Wednesday, June 29, 2016

St. Peter: Lord of the Key, Lord of the Gate

“Oh Holy St. Peter, Lord of the Key, Lord of the Gate, The Stone of Wisdom; Grant me the key and open the door. Follow me on the Dragon’s Road. So mote it be. Amen!”
Photo: Statue of the Horned Saint Peter made by Troy Chambers of Wolf & Goat and draped with my Crossroads Rosary and other tokens of spirit, used in my private practice.
Text: Excerpt from 'A Call to the Powers of the Crossroad' by Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold, and published in Craft of the Untamed.

"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” -Matthew 16:18

Another June finds me staring at the feet of Peter, another year at the intersection of myself with myself. I freely admit- this Saint irritates me. He is a journey with promises, failures, and authority, and he reflects my own stubbornness and self-righteousness back to me to wrestle into acceptance and transformation. My witchcraft is not protestant-informed like the general-inherited cultures of England and North America that coat most modern expressions of the Craft. My witchcraft has always existed in the Catholic world, a world of miracles and devils, Saints and blood.* And here, here is where Peter emerges for me, not as the orthodox first Pope, but as man, devil and Saint. 

Here the Lord of the Crossroad comes forth, this Horned Saint Peter, the stang of the witch pounded into the crossroads of every moment, walking upright on serpent feet. Here is choice and necessity, desire and repulsion; somewhere between the in breath and the out breath there is a power of observation that both includes and excludes our spirit – the Rock of Faith and the Devil of the Crossroads both. What clothes the man in miracle? Is the proximity to the Christ all that is needed? For many, yes. But I am attracted to two human qualities that bring this Lord of the Key and Gate closer to my heart: stubbornness and betrayal. On this twain rock, an intersection of baser qualities, the Church is built. At this crossroads, a witch can find familiar ground. 

Look down the roads our key qualities lead- a Dragon waits there, every moment heaven or hell. Stubbornness or perseverance depends on outcome, how we wrestle with the Dragon, how we meet the Devil at the Crossroads. 

Claims of authority and direct lineal descent are important for the plays of politic and power, but for the mystic? For the witch? It is in this hard-headed Saint, whose epithet Petras is felt by many scholars to be as much a humorous pun as anything – Simon Peter the man was, if nothing, rock-headed. Devotion to the ideal of himself, the man he wanted to be: always true, always steady. This devotion to a projected mirage tumbles quickly for our Saint – and when put to the test, he fails. He cannot predict this, for he is masked in clothes of self-deceit, he believes himself to be other than what he is, serving the false-idol of himself rather than the reality of his being. He serves the upright cross, and this illusion is shattered in the face of threat. 

Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you that this very night,
before the cock crows, three times will you will deny Me.” - Matthew 26:34

It is in the small betrayals, not the treason planned and strategized, but in the tiny broken promises of our failed resolve that we find sympathy with Peter. Well-intentioned promises that when put to the test fail, even beyond our wish to keep them. What makes us fail? Were we wrong about ourselves? What we desired? If we hold the straw-man of our idealized self to the flame, will it survive? The cock crows either way. 

We strive to keep our word. (There’s a word of the Word pun somewhere in there…) But when we fail, do we become failure instead? How do we react to this failure? Do we now transform from false promises to failure? Peter provides hope. It seems if we remain open, the opportunity to take the test even deeper comes. Its not in just keeping word, its in how we handle the small failures, the weakness of the flesh and our concupiscence. 

Deny three times, and remain open. Remorse lays a road for transformation if allowed, and Peter fills this with his answer to the Resurrected Jesus’ “Peter, do you love me?”– to which Peter responds “Yes.” Three times Jesus asks our Saint this question. Is it a way of making up for the three denials? The burden of the herald of dawn? Is all forgiven? It seems true forgiveness is not in forgetting, but in remembering our failures, and building upon them. A humility won through pride's fall- and here Peter takes the averse cross. So is it the Cross of Denial? Denial as a first step, perhaps, but it is the self-deception of pride, and the Fall that will come that shakes us, calls us back to ourselves (if we remain open- "Let those with ears, hear!"). Here we too take up the averse Cross. This is the Rock upon which we shall build our Church. Take flight, then, witches! The Lord of the Key and Gate will follow us down the road of our Becoming.

