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? 😉
I just saw the sunset. Golden glory piercing dark clouds, casting an orange-pink hue over the upper strata, while the crescent moon hung ready and impatient in the sky over the big hill.
Social networking is insidious, even blogging. I battled with a twitch to take photos to share with you, suddenly aware of how much of my life I live vicariously through others’ eyes. I don’t just see A Thing, I look through the eyes of another and imagine how they might see it, deftly placing myself at several removes from experiencing The Thing.
I shuffled my mental awareness and placed myself fully present, engaging with the landscape and the sky. And something wondrous happened…
The winter stubble of the wheat field stretching out to the horizon rose and sank with an ancient sigh. The hundred year old oak at my back rustled its dead leaves. Flocks of birds circled above – are they going late or coming early? The sunset and I … spoke? We exchanged a communication that was not words – an exchange of light and colour and beauty. My body which is too often wracked by stress and pain, breathed and sighed like the field and I felt deeply, deeply at peace.
It was revelatory to stand with the world around me, without any filter … no camera, no mental notes in order to share it with another. I jealously and selfishly drank it all in and held it inside for me alone. Maybe I am sharing a little of it with you now, but that is because I am full and overbrimming…
My cyber fast is stripping back the filters that I have laid over my eyes. I feel like I have been digitally fossilised and had forgotten what it was like to live so intimately with the world.
I remember my time in Germany when I used to run through the forests. I sometimes ran for 3 … 5 … 7 hours and would never encounter another human being. One time I climbed a ridge only to stumble out onto a cliff’s edge – before me was a deep three-sided valley full of trees. No roads or houses or signs of humanity. It literally took my breath away and I stood rapt in ecstasy, that to this day makes my chest ache with longng. It has been a long time since I felt so alive …
Kitchen witchcraft, armchair wizardry, bedroom magick … I’ve tried it all and nothing makes me feel so alive and connected as being in nature. As a teenager I would escape the house at midnight and race the 4 miles through fields up the big hill to sit in a lightning-struck tree and converse with the spirits of the old Bronze Age Fort there. I would hunker down in the cornfield under the full moon and fill my hands with dirt speaking to my deity. It is crazy that I could ever think my spiritual life could be distinct from THIS … so much has kept me confined.
It’s time for a gentle liberation. There’s no need to explode my life. I’ve done that in the past and even though I can seen (painfully) that it was for the best, I’m not Edith Piaf, I have plenty of regrets. I’m sure I could have got the same results without it being such a self-destructive path … but that’s a lesson in itself.
Suggestion for today: Step outside, grab two handfuls of earth and look up. Soak it in. No filters. For nobody else, except yourself.
“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.
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!
Many moons ago I heard the old wives’ tale that when a woman is in labour all the doors in the house should be kept open to facilitate any easy birth; a closed door equals a block or obstacle. I pondered on this and subsequent study has shown that creating or releasing a blockage sympathetically can have powerful repercussions psychically and magickally: when we feel defensive we cross our arms and/or our legs, which is implied to mean creating a psychological barrier, but which also creates a psychic/energetic block and protects us. Consider also the superstition of crossing one’s fingers for luck; this is another way of creating protection by sealing ourselves off psychically. I have studied healing methods that require one to touch feet and hands together, expressly to create a self-contained energy circuit for the purposes of harnessing and directing healing energy.
So from all this, it was not much of a leap for me to dive into knot magic in my late teens. [As an aside, in Britain there is the tame yet still rude alternative to telling someone to “Fuck off!” which is to tell them to “Get knotted!”]
In fact, my first dalliance with knot magic began with a severe cold. I woke in the night virtually unable to breathe. I was suffering greatly and sleep eluded me because my sinuses were entirely blocked up. Instinctively I took a cord that I had lying on my altar and I began to knot. I knotted everything into the cord that I felt had contributed to my ill-health. Each knot represented a thing/person/event/feeling. It was important to vocalise each thing and … unlike much magick … I had to REMEMBER every thing that I knotted into the cord. Once the cord was a bundle of knots, I knotted it in on itself until it was like a fist in my hand (the fist is yet another expression of self-protection – a “hand knot”). Then I meditated upon pushing everything I felt and thought about each knot into the scrambled tangle in my hands. After a significant amount of “charging” came the reason for needing to remember each knot; I began to UNknot the cord, again vocalising that I was releasing/unknotting each thing/person/event/feeling. It did not matter if I got the order wrong, but I did have to remember each thing in order to release it. If I forgot something, then the blockage/knot would remain even if the cord was untangled. Once I had finished I lay the cord smoothly and in an open fashion, i.e. not a single overlap or crossing of the cord, on my altar. By the end of the unknotting I was already able to breathe freely and, by the morning, the virus which had plagued me for several days was completely gone.
