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 some level, mental health and the practice of magick have been focal points for me for years. They have recently come into sharp relief due to the illness of a family member.
This family member (FM) has experienced a severe and ongoing psychotic break. A psychotic break is not the same as a nervous breakdown, instead it marks a deviation from perceiving reality “as we understand it”. Already there, we have the crux of my considerations. “Reality” (that entirely subjective and in some respects moralising word) can deviate depending on gender, culture, religion, drug intake and mental health (the latter being determined by whether one fits in with the generally accepted standard of reality dictated by all of the aforementioned).
FM’s break with reality became most apparent to us when she abandoned her home, money and clothes due to a “cyanide bomb” in her house that had “contaminated” everything. Shortly afterwards she was admitted to a psych ward where she soon feigned wellness to get out. It is a fact that those experiencing a psychotic break can pretend wellness to get away from those who would contradict their world view or force help upon them. I speak from experience. Nothing delights a psychiatrist more than a bright smile and an admission that everything you believed yesterday was, well, just crazy! We are called “high-functioning” because we can recognise when to fake YOUR reality and when it is safe to live our own…
So once FM left hospital she hopped on a plane and flew to relatives over a thousand miles away. There she helpfully had a telepathic conflab with the local mice population who promised never to enter our relative’s house again. In the meantime she pendulumed and communed with “the Universe” and has been told what to do next… It will happen on Wednesday. We await developments with baited breath, and there will be a collective “Aw shit!” from the family, if serendipity is on her side and she lucks out.
But all through this I have listened to my “rational”, mainstream, a-spade-is-a-spade family and their judgement of FM’s behaviour and beliefs. Apart from empathising with lunatic moments, I nod inwardly and think, Uff, and if they knew what I think and experience! Furthermore, add to that my pagan/magickal friends’ thoughts and beliefs and, at least in my world, my family starts to be a hawkish minority amongst a swathe of talking spirits, low magick spells, high magick conjurations, and more.
Who gets to say whose reality is the norm? What is real and unreal? Yet even the unreal is by some considered manifest purely by dint of it being thought into existence – I think, therefore I am – I conceive it, therefore it is.
But now I hear the bells of postmodern relativism and the voices that might say, it’s all relative; at some level it is all real. But in everything being real, is nothing actually real? Do we in fact live in a delusional fallacy where madness is the mark of humanity?
Psychiatrists are, contrary to common opinion, wary to label people insane due to their beliefs. More than one psychiatrist has told me that if they turned their inscrutable gaze to any world religion, they would only find neurotics and insaniacs. So there has to be a leeway ground of mad-but-functioning and insane-but-safe; specifically, if the person is harming neither themselves nor another (actually unlike many religious folks) then they should be allowed to go on their merry way … as is, so far, the case with FM.
I know certain pagans would cite a psychotic break as a shamanic experience, a spiritual opportunity to connect deeply and ultimately come out the other side as a healer. This is FM’s version of events. She has taken on the mantle of healer. Some of you might remember the post I wrote about her vitriolic and bile-filed offer of a healing sledgehammer to my own fair head. This chick ain’t no healer. To compare psychosis with initiation is a very dangerous thing and shows a lack of knowledge about either. Certainly there may be some similarities, but just because I hold a feather in my hand does not mean that I am a bird (although as a child I really did believe that a crow had taught me to fly)!
Mental ill-health, be it depression, paranoia, or psychosis, if managed appropriately, can lead to a richer spiritual practice and a more authentic life. But in the process it can also (and must?) tear up the very fabric of your life, your relationships and all that you believe. Some are left bereft and grieving, in a cycle of regret and self-recrimination, while others emerge stronger and more focused, and yet others again oscillate between the two states and all shades in between. This instability can be used as a weapon by the sufferer or those around her to denigrate her ability to be a witch or magickian. And yet, looking back at those we still learn from today, I see dark moods, instability, seemingly irrational behaviour, a certain madness. Who knows if one causes the other, or perhaps if one CALLS to the other.
