A young couple shares their powerful spiritual experiences before yet more people are brought into the intimate, enigmatic group of pagans forming in this quaint suburban town – with allusions to what is just on the horizon for all of them in the future.

This is Part III of the Immanence Series – a collection of short stories that take place in a supernatural infused, pagan themed, mythology driven, contemporary setting.

When Irene messaged me about my girlfriend Sophia – telling me about the scary experience she had with those two girls, I was more than a little frustrated that this had to happen to her, but I was relieved that she and Lupin kept a close eye on her. As things with pagans often happen, I had only been dating her for a few months, but a few weeks before Lupin spotted Phillip, I began to see impressions of Sophia’s spiritual persona. She had been mentioning a lot of the religious studies classes she had recently taken, and seemed to be interested in my own private studies of Ancient Mesopotamia, so it wasn’t like I didn’t see the signs.

In the bustling noise of a mid-day gym full of customers, I finish up my last personal training session with a client before changing into my own workout clothes and having my own private session at my work. Though it’s certainly true that maintaining a solid physique is good for my career, I’ve trained guys and gals with all different body types and goals, so my desire to make time for my own workout is more for my own personal aspirations than obligation. Opting to go with a classic isometric routine, I do a standard free weight workout before doing light cardio on a few of the machines, and soothing my muscles in the spa for a while. It was after I briskly towel off – paying special attention to my head and beard, that I put on my casual clothes, tie my boot laces. and get a swift ping from my phone. I put on the last of my gold accessories before I pull the phone out of my gym bag.

Sophia: Hey Tariq

Me: Hey babe

Sophia: Are you available later?

Me: Yeah. What’s up?

Sophia: We need to talk.

Me: Is something wrong?

Sophia: Not exactly. It’s just not something I can really explain in text.

Me: Alright. I’m just finishing up my workout. Do you want me to meet you at your place?

Sophia: Yes. When will you be there?

Me: I’ll be there in probably about a half an hour.

Having a Lebanese father – or really any parent from that part of the world, can be a challenge for a young man living in the states. Though both my father and my Hispanic mother are pretty caring and fairly open-minded for their generation, my father in particular puts a lot of pressure on me to succeed financially, and to get married as soon as possible. Though he’s not mean spirited, he can sometimes be frustratingly difficult, and make unusual demands of me – even though I live out on my own. That can be hard for outsiders to understand; It definitely was pretty awkward for me when I brought friends home in high school. Thankfully, I also inherited my father’s indomitable spirit and legendary work ethic, so I’ve always managed to be gainfully employed. Being a looker definitely helps too, but I try not get too full of myself. It’s kind of hard though when someone as gorgeous as Sophia looks at me the way she does. As I think fondly of her while driving down the freeway, I think back to my own awakening as a pagan – comparing my own experiences to hers in turn.

Around a decade or so ago – just after I finished high school, I was working odd jobs in various places, taking classes at a local community college, working out at the gym, and building the connections that eventually would lead me to a stable position as a sought-after personal trainer at a popular gym. But when I wasn’t challenging myself physically, I was doing a lot of private study on the things I was passionate about.

It initially started when I joined the philosophy club at high school. Though I already had a cursory knowledge of world religion from scattered exposure in my early teens, I had not been formally introduced to ancient philosophy, and the world of classical antiquity. I was initially fascinated with the Ancient Greeks, and as I explored their connections to the Ancient Egyptians, my world opened up to the Ancient Near East as a whole.

Captivated by the grandeur of the Epic of Gilgamesh, I eventually dove further as I gained more experience. By the time I entered community college, I was fully invested in Mesopotamia, and quickly discovered Sumerian Polytheistic Reconstructionism. Disaffected by monotheistic religions – particularly as someone caught between the orthodoxy of Lebanese Islam and Spanish Catholicism, I dove deep into these ancient religious ideas.

Right around the time I turned twenty-one, I had an experience that I’ll never forget.

For months it seemed, I had been reading up on the complex world of ancient Mesopotamian goddesses. Though male deities certainly interested me, there was something special that drew me to the haunting power and mystery of these sacred goddesses. Of particular note, was the goddess Inanna. I was transfixed by her representations, her later iterations as Ishtar, and even her influence on both Aphrodite and Venus in later centuries.

