Dispatches from the Collapse of Time

Time is collapsing. Five years ago, this message started knocking. I’d sit down to write, and strange passages would tumble out—with the collapse of time always at the center. The first passage came scrawled on a thin strip of paper, twisted and taped into a mobius strip. So the passage had no ending or beginning, and instead circled around and through itself, the inside becoming the outside and the poem playing itself on loop:

A Reading from the Book of Endings

Time is collapsing.
Look around: you know it to be true.

This frenzy.
This fervor. 
It’s not just a question of technology. 
Faster and faster, moments
arrive. The future
scrambles, scurries,
scrunches itself
into the margins of
the present.

Call it hyperventilation:
More time pumped through the vents 
than the body can manage.
The world trapped
in a wheezing
The next 
moment arrives before
the last can be

Time is collapsing.
Arriving too fast.
The lungs of the earth 
are strained past bursting.

And worse: no time
to breathe out, no chance to discharge, 
loose moments settle
in our lungs and on our bones.

The living body must make dust. 
But with no future-space to flake and float towards,
the dead cells we slough now gather and pile and bury our limbs
under one more layer of cast-off skin.

One more layer, 
one more layer,
Until our motions grow thick, heavy, slow with time. 
Memory coats our bodies soft and gray. 
Lifetimes of loss dust our lips dry.
And the coarse grit of history scratches, always, at the backs of our throats.
This doesn’t help our breathing.

Time is collapsing.
A shock to the system. 
The center cannot hold.

Don’t ask what to do now.
Now is sand sifted through the palm, 
a seaside phantom lost to wind and wave.

Don’t ask what happens next. 
Next is a caving tunnel,
a last gold ray choked by smoke and rubble 
as the walls give way.

It’s time to find more useful questions.
Ones unbound from the time we no longer have.

What is possible, here?
What shapes can our bodies take?
How can we touch each other, and where?

What could be born of this? 
Who is here to hold us through the birthing?

Time is collapsing.
Look around: you know it to be true…

I believed the message despite not knowing what it meant. The voice coming through felt like a near-future self, one who seemed more competent and capable and knowing and real than the self I was actually inhabiting at the time—who was fumbling their way through the early stages of gender transition; who was bewildered by a sudden call into animist, embodied spirituality; who was engaging old trauma and confronting their own capacity to cause harm; and who was deep in depression and struggling most days to get out of bed. 

So I fell hard for this imagined future self, who became real in the moments her voice reached the page. She could speak with confidence and weight and even something like flair, where my day-to-day self was often caught in a fog of executive dysfunction and frozen by self-doubt. I named her “the priestess”—and I longed not just to hear her voice but also to become her, to reach her or to birth her, to arrive at a future where she was real and she was me. 

And I longed to understand the messages she left—most of which came in short fragments scattered through my journals. I invented a “scholar” self to sift through those fragments and attempt make sense of them from a more rational lens. The scholar archived each passage as “A Reading from the Book of ________”—hoping or pretending they could eventually be compiled into a cohesive whole.

You could call this an intuitive, occult take on “parts work” in Family Systems Therapy. I didn’t have that language for it then, but I needed some way to integrate the fractured and dissonant pieces of myself that emerged as I shed layers of Catholic conditioning and confronted patterns of abuse and self-negation. My intuitive, magical self and my rational self got names, made their agendas known, and got to check each other’s work. 

The agenda of the priestess was to get me out of my head and into the world—and to face down and engage with the many crises unfolding. At intervals, the messages kept coming:

A Reading from the Book of Endings

It’s not that it isn’t shameful.
It’s certainly not that all is forgiven.

It’s only that shame cannot heal shame.
And that which cannot serve healing
must now be culled.

Look, though: even now, the earth reaches out her body.
Even now, at the moment of collapse.

Every field a killing-field.
And still, each spring: new blossoms 
from the unmarked graves.
Even now, her fever rising, these gestures of embrace.

How dare you be ashamed?
In these last hours, at this last sacred invitation,
how dare you cast down your gaze?

If you must say no, 
if you must fail her this one last time – 
at least have the strength to meet her eyes
and name your failing.

How could this world reach out for you still?
Your shame would say she has no reason. 
One more echo of that great Enlightened arrogance –
to believe yourself beyond her body,
separate enough to leave or to return.

But you are her body, inseparable.
One of her many sensing organs, 
a bundled few of her countless firing nerves. 
Flesh of her damaged flesh, fingers of her reaching hand. 

And so your shame is her shame. 
Your pain her pain, your losses hers to bear. 
The paths of destruction your people have paved –
a network of scars carved into her skin.
Your history a bloody map she cannot help but study.
A wound she would give anything to heal.

Of course the earth reaches for you. 
What else can the wounded body do,
but reach for the part that hurts?

