Grief has wrong-footed me twice this year. And today continues the theme. It is the death day of my Seelenopa, my “soul grandpa”. His death several years ago now, like the other deaths this year, came as a shock, out of the blue. “I’ll write to you as soon as I come around from the operation!” he promised. It was a routine operation on his foot. He wrote to me as promised having begged paper off the nurse, his spidery writing even more inscrutable than ever due to the anaesthetic. A couple of days letter I received another letter – this one bordered in black. I had never received such a letter before. I saw that it was from his wife. I remember the bright curiosity that turned so rapidly into shock – dead “due to unexpected complications” – and then a wailing caw of grief. Grief is so dramatic. Like love it calls for big gestures and words that reach down into the soul, that grab the heart, cry tears of blood and wrench one from the ordinary, from the doldrums of living life one foot in front of the other. Suddenly the path is crooked – in love or in grief – and everything is questioned.
My tagline for this blog right from the start has been “A thought making crooked all that is straight”. It expresses the way I see the world – crooked, twisted, inside-out. I am not an academic thinker in spite of my academic background. I can’t quote you book, chapter and verse but once I get the scent of a thing, I can describe the essence of it in such a way that others lift their snouts to the wind and can smell it too. Not everyone. But enough people.
There was a time when I wrote out of a place of love, not just profane, although often enough that, but these days I seem stuck in a rut of grief. It catches in my throat because I like to write things that uplift others and so I censor myself and resort to silence. Absence. Which is what grief feels like – lack and loss, a negative space, an emptiness that hurts physically. Just as love flips the stomach and sight of one’s beloved clenches the heart in sweet pain, so grief cuts and grinds but without that sweetness. Lovers are happy masochists; those who grieve merely suffer.
I saw an interview the other day with a woman in her late nineties. She described how she spoke to her dead children every day. They were not absent but present. She smiled and said that others must think her “crackers”, but, she said, “I’m not. I know what I’m doing.” Yet the pain of grief still crumpled up her wrinkled face, the loss of her infant children 7 decades ago. She took obvious pleasure in her daily conversations but the pain was still there.
And perhaps that’s the point: life is not without pain. We are swamped by entertainment media that tells us life should be all hearts and flowers; anything less is failure or flawed. Can you Instagram your pain? There must be a filter for that … And so our tolerance for the hard times is worn away by an impossible expectation that turns the circuitous motions of life’s natural ups and downs into a plastic-fantastic treadmill. Worse than the straight path is the life that purports to move you forwards while tricking you into never moving from the same spot.
However, I am not glorifying pain, not saying that you are not living a true and fulsome life without a rock in your stomach, but I am suggesting that grief is to be embraced like love. Both are dramatic in their expression, and both NEED to be in order for us to bear the weight of them. A quiet, discrete love hidden under a bushel is no love at all – at most that is the scratching of an itch, the containment of a neurosis. Likewise, grief should not be shamed into silence – that cultural demand to keep a stiff upper lip, to not dwell on things or, god forbid, be a “whinger”.
And by placing love and grief side by side I do not mean to put them at opposite ends of a spectrum, just because one may appear more pleasant and desirable than the other. No. In grieving fully I give myself permission to love fully. Love in death. Death in love.
The path is never straight, it is forever crooked.
“Art is another language which, if you undertake to learn it, will open up a new world that permeates, surrounds and elevates this dull metropolis.” ~ Seshat
When first you enter the pagan or occult world, you will be faced with all sorts of good (and bad) advice. So let me just throw my glove into the ring with a suggestion of my own.
For those of you who are regularly readers (for which I thank you), you will know that I am a great proponent of using one’s imagination (see HERE for my latest article on the subject). Aside from sitting by the fire day dreaming, some might wonder where on earth to start with honing their creative and imaginistic muscles. First and foremost I would recommend art … although that might feel to turgid and bound by rules of aesthetics and skill … so let’s expand that word to “the arts and crafts” which could include everything expressive from music to painting to woodwork and textiles, such as sewing or even knitting. I know that last might baffle you – what benefit could something like knitting have to a magickal life?! But I would ask you to put aside such “art snobbery” and be open to the idea of creation.
