Rubble, Toil, and Trouble

projectnullWhen I said I hit a wall a couple weeks ago, it was even more true than I realized at the time.  The cold I was fighting weakened me slowly, until Tuesday when I was too sick to go to class.  When the fever passed, it was followed by a wave of insomnia and depression.  Although I’ve managed to largely maintain my banishing practice (about three days out of five), meditation not on the weekends has been sporadic at best, as has dream journaling.

In line with the depression has been the bouts of obsessive behavior: after buying and finally watching the Avengers when it came out on DVD last week, I proceeded to plow through the Marvel Ultimate reboot—an exceptionally dystopian vision, full of (and uncritical of) contempt for consent and creepy sex-negativity, which did nothing whatsoever for my state of mind.  I’ve dreamed about superheroes for at least three of the last seven nights.  I don’t think the Chaos Magic is in any way to blame for this round of madness and obsession: I think the length of time since I last saw my lovers, and my paucity of friends on campus, are owed full credit.

In the middle of all this madness, though, was some actual interesting and productive work.  I have begun experimenting with psychic shields again for the first time in years. I make very, very effective shields, but I hesitate to say that I’m “good” at it: when they’re up, it’s like living in a mad tyrant’s castle: nothing gets in, nothing gets out … even if it probably ought to. But the escalating magic of the last couple years has re-opened psychic senses that I don’t want to loose again, either through atrophy or burn-out, and re-learning effective shielding has become an imperative. That’s a post in and of itself.

This weekend, I honored the Full Moon by completely disassembling and cleaning my altars and by putting them back together in a slightly more effective arrangement.  I started two batches of mead.  And I have successfully incorporated underworld journeys into two Esbats in a row, now, culminating in a journey into the very strange places opened up in my Inner Temple by my self-initiation into the Chaos Current.  No, that wasn’t what I was trying to do there, exactly, but … that’s basically what it amounted to.  That, too, deserves a post unto itself.

After firing off a few rounds of sigils, things in my life are starting to get moving.  I need to keep at it: exercising my will and manifesting the world I want.  A lot of the specific desires have not yet manifested fully, but they’re complex and delicate this time, and I’m not in a hurry.  I can see things working and that’s good enough for me.  Fuller reports will become available as they manifest.

All this has put me a little behind on my original schedule, and it’s time for me to start in on Liber Lux and Nox if I’m to have any chance of being even half done by the end of October.  The madness and illness, though, are not actually to blame for that tardiness.  Instead, they share a common cause: I’ve overextended myself a bit this semester.  I’ve almost got a handle on the work load, and I should be okay by the time I’m done with Midterms, but … well, I’ve already complained about that shit enough, here and elsewhere.  Unfortunately, everything has to take a back seat to my classes.

My Year of Ceremonial Study: The Home Stretch

In retrospect, I wish that I had set more concrete goals for my year of studying ceremonial magic.  I started with a particular programme, but I abandoned it about half way through as inadequate to the task it proposed.  I did refine my goals a little short of half way through, but even those were not particularly specific: to begin the pursuit of a supernatural assistant, to form connections with the Planetary and Elemental Powers, to begin producing a grimoire for people of a more polytheist bent, unable to swallow the top-down, antropocentric cosmology of Ptolemy.  Realizing even then that my original time frame of a year could well prove inadequate, I mused about pushing it out to eighteen months or more.  As you, my clever readers, have already inferred, I have decided against extending my study for now:  I am content with the Work I have accomplished in the last year.

There are quite a few projects that I haven’t found the time or clarity to write about yet, but only two goal experiments remain before I am ready to begin my year with Chaos magick.  Through the Spiritus Mundi group, I have learned of a Solar Election this weekend, which will allow me to create the one talisman I had wanted to but not yet had the chance.  Using that election, I will create a talisman for the Favor of Kings—like those I have created for Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury—and a Solar ring of power.  And when the Dark Moon comes, I will use my shiny new Circle of the Art to conjure Baphomet and empower my Chaosphere.

