Determined that not even surgery is going to stop me from fulfilling this vow, I managed to make it to another cemetery this month – and in the same trip, finally return my drastically overdue library books (they kindly waived the fees) -because this one, Pioneer Cemetery, happens to sit right next to the wonderful Knight Library at the university (unfortunately it’s named after Phil Knight of Nike, so I think of it as the Night Library, which sounds much more mysterious). After the Masonic, Pioneer is the cemetery I have visited most in Eugene, due to its age, size, location and atmosphere. I’ve done several rituals there, primarily for Hermes. It’s full of great trees, and the scent – my gods, it’s intoxicating, I think it must be incense cedar but I’m not good at telling coniferous trees apart yet.
Looking back, I can see I was being prepared for this for months. A process of progressive breaking. First, my sprained ankle back in December. I knew it had something to do with Hermes at the time, due to some personal signs, but otherwise it seemed like just an inconvenience; I had to stay fairly still for weeks, and I didn’t like the feeling of being damaged physically. Then followed a couple months of relative stagnation – stress, disconnection, interruption. Just when I thought I might get out of it, I got sick. Really sick – worst flu I can remember having. Again, laid up for weeks, and stuck in a malfunctioning body. And it had something to do with one of my personal spirits, who is connected to illness – in fact, it was almost perfectly bookended by his two holy days. This time, a very brief respite, and then the worst of it – the gallbladder emergency, pain, endoscopy, surgery. And through it all, Dionysos. I remembered that owl pellet I found last month, after praying to Him and admitting that I was not properly Open. I remembered how I felt it might foretell something difficult, emotionally and physically challenging, but I had no idea. After they extracted an organ from me, from my digestive system, filled with hard indigestible stones, I saw that owl pellet again – regurgitated, indigestible hard bones. It was disturbingly shamanic.
This was an ordeal on several levels. I faced some of my worst fears – being put under anaesthesia, for instance, and having a scope shoved down my throat. I was physically cut open and had a part of me removed. It was terrifying. And I had gone into it at my lowest point, already depleted from months of illness, anxiety, depression. And yet, where I would have thought I would simply have fallen apart, I didn’t. In fact, in the days following, as I recuperated at home with nothing but time on my hands, I felt better than I have in months. Clearer. Lighter. Free. This time, finally, the enforced stillness of body came with a stillness of mind I had desperately needed. The connection flooded back, I had powerful dreams, I prayed.
I don’t know why it works like this, but it often does. I have done enough reading on initiation rituals and shamanic ordeals to know this. Maybe some of it is in our brains. It also seems to be the way some gods do business. Certainly Dionysos is famous for tearing you apart. I wonder, would I have needed to go through this if I had been able to learn my lessons from the lesser trials? I don’t know. But regardless, this is clearly what I needed now, to shake things loose, to transform, and to do the Work that has been set before me. And so, as I have before, I find myself saying Thank You to my gods and spirits, Thank you for torturing me, Thank you for breaking me. Thank you for removing those things inside that were blocking me. I see now how to be the thing you want me to be – I know you told me and told me, but I actually get it now. I am Opened. And not just metaphorically.
You know how they say that if you go to Fairyland and manage to get out again, you’ll either be mad or a poet? Well, the truth is that you’ll either be just plain mad, or a mad poet, but it’s not like the poet thing will let you off the hook from the madness part. You’ll probably always be on the verge of veering off into non-functional insanity, holding on by the thin rope of your inspiration.
And the things that were familiar and comforting before will seem strange and remote. And you will have no common language with the people around you, and even the words of your art may fall on deaf ears, although you will not be able to stop it lest you fall into the abyss again. And you will still love Fairyland with all your heart, even after it has done this to you. You will always be looking for the door back in.
Sound like fun? Then I have some spirits you should meet….
This month has been a difficult one, especially the last couple weeks during which I have been extremely sick with some kind of super bug that’s going around. Yesterday, however, I still managed to do my monthly trip to a cemetery for Hermes, even though it was more walking than I’d done since falling ill. It was the fourth of the lunar month and therefore an appropriate day, and I felt a strong call to go on a walk with my gods. I went to the Masonic Cemetery, the one closest to my house and also the one I’ve spent the most time in. There’s something special about this cemetery, spread out over a wooded hillside, that makes each visit magical.
For my third visit, I chose Mulkey Cemetery, a small but fairly old cemetery that also happens to be the site of my initiation into Hermes’ Mysteries, which I performed almost exactly eight years ago. (I did actually do a Mystery rite a couple years before that, in Montana, but felt it hadn’t quite clicked – although later I understood that it simply planted a seed that took years to grow.) I had not been back to Mulkey since that night, and things looked quite different than I remembered. This has got to be the most well-tended cemetery in Eugene, unsurprisingly in a fairly upscale neighborhood, with lots of flowers and elaborate plantings surrounding the tombstones.
As part of my Year with Hermes, I already shared my playlist of songs for Him, now I wanted to share some of the images I have saved for Him (especially as today is Khutroi, the third day of Anthesteria, when Hermes Psychopompos is honored). I keep similar folders of images for all my gods and spirits on my computer, and set them as a slideshow screensaver on holy days (my usual screensaver just runs through all my images). I’ll begin with ancient images:
And then modern depictions meant to be Hermes or Mercury:
And here are some that I personally associate with Him, regardless of the artist’s intent:
You’ll notice some themes here – the Magician is obvious, but the crow/raven connection is a personal one (although of course Hermes has a traditional association with birds, especially birds of omen). I will also note that while I prefer the bearded version of Hermes, as seen in herms and many other ancient depictions, almost all modern images specifically intended as Hermes show Him as clean-shaven, younger, and usually have the whole winged sandals/cap thing in there somewhere.