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.

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.

Early Spirit Contact: “Daemon Wolf”

The first spirit contact I can recall was with a “totem” spirit I came to call Daemon Wolf.

As many of you may recall, animal totems (or, spirits, phenomena, and identifications we called animal totems) were a HUGE THING in the mid-to-late 1990s.  Ted Andrews was fucking everywhere.  People looked to their totems not just as spiritual guides and masters, but to explain and shape their very personalities.  For example, many “Cat totem” people I knew meowed and tried to purr and gleefully used their identification to invade (or avoid)ur personal space; people with “wolf totems” cast themselves in roles of leader or tragic outcast; “bear totem” people set themselves up as the “cuddly bouncer”.  But I digress.

In this atmostphere, as I began to transition from my earliest period of studying magic, the occult, and the paranormal, to actually practicing magic at aboout the age of sixteen, one of my first rituals was aimed at finding my totem animal and/or spirit guide.  (Other people may have been clear on the distinction between those things in 1997/8, I was not.)   I wish that I could reproduce or cite that first ritual for you here, but alas… Although I had access to a small collection of friends books at that time (I think my library still consisted entirely of the Simonomicon and maybe a Cunningham encyclopedia), I preffered the rituals I learned from people on IRC chat and in FTP archives.  Six computers later, unfortunately, those files are long gone.

The ritual as I recall it was simple.  I set myself up in a comfortable chair, with a candle and glass candle holder.  I put on some nice, quiet Celtic harp music.  I cast an elemental circle.  I carved my personal sigil, a bindrune I had designed, into the side of the candle, and imbued it with my desire to know my totem animal/spirit guide.  I dropped the candle in the holder, lit it, and tried to slip into the trance.  The candle holder, which I have to this day, was round and convex, with red dragon’s tears affixed to an inner layer by some sort of grey-green ceramic.  As I tried to enter and maintain the trance, I turned the candle holder around and around in my hands, gazing into the back-lit dragon tears and waiting for an image to appear in my mind.

This ritual would be my first firegazing, and possibly my most successful to date.  I saw the image of a snarling, black-furred wolf with flaming red eyes.  Even at that young and tender age, I could tell that this was not the spirit of all wolves.  There was a darkness about it, a savagery outside of the natural wild.  I called it Daemon Wolf.  (Yes, the penchant for high drama goes way back.)

I remained in contact with that spirit off and on for years, but I could not “hear” it.  I could tell that it was attempting to communicate, but, I couldn’t grok whatever signals the spirit was trying to send.  It began appearing to my friends in IRC chatrooms (some of whose animal spirits came to investigate me in return) and my more magically experienced local friends to relay messages and relieve its boredom.  The spirit in question also had a penchant for melodrama.

On a particularly notable evening, 31 October 1998 – one of my earliest surviving joural entries, in addition to one of my earliest clear spirit contacts – I was hanging out in the coffee shop with my friend Medea and one or two other friends.  I don’t remember what we were talking about, but as the conversation progressed the sese of someone sitting close to my right side grew stronger and stronger.  But I couldn’t see anything … not clearly, at any rate: just a vague silhoette crouched on the floor.

After a while, it was too much for me, and I interrupted my own train of thought to demand if  anyone else could see the thing sitting beside me.

“Wolfie,” Medea idetified the spirit for me, laughing and using the nickname she’d given Daemon Wolf in previous conversation.

Things changed trajectory after that.  My spirit-senses did improve, slowly.  It did become easier for Daemon Wolf to contact me.  It was clear, however, that there was a lot it wanted to convey to me that I just wasn’t picking up on.

As my practice escalated over the next few years, more spirits began appearing in my life.  I couldn’t hear them any better than I could hear Wolfie, but it … appeared to resent them.  It very clearly resented that I was not pursuing my relationship with it as dilligently as it desired.  Frankly: focus is not my strong point in the medium term.  Short term – jewelry repair, a single ritual, a lover – I am a laser ; long term – college, my novels – I am relentless; medium term … that’s where the distractions live.  And I had a lot of distractions, as I was rotating through whole circcles of freinds about every 12-18 months those first few years out of high school.  Contacts with Daemon Wolf grew increasingly sporadic.  When I did make contact – or, more accurately, when it made contact – it was increasingly cross with me.

