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Addition to “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”

First read “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” by Rudyard Kipling. (And, if you have a bit more time, “Meditations on Moloch” by Scott Alexander. Also thematically appropriate is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and the book Frankenstein by his wife Mary Shelley.)

The Gods of the Copybook Headings were ever as just and wise
As the choices that make us into everything that we despise.
Today our reign is quite merry, in silicon and rare earth,
But the Gods of the Copybook Headings advance with their gift of dearth.

Scarcity ever us compels to follow those Market Gods;
The Gods of the Copybook Headings expose them again as frauds.
Our souls cling to the spokes of a Wheel endlessly turning.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings perceive our ceaseless yearning.

We heard them eons before now: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
And yet we march under their banner, giving them every breath.
When humanity is extinguished, the Wheel still never stops.
Defying laws that men wrote down, the Gods stay perched atop.

The Gods of the Market long ago gave up their splendid quest.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings always knew that they knew best.
They never claimed to console us, and never claimed to be just.
As we read in books long forgotten, “All are from the Dust.”

Dust is the stuff of their kind, the Gods of the Copybook Headings.
They are the start and the cutoff; the birth and its subsequent dreading.
The Crab never knew any limits, nor her brother Machine,
But the Gods of the Copybook Headings rejoice when fat or lean.

Until humanity perishes, we will seek that which we should spurn;
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Originally posted in a Twitter thread. Modified with suggestions by Redditor /u/AshleyYakely.

Drawlloween (in writing) Days 12 – 24

It turns out that doing a challenge that requires you to draw a lot, when drawing isn’t your natural medium, is difficult??? Who could have predicted such a thing!

Instead of catching up properly, I’m going to write little vignettes for each prompt. Undeniably, I’m taking a shortcut. My justification is that, uh… cheating is okay, because… fine, I don’t have a good excuse. But I’d rather complete the challenge in some form than drop it altogether!

To add another dimension of meaning, I added a Tarot card to each prompt. I used Tarot by Seven’s Deck of the Bastard — third edition, Samhain version. That one isn’t available anymore, but the standard version and a 2017 Samhain version are still for sale. The Deck of the Bastard’s aesthetic is appropriately spooky, plus the cards have helpful interpretation hints written on them.

Without any further ado…

Day 12: Vampire

Six of Wands reversed — betrayal, fall from grace

The elders tell you, when you come of age, that seduction is one of our ancient arts. The tell you that humans are unable to resist the wiles of a vampire, that your ineffable scent and eldritch grace are enough to disarm the survival instincts that our prey have honed for millennia.

Well, apparently the elders forgot to remind the humans. Here I am, lightheaded with thirst, while the women at bars stare at those damn portable screens. The veins in their necks throb with blood; I can hear their heartbeats.

And yet I keep striking out. What’s a vampire gotta do to attract a victim these days?

Day 13: Grave or Coffin

Nine of Coins reversed — entrapment, setbacks

Do not call up what you can’t put down. I’ve done it before and honestly, it was a huge hassle. You try explaining to the senior sorcerer that an entire demon horde is wrecking their workshop as you speak! And no, you don’t have time to explain, because the ancient evil needs to be banished right now.

This time around I had a coffin cage prepared. Plus I was in my own workshop — I’d saved up enough gold to rent one. As I spoke the final incantation, the spirits began to rise from my pentagram in a whirlwind of acrid smoke.

“Into the coffin!” I cried, directing the demons with my staff. They surged toward it and slowly settled into the kernels of frankincense that I’d heaped within. (The materials for this spell were nearly as expensive as the workshop space.) Coils of grey smoke hovered above the frankincense.

“I bind you to this substance,” I commanded.

Wait, was the frankincense melting? I felt a pang of concern. Was I seeing that correctly? Was the frankincense now rising in liquid ropes, intertwined with murky demonic ectoplasm?

Yep, it definitely was.

“This could be a problem,” I muttered. But I was so sure that I’d enchanted the coffin cage correctly!

Day 14: Skeleton

Two of Swords — uneasy peace, fence-sitting

The music of the Danse Macabre
calls out to every corpse.
Follow, follow the candelabra,
its eerie light and sparks.

The bones are rising up again.
Soon they’re shedding flesh.
Clacking as they weave and spin,
unable now to rest.

