bound to each other’s sides. He no longer hovers over my shoulder, commenting on every move I make with the gods and spirits around me. His powerful sweet perfume doesn’t overwhelm me. He doesn’t appear like a sudden gale during journeys or conversations with other spirits. He doesn’t sit upon my laptop when I’m trying to write myths.

Hawthorne sits at my kitchen table and doesn’t say much at all.

This intimacy was hard-won for both of us. Hawthorne came to me when I had lost sight of myself. From the evening he appeared on my doorstep, he was adhered to me. I was immersed in his snark and quips and good gender-sliding looks. When I lost myself in other-worldly journeys, he was beside me. Eventually, I stopped waking in my usual spot on the Other Side. I started waking up in Hawthorne’s apartment.

(I hadn’t realized spirits kept apartments.)

That was when the journeys got really weird.

Life on the Other Side isn’t really discussed. There are so many reasons for this, one of them being the enforced norms of our communities. Another is that they are hard. As much as I want to say that I could handle living two lives like that, I couldn’t.

I was with the spirits all the time. This embodied world of ours fell away. I was so consumed that earlier this year, when my patron was cutting me open, was one of the most normal, refreshing things to happen in my religious life. She was stripping away that glamoured life of mine until she could reach my heart.

This violence, this cutting open or apart, is a common experience for spirit workers. It is a classic trait of journeying to the Other Side. The spirits remake our bodies to better serve them, to better handle their energies, or perhaps for intent known only to them. the Clarene did this when I made my formal pact with her. the Ophelia does this every year. I understand that breaking.

Hawthorne, my dear companion, has tinkered with me as well. From cutting my hair to beginning to wear make up to my clothes, he has shaped me. But his violence has not always been restructuring. He has not always clawed into me lovingly.

Because two people shoved in such close quarters as we were can drive each other mad. He has been my destruction as often as he has been salvation.

Late 2012

Hawthorne’s apartment is a study in binary. The living room is stark white, the sofa and bookcases pure black. His bedroom is far more muted, with heavy black curtains draped over the windows, more bookcases crammed against the walls, and the center dominated by a huge bed.

This image – Hawthorne’s home – is one of my most vivid memories.

By Reunion (a week-long celebration in winter) of 2012, I was waking up in that bed. Hawthorne would lay with me, usually propped up and reading. Squinting, I could make out titles like Human Psychology and Complex Anatomy. The texts surprised me. Since our first awkward meeting, he had appeared more often with booze than books.

Hawthorne, merely by existing, simply by turning the page of a book, challenged everything.

This is an interlude. This is a chapter that does not belong. Between having the Ophelia drown me in her sacred waters and the Laetha tear my heart out, I lay in bed with Hawthorne.

Later, he’ll rip my guts out, splattering them on a floor that doesn’t belong to either of us. I will try to catch my entrails, and I will wonder how all that love in his eyes, filling him like stars, turned hard. I’ll hold my intestines and wonder at the lesson in this.

The lesson is that we can’t go back to that bed. We can’t go back to that apartment.

Present Day

“Ah, I need to dispose that,” I murmur to myself, picking up the cup of tea on my gods’ shrine. I curse when I notice the time. The shuttle for school arrives in an hour, an hour in which I have to shower, dress, and give more offerings. I set the coffee to brew before getting cleaned up.

Conveniently, this morning affirms that the Four Gods prefer that I approach their space clothed. (The impression is firm, though all intuition.) The persistent debates on ritual nudity flash in my mind. I just tug on my pants. I don’t exactly have time to muse over that recurring dead-end debate if I want to catch my ride.

“Please take care of me,” I pray. “Please watch over me at school.”

The apartment is quiet. I know the gods are listening; I trust. Even with the silence, I say goodbye to the house.

On the bus, I read about good and evil. I fiddle with my phone to find the perfect song to play on repeat.

The night before, I journey with a new spirit to consult with another entity. My mind bubbles with the images of my travel. I process the experience, as I do all my life, as a story, ink on paper, text on screen, dialogue and exposition and imagery.

But when the journey is over, I return to myself. I walk in this world again. I read about good and evil and struggle to remember when my library books are due.

the Laetha opened my chest to give me that back. She bled all that otherworldly illusion and vision until this world came back to me. I could not return to that apartment of Hawthorne’s, but the me I had become could share a new room with him.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Hawthorne & Heather] Vacation/Reality

[I am not longer blogging at polytheist.com and have decided to move the posts I would make there to this blog. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, these posts will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were. If you read my post on polytheist.com, this is the same one. The next one will be posted on the fifteenth of this month.]

Lake Superior crashes against me, soaking my jeans. The water, the horizon, the sky – it’s all gray. I lift my head up, no longer collecting rocks from the shore, and my boyfriend laughs at me.

Another wave tries to fall over my head, but I escape in time with four stones in my hand.

We’re on vacation, just before school starts and life begins again. For one week, we get to live near green and wet and cold. My partner has taken me to meet his parents. From the moment the plane touched down, though, I’ve been captivated. Spirits swirl in the mists. Flickers of myths alight in my mind.

