Calling on Ancestors, the Rot in the House

I want to write about how it is to love old things, to try and salvage what we can.

Risa Dickens
Jun 7, 2023
4 min read
ZineKinshipWitch History
Photo by Jp Valery

I am writing to you from a construction zone. Outside the little window that looks from my "room of own's own" past the side of the house, down to the lake, I see Marc balanced on two ladders. The sky is thick with mosquitos, and red and murky with forest fires. We pulled open the wall this week knowing the siding was crumbling, not knowing what we'd find underneath.

Meanwhile, I am writing on a deadline. Amy and I are making an ancestor deck based on the assembled stories from our books, and...

Excuse me, I was called to hold a plank of wood through the hole in my living room while Marc drilled it into place from outside. We pulled and pushed and held it tight so the drill would catch and the boards would meet cleanly at the join. Mosquitos poured through every opening, mad for blood.

I need to go back to crafting the stories for the deck, but first I want to write about how it is to love old things, to try and salvage and cherish what we can. I want to write what it feels like to have the walls open, to be cutting out rot again, to be slowly rebuilding a house piece by piece over decades keeping every nail and plank of wood we can.

Because this is a living metaphor of how it is to try and tell missing stories. Writing the versions of these Missing Witches ancestors' stories for a deck of divination cards (that I know I will turn to again and again - that I can imagine in your hands somewhere in the future, gentle reader, looking for a sign) feels twinned to the craft and shadow work in this old house right now. Twinned like snake twins, tied in sympathetic magic, the cards and the house are breathing together in the hazy air.

You know the heartache of holes in the places you once felt safe.

If you love old things, not just relics, but living with them, building them into your future possible, you must become acquainted with fungi and with rot. You know the heartache of holes in the places you once felt safe. You will dig into good stories and find gross things. Along the way we learned Ipsita Chakraverti who we loved for her resistance to ongoing witch hunts in India is proudly homophobic (a wildly terrible take that ignores the brilliant queer history of witchcraft AND also puts more people at risk of the same witch hunts we admired her for resisting), Z Budapest has espoused a trans-exclusive feminism that puts vulnerable people outside circles of protection, Blavatsky said some racist nonsense,  Marion Zimmer Bradley was a pedophile. This list is by no means exhaustive. Witches produce shit, rot, and garbage just like everyone else.

This is related to the larger work in the world of deconstructing unjust systems. This house and the systems we live under and the stories we tell are relatives. What do we keep, and what do we excise? How do we make stories and structures that enshrine safety and joy, and don't add to humanity's great garbage patches of wasted energy and resources?

Sometimes we dream of bulldozing this old house. Beginning again, bright,  shiny, and new. Sometimes I wonder about creating a divination deck with only positive messages, happy endings, no complicated history, no problematic ancestors.

But in more ways than one, we can't afford it.  

Our resources are limited and the pressures from the unjust world are extreme. We have to scavenge through what was built before and keep everything useful we can, even if it's only a cautionary tale.

After spending the day cutting out sections of wood crumbling with dry rot — beams turning to dust, orange fruiting bodies of fungi smiling blithely where solid support should be — and carefully rebuilding the window frame with clean, strong wood, Marc tells us he will take it all apart and do it again in the morning. He'd spent the day re-building what had been there before, only to realize that what they'd done before wasn't considered right anymore. Modern building regulations want the board above a window on its side, not flat, for maximum strength. He got caught up, but resting in the evening he can see his error and to his credit, he doesn't turn away. Tomorrow he'll patiently unscrew everything he did today in order to do it in the way that is best, to the best of our knowledge right now. I take comfort in Marc's willingness to step back, see clearly, begin again, redo. We can get caught up in old patterns, even as we try to dig out rot and start fresh.

I was working on the Genesis P-Orridge card while the house whined with powertools and hungry skeeters:

Genesis, along with Throbbing Gristle bandmate Cosey Fanni Tutti, INVENTED industrial music. Gen was violent and dismissive of Cosey. Gen was bullied too...This card asks you to transgress. Transgress against the patterns of abuse that still ensnare us all. “How do we short-circuit control? Try to Altar Everything.”

Illustration by Amy Torok of Genesis P-Orridge and Migene González-Wippler

We've got to mourn and laugh and bumble along. Take a deep breath and take it all apart and try to be one step better along the path.

And we draw boundaries too: this project stops at the roof, these stories for the ancestor deck can only be 120 words, we will put a container around the endless and say: here, but no further. These are the limits,  so we will know when this is done. And then we'll also know it's doable.

We will clean up our tools, celebrate, and send love into the walls and each and every card.

Soon enough the wheel will spin.

And when it does, we'll call on our flawed ancestors. And we'll draw on the truths told by the generations of love, abuse, bullshit, and mycelia that haunt these old houses.

Add them to our resistance magic, and to our re-enchantment.

Open a new container. Begin again.

Risa and Amy are the creators of the Missing Witches Podcast and co-authors of Missing Witches: Reclaiming True Histories of Feminist Magic and New Moon Magic: 13 Anti-Capitalist Tools for Resistance and Re-Enchantment.

Subscribe to Missing Witches Rx.

Inbox magic, no spam. A free, weekly(ish) prescription of spells and other good shit to light you up and get you through. Unsubscribe any time.

Oops! There was an error sending the email, please try again.

Awesome! Now check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription.