YOU’RE HIKING up Pidgeon Hill, a trail in Marietta, Georgia. The trail extends for roughly six miles. For part of the journey, you can see residences well past the treeline on St. Mary Lane, which alerts you that you’re close to your destination.
It’s 6:45 PM on Tuesday, October 29, 2012. You have fifteen minutes to hike to the stone slab you scouted out before, and another half hour after that to set yourself up before the full moon is at its most visible in the sky and the ritual is to begin. You know that in two days, it’ll be Samhain (Sow-een), the day when the barrier between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead is at its thinnest and you know that if you expect to put months of research into action, tonight is the night.
You shudder as a brisk wind disturbs the leafless trees surrounding you, whose fingerlike branches draw fault lines in the yellow-and-orange sky when you look up between them. You’re not looking forward to ditching your hoodie for the ritual, but the spell book was very clear: it must be performed in the nude.
You readjust the straps of your backpack more comfortably over your shoulders and continue down the trail, a twig snapping under the sole of your boot as you take your first intrepid step.
You were a horror junkie when you were a teenager. You grew up having happy nightmares of Freddie and Jason after a late-night movie binge, playing pretend zombie-slayer in the woods behind your house in your tweens, and only narrowly avoiding a “Goth” phase in your outfits and decor, only because you didn’t want to “conform.” You were so non-conformist, you didn’t conform to the non-conformists.
You contrarian, you.
That’s part of why you’re out here, heeding the advice of spell books hundreds of years old on how to commune with the Dark Lord—an entity even most Satanists would argue doesn’t exist. You’re performing an exercise in nonsense, perhaps futility. But more importantly, you’re announcing your departure from your old way of thinking, your hard-line assertion that only what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch exists.
You know there has to be something more. And even though you can’t explain it, you can’t shake the feeling that Satanism is onto something. It’s been over a year since you converted to Satanism after picking up a copy of The Satanic Bible from Barnes and Noble.When most of the world was preparing a Halloween costume, carving jack-o’lanterns and buying candy to distribute to children, you were scouring the Internet, local book stores and libraries for all things Satanic.
You spend hours reading the Lesser Key of Solomon, the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, the Maleficus Maleficarum, and dozens of other spell books to learn how to perform an authentic ritual. Without a robed apothecary to haggle with in the twenty-first century, you order most of your reagents from Amazon or purchase them locally at Crystal Blue, a New Age store in Atlanta’s alternative lifestyle district, Little Five Points. It’s more of a Wiccan store, really, but you have to make due.
On the whole, occultism is anal-retentive; invocations must be memorized, not read out loud, and there’s definitely pressure to ensure your symbols are rendered as close to the original as possible. However, as a Satanist, you’re not huge on rules. You’ve had problems respecting authority your entire life, and you’re not about to start just because this particular authority figure is speaking to you through a spell book. In fact, most Satanists would assert that’s even less reason to trust its opinion. To which you respond, “Okay— but where does the atheist Satanist’s authority come from?”
No one has the answer. Not them. Not the books. Not even you. That everyone’s just making it up as they go along, and their investment in the flawless execution of these rituals, or their ultimate debunking, comes from their own confirmation bias; a desire to validate the foundation upon which they’ve based their interpretation of existence. For example, your own confirmation bias toward atheism told you from the onset that these books are probably a load of shit. But who are you to tell them they’re wrong until you’ve tried it yourself?
So, in the spirit of rejecting confirmation bias, you’ve decided it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s not about whether or not your ritual successfully invokes Lucifer. It’s about your own peace of mind and tonight, you’re doing You. Only instead of going to a pre-Halloween party and doing, more or less, what the pagan ancients would’ve done —getting wasted, and possibly laid—your idea of “doing you” is being alone in nature, your cell phone turned off instead of just on silent, on a solitary quest for truth.
