This article first appeared in Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic #7.
Anyone who claims to know much about the gods of the trash is lying. The lore regarding these deities is obscure and has largely been fabricated. This article is, of course, as guilty as any other.
But humans evolved to be scavengers, and we’ve been pantheists and polytheists a lot longer than we’ve been atheists. Metaphorical or not, there are gods of refuse and waste. Their whim determines when and what a scavenger may eat.
In the civilized world, we’re offered an order, a consistency in life, that one rarely gets outside of polite society. It’s also probably why so many of us are so bored and depressed. At the risk of sounding banal, civilization is god to most people these days; it is the single provider of all of their needs. It’s the illusory force that people have chosen to sink their faith into.
It’s fascinating to watch the atheist veneer peel away from people who choose or are forced to live off the excess of society. An ironic superstition turns to half-earnest prayer within months. Ask most us: whether or not we actually believe in the gods of the trash is immaterial. We still worship them.
There roughly four categories of these gods:
The Major Pantheon control vast and popular domains. For example: Rag is the god of sketchy, expired food; her sister Celoia is the god of dumpstered food that is indistinguishable from store-bought. The gods of the Minor Pantheon are more specialized: Bacchus, the god of wine (and all scavenged intoxicants); Abuela, the goddess of antiques. The Fairies are concerned only with very specific things: Pizza Bones, the fairy of pizza crust; Snipe, the fairy of half-smoked cigarettes. And finally, there are the gremlins who control individual dumpsters and refuse depositories.
With the space available in this column, I’ll discuss a few of these specific deities. Bear in mind that each deity is known by a thousand names to a thousand different scavengers.
There are monotheists who claim that one God controls the whole of the trash. This is, of course, utter nonsense.
Sphere of Influence: Shadows, Protection from the law
Followers: All but stupid scavengers attempt to appease Ettin, but he is particularly worshiped by immigrants, fugitives, and runaways
Description: Ettin is a three-headed giant. One head is benevolent and helps people escape the law for ethical reasons, one head simply enjoys misleading and confounding the police, and the third head is malevolent. This third head (referred to in hushed tones as “the third head of Ettin,” or simply “Malevolence,”) is usually asleep, but is woken by loud noises and bright lights. Most people attempt not to rouse this third head, but it’s possible to win it over to one’s side is through acts of sheer bravado: Malevolence has been known to occasionally spare the most brazen of dumpster-divers, like those who have picnics in dumpsters or who scavenge in broad daylight on busy streets.
Mantra: “May Malevolence sleep.”
Rituals: Many who seek to appease Ettin wear a vial around their neck of a tincture of valerian or lavender that has been prepared under the new moon. Others burn police in effigy, but this sometimes provokes wrath instead.
Sphere: Freegan food
Followers: Freegans, omnivores, pretty much everyone but vegans
Description: Pigeon manifests as a pigeon that does not cast a shadow and leaves no footprints. Many believe that Pigeon is the original god of the trash and hatched every other from her eggs. Specifically, followers of Pigeon will often refer to the vegan god Keine as “Pigeon’s shadow.”
Rituals: One ritual that is almost universal among Pigeon’s followers (and nearly all dumpster divers) is that of leaving a few containers of choice food behind a dumpster after large scores. Another common ritual is the painting of an initiate’s face with the blood of scavenged meat after their first dive.
Shrine: Shrines to Pigeon are quite varied. Some choose to spraypaint the likeness of a pigeon under bridges, others taxidermy roadkill pigeons, and some build elaborate miniature villages with the wrappers of dumpstered candy.
Symbol: an F, sometimes circled.
Sphere: Vegan food
Followers: Vegans, Food Not Bombs cooks
Description: Keine manifests as a pure white light. Followers believe that, in addition to food, Keine grants wisdom, health, and eternal youth. Keine’s influence has grown greatly in the past decade or so: thanks to Keine’s blessing and contrary to the misinformation spread by agents of Pigeon, it is quite possible to live and be healthy by only eating trash without animal ingredients.
