If any of my coworkers happen to be reading this, they’ll learn in advance that I plan on calling in a sick day for work tomorrow, as my kidneys are in extraordinary pain. The infection I was diagnosed with last Monday has only worsened with the antibiotics regimen I commenced that day. I was hardly experiencing any pain when I saw my primary care doctor; by the following morning, a dull thud in the middle of my back morphed into a screaming, burning pain that’s only gotten worse in the course of the week.
When I’m in the midst of ritual activity, my body takes a back seat to corporeality, if that makes any sense; instead, an involuntary process of readying myself to be a fitting receptacle for engaging Powers and spirits overrides whatever biological processes I might otherwise find to be more pressing concerns (e.g., hunger, fatigue, having to relieve my bladder, etc.). Given that all last week had me in rounds of devotional rituals during the Epagomenal Days, I dismissed my kidney pain and the regimented schedule of antibiotics and other meds as inconveniences to be dealt with at a later time.
The night of July 31 witnessed the most frenzied activity and invoked many a fiery correspondence: the Blue Moon would wind up overseeing my participation in the Polytheist Day of Protest Against Daesh, wherein I unleashed a doozy of a curse with the aid of a variety of Deities I invoked from the Fertile Crescent as well as Egypt and Greece—Nebet-Het (whose birthday was celebrated in the fifth and final Epagomenal Day; She is also my Patroness), Sekhmet, Set, and the Triple Hekate I honor at both the night of Dark of the Moon as well as Full Moon: Hekate Khthonia, Hekate Brimo, and Hekate Phosphoros. The vessel for my curse was my workhorse of a massive cast iron cauldron and the roaring fire it contained; the fire was comprised of a base of rubbing alcohol (91%) and epsom salts, to which I added my own urine, cactus quills from Texas, asfoetida, and powdered ague root and leaves.
Even before lighting the various candles stationed at several of these Powers’ shrines in my temple room, I felt that the room was already hot. Once I was fully in the frenzied throes of the ritual, in the completely altered state of consciousness needed to effect such a working, the participatory, immanent energies of Sekhmet and Set in particular made the room feel like an inferno. It certainly looked like one. As I stood in my one-legged ritual cursing pose and waved my arm to dispatch the Words of Power, I eyed the curious “behavior” of the flames: an eerie blue-green wave of fire in the middle of the iron cauldron’s belly absolutely pulsated in accordance with the way that my arm waved! The sense of awe literally stopped my breath before I realized what a tremendous boon this was: the Powers were in agreement, ready to dispatch my curse on the winds of perdition to wherever Daesh terrorists assembled in Syria, Iraq, and the surrounding region. In my final gesture, I pointed east and bellowed the remainder of my excoriation. The flames continued to pulsate with stunning laser-like frequency.
As I resumed standing with two legs, I felt almost ready to collapse. Of course this ritual would take a lot out of me physically. In the adjacent room, my fiancé Daniel was undergoing similar exhaustion, having performed an excoriation ritual with the use of his Tibetan phurpas–and by that I mean the spirits housed in them, not just the blades themselves. Both he and I slept very little Friday night; the energies had us wired for hours, despite our best efforts at grounding.
Astrologically, aside from the Full Moon, the heavy pull of Venus Retrograding in the Sign of Leo, the night of July 31, into my 12th House of occult mystery, the might of the Shadow, and the Wisdom of Under- and Otherworlds, definitely made an impact on my rite. The Sun in Leo now aided by Mercury as well as Venus Retrograde in Leo all point to Sekhmet’s immanent energies, of course, and the 12th House focus for me personally is a grand invitation to step into sekhem, power.
Saturday, August 1, turned out to be a fiery Wep Ronpet. While my Chicago Fellowship of Isis Lyceum readied for an annual beach picnic/lakefront ritual to celebrate both ancient Egyptian New Year and Lughnasad (inviting the public to join in), I had various goals both mundane and magical to meet, from squaring away the final edits to the Summer issue of Isis-Seshat magazine (the official quarterly journal of the Fellowship of Isis; I serve as its Executive Editor) and prepping the files for the printer on Monday, to getting my ass back to the hospital for a CT-scan, to meeting with my Babalawo, to honoring Sekhmet, the Deity the ancient Egyptians most feared on New Year’s Day as She was thought to launch her Seven Arrows–blight- and plague-inducing disasters–that day. In ancient Egypt, people exchanged Sekhmet amulets in the hopes of staying on Her good side.