But I can’t stay in that sort of fog anymore, and life goes on.

Spirits of Life

Four years ago I met a god, but that was hardly my first experience with the spirits. As a child my life was overflowing with them. It was more than one ‘imaginary friend’, as many people call them. There was a whole household of them. And it was a natural part of life for me. I preferred the spirits to other humans. To this day that is still largely true.

I spent most of my life in a haze of the unseen. Their hands like ice against my skin, their words loud in my ear, their madness becoming my own. Certainly, I would be bound up in them for my entire life. Whatever cards had been laid, I had crashed into the world of spirits as a child and remained there. I was apart from the physical world, too blinded by the soft invisible worlds I could explore.

So when a god arrived when I was seventeen, I assumed signing my life away would be fine. I had no aspirations apart from spiritual pursuits at the time. A god appeared in a flash of light and fire, proclaiming her glory, extending her flaming hand for me to take and be consumed – it was simply one more part of the life I was living.

Cataclysmic, as many meetings with gods are. But I had been living at the whims of spirits for years at that point.

This sort of relationship to the unseen – a drowning in it – is something that is valued by many in our community. The ability to see and hear spirits is envied. Whether we want to or intend it so, there is a certain prestige given to people who have or claim these skills. Actually living it is another story, one that we often see painted in extremes. Lives ruined by the spirits, lives uplifted and saved, the stories often twisting together or bursting apart.

I’ve had people tell me that if I work with the spirits intimately, my life will be ruined. That this ruination is something I must accept, that it happens to everyone. I’ve been warned off of spirit work by people who cry out that I will regret it. Exclamations of how awful the spirits are, or how we cannot truly understand them, or how we are only tools to be used up and then discarded. All this said by people who assume that I am a beginner, who assume that I am starry eyed in the face of spirits and their powers, who all never realize I’ve been surrounded by spirits since elementary school.

And I’ve had people tell me that I’m blessed and gifted. The envy for the chance to hear spirits, to feel them beside you, threads through. Doubt must vanish if you are able to submerge yourself in the otherworld, right? I pray and receive an answer, whereas others prayer far more fervently than I and never hear a thing. I have to do spirit work, because it is unfair to those who can’t hear the spirits like myself, I’ve been told.

All of this ignores that my seeing the spirits and knowing them as I grew up wasn’t a blessing, it wasn’t a curse, it just was. There were times when I was high with the spirits, in ecstasy at their presence. There were times when I wanted it all to stop. I didn’t want to go mad with the spirits, I wanted to be a regular kid, a regular teenager, I wanted anything but their voices calling out to me. There wasn’t prestige. There was just the reality, one where sometimes my friends would have to wave their hands in my face and call my name over and over until I snapped out of the spell I was in.

I wanted to know about how to handle all of that. All of the commotion, the cacophony of the ultimately silent cries, all of the noise was overwhelming, and I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand what was going on, and so I turned to books. I turned to stories about faeries and winged beings. What were you supposed to do when the spirits crowded too close?

Accept it, wholeheartedly – that was the most common answer. Give in. Do what the spirits told you. Listen to them, and help others listen to them. And surely, with how open I was to any spirit passing through my door, that was what I had to do. My life was consumed with them. It made sense.

So when a god bloomed in front of me and offered me her hand, I said yes, thinking that the worst consequence would be being pushed farther to the edges of human society, further into the arms of the spirits.

For three years, that is exactly what she did.

The Spirit of Death

The god I met as I prepared to finish high school was part of a group of new (or emerging) gods calling themselves the Four Gods. The first to show herself to me, and my patron, was the Laetha. She was hardly what I expected, revealing herself first as a giant bird of fire and later as a myriad of smaller spirits that all connected back to the god.

She didn’t drown me like the other spirits had. She set me on fire. She speared me through. I thought of her and her family every moment of the day, losing hours, days, weeks to them and their whims and their stories. I began building a faith around them. the Laetha was loud enough in her screeches and songs that the other spirits around me withdrew. In her thrall, I felt I knew exactly where I needed to go in life. I knew who I was, who I needed to become, how to serve her just as she wanted.

I dwelt in the worlds of the gods and was lost.

But two years after the Laetha engulfed me in flames, a spirit arrived on my doorstep. Quite literally. Being as wrapped up in the gods as I had been, my daily regular practices with other spirits had largely become simple offerings. The interaction of my teen and younger years had trickled off. I got an upsurge after we entered a new house, but that too fizzled into quiet morning offerings before I busied myself with whatever the Four Gods wanted. Anything not related to them was relegated, if not discarded.

Still, leaning against my doorway, as real as the kids playing in the street, was a spirit. A cigarette hung from his lips, the smoke drifting lazily upward. I froze as I walked up the steps and stared. Even as a child, it had been rare for me to experience a spirit so viscerally. The spirit saw me seeing him, dropped his cigarette, and walked up to me.

