“Somebody killed Pan,” she said. My best friend Sarah and her family had staked out a plot of land at the Gaea Retreat outside of Kansas City as their favorite campsite. It was a secluded spot, just big enough for three tents, tucked to the side of the gravel road and wire fence that marked one edge of Gaea. They called it Shamballa, which invariably made me think of the Three Dog Night song – I can tell my sister by the flowers in her eyes, on the road to Shamballa. Underneath an evergreen tree inside the entrance to Shamballa, Sarah had placed an old concrete idol of the god Pan.
Hammer the First
She hands me a tiny white box. I look at it, the gold lettering of the logo for Pathways, our local metaphysical shop, glimmering in the candlelight. It is the night of my first-degree initiation into my family’s coven, and now that the ritual is over, we are gathered around the coffee table altar in the living room of the house where I grew up exchanging presents. I slide the top off the box. Inside, resting on a pillow of spun fibers, is a silver sigil attached to a slim black cord.
Madame Death’s dressed all in black and seated next to a battered metal table…
I wrote those words five years ago this month, the opening line to my first column on The Wild Hunt. It’s a riff – I think – on William Earnest Henley’s poem Madam Life’s a Piece in Bloom, which I would have picked up from its use as an epigraph in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but I don’t remember for certain. It is long enough ago that now I can read my own thoughts from then and not be quite sure whence they came; I was then a different person, and the world was a different world. The Wild Hunt itself has changed entirely, going from the herculean effort of one writer, the blessed Jason Pitzl-Waters, to a publication staffed by 20 writers, editors, and business managers. This morning I have been looking back through my archives of the past five years, in part to figure out an answer to a question I have asked myself over the years: what is this column about, anyway?
I am standing at an overlook outside the rail station in Durham. Mist covers the city, and slow rain leaves slicks along the path to my right. Past the lines of brick houses and motorways stands the newer Catholic church, Our Lady of Mercy and St. Godric. It’s barely a century-and-a-half old; I suspect the mortar between the stones is still wet.
For the most part, I spend the hours of my life allotted to religious devotion at my altar or outdoors, working in the spaces I have built and in the spaces provided by the Goddess herself. I do not usually need much: a table and some candles, or even just a quiet path in the woods. But every so often I feel the need for something else, and in those times, I find myself entering museums, seeking a window onto the past. Today I am sitting on the floor in front a glass case in the University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archeology. The museum building housed the university hospital a few years ago; I am told that this room, which holds the collection of materials from the ancient world, was once the surgery ward.