If sanity is the foundation upon which one is permitted to practise magick, I suggest most of us give up at the starting gate. Personally I think that a little insanity is vital to see beyond the accepted norm.
FM’s whisperings from the universe may come true. She may even heal some people along the way. But for now, as long as she does not hurt herself or others, she must be allowed to walk her path. Just as I walk my path, except that when I feel spirits and see daemons I don’t mention it over coffee to my friends and family … I just tell you … and you’ll keep it secret, right? 😉
It’s difficult treading the narrow ground between spotting the natural patterns that appear in life, those synchronicities, and a sense of paranoid megalomania. But sometimes the Universe really does speak to you through the lips of another person.
This morning, J. at the fruit and veg stall, began to wax lyrical about how important it is to embrace change. She leaned over the peaches and stared into my eyes intently asking, “What do YOU want? What do YOU like? Who are YOU?” I felt a little as if I were in one of my dreams. Will the apples morph into skeletal cherubs and fling their arrows at the melons? Yet, such conversations are indeed normal with me, with passersby and people whose names I know but who do not know my name. I am the woman they talk to. My identity is unimportant, and for the first part of the conversation I was merely an ear listening to what she had to say, and boy does this lady have a tough life. But when I said I understood, she swivelled her focus around to me and left me speechless. “Who are YOU?”
I am not a good talker. I listen well. There are only a couple of people in my life with whom I feel comfortable enough to talk. Everyone else gets the stuttery, dry-mouthed, monosyllabic me. I try hard, but the contents of my brain remain behind a reserved and very shy curtain. So I replied with that handy English all-weather phrase, “Hm, yes, exactly!” and nodded at her vigourously, a response that deftly turned her direct questions into rhetorical questions that did not require an answer as such. And yet, I’ve been pondering them all day.
Who am I? You’d think it was a basic question and one that did not require much pondering. I think most would jump at defining themselves in respect of others, saying they are mother, daughter, sister, >insert career position here<. In my hubris as a younger person, I might have jutted out my chin and said, “First and foremost, I’m a witch!” But as an older and more jaded woman, I shake my head and point at myself: where’s the proof? where’s the main focus of your time? Like so many, I lack discipline, although attempting consistent discipline with my ailments feels like trying to build a bridge with cook spaghetti! Irrespective of excuses, good or bad, the fact remains: my focus is not where I want it to be most of the time.
Some guy once said, if you ask someone what is important to them, you may or may not get a true answer. But if you ask that person where they spend their time and money most, you would get the truest answer. Run the budget of your life, where is that time spent? Running the hamster wheel of profit to stuff the mattress of your future? Perhaps, pondering and pursuing various ways to get a hook-up? The focus could be negative – doing all you can to avoid fears, risks, change; or positive – seeking out thrills and ways to fulfill different aspects of yourself.
But is what we DO what we ARE? I would say not. Take me out of my environment, change my routine – am I not the same person? Yes and no. The external is mutable and responsive. It is like water that fits the shape of the cup into which it is poured. The internal … is that rigid and unchanging? I don’t like to think that it is. My hubris never spread so far as to relinquish the desire that I were different. This whole post is actually an exercise in considering not only who I am, but who I WISH that I were!
That is why I cannot see the truth of it. I am looking at myself through dual lenses: one eye sees the projection of all things bad that I think of myself; the other eye sees the hope of all the ways that I could improve. Tinted lenses that “protect” me from the pure light of my own essence. How could I ever know who I am unless I remove the lenses. And could I bear the sight of that unadulterated me?
Could you bear to see yourself clearly? Shirk off the roles of brother, father, husband – those masks-in-response-to-others. Stand naked. Remove the lenses and really see. Who are you?
It’s four in the morning. The birds are singing outside heralding the stirring blood of dawn. I haven’t slept. This is not unusual.
I haven’t been well for over a decade. The details are irrelevant but recent events have stirred me to write a little on my experience with healers. By “healer” I do not mean the initiated healer working within a tradition, instead I mean the New Age so-called alternative healer, the kind that usually lobs “practitioner” after the moniker “shamanic”.
