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.
At a certain point in my exploration of and attempted living of a Left-Hand Path esoteric life, my morality was suspended, but this was not a liberated state where I moved unencumbered by external strictures. It was a place without life meaning or significance.
I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
Some LHP-ers live hedonistic, countercultural lifestyles, turning their upbringing, the norms of the culture they live in and the dominant religion on their heads. They take the above as a guide and do the opposite or a diametrical offshoot of it … but then consider themselves “free” in that adversarial state, without realising that they may have struck off the path and written their own map but their True North is still the things they often despise so vehemently, namely mainstream culture and established religion. If you define yourself in opposition to A Thing you are not free as you still require The Thing to determine your opposition.
If the majority stand BY a wall but you decide to lean AGAINST the wall, you are still in a position relative to the wall. In my mind, the point was to negate the wall entirely and see how freely I could move without any self-imposed limitation (bearing in mind that I live within a world of limits, perceptively anyhow).
If you live in a culture where drinking is “the norm” then choosing to drink absinthe (a common LHP-er’s tipple) is neither original nor daring, it is merely imbibing another alcoholic liquid, albeit one with a romantic backstory. In addition to a pleasant high, the best you might get out of it is to live the lives vicariously of all the poets and social fringe dwellers known to imbibe in the stuff.
In a society where everything is sexualised, down to the social experience and expression of children/childhood to the selling of commodities, then merely having sex a lot, even with multiple partners, even with multiple genders, is not that daring or enlightening per se.
In a society where drugs are the norm from the socially acceptable stimulants and depressants like sugar, coffee and alcohol to the medically widely prescribed opiates and amphetamines, then going to “the man on the corner” for your drug supply makes you neither a maverick nor particularly savvy – play the system better and get your drugs on repeat for free (at least if you live in the UK)!
So in contemplating the above I experimented subsequently with the nominal counter-counter norms of abstinence and celibacy – if you want to live an adversarial position to mainstream culture you might want to announce that you are a celibate, teetotal vegan! … then learn what it is to live in opposition to the norm.
But yet again, this state of opposition merely helped me to shake up my assumptions, I was not liberated from being defined by the things I rejected. I fell into a pit of meaninglessness, a place where neither The Thing nor The Opposite of the Thing had significance or meaning to me. And without meaning I spiraled into depression as I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
The only way out of this was to admit that what I was doing wasn’t working for me. I began to observe others who appeared happier, more focused and more creative (in their artistic, professional, spiritual and/or emotional lives) than me. And this included the “hippie-dippy-shitty-airy-fairy brigade” – a group of people I was used to criticising and (yet again) defining myself in opposition to. My ego protested, but I remonstrated with it that, up till now, its decisions had been isolating, deflating and unhealthy – in fact un-inspiring (inspire: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence).
I did a lot of “fake it till you make it” which ironically is a state of aligning yourself against someone else’s norm, hardly an adversarial stance; the difference being that I had to still my shrieking ego. Over time I found my own meaning and significance. The key? To lay aside ego. My meaning? That is not relevant to you as it is my path and my journey, my baggage, history and personal make-up. Your meaning will be uniquely your own.
In freeing myself from defining myself “as X” and “as NOT X” I have managed to step over the fundamentals of right/wrong, which as a social anthropologist I know to be severely culturally determined – no absolutes! (Cf. postmodern relativism) Instead of acting one way or the other in re-action to a moral duality, I now choose to act in accordance with my personal meaning; a meaning that is continuously fed by an indefinable thing that can only be know experientially through practice, study, integration and in-corporation (in corpore – in the body) of both and through putting aside egoic desires to be the same as/better than/different to XXX.
I guess you might define it as a life study in Becoming; I hesitate to say of “Being” – that potentially stagnant and anti-cosmic state of “I am that I am”. Instead I become Atum, self-engenderer from the primal chaos, bridge between what is “not” and what “comes forth” in a process of continuous unfolding.
And that’s another point: the path unfolds as I Become. Defining myself against the moral landscape around me at any particular moment belies the truth of existence. It places a premature and deceptive full-stop against a life that should at any point em-body the pregnant sentiment of dot-dot-dot … to be continued …
My acquaintanceship with spirits began at a very young age. I saw and heard things that others didn’t and I was told to keep quiet about it because people would think I was mad (great message to send to a child!); so I withdrew further from the mainstream world and inhabited my own world of imagination and spirit.
…one must be cautious not to chuck the imaginative baby out with the imagined bathwater!
I am often asked, “How will I know when something spirit-based happens? How will I know it’s not just my imagination?” To which I reply, “You won’t know and you will know, and imagination is the key to knowing.” “Imagination” is given a hard time in every arena except the creative. “It’s just your imagination!” is a dismissive comment we bring out when people try to describe things outside the norm. Whereas it is indeed irritating when you get people who claim that every creaking floorboard is a ghost, and every feather floating to the ground is a sign of an angel passing by, one must be cautious not to chuck the imaginative baby out with the imagined bathwater!
…imagination is the connecting language between here and there, between this world and Other. Without it we are merely flesh sacks excreting, eating and fucking.