Creating A Thing is a practice that involves making and holding a vision, imagination, commitment to follow through and skill to execute. No part of that sequence involves any judgement over “good” or “bad”, “beautiful” or ugly”, “useful” or “useless”. This is not the realm for debating “What is art?” – this is the domain of learning to envision, create and manifest. Sounds a little like the basics of magick and spellwork, right?
And even though creating artistically can indeed give expression to the subconscious mind (I am a supporter of therapeutic art), this does not mean that I equate magick with the mere machinations of one’s own unconscious, or even the collective unconscious. Magick is not mere psychology and the entities one encounters are not necessarily (although they can be) projections of your own mind. So let’s just make that clear. I am proposing some form of artistic involvement as a means to develop the full spectrum of imagination: a process of shifting a thing from energy into matter. This does indeed include music, as I consider sound vibrations to be a material manifestation. So my remit for “arts and crafts” really does include all forms of creativity.
So, now I shall expand a little on my own artistic practices:
Some people, especially in occult practices, like to work fast and furiously on their art, allowing no room for internal censorship. One of my art practices begins like this, in that I put pen to paper, close my eyes, draw madly in swirls and lines for a few seconds and then stop. But that is the fastest I get in my art. In fact, my art – whether it is sketching, felt painting, or textile work – is characterised by an exceptionally slow pace. It can literally take me months to complete a piece. Surely, when working so slowly, I have to battle often with the censor and conscious mind forcing it into a particular conceptual mould? Yes and no. Certainly I occasionally have to battle with the censor, but the processes for my art are often described by others as tedious and boring; I frequently hear, “I would never have the patience to do that!” But for me, it requires no patience. Due to the minute focus that is required, I slip into a hypnagogic state where the boundaries between conscious censor and fluid unconscious are permeable and mobile. This allows my imagination free reign and expression, often with surprising results. I never know when I start a piece, how it is going to turn out. But where’s that “vision” I spoke about as the starting point? For me, the vision is merely the unmistakeable physical pull and urge to create; it is a very corporeal as well as mental drive – for me personally, this is my vision and the manifestation is a process of welcoming the Other that nudged my psychic senses and bringing into a material form. The process will most likely be different for other people, but maybe some of you can identify with my own experience and methods.
And I must make an aside, regarding textile art (e.g. knitting, although in my case not knitting per se as I have injured hands and can no longer knit without pain). I embroider and create knot ropes; again, both techniques are laborious and easily induce a light trance state due to the focus and repetition. My knot ropes (for which I use spools, or French knitting dolls, but also the Anglo-Saxon lucet) may seem banal to onlookers, but to me they are invested with thought and emotion. By doing such repetitive work, importantly while focusing on a particular thing (a solution to a problem, a state you wish to come into being, magick you wish to actuate, or a person) you anchor that thing in muscle memory for a start, making the thing you create a part of your body (mundane example: the first time I watched The Shining I was knitting socks. The next day after watching the film, I picked up my socks and experienced such powerful flashbacks from the film that I could no longer continue knitting. It took a week for the muscle memory to abate enough for me to pick up again). But also, by taking the slow route, one comes to know the Thing one creates intimately well: that point where the shade of wool changes a fraction, that slip in the stitch that creates a loose mark, that struggle to tie in a bead or feather… So what’s the point, you may ask? The point is to enhance concentration, memory, focus, experiencing creation with the body not just the mind, and of course exercising of the imagination. Never underestimate the simple rural crafts such as knotting, spinning, carding, weaving, crocheting, and yes, knitting. They hold an equal place in my heart alongside the more “mainstream” arts of painting and sketching.
The proof is in the pudding. Try it. Try everything. I have sung, played classical guitar, painted, sketched, used textiles and wool, knotted and finger painted! And in each I have been able to reach that hypnagogic state – not always, because it’s not always appropriate – but at will, which is a sign that it has developed into a discipline. The neural pathways are laid, the psychic arteries are flowing, my imagination is working.
