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 shuffles through the sand, her boots snapping some of the dry brush by the entrance, but she still knocks on the rusty sheet metal.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes does not notice her at once, as she is watching something in the flames. But the lack of noise finally catches her attention and makes her turn her head. Realizing she is not alone anymore, she sighs. “What it be now?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Same thing it been afore!” she says, her voice a little too chipper. “I got a li’l time, an’ thought I’d see if ye were ’round to speak more o’ the Old Ways…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Me thought we be done.” She rubs her forehead. “What else yous ask for now?” She lays some scrapwood onto the fire. “Be sit, me no like yous breath on me neck.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles and makes her way to a bench.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. The fire smells strange today; there is something burning that is not wood that stays sticky in the nostrils and feels heavy in the lungs. The flames do look normal, though.
Aposiopesis Fullstop extracts her journal from its thigh-holster and flips to a dog-eared page before pulling a thin piece of charcoal out from a pocket. “Not quite, I don’t think. I still weren’t quite sure on the spirit colors, fer one.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop peers at her notes, then looks closely between a couple of the pages. “…We talk’t on it a li’l bit, aye, but not quite so much to clear some things up. Like, I gather there’s things can change yer spirit color. Bad choices an’ such, mebbe? Or… weakness? But I cain’t figger out whether a person does wrong ’cause sommin’ changed their spirit color, or if it changed ’cause they done wrong.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it a while, then gets up and goes into the workshop for a moment and rummages around a little. She returns with two tin cans. Putting a finger in one of the cans and taking it out coated in yellow paint, she smears some of that as a thick layer on part of some scrapwood. “Spirit color be much like paint in many ways. Not in all ways, but it help explain. Now that wood be yellow, if it do things that are more yellow, it not change color, yes?” She puts her finger again on the paint layer and smears around to rub more yellow on the yellow.
Aposiopesis Fullstop looks at the wood and rubs her chin, but nods. “Reckon.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes puts her hand in the other tin can and takes it out with the finger being green now and rubs the green on the yellow wood. “Now if wood do things of other color, maybe it change color too.” Smearing around a whirly haphazard light green coat while mixing yellow and green, she says “Spirit color can change with thing yous do, if what yous do is not like yous spirit color. More and more different. More and more color be changed.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “That be why yous not see all sin same on all spirit color. In some, color be same like before.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods slowly. “…So are ye born w’ a spirit color, an’ thass the right one? If ye do things that ain’t yer… yer nature, or ain’t the thing yer eldest said ye was best at endurin’ fer the tribe, thass’ gonna change yer color – but is that always bad?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes raises her finger. “Change color not be wrong, it not be always bad, but sometimes it be bad. Breaking yous domain in yous village, disturbing how yous tribe work off each other. That be like, some spirit color be not too bad if change, but some be very bad. It depend on how much change there be.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Like hammer and knife both be good tools at right time. It be bad to use knife for work of hammer, and hammer for work of knife.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shakes her head slowly. “But yous mix two things. Me spirit color not be what make me endure thing for me tribe. Not all witches be same spirit color. Yous think Sismaqui and me be same spirit color? No no. Spirit color be not always say in what yous be in life. Sometimes it be, sometimes it… make yous do thing in some way or other way. But there be no spirit color better than others. All have place and use. Change is where danger be.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Hmm. But is Sismaqui’s spirit color closer to yours than either o’ you is to Irk, f’rinstance?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’ what color ARE they? I look at Irk, I jus’ mostly see green, but is his SPIRIT all green, too?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes thinks about it for a brief moment and shakes her head. “No, all three of these share things. But not what yous think. These not be close because all three of us be mutants.” Then she starts to laugh for a moment. “Yous… yous think spirit color look like skin? Or look like red or green or rust? No no.” She shakes her head, amused by the thought alone.
