[The Books of the Dead] A Prelude

posted in: Books of the Dead | 11

Oh, yeah. The vault. That’s where the stuff I can’t handle goes. Kerplunk! – Finn, Adventure Time

For those of you who have been with me for long enough, you know I have an unsteady relationship with death.  I’m not one of those Witches who can see spirits, talk to ghosts and visualize the other side of the Veil.  Or really visualize very much at all, though that’s improved a little over the years.  I tend to “see” things in words, song lyrics, poetry and emotions.  You can imagine how fun this was as a baby Witch where every exercise ever starts with “Visualize . . .”  My sister, the Divine Miss M, who is not a practicing Witch and not really all that Catholic, has a much more open dialogue with the other side than I do and does not spend her dreams with dead people telling them that they’re dead like I do.  She catches omens, portents and prophecy at a rate that is completely annoying given that she’s not into the occult.

I tend to have a lot of what Gordon calls, Are you there, God?  It’s me, Margaret moments.  Because sometimes, I’m not sure.  Sometimes, it’s just darkness and dragons and decomposition in the dirt for me.  I feel as a Witch that there’s a lot of unconscious pressure to feel/see ancestors and while perhaps not having a cohesive view of the afterlife, being reasonably sure that there is one and/or reincarnation.  I don’t deal with the dead.  I deal with the dying and the ones who live on.  I’m a modern-day Nemain. My role has always been to give care to the dying and the living.  To organize, to de-escalate grief stricken fighting, to cook, to mind the house, mind the babies, to have an apron for loved ones to cry into.  It’s a role I’m very competent and comfortable in and one that allows me to process my grief through tears and service to my loved ones.

It had worked very well for me from the time my father died when I was eighteen up until my uncle’s more recent death.  When my uncle was dying, I could be reasonably composed for my mother and sister, I could be at his side every weekend, making the hours long trip to see him.  My sister would do the laundry, I would mind her baby and do the cooking.    We went on like this for a while until he passed.  We got to the wake and my mother immediately started sobbing.  At this point, I would usually enfold her into my arms and whisper things that didn’t matter when we had lost someone.  My uncle, the patriarch of our family who had such a big laugh and kind heart who was so much bigger than this box he was now encased in, was gone.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t comfort anyone.  I didn’t pray with my beloved dead.  I didn’t smooth my skirt.  I turned on my heel and I left.  I wasn’t thinking anything, I didn’t have a cohesive thought process past I can’t be here.  I crumpled into a a rumpled black-clad messy ball at the end of the corridor and tried to hide myself.  I was gasping, with a few stray tears falling.  My brain was a white space of shock and disbelief.  I am the one who washes our family’s grief so that we can have at least the most fragile scar of protective healed grief over our wounds and I couldn’t do it for myself, let alone for anyone else.  I was a wounded animal and I didn’t want to process, I didn’t want want to heal, I didn’t want to talk.  We are coming up on the two year anniversary of his death and my sister and I still pretend he’s on a trip.  When he was a navigator, he would often be gone for holidays because of his work.  We’ve taken this childhood fact and morphed it into some kind of way to cope.  I suppose, if you would like to be kind and meta about it, he is on a trip of some kind where he is much less readily accessible.  But really, it’s a grief so deep that I can’t process it.  I can’t find the words to talk about it.  My always annoyingly noisy talking self is silent.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready or if it will stay in my vault.

The time between now and Christmas always feels heavier on me.  The thinning of the veil around Samhain, but really right before Christmas Eve usually finds me crying into my apron in front of my ancestor’s shrine.

I’ve realized that writing is the only way I make my peace with anything.  Jow and Gordon have made gentle suggestions that maybe it’s time for me to start doing research into the afterlife from a scientific and folkloric perspective.  I think, as usual, my husbands are right.  But I need to write this as a journey I’m taking for myself and hopefully you will want to come too, or at least observe mine.  I can be a light on your path, but I can’t be your path.  I see it as this: one part research, two parts personal sharing, one part witchcraft and one part folklore/mythos.  What will bind all of this chaos together will be actual Books of the Dead.  I had thought that there was a book of the dead in a specific culture but it turns out there were many Bookof the Dead, even within the same culture.  I find that both fascinating and comforting that there wasn’t a universally accepted manual, but many Books with variations, even within the same culture.  There are threads of that, even today.  What’s one group’s One True Pair is the bane of another group’s existence.  OTP only nominally cares about logic and cannon, but there’s passion and faith there nonetheless.

I also really resonated with what The Bloggess said recently:

But this week I’ve had several reporters all start with the question, “Is blogging dead?” and I’ve finally started answering with “Well if it is that makes me one hell of a necrophiliac because I’m still doing it WITH ZEST”.  But then I started wondering if when these articles come out they’re just going to say: “Jenny Lawson, total weirdo, recently came out as an ardent necrophiliac.  ‘I DO IT WITH ZEST’ she confessed in a recent interview.”  So that’s why I’m coming out right now to say that I am NOT a fan of necrophilia for myself or for anyone else.  That is my official statement.  The end.

