Damned and Dirty

Funny, for someone who showers twice a day and cleans the home compulsively, I am happy as a pig in mud when I’m working like a pig in mud…  I grew up around god-fearing folk who were convinced that Jesus himself was looking at every baseboard, running his prim little finger over every mantle, silently judging our impurity.  And yet, I never got the impression Jesus would have cared.  I don’t think many otherworldly beings do care once they’ve left this tethered place.  Why should they care?  They know what we are, they know we are small, slimy, imperfect, puking, farting, bleeding, bile-filled baboons grunting in the mud and slathering ourselves in chemical compounds daily.  They don’t usually care, not unless literal purification is their game.  I will go before the altar of the Mother and Father of bones, witches and corruptions; with dirty feet and sticky hands and tangled hair, and they will smile at my plainness, and celebrate my abandon.

Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but my gods are not always clean, pristine beings.   In fact, I’m not entirely certain the spirits and entities that typically work with me are what someone would call a god-- needing all the bells and whistles and applause so commonly offered to the divine, and they certainly don’t mind some dirt and grime.  As a matter of fact, I’d say that the spirit world in all its vast and varied array, does not always want, need or even conceptualize our concept of cleanliness.  I know from personal experience that the world of the spirits (which include the long-decayed dead and the nightmarish otherworldly) that there is a place for all of it, for the grave and the temple.  There must be a place for it in magic, because it exists in nature, and there is nothing in nature that is without value.  I think we place too high a value on making magic look clean, pristine without a little bit of mean, and I don’t care for that power-washing of the dark arts.  We’re just animals, folks.  We’re just rotting animals like the others; covered in bacteria and filled with viruses.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’s not a good thing.  It just is.

Feral Folk-magic

Do you have any idea how much filth goes into folk-magic?  The garbage bin or dumpster is a valuable resource in some regards; you’ll never know when you need the soiled socks of someone who slighted you, you’ll never know just how useful an outhouse can be until your dropping the names of your foes down into the shit-pit.  To cause living things to grow in the body of an enemy, it was commonly recommended to feed them the crushed corpses of snails, lizards and worms, or to fill a dolly with rotting meat with maggots.  The fresh and bloody brains of hares were rubbed on the gums of babes; toenails and urine would be soaked in the drink of an errant lover; feces of beasts would be dried, powdered and sold as supplements (and sometimes still are). 

Humans harvest the bile of suffering bears for folk medicinal hogwash and the fat of dead men were once believed to be an effective ingredient in candle-making.  Hell, some of my favorite old love charms referenced in Greek and Roman witchery called for the flesh of children, the fingerbones of murdered men and the blood of puppies.  One charm I’ve found called for the hair of a desired lover to be sewn through the flesh of a dead man.  Another I’ve found in a book on Neapolitan witchcraft, Italian Witchcraft Charms and Neapolitan Witchcraft (Folklore History Series) called for the use of a dead man’s finger joints in a fidelity philter.  Horrid stuff, but still a part of magic—the darker end of it at least. 

Dancing With Dirty Divinity

The ritual of worship between me and the spirit who aids in my Red Work- Let’s call her Aunt Lottie for short, does not require that the house is spotless, and doesn’t mind dancing in the dirt—she requires strong whiskey, coffee-grinds, clothes in burgundy and blush, perfume bottles, chiles and mirrors.  She is an avatar for an old entity, one many would recognize once you smelled that cinnamon, clove, sticky sweet scent of the grave.   She dances topless, in high ruffled skirts and laughs readily.  She doesn’t ask for my hands to be clean, or my altar to be well oiled.  She, like me, is a creature of her comforts and can live with the rest.

The Miner, another spirit who only ever shows up to guide me when I’m lost between worlds (a bad trip will do that) is another entity who demands no unsullied place to dwell—he likes the golden sandy dirt of the desert, the rust at the base of an old pickaxe, and tweed cloth that is worn-in with the musk of masculinity and labor.  He may have been some terrifying Tommyknocker at one point, but now he travels in that cosmic space, with dirty, lowly creatures like me for his company.

They are not like Hekate, who will not let me keep a film of dust on her table.  Some spirits of incredible power, once lived in fleshy bodies like ours, and do not worry for the trivialities they have surpassed when crossing through death’s doorway.

The Vile Vials of Via

When I was young, I was so afraid to allow myself to stray away from what was deemed to be “proper” and “clean” even though so many of my gifts lie in rot, waste, and withering.  Picture, a little 11-year-old witch with vials of vile putrid molding and decaying organic matter under her bed, hiding on the wooden bed boards with my collection of soapstone elephants and yellow jade toucans.  To my mother, it looked like some gross science experiment, but to me, they were the first vestiges of spirit bottles- they were places where strange entities would come to visit, to hide in.  I’d read the decay, the flowering bacteria stretching out in green and white mottled rings, the black slime of decomposition, the formation of salt crystals in rancid tones— I would read these changes and metamorphose like some kind of crystal ball, one that would tell me how well or how poorly a charm was doing.  Sometimes I could see disease coming simply by interpreting the bile in my throat as I watched the anaerobic bacteria make an alien planet of my glass vials.  Sometimes, I would open one vial ever so slightly, letting the bacteria feed on the slight bit of oxygen as I breathed an angry wish over the contents, only to close it back up and put it back in the darkness below the bed.

It seems a little silly now, I suppose, this strange work of watching living matter decay behind glass, pouring the blackish, sour ooze from one vial into the mouth of a dolly, telling the future weather forecast from some mixture of battery acids and liquified animal tissue…  That little scent of ammonia and that sweet, sickly smell that comes from rot—it didn’t make me run, it made me curious.  It’s life, it’s death and I am in the service of both realms, and so to me there was something holy in the rot and the mold.  So much activity hidden in the airless darkness, and it made magic for me, small as it was. 

These days not much has changed.  I putrefy and mold and rot whatever pleases me.  A black bottle charm is something special, it’s transformative, it’s icky, it’s… real.  These days I don’t always bother to wash the dirt out from under my nails when I’m digging up roots, nor do I always bother shaking the cobwebs out of my puffy mane after wandering through the laurel hedges.  My work needs a little dirt sometimes, it needs that sickly grime, as a protective mask, as a blessing from the earth, as evidence of death and life’s power.

Life is dirty and I know it well.  Life is grime and grease; it is acrid and oily and in a constant state of withering even as it grows.  I love it.  I live for it.  I serve the dirty gods of filth and desiccation just as I serve the gods of purity and sanitation.  A balance is struck in witchcraft, between forces that seem opposing but are working in complete compliment to one another.  Life and death are like that.  Filthy and polished all at once.  Magic is like that, or mine is at least. 

Hail to the rust and rime that devours all with time, hail to the pus and grime, hail to unsullied and benign.  Hail to the inevitable change that comes for all living things and flings their broken pieces off into a cold and indifferent universe filled with passionate spirits.  I serve all you dead— be you bloated body or mummified jerky-man.  I serve the dirt where the dead are buried, and the new flowers grow.

Soft may the worms about you creep…

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