An American Retrograde
“The fall of peoples and mankind will invite me to my rise.”- Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own
Perhaps the fates had finally turned against humanity. What other explanation existed for a mercury retrograde coming right after the most batshit election the American people had ever suffered?
Everything was an abysmal mix of high comedy and cosmic terror. Trump’s cabinet picks were something out of guide on how to be a comic book villain: Goldman Sachs running the treasury, Exxon-Mobil running the State department, the person in charge of Gitmo’s torture policies heading the Department of Homeland Security, a fast-food CEO running the Department of Labor, and one of the most bitter enemies of the EPA set to be in charge of protecting the environment.
The Democrats, rather than blame themselves, saw free speech as the enemy, the term “fake news” replacing the tired old CIA-made “conspiracy theory” as the new term de jure. People once calling for “the will of the people” were now cheering for the Electoral College, the literal embodiment of everything they stood against, and agreeing that any news that wasn’t on television could not be trusted. None of them had apparently heard of Gary Webb.
The militant Left, while still having some glimmer of hope, had fallen into its usual role of insipid echo chamber capable of doing nothing. Brutal self-reflection on how the working class had been lost had given way to masturbatory critiques on how America just “didn’t get” the vapid idealism so important to the University crowd, as if it was the world’s fault for not being fluent in the ever-shifting and empty nest of special words and phrases they equated to actual revolution.
I drink pretty heavily to begin with, but I switched to 90 proof liquor after I watched a call for the creation of a Leftist fitness group to prepare for real combat dismissed as “body-shaming.”
I’d had enough of the struggle, enough of the people involved, and decided that the wholesale destruction of the species couldn’t come fast enough. If the people could be this dumb and this so far against their own interests who was I to free them? If the Left wanted to perish in glorious martydom they could prepare the funeral pyre themselves.
In my mind there was nothing left to fight for—Let the cards fall where they may. My wife and I began looking for land to buy in the hopes that ourselves and a few comrades might have a safe place to live while we watched the world collapse into sweet, sweet oblivion.
Ah. To look back now. I can see my furrowed brow, the nights spent awake, the weird stares out windows and the ever familiar “Are you okay?”
The Spirits however had other plans.
And I’d have a man who committed suicide to thank.
How did this all happen? How had everything gotten…well, here?
I suppose it all began when I developed “The Itch.”
Every Occultist knows “The Itch,” is born with it, deals with it in her own way. The Wizard Folk have forever seemed odd to the outside world due to the peculiar natural cycles and rhythms they seem perpetually aware of that others don’t. The Itch is one of them. The Itch is that overwhelming feeling to do ritual, to cast spells, to totally throw oneself into some kind of magical release. It’s impossible to describe, an unsettling tension that feels like the gears of a clock all wound up. It starts on your peripherals, as if surrounded by a cloud, and slowly sinks into the marrow of your bones. Odd, jerky movements soon become the sole source of locomotion, a hideous grin stretching from cheek to cheek following what can only be described as a permanent sense of urgency. On the wrong night your spirit can slip so easily you want to die.
It does not stop until the magic is done, and I began to realize I was hopelessly in its throes.
Sunday, a beautiful Florida afternoon. Desiring some time to shoot the shit and get cheap food my wife and I walk up to a diner before I have to work. It’s a plasticine relic, a facsimile reprint of another age most Americans voted overwhelmingly to recapture, and all for the low low price of $4.99 a meal.
After getting our table my wife begins talking but I can’t seem to focus, something wrong with the corner of my eye. This little tiny light that slowly grows bigger, ever so bigger. I hold on to the table, keep my grin. Nod “yes” and say “mhm” as I slowly lose control. My bones light up with heat, I’m in my body, yet part of me is elsewhere, slipped through a crack in the back of my head I can only describe in synesthetic references, a multi-color tear through the soft part of my spirit that usually sounds a little higher than the rest.
Everything around me pours in, sights and smells wafting past my nostrils and lodging in my spine. Voices of average middle America chime with the slink of silverware, slices of conversation melting together like cheese on chili mac.
