This morning I had dry bread and homebrew for breakfast. Larry Talbot never had to put up with that. I doubt he had to be up at half five in the morning, either.
I won’t go into too much detail about the Wolf-Key ritual, but it is out there on the internet and common to what I now know are several different shape-shifting cults and magical traditions. It is used in variants by the berserkers in Europe, the magi of the Hermetic traditions, the fox-people of Japan, jaguar shamans in the Amazon and is part of some voodoo traditions via their African roots. Essentially, the principle is to purify yourself and then induce an altered state in which you contact you totem. The various means of purification and altered states are what set each variant apart from the others: one witch might fast and drink a mushroom tea, another ascetic might purge themselves with salt water and mortify themself. I elected to just wash with a bottle of mineral water I’d brought with me. This almost sent me into a vision quest in itself. When I started this, I didn’t factor in having melt the water in the first place as it had frozen in the bottle, let alone risking hypothermia.
I set off yesterday morning, allowing plenty of time to get away from the city. I decided to perform the ritual in the Peak District because I plan on going somewhere else when I shed my skin. This meant various bus and train connections, before hiking off across a common in the middle of the night. I’m exaggerating a bit there, it was half four in the afternoon but it didn’t get any darker through the night. I didn’t bother making camp anywhere, I just walked and walked as far as I could away from civilisation. I had a thermos of hot water and a loaf of normal bread and picked at these as I went. It was quite spooky and I get my nostrils open for warning signs that this might be the hunting grounds of another werewolf. I had the knife, just in case.
Eventually, I felt myself drifting off and decided to give in to the wolf. Stripping in minus-God-knows-what on a heath, in the middle of the night, is one of the most reckless things I’ve ever done. I simply had to trust that the fur I was about to grow would keep me warm. Luckily, it did and it was so cold I was able to experience my first conscious transformation. It was very much the opposite of the change as I’ve felt it in the nightmares I’ve had. It’s just as painful and terrifying, but I felt as though I was coming up to the surface of a deep lake of blood, drawing breath as my mind and body return to humanity. I imagine that it is very much like being born. There was the usual pain in my limbs and trunk, in fact pretty much everything short of my hair felt like it had been torn and broken. I soon went numb, as I woke up naked on the snow, having to shift my arse and dress before I not only froze to death, but froze to the ground.
I dashed back to my gear and put my clothes back on. Bringing a couple of those little tin camping stoves was one of my better ideas. I lit two of them and sat between them as I fought off frostbite and boiled a few handfuls of snow to drink and defrosted the water to wash. It was quarter to five and I had to prepare myself for the ritual, laying out my blanket, bread and beer. Thankfully, I had hot water to wash with, though it soon froze… on my skin. Even between the two stoves, there was simply no way for me to stay warm as ice formed me and I changed into the clean clothes I’d brought.
I was not prepared for what the kykaon and wolf-bread would do to me. Ice cold herbal beer isn’t that bad, it’s the pins and needles, spastic tremors (worse even than the shivering,) vomiting and migraines that put me off. I took my first bite of the bread and mouthful of kykaon as the eclipse began. It was too cloudy to see the moon, but I could feel the shadow begin to slide across the secret, silver disc in the sky. I had specific things to focus on, images that were important to me and represented specific anchors and footholds on my descent into the spirit world. When I reached specific ones, I would have to drink more beer and eat more bread. I thought everything was okay until I looked up and saw the moon turning red. All perfectly normal for a lunar eclipse and then I realised that the clouds hadn’t parted and the moon should not have been visible at all. Soon, the various icons and mementos began to come to life in my mind, wriggling away from my minds eye or trying to hold my attention as I went from one to another. It was increasingly difficult to follow but I need to make a sort of controlled descent to acclimatize my mind. I don’t know whether it is because of what I am and the natural connection I have with my ancestors or whether it is just the way the ritual works, but I was finally able to make a safe contact with the ancestor who cursed me and all my kin. Stay with me, this was when it all got a bit psychedelic.
The-One-Who-Brings-Night was the son of the Wolfish King. The Wolfish King had declared war against the Kaleidoscope God and was faced with only one means of destroying That-Which-Is-All-Things; he would have to open a way for Outer Dark, the maddening void that burns at the touch of creation. Not simply the absence of anything, the Outer Dark is an active and malignant intelligence, responsible for everything that destroys and corrodes: from the simple and implacable entropy in thermodynamics to vast, cyclopean demons left dead and gestating in the hearts of black holes. An generation of monsters had been birthed, but each had been slain by heroes, each of whom formed a single chip in the stained glass window of The God. But the Wolfish King offered something to Outer Dark that it could not deny, a race of beasts who would swear themselves to the destruction of All Things. The Outer Dark had the King make a sacrifice to the Kaleidoscope God, but to poison it with the flesh of his son, The-One-Who-Brings-Night. Through this blasphemy, the Outer Dark was able to breach the gates of creation and seed itself inside the Kaleidoscope God. With brands of black bale-fire, it burned The Wolfish King and his sons to bitter ashes and remade The-One-Who-Brings-Night into a king fit for both wolves and men. It taught The-One-Who-Brings-Night how to undo his flesh and remake it into the shape of a wolf, to proof himself against the destruction of his body, it dissolved the bonds of time and space placed on his mind by the Kaleidoscope God. And in return, The-One-Who-Brings-Night swore that he would sacrifice his own sons and daughters, as he had been sacrificed, to the war of the Outer Dark. These are the things I learned, first hand, from this terrible unborn hunger.
There was a specific way to end the ritual, a formal path moving from chthonic memory back to consciousness, a way to bind the unconscious with chains of adamant. I eventually came to, it was light and my clothes shredded by another transformation. I was freezing for the third time before lunch. On reflex, I shrugged down into a warmer, wolfier form and was amazed to find my mind my own! This prompted a fair amount of running, jumping, test-driving and generally doggy scampering. The ritual worked. Although, I’m sure you’d guessed that by now.
It was almost lunchtime and I had no intention of trudging back through the snow in damp clothes and boots, so I packed everything back into backpack, then changed again. There was no pain this time, no plunge toward death and rebirth. I was suddenly just a rather large wolf wriggling it’s front paws through the straps of a back pack. And then I was away, bulking out my shoulders (front hips?) until the bag secure on my back. Even in the snow, there was no problem following my tracks, the spoor I left was as much a psychic leaving of guilt and resolve as size ten footprints. I was able to make it back to the last village by two o’clock, although I had to circle around it until I could find somewhere discreet enough to get dressed. I had time to kill before the bus arrived, so I bought a couple of packs of sandwiches in the village shop and ate soup in the pub. I couldn’t face a beer, though. Then it was back into the palava of buses and trains and cancellations until I got home at about half seven. While I’ve written this, I’ve cooked and eaten two steaks and a pork chop. I’ve not bothered with veg, I’m a carnivore now. I’ve also drunk three cups of tea and I’m only just warming up. Tonight I intend to curl up in bed, under my duvet and my fur.
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