My friend and Brother-in-Arte many times over, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, has written a rite entitled “A Call to the Powers of the Crossroad”, which has appeared in The Cauldron Brazil and in his Craft of the Untamed, published through Mandrake of Oxford. I offer it here as a meditation on the Role of our Saint in the Witches’ Arsenal- for many journeys start here with our Saint. May he follow us all in our wanderings, silent witness to the Freedom of the Witch…

A Call to the Powers of the Crossroad 
(published here with the author’s permission)

He stands at the crossroad, with horn and stang, awaiting the toll of the bell and the foot of those sworn to the exile that ends in the grave and tears. By many names he has been called and to retain the mask we shall refer to him as Dev or he who carries the horns. The horns of Selene, the horns of juxtaposition, the horns of one and the other, the horns that mark transition - the sanctity of murder and rebellion. 

He is the glory of the Light and the path of the ascending power. Be no fool as you seek to take the power, in the blink of an eye, the power that turns, turns. Towards and against, like the tide, amongst his own. Simple is the power. And for this purpose this ritual is presented as a diminutive beacon illuminating the points of the crossroad, a breach in the texture of night, a whisper amongst the forgotten legions. 

So take thy candle, be it red, black or green and place upon thy shrine the icon of the Devil. Take the garland of roses and number thy prayers seven and seventy for the perfection of the prophets. 

Know that black holds the riddle of night, red the riddle of blood and green the riddle of land. 

And for the beads, take wood, pearl or bone. Pilgrim, walk across the ladder and stray not on thy journey. For a lovelorn stranger falls into the siren's embrace and seduction and misery will be the crossroad's gift. With secure step and thy hand fast, thy heart should be fast and secure on the path of faith. So, in front of the candle pray as follows: 
Intercessor at the Crossroad of the Earth
Lover of the Toad-faced obsessors in the gardens of Night
Lord of the many cities of Exile
Master of the Horse and Stang
Oath-taker, oath-breaker
Master of opportunity
The hand that turns the wheel
Instigator of the screams heard through the adamantine desert of our all aloneness
Flaming Lord of Earth and Forge
You who art iron and gold
You who art Devil and Saint
Meet us at the crossroad of rebellion
Meet us at the port of besiegement
Hand down the key to the tower of our enemies’ destruction
And lend they tongue to the sweetness of Fortune
We call thee from the heart of the True Cross
As the children of Exile
Thy brood and bane be upon our brow
Lend us thy helping hand as we search the secrets of murder
Help us in the pursuit of understanding
Help us as you unleash the Secret Powers
Against our oppressors, strike hard
Against our oppressing fall, strike hard
May my heart be cleansed by thy fire
Strike me without mercy
Leave only the pure soul back to walk the serene path of the Master
And if I have been found wanting in my demand
May the curse set aflame all corners of my life
Until cunning descends
For the sake of my soul there is no thing or no one
I will not forswear
For the pursuit of wisdom there is no path I will leave un-tread
For you holds the key to the kingdoms of high and low
You are the man robed in gold and night at the ladders of Light
You are the naked youth at the Ladders of Hell
You are the height and depth and the point between
Father, Saint, Devil and Master
Such is our petition
So mote it be, now and forever more
From height to depth, from dextral to sinister
We call upon thee to meet us in the Crossroad of Power
Take now thy rose garland in thy hand and solemnly pray by each step taken:
Oh Holy St. Peter, Lord of the Key, Lord of the Gate, The Stone of Wisdom
Grant me the key and open the door. Follow me on the Dragon’ Road.
So mote it be. Amen
By the 77th prayer said to the praise of the crossroad you will kiss the cross and say:
Father, Saint, Devil and Master
From the True Cross
May Our prayers be heard
To the True Cross
All Powers will descend
For such is my petition
And such is my prayer
As good St, Peter is my fellow journeyman

