Relocating Soon

Hey, friends –

I apologize for my long silence.  The holidays ate me alive worse than usual, and I’ve been sort of reassessing everything re: my web presence.  The good news is that I’m not going away.  Hopefully I’ll be MORE here.

I have purchased my relevant domain names – jsgroves.com, mundusoccultus.com, and journeythroughtheobsidiandream.com – and web hosting.  In the short term, what that means for you all is a new site to follow, and a disappearance of all 3rd-party advertisements.  In the long term, I hope that this will be an exciting journey for us both.

See y’all on the flip side.

JS Groves

Satyr Magos

Witchy Vibe

I had the opportunity to shoot some photos with a friend of mine last week, which was a great deal of low-key fun, particularly after my NaNoWriMo victory.  A couple of them turned out a little witchy, so I thought I’d share them here.

Presenting Lottie Dha:

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dis/integration

I began this blog in November of 2009.  My adventure into public occultism began under my own legal name, and on blogspot, and it’s been a hell of a ride.  A lot has changed since then.  I’ve taken a pseudonym that sort-of-no-really turned itself into a magical name.  I’ve migrated to wordpress.  The blog has been personal and political and experimental by turns, and at its best is all three at once.

When I started the blog, I was doing little enough in the rest of my life that it made sense to talk just about my magic.  When I started pursuing a career in academics, it made sense to cordon off this portion of my life in the name of respectability, and to that end I obscured my identity and location with poetic pseudonyms.  I was so little known, at the time, than anonymity frankly improved my credibility in the occult community.  But things have changed since then.

I have given up my dreams of professional academia – if not, perhaps, my dreams of some day, in a different cultural and economic climate, of continuing to educate myself in a formal setting – and no longer fear my private life being a professional concern.  Even in my day job, I no longer work for squares: I now work for Kansas City’s premier New Age book store and jeweler.  Respectability politics … well, they will always be a hobgoblin that haunt my life, but I’m now being judged by wholly different criteria.

Now, by this point, you all, my highly intelligent readership, will suspect that I am going in one of two directions: I am either going to re associate this blog with my legal name, or possibly burn it to the ground.  You are neither wholly right nor wrong

I am also now doing a great deal more with my life, today, than I was seven years ago.  I have published my first novellas and am attempting to publish my first novel.  I have taken up art photography.  I am now a public leadership figure in the Heartland Spiritual Alliance, stewards of the annual Heartland Pagan Festival.  I have nothing to hide and, if I may say so myself, quite a lot to show off.

My dilemma, then, is how to show off all the things I do in one place, because I am frankly not enough of a coder to create however-many interconnected “standalone” websites — one for the novels, one for the photography, one for the masks and jewelry, one for the occult, and all somehow feeding into one blog.  (Because I’ve tried it and i know that I can’t keep up with multiple blogs.)  More to the point, the question is how to do so with the least disruption to either myself or my readership — because I love y’all and I don’t want to lose you.

Toward that end, I am actively soliciting suggestions.  What is the best way to integrate my various projects?  How do I migrate the blog without an epic shit-pile of off-site links (like I’ve still got knocking around, linking back to  blogspot)?  What is the most graceful way to integrate my online presences into  something marginally cohesive?

One Witch’s Gender

Although I have only very recently acquired the language to articulate my experiences, I have never identified comfortably with my assigned gender.  From my earliest memories, I have struggled against the things that have been expected of me in the context of my presumed masculinity.  I was too sensitive, too passive, too interested in emotional fulfillment, in intellectual pursuits.  I had no interest in sports fandom or physical competition – a matter of great consternation to my peers and the adults who surrounded us, given my physical size.  I was drawn to darkness, but not to cruelty – I had been subject to too much of it, and could not comprehend the logic whereby it was validated by making others, in their turn, suffer as I had.  While I certainly wished destruction upon my enemies, I rarely wished them to suffer or be humiliated, and never carried through on that impulse.  I was drawn to contemplative, experiential mysticism, not the violent and muscular Christiantiy that pervaded my home town when I was growing up.

My earliest spiritual practices, after rejecting both the God I found in the Bible and the one advocated by my Protestant peers, began with a pubescent and misinformed obsession with the Yin-Yang, the first non-theistic  spiritual symbol I encountered.  In a world filled with hard dichotomies of antagonistic oppositions – good versus evil; men versus women; Christians versus everyone – the notion of complimentary opposites, each containing echoes of the other, was deeply appealing to me.  It was ignorant wank-sauce Orientalism, I know that now; for what it’s worth, it was 1996 and I attended public school and I didn’t know any better.  And, more to the point, today: it was the only place in the world that I had found any context for the parts of myself I now describe as queer.  The notion that I might be energetically yin, rather than yang, gave me a way to contextualize myself and my experiences.

