Working With the Outlaw Dead

A year ago today I did a version of a kemetic ritual honoring the akhu that was specifically supposed to honor the “unmournable” akhu in Set’s name. At the time, I thought it would just be a one-time thing; a way to release souls who had not been mourned or had the opportunity to move on to the other side. Hoping to help aid them, I even summoned most of the psychopomps I knew the names of (Anubis, Hermes, and Jesus), hoping to get everyone to their preferred afterlife after an hour or two of fellowship. I thought that would be the end of it, but it very much wasn’t.  (Spirit/astral work in a nutshell, huh?) A lot of them ended up sticking around, requesting sanctuary in the place where they’d been given food, booze, entertainment and attention for the first time in, apparently, a very long time. I hadn’t done very much of any kind of spirit work at that point, but I ended up deciding to let them stay. That ended up being a better idea than I could’ve imagined, and I’ve added veneration of the Outlaw Dead as a permanent aspect of my practice; one that’s arguably even more important than my veneration of my deities.

Originally, it was only a ritual to mourn and release the unmourned. Now, the term went from “unmournable akhu” to “Outlaw Dead”, because it includes not only people who died without being mourned or given the rites their culture required, but people who lived and/or died as “outlaws”, mourned or not; not only criminals and enemies of the state, but people who were marginalized by their societies for any reason (especially those who died because of said marginalization/oppression). And then, since the original ritual itself was specifically meant to help the “unmourned” dead move on, with only the spirits who chose to stay and work with me staying, most of the Outlaw Dead I currently work with fall under the “outlaw/outsider” category, rather than simply “unmourned”. For this and other reasons, the Outlaw Dead are great to call on for magic with an activist bent. They’re also great to ask for help in general; I’m still regularly surprised by how quickly, and how much, they help when asked. Other witchy people I’ve had over have remarked on the positive energy they sense from their altar, especially during and after rituals.

In this post I’m going to first give some general advice on working with them safely and respectfully, and then share some specifics about what I do.

General Advice

If you already have a tradition, consider looking up what they did to honor their ancestors before copying what I’m doing here. Most religions have some kind of ancestor veneration, and the whole point (originally) of the ritual I did was to give some kind of mourning ceremony to the souls who weren’t properly mourned. If you have a tradition already, think of which kinds of people traditionally wouldn’t have been mourned, and make the required adjustments to make those souls the target of your rites. If you’re a strict recon, this may not be for you, as I have yet to find any prominent traditions that included veneration of specifically “outlaws” to their own culture. Working with them has also caused some run-ins with other deities; I’m pretty sure that Hermes, for example, wanted to bring more of the Outlaw Dead to the other side than wanted to go, and I suspect there was some sort of argument between him and Set about it. (Sorry, man. I guess I owe you a beer, if I ever visit a Hellenic’s altar and they’ll explain to me how Greek offerings work.) Heru and Tyr have both claimed that the chaotic/outlaw energy and goings-on can sometimes make their space uncomfortable to be in, so at the very least, separate the spaces where you venerate them from orderly, lawful entities.

Keep in mind that when you decide to invite the Outlaw Dead into your home….you are working with at least some spirits who did not, in their human lives, follow the rules. Be prepared for them to not do what you say right away, as you’re going to probably need to bribe or threaten at least some of them at some point. If you don’t want them to stay, tell them so, and be prepared to do banishing rituals if they don’t leave…although, whatever psychopomp you know best should be available and willing to help you carry any stragglers to the light for you, as an alternative to magical violence. It isn’t required to have a god or more powerful spirit in charge of the whole operation, but it’s what I do since I still don’t consider myself a particularly experienced or powerful witch, and therefore wanted to have the Set backing me up in case of emergencies. To their credit, though, the only real problems they’ve caused were political in nature; they haven’t ever, to my knowledge, gone back on their agreement to abide by the rules I gave to protect myself, my roommates, and our cat.

If you want them to stay, though…set ground rules immediately. Explain why the rules are there; “because I said so” doesn’t cut it. Bind them with your intent, but give them plenty of opportunities to escape if they so please. It’s not a bad idea to give them specific jobs, for example, the daily upkeep of your wards and protection of your household, since when I first started working with them I got more frequent requests for jobs than offerings. It’s also likely that if more than one or two are staying, they’ll want to be put into factions; in which case, it’s a good idea to give them specific ‘anchors’ in the form of pretty rocks or trinkets that you can move around as they request. I’ve taken to sometimes carrying a few of them (who’ve consented via divination) with me after asking them for luck, or protection. For more formal spells, though, I generally just use the sigils I made for them rather than their anchors.

Here’s the contract/binding words I used, after outlining the rules of the household and what I would expect from them while they stayed and received my offerings and veneration:

“And finally, I bind you with the description of our praxis:

From each according to their ability,
To each according to to their needs;
And so long as you harm only those who must be harmed,
Do as thou wilt.