“…got me the best Christmas present…”
“…go out there and check it out…”
“….grandbaby. She never sees them and I just think…”
The crowd continues to pour in from churches, street corners, and lazy Sunday living rooms. Vet hats recall foreign killing fields that shaped young lives forever, places only dimly remembered by those that they “served.” Patriotic sweaters, a Florida favorite for 74 degree weather, seem as much a part of The Sabbath Day as anything else.
Eating, talking, children being raised tableside by parents as grandpa and grandma look on with smiling faces. Away from the news cycle and the dizzying images of television there is a sense that this is the real America, the keepers of slackjawed common sense that keep the power plants and auto shops running smoothly.
Homey, quaint, but not quite real. Even here was the psychology of the village, familial debates quietly raging at public audio levels. Questions about school, about work, about day-to-day living. Triumphs, failures, the quest for understanding, the need to be loved, all here between eggs and bacon; a temple of sorts to humanity, to the entire social organism stretched between generations. It may change borders and colors but it had remained unchanged for millennia.
Yet it still was not the core. I wanted more.
“I…have to do a ritual tomorrow.” My wife looks up, perplexed.
“I don’t know. I-I just know that I need to go out of this place. I need to go deeper.”
“Do you want to leave?”
“No, no,” I raised my hands in protest. “I’m going to be fine. I just know that I need to get out of the world for a bit. Things are too confused here, too muddled.” I unwrapped a fork and began twirling it in my fingers. “This retrograde…it’s fucked. Everything is fucked. The people, their ideas, everyone’s pissing and shitting all over everything and I just… I need to stick my head in the water and breathe deep if… if that makes sense.”
My wife, ever my anchor, nods. She’s dealt with far stranger and in a moment The Itch recedes to a manageable level.
Work came and went and Monday evening I was preparing what I would need as I’d been taught by the Spirits: a metal bucket, candle, incense burner, self-lighting charcoal, tongs, Solomon’s Seal Root, a Six of Diamonds, my rattle, and two beers. With the addition of my alligator staff I looked more like a Southern Gandalf than anything else, and with a kiss on my wife’s cheek I was out the door.
The walk to any ritual site in town is always an interesting one, cars zooming by at 45 miles per hour, barely cognizant of your existence; you’re in the world but not entirely. With a strong enough intent behind your mission you can actually feel things warp around you; everything drools into symbols like a DMT trip, buildings and humans become accents of greater meaning speaking to you in a twilight language all your own.
My mind, sloshing around with plenty of 90 proof Pineapple liqueur, was placid and tranquil, and I began to sing lightly to the land under my feet. I was walking through “Babylon” as the Rainbow folks call it, on a mission to leave behind its trappings in favor of the Real. Each business I passed I felt another layer peel away, as if I was moving through physical countries on the map. I passed trendy restaurants and a mall, then run-down buffets and furniture stores, culminating finally in a patch of woods as-of-yet undeveloped yet proudly for sale and ready for “immediate commercial construction.”
Here it was, the border of the World, an island of wild where the American Imperium had not yet tred. Just a few yards away was a hidden country, a faerie land I alone knew, my first meeting with it documented in a book sitting on the Gods & Radicals desk.
The exhalation however quickly turned to exasperation.
Trash, a sure sign of human habitation, filled the entrance I had thought hidden and was the first sign that something was wrong. Bending down I peeked around a corner. Ahead at perhaps 50 yards were three tents and the smell of burning wood.
All I could do was sigh. “The fucking bastards finally got to it.”
A few more steps confirmed my suspicions, grey human shadows moving beyond the trees. The path ahead was littered with Steel Reserve cans and every kind of plastic one could imagine, impossible to traverse stealthily.
But who cared for stealth? A garbage dump had thrown up in the woods I’d loved and the ones responsible were directly ahead. But a confrontation was not on the agenda, at least not tonight. I was 45 minutes away from moonrise and needed to find a new clearing free of human intervention. I made a mental note to begin hexing the place and sought to enter from a different angle.
A hop and a skip around the back of a few buildings brought me to the edge of a new entrance, a blown out fence of aged wood trampled over the course of a few weeks. “Fucking idiots. What assholes!” I stammered aloud, making my way across the broken wood. “T-there’s a-a-an entrance not 10 fucking feet away and they go ahead and just destroy somebody’s fence. This is why the cops get called.”
