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.
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?
Summarising from “Rocks” by Jan Zalasiewicz:
The Big Bang produced hydrogen, helium and lithium. These formed outrushing, expanding and cooling gas clouds. At some stage, gravity came into play. Gravity pulled these gas clouds together until they formed the first stars, igniting the nuclear furnaces that begin transmuting (metamorphosing) those original elements into the rest of the periodic table. It was the DEATH of large, fast-burning stars (supernovae) that explosively completed the elements we know today, flinging this new matter out into space. The new elements sped out as high-temperature plasma, and then cooled, condensed and solidified into the first minerals (detectable today in “presolar” grains of interstellar dust). Subsequently the gas clouds, this time including mineral dust (the crucial difference for future life), coalesced into rocks that collided, sometimes smashing apart, and sometimes aggregating to form planetesimals (kilometres across) that became the raw material for planets.
As humans living 4.6 billion years after the creation of our own planet, we are used to seeing that life leads to death – it is ever before our eyes, if not amongst our own kin and kind, then amongst the animals we slaughter in the billions each year or the red rose from a lover that wilts and sheds black petals. Yet look at two of the greatest myths of humanity – the Osiris myth and the Christ myth – both tell us of resurrection after death. Christianity has taken this at least amongst its worshippers to be a promise of another life after this one, eternal, better, in “another place” (the beyond, heaven, paradise), certainly not on this planet or in this phenomenal realm. The fear of death and hell have created out of the myth an idea of immortality, that as a believer (and only as a believer) one can pass by the door to damnation and be led through “the pearly gates” to join all the other righteous people.
But what if instead, these myths are a primal memory of the fact that our entire existence is owed to a dying star, that from death came life? Perhaps the myths are not promising a reductionist heavenly holiday camp, but in fact they are describing a primal process at the core of this phenomenal universe – that death births life which embodies death and eventually yields to its grasp only then to be reborn. Again, karma is another such mythological interpretation of the rebirth concept, but which (at least in the West) has become a comforting cipher for the idea that bad people will get their comeuppance (cf. the Rule of Three) – after all, life is so much easier to bear if we believe in some guiding structure of justice, even if there is little proof in the here and now that it actually exists … lucky that to many they can again comfort themselves with a belief in heaven and hell, or whatever equivalent. Their gods could never be unjust or indifferent – to believe fervently in a Creator, and yet to believe that “our Creator” (our original father/mother) could, seemingly indifferent, freely allow us to suffer and bad men to prosper throws us into a pit of existential fear and angst (perhaps the Abyss?). I have always thought that in this respect and many others, mankind’s vision is too insular, too microscopic, and too much up its own arse. Expanding one’s vision to the primal … not primal man but cosmic origins and primal space, even beyond the 4.6 billion years of our planet (of which man has existed for far less than even one half percent!), then one might perhaps see or sense the patterns, flows, energies, cycles that exist and persist – some recognisable to us within our life times and some that seem chaotic because they last beyond man’s capacity to record it – how anthropocentric of us to label things chaotic when our lifespan is that of a gnat commenting on the movements of a giant tortoise!
As any good witch knows, there are chthonic powers and daemonic beings that are far older than we are, and they inhabit places that again are older than us and shall outlast us. Doesn’t even the attempt to cling fast to mythological ideas as fundamentalist fact and truth – stories to comfort the star child in the dark expanse of space – seem ludicrous against the possibility that they are perhaps symbols and portals to understand (and access?) something beyond the capacity of our words and intellect. “Be as a child”, said Jesus … open yourself up to experiencing sensually and soulfully without the ability to name it and fragment it into intellectual categories.
Some might give up at the immensity of it all, while some might admit defeat by taking their inherited stories at face value; and I would blame neither person because to strike out on a different path that attempts to connect with the primal is terrifying; the chthonic world where the rocks dwell, the record keepers of the universe.
As I say daily to the Dead: Through me shall you live, through you shall I live. The world was born from death: It is Death’s womb that is fecund, and she who repeatedly ingests (em-bodies; makes part of her body) her Lover/Son and brings him to Life again through her starry loins.
Our Mother is Dark.
She is the fleshly womb that bore us,
She is the bones in the land that feeds us,
She is the rocks beneath our feet,
She is the expanse above our heads,
She is all we know and beyond all we know.
She is the supernovae – gone billions of years ago
Yet visible still in the heavens to those who look.
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.
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.