Aposiopesis Fullstop grumbles, “Yer the one comparin’ things t’ colors. Mebbe thass how ye talk on ’em, too: like ‘Green is fer folk who are strong but quiet, open to others, an’ who can endure a lotta crap.'”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes grins amused and gets up again. She goes into the workshop first and than Sismaqui’s shed, returning with a small bag from each place and emptying them in the sand in front of her bench. In each there are 10 clay coins Apo had seen before – Sismaqui had one set at the Bazaar, showing tokens to the Eldest and Drifter. The other set looks darker, used more, but it had surfaced a while back at a Rondyvoo. Both sets feature the same set of glyphs. From the darker set, the witch puts the ‘Sand’ token closer to the fire.
“That what be shared between Irk, Sismaqui, and me. But that be only half of it.” She takes three tokens from the newer set and puts them in a line opposing the first one. ‘Mutant,’ ‘Glow,’ and ‘Sand’ are featured in that group.
Aposiopesis Fullstop eyes the clay discs. “Aye, I seen these… an’ I reckon I know some o’ the glyphs, but…” She furrows her brow a bit. “…I ain’t sure I know what they mean fer this. That’n stands fer ‘Sand’ – but I reckon ‘Sand’ itself stands fer sommin’?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “Sand be Ground with all thing on it. It be places, and it be where all things be root in. But only Sand is no spirit color.”
She takes the Glow glyph and pairs it with the Sand. “Glow of Sand be spirit color. Sand be never changing, Glow be change; these be spirit color of Bridges.” She closes her eyes. “Of me sister, me brother, and me: Who be Bridges as spirit color?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop observes, rubbing her chin. “That’d be you an’ Sismaqui. Goin’ ‘tween this world an’ the Spirit World as ye do, aye?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes she grins mean. “That why yous be bad Witch. Me brother be Bridges. One foot in old ways of Mutants. One foot in ways of Smoothskins. It be trade in both ends and it hold both ends together.” She reaches out with both arms to the sides as far as she can and claws them into imaginary riverbanks or edges of a fissure and pulls on them to hold them together. “Me brother be in both parts but in none. It talks to both sides and finds way to unite these to one cause. It be sad for these ends it can not reach to.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles. “Can see that, too! What ye do ain’t bridging so much – ’cause the Spirit World and this’n ain’t so differ’nt an’ sep’rate as we think?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “And me told yous, spirit color not be what makes yous Witch. It be different things. Spirit color be how yous do things, not what yous do.”
She lays the Glow glyph back into the set and puts the Mutant coin on top of the Sand. “Sand of Mutants be place of kij, where old ways be practice and where teyn not always welcome. Sand of Mutant be Spirit color of Tribe or Village. It be color of strength of Mutants. Whom yous think be that? Me sister or me?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop looks at the coins and tilts her head this way and that as she considers. “On th’ one hand, yer the one teaching her the ways, so you got more o’ that practice. She’s learnin’ yet. But on the other… she ain’t been here all too long. She’s holdin’ on to more o’ the ways o’ yer homeland. She’s still havin’ to whisper at ye an’ check in on how she’s to deal w’ certain folk or situations – ’cause I reckon she knows how it’d be done back home, but also knows that’d be trouble here.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shrugs and puts the Mutant coin back to the set and lays the two Sand coins in a diagonal line. “Double Sand be symbol of no change but all change. It be there for ever, but blow away all time, like endless Sands. Spirit color of Double Sand be Wyrm or Big Cycle. Symbol of death, but symbol of birth. Symbol of change of time and renewal.” She draws the glyph for Sandworm on the ground. “If one be Tribe, and one be Wyrm. Who be what?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Hmm. I been thinkin’ hard ’bout what homeland an’ tribe means, thinkin’ on that last question. Just been thinkin’ ’bout how Sismaqui’s got that strength of place. So I gotta clear them tribe thoughts out my head to not prioritize ’em o’er the Wyrm just ’cause they’re at the front o’ me mind right now,” she says with a brisk little shake of her head.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes puts both coins back in the sets they belong to and waits. A few pieces of scrapwood land in the fire.
