… a thought making crooked all that is straight.

Posts tagged “Playganism

Cut the cow shit!

I’m as tall as a cow. I found this out as I walked through the cow fields and one came up and eye-balled me. Cows today must be GM-cows because I’m sure they never used to be that tall, and at 1.75m I’m not short either.

Short. I wish that was the excuse for why I struggle so much with the stiles. Predominantly a British phenomenon:

Doesn’t look too tricky to clamber over, does it? But is it left foot first or right? Which leg do I swing over and when? Usually I get stuck half-way across and sit with a blasé expression, pretending to admire the view while I consider whether to just throw myself off the thing or tackle it limb by limb.

I encountered similar difficulties when getting into the jeeps and pick-up trucks of my family in New Mexico. They live in the mountain desert so it’s high off-roaders only for them. I tried reversing in, but my legs are two short. I tried launching myself in front first and army-crawling my way on elbows over the back seat. Nothing but nothing was elegant. My family found it hilarious. I pursued different options like an alchemist seeking a way to transmute base metal into gold; but my elegance remained tin.

This evening I sat down by the river, watching fish jumping for the evening flies. Four swans floated past, each raising up out of the water to stretch and flap their wings, not together or randomly but one after the other. I saw flowers floating past and thought about garlands of flowers offered on the Ganges. A flock of ravens hiding in a tree was disturbed and raised a great racket as they flew off – I have never seen so many in one group. The pinky-orange sun slipped behind a cloud and I headed home.

On my walk I thought about art group today. There was only me, Woman and Beta Psych, so we just sat and talked. Woman narrowly avoided having her eyes jabbed out with paintbrushes when she TOLD me that I wouldn’t self-harm if I had a boyfriend. I coughed up a fur ball and said, “Cutting is not about being single.” She said other stupid, facile things and contradicted herself, or damned me to hell as irredeemable, by saying that men would be scared off by the intensity of my scars. I’m fucked either way, or not as the case may be. I said, that such people could “jog on” as far as I was concerned, that I didn’t need namby-pamby people who cringed at the sight of my scars around me. Life is too short and there are plenty of people who accept all aspects of me, or who have indeed been there themselves. As an LHP-er I don’t think that I have to surround myself with the twee people to feel good. No I don’t have to be nice about people’s beliefs in angels because that will make me a good person. Angelly-Wangelly stuff does my head in as much as therapy-werapy stuff dressed up under the abhorrent term “life coaching” – both run the triple knife edge of doing nothing, being childish make-believe or doing harm to fragile psyches. In any case you might as well imagine a smurf on your shoulder and listen to what the smurfing hell it has to say to you … you will make just as much progress by channeling your own subconscious that way. You do not invoke an archangel for a cuddle, FFS.

I said, I missed TMIWTM. Woman asked, “What does he give you that you can’t get from us?” I replied, “Everything! I have told him things I haven’t said here, and he knows things about me that no one else here knows or will ever know.” She looked shocked. Beta Psych appeased her with, “One-to-one is very different to a group working environment.” You bet your bejeezes it is. I said that I had never been so emotionally close to a man before. I heard her jaw hit the floor. She doesn’t like TMIWTM. She saw him for a couple of sessions 15 years ago and he told her she needed marriage counselling. 15 years later, she still needs marriage counselling… today she admitted to violence in the marriage on both parts.

Nobody’s perfect. But I do get tired of people trying to heal others when their own lives are fucked; or people in bad relationships telling you that a relationship will sort all your problems; or when people pretend to be open-minded but have surprisingly narrow and sudden limitations. I’m fucked in the head. I know that and admit it freely. You literally read my heart on my sleeve and the state of mind in the scars on my arms; but at least I am honest about it. I don’t bullshit and I don’t play around with other people, pretending to be something I’m not.

If I’m tin, then I’m tin but I keep trying to be gold. And somethings will never change: I will always be as tall as a cow.

©StarofSeshat 2011

Indians [sic] and shamans [neo-sick]

My German family emigrated to America in the 1950s. My Oma (grandmother) became an educator (assessor of children’s learning levels and needs) on the Navajo Reservation, where my family also lived for a while.

In my late teens and early twenties I travelled from the UK to spend time living with my grandmother in an area called the Checkerboard because squares of land belong to the Navajo Nation (a dependent state existing within the independent state of America) and some squares belong to the Federal Government of the US.