The imagination works with symbols and sign and all the senses. When asked to imagine a scene most vividly, we are encouraged to draw upon our sensory memory to recreate the scene in our minds. This creates a connecting language between our internal world and our external world. This language is the stuff that spirit encounters are made of. When a spirit makes its presence known in this world, it is partly here, partly there; it is both wave and particle. Our minds have the same capacity to occupy more than just the visible, material world … some might say it is our spirits or souls that stand with a foot in each realm. If that is so, most people spend the majority of their life unaware of the half of their “body” that stands in the Other. How would one go about rediscovering this Other half? The first step must surely be to imagine it, to conceive of the possibility that it exists, to bring the image of it into consciousness. As I said, imagination is the connecting language between here and there, between this world and Other. Without it we are merely flesh sacks excreting, eating and fucking.
…believing the impossible and allowing it to remain an impossible belief made manifest exactly because it was impossible.
The fact that I withdrew into my internal world as a child was a great boon to me in that it allowed me to become fluent in “Imagination” so that my mind was all ears and eyes, open to receiving the Other when it came. Some things I have seen with my physical eyes, which, for me, is a very frightening way of perceiving things. Likewise I was majorly disturbed by a ghost cat as a child that would jump on my bed and settle in amongst my blankets (that was fine); but when he began to claw at my carpet I was frightened and told him to stop scaring me, and he did. Sadly, my ghost cat disappeared entirely. This is another factor that I have experienced repeatedly: apparitions, the ones that truly want to connect with you, come through gradually. They appear at first like imagined moments – noises, smells, tactile sensations – and become more concrete and perceptual over time (in one case, a being took about 3 years until it manifested nearly completely – I was able to touch him and it was like touching hard air. Not all take quite this long though …). BUT once I queried the experience or applied some logical understanding to it, even if the logic was based in pseudo-magickal psychology (e.g. my desire for XX has manifested in the physical expression of YY), then the apparitions disappeared never to return again. In each case, it was vital for me to maintain a state of mind anchored in imagination and credulity – believing the impossible and allowing it to remain an impossible belief made manifest exactly because it was impossible. This may sound like gibberish to some, but I think to others it will make perfect sense.
It is difficult to maintain that fine line between megalomaniacal fantasies and true spirit experiences, but this is where you need to develop your self, including unrelenting self-honesty.
As far as advice goes, when wishing to open yourself up to the spirit world, do not be afraid of a little imagination. Believing that a knock COULD be a spirit, opens up the impossible possibility that a future knock IS a spirit. [At which point in writing, my housemate knocked on my door! Haha!] It is difficult to maintain that fine line between megalomaniacal fantasies and true spirit experiences, but this is where you need to develop your self, including unrelenting self-honesty. Experiencing spirits in isolation will bring you nothing; this is a path of full and comprehensive self-development/self-loss/self-transformation. If you are looking for kicks or a good story, you will find neither or possibly be so shit scared by something that you wish you’d never dabbled in the first place (I have met people like this).
Begin with a meditation discipline … something appropriate, not “I meditate while I do the gardening/chores etc.” That’s not meditation. And use meditation to expand the sensory capacity of your mind. If you can think it with all your senses, it can be; if you can conceive it, it can manifest. But when it does, be reserved with your questioning and logic, or risk chasing away the very thing that you seek.
Edit: I found this rather appropriate quote by Kenneth Grant, so am adding this after the fact:
In all forms of magick, the imagination or image-making faculty is the most important factor.
So my lucet arrived… Isn’t he beautiful?
He was hand-carved from cherry wood and feels amazing in my hand. It didn’t take me long at all to get the hang of it (thanks to some YouTube videos). I dove straight in and worked a contrast thread (the gimp cord). Imagine now knotting in pearls and semi-precious bead stones, small feathers … Beautiful. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please refer to THIS POST ABOUT KNOT MAGIC.
Even though there is room for much elaboration, my initial experiment with knot magic and the lucet was a much more basic and plain affair. I sat in candlelight with my lucet and two threads of the appropriate colour (in this instance black and red). I began to weave, focusing all my thoughts into each knot, binding my intent into the cord. Once done, I knotted off the cord, tied it into a circle (further binding it into itself) and placed it like a halter around the neck of one of my fetishes. I lit a candle and made offerings to the fetish for one night. The next night, I placed the “done spell” into my Atua. When I have sufficient cords in my Atua I will burn them, but for now they are fine there, “magickally fermenting” in a spirit atmosphere. Spell work has always felt like cooking for me … ingredients, stewing, fermenting, rising, baking off, cooking till its “done”… and often, disposing of the remains, preferably composting it to earth or burning off with fire.
On another note, my writing career is starting to take off, and consequently spending a few moments on this blog chatting with you, feels a little like sneaking out the back of the office for a quick smoke. I am ghostwriting and editing, along with some translation work again (although wildly different to what I used to translate); and I’ve started writing a book on fear. It’s a theme that comes up recurrently in profane AND sacred life. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced fear, except for the sociopath whose emotions are by nature limited to the shallows. And yes, I’ve met a few of them. Thank you, The Internet.