This is how I came to begin using knot magic. It is great for releasing blockages and healing, but naturally, it can be good for cursing and binding and creating blockages – you just leave the cord tangled, bury it … hide it … whatever.
I am a textile crafter and much of my spellwork/magic involves making things (poppets, spirit receptacles, etc.). Now, some of the crafted stuff takes several hours to create (sewing, embroidering sigils, etc.); it would be more convenient to make up the things beforehand, and only consecrate and charge it in Circle. But, I do find that the distractions outside of Circle dilute the crafted item considerably. How much more can be imbued in a magickal item if you have the staying power to make it from start to finish IN Circle where your intent is focused solely and exclusively on what you wish to manifest!
I remember that my most potent servitor was created in just such a way. (I understand that not everyone creates servitors in a Circle, but I do and it works for me.) I gathered everything I needed, cast the Circle and sat for three and a half hours making “his” home. The result was a thing of power.
Recently I have been doing French Knitting (or spool knitting as I think the Americans call it). I have been using a 4-pin and an 8-pin spool. The project is just for fun and not interesting to you folks, I’m sure. While knitting I pondered the process which is essentially creating one tiny knot after another, all linked together to create a cord. I began to fantasize about spool knitting in Circle, adding feathers, teeth, bones, herbs, hair … Then, by chance I was researching something when I came across 2-pin French knitting, which is called “Lucet weaving”. This is a technique dating back to Viking times and was used to make thin cords. The design of the Lucet (look HERE) just spoke to me … nay, shouted at me … the Devil horns screamed, “Use me!” and all my pondering and fantasising coalesced into a plan! So I have ordered myself a hand-carved, cherry wood Lucet. Sadly it must come all the way from Canada so I have to wait for it. But whoop! When it arrives I shall happily “get knotted”!
I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, the so-called “Athens of the North”, also known as “Auld Reekie”. It is thought to be one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Perhaps. I generally find spirits wherever I go, so statistically my “hit rate” is a tad skewed.
In my first year at university I got involved with an older man. He had a face like a badger that had been shot against a brick wall. Sometimes he wore a beard. Sometimes he wore a kilt. Sometimes he wore fishnet stockings and evening gloves. But that’s another story. Before becoming a mature student he had worked as a ranger in the Highlands of Scotland. His best friend was a medium, an electrician, who went around his clients’ houses “releasing” trapped spirits while fixing the wiring. We’ll call my ex-boyfriend, Gordie.
Gordie lived in a fairly new block of student flats bordering on The Meadows region of Edinburgh. In the previous century (the 19th) this had been an old mill. As all mills around that time, conditions were dire and on-the-job fatalities were common. Gordie’s room was at the back of the block, on the ground floor. It was “L”-shaped, where the lower part of the “L” formed the entrance hallway and the longer part was the room itself. The room was messy. Black clothes lay on the floor amidst crumpled, semen-stained underwear. A fug hung in the room. It was male. Shrek meets Hugh Hefner. And in case you’re wondering, yes, at that stage (and for many years afterwards) I had stunningly low standards for the men I slept with!
I had been warned by the spirits to not get involved with him. In my late teens and early twenties, I was a keen bibliomancer, and I was very good at it (not so much these days). I had received information that had predicted the future accurately. I had also engaged with a mischievous spirit who claimed to be my brother, but he was a piss artist. He did however tell me some amazingly precise predictions. Anyway, I was wanting to show off one evening, so I grabbed a book and started “a conversation”. “The book” clearly described Gordie to a “T”, including mentioning the fact that he was sitting right next to me … just so there was no mistake who they meant. I was then told to leave him alone, that he “belonged” to a particular group of spirits and I wasn’t to get involved. I had been sharing this conversation with Gordie. He freaked. I felt embarrassed and played it down but over the next year it did pan out badly for me. However, my relationship mishaps are not relevant or interesting.