While there I took up Navajo language classes and met a Navajo woman who worked for the Navajo Nation Government. Her work involved travelling hundreds of miles daily over the Reservation. She invited me to travel with her for four months and during that time she adopted me as her daughter, introducing me to Navajo or Hopi Native Americans as her daughter.

First point:
Native Americans are NOT Indians
Native Americans are NOT American Indians
Native Americans are NOT North American Indians

They are Native Americans because they are the original people native to that continent; any other name carries with it a shed load of political hegemony and implicit colonial abuse.

I learned a lot from my Navajo mother and her friends about what was considered acceptable to Native Americans, what were sore points, how their history affected them … how thousands were deliberately wiped out by white Europeans distributing plague-ridden blankets among them; how some native peoples have been completely exterminated. Their history is no less painful, political and rife for misunderstanding than the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Holocaust, to name but two.

After my time on the Reservation, I went to Germany where I spent a year beginning my translation career. There I encountered a heavily sunbedded female with a suede, fringed jacket, plaits and feathers in her hair. She “identified” with “Indians” [sic]. I felt sick to my stomach at her ignorance. No. Don’t give me any bullshit about naive enthusiasm: if you are truly interested in a Native Path then do your research, learn the history, the current politics and the current discussions around the misappropriation of native culture and spirituality, which continues to this day, and is felt by so many NAs to be a continuation of the colonial hegemony they have had to suffer for centuries.

Following on from this: the word “shaman” has become a word bandied around as easily as “witch” (I will deal with that another day). Banging a drum, chanting and speaking to imaginary spirits does not make you a shaman. Pretending that you “journey” every time you touch a rock does not make you a shaman, nor does it make your experience “shamanic.” The concept of “journeying” has also been watered down to be meaningless half the time.

There is no documentation of shamanic culture per se in the British Isles. If you refer to Celtic shamanism, the same point applies as there is no documented proof of exactly what the Celts did except for tales told by Roman historians, and the Romans defeated the Celts … we all know what history is like when written by the victors (blood sacrifice, baby-eating, water poisoning, with the odd truth thrown in – who can say what is true and what isn’t?).

I met two shamans/medicine men on the Reservation and they gave me none of the “foot in both worlds” bullshit, none of the “hang on, I’m just speaking to my spirit guide, Jack”.

If you look at shamanism as practised amongst Native peoples in America (there are many different peoples – different languages, different religious practices, although most will have a name for themselves that translates as “The people” – consider the Navajo word for themselves “Diné”), and if you look in particular at the shamanic practices still found in Siberia you will see a very different picture from the neo-Shamanic practices of British/European wannabes.

As a knowledgeable friend concurred, calling yourself a “traditional shaman” is a tautology shouting “fluff” because true shamanism is by definition “traditional”. However, the word “traditional” sells more books, doesn’t it? Kerching! $££$$£

Shamans are known for communicating with spirits, but again, this is not a running conversation with an ancestor sitting on your knee, your hand up its spiritual backside as you channel its wisdom. No. Communication with spirits is usually within the context of an ecstatic ritual, or within a ritual context that will suspend the natural (or more apparent) senses.

Be warned that not all is what it seems. I have met two shamans. One I had more contact with than the other. But they were not bullshitters.

If you are interested in Native American spirituality – remember that there are many, many different Native American peoples and that not all are the same. Have the courtesy to research their history and their current politics. Read authors such as Ward Churchill – academic historians; don’t just read people with fake names like Starhawk (who is a respectable neo-pagan but NOT a Native American).

And if you come across someone calling themselves a “shaman”, add “neo” in front plus a large pinch of salt. Don’t part with money. Trust your gut. And read around the subject.

©StarofSeshat 2011

Anger in the blood

I was reading today on a friend’s blog about Leonora Carrington. Finding this another, yet very different, inspiration similar to my reaction to Valentino, I sought out her book “Down Below”. This book is unfortunately out of print, in spite of a Virago reprint in the 1980s.