With love, admiration, gratitude, and solidarity,
-[my real name]”

I made sigils for the 14 distinct “factions” of the Outlaw dead I work with, which I am including here with their permission. I don’t think that it would be necessary for anyone else who wants to honor the Outlaw Dead to use the same symbols, but these ought to call on the ones I work with when activated. They’re divided into either functions or identity markers, and I asked them each which faction they’d like to be in when I added eight more factions for a total of 14 a few months ago.

outlaw dead.jpg

(From left to right, respectively, starting on the first row: the Outlaw Dead as a whole; Serious Business/Bureaucrats; Warriors; Nature Lovers. Second row: Sick and Mad; Girls and Women; Poor and Starving; Heretics and Religious Minorities. Third row: Indigenous People; Team Edgy; Party Crowd; Idea Outlaws. Fourth row: Racial/Ethnic Minorities; Enemies of the State; Queer and LGBT+.)

I don’t think that it’s actually necessary to use any specific ritual to summon the Outlaw Dead, but as this is the one I used that got such surprising results, I’m choosing to include a variation of a ritual Devo posted last year from Eternal Egypt: Ancient Rituals for the Modern World by Richard J. Reidy (with a few more slight changes I’ve added since the last time I posted it) in case anyone is curious.

Approaching the Shrine:

Awake in peace, Lord of the Red Land, awake in peace.
I come to you, your servant, your son, I come to you.
Your beautiful scent, it calls me forward.
And upon you filling my nostrils
I, your servant, your son, I come to you.
I have made my way and I enter into your presence.
I am one of you.
Do not repulse me on the god’s path.
My feet are not impeded, I am not turned back from the god’s place.
I have looked upon you. I know you.
Your mighty Sha have enclosed me.
I have entered this place with ma’at in my heart
In order to honor the Akh of the Outlaw Dead upon this day.

*Step forward, or open the shrine, depending on your setup*

I open your temple. I come to you.
Your warmth and beauty surrounds me as I enter. I am not repulsed.
Behold, I have come to you to offer Ma’at,
to make sound the Eye for its lord.

Presentation of Light:

The torch comes to your ka, O Set, Lord of the Oasis.
Here comes he who promises the night after the day;
Here comes the two sisters from Ra;
Here comes she who was manifested in Abdju.
For I have caused it to come to you.
Even the Eye of Horus comes to you
Because I have made it so.

*Light first wick*

Come to this Eye of Horus, Great Set.
Let its light renew your youth in peace.

*Light second wick*

Come to this Eye of Horus, O Numerous Akhu who hear my call.
Come to this light and let it renew your youth in peace.

The Eye of Horus is your protection, O Weary One.
It spreads its protection over you; it defeats all of your adversaries.
Truly, your adversaries are fallen.

The Eye of Horus is your protection, O Akhu.
It spreads its protection over you; it defeats all of your adversaries.
Truly, your adversaries are fallen.

The Eye of Horus comes intact and shining
like Ra on the horizon.
The four torches go to your ka, O Set.
The four torches are your protection, O Lord of Ma’at
You are truly Enduring because of their protection.

It is Set who causes a torch to be bright for the potent Bas in the Duat and beyond.
May you make the living Ba of each and every Akh within your Domain
to be strong with their torch so that they will not be
repelled or turned back from the portals of the West.

Through your Rebellion and Strength,
Each and every akh in your Domain flourishes.
They are restored to their true shape and form
As sure as the sun crosses the sky every day.

Purification of offering space:

*Take up water bowl/pitcher*

O water, may you remove all evil,
I give you essential water, O Destroyer of the Damned One, a tide in your time.
I bring the flood waters to purify your sanctuary.
I bring you the flood waters to purify your temple
and your statue in your place.

*wet your finger and touch the four sides of your shrine, offering table or plate, etc.*

O Set, your altar is cleansed by the water;
Your altar is purified by the incense;
You are cleansed by Horus;
You are purified by Thoth.
Water invigorates your body;
It is I, your servant,
who comes to you in the palace where you reside.

Presentation of Libations:

These your cool waters, O Set
have come from your nephew, Horus.
I have come to you having gotten Horus’s eye,
So that your heart may become cool with it;
I have gotten it under your feet.
Accept the outflow that comes from you:
So that your heart will not become weary.

*Pour the water into first cup or bowl*

This water is the Eye of Horus,
take it to your countenance,
that it may brighten your face.

O Set, take this Eye of Horus
Which has been given to you by your son
So that you may live in Eternity
Glorious and pure.

*Pour the water into second cup or bowl*

O Glorious Spirits, take this Eye of Horus
It parts your mouth so that you may you taste its taste
Accept this Eye so that you may live in Eternity
Glorious and pure.

Presentation of Offerings:
Oh Lord of Power and Strength, stand up and sit down to a thousand of bread,
a thousand of beer, roast meat, your rib-meat from the slaughterhouse, “pulled” bread from the broadhall.

*place first offering*

As you are provided with a god’s-offering, these akhu are provided with bread.
You have come to your ba, Set, ba among the akhs,
in control of all that he sees, He Before Whom the Sky Trembles.
I have given you Horus’s eye, I have allotted it to you: may it endure for you with you.

*place second offering*

O Glorious Akhu, stand up and receive this your bread from me.
O Great Spirits, I will be an attendant for you.
O Enduring Akhu, accept Horus’s eye, your bread-loaf, and eat.

As everything is for those under your protection,
let everything be for the bodies of the Outlaw Dead.

Grow aroused, you Great Akhu
Take this Eye of Horus and become uplifted.
In your place of Completeness you do not hunger. You have no thirst.
Your contentment is all you know in the land of the Duat.
Your heart becomes awash with joy
And your hearts fill with ma’at.

