One can’t be too careful about going through old clutter. A guest was coming to do circle with me, so I went through some of the boxes stacked against the wall in what would be my dining-room if I had such a place. One article that came to light was a lightweight secretary, just a black box with silver ornamented lines that opened at the top and had two small drawers in front. I opened the top and there it was – the wallet.
This was my former former wallet, maybe older than that. I was going to lunch one day in 1997 with my Syrian friend Steve and when we got to the restaurant, I was embarrassed to find that my wallet was missing. He paid for lunch and we looked for the wallet afterwards. The first place I looked was in the large pocket on the inside of his
passenger door. Possibly I had put the wallet in there as it was uncomfortable in my hip pocket. I must emphasize that this was the first place I looked for it, and I looked thoroughly.
Afterwards I looked in the parking lot at work, my desk drawers, under the desk, everywhere I could think of. No wallet. So I reluctantly began the process of calling up my credit cards, my bank, the DMV, and so on, to arrange for replacements. Fortunately, there hadn’t been much money in it at the time.
That was in October. Around February Steve came over to my desk one day and told me he’d had a dream. He dreamt he was walking on a mesa, when he saw coming towards him a shining figure in white robes. He had the feeling at the time that it was one of my pagan gods (in his Muslim terms, a demon). It was too shiny for Steve to make out its features, but its robe had large pannier-style pockets and it was pointing into one of them.
Steve awoke, excited, and ran down to his car. And there, sure enough, was my wallet, in the pocket on the inside of the passenger door, right where I’d first looked for it. He handed me the wallet, saying he was scared to hold it. It had been on the other side.
By then, of course, I already had another wallet, and all I did with the old one was to empty it out and put it in the secretary. I didn’t dare throw it away, much less go back to using it again. So there it sits in my secretary on my kitchen counter, uncanny and unnerving. I realized the other day that I now had an object in my apartment which was sacred in the ancient, pagan sense.
The wallet had been on the other side, you see. It belonged neither to this everyday world nor to the spirit world, for it had been in both places. It had gone there and returned. Non-human beings had handled it. It could no longer function as a wallet per se, but neither could it be safely discarded. It had to remain in my presence, a rather spooky interloper.
Things, events, and occasions that are neither this nor that but between categories were regarded as sacred by our remote ancestors. A river delta was sacred because it lay between the river proper and the body of water into which the river debouched, and its land was new land, newly laid down and so far uninhabited. Parricides and other felons in the Greek world used to go to the delta of the river Ister (the Danube) and purify themselves there, where it flowed into the Black Sea. Because this was new land, the Erinyes or Furies could not reach them there and they could ritually expiate their crime and free themselves of blood-guilt.
Samhain is just past, except for some covens which celebrate it in November. It was the old Celtic New Year, a liminal time between times regarded as sacred because it falls outside the usual calendar. All boundaries were sacred because of this in-betweenness. When the Church destroyed our ancestors’ religious freedom centuries ago, they forbade people to look at the boundaries of things. Dreams were no longer interpreted for guidance in the waking world, and sacred objects were no longer sought after having been seen in dreams. These objects, amulets or ritual tools or headbands, among other things, were sacred because they belonged to the otherworld of dreams as well as the waking world, where they were found, much like my wallet. Puberty was an in-between time for young people of both sexes, and required seclusion and initiatory rites and ordeals. Special efforts had to be made to get across boundaries of space or time, because at those points the otherworld of spirit intruded on the everyday world.
All of this knowledge and interaction with the spirit world was interdicted by the Church, which arrogated to itself the sole right to serve as an intermediary with that other realm. People were taught to dress in a certain way, to engage in or refrain from sexual intercourse with their mates on specific dates, what to eat or what not to eat on a given occasion, even how to sing – the minor scale was prohibited, at least in western Europe, as being diabolical. In effect, people were fitted with horse blinders in every aspect of experience and made to look straight ahead at the Church. The liminal and peripheral world of spirit was denied to them.
This gives us a clue as to how to recontact that world, and Samhain and right after is the ideal time of the year to do it. In every way possible, we should look to the boundaries of experience and seek to contact whatever meets us at those boundaries. Look at things out of the corners of your eyes, particularly at the liminal times of dawn and sunset. Speak to your dead in both waking and dream, carrying forward conversations with them while awake that you had the night before while asleep. And if something like a wallet should unaccountably disappear and just as unaccountably turn up again after you have looked everywhere for it, keep it in a special place in your home, look at it from time to time, but don’t handle it, and above all don’t throw it away!