Faith In Ruins is a new series of in-character interviews which delve into the roleplayed religions, cults, spiritual practices, and belief systems of The Wastelands. Characters who portray spiritual leaders and practitioners describe the tenets and traditions of their faith in their own words – words which preserve and share the cultural concepts they’ve created, and which potentially inspire new adherents or adversaries.
In this first series, we explore the Mutant Ways, aka the Old Ways, as practiced by The Mutant Witch of the Wastes, played by Ccindy Pfeffer.
Chat logs have been edited for content and clarity, by mutual approval.
Aposiopesis Fullstop raps her knuckles on the rusty sheet metal.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes hums rhythmically while throwing things into the fire, then suddenly stops and drops the thing she had in her hand into the flames. Frowning, annoyed, she only then turns her head. “What?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop holds out the moonshine jug and waggles it. “I brung ye sommin’.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes looks into the fire, than frowns another time. “Ok, come.” She puts some more wood on the fire and empties a foul smelling liquid from a cup into the sand between her feet.
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods and approaches, setting the jug on the end of the bench.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes stares at the jug for a moment than pulls it closer and wiggles the cork out, smelling it a few times with breaks in between. “That be all pure, yes?” She takes a sip and plays with it in her mouth before spitting it out.
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Best I can get it. Run through th’ still three whole times. Brewed mostly outta wheat, couple potatoes. Nothin’ put in after for flavor or nothin’.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop looks at the patch of damp sand. “Hope I ain’t interruptin’ any witchery. Or… dinner.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes follows Apo’s gaze, and frowns again. “Hope? Yous always be interrupting.” She puts the cork back in and hammers it back into the bottleneck with the palm of her hand. “That be work.” She puts the jug between her feet.
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Aye, well. If’n I waited ’round fer you to WANT to talk, I’d be waitin’ until the Moon fell down.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes looks up and raises an eyebrow. “Yous may be right.” She leans forward and fills the cup with a bit of sand and starts to grind and scrub the inside clean with her fingers and the sand. “Now that be ruint… We can be over with talk maybe this time.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Could be, could be…” she says, settling down onto a bench on the other side of the fire. She unlatches her book from its thigh-harness and pulls a stub of charcoal from a pouch. “Still a few things I’d like t’ learn ’bout…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes silently grinds away and waits, resigning herself to that fate.
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Last time, we talked a lot on spirits, an’ on tales o’ long ago. T’day, I’d like t’ hear a li’l more on the here-an’-now – though, aye, the cycle bein’ what it is, there ain’t so much diff’rence.” She smiles slightly. “All things have spirits, as ye said, an’ some spirits are more powerful than others. But are there objects or places that are particularly strong in spirit – that are sacred in their own right?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it well. “What yous mean, strong? Where spirit be stronger than in other place? Yes, spirit of fire be stronger when it be with dry tinder than with bottom of swamp. All spirits sure have place these be stronger in, but these be places these be found in. And sometimes color of spirit be force where it go and be strong there.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop scratches alongside her jaw. “Aye, that stands t’ reason. But… hm. It may be that I’m askin’ about an idea or a feelin’ that yer beliefs don’t actually have. I’m wonderin’ if there are things or places that are… more important. More meaningful.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Mebbe in a way that… is bigger’n the thing itself., if that makes sense.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes lays her face in deep wrinkles, milling her jaw one side to the other. “Yes. But that be not same place with all spirits. Each kind, and sometimes just one spirit, be with special place, or ritual, or both. Fire was just example, easy understand. Dry tinder not be fire strongest place, not fire strongest ritual. There be ways, but ways that be hard and some dangerous, and some with high price, and many witchcraft.”
She crosses her arms. “Yous know there be many, many kind of spirit, and that many or more place for these. Let me explain simple one, with fire. Fire be easy understand, yous see.”