As you take in the Eye of Horus
You shall become as complete as every NTR:
your head as Horus of the Duat—an Imperishable Star;
your face as Eyes-Forward—an Imperishable Star;
your ears Atum’s twins—an Imperishable Star;
your eyes Atum’s twins—an Imperishable Star;
your nose as the Jackal—an Imperishable Star;
your teeth Sopdu—an Imperishable Star;
your arms Hapi and Duamutef—when you demand to go up to the sky, you go up;
your legs Imseti and Qebehsenuef—when you demand to go down to the undersky, you go down;
your limbs Atum’s twins—an Imperishable Star.

O Great Akhu, become clean through Horus’s Eye and
Make your bones firm.
O Great Akhu, become Whole through Horus’s Eye and
All of your obstructions will be removed through Set’s mighty Sha.

You will not perish, your ka will not perish
As Set lives, you shall live.
As you live, Set lives.

Sun and Thoth, take each and every akh with you,
that they may eat of what you eat of,
that they may drink of what you drink of,
that they may live on what you live on,
that they may sit where you sit,
that they may grow powerful from what you grow powerful from,
that they may sail in what you sail in.
The booth of each and every akh is plaited of reeds;
the flood of each and every akh is in the Marsh of Offerings;
their feasts are among you, gods;
the water of each and every akh is wine, like the Sun.
They will circumnavigate the sky like the Sun,
They shall course the sky like Thoth.
And both akhu and NTRW shall live in peace in the Duat.
Whole and Complete. A million times effective.

Reversion of offerings:

O He Who Makes the Sky Tremble, your enemies withdraw from you.
Heru has turned himself to his Eye in its name of Reversion-of-Offerings.
These your divine offerings revert;
They revert to your servant for life, stability, health and joy.
So that you may flourish for eternity.

I don’t do this ritual every time I offer to the Outlaw Dead, but when I have time and something special to offer or ask for, I try to. I’ve also decided to make it a custom to do this ritual on the first full moon of January, or the Wolf Moon, as that’s the astrological anniversary of my meeting them.

When working with them more casually, the process is as follows:

  1. Designate an altar space/ritual space. Mine looks like this:
  2. Light a candle for each faction you’re working with. This is the mains source of energy and focus for the corresponding spirits to dwell in while the ritual is in progress.
  3. Set out offerings.
  4. Play music. I always play this song first, and then put on this playlist.
  5. Greet the Dead.
  6. If you are going to perform magic or a ritual with/for them, describe it to the Dead and ask for their permission before beginning.
  7. End the ritual by blowing out the candles and turning off the music.

My process for performing spells calling on the Outlaw Dead for help is as follows:

  1. Using your divination method of choice for yes/no answers, obtain consent from specific factions to be used for a spell.
  2. Describe the spell to the Dead.
  3. Create a sigil for spell, incorporating the sigils for the Dead you’re calling on along with the object of the spell.
  4. Charge and activate sigil with preferred method.
  5. Spell jars can also be left on the altar for the Outlaw Dead to work on; adding sigils to the decoration of the jar describing the factions called upon and the spell itself recommended.


While I’ve added a bunch of warnings, and I do try to err on the side of caution when I work with them (as with all astral and spirit work), I would consider it unfair to say that these are particularly unsafe or malicious spirits. There have been some conflicts (such as the aforementioned issues with Heru and Tyr), but on the whole, they’ve been an overwhelmingly positive, generous, and helpful addition to my religious practice. I’m posting this with their permission and input because I hope that they can find more people to honor and work with them in the larger kemetic and pagan communities. I’m not sure anyone who asked for this post a year ago is still interested, but hey -better late than never.

It’s also a good idea to remember that “Outlaws” also includes the souls of people you, personally, would consider despicable. Personally, I just expect them to follow the ground rules I’ve laid out, and try not to inquire into exactly what kind of “outlaw” any of them were beyond the faction they requested to be sorted into. If you prefer, though, you could always add an aspect of your spell that bars, for example, the spirits of violent criminals from your space. I choose not to do this because I feel my role in my work with them is not to judge them for what they did when they were alive. The point of the practice is, as I wrote above, radical love, admiration, gratitude, and solidarity. No shortcuts to make myself more comfortable with the moral gray area all of us, especially “outlaws”, live in.

It’s not just about getting magical help and feeling like a particularly edgy necromancer (although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of why I enjoy it). The core of this practice is about appreciation for other people, in particular people who it can be dangerous or inconvenient to be associated with, or hard to love and forgive because of the mistakes they’ve made. In this case, it’s dead people, but the practice of “radical love, admiration, gratitude, and solidarity” has improved my sense of empathy for other living humans, my sense of responsibility toward them, and lit a fire under my ass vis a vis activism and getting my life together so that I can one day have the power to defend the human rights of living outlaws as well. For this reason most of all, I sincerely hope other pagans find this post useful, and incorporate some level of veneration for the Outlaw Dead into their practices.

open letter to the pied piper

going through and changing all the proper nouns and so on to lowercase letters is a pain in the ass, but so is being alive in general. hail jesus and also satan. trigger warning for the usual suspects.