The wonderful thing about art is that it is a life-long companion. There is always room to improve your creative and imaginistic skills. Remember that cerebral judgement about “art” does not apply here. If you can think it, you can do it – and that is not a literal adjuration to do whatever you like. Not everything should be enacted literally, but that is the beauty of imagination and art, – there are no rules. I have seen art created by finger painting with menstrual blood, alongside the “Fine Art” painted canvases; I have seen thread embroidered into the very skin on the hand of an artist, alongside ecclesiastical gold embroidery. The end product is almost irrelevant; it is the inner journey that is important – the vision, the actuation, the material manifestation. But like all good magick, don’t hang on the results. Once you’ve finished a piece, do not rest on your laurels, but immediately begin the next! Only so (I suggest) will you develop invaluable skills to your occult, pagan and magickal practices.
I feel like I’m in a strange place in my life at the moment. This year has been one of extreme change – all internal. My external world putters along pretty much unchanged.
Sancho Panza has been ramping up the pressure on me to be my authentic self. Firstly I had to learn what my authentic self was; then I had to learn not to fear it but accept it; and finally I am learning to express it. This engagement with the authentic self carries with it power. Some might call it “being self-empowered” but I would extend it further than that to a sense of power in general.
Often in the pagan community we have quite an ambiguous relationship with the concept of power. After all, power can be abused and misused. Power implies a hierarchy – the empowered “above” the powerless. Hierarchies, to many people, involve implicit abuse because we don’t like to compare or judge others as less than … God forbid that we would put ourselves ABOVE other people or be made to feel that we are LOWER than other people. But we are primates, it is part of our genetic biology to exist in social groups made up of hierarchies, so I dismiss any faintheartedness over who’s better and who’s worse. It’s like attractiveness – there will always be someone uglier than you and there will always be someone prettier than you. The same goes for character, power and influence. Get used to it.
So let’s just take hierarchy as a fact of life and return to the idea of “power”. It would be extremely easy to mistake power for something that we generate inside ourselves, that we CREATE power and direct it by our wills. This is an ego-driven misrepresentation of power. In my experience, the best and purest form of power is when you step out of your own way and allow the power to flow through you. If you can learn to call down the power, it will flow through you and like a funnel you can direct it towards certain areas of your life and invoke change.
That is, I think, a key point to remember with power, and by extension magick: it is most effective in affecting change. Life is in a continual state of flux. Our purpose is to develop and grow, to evolve towards the divine (either to be consumed by divinity, or to become divine); any attempt to put the brakes on a situation subverts the natural flow of life.
So the power that I am referring to is an external force, channelled by myself, which I can direct and apply at will (or more accurately BY my will). In knowing my authentic self, I remove blockages to the flow of that power; I can approach the source of my power (in my case, the spirits) with a truly honest heart. Know Thyself, was the maxim at the Temple of Delphi, and this goes deeper than any ego-centric, superficial knowledge of who you are, the mundane face that you show to the world. In my relationship with the spirits, the first thing I learned was “honesty”. If I want something, I need to be honest about it without guilt, without reticence or excuses.
Often we are taught that we should only desire “good” things because we are good people, or worse, we should have no desires at all. So we sublimate our desires and displace our need for A by giving ourselves the more readily available and perhaps more socially acceptable B. If you go to the spirits asking for B, when your heart is longing for A, either nothing will happen, or you will get B and feel dissatisfied or you will get a slap upside the head for being dishonest with the spirits. You can’t approach them with your neuroses and complexes and expect them to weed through the shit in your head to understand the poor little flower you are inside. No. YOU have to work through the shit. YOU have to learn radical honesty with yourself.
Sometimes I can’t always express the honest desire. I am aware of it, and I feel it, but I cannot adequately verbalise it. That is something different. In such cases, I can still sit before the spirits, explain what I can, then I open my heart and allow them to see the true desire, while I take full responsibility for the outcome of asking for my true will to become manifest.
If you want “something bad” to happen to another person, really want it with no scruples or hang-ups, then it will happen when you apply your own power: “your own power” being your relationship with the spirits and your skills in magick.
