Burnt Snow, my first novel, was released in 2010 by Pan MacMillan Australia. White Rain, the sequel, is due soon. As part of a trilogy about witches, earth magic, curses, love and revenge, this blog archives my research into the world of the witches - as well as my own magical saga as a new author.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Underworld and the Afterlife

Turns out I'm not the great symbologist after all, or my intuition is defective.
Maybe Papa Legba needs teach me a remedial course on the meaning of omens, because the morning after my last post, I learned - as sure as the raven flies between worlds - that a friend of mine had died.
Or maybe it is not Papa Legba who I should acknowledge here, but his cousin, Baron Samedi. In Vodou lore, the Baron also lurks at the crossroad between the lands of the living and the dead. Dressed in a white top hat and a black tuxedo, he greets all souls on their passage to the underworld. As everyone must eventually meet him, the Baron can indulge himself drinking rum and coffee, and telling filthy jokes with a cigar between his bony fingers and fleshless lips. Master of the dead, he is their protector, too, for it is Samedi's intercession that ensures the dead stay dead and are not resurrected to torment and misery.

This is The Baron's veve - his symbol:

I went to my friend's funeral this morning. It was incredibly moving. He was a friend from university, and too young to die. As a man who liked a drink and a bawdy conversation, it is a comfort to imagine him greeting the Baron with a slap on the back, a laugh and a rum raised high.
The eulogy given my a mutual old friend was incisive, and truthful, and honorable. It reminded me, in that space in my mind that was set apart from grieving, of the magic of language. If we accept the dictionary.com definition of a "spell" as:

1. a word, phrase, or form of words supposed to have magic power; charm; incantation: The wizard cast a spell.
2. a state or period of enchantment: She was under a spell.
3. any dominating or irresistible influence; fascination: the spell of fine music.

... then certainly the eulogist was a magician. From the hundreds of individuals present, his words created a single emotional being that, like a witch's familiar, followed wherever his words willed us. It was a dominating and irresistible influence. He spoke, we were dumb. He provoked us, in places, to cry. In others, his words eked impossible giggles even from grieving despair. The words built and unbuilt a unique emotional world and what always staggers me is that for all the books and scripts and blogs fingers and keys commit to screens and paper, for all the conversations that have ever been had, the words - this specific set of words, in this order - had never been uttered before.
If this is my year of magical thinking, I will begin it not only with my eyes attuned to symbols and scenes, but my ears pricked for the spoken spellcraft in everyday life.

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