im about to go break a bottle of whiskey in the desert somehow, if i still have the energy after i post this. whoever knows what the future holds, anymore.

pied piper, if you can hear this, it’s 2019, and i hope you’re pleased with yourself.

no one watches over us. our parents are missing, in body, mind, or soul; they stare through us, glassy-eyed, seeing not a child but a burden. Jesus hides behind stained-glass windows, where pastors promise us brimstone and hellfire. makes it difficult to have a real conversation. the wages of sin, of shy sapphic touches and mexican ditch-weed passed between shaking, scraped-up, badly painted fingers. Holiness is as aloof as the aurora borealis; we live in the desert. some people are willing to wait their whole lives to see proof of the beautiful rumor with their own two eyes, instead of on a northerner’s instagram. we’re children, but we’re not dumb; we know we’ll never see it ourselves. our elders assure us we’ll never manage to leave the South for good. they seem pretty damn pleased with themselves for being so sure of that.

we go where children aren’t allowed to go, late at night, we walk through dark alleys to avoid patrolling cops enforcing curfew. Nobody watches over us but the moon. we are all silvery pales and deep inky darkness, the night sky reflected on human flesh.

you will never feel this electric again, the way you do the first time you smoke weed beneath the stars, ducked into one of the shadows the streetlamps cast, during the intermission of a garage band concert two blocks away. between the adrenaline from the show and the high and committing a felony within a mile of the police station, you feel not invincible but luminescent. knowing your family members who are known felons would beat the shit out of the kid who’s getting you high only makes it better. years older than a child but held hostage in a high school that never teaches you anything interesting until you’re old enough to be kicked to the curb for not stepping in line, all you can do is take your thrills where you can get ‘em and enjoy the company wherever you can find it. that’s the moment you make your decision, although at the time you think it’s just a realization. living here in west texas is like being in prison or the “disciplinary alternative education program” where my friends used to get high before they went in, and offer me a hit or two before the teachers showed up, and i would turn them down because i didnt need the fucking headache; it’s not so bad, except that they won’t let you leave.

i told my mom that a pedophile had just moved into the neighborhood, and she told me to go ahead and walk to DAEP anyways. she didnt want to wake up in the morning and drive me. she told me not to skateboard there and not to carry a knife. i did what the fuck i wanted to, on the way to and from the place where they let me do my school work and then read all day until it was time to leave. i was never good at skateboarding, but people kept telling me to wear a helmet. to this day, i still go around without a helmet on my head every time i’m on wheels. shocker, i know.

loneliness, anger, fear grow inside us like termites gnawing at rotting wood. the town elders assure us Christ alone can save us. we are living even as we devour ourselves and each other and any chance at salvation, we become empty. when we breathe air whistles through us, stinging the rotting places we can still feel, chilling the empty parts. we listen to the strange melodies of breath entering and exiting us, strange half-alive half-dead harmonicas. our pain molds the music we make the way a guitarist tunes her strings. when the stars align just right, one or two or three of us will sit together as we drink cheap stolen whiskey or smoke cheap weed and cigarettes, and we will tell each other about the strange elation of emptiness and the slow, never-ending grinding of worms and maggots making lunch out of our insides. we will tell each other it actually doesn’t hurt that badly, but it does always hurt. if we’re lucky and move slowly and don’t startle each other, sometimes, we’ll sit together beneath the stars and share stories as we share vices. if all goes well, we learn we are not alone. there are other queers and witches and goddamn hippies and devil-worshiping rockers among us, even here, twenty feet away from our neighbors who love to call the cops on us.

no matter what happens, we sit in some safe place outside of our houses at night, waiting for the Devil to show up and offer us everything under the sun as he tries to get us into his van. so long as we’re together, we just laugh in his face and keep drinking. i guess the town elders were right. aprt of us definitely died there. part of us continues to die there. the town elders continue to kill their grandchildren by insisting we will be buried in the same graveyard as them. i’m starting to remember all the things i thought i would forget forever, and i gotta admit: wherever it is that i die, i’m not gonna regret not attending their funerals. if they wanna be buried in their hometown so badly, that’s their prerogative. i’d rather let you kill me on the streets of a city they all told me i’d never stay in. i’d rather become a ghost that haunts the streets of the city of angels than be buried in the same dirt as my great-grandmother.

pied piper, im 21 now, and i’m still one of the children who look up towards the moon, exhale smoke in his direction, a small quiet prayer with no return address: have mercy on us. don’t judge so harshly. we are still young, after all.

-have you had enough yet? have you collected your fee, or should i keep talking?

little red

hopefully i’m done posting poetry for today. i’m trying to get my hands on a list of all the American representatives currently voting to approve a state of emergency in order to let a little-dick waste of space build a useless wall, so that we can all get this Execration Party Started, but that’s gonna take a few days at least. anyways, here’s the first fairy tale rewrite poem i wrote! if i’d written it a year or two later it would’ve been part of the “if you can hear this” series, and i really like it, so i’m gonna retcon it in now. 