The path out of this entrance, once a small snake of matted grass, was now so big it could have been a fucking highway, broken glass and condoms becoming exit ramp signs towards beer can villages. Furious, drunk, I passed several empty tents surrounded by walls of refuse with no trouble. One more section of open field and I’d be safely back in the sandy thickets of palmettos, out of sight and out of mind and free to plot my revenge.
“Hey!” A gruff voice carried itself on a sudden wind from across the field. I had been noticed.
A figure in the distance was motioning me to come over to the main entrance, the large collection of tents under the pines I had first tried to avoid.. The liquor in my blood cooed at the chance to meet the neighbors.
And what a surprise it was.
The campsite, the largest of the bunch, wasn’t anything I didn’t expect. Three tattered tents and a sea of items scattered everywhere like confetti at a Mardi Gra parade. Empty skoal bottles rested on blackened cooking pots home to rotting food, paper plates laying like bodies in a World War 1 trench. The smell of feces and ammonia hung over the campsite like a noxious cloud.
I set my eyes on the asshole who had called me over, words of pure hatred ready to unleash from my tongue.
And then I realized I knew him.
A ghost from my past, a kid that had come into my work all the time bragging about how happy he was to be getting 40 hours working at Wendy’s, telling any who would listen about how he planned to be a manager. He was barely recognizable now, pink eyes and red pupils resting upon a rough and scraggly beard, a torn t-shirt and bathing suit hanging from a body two sizes too small. He swayed from side to side, moved by winds only the drunkard can feel. He spoke in my direction but his eyes lost focus every few seconds.
“Hey man.” I feigned friendliness, trying to keep my gaze on the person in front of me and not on the conditions he was living in.
“Hey.” His energetic body felt cold, lifeless.
“Well… I always figured somebody would camp out here eventually. Place is too perfect.”
“Yeah.” Words slow and awkward, baseballs thrown by a pitcher with a broken wrist. “I’ve been coming out here on-and-off for about…. 5 years I think. Used to grow weed out here.”
“Yeah… planted some uh… cattails too around ’em. Y-you know why?”
“Because… cattails have the same heat signature as weed does. Cops c-can’t see it.”
“I see you’ve got some neighbors over there.” I pointed toward the other tents I’d passed.
“Yeah. Unfortunately.” He just stared in silence now, his eyes almost swallowed by the dark red rings that surrounded them until I pointed at the dirty cast wrapped from his elbow to his thumb.
“What happened to your arm?”
“Fell down a flight of stairs. Shattered it.” The answer came as quick as the cloud of mosquitoes that appeared all around him. They bit him constantly though he never seemed to notice.
“Jesus. How uh… how many?”
“Not many. Split my head open too.” He pointed to a large gash barely healed on his head. There was an unspoken acknowledgement that he hadn’t fell down any stairs.
“Well… I’ve got to be going. Gotta do some prayers. Take it easy.”
“Y-yeah man. Be safe.”As I made my way out of the camp I heard him strain to raise his voice. “H-hey! Hey man!”
“Hey uh… did Trump win?”
“Trump? Yeah, he won.”
“Oh.” A smile came over his face. “Maybe now I can make it out to Colorado.”
With no explanation as to how the two were connected he shuffled back over to a lawn chair and flopped into it like a wet rag, his eyes unblinkingly locked on a cell phone. To him I had effectively ceased to exist. I was about to ask a question, thought better of it, and made my way to the back of the woods.
The encounter was deeply unnerving and left me feeling instantly sober. This was indeed the edge of civilization, the souls that had been pushed to its farthest corners, the land of the living dead. Psychically these beaten and battered folk made up the last bastions of The World, confined by force and economics to its barest borders, a region where beatings went unpunished and arms were put back together in the lackluster hope they might heal correctly.
If he died of an infection tomorrow nobody would notice, his life reduced to a ghostly trail of official documents. He was a fucking human being, with hopes and dreams. Whose woods were these really then? For me they were a temple, for him the only place he had. Troubled, I put as much distance between myself and those tents as I could, knowing full well the encounter carried much meaning behind it.
It was uncomfortable, visceral, but altogether real. I knew I had left Babylon behind.
