A strange shadow suddenly passed across the south side of the bedroom. The shadow was very dark and moved through the room rather than across the wall. It was there for only a few moments and a realization rippled through me that somehow, ridiculously, this had to do with the Ghost Flower ritual.
This was the flower's ghost!
But how could that be when I had not yet even burned the flower, let alone placed its ashes under the moon?
Never mind the questions! Tremors of fear pulsed through me. The flower-shadow seemed very powerful and slightly menacing. The flower-shadow spoke its name in my mind and I held that name, knowing that in doing so, I held the spirit of the flower.
The flower then imparted something to me that can only be described as anti-pornographic. It seemed to imply that I should raise my erotic awareness to a much higher level. I was troubled and offended at this.
The flower-shadow then intimated that plucking a flower to use in the ritual was exactly the same as using a human being as a sacrifice. This was a strange thought in that it seemed to imply that some flowers and some people were willing (or fated) to be sacrificed. It also seemed to imply that people and flowers, as well as weeds, insects, and any other life you care to mention were of absolutely equal value. This meant either way: one was as cheap or as sacred as another.
There could be no compromise or hierarchy. In sacrificing the flower, I had to understand that this was the same as killing a person. I found this very hard to accept, but I knew that it was actually the point of the shadow's apparition and probably the reason that this violet had come my way in the first place.
If this flower had anything to say to humanity it was: raise up out of pornography and start seeing the consciousness of all living things.
This was not an entirely new thought to me, but its power of realization at that moment made it seem extremely new and my mind raced to keep up with the consequences of such a truth. It wasn't possible to go through life without killing anything. I'd been a vegetarian from the age of fifteen but now I knew for certain that a blade of grass, let alone an apple or pear, possessed a soul and a consciousness just as any human being.
When I got home, I placed the sad little violet in a glass box. I decided to let it dry out and then burn it a week or so later. I had serious doubts as to whether it would generate enough ashes to even give the ritual a chance to work.
I felt deflated. All but a drop of my original enthusiasm had leaked away.
That evening I looked online for a proper bell-jar and decided it wasn't worth the money to buy one. Instead, I'd simply place the glass box in moonlight after I'd burned the scrubby violet.
By the time bedtime came around, I'd forgotten all about the Ghost Flower ritual and my mind was absorbed with plans for my day to day life. I got under the covers and hoped for a good night's dream.
The moon was visible through the partially open curtains of our western facing bedroom window. Its silver light leaked a latticework into the bedroom. I was watching the moonlight and the moon and thinking about how many times the moon had punctuated important events in my life. Once I had a vision of the moon as a Watchman who passed on regular rounds and cared for the earth and everything that lived on it.
For some reason I could never seem to shake that vision.
My mood soured as I moved along the deer-printed path. The shadows lengthened and I realized, with finality, that my dream-rose was simply that: a daydream.
No phantom was going to bloom out of my red-rose into a bell-jar. I walked on, past the abandoned bootlegger's car that was pocked with bullet-holes and appeared to have crashed sixty years past into a wall of honeysuckle. Just beyond where the old car rusted a narrow path led up a steep incline to an open cornfield.
Sunlight called and I huffed up the hill. Once on top, I saw endless corn. I spied the Catholic cemetery across the field. I heard a very strange sound, almost like a baby-cry. An instant later, the biggest hawk I had ever seen flew over my head, screeching. The hawk, obviously hunting, circled overhead.
I turned back. My idea about following Yeats's Ghost Flower ritual seemed stupid to me now. But I'd promised myself to do it, so I reluctantly decided to just grab whatever flower I could find and go home.
Reluctantly, I picked the only kind of flower available, a droopy violet. It promptly came apart in my hands. So did the second one. The third one shriveled up as soon as I picked it, but it retained enough of its form that it still resembled a flower, so I put it into my water bottle and started the long walk home.
I now felt myself broiling with contempt. I had wanted a rose, not a violet. Now the whole ritual just seemed like waste of time. On top of that, I'd started feeling extremely thirsty about ten seconds after I put the violet in my water bottle. If I wanted to drink now, I'd have to drink out of the water with the scrubby flower in it. Wiping sweat and spiderwebs off of my face, I took a long drink.
