an offering prepared for and published for issue three of Oak Journal, which can be found here.
audio recording available here.
To Break the Jaw of the Night Mare: an exorcism
excerpted from the “Liber Serpens” grimoire
For one taken with the terror that comes in the night; one afflicted with visitations from the Drymyter, the Mareridt, the Night Mare; for one who is without dreaming, for the dreams are taken from them, violently or silently, night after night; for one whose wild imagination is so atrophied that they cannot imagine a life outside the belly of the Wurm, cannot remember the world that came before, cannot see or feel or smell anything but the Wasteland; for one possessed with the foul spirit of Leviathan, the Great Demon known as the Commodity, the following exorcism is offered.
The afflicted one must commit to a cleansing period of at least three full moons, but up to a year for maximum effectiveness. Throughout this time, you will fast, you will cleanse, you will purge yourself of the Commodity. You will abstain from participating in commodity exchange of any sort, relying on the arts of Gift and Theft for your subsistence. Depending on the degree of possession, this can prove difficult for many, so considerable preparation might be necessary. Example: for your food, you may gather wild plants, hunt, fish, raid dumpsters, beg, or transverse the boundaries of private property. For your shelter, you might set up a tent in the woods, squat in an unused space, or stay with friends who have offered to host you, but do not give or receive money or barter for any goods or service, at any time.
During this cleansing period, the afflicted one must conduct ceremony at each New and Full Moon.
At every New Moon, you will apprentice yourself to Death for a full day and full night. You will go to a place of refuse, to the Wasteland – a place on the Earth which holds the detritus of civilization, the final resting place of the logic of the Commodity. This may be a trash-dump, a poisoned river, an abandoned warehouse or shopping mall. You will take no food or water or covering from the night. There – in this wasteland of your peoples making, in the darkness and emptiness of the New Moon – you will begin to account for the true cost of your Life. There, sitting in the waste-heap of civilization, you will call in the spirits of all that has suffered and died in your name. You will begin to understand the true cost of your Life, you will allow the turbid wake of your actions to catch up to you. Your chest will heave with the immensity of all that has never been grieved, all the offerings and sacrifices that have never been made. You must give yourself over to Death, and to her daughter Grief, in the most beautiful and sincere way you can possibly manage. You must not only confront these deities, but court them, call them in, make yourself irresistible to them with songs, dancing, drumming, the magic of language:
Hail and welcome, Ereshkigal
for the favored sister
Hail and welcome, Donn
three red horses heralding
the king of the dead
Hail and welcome, Hel
half death, half flesh
At every Full Moon, you will apprentice yourself to the abundance of the world for a full day and a full night. You will go to a place of generosity, health, peace, flowing clean water. This could be a forest, a mountain lake, or the Ocean. You will bring food, wine, gifts of delicate beauty, art of your own making. These are not for you, but offerings to the world, libations to all the beings who have sustained and are sustaining you. While there are far too many to ever fully account for, you must do your best, with utmost sincerity, humbling yourself before the absurd generosity of the world. There, illumined with the viscous brilliance of the full moon, you will present yourself to the world without shame – without apology or atonement for yourself and the true cost of your being here. For this would be an insult to the generosity to the world. The intelligence at the heart of the universe has chosen you to be here, wants you to be here, and freely offers itself to your beautiful story. You must learn how to receive this truth with heartbreaking humility.
Hail and welcome, Inanna
queen of heaven and earth
perfect on your throne
Hail and welcome, Rosmerta
four wings in your offering dish
wild fruits in the folds of your robe
Hail and welcome, Gefjun
lady of the plow
mother of giants
During these months of purification, ceremony, and apprenticeship to old deities of Death and Life, Humility and Abundance, Grief and Praise, you will be collecting your tears in a vessel of clay or dark-colored glass. If you have truly given yourself to the ceremony, there will be no shortage of this precious substance.
With this aqueous extract, this precious tincture of your Grief, you have begun to prepare the lapis philosophorum, the alchemically prepared stone that will free you from the curse of the Night Mare.
For the second preparation, you will now call upon your Longing: the marrow-deep knowing of all that you came into this world expecting – a wild dance of rough-barked magic and verdant mystery – and yet, have never seen. For when your eyes first met this world, you found yourself staring up at the fetid folds of the belly of the Wurm; for you were born into the Wasteland, the wandering, the great forgetting. And try as you might, and try you surely did, you could never quite accept that this was all the world was meant to be, that there was nothing more to live or die for. Despite having no proof, no resources, no elders, no traditions or stories, no rational explanations for this deep ache, despite having absolutely nothing to validate its existence, the Longing has always been there, all the same.
This is the magical substance you must access, for it is in the marrow of you that your most powerful dreams lie, and you will need all the strength of them to find your way out of the belly of the Wurm.
As you give yourself over to the marvelous pain of this awful knowing, your hands and your tongue and your throat will begin to move and dance and conjure this Longing. You will give birth to this thing in the way that only you can – through keening throat-song and feral language, through brush-jab and pen-slash, through wild howling and limbs dervish-whirling, you will slowly give form to this knowing. You will transform your Longing into art.