But first my own background in healing therapies: I trained for a year in nutritional healing modalities with a school that believed that essentially all (yes, all) illnesses could be cured by the right diet and lifestyle (where spirituality was considered an equal lifestyle choice to career and food). As someone with longterm, incurable chronic illnesses, this was incredibly seductive to me. The problem was obviously in my choices. It wasn’t random. I was actually in control and thus by making the right choices I could heal myself completely.
I don’t deny that we each have agency to a degree, and probably most people don’t take full advantage of quite how much is within their control, instead abdicating their dissatisfaction to be the fault of family, government, society or >insert conspiracy theory here<. Yet, I believe that there is also a considerable random and/or chaotic factor to life that will throw you a curve ball impossible to catch, however disciplined and well-trained you are. Shit happens.
Amongst my peers at the nutritional school I witnessed a tremendous amount of victim blaming. “My mother-in-law has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Well, OBVIOUSLY that was going to happen! I told her to stop drinking dairy, but would she??” and other such claptrap. Irrespective of any links between dairy and cancer, sometimes a person just gets the bad end of the draw in genetics, environment and whatever other factors are involved. If only life were so quid pro quo simplistic that one action gave forth clearly and absolutely to another. Such rules and dogma (because ultimately it is all incontrovertibly true to the believer) are the realm of the fearful.
Did I fall foul of such dogmatic thinking? Yes, I did. And in my desperation to be healed, I was vehement in my “beliefs” because here’s the thing … not only does one have to eat and do the right thing, you are encouraged to believe it too, because the mental state of mind is so important. Again, yes, to a degree. But if my treatment is going to fail when I do everything right but harbour doubts because heck I’m human, then how authentic is this as a healing “solution”. The placebo effect lives on strong, and there is absolutely a place for that. BUT, I am cautioning here again against victim blaming … especially as it is usually the healer who places blame not at his/her own door, but at the door of his/her patient.
In the last 6 months, I have had experience with two healers. Frankly, the first one must have worked some kind of juju on me (sarcasm) because usually I would make a polite excuse and refuse kindly. But one minute she’s suggesting she could help me, with the best of intentions, and the next minute I’m sitting over Skype in a guided visualisation with her. She asked lots of probing questions and I felt bare and vulnerable. I was aware that she was wading into sensitive territory with the discerning care of an elephant. Pseudo-psychology is often a great accompaniment to alternative healing; CBT being an easy e-certificate to gain online usually at a “great discount” and only requiring 30 hours of work in total!
Underlying each session was pressure: pressure from this lady enquiring “Are you any better yet? I would have thought you’d feel better by now. You must be very stuck inside. You have a lot of blockages. You obviously don’t WANT enough to be well…”
I stuck it out with this lady for over a month because she was kind of a new friend, but as she sat there between a statue of the Buddha and a statue of a fairy, while telling me to give my worries to Pegasus, I gave up the will and gently severed (as a suppressed Englishwoman, I am often oxymoronic) our connection.
The Universe (as they say) was not done with me in terms of healers though. A couple of months later I received an email from a family member. We had not spoken in 7 years when we had drifted apart due to irreconcilable differences, so I was surprised to hear from her. Without a Hello or How Are You she launched into telling me that she was now a healer and “The universe has tasked me with healing you, so here I am. And …” she continued, “None too happy about it am I either!!” She then went on to tell me how despicable I was. Bile heaped upon vitriol upon blather and blah. She said that she was just setting up in business (gah!). She tried to explain her type of healing saying that she would be “flooded” with people to her website when it launched, but those people would probably not have the ability to “connect to soul” and maybe I perhaps had a smidgen of ability to do that and a soupçon “of education” and thus she was willing to heal me. And, since we were from the same ashram (!) she would do me the professional courtesy of not charging me for her healing or teachings. All in all, it was the angriest and most patronising email I had ever received. I sat stunned afterwards feeling as if I had been hit in the head with a big healing sledgehammer. I declined to reply.