You make it to the stone slab with time to spare. You shrug off your backpack, plop it unceremoniously onto the rock, and unzip it. You start retrieving your reagents.
First, your athame. For your Sword of Aggression, you’ve opted for a fourteen-dollar folding knife with a two-inch blade that you saw in a gas station display case. Its flaming skull graphic caught your eye. You place it so that the side without the ‘Made in China’ disclaimer is facing you.
Second, a brass censer and cone incense. You were originally planning to order stick incense online and, you don’t know, stick it in some moss, maybe? When you realized that idea is asinine, not to mention a fire hazard, you noticed in the ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …’ section of your Amazon tab included a $20 brass censer with a dangling chain handle for wall-mounting, eligible for next-day shipping if you bought it in the next hour and a half.
Fuck it, you said to yourself, adding it to your cart.
You’re pleased with yourself for doing it. You’re sure the incense smoke will look more dramatic coming from a censer swinging pendulously under your grip.
Third, two gemstones. Your sources tell you labradorite enhances summoning rituals, and bloodstone is useful in baneful magickal workings. You bought them for three dollars a piece out of a bin full of their kin, all polished to a smooth, glossy finish. You also bought a five dollar black felt pouch with a pentagram on it to house them in. It’s not the right kind of pentagram – the ‘horns,’ the two pointed portion of the star, are facing down instead of up – but with a simple turning of the pouch upon the rock, the error is corrected. Somehow, you think Lucifer will understand.
Fourth, a black tablecloth. You bought it at Target for ten bucks, cut it to three foot by three foot dimensions, and rendered an inverted pentagram on it by hand with red paint. You remember the look your neighbors gave you when you left it outside to dry. Priceless.
Fifth, you retrieve the mundane essentials: a compass, a box of matches, a towel (for kneeling on), two black candles, wax stoppers for the candles, and a discarded bubble gum wrapper.
Wait. That last part isn’t a tool. You stuff it back into your backpack and make a mental note to clean it out when you get home, knowing you’ll probably forget.
You brandish the compass and start plotting out the directions. After clearing leaves out of the way with your foot, you indicate the directions by drawing lines in the dirt with your athame. With each mark, you chant “Agios o Baphomet” as your spell books instructed you to.
You feel a little ridiculous, hearing only rustling trees. But there’s a part of you deep down that feels like someone’s listening.
Having indicated the directions, you’re sure now the stone slab is pointing cardinally south. You lucked out with this one. Nature, beautiful as She is, rarely offers Her worshipers the ideal altar by coincidence. It’s little instances like these that rattle your preconceived notions of how the world works.
You lay the tablecloth out flat upon the altar and the towel out before your slab. You place the labradorite and bloodstone on the ‘spirit’ point of the five-pointed star, indicating the ‘human’ element’s place among the other four—earth, air, fire and water. That is to say, below them.
You place the wax stoppers on the ‘horns’ of the five-pointed star, and the two candles on top of those. Then, checking your watch—7:23 PM—you strike a match and light them, left one first.
The altar is prepared. All that remains is waiting another seven minutes, stripping out of your clothes, and beginning the rite.
Your skin is covered from head to toe in goosebumps. Without your comfortable trappings to preserve you from the elements, you realize what a fleshy, vulnerable creature you are. As you drop your clothes under a tree a few feet from the altar, your mind reels with the dozens of people who’d flip their shit if they saw you right now.You kneel upon the towel, counting down the seconds in your mind after a final appraisal of your wristwatch before taking it off, too: 7:29 PM.
Twenty nine, twenty eight, twenty seven, twenty six …
This isn’t just a practical behavior. The mental countdown keeps your mind off of how freezing cold it is. The sun has almost dipped below the tree line. The full moon, its waxen visage casting an ominous silvery glow over the woods, usurps it.
… Eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, fifteen …
The noise of the woods around you begins to cancel out. The shuddering tree branches gradually convert to static. Eventually, even the static is gone.
… Four, three, two, one …
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