I was going to write a small series of articles teaching you (that is, anyone who cares to know) about how to connect with nature spirits. But I felt very uncomfortable with the “teacher” role and there were too many caveats because each person is different and your clairvoyant strengths may not be mine. I’m good at taking an individual by the hand and introducing them to nature and low magick, but I’m pants at attempting to be one of the many pagan gurus online. My blog, right from the start, was about me and my big mouth, just mouthing off about stuff that was important to me, what I did and do, etc. So, instead of trying to convey a universal truth (a what?!), I’m just going to grab a coffee, sit down and share with ye a little about what I’ve experienced. If you want to know more or have questions, please post them in the comments below.
I’ve had experiences with spirits since I was a child (ghosts, astral travelling, spirit guides, etc.). In my teen years I began to delve into Dianic witchcraft and nature witchcraft. As I meditated more, using visualisation of various symbols from ankh to the all-seeing eye, more things began to open up to me. That is one thing that I would encourage anyone to do: develop a daily meditation practice. I find that my ability to sense spirits grows in proportion to the degree of inner quiet I can sustain. If my mind is chattering about mundane rubbish, I remain distracted very often from the things right under my nose. I remember that as a young child I would sing to chase spirits away that scared me; I would focus so hard on the words and the tune of the song and sing it with every fibre of my being (“She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain” was my favourite). This distraction process created a kind of barrier between me and these parasitic spirits which closed down my “openness” and protected me.
As I worked at little rituals in my room, I also developed a practice of moon-gazing. Late at night I would slip out of the house and walk a couple of miles down an unlit road into the countryside. I clambered over styles, heading off into the fields until I was at the closest, darkest spot, right in the middle of a wheat field. I would crouch there amongst the wheat and gaze at the moon as it crested the hill. On top of the hill was a Bronze Age fort (now a clearing surrounded by Beech trees).
For months I would escape around the full and new moons to sit in the fields and listen. The only things I could really see were the black of black shadows against a black land, and above, the blinding brilliance of the moon. So my other senses took over. I heard small animals bustling around, the sound of cows chomping grass in the neighbouring field, owls screeching and the wind through the trees and grasses. I smelt the earth, a conglomeration of death and decay that smelled pungent and dark. I pressed my fingers into the dirt and stared up.
Then, after a few months, the call came. This call was to be repeated throughout my life at different times, from different landscapes, in all kinds of weather. The land called me. As I sat at home, tired and totally averse to going out, the land called me and all I could think about was being out there! It’s difficult to explain the compulsion that accompanies the call. It’s like the craving that someone gets for a cigarette when they are giving up; it’s the obsession over cake when you’ve given up all carbs; it’s an all-encompassing, physical and mental NEED for a drug, and if you don’t get it, your nerves will implode, your arteries will explode, your mind will shatter.
So I left the house, and ran down the road, off into the darkness and to the field; it was the hill that was calling me, so on I strode, up hill, through fields and orchards, over styles, past streams. It’s about 4 or 5 miles from my family house to the top of the hill. Bear in mind as well, that when the call comes, I could stride through the worst part of town and never be scared. The call overtakes any sense of fear or anxiety. So I walked through the night with absolutely no qualms about being hurt by man or beast.
At the top of the hill (which is shaped like a sleeping lion), on its rump, was the fort clearing surrounded by trees. I had been up to the hill a few times before in the daytime. I went to a jagged tree that was about three times my height but slashed black down the middle – dead, struck by lightning. I shinned my way into the cradle of the tree where it had broken apart and sat there cross-legged looking over the clearing. And that’s when I saw the spirits: black shapes, drifting back and forth, not walking but floating and sometimes flying through the air. When I see them, I see them through my forehead; when I hear them, I hear them with the back of my head. That’s the only way I can explain it. They were aware of me. I was permitted to be there. It is vital to have permission to be in such places at such times. I will tell you further stories about what can happen if you don’t.
These were human spirits (perhaps belonging originally to the Bronze Age fort), but the spirit that had called me was that of the hill. I had focused on it, spoken to it and cultivated a relationship with it in my mind, out of respect, during my moon gazing jaunts. I had opened my palms to it and greeted it – spirit to spirit – and asked permission to dwell there. Sometimes I got a great sense of “No!”; this would be accompanied by a growing feeling of unease and danger. When that happened I would turn around and head home, even if I had only just arrived. Through this method of communication, I had built a relationship of respect and trust with the land and hill spirits.
