Season of Contemplation

The final months of the year are always a period of deep contemplation for me.  Samhain, Yule, New Years.  My birthday and my partner’s, and our anniversary.  Five different calendars turn over from 31 October to 1 January, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the navel-gazing that goes with that.  This year, even more than most, I have a lot to contemplate.

Usually, I begin the season with a sort of revel: dressing up for days leading up to Halloween, each costume more outrageous than the last, and greeting each night with as much wine and ecstacy as I can muster.  I have pushed the boundaries of dress codes at my places of employment, unnerved the casual libertines of a residential liberal arts college, been too weird for the weirdest town in Kansas.  I have gone out into the world to be seen, to confront the squares with the life they could have if only they’d grow a soul and a spine.

This morning, however, I woke in a mental place of quiet.  I have no revel in me, today.  My thoughts circle on who I am and what I want.  I find that my answers do not come as readily as they have in the past.

Mine is not a simple life.  Much of that is by choice, but at the core it’s also my nature.  I am not now, nor ever have I been, nor ever shall I be a “get-along, go-along” kind of person.  I have always believed in things that others do not; always wanted things that were not what was prescribed for me.  I have always not pursued those desires – all other arguments aside, there are only so many hours in the day – but I have always stood up for what I believe in the face of not just convention, but actual authority.

This year has seen a great deal of both those things.  The one has left me blessed, surrounded by more love and stronger community than in many years.  The other has left me adrift as certain ambitions were broken on the rocks of my ideals, shattered by my refusal to be expedient with my ethics.

This year, I have been victorious and beloved.  This year, I have been disappointed and betrayed.  Certain magical operations have, all rather suddenly and together, born fruit: I feel like there is more of me than there has been in years, and that I can see more clearly than I have since the Sunrise Temple … or possibly even Lawrence.  At the same time, though, I feel like the world is murkier by the day, and that even more of me isn’t enough for the work at hand.

The last year has seen the rise of a new autocratic strain in US politics, and a savage resurgence of white supremacy in both the US body politic at large and the KC neo-Pagan community in particular.  Homophobia and heteronormativity are coming back like a tide, and allies are mistaking the most banal lip service for real support.

In this moment, I’m feeling mostly good.  In an hour that might change.  Looking back over the last year, I’m really not certain I can say that there hasn’t been more down than up.  So begins the season of contemplation.

 

Do Magick Challenge: Beginner’s Mind Master Post

In the Beginning

I have intended to participate in Andrieh Vittimus’ Do Magick Challenge for some time.  My tendency to lose months at a time has resulted in me checking the web page days into each challenge and having missed the research period several times, now.  Including this month, actually, but Jason and Andrieh made it clear on the podcast that one could join at any time this month.  And so I did, posting my Statement of Intent on the second day of September and diving in head first.  I set myself a number of goals: daily meditation; magickal art three days a week; conjuring the Spirit Bune; and, finally and most importantly, the rediscovery of my sense of magical play.

Week One

On the first week, I opened strong.  On Day One, I sat down to meditate for the first time in weeks — it had been perhaps months, actually, since I last mediated outside the Esbat circle.  On Day Two I performed Andrieh’s Baphomet ritual, and then confronted the reality that the mundane world changes at its own pace.  On Day Three I made my first serious efforts at my goal to do more magical art, devoting hours to my Mask of Venus, then spent the evening in Esbat rituals attempting to rid myself of baleful influences.  On Day Four I did more magical art — working on both the Venus Mask and a number of apotropaic jewelry designs — and made myself a charm against the evil eye.  On Day Five I continued my mask-making and escalated my mediation practice.  On Days Six and Seven I coasted, only meditating, but I began to notice changes in my dreaming.  Additionally, on Day Seven Aradia began joining me for meditation.

Despite resting on my laurels the last two days, I feel like the first week was a success.  I did a lot of magic and a lot of art.  Coming from practically no meditation to meditating daily is an intense lifestyle change.  The depression and anxiety that plagued me before beginning the project did not, of course, vanish immediately.  In fact — an upside to journaling, I guess — they initially got worse.