Except I guess it’s not really the end because now that I’ve brought up the question of whether blogging is dead I’m probably expected to flesh it out.  Except that readers here know I never flesh anything out properly so I suppose I’m off the hook.  Which is exactly what blogging is all about.  It’s about writing whatever crazy shit you want to write and having some people say “YES!  I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE” and some say “What the shit is wrong with you?” and 99.99% of the world say nothing because they don’t know I exist.  And that is blogging.  And in that way it’s the same blogging that existed when I started blogging 9 years ago.  There are some changes, of course.  In the last 9 years some amazing bloggers have decided not to blog anymore.  And sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t and sometimes they’re replaced by other amazing bloggers who write hysterical or moving or entertaining fluffy things.  And that’s a very good thing.

[. . .]

But here’s the great thing about realizing that making a mint in blogging isn’t really feasible or worthwhile…now you’re free to write whatever the shit you want to write without having to worry about brands and advertisers and alienating angry, easily-offended people who are actually really fun to alienate.  And that’s why we all got into writing in the first place, right?  Just me?  You know what?  It might be just be me.  And that’s fine because every single writer writes for their own specific reason.  Some of us write for a living.  Some of us write for fun.  Some of us write because we have no other choice because writers write always and if they aren’t blogging they’re writing a book or a journal or (if you’re anything like me) scrawling ideas of things you’re afraid you’ll forget on your arm until you can get home and jot it all down.  That is what writing is about, and blogging is just one iteration of writing.  Writing never dies.  And thank fucking God for that.

Maybe the blogosphere isn’t as densely populated as it used to be with readers or writers.  The commenting, the conversations are amazing when they can happen, most writers literally just about live for that.  But most of us don’t expect to get it all the time, we’re writing and screaming into the ether because we need to.  There’s nothing else for us but this madness.  Sometimes, it’s a shared madness and sometimes it’s a solitary madness, but either way it’s happening.  Over the past few years, I was more concerned about writing for others than I was about writing for myself and I was slowly losing my voice that way.  I write with the hope that what I say resonates with someone, somewhere but I need this to be my journey, for words to fill in the spaces that I can’t fill in through my practice.  It’s going to be unfocused, I’m going to cuss more than I should, I’m going to share more about myself than you wanted to know, it’s going to be manic and stream of conscious and it’s going to be perfectly imperfect.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a light of some kind.

Deborah Castellano
Deborah Castellano's book Glamour Magic: The Witchcraft Revolution to Get What You Want is available for purchase through Amazon, Llewellyn and Barnes and Noble.
Her frequently updated catalogue of published work is available on Author Central.

She writes about Glamour Magic here at Charmed, I'm Sure. Her podcast appearances are available here.

Her craft shop, The Mermaid & The Crow specializes in old-world style workshop from 100% local, sustainable sources featuring tempting small batch ritual oils and hand-spun hand-dyed yarn in luxe fibers and more!

In a previous life, Deborah founded the first Neo-Victorian/Steampunk convention, SalonCon which received rave reviews from con-goers and interviews from the New York Times and MTV.

She resides in New Jersey with her husband, Jow and their cat, Max II. She has a terrible reality television habit she can't shake and likes St. Germain liquor, record players and typewriters.  

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11 Responses

  1. I think this is a brilliant idea, and I’m looking forward to reading your work on/through it. Thank you, Deb.

  2. […] forward, and I’m checking email, and find that Deborah has written [The Books of the Dead] A Prelude. Which is equal parts sad and awesome, and I’m excited to read more as she has more to post. […]

  3. I’m looking forward to it too! This resonates with what I’m going through big time, and between you, me, and Stacey there, we just made a cool deathy triangle with our blog posts. Bring on the sharing!

  4. […] of blogging about these topics while others are also thinking and writing about it–see this post from Deb Castellano and this one from Stacey–both on the same day!…well, it feels really magical actually. […]

  5. Bring. It. On! 😀
    Widdershins recently posted..One More For The RoadMy Profile

  6. I’m one of those bloggers you referred to who doesn’t blog anymore… but I always plan to get back to it.

    You do me (and I’d suppose others) the service of reminding me why I blogged in the first place: because I love writing.

    You can tell the difference. There are bloggers who write for whatever reason, and there are those who write because they got off on writing. Three guesses which ones are the ones I like to read. There is a particular magic blogger out there who will remain nameless, whose blog i USED TO read because he was full of experience and his blog was full of tech. But eventually I got to the point where I didn’t care WHAT valuable gems might be hiding in his verbose, overwritten, A.E. Waite-like postings, I just could not torture myself with reading them because the dude couldn’t write a crisp sentence to save his life. Life’s too short to read boring writing.

    You, on the other hand are a high-wire act I never miss. Occasionally you fall on your face, but that’s because you were reaching and experimenting and just thrashing out a story with everything you have. You are at turns, witty, snarky, naughty, inspired, virtuoso, whiny, deadly honest, heart-breaking, hilarious, sublime, crafty, crazy-like-a-fox, and (of course!) charming. And when I read you, my fingers itch to reach for a keyboard so I can show — to myself and to anyone else who wishes to watch my eccentric act — just what amazing stuff I can bring out of myself.

    Go to it! Hit us! Show no mercy! Thrash that story! Where’s the popcorn?

  7. At the risk of sounding totally lame, well wishes on your travels and may you find better than what you seek.
    Ro recently posted..Bad Movie : R100My Profile

  8. I’m one glass of wine into Friday night, and my wife has been telling me about her new amp while I’ve been trying to read this, so this comment is pretty unrelated to your post but: My wife is hooked up with the Washer at the Ford, rather like you. Would you be up for possibly chatting with her about said Lady at some point?
    Meliad recently posted..New Moon – Harvest Moon BeginsMy Profile

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