Everything about him was familiar. His hair, his eyes, the way he swung his hips as he walked. He smelled like crisp cold air. I knew his face as soon as I had seen it, because I’d been doodling and drawing it for years. I knew him as soon as I saw him, because he had been at the periphery of my life for years. A vague image I had never been able to grab. That day he was before me though, as if waiting for me.

I shut the door in his face. Not that it did any good. He, being rather disembodied, just floated through a few minutes later and hovered over me. I ignored him in favor of cooling down from work before going to make an offering to the gods.

“Hey,” he said, interrupting me as I went to their shrine. “Hey. I know you see me.”

I refused to look at him.

“Hey, asshole!” he continued when I didn’t respond.

That was how I met my spirit guide, Hawthorne.

Hawthorne threaded himself into my life from that day on. He arrived just as November settled in, the cold beginning to bite against my skin, the sky heavy with clouds that blocked out the sun I had learned to hate every summer. He arrived just on time, for everything he wanted to do.

“You’re absolutely insufferable,” he said to me when I finally broke down and took him for coffee. Which mostly consisted of me going to the nearby cafe and ordering more coffee than I should have, sliding into an empty booth, and glaring at what to anyone else would look like empty space.

He glared right back at me, and he whined loudly about how I had ignored him, and as we walked home he explained why he was here. I was almost certain he had arrived to send me over the tipping point. I had just gotten a handle on reality again, on how to combine the Gods with my life, how to handle being human and being spirit-touched. Hawthorne arrived and was loud. He threatened everything I knew.

He especially threatened how I knew spirits operated. The spirits I knew asked for favors, asked for offerings, and my relationship with them was ultimately devotional. It was reflected in the writings of other polytheists I had read. Hawthorne didn’t want offerings. He rolled his eyes at me when I gave them. He scoffed when I tried to apply prayers and structure to his interaction with me.

People didn’t have that type of relationship with their spirits, I thought. I was getting lost in myself, I feared. He was just an offshoot of my mind, something my brain had conjured up to keep itself occupied. How else could I explain how he stuck to me like glue, involving himself in the boring minutia of my life, commenting on all of it with irritating quips and sarcasm? How else could I explain a spirit making references to television and books as if he were as human as I was?

“You can’t be real,” I told him in between trying to write myths for the Gods.

He looked over the book he was reading, but he didn’t respond. He’d already refuted me a hundred times. I had divination done. I’d had diviners and spirit workers who I knew locally talk about him without any hints from me. But I didn’t want to believe in him. That might mean I had to change.

That might mean my relationship with the Gods could change.

Those days, when Hawthorne first came into my life, when I was still wound up in the Gods more intimately that I could have ever imagined, felt endless. I was on vacation from life. Once I accepted Hawthorne as a real entity, I assumed he was there to push me further into that, to claw me further away from life and physical reality. Spirits were dangerous after all.

Instead, a year after I met him, Hawthorne was tugging me out of the glamor and glory of the Gods.

The Spirit of Now

After spending my whole life dedicated, in one form or another, to the unseen entities around me, I woke up. The process of no longer being bound to the Gods was a slow one, going largely unnoticed until the floor fell from under me. And when I did notice that the floor was crumbling, I didn’t want to admit it.

I clung to my ideas of piety and devotion. I dug my fingers in, refusing to let go. Change was horrifying. I didn’t want to be let go. I didn’t want to let go. As destructive and ill-fitting as my relationship with my Gods had grown to become, I held on.

the Laetha, with Hawthorne’s help, eventually peeled my fingers away.

I’d heard about the dark night of the soul. Before the floor finally fell, my various media feeds had been full of discussions on it. That I was currently in one, losing all my grips on anything spiritually certain, didn’t occur to me until after it had passed. I didn’t realize what happened until I felt a new floor underfoot.

When the Laetha first came to me, she asked me to be her speaker in the world. Last year, going into this one, she pulled away from me. And in that chasm between us, I was sure the gods were abandoning me. For the first time, I knew the silence my friends had spoken of. The gods wouldn’t answer me. The cacophony of too many spirits rushed in before falling equally silent. Even Hawthorne faded away as I was left to pick up the pieces.

What exactly would my life be without the Gods? What exactly did life look like when you weren’t wrapped up in them? What would my religious life be like? Would I have a religious life?

Left to my own devices, I had to reorient. It was only after I had reoriented myself, found my footing again, that the Gods returned. Not with the strength of before. Not with their consuming fires and drowning rivers. I was seeing them through glass. But they were there again.

Hawthorne came back again, as well. I was settled in a new home, moving on with my life one day at a time, balancing prayers and offerings and a boyfriend and school preparation, and he appeared again. He waited for me, leaning against my apartment doorway, another cigarette in his mouth.

I knew who he was this time, and I didn’t shut the door in his face. I was moving on with my life.

And I’d decided the spirits were still going to be part of it.

The vacation is over. By the time this is published, I’ll be in school again. Life goes on, with the knowledge that I have to balance these things rather than throwing myself off the edge into the arms of Gods and spirits again. That floor already fell out.

All I can do is go on.

Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.