That was when it happened.

One day, in the half-light before dawn, when I was refilling the bowl on my altar space with fresh water – as the crisp, cool spring air drifted through my open window, I saw a glowing beam of white light enter my room. Turning to look outside, I see the celestial brightness of the morning star – like I’ve never seen it before. As my vision is enveloped in its brightness, my inner sight awakens, and I see the fearsome majesty of a male lion. It roars deeply, and I feel my heart tremble. In the midst of arid, muted sands beneath the shimmering light of Venus, the lion encircles me for a time before lying on the ground near my feet. I hesitantly stroke his mane with my hands as it lets out short chuffing sounds with a look of quiet contentment. Seemingly satisfied with the encounter, the lion slowly makes it way away from me, and disappears within the growing warm light of the new dawn.

During the visions and dreams that follow, I was also greeted to the sights and textures of the bestial features of my newly awakened spiritual persona. As I took in this new spiritual experience, I found had a prescience like I had never experienced before in my young life; I knew at once that this was a gift from Inanna, and that the form of the lion is a direct extension of that.

In the years that followed, I discovered that I now possessed enhanced strength and agility, and abilities to protect others that exceeded the physical. The reactions I garnered from others revealed my new powers of persuasion – as well as perception, and I became acutely aware, even in my early years, that these are powers that require careful consideration.

It was then that I met Eugene and Damian. At first, they just seemed like a jolly, heavyset married gay couple – with a penchant for flavorful food, sensuality, and alternative subcultures. Once I got to know them however, I found that they not only shared an appreciation of things like weight lifting, hiking, and even martial arts, but they were also deeply invested in Kemetic Polytheism – as well as cultivating deep knowledge in polytheistic traditions as a whole. We initially met – as one might expect, in traditional polytheism communities online, but after meeting locally over a series of days and weeks, we fast became close friends.

On the day that they privately revealed themselves, I was shocked by how complex the world of the pagans actually turned out to be. Eugene was chosen by both Sutekh and Amun – possessing both a boar and frog form for his spiritual personas, and Damian’s was even stranger. His spiritual persona – the form of which I soon learned is often called a hide by pagans, is a feline that does not exist in this realm. As Damian explained to me, his feline form – blessed by heka, is from beyond the duat, and was granted to him by an assembly of Kemetic gods and goddesses. For him, his existence as a pagan is deeply connected to his Egyptian ancestry, and as someone with a similar background – particularly given that his soft-butch, horror punk attitude has a lot of the same dominant energy as me, we got along quite well from the very beginning.

As I park outside Sophia’s place, I pull out my phone and mespagan her.

Me: I’m right outside babe

Sophia: Come right in. I’m in the living room.

As I walk across the street to her trendy, modern looking apartment complex – with its sharp lines, geometric inspired façade, and clean, grey-toned color palette, I take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to be in Eugene and Damian’s group. We wouldn’t be able to shelter fledglings like Phillip and Sophia, or reach out to the broader community like all of us have endeavored to do.

I ring the doorbell adjacent to the front door of her apartment, step back, and fluff my beard casually before the door opens swiftly and Sophia’s pleasing face greets me. “Come in, Tariq.” Sophia says warmly – but with a hint of nervousness in her voice as I follow close behind her. “Did you drink plenty of fluids at the gym? I can get some iced water if you’d like.”

Sensing her need to soothe others as well as herself, I oblige her by saying, “Sure. That’d be great,” before plopping myself down onto the large beige couch in the center of the room.

After a few moments in the adjoining kitchen a few feet away from me, Sophia comes back with two glasses of ice water, places one in my hand, takes a sip of her own, and places it on the glass coffee table in front of us as she sits beside me. As she’s about to speak, I place a hand on her shoulder, and rub it gently for a moment, before she pulls back a little, turns towards me, and while I move to meet her gaze, she says, “Do you remember how around the time we first met I had been studying a lot of ancient and alternative religions?”

“Yes, I do” I say calmly.

“Well… what if I told you it goes deeper than that?” Sophia says softly – as if to hide her discomfort through quietude.

“Sophia” I say firmly.

“What?” she inquires tensely.

Looking at her intently, I say, “I know.”