Although these days my life seems mostly free from dastardly types and this is a testament to how I have overcome my own fear in laying down the boundaries of my identity. I used to be swayed so easily like driftwood on the sea, but these days, although I am flexible, I am no longer merely a mirror to egos stronger than my own. It’s okay to have preferences and limits. Being a mirror to others does not mean that I am more enlightened or less bound by my own ego-urges. Maybe quite the contrary, that I end up in a battle between my own ego and that of the other person.
So often I have sacrificed myself to another, especially in relationships. My needs took back place and I squeezed myself small into the mould they made for me. But eventually I would spring out of the mould, slightly deformed, but still different from what they wanted me to be, and then I would be rejected. It was a cycle I repeated way too often. These days, perhaps it’s age, I am averse to moulds; I recognise big egos and I walk around them; I am less swayed by the externals. My relationship with spirits has helped; if I find myself dancing to another’s tune, I get a nudge from Spirit because such inauthenticity detaches me from my ability to connect with Other. Being authentic is not a place of comfort and often it would be easier and feel more secure (although it is a false security) to hand over responsibility for the dance to someone else. It’s a truth that only I can dance with my own feet … forget walking in my shoes, you can have my shoes … but no one walks this earth – skin on dirt – like I do (or like you do).
Empathy is a wonderful thing, but it can sometimes tilt one towards living too much inside other people’s heads. I grew up with no separation between myself and others due to my psychism and my sensitive empathy. But at the age of 20 I attended a workshop in a small village in Germany. There I was introduced to the phrases: “Ich bin bei mir” and “Ich bin bei dir”, which loosely translate as “I am within me” and “I am within you” (bei translates variously as with, in, at, by … but I choose in this instance the word “within”). At the workshop I was challenged in my thinking and actions again and again: Are you within yourself or within another? And I realised that I was predominantly within other people, thinking and feeling what they felt and adjusting my own behaviour accordingly. I was reactive to every person I met. I rarely acted from a spontaneous base of me-ness. Yes, you could look at the psychology and say it was a defence and way to keep myself safe, which is true. My upbringing was not a safe one and knowing what other people were thinking/feeling or going to do before they even knew it themselves kept me safe. But as an adult it was a disempowering habit that kept me in a regressed emotional and spiritual state.
I rapidly learned to recognise when I was “within another” and I tempered my responses, although it has taken years to form a solid identity of my own that is not defined by other people (remembering also that we are coloured by all experiences, including very much the people we allow into our lives). It is a life-long journey because each day we step into the river and it is never the same … neither are we.
So, dear folks, it’s time to put out my metaphorical cigarette (as I don’t smoke!) and step back into the office. Thanks for dwelling a while with me as I pondered a few things. Till next time!
[DEDICATED TO THE DEATH DAY OF ANDI D.]
Do birds sing at night in the cities
While darkness reigns on the land?
Lights imbue the air with iridescent glow
That tarnishes midnight creating
A subterfuge of sleep.
I lay awake three nights in a row
Listening to a lone blackbird sing
Even though dawn was a dream away,
Fantasy in the mind of Nut;
The morning star still hidden in her belly.
My world upturned while he sang a song
Of dawn, pressed into night’s breast;
His throat trilled vibrations of the sun
Into the bosom of Night, pricking her skin
So she bled into my mouth: I could not breathe.
Nature was inverted during those nights;
The spirit of day had invaded the Du’at,
The bark of Ra dragged screaming
Through the underworld where the dead
Heard the song of the thrice-black bird.
Cadavers quaked at the sound with longing
Remembering dawns when the blood
Pulsed, throbbed and rose in their veins –
A bloody dawn inside their own bodies
That now rotted in the earth.
I heard the dead groan at the agony
Of Beauty – Cosmic Shivers – that ululated
From that bird. As I lay listening,
Breath stilled under the Midnight Sun
I pondered my own death that surely must come.
I keep pet rats and have done for over 15 years. To my friends I am known as “the Rat Witch”. Rats are a wonderful pet; they answer to their names, give and love to receive affection, respond to commands and have enormous personalities that seem to far outweigh the size of their corporeal selves. The down side about pet rats is that they only live for 2 to 2.5 years (the latter if you are lucky). Wild rats barely survive for a year. Fancy rats (including Dumbo, Siamese, Rex and standard breeds) have been bred to survive much longer but consequently they die frequently of cancers and tumours due to their excessively unnatural life span.
In the past, I had a “friend” who got angry with me for keeping rats. She had issues with death and was furious that I exposed myself to the death of my beloved companions every 2 years or so. It’s true. It is a lot of grief. A lot of death-mongering – I have always had to decide when it’s their time to pass, when the suffering is too much. Just as it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good life, it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good death. Without exception I have held every rat in my arms until they have passed on. Because rats are so small, the fatal injection cannot be given into the heart as with cats and dogs; instead, it is injected into their stomachs and then we have to wait until the substance has worked its way around their system and they die. This can take anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes. The latter death was traumatic for me due to the way she fought in spirit to hold onto life. Trust me, it was her time to go, but a rat’s tenacity to life is indomitable.
So for me, death is a large part of my relationship to rats. Death is in the room with me right now. Tomorrow I will be taking my oldest girl to be put down. Her spirit is still lively and she is bright as a kitten, but her body is ridden with tumours and she can barely walk due to a massive tumour that has deformed both her back legs. She is the oldest surviving rat I have ever had. She is my “eternal girl”. I will miss her very much when she passes.