“in my version the wolf makes a quick getaway with little red riding hood slipping, traumatized, out of his innards, covered in blood, covered in horror

the ax-man walks her back home and tells her to stay out of the forest but

but at night little red stares up at the ceiling of her log cabin house and her insides burn with fury. they burn with the memory of the slick warmth of that wolf’s stomach, the wolf she trusted, the wolf who lied and swallowed her whole. they burn with the knowledge that she has lost the woods and the freedom she once had to sprint through them, innocent, laughing, fearless. they burn with the knowledge that she now carries worldliness and distrust and her running is not for joy, now, it is for terror and as she thinks of the wolf that did this to her, her insides burn with a promise.

and so as little red grows up she starts to take a liking to axes, eavesdrops at the conversations of local hunters and trackers for years. she finds axes small enough for her to carry and learn to swing, pretending she is just gathering firewood, speaking to no one of how she sometimes thinks that she herself is an ax being sharpened by time and anger and the sound of a wolf howling in the dark forest where she can no longer stray without her heart beating in her ears and her skin growing cold, warning of terror

one day, when she feels ready, she re-enters the woods, her woods, where she has been too afraid to travel for so long

and at first it makes her sick to even go past the first line of trees but she goes back, day after day, each time getting a little further because she knows the wolf is still out there

until one day that very wolf looks up and sees the meal he lost, sans red cloak (terrible camouflage) but with an ax in her hand and when he sees her smile he runs -or rather, he tries

but little red had always been the faster of the two

and when she returns to her home, triumphant, she wears that wolf’s fur as her new cloak, and what do you know-

it’s red, too.”

I never liked how the story ends in deus ex machina

I’m here to file my report as the vixen of the wolf pack;
Tell Patient Zero he can have his rib back

Open Letter to Icarus

since i’m Posting, i’m gonna go ahead and add the first one (of three) of these i ever wrote. it was also the first poem i ever read at an open mike, in case that sweetens the pot for anybody.

“icarus, if you can hear this, it’s 2016 and i’ve just been given my own set of wings. freed from my own prison, for so long i’ve had to watch my step and lower my eyes, keep my voice reasonable and be careful. careful, always careful. always waiting for the fallout of accidentally sounding too bold.

they say the young think we’re invincible. icarus, i feel like soaring up above all reason and daring gravity to take me down. i want to feel the sun burn me alive -or is that just the burn of too many shots of whiskey down my underage throat, sitting in my stomach- i know the dangers. i know i carry the burden of my parents’ mistakes. i know the fall would kill me. i know i’m not immortal. but i can’t make myself stop. i ought to glide but the sky is so beautiful, so empty and inviting. i’m so tired of it all being denied to me. is our temptation really the idea that we could become divine? or is it just that we can’t stomach the word “no” anymore, the chains are gone but our minds are still full of them, maybe the heat will melt them away when my medication can’t seem to erode them and my therapist can’t talk me into believing they aren’t there.

icarus, my arms are tired. my soul is heavy and my father was not as good a craftsman as yours. his own wings were clipped and i’m feeling somewhat giddy and icarus, maybe some part of me wants to fall. drowning would be so much easier than this aching, constant struggle to stay in the air. i may as well see how high i can reach first, if the waves will claim me one day anyways.

we have both spent so long paying for our parents’ sins. we have both dreamt of freedom but forgotten to remember the burden of our own weight. what waits for us on the shore, anyways, icarus? a decade of classes i’m not interested in for a degree that may make me a hypocrite and a mountain of student loan debt? a lifetime of loneliness because we never learned how normal people act, we never understood how to connect to those raised in happy homes? icarus, is the burning we feel the wax melting down our limbs or is it the anger in our bones that may never really disappear. i, too, want to fly up to Heaven and demand whatever deities are responsible to answer for their choice to ignore my prayers, night after night, year after year. i’m used to defying those more powerful than me, and if they choose to strike me down, well, it looks like i’m heading that way anyhow, doesn’t it?

is the burning we feel, but ignore, the sun warning us we’re being reckless, is it the cigarette smoke at the back of my throat that i inhaled just because i could, is it the wanderlust and impulsivity telling me to blow all my cash and get wasted and get into cars with strangers, try new drugs i know my brain can’t handle, kiss strangers with bad intentions and let them coax me into a fall from grace. is it the way i’ve cut myself off from everyone who cares enough to tell me i’m being irresponsible, i have too much of a life ahead of me to waste it here because I started breaking the law again and no one wants to hire a junkie. is it the aching of the places where i’ve started hurting myself again just so that i could feel. am i on my way down, icarus, am i following you to our fate because i, too, have never been able to tell when it’s time to back down?

i don’t know. i don’t know. when people think suicidal they think of deadened eyes, not a Cheshire grin looking for a good time. they think giving up looks like stillness, not straining yourself to reach a height others may never dream of. icarus, i’ll try to learn from you. i’ll try to watch myself and stay below the clouds and maybe even land gracefully one day, when i finally reach land, if these half-melted wings and this broken soul can manage it. maybe i’ll survive after all. maybe one of us can make it out alive.”

if you can hear me, tell Pandora I said hi and that I don’t blame her for wondering. I would’ve opened that damned jar too.

Look who’s digging their own grave
That is what they all say
You’ll drink yourself to death

Open Letter to Cain

please nobody read this and think “oh so smarmy hates me personally,” or “oh smarmy is trying to make Jewish figures into kemetic figures” or any shit like that, i’ve literally been mad at Cain since I was a 6 year old Christian and i deal with #emotions by rewriting Raquel’s fantastic “Sisyphys if you can hear this” poem that still makes me cry like a baby every time i read it.

