It hit me last night: the sense of terror and impending doom, the sense that some unforeseen, unexpected horror was going to descend upon my head to shatter the world that I have so painstakingly constructed for myself into a thousand, thousand broken, jagged shards. I found myself fighting a deeply conditioned response to scream and run…to seek flight, to ward it off by any means possible. I kept thinking of all the ways that Odin had torn me apart, broken me open, broken down my world and what that process had been like and it took very firm and loving words to bring me back to sense. I realized, mid panic, that this was precisely what I felt prior to every single initiatory experience I had ever undergone and whatever else asiento is, it's an initiation.
what is it about engaging with the sacred that so often makes cowards of us all? I think our ancestors knew that…the ones who knew the tang of bogs and the stench of the holy found in dark groves, and hushed sacrifices. They knew as they kissed the soil that every encounter with the sacred is one from which the devotee may not return. Every brush of the holy is one with the potential to shatter the harsh, brittle carapace of humanity, of normality, of jaded ennui that we all too often build about our hearts and souls. Every brush with the holy has the potential to tear our minds open to the fires of the Gods. Fire always burns.
These things I know, and yet there is something about a pending initiatory experience that takes us back to the most feral, animal parts of our brains. There's an instinctive response -- that fight or flight response I suppose--that gets triggered. yet i know that I must wish to throw myself into the fire, to eat the burning coals, to allow it to consume me from the inside out. I must burn as hotly as it does. I must be willing to dance in its burning, to embrace it, to learn to ride its laughing rhythms. No shame in fear, only in refusing to dance.
The Holy is greater than the abyss that witlessly challenges its power. It is greater and more enduring than the poison of any filter. It will always find a way. It will speak through the lips and blessings of our dead. It will pour itself into willing human flesh. It will bubble up through the cracks in the heart, the chasms in the mind, the strange patterns that scars of pain and anguish leave in their wake. It will bring a joy so deep, so great, so unlike anything in this grey, demented world, that those who taste of it seem mad. It will break us down. Nothing will keep it out. We are its kindling and we are its heat and its light and sometimes its bite. These things I know.
I know too that sometimes we need to be "starving, hysterical, and naked" to let the sacred in. Sometimes we need to be cracked open like over-ripe fruit. Sometimes, like grain that is to be baked into bread, we must be mercilessly ground down. We must become fire too. That Holy is too immense otherwise. It will burn everything else away. it will illuminate the windows of one's skull, as the poet once said, and sear the caverns of one's heart.
sometimes it comes as wind, as the breath of one's own death on the back of one's neck. It chills, it hollows us out, it paves the way for the fire. These things I know. I've walked these twisting paths before. The labyrinth of my mind remembers. All initiations smell the same. Perhaps because of the fear they evoke instinctually in the initiates.
Holy places are dark. Holy places reek of the scent of fear and piss and shit and blood and a thousand sacrifices made in the name of hope and hunger and terror. Holy places are places out of time, and when we gather there, devotees of the Gods whose hearts have pounded in equal terror, whose lips have prayed to the same Gods, whose feet have danced the same rhythms, whose minds have known the lightening strike of the fire breath with us, chant with us, hold the space with us. They wait, as we wait, and when I make foribale in front of the Orisha the night of my asiento, tens of thousands of my ancestors will be making foribale with me. I will step into a new flow, a new rhythm, a new me.
Then, the holy smells of light and the birthing of worlds, the shifting of threads, the igniting of stars. Then one hears the laughter of the Gods, gnaws upon Their joy and steps into the heart of the sun.
It hit me yesterday: as i move toward asiento, I am moving toward initiation. I don't know what that means. I cannot predict who I will be when the ritual is over. I cannot predict. oh, I can speculate, but I don't know for certain. Every initiation is the end of someone. Every initiation is the beginning. It's navigating that space in between that's terrifying.
People ask me all the time: how can I make this safe? I laugh when I hear such questions. There is no way to make the sacred and the holy safe. It is always twinned with terror and danger. that is its essential nature. that is as it should be. If we are wise, we make it part of our nature too. It will keep us clean. it will keep us honest.
In the meantime, I give thanks to Ellegua, Guardian of the crossroads, for His wisdom and His blessings. I give thanks to my ancestors, I give thanks to the Gods of ecstasy and madness: One Who hung and One Who burned, and to all the Powers that danced between them.
Now I must bow my head, make my offerings, and set about the minutiae of preparation. There is a grace and a meditation in such things, and then there is only the matter of throwing myself --like the fool of the tarot---joyously into the fire.