13 - death
Updated: May 9, 2021
13 - death
transformation, transmutation, journey ending/beginning, cycles
"conclusion" (written May 2, the day after our final COVEN-19 performance)
Something's coming, don't know when
But it's soon, catch the moon, one-handed catch.
Death (the card) has been haunting me all this year. I pulled her just this morning, as I have so many mornings over the past few months. Buried in my deck is a skeletal hand clutching a scythe, waiting to reap what was and clear space for what will be. And I just keep stumbling upon her, with this cryptic message: you're turning a corner and only i know what awaits you there. Of course I know, pragmatically, the things that are coming: farewell to the Coven; my thesis defense; final projects to submit and grade; graduation; family conflicts to ignite, marriages to attend, boxes to pack, jobs to acquire. But Death is the harbinger of something else, something less tangible than a project or career path. There's a sensation, a way of holding myself, a fresh smell in the air, a then-and-there that I can almost taste.
I've also been haunted by this question all this year: What is this thesis about? In the spirit of intuitive process and unreasoned knowledges, I have intentionally resisted the impulse to answer (and the impulse is strong -- I am a Virgo, after all). I wrote what I was compelled to write and tried to feel rather than logic my way from card to card. Process over product, being over becoming. But I knew I was grasping at something, as phrases and quotes and words flickered throughout my writing drafts:
to think and feel a then-and-there
to be openly, brokenly human
in a world built on power-over, we must remake the world
a well of replenishing and provocative force
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
the view from somewhere
Together, these words form a constellation of meaning. And there is no singular way of reading a configuration of stars: one person might see a snail shell, another a bubbling cauldron, another a melting candle. But today, as I reflect on ending-beginnings and harbingers of somethings, I read this meaning in the stars:
This is a thesis about conjurings and hauntings. Conjuring is distinct from manifestation (which implies end-points and fixed, achievable desires, and has its own time and place in a witch's grimoire) in its temporal instability. It is a kind of time magick. Eva Reyes defines a conjuring as "a purposeful subversion of energy... melding of spiritual, scholarly, and creative realms in order to best unsettle whatever is happening in that moment." This unsettling transforms the present by infusing it with seemingly impossible futurities. It is an act of not only imagining otherwise ways of being and living, but believing in and embodying them. A witch performs a conjuring out of dissatisfaction with the present (see star card) and a radical, unreasonable faith that better-worlds are across the horizon; to conjure is to not only envision but to feel, touch, taste, dance, and be awashed in these worlds.
In the Coven, we conjure better-worlds by speaking our needs into existence; by taking time to breathe and listen; by taking energy when we need it and offering energy to others when we have some to spare. It is so hard to imagine a future that is breathable, but we reach for it anyway, in collective jamboards and guided meditations to Coven Space; and we conjure that breathable future when we choose to go slow, in magnificent resistance to the ticking clock of Production Calendar Time.
I conjure a better-self in the Coven. In the floundering mess of my post-DNA discovery (see Hermit card), I am still surprised by my face in the mirror. But over this past year, in Coven, I have begun conjuring myself out of the nothingness that I was pushed into three years ago. I do not need a label for whoever I am becoming: I simply exist, unapologetically and as fully as possible. I am silly, sad, not-pretty, fat, pimply, exhausted, jewish, angry, hungry, messy -- and I find myself conjuring a then-and-there self: not a someone who is neatly defined, but a someone who feels and strives for better-thans.
And in order to conjure, we must listen to our ghosts. Conjuring can feel like making something out of nothing, but it's more akin to alchemy than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It is an intuitive but intentional combination of imagination, radical hope, and inherent worth, as well as ancestral knowledges and shadow work. Nothing comes from nowhere, and everything is connected to something else which is connected to something else: to conjure, then, a witch must know where her knowledges come from (see hermit card). She must look backwards in order to move forwards. This means honoring ancestral knowledges, breaking away from toxic ancestral knowledges, and choosing better ancestral knowledges (see lovers card). This also means shadow work: looking back at her own ghostly selves, recognizing what has shifted, and releasing what no longer serves.
In the Coven, we heed the call of our ancestors by citing our work; by researching where our practices come from; by recognizing toxic cycles (in theatre, witchcraft, and our own selves) and breaking them where we can. Ancestral practices are acts of accountability. We conjure utopian futures even as we are deeply connected to ancestral histories.
I am still learning what it means to be ancestrally haunted in my own life. Many DNA-discoverees describe their experience as being "unmoored," and perhaps my captivation with ancestors is an experiment in becoming anchored again. In choosing my own roots after becoming so suddenly un-rooted. In grieving unknowable ancestral knowledges and choosing new histories to anchor my ever-conjuring self.
If I were to envision a future theatre, it would be one that conjures impossible worlds; a theatre that is lovingly haunted by the traditions and artists who came before; a theatre that rejects capitalist time and embraces slow, care-taking, iterative process. I imagine a theatre of eros, where feeling is a tool rather than a hindrance and time is unconstrained. A theatre that welcomes dissent; a theatre that sees harm, grieves pain, and does better next time; a theatre that celebrates radical joy rather than toxic positivity.