“Cain, if you can hear this: what the fuck is your problem? I don’t even want to tell you what year it is, because it’s too late in history for two hunters with siblings they’re supposed to be watching out for to need to explain to each other why killing your brother is unforgivable where lying to God isn’t.

it’s 2019. I never went hunting with my cousins or friends. It seemed cruel, and then it seemed necessary but a cruel thing to take joy in, and then it seemed like a boy’s club where no one really wanted me in, and then it seemed like a weird, boring, expensive way to waste a lot of time and have a lot of meat to process. We can walk into a supermarket and buy fresh, healthy meat anytime we want these days, Cain (that is, if you have the money, and if the latest crazy, racist tyrant hasn’t de-funded the organizations that keep our food safe so that he can have money to build yet another pointless wall that no one but him wants or needs). Our ancestors killed so many wolves that today, our ecosystem relies on human beings killing deer for sport, to make sure they don’t overpopulate and wipe themselves and many other species out, for lack of any natural apex predators who are willing to hunt them for food. In church they told me not to be friends with people who weren’t Christians, because you never knew who might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

People who have never met me are nervous around me because I remind them of you, Cain, but I never blamed my brother for the cruelty of my father. We never tore each other apart just because we could and I was mad at God because I knew he would prefer a sweet and brilliant daughter or a smart and funny son to the angry, boisterous queer I was. Cain, my sister told me she tried on my dresses when no one else was home and I was overjoyed she knew who she was so soon. My little brother has more friends than I ever will and I can’t stop laughing at his Youtube channel. I’m not like you, Cain, not where it counts, and my brothers were never really Abel; they were just kids. We all were. So were you, I guess, but did you really have to use a rock?

I don’t know, man. They used to tell me the moral of your story was to be slow to anger, meek enough to inherit the Earth. I don’t think they really read your story at all, Cain; they forget the part where you walked away and never came back, and through your endless tormented wandering, created the kingdoms that today’s pastors talk about in such loving terms. The same kingdoms they’re quick to defend “in the name of God” if you suggest breaking a law or a window may be better than letting a cop take a life. Cain, when you hear them tell the story of the first murderer and hope it scares us all so much we never get angry or fight back, I hope you hear it and laugh a little, for once.

I’m still mad at you. Brothers and sisters are different. They’re the only ones who you’ve both known your whole lives.”

-Tell the Devil I said to stay the fuck away from my family; we’re not afraid of him anymore, either.

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
Will in time both outpace and outlive you

A Bad Dog

Massive Trigger Warning for this one (animal abuse, trauma, child abuse, misogyny, uhhh, just TW In General I Guess) Also, it would behoove you to read Devo’s “A Good Horse” posts (X X X X) as this post was not written necessarily as a response to those posts, but it would be lying by omission to not mention them here.

Set showed me a collar again, on Balls Day 2019, as we were joking and celebrating. He seemed nervous and excited, talking about the designs, the decorations on it: “It’s going to be difficult no matter what, but I thought maybe if you like how it looks…” He trailed off when he saw me staring at it, probably because he noticed how my eyes were drawn to the collar the way they have been drawn to weapons people have pulled on me, or on other people when I was nearby; my eyes glancing periodically back to the wielder of the weapon every few seconds, to gauge intent, before being pulled back to the weapon itself, as surely as the gravity of the Earth attracts my feet.

Set stared at me for a moment, and then said quietly, “Nevermind.” He put the thing away, immediately giving up on whatever it was he had planned (at least, for now). He didn’t seem angry in the slightest; just sad, and tired, and helpless.

I wasn’t expecting that. I looked at him curiously.

“You’re not ready,” he said by way of answer. “Look at yourself; look how you’re looking at me. You barely saw it, and you’re already…switching.”

He means I’m switching “modes”, reflexively; a trauma response. While my rational, human mind may tell me that this is something many people do as a part of consensual sex games, or consensual power exchanges as part of agreements between them and their deities, or in a more metaphorical sense, something almost everyone does as a regular part of being a functional adult in this world of property rights and wage labor and omniscient, omnipotent surveillance states and oligarchical control of the planet’s future…despite all the reasons and rationalizations and historical precedents and hypothetical justifications I can and have come up with as to why this should be okay, on a basic, primal, emotional level, this is not okay. It cannot possibly be okay for someone who loves me to “collar” me and control me by way of a leash, or the threat of a leash, or the commands a dog’s owner gives its pet.

Whenever I see a collar offered to me, I begin transforming, whether I want to or not, into a dog who resents its master so much that it will not cooperate. It will not allow itself to be touched, petted, praised, or otherwise bribed with treats and affection. It will not go in the direction the leash is pulled without throwing every single ounce of muscle and effort it has into resisting, even if it knows that effort does little to deter the one holding the leash. It will not trust, it will not obey, it will not learn, it will not befriend. Not out of pride, as most people seem to assume is the underlying motivation when a human acts this way; but out of a bone-deep, animalistic fear that comes from understanding that whoever is doing this to you cannot possibly genuinely love or respect you. (Many Big Name Polytheists and born-again Evangelicals talk lovingly about the “fear of God”, its alleged ability to humble you in such a way that you become a wiser and kinder human being because of it, but I firmly believe that the people who say these things have forgotten what real, genuine fear feels like.) The beast I become in these moments will resist every threat, every beating, every bribe, every attempt at reconciliation. It will snap at any hand that gets close enough to its mouth and attack anything that gets too close to it. It will not even consider the possibility that they mean no harm, because it knows that the things they do that they consider to be their right or even their responsibility as the dog’s owner, in reality, hurts it in a way more profound than any of them, having never been on the wrong end of the leash themselves, could ever comprehend. (Or maybe they do know, and just don’t care. The difference between the two, from its point of view, is so small as to be negligible.)