So I have learned to know my authentic self and I am applying my authenticity to my relationships by admitting my vulnerability AND not hiding my strength. Sometimes it is not always about hiding your vulnerabilities but also about down-playing your strength so you don’t intimidate or scare other people off. Humans can be very deceptive; the key is not to lose awareness of the masks you wear – always remember the true face under the mask less you one day wake up and believe that a mask is the true you … then, frankly, you’re fucked, and your magick won’t work and a whole host of other things in your life won’t work either.
Authenticity leads to greater power; greater power is a better relationship with spirits and a more effective magickal life. For me, these things combined together dampen the ever-present fear I have lived with throughout my life. Sancho Panza calls it my Lizard Brain: this is the Amygdala, that part of the brain which has been evolving for nearly 300 million years; the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight reactions; the animal part within us that responds to stress not as a civilised human but as an animal (you hurt me, I hurt you OR you hurt me, I keel over and play dead). An over-stimulated Lizard Brain leads to paranoia, aggressiveness or, like in my case, a constant state of frozen fear that has gradually exhausted me mentally and physically leading to chronic illness. My Lizard Brain is knackered from having been exposed to too many life-threatening situations. My Lizard was flat on his back, legs in the air; he had given up and was playing dead.
By expressing your authentic self you can calm the Lizard Brain. If the Lizard is calmer, he can rest and recover. My ever-growing power makes me courageous and counter-acts the habit of fear. This too will calm my injured Lizard Brain, giving me room and space for healing.
I am hopeful that through authenticity, my magickal practice and my developing relationship with the Akhu, the Beautified Spirits, who are always generous, I can look towards a future of health and wholeness. So mote it be.
I’m tamping furious that the bastard council didn’t even let the Guerrilla art stand for a week before they removed it (see this link -> HERE). The area looked sanitised and wiped clean, the presence of the two stags still hanging somewhere in the air.
I have been slowly digesting yesterday which was a pretty dire day. Woman wasn’t at art group. She has injured herself. I was surprised/not-surprised at the lack of emotion in me at that news. I found it interesting that Alpha Psych who so patently has a thing for her, gravitated to her seat and spoke about her art with the postscript, “Although we shouldn’t talk about her when she’s not here.” Preferably not at all, I thought. I find her simpering, weak-woman ways irritating. She is one of those women who plays the helpless female, batting her eyelashes like she’s in a sand storm. I look to the men and see with horror that they fall for this manipulation. It may look endearing in a woman under thirty, but post-50 you really need to chuck the hormone replacement and grow a pair.
As I walked past the copse cleared of stag-art, I thought about how nearly every female friend has confessed to me that they have hairs on their toes … as if it is an admission of something grotesque, anti-social and, even, inhuman. We are primates. We have hair, we have odours, we need food and sex. We are not hairless, odourless, silicone sculpted, poison-injected doll substitutes but creatures with lumps and bumps, blemishes and squidgy bits. We are not sanitised areas cultivated with weed killer, we are living Guerrilla art… and we too are subject to removal.
Sometimes we remove ourselves, sometimes others remove us. In my own case, one indicator of my Presence is an acknowledgement of my needs and the subsequent follow-through. Plastic dolls have no needs. Guerilla art demands your attention and emotional response.
Recently, people keep asking me, “What can I do for you? Is there something I can do for you?” and the question surprises me each time, baffles me, leaving my mind to scrabble for something, the multiple censors hacking at thoughts like a series of slicing blades, trying to find something to say, something doable, something that isn’t “too much”. Asking for anything is a HUGE force of will for me. The double edge of this being that if I do ask for something (and usually I will start with something very, very little like “message me”) and for some reason it is not possible, or life gets in the way for no other reason than life throws a curve ball, then I take that as proof that I am plastic to that person; I withdraw and shut down.
In my five-year relationship with my abusive ex I asked for something once. We lived in a small flat. I was in the living room, he was in the kitchen, and I asked him to please bring me a glass. He was so enraged that he grabbed the dirtiest glass and tossed it at me on the sofa. Serves me right for relaxing enough to think I could ask for something… except of course, now I think, what a tosser (literally and metaphorically)!
But things are very different these days. I am a different person, changing rapidly, although I still really struggle with asking for things. Fantasy is one thing, reality is another.