Week Two

In the second week, Aradia and I added planetary invocations to our daily work, immediately before nightly meditations.  Days Eight, Nine, and Ten were slow days for most of my goals, but I continued to escalate my meditation times slowly and escalated the planetary magic from previous versions of our ritual by reading both the Thomas Tayor and Apostolos Athanassakis translations.  On Day Eleven I returned to my masks, and did some divination to help me decide how I wished to approach the spirit Bune, and on Day Twelve I went through with that conjuration.  Day Thirteen was meditation only and on Day Fourteen I strung myself a necklace for my Baphomet pendant but missed my daily meditation.

In this second week I continued to increase my daily meditation time and, in doing so, I began discerning changes in my energetic body.  I also particularly struggled to balance my mundane and magical lives.  I made my three days of magical arts and crafts, and achieved my goal of conjuring the Goetic spirit Bune, but failed at my goal of daily meditation.

 

Week Three

In the third week, my physical health failed me.  Day Fifteen was exhausting, and I barely managed my daily routine.  On Day Sixteen I turned a museum trip with my mother into a magical experiment, examining mummies with a magical eye, then collapsed onto the couch for the next two days (17, 18), though I was able to resume meditation and planetary rituals on Day Eighteen.  On Day Nineteen, I was feeling mostly better and went through with teaching a class on using the Classical Planets as a source of power for freeform energywork.  On Day Twenty I collapsed again, sicker than I had been yet; I went into work then needed someone else to drive me home.  On Day Twenty One I called in sick and spent the day on my couch, working on magical jewelry designs.

I managed only one day of magical art and missed a second day of meditation.

 

Week Four

I did my best to come back strong in week four, but my total collapse in week three left both me and my house in serious disarray.  It was struggle to resume even daily planetary rituals and meditation, let alone my loftier goals.  In retrospect, I pushed myself too hard, because I wasn’t really fully myself again until Day 28.

On Day Twenty Two I managed 22 minutes of meditation.  This would prove to be the peak.  It was also the second day in a row when I experienced intense sensory non-sequiturs.  See the daily records for details.  On Day Twenty Three I experimented with adding the Qabalistic cross and pentagram banishing to my daily rituals.  On Day Twenty Four I began designing and constructing a new set of house wards.  That night I gave up on my goal of escalating to 30 minutes of meditation by the end of the month and began setting my timer for 15 minutes.  On Day Twenty Five I decided to fumigate the house to clear out any lingering bad vibes.  On Day Twenty Six I meditated only, and on Day Twenty Seven I managed only my planetary ritual and meditation.  On Day Twenty Eight I succeeded in tracing an amulet gifted to me to a particular grimoire,

Overall, in that week I succeeded only at meditating daily.

Denouement

On Days Twenty Nine and Thirty, I concluded my Beginner’s Mind experiment by erecting the first two layers of my new household protective wards, invoking the Sun and Moon by Taylor’s Orphic Hymns and empowering the talismans with Picatrix invocations.  I meditated fifteen minutes each night.

In theory, I wanted to end the month of magic with a bang.  In the moment, though, I was just glad to have made it through.

In Conclusion

At the beginning of September, I chose a particular (broad) interperetation of the Beginner’s Mind challenge.  Where others cracked open grimoires,  or sought to master various forms of divination, I sought to reclaim a portion of my own mind.  Over the course of several previous magical experiments and programs, I have painted myself into various corners.  I miss the enthusiasm with which I once pursued and practiced the magical arts.  To that end, as detailed above, I set myself a number of smaller challenges.

I challenged myself to meditate daily, starting at five minutes and escalating to thirty.  I … mostly succeeded.  I meditated 28/30 days.  One day I missed in favor of a hot date.  One day I missed because I was sick as fuck.  I ultimately capped out at 22 minutes of meditation, then settled for a more achievable goal of 15 minutes.

I challenged myself to work on magical art three days a week.  I succeeded at that for the first two weeks, but failed abominably in the second two.

I challenged myself to conjure the spirit Bune.  I did so.  That conjuration has yet to receive results, but so far the spirit contact has proved positive and potentially fruitful.

I challenged myself to follow my magical whims.  They proved less, well, whimsical than I had imagined they might, but overwhelmingly succeeded in this.  I can recall only one whim I did not follow through on, and that was because the particular school of thought I wished to apply to a situation proved inapplicable in that moment, and then I forgot about it before the opportune moment arose.

All this with the ultimate goal of reclaiming my magical practice.  Of finding the fun back.  In that, I think, I succeeded.  I no longer feel so constrained by the schools of thought I have studied.  I feel like my magic is my own again.  And I’m excited to move forward with my art and experiments.

