I’d passed the dead body of a cat on the side of Carpenter Road once before. Bast had asked me to stop, but I’d felt uncomfortable with just the idea of flipping the car around and picking up a dead animal from the side of the road. The idea crossed my mind more than once that someone might be looking for that cat, and the body on the roadside might be the answer to someone’s search.
Today, I couldn’t tell her no twice.
Tim and I were on our way back from his cousin Nate’s graduation party. The day was beautiful, the AC was on, and Blaqk Audio’s “Stiff Kittens” blared from the speakers. Tim was fiddling with his Odin mandala and focused completely into his own little world. I didn’t think anything of it. We both have this bad habit of slipping into trance state while on the road. I’d lost more than 10 exits along the highway that way more than once, and I, myself, had began to zone out to the flash of house, tree, tree, tree, house, tree passing us by at fifty miles per hour.
Then, I passed that familiar orange body along the side of the road.
Stop, a voice told me, both stern and urgent within my head.
I sighed to myself, releasing a sudden pang of sadness, and kept driving.
Stop. Go back.
I kept going.
I sighed again, and turned down a winding side road and flipped the car around in the first U-shaped driveway.
“What are you doing?” Tim asked, unabsorbed from his trance by the sudden lurching of the vehicle.
“Turning around.” I gave the most obvious answer and turned left onto Carpenter.
Right about the time I passed the cat and pulled over onto the opposite side of the road, he must have gotten the idea. He got out of the car in unison with me. We both walked to the end of the vehicle, stared for a second at the corpse, and then I popped the trunk to search for the garbage bag I knew was lost somewhere in the dark recesses of my vehicle.
“I think it’s somewhere in the sidedoor,” Tim told me. He was right. I retrieved the bag from the bag seat and walked over to the body.
I’d waited at least a week since Bast had first asked me to remove her from the roadside. The body was now literally crawling with maggots.
“She’s putrid, honey. There’s nothing we can do,” Tim told me.
“I don’t want to just leave her,” I said. It was more than a desire. I couldn’t. Something in my conscience wasn’t going to let me. It was almost as though the spirit was asking me not to leave here there: unmarked, unmourned, just another piece of garbage rotting on the side of the road.
Eventually, we both resolved that leaving her there was just unacceptable. I scooped the bag underneath of her, lifted her up, and neatly flipped the bag inside out.
The stench of death was overbearing. Her body was warm and pliable – the in-process result of roadside heat and rotting flesh.
Tim insisted more than once that he could carry her, but having watched his reaction over the last few minutes, I was surprised that this evening’s dinner hadn’t worked itself out of his eyeballs by now in his efforts to retain his composure. I had her. I told him as much, and placed the cat into my trunk.
There was no place in our tiny apartment complex where we could bury her body. Local animals, or worse, local children would likely just dig her up. But we did have a beautiful little grove out at his parent’s house where we’d done many magical workings together. There, she would stay.
Tim dug a hole in a small mound against the fence while I gathered supplies. Having come unprepared, we made with what we had: a clove of garlic, fresh-picked sage and lavender, consecrated salt and lake-water, and lemongrass oil.
I took her out of the trunk while he dug. A few of the maggots had escaped from holes onto a box in the back.
At first, I held her away from me. Even through plastic, the smell was still powerful.
Cradle her in your arms. Hold her like I wasn’t able to. That voice said again, and I listened. I curled my arms beneath her and cradled the bagged body like a child. I could feel the movement in the bag and had to tell myself it was just the warmth of the cat’s body and the animal’s spirit.
I knew it was the insects, but between the crawling and the smell of death, even I couldn’t bear to think about that, and I pride myself on having a strong stomach.
I laid her on the ground until we finished the grave. I blessed the soil with the water and oil, and slid her out of the bag and into the earth. Tim had already sang blessings over her grave, and we gave a short prayer, sending her back to the Mother and the Earth from which she had came, and thanked her for the joy she had given in this world and would bring onto the next. I sprinkled the body with water and oil, and we covered her in dirt. Tim used his shovel. I used my hands. I placed the flowers by her grave and sprinkled the packed Earth with water and oil again.
We would have given her a bit of a longer, more detailed ceremony had it not been so late in the day. Twilight rapidly became night and we were both covered in mosquito bites.
I would still like to go back and plant catnip on her grave and burn a stick of incense for her.
We drove home with the windows open. The smell of death had permeated my vehicle. Despite that, there was something both spiritually and emotionally fulfilling in that for the both of us. He thanked me for stopping and insisting that we take care of her. I thanked him for helping me and for digging the grave. He thanked me for handling the body. I laughed.
Once we were home, with all but washed my car with febreeze and then ran into the bathroom for a quick shower. We left smelling minty-fresh from plastering each other in toothpaste to cure the itching of mosquito bites. (Which is, by the way, a handy trick if you happen to run out of hydrocortisone lotion)
The cat’s spirit was grateful for what we did. That was obvious in the feel of the burial and the encounters that Tim and I had once we arrived home.
She’s fully capable of moving on now, but chose to stay with us for a little while longer. She brushed up against Tim’s leg while he was at the computer and scared him half to death.
While I was sitting here working on my daily rune images, I caught a flash in my mind’s eye of a pair of golden eyes staring up at me, and that long-haired orange body sprawled across my table. I sucked in a deep breath and reached out to touch her. I closed my eyes and I could feel the rub of a cat’s face against my head. I could feel her fur – thick and soft between my fingers. I could feel the heat of her skin, and the tensing of her muscles as she moved. She was such a beautiful cat.
It was such an emotional encounter for me. It still is. I burst into tears. I took away more in that moment than just petting an animal. It was taking a moment to feel what the cat had felt, to feel what she had inspired in others.
The forefront of what rushed to me had been a sadness, a loneliness of having been there: forgotten. But behind that was a rush of joy and happiness. Of what it had been like to live her life, and of what it had been like to have held her, touched her. In that moment, she was every cat that I’d ever held, every feline that had curled up into my lap on a cold winter’s day and kept me company. It was very overwhelming, and very beautiful.
You never really have an appreciation for life until you’ve experienced death and experience, even at a glimpse, what comes after. This night really had a revelation for me in that.
I’ve helped spirits cross over before. I’ve worked with the dead and comforted them. I’ve helped the souls of other animals killed on the roadside move beyond before. Tim and I helped the spirit of a young man who was shot and killed in the park just down the street from where I lived in Lansing move past his hurt, rage, and fear and move on. But nothing had ever reached back to me like this.
It still moves me down to the core of my being.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I relate to the myriads of deities that have called to me. Sometimes, my work and relations seem so scattered and overwhelming. I think this is just part of really putting that all together.
I’m going to start carrying around garbage bags and gloves in the trunk of my car now. I’ve passed too many hawks on the side of I-96, felt the same compulsion, and ignored it. I’m not going to let the sacred animals of my gods rot on the edge of the pavement and not honor them.
I’ve never been one to actively work with the dead. That’s always been Tim’s shindig, and I’ve been happy to let him be in it. But, I think I’m starting to move that way. Hella asked me to come speak with her during a meditation, and I’ve drawn Ansuz in helheim during Yggdrasil rune spreads more than once. It’s time to stop delaying this and start working with that.
I have a feeling that’s what I’m going to be doing with the Gulf. Maybe that’s why I feel so desperate, so lost that dozens of volunteer apps have gone unanswered and that there’s nothing much I can do. I have a feeling there are a lot of lost spirits trapped in the miasma down there that might need help finding their way out of that oil slick – even after their bodies have washed ashore or fallen to the seabed below.
May Aegir hold them in his arms until I can pick up that task.