Instructions for a Ritual of Healing25 August 2017
(To be read instructionally, as if from a book.)
First, choose the location. You have read that location is important when casting spells. Usually you cast them under Samira’s veranda, where there is light only through the cracks of the boards overhead, and spider webs stroke whisper-light against your cheeks. But this spell is a secret spell – this, too, is an important element – and so you choose the second spookiest place you can think of. The local park is lit by tall, skinny streetlights, dim and grey most of the time, beer bottles lining strips of pallid grass. By eight o’clock, which is when you sneak out with your Sea World backpack stuffed full of materials for the ritual, it’s abandoned. None of the usual high school boys are skating their way up and down the concrete and, despite the lazily dim streetlights, it’s dark.
You will wait till the moon circles up above the streetlights – till it beams down round and pure upon you – to cast the spell. You decide this as you arrive, because the spell you are casting is mostly improvisational.
Cassie usually writes the spells because she created the coven. She copies them down from the internet, and she has the best handwriting out of all three of you. She’s been in a program for gifted children since you were all in third grade, reads Penguin Classics till the spines get tattered and puts her hand up, unprompted, in class, even when she’s just making up the answer.
Cassie always says magick with a hiss of air for the ‘k’ at the end; with gravity. It’s about being at one with the universe, she says. She takes it all very seriously. You think the whole thing is fun, and weird, and you like to talk loudly about sacrificing goats in front of boys you want to scare. You, Alexandra Wiley, have never been a gifted child. You do not put your hand up. You’ve done a few small things, like being in the debating society for a week before you learned you had to bring notes. Like keeping a diary for three days before you decided the whole thing was pointless. Like playing on the local netball team, which never won – possibly because of you – but you never really cared.
Sometimes you are called on in class, because the teacher spots your eyes fixed on some point out the window, or on the floor, like you’re staring not at the world but beneath it. Only then do you realise you weren’t listening. Laughter diffuses around the room. You usually try and laugh along.
But today you are writing the spell. Brush leaves and twigs along the ground till you have cleared a little space of dirt. Draw a circle with your pointer finger. This is the way the spell will begin, you decide: with an altar of earth. You have a white candle in your backpack for healing. It belongs to your mother, and it boasts the smell of Ocean Paradise (Honeymoon Collection); but it’ll do.
You will also need a photo of your kitten. If none are on hand, because you’ve only had him for a few months and you don’t really own any physical photos of anything, use your phone. Bring also a drawing of your kitten, just in case the magickal forces like that better. Tentatively drawn on thin lined paper, you aren’t much of an artist. But then you aren’t much of anything.
The phone goes in the middle of the circle. The powers of healing will be directed here once you are done waiting for moonlight.
Pray while you are waiting (see INDEX IV for correct form). Sink your knees into the dirt and think about when you first saw Orion. When after two months of begging, you got taken to the cat shelter and told please not to choose a pregnant one. He was picking his way along the ground and he fell over as you watched him. His paws skidded in all different directions. He was fighting his way up again within seconds; he was very used to falling. He hardly noticed anymore.
The lady that was showing you through the shelter saw you watching him, the change in your face, and she tried to usher you on to more kittens. They didn’t know just how sick he was, back then, but they knew he was strange, and wouldn’t you prefer a normal kitten? She said it lightly, with a twist of grimace in her mouth. You said no. Orion was staggering his way into a play-fight, swiping at his sister’s ears and tumbling around with the others; as if being unable to take three straight steps in a row was just what being a cat was like. He was just a little different. And he was alive anyway. You fell in love then, and it was maybe worse than if you’d chosen a pregnant one; but nobody could dissuade you.
You are not a stubborn person. You rarely set your heart on things; your heart does not demand much; or maybe it just doesn’t know what to set itself on. This certainty was new. You had imagined a sleek black cat, a cool-eyed little stereotype, to sit beside the coven as you cast your rituals. You left with an unbalanced straggler, sunny ginger fur and cancer eating the lobes of his brain.
Light the candle, because you can feel your thoughts darkening. After deliberation, choose your malachite pendant – ripples of deep green, edged with silver. This will be your healing crystal; clutch it in your hand. Do not choose your red jasper, because you don’t have it anymore. The internet said that it helped epilepsy, and after Orion had his first seizure you started taking it everywhere, turned it over cold between your fingers and tapped it quick-fire against your desk during class even after people tell you and tell you and tell you to stop.
You lost it eventually. You lose many things – pens, homework, your passport twice, both at bad times. Many people have told you that you lack responsibility. You think of yourself as more of a force of chaos. Space-time tilts subtly around you, familiar doorways shift enough that you bump into them, important dates realign themselves outside of when you thought they were. Black holes yawn open in the cracks between things, where discarded pens and jasper crystals scuttle into, never to be seen again. But you don’t lack responsibility. You put the dishes away every day for weeks to prove that you could remember to feed a cat with the same promptness. And you never once forgot.
Notice the smell of the candle. Distinctly saltwater, with a hint of balmy coconut. Hope that your mother didn’t pay too much to have it stolen. Decide that, in the scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.
Stare down the seal which smiles at you from your Sea World backpack. Samira drew blood dripping down from its eyes, and Cassie has traced pentacles up and down its sides in blue biro. The three of you have been a bad influence on that seal. That rush of meaningless defiance is what binds you as best friends, in the showy kind of way of young girls. You link arms walking down footpaths. They will be angry you’ve cast a spell without them.
Put that out of your mind. Failing that, reassure yourself that this is your responsibility; what better way to prove that you have it? You like to put your hands around Orion’s tiny ribcage, feel the stubborn leap of his heart. He fits right there, almost, in the palm of your hand. He must feel so safe there.
If you’re crying, cut that shit out right now. And feel ashamed at your childishness. You have ruined sacred rites in the past. You bounce your leg when you’re meant to be holding hands in silence, making pleas to the Goddesses. You told Samira her rune looked like a dick and had to spend half an hour redrawing it for her. Do not mess this rite up. That’s the most important thing of all: OVERCOME YOURSELF.
Watch, the moon will climb higher and pass through veils of clouds. Relight your candle when the night breeze snuffs it out, and fill your basin with holy water. Try and figure out what separates holy water from regular water. Hope it’s just the name, because there were no bottles labelled HOLY at the corner store.
And maybe you just haven’t been trying hard enough. It’s a small thing, you tell the night, and you hope the Goddesses are listening even though nobody is holding your hands and your eyes are wide, wide open. You zone out during careers talks and you just laugh while other girls tell you about their crushes. There’s nothing big in the world that you want.
Recite the words you memorised even if they feel clumsy on your fat tongue: sunbeam, starbeam, rays of light, replace, restore, renew, rejoice. Add, please. Please, please, please.
The moon will simmer above you. Its cold face turned towards you, you do not feel at one with the universe. The universe is over there, somewhere, and you are stuck behind, here. Cancer hasn’t eaten any of your brain so it must be that you were born missing some very important parts that you are never going to know about. But if nobody’s told you by now what to do about that, they probably never will.