I am also reminded very viscerally of the value of daily meditation.  At the beginning of September, I was a depressed and anxious mess, despite how objectively awesome my life is.  During the first week, perhaps slowing down to confront those feelings, I actually fell down a little further.  In the weeks since, however, despite the physical illness I suffered in week three, I’m feeling incredibly better emotionally.  We can see some evidence of this, in fact, in this and my previous blog post.  I’m actually writing again, something I hadn’t done in a while.

The Do Magick Challenge came with its own requirements, chief among them daily public journaling.  The value of that has been demonstrated what I should have already known, which is the value of such journaling.   I don’t wish to spam my followers (or continue the particular self-censorship public journaling requires), so I must now challenge myself to do one of the important sorcerer’s tasks I have never quite managed before.

And with all this written up, I now look forward to the next Do Magick Challenge.  I’ll try not to be a stranger here in the interim.

Beginner’s Mind

This month’s Do Magick challenge is the beginner’s mind.

For this challenge, you are to work with a new system, set of techniques, or use any new experience or hobby to force yourself into the beginner’s mind and use it.  Get excited about your magic again. Ideally you would use the new techniques or paradigm does as often as possible in the 30 days.

What, though, is the beginner’s mind?  What I hear in Andrieh’s choice of words and suggested activities is an attempt to return to a state Tarot describes as The Fool: curiosity in the face of the unknown, courage uninhibited by past failures or an overabundance of knowledge.

But my beginner’s mind was already full of fear.  I owned Crowley’s Goetia, but I was afraid to conjure spirits.  I had an emerging talent for clairsentience that outstripped my friends’ empathy or divination by hilarious degrees, but I was afraid of the things that I could know.  I got high weirdness effects out of goddamn Tarot readings, but never pursued them for fear of monsters.  I had an embarrassment of riches and did fuck all with it.  I had no hesitation to try things that no one else had ever heard of before, but staples of magical practice … well, besides Tarot, if it didn’t scare me too much to try it, then it was passé.

There are things, though, that I do miss about my beginners mind.  I miss how relatively few preconceived notions I had cluttering up my brain, leaving me free to invent forms of energy manipulation that I have yet to see in print and to perceive spirits and worlds with a clarity I recall now like a dream.  My home town was mine, and I could feel the pulse and flow of its life; synchronicity put me in the right place at the right time with a regularity that made it seem mundane until it stopped happening when I moved away.  Magic, in every instance but the very most terrifying in-my-own-home-apparitions,

Finding my way into this month’s Do Magick Challenge will be a bit of a challenge in and of itself: as a voracious reader, a giant art nerd, and a witch with twenty-one years of magical experience,  there is nothing left magically or artistically (which I currently know exists) that I have not put at least three months study or experimentation into already.  That’s hardly expertise, but neither does it leave much room for that uncluttered “beginner’s mind” we’re speaking of.

I’m late to the game, because I lost control of my life, but I’m going to play along at home anyway because … well, frankly, I need to.  I need to find back that uncluttered curiosity, that sense of play.  To do so, I will set myself several goals:

  • I will meditate daily.  I will begin at five minutes daily, escalating over the course of the month until I am meditating 30 minutes daily.
  • I will spend three days a week engaged in some sort of magical arts and crafts for at least twenty minutes each of those days.  Although I hope to produce many magical talismans and images over the course of the month, in particular I aim to finish my Mask of Venus and produce a photographic version of the Image of Venus as described in the Picatrix. (Anyone want to model for that one for me?)
  • I will conjure the spirit Bune to bring me riches.  In doing so, I will face my first great magical fear — the conjuring of demons — and make my first practical foray into the last major area of magic which I have studied but not practiced.  Goetia here I come.
  • Most importantly, I will rediscover my sense of magical play.  I will achieve this through magical art on the one hand, but also by giving in to every magical impulse that I possibly can over the course of the next thirty days. Decide I want something?  Make and fire a sigil on the spot.  Feel like electrocharging my lover with the spirit of Venus?  Hell to the yeah (as long as she, they, or he think it sounds like fun).  Has it come time to curse those bastards?  Let’s do it.  This building feels like it needs a little Lunar bombardment?  Let’s do some energy and breathwork and make everybody purple for the day.