She points at the fireplace. “That fire not be out in long time. It not be always in that fireplace. Me carry it to bazaar, to me mother’s tribe, to many place. It be very old for how old fire be most time. In me fireplace it be stronger, it shape it to its wish, it weave into other spirit around it.” She makes waving motions in different directions. “Like stone on hot day become hot too, me fireplace become more of fire. It not be it strongest place, but it be stronger than just burn wood where yous feel like sit.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop grins widely. “Aye, thass the sort o’ thing I mean! That fire ain’t as big or hot or powerful as ye find in… in th’ Stygian crater, f’rinstance. But if’n I built a fire right next to it, e’en if I used all the same-size pieces o’ wood… it’d have its own spirit. It’d be just as warm, it’d cook sommin’ just as fast, it’d burn ye just as quick – but it’d not be the same in meanin’ and power.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods, considering. “If yous want see how strong fire can be, yous will know at day King of Fire return and burn all things again, then return Sand to be rebirthed. That sure be strongest place and ritual of fire, when fire be in all places, and all domain be fire.”
“Me give yous other example. Yous spirit shape place around yous too. Make it stronger domain for it be in. Will it be strongest for it? No. Will yous ever be at strongest for it? Maybe. But know yous shape yous place, and yous spirit be stronger there now than yesterday.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods deeply. “Aye. Like, ye can sometimes find an ol’ ruin, an’ ye can somehow jus’ tell whether somebody’s still livin’ in it – or if it’s been long abandoned. It ain’t about the stuff in it, somehow. I dunno HOW ye can tell, quite. But… sure feels like ye can tell.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop furrows her brow slightly. “Still – if somebody din’t know the past of yer fireplace’s fire… e’en if they were a fellow Mutant… they might not know it was a stronger sort of fire, aye? They might not be able t’ tell my fire from yours. These things an’ places that have more strength an’ power… is that always pers’nal? Or are there other… small-but-strong things that ALL Mutants of yer ways would reckonize an extra power in?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes crosses her arms and thinks. “There be easy place. Sometimes yous know, sometimes yous need know what look for and then yous know. But there be hard place. Place that needs witchcraft to find and to guard.” She cups all four hands into a hollow ball. “Sometimes shield from corruption of outside. Sometimes shield from harm to outside. So me fire looks like fire to yous, to me brothers and sisters, but Sismaqui be see it true power, it know what look for.” She opens her hands and moves the fingers, letting a joint or two pop wile doing so. “That what Witches be do, see and trade with all these Spirits. Like Hunters see and trade with all what be eaten.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Like bein’ able to look at birdscratches on a page an’ read the words an’ messages they hold?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shrugs dismissively. “If that be how yous want to picture.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods and jots down more notes.
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “…Tell me more o’ the easy place an’ the hard. I ain’t sure I unnerstood…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes turns towards the west. “Yous agree, me send smallest cub into swamp it find water there yes?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop grins. “Unless somethin’ REAL weird happened, aye!”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Yous be like that cub when looking for spirits and these places yous ask for.” She raises an eyebrow to get a point across. “But me look for spirit like eldest living all life in swamp. It look at plants, and it look at ripples, and it look at bugs and it can not only find water, it can say where water be deep, where murky, where yous can drink and where yous be sick.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “…Sorta like when ye listen to a person talk: ye get the meanin’ of the words they say, but if ye pay attention, if ye really lissen an’ watch, ye can tell if they’re jokin’, or if they’re angry, or if they’re makin’ a joke because they’re angry, or if they’re tryna avoid telling you sommin’? Witchcraft is… watchin’ and listenin’ to the world, knowin’ what to look for to find what ye seek, an’ knowin’ what to do about it when it’s found?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “Yes, that be witchcraft. But there be more things in witchcraft. Like swamp eldest: looking at water is not enough. Come out from water when fall in, or get others from water be important. Know where path between waters is and what plant kill yous.” She motions a rolling gesture with her hand that started sometime in the middle of her sentence and continues for a couple more seconds after she’d stopped talking already. “And like swamp eldest, Witch knows when to stop look and take stick and poke at water, see if it be true as be see, or if it be different. Like one time eldest took cub’s hand with stick in it and poke at puddles to see what lay beyond.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods thoughtfully. “Can anyone become such a witch, if they’re taught these ways o’ seein’ and tradin’? Or… do they only get taught if they’re already known t’ be special somehow?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes leans forward. “Me not tell yous all of that. Me tell yous this: In me mother’s tribe, eldest decide what cub will become. These be trial before these be walking. Endure many things. Some not be sick from little eat, some not be sick from no sleep, some not be sick from have no water all day, and some be not sick from drinking these poisons. Some die.” She lets that sink in for a moment.