You are calling in your soul. You are calling in your wildest, most impossibly beautiful dreams and desires – grief-soaked monstrosities, a wild-fiber tapestry of such absurd beauty that it could never be fulfilled in a thousand years. You are calling in a world that could never fit in the jaws of the Commodity or be digested into the stomach of the Wurm. You are calling in your soul and the world it belongs to. This is the second preparation.
As you carefully water the marrow of your Longing with the tincture of your Grief, it will begin to grow, as an Oak grows – slowly, confidently, tenderly. It will take the form of a large vibrant stone, a frighteningly beautiful creature, the lapis philosophorum of your soul. This is the wild heart of your Longing, and it is the only thing that will be able to withstand the crushing jaws of the Night Mare. You are now ready for the descent.
You will prepare a death-lodge for yourself – a place to die, a space to call in the demon and make your last stand, a setting irresistible to the Night Mare. Dig a grave somewhere or make a bed in a terrifying place. This can be your bedroom, but it must be prepared and made desirable to the one you are calling in. Adorn the space with the most terrifying aspects of your worst nightmares – recreate a scene from the most intense or memorable ones, if you can. If you have skills in wortcunning, it is helpful to prepare a medicine for deep dreaming, especially if you are apprenticed to a nightshade.
As dusk approaches on the New Moon, draw a circle of salt and ash around your gravebed and call upon all your allies, ancestors, guides, all that has led you here thus far, to come and give you strength for the journey ahead. For it will be incredibly difficult and dangerous.
As you descend to the Underworld, as the cloaks of Nyx are drawn over you, hold your stone on your chest with both hands and call in the Night Mare:
horse of darkness, friend of death
come find me here, come final breath
In the furthest reaches of the shadow-world of your dreaming, she will come. You will feel her approaching from a long way off. You will smell her, sense her stalking presence on the back of your neck, as Wolf to Fawn – the pure distilled fear of prey to predator, the surrender of soft flesh to piercing tooth. The Night Mare will set upon you, her shadowy bulk crushing your chest, paralyzing you. She will open her huge rotten mouth, set her teeth against the wild heart of your Longing, and bite down. If you have followed the spell correctly thus far, she will struggle, reset her mouth, and bite with even more ferocity, until there is a crack and a scream as blood and jagged bits of tooth pour from her mouth.
For your wild, beautiful dreams have cracked the teeth and broken the jaw of the Night Mare.
There will be a great howling, a horrid screech of pain and confusion, for this is not what she came here for. She will thrash about on your limp body, raining shards of shattered bone on your deathbed. She will whimper in confusion, for this is not the story of Wolf and Fawn, predator to prey, piercing teeth into soft flesh. This is another story.
This is when you must summon all your strength, breaking the spell of paralysis which binds you, open your mouth, loosen your tongue, and use your words to spell-bind her, instead:
Hail and welcome: Night Mare, Mareridt, horse of the night, servant of Māra – goddess of the Dead. I name you Marōn, Kana Tevoro, Karabasan, Phi Am, Ogun Oru, Haddiela, Pesanta, Ammuttadori, Pisadeira, the Haint, the Old Hag, the Devil on the back. As I name you, I bind you to this circle.
Fear not, many-toothed one, servant of the Great Wurm, I do not intend you further harm than you have already wrought upon yourself this night. But as you have entered my circle willingly, and as I have named you truly, you must stay until I release you.
You have spoken my name and my story truly, dreamer, and if you do not intend me further harm, I will stay until you release me. What would you have of me?
Oh great demon, I know your many forms and names, I have tracked the course of your terror, and I must confess it is anger that first set me on this path of our meeting. A profound and violent anger, for I have observed your ruthlessly efficient methods as you have trapped my people and forbid them any escape from the belly of the Wurm. Whenever my people would begin to dream of a way out, whenever the seed of a world bigger than your story would begin to form, you would set upon them in the night.
You have taken our beautiful, tender dreams, as one holds a sprouted seed or a newborn child, stretched open your slavering jaws, and crushed them in your teeth – not only killing them, but then digesting them to provide food for the Wurm, nutrients for the beast that has enslaved us, power for the machine which has trapped us. In our struggles to find a way out, we are only strengthening the bars of the cage; in our beautiful resistance, we are distending the glut of the beast. Our chants of defiance are absorbed, digested, screen-printed, and sold back to us; our demands for freedom and justice are sucked dry and transmuted into milk for the Serpent; our pleas for another world are swallowed in your cavernous mouth, parodied, and cruelly played back to us as entertainment; in our efforts to escape, we are only expanding the borders of the empire, bringing our diseased gods with us, wrapped in blankets, gifts to the natives.
