~ the spirits have quieted and returned through the veil . . . ~
we have a special, 1 November 2014 Samhain literary edition, featuring the inspiring and wonderful work of Deb R Lewis!
‘The Thinning Veil’ suggests itself for Samhain most especially because it discusses the closeness of life and death, as well as facing the hardships of approaching winter, and the celebration of ancestors (with a nod to Adrienne Rich). In it, I have hoped to suggest the range of ability and the differing approaches of people in my family circle, a bit of laughter at myself and my tripping points, the experiential nature of magick (there’s no scientific reason ‘Keith’ should be alive—as a rule, kidneys don’t regenerate, yet, they did in this case—and he is).
The Thinning Veil
As the wheel of the year spins, we’re now approaching Samhain—Halloween—when the veil between worlds grows thin and we can converse with ancestors.
On your household altar, have you set out an airplane-sized bottle of grandma’s favorite whiskey and her pipe, or the dark chocolate and flowers Aunt Jennifer loved, along with that piece of embroidery she did—the one with the tigers?
My Gail was born into magick, taught at so young an age there are things she’s simply known as far back as memory casts—Gail’s gifts are primarily healing- and weather-related. When we hang out along Lake Michigan’s shore, whatever’s wrong with the weather gets fixed. A glaring sun always hides behind the one cloud in the sky. Rain skirts away north or south. Then Gail calls the waves up for me.
I, on the other hand—possibly due to a Methodist upbringing—have to ask lots of questions, read extensively, keep a daily practice, and figure things out as I go.
I worked my first spell a dozen years ago, after Gail’s nursing colleague lied to get an undeserved raise, claiming credit for Gail’s work and blaming Gail for her fuck-ups. She had to go. I tied knots in black thread to bind-up her negativity, rolled a fragment of paper containing this bitch’s signature around it, packed it all in foil to reflect her bullshit back at her, then put it in a spell jar on our altar. In a week, she left to take a job that suited her better.
We’ve moved a couple people; always they left happily. We’ve used different kinds of rituals and never failed. In my limited experience, the shape, trappings, and tools matter less than the ritual’s ability to focus your intention and will, pouring these into your unconscious to work.
A few years ago I drove us home from summer vacation on North Carolina’s outer banks and we raced the clock toward Chicago (it’s nearly a thousand miles, and takes a solid sixteen hours of nonstop driving). It was Gail and I, our 9-year-old, Mollie, Gail’s niece (I’ll call her “Lill”), and Lill’s infant son. “Keith” – the baby’s father – had stayed home for his construction job—and there was muttering he wanted to be close to his heroin dealers as well. After no cell phone contact from him for three days, Lill sat in the back of the van, focused into the distance, saying, “He’s not answering.”
Now, I’d seen this during an extended argument: Keith at work on a downtown skyscraper and Lill on our sofa at the north end of Chicago, staring off, then she’d grin wickedly and say, “Oh, you think so? Well, Keith, what about this?” And she’d be silent again, as they transmitted back and forth through the ether. Now Lill was saying that Keith’s voice in the ether had gone silent. She told Gail, “Even if he was unconscious, he’d be able to answer with something.”
So we raced for Chicago. I’m an impatient driver anyway. Stuck behind a slowpoke, I growled, “Move, fucker.”
“Give me a sec, I’m working on it.” Gail patted my knee and through my leg spread the tingling that comes when she’s trying to smooth my mood.
I put her hand back in her lap. “Save it, doll, we’ve a long way to go, and you’re going to need all your juice before this is through.”
Because all this shit takes energy, eh?
I sent my urgency in a beam to the dude in front of us, pushing from my guts. Minutes later the Honda Civic zipped off the next exit. Gail said, “He has no idea why he just did that.”
“We poked him together? Shit, he won’t stop till he’s in Maryland.”
We poked a clear way to Chicago.
Hours later, exhausted, we’re at Lill and Keith’s place. Gail stays in the van with the kids, while Lill and I go in.
Lill calls, “Keith?”
Lill’s pug hasn’t met us at the door. I scan the loft’s downstairs for the dog. It’s utterly trashed, which is sooooo un-Keith. I suspect his love of smack has to do with the agonies of obsessive-compulsion—not that you’d know it now. In addition to the disorder, there’s puke splatters on the sofa, the rumpled bed sheets, the bare mattress, the floor, the wall…
I call, “Evey?” Nothing.
Lill shot up the spiral steps.
“He fucking ODed. Keith’s dead.”
At the break in her voice, I climb up to the kitchen, where Lill’s ready to bolt.
Then I see: He’s slumped on the floor like a cast-off marionette, tipped against the oven door, unblinking, the oven light shining over his right shoulder.