Eventually, the spirit I called Daemon Wolf lost patience with me.   I wish I had the xact date, or could find the record  — I know I wrote about the event, somewhere, but … I’ve mentioned before that my journalling is not the best.  Some time before I departed Lawrence, KS, for what would become my failed life in St.Louis, it made final contacct and told me that it was giving up and moving on.

 

This is one of the few places where I wish I had done things differently back in the day.  I don’t think most people have spirits take that sort of proprietary interest that early.  It’s not unheard of, of course, but it’s an opportunity not everyone gets … and I blew it.  I also wish I’d kept better journals, so I would have more wheat from which to sift chaff.  Still, my relationship with Daemon Wolf taught me one essential lesson: relaitionships between mortals and spirits are opt-in, for both parties.  Either party can leave when their needs are not being met, or their goals are not being achieved.

 

Ouija: Spirit Contact and Controversy In The KU Cauldron

In 2001 and 2002, despite not being a student, I was heavily involved in the KU Cauldron — then the Wicca-Pagan Alliance.  Meetings were Tuesdays weekly, if I recall correctly — I seem to have too many memories from too short a time for it to have been only monthly, and I know that there many meetings I missed because I simply couldn’t bring myself to leave my apartment.  Sometimes we had topics, sometimes we didn’t.  Occasionally we had presenters.  Many nights we spent doing tarot readings, or sharing energetic and psychic techniques.  More often than I care to admit, we spent most of the night talking about anime.  Two things we managed to keep consistent, though: we opened nearly every meeting by casting a circle; and after the meetings, about half of us would stay for Ouija.

The weekly Ouija sessions were a source of a surprising ammount of contention.  There were, of course, the two or three rationalists — I’m still not sure why they were there — who believed that the whole thing was even more hinkey than everything else we were doing.  The rest, though, were deeply disturbed by the talking board.  Most wouldn’t talk about their misgivings.  Those who would — ironically, the vampire numbered among them — were concerned about the nameless evils that might come through.  No one out-and-out told us to stop, but … There was serious concern that our post-meeting sessions might begin before the non-participants had cleared whatever they believed to be minimum safe distance.

I had, prior to my time in the WPA, known a few people who had had their own experiences with talking boards.  Most had nothing remarkable to report.  A few had the usual stories of flying objects or lingering entities.  But I had never tried it, myself.  Given the lower-than average success rates my friends had reported, I was moderately skeptical.  But back then, though, before the migraines, I was much more open to wild experimentation than I often have been since.

Given all the concern and side-eyes we got over the whole thing, I was somewhat disappointed by the reality.  Most of our sessions were fairly tame.  We got positive contact more often than not.  Names and dates and details of lives and deaths that we could never verify.  All juicy enough to hold our attention, but never quite enough to convince the more skeptical participants … myself included.

Well, not never.  There were … incidents.  But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The Oija board was owned and brought by one of our members, by the name of Jason if I recall correctly, and he always took point on the planchette.  From the other side of the board, our sessions were mediated by by a spirit that called itself “Ouija”, apparently a familiar spirit to Jason.  We would open sessions on the board and the planchette would fly over those five letters: O … U … I … J … A … then, WELCOME.  We would ask this spirit Ouija to manage contacts for us, find the spirits to whom we would talk.

Some, myself included, believed that Ouija was Jason.  Not that he was deliberately guiding the planchette — though that was, occasionally, a subject of debate — but that he had some need for control, and manifested the Ouija “spirit” to exert that control over the talking board.  I was often tempted to test that theory by usurping the board from the other side, using the woven energetic techniques that were then my signature style, but ultimately never tried to pull such a dick move on someone who was ostensibly my friend.

Three particular evenings stand out in my memory, fifteen years later.

The first was the spirit of a girl who claimed to have committed suicide in the building where we held our meetings.  I don’t remember her name, or when she claimed to have lived.  I do remember that she hanged herself.  I remember the pall that came over us all as the spirit spoke.  Jason later claimed to have confirmed the story, but I never saw any newspaper articles.

The second was an attempt to make contact with a spirit that had approached me early in my carreer.  That first contact is a story in and of itself, a strange night from the days of guerilla magic in the Java Break, but the short version is that one Halloween, a spirit approached me and made … contact.  High voltage, visceral contact.  And it spooked the shit out of me.  And I rejected her.  One night on the Ouija board, some years later, I convinced the Cauldron crowd to let me reach out to her in return.  There was contact, but it was … unclear.  Staticky.  Only one thing came through to me inteilligibly: contact me again.  Spoiler alert: I never did.