“I don’t think you do, Tariq” Sophia says while glancing away.

I gently pull her chin towards me, saying, “Look at me, Sophia.”

“What do you mean?” Sophia says in frustration.

“Just look at me.” I say – with more force this time.

Sophia takes a deep breath, adjusts her posture as I place my hands on my knees, and looks at my face more directly. As she does, her look of annoyance changes to surprise, then acknowledgement, and eventually relief. She places her hands into mine before simply saying, “But how, Tariq?”

I gaze into her eyes before replying, “I saw the very beginnings of your change when we first started dating, Sophia.”

“When?” Sophia asks me.

“Do you remember when were at that old park after dark?” I say with a smile.

“The one with the small coy pond in the middle?” Sophia says uncertainly.

“That’s the one” I say reassuringly, before continuing. “When we were sitting on that ornate metal bench at the edge of the water, the light of the full moon bounced off the water, and for a brief moment, I saw a glimpse of your spiritual persona. It was just for a brief moment, but mere moments later a barn owl flew overhead – confirming what I saw.”

Sophia looked down for a moment, furrowed her brow, and looked back at me saying, “Then why didn’t you just tell me, Tariq?”

“A pagan’s awakening can be delicate business. I didn’t want to scare you away – particularly since I was such a new person in your life at that time” I said to her plainly.

“I see” Sophia says quietly.

“There’s something I need to tell you myself, Sophia” I say.

“What?” Sophia says.

I get up from the couch – feeling myself pacing slightly, and see Sophia look a little confused as well as worried on the couch beneath my towering frame. “You see, Sophia… I was really worried about you” I say nervously. “When I heard that you were looking into witchcraft groups, I couldn’t help but feel protective of you.” I look down a little – with a somewhat guilty looking expression, and I rub the hair on back of my head for a moment.

Sophia stares at me, and her look of confusion becomes one of shock. She gets up from the couch as well, puts her hands on her hips, and with a bit of a pouty expression she says, “Wait a minute, Tariq. Do you know Irene?”

I stroke my beard before saying, “Yes, Sophia. I just wanted to make sure you had a place to go in case something happened, but I didn’t want you to think I was trying to tell you what to do either – even though I had a bad feeling when you mentioned meeting a girl in downtown. We both may be pagans, but I still don’t want to be that boyfriend.”

She scrunches her face a little, in the most adorable way, and seeing my sheepish looking demeanor – at least as far as you can get from someone like me, anyways, as she relaxes her body, and says, “Sigh… What am I gonna do with you, Tariq?” She gets up on her toes and leans towards me. I instinctively lean down and she plants a short kiss on my lips. She gives me a gentle tap on the rear and leads us back to the couch.

We continue to talk deeply and honestly about our awakening experiences, and I allow her to tell me about her entire encounter with Eden and Jasmine without interruption. When asked, I explain to her that the blood they used was likely from a pig, and though that can be used to great effect by competent pagans, it often becomes dangerous in the hands of greedy occultists, and there are far worse examples of spiritual corruption affecting the world.

We talk further about the members she has already met from our local group, and I explain to her the vital role of Eugene and Damian as leaders of our small organization. She expresses that she is eager to meet them, and I mention that a full meeting is coming up soon – with other members she should also get to know when the time comes.

* * *

As Irene approaches me after finishing my shift that night, I understandably feel a little nervous and hesitant about what motives she has for me. It was clear to me that there is something different about her, and as she asks to walk down to the café for a bit, it’s beyond obvious that she’s a pagan like me. In contrast to the soft, ovine impressions I received from the aura that Irene possesses – itself granted to her by the goddess Eirene, as she dutifully explains, with a bit of focus, and the calm of the cooling summer air that night, she is able to intuit my own cozy, feline qualities as one devoted to Freya. Once the cat is out of the bag – pardon the expression, we get to talk more deeply, and as she reveals what her and her compatriots are attempting to do with a local pagan chapter, she really puts in the effort to actually get to know me as a person. It was definitely helpful that it is such a cheerful and empathetic woman like Irene that is one of the chapter members who approaches me, because I had not had very stellar experience talking personally to guys in the past.