Having gasped at a few ridiculous prices ($75!!!) I found it on an anarchist collective online bookshop. Intriguingly it appears they had a shop in Edinburgh (I couldn’t find any reference to it still going) … but I am sure this is the bookshop that was my haunting ground while I studied there. I recognised the authors and tone of the titles – somehow I just knew it was the same place. I treasured my collection of Ward Churchill essays from there for years, and it still educates me in my opinions of wannabe white ‘native’ playgans.

I had been so sad to see it dwindle and go; students are just not made for activism these days in the UK – they scoff (rather than scoff AT) consumer products and aim for a career in some “blah-blah industry” so they can afford to scoff more Stuff. I don’t know any young person who has marched against unjust wars, for women’s rights, or gone on anti-fascist marches … And living in a rural area is no excuse. These issues affect us all; but instead there are too many kneejerk, tabloid-led mentalities amongst both the kids and their parents – MacDonald’s and Labels over Educations! Guns over Mentalising!

But it gave me a brief blast of nostalgia to find AK Press again and I shall probably buy more from them, once my money coffers are a little higher: the tax man has cleared me out (hopefully my final bit of blood money after having to close my business in March).

Coincidentally, last night I got back in touch with an old schoolfriend. He was a French exchange student now working for the European parliament as a political journalist. It was with him that I went to his hometown of Strasbourg and marched against Jean-Marie Le Pen and his associates: the largest demonstration again Neo-Nazis ever seen in Europe, and I don’t think it has been beaten yet. There were 70,000 of us on the streets and it took all day to march from the beginning to the end of the demonstration route,

Quote from an article you can find HERE:

The 70,000-strong demonstration against the fascists’ annual conference in Strasbourg in March 1997 marked a shift in the anti-nazi movement. The town was virtually shut down as activists marched through the streets chanting “Never Again” and “F for Fascist, N for Nazi, Stop the National Front!”

Recently there has been a lot of debate in the UK over the teachers’ strikes. I saw one poster designed to look like a road sign, with a worker digging but the title “Down tools!”; someone had scribbled underneath, “Lazy bastards!” And that really summarises debate and resistance within the UK today: an A4 poster and a scribble in Biro.

For my own part, these days my health prevents me from travelling to marches, but I still try to counter racist, ill-informed opinion when I find it (more specifically on the internet … lots of it out there) – although it is at a severe cost to my mental balance as I get so passionately and angrily involved. My days of rocking the boat are probably over – curtailed by illness, although I still have my voice, however small. This is why it pleased me no end that anarchist and socialist collectives like AK Press still exist (somewhere out there in the world).

But don’t think that I’m saying “It was different and better when I was young”; twas ever thus that mankind was on a downward spiral as soon as s/he stood on two feet. My studies in paleontology teach me how we are a mere speck in history and will not even come close to a fraction of the period in which dinosaurs lived. Hope for the future? We will die. Our children will die – and due to corrupt governments fighting wars for oil and resources – our children have already started to die before us and shall continue doing so.

An acquaintance raged to me about “the people” wanting windmill power and greener energy and that the government wasn’t doing enough … I countered that “the people” were not willing to be “one-car” or even “no-car” households, they were not willing to have just one TV (or no TV!!); People want everything and they are ignorant of where ‘everything’ comes from. If it changes a person’s lifestyle then suddenly it’s not so important … comfort over ecology; outrage over education (so much easier to be “shocked” and “horrified”, to bond with other “outraged” people, than to actually inform yourself and take an active stance) – “Lazy bastards” indeed, myself included at times as I am no paragon.

AK Press – a reminder today of what I once was before the years battered me down and illness stole the rest of me; at least that is how it feels most days. But there is still a spark of resistance in me, the person I was in essence hasn’t changed: I still hate racists (especially ones who pretend they are making a political point when it is still just lazy racism … oh I know, don’t tell me, “Some of your best friends are …{fill blank}” Tsk. Predictable). My father said that once. I was about 12, listening to him mouth off about black people to his friends and out came the, “Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are black people!” And I looked up thinking, where are these black people? At 12 years old, living in rural Britain in the ’80s, I had not yet even seen one, and don’t friends, let alone “best friends” come to your house?  I knew a hypocrite when I saw one. I knew racism when I heard it and it angered me as much then as it does today.

