Cover artwork for Stephen King’s The Stand by John Cayea

Cover artwork for Stephen King’s The Stand by John Cayea

U`ru`bu´(Zool.)  The black vulture (Catharista atrata). It ranges from the Southern United States to South America

I think I was only five or six when I learned about “Ravenmocker” ((Kâ’lanû Ahkyeli’skï), the Cherokee legend of the Killer Witch who preyed on sick or dying souls for sport and malice.  My little mind was haunted and regaled by the “killer witches” were after the still-beating heart of their victim, hankered for it in their teeth, and were invisible to all others–except for the one who had “strong medicine.”  These rare medicine men and women were the only hope some sad sap had on a sick-bed–but they were damn straight badass at giving them their due.  Now, when I was wee, this didn’t scare me much.  I reckoned that Ravenmockers were like vultures to some extent (albeit a bit vicious as to their need for living victims), and I had seen the cleanup on Highway 72 by a black bird of prey or three.  The associate between “raven” and “vulture” was made early in my noggin–and that’s how it all starts, isn’t it?

Recently, I’ve sat here on my porch at night and factored the recent surge evident in witch culture to choose between “good” and “bad.”  Sigh.  Doesn’t matter until you weigh the choice, does it?  When weighed, butt-ass up against Western presumptions of evil, the choice of “bad” suddenly does matter.  Quite a bit.  It means: to do harm if you feel validated, to lie for fiction’s sake, to pretend and portend whatever gets yor’ tractor greasy to gain admirers and/or money, to feign innocence whilst hiding that Dexter box of blood behind yor’ back, to actually mean “demon” when you holler “thought-form” and to variously spend every waking moment wiping your willow wand down the crack of your ass before slinging it full point.  Yupper. What we have here is an Urubu: the modern-day Killer Witch.  Sadly, they are usually invisible to large herds of witches en masse–but laws, look around at the leaders in their community and you won’t find their footprints near an Urubu.  (The most effective way that I’ve learned to smell out one of these is quite simply: they will, oh they will, quote scripture as their warrant for “badness.”  They’ve bought into that whole “devil” sympathy show, are continually “unduly spurned” by their community, and will “affect” innocence while gathering your hair for black work.  They are just so misunderstood.)  Whateva.  Good luck the next time you catch the flu–might wanna put on body armor.

Booga.  Booga.  For real.

In Cherokee legend, these Killer Witches were beaten to death, dismembered and burned when located.  By other witches.  Hmmm.  Hello, justice.

Now, there are “real” Killer Witches (dangerous, deadly, fuckers) and there are wannabes (attempting all of the latter).  Often, what we end up with here are just Drama Witches–attempting killer badness–but effecting only negativity, community thrashing and civilianesque asshattery.  Which, I reckon, is quite a mess of “badness.”  It just ain’t killer. Not even in an Eighties kinda way.  Here’s the juice in the meat: either way, why would a pragmatic, level-headed crafter wanna break bread with either?  Screw popularity: save yourself some bloody grief.

But I’m not done story-telling yet.

Legend also holds that Ravenmockers enjoyed the beating heart as more than a late night snack: they drew in the life source of their victims.  The ultimate test of the one with “strong medicine” was to sustain the ignorance of his/her people, to transcend their blindness, and to lay in perpetual wait for war with the otherwise “invisible” Killer Witch.  In speaking to a Cherokee friend of mine (who goes by the name Grandma Avani), there is an ongoing battle:

Killer Witch is oft reborn at the time of One with Strong Medicine.  They are in battle from seed to ash for the souls of a tribe–both are Witch.  Only one may live.

When asked how One with Strong Medicine is able to sustain for so long without harm, Grandma Avani noted:

Medicine Woman is blessed by the stars, sustained by the Earth, fortified by the river and armed by fire.  Ravenmocker is protected by the dark ones, sustained by lust, fortified by the blood beat and armed with invisibility.  One is Sacred.  One is Damned. The end comes only with Death.

Ah.  I was reminded of the delightfully dualistic French term “sacre,” which can either mean holy and sacred or bloody and damned.  Always working to reverse itself, that which is sacre is caught in the teeth of a universal dance–and always will be.  There cannot be good without evil, light without dark.  It’s a bit of a mind-fuck, but there it is.  So, why does it trouble my soul that modern witches are attempting to choose?