So, I guess the key aspects that led to my time amongst the Bronze Age fort spirits were meditation (being able to quieten my inner chatter), acknowledging the land spirits (whether you directly feel them or not to start with), trusting your gut (if you feel unnerved, go; if you feel safe and relaxed, stay), being part of the place you wish to communicate with (I knelt on the ground, put my hands in the earth, filled my nostrils with earthy night-air, I absorbed everything around me through my senses). And I did all of this on a regular basis, expecting nothing in return except the joy of being WITH the spirits, sharing that liminal space with them. It never occurred to me at the time to involve those spirits in spellwork. For me it was the only time I felt “normal” and that was enough for me.
Next time: The spirit of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, plus a dead mill-working girl, and why I’m generally not fond of the human dead.
One night, when I was out for a walk, I saw a tree; but I saw more than the tree. For a moment, I saw beyond and through the physical form of the tree into a spiritual realm where a spirit was, whose form manifested on this earthly plane as the tree. This insight showed me clearly that there is a spiritual existence separate from and yet connected to this earthly existence, and that all manner of things on this material plane are but symbolic manifestations of spiritual beings living on a higher plane. The question then arises, which life are we living? The one on this earthly plane or the one on the spiritual plane? Perhaps it is obvious to say, both. But I would also venture to say that the true existence is the one on the spiritual realm and that this earthly existence is merely a reflection of spiritual essence. The values that we assign certain things on this earthly plane are arbitrary and do not necessarily convey the value of the spiritual existence it reflects. For example, some people blame illness and disability on psychic and spiritual sickness. I believe this to be naive and unhelpful. Certainly I can look to my own past and see reason and cause for psychic injury and spiritual ill-health, and these things may indeed contribute to my present day lack of physical and mental resilience; but I think it is overly simplistic to assign these things a cause and effect paradigm. Those things which are difficult, ugly, painful and distressing on this realm of existence may in fact be an expression of an entirely different experience in the spiritual realm. I think it is impossible for us to interpret the spiritual realm entirely accurately while we look through the eyes, both metaphorical and literal, of this material world. Material values change depending on the epoch and the culture, whereas I believe that spiritual values are eternal. Therefore, interpreting the eternal through the lens of something temporal can only lead to distortion and misunderstanding.
So when it comes to my own spiritual journey, I must not get too distracted by the material existence around me. My spiritual self must stand strong and resilient irrespective of my changing material fortunes: whether I am homeless or a millionaire, my spirit can remain unaffected because neither state affects my true nature, which is that of spirit.
It is all too easy to become affected, and in fact crippled, by the vicissitudes and material trappings of a so-called, seeming spiritual life on this earthly plane. I can be swayed by individuals and groups, not least because my genetic heritage is that of a social primate which seeks the safety of a group. And yet in general, I will judge the group by material standards such as are they nice, are they cool, do they attract a lot of attention, how are they perceived by other people, do they seem to be elitist and therefore desirable to be a part of? Even the outsider seeks to belong by classifying himself as an outsider… like all the other outsiders with whom he identifies. Certainly one must walk the spiritual path ultimately alone: in the dark night of the soul one stands alone and naked before the immensity of existence and the infinity of spirit (whether one defines this as god, gods, or whatever). I often find myself caught up in the trappings of spiritual materialism, only to find that when that dark night falls, I stand weak and brittly rigid ready to snap under the weight of darkness. And this is why I have to keep turning my eyes back to the spiritually eternal, as imperfectly as I perceive it, in order to reconnect with my true origin and the being of which I am a reflection on this earthly plane.
Consequently my spiritual study comprises the examination of symbolic pathways that guide me back and forth, to and from, the spiritual source to the material emanation, from Kether to Malkuth. During the sleep of this earthly existence, it would be easy to lose oneself in dreams and forget to wake up. Part of my spiritual life is a process of remembering where I came from and where I shall return to, tracing the paths of the micro-map of the soul and the macro-map of all of existence which will return me ultimately to the prima materia.
Recently I have felt my spiritual ship turning in a different direction. I am incorporating aspects to my approach very different from those of the past. My Rosicrucian studies are coming along fine; after a year of commitment to this path I am now beginning First Degree studies. This has been my first opportunity to work with an established egregore from an initiate perspective. In addition I am preparing for Mussar studies (Mussar is essentially Jewish ethics, a form of self-examination and purification of character traits in preparation for the study of Kabbalah), and I am reading about Modern Kabbalah.
