This is another work inspired by the Otherfaith, this time by a spirit named Epiphany. When I started mucking about with Otherfaith mythology two weeks ago the first to catch my eye was the story 5169814 to Epiphany. I’m sure this is in no small part thanks to the alphabetizing of the myths, but I like to think serendipity played a role here too. Epiphany is a spirit who had once been bound by her role in life, literally known only by a string of numbers. She was born a Book Keeper, a type of spirit who eventually dedicates their lives to one particular subject area in the Library and no other. Epiphany was unable to choose and her wonder at all the knowledge in all the worlds lit up every neuron in her brain in a fiery maelstrom. The shame she had felt at not fitting in, at not being able to be a “good” Book Keeper and being shunned by her siblings, was burned away in her immolation. From the ashes rose Epiphany as we know her today – spirit of all knowledge, information, and chance, Lady of the House of Books (sorry, Seshat!) and kind patron of writers and misfits.
Epiphany’s story resonates with as a DFAB genderqueer geek. Society saw me as a woman (and narrowly defined what ‘woman’ meant, to boot) and constantly itched against me like an ill-fitting sweater. I wasn’t girly enough, my body wasn’t femme enough, my brain wasn’t cisgender enough; I know the shame of not being “enough” of whatever you’re supposed to be quite well. And as a DFAB individual seen as a girl and then a woman, my own intellectualism and geeky pursuits became a point of contention for myself and others. As much as I did not feel a place for myself in the ill-defined yet heavily-patrolled border of “woman,” I felt that what was part of my inner nature, what brought me joy and helped me experience the world, was wrong as well. I understand the frustration at not fitting in, at trying desperately to make myself fit and wanting to please my peers and family, even if they didn’t always have my own interests at heart.
Epiphany was filled with shame and in her desperation to become normal, to choose once and for all her place among the Book Keepers, she opened her entire mind to the Library and was connected in that brief instance to all the accumulated knowledge in the West. She died that night – or rather, Book Keeper #5169814 died that night, transforming beyond society’s tiny box for her and turning into who she’d been all along. Because of her immolation, I tend to associate Epiphany with the fiery god Laetha, who is also known in some of his aspects as the Firebird and also knows a thing or two about the dissolution of identity in flames. The Library, belonging to the King of the West, also links Epiphany with the Clarene. (There’s a charming myth called the Book Hoarder which I personally read as a romance between Epiphany and the Clarene.)
A common theme I’m noticing in the Otherfaith is the manifestation of shame and guilt. These aren’t always bad things; one hopes to feel shame after doing something morally repugnant after all, if only as a deterrent to never do that something again. But when that shame is about our true selves and brings damage to them, then that shame serves no purpose but to harm and pervert something that should be beautiful and treasured. Shame may require us to drown in the waters of the River Ophelia, or to be buried alive in the Clarene’s Orchard, or to burn like a phoenix like the Laetha until our shame is gone and only we remain. In this case shame is a wound that stops our true selves (our “souls,” if you like, though I’ve never really liked soul talk myself) from flourishing. We cannot live well like this, cannot be inspired, cannot surrender to rapturous joy and wonder at the world if we’re caught up feeling like we are tainted and wrong.
Epiphany is both a spirit who has overcome her shame and serves as a source of inspiration and encouragement. Her inspiration isn’t just cheery platitudes you see tacked up with Thomas Kincaid paintings, however. Inspiration is a moment of catching fire, of opening up to possibility and the falling away of mundane limitations. When we write, paint, make music, or do whatever it is we do to express ourselves, we have the opportunity to let go of what society has told us and allow ourselves to be subsumed in creative fire. We have the power to remake ourselves (and thus the world) anew. We have the privilege of appreciating the world’s true self without the veneer of false identities and expectations. Inspiration can be terrifying and it can be a burden when it can’t turn off; there’s a reason Epiphany was consumed in fire and not something less violent, after all. But when we embrace who we actually are and honor the person we are in this moment, then we have access to true knowledge and understanding.
Like Mallory, I also have a Pinterest page set up for Epiphany. And like Mallory, I’ve also written something in honor of Epiphany. I wrote this poem this morning waiting in a coffee shop before church. I hope it inspires you in reading as much as it did me in writing.