Next to racism I would place a hate of ignorance; and by that I don’t mean a lack of education, because that can happen for various reasons and a list of qualifications doesn’t make a person intelligent. I know plenty of people with educations who are thick as shit. It’s the tabloid opinion and the ignorance of “I heard this in the pub/read it on the internet”, the ignorance of thinking that you have uncovered a point of law previously unseen by anyone in Europe that proves that a certain people are racist … because there is no better disguise for a racist than to get your foot in the door and accuse the Others of the same: I’m not racist, they are. So maybe one (ignorance) will always feed the other (racism)… there are very few Svengalis or Hitlers with malicious motivations driven by a hunger for power; it’s mostly about lazy thinking, ignorance and FEAR of difference and change.

Yes, I am angry. I have the anger of 4 generations of a family killed and mentally maimed by racism flowing in my blood. When I was nine I was taken aside by an old woman and told the story of my family; she said, “Blut zeigt sich” – blood will show; she meant that I would never be able to hide from my heritage and that it was with me forever. So, I make no apologies for being angry and for hating racism – whether it’s expressed by a hardcore Neo-Nazi or ignorantly enforced by doe-eyed well-meaning Playgans. To the former I say, “Fuck off and die” to the latter I say, “Have the decent respect to research the history of the native people you pretend to emulate, speak to them and see how they feel about the cultural appropriation of their spirituality by white people – sticking feathers in your hair does not make you Native American, and banging a drum does not make you a Shaman.”

©StarofSeshat 2011

Who are you calling a witch?!

The problem of names and definitions rears its head all too often in the pagan community. I can’t remember seeing this much confusion in my brief contact with the Roman Catholic Christian Church; but there they had a 2,000 year old history to draw on (however rocky the foundations and censored the progression of that history), and there are very clear rites of passage to becoming a Christian, or more important (to them) a Catholic. My mother believes that non-Catholic Christians are as bad as non-Christians; they are all wrong and therefore damned. That’s a very clear definition and boundary.
There is no such clarity in paganism, and most certainly little clarity on the term ‘witch’. As we progress along our own personal paths our tolerance to fluffydom fades and is quickly replaced by frustration, because that’s not what ‘we’ are, and others may judge us by their standards: they “give pagans a bad name”. Maybe.
I think labels can be very disingenuous, but people want to know how you label yourself, so they can compare you against the list of their own criteria and see where you fit into their world picture. This is human nature. We like to know where we stand with other people; are we singing from the same hymn sheet? The greatest disappointment can come when we assume that a person is one thing, and then further down the line we realise they are everything we despise; the shiny copper glamour of the initial meeting turns a green patina against the ravage of our elemental criticism.
I have spoken a few times on the blog about what I am, what label I go by. Naturally this changes over time as I consolidate the tendencies of my path. Changing labels – that’s something people dislike even more than not having a label! Often people have kindly urged me to ‘just be’, to defy the definition. Maybe. If I were to live in a solitary bubble not engaging with other pagans and non-pagans, then that would be fine. But conversation and discussion means we have to have common words, we have to agree on our definitions or never get passed “Hello, you’re a what?!”.
I know that it can be extremely threatening to some people when others start bandying around pagan categories: this is what makes you Wiccan; this is what makes you a witch. The fear is that they will fall betwixt and between and not find recognition in ‘the community’. As pagans we are already outsiders; insult to injury if we are then labelled outsiders by other Outsiders!
However, for the pagan community to be solid, for witches of all shades to have a chance at survival, we need to start looking at definitions, and what makes us who we are. The discussion is being had in small gatherings and circles all over the world. Everyone has an opinion. There is little consensus, and the fact is, we have no pagan pope to lay down the law, and if we did we would probably truss him up with the law stuffed in his gob and fling him off a cliff … actually maybe I’m projecting; that’s what I’d want to do with him, other pagans would most likely sit around him in a circle and blow incense and loving thoughts at him in the hopes that his spirit be released from the constraints of dogma. Yech!
I try very hard to let other people self-define. Yes, I balk at the Pagan Dudes who equate paganism to music festivals; at the fluffies who do not think beyond a love spell and write Isis with two hearts as dots over the ‘i’s. Grrrr. I can feel my blood boiling as I write. But I had a discussion earlier today with someone I respect and love greatly, and he has shown me that, actually, yes, I am irritated by people calling themselves something they are not. I’m quite quick to see who’s a doer and who’s a talker. Sometimes the talkers talk because they are scared of doing; they want it desperately but words are the closest they get to it. It’s hard to walk the line of respect for another’s limitations; especially when you agree with someone else’s criticism. Half the time I sit and bite my tongue. It’s not for me to say who or what a person is.
I suppose the summary of the current state of affairs is: take every label with a pinch of salt: the labels that people give themselves and the label you choose for yourself. I am still unsure how to label myself: I practise magick, I perform pagan rituals, I worship the gods of Egypt, I talk to spirits alive and dead – does that make me a witch? I don’t know. I deliberately choose the word ‘witch’ because there is such disagreement over what one is, that I think I could slip past the bodyguards at the door and party with the rest of them.
Ultimately I may disagree with how people define themselves, but I can’t judge them and their path. It’s how they get through life. If calling themselves a witch or Wiccan helps to give them strength to soldier on; who am I to question that? As frustrating as it may be at times. I rejoice in communion and like-mindedness wherever I find it, whatever its name. The important thing is to know where I am going. I am dedicated to the Egyptian gods. And even though my experience is a neophytic speck of dirt compared to others I know, magick is my life and focus for my future. I’ve gone too far to ever go back. So would you call me a witch…?
© starofseshat 2008