This is me throwing my hat into the ring.

Today’s magical impulse coincides with magical art and the conjuration of Bune: while at work, I made myself a brass talisman featuring his seal.  Not fancy, just a hand-cut brass disk engraved using a ball but, but it’ll do the trick.  Now, let’s go meditate.

Light in Darkness: A Long Unanswered Call

The temple space was erected in my craft room: an altar flanked by couches and sitting cusions, air thick with incense, and lit only by candles.  I stand outside over a secondary altar, lighting a bundle of sage to fumigate each participant before entering.  A line is forming behind Aradia, awaiting my attentions.

I know all these people: they trust and respect me.  I began the night by returning to the Headless Rite.  I should be at the top of my game.  I am not.  Neither the fumigation nor the anointing packs the punch that it should.

At last, everyone is in the circle.  Aradia takes charge and we cast the circle hand to hand.  She has been feeling less than herself, as well, and asks the group for healing and purification.  As she takes her position in the center of the circle, all rise and reach out to offer what aid they can.

One by one, most of us take our turn in the center.  This is not my strong suit.  Somehow, despite a couple spectacular successes, I have never devoted any real time to energetic healing.  Mostly, I try to keep the energy level in the circle high, so that our less experienced participants are not draining themselves needlessly.

At some point, I, too, take my turn in the center.  I feel everyone reach out to me, feel them brush the edges of my energetic body.  I try to let them in, to do the work that needs to be done.  I can’t.

At last, all who feel the need for purification have taken their turn in the center and it is time to move on.

I put on a drum track and don my visionary mask and we all drift into trance.  Well, they do.  I go nowhere.  I cannot even find the Void or my own Inner Temple.  I drift, aimlessly, trapped in my own head.   Finally the beat shifts, signaling the end of the track.  I take off my mask and wait for everyone to return to themselves.

Now is the time for divination.  My guests pair off quickly, trading tarot readings while I sit dazed.  There is a song stuck in my head again.  It’s been there off and on for days.  This is something that almost never happens to me, but it has happened like this once before.

I have to wait a while, and end up ignoring too many of my guests as I remain lost in my own head, but I finally get a reading from Odyssia – one of maybe a handful of witches I have met in the KC metro whose skills are on a whole ‘nother level than Aradia and Chirotus and myself.  The reading covered a lot of territory, but one thing stood out: in the wake of my experience over the last five years, I am without a worldview.  I have no system of reference by which to contextualize my experiences.  I need a frame.  I need a direction in which to explore.

Looking for something concrete to give me, rather than simply affirming my laundry list of questions, Odyssia pulled a new trick from her bag: a pack of note cards she is drafting for her own oracle deck.  At last, a clear image emerges.  A name.  Melek Taus.

I laugh.

The Peacock fucking Angel.

That song, you see, has been stuck in my head before.  My senior year of college, it was there for more than a solid month before I realized what it was: an offer; an invitation; a call.  From the one Power I had never, ever considered.  I grew up in the Satanic Panic, you see.  I spent the first decade of my practice defending against accusations of Devil Worship.  And now Lucifer is reaching out to me?

And yet …

The Yezidi Peacock Angel (who may or may not be Lucifer) features prominently in modern Gnosticism.  I have been flirting with Gnostic thought for more than a year.  It’s all over my art, and half my favorite writers and thinkers have been flirting with it for years.  The alien God who made everything and walked away is hard for me to embrace, and the desire to root itself in Christian heresy is not aesthetically or ethically appealing to me.  But the Archons and the Blind Idiot God who rule over the hologram of the Empire and everything that falls under its shadow … yeah. I can see that in the world.

Melek Taus, I learned that night, also features prominently in the Feri tradition, which I have looked into on more than one occasion.  Just to make things interesting.  Because I need another source of queer art and power.  (Actually, yes, I really fucking do.)

So here we go.  Down the rabbit hole I’ve been dodging since 2014.  I wanted a direction.  Now I have it.

I’m giving in to the Luciferian Gnostic urge.  I will write my own gospel and live my own myth.

Let’s wage war against the world.  Awaken the sleepers.  Fistfight heavenly powers.  Engage in cosmological terrorism.  Set ourselves ablaze and be lights in the darkness.

I’m in it to win it.  Who’s with me?

 

 

 

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.

