I’ve been debating whether to publish this post now, or wait until we’re closer to the Fall Equinox, since the topic would be a lot more seasonally appropriate in six weeks or so. But my brain is not 100% trustworthy at the moment (more on this in a bit), and I just snagged a copy of Tempest’s new Anatomy of a Witch Oracle, so I pulled a card, which suggested that it would be better to go ahead and share my experience, on the off-chance that someone might need to hear it.
Okay, then. I can work with that. Let’s get feathered.
I don’t quite recall how black chickens landed on our radar — they do have a long and storied history in folk magic, although we were probably just influenced by the scene in The Devil Rides Out where Christopher Lee finds a black rooster and a white hen in a wicker basket and starts ranting about Aleister Crowley. Either way, whenever my compatriot Veles or I come across anything black chicken-themed in a home goods store, we immediately send a picture to the other with the caption, “Praise Him!” (“Him” being Lucifer), which tickles us both mightily.
Despite my own vaguely supernatural encounters with chickens, though, I’ve never felt the need to collect anything physical to, like, commemorate them. At least not until I wandered into a consignment shop a few weeks back, where I found a ceramic purple chicken tucked behind some angel figurines, seemingly crowing with glee at having finally been discovered.
It was also on sale for $9.
The people I was with were like, “That thing is ridiculous, and you do not need it.” And they were right on both counts, which only made it more tempting. But I figured a judgement call wouldn’t hurt, so I logged into Twitter and was like, “Do I leave this consignment shop with or without the Ebon Chicken?” And in response, my friend Pax was like, “You’ve already given it an eldritch title… I think it’s coming home with you,” which was all the absolution I needed.
So I took Ebony Chickinson up to the front counter, where the saleslady who’d been giving me the stink-eye over my cartoon Baphomet T-shirt added an additional $2 discount, which was nice, on account of I was already feeling a pang of buyer’s remorse. It wasn’t really the money — as poverty-stricken as I am, even I can afford the occasional $7 splurge. It was more like the cognitive dissonance of desperately wanting the chicken but not having a concrete use for or a pre-determined place for the chicken was starting to eat at me.
I was also teetering on the edge of a bout of depression, so small decisions felt a lot more consequential than they actually were. But I was spending the weekend with friends, and we had a fairly jam-packed itinerary, so I decided to set my mental health aside until I could properly acknowledge it without distraction. Plus I figured I could always just put Ebony on display somewhere at the store and let customers make cock jokes to their hearts’ content.
In 12-Step Recovery, you’ll often hear people say, “My addiction is doing push-ups in the parking lot,” and the same can be said for mental illness: By ignoring my depression instead of taking active steps to manage it, I gave it the opportunity to grow stronger. Which made it tough to remain unaffected by little things that would normally bounce off me without a scratch.
A few days later, I was talking with someone about the goals I’m currently working towards, and they were like, “Okay, but you know you’ll never be good enough, right?” Under regular circumstances, I’d be like, “Fortunately for me, I don’t give a shit what you think.” But I wasn’t in a great headspace, and my depression took advantage of that: Instead of encouraging them to eff all the way off, I just accepted their opinion as fact and stopped struggling.
Depression is going to happen sometimes — it’s up there with anxiety and alcoholism as a factory glitch in my head. And no matter how bad it gets, I know it’s just temporary and will eventually pass, which usually helps pull me through it. And I also know that I have friends like Chester and Sarah and my BFF Mike who are always willing to listen when I need to process. I made a critical error, though, and reached out to the people my depression pitched as potential counselors.
So basically, instead of seeking support from reliable confidantes, I was texting friends who are renown for never checking their messages, and my depression was like, “Wow, I guess they hate you, too. But you should definitely not contact anyone else until they call you back.” Or I’d start to almost feel up to doing something social, and my depression would go, “You know who you don’t hang out with enough? Narcissists.”
For a solid week, I felt very, very alone, because I forgot something very, very important: Depression lies. And it will do so in the most believable, trustworthy voice. It actually sounds a lot like John Barleycorn, which is why they were able to team up against me for so long. Listening to depression’s advice kept me isolated when what I needed more than anything was to be around people who care about me. And so depression won this particular battle and got to settle in for a lot longer than it had a right to.
Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s performance as Death did an absolute number on me and honestly reminded me of Persephone, to Whom I’ve kept a quiet devotion for a number of years now — mainly just offerings of candles and incense at a small shrine next to my kitchen, with occasional requests for Her assistance in keeping my anxiety from getting all bitey. And I don’t know if it was something Howell-Baptiste said onscreen, or something Tybalt said from the couch, but I suddenly had the urge to look up info on Persephone, so I pulled out my phone and started scrolling about the Internet.
Have you ever just failed to notice something glaringly obvious until well after the fact? I realized that’s what I had done as I stared at an image on my phone: a funerary bas-relief of Hades and Persephone that was uncovered at Her sanctuary in Locri.
I’d come across pictures of this carving roughly ten billion times and had even drooled over the reproduction that Sacred Source carries, but there was a particular detail that had never really caught my attention before. And now it was all I could see.
Chickens were considered liminal creatures back in ancient Greece: They were symbolic of Helios and greeted Him each morning, but they were also chthonic (which makes a lot of sense, since they’re the closest living relatives to dinosaurs); and when depicted alongside Hades and Persephone, they were representative of both marriage blessings and human souls. While never listed as an official sacred animal of Persephone, they were definitely connected to Her.
And right before I went through a descent into my own Underworld, I found this weird, necromantic chicken votary to take with me.
Turns out, my crippling solitude had been an illusion. Persephone was there the whole time.
I’d left Ebony Chickinson to roost on a dusty corner bookshelf in the back of my apartment, but when I returned from Tybalt’s, I moved her to a place of prominence in my living room, next to the Mother Goddess/Princess Leia plaque I bought at that Greek festival last Summer. I look at her every day, and I enjoy a sense of gratitude as I reflect on how her existence allows me to put my beliefs to work.
Because beliefs are tools, after all, and I’ll be using mine as such from here on out, albeit unconventionally: No matter how loud or convincing my depression gets, I will unconditionally choose to believe that I am not alone.
I am never alone.
And neither are you.