This post is all about experience. About getting out into the environment and practicing in a way you are not used to, in experiencing the world in a way that you did not expect.
I'm traveling this week for work, work that I find largely dull and irrelevant but it pays for my 'magic habit', so I tolerate it. I've been in the city of San Francisco for four days now. This morning, settling in at the Blue Bottle Cafe at Mint Plaza, waiting for an opulent single varietal espresso and Tunisian Baked Eggs. Maybe an allegory to the Crowleyian champagne and oyster lunch or maybe just irrelevant luxury, I haven't decided although I've been leaning towards most things being total non-events, especially when they purport to be special.
Letting this melancholy set the mood, I'd like to talk about the Forgotten Dead of this town and my experience with them. When preparing to come here this year, having a renewed interest in all things spirit world related, I did a search on my phone for cemeteries close to my hotel that I could frolic in. To my surprise, the entire city has exactly two cemeteries. One gigantic one pushed to the outskirts of town and another smaller one located adjacent the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. Digging a bit deeper I found that this tiny cemetery used to be much larger and that most of its residents along with all of the other cemeteries in the city had been moved in the quite recent 1940s after the city voted to ban burials within city limits in 1900. Around thirty cemeteries, both cared for and abandoned, were moved to the National Cemetery at The Presidio. Burial records were lost, mass graves were filled with remains, and many of the dead were left in place and the city grew over them.
My first stop, before even going to the hotel, was to the Mission Dolores. I had other magical business to attend to while on this oldest of places in the city, but my primary goal was to perform the Rite of Saint Nicholas in the Mission Dolores cemetery and to tell the dead of this city that they have an ally. Being a neophyte to navigating this town, I turned on my phone after traveling in the inimitable in-between space of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to the 16th Street Mission stop. When exiting the underground from this stop one is greeted with Mayan / Aztec style reliefs. I dutifully and unquestioningly followed my phone, which led me up the street a few blocks and then a quick left, landing me at a plaque. Puzzled, I looked at my phone and it replied placidly that I had arrived at my destination.
The plaque was five feet tall by seven feet wide and read that it marked the spot that the original Mission Dolores stood, a thatch hut on the shores of a new disappeared body of water known locally as the Lake of Sorrows. If I wouldn't have blindly followed my little rectangular scrying glass I would have never known that this first, equally forgotten, place existed. So now, not only did I have the Forgotten Dead of the city to appease, I had a forgotten and sorrowful lake to work with as well.
The Mission itself was only a few blocks away. The 'original' Mission, built by Oholone Indians also buried in unmarked graves, stands dwarfed by the Basilica built next to it. After using the hallowed ground to battle some long-standing resident demons, I proceeded to the cemetery behind the original Mission. It was not a quiet place, where the rest of the cemetery used to lie, a hundred children played in the caged concrete playground of a school. The graveyard had been 'replanted' with native plants, landscaped for the most part, leaving grave markers in place. I wasn't the only one there, other tourists were in the area, taking pictures with their phones. Two men in particular stuck out to my heightened senses. They spoke loudly of popular tourist destinations like the crossroads of Haight Ashbury in mocking, irreverent tones.
I found a spot obscured by trees and plants and performed the Rite of Saint Nicholas. Previous to this ritual I had the strong feeling to stay 'in the place' and to not take pictures or to mentally move out of the ritual space that had been building since discovering the Ghost Lake of Sorrows. After the ritual, however, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was being asked to help the spirits of this place to be remembered, to make it part of my daily rituals, to pray for them, to write about them, to make it known more widely what has happened here.
San Francisco is not without problems. As I've walked back and forth between the conference center and the hotel it has been impossible to not notice the living forgotten of this place. I can't help but think that the removal of the dead in the 40s has something to do with masses sleeping on the streets, shouting loudly between the buildings, venting more rage then I could ever imagine being inside a human. The technocrati that live here look right past them. My empathy gauge completely breaks, I see them all and there are so many, it is impossible to help. Have the Forgotten Dead of San Francisco called them here? Have the spirits of place, the city, the Ghost Lake of Sorrows, the Oholone and other tribes wandering the earth unable to find what my late mentor, Ayabe, called the Moccasin Trail when they passed into the afterlife. Have these raging and unheard spirits began to call others also existing in-between what California's young cyberculture call reality to their city, creating a walking and living undead mass that will eventually grow so large that it cannot be ignored?
That is the post, for those magically-inclined, if you are visiting, pay the Mission Dolores a visit. It is easy to get to. Find the Ghost Lake of Sorrows and the tiny sacred graveyard behind the mission. Perform the Rite of St Nicholas or something similar to let them know that they aren't forgotten and that the growing counter-culture of occultique re-enchanters are coming, that we are here to bring them agency once again, to help them heal, and to give them relevance.