Most Halloweens when I was a kid, I went trick-or-treating as a ghost. I really wanted to be a witch, but we didn't have much money for costumes, so I went as a ghost. Besides, ghosts are what Halloween is all aboutthe wailing of the dead, the fright of the living, the two mingling coldly on this particular night. With each degree that the sun moved toward setting, the air became more gravid with magic. Slick and cool with it. Dangerous. One had to beware to whom one spoke on a night like this. But once I had my ghost sheet on, I was on the other sidethe dark, spectral side. As I got older, I was allowed to go all the way around the block. By myself. Our side of the block was familiar even in the dark, but once I turned the corner and ran past the pitch-black alley, I moved into unknown territory, dimly lit and silent but for dead leaves blown across pavement. I walked on, knowing that ghostskindred soulsfollowed. To what end they followed I could never tell, but I kept as far ahead of them as I could. Their fears were not my fears, and I shuddered to think what those fears might be.
Those years masquerading as a ghost, followed by ghosts, made me consider the question of the dead. I'm not convinced that they wish us well or wait to welcome us into loving arms. Their cares aren't our careswhat does such a being care about? Can they watch without eyes or listen without ears? Do they remember us, the living?
The most recent of my family to join the dead was my mother. For a year after she died, I had vivid, disturbing dreams about her. She would climb out of her coffin in ever-increasing stages of decay and try in some way to get my attention, as if she had great secrets to impart that would slake my terrible grief. In one of these dreams, she showed up at a family picnic. No one seemed to notice her but me. She stayed outside the picnic area, but kept waving me to come over to her. My father, noticing my horror, took me aside and told me to ignore her and she would go away, that nothing good could come of my talking to her. In later dreams I did talk with her, but there were no great secrets to relate, no tales from the other side. She seemed so lonelywith a loneliness like an all-consuming hunger.
Do the dead look down upon us kindly? Or do they long for the joys of the flesha Beethoven symphony, a sip of intoxicating wine, the fragrance of a perfect rose, the touch of a lover's lips? If they do, they don't tell us. We may celebrate them. We may talk to them in our thoughts late at night. We may pray to them when we're alone in the dark. We may hover near their graves, hoping. But they don't answer.
We ask "Why don't they answer?" Is it because they can't, or because they won't? Is it because it would reveal the end of the story? And what is the end of the story? Maybe it just seems that the dead don't speak to the living. Maybe they call on us to curse us for our bodies, our eyes and lips and fingers that can touch and feel and hold. Maybe they long for what they've lost and what we have. Maybe the dead do cry out to us, and we refuse to hear.
The evening air was crisp and smoldering sweet, just edging into the October chill in Michigan, and the sharpening scent of burning oak and locust leaves could make you feel a thousand years old. But I wasn't a thousand years old, I was twelve and yet the turning of the year towards the autumn awoke a special sensibility in me that was as compelling as it was difficult to articulate. I loved the fall, loved Hallowe'en, felt the whisperings of ancient ways stir and rustle within me, begging for some kind of expression. I would feel this calling many times throughout my young life, always growing more pervasive and more insistent. I started having a lot of flying dreams. Wild, high-speed flights where I was acutely aware of the cool night air around me, hyper- sensitive to the vertigo and elation of my elevation, and direly certain that my power of flight was an act of steady concentration and will. I would whoosh past the nighttime silhouettes of trees and feel this crazy anxiety that I could crash or that I would lose my altitude and feel the ground rush up terrifyingly fast. But then, as I gained a little more nerve, I would sail high above the trees, looking down on the lights of the town below.
This sense of being carried up into the sky would happen in my waking life as well. Almost as if it were a subtle layer of experience laid almost imperceptibly over my mundane life, I would glimpse the shadow movements of events through a diaphanous veil. Often these events would include another, more feral version of myself having experiences just beyond my capacity to perceive them. It was excruciating. I would take long walks late at night to court this sense of otherworldly sight. I just knew there was a great deal going on a psychic centimeter away and wanted desperately to awaken to it.
Now that I reflect on this twenty-three years later, I am surprised at the depth and breadth of the shamanic states I experienced all through those years. The autumn had a special mythos to it. A kind of dread clarity and power that would bang hard and insistent upon the door of my mundanity and demand that I partake in an ancient rite. It's a story that I just don't talk about and yet, it reads like a page out of the medieval history of witchcraft. It was as if there was a Grande Sabbat in the night sky, just like a scene scored to Saint Seans' Dance Macabre or Night on Bald Mountain by Rimsky Korsakov. I was called. Powerfully called. Whirling through the air, flying maniacally across the face of the crone mother moon. Insanely ecstatic, a creature of pure sensation and speed, I soared in a black ballet with many other beings ripping through the ethers. The blue lunar light cast its spectral blue glow down on the glades and glens of the rolling world below. Tiny flickering fires dotted the tops of the harvest hills. And the presence of dark forces was very much a part of the proceedings, in fact, it was at the center of them. Wicked it was.
But what does this mean? My present life is not about dabbling with dark entities in any way. In fact, I am rather boring in comparison. It's not as if I actually rode a black goat off into the air to commit such historically heinous acts as dancing back to back, trampling the cross and blaspheming. Whilst it certainly carried a flavor of that old nightshade-induced witches' ride, it seemed more pervasively elemental than anything else. Have other people have heard the lure to enter this shadow convocation in the sky, to ride as a witch across the face of the moon and to partake in a terrifying, unfathomable mystery? Anybody remember me from the party?
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