“And if yous not be sick from the poisons, and if yous talk to these spirits in yous fevers, and if yous see and hear and understand. Then yous be learning from Witches elder. And then yous become Witch.”
She considers the question. “That be special? No. That just way it be. In tribe, these who be strongest endure one thing, must endure one thing for tribe. These who strongest endure other thing, endure other thing for tribe. That be how things be.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop frowns. Slowly, she takes down more notes.
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ye… kinda don’t get a choice, huh. But, cycles bein’ as they are… guess nobody e’er does.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shrugs. “Next rebirth maybe me be hunter and fight Sandhippo to feed me tribe. Not one be more important than other. And not one be there without other. That be how tribes be in times of suffering, and that be how tribes be to end of time.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes eyes Apo in an honest look. “What is help in deciding what yous do? If yous bad at what yous do, yous suffering be bigger, and yous tribe suffering be bigger for that.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop rubs her chin, then nods. “I’d heard o’ the Trial of Endurance afore, but not these for the cubs. Are there other such… rituals or trials fer the landmarks o’ life? Births, namin’s, adulthood, couplin’, dyin, w’ever?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes Nods and raises an eyebrow in surprise. “Yes, all these and more.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Them things mark so much.. growin’ and learnin’, though. Ye got a sort o’ trial when ye were real young, afore ye could e’en walk on yer own, an’ just that one thing laid out yer entire life for ye? The eldest cain’t ever be wrong? An’ what if the eldest is a jerk! Says ye failed when ye didn’t, or poisons ye extra ’cause yer mother said sommin’ mean once, or blames yer father fer the elder’s own cub gettin’ killed?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shakes her head. “Yous not understand these ways. All the eldest be very wise in these decisions. Not only life of that cub be at matter, but these lifes too. And life of tribe! Me see how yous think these be selfish, but these be not. These be kij to cub and cub be kij to these. If these decide wrong, who be feed these, who be guard these from teyn or spirit?”
She looks down at herself. “Yous think me be good with hauling lots of food and water and feed me tribe? Yous think me be good at fight with spear against raiders? Yous think me be good at talking trade to greedy smoothskins… more than once?” She grins mean. “Me be Witch, me can endure spirits and journey to these.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Well… ye could prob’ly have learned t’do a lot of things, I reckon. Mebbe ye coulda been a fighter, if ye was taught. Or mebbe ye coulda been a fine hunter. It’s… hard t’ say what coulda been. But, the way this all works, I s’pose ye ain’t gotta worry about that. Ye know yer doin’ what ye think ye were… always s’posta do. An’ ye can keep yer focus on just doin’ that as well as ye can.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes half nods, half shrugs.
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “So… what all ARE ye responsible for, as a Witch? Do you perform any o’ them rituals fer births, givin’ names, weddin’ together?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes leans back a little, choosing her words carefully. “Witches be part of all ritual, but not all part be same. Me has most part in birth and death. Me has some part in trials of endurance. Me has little part in naming names. Sometimes one Witch has part other has not, sometimes that not be important. Sometimes more than one be needed. Me not tell yous all rituals, yous not understand these, yous not need know these. And me not tell yous.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop grins. “Ahh, aye, ain’t surprised some of ’em are sekrit – or, least, just too much to be told. Mebbe, one o’ these spans, you’ll have call to do some o’ them birth rituals. If’n certain folk do as ye suggest.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop snickers.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns. “Me still has hope. Many more rituals be done before me fear.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes ponders for a moment. “Yous ask what Sin be. And that be good time explaining. That be what witches rituals are for, too.” She shrugs.