Because.  It makes you responsible for the bloody battle.  And most have no idea what kind of hot-holy-mess they are in for–or what they could lose by picking up a sword.

I suppose it is human nature to want to choose.  I suppose it is, after all, inevitable as we encroach upon 2013.  Yet: what if the sword-bearer is devoid of “strong medicine?”  Blind as a bat?  Swinging wildly without insight or blessing?

Let me tell you a story.

Stephen King’s The Stand was published in 1978 and landed in my twelve-year-old hands in February of 1979.  I read the words voraciously, ate them with my eyes, made relish of them with my mind and variously tore my nighttime peace to shreds with every turn of the page.  While Stephen had been my companion from the moment I laid eyes upon the cover of Carrie, nothing rocked my bones as hard as the deep need for the character of Randall Flagg to be destroyed, nothing wrestled my blood as thick as the need for Tom Cullen to make it to LA and no book, other than The Godfather, has been as integral to my understanding of war than this particular novel.  My favorite quotes follow:

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.” (This one taught me to stand back up, no matter the opponent, regardless of injury.)

“He smiles a lot. But I think there might be worms inside him making him smile.” (This one cleared up a lot for me: I saw this “grimace” on an old friend’s face quite a bit.  Took a while to realize it wasn’t gas.)

“You couldn’t get hold of the things you’d done and turn them right again. Such a power might be given to the gods, but it was not given to women and men, and that was probably a good thing. Had it been otherwise, people would probably die of old age still trying to rewrite their teens.” (Laws, this one is clear.  There is no time machine.  Live with it, wrestle with the mistakes, do not rinse and repeat. Eva.)

“Men who find themselves late are never sure. They are all the things the civics books tell us the good citizen should be: partisans but never zealots, respectors of the facts which attend each situation but never benders of those facts, uncomfortable in positions of leadership but rarely unable to turn down a responsibility once it has been offered . . . or thrust upon them. They make the best leaders in a democracy because they are unlikely to fall in love with power.” (Well. Think this one through in November.)

“Who gets to be best-liked in any community? Who is the most trusted? Why, the man who does the dirty job, of course, and does it with a smile. The man who does the job you couldn’t bring yourself to do.” (Welcome to the life of an Aries.  Or any fire sign.)

“He was a clot looking for a place to happen, a splinter of bone hunting a soft organ to puncture, a lonely lunatic cell looking for a mate – they would set up housekeeping and raise themselves a cozy little malignant tumor.” (Imma leave this one alone.  But think this thought with me . . . every town has one.  Lunatic fringe.  With a grudge.)

And then there’s my soul favorite, the one that Ravenmocker knows too well:

“…you’ll find that God often chooses to speak through the dying and the insane…A healthy person might be apt to filter the divine message, to alter it with his or her own personality. In other words, a healthy person might make a shitty prophet.” [1]

And there you have it, Batchildren.  My theory on why the Urubu, the modern-day Killer Witch, hungers for the heart of the sick and dying: for there is truth there, thick hemoglobin-y, righteous, divine truth that has been stripped of its civilized, tax-paying mores and shimmers on the blue veins of fleeting life.  Like gold.  Just there.  Vulnerable.  And if there is one with Strong Medicine, protecting that message, laying in wait for the killer who would slobber it down without salt and shit it out into the memory of the Abyss, it continues to live in the laughter of children and the bloom of clover.

But this is a muddy, back-breaking, arduous job.  The moment you choose between good and evil, they become.  You are now upon the front lines of an ancient war, ready or not.  You must, at that moment, make your stand.

And don’t let a Killer Witch fool you: “good” witches have wiped plenty of hemoglobin off the blade of a sword.  We have done the dirty jobs that others have not the stomach to do–and we have faced the aftermath.  The difference is simply: we battle for that divine thump, not for personal gluttony.  I suppose the question remains:

Have you thought through your choice?  It’s almost Samhain; the veil is becoming a thin as Egyptian parchment and an unexamined soul is a dangerous one on a battlefield, my friends.    



1. King, Stephen.  The Stand.  New York: Doubleday Publishers, 1978.

*And for my favorite Urubu:  I’m not dead yet.  And I will always, always get back up.  (And wait.)

This post is participating in Rowan Pendragon’s Pagan Blog Project, 2012.

This post is participating in Rowan Pendragon’s Pagan Blog Project, 2012.

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