Pagan Leadership: What I Have Learned So Far

Where is the line between “being a leader” and merely “playing a leadership role”?

For most of my life, I imagined that Pagan leaders were somehow exceptional.  That they were magically gifted, or brilliant geniuses, or touched by the gods, or (occasionally) deft predators.  Somehow, they were in the right place at the right time and were anointed by the community.  I could barely imagine myself among their number.  Although I have, often, fantasized about starting a coven or order, I largely kept to myself and practiced only with my partners and closest friends.

For most of my life, I have alternated between hanging out at the back of various Pagan groups, following along without offering suggestions, and forming small working groups where we all fought to balance our own visions with the objectives of the others in the group.  Until very recently, I disdained the explicit pursuit of any public title or acknowledgement, keeping only this blog as as my billboard to the world, and waited for my following to appear.

Then, in July of 2014, Aradia and I finally joined the Heartland Spiritual Alliance.  We were accepted into the Sacred Experience Committee and quickly took charge of the ritual crew.  The senior members of the committee had a certain vision for what they wanted the rituals to accomplish, but the language, the choreography, and (in the end) the performance were ours and the people we brought in with us.

In July of 2015, I was elected Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee, and Aradia took Public Relations.  By January, we had both been asked to join the Board of Directors.  When the Chairman of the Board called a meeting and asked if anyone had a vision for the future of the organization, Aradia and I furnished a five-year plan which was well received by the Board, recommended by the Board to the Membership, who in turn voted the Plan into place in March.  In April, when the Vice President announced her intention to step down before the end of her term, Aradia was asked to take her place after the festival.

In the wake of this year’s elections, Aradia and I still hold our committees.  Aradia has been formally elected and installed as Vice President of the Heartland Spiritual Alliance, and I have been elected Chairman of the Board for the 2016-17 festival year.

By rational analysis, I believe that it is probably reasonable to say that  we have crossed the line, and could fairly consider ourselves “Pagan leaders”.  But … the imposter syndrome is strong.

I am not, I think, exceptional in any way that qualifies me for leadership. I am not particularly charismatic – or, at least, not among Pagans, were we all bear some benefit of the magician’s charisma – or a natural leader.  I am better educated than many, and have been on wilder adventures than some, but my credentials, such as they are, bear little weight in the community.  Although I have been attending the festival for many, many years, I have largely kept to myself and was little known in the community of either attendees or HSA members before I joined.  Now that I am better known, I am certainly not well-loved by all: I am, at best, an abrasive personality, and even when people agree with me, they do not always like me.

In the weeks since the beginning of the new member year, I have already heard the first cry of, “Who IS this punk?”  I’ve been expecting it for a while, honestly.

I just showed up one day.  And then I did the work.  It probably helps that attendees have loved the rituals my crew and I put together, and that the members I have recruited have integrated well with the rest of the organization.  Certainly not everyone agrees with my vision, and I have even been accused of being a part of the hated “inner circle”, but I do not believe that there is any doubt my dedication to the festival … though, because I am so abrasive, there are those who don’t believe that I am good for the community.

So, this is what I have learned in the process of becoming “a leader” in the Pagan community.

  • Pagan leaders are people.  They have lives and ambitions outside their leadership roles.  They have personalities that may or may not be comparable with yours.  Each and every one of us is in it for a different reason.  Whether it’s a calling, or you’re in it for the glory, or you just showed up with your friends.
  • Leadership is work.  Thus it requires professionalism.   Maintain professional relationships with those you personally dislike.  Fire the abusers and the slackers.  Do the work.
  • “Leading Pagans is like herding cats” is a disavowal of responsibility.  Stop saying that.  Herding cats is easy.  You herd cats by providing something they want at one end of the trail, and following along behind to redirect those who get distracted.  (So, yes, I guess that leading Pagans IS like herding cats, just not what people mean when they say that.)  Do the work.

The future of the community is being determined right now, even as we speak, by those who show up and do the work.  I am unworthy, but I am here.  I am doing the work.

Paganism is a movement, not a product for sale.

If you share my vision, show up.  Bring your friends.  Do the work.

If you disagree with my politics, show up.  Bring your friends.  Do the work.

What is the Work?

Again again again I come back to this question.

What is the work?

Simple question, on the face of it.  So many dangerous non-answers.

I ran into an old friend over the weekend.  She said some things to me that made me want to scream.