It tasted flowery and cold.
Of course, the flower that bloomed in my mind was a red rose. It was impossibly large and full, an emblem of love-lust-poetry that was as ideal in its conception as in its impact on my imagination. No such flower could exist, especially in the shadowy creek-bottom where I now descended on the thickly overgrown trail that had long ago been used for four-wheelers and maybe the occasional Sunday fisherman.
Spider webs came at me from every side, proving the trail had been deserted for quite some time. In all likelihood, the last person to walk on the path was me, and that had been at least a month past.
I walked quietly observing deer-prints, huge dragonflies, showy moths, and tiny violets that seemed to bloom everywhere amid the towering trees and fallen logs. It felt as though I were walking into a sacred space because I had spent so much time near the creek, alone, over the years. A stubborn side of me kept pushing forth the daydream of a blood-red rose; first a prisoner of my water bottle and then a flaming sacrifice to the moon.
The further I walked into the woods, the more certain I was that the flower in my mind was a phantom. In all likelihood, no flower would be blooming in the long shadows of the creek bottom, except for the seemingly endless droopy violets that purpled every stretch of weeds and seemed now to be bursting in my mind's eye, obliterating the red rose.
Doggedly I followed the sketchy path, swatting off gnats, sweating, and starting to feel really stupid. I'd been sure that my daydream of finding a flower near the creek would be validated in the three-dimensional world, putting a seal on the synchronistic relationship between the dream-world and the world of things.
Somewhere in these woods a flower waited for me that was as essential but as unlikely as the burning woman at the edge of my dreams. They were one in the same. If I failed to find a flower, the flower, then my intuition was nothing more than a dream-indulgence, and my long-held faith in magic was nothing more than black magic being perpetrated against me by a still undetermined force, but one which counted as its weapons foolishness, damnation, and insanity.
For me, the Ghost Flower ritual started with two dreams. The first was a daydream that I had about doing a poetry reading where a flower (or bouquet) would be burned as a "sacrifice." I thought this idea coolly theatrical but also disappointingly pointless.
Being a self-initiated magician from childhood, I'd developed a strong distrust of magical ideas that seemed gratuitous or incomplete. Because I saw nothing more to my imagined Flower Sacrifice than stage-antics steeped in romantic imagery, I left the daydream to hover in the aether only to be haunted by it periodically over the next seven or eight years.
The second dream took place about two months ago while I was sleeping, in which a woman remarked to me that I should read the "Magickal Works of Yeats" soon.
Interestingly enough, I had made a conscious decision in my early twenties to "save" Yeats to read until I was fifty years old. I was intimidated by the breadth of his art and magickal knowledge and thought it best to wait until I'd reach a greater stage of maturity to encounter his works.
But after having the dream, I tumbled out of bed, turned on my computer and set out directly to find out about Yeats's involvement in magick.
Before I'd so much as peed or eaten breakfast, I'd read an online article in Lapham's Quarterly called "W.B. Yeats, Magus." This article contained the following reference: "Yeats’ main interest, however, was conducting magical experiments. He replicated one he had found in the works of an eighteenth-century astrologer; it involved burning a flower to ashes, then placing them under a bell jar in the moonlight for a certain number of nights. If the experiment was successful, “the ghost of the flower would appear hovering over its ashes.” Yeats formed a committee, which “performed the experiment without results.”1
This brief reference was the missing link in my own previously daydreamed conception of a "flower sacrifice." I now determined to follow Yeats's working and complete the ritual by placing the burned ashes of a flower under a bell-jar in moonlight.
As soon as I had determined to do this, I felt a sense of excitement and freedom. I also began to sense in an almost subliminal way, the presence of a kind of silver light that permeated the world and was in some inexplicable way tied to the idea of the Ghost Flower ritual. I began to notice silver around me on fixtures, cutlery, car fenders, and fences.
The next afternoon, I started off in search of the flower that would be burned.
1. James, Jaime. "W.B. Yeats, Magus." W.B. Yeats, Magus, para. 13.