Rituals: The breaking of eggs found in the dumpster pleases Keine, as does the distribution of PETA propaganda. (I will not make the claim that PETA is actually an occult organization dedicated to spreading Keine’s influence and increasing the god’s power. PETA has powerful wizards lawyers who would take notice of such a casting back of the veil.)
Shrine: A follower’s pure body is itself a shrine to Keine.
Symbol: A “V”, often circled.
Sphere of Influence: Vintage, valuable, and sentimentally valued trash
Followers: Old-timey punks, librarians, tinkerers, steampunks
Description: Abuela is described as a kind old woman with a beautiful smile and eyes that are lost to wrinkles. She is easy to please, but hard to find. She takes pride in finding just the right person to give any particular artifact to. She is known to smile particularly upon those who practice the art of gifting, those who try to find the right home for every object and are not selfish.
Rituals: The most common ritual is to write a letter about one’s life and place it in a mailbox with no return address and addressed only to “Abuela.” The more dedicated followers will also burn mothballs in antique metal bowls filled with lighter fluid.
Sphere: Secrets, passwords, diaries, data, DIY porn
Followers: Hackers, FOUND Magazine, anthropologists, police investigators
Description: Nomicon manifests as goat eyes that glint from the shadows, reflecting light. A prankster, he is fickle—even to his most devoted followers—and delights in revealing information to the worst possible people.
Rituals: Those who seek to protect themselves from Nomicon burn every note, often grinding the ashes in a mortar and pestle. Those who seek Nomicon’s favor, however, show their commitment and faith by burning pages from dumpstered journals without reading the contents first. Others will get Nomicon’s name tattooed and immediately tattoo a solid black coverup—these thick black armbands are a telltale signs of a follower.
Shrine: A hard light shone on a table, with an icon or book placed just outside the circle of light.
Symbol: A solid black square with a black X imposed on top of it, visible only by the difference in gloss or thread.
Sphere: Dumpstered alcohol and recreational drugs
Followers: Drunk punks, bums, some hipsters
Description: Despite the decline of polytheism worldwide, Bacchus—the Roman god of wine—is still worshiped by a few sects of homeless drunks who call upon the god to provide free alcohol. There are rumors, too, of cultists who trace their worship back through the millennia, but these are most likely fabrications.
Rituals: One common rite is the spilling of the first sip of a beer onto the ground, but the hedonistic orgy of proper bacchanalia is not unheard of in squatted warehouses and under bridges by the railroad tracks.
A ritual to free oneself from the thrall of Bacchus is to find the energetic center of his power (where the worshipers congregate), circle it counterclockwise twelve times (a shopping cart filled with dumpstered knick-knacks can help), and then build an altar. This breaks the spell and allows one to leave for good.
Shrine: Worshipers will leave their empty paraphernalia placed in heaps or elaborate patterns.
Sphere: Soda, candy, and juice.
Followers: Straight-edgers, teetotalers
Description: Xafairex, alternately known as XfairyX or the Soda Fairy, is the spirit who manifests to help sober scavengers be indulgent without resorting to drugs. Some followers of Xafairex believe that she was the original god of indulgence—that she had been a benevolent force that allowed humanity release from stress without falling into depravity—but that her throne was usurped by Bacchus millennia ago and she was demoted to fairy status.
Xafairex’s strongest ally among the gods is Keine, the major pantheon god of vegan food.
Rituals: Stating one’s commitment to the ideals of sobriety to all passerby is a common ritual, but Xafairex is known in particular to respond well to those who destroy any intoxicants they may run across in the trash.
Name: The Rust Fairy
Sphere: Rusty things
Followers: Crusty travelers and jewelers. Me.
Description: The Rust Fairy places rusty washers and even neater things into gutters for her followers to find. The surest way to keep the in the Rust Fairy’s grace is to walk, rather than bicycle or drive, as much as possible. The surest way to fall out of favor is to pocket metal items that aren’t yet rusty.
Rituals: A follower of the Rust Fairy keeps a pouch (if a traveler) or organized drawers (if a house punk) to hold what is referred to as one’s “treasure.” Sorting—or simply dumping out and looking through—one’s treasure helps keep the Rust Fairy present in one’s thoughts.
Symbol: A pendant made from rusted parts.