It was in the late morning—between 10 and 11, while Dan had taken me to the hospital for my CT-scan appointment—that the fire in my temple room had probably broken out. When Daniel and I arrived home, we smelled the unmistakable, loathsome smell of burning plastic. We ran into the temple room and found that portions of my shrine to Nebet-Het, on which stood a plastic Tree of Life bearing the names of the deceased whom I prayed for, had burned to unsalvageable waste. The four-foot-tall tree was apparently blown forward by strong winds (the windows in that room face west and are immediately behind my shrines to Nebet-Het on the left and Set on the right), knocking it into the tall, seven-day glass candle that was lit the night before in Nebet-Het’s honor. The glass cracked and oozed wax and apparently flame onto the altar cloth; it was largely burned, but it had all been burned out. The other casualty of the fire was my handmade prayer book for the Neteru with my handwritten prayers; it was completely burned. Amidst it all, my Nebet-Het statue stood serenely.
“I guess we narrowly avoided the full fury of the first Fiery Arrow of Sekhmet! Boy are we lucky!” I yelled, surveying the amazingly confined fire damage. It could have been far, far worse. A very sobering thought. Daniel had survived a devastating house fire as a teenager, one that forced him and his mother to find a new place to live, so this brought back traumatic memories for him (especially the scent of the scorched paper of my prayer book, as the loss of his library in the fire at the time was a great cause for grieving).
We set ourselves to cleaning the space, getting Nebet-Het a different, clean altar cloth, and rearranging the items on Her shrine. Naturally, the melted-down Tree of Life, glass candle and its holder, and my prayer book were all thrown away. I lit some frankincense and offered Nebet-Het and Sekhmet refills on Their respective goblets of water, singing hymns of praise. I was very grateful!
The surrealness of the discovery behind me, I set myself to editing Isis-Seshat (11 hours of work on that day) and stayed indoors for the rest of the day.
Today I woke up with a sense that thunderstorms would prevail as far as weather conditions go, even though the sunny skies upon awakening totally contradicted what my Serbian sensibilities knew to be true. For today is the Feast Day of Saint Elijah the Thunderer (Sveti Ilija Gromovnik in Serbian)—the Slavic Thunder God, Perun, in disguise—and thunderstorms would be par for the course. I’ve never not known it to storm on this day in Chicago.
The heavenly fury broke loose just as Daniel and I decided to take a mid-afternoon walk around the corner to our local grocery store. We wisely chose to bring our umbrellas with us, and we made good use of them, even though our bodies weren’t totally shielded during the downpour as the rain whizzed at us horizontally. It even featured hail, and I really regretted not being home to collect War Water (for future curses, of course!). While our neighbors out on foot or bicycle who were caught off guard by the sudden onset of the storm seemed distressed and dashed for cover, Daniel and I skipped about, giddy as children in a candy store. Daniel whooped with glee.
“Slava Perunu! Glory to Perun!” I shouted. “Slava, Gromovnik! Glory to the Thunderer!”
The clouds boomed heavy peals in response. The lightning, curiously enough, swarmed in the vicinity of the Hel-Tree, reminding me that it’s nearly the two-year anniversary of the lightning strike that almost killed me while walking home from the bus that August 30 night.
Freedom in fire. Respect for its ambivalent energies. Humility before its capacity to transform in an instant.
It’s after 9:30 p.m. CST as I type these words and my mother just called me, informing me that her north Chicago suburb of Gurnee is preparing for a tornado. She and my dad are hunkered down in their basement; she told me not to worry. Here, as I sit by my east-facing balcony in my condo, the furious winds herald the presence of Gromovnik once again. As soon as I’m done typing, I’m going to go out on the balcony and enjoy the lightning show with Daniel.
My kidneys are still in a world of pain, but it’s the price to pay for the unleashing of toxicity.
As the priests in Serbian Orthodox Christian liturgies intone before reciting the Gospel reading for the day, “WISDOM!”
The parishioners respond: “May all attend.”
It is so.