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?
It’s four in the morning. The birds are singing outside heralding the stirring blood of dawn. I haven’t slept. This is not unusual.
I haven’t been well for over a decade. The details are irrelevant but recent events have stirred me to write a little on my experience with healers. By “healer” I do not mean the initiated healer working within a tradition, instead I mean the New Age so-called alternative healer, the kind that usually lobs “practitioner” after the moniker “shamanic”.
But first my own background in healing therapies: I trained for a year in nutritional healing modalities with a school that believed that essentially all (yes, all) illnesses could be cured by the right diet and lifestyle (where spirituality was considered an equal lifestyle choice to career and food). As someone with longterm, incurable chronic illnesses, this was incredibly seductive to me. The problem was obviously in my choices. It wasn’t random. I was actually in control and thus by making the right choices I could heal myself completely.
I don’t deny that we each have agency to a degree, and probably most people don’t take full advantage of quite how much is within their control, instead abdicating their dissatisfaction to be the fault of family, government, society or >insert conspiracy theory here<. Yet, I believe that there is also a considerable random and/or chaotic factor to life that will throw you a curve ball impossible to catch, however disciplined and well-trained you are. Shit happens.
Amongst my peers at the nutritional school I witnessed a tremendous amount of victim blaming. “My mother-in-law has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Well, OBVIOUSLY that was going to happen! I told her to stop drinking dairy, but would she??” and other such claptrap. Irrespective of any links between dairy and cancer, sometimes a person just gets the bad end of the draw in genetics, environment and whatever other factors are involved. If only life were so quid pro quo simplistic that one action gave forth clearly and absolutely to another. Such rules and dogma (because ultimately it is all incontrovertibly true to the believer) are the realm of the fearful.
Did I fall foul of such dogmatic thinking? Yes, I did. And in my desperation to be healed, I was vehement in my “beliefs” because here’s the thing … not only does one have to eat and do the right thing, you are encouraged to believe it too, because the mental state of mind is so important. Again, yes, to a degree. But if my treatment is going to fail when I do everything right but harbour doubts because heck I’m human, then how authentic is this as a healing “solution”. The placebo effect lives on strong, and there is absolutely a place for that. BUT, I am cautioning here again against victim blaming … especially as it is usually the healer who places blame not at his/her own door, but at the door of his/her patient.
In the last 6 months, I have had experience with two healers. Frankly, the first one must have worked some kind of juju on me (sarcasm) because usually I would make a polite excuse and refuse kindly. But one minute she’s suggesting she could help me, with the best of intentions, and the next minute I’m sitting over Skype in a guided visualisation with her. She asked lots of probing questions and I felt bare and vulnerable. I was aware that she was wading into sensitive territory with the discerning care of an elephant. Pseudo-psychology is often a great accompaniment to alternative healing; CBT being an easy e-certificate to gain online usually at a “great discount” and only requiring 30 hours of work in total!
Underlying each session was pressure: pressure from this lady enquiring “Are you any better yet? I would have thought you’d feel better by now. You must be very stuck inside. You have a lot of blockages. You obviously don’t WANT enough to be well…”
I stuck it out with this lady for over a month because she was kind of a new friend, but as she sat there between a statue of the Buddha and a statue of a fairy, while telling me to give my worries to Pegasus, I gave up the will and gently severed (as a suppressed Englishwoman, I am often oxymoronic) our connection.
The Universe (as they say) was not done with me in terms of healers though. A couple of months later I received an email from a family member. We had not spoken in 7 years when we had drifted apart due to irreconcilable differences, so I was surprised to hear from her. Without a Hello or How Are You she launched into telling me that she was now a healer and “The universe has tasked me with healing you, so here I am. And …” she continued, “None too happy about it am I either!!” She then went on to tell me how despicable I was. Bile heaped upon vitriol upon blather and blah. She said that she was just setting up in business (gah!). She tried to explain her type of healing saying that she would be “flooded” with people to her website when it launched, but those people would probably not have the ability to “connect to soul” and maybe I perhaps had a smidgen of ability to do that and a soupçon “of education” and thus she was willing to heal me. And, since we were from the same ashram (!) she would do me the professional courtesy of not charging me for her healing or teachings. All in all, it was the angriest and most patronising email I had ever received. I sat stunned afterwards feeling as if I had been hit in the head with a big healing sledgehammer. I declined to reply.