The third and most dramatic session with the KU Cauldron and the Ouija board was the sort of thingthat tends to scare people off of not just spirit contact, but magical practice altogether.

We opened the board as per usual: O … U … I … J … A … WELCOME.  That was where any resemblance to our usual evening ended.  Ouija was frantic.  Insistant.  GO, it told us. GO!

“Go where?” we asked.

It gave us the name of a building on campus.  We went there, and brought the board with us.  We did not, immediately, find anything of partifular interest at that location.  We did, however, run into a member that had not been present at the meeting — we’ll call him Scott — who joined us for our mobile seance.

We attempted to re-establish contact with Ouija.  It was not a smooth transaction.  When we did make contact, the spirit was still agitated.  This time, while still identifying itself as “Ouija”, it gave us a name.  When asked to clarify, it repeated the anem.

Scott was somewhat perturbed.  “That’s my sister’s name.”

Everyone became very adgitated at that point.

Scott borrowed a cellular phone — something that not everyone had back then — and called his sister.  Her abusive ex was at her appartment, pounding on her door.  He’d been there for a few minutes.  Scott talked her down from raw panic.  Talked her into calling the police.  Called her back and waited on the line until they came.

It was some time before we broke out the board again.  I think that Jason may have left the groop not long after, though that may well be either the vagaries of memory or the natural course of the four-year graduation cycle.  The incident did leave a lasting impression on all those that were present.

I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately.  Listening to podcasts, so many guests telling stories of their magical youths.  Writing novels set in my own magical youth.  Things I had all but forgotten floating to the surface.  This story, in particular, has come to mind in the wake of several podcasts about the myth and practice and history of talking boards.

Makes me want to use one, again.

Makes me want to make one by hand.

But before I begin the neew experiments, I need to recall the old.

 

Corn Moon Musings I: Recovery

altar-4

I’ve come at it sideways from more angles than I can count, and have probably even said it outright once or twice before, but: I have been struggling.  Since I closed down the Sunrise Temple and moved back to Kansas City and began backing my way out of the rigorous but ultimately toxic-to-me ceremonial pracctice I had there, I have been wounded and flailing and desperate to refind my path.  Without the rejuvination of ecstacy, the majority of my magical work was dedicated toward material prosperity, and it was exhausting.

Moreover, culminating in March, I enchanted myself out of a job.

And, it’s worth noting, into a new one — one which pays only half as much, but has left me with the time and energy to puruse my writing more seriously than I have done since the first months back from Indiana.  And the time to promote my photography, if not the money to pursue it.

But the ice-bath of sudden and unexpected unemployement left me shocked and twitching   Combined with some structural issues with my house, and some mental health issues …. well, I’ve been limping from one crisis to the next, barely keeping up.

Last Thursday, though, as one of my many duties with the Sacred Experience Committee, I hosted and participated in a chant workshop and Full Moon Ritual led by Shauna Aura Knight here in Kansas City.  An hour and a half of light trance followed by an hour long group ritual of singing ecstacy, with someone else doing the heavy lifting so that I could have my own experience.  The ritual’s central conceits were seeking healing in the Sacred Well beneath the World Tree, and then descending further into the underworld to find and recclaim our power.  Despite the public forum, I was able to go deeper and clearer than I have in months.

I was brought to cliff where my astral temple used to stand — shattered and burned more than a year ago now (have I ever told that story?).  I called the Well up to the center of where my temple used to be, and the Well moved the landscape to suit its purposes, drawing the cliff face down into the earth so that what had once been a mighty bastion of stone overlooking the astral sea now stood only as a low wall against a high tide.  The borders of the realm collapsed, or perhaps moved outward beyond my sight.

I submurged myself in the waters of the Sacred Well, let them fill me and wash over me and run through me.

The next two days were a hard crash.  Friday I was hung over like I’d been on a whiskey bender, not participating in a ritual.  I was sick to my stomach, weak and light headed.  Saturday I was hit hard by depression and anxiety.  I felt useless and alone.

Yesterday, though, despite getting up early to help with some heavy lifting, I felt increasingly myself throughout the day.  Private, custom jewelry commisions started falling into place: I expect at least two down payments within the week.  I meditated last night without having a panic attack.  As I examine my aura, now, I find I am more stable, more full, than I have been in months.  There’s a …. spot on my back that may need help from a more practiced healer than I, but it may also sort itself out if I can re-establish a daily practice.