After my massage which has left me feeling marvelous and fully anchored in my squidgy femaleness, I went for a coffee at my favourite cafe. I saw an interestingly lopsided coffee and walnut cake and asked for a slice (that was always my favourite as a child … the thrill of surreptitiously sneaking in a hit of caffeine as I wasn’t allowed coffee or tea until older, the same justification saw me develop a love of rum and raisin ice cream … !). As the manager cut me a slice, she nodded to the new cook, a young girl, and said, “Cake looks lovely, K.” And it was, so I took the time to scare the bejeezes out of K. by sneaking up on her and growling “Gorgeous cake” in her ear … She blushed and looked chuffed to bits, nervous because cake-making is her new endeavour in the kitchen.
I hate it when women diss other women, when they sit in a public place, point and list the faults. “Look at her extensions! Look at her belly! Look at the way she’s dressed.” It used to be easier to mumble agreement, but actually, no: the girl with the bad extensions has a pretty face, the woman with the big belly looks like she would be a real laugh and great to cuddle, and the woman with the odd clothes looks like she doesn’t give a shit, so yay for her!
I always make the effort to acknowledge the good things about women (I don’t say anything to men because the usual assumption then is that you are cracking onto them … booooring!). When I worked in the bookshop, a woman came in with her 80+ year old mother in a wheelchair. The old woman had fancy nails, and I said how lovely her nails looked. Her face lit up like a beacon, “Really?! I’ve never had a manicure before, my daughter just took me this morning!” and she beamed with pride. I was so pleased I said something, kicking aside that cruddy English reserve that means you “shouldn’t” engage on a personal level with strangers (I only engage personally, incapable of doing otherwise).
The thing is, women need that positive feedback. And I hate women who enforce the negative cycle of synthetic moulding, the belief that anyone else should conform to anyone else’s ideas. Yes, men play a huge role in this; whatever the pundits say, this is still a patriarchal society. And as a friend and I joked recently when discussing weight, the last thing you want from a man is a bloody solution (have you tried such-and-such, why don’t you go on a diet)! No, what you need then is for him to say you are gorgeous and perfect, because to be honest, you probably are: note how I slip easily into pointing the finger away from myself to you – I can dish the compliments, although I struggle to take them. But I do love those friends who have actually said they are willing to invest “years” into complimenting me until it finally sinks in … drip, drip, drip – it feeds my parched soul and yes, I do feel the desert in me starting to bloom, for which I thank you.
So, embrace the gorilla [sic] in yourself! Be hairy and smelly. Eat and have sex. Be beautiful, because you just are.
Thrilled today to find that Scarlet Imprint had posted a new blog entry with a field recording of Peter (one of my favourite magickians in “the public eye”) giving a talk on Armageddon, Babalon and the challenge facing us as individuals and as humanity.
Here is the blog post:
… do take the time to listen to the entire talk, unlike many speakers, Peter is very easy to listen to and the time flies by. I know that we are all attuned to 5 minute focus these days, but push yourself a bit!
The talk was interesting for me on a personal level for several reasons. Babalon entered my life in 2008; during that time she stripped me bare, turned my life upside down and threw me into a period of extreme turmoil and terror. After my last (and hopefully last) suicide attempt, I awoke initially peeved at the world, that it was still there and I still had to engage with it. A month later, Pomba Gira came down on me and I became her devotee. In turn, she has also stormed through my life, but in a gentle-raucous way, the way that extreme laughter can make you hurt but feel so good. So much has changed both in my head and heart since she came to me (and by coincidence Scarlet Imprint have recently released a book on Pomba Gira: Pomba Gira and the Quimbanda of Mbumba Nzila by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold – I will be reading that after my current study book, Holy Harlots, Femininity, Sexuality, & Black Magic in Brazil by Kelly E. Hayes).
In the talk, Peter spoke about Armageddon and the need for magickians to respond (I won’t detail his talk here, because I really think you should listen to it yourself). All of what he said reflected my own thoughts over the last couple of years, and my own personal revelations – yes, on a macrocosmic level, but more specifically on a microcosmic level. And just as I have struggled with the concept of my own life being something I wished to preserve, so part of me listened and thought, “Is humanity worth saving?” Through my own studies in paleontology I have seen a distinct pattern in the life of the earth and its animals, and our own destruction, in which ever form, seems inevitable and justified. In my own mind, I do not see that Armageddon is coming, but that it has come, it is too late for mankind [sic], but not for individuals – as contradictory as that may sound.