When I discovered Paganism, proper – not just energywork and New Age mumbojumbo – I was drawn to Goddess-worship and the effeminate undertones of witchcraft, though I was yet too contaminated by the respectability politics of the 1990s to embrace confrontational quality of the word.

I have more words, now.  Better words.  I am bisexual.  I am queer.  I am genderqueer.  I am something man-ish; something woman-ish; something neither; something both.  “All of the above and none of the above,” I tell people when I’m being pithy.  Sometimes, I am more sincere, and just tell people that my gender is “witch”.  My pronouns, though I rarely insist on them, are xie/xir.  Damn right I use the weird ones that got dropped from even the most inclusive lists.

I started coming out as bisexual in 2001.  I embraced the witchcraft identity in 2006, at about the same time that I embraced the label queer.  Though I recognize this is not true for everyone – or even most people who use either identifier – those two words are inextricably linked for me.  My queer identity and experience inform my witchcraft; my witchcraft shapes my experience of gender. “Witch” is not quite as confrontational as “queer”, but it’s better than “Pagan” (though I use that word, too).

I’ve touched on these themes beforeSeveral times, actually.  More times than I’ve just linked.  More times than I can remember.  And I’ll keep talking about it until the world is a better place.  Until admitting to those identities publicly is no longer a potential job-killer at any level of society.  Until they no longer come with a risk of having everything you own and/or love taken away by a hostile judge in a divorce hearing.  Until they no longer bear the risk of being executed by police and vigilantes.

I’m here.  I’m queer.  I’m tired.  And I’m angry.

I am a witch.  I have seen visions such as are granted only to prophets of other faiths.  I have raised my friends up and laid my enemies low.  I have made love to monsters and screamed in the faces of gods.

I am an artist.  I have a penchant for drama.  That doesn’t mean I’m lying.  Just that I talk about things others would rather keep quiet.

Today is National Coming Out Day.  Here I am.  Fucking fight me.

Come out if you can.  And if you can’t, know that you have friends and allies.  You are not alone.

In Search of A Map

In the earliest days of my magical exploration, my cosmology was very simple.  There was the mortal, material, world in which I existed primarily, and the energetic, spirit, world in which it was encapsulated, and which intruded into the material at whim.  The literature I was reading at that time spoke of the Otherworld, and the astral, and the Akashik … each monolithic, undifferentiated, either identical to or incomparable with the others.  Owing to my obsession with achieving astral projection, I tended to conceive of it all as the astral plane.

As I continued my magical practice, encountering spirits and phenomena that could not fit within that simple construction, and began encountering descriptions (often shallow) of other cosmologies – the Tree of Life; the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds; competing theological visions – I incorporated these other realms as layers running parallel or perpendicular to the mortal world, or wholly elsewhere… perhaps as separate realms, floating distinct and distant in the astral sea.  In retrospect, I am embarrassed how much my personal cosmology was shaped by role-playing games.  But however ill-pedigreed it may have been, that multi-layered map succeeded in describing the world I actually saw, where no other really did.

Years passed.  My practice waxed and waned, and waxed and waned again.  I became isolated, finding few pagans practicing serious magic, and – as I became ever more queer – finding pagan spaces increasingly hostile to my gender.

I began studying shamanic visionary practice, and finally achieved the out-of-body experiences that I had craved since I first began studying magic ten years before.  And, somehow, without even noticing, I bought into the implicit cosmology: a Middle World, where mortals and land spirits dwell; an Underworld, full of the dead and demons and trickster spirits and cthonic gods; and an Upperworld, populated by angels and sky gods and archetypes and ascended masters.  It did not do as good a job of describing my own experiences, or the experiences of my friends, but the practice seemed to require a certain commitment to the metaphor, and after a couple years I forgot some of the subtitles and vagaries that had previously defined my personal map.

Then came the ceremonial experiment, and my complete inability to buy the Tree of Life cosmology, and my eventual emphasis on conjuring spirits of the planetary spheres.  The Platonic planetary spheres were even less adequate to describe my previous experiences than the “shamanic worldview”before it, but it was operationally effective.  Once again, being a terrible Chaos Magician, I bought in.