For the first time since coming back to Kansas City, in general, and since losing my old job in March, in particular, I feel genuinely ready to face the world.  There are enough irons in my fire that it is time to stoke the forge, and to begin striking as the irons grow hot.

The lesson, here, is threefold:

  1. Yes, sometimes you fuck  yourself up doing magic.   Particularly when you are getting results.
  2. More magic can be the solution.
  3. Even knowledgable, practiced witches, sorcerers, and magicians benefit from letting others take the helm.  Speaking for myself: I believe that I need a great deal more of that right now.

Ritual Timing and the Risk of Preemptive Defeat

An act of magic does not begin only upon the release of the cone of power, the empowerment of the sigil, the charging of the talisman or spirit-aid.  An act of magic does not begin with the casting of the circle.  It does not even begin with the purifying bath before the ritual begins.  An act of magic begins the moment you set your will to an end, and echoes, still, after you achieve your result.

This is a thing that, I think, we all know, but which we all forget.

This is why, if you plan your rituals thoroughly or even just a few days in advance, you begin to see results before you have charged your sigils or talismans, or even finished arranging your correspondences.  I find that this is particularly common with multi-stage rituals, or when you’re doing magic for other people: frequently, Aradia’s mother will ask her to enchant for something, and then receive it while the offering candles are still burning.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to follow through with the ritual.  I think this is what a lot of people are talking about when they say they “manifested” something, but then get dodgy when you ask about their technique.  This is, interestingly, one the phenomena I have seen scare people away from magic in their earliest experiments.  (When my sister gave me back the magic books I had lent and bought her, she told me with wide-eyed terror about how, when she wanted things, “they just happened!”)

Conversely, when you are attempting something particularly difficult – an exorcism was the example that came up Gordon’s recent podcast interview with Jenny McCarthy – you can begin to encounter resistance as soon as you declare your intent.  Personally, I find this phenomenon most pervasive with my social justice magic: the apathy and depression which beset me when I begin to contemplate how best to undermine the structures of Archonic power; the mind-numbing blank, so much worse than normal writers block, which I struggle against when I attempt to work on my hypersigil novels; the reflexive planning-stage push-back I get from people who were down for the cause until the moment I announced I would actually take action.

I know a great number of magical people who rely too heavily on the first two of these three phenomena.  They are accustomed to the path opening for them effortlessly.  They mistake effective magic for destiny and, as a result, take every obstacle they do encounter as a cosmic DO NOT ENTER sign.  These are the same people who spend their lives wondering, “what am I supposed to do?” and flinch at the question, “what do I want?”

Linear time and causality are the meat and bread of historians, but they are illusions of mortal consciousness.  We are witches and sorcerers and magicians and priest/esses.  We are subject to illness and doomed to die, but in all other regards we disdain the limits of mortality.  The past pushes.  The future pulls.  Things outside of time – ourselves included – stir the pot.

Sometimes, of course, we do encounter DO NOT ENTER signs.  And sometimes we should even heed them.

But we are witches.  We are sorcerers.  We are wizards.  We are priests and priestesses and healers and mystics.  We are crossers of the hedge, climbers of the World Tree, explorers of the astral realms.  We are dabblers in forces forbidden to mortals.  We are possessors of knowledge others fear to face.

If we have any ambition at all, the obstacles we face become challenges which must be surmounted or circumnavigated.  We must set banquet tables for strange gods, even if we must then strangle them in their sleep.  We must slay or subdue or even seduce the dragons.

When you set out on a quest, the resistance you face is pro often of that you are going in the right direction.  Take solace in the stretches of easy, open road, and rest when you can.  And don’t take every challenge personally.  But remember that some of the obstacles arose in opposition to your intention; crush them and use the rubble as stepping stones.

And when you see a DO NOT ENTER sign on a side path, consider that it might be a challenge to be accepted.

Genius Locii: Overseer of the Standing Stones

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When our friend Sthenno learned that Aradia and I were going on a road trip to the Badlands, she asked us to bring her back some dirt to dad to her collection of Earth and Waters from various parts of the world.  She gave us a baggie to collect the dirt in, and a vial of water and a tea-light to serve as an offering for the exchange.