I agree that there is huge benefit in learning a martial art, connecting with like-minded communities (specifically within the magickal subculture), learning how to glean our needs directly from nature rather than relying on oil-driven industries: yes, all of that is right and rather along the lines of “good advice will never harm you, even if it won’t directly cure the situation” (not that Peter was suggesting a “cure”).
But I am drawn once again to reiterating things I have been saying for years and experiencing for years. There is a need for us to drastically dispense with the trappings of our “social selves”, to realise that the persona we project is usually not who we truly are. Mental health is a case in point: where else do you see such a dramatic and often violent stripping of the social niceties to reveal the true bones of a psyche, often damaged by the demands and experiences of a sick world. We become the earth, walking examples of excessive stress, tired hypocampi, exhausted adrenal systems. We are ravaged and pile-driven, raped in the head, raped in the body – literally and figuratively. And like some inverse homeopathy we continue to feed the disease with more disease: as pagans filling our heads with fluff and saleable shit, buying our spirituality with the “must-have wand”, the matching cloak … all the while we are layering more and more plastic turf over polluted ground, allowing the pollution to sink deeper and deeper into our souls.
There is something in experiencing the head-smack of mental health WHILE practising consciousness and awareness, because you can bypass years of deconstruction and experience the polluted soul much more quickly than, say, someone who is stuck at the material level of life consumption and believes themselves to be “well”.
My last suicide attempt shook something within me and my health in very many ways has started to climb since then. It felt like a final purge of soul pollution, and even though I experience the dregs occasionally, I am in a place of construction and re-formation, aided by by the spirits of Lucky Hoodoo and my devotion to Pomba Gira.
I doubt I am expressing myself half as eloquently as Peter, but the point I want to make is that we, as magickians and witches, should not get stuck at stock-piling cans of peaches because I personally believe that nothing will save our world, and this is a natural cycle on this particular planet. But there is a microcosmic Armageddon playing itself out within each of us, and it is up to us individually as to whether we respond to it or die face down in the poisoned earth. There is more than this planet, and the transmutation of our Selves has to go hand-in-hand, or even take priority, over what we can change in the visible, mundane world. What we see is merely an echo of a greater reality; our microcosmic experience broadcasts a macrocosmic echo.
One night I was walking and saw a tree. Then I saw through the tree and experienced the essence that was expressing itself as a tree in this world. There is a dire need for us to find our own essence, the point of being that is represented as us on this plane of existence: because who we think we are, is not who we truly are. And if we continue not-knowing, that will be our own personal, inevitable Armageddon.
” Since I fortuituously [sic] met you, whom I consider the most clear-sighted of all, I began gathering … the threads which might have led me across the initial border of Knowledge. I must live through that experience all over again, because, by doing so, I believe that I may be of use to you, just as I believe that you will be of help in my journey beyond that frontier by keeping me lucid and by enabling me to put on and to take off at will the mask which will be my shield against the hostility of Conformism.”
Leonora Carrington, Down Below
Following on again from a timely reference in a post on my beautiful friend’s blog, “Going down to the sea again“, I found part of the interview with Lars Iyer (linked HERE) even more thought-provoking and inspiring for me personally:
Cultivate your legitimate strangeness: that was my mantra. ‘Cultivate’, because it is a struggle, a kind of asceticism. To drive the demons out, you have to know that they are there. A kind of self-knowledge is necessary – not the petty narcissism we find in the ‘misery memoir’, but a growing awareness of those forces that have constituted you, that have made you what you are. ‘Your legitimate strangeness’: ‘Your’, because it is yours, your space, the person you are, that you have become, even as you might alter this space, remake it. ‘Legitimate’ – that part of you that is not yet subsumed by capitalism, that free part of yourself that is not a slave. ‘Strangeness’ – because it must appear strange to the slaves and their masters, to everyone around you.
Great words to start a day with!