I am preparing myself to be a Death Doula tomorrow evening. I have felt this decision weighing on me since before Christmas. Sometimes I have wanted to look away from Death’s face, to ignore this part of our life. I wish I could be callous and leave her to die on her own, have the responsibility taken away from me. But part of my role as Death Doula is that *I* take on the pain of death. It is not for me to leave her till her tumours rupture and she dies in agony, or till she can no longer eat and drink and she starves slowly to death. As a Rat Witch, my role is to give them joy in life, and to smoothe the transition to Death as best I can by lethal injection and having them fall asleep in my arms as my heart breaks.
I once had a boyfriend who refused to accompany me to the final appointment with the vet, because he found it “too hard”. To this day I am astounded and annoyed because the implication was that it was easy for me. It’s not. It is the hardest thing ever and I admit that at times I have thrown myself into a bottle of alcohol or a pile of pills afterwards because the pain is so excruciating. But when I welcome a rat into my life, I welcome their death too – I take all parts of them into my hands. However difficult it is, I have no choice … or maybe I do, I choose to hold them as Death takes their soul. I choose to cradle their bodies as their muscles spasm releasing their spirit and their final death rattle is squeaked from their lungs … their final word.
It’s a big responsibility to choose the time of another creature’s death. I am not talking about animal sacrifice, which I abhor and reject unreservedly. I am talking about compassion which is truly a Merciless Path; to live with compassion means to take on the pain. In some circles they speak of taking on the Passion of Christ, being killed on the cross with him. I know some of you will be rolling your eyes at such a comparison with the death of a “mere rat”. Vermin, right? To you maybe. But to me they are massive souls in tiny bodies. They are companions, and they have literally saved my life on several occasions.
As much as I enjoy the life of my rats, I must also honour their death and be Death Doula helping them to die into Death as much as we are born into life. Tomorrow I will hold my old girl in my arms and stroke her, calling her all my affectionate names and singing to her until she passes.
To my Beautiful Girl with a smoky nose and eyes like pomegranate seeds: I shall miss you. Let me take on the pain of your death, so that you may no longer suffer. So mote it be.
In times of stress and fear, we generally default to those beliefs and ideas that we feel in our heart of hearts are most protective and empowering – what you might call our “original” or fundamental beliefs. The agnostic in battle flings up a prayer to god; the lapsed Catholic makes the sign of the cross at a near-miss car crash; and the child seeks out mum or dad … presuming that those parental figures are safe and protective. Mine weren’t, so in times of stress as a child I fled inward and to the spirits.
I had an intense introduction to Roman Catholicism after my father left us. Before his departure there had been absolutely no religion in the family so I had had no boundaries around my psychic adventures, astral journeys and ghostly friends (nor did I have help when entities were not so friendly). I was able to unfold in as natural a way as was possible for me, up till the age of 9.
It was not at all a conventional Catholic upbringing as my mother immersed herself into Benedictine monasticism and so throughout my formative teenage years our family friends and visitors were ALL (no exception) priests, monks and nuns. My baptism in Germany, at the age of 9, was a beautiful affair: I was surrounded by a large circle of nuns between the ages of 25 and 90. I walked around and stopped in front of each woman to receive a cross drawn on my forehead with their fingers. It was magical. I had flowers in my hair. And frankly, it was all very pagan. My catechism was given either in the large gardens as we tended the flowers (all godly symbols explained through symbols in nature) or in a red boat as my sister instructor rowed us around the moat of this old German castle, which now served as the abbey home.
My devotion to Catholicism was intense (not least because I found safety amongst the nuns and everything about the castle and my lessons in nature appealed to the romantic in me), although (and this was a major problem) I had no place for Jesus in my pantheon, and I never understood the concept of original sin (helped by my confessional priest who refused to hear my “sins” as he said I was too young to sin and we should just pray together). However, my belief in Christianity crumbled in my teens for two reasons: one, I started to read about witchcraft and paganism and realised that this is who and what I was; and two, I began to study the gospels and Pauline letters in the original Greek. The latter was an issue because so much of the gospels has been redacted in English, changing female disciples’ names into male names, for example, because the established Church finds it too threatening to consider that women were equals in the early Church! If I had been lied to about something as fundamental as this, what else was poppycock?
But even though I abandoned Christianity (not acrimoniously because I respect Christian mysticism), and although I went on to explore and devote myself to witchcraft, I found myself still, in times of spiritual distress, calling on the Abrahamic image of deity as I had experienced him through those formative years. This puzzled me and frustrated me. But it need not have. Archetypes come in many forms, and the cipher with which our mind envisages the archetype is not always within our conscious control. Ultimately we have to explore and examine our beliefs and be totally honest about them. If I am cavorting with spirits and things go tits up, then it really matters what deity or entity I call upon because it may be cool to call on Sekhmet, but if your inner belief is still stuck on the Virgin Mary then you’re going to get an ‘up side the head’ because your inner spiritual integrity is split, which presents a weak face to the spirits you’re trying to work with. Some “beliefs” have deeper roots than others. Like gardening, our spiritual landscape needs constant tending. And this is also why so often in LHP literature, a lot of time is spent on deconstructing and challenging a person’s, generally, Christian faith. If you are going to choose instead to work with Lucifer, then you need to relinquish any guilt you might feel about that, because that guilt will bite you on the bum.