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Ye said that, as a witch, ye do more w’ births an’ deaths. That leads me t’ think yer the one o’ Wyrm. But we cain’t forget Irk. He’s a warrior, a hunter – he’s always bringin’ on the death o’ one thing to keep the life o’ himself an’ whoe’er eats it.” She furrows her brow further. “…But thass also a thing he’s doin’ to build up a tribe…”
Aposiopesis Fullstop squints. “Is there REALLY but the one way o’ readin’ an’ interpretin’ these meanings right, or is each witch gon’ have their own way? One what’s consistent fer THEM, but mebbe ain’t the same as yours or another’s?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes smiles. “Good. Yes, that why me be part of birth and death rituals. There, how me do fit with what me do.” She takes two twigs and bundles them together, bending them but not breaking them. “Me tell yous of how me Fire be in strong place for making its fire place more fire than before, over time. Look at me brother place.” She points northeast. “Where fire dance be next to trade place. Where all be welcome and all be cross side.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes thinks. “All Witch of me mother’s tribe agree on read these coins. There be other ways, other names – sometimes spirit color be bit more like this, or more like that. But these be very similar. And reading these be similar. Like if you make knife and me make knife, these look different, these be named different, but these both do same thing and yous can see me knife and me can see yous knife for same thing and use as use own.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods. “I… can see that. If’n somebody tried t’ use Mutant an’ Sand to stand fer me, thass just wrong. But mebbe they’d discuss a bit on who was more o’ a Bridge – Irk fer what he does, or Sismaqui fer comin’ here an’ doin’ what she’s doin. So… how do ye come to know who means what, or what means who?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “There be two ways. Some spirit color easy be see. Me know me brother spirit color, me sure of it, though me never see it in spirit world. There be second way, way to make sure: see it in spirit world.”
She pauses. “There, me see yous spirit color one day. Me think yous see me spirit color too. Yous did, yes?” She waves her hand unsure.
Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles and shakes her head. “Iono I e’er seen the spirit world. I seen things that weren’t happenin’ in the real, fer certain! But that ain’t…” She pauses, creases her brow further still, and looks southward toward the Mesa. “Er. Hmm…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods.
Aposiopesis Fullstop blinks, then looks over at the Witch incredulously, then back at the Mesa again. “….F’real?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes raises her hand and shows a very small amount between two fingers. “Some. So yous see Bridges, Village or Wyrm that day, yes?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “Surely did see a Wyrm. Not like a real one in the sands. It were circlin’ ’round in the air, an’ ye could see through it. Like it were made outta… hm. Ye know when there’s clouds o’er the Sun, an’ they part jus’ right, an’ ye can see the beams o’ light comin’ down, but ye can also see through ’em yet? Ye take them lines a light, an’ then trace all the parts o’ a li’l Sandworm with it. It were like that.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “That be good to answer yous question? Yous see with yous eyes. Me not know many stronger way to show truth.” She shrugs.
Aposiopesis Fullstop chuckles. “Cain’t always trust me own eyes! I seen things sometimes that I’m sure cain’t have been real – but that also weren’t like what I saw that day after drinkin’ that cup o’… whate’er it were.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Witchcraft,” she says, as if that explains anything, and grins mean.
Aposiopesis Fullstop snorts.
