So I’ve recently celebrated my first year in Palo. It’s been a very interesting year, and also a very difficult one.  It’s to be expected.  Initiations are rebirths, they are beginnings.  Starting from the beginning isn’t always easy.  In early societies (and even some contemporary ones in other parts of the world), a child wasn’t even given a name and fully welcomed into the community until they had reached two or three years of age.  Childhood is difficult.  Childhood can also be deadly.  Initiations are like second childhoods.  It opens you up to different energies and currents, you enter into a strange new world where everything (or everyone) will test you to the limits of what (you feel) you can handle.  This year I learned many hard lessons, and experienced some painful losses.  All these climaxed into one singular event that changed something deep and fundamental within me.

I had just left the hospital with my brother, exhausted.  Being a spiritworker isn’t easy, and the job (and the obligation it comes with) is that much harder when the person you have to assist in passing over and elevating happens to be someone you have a deep emotional attachment to.  My grandmother was dying.  I should have seen it coming.  My paternal ancestors have been appearing in strikingly vivid dreams and visionary states.  What I was mistaking at first as a side-effect of initiation turned out to be them coming to call her back home.  She had recently celebrated her 93rd birthday.  It was her time.  But a mere four days before this, a good friend of mine died very suddenly.  I’d seen her alive maybe 48 hours before.  Four months before that, a cousin of mine whom I loved deeply was gunned down by a drug-dealer with two previous murders under his belt.  It was an awful year.  Leaving that hospital after witnessing my grandmother passing on was Strike Three.  I was weary down to the bone, from this and the other deaths that preceded it.  But the finale was yet to come.

About ten minutes down the road, we were approaching a crossroads, where we’d turn to reach our uncle’s house, to check up on our grandfather, who suffered from dementia and was unable to be at the hospital at the time.  I could faintly hear a series of popping noises coming from outside.  I had no time really to register what they were at first, when I saw an orange streak dart out from between two houses and into the road.  It was a big orange tomcat.  The cat ran into the opposite lane of traffic, where only a single black truck was headed down.  There was no one behind the truck, and enough of a gap between the two to where the truck could have easily stopped.  Instead, the individual driving the truck rammed the gas and sped up, running the cat down.  They did not once touch the brake.  The cat flipped like a ragdoll and thrashed, blood flying in the road.  I could hardly take that all in before a second figure darted into the street from the opposite direction–a boy ran into the road, quickly scooping the cat up in his arms.  I screwed my eyes shut, because at that point I couldn’t stomach seeing the kid hit,  it was all happening so fast.  Thankfully, he’d managed to get safely to the side of the road, with the cat bleeding and kicking feebly in his arms.  My brother, who the whole time had been screaming in white-knuckle terror at the scene as it unfolded (to be fair, we both were), swung the car around to the other side and parked at the curb.

I immediately took the cat from the boy’s arms and carried it over to the curb.  It was bad.  Very bad.  I’d seen animals die, many times, through various means.  This situation was bad because it was borne about from a deliberate act of sociopathic cruelty.  The person driving the truck had the option to stop, but chose not to.  It was clear this cat was probably someone’s pet.  He was very well groomed and heavy, and soft of body.  In no way like the feral cats I’d handled in the past.  Just a cat who’s owner made the poor decision to let him roam outdoors.  He was also dying.  The left side of his face was smashed in, and his eye was hanging loose.  It was a rare moment in my life that I was suddenly struck with pure revulsion and horror.  That this poor animal could be in such a horrible state of disrepair, and still live.  Blessedly, this didn’t last long.  I stroked his fur and soothed him as much as I could, whispered and told him what a good kitty he was.  Before his heart stopped, he’d tried to purr.  The sound of it broke my heart. 

So there I was, kneeling at a crossroads, the smell of blood thick in my nostrils, the sounds of firecrackers going off like gunfire, an animal bleeding and dying in my arms.  It was at that moment there that time for me stopped entirely.  I saw myself in my grandfather’s boots, a combat vet in the Phillipines.  I saw my deceased cousin in the shattered eye of the cat.  I felt his soul slip like warm velvet from my grasp.  Everything around me took on a surreal quality.  I prayed.  I prayed and I stroked the cat until the spasms died down and his breathing stopped.  The scars from my initiation burned.  My whole body burned.  I felt the cat’s blood seep into me, not just clotting on my skin, but seeping deep into my soul, changing something fundamental inside of me, yet again.  Again, I was going through an initiation, or perhaps this was only the next phase.  That next painful step, at the nexus point between life and death.

The boy explained that a bunch of neighborhood kids had been setting off firecrackers, and that he had been going to investigate when he saw the cat get run down in the road.  His house was close by, he was staying with his grandparents after school.  I told him to go home and tell them what had happened, and to thoroughly wash his hands and arms of blood.  I watched him until I was sure he’d reached home safely, and turned my attention back to the cat.  With whispered prayers, I laid the cat at the base of the tree by the crossroads.  I felt it the best I could do under the circumstances.  To sanctify his cruel death there.  I prayed for him, prayed that perhaps he should find my grandmother, seek out the ancestral procession leading her home.  That he should find and be at peace.

In the years I’ve actively worked as a theriomancer and psychopomp,
there is one singular fact that I know all too well: Cats, whether they
be of this world or not of this world, always seem to know
exactly where they are going and what they are about.  It’s a simple
fact, yet a fundamental one.  A cat is born with an instinct for the
necromantic as the falcon is born with an instinct for the shifting
winds.  Hours later my mother had come home from the hospital to get some rest, she related a most curious story.  In the hospital parking lot, she’d seen a cat.  A big orange cat, sitting in the parking lot, staring at her and my father as they were walking to the car.  Much later on that same evening, I’d overheard my brother saying that that cat was sitting in our grandmother’s lap in heaven.  Good kitty.  You were such a good kitty.  You had found your way.  

In the year since I’ve been initiated into Palo I’ve had experiences both amazing and horrifying by turns.  Even painful.  Some of these I will relate here, with certain deeply personal aspects omitted, as these things shouldn’t be up for grabs on social media, both as personal and as sacred as they are.  Death can be painful and messy.  So can rebirth.  Have I found my way?  In a word, yes.  But the way isn’t always easy, the going is tough.  That cat and I, we met and parted at the crossroads of life and death, but we each took away with the other an exchange of ndoki that will remain with us.  My scars will always remember; my mind will never forget.

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