Somewhere in the temporal mess of the above two paragraphs and the decade they represent, I was shown a vision of the cosmos.  All such visions are suspect, and this one was doubly so as it conformed more closely to one of my previous worldviews than any I have heard described before: a black-skinned goddess, hair in dreads and face obscured by a wooden mask, lifted me up into the sky and showed me a vision of the Earth, made up not of tidy layers or ascending spheres, but of lines of force and raging currents and irregularly shaped planes, all jammed together around and through one another, some vast beyond imagining, some trully infinite, and some shockingly small.  In this vision,  the mortal world was formed by the places where those lines and planes and currents intersected most densely, and the Otherworlds extended outward beyond the material.

Now, almost fully extracted from the ceremonial experiment and the painfully regimented structures in which I inadvertently bound myself, I find myself going over old notes and dredging up near-forgotten memories and magical techniques which defy the cosmologies in which I have spent the last five to ten years.  I find myself in need of a new cosmology.  I need a new map.

The map is not the territory: there are subtitles of texture and meaning and contrast that a map simply cannot convey.  There are regions inadequately represented, and at some point editorial decisions of scale and significance must be made.  That does not mean it is not helpful to have one.

The world exists.  Get in your car and drive in any direction, and there it is.  Perhaps you will find yourself in Dullsville, or a Cave of Wonders.  But without a map, that experience drifts free without anchor.  Perhaps you will avoid Dullsville in the future, or perhaps you will somehow find yourself there again and again because the road looked more appealing at the outset.  Perhaps you will manage to return to the Cave of Wonders, or perhaps the angle of sun or rain that drove you down that road will never again align in your favor, and it is lost to you forever.

I recall the vision I was given with sharp clarity, and relate it often as one of the most profound magical experiences of my magical life, but I have not managed to … internalize it.  To see, it seems, is not, in fact, to know.  I need a map.

So I ponder.  I recall the times I have wound my way through magical defenses by stepping sideways.  I turn the worlds I have seen over and over in my mind.  And I keep that vision in mind.  I think of ghosts, and shadow people, and all the phenomena I have seen and experienced which never rested comfortably in the maps I have used before.  I recall, also, the experiences of others that have been related to me – ancestor works, and godspouces, and cryptids, and alien abductions – which must also be accounted for if my map is to be useful.

Art may serve me better, in this quest, than science.  But I shall pursue it with all of both that I can muster.

Have you checked out my novellas yet?

ozard mountain nightmare-1

Ozark Mountain Nightmare

Megan has been coming out to the cabin every summer since Eric and Liz brought her and James with them on their family vacation after their sophomore year of high school. Things have changed since then – Eric’s gotten married; James is now exclusively gay – but the tradition remains: the axis of peace and hope and, for lack of a better word, family around which her otherwise banal and depressing year revolves. Angel comes with them, now, and every year James brings a different boy. This year is no different, at first.

An unseasonable cold hits the mountain as evening approaches, and a cold rain falls as the sun sets. The wind sounds like someone screaming, and the lamps don’t illuminate the cabin like they should. They manage to convince themselves it’s just their imaginations, at first — rain happens when you’re camping, right? And James’ buddy Randal is just a religious nut who’s scared of storms. Nevermind that the locals don’t go out alone after dark, or the number of tourists “lost” in the Ozarks every year. The darkness can’t move outside the window.

What’s worse, though, the darkness, itself, moving? Or something moving outside in the darkness?

Bad Trip Cover

 Bad Trip

Luke, Jacob, Steve, and Rich are four friends on a summer road trip, looking for good time girls and exploring haunted houses up and down the east coast. One house, though, outside of Athol, Massachusetts, is full of much more than just bad vibes and cheap thrills. As the four friends make their way the Whitley manor, room by room, they find first mystery, then horror, and finally doom.

I’m Teaching A Class!

spirit-circle-headder-jeffrey-october

As I alluded in my retrospective post last week, I’m now teaching classes!

Expanding on my Planetary Conjuration workshops from the last two years at Heartland Pagan Festival, I will be teaching a more general course on spirit conjuration on Thursday 20 October at Aquarius Books.  The class will run from 6pm to 8pm, after which I will lead a purification ritual to help get everyone ready for whatever Samhain shenanigans they have planned.  You can find the facebook event here.

The conjuration workshop will include much of the information I have presented at Heartland over the last two years, but the longer format will permit me to go beyond theory and planetary powers into how to develop seals and sigils for other spirits and advice on making first contact with entities.  If time permits, I will lead a conjuration at the end of the class.  So if you’ve attended my HPF workshop, fear not: I WILL be presenting new material.

The purification ritual will blend ceremonial and ecstatic ritual techniques to cleanse participants of miasma and crossed conditions so that they may approach whatever spiritual pursuits or magickal experiments they may have planned for Samhain, Halloween, or Devil’s Night with as little emotional and magical baggage as possible.

