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I am a Child of Night

By Johnny Rapture

John William Waterhouse, 1874. Public Domain.

John William Waterhouse, 1874. Public Domain.


Sleeping through the Revolution.

A Night Owl

When I moved to Chicago in 2007 and found myself suddenly surrounded by the vibrant Pagan community here, there was a joke that my Patron deity must have been Hypnos, the Greek personification of sleep. I slept in all day whenever I had the chance — and chances were ample, since I was living for free on some friends’ back patio between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Groggy at 3 or 4 or 5 pm, I would greet my friends and we’d spend the sunny days chatting about Star Trek and starry gods and I’d end up staying up until 3 or 4 or 5 each night. In essence, my sleep schedule became flipped from the norm.

In fact the joke became serious: I did start thinking of Hypnos as my patron deity. Eventually, I was honoring an entire little pantheon of sleep and nighttime gods: Hypnos, his mother Nyx, the Oneiroi (Dreams). I still have a drawing I made of the fabled Gates of Horn and Ivory, symbols of the Dreams and of their father Hypnos.

I began to identify strongly as a night owl. To tell the truth I was pretty careless as I began traveling across the city late at night, often in the bitter lake-effect cold, alone and young and with some trick’s apartment number burning a hole in my jeans pockets. To assuage my fears and to secure my safety I made a deal and arranged a votive altar to Nyx and her brood just above my desk. I laid anything on it that reminded me of my gods: blank books, pens that had never written, bells with no clackers, candles that were never burned.


Failing

When I began grad school, I quickly found that I couldn’t manage with my wacky sleep schedule any more. Now compelled to work and attend classes with (to me) shocking regularity, my world began to unravel. At first I felt guilty and ashamed: I was failing out of graduate school because I couldn’t get my act together enough to be an adult and go to work like I was supposed to. As I spent two to three hours each morning hitting the snooze alarm — let me say that again: two to three hours — I would berate myself for my failures, my lack of initiative, my lack of drive. (In other words, I was failing at the life set before me by the strictures of capitalism. I was failing in my corporate academic masculinity.)

I dropped out of my program and entered a year-long period of depression. I became dramatically less involved in Pagan activities and retreated into my stress-strewn bedroom. I slept during the day and was wide awake at night. I still occasionally lit candles to the offspring of Nyx; but, I began to feel as if perhaps I had attracted their fickle attention in some way. I put away the altar and put my life on hold. Even in the moments late at night when I couldn’t sleep and found myself staring at the ceiling, empty and desperate, my body and my mind shut down and all I could do was lay there with my feet over the armrests and I sat and I waited and I scowled and I sighed. I hibernated.

Later, with the help of friends and — maybe you won’t roll your eyes at me like some do — a lot of meditation, I began to come out of all of that. That’s another story.


 

An Invisible Disability

Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a circadian rhythm disorder, and I’ve got it. The basic idea is that my hormonal clock is set back a few hours from most other folks’ and so I tend to stay up very late and have a lot of trouble waking up if it is earlier than the early afternoon. They call it “social jet lag” because — like when I was in college — I would feel fine most of the time if I could go to bed when I wanted and get up when I wanted. When I entered a world where I was expected to get up “like normal,” my body resisted just like it resists adjusting when you change time zones and experience jet lag. I learned to deal with this by subjecting myself to something akin to forced sleep deprivation (waking myself up every few minutes for two or three hours a day, in order to finally overcome my hormonal clock) and I could then drag myself out of bed and force myself to shower and eventually show up — inevitably late, sleepless, ineffective — to my duties. I still struggle with this, though thankfully my work situation allows for flexibility in the mornings.

I didn’t know about DSPD when I was failing out of grad school and spending my mornings beating myself up over my own failures. Now that I know — and have found out that other members of my close family also struggle with their sleep schedules — I can look back and realize that I was in fact struggling with an invisible disability that was invisible even to me.