After some searching I found a suitable clearing, far off from any signs of human activity. No trash, no bottles, and the only Bud Light cans that could be found were bleached enough to be years old. I placed the bucket down and prepared my tools, knocking on the soil with my staff to alert the spirits to my presence. I began walking, clockwise, shaking my rattle and muttering the words that I heard in my head, a voice leaking from my spine and filtered through my vocal cords. The place instantly takes an energetic shape, becomes a vestibule. Reality shifts and the clearing becomes an island, a space of shared dimensions.
The altar is set and the moon rises on the horizon. As I ready my gear I think of the generations before me that snuck into woods like this many years ago, practicing Hoodoo and calling on spirits just out of sight of the day to day world. How many men and women felt suffocated beyond the treeline in times past? How many folk breathed air as unclean as today, engaged in rituals such as this knowing full well they would return to a hopeless place where life itself seemed pointless?
When the moon finally hits the highest branches I jump up to light the candle. The embers of self-lighting charcoal fly and the smell of jasmine and Solomon’s seal fills the air; I growl to break the shells of my outer body allowing the power to leak out. Rattling I move around the altar, a 6 of Diamonds anointed with Road Opener Oil acting as a focal point to clear out anything that might block the flow of energy. The moon grows and shapes begin to materialize on the borders, spirits attracted to the noise and energy. I call out to Brother Bat, my Guide, and in an instant he is there.
I tell him of my troubles, of my doubt, of the poverty I feel in my soul and the fears that plague my heart. I gnash my teeth and tell of the trials here on Earth, how everything seems so muddled and confused. He whispers secrets of my nature to me, deep parts of my Self I had never known. He teaches me a new art to keep my melancholy away and we walk around the circle and sing. He tells me I will have multiple visitors tonight, and in a wind breeze he departs.
Two black figures, twins, sit at the altar. They motion me to come closer. They speak in funny high voices, creatures not dead but not spirits either. I have met them here before, these wizards from another realm.
I ask them how they deal with politics in their own world. They both nod and make it clear I’m to listen to them speak. They turn to each other and have a casual conversation.
“How do you deal with your clients when they have troubles of the world?”
“Well, I tell them I will do the best for them I can and go about my way.”
“And when their way gets in your way?”
“I remember the world is a river and hold on to my spirit. I am a nexus, a portal. I must keep my shape.”
“Can I ask something,” I interject, “are the portals between worlds opening up? It feels like the Otherworlds are drifting in more than usual.” They seem annoyed and again motion for me to pay attention to the words they are saying. They face one another again, pretending I’m not there.
“The old world is dying, being cleared away. The gates are being opened to aid this,” one remarks.
“Yes, periods of instability always follow stability, just as this instability will lead to stability.”
“Yes, that is why wizards find politics such a tiresome game. Even at the end of this age humanity will build a new order of its own design and close up the gates.”
“They will desire one of their own image and so they’ll deny the others in favor of the one they made.”
“Yes. That’s why revolutions are always magical and why orders must always seek to control the gates.”
“Yes.” They both turn to me. “Your enemies know this.” My mind fills with an assortment of images, ideologies I know and symbols I’ve never seen. “The wizard aims at the battle behind things, the invisible conditions that make reality.”
In an instant they are gone. Yet the magic is not. The circle is still not empty and the air is filled with static.
I stare at the moon, in awe of its lonesome presence. I go through my bag and find my harmonica, an instrument I’ve only barely played in years. A song comes out of my heart and my lungs breathe lonesome notes that fill the space with a deep yearning for a place I cannot name. I play for the moon, for the trees, and become overwhelmed at the thoughts of humanity’s quest for understanding. Words come from somewhere else and I sing a song I’ve never heard before, a lonesome Western about being lost in the world and having only oneself to count on, a modern day Hymn of the Pearl born right out of the soil beneath my feet. Tragic, beautiful, resilient, it carries a lifetime of experience that is totally alien. As I feel the song end I struggle to retain some fragment of it.
The harmonica fades in my hands. The energy winks out of the circle. I can only hold on to the chorus:“I got me. Whoaaaah, I got meeeee.”
Just like that everything is over.
The candle is still burning, the incense is still going, but where I’m sitting is now just a great place to view the moon in the woods behind a Chinese buffet. The clean scents of pine wood and sand have replaced any fragrance of mystery. I crack open another beer and just sit there to take in the view, lost in myself and the lessons I’ve learned.