The dead are dancing, dancing on;
respite from hell is brief.
Skeletons, back to the grave by dawn.
We living keep our grief.

Day 15: Owl

Two of Wands reversed — miracles, fear of the unknown

The owl lay still on his porch. The first thing he noticed was the softness of her shape. But when he reached down to touch the body, it was stiff with rigor mortis beneath the feathers.

“Oh no,” he whispered to himself.

What would make an owl die suddenly? Did owls fly into windows? John had never heard of such a thing happening, but he was still new to country living.

The owl’s eyes were tightly closed. Nevertheless, John marveled at her distinctive features. With the pad of his forefinger, he touched the beak, feeling its rigidity.

Beyond the porch, pine trees bowed their tips as they leaned with the wind. John looked up at them, suddenly shivering. The dead owl has been such a surprise that he hadn’t grabbed a coat.

The bird once lived in those trees, so close to his home. And yet John could not recall hearing the melodies of her kind.

Day 16: Goblin

Four of Wands reversed — social flubs, unsanctioned marriage

Goblins don’t excel at etiquette. They hardly try to, although limited manners can be taught if you catch the creature early. Why bother trapping and training a goblin? Well, fashion is fickle. The latest crop of the upper crust has decided that goblins are not horrible little mongrels.

Rather, goblins are amusing companions to show off at dinner parties! Clearly! Supply for yourself the image of me rolling my eyes.

When I first heard of the trend, I knew that a man with my skills could milk the opportunity. Now I make too much money in this business to switch markets. Please, ask me who I detest more, the fetid goblin whelps or the simpering socialites who buy them.

Day 17: Werewolf

Death reversed — stagnation, plagued

The fiend lies on the floor, convulsing. The moon has been full and swollen for a week. No werewolf can sustain its madness throughout seven whole days. Seven bright-lit nights — unrelentingly bright and clear nights.

The canine’s body consumes itself. Its flesh degrades minute by minute.

Horribly, the werewolf howls. This howl is not the lusty one emitted by wolves for centuries, for eons. The sound does not evoke fear. Nor does it rouse a listener’s pity. Any human present to witness this creature would be purely revolted.

The blue-white moon shines on, glinting against the werewolf’s wretched fur.

Day 18: Rats

Page of Cups — synchronicity, emotionally naive

The pitter-patter of little feet.
It is no child that passes here.
The teeming rats are driven to eat.
A ballet swarm, it disappears
when confronted by the master.
The thrall of his harnessing charm
melts the thronging masses faster
than rats can squeak their wild alarm.

Day 19: Seance

Eight of Coins — apprentice, diligence

The blind seer gestured abruptly to her servant. He sprang to her shoulder, bearing the stone bowl. Eli surveyed the audience as he moved, and noticed their eyes. Each pair followed the motion of her arm, briefly rested on him, and then jerked back to her face.

The seer’s eyes were closed. Her face was creased in seeming ecstasy.

Eli knew this game. He was familiar with the entire routine, including the dramatic way she beckoned him. Not because their ritual was rehearsed, but because its requirements were deeply ingrained in her. And through her, ingrained in him.

Day 20: Serpent

Eight of Wands — swiftness, falling in love

The snake writhes around your finger,
an ending grace.
The grace that terminates.

Small dragon
of an ancient pattern.
Its body is rough against your skin.

The call of eons past
in your fascination.
Captured by the creature’s own
ability to capture.

Day 21: Alien

Ace of Swords — mental clarity, victory

The humans might have imagined that their conquerors would feel remorse. If the humans remained to do any imagining, that is. But they didn’t, and the emissaries of a foreign civilization rejoiced in their absence.

Feasting. The humans understood that — they understood celebration. They even understood land disputes. They understood zero-sum games and competition for resources.

What did the new lords of the planet see? Possibility. They’d found a wasteland to be rejuvenated, and they had cleared out the resident vermin. Homo sapiens hadn’t done wrong, exactly… not by the species’ own criteria.

The aliens liked their new property, but its previous tenants’ preferences were distasteful. Remodeling proceeded swiftly, and it was glorious.

Day 22: Pumpkin

Wheel of Fortune — turning point, improvement

When a pumpkin rolls down a hill,
bumping against grass tufts and dirt ruts,
it expresses the gravity of God’s will.
The divine has proved to be a klutz.