As a community service by a not-for-profit, HSA’s Spirit Circle is free to attend.  We do, however, accept donations to help defray presenter costs and provide costumes, props, and ritual gifts for the Sacred Experience Committee

My the workshop and ritual are a part of Spirit Circle, a community resource and service presented by the Heartland Spiritual Alliance’s Sacred Experience Committee on the Third Thursday of each month.  Where the Witches Meet-Ups in the area focus on social connections and introductory material, HSA Spirit Circle seeks to present practical and applicable magical techniques. We are actively seeking presenters from the KC Metro, and will happily host any traveling presenter who happens to roll through on the Third Thursday.  If you’re interested in presenting please contact our coordinator.

Early Spirit Contact: “Dark Elf”

In my early days, I was definitely neck-deep in the High Weird.  Which, as I understand it, is pretty typical of people who start practicing magic that young.  The years 1997 to 2002 were particularly weird.  On the same Halloween night in 1998, mere days before my 18th birthday, when my spirit guide Daemon Wolf made a public appearance in my then-favorite coffee shop, another spirit also appeared to me.

This second spirit was tall and dark and distinctly feminine, appearing to be dressed in ragged layers of cloth that in no way detracted from her regal bearing.  Her skin was dark, almost black, and her wings were even darker.  She radiated power and poise.   She appeared suddenly and spontaneously from … elsewhere*, and upon appearing, immediately reached out to me and formed a … bond of some sort.

I was in awe.  I was terrified.  I panicked.

I reached back out, myself, and created a similar bond.  Each line of power — hers to me and mind to her — was largely one-directional, meant to exert influence  rather than to share anything.  She was as surprised by my reaction to her as I was by her appearance, and we had a brief stare-down.

The spirit wanted something from, and perhaps for me.  My older and more experienced friend, Medeia, identified the spirit as a “dark elf” – a taxonomy that stands suspicious at best, now, though it made more sense in the mid 1990s and in the context of her stories about the elves that interacted with her Druid grove.  I had no idea what to do.  Ultimately, the spirit and I agreed that I would let go of her, and she would let go of me, and we would both get on with our lives.  She let go.  I let go.  She vanished.

Now, even in that moment, even as a wee faun of a mage, I knew that there was something (everything) about that encounter that I had not quite comprehended and had (probably) handled improperly.  But I had no idea, at the time, what else I could have done.  The encounter weighed on me for some time.  Years later, during my time with the WPA, I used one of our Ouija sessions as an opportunity to reach out to that spirit, though the results were far from conclusive.

I have considered reaching out to the spirit again, but enough time has passed that I can no longer recall the psychic taste of her.  As I ponder the operation now, I am moderately certain that I could journey for a sigil, or produce one by automatic writing.  But I am not entirely certain what purpose such an experiment would serve, except to satisfy a decades-old curiosity.


*At the time, I understood “elsewhere” exclusively in terms of the astral plane, but that is another conversation entirely.

Rear View: Twenty Years of Magick

A few days after Samhain I will be thirty-six years old and, give or take a few months, I will have been practicing magic for twenty years.

My studies started a few years earlier, when I was thirteen.  Astrology books.  Chariots of the Gods.  But I didn’t dive in.  Not right away.  I think it was my sixteenth birthday when I bought my first Tarot deck and my copy of the Necronomicon, and not long before or after that when started trowling internet message boards and archives for non-theistic magical techniques.  But, then as now, my first and best resource was the people around me: empaths and energy workers who taught me things I’ve never, rarely, or only recently seen in books or even blogs.  I’ve told this story – all these stories – before, I’m sure; in bits and pieces, at least.

Elemental energy and crystals in the halls of Lawrence Free State High School.  Dragons and dragon-kin in the coffee shops Downtown.  The realms of the dead and otherworldly lights in cemetaries and along the railroad tracks.  Circle-casting and Ouija and aura-reading and my first group circles with the KU Wicca-Pagan Alliance.  My first adventures at Heartland Pagan Festival, as early as 1999.  My first shamanic visionary experiments in St.Louis, and my first attempts to reach out ot the gods.  Past lives and glossolia and love and lust and loss.

In some ways, though, I feel like I’m behind my peers.  I cant pretend that I was practicing dilligently that enitre time, or that my experiments were always well thought-out.  Others who started their practices around the same time have published books and are running classes and conferences.  Some have even established enire schools of thought.

