I admit, he frightens me (almost as much as the insects–especially the enormous slugs and pincher-bugs–that prevented me from cleaning up my ritual mess in the garden last night, out of sheer and absolutely inexplicable terror). He has been laughing at me for a while now; his creepy crazed cackling has served as a challenge. All the Beings who watch me have been challenging me of late, but the Phantom does more, pushing buttons, haunting me. In the dead silence in my mind during meditation, his wicked laughter suddenly rings through my head, and pushes me to do something more.
I knew when he spoke to me during a libation to the Dead that he is a spirit departed from this world. But it wasn’t confirmed until I met him in the Underworld last night, guided down into the deeps by Hera, Artemis, and Hekate, to the other side of the Shore. In this world I was dressed in fox-fur, and in the Other I marched on four legs with red fur and bushy tail. The sandy shore itself was blocked off from me–I sensed Beings greater than I down below from where I stood on rocky cliff–and so instead I climbed many stairs and entered an old wooden mansion of a house. Crabs spilled out, a sign I did not understand. Why should I See the Dead as crabs? The only other Being there besides myself and the tower of crabs was the Phantom, who I encountered up a ladder into the attic. His jet-black shadowy form bounced around and hooted and hollered, giving his shrill, wicked laugh as he got a little too close.
I had prepared for this. I was coated in rose-water to ensure no spirits followed me back into this world, or lingered feeding on me after the Gates were closed. I remembered my body, my throat, the voice that emerges from between my soft peachy orchid lips, and warned him. He would not follow me back. He withdrew a moment, but his fear abated faster than mine ever does, and within a moment he was ready to play our game again. He followed me as I traveled along the stunningly beautiful shore; as I peered down into a cove, an entrance into a deeper, darker place in this World that I dared not travel now; as the Beings on the sand finished Their gathering and took down Their wards. Each had a message for me. One even made me laugh (though sardonically; Artemis and I share a similar grim sense of humor). But the last did not. There was plenty to frighten me in this place, but the things She showed me scared me most of all: wicked things of nightmare, things so disturbing that I might have screamed if I hadn’t developed a stomach for true horror already in this life, out of circumstance and necessity.
Fasting and lack of sleep might be an offering, a sacrifice, as well as an aid to trance, but it lowers your guard, your resistance to illness of the body, mind, and spirit. Coming from a history of Buddhism, eating disorders, poverty, and survivalist backpacking (that’s quite a range, isn’t it?) I have learned that abstinence (as much as gluttony) is a deviation from a path of balance and wholeness; abstinence, like any form of self-harm, leads to suffering. Nonetheless, I have lately been upholding the, ahem, time-honored Neo-Pagan tradition (har har) of trying out absolutely everything to see what works for you. Fasting from food and drink but water, I know now, is not for me when I am doing more than trance and traveling with Beings I know and trust; without wholeness in mind and body, I leave myself exposed to such nightmares as I encountered in the Underworld.
Torch-bearer Hekate guided me back up through the tunnels of the deeps and out again from the portal at the roots of the World-Tree before me, and I ate freshly-baked Moon-cakes (sweetly-spiced biscuits with cranberries and black sesame seeds, things of my own creation that the Ladies of the Moon seemed hungry for) to remember my body, my cold red fingertips, the cool 2 o’clock winds on my exposed olive skin, the feel of the hard earth below me, pressing against my hipbones. I cleansed myself and munched until I was firmly in this world again, in my body, on a crocheted blanket, bathed in Moonlight and torchlight and incense fumes, in sacred space, in a garden at the crossroads behind my house, surrounded by insects and by the Kindreds.
It was Hera who drew up the nightmares from the depths. She stands behind such images, out of direct vision (as does Hekate), speaking to me through them. “Why do you do this to me, Hera? Why the nightmares?”
And she says through the Shadowscapes Tarot, whose images are like the liquid depths into which I’ve plunged myself through my craft, “Are you up for the challenge? Do you find courage in faith and total trust in Us? Because if you succeed, the rewards–treading the path between all realms, at the very heart of the Universe, guided wholly by instinct, in total fluidity and wisdom, walking on the very waters of creation, with nary a misstep which would mean insanity, plunging into the unfathomable depths from which no one escapes–are unimaginable.”