on being fundamentally changed

grey, black, and red lit clouds over a reflective lake surface

cw: this piece is heavily about metaphysical topics and frank conversation about death.

It was in March some years ago, before the pandemic. My important work was to assist with support during a potentially catastrophic ritual; I would only be doing what I was instructed to do, and for the rest I would observe and try to learn and to make sure that I kept my nose out of what was not mine to poke into.

Not much is written about the experience of being part of my tradition, and I think that’s probably because we are an oral tradition and are explicitly barred from writing most things down. We learn from our teachers who learned from their teachers who learned from their teachers, on and on and back and back in an unbroken line millennia ago.

I know that the idea of a tradition lasting in as pure a form as possible for that long may sound absolutely ridiculous to Americans in particular, because our experience as a people is so new. Mine is not the only tradition that has been around for time upon time.

What I think I can write about is some crumbs here and there of experiences that I have had during my lifetime thus far of being part of my tradition.

As I was saying, I was part of the support for a planned ritual that was a lot more dangerous than I can say (or have the permission to talk about). People like me, like us in this very small community of spiritual practitioners, often take on work that requires all of our commitment, to the death if that is where it takes us. We do this with clear eyes and with consent. We do this while taking into account the oaths we have taken. Some of us have requirements placed on us by the gods we serve or the traditions we’re part of, and those are not things you’ll know about unless you talk to one of us in person (and sometimes not even then). Some things are not to be spoken of, only known by whomever is meant to know them.

I am only including me in that group of people because I am at the beginning of my journey, but my work includes being a person who is that kind of spiritual practitioner. I am including me because it reminds me of who I am and why. It reminds me of the oaths I have taken and what measure I take of myself daily in order to fulfill them.

The ritual we were supporting did not go as planned, so we were working from our contingencies. (Never do something without at least a plan B. Ideally, have plans A through Z.)

Because of the kind of spirituality that I inhabit, that inhabits me, for a brief time I fell into a place that doesn’t exist here. I made a demand that perhaps I should not have made, and two things have happened now (maybe others, but I haven’t discovered them yet): I now have a life-debt obligation to a deity who is bigger than I can conceptualize, and I have forever left a piece of myself in that Other place.

I engage in death work because it is part of who and what I am. This doesn’t mean that it’s simple, or easy, or without challenge. I think it might be harder to be truly ourselves than to be otherwise.

I engage in death work because I can still remember — I can still hear — what it sounds like there. I have heard a cacophony I cannot forget. I have felt the other-ness of it and I can’t put it into any words that I know. And some of my consciousness became aware of why the realm of the dead can be so terrifying. And some of my consciousness wanted to scream and run as much as it wanted, a tiny bit, to stay and exist there instead. And some part of me begins to understand why Death is a Mystery.

I engage in death work because I know that the place I’ve been is not the whole of what death can encompass. I think it might be true that there are as many kinds of deaths as there are people who die, even though there are also commonalities between all experience.

The part of me that isn’t here any more has something of me with it. I don’t miss it because I still exist wholly, but it has changed me to be this way now. Whoever I was before I took my oaths, I am different. Whoever I was before the work of that ritual, I am different again.

It has been difficult to be this new person and still do the things I did before. Being part of a family, my chosen family, is a choice I must make consciously again and again; not because I don’t want to be with them, but because I don’t always feel like I’m here. I am, in truth and in experience, a polyamorous person — but I don’t know that there will ever be other people that I can be myself around other than the ones I already love who are near me. There are, and probably will continue to be, people who I want to love who cannot love me back.

My tradition has changed me, but in a way that solidifies who I already am. The actuality of me. The experience of my Self that I am having here and now and sometimes in an other-when. I used to think that I was weak, and tried to make that untrue by becoming as strong as possible. I used to believe that I was nobody, and tried to make that untrue by becoming important to people around me.

It is a bit of a joke we have in my tradition that the actual expression of our cosmological entities is something of what we call neurodivergence: the inerrant sense of justice versus injustice, the need to be exacting, the virtue of perfection that is so difficult to achieve within these bodies we currently inhabit. Loyalty beyond lifetimes. The persistence of truth.

This essay borders on the dramatic and the mystical, and that is because it contains both of those things. The truth of my life contains much experience of the mystical and the esoteric. The truth of Me is dramatic, at least when I try to express it.

Nix, you might be saying, this is all a Bit Much even for you. And I suppose that you might be right.

Anyway; it is cold here, and I have wanted to write but not had time nor spoons nor brainspace to do so since sometime last year. I’ve been reading a lot and this brings me so much joy. I’ve been watching The Untamed (don’t @ me) over and over again because it’s a beautiful story and it doesn’t have a sad ending. The last thing I want is to watch queer media with a sad ending.

featured image is a photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

epilogue: Hoar Frost, A Tergo Lupi

Spotify link: Hoar Frost

YouTube link: Hoar Frost

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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