by Raven Moonshadow
(Raven Moonshadow tape-recorded these reminiscences at the Maitri Hospice in February l996. Hilary Valentine typed and edited them for him. On March 26, 1996, Raven died at San Francisco General Hospital surrounded my family, friends and community. Macha has written an article about the last weeks of Raven's life, which appears on the last page)
From there I got a job taking care of mentally retarded people, and I got right back into the drug game. I had someone who would deliver, and I would deliver, late, late, at night, when the extra help would come on and I was supposed to be asleep. In 20/20 hindsight I'm glad it happened that way. They stopped paying State, and there was no money coming in and I didn't get paid for seven months straight. I was there cooking, cleaning, and taking care of thirteen mentally-disabled women by myself basically. I decided to quit there, and since they owed me so much back pay, they put me in a place that turns out to be a shooting gallery. My luck, right? Right.
Well, I lived in the shooting gallery for a while, until I got sick of Food Not Bombs food, and I decided to create my own needle-exchange. I was told I couldn't do needle-exchange, well, I'm going to do it anyhow. And I created a way that nobody else had thought of, which was going door to door to people I knew and saying "Needle exchange, you can give me and I will give you, or you can front me and I will bring them back, I'm trustworthy. What you give to me I will always bring back to you."
I would never charge, I would never say this is a flat fee for doing it, I told them whatever you feel you can spend, if you can't spend anything just remember me and that's basically how it worked. So I'm exchanging now and I have something to do, I've moved out of the shooting gallery, there's a fire at the shooting gallery, which makes us move out, and I've moved into a hotel, so I've lost a lot of stuff. I moved into the Nazereth Hotel and lived there for three years, until the rats and roaches and everything got so bad, I refused to play rent and went on a renters strike. Needless to say, after three months I got tossed out, and moved into the Ambassador Hotel. Now this is drug central of San Francisco, the heart not only of drug traffic in the city, but also HIV addiction spreading. And from my bed if I bungie-corded my door open in such a way, I was open 24 hours. And I became more and more popular, because you could go get a rig from Raven, or you could trade in one-for-one or whatever you wanted to do and they were, you know, grateful, and I was grateful for the money.
The thing about needle-exchange which is different from how it's practiced now is that now, people don't go door to door, I went door to door for four years of my life until I found out, I don't know which came first, the numbing wasn't taking effect any more, abusing, I don't know if that was it, or my survival instinct kicking in, saying hey, wait a minute, I don't want to get paid in drugs, I want to get paid in money, because with money I can do whatever I want. I can go buy drugs if I like, I can go buy cigarettes if I like, but no more drugs. And people really didn't listen to me. I moved again, this time after a fire at the Ambassador, I moved into this house, I moved out one month later, and in that one month I was back full-steam doing needle exchange for people. It finally had to stop, I had to find some way to make it stop, so I decided since there was no needle-exchange on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, that I would be the Saturday/Sunday exchange. That was a good idea, and it brought in lots of money, it brought in some of drugs, it kept food an my table, but it kept me at home most of the time. That was the only way to make money. I wasn't going to go out into the streets saying "Rigs, rigs, rigs," I just sat at home and people would come by, and exchange rigs, twenty-four hours a day.
So, this goes on and during this time I find out that a good friend of mine, she hadn't sent me an invitation for her marriage. Now this friend and I were very, very, very close, I know how I feel about her. I'm not exactly sure how she feels about me. However she was getting married and I wasn't invited, so that hurt me to no end. It was like having your own flesh-and-blood flush you down the toilet and say "You're no longer wanted or needed here." So then I wrote a letter to another friend to try to get some explanation. I got back an even more caustic letter. Both of them dealt with trust.
And I understood about perfect love, but I was learning about what perfect trust is. Perfect love to me was the cone of power, settling down into the ground, touching Mother Earth and feeling my heart beat with hers. Or just touching the hands of other coveners in the circle, who I'd worked with for a while, and it was just automatically roots down, branches up, and we'd be connected to sky and earth, and our magic was so flowing and so there. But this issue of trust, that perplexed me. What was it they didn't trust me for. I couldn't get any response. I trusted myself to do the things I said I would do. In needle exchange when I told a person I would bring back what I got from them that's exactly what I did, brought them home, bagged them, put their names upon each bag, and then went out and delivered. If there were mistakes it came out of my pocket. If I was arrested it came out of my pocket, and I wasn't arrested, but I did have my needles confiscated once. So what eventually happens is, Raven moves out of this little hovel, he moves to the Bristol Hotel and finds himself very, very, very tired and very sick. And he decides to work out of his room like he used to, and he does, but something wasn't there anymore, the numbing wasn't taking effect. And the reason I guess I was doing the drug was, I was HIV positive, in fact I had full-blown AIDS, and when I did the drug it gave me life, it made me feel like I was still alive.