* I’ve written less about my own journey with witchcraft on this blog, and largely because I am uncertain the audience for it. I am not interested in defending the Catholic worldview of the Iberian and Pyrenean traditional crafts I adore at the cost of actual discussion. Perhaps such is the cost in finding dialog. Perhaps there are commonalities that lead to a fellow heretic's embrace of Power that can inspire further discussions. It is still an uphill battle for non-Anglo traditions of Traditional Witchcraft, and if the revisionist and fantastic histories propagated by the more mainstream expressions of witchcraft are allowed to go unchecked, then they will successfully colonize the rest of witchcraft through ignorance, even if well intended. There seem to be a fair amount of people that wish to defend their fantasies at the cost of known context and history. There are many beautiful genuine expressions of witchcraft, many not found in books as of yet (especially in English), and many that are far different from the ideals and public manifestations of modern neo-Pagan movements (themselves inheritors of British/ American protestant egalitarian ethic and notions of 'right belief'). If nothing else, perhaps Peter, Stubborn Saint of Perseverance and Lord of the Sabbat, Protector of the Devout and Heretic alike, is as good a place to start as anywhere. To Heaven or Hell, the Gates are open... 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Happy Muddy Rivers of Divine Blood: La persona, unida, jamás será vencida...

It's an interesting dilemma. To different people, I'm different things. I am MANY things, so this of course makes sense. But I am still always ME. It is doubly confusing when to the same person I am, for instance, 'Mexican' when it pleases them; yet if it proves a different point, I am 'white' when it pleases them. It is here where I happily bear the mudblood pejoratives of the children of the New World. I am mestizo. I am half blooded. I am a proud child of miscegenation, born of the love of my amazing parents.

Mixed race. Mixed raízes.

Rene Hugo Arceo, 2001 'Mestizo'
It is interesting when I am not Chicano enough for Chicanos and Mexicans, or hear 'since when are you not fully white?' questions when my 'passing white' skin confuses people when they find out I have as much indigenous and Spanish blood as I do British and Scottish. I have a strange privilege that spans spectrums of race, highlighted by my light skin and polyglot cultural experience. And I would not change any of my inheritances for anything.  Glory and honor to all the Dead. I will not forsake one part of me for another, even if others demand it. We can be the medicine for our blood in that way. We are who we are, always.

I am a child of many cultures, ethnicities and more. Mudbloods unite. Children of the New World, we have multiple inheritances. And my ancestors are beautiful and strong, cross oceans and continents. What may have been war in the past gives way to a unification in me. I do not mean this as an over-simplification of race, ethnicity or politic. I do however joyously celebrate that I am a happy "muddy" river of divine blood. Fight for the happy flowing of all, for the ocean refuses no river.* Let me be a whole inheritance of thousands, a river flowing steadily to the ocean of these times.

Two important things, to be clear. Firstly, there is systematic oppression and presumption based on skin color. I would be a fool to disregard the privilege of my light skin. But I will not allow anyone to erase the many bloods I have inside me, those cultural bonds I have to both sides of my ancestry, just because it is convenient for them, their politics, or they can't fathom that some of us are more than one thing. Not just ancestrally, but in our present bodies and identities. Secondly, blood does not make culture. I identify as half-chicano because of the family, food, music, religion and upbringing I had. Not because DNA 'proves' it.

Judging someone's native cultural fluency based on presumptive cultural access through skin color? It gets tricky. Light-skinned privilege is a thing. Telling me I shouldn't identify as Mexican-American, or European-American based on my skin or genes... hmmm. Ni modo.

That I, as a light skinned half-breed (although Mexicans like most 'hispanics' are not considered a 'race' and let's not talk about which bubble to fill in on a census), have spent most of my life perfectly at home in both LA Mexican/ Chicano culture with all our food, music, religious expressions- AND the Euro-descended traditions of my father's family with all the "Americanisms"? This is my life. 

May the Dead of Mexico be strong and honored. May the Dead of Spain be strong and honored. May the blood of the First Nations be strong and honored. May the blood of the England be strong and honored. May the blood of Scotland be strong and honored. May the blood of Ireland be strong and honored. May all the bloods that made me, expressed and unexpressed in the rivers of my veins, be strong and honored. Back to the first blood and the first bones. All my relations.

La persona, unida, jamás será vencida... **


* 'An ocean refuses no river' is a line from a Sheila Chandra song: 'Ever So Lonely/Eyes/Ocean'. While I imagine this triptych to be about a lover, in writing this, in remembering in this line, it has expanded, and it seems that self-love, self-acceptance of our myriad mudblood selves, is paramount.

The person, united, will never be defeated, with apologies to Quilapayún. Commonly you hear 'El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido' or 'la raza unida, nunca jamás vencida' or some approximation.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Masks of Breath and Song

A replica of the Mexica (Aztec) 'Ages of Man' mask, hanging swathed in orange silk within my ancestor shrine. 

