‘Sun-murmers’ and sparkles this time of year, and gayly hued buds, prodded by sultry breezes give silly waves…summer also brings fierce storms that overflow rivers and take down power lines, reminding us gods once wielded lightning bolts and slammed hammers into the earth. This is a tale for just such a stormy night…
Among the superstitious, black dogs and cats, white horses, blue eyed foxes, and little green men are counted as ill omens. These credulous folks avoid walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, or opening an umbrella indoors without giving a thought to the origin of the custom. Among particular families and tribes, blood oaths are still enacted and passed on, as are unusual abilities and predilections. The blood oath is considered a valid contract, a symbolic promise to uphold an instruction or a directive. In exchange for honoring this blood sealed oath, certain privileges were also granted. Legends of blood oaths have been described as forms of initiation, of binding, of sealing a mutually beneficial deal.
Among some magic circles, there’s both a written and unstated law that a magical working should do no harm to others. As with most rules, there are exceptions. For example, if someone wishes you harm, you may retaliate without consequence. And there’s a bonus. The cosmos renders your magical retaliation at least three times stronger than the other person’s original malevolent intent. Your magic grows stronger still if the original threat contained lies, malicious words of power, or baleful emotional content—such as unfounded jealously, greed, conceit…
She didn’t like returning to this sad, mean place where violent, destructive energy had been leaching into the soil and etching itself in its limestone ridges since the white man’s incursion into their sacred land. Once, it was a place of delicate balance, highly sensitive to strong currents of energy. The people that lived here understood the landscape acted as a kind of tuning fork and were careful to avoid places that vibrated with and kept dark undercurrents and unspeakable terrors contained.
Before her visit she read a few recent headlines online: “man found lying on Dual Highway with a fatal chest wound; women stabbed in neck and chest in parking lot; man shot four times dies in local hospital; dogs starved to death/man charged with animal cruelty…” The pattern hadn’t changed much over the centuries. In the late 1700s, Hessian soldiers marked a path of carnage through the area. Native Americans were shot, lynched, and entire tribes were driven westward; men killed each other in tavern brawls, women were attacked and slaughtered on lonely back roads, and upright pillars of the community committed foul deeds. In the 1800s, spilled blood turned local streams red during the civil war, and was eagerly absorbed into the trampled earth. The 20th century witnessed more lynching, senseless murders, greedy land grabbing, and mad acts committed by shell shocked vets and little old ladies that mowed down pedestrians or killed neighbors or loved ones they’d mistaken for intruders. There were 4 known murders in 2006; 5 more in 2013; 8 in 2017…. The pattern was escalating, and had spread to larger towns in the area.
She loved magic, and chased it from the time she could totter on tiny feet. The grownups told her it didn’t exist, was a myth, was a figment of warped minds. She knew it was real, as real as the many senses beyond the canonical five. It existed outside of and in-between the margins of time and place. It dwelt within her, around her, and above and below her. At 16, she sought out and was trained by a woman more wizard than witch, two implicit words seldom grasped due to ignorance or bias. Later, she was schooled by a cunning man, several modern alchemists, and a Native American sage. Her teachers were hard task masters. They appeared at critical points in the woman’s life. They taught her well, and extracted commensurate payment. They demanded she must never reveal what she learned to the uninitiated. She never did.
They taught her magic hides in plain sight, and in the words and actions of the uninitiated. They encouraged her to feign an ignorance of magic and practice it while no one was watching. They also taught her that an act requiring death or destruction of its visible form did not need to be blasted into oblivion. They taught her how to study the larger patterns and habits, trace every connection, and note all the frequencies. They warned her to avoid direct assaults, to instead be the catalyst through which a thread was pulled, and a pattern of destruction was forever altered. In short, they taught her to maintain her integrity, to detach and view destruction as a form of creation.
She learned she came from a long line of cunning folk and adepts. Unfortunately, their abilities had been forgotten and masked for at least five generations because of archaic laws and threats by church officials and superstitious communities. She learned magic doesn’t atrophy; it absorbs energy in a dormant state. Her magic was occasionally fed by a few curious ancestors, then hidden again under the mind’s floorboards. It waited until the woman’s old man was born on Lammas; he refused to acknowledge many of the esoteric gifts his lineage bestowed. The gifts passed on to the girl, who was born on the opposite turning of the wheel, on Imbolc. She inherited and claimed all the gifts and abilities offered—and willingly paid the price to wield those gifts.