Not that the Goddess couldn't do that, but the Goddess couldn't help me clean an apartment, or help me cook. Now, in 20/20 hindsight I found out she can, later on then with Urban Street magic. And I start getting restless, I mean I'm doing lots of drugs, and I'm not getting off on them, and all of a sudden the Spiral Dance comes up, and I'd been wanting, and wanting to go to the Spiral Dance forever, it had been a while, it had been a long time. So I went to the Spiral Dance which kind of intrigued me and kind of didn't. That star quality, I mean the pedestal was so high not even I could see the ground. There were so many people there at the first Spiral Dance at Fort Mason, and I was the person who taught their first class, and "Do you remember me, do you remember me?", and to tell a person, "No, I don't remember your name," I don't know if that's rude or not, my mother never taught me etiquette like that. But let's not talk about my mother. So anyhow the first Spiral Dance I go to, I feel , I feel, so intensely I feel sitting in one spot in front of the cauldron while the spiral is actually going on and a very good friend of mine who had died that year, who went by the name of Jodie, I met her on the Isle of the Dead, and together we washed each other's track marks away, and did our healing work that way. In her I recognized a junkie who had been a junkie for eons, for lifetimes, and she knew what she was doing and I gave in to her healing. So the Spiral Dance is over, and of course Raven leaves once again by himself. And I'm in pain again because of the distancing.
So I go directly to my dealer's and I get a quarter and I go home and I do it, and I clean up the house and invite in the Dead, I even stuck their names all over my door. And in that year, I had more people than I care to count die, not necessarily of speed, but die, and at this point I have a matter-of-fact doctor who tells me not only the truth but the blunt truth, because I ask the blunt questions. "How long do you have to live? One, maybe two years at the outside."
I find out I'm adopted. Time to use because we're not going to feel it. And it shut me down emotionally, but it set my mind afire with questions, who I am, where do I come from, what is community, who are the ancestors, who are the Mighty Dead, because it's my understanding that the Mighty Dead are the Mighty Dead of the Craft, those who have gone on their merry way to Summerland, not just anybody who died this year, but those who are Mighty Dead witches in the Craft. So the Mighty Dead helped me through this year, at least l995, and things got worse, and worse, I got beat up for the money in my pockets, and I often wondered what it would be like to live someplace else.
Nobody came, ever to visit me, except for one person, nobody ever came to visit me at any of the places where I was living at the time. So that made me think about what is community? Is my community the people I work with out in the streets who knock on my door at four in the morning. Are they community? Because they are in a way a strange kind of family, kind of hillbilly-ish, kind of Ozark-ish. They love each other to death, but the second one's back is turned, watch out!
And I don't know how many time I lost my athame. First, was at the Nazareth Hotel, second, third and forth were at the Ambassador, and so then I decided to really go big guns, and I got the most beautiful, beautiful sword, with a crossbones and skull, scrimshaw set in ivory, and there was a place on the other side for a picture, could be inscribed on there, or maybe words. Of course that was stolen too.
And the same year after my arm was washed by Jodie, Hecate night falls not to long after it, and I went to the statue of Diana, who I consider Hecate of course, a version of her, the Lady of the Three Ways, and had a geis put on me by her, that I shall not cast a spell upon another. It was very hard, it was very difficult, but one thing it did do, it made me think about self. How to take care of self instead of how to take care of somebody else's needs. If you need help, fine I'll teach you how to help yourself, but I can't do it for you.
Now these are prostitutes, these are drug-dealers, people who've just moved into the hotel, people who come to get readings from me, or just to sit back and talk, to have someone to talk to, so in a way I began to feel like this community was my ministry. This was my community. It wasn't living at home with parents, that's for sure, and Reclaiming came close, because the rituals are powerful. However, in this community of downtown Tenderloin I wasn't put up on a pedestal. At least not the same kind of pedestal, because like I said, watch out for your back, although I did nothing to ask to be harmed in any way down there. Although a few times I did hex, and I think that's why I had the geis placed upon me in the first place.