So what does all this have to do with being a witch? From the first day I began blogging, six years ago, the subject of “What is a witch?” and “What kind of witch am I?” has been a recurring theme. My pendulum has swung from one extreme to another as I have explored multiple paths. As I said to a friend, in order to define the middle path, one must traverse the boundaries of the extremes. One thing I have learned is that the middle path is not synonymous with following the herd, or joining the crowd, or doing what everyone else does. For a start, my middle path may not be yours. I have opened myself up to the spiritual paths of others – Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Vodouisants, Gnostics, Satanists, Sorcerers, Necromancers, et al – and I have learned something from each lively discourse.
But I remain a witch. I am anchored within the cycles of the natural world, the seasons, lunar phases and astrological movements. I still address the Egyptian Aakhu, the spirits of the dead, the elevated and blessed souls who have passed the test of Ma’at and walk the Duat, ready to assist us here on this material plane. And crucially, I still practise magick.
However, my definition of magick or more specifically my magickal construct has changed, become more and better than it was. When I say “better” I am not making a judgement regarding the way others practise magick, I am referring solely to how I experience it and benefit from it.
Now I would describe my magick as “attunement”. My focus is on attuning my soul with the divine to allow divine influx to radiate through me, by means of continued purification. Encounters with the divine, especially within Kabbalah, are often described in terms of light and fire: a burning face during prayer, the halo of divine light around the head of a student, the words of Torah as flame issued from the tongue, the bright light of a Tzaddiq …
I have never been much interested in results magick. Occasionally it has been useful, and with the contractual aide of the Hoodoo spirits, the efficacy of my results magick doubled. But the question to me was always, what do I want? What do I need? And there is a gaping crevasse between wants and needs. Over the past year I “discovered” Minimalism and realised that it has always been part of my make-up. I want very little and my needs are basic.
While studying Social Anthropology at university many moons ago, I was taught about Maslow’s triangle.
This was a revelation to me and again reflected what I instinctively knew. The key to Maslow’s triangle is that each of the needs of the lower layers must be met first before being able to achieve the higher layers. E.g. if you suffer prolonged periods without food or water, then a job is not going to be on your list of priorities, unless it is an immediate means to attain food and water. Likewise if your living conditions are at threat due to war or personal catastrophe, then you are less likely to focus on spiritual development; indeed spiritual movements rarely evolve during war-time.
So our aim as spiritual beings is to meet the lower needs in order to be in the best place possible to receive and engage with a spiritual life, i.e. self-actualisation. Now, our personal definitions of the lower level needs will vary. Some may get stuck on believing that having a car (or two!), a large house, a wardrobe of fancy shoes and money to go out on the town forms part of “security of resources or property”; if you are such a magickian, then no doubt you could expend months or years of energy trying to call so much STUFF into your life. If you define yourself by STUFF the STUFF becomes vital. But this is a skewed perspective because THINGS do not ultimately contribute to your existence, nor do they elevate your soul or polish your personality.
Likewise, note the two references to sex and sexual intimacy. So does that mean that if you’re not getting sex, you can’t work towards self-actualisation? Absolutely not. The fact is that I have seen many people (mostly men) who pursue sex as an unquestionable need, with multiple partners, with a drive bordering on addiction, and yet they lack the commitment of real friends, they have a yawning hole in their emotional lives and an aching emptiness which they don’t know how to fill. Over and above the physical act of sex I would emphasize sexual intimacy, expressed best by the German word “Geborgenheit” (a feeling of safety, emotional security, comfort, freedom from danger). This is a level of deep trust, an intertwining of souls and minds, an intimacy with another human being where your hearts make love because you experience expansive belonging with that person or persons, because there is no social morality at this level of sexual intimacy, of “Geborgenheit”, that would limit you to being sexually intimate with only one person. It is THIS side of sex that leads to self-actualisation, not the mere pumping and wet thrusting of genitalia, however distractingly pleasant that may be (and of course physical sex with someone with whom you experience Geborgenheit is a joyous meeting of soul-mates – without Geborgenheit you might as well ejaculate into a toilet or use a battery-powered gadget to stimulate your clitoral nerves).
As you see, Maslow’s triangle is not necessarily as straightforward as it might appear. It deserves some thought and consideration as to what really is a NEED for you. What do you need as a foundation from which you can then free your soul to pursue attunement with the divine? The less you need, the quicker you can get on with the real business of living; and for me, the fulcrum of life is to be filled with the divine, to radiate the bliss of Light, by whatever name you wish to call it … God, Yahweh, Lucifer, Ra. I am a moth drawn to the divine light and dying by such fire is a step towards the ultimate fulfilment of all my existential needs, because then I shall BE the Light.