How long had the ritual taken place? Even now as I write this the clocks and movements of the Imperium seem far away and useless. As I gulped down the still cool Tecate in my hand that night it dawned on me that perhaps that was the ultimate lesson I was sent to learn: the whole thing we called civilization, the country, the people, they were all immaterial things, ghostly phantoms in our heads built on an amazingly unreal foundation. Beyond the superstores, behind the coffee shops pounded the still-beating heart of mystery that entranced our ancestors. All things in time would pass, and we ourselves were part of invisible cycles that ravaged this plane again and again. What mattered was my existence.
Everything I say after this point only seems like the cheapest illustration of the most wondrous thing… that song… the music….. I know I’ll never hear it again. And I weep. But what the lyrics sang about in voices beyond mortal life will forever remain with me.
We must fight, we have to, because our lives and the lives of others will be damaged by the cycles of existence; the woods do not have to be homes to derelict camps of the infected and dying. Fortuna opens her gates to all, Nazi or Communist alike, and when The Age of the Hyena finally closes we do not want to be caught in an artifice we had no hand in building.
The world is fucked, and sadly so is the Left if it doesn’t change, but the magical folk must retain their shapes under duress, must understand that the world is a river, ever-changing and absurd in every sense of the word. There will be bad governments, there will be mass censorship, the people will choose fascism, there may even be widespread death and torture. In the words of a Syrian civilian trapped in Aleppo, mere meters away from government forces that would no doubt shoot him dead: “it’s okay–this is life.”
That bravery, that amor fati is something we should all aspire to. The Wizards and Witches must take their place in the revolution as fountains of energy and steely eyes that gaze upon more than one timeline. It’s okay to be confused, angry, and want to give up the woods to our bitter enemies.
But we can’t. Because underneath all the crap and bullshit still lies what’s important.
All the campus protests and theoretical posturing hadn’t done a damn thing to stop the rise of fascism, to stop the surge of income inequality, to stop the growth of camps like I had just traveled through. Why let them get in my way? The Left be damned, I’d fight because I wanted to, because the fact someone should nurse a shattered arm surrounded by mosquitoes and feces in the “greatest country in the world” filled me with violent, frenzied fury. Earthly existence is fleeting anyway, what better way to spend it than by giving hell to those you loathe right up til the bitter end?
And if the world would not come with me? If Tumblr and echo chambers were the sole territory the Left could claim? I’d let them perish because I was determined to change the dirt under my feet.
I walked out of those woods as if I’d tasted the Fountain of Youth, marching with a smile back into the world of mainstream media, global war, and a massive economic system built on institutional slavery. On my way out I ran into the kid I’d seen earlier, looking much more lively and conversational.
“You said you were praying back there? What kind of prayers?”
“Oh just….talking to a few teachers of mine.”
“You know people died back there, right?”
“What? No way.”
“Yep. I knew one of ’em.”
“Guy with mental problems begged me to kill him because he didn’t want to hurt anybody. Crazy guy, schizophrenic. Saw people on fire all the time, crazy shit. He was cool when he was fine but he was just really worried he would hurt somebody. Kept saying ‘you gotta kill me man.’ Told him I couldn’t do it. One day I come back and there he is, hanging from a tree. Some guy from out West.”
I thought back to the Western tune I’d played, the mournful song of a soul cast into a world that didn’t make sense…. Where had the desire to fight no matter how the world might come at you have come from?
I said my goodbyes and made my way home, silently grateful to the spirit of a man I’d never met for giving me the ability to see over the horizon of a world gone mad. I was ready to fight again, ready to ride the retrograde.
And if it pissed off some people? If my actions, writings, thoughts, or ideas weren’t to the palate of a nation knee deep in horse-shit and choking on fumes? What did it matter?
Whatever happened I knew: I got me.
Dr. Bones is a conjurer, card-reader and egoist-communist who believes “true individuality can only flourish when the means of existence are shared by all.” A Florida native and Hoodoo practitioner, he summons pure vitriol, straight narrative, and sorcerous wisdom into a potent blend of poltergasmic politics and gonzo journalism. He lives with his loving wife, a herd of cats, and a house full of spirits.
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