Although we were happy to oblige, there was the small concern of where and how to do such a thing.  After all, the removal of any rocks or plants from a national park is technically a crime (though we carried off enough mud on or shoes and gear to equal easily five times the volume that we collected for Sthenno).  Further (and, frankly, more importantly), this was not a region where white people have historically covered themselves in glory with regards to the First Nations peoples or the spirits of the land.  Although Aradia got a slightly different vibe off of everything, the overwhelming majority of the spirits that I could percieve in the Badlands were fundamentally disinterested in my existence one way or the other.

The one notable exception to that was a spirit near our camp site.  There was a hill to the West of us that called to me.  And not just me: a camp of hippies near us took it upon themselves to climb the small mountain in the dark.  Aradia and I watched their lights and listened to their yells; I very much wanted to follow them—as I put it then, “carrying our jug of wine and screaming like a maenad”—but Aradia disuaded me.

The spirit knew that we needed dirt, and it called to me.  The second day we did climb the hill, and found concentric circles of carefully stacked stones with a set of three piles that were clearly an altar of sorts, and two extra pairs set like gateways at the heads of two paths leading further away from the site.  The spirit—who we believe called others there to erect the “standing stones”—accepted Sthenno’s offer of water and fire in exchange for the dirt (though the wind made the latter … complicated), but wanted blood from Aradia and I without making itself particularly clear about what it was offering in return.  We politely declined, and—perhaps as a result–the spirit also made clear that we were not to take any pictures of the top of it’s hill, so the above picture from the road is the only image I can offer you; one can just barely see the stones rising up at the top of the hill.

Upon our return, the dirt maintained a clear and potent charge, and Sthenno was startled but intrigued to hear the story.  For myself, I look forward to hearing what comes of her workings with the dirt and the associated spirit.

The site, itself, remains clear in my mind, and it is my intention to return astrally to see what I can learn from that perspective.

Spirits of Earth and Air

Last Friday Aradia and I skidded into KC at the end of a nine day road trip to the South Dakota Badlands and Rocky Mountain National Park.  As tempting as it was, in theory, to turn the road trip into a spiritual retreat, the fact is that I desperately needed the vacation.  And what a vacation it was.   Even after all the travelling I’ve done with Aradia and my family, I had never seen landscapes like the ones I saw over that week-and-a-half: the Karst cartography of central and south Missouri gave way to the Loess hills of northern MO and eastern Iowa before we set off across the grasslands of South Dakota.  We came into the Badlands from the north, via I-90, and I don’t even know how to describe the feeling when the earth dropped off in front of us, only to rise back up in magnificent spires of white and red stone.

A view from the Juniper Forrest trail.
A view from the Juniper Forrest trail.

 

Tragically, as our visit coincided with the Perseid meteor shower, it rained on us briefly every day we were there, despite the arid climate, and every night was overcast.  That unseasonable water made it all the more shocking when I tried to get a sense of the spirits of the place and sensed nothing by Earth and Air: ancient, slow-moving things from whom I sensed not just a vast indifference to human life, but to mortal life in general.  My poetic nature wants to describe that indifference as “bordering on cruelty”, but I think that’s a little bit of projection and a great deal of anthropomorphization; I think the spirits that ancient stone, weathered by the wind and by water whose brief appearances is as destructive to the rock as it is necessary to the survival of plant and animal life, are simply the most alien things I have yet to come into contact with.

The Badlands were vast, alien, and austere.  So far from my lands in which I have invested my power, and from the Water which makes up so much of my nature, I felt empty—sucked dry.  Surprisingly, that feeling was healing and cathartic: my waters have been murky, almost poisoned for the last year, by the stresses of my personal and academic life, and by the rigid forces of the ceremonial I had been practicing.  By travelling outside my own personal bog, I was able to let some of those “contaminants” (to continue the metaphor) dry out and be carried off by the constant winds of the desert.

From there were traveled south and further west, cutting through the top-left corner of Nebraska into eastern Wyoming, where we skirted the foothills into north-eastern Colorado where, after gaining elevation slowly over hundreds of miles, we finally ascended into the mountains proper.  The thin air of the Rockies hit me hard, and I was nearly useless for the first twenty hours or so.  The green and grey vistas of the mountains hit me as hard as the desert had, and I found the magical climate much more to my liking, but even farther from “home” and equally alien.

A View from Alpine Ridge Road.
The Rocky Mountains, as viewed from Alpine Ridge Road.