Anyhow, what part of community was I experiencing? Why was I so alone when I had a vast pool of people I could call upon, and why did this vast pool of people not come drizzle down into my life and say Hi! every once in a while. So I decided to start to go back to Reclaiming rituals, and I'll never forget the day walking up the beach for the Lammas ritual with my cane, that a member of the community, who was a very, very heavy twelve-step to say the least, and I don't know if that is still true or not, however she was the one that greeted me back into the circle. And she admitted to me that it was her stuff that she was dealing with not my stuff, it wasn't her life it was my life, and I should live it as I see fit, and I said perfect love and perfect trust and I was entered back into the circle. Some of the circles I made, some of them I didn't, yet I always found that before a ritual would happen, somebody would come by to get me high.
So I was beginning to wonder what community was, and I guess one of the reasons why I was wondering this was because the numbing wasn't working anymore like it used to, it didn't make me feel as alive as it used to. And I don't know exactly how it worked, but a social worker hooked me up with B and H and I had a social worker to come out every couple of days, to take my temperature and whatnot. And it was the nicest feeling to have somebody come and visit, to say they were coming and come by to visit, and she has such a bubbly personality, she reminds me of many witches that I know. She brought me a cat cage, and she helped me get into a Hospice called Maitri. I'm not exactly sure what this word means, I think its my beloved or something like that, however My Tree and a Raven seemed to fit, so I started working all my magic around Maitri, a nest in my tee. Knowing full well that this is a Hospice, and hospices you go to die. So I wasn't receiving support from family, I wasn't receiving support from the Reclaiming community, I wasn't receiving support from the drug using community, and I wasn't receiving support from the drug itself. So Samhain rolls around again, and we're back at the cauldron of death and rebirth. And this time two friends are there, not only Jodie, who has masks of many, but Chang Ju Dar DeBulio (sp?), somebody, I taught him years ago many of the things that I know. I'm not exactly sure how he died, he wouldn't reveal that to me, but the three of us from three different points around the cauldron, splashed stars, stars from above and stars from below, all over ourselves. Feeling the healing energy of the hot and cool, and the electricity and the magnetism, all the opposites, life and death,. and we plugged ourselves into the cauldron by our elbows, and we asked the Mighty Dead, and I especially asked the Goddess, find me a way that I won't want to do this some day. And she did.
Two weeks later, on Hecate's birthday that night, I had come back from celebrating, I wasn't able to hit. You see I'm a IV drug user. There have been times I have abused. But I considered myself this time a user. I never let it get out of hand. For every three days up, if that's how many days I stayed up, I gave myself seven days down. And I took care of myself. And it seems that moving into Maitri was moving into a different community. A community of men who are dying. At various stages of sickness. And I know how I feel helpless sometimes, I see how others feel helpless. So I have another definition of community here. Early Reclaiming times didn't give it, going to rituals now didn't give it, down in the Tenderloin I was a minister. That was my ministry, I was a priestess. Who's to say that my job was any different from anybody else's job, say a witch who works in a methadone clinic, or a pagan who is selling mushrooms or marijuana? Who's to say what is right and what is wrong, let the world judge. And it seems that when the collective, over this magical thing called E-mail started to hear that Raven is hooked up with this, Raven is moving into a hospice, I'm still not sure about moving into the hospice, it frightens me. Two years, yeah, but I think I still have another good year in me before I really start dwindling. I think I'm here a bit too early. That must bring up the subject of midwifery of death.
There is one thing I'd like to know though. This new community I've discovered. It's like when the electric mail went out that Raven is moving into his own tree, all of a sudden from everywhere people were calling to help. And it often bothers me now, were they coming to visit me or help me? Was it the neighborhood they were afraid to come into? The people? What was it that allowed them to cross that barrier that I had crossed? I'm not speaking about drug using, because there are a lot of other people who live down in the Tenderloin. There's old people, there's children and families. Everything that's out here is microcosm in the Tenderloin. So we have community with Reclaiming, community with the users and abusers, and now, a small community of men who are dying. If I could have but one hope, my hope would be to help some pass easily, across that great thundering ocean the sea, back to the isle of rebirth, and back around if they so choose. For where there's fear there is power, passion is the healer, desire cracks open the gate, if you're ready it'll take you through.
So now my fear is, I guess, reaching out more. Taking time not with just myself, but with people as well. Who's to say my ministry is any different from any other person's ministry? We heal, we are witches. We heal what is hurt, we balance what is not right. We bend with the wind. We are witches by right. We are the midwives to the living and dying that each one of us is continually striving to live and eke out everything to find their purity in the fairies' ring.