So, I’ve been thinking about all this recently because I am going through a really difficult and stressful time. Everything is in flux, including my accommodation. I am moving to a temporary place and my future is totally unclear right now. In fact, every area of my life is undergoing some kind of transitional phase. And guess what! I hate change. I loathe it. I am a fan of routine and predictability. I like a quiet life because my emotions are on my sleeve and I FEEL so intensely that it hurts. The only way to dull the pain is to maintain a staid and stable life. So I’m hurting right now. My body feels it. My mind feels it. And I’m noticing what I’m doing with all that stress … I am taking it to the spirits. I feel like I have come full circle to the little girl taking her astral journeys “back home” for granted and placing more confidence in the protection of spirits than the humans in her life.
My altar is like an eternal flame right now. As soon as one set of candles burns out, I light the next, muttering my prayers and invocations … ‘Let me feel the joy of your presence … come forth …’ Clouds of incense. Cups of coffee. Glass of water. And love, love, love and gratitude pouring out from my hands to the spirits.
Half my furniture and a large proportion of my stuff has been given to charity. A third of my remaining stuff is in storage, and the rest is predominantly in boxes. But my altar remains standing till the last minute and will only be packed on the morning of my move.
In times of stress, we default to what we believe in, to where our hearts lie and our foundation is strong … at least I do. I wonder if others can identify. Can you? And is your answer coherent with your projected identity? Or is there a split between your inner world and your outer persona?
I was going to write a small series of articles teaching you (that is, anyone who cares to know) about how to connect with nature spirits. But I felt very uncomfortable with the “teacher” role and there were too many caveats because each person is different and your clairvoyant strengths may not be mine. I’m good at taking an individual by the hand and introducing them to nature and low magick, but I’m pants at attempting to be one of the many pagan gurus online. My blog, right from the start, was about me and my big mouth, just mouthing off about stuff that was important to me, what I did and do, etc. So, instead of trying to convey a universal truth (a what?!), I’m just going to grab a coffee, sit down and share with ye a little about what I’ve experienced. If you want to know more or have questions, please post them in the comments below.
I’ve had experiences with spirits since I was a child (ghosts, astral travelling, spirit guides, etc.). In my teen years I began to delve into Dianic witchcraft and nature witchcraft. As I meditated more, using visualisation of various symbols from ankh to the all-seeing eye, more things began to open up to me. That is one thing that I would encourage anyone to do: develop a daily meditation practice. I find that my ability to sense spirits grows in proportion to the degree of inner quiet I can sustain. If my mind is chattering about mundane rubbish, I remain distracted very often from the things right under my nose. I remember that as a young child I would sing to chase spirits away that scared me; I would focus so hard on the words and the tune of the song and sing it with every fibre of my being (“She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain” was my favourite). This distraction process created a kind of barrier between me and these parasitic spirits which closed down my “openness” and protected me.
As I worked at little rituals in my room, I also developed a practice of moon-gazing. Late at night I would slip out of the house and walk a couple of miles down an unlit road into the countryside. I clambered over styles, heading off into the fields until I was at the closest, darkest spot, right in the middle of a wheat field. I would crouch there amongst the wheat and gaze at the moon as it crested the hill. On top of the hill was a Bronze Age fort (now a clearing surrounded by Beech trees).
For months I would escape around the full and new moons to sit in the fields and listen. The only things I could really see were the black of black shadows against a black land, and above, the blinding brilliance of the moon. So my other senses took over. I heard small animals bustling around, the sound of cows chomping grass in the neighbouring field, owls screeching and the wind through the trees and grasses. I smelt the earth, a conglomeration of death and decay that smelled pungent and dark. I pressed my fingers into the dirt and stared up.
Then, after a few months, the call came. This call was to be repeated throughout my life at different times, from different landscapes, in all kinds of weather. The land called me. As I sat at home, tired and totally averse to going out, the land called me and all I could think about was being out there! It’s difficult to explain the compulsion that accompanies the call. It’s like the craving that someone gets for a cigarette when they are giving up; it’s the obsession over cake when you’ve given up all carbs; it’s an all-encompassing, physical and mental NEED for a drug, and if you don’t get it, your nerves will implode, your arteries will explode, your mind will shatter.
So I left the house, and ran down the road, off into the darkness and to the field; it was the hill that was calling me, so on I strode, up hill, through fields and orchards, over styles, past streams. It’s about 4 or 5 miles from my family house to the top of the hill. Bear in mind as well, that when the call comes, I could stride through the worst part of town and never be scared. The call overtakes any sense of fear or anxiety. So I walked through the night with absolutely no qualms about being hurt by man or beast.
At the top of the hill (which is shaped like a sleeping lion), on its rump, was the fort clearing surrounded by trees. I had been up to the hill a few times before in the daytime. I went to a jagged tree that was about three times my height but slashed black down the middle – dead, struck by lightning. I shinned my way into the cradle of the tree where it had broken apart and sat there cross-legged looking over the clearing. And that’s when I saw the spirits: black shapes, drifting back and forth, not walking but floating and sometimes flying through the air. When I see them, I see them through my forehead; when I hear them, I hear them with the back of my head. That’s the only way I can explain it. They were aware of me. I was permitted to be there. It is vital to have permission to be in such places at such times. I will tell you further stories about what can happen if you don’t.