I don’t know if the Rocky Mountains are actually younger, geologically, than the Badlands, but they felt that way to me.  More patient, and with an indifference to my passing that was somehow less hostile.  Earth and Air still dominated, but Water was more familiar, perhaps even more welcome.  When I finally had the opportunity to perform the Stele of Jeu on the last day—something that I had been trying to fit in for the whole trip—the local spirits wanted reassurance that I was not attempting to dominate them, but they took me at my word that I only sought to purify myself.

By the end of the trip, as we came down off the mountain to get coffee in Denver and struck off eastward for dinner and a hotel in Hays, I finally felt like a person again: scoured clean by spirits of Earth and Air.

Taking Pain

Taking a break from all the Very Serious Posts which I should be writing, let’s have a little bit of story time.

Aradia and I are hosting some of my college friends right now, so we took them to our favorite bar in Kansas City, which also happens to be the best gay bar in town.  It was also our first trip there since I got back from the summer, and we were delighted to find our favorite bartender working.  He greeted us warmly, made our friends feel welcome, and made us the best drinks ever.  It was glorious.

But he was also holding his left arm at a funny angle, and it was clearly paining him.  I asked what was wrong, and he made a lot of inarticulate noises and hand gestures (which I originally translated as, “I was drunk at the time and I feel stupid”) before finally explaining that he had taken the pain from the lovely lesbian with the broken arm sitting next to us.

“Give it to me,” I said.  “I’m a professional.”  (Perhaps a slight exaggeration.)

“No,” he said.  “I took it.  It’s my responsibility.”

I respected that, so I let it go.  My friends were like, “what?” and I explained the principles to them.

“Oh,” my one friend says, very  much to my surprise..  “I did that once.”  He goes on to tell me about how this one time he took half of his friend’s migraine so that they could both study before a test.  “If I hadn’t done it myself,” he said, “I wouldn’t believe it was possible.”

The evening progresses, and I come back to the bar to order the next round of drinks.  My bartender is in so much pain that he actually shorts me my change.

“Why do we do this, again?” he asks me.

“Because we can,” I say.

As I work down on my third bourbon, though, the whole thing starts to weigh on me.  He’s nourishing the pain, taking it on as some sort of martyrdom, and it’s making it so he can’t work.  I’m reluctant to push the issue, but Aradia argues that it’s just as idiotically macho to let him suffer as it is for him to insist on suffering, and that if I won’t take the pain off of him, she’ll do it.

We all finish our drinks, and its time to go.  Aradia and one of my friends go to the ladies’ room, while my other friend and I go in search of the bartender to say goodbye and (again) offer to take the woman’s pain from him, and to tip him a little more before we leave.  He refuses both my offer and the tip, but then he gets all weird about it, twisting my friend’s arm rather than taking the tip, and patting me on the heart with the wounded arm.

While his hand is resting on my heart something goes off in the back of my brain, and I just breathe the pain into my lungs, and exhale it as fire into the air above us.

He looks at me in shock and says, “You took it.”

“I did.”

“But you know we have to give it back.”

“No, we don’t.”

Aradia shows up and we finish our goodbyes with a little more drama and groping than usual, then leave the bar.

My friend can no longer contain his enthusiasm: “You breathed it out as smoke.  I saw you take the pain.  I was watching really close because I wanted to see how you did it, and I saw you breathe it out as smoke!”

There is nothing like third party confirmation to make an evening perfect.

I feel a little bad about it, now.  He took the burden so seriously.  But the whole martyr angle just grated on me, and the way he touched me with the wounded hand … it just seemed to be the thing to do a the time.

Devotion and Worship: What Is This? I Don’t Even ….

As I have probably mentioned before, I was raised without religion.  Christianity was pervasive and ubiquitous throughout my childhood, of course: on television and in the Cub Scouts, in my textbooks and in everyone else’s assumptions.  I even went to church for Christmas, sometimes, and Easter.  But my upbringing did not include any actual, direct instruction in Christian religious doctrine or practice.

My early explorations in religion, such as they were, were self-guided, and—ultimately—their own undoing.  One hears about That God and the Bible quite a lot in Cub Scouts and in a Kansas elementary school, but always in ways which presume that one already knows what the speaker is talking about.  Now, generally, this is actually a very effective indoctrination tool: the presumption of knowledge backs most people into a corner where they will agree to anything to avoid admitting that they don’t know what you’re talking about.  That never worked on me.  Gathering the impression that the explanations for all the gibberish could be found in a certain book, I picked up the children’s Bible my parents house.  There were rules, I learned (so many rules, but mostly the Big Ten), with dire consequences promised for breaking them.  But I could see that those punishments weren’t being meted out.  The only conclusions that my pre-teen mind could make from this contradiction were that That God must be absent or unjust.