Stepping into my gender, reclaiming my sexuality, engaging trauma, and moving into animist spiritual practice all led to breakthrough moments of deep joy, pleasure, and aliveness. But all that unearthing also brought me into intimate and often-overwhelming relationship with shame. 

I had changed out all the furniture, but I was still largely trapped within the spiritual architecture of Catholicism—a binary framework of sin and salvation where every thought and action was a reflection of my basic goodness or badness, and the risk of being cast out and condemned hovered over everything. I had subbed in a new set of values—anti-capitalist, anti-racist, animist, queer, abolitionist— but kept the impossible standards and the perpetual judgment. And so in the moments when I encountered my own capacity to cause harm and violate consent, or when I touched more deeply into both the global and body-level costs of white supremacy and colonial ecocide—my sense of myself as one of the good ones would collapse, and I’d tumble down a long shame spiral. 

The priestess wasn’t gentle with my shame-wracked self, but she offered a pathway out: feel the world reaching for you and choose to reach back.

Shame attempts to write us out of the collective story—to protect us from our place in shared reality by collapsing us away from connection. Shame is there; we’ll have to deal with it. But animist awareness provides an antidote to the stories our shame spins. We belong to the world the way tissues belong to the body. We who are hurt, we who are causing hurt—she won’t stop reaching for us. 

When we reach back, new possibilities unfold:

A Reading from the Book of Endings

Try not to fret, child.
All times are end times.

The end has been nigh 
from the first night onward.
It has come already,
more times than we can count.

Yes: this time is different.
Not end times, but the end of time itself.
But even that great ending is not unknown to you.

You have been ripped from time before.
More times than you can count.
Trust that this knowledge can serve you.

And maybe the collapse won’t be as gloomy as it sounds.
Who said the end of time was the end 
of joy, or of love, or of desire? 
Who said it was the end of the body— 
its worries and its wonders?

Time is collapsing. 
Who will you become?
Who said you don’t still get to choose?

The experiment is changing. 
Without the violent eye of history 
to flatten us with its gaze,
the many woven possibilities of the body unfold.

Most of us cannot remember existing the way we will soon exist.
Most of us cannot imagine living that full, that wide, that free.

Many will panic, faced with the sudden dreadful weight of it all.
Many will cling to the cage of time
as it collapses. 
Many will not survive. 

Some, conditioned by the centuries
to collapse themselves at the sight and sound of freedom,
will simply refuse to notice the difference. 
They will hum the tired tuneless song 
of tired, tuneless ages
Until they, with the ages, are lost.

You, my child, I expect will fare better.

Search your body.
The tender places.
The raw hurt, the dull and dormant throbbing
that threatens, always, to erupt—
and so often does.

No stranger to collapse,
You know how to survive
when the wound gapes wide
and the solid ground of time 
is sucked away.

Child, this is a survivor’s world, learning to survive. 
When the time comes—when the time goes—
you will pause, and take a breath,
and show us what you’ve learned

If the earth is a living body, she is the body of a survivor. And here, the priestess likens the collapse of time to a trauma response on a global scale. Strange, then, that this is one of her more hopeful passages.

Flashbacks and panic attacks pull the body out of consensus reality and into a space where past and present collide and tangle. Because we’re no strangers to that particular form of collapse, the priestess says, survivors may have a head start in navigating what’s to come. Maybe we’re a bit less invested in the myths that are crumbling, and so we’re a little less likely to cling to the wreckage as it falls. Maybe we’ve already done work to heal and process and restore and reclaim, and so have tools in place that will be useful.

What’s important is that the crashing wave of the collapse isn’t all there is to the story. Somehow, the priestess suggests, it will wash over and resolve into something worth hanging on for. Without the violent eye of history … the many woven possibilities of the body unfold. There will still be choices to make and life to live—if we can learn what it takes to navigate what’s next.

What will it take? What will we need to learn? For gestures at an answer, I turn away from the Book of Endings and towards this fragment of what the scholar named “The Time-Tunneller’s Handbook”—where the priestess shifted from reading the signs to assigning a time-collapse curriculum:

A Reading from the Time Tunneller’s Handbook:

Study moles, badgers, ants, worms. Study their excess dirt. Where does it go? Study prairie dogs, certain snakes. Study the pits and burrows and chambers carved from the body of the earth. 

Study caves, how they form. Study the gaps in the crust, the pockets of air. Study caverns and canyons. Study groundwater and learn how it flows. Study the fault-lines, the sites of rupture and repair. 

Space is a metaphor for time—matter is a metaphor for her body. Study the metaphors. Learn density. Learn mass. Learn the insides of things, the way space is filled.

It will be harder than you expect. Surface-dwellers struggle to believe in depth. That an under, an inner could exist. That it could not only exist but be worth learning. 