These were human spirits (perhaps belonging originally to the Bronze Age fort), but the spirit that had called me was that of the hill. I had focused on it, spoken to it and cultivated a relationship with it in my mind, out of respect, during my moon gazing jaunts. I had opened my palms to it and greeted it – spirit to spirit – and asked permission to dwell there. Sometimes I got a great sense of “No!”; this would be accompanied by a growing feeling of unease and danger. When that happened I would turn around and head home, even if I had only just arrived. Through this method of communication, I had built a relationship of respect and trust with the land and hill spirits.
So, I guess the key aspects that led to my time amongst the Bronze Age fort spirits were meditation (being able to quieten my inner chatter), acknowledging the land spirits (whether you directly feel them or not to start with), trusting your gut (if you feel unnerved, go; if you feel safe and relaxed, stay), being part of the place you wish to communicate with (I knelt on the ground, put my hands in the earth, filled my nostrils with earthy night-air, I absorbed everything around me through my senses). And I did all of this on a regular basis, expecting nothing in return except the joy of being WITH the spirits, sharing that liminal space with them. It never occurred to me at the time to involve those spirits in spellwork. For me it was the only time I felt “normal” and that was enough for me.
Next time: The spirit of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, plus a dead mill-working girl, and why I’m generally not fond of the human dead.
These are the contents of my new “Who am I?” page, reposted here for your convenience and as a heads-up.
As I stand on the threshold of 2016, after eight years of blogging here, I thought I would write a new “Who am I?” page as my last one had a touch of the “Feck off!” about it. The interweb can make one pre-empt conflict and overcompensate a little.
Having read other “About” pages, I chastised myself and thought I should create one that was a tad more warm and fuzzy. So here goes!
I would say that my formal journey into witchcraft began when I was 17 (I am now 41), although I had had copious experiences with spirits (nature, animal, human and other) for as long as I can remember before then. Witchcraft was both a home-coming and my birth emotionally and intellectually as a Woman. I was initially very much attracted to feminist and Dianic witchcraft which created a powerful, sideways drop-kick counterbalance to 9 years of Roman Catholicism (specifically Benedictine monasticism). I explored my soul crouched in the earth of wheat fields, gazing at the moon, or climbing through woods to a haunted Bronze Age fort that looked out over the valley where I lived on the Welsh Borders of Britain.
Between my early days and a significant ritual in my late twenties, I lived in Germany for a while communing with tree spirits, I travelled to New Mexico where I was adopted by a Navajo woman. Together we travelled the reservation, with me as her daughter and she as “shi’ma” (my mother). I fell in love with the spirit of the desert and the genius loci around my grandmother’s property. On my return to Britain I lived in Edinburgh (one of the most haunted cities in Europe, some people say) where I was often taken over by the spirit of Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano on the outskirts of the city) which led me at times to climb up the shear face of the mountain, in the dark, in storms, driven by spirit to reach the top and stand amongst a veritable swarm of entities. In my mid-twenties I travelled to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. My time in Egypt was brief but my visit to Philae marked my soul as if I was returning to a place I had been to before (the temple itself and the region bordering Sudan).
I realise that I am hot-footing it through the years, merely suggesting spiritual and spirit-based encounters, but there is just not the space here to retell it all. I guess the point of mentioning any of this is to convey the fact that I travelled a lot and wherever I went I engaged spiritually with that location.
Then came a time in my late twenties: I was living alone. My Navajo mother had died. It was Samhain. I turned my kitchen into a shrine to the dead, named and unnamed. I lost myself in ritual for about five hours, during which I danced with Death himself, shed many tears and was reborn spiritually. From that moment onwards I dedicated myself as “witch”, a term I would go on to explore in agonising scrutiny on this blog in its early days (many, many posts have been deleted, those included).
I went through my Satanic phase, my Luciferian phase … I searched and searched for a witchcraft that resonated with the darker shit that I had experienced. Wicca seemed too light, hedge and kitchen witchery too vapid. Now, I can admire what each of those things bring, in isolation, for others, but they just weren’t my paths, however neither were Satanism or Luciferianism. I touched on so-called “traditional witchcraft” but was put off by the bitchy, petty, superior attitude of the adherents I encountered. I began to explore Left-Hand Path traditions (this is a subject I write about a lot on this blog), and I gave myself over to this path for many years. During that time I crumbled psychologically and walked some very dark nights of the soul. I was taken apart and left in pieces. There was no immediate “and put back together again”. For a long time I floated in the blackness; I felt that my experiences of spirit were partially given a context and recognised by the systems I experimented with, but morally I was directionless. In my depression I went past and through duality to having no sense of right or wrong; in fact everything was pointless. I laid myself psychically bare and drifted. Every now and then I would see a light and swim towards it.
I learned about the system of Lucky Hoodoo by Bertiaux. I dedicated myself to the spirits, raised myself up towards the dark sun and became alive again magickally. This lasted about a year before my depression struck me low again. I recanted the spirits … and then followed a year of hell before I realised that I’d struck a contract I couldn’t go back on. So I rededicated myself and began to build things back up again. The Hoodoo spirits remain a part of my daily practice to this day.