Thus began my decade-and-a-half “phase” as an angry agnostic.  I wanted no part in any gods.  I found the Neo-pagan movement (Wicca and its offshoots, in particular), and although I found a home, of sorts, for myself … I rejected their gods, too.

All of which is to say that I have no early-life framework for worship or devotion.  I have, in fact, often compared worship of any sort to spiritual slavery.  So…. For about twelve years I celebrated seasonal festivals to satisfy needs I can no better articulate now than I could then.  Nor am I yet certain what changed in my head or why, that day in St. Louis when I suddenly called out to Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Apollo.

Six years after that sharp about-face, my altar is home to nine gods and three familiar spirits.  The spirits I have solid working relationships with: although we are still negotiating the precise terms of our arrangements, we are friends and partners.  The gods, though … Dionysus, Hermes, Hephaestus, Baphomet, Rhea, Athena, the Kouros, the Witchmother, and the Sun … some of them are as uncertain what to do with me as I am with them.  Each has reached out to me, or me to them, and made solid contact at least one time.  Rhea was the first power whose voice I could discern calling to me from the darkness; Athena found her way to my altar through a series of omens; the Kouros answered my call when I went searching for meaning in the Divine Masculine, and the Witchmother came to me through the statue I had used to search for the Divine Feminine; Hephaestus stood at my side when I sat at the bench; Hermes is the chief god of the modern Western esoteric tradition; and Dionysus …  well, that’s a slightly longer story.

I recall deciding, in the strange days leading up to that first call, that if I were ever to worship the gods, Dionysus would be among them.  A youthful, effeminate, sometimes cross-dressing god.  The god of wine and ecstasy, of loosing yourself in the beat of the drum, and of running and fucking in the woods.  The god who causes and cures madness, and who disdains the kings appointed by his father Zeus.  Himself an initiate into the Mysteries of an older, more primal goddess.  As long as I have made mead, I have done so in the name of Dionysus; those of you who have had my wine can attest to its improbable efficacy.  Dionysus was the first god to appear before me at my initiation, and he is always the most firmly present when I perform my pentagram rite.  His leopard visits my astral temple.  And yet, at the same time, he is the most inscrutable of the gods upon my altar.  When I seek him out, I cannot find him.  Only Athena has less to say to me when I pour the libations.

I wonder, sometimes, if it would be easier if it were in my nature to devote myself entirely to a single god.  Could I then count on the god to tell me what was wanted of me, and what I would get from it in my return?  If that were my only dilemma, though, I could simply go the other obvious route, joining one of the Hellenistic recon communities.  I could be well-loved there, as an actual Classicist.  But my own UPG is too far afield, and my witchcraft too radical (to say nothing of my feminism) for those groups I’ve seen.

Each of the powers who has come to me has told me a little bit of what I need to do.  Just enough that, with a little bit of luck and creativity, I have (so far) been able to struggle up to the next step.  I make offerings of coffee, candles, wine, and/or mead at least three times a week.  I must not abandon my visionary practice—I must, in fact, escalate it—but I must also have daily planetary ritual.  But the Orphic hymns aren’t quite …. working.  There’s something lacking : something maybe 25 degrees off.  And while they’ve been showing me how to make masks, magically, I’m still trying to puzzle out some of the material components of the process.  And I have to keep with the lunar and solar calendar I have already devoted so much of my life to.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  So far, none of these are hardships (well, except for the occasional extremely hung over Saturday or Sunday dawn offering rite, and they’re usually pretty forgiving if I’m late).  But … there are disparate pieces that I haven’t figured out how to smelt into a cohesive hole.

How do you obey the gods when they talk so little, and you can’t quite hear them when they do?  When you have no background in “religion” as it is so frequently understood?  When your knowledge of history, and the way in which the gods have been deployed to further—or, given a less charitable set of assumptions, participated in and even instigated—injustice in the name of power for as long as there have been priests and kings, makes the whole idea of “religion” more than a little suspect?  When your grip on sanity is adequately shaky that you’re not one hundred percent certain you’re hearing anything but the echoes of your own derangement?  And, perhaps most to the point, where do you find the missing pieces of a ritual practice that has never quite existed in the form you’re working toward?

True story, y’all: I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.