In retrospect, I wish that I had been bolder.  I knew, even at the beginning, that things could get so much stranger than they already were, and the fact of the matter is that I was afraid.  One of my earliest compatriots came from a New Age family whose matriarch was hard for the White Light, and savagely against anything with the slightest risk of a neutral spirit encounter, let alone a potentially complicated or unsettling one.  Her fear, transmitted through my friend, combined with my own native sheepishness – prior to begining my magical practice, I had been a downright boring kid, however strange I might have been – to severely limit my explorations at the earliest stages.  Later, when I joined the WPA, my trunkated explorations were still the strangest thing most of my peers had ever seen, and I felt no need to push forward in that context.  All in all, I missed the prime exploratory years wherein youthful ignorance and madness overlapped with near-adult intellect and ambition.

I won’t be behind the power curve forever, though.  I’ve spent the last few years really stepping up.  My first, ill-fated student in 2008, when I first came bacck to KC after my failed life in St. Louis.  The Proto-Coven, shortly after, with Aradia and Chirotus and D and Pasiphae and Aidan.  The Ceremonial Experiment and those first workshops from the Sunrise Temple.  My work with the Heartland Spiritual Alliance since graduating college and coming back to KC – I’ve learned so much from my work with the Sacred Experience Committee already, and I’ve easily got another year or two in me before that burns me out.

I’ve started teaching workshops on spirit conjuration at Heartland Pagan Festival and Spirit Circle, hoping to spread that skill wider in the local Pagan community.  And then there are the masks.  Those experiments have barely begun, and I have no idea where they will take me, but … I know that something really, trully exciting waits down that road.  The Nine Muses multi-mask (which I still haven’t written about) at Festival this May really proved that.

It’s been a hell of a ride.  A good life, even.  I feel like I’ve forgotten more magical techniques than some people will ever know.  This is a tragedy, not braggadocio.  As I wind up my most recent Back-to-Basics programme, reading Andrieh Vitimus’ Hands On Chaos Magic (possibly the best single-volume magical handbook I have ever seen) and cruising through the archives of Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole and Aeon Byte and a handfull of other podcasts (for some reason, podcasts are easier on my madness, lately), I keep having the surreal experience of, “Oh, yeah!  I used to do that!  Why did I stop?”

Looking back on it all, it is natural for any human brain — let alone that of a novellist — to try to extract some sort of narrative or lesson.

I was “raised”, so to speak, in the heyday of solitary ecclectic Wicca, and somehow missed Chaos Magick on the first pass.  I have watched magical but ahistorical Paganism wane, somewhat, in the face of more academically savvy but often explicitly anti-magical reconstructionist and devotional polytheisms.  I have watched, albeit from a bit of a distance, the rise of the grimoir revival and an apparent resurgance of lodges, orders, and covens.

When I started, American Pagans, under the lingering influence of Second Wave feminism, were often clueless in regard to issues of race and class, and ill-equipped to deal with queer genders and sexualities, but in general were well-intended and willing to listen and change.  Over the last two decades, though, a strong split has risen between those inclined to justince across racial, class, gender, and sexual lines, and those who allign themselves, either actively or by inaction, with the White Nationalist resurgance in both the United States and Europe.  And with the rise of the “Alt” Right (that is, the “new” trend of disdaining dog whistles in favor of being openly evil), those whose chief politics are respectability are rushing swiftly towards the Nazis.

I am still young.  My political awakening has been relatively recent.  And the politics and history of the last hundred years is a mess of classified, redacted, and falsified documents.  I’m honestly not 100% sure what happened.  My inclination is to say that, after having already taken a hard body-blow from the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, the 9|11-inspired resurgeance of Christian Nationalism and the resulting death of the Anti-War and Environmental movements created an environment in which the best parts of Modern Neo-Pagan Witchcraft and Religion were severely hobbled, and the worst parts (which were always there) were given fertile fields in which to grow.

Fuck.

Twenty years.  Magic and, by extension, Paganism have been the center of my life for twenty years.  Way more than my “adult” life.  Twenty years of power and ecstacy and madness and love and lust and tears and visions.  Even when I was not actively practicing, when I was lost in depression and anxiety or the chaos of mortal life, my life was defined by magic and/or the lack thereof.

The only thing I’ve been doing longer, the only thing that means as much to me, is writing.  Did I know what I was getting into when I started?  Of course not.  Would I have done it if I did?  I like to think so.

Twenty years, now.  Four cities across three states.  Three hard resets of my practice and cosmology.  More friends gained and lost and more psychoctic breaks than I can count.

Thank you, all of you, who have been here with me on the road for any amount of time.

Thank you, even more, to those whose paths took you far away.  I miss you more than I can say, even if some of you would not be prepared for my new genderqueer polyamorous marginal life.

Let’s rais a glass, friends, to twenty years of magic.  And swill it down to the promise of at least twice twenty more.