Between then and now, I have been deeply involved with Pomba Gira while I worked as an erotic hypnotist. I learned how to siphon the sexual energy off of others to feed to my spirits. And I used this also to strengthen myself. Pomba Gira is known for raising women up from the gutter, especially sex workers, and I was so deeply face down in the gutter I had forgotten a world existed “up there”. She led me to encounters that were to change my life and the way I engaged with this dimension of existence.
It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that the last ten years have been a beautiful incline rising ever upwards and today it’s a “happy ever after”. The darkness still dwells within me. I struggle with it regularly. Being in the dark is a little like vertigo; it gives you a sense of standing on the edge of a cliff, tilting forwards, knowing what it’s like to fall, feeling like you could at any moment … but you don’t. Or sometimes you do. And that’s just the way it is.
These days I work with the Hoodoo spirits and Aakhu (the beautified dead), but also nature spirits (of land, plant and animal) and elements. I am a witch. I could be an Animist. I might have shamanic tendencies. I am open to any beliefs because I am now secure enough to observe them without feeling that I have to agree or engage with them. If you believe something different to me, hail and well met! Life is difficult enough without someone kicking your crutches out from under you. And we ALL have spiritual crutches to hobble through the dark times with. I don’t know The Truth, but I know truths and I keep seeking.
My path is not straight. As my blog’s tagline says, I am “a thought making crooked all that is straight”. This blog charts some of my thinking and explores ideas that occupy my mind and time. You are welcome to dwell here a while and share the journey with me.
The following writing about the possessed state is based on information in The Vodou Quantum Leap by Reginald Crosley (first edition), from which I extrapolate some ideas around hypnosis and exploring multi-dimensions of existence.
Crosley begins by stating that Freud’s concept of the unconscious is the “new myth of the twentieth century”, which overlooks the idea that there are other dimensions of reality. In quantum physics, matter is both particle and wave: in the wave function lies the uncanny and weird phenomenon of nature which is dark matter, shadow matter and/or invisible matter.
James Braid, an English medical writer, found through experimentation that the trance state differed from natural sleep; he suggested the possible existence of a double consciousness in individuals. In many ways, this was the forerunner to Freud’s unconscious. But the concept of a “double” consciousness is also reminiscent of the African “semedo”. In Afro-Haitian ontology, the individual has more than one “double” conceived of as souls; each individual has at least 2 souls (i.e. clone-like reproductions of herself), made of “shadow matter”, which is the Gros Bon Age or semedo, and the Petit Bon Ange or selido. The semedo and selido are counterparts of each other.
Freud’s initial studies of the unconscious were in fact done on hypnotised subjects. Under hypnosis, the hypnotist can introduce a new personality to the subject, which is interpreted by Crosley as; the shadow-matter component which is usually in the background to the visible body now moves to the forefront and takes command of the individual’s nervous system. In hypnosis, like in dream states, the limitations of space-time do not exist. Under hypnosis, the shadow-matter self remains under the command of the hypnotist, according to Crosley.
All sensations are apprehended or become conscious after transformation to energy. Space-time events are stored in the visible AND invisible matter components. They can be retrieved to produce hallucinations, dreams and physical events (e.g. sweating, itching, muscles rigidity, orgasm, etc.) or a new personality. I.e. the “language” that we use to apprehend things in this finite space-time continuum can be retrieved and used outside of space-time, in trance, or under hypnosis, to create events and experiences using those same “words” which makes shadow-matter contact comprehensible to the visible body/conscious mind.
The difference in physical reality with the vodouns is that we would not ask a hypnotised subject to e.g. drink poison, or to chew and swallow glass. However, surgery can be performed under hypnosis without pain; a subject can manipulate fire without being burned, and second degree burns can be created by the suggestion of contact with a hot object. There are differences then between the possessed state and the hypnotic state, although the similarities are perhaps greater than the differences, and as such hypnosis could give us a platform from which to create a kind of portal to the shadow realm.
Crosley quoting Kaku: “What we use to label supernatural or spiritual belongs to the physical world of the supersymmetric universe or hyperspace.” I.e. the supernatural, weird and uncanny belongs to the world of the double, the semedo, to the shadow-matter world.
Crosley states that a commonality between possession and hypnosis is sleep. In sleep there is a reversal in dominance of the body, semedo and selido. In waking life, the body is on top and interacts with its environment. In sleep, the shadow-matter “clone” (double) moves to the front and interacts with itself, other components of the individual or the external world. Crosley describes possessed states, where the possessed person sees both the visible this-world and the shadow-matter world, perceiving entities here and there simultaneously. By drawing the semedo to the front, we can engage with the invisible world and open up perception and sensations to the wave function of the shadow world. Imagine then a situation where a person is guided into a hypnotic state by someone familiar with the shadow world, or at least cognisant of its nature, it might then be possible to journey in a shamanic sense through this other dimension from a state not of possession by an alien entity such as a loa but by one’s own double, and as Crosley suggests, this double, the shadow-matter self, remains under command of the hypnotist.