“Growing up, I was caught between two pretty typical boys,” Irene says, “but I was pretty fortunate, because I was pretty rough and tumble and even played in sports from time to time.”

I nervously clench my fists over my thighs under the table as she takes a sip of her fancy drink and seems to notice my reticence at this discussion. Out of genuine interest, but perhaps also because she might sense more about me than I initially thought, she catches my gaze, and offers up a warm smile – helping me to feel just a little bit more comfortable in going a little deeper. I remember that because of a private mespagan I sent to an online friend, I had an old, embarrassing picture of myself from when I was a young child, and taking a risk, I decide to share it with her. Swiping to that picture of myself on my phone, I place my device on the patio table we’re sitting at – adjacent to the coffee shop, and I softly say to her, “This is a picture of me from when I was a child. The haircut was particularly unfortunate, even for the time. That was when my parents called my John instead of Hannah.”

Irene glances at the photo, and with a gentle chuckle, she says, “My haircut was pretty bad at that age, to be honest.” She pulls out her own phone, swipes through her screen, and hands it to me while she says, “My parents insisted that I keep my hair ‘long and pretty’ as they always said. But by the time I got into high school I wasn’t having any of that shit.” We both share a boisterous laugh together as we compare the unfortunate styles of clothing for kids and teens in the early aughts, and just as we are about to talk more about our future meeting, she waves to a male barista taking off his work apron, setting it on the table beside us, and sipping his own drink for a moment as he settles in to his own seat with a gentle smile at the two of us.

“So, Hannah, this is Luke” Irene says briefly. “As you may already see, we’re all in good company here.” I look over at Luke, and when I meet his eyes, I receive a vision; his eyes turn from a muted hazel to a vibrant gold – with pupils that rapidly dilate, as his face accommodates a sharpened gold beak, and a rush of soft, cocoa-colored feathers that fill his face and neck in turn. An expression of bold satisfaction seems to exude from his face but is quickly met with what, quite possibly, might be a look of modesty as I catch myself enjoying my sudden awareness of his spiritual persona.

I’m still getting used to this, but it really never gets old. A golden eagle is particularly breath taking. I wonder if he has the personality to match something so majestic.

A light smirk forms on my face, and I notice almost naïve curiosity on Luke’s face before he glances at me to a brief moment longer and shifts his gaze to Irene while saying, “Did you brief her on what we’ll be doing at the pagan chapter conference?”

Irene let’s out an instinctive chuckle before remarking, “So official sounding, Luke!” She gives him a similar smirk as mine as he gives an almost pouty expression in return before she continues, saying, “Kidding aside, I like that kind of energy. Maybe Lupin could learn a little bit from you.”

“I’ve already met you and Luke, Irene,” I say plainly, “But are there any other folks I should be aware of – particularly anyone who is recklessly inexperienced with pagan practice?”

As I ask such a forward question, and notice a stoic acknowledgement from Irene, I also notice a rather focused glance from Luke out of the corner of my eye just as Irene is about to speak. “You’ll definitely want to meet Lupin – who despite my playful critique, is actually quite dedicated” Irene says. “He has taken on teaching Phillip – who is newly awakened, and they are fast entering that cheesy stage of their relationship where every little thing seems romantic.” Irene makes a playful gaging expression – finger and all, as well as laugh a little.

As the laughter dies down, Luke looks at me and says, “Like Phillip, Sophia is also newly awakened, and Irene told me in text the other day that Tariq and Sophia successfully navigated an awkward situation together back at here place.”

Irene nods, and says, “Whereas Lupin and Phillip met in a chance encounter, Tariq and Sophia had already been dating. Sophia also had a pretty traumatic spiritual experience, which made revealing things to Tariq more complicated.”

Luke says, “Would you say that your situation with Cassandra was more like Lupin’s or more like Tariq’s? You don’t seem to have as firm a hand as either men. Though you did tell me before you definitely have a mean volleyball serve!”

“Shut up, you!” says Irene as they both give each other playful, similarly boyish expressions, and Irene lightly punches him in the arm – not unlike the interactions she alluded to with her brothers, before saying, “I’ll have you know that Cassandra approached me. She was rather bold, and told me that she’s just like me. I was so impressed by her forwardness that I put down my book, and while sitting behind the counter at my bookstore I saw her amazing, corvid form.”