What’s more, it does not resist so viciously because it imagines that its rebellion might someday be rewarded in freedom. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no illusion in its mind of hope, no sanctuary to be found. The beast that controls me when my god lets on that he wants to “collar” me, has already given up on freedom. It does not believe there is any path from where it is, to where it wants to be. It believes that if it submits, it may be pampered and live the rest of its life in a gilded cage, slowly growing to accept being used against its will by creatures who obviously see its true nature as beneath contempt, slowly forgetting what it is and pretending to be something else in order to gain a slightly more comfortable prison. It believes that by resisting, it is only inviting a stronger collar, a stouter leash, a crueller hand controlling it. It believes that it is only delaying the inevitable, horrible, lonely end: eventually the dog’s owners will give up, decide it is a bad dog after all, and send the dog to be put down. The dog’s owners will mourn for the good dog they hoped to turn the bad dog into, and they will complain at the time and money they wasted trying to turn the bad dog into a good dog, and they will tell each other that next time, they will be careful to only buy a good dog. They will be careful next time to buy a puppy from respectable, reputable breeders rather than a rescue dog who had, clearly, been turned into a bad dog by its previous owners and circumstances.

I stopped writing this, wanting to take a break and walk around, listen to music, relax a little. I found that the rain has picked up from sprinkling to drizzling, and walking around listening to music right now would be miserable. I left the door to my trailer open, getting a little wet from raindrops blowing in my face, scowling at yet another convenient coincidence: to avoid the rain, I will be staying in the haunted trailer, continuing to type about the trauma of spending so long as a young, crazy, queer anarchist in communities that believe G/god(s) have the right to abuse humans “for their greater good”; authority figures have the right to abuse those of low status to “maintain law and order”; that white people have the right to abuse People of Color/Jewish people “to defend the border” or “to defend our culture” from outsiders; men have the right to abuse women and queers so that they can “feel like a man”; adults have the right to abuse children so that the children learn to “respect authority” and “know their place”; and all have the right to abuse the animals and the plants and the earth in order to maintain short-term profit.

From the Southern Baptists to the public schools, from online pagan spaces to the oil boomtown I grew up in, from the Texas Panhandle where I grew up to the MAGA-hat infested city I now live in, from the people who have held my leash here on Earth to those who have held it on the astral, it seems that all my enemies have this in common: they believe their authority gives them the right to ignore the choices I make about my own life, and instead, enforce the choices they make about my life. And so long as I know that Set is bound by Ra, I physically cannot convince my animal self that it is safe being bound, in any way, to Set. And so, no matter what Set does to make it better, no matter how he scratches me behind the ears and tells me “Good girl” and does his job as my deity to keep me healthy, safe, well-fed, and entertained…he cannot take me on walks. He cannot teach and direct and train me the way he needs to, because even if he decides to do it the hard way; collar me by force, let me exhaust myself trying to get free, and then grimly, brutally show me the way to get food and comfort is by obeying him, even then, he knows I will not cooperate. I will glare at him, the deity I love and believe in wholeheartedly and trust implicitly in many other contexts, and I will let him try everything he can think of to gain my cooperation, until he eventually gives up and sends me to the pound, with all the other bad dogs, to await euthanization in a small, cramped, smelly and lonely cage.

And so, when Set brings out the collar and I stare at it like its very existence is my agonizing death sentence, Set does not become offended at my lack of faith in him and his methods. He just stares at me with an almost incomprehensibly sad look on his face, the look of bitter learned helplessness, his emotions an eerie mirror image of my own. Even the physically strongest, most powerful, most forceful god in our pantheon cannot force the trust that a truly loving, respectful, functional bond between us would require, any more than I could force Set to manifest in front of me by the sheer power of will and faith alone. It isn’t a matter of me not being “pious” or “holy” or “reverent” enough to accept the “cruel lessons” one must accept in order to find the alleged beauty and justice and necessity of “sacred” slavery to the gods; it just doesn’t work that way.

And as surely as the animal part of me knows that were Set to collar me by force, the path he would try to walk me down would eventually end with Set defeating it either through fundamentally changing it to what Set wants it to be, or by sending it to be killed for failure to fall in line; as surely as the animal part of me knows that, the part of me that has spent years getting to know Set, knows that Set would despise the spoils of that victory. I believe wholeheartedly that my understanding that Set is sickened by the very idea of doing that to someone he loves, is a greater testament to my faith in him than any attempt to force myself to be “a good dog” could ever be.