At age seven, she expressed an incredulity regarding religion and dogmas, and a fascination with fairy tales and the supernatural. The more she was forbidden to express her interest and make inquiries, the more determined she became to know everything hidden. She realized that while some answers came from within, she lacked the clavis and passwords to make the most important answers visible. She displayed modest telekinesis abilities, and sometimes used this ability to comic effect. She could cause a match to strike a surface and ignite. She could send a targeted stream of breath across the room to knock over an object. After all, she was an air sign. Her siblings were earth and water signs. Both her parents were fire signs. She worked hard to master water, earth, and ether elements, but left the fire element alone after a few unfortunate experiences.
When she was not quite three, she spied unwrapped gifts on a high closet shelf. She used her newfound skill to topple the presents. Her gramma caught her and told her she must never reveal her gifts. Her gramma tried to explain why and told the girl she could see the dead sometimes, but didn’t know how to help them. She told the girl it was best to forget about magic. She never did, and eventually she uncovered the clavis.
Years later, the woman invited her sibling to a beach house a friend had lent her. The sibling brought a friend but they both forgot their manners. So when a tray of drinks arrived, the woman caused the drinks to spill on her sibling. The woman ensured the sand was unkind to them that weekend as well. In high school, she caused a rival to drop her tray of food and slip on the floor. That earned her enemies, weak enemies she shooed away like flies at a picnic. She was already known by her peers as a weirdo. Her Psychology Teacher allowed her to hypnotize students, and she gave talks before the entire student body on reincarnation and psychic abilities envisioned in the approaching Age of Aquarius. She was otherwise careful not to reveal her emerging magical talents.
Her strongest inherited gift was precognition, though all her gifts were unpredictable and difficult to summon by will alone. Her soothsaying gift could only be engaged using tools or spells. Her ability to foretell or divine a significant future event came only when she didn’t try, when she could will her mind to be still. She was still learning how to correctly interpret what she saw, and the cosmos had a way of reminding and chastising her when she broke a rule or tried to take shortcuts.
Shortly before he died, the old man asked her to look after the old woman and help when she could. In the decades since his death, she had done that, though mostly from afar. The more she moved the line of separation, the higher she vibrated. First she moved from across town to across a state line. Then she crossed another state line, and another. Whenever she could, she traveled back to the old country from which her magic originated. All the trips and moves felt similar to chess moves using ley lines. She avoided geopathic lines of stress, which included the town where the old lady lived.
During decades that followed, she did as the old man had asked. But the world changed, and the sad, mean place grew worse. She asked the old man’s soul to release her from the request he’d made. She reminded him of their talks and the sacrifices she’d made. She pointed out the cruel intent behind the decisions the others had made since his death—since he was no longer able to hold them in check. Her Native American spirit guide, the one that told her about her totems and their power, also talked to the old man’s soul. She had her own family to protect from the others. After 13 moons had passed, the old man released her from the request he’d made.
She went to see the old woman to say goodbye and wish her well. She was sorry to see the old woman’s memory fading, while panic and dread of the future danced in her rheumy eyes. They shared a meal and talked of simpler times. At first, the visit went as she had envisioned. Many of her visions were like what one might experience floating in a boat heading towards a waterfall. The shores on either side is dense with trees. One could predict if the boat continued its path, it would plunge over the falls. However, one couldn’t know if the boat would strike a rock or veer to the side after finding an oar, or be rescued or attacked by people hidden in the trees. One could only guess at outcomes—most of the time.
In her vision, she had seen the old woman offer her several items, which she gratefully accepted—a few pieces of jewelry of sentimental value and a tiny oriental vase. She didn’t want to take other objects offered—a decorative platter, a candlestick, or a black ceramic dog the old woman pulled from a curio cabinet. The dog had been given to the old man by a friend that shared a love of dogs and horses. The old woman said she wanted to give the object to someone that loved dogs. The old woman didn’t love dogs; she thought they were dirty, demanding creatures. The woman knew the dog would be used to manipulate the old woman. The vision shifted and she was soaring above the scene, finding and tracing the threads and seeing the larger picture and patterns.