The skin is only a thumbnail sliver of the body. It’s time to relearn the innards, the guts. 

Too often, the sighted move and live by sight alone. Every object, every being we encounter: a tiny moon known only by its surface shine. Our entire visual knowledge rests at exactly the point where the body ends. The lights go out and we are lost. 

Meanwhile, the heart of things is cased in darkness. Learn to think of your skin that way: a thin bright boundary. A soft casing, protection for the dark unseen field that is your body. 

All of this is a metaphor for the body of time. Humans are surface creatures. We have known time as we have known the earth: by her surface. By her skin. She beckons you to dig.

So—to find our way through and beyond the collapse, we’ll have to learn dirt and depth, tunnels and caves and dens.

In the half-decade following these first messages, global crises escalated in ways I don’t have to recount here. I stopped writing about the collapse of time and focused on navigating it from my small corner. I stopped channeling the priestess and instead became a priestess, in small and halting steps.

But lately, after a long pause, the language of the collapse has started knocking again. This time, when I open to it, the voice that comes through isn’t my own. 


In the days beyond the collapse of time, 
we learned to tunnel and tap 
to scratch our songs
in the language of the soil— 

which, yes, is the language of the heavy dark,
whose only vowel is hunger,
whose favorite verb is to decay— 

and yes, we were afraid.
But we learned to speak through our fear
with knuckle, nail, and tongue, 
to tunnel and tap and scratch a song 
of buried futures, and hear those futures singing back—

to live with palms forward 
in tight spaces,
under root and over rock
where the ancestors wait 
shoulder to shoulder
for your return.

We learned to read your face
in the texture of their whispered longings— 
we learned to hunger for you and to seek 
as the worm seeks,
not for endings or arrivals
but for one more gritty morsel,
for whatever we might pass through the dark tunnel
of our bodies, and then deposit, changed—

in the days of the collapse, we started our long learning.
We tunneled deep—we sought—we found you
and we scratched a timeless rhythm
on the edges of your world.

Linear time, that invention of the imperial mind,
has ground itself to dust.
The forests may be threatened, 
but a chorus has risen in the deep places,
and the time the forests keep will outlive this collapse.

So come with us and learn. We are your kin.

We emerge from your body,
and you from ours.
We are here to call you back
into the soil—
to pass you through the tunnel—

to help you live 
in the tight space
of the time that’s left.

The time-tunnelers are kin, they say—but kin of a sort that’s difficult for me to understand, still bound as I am by linear time. I imagine them not quite as ancestors, not quite descendants—though they commune with both as they dig. They have lived through the collapse of time and learned to navigate what’s left on the other side. I imagine moments deposited like minerals—pockets of emergent possibility buried next to the crystalized past. I imagine the time-tunnelers digging between and among them, new pathways and new grooves that link it all in a living web. 

The time-tunnelers have found their way into the heart of the questions the priestess offered in her first entry on time-collapse: 

What is possible, here?
What shapes can our bodies take?
How can we touch each other, and where?

It is possible to meet the ancestors and tunnel towards their longings. Our bodies can take the shape of the soil. We can touch each other across space and through the spiraling web of forest-kept time. 

What could be born of this?
Who is here to hold us through the birthing?

We can be born of each other, apparently, and held by one another through the birthing—passed through the long dark tunnels of one another’s bodies. I won’t pretend to understand what that means.

What’s clear is that the time-tunnelers have learned the insides of things, and they ask us to do the same. Learn about the soil, they say, and we can celebrate: lots of people are doing that already. We can piggyback on learning that’s well underway. It’s a gift of the moment we’re in: mycelial wisdom weaving its way back into the collective imagination. Even imaginations shaped and structured by white colonial mythology, which denies the life of the interior in order to strip-mine and consume it, can find pathways to the soil if we choose. Even pockets of Western science are feeling for the roots and finding life there. You are not alone in this, the tunnelers say. A chorus has risen in the deep places. You only have to listen, and learn, and then join in.

About the Author

Jojo Donovan is a priestess, writer, care worker, and educator living on the ancestral lands of the Multnomah, Cowlitz, Clackamas, Chinook, and many others—also known as Portland, Oregon. Their work supports queer, animist, and embodied spiritualities in their (re)emergence—engaging ritual and ceremony as vital technologies for remembering our own aliveness, reclaiming our agency, and returning to alignment with the liberated futures we long for. Jojo’s writing has been featured in Confrontation Magazine, Hematopoiesis Press, and Index for the Next World. They are co-founder of Gender Expansive Magic and an undergraduate faculty member at Goddard College, where they received their Masters degree with a concentration in Embodiment Studies. Their spiritual offerings can be found at sevenstonestarot.com.

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