“It sounds like you’re exactly where you need to be,” she said.  Then ahw proceded to tell me what I needed to do instead of what I’m doing now: find a new home festival, if Heartland has become all work; go to other festivals to see how they do things (how are those two not murually exclusive?).  I asked her how her life was going, and she changed the subject.

Running into D struck me as an omen of sorts.  There’s a conversation we get stuck in every time we talk about life: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” she’ll say to me; I’ll respond, “What do you want?”  We didn’t actually have that conversation this time — or perhaps we did, obliquely and by inversion — but I couldn’t not think on it.

Since the end of the Ceremonial Experiment and the decomissioning of the Sunrise Temple, I have been spiritually adrift.  My magical practice has ammounted to repeating the Experiment in miniature —  powering through RO’s Seven Spheres when it came out last year; attempting to code-switch planetary conjuration into the language of Witchcraft at the beginning of this year.  My spiritual practice has consisted solely of orchestrating the rituals for Heartland Pagan Festival — playing priest to the community, a role to which I have long aspired, but somehow to the exclusion of my personal spiritual pursuits.

I keep coming back to the same to questions.  Where do I go from here?  What is the next phase of the work?  The blog has suffered for it even more than my life.  Existential angst is not the writing mode that I do best.

I have been seeking teachers again.  But there are a number of reasons that so many of the books on magic are exclusively 100-level beyond the obvious American (and, perhaps, to a lesser degree Anglophone) prefference for shallow knowleged.  At a certain point you must cross the line from the techniques of magic into the experience of the Mysteries.

I have found some inspiration in the recent works of Gordon White and Peter Grey.  But Peter Grey, however brilliant his writing, is too much the cishet fuckboy: for every brilliant illumination he provides, there is an overlong passage of literary masturbation wherein he gets so caught up in his own language that he forgets his point, on the one hand, and some casually awful straight man bullshit on the other.  And Gordon White, for all his Chaote brilliance and animist awakening, is too comfortable with the lingering structures of empire and his emphasis on ancestors is a place that I have not yet been able to follow.

And there, of course, obvious directions that I could go from here.

Going back to basics (again) would probably serve me well.  Struggling to meditate means you need to meditate more, right?

Leaving my body was my greatest aspiration when I fist began practicing magic.  I never quite got the hand of “astral projection” techniques, but I am unconvinced that the shamanic visionary techniques I did, once, excell at were taking me to a fundamentally different place.  And yet… I have let htat practice slip.

I have a small cadre of familiar spirits accumulated throughout my visionary and ceremonial practices, all of whom probably have something to teach me if only I were talking to them.

 

I have a collection of masks, maked in frantic, mantic fever, each of which has some purupose that I have not yet unlocked, and which is probably more subtle and potent that the production of occult art.

I have drawn Powers and spirits into the bodies of others, almost too casually, but I have only experienced trance-possession, myself, and handfull of times: once Death, once my Natal Demon, twice a Sun God, all by the aid of masks, and, most recently, the Nine Muses followed by Typhoeus as a part of the Air and Water rituals this year’s festival.  And yet, it was long considered the defining feature of moder neo-Pagan witchcraft.

There are gods and powers I have encountered in my practice whose interest in me I never managed ot understand.  The Intelligences of the Moon.  The Witchmother and Witchfather — the latter possibly Lucifer, the latter whom I never idenitified.  The Queen of the Deap Water.  Certain Solar powers.  Rhea Cybele.

And Dionysus, who has shown me small favors yet always remained aloof.

A clever reader, of course, sees not an overabundance of options, among which one cannot chose, but rather an escalating programme that I should be pursuing.

And yet … the dillema remains.  How do you meditate when panic rises every time you try to still your mind?

This is the work.

 

A Charmed Life

I was let go from my position with my former employer on the fifth of March.  Thursday I accepted a new position, after only three weeks of unemployment.  My first day is tomorrow.

It may surprise my readers, however, to learn that I did practically no magic in that period, except a few offerings immediately before my interview Thursday.  If this fortune is the result of enchantment, it is a product of the same enchantment that resulted in my termination.  I believe that it is.  Magically, I set goals for my art — my photography, in particular — that could not be achieved in my previous circumstances.

There is not guarantee that I will achieve them, now.  But the opportunity exists.

I live a charmed life.