Lill pulls his arm, yelling, “Stand up!”
I’m thinking, “Focus your eyes! Just blink, damn it!”
Lill couldn’t lift him, gave up; he slid further down, arm dropping to the floor like a slab of tenderloin. Motherfucker was blue. Dead. I’ll never forget those unblinking eyes, the oatmeal color of his skin.
The dog, Evey, sat in vigil three feet away, glancing shamefully from Lill to her discreet little crap pile under the kitchen table to Lill to Keith.
I grabbed the pug, rushed out, sent Gail in, sat in the van with the kids and dog, called for an ambulance. A hundred years later, it arrives. Another hundred, they bring him out, and I don’t know what happened in that kitchen, but by the time the jaded EMTs transferred Keith outside, he was blinking again. He closed his eyes as they tilted him into the ambulance.
My head went wild—it was all I could do to move slow cars out of the way. I couldn’t imagine what kind of energy Lill and Gail had pushed into him from where they would’ve raised it. I’m not privy to exactly how, and it’s not something to ask about, but Gail, the healer, and Lill—Lill, who’s on a whole different level, like, a demi-goddess, doing stuff I might never understand—they brought him back from the dead.
Gail, a retired register nurse, later told how she’d told Lill her lover was dead—no reflexes, no breath, no pulse. Lill insisted she do everything and anything anyway. Lill and Keith kept Narcan on hand, and Gail gave him three doses before the EMTs arrived. “You wouldn’t usually do that,” Gail said, “But he was dead, so might as well. And, Deb, we poured so much energy into him—I shouldn’t have, but I did.”
At the hospital, the doctors said Keith’s kidneys had failed, but they were giving him Lasix. He had tubes for all bodily functions. Lill called in every magickal favor she could and magicians all through the area worked toward Keith’s recovery and health.
Gail’s health was rocky for the next year. Lill would develop a systemic infection, eventually ending up in the hospital.
And Keith? Six weeks later, he was working his construction job as if nothing ever happened. That he’s never quit heroin marks a profoundly failed initiation, but I’ll leave the matter there.
A year or two later, being broke brought it gently home, how much magick is about energy flow. What’s more, money is a form of energy and worrying about it dams—not the out-flow—but the in-flow.
If there’s anything more stressing than slow traffic, it’s money. I’m a college professor, and between semesters cash-flow trickles dry. This summer I’d paid all August’s bills on my last paycheck in July, but on August 12th, we didn’t know how we’d pay September’s rent or October’s gas bill once the weather turned cold. Gail’d just used the last of our credit on prescriptions—medicines you can’t just cold turkey or it’ll mess you up.
I felt trapped, spun up in cussing the rigged system… banks! … Congress!… those fucking Republicans!
Buttering saltines at the kitchen table, Gail said, “It’s going to work out.”
I turned on her. “I don’t have a paycheck for over another month. The jokers who are supposed to be paying you are playing lawyer games again, so how, exactly, is it going to work out?”
She put her arms around my waist, “Money’s been tight before. We’ve always pulled through, haven’t we?”
I nodded, rolling my eyes a bit.
“It’s going to be all right. Where’s the moon?” she asked.
I stopped being an ass and thought a moment. “Full… tomorrow.”
She said, “Let’s wash pennies tonight; we’ll use them to buy bread tomorrow. There’s not a slice in the house.”
This was one of the first magicks Gail ever taught me, as her grandmother, Miss Betsy, taught her: to save any pennies found laying about—you know, the ones not even bums pick up—let them know they’re appreciated by washing them in salt water on a full or waxing moon, spend them on something truly needed, and the pennies will call their friends. It’d been so long, since we’d needed to do this, I’d forgotten. So we washed pennies, and with them bought a loaf of bread.
On August 29th, twenty-nine thousand dollars—I shit you not—appeared in our checking account. It was such a huge amount of money Gail called me out of my office with a panicked voice and an ATM receipt in her hand. “I think there’s a mistake. Do you know anything about this?”
After some research, it turned out that the unexpected deposit was legit: Social Security approved her disability application and the two years of retro pay hit before the letter explaining this could run the maze of the Chicago Post Office.
That’s my advice for the next full moon: pick up pennies. Wash ‘em. Use ‘em on something wise, like bread or eggs, or to put dark chocolate on the altar for the late Aunt Jennifer and her tigers.
Deb R Lewis
resides in Chicago with her wife and daughter, teaches writing and storytelling to seniors in the LGTB community and college students, and is a company member with 2nd Story. She maintains a solitary/familial pentagrammic and folk magick practice. More at http://debrlewis.me/