So eventually I started staying over at Gordie’s place. We slept on mattresses on the floor. I slept level with the hallway part of the room (also the darkest corner … it was a liminal space, a passing-through space – architecturally it was just awkward). Things were fine at first. Nothing to report here, gov’ner. But then the chills started. Later in life I realised that the main way that I sense spirits is on my skin. It’s a chill, sometimes down my back, or on my arms, or on the crown of my head. The first chills began as I lay there one night trying to sleep. The crown of my head began to chill, until it was very painful. The rest of me was warm so it was unusual. I wondered if there was a draft. I ignored it and eventually fell asleep.
I was young and inexperienced. These days I would know straightaway that something was up. My internal sensor recognises the Strange. My entire body is primed like a taught wire to vibrate in the presence of spirits. But not then. The chills continued at night, and I ignored them. Then during the day, (Gordie was at a lecture) I walked into the room and was rooted to the spot in that liminal hallway. It was like I had expected the room to be empty, and it wasn’t … I was used to seeing the Strange with my forehead and hearing it from the space at the back of my head. I tuned into these other sensory faculties and sent out a big question mark. What are you? I sensed and saw a young woman. She was wearing dark, long 19th century working clothes, with a grubby white apron. She looked miserable, and everything that came from her was resentful and unhappy. Then she was gone.
Next time that the chills came, I knew it was her. I spoke to her in my head, firmly. “Leave me alone. I’m trying to sleep!” I have found that speaking directly and decisively to spirits gets a response. If they are resistant, I remind them that I am alive, and this is the living world, ergo they are a visitor to MY world and I have the stronger presence and power. This works.
But she never went permanently, and I felt disturbed by her unhappiness. I told Gordie about her and he was not as comfortable as I was with her presence. He began to blame all sorts of his own neurotic behaviour and emotions on her. He wanted her gone. He said he was going to contact his medium friend and ask his advice. I said that I could sort it. Gordie went off to find a phone box (that’s right children, no mobile phones back then!) and I sat down and “listened” to what the ghost girl wanted. I wrote it down: a red candle, a piece of yellow cloth, incense (something flowery). Gordie returned. “Right!” he said. “I spoke to my mate and he said we need a yellow scarf, a red candle and some lavender incense.” Well hey-ho. Even I was quite impressed with myself. So I went shopping and while Gordie was out I went to work in the room. I shifted all that funky maleness out and I “worked” for the ghost-girl. And she went.
Not long afterwards, Gordie and I moved out into a basement flat that was part of a large old house, surrounded by a small garden. One fond memory is that Gordie taught me to call Robins to my hand where they would feed on cheese, fluttering over my fingers.
It was a damp and cold basement flat. In fact it was so damp that I found a frog in my bed one day! The heating was old. Basically they were metal boxes attached to the wall with bricks inside. You’d turn the heating on (gas-fired) and the fire would heat up the bricks. It cost a fortune because it was so ineffective, so we did without heating most of the time.
My spider senses had begun to pick up on stuff again in this new place. I kept seeing a cat, or having thoughts about “my cat” even though I didn’t have one. And I saw flashes of a couple in their late 50s/early 60s. They just stood there together and watched. They were not sad like the ghost-girl, nor were they malevolent. They were just curious.
One day I was sitting in the living room, freezing my arse off, trying to study. Then suddenly the chills started up and down my back. I “looked” with my forehead and saw the couple standing behind me. I lost it. “For fuck’s sake! It’s fucking cold enough in this place without you going all woo-woo-wah-wah on my ass. Cut that shit out!” And they stopped. Like I said, if you are firm and clear, the spirits listen. They stayed as a presence in the house, and I remained on “hello” terms with them. Unlike Gordie’s medium friend I don’t find it necessary to “move on” every spirit I encounter. I find that is a busybody attitude and some things are just not my business!
As an aside, the floor above us was an empty flat and yet at night we would hear the sound of a child running back and forth across the floor (our ceiling).
So those were the *human* spirits I encountered in Edinburgh. Stay tuned folks for the spirits of the extinct Scottish volcano and how Gordie was spurned by spirits for his disrespectful attitude; a lesson to us all.