As we have reduced the Great Wolf to a poodle, the Wild Auroch to a cow, the Bezoar Ibex to a goat, so have our wildly chaotic imaginations been reduced to the character limits of twitter, the pixelated boundaries of instagram. As we consume the flesh of beasts who live out the sum of their days in cages so small and cramped that they cannot even turn around, their legs rotting in their own filth, their minds raving mad with suffering, so has our capacity for wonder been so enslaved and caked with our own excrement that we have accepted the confinement of the polling booth as our expansive frontier, heads down, dutifully feeding from the rotten trough of ethical consumption. As we have laid the Great Forests low and resurfaced them with the singular blights of agriculture, so has our fecund brilliance been so devastated and degraded into repetitive acts of symbolic protest – barricades and brick throwing – pre-scripted caricatures of dissent which have played themselves out in the streets a thousand times over, yet have changed nothing. You have so stripped us of dignity that we have not only given up hope of ever feeling the comforting warmth of pride again, but we have tattooed our resignation on our bare flesh, we have accepted all of these humiliations as our adornments, our pride, our identity, and we call it “freedom.”
It is a horribly clever trick – not only do we continually fail in our attempts to escape Leviathan, but our magic is used to reinforce the very thing we hate, the same creature we are struggling against. Our resistance creates the exact terms for our enslavement, and the enslavement of the world; the more we struggle, the tighter the noose. An incredibly powerful spell, a profoundly effectual possession.
This you have done for many lifetimes, in countless ways. Your immeasurable skill in dream-eating has created much suffering for me and my people, and it is this anger which has pointed the way forward, to track you, call you in, and confront you here, in this circle.
Indeed, it is as you say, throat-cunner. Is this why you called me here – to surrender your resentment and anger towards me? If so, then I will be leaving, for I have much more interesting matters to attend to.
No, anger is but the vehicle of my Longing, a raft to navigate the deep waters of my Grief. For I belong to a witchcraft that is older than the Fall and the field of Cain’s corruption, older than the Exile, older even than the Watchers and the Cursed Goat. My gods were rooting themselves into the living earth long before you drew your first breath, and I have no interest in wasting my energy on hating you or your Great Work. For I know who you are, I know who you are in service to, and I know the soil from which that one first witnessed the light of the Sun.
And who might that be?
It is known, although not widely, that you are the Commodity, the one who renders all of Life down into a single digestible unit of value, distilling the vast beauty and myriad wonders of the world into an irreducible lifeless clot for your master – the Leviathan. This is no secret, for those who have the courage and fortitude to pursue it.
What is not known, but by a handful of cunningfolk, is the soil from which the Great Wurm sprouted from, the fires he was forged in, the waters which first nourished his wrinkled flesh. For I am in service to the first story, the old-woman weaving story, a story much older than you and your lord.
Hating you and your detestable preceptor will not help me or my people escape. Hate is too small a story, anger too fragile a dream, and would be crushed to flakes in your powerful jaws. I know all too well your skill in consuming anger and hate. No, that is not why I called you here this dark night.
Then why have you called me here, hedge-rider?
I called you here to release you from your service, from your curse. You are no longer needed here, for I and my people are closing the sacred hoop, we are coming home, we are fulfilling the contract with Death that we have avoided for so long. You have done your job exceptionally well – ruthlessly consuming the dreams of my people for thousands of years. This you did exactingly, horribly well, faithfully ensuring that the debt owed to Death would always be paid in full, despite our cowardice and neglect.
We are the ones who broke the hoop, who cast Asherah down from the mountain and sent out the Goat, who cut down the Cedars of Lebanon and began our great exile. We are the ones who abandoned the old agreements with Ereshkigal, Donn, and Hel; we are ones who have broken the vows with Death; and we are the ones who must now do the work of rejoining the tapestry of Life.
You, great servant of Death, you dream-binder, have fulfilled your task and served her faithfully; and for this, I offer honor and praise to you.
And not only that, but you have the great wisdom and mercy of always leaving a residue, a subtle trail for those who are determined to find a way out. For one whose feet know the rough textures of the dream-road, the nightmare is the most fertile soil for the initiate, a track for those few who are brave enough to follow it: hag-tapers in the forest, cairns leading into the darkness, towards the soul of the world. For this, I thank you.
Skilled with your words you are, witch, and well-prepared for this encounter. Yet you must know the laws of my world, the terms of my contract with the Wurm, and with Death. You must know that I cannot and will not cease my dream-hunting until the last of your people have truly and fully rejoined the sacred circle. And this they have hardly begun to do.
Indeed, you will continue your work until you are released from your service by the Great One Herself, and I have no intention of interfering with this task. But when you visit me, and my village, when you come to the beds of those sworn to Death, to those marked by the goddesses of Grief and Longing, you will now come much more carefully. For our dreams will not be crushed in your teeth, our beauty will not fit in your jaws, our souls will not serve your master, for they now belong to the story of the world, to the grand tapestry of Life, to the dark wisdom of Death.
We will not serve the Commodity or the Leviathan any longer, whether in the dayworld or the dreamworld. We are taking accountability for the debt owed to Death, we are tending the soul of the world, we have ended the long exile of our people, we are coming home. I will keep your broken tooth as a reminder, to myself and my people, of this agreement. May we never forget the consequences of our cowardice and neglect. May we always remember the strength of our Grief and Longing.
You are released. Go now to your master and tell him everything that transpired here. Tell him that his story is coming to an end, the great arc of his terror is almost completed; for the humans are returning to the circle, are remembering the old agreements, are claiming their true place in the world. Tell him that the Humans are coming home.
horse of darkness, friend of death
away from here, circle closed with breath
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