So, the point of this post is not to defame and blame healers, some of whom truly do have the very best of intentions and do provide comfort and healing to some. It is to advise would-be patients not to have such an open mind that your brains fall out and for gods’ sake don’t take the blame if the healing doesn’t work immediately/ever. Would-be healers would do well to vehemently question their own motives and should be cautioned to have a little more humility so as to avoid blaming patients!
Yes, if only the world were more linear – do X get Y- less impenetrable to our limited mind – giving answers to the endless ‘whys’ – less chaotic to our pattern-making senses. If only Pegasus could take my ailments away through Skype… At least then I might now be sleeping, instead of watching the horizon light up as the blackbirds intone the day.
My track record the last few years seems to have been to abandon my readers for most of the year, only to rally betwixt Yule and New Year with some kind of rah-rah polemic or opinion piece. I’m a little behind schedule in this respect, and I’m not sure I have anything worth saying as such.
The year has been fraught with the good and the bad, often the good coming first under the guise of the very bad. On some things the jury is still out; on other things it’s a case of adjusting and accommodating, remembering that life is not about avoiding discomfort but about ploughing on through to the other side. Discomfort does not mean you are on the wrong path … but then neither am I one of those people who believes that growth requires pain. Comme ci, comme ça! Life is not so easily put into boxes. The key is to remain flexible – something we can all improve at.
When I first began this blog, some 8 or 9 years ago, I used to pooh-pooh the occultists and pagans who seemed to hide behind their “secrets” and “initiated knowledge”. But now I am hesitant in my own writing because much of what I work on esoterically is private, not for public consumption because to bare all would be to bare my soul and make me more vulnerable than I am willing to be amongst strangers’ eyes; and a large part would not be understood by the main in the way that I understand and engage with it. For example, I laugh when I am still accused of being “wrong” and “immoral” for my LHP leanings, because that says nothing about me and everything about the ignorance of the accuser. Occasionally I am asked, “So what do you believe?” and I cannot answer that. The best answer I can give is to suggest that we have frequent discussions over the next few years and see. That is not to sound woo-woo or grandiloquent, it is just that words fail me to express the *experience*. Describe a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth. Even with my own spiritual mentors I struggle and I feel like such a fraud because I cannot put it into words. If I could open up my chest and push their hands inside and say, “Feel!”, that might help; if I could crack open my head and say, “Look!”, they would know. But instead, I read my studies and like a child I can only parrot, “Me too! Yeah, that’s how I feel/see/know!” So as much as I would wish to share my journey with you, I struggle. But “immoral” and “wrong” … >laughs out loud long and hard< oh boy, you’ll just never get it.
On a practical note, I am withdrawing from social media. I have spent the last day or so tidying up my web presence. I find the vacuous echo chambers tiring, draining, distracting and the epitome of delusion. Some manage to master their engagement so that it is beneficial to them. I applaud them. I cannot do that. To me it is at times an amusement, but for the most part vampiric. The plus side is that I shall instead be focusing more on blogging and writing. But this is primarily for myself. I have a secret hideaway elsewhere on the web that has become my writing haven, and I have here. Since I get few to zero comments and engagements on my blog, it will not demand the same ego-juggling (my own and others’) that social media like Facebook and Twitter do.
Since I intend to prioritise my occult study and practice this year, I am hoping that I will eventually find enough words to express tidbits of interest to you. It would be nice to see the fires burning again on this blog.
Until soon. Amour Amour.
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 …
“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.
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.
On Saturday I met a neo-Nazi. And I don’t think anyone else around him even realised. I was at a warehouse buying a bike. He manages the warehouse. He was covered in tattoos … even more than me. His head was covered in militaristic symbols (German) and emblazoned across his scalp were the English words, “Blood and Honour”. Now the phrase “Blut und Ehre”, as it is in the original German, was the motto etched onto the knife blades of the Nazi Youth Movement. These days “Blood and Honour” is the name of a neo-Nazi music group and political movement, white supremacists, blah, blah, blah. Unless you know this stuff, you just don’t know, and you don’t “see” the neo-Nazi in front of you, you just see a surly tattooed guy.