Moving to the next subject. I've talked about connecting, nurturing, community, life in the Tenderloin, midwife to the dying. And in the midwife to the dying, last Spiral Dance I was amazed, not only by the center, but by something I always knew was there, but hardly ever called on as a folk, the fair ones who like a little bread, a little milk, a little cheese, bread and eggs, butter and honey, sharp, drought, to work it all out, the fair folk. We ground, we purify, we cast the circle, we invoke the directions, we call her down and him down, we call the Mighty Dead and the fair folk, and past the fair folk are the summerlands. There are some things I'd like to do with midwifery of the dying, I'd like to explain to people exactly what happens, where they go to, where they end up, how they come back, if they want to come back, what form they take, all of these, small insignificant things are what separates life from death, silence from sound, shout from echo. Since it is the gay movement that's being eaten alive, there must be thousands, billions of fairies. Some have come back around again, there are fairies all over the place, and I do mean fair, I'm not sensing any hostility.
So now my challenge is, I suppose, to reach out, to talk to somebody, to not by shy. Yeah, me, shy. And to help me balance my powers with a name, My Tree. I have to learn how to give up control, having things my way, let go of doing for myself. Like shedding a skin. Let Your transformation take me, and like a chrysalis hangs by a thread, I know You are inside me. Untie the knot, tie the knot, bind it to set it free. Mother of the ancient web, check each line of pure thread, warm this night into a ball of Fairy blue, Fairy blue fire, and let it rise to the peak, and settle to the ground, a sight, sound, hearing.
Even though the way you walked was funny, it was through no fault of your own. As the rain enters the soil, so the river enters the ocean. Everything passes into the bigger. Everything bigger becomes smaller once again. (Raven sings some beautiful songs)
So we've talked about just about everything. I want to add to this another topic that's been on my mind. Raven believes that his greatest challenge is to learn how to write, Not that I don't know how to write, I know how to write, I know how to spell words, it's just that I don't know how to write. And I'm hoping that this is the first step in the completion of a book that I've been mulling about in my mind for centuries. Hedge-witching, ditch-witching, urban guerrilla street magic, how to work with all of the world, not just a piece of it, This would include attack and defense, this would also include scrying, or seeing, honing the senses, learning about your body and how it relates to the world, and how the world relates back to your body.
Where this idea comes from is living in the Tenderloin, and there are many things that I had to do just to survive, not to survive on a daily basis, but just to survive as a witch, that only a witch can do to get what they need. Invisibility for one, chameleon ability, throwing your voice, scrambling somebody's head, or looking in somebody's head. True, some of this sounds power-over, but all in this book would be written with the intent of perfect love and perfect trust, let it harm none. This would also deal a lot with Chaosism, I'm not sure Reclaiming is quite familiar with this yet. The first book is Introduction to Chaos Magic, the second book is Liber Kaos, then Liber Null and appendices. It's modern magic for the nineties.
True it's nice to touch the fairies in the past, but what's even nicer is to get to know the fairies that live beneath the hills here, on the ground here, that fly through the air here, that burn in fireplaces instead of raging infernos, where it's controlled. Urban Guerrilla Magic, would be, I guess, the ongoing title. And while I'm at it, I need to get the rest of my knowledge back in the Book of Shadows. My challenge in this airy season is all that needs to be rewritten into the Book of Shadows must be done by Beltane. Hedge-witching. Do you know what a hedge is? You walk along the edge of the street and you find things. Things to do magic with, things that will only work with such and such a charm. Finding crossroads, they don't make crossroads like they used to, but where four roads meet, there are a few. I have to get these things out of my mind, off of the precious pieces of paper, back into the Book of Shadows, and make a copy page for page. Sell that as well as doing a scent book. Wort cunning in the city also. That's something that's hard. You might find it easy, but when you're living in the Tenderloin it's definitely hard. You don't find rosemary growing, or mugwort growing, or artemisia, there's a very small amount of herbs to be found growing down here. Up here at Maitri, oh-ho that garden, I can't wait to dive into it. I'm going to be making some scents that will knock your blocks off.
And if they do find a cure for this, I'm going to do what I've always dreamed of doing, have what I've always dreamed of having, and make work what I've always wished to make work. My own occult shop, home-made, shop-made everything. Well, that's it for that.