Why is it said that in Autumn the veils grow thin? Its a folk truism: this is the best time to commune with the disembodied. Here in New England, I am watching the trembling leaves, I am eating sugar and fat, I am looking for my thick socks. I am preparing for a long journey. Or a long sleep.
I begin at midnight. I resolve to make myself available. To pay attention to the actuality of darkness and its (relative) silence. I will forget all hopes of getting a ghost up in my face, to hear plain-voiced instructions from the beyond on how to live right. I am trying a different approach. I eradicate my expectations and focus on a simple question and request: Are you there? Please make yourself known if you are.
I sit in the darkness, my eyes behind a mask that seals out the light of a solitary candle. And I wait….I am hopeless, lead here and there like a leashed thing; after a song, a conversation, plans for tomorrow, a fancy about what would certainly happen if a famous person discovered the depths of my genius.
I focus more intently on the feeling and sound of my breath and become claustrophobic. My upper back feels dense and kyphotic. My left hip grips as though the leg might otherwise drop off.
At least I’m not falling asleep.
Then, abruptly, I notice the silence. The room of my skull is like a cave and I am suspended in quiet emptiness. The internal yammering has receded and there is what I would describe as a pregnant anticipation: scintillating, rolling in and out like sea waves in the dome of space around and through me. I think of my grandfather. He is not technically an ancestor: I knew him while he lived and I am still living. But he has crossed over.
Can you hear me? Are you there? Talk to me.
An antlered mask appears before my closed eyes, floating in the receding blackness. Perhaps I conjured it from some where–it seems a tad cliched. I listen and hear nothing. The form floats before me even now, as I write. Silent. Inexplicable. I wait. There are serpentine flickers, lightening-like and the fleeting suggestions of other forms, quickly chased off by my fed-up reason. But the impression of the mask remains. After a few minutes I grow weary and my attention flags. I will adjourn for tonight, temper my ambitions.
That is it then. The mask is a symbol for itself. It doesn’t matter what I think: if I dismiss it as imagination or memory, if I am dismayed that it did not speak with me. This is the most difficult thing: to accept, to receive actual experience, as it is. To dismiss instead my impatient conclusions. This is true particularly with things of an intangible nature, the acknowledgement of which was certainly not a part of the village paradigm I came to maturity in. My skepticism, I realize yet again, shrouds an anxiety and denial or resistance to the realization of not-knowing, and a deeper, systemic fear, perhaps of my mortal limitations.
I live within the mythology of my times as much as anyone. Our contemporary mythology is actually aberrant in the history of human kind. For through all the ages, and on the tongues innumerable sages, is the acknowledgment of and interface with subtle and ephemeral and effervescent presences: the less-than-solid world. The wisdom of the imaginal–what is so often chided as ‘only imagination’–has for time immemorial served as a crucial source of inspiration and information. This is an unfortunate and illusory poverty.
And so, I will continue to wait, and listen. I will return again tomorrow and the next night and the next. Seven days until All-Souls' Day. I will make myself available for what the dead have to say.