The poor dog had been kept behind glass for decades. It had been metaphorically starved and neglected. When the old woman removed the dog from its enclosure, it felt gratitude, though it knew it was the old woman that had starved and ignored it. The dog sensed the presence of the other woman that held within her the soul of the old man that had owned and loved the dog when it was real. Without a word, the woman fed the dog and praised it; the soul of the old man sparkled and crackled; this filled the dog with joy.
In a strange sort of déjà vu, the vision became reality and future patterns were revealed. The woman accepted a few items, just as in the vision, and thanked the old woman. She left the dog on the table. That night, while the old woman slept, she went into the other room and sat next to the black dog. She asked what it had seen and heard. The dog’s news made the woman sad and confirmed what she already knew. It dimmed the flickering soul of the old man that dwelt within her. The dog asked what it could do to make her soul soar and vibrate wildly again? She replied nothing less than ending their pattern of destruction and hateful intent. Her obligation had ended. She told the dog this was the ideal time to work pull the right thread and work dark magic. The full moon had waned; the new moon would appear in a week or so. The magic would grow in power like accumulating storm clouds and burst when the moment was right.
She summoned the soul of her beloved black dog and it stood beside the black dog on the table. Together, the dogs guarded the entrance to the portal she opened that night. The old man’s soul remained silent, neither approving nor disapproving. The woman removed a candle and some vials from her bag. She had been taught to work magic without props or tools; however familiar objects sometimes helped her focus her will and harness a specific daemon’s power. “To destroy, I must create…” she intoned.
When the woman left the next morning, she glanced at the dog on the table as she grabbed her bag. Silently, she thanked the dog for its sacrifice. She promised to honor all kindred souls she might encounter. The woman’s soul dog also gazed back longingly at the black dog on the table. Her dog growled at the old woman when she waved goodbye.
She left the black dog on the table knowing it would set off a chain reaction she might have prevented if she’d taken the dog with her. She had also seen the other scenario that would play out if the dog had been removed by her; it was far worse. It was ironic that the dog would be maligned by someone that claimed to love dogs, but loved deceiving others more. That person would lie and tell the old woman the dog was cursed and must be thrown away. That person would whisper in the old woman’s ear the black dog was an evil omen. That person pretended to be intuitive—as intuitive as concrete. Some made the mistake of pitying that woman. She’d been gifted by moth-like evils from an ancestor’s alabaster jar—death, greed, jealousy, poverty, sicknesses real and imagined, and an aversion to telling the truth.
The women born on Imbolc knew black dogs are feared by the superstitious and defamed by the malicious. People choose them as guard dogs over any other type of dog. She also knew the positive stories weren’t discussed much—that black dog apparitions have guided people out of forests or swamps, warned of an impending evil or storm, and protected children from predators. In England, seeing a black/white dog on the way to work is a lucky portent. In Scotland, a strange dog in your yard means you will make a new friend. In Europe, a charm to cure an illness instructs one to butter some bread and feed it to a black dog. The illness is empathically passed to the dog who has the ability to release the illness. The people she loved owned beautiful black dogs. She knew her black dog’s soul walked besides her.
She returned to complete the magical working two months later as a new moon rose in the sky. New moon magical workings are typically about initiations and new beginnings. Negative new moon magic was the opposite. It was a time to work endings, test the strength of a spell, and imbue it with newly gathered energy from the unsuspecting, from those quick to anger, quick to judge. The old woman’s memory appeared and disappeared like blips on a radar screen. Her behavior was more childlike. She snored and mumbled in her sleep, and refused to eat the bland food her stomach could tolerate. She refused to leave the sad, mean, unbalanced town.
There was nothing left to do but wait—until the old woman died, until the others came to claim items the old man had made or infused with his art. The spell was unfolding, the blood oath had been properly fed. In the black dog’s place, Madra Dubh guarded the old man’s objects. Madra Duhb stood ready to extract justice. It would protect the women when death threats were made. It would honor the old man’s code of ethics. It would be merciless. It would feed on the energy and the blood of those that had sought to destroy the truth. It would be ruthless.
There was a lightness, an absence of burden about her now, a rightness in her step—a delightful enhanced keenness of sight and smell, a heightened sense of balance and poise. The ether crackled with thought sparks from ancient cunning folk and conjurers that shared the woman’s DNA. Words and sigils flashed like tiny fireflies…so satiating; she reclaimed our power; detached—she did it; fey are pleased; so illuminating…
© JO HANNIGAN, 2019, all rights reserved