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Not a Bad Gig on a Bad Day | 2017 | Wake to Sleep


If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.  


A Citizen of the Sacred and Mundane

Jesus said one cannot be the servant of two masters. What he did not say - or what was left unrecorded except in some Apocrypha that never made it out of the Vatican archives - was that one cannot be the citizen of two worlds. Even he couldn't manage it long and he was literally meant to be a god incarnate.

Nearly two decades ago, I worked for a psychic at the New York Renaissance Faire. My job was to sell jewelry. Still my girlfriend and I palled around with our boss's competition on Mystic's Waye, card and palm readers, men and women who could tell from your aura or some animal bones that you were pregnant well before your gynecologist thought to. (In August and September of 2001, they neglected to mention any massive terrorist attacks that might radically alter the social and political landscape for our generation, but that is not presently the issue at hand.)

The most peculiar of the readers was Deli. I cannot be certain of the spelling some sixteen years later, though that name seems unlikely. I do not know that this was a given name or if she chose it. I do not know if she survived to this writing.

I remember her in the way of forest crones in fairytales - stooped with age, white hair a dandelion fluff around her head, her clothing uncountable layers of off-white linen, the click of polished stones and the chime of unseen bells wherever she wandered. She often yelled at my girlfriend about imagined slights, fearing Wiccan hexes and ill-willed spirits. She might have smelled of crushed herbs or only of the body of an old woman. I never got close enough to be certain and it was whispered that I was wise to keep my distance. Spells were certain to fall from her gauzy folds like so much sloughed off hair.

I knew the woman who did the psychics' sweeping up at the Faire, an Iranian beauty named Kayhan, who chose to costume herself to play up her distinction from the sea of white people surrounding her. I never knew Kayhan's exact job duties, aside from being exotica for Deli's booth, made up to resemble a woodland hovel, and a gofer for the other psychics. Kayhan was not an aspiring psychic. I do not believe she has any faith in Deli's abilities, but she had an instinctive unease about saying so anywhere Deli might overhear.

It was from Kayhan that I first heard a refrain the psychics echoed: you can only live fully in one world, the sacred or the mundane. Those with day jobs and savings accounts, who worry about atrocities overseas, who pay taxes and renew our driver's licenses, live mostly in the mundane. Infrequently - at rituals or church, while tripping on peyote, when lost so far in the woods that civilization seems like a viral hallucination, when we've danced so much we forget where our bodies end and the night begins - we visit the sacred, but our visas make clear we cannot be residents without renouncing our citizenship to the mundane, pleading asylum because the oppression of our concrete reality threatens to kill us if we go back.

No one who knew Deli admitted to her having been a naturalized citizen, but I don't know that the sacred has natives. The sacred demands sacrifice. It need you to belong somewhere with firm-packed soil you can abandon for clouds.

Choosing to move in the sacred means you lose touch with our mundane world. Deli could not live on her own. She could not reliably pay her bills, so one of her family members did this, along with buying her groceries. She could tell your past and future as easy as breathing, but the price was that she was nearly helpless to lead her own life.

I thought then as I do now that Deli was being taken advantage of, though I cannot fathom by whom. She almost certainly had mentally illnesses and her disconnection was fetishized and fostered by her community. (This is all assuming this was not an act to build a mystique, which suggests a very different armchair diagnosis.)

Older cultures and religions regarded the mentally ill as touched by the gods, meant for a greater purpose and so allowed to skip out on their share of the hunting or mending. Nowadays, we call that enabling, because we like our reality and would prefer the mentally ill to join us here and help out wherever possible (and I say this as someone with a couple of mental illnesses who never felt so a part of this wonderful world until I started finding treatment). I am not a cultural chauvinist enough to discredit all revealed religious doctrine as the product of ergotism and schizophrenia, but those causes cannot be wholly ignored. Much as intelligence correlates with mental illness, so too does connection to the sacred. If you want to see beyond the world in front of you, there is a charge. I can appreciate that other cultures were more sympathetic to this exchange.

The spiritual world, such as it is, was wholly real to Deli. At least as real, if not more so, than the concerns of some man who doesn't understand how she moves through the world and why. And, to be blunt, it is unnerving to encounter someone who retreats from shadows. You want to guard them from the real dangers they ignore for vibrato warnings of bad juju and voices only they can hear. They need the mundane world to support them in profusion, but they want nothing else to do with it.

I have more people who will affirm the reality I see, who will assure me I am right and she is not. And she has a few people who enjoy the notion that Deli is right and I am the fool for having ever doubted her. They talk about cosmic crises, but they don't see that the economic crisis brought on by geopolitical instability (yes, occasionally based on finding the other guy's god false) is more relevant to how they conduct their business. They obsess on the messages of spirits, but don't mind the solicitations of people.

I tell myself that my way is better. They say the same, though I think I could survive longer without someone else bailing me out and keeping me from eviction. They render utterly unto God, pretending they don't heard Caesar's men at the door, enquiring when they might get to rendering the taxes for the roads and aqueducts.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures.

last watched: Under the Skin
reading: Another Roadside Attraction
listening: Temple of the Dog

Not a Bad Gig on a Bad Day | 2017 | Wake to Sleep

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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