So, the point of this post is not to defame and blame healers, some of whom truly do have the very best of intentions and do provide comfort and healing to some. It is to advise would-be patients not to have such an open mind that your brains fall out and for gods’ sake don’t take the blame if the healing doesn’t work immediately/ever. Would-be healers would do well to vehemently question their own motives and should be cautioned to have a little more humility so as to avoid blaming patients!
Yes, if only the world were more linear – do X get Y- less impenetrable to our limited mind – giving answers to the endless ‘whys’ – less chaotic to our pattern-making senses. If only Pegasus could take my ailments away through Skype… At least then I might now be sleeping, instead of watching the horizon light up as the blackbirds intone the day.
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.
I’ve begun to read a book on the cadaver in German sorcery (more on that later). In the introduction it states that the remains of the dead, animal or human, still contain an essence that goes beyond death and which can be utilised in magic.
I was reminded of the day that I found a dead pigeon on the streets of my town. People passed it, ignoring it as the usual urban detritus. I was riveted and unable to pass by. I picked up the pigeon and walked a mile out into the countryside where I laid it to rest under a hazel bush next to an oak tree. More recently I found a dead juvenile rat on the concrete in front of my house. Luckily the house owner’s gardener was in that day, so I went through to him and asked him to dig a hole so that I could bury her. He is used to my madness and didn’t blink twice at my request.
Somehow the concrete of the town was life/death-denying in the way that it forced the cadavers to lie betwixt and between, unable to fester and rot away, to become part of the earth again. At worst, they would have been kicked around, at best swept up to be thrown onto some soul-less landfill. If we cannot rot and be re-consumed into the earth, do we ever really die?
Then my thoughts must turn to the ancient Egyptians who mummified their animals and fellow humans to perpetuate them for the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that as long as the Ren, or name, was spoken, they would live on. I cannot help but think of the future-denying mystes of Klagesian philosophy (of which I am still woozy but making brave efforts to understand) who tap into the eternal past through images … A name is after all but a way of conjuring up an image. Mythology has made much ado about the power of names – of angels and gods, but even Adam and Eve naming the plants and animals before their ejection from Eden. Only those dead re-membered live on, not just “in our hearts” as the Christians would have it, but in reality, beyond the illusory bluster of a world that has us not only deny life but death too.
How do we deny life when we celebrate birth and, now more than ever, we (in the Western World) can indulge our leisure time with so many “life-fulfilling” activities? Bucket list ticks are surely a testament to how much we LIVE LIFE?! But without death there is no life. Our eyes have become dulled by the litany of soul-less images from conflict zones around the world, and ever more so in our own backyards. We remember the dead in statistics. Grief counselling is A Thing, because we no longer know what to do when a person we love dies; how should we continue to relate to the dead? Of course, in the main, we don’t because the dead are just that … dead. What role do they play in life?
One can’t help but look back to past cultures, and the remnants of such, in ancestral cults, where there was no cessation of relationship with the person who died.
I am minded of the ever-growing number of Facebook profiles online of those who have passed on. Family and friends unable to, or unwilling to delete them … In many cases, people still post to the profiles randomly or on some anniversary, as if still in conversation with the dead. A cyber-necromancy. The need in us is there. It will out, in new and weirder ways.
I have no conclusions. These are just my initial mulling thoughts. I may expand on them and/or change them … but that’s just par for the course for my blog 🙂 Right from the initial post, this has been a place for me to explore, share and develop. I appreciate your company in this.
At a certain point in my exploration of and attempted living of a Left-Hand Path esoteric life, my morality was suspended, but this was not a liberated state where I moved unencumbered by external strictures. It was a place without life meaning or significance.
I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
Some LHP-ers live hedonistic, countercultural lifestyles, turning their upbringing, the norms of the culture they live in and the dominant religion on their heads. They take the above as a guide and do the opposite or a diametrical offshoot of it … but then consider themselves “free” in that adversarial state, without realising that they may have struck off the path and written their own map but their True North is still the things they often despise so vehemently, namely mainstream culture and established religion. If you define yourself in opposition to A Thing you are not free as you still require The Thing to determine your opposition.
If the majority stand BY a wall but you decide to lean AGAINST the wall, you are still in a position relative to the wall. In my mind, the point was to negate the wall entirely and see how freely I could move without any self-imposed limitation (bearing in mind that I live within a world of limits, perceptively anyhow).