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “Aye – I were just tryin’ to figger out whether to ask more on that, or to ask more on the rituals. You’ve said afore that there’s the idea o’ Sin, o’ things that… corrupt a spirit somehow. But that these – or at least some o’ these – can be… taken away?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes thinks on it for a moment. “Yous ever kill folk and can not sleep after?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop looks at the fire for a brief while, then nods.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “That be one kind Sin. There be many more, but that be one most folk understand. It linger on yous spirit, make yous question, take yous sleep, make yous fear and anger. There be three ways of it. Sometime it just go away alone. Sometimes it sit on yous spirit and taint it to new color, make yous different. And last, Witches can…” She thinks a moment. “Eat it, make it theirs… and trade with spirits take it away.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Is Sin about… the way you feel about what ye done, or about the thing ye done itself? Like… if ye kill somebody w’out a good reason, an’ ye DON’T feel bad about it – that still one o’ them Sins? Or what if ye feel all shamed an’ guilty fer… fer sommin’ that ain’t even bad?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Both be true sometime. And sometime it be hard tell these apart. Some spirit colors don’t feel bad about these things, but still these be Sin. Some Sin be bigger, some be smaller. But these grow more and more, like bore flies on Sandhippo: One not too bad, but many…”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’ a Witch can… swat them flies, as it were? Or wave ’em away at least, so somebody don’t get their life suck’t out or go mad of all the buzzin’?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it and nods. “In ways. But all these bore flies not be gone. These be settle on Witch that be swap these away. Take Sin from other is easier part. Make it be gone be hard part.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop frowns. “So how’s that work, then? You gotta get some other Witch to take ’em offa you?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shakes her head. “No, what help that be, pass Sin on and on and waste time?” She shakes her head again. “Me not tell yous rituals, all yous be know is: Witch be trade with spirits then, offer other thing in return when these take Sin from Witch. Maybe sacrifice, maybe deed, maybe trial. Not all Sin be same: small Sins be easy taken, easy trade. Big Sin be hard taken, hard trade. Some Sin be hard taken, never trade.” She hesitates a moment. “Some Sin not be taken, these could, but Witch take it be teyn than, or be cast out of Big Cycle. Sin like murder yous kij, make yous tribe suffer, or bring great anger to spirits. Dangerous Sin.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods solemnly. She opens her mouth as if to ask something, but then makes a few quick notes in her book and places her finger nearby. “I… got a few questions on that. But first… what can ye tell me ’bout how that tradin’ works? Is it traded w’ them same Sandspirits that take th’ dead? Or is it traded w’… whatever spirit they pissed off through the Sin?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns, realizing this will be more trouble than the expected. “There be Season of Shelter, and tribe suffer big hunger. Hunters swarm and try find food. There only be one couple of dragonbird left. Now if these not hunt dragon bird, tribe be die. If these hunt Dragonbirds, in Season of Rebirth, there be no eggs, there be not hatchlings and there be no new Dragonbird. Now tribe must decide what be do. And dead tribe is not good way. So these be kill Dragonbird or search on.”
“Let’s say search not help, so hunters go and kill Dragonbird. There be Sin of last kill on hunter who put spear into Dragonbird’s heart. And hunter know there be no Dragonbird for long time. Some day maybe these come from other sands, or maybe never,” she explains.
“Then it be Witch who take Sin of last kill on self. And than Witch be heavy with Sin on own spirit, sit down and see spirit world. Go and trade with spirit of Dragonbird. Apologize, sacrifice blood of bird, of hunter, of Witch. Promise not hunt Dragonbird next span, maybe more. Whatever trade be, Dragonbird be happy at end of trade and be return to Big Cycle and it be rebirthed. Hunter be free of Sin, Witch be free of Sin. Tribe be eat Dragonbird than and waste no part of it.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “What might happen if ye don’t do that? Besides that there might not be more bird dragons if they weren’t made happy. The Sin would weigh on the hunter. But would that spirit also be doin’ harm to ‘im? To the tribe?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “Yes, all that. Sin be taint spirit of hunter. Depend on what color be before, it change it or make it new color. Spirit of Dragonbird will not go to Big Cycle fast but stay with hunter and tribe, bring harder days and more suffer to all. Maybe there not only be hunger but now there be sick too. And then there be maybe taint on color of spirit of tribe too, or on land around tribe.”