But why do I bring all of this up? Because I still have a few bells without clackers, and some times I get them out in the night time and I say little silent prayers and I think about myself and what I know about myself and what it means to be disabled. And I wonder about sleep, and fatigue, and what it means to be tired all the time (still). And I wonder about my younger self and how our society attempts to mould us into cookie-cutter people whose bodies all fit into certain expectations that sometimes — often! — can not be met because our bodies are diverse and amazing and sometimes awful. And I think of what it means to not know, to be invisible; to come to know, to be visible; to sleep, and to be well rested; to face the world and sometimes to fit in and most often to stick out.


I am a Child of Night

The following is an excerpt from “Breath in the Bone: A Devotional Rite for Mother Night” written by Johnny Rapture and Ruby Sara, Iowa City Samhain 2010.

 

Litany for the Children of Nox

A Boy once played in the heat of the first hearth-fire, when a Dog like a frigid north wind shook in through the door and blew out the fire. Cold and afraid in the darkness, the Boy ran from his home in search of his Mothers and his Fathers, but he could not find them. Looking back, he saw the Dog chasing after him, and then another Dog, too. And the Boy ran for his life through the woods and along the creeks, out onto the river-banks and into the hills. He ran faster than any man or woman has ever run, tearing his clothes among the brambles and thorns, leaving blood from his scraped knees and his cut palms as offerings to the trees and the beavers and the crows, but none of these creatures could save him – the winter had come, and they were gone.

The Boy ran so far that he reached the peak of the highest mountain, and he could go no further. He had run so far and for so long that he had stopped being a Boy and had become a Man. The Dogs had stayed at his heels, coming ever closer with their biting teeth and their blood-red tongues. But when the Man had reached the end of the Earth where the sky reaches the sea and the sun falls below the black waters, then the Dogs slowed and stopped and waited. The Dogs spoke, and the Man trembled. And as the Dogs spoke the sea’s waves hummed with a shining darkness and spoke words of their own. These words were like galaxies colliding or torn spiders’ webs or bones breaking.

And the Dogs said,

Child of Zoe! Child of Life! Why do you run from us, all the way from your playing near the hearth-fire, through the woods and along the creeks, out onto the river-banks and into the hills, up to the peak of the highest mountain?

And the Man said,

I was playing in the heat of the hearth-fire, when you Dogs like a frigid north wind shook in through the door and blew out my fire, and I was afraid.

And the Dogs stood up and became as ghostly images of Two Men. One man’s eyes were closed, and the other’s skin was black.

And the Two Men said,

Child of Zoe, Child of Life! Why do you run from us, all the way from your playing near the hearth-fire, up to the end of the Earth where the sky reaches the sea and the sun falls beneath the black waters?

And the Man said,

You are famine, failure, and forgetting. You are murder and fury and hate. You are those spirits that haunt the graveyards and the battlefields, you are blame and toil and doom. You have chased me to the peak of the highest mountain, and I am afraid. You are the multitude whom the Lady birthed in her Palace in the Land of the Fleshless Ones, and I am afraid. Oh, I am afraid.

As the Two Men spoke, a thousand suns rose and set, and the Man who had been a Boy grew old and became broken by age. He leaned upon a staff and gazed out beyond the cliff, and he saw the innumerable Stars. And the Stars spoke the same words as the Dogs, and the Men, and the Waves, shining and humming in eternal blackness.

And the Stars said,

Child of Zoe! Child of Life! Why do you run from us, all the way from your playing near the hearth-fire? Do you not see that we are the Innumerable Stars who shine and hum in eternal blackness? Do you not see that there is nowhere to run? Do you not see that the end is near?

And the Old Man who had been a Man who had been a Boy laid down upon the cool rocks and prepared to die. He dreamed briefly of the hearth-fire and his Mothers and Fathers, so far away and so long ago.

And with his last breath, the Man said,

You are twilight and sleep – you are friendship and fate. You are the Muses and the Dreams and rain. I ran from you, all the way from my playing near the hearth-fire, through the woods and along the creeks, out onto the river-banks and into the hills, up to the peak of the highest mountain, for I was afraid. But now I have seen you in the shining, innumerable stars, and I am dying, and I am not afraid. I too am a Child of Night.