Aposiopesis Fullstop looks back at the Witch for just a moment before staring at the Mesa again. “….So what’d you see, then?” she asks after a pause. “Were I sommin’ made out of all light-lines, too?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes opens her hand holding two coins in the palm already, one showing a Manimal and one a Botan glyph. “Manimal be restless, sniffing and searching, going with its pack. Botan be watching from outside, bring danger, but bring opportunity too. Manimal and Botan be spirit color Trader of Words. Search knowledge from others, not make new knowledge so much but collect and combine and find paths between. And trade it away.” She eyes Apo. “And yous build strong domain to that.” She nods north.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “First me think you be Cub or ‘Searcher. These are much same from outside, but these be different in little things. And in Spirit world these be very different.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop turns to look at the coins in the Witch’s palm. “…Can see that. There’s been times I were first to find or figger sommin’ out, but… aye, I’ll spend more o’ my time tryna gather knowledge an’ explain things to others than on tryin’ to discover sommin’ new. There’s things I still ain’t ne’er figured out how to make at the Masheen, e’en after all these spans. An’ surely things the Masheen can make that ain’t NOBODY figgered out. But I ain’t seekin’ that out – I’m tryna gather up the knowledge I do have, gather up some o’ others,” she says with a little nod to the Witch, “an’ get it to them who can learn from it.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “Spirit color is not all things yous do, it be how yous do these. Yous way be talk talk talk. Me way be cycle of old and new, and me brother way be find common ground. But yous sometimes do thing with force, and me sometimes do things with talk, and me brother do things with trickery. That normal.”
“But sometimes thing taint yous spirit color, be too much different, change yous ways. Sometimes just different, sometimes bad. Like… yous be wish for silence make yous Nomad or Endless Sands, or me wish for power make me Keeper of Secrets or Greedy Trader, or me brother lust of blood make it Feral Beast or Slaver. That be what spirit colors be. Yous understand now?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop rubs her chin. “I think so. But… I weren’t always near so big on talkin’ an’ tradin’ info so.” She glances up at the stars and is quiet a while before continuing.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes nods. “So yous spirit color already be tainted once, or more. That be happen, but there be no tribe that depend on yous stay like before. Smoothskins change much, me think. Ghouls change when these become ghouls, these twist what spirit color these had or take one new from Big Cycle. Me not know much about Manimal and Botan. Maybe these be more like Mutant, maybe more like Smoothskin.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “What if there’s somebody who’s ne’er quite… ‘found themself,’ as a Human might put it. They ain’t like you, grown up w’ a role to fill an’ good trainin’ toward that end. They mebbe got told what to do by folk who neither knew nor cared about what that person was good at, what they felt, who they were. Folk who used ’em as… as tools. They ne’er gotten to live in a way where HOW they do things an’ WHAT they do are…” She spreads the fingers of both hands and interlocks them. “… are comin’ together. They ain’t gettin’ to serve their clan or their community. They ain’t gettin’ to really be themself.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “…Whass the spirit color o’ such a person? Do they have one beyond… beyond Tool? IS there sommin’ they are – that they really are, e’en when they’re bein’ used elsewise by others? An’ can it be seen, in the spirit world or elsewise, when e’en they haven’t been able to show it or know it in themselves?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes considers it for a moment. “Not easy without see these, but me can guess. Maybe Believer. These trust in other so much, these follow when these know of wrong way. Or Seed. These wait for right moment. These can wait very long in dry sand and sleep and wait and then season of rebirth brings rain. Or maybe these be Ruins, broken and withered, but holding great treasure within, but also great danger. But these not be The Tool: that be strong spirit, creator of things, finder of ways. Person like that not be The Tool.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods slowly. “Aye, forgot that Tool were a… a stronger an’ more meaningful spirit than how Humans might think on it. So if ye break free o’ all that an’ do… sommin’ else, serve new roles an’ a new community…. then that may change yer spirit color. It’d taint it – but that ain’t always bad. And mebbe ye still got some o’ the traits in ye what made ye a Believer, or a Seed, or a Ruins. But those things ain’t what you do and how you do it anymore.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes eyes Apo as she suddenly realizes whom she’s talking about. “Spirit color be how yous do things, not what yous do. Smoothskins have no strong Tribe. Most have no tribe. In strong tribe, yous find yous spirit color and yous keep it, like one stone in wall keep it place.”