She considers. “There be many things spirit can do when angry. and yous not want these be with yous tribe. So Witch do trade, not ask cost of it. Witch suffer spirit trade. Hunter suffer hurt from hunt, chief suffer move tribe away if things too bad. But all tribe suffer if these not do.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’ I reckon the spirits’ll find ye. Like… say that hunter weren’t in a group. Nobody saw ‘im spear th’ last bird dragon. Mebbe he were such a skag that he din’t e’en bring back the meat – jus’ killed it fer killin’s own sake. E’en if he’s such a skag that he don’t feel no guilt nor shame, the Sin’s still there. But… as a Witch, could ye tell? Could ye figger out he did it an’ MAKE him confess, MAKE him let ye trade away that Sin?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes cringes. “Everyone see when Sin be bothering. But when color of spirit hide Sin, hunter not be care, hunter not be say, find Sin be hard. Witch can see when see hunter in spirit world, watch its color, look deep for things. Me not know words, how can me say what yous not understand?” She struggles to find a way to explain it.
“Color of spirit be like… name, like face. You see face, know what it look like. But when yous see face with new scar, you know of scar, no matter if folk cares for scar or not. But what yous and me see now -” She looks around and spreads out her arms. “That not how spirit world look. This all be like mask on face, no telling of scar easy. But yous still hear of pain behind mask if folk cares for scar.” There’s an obvious problem with trying to express what she means.
“Me see yous spirit color before. Me be see new taint of Sin on it when me watch yous spirit color again. Me know yous spirit not change it color yet: yous color be easy seen from here, no spirit world need.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods sympathetically. “I’ve known folks who did awful things to other people, but would ne’er admit it was bad at all. They din’t feel shame nor guilt; they din’t act bothered or differ’nt. If somebody they hurt spoke up ’bout it… shite, we may not e’en believe ’em. …Hard t’ make things right, times like that. Least ye got… some idea o’ a spirit world where, if ye know what yer lookin’ for, if ye been payin’ attention, ye can see the signs.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “All spirit color hides some Sin easy, some Sin hard. Like find Rubble in Sand be easier than find Rubble in Swamp. Not feel these impact, not its hurt. But still, step on Rubble in Sand, or Rubble in Swamp, both hurt yous feet same way. Between teyn, noone be care of other Sin. These not need each other. Between kij, Sin be shared, make it easier lift it, but more important do so. Yous not be understand that.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “So does a Witch have power to… well, t’ punish folk somehow? Mebbe somebody did a Sin, an’ they tried to hide it; mebbe they did a real good job. But once ye know… can a Witch trade w’ the spirits to make things right, all on yer own? E’en if the person who done that harm just… won’t do their part toward the trade?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes says, “That not be easy explained. There be curse. Witch can trade to harm. But trade for Sin that not be on Witch shoulder, no. Like trader can not trade for what it not has in its hand. Witch can not trade for no Sin not hers. Me tell yous Sin be taken by Witch, than trade. If Witch can not take it, Witch can not trade it.” She shrugs. “Bad situation, for all. That not be happen, not with kij.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop raises an eyebrow. “Curses, ye say…”
Aposiopesis Fullstop glances at the sky. “I… mebbe best get outta yer hair, lest I learn about curses in a REAL direct way…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes raises an eyebrow and looks at the stars. She measures some distance with a stretched out arm between the horizon and some star perhaps. “If me know before that curse be what makes me get rid of yous early, me be tell yous about curse on first day.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop snorts. “Oh, I’ll be back, mind ye.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop waves and makes her way out of the camp.