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
- verse from the Catholic Requiem Mass, traditionally used in prayers and rosaries for the Dead

My ancestors are more than just my blood. More than the markers DNA classifications can reveal. It is in the breath of my mother singing to me, the breath of her mother singing to her. It is in the way I make mole, learning from my dead grandmother in dreams. It is in the tears that streamed down my face when I saw a landscape of a certain terrain and then find out years later a distant 4x grandparent lived there. It is twice what DNA tells me and more. And while my ancestors may have been something- a specific culture, a specific bloodline- I am something different. I am their inheritance. All. Of. Them.

Genetics is wonderful, but it is not the whole story. It is not ancestry. I have my grandmother's nose. My father's eyes. My grandfather's hair. My great grandmother's 'don'. My grandmother's temper. My great grandmother's penmanship. But my DNA only reflects half of the story. 1 out of 3 ancestors is British. 1 out of 4 is Spanish. 1 out of 5 is Native American. 1 out of 9 is Irish. 1 out of 20 is Greek. And yet, I have my father's eyes. My grandfather's hair. My great grandmother's 'don'. But genetically, half the story is missing. I have ancestors I inherited 'nothing' from by DNA terms. Yet, I am still the inheritance of all of them. All. Of. Them.

I celebrate them, I celebrate my blood. All those souls and breaths and loves that made me. I will not turn ancestor against ancestor. Their battles were their own, and they are united in me. I will be the antidote to whatever ailed them. I will be the medicine that heals. I celebrate the breath that connects every human to each other, the same breath flowing through each of us since the dawn of time. We are the masks of breath and song, animated by blood and desire, and always more than the sum of our parts.

Flowers descend to earth, Life Giver sends them... 

What do our hearts want on this earth? Heart pleasure.

Life Giver, let us borrow your flowers, those golden flowers, these wailing flowers.
No one can enjoy them forever, for we must depart...
O friends, to a good place we've come to live, come in springtime!
In that place a very brief moment, so brief is life!

- Selected excerpts from Nezahualcoyotl, the Mexica Poet-King (from Cantares Mexicanos, No. 82)

My familial boveda, circa 2006, while I was living in Williamsburg. Embedded in the bookshelves that filled my room, it was a focal point of my work with my Dead for many years. When I moved, it changed, grew and evolved to fit the space I now have. But for 8 years, it was a strong foundation for me- it grew from a small shelf to a cornerstone of my bedroom. 
The living room wall, with pictures of the Dead from both sides. Some dead I knew in life, others are only known through stories and photographs, but I see my family-and myself-in them. I hear whispers, celebrate deaths and birthdays- I am amazed at the guidance, support and stubbornness of the blood. Tenacity amongst progeny. I am thankful my family kept  so many photos- it makes their stories and their presence more anchored, in spite of my forgetful out-of-sight, out-of-mind nature.
My Egun Shrine, or Lucumí Shrine for the Dead. The daily regular of food and drink and such are cleared out on a regular basis, there are always flowers and candles and water present. The shrine always reflects the multiple inheritances of my ancestry, both by blood and through ritual kinship. I offer copal smoke and prayer daily. Maferefun Egun.

I pause for breath and reflection here. It has been a hard month. But I am thankful for my parents, my family, my loved ones. Light to the shadows of my blood, of my mind, and of my body. Light to those dead and spirits that walk with me, for a short time or for lifetimes. I will close with one of my favorite songs for Egun, the collective force of the Dead as they are referred to in Lucumí.  

This is a Yoruba song for the Dead, popular in many permutations in Cuban Orisha tradition. These lyrics were published in George Brandon's 'Santería from Africa to the New World' and perhaps offer an 'original' lyric to a song passed down orally, changed by dialect and time, but not without reverence. Most popularly you now hear "Aumba wa ori" or "La umba wa ori"- this melody haunts me.  It remains one of my favorite songs in the Religion, no matter how the words are said. It is through offerings we commune, it is through prayer we exchange breath, it is through this relationship with the Dead, we gain their wisdom: the citizens of heaven sell memories. 

A nwa wa ori.
A nwa wa ori.
Awa o sun, awa o ma.
Awa o ma ye ya o
Ara orun ta iye.

We are searching for him, we can't see him.
We are searching for him, we can't see him.
We do not sleep, we do not know.
We do not know where he went to, we are only left with a shadow.
The people of heaven sell memories.