Tradition, Technique, Appropriation, and Exploration Part 1/2

I am nothing if not eclectic.  My sacred calendar follows the Eight Sabbats of Wicca, even though those dates have nothing to do with the actual seasons in which I live.  My ritual construction is firmly rooted in the pseudo-Gardnerian Outer Court Witchcraft of the sixties and seventies – Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book, Ed Fitch’s Book of Shadows – and certain modern plays on those themes.  I have studied the “core” shamanism of Michael Harner and Gail Wood (to name two), and learned tech at festival workshops and from friends whose linages are dubious at best.  I am now studying the Western Hermetic tradition, and though I will not adopt it in whole, I will certainly take what’s useful to me.  I’m increasingly fascinated by Chaos Magic (only ten years late to that trend, right?), but can’t quite swallow the entire open-source, paradigm-hat-trading irreverence to tradition it seems to require.  Dionysos and Rhea were present at my initiation, and I have spoken to Hephaistos and Apollon and to gods who still haven’t given me their names.

For fifteen years, now, I have searched for a tradition – one that will have me, or even one that I want to have me.  Initiatory covens are few and far between here in the Midwest, and I haven’t ever gotten invited to their Outer Court parties (though, looking back, I might have totally missed the subtext of an invitation once or twice).  I’m  a white USian, descended from the English on one side and the Germans (and Swedes) on the other.

But the gods who are mine by right of blood have never expressed any interest in me (being ogled by Freya’s handmaidens after invoking them at a wedding so totally doesn’t count) … nor I them, to be fair.  When I must defend my devotion to Hellenic gods – a rare event, but it happens – I cite the fact that my civilization is descended from theirs, even if my family is not.

In general, I give little credence to those to whom I might need to defend my eclectic neo-Wiccan practice.  I’ve never had access to sealed rites, so I can’t possibly have stolen them, and I think the effectiveness of my rituals says all that needs to be said about their validity.  Are some eclectics idiots?  Yes.  Do I struggle with the dissonance between Wiccan praxis and my queer feminist spirituality?  Frequently: the whole Goddess-God thing fucks with me a lot.  Do I have trouble fitting sacrifice to and propitiation of my patron and matron dieties into the Wiccan frame?  Absolutely.

The biggest problems start when we get into my shamanic work, which is where Gordon’s post on ethical syncretism comes in.  Simply put, there’s a lot of problems with my pasty white ass practicing anything that I could call “shamanism”.  There are the problems with the word itself: cribbed and Anglicized from a group of Siberian nomads.  There’s the whole scholarly debate on whether or not it’s even a thing, on whether or not the category works in the real world or if it’s just a way for anthropologists to lump together things that aren’t actually the same (which is a debate to lengthy and complicated for me to point you to any one or two sources).  And then there’s the part where most of the people who practice things we call shamanism don’t like us (that is, ignorant white people) stealing their rituals.

I strive to keep to what’s called “core shamanism” – the magical and psychosomatic techniques that transcend culture – but even that is iffy.  Even if shamanism is/was the universal root of all religious experience and expression, my culture left it behind so long ago that you can’t see anything but the roughest outline of its memory on the oldest rites we have.  I strive to re-contextualize it all, to provide the cultural and spiritual meaning in which all effective magic is rooted.  I disdain ayahuasca, datura, and peyote as entheogens in favor of flying “potions” such as absinthe and marijuana – drugs that, to the best of my knowledge, no subaltern group has staked out as their own, exclusive, spiritual tool.  I claim no titles, use no names.  The fact is that a certain rhythm of drum-beet can drive the human brain into places it is much, much harder to reach otherwise.

There are those who would argue that it is wrong of me to call upon the gods of Hellas using any rites but their own.  That my refusal to participate in reconstructionism – study it though I may, as a Classicist and an historian – ought bar me from calling upon the Olympians.  In my particular case, there are fewer who would argue that lack of blood-ties forbids me – Hellenistikos are less prone to that than, say, Asatruar – but it is still an issue.  Many of the most legitimate heirs are tied to the Greek Orthodox Church and disdain attempts to resurrect their old gods – you know I’m not going to listen to them.

Still, however carefully distanced I keep myself from the worst forms of cultural appropriation, I don’t know that I can actually divorce myself from the that legacy.  And yet … I cannot help but persist.  It is through this madly syncretic set of rituals and techniques that I have had my most profound spiritual experiences.  It was in a circle cast by Wiccan rite, using Harner’s shamanic techniques, that I entered the spirit realms in preparation for my initiation, and descended until I was greeted by Briareos*, Dionysos and Rhea.

The gods are the final arbiters of whether or not our rites are acceptable.  So why can’t I stop worrying so much about this?

*I don’t actually know that it was Briareos.  Possibly one of his brothers.  Regardless: he did me a favor once, and I needed to pay him before I could descend further.