Pagan Dude – Pagan Dud

“Thanks, I’ll take these please.”

I place the book and crystal pyramid on the glass counter, and turn my head as a young man enters the shop. He stares intently at me with an openness I usually only see in the mentally impaired. Normally people steal a glance, lock eyes momentarily with a non-committal expression before looking away. He greets the assistant and looks at my purchases.

“A crystal pyramid. Awesome”.

“Er, yes.”

Oh, I get it. He’s The-Man-Who-Walks-Up-To-You-In-The-Pub. The stranger, perhaps seeing something too open in my expression, seizes the opportunity to connect.

“I just got back from a mad Summer Solstice festival, yeah, down in Breinton. Course, Covent Garden is the business. That’s where you can get all the proper pagan clothes. You see I’m a pagan and I HAVE to celebrate the solstice.”

“Oh, right.”

“Yeah, Celtic gods, An’allthat.”

Ah, An’allthat, that’s a new Celtic god to me, but I bow before his enthusiastic knowledge.

His assumptions prickle, and I can’t help but say, “We did our ritual this morning.” My goodness, am I really thumbing my metaphorical nose at him? Who is the youngster here?


At which point he starts groping inside his shirt and pulls out an ankh, nodding and grinning at my chest.

“Oh, yes.” I wear an ankh as well.

“Yeah, mine’s got a garnet in. My birthstone. So, yeah. This festival, it was so …”

Don’t tell me, awesome.

“… cool.”

“I hadn’t heard of a pagan festival nearby.”

“Oh, yeah, an’ then we’ve got The Big Chill coming up.”

I think the organisers of The Big Chill would be surprised to hear they are a pagan festival. Suddenly I wonder if the Summer Solstice festival he attended wasn’t actually a music festival. And my suspicions are confirmed as he reels off more known music events, that are about as pagan as the Pope.

“So,” say I. “Will you be going to the Ludlow Esoteric Fair?”

“Eastnor Castle?”

“No Ludlow Esoteric Fair.”

“Is that at the castle.”


I explain where it will be, and mention the main aims of the conference. I mention Madeleine Montalban and The Regency Group.

“Oh, yeah,” he interrupts. “I went to the Conservationist Group thing in London. Thousands of people there. Well cool.”

I pause mid-breath and feel very old. Is this the generation gap that is yawning before my feet giving me vertigo?

He looks at me blankly. I start shoving my purchases into my bag. This conversation is going nowhere fast. He flips out a phone, and dials MD for Major Distraction, as I wave and smile at the assistant. He studiously avoids my gaze and pretends not to see me leave.

I walk away and wonder when it became so “awesome” to be pagan and so easy. Buy the clothes, go to the festivals, wear an ankh (that archetypal symbol of all things … Celtic?) and proudly tell whoever will listen, “Cos I’m pagan, yeah.”

© starofseshat 2008

You expect me to "toke" you seriously?