Ironically he showed an especially gruff demeanour when I gave him my obviously foreign name, because the dullard didn’t realise that my name was German. And what I would never have told him, for my own safety, is that my origins are German-Jewish, and that I lost most of my family in the Shoah (the Holocaust). A long time ago now I did a year of research in Germany on the Shoah and wrote my Masters dissertation on the portrayal of the Holocaust in German fiction, specifically by a man called Edgar Hilsenrath. So I know my history. Let me rephrase that: I know MY history. I know my origins.
My German family (the ones who survived) ultimately fled Russian occupied Berlin because they were blacklisted by the Russians due to a book my uncle had written about 10 Catholic men who had been assassinated by the Russian government. My family fled to America, leaving only my great-grandfather behind. He took refuge in a convent in West Germany and spent his final days with the nuns. When I was 9, I visited this convent for the first of many, many times.
Once I reached adulthood, one of the oldest nuns took me aside and told me the story of my Jewish family and their time in Berlin under the Nazis. She took my hands in hers and said, “Blut zeigt sich!” which means, “You can’t hide from your blood” or “Blood will always show itself!” I think in her wise old heart she knew that I was never going to be a Catholic like the rest of my family (who converted). For some reason, she marked me out to carry on the history of my family and importantly to carry the heritage of those who died.
This was in part why I chose the Masters’ subject that I did and why I worked so damn hard to learn German (I was not brought up bilingually – my mother married an Englishman and I was brought up in England; in fact, German was forbidden at home until my father left). I have always felt that I have had to make up for the diaspora of my family, the immigrants who settled in America and abandoned everything German.
My grandmother joined my uncle (her brother) when they fled Berlin from the Russians. My uncle never lost his accent but he became an AMERICAN with a German background; my grandmother, on the other hand, always remained displaced – a GERMAN living in America. Last year my grandmother died. She asked for her ashes to be scattered in the New Mexican desert where she lived. My Catholic family riotously objected and so she was ultimately buried in England – a country she had no ties to in any respect. It still makes me sad (read: furious) to this day.
You would think with this heritage running strongly in me, perhaps more than anyone else in the family, I would have a strong spirit connection with my blood ancestors. But I don’t. In fact I can’t. I’ve tried. I have tried four times to establish ancestor shrines and to welcome and engage with the spirits of my dead family, and each time my life was blighted with so much bad luck that it belied coincidence. Within a day of me dismantling the shrine/altar each time, the bad luck dissipated and peace would return to my life.
Even at my grandmother’s funeral I sought to connect with her (too soon perhaps) and a piece of ceramic fell from the earth over her grave at my feet. On the ceramic piece was the word “malade”, which is French for sickness or madwoman. Of course it was the broken off piece from a MARmalade jar, but the message to me was clear. My grandmother and I communicated in German but she always signed off her letters in French. I felt her disapproval of my spiritualist ways in relation to her and so I left her in peace.
The fact is that my family have undergone horrific times during life and I fear they carry it with them in death. Relatives were killed in Auschwitz or died under dreadful conditions. Those who survived had to flee their home country for their lives and all have lived under the shadow of the past. My grandmother would hide under tables when planes went overhead; she wielded an enormous gun at strangers on her property; she trusted no one, least of all authorities because she knew that an apathetic nation could allow tyrants to rule and neighbours are ready to betray you if the price is right.
So in connecting with spirits I leave my ancestors alone. I wish that one day I could bring them some semblance of peace, but I don’t know how. For now I connect to the nameless ones, the forgotten ones, the faceless ones; the blessed Aakhu who have passed the test of Ma’at and have her feather of truth tattooed on their tongues. Blessed are the Doo spirits who are good to me always.
But my encounter with the Nazi made my blood stir. I love Germany and I love the Germanic past, before it was distorted and misappropriated. I feel a calling but it is soft and indistinct. Maybe I am not yet ready to hear it. Maybe I need someone to spell it out for me. My shyness often converts into reticence and gives me cloth ears to my own destiny. For now I shall set it before the spirits, and quietly pray that my ancestors rest in peace.
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!