Maybe the next time I “die” for the NTRW and their machinations and dreams of some Greater Good that they will only allude vaguely to when I ask them about it directly, maybe next time, this is the part of me that will die: the bad dog. Maybe it will die and I will find that, actually, I am somehow okay with this after all -or at least, willing to pretend to be, in order to cling to whatever life they will allow me to have. Maybe it will take ten years or ten lifetimes, but eventually, maybe they will find a way to kill the bad dog and save the good devotee. Maybe I, with my puny human brain, just could never understand the big picture well enough to understand that what seems to me to be obvious evidence of the most callous kind of abuse -the neglect of my spirit- is actually, somehow, an act of love.

Maybe, but somehow, I really, really doubt it.

The rain has let up; I’m going to get high and go listen to music and, hopefully, forget all about this for a little while.

But the best you’ve got is powerless against me
And all your little schemes break when they come crashing up against me

Rest In Power, Opportunity

Alternatively Titled: A response to Guante’s A Pragmatist’s Guide to Faith

Opportunity, we crafted you with all the care the modern space station could muster. We hoped and prayed and labored and did a truly unholy amount of math. We put you in a big metal bullet, strapped it to a ridiculous amount of explosive material, and lit the fuse. We sent you rocketing through the void of space, a distance further than we can really comprehend, just to get you to a rock a little further away from the sun than our rock. We knew that Mars was freezing cold and the home to terrible storms. We knew you were too far away for us to ever fix you. We only asked you to stay alive for three months, to send us pictures of that strange new world, one we know we probably will never walk on but still can’t sleep at night for wondering what it looks like. Three months were all we asked for, all we built you for.

It’s been fifteen years. How the fuck did you do it, Opportunity? How did you stay alive? How did you, all alone on the cold and vicious red planet, manage to outlast the Bush presidency, all the time sending us videos and pictures and maps of a place untold generations only ever knew as a star that was sometimes particularly bright in the night sky? How did you move over 45 kilometers over the rough and unforgiving terrain, how did you keep yourself moving for so long on those shitty tires, powered by the dim light of the distant sun alone? We only built you to last three months. These days human beings can expect to live to be eighty or ninety years old, but we are all in awe of your decade and a half.

You were supposed to see if water had ever been there and what the dirt was like. You found the bones of an alien underwater lake. You found rock surfaces that had to have been altered by frost or water, and recently, in modern times, even! You found places where Martian water had touched Martian magma and been vaporized. You sent us pictures of the paths left in Mars’ body by wind patterns now lost to time. You sent us pictures of meteorites, still sitting in the same places where they originally fell from the Martian sky, where they’ve been untouched by anything but the Martian atmosphere, ever since. You sent us evidence of an ancient acidic lake on the planet’s surface. You showed us that life was habitable on Mars for millions of years; just because we got here too late to see for ourselves doesn’t change that. Life could have happened there’ maybe it did happen there. Maybe it could happen there again. We know it all thanks to you and your late sister, Spirit. The human race is forever grateful to your discoveries.

Today, February 13, 2019, they said that a gigantic dust storm got you and you’re almost certainly dead. The last thing they sent you was a goodbye song from Billie Holiday. Maybe one day we will colonize Mars, and if that day ever comes, we will brave the giant dust storms for the chance to find pieces of you, the visitor the human race sent to a planet we longed to visit but could barely see in our night sky.

Friends of mine once explained to me that in Shinto, objects are thought to have sentience, emotions, and possibly even souls if they’ve been around long enough. I tried to be polite, but I didn’t get it. To me it was ludicrous to treat an inanimate object as though it could feel pain. It’s a side effect of being, as my junior high school debate teacher once called me, a child of chaos: you don’t let yourself care about the objects you own when you know that you don’t really own them. You don’t let yourself mourn for broken things when you know anything might break at any moment, when you know it because you watch it happen all the time. Sometimes it’s hard to move past the habits that pain leaves behind, even once the pain is mostly gone.

But when I read your story, Opportunity, I understood; you have blessed me with not just the knowledge of the surface of a new planet, but also, a greater respect for the way of life of millions of my fellow human beings, both dead and alive. Only a deeply self-centered and shallow understanding of the concept of “life” could leave you out of its definition. Opportunity, the one who outlived the most optimistic of human expectations. Opportunity, whose story made me remember vividly when I lived in Georgia, wasn’t even old enough to be in kindergarten, and longed with the single-minded unreasonableness of a child for the first career I ever seriously considered: to be an astronaut. To leave the planet and explore space, to chase after the irresistible call of a place no one else has seen yet. To share the sky with the stars themselves. Some would say I’m more alive than you, Opportunity, but you have surpassed even the wildest dreams of my youngest, most foolishly ambitious, most newly, vividly alive and aware four-year-old self. I pay homage to you with this letter, the fantastic machine that is either buried or will soon be buried by the dust of Earth’s redder, colder sister planet.

From today until the day something finally manages to make the the electricity keeping my heart beating cool and die. From that day until the day the last human being breathes their last. From that day until the day the sun explodes. From the death of our star to the eventual heat death of the universe, the eventual cold lonely darkness that will consume existence itself when entropy finally, inevitably defeats the light. From today, until a time with no day and night, until the end of all things: we will remember you, Opportunity, and thank you. Thank you, for refusing to go gently; may you inspire us to do the same.

Well, cars break down and people break down
And other things break down too
So lets go
Down together