I recently read a book by a spiritualist which not only detailed her own life journey but incorporated exercises for getting in touch with your guardian spirit. A couple of things in the book stuck in my craw, one of which was her position on taking hallucinogenic drugs to facilitate contact with the spirit world. I hasten to add that this was not something she advocated for her readers, but it was part of her own spiritual experience. Suddenly her credibility in my eyes was severely tarnished.

I am not going to start criticising native shamanic cultures, or religions such as the Native American Church with its use of peyote. From my time amongst the Navajo, and after having met a member of the NAC, I have great respect for what they do and who they are. Why then do I find it so difficult to take a white British person seriously when they go down the peyote route?

Part of my response is definitely influenced by Ward Churchill’s brilliant book “Indians Are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America”. In this, he posits the idea that physical genocide of Native Americans may have ceased but the cultural appropriation by white people of Native American spirituality is just another blow in a long line of exploitation. He encourages Europeans to look to their own root cultures to find the native spirituality of their own lands.

This is harder than it may seem though. Unlike most Native Americans, we Europeans/white Americans are a mongrel breed with roots everywhere. I have roots in Britain, France, Germany and Poland (and I have only gone back 3 generations to get that list). So where are my roots? I think this sense of homelessness is what has driven so many Europeans to latch onto the strength that they see in North American native spirituality. In Germany I met a girl who dressed in suede-fringed jackets and wore a feather in her hair. She felt she was honouring NAs, I felt she was insulting them by mimicking something she patently wasn’t. I have attended a Reiki healing class where the teacher danced around with a Native American drum. As effective as it was, I wondered how appropriate it was for this man of Hungarian/British origins to do?

I have no answers on the question of appropriating native religions that are not our “own”. I have my opinions, but it is a complex subject. I would just urge you to read Ward Churchill’s book, if you can.

The main focus of my question here is how reliable, necessary and helpful is it to incorporate drug experience into ritual and spiritual development? Wow, I can hear so many of you revving up your fingers to respond 🙂 please do.

From my perspective, drug taking is the ultimate in materialistic spirituality. I have written before about my dislike of relying to heavily on the tools of magic to the detriment of your spiritual connection. If you cannot cast a circle comfortably without an athame, and if you cannot communicate with your deities without various arcane accoutrements, how sincere is your practice? Relying on hallucinogenic drugs to achieve a connection with spiritual worlds is the ultimate crutch, and in my opinion, you may as well chop off your spiritual legs while you’re at it. I am lucky in that I have always been able to achieve an altered state at will. Sometimes it is harder than others. Ultimately practice and hard work are the keys.

There is no way you can entirely rely on your experiences while under drugs. I have read a fair bit about neurology and psychology, and am very aware of how chemical changes can alter our sense of reality – reality has not changed, merely our perception of it. You may think, great, this is what I need, to change my perception, to open up my mind to connect with the Other. But I think you are more likely to connect with a self-deluded and potentially dark side of your own nature. I have a friend who, while on drugs, hallucinated that she kept turning into a skeleton. So was she “connecting” with Death? Communicating with the “other side”? No, she was being faced with an internal, subconscious issue that she was by no means ready to deal with at that point. Drugs take down your barriers, they leave you bare and vulnerable, and ultimately incompetent. I have another friend who insisted that hash made her more creative. When I said it made my head spin in circles, she shook her head and said I hadn’t learnt to “use it properly”; but she had the skill and her creativity benefited from it. Bullshit. She sat at home day-dreaming pipe dreams of all the things she was going to do; she started tens of courses and never completed one; she started losing friends (including me) because she became the opposite of the person I originally fell in love with. She was a vacuum of creativity that threatened to pull me in and destroy my own. She was not going to change, I beat a hasty exit.

Spirituality and magic are (in my mind) about self-discipline, focus and about honouring your deity. What honour is there in being high? That is just self-indulgent and lazy. Being high while doing magic is dangerous and irresponsible, and you get what you deserve.

Surely the point is to clear away the clutter to make a straight path to our deity? Taking drugs and thinking you can be “more spiritual”, “more connected with the Other Side”, “more powerful as a magician” is just like striking out across a bog; you may get to the other side, then again you may get stuck, stagnant, incapable of moving at all – and your Journey, for this life at least, will be over.
© starofseshat 2008


p.s. apologies for the dreadul pun title. Couldn’t resist it!


Follow the link, for a definition of Toke