“That sounds amazing, Irene!” I say enthusiastically to her.

“I thought so too” Irene said wistfully. “But I think Eugene and Magid’s meeting takes the cake.” Irene takes another sip of her drink – clearing her throat before continuing. “Years ago, at a café not unlike this one,” she points to the building next to us, “Eugene had been a recent regular, and though he had previous encounters with other pagans, he had not had major success in forming his own pagan chapter.”

Sighing gently, and adjusting herself in her seat, Irene continues, saying, “One day though, Eugene saw Magid walk into the coffee shop, and Eugene was captivated by his aura; he not only saw his alternative style, and beautiful tattoos, but knew right there that Magid was just like him. Eugene mustered the courage, and in a moment of spontaneity, started up a conversation with him. Once it was clear that they were on the same wavelength, so to speak, they had a deep conversation with each other, and the rest was history.”

“Wow… you weren’t kidding!” Luke says emphatically.

“That’s unbelievable…” I say – thinking out loud for a moment.

“What’s really strange about the whole thing,” Irene says, “is that they were living in the same city for years, and Eugene had only recently started going to that café. Everything had to line up in just the right way.”

“What about that Oscar guy you mentioned to me in chat the other day” Luke says while looking curiously at Irene. “You mentioned that his situation was kind of unique.”

“Oscar is a very wild, and open person, but a bit older that most of us, and has two spiritual personas as well – much like Eugene. The deer and serpent forms Cernunnos blessed him with are quite a sight to behold. Eugene described them to me in detail from a scrying session he performed some time ago” Irene says, with a wry expression, before continuing. “He is dating a guy and a girl as well.”

“Really?” Luke says, with surprise.

“That’s right” Irene says. “Lucretia is a little younger than him, and they met at a pagan art festival of all places. He was among a handful of pagans monitoring the event. They started dating for a few years, and once things started getting serious, they invited a third partner – named Hugo, into their relationship.”

“What are Lucretia and Hugo’s abilities like?” I inquire curiously.

“Lucretia’s abilities are pretty amazing, honestly” Irene says with a sigh. “Her spiritual persona is a white rabbit, and it was given to her by the goddess Fortuna. On top of being a naturally lucky person, she has control over spiritual circumstances that I’m still trying to get my head around.”

Irene stretches a little bit, and takes another drink from her iced coffee before saying, “Hugo is a bit younger, but absolutely brilliant. He’s also adorable as sin. His spiritual persona is that of a goat, and his connection to the Roman god Faunus – perhaps in a contrary manner to Lucretia, gives him control over chaos. In the wrong hands, people who dabble with his domain can often make trouble for us pagans – often with a pretty steep cost.”

We all pause for a moment, before Luke chimes in, saying, “Since Eugene and Magid are more of the official leaders of our pagan chapter, what are their abilities like? I know that Eugene has a dual form of a boar and frog and Magid takes the form of an otherworldly feline, but what comes along with that?”

Irene takes a short breath, before saying, “A part of the reason why Eugene and Magid are such good leaders is because they have such powerful insight – not just from years of experience, but because of genuine prophecy. They both are amazing diviners in their own way. Eugene is an oracle, and Magid is a medium, but it’s much more than that.”

Irene leans toward – putting her hands on the table before saying, “They have helped all of the members of our pagan chapter access other spiritual planes.”

“What’s do you mean, exactly?” I ask.

“With enough practice and tenacity, pagans can spiritually access realms alongside our own” Irene says. “Experienced elder pagans can also access even deeper planes as they progress.”

“Do we have any elders in our pagan chapter?” Luke asks – before leaning back in his chair, and putting his hands behind his head.

“Yes” Irene says. “Eugene and Magid are definitely elders – as well as Oscar and Lucretia. Lupin and I are working hard to achieve that level soon, and we’re hoping to assess Hugo and Tariq as well moving forward.”

“Well, if we have this kind of prestige, do we at least have a cool name?” I ask playfully.

Luke and Irene chuckle a little bit, and smile broadly at me. Luke then looks over towards Irene for a moment, and then she looks back at me with a look of youthful pride in her eyes.

“We are The Abyss Assembly” Irene says brightly.

Part IV: Coming Soon