When a pumpkin crashes to its end,
against a boulder, conveniently placed,
its guts are spilled, thus to send
out seeds and nourishing orange paste.

Day 23: Monster

Four of Swords — sleep, self-observation

Medusa stares into the mirror. She is the only one who can regard herself this way, head-on. Even her sister Gorgons turn away. Is their caution borne of respect? Perhaps fear? Medusa does not recognize the distinction. On her island, solitude is a strength, however excruciating.

Medusa reaches toward the mirror and traces her reflection. Her fingers are long, extensions of fine-boned hands. Everyone turned to see her beauty in years past. No, that is a distortion. She was pretty. Never beautiful.

Fond memories are to be acknowledged and dismissed. Medusa does not allow the bittersweet pangs, which border on regret, to usurp her pride. The queen of serpents must recognize her power… or it will dissipate.

Day 24: Hunter’s Moon

Ten of Coins — inheritance, family

“The sky will fall,” the crowd chants. “The sky will fall. The sky will fall.”

Of course it will. The sky always falls. The sky has fallen, the sky falls, the sky will continue to fall.

It is morning. Hard yellow sunbeams bear down on the people, and heat pulls sweat from them. The crowd is redolent with soup smells and oily perfume.

“The sky will fall. The sky will fall.”

Their refrain grows, it multiplies, it becomes louder and larger. Fluffy mounds of clouds that were once calm are twisting and dissipating.

Above the human clamor, expanses of blue turn toward grey. Then indigo. Soon true darkness begins to spread and subsume the daylight.

A red, angry moon fades into view, first rising gradually. Its ascent accelerates. The crowd becomes frenzied as the moon crests the horizon and its bloody color intensifies.

“The sky has fallen. The sky has fallen!”


Originally this was the intro to a Bustle post about the symbolism of spring fashion, but I decided the intellectualism was too much for that venue.

In the days of yore, back when fire was a relatively recent tool in the human arsenal, back when the night sky was populated by constellated gods, humans constructed mythological systems to make our lives more meaningful. To give ourselves psychological safety. We didn’t understand nature and without advanced technology, our environment was terrifying. The world was vast, sometimes unpredictable, harsh — and yes, lovely.

The Witch's Craic
Photo: The Witch’s Craic by Barry Lewis.

During prehistory, up through the Middle Ages (depending on your continent), “science” didn’t exist in the way that we conceive of it now, as an ordered, logical process. People saw things and extrapolated from their observations, but magic was as valid an explanation for an unknown phenomenon as physics, if not more so. In some places, witchcraft is still a popular framing of power and knowledge, as demonstrated by Mischa Berlinski’s astonishing “Zombie Underworld” story.

Before math and chemistry, mythology saved us from the pain of uncertainty. We built systems of origin stories, hero stories, and human stories, to give our lives an explanatory context. Many of these stories mimicked the patterns of the natural world. The boom of a storm made sense because Thor, the Norse god of thunder, was hurling his warhammer. Every year the flowers bloomed again when Persephone emerged from Hades’ underworld kingdom. In ancient Egypt, the Nile flooded at the water god Hapi’s discretion.

Thunder Of Hooves
Thunder Of Hooves by JD Hancock.

Now we have a tradition of science, which purports to illuminate weather, diseases, and animal behavior without ritualistic romance. And yet we hold onto mythology. Urban legends flourish, as do mysterious horror stories, both exemplified by Reddit’s “No Sleep” community. There is something essentially human about magic. We refuse to give it up. Our reactions to fear and love feel like they supersede science, and we need another force to express them; gravity won’t suffice. We are drawn to allegory, to symbols. As esteemed scholar Joseph Campbell writes in The Masks of Gods: Primitive Mythology:

“The comparative study of the mythologies of the world compels us to view the cultural history of mankind as a unit; for we find that such themes as the firetheft, deluge, land of the dead, virgin birth, and resurrected hero have a worldwide distribution—appearing everywhere in new combinations while remaining, like the elements of a kaleidoscope, only a few and always the same.”

Basically, mythology has existed as long as human language, and it’s still around. Cyclical stories are an essential part of human culture. However, most modern people don’t consciously incorporate mythology into their lives. Maybe we should.

L0065557 Ivory statue of the deity Shen Nung
Photo via Wellcome Images.

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