But the conjurings and hauntings of this thesis are not limited by theatre, or any industry or art form form that matter. In fact, I do not think that this dramaturgy thesis is about theatre at all. It is a nonlinear account of one small community's attempt to hold on to each other in unprecedented times. And it is, in more ways than I could have ever initially anticipated, about one witch desperately grasping at words and philosophies to carry her through the liminal timespace of her late 20s. Slowly, from one tarot card to the next, I saw fractals of myself emerge and repeat at-large. I saw a strange kind of wisdom grow out of this synthesis of theory, personal experience, communal experience, and feeling-oriented time. A wisdom that can be applied to theatre, but that also expands beyond -- it's a wisdom for anyone invested in utopian possibilities.
To the reader who stumbled upon this tarot deck: may it be an offering of eclectic, messy, and contradictory wisdoms, ancestral and newly conjured. I hope that, out of its specificity to me, my ancestors, and the Coven, this thesis can inspire temporal divergences that bring you closer to queer horizons.
situated post-script (as i emerge from quarantine/grad school liminal space)
This thesis is also a practice of intuitive creation and thought: in Coven space, we listened to what felt satisfying rather than what made sense; and in writing this tarot deck, I listen to my ancestors and stumble my way from one idea to the next (sometimes with joy, sometimes with frustration and self-doubt, but always with some deeply felt feeling). And with my newly sharpened intuition, I realize that my decades-long call to "do theatre" is as fictitious as my gender, my straightness, my family mythology: something presumed true for most of my life, but that is in fact only as true as my belief in it. And I no longer believe that theatre is my only medium for conjuring better-worlds.
What am I called to do beyond theatre is as strange to me as my own ever-becoming face in the mirror. But I am learning that not-knowing is a rare (if existentially terrifying) gift. Not-knowing is a timespace of potentiality. If everything is fiction, then I have the power to rewrite my story. And through Coven, I have gathered so many new narrative tools: radical hope, ancestral wisdom, nonlinear time, imagination, inherent worth, interconnected love, to name just some. I tremble to think of the infinite worlds that I have the power to conjure for myself.
My offering to the Coven before final performance: "The Coven doesn't follow linear time, so we aren't closing anything tonight."
a shell-shedding spell for intentional transformation
to be manifested on significant cyclical days, such as Beltane or a thesis defense
tools: journal and writing implement; a fire-safe bowl; fire; water
1. journal prompts: today is a culmination of something. what is it? what have you created? what is coming to an end? imagine all of your hard work as a shell that you've been carrying on your back for weeks or months or perhaps years on end, that you have finally outgrown. how heavy is it? where on your body have you been carrying this weight? how has it affected your shoulders, lower back, feet, hips, chest? how will you feel when you have shed the shell? light and airy relief, or grief? or a mixture of both?
2. draw your spiral shell. label points on the shell with the various accomplishments, burdens, and creations that you've encountered along the way. go chronologically, from the outside in. the outermost point of the spiral is the culmination of your efforts; the innermost point of the spiral is the seed, the thing -- tangible or abstract -- that started it all. add as many points on the shell as necessary to lead you toward the center. you might need to draw multiple drafts to make room for your points on the shell. try not to predict what the seed of everything is -- start externally.
3. which of these points on the spiral will you look forward to shedding? which will you miss?
which will you carry with you? which will you evolve into something new? consider the center point of the spiral. was this cycle of time born out of something joyful or painful? necessity or desire? compare the center point to the outermost point. what is their connection? did you expect things to culminate the way they did, or was the journey full of surprises?
4. on a scrap sheet of paper, make a list of everything you want to shed from this cycle. include points from your drawing, but feel free to add others as well. be as abstract or specific as you'd like. what are the burdens of this spiral journey that were harmful and you want to let go of?
5. prepare to burn this scrap of paper (have some water nearby in case things get out of hand). thank these burdens for being a part of your process. as you burn them, release each burden, saying, "i relieve myself the burden of..."
6. what is left on your spiral? circle the points that you would like to carry with you in some way on your next journey. rewrite them in list form and narrow them down to about three or so.
7. draw another spiral shell. label the center of this spiral with the points that you circled in step 6. don't label too much of the shell: you're just planting seeds.
8. when you are ready to begin a new spiral journey, choose another significant day (the first day of a job, or moving day, or an anniversary) to revisit this shell drawing. reflect on how you can spiral outward from these innermost points. keep this shell someplace visible, maybe on an altar. add points as you journey, day by week by month. as you continue spiraling, remember the ways that your past journeys are entangled in this one. journeys are never linear, of course, so this metaphor is very much fiction -- but let the fiction help you reflect your never-ending transformations. may this spiral shell be the first of many more as you intentionally, slowly, and iteratively outgrow what no longer serves you and build bigger and better houses.
9. if spirals do not serve you and the way you experience time, imagine another visual metaphor entirely. or maybe you hate metaphors and just want to set some stuff on fire. this is your permission to be a witch who serves her own needs.