“In strong wall, with all stone different shape, these need to find right place and be in that place. Like some stone be in foundation hold wall up, some be in middle keep things out, some stone be on top and protect wall from weather. In strong wall all these stone fit and hold.” She spreads her fingers and interlocks both hands, pulling slightly apart to demonstrate how strong the connection is.”
“Spirit color be like shape of stone yous see. Some stone be similar, like some spirit color be similar in ways: yous can take one stone out of wall and put in other stone, but when yous change too many, or put these all in wrong place, one blow of wind and yous wall only be pile.”
“Smoothskins be like one wet clay. These need be each shape of stone one day, and other shape next day. These not all stay in same place. Too many things of just one Being. It be easy make wet clay shape yous need to fit in hole, yous can take it out and put it in other hole in wall too. But how yous build wall of only wet clay? It always fall over, there be no strong bond.” She straightens the fingers and they just slip past each other.
“That be why Mutant tribe be strong like wall, and that why Smoothskin tribe not be strong, but Smoothskin alone can be all spirit color when need. That be how yous do things… what yous do be different. And sometimes do same thing after taint feel bad… or good. Yous remember how thing be feel before. Now it be different. Before yous clay be shape of brick, now it be like ball, rolling now feel natural when before it be unthinkable.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes adds after a long pause, “And sometimes taint not just little. Sin or rage or mold sit on yous spirit and twist these and turn these, and make yous true wishes and good ways into bad ways, and twist yous spirit color in ways yous not wish for. And turn green and yellow grass into ash, and bring down wall with all stones or just one stone.” She breathes deeply and looks down to her feet.
Aposiopesis Fullstop nods thoughtfully and slowly.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Now yous understand spirit color, yes?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “So, not all taint to a spirit color – not e’en any outright change – is a sin. Fer Mutants and other strong tribes with strong social roles, yer spirit color – how ye do things – is probably gonna give ye a clear role to fill, an’ ever’body’s roles will balance out, like one o’ them arches made outta stone. Anybody tries to do things differ’nt just ’cause THEY feel like it, they’re gonna put things outta balance from bein’ selfish. Fer Smoothskins who gotta adapt a lot more, taints and e’en full big changes to spirit color are e’en more common. They might be bad, but might not be. It’d be best if we had the sorts o’ big stable communities what helped people know their spirit colors an’ helped ’em fill roles toward that end -” She gestures broadly at the horizon and shrugs. “But, welp.”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes she considers for a moment than agrees with a nod.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Taint not be sin. But sin may make taint.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “An’ there are things that are sins for ever’body, an’ some things that are only sins fer certain folks w’ certain spirit colors an’ certain roles. To talk ain’t no sin fer a Trader o’ Words. But fer a Keeper o’ Secrets…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shrug-nods on that one. “Can say like that.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop: “So a Witch can help take away a sin that’s taintin’ somebody’s spirit color. Do ye ever do things TO taint someone’s spirit color, or to try an’ change it? …Is that what a curse is?”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes scratches her chin and is much more hesitant to answer on that. “There be curses like these. But these be dangerous for Witch and one being tainted. And in ways maybe more dangerous to these near too. Maybe these taint spirit of all tribe, maybe spirit of sands around it. These not be made just with no reason.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop raises a brow. “Hmm. Sounds complicated. …May jus’ have to come back another time t’ learn more on that,” she says with a slow smirk.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes shakes her head. “No, me not tell yous of these things.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop grunts slightly. “Well, I’ll jus’ have to come back another time t’ learn sommin’ ELSE.”
Aposiopesis Fullstop snickers.
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes frowns. “How many more times?”
Aposiopesis Fullstop peers over at another page of her journal, then shrugs slightly before snapping it shut and strapping it to her thigh again. “Prolly only one or two more, I think…”
The Mutant Witch of the Wastes: “Only.” She frowns again with an ironic undertone.