 

9 Comments »

  1. I must admit to feeling left adrift by this. Let me declare a premise: I know that to have a body is to serve as the fulcrum in rebalancing spiritual relations.

    Your DSPD, a hidden physiological condition, was interpreted as a spiritual bond (of bondage?) that isolated you. Then it became visible and was managed, and the power of the bond decreased. This seems to resonate strongly with the classic view of pagan worship as a rationalization of material conditions that loses its force when explained by science.

    But the story suggests that running from the unknown causes us to die to ourselves, and only when we reach the point of surrendering our bond with the material do we realize what gifts the magical realm was trying to offer us. Was Nyx trying to reach back into the life of your friends through you? Do you still have gifts to bring us from her? Now that you have learned to manage the material consequences of your relationship with her, is it time to reach back into those depths to negotiate delivery?

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  2. I hear you! Insomnia has helped with some parts of my life–but it’s come to the point where it is an extreme disadvantage.

    I think the worsening started in 2011, when I was bed-bound while a foot/lower leg was healing, and I wasn’t to be on my feet long at all, for 2.5 months. Behind and to my right, were the sliding glass doors revealing the sun. Behind and to my right, was also the full-spectrum OTT light. I don’t think my brain really processed the difference.

    I’m dealing with a worsening of my lifelong insomnia: my invisible disability is an irregular sleep-wake (non) rhythm, or Non-24-hour sleep–wake disorder. The latter mostly affects blind people, and I am sighted. From being unable to get to sleep for long periods now and then, to not being able to control when I sleep with a problem waking up.

    The disorder is serious. It can create social, familial, and work problems, making it hard for a person to maintain relationships and responsibilities, and may make a person home-bound and isolated.

    Every time some study comes up showing the negative effects of not enough sleep, it feels like I’m being mocked and condemned for something I can’t control. Same thing for migraines, bipolar disorder, and left-handedness (not a disorder, but…). Gee, thanks, universe!

    I never really feel rested (I seldom have felt truly rested most of my life), no matter how long I sleep. Sometimes I have real problems waking up, and styaing awake long enough to get out of bed—it’s easy for me to just drift back off, and it can happen a few times in a day, before I wake up enough to leave the bed. When I’ve tried to get up at 9am for an appointment, but only got to sleep around dawn, I fail: I am not in my 20’s, and I don’t have that kind of resiliency anymore.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this. So sad that our society assumes we’re all the self-same day-light-waking-and-working cogs in the machine. Of course the gods of night and sleep and dream are equally worthy of veneration as those who govern day and the conscious world. It’s so important to make alternative standpoints heard as they could be part of the key to much needed change.

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  4. I’m another one with a sleep disorder (as well as other invisible and visible disabilities – they all affect each other, of course). Mine involves sleep-walking, other sleep disturbances and night-time hallucinations. I haven’t managed to make friends with the gods and spirits of the night, but maybe if I did, the hallucinations and hours lying awake in the night would be less disturbing.

    I do a lot of work around the social model of disability – the idea that much disability would be irrelevant in a society that was designed for all types of bodies, minds and situations. I’ve never really thought of it in relation to sleep disorders, though. Of course, if society valued different circadian rhythms and didn’t force people into ‘normal’ patterns of day and night activity, people with many types of sleep disorders would be much less disabled. I love the idea of doing this through stories, through a mythical re-valuation of the darkness and the night. You’ve made me think – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have DSPD; my body clock was about 6 hours off societal norms. Then I moved from the US to the UK — the “wrong” direction. I’m now close to 12 hours off the norm. I’ve been fortunate to be able to structure my life in a way that allows me to live with it; it’s also played a considerable role in my spiritual path. Much of this resonated strongly with me, with one exception: I do not consider myself to have a disability. I’m just different, and it’s made possible things that wouldn’t have been for me otherwise.

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