Hypnotists understand the following brain wave states: the waking state, which is the Beta brain wave state (BWS) – hypnosis is ineffective here; deep relaxation is characterised by the Alpha BWS – in this state the hypnotist can implant suggestions that influence waking behaviour and belief systems; a deeper trance state is described as the Theta BWS – in this state, the hypnotist can do more advanced work, such as age and past life regression; finally the state of sleep is the Delta BWS – it is generally thought (contrary to popular, secular belief) that a hypnotist cannot work with a subject in this state and this seems to contradict Crosley’s understanding of hypnosis as a state of “sleep”.
Crosley speaks of two sleep states, namely Slow Wave (SW) sleep and REM: SW sleep involves some dreams, though they are usually dull and related to every day activity – this state lasts about 90 to 100 minutes; REM sleep is the dream state where the double is in full control of the body, producing vivid, uninhibited dreams, also psychic events and visions as well as out-of-body travel – this state lasts about 15-20 minutes after which you return to SW sleep. REM gradually occurs more during the night and on average takes up about 25% of adult sleep time. In dreams, the individual’s own double takes over; in hypnosis, depending on the depth of hypnotic trance this could also be the case of full semedo dominance, or (in the case of a light Theta state) the semedo maintains a partial dominance (similar in essence to the Vodoun possession state of being “brushed” by a loa, except in this case the individual is “brushed” by their own semedo).
Night terrors usually occur at stage 3 or 4 or SW sleep. It seems to result from a struggle between the double and the body as the latter tries to come out from under the control of the former. This reminds me very much of “abreactions” in hypnosis where the subject panics and gets stuck in a negative emotional cycle or tries to come out of hypnosis; usually it is easy for the subject to break trance and come out of hypnosis at will whenever anything is disagreeable, but I have experienced subjects who are so deep down when they experience abreaction that they are essentially locked in and seemingly unresponsive (many hypnotherapists say this is not possible, but my experience says otherwise). I say “seemingly” unresponsive because it is relatively easy for an experienced hypnotist to take control and guide the subject through the experience and bring them back. In the context of Crosley’s analysis of night terrors, it seems entirely plausible that due to an abreaction to the experience of hypnosis, i.e. reaction against a memory or emotion, the body tries to wrest back control from the semedo/double which creates an unpleasant struggle or type of paralysis; the hypnotist’s job is to then disentangle the two and reassert the dominance of one or the other, either by relaxing the subject into a continued hypnotic state (semedo dominance) or by bringing them gradually out of trance (visible body dominance).
On the other hand, the struggle in the case of dreams (not hypnosis) may be caused by encounters with foreign or parasitic entities. A crisis of possession is similar to sleep except that the body and soul are taken over by a foreign entity. It is similar to the dream state in that the awareness systems of the person retreat, but in this case they leave the leading role to the invading entity. I myself have had experiences with such entities since I was a child.
So that’s the science as per Crosley with a few asides and ponderings thrown in by me. As you perhaps surmised, I have experience in hypnosis having worked as an erotic hypnotist for a couple of years. My experience as an erotic hypnotist was intimately bound together with spirit work; I utilised the sexual energy (including orgasm) that I created in my subjects to feed my spirits. It was a win-win for all parties.
Only recently have I begun to consider the further spiritual uses that hypnotism could be put towards, specifically in terms of guiding myself or someone else into a trance experience for pathworking, such as mythological journeying or encountering and engaging with archetypes or even spirits. That is a project in development and an experience that I may offer to interested persons in the future.
But the other thing that sparked my interest with Vodou possession states in relation to hypnosis was my own history of trance, self-hypnosis, hypnogogic experiences and a phenomenon which I call “dream leakage”. I tentatively use Crosley’s terminology here: my semedo and body flip back and forth between occupying the same space-time continuum; I become aware of infinite dimensions of existence and for a time I think the thoughts and have the memories of a person in a dimension which is not this one; once the semedo withdraws I become conscious that my thoughts did not belong to this “me” in this dimension: for a moment, existence fractures into all dimensions, light pouring through the gaps allowing me to live the life of another “me”, lasting only minutes before the gaps seal up and this dimension returns to its perceived integrity. [Note the similarities here with what Crosley says above about the hypnotist introducing a “new personality” whereby the semedo takes dominance over the visible body. As I now understand my “dream leakage” experience, my semedo shifts to the forefront bringing with it the thoughts and memories of other dimensions where I simultaneously exist.] There is a particular trance state, a liminal state, where I encounter this dream leakage, but also entities from other realms that I am able to feel and engage with on a very physical level. Crosley’s description of his science behind the possessed state, the role of the semedo and the interaction with the shadow-matter world all make tremendous sense to me in terms of my own experiences of liminal states of mind.
Since I have experience as a spirit worker and as a hypnotist, I feel that I must do myself justice by exploring this, primarily on myself, and perhaps eventually with others. I am already working on the idea of pathworking under hypnosis, and I cannot help but think that this, in itself, will inevitably bring up some experiences of the shadow-matter world and its entities.
I highly recommend The Vodou Quantum Leap by Reginald Crosley. It is one of my “desert island books”. Theion Publishing released a revised and expanded edition this year and I very much recommend that you avail yourself of a copy while stocks last. See HERE.