The Sun versus Depression

midwest gothic-22_24small
Midwestern Gothic 22 by Wormwood Groves Photography

When Aradia and I set out to spend the year re-exploring planetary magic and reframing it in terms more accessible to witches, we started with the Sun for a variety of reasons.  Firstly, we were beginning at the Winter Solstice: the return of the Sun or – depending on how you frame things – the be beginning of the waxing year.  Secondly, from a naturalistic standpoint, if there is any planet that rules the heavens, then it is the life-giving Sun around whose gravity all the other planets revolve. Thirdly, as witches, the Sun is familiar and friendly to us, second only to the Moon.  And, finally, we had hoped that the Sun would help me overcome the deep depression that overshadowed the second half of 2015.

In this last, we found a ourselves to be very wrong.

There are a lot of reasons.  The crash after leading the main rituals at Heartland last year (an event that I still haven’t written about).  My house flooding in the Biblical rains we had here in KC from April through June.  The implosion of a long-standing friendship.  Family drama, in part political, in part related to the problems with my house.  Financial troubles.  All manageable, even taken together, except … I just didn’t have it in me.  This has been one of the worst years of my life for my mental health.

Here in the depths of winter … even the Sun wasn’t enough.

There were days … weeks when I considered abandoning the project altogether.  I thought that perhaps I should switch to an elemental experiment, to better prepare me for the rites of HPF 2016.  It got to where just walking into the room with the altars gave me panic attacks.

In retrospect, I think that conjuring the Sun at the Winter Solstice was not the best plan.  The Sun is not the Moon, where it’s ebb is the flow of a different sort of power.  The Sun is always there, holding the spinning orbs in place, and the turning of the terrestrial seasons has little bearing on the efficacy of traditional astrological magic.  But I was … am practicing witchcraft, and the turning of the seasons is the heart of that power.  And right now the Solar year is waxing,  but it is still … distant.  And cold.  And it is the warmth of the Sun that I needed to drag me out of my Abyss.

Instead, I have been climbing out of my depression the other way available to those of us without the appropriate healthcare: by what Aradia describes as the ladder of anger and anxiety.  Fortunately, most of my friends are as mad as I am, and have been very understanding of how difficult it is to be around me.

As I said, I very seriously considered giving up the experiment of planetary witchcraft.  But we did get some very solid results early on, and in contemplating the Sun I did also gain some insight into how to more effectively proceed.  More importantly, though, I remembered something I learned from all my science friends: negative results are not the same thing as a failed experiment.  The things I learned from this round will help me execute the next.

Further Experiments With The Stele of Jeu

beneficial moon
Third night of the full moon, 15 Apr 2014. Neither my most nor least successful attempt to photograph the moon.

Excepting the Valentines’ Day Full Moon, when I was laid low with the literal flu and a fever of 104, I have performed the Stele of Jeu the Heiroglyphist (or one of my experimental variants) at least twice at every Full and Dark Moon Esbat this semester.  It has, to my own surprise, become the centerpiece of my magical practice over the last few years.  The results of the ritual, however, have been in no way consistent.

I have written about the ritual before–perhaps more than anyone on the internet except Mr. Jack Faust, who introduced me to the ritual–and I don’t want to re-tread too much ground, but there have been some interesting changes, particularly lately.  In my two years of research, now, I have found about a double handful of people who mention or advocate the ritual.  Only two have talked about the effects of the rite, or their personal experiences with it, and they have spoken to me mostly in private.  I don’t know if this in any way resembles the experiences that others have had with the ritual.

When I first began performing the ritual, I could feel it sending shockwaves throughout my world.  My web of power trembled.  Cracks emerged in the foundations of my reality.  I got so high on power that sometimes I could barely walk to bed at the end of the ritual.

As I became fore familiar with the ritual, the effects seemed to diminish.  The earthquakes were fewer, further between, and came mostly when I was either performing the ritual at a place of power or making the most radical changes to the structure and performance.  It became a sort of touchstone, a powerup, and I had to push the power out into my web.  I began to use the power to help the people in my web transform their lives.  Then I hit a breaking point.

In the last months, I’ve been keeping the power of the ritual to myself again.  And, rather than being disruptive–rather than earthquakes and cracks–the power of the Headless One has been regenerative.  The cracks in me, the cracks in my life, have been filling with that golden-white power, and they’ve been starting to close.