If you live in a culture where drinking is “the norm” then choosing to drink absinthe (a common LHP-er’s tipple) is neither original nor daring, it is merely imbibing another alcoholic liquid, albeit one with a romantic backstory. In addition to a pleasant high, the best you might get out of it is to live the lives vicariously of all the poets and social fringe dwellers known to imbibe in the stuff.
In a society where everything is sexualised, down to the social experience and expression of children/childhood to the selling of commodities, then merely having sex a lot, even with multiple partners, even with multiple genders, is not that daring or enlightening per se.
In a society where drugs are the norm from the socially acceptable stimulants and depressants like sugar, coffee and alcohol to the medically widely prescribed opiates and amphetamines, then going to “the man on the corner” for your drug supply makes you neither a maverick nor particularly savvy – play the system better and get your drugs on repeat for free (at least if you live in the UK)!
So in contemplating the above I experimented subsequently with the nominal counter-counter norms of abstinence and celibacy – if you want to live an adversarial position to mainstream culture you might want to announce that you are a celibate, teetotal vegan! … then learn what it is to live in opposition to the norm.
But yet again, this state of opposition merely helped me to shake up my assumptions, I was not liberated from being defined by the things I rejected. I fell into a pit of meaninglessness, a place where neither The Thing nor The Opposite of the Thing had significance or meaning to me. And without meaning I spiraled into depression as I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
The only way out of this was to admit that what I was doing wasn’t working for me. I began to observe others who appeared happier, more focused and more creative (in their artistic, professional, spiritual and/or emotional lives) than me. And this included the “hippie-dippy-shitty-airy-fairy brigade” – a group of people I was used to criticising and (yet again) defining myself in opposition to. My ego protested, but I remonstrated with it that, up till now, its decisions had been isolating, deflating and unhealthy – in fact un-inspiring (inspire: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence).
I did a lot of “fake it till you make it” which ironically is a state of aligning yourself against someone else’s norm, hardly an adversarial stance; the difference being that I had to still my shrieking ego. Over time I found my own meaning and significance. The key? To lay aside ego. My meaning? That is not relevant to you as it is my path and my journey, my baggage, history and personal make-up. Your meaning will be uniquely your own.
In freeing myself from defining myself “as X” and “as NOT X” I have managed to step over the fundamentals of right/wrong, which as a social anthropologist I know to be severely culturally determined – no absolutes! (Cf. postmodern relativism) Instead of acting one way or the other in re-action to a moral duality, I now choose to act in accordance with my personal meaning; a meaning that is continuously fed by an indefinable thing that can only be know experientially through practice, study, integration and in-corporation (in corpore – in the body) of both and through putting aside egoic desires to be the same as/better than/different to XXX.
I guess you might define it as a life study in Becoming; I hesitate to say of “Being” – that potentially stagnant and anti-cosmic state of “I am that I am”. Instead I become Atum, self-engenderer from the primal chaos, bridge between what is “not” and what “comes forth” in a process of continuous unfolding.
And that’s another point: the path unfolds as I Become. Defining myself against the moral landscape around me at any particular moment belies the truth of existence. It places a premature and deceptive full-stop against a life that should at any point em-body the pregnant sentiment of dot-dot-dot … to be continued …
My acquaintanceship with spirits began at a very young age. I saw and heard things that others didn’t and I was told to keep quiet about it because people would think I was mad; 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!
The imagination works with symbols and signs 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.
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.
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. 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, that’s mindfulness. 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!
I keep pet rats and have done for over 15 years. To my friends I am known as “the Rat Witch”. Rats are a wonderful pet; they answer to their names, give and love to receive affection, respond to commands and have enormous personalities that seem to far outweigh the size of their corporeal selves. The down side about pet rats is that they only live for 2 to 2.5 years (the latter if you are lucky). Wild rats barely survive for a year. Fancy rats (including Dumbo, Siamese, Rex and standard breeds) have been bred to survive much longer but consequently they die frequently of cancers and tumours due to their excessively unnatural life span.
In the past, I had a “friend” who got angry with me for keeping rats. She had issues with death and was furious that I exposed myself to the death of my beloved companions every 2 years or so. It’s true. It is a lot of grief. A lot of death-mongering – I have always had to decide when it’s their time to pass, when the suffering is too much. Just as it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good life, it’s my responsibility to ensure they have a good death. Without exception I have held every rat in my arms until they have passed on. Because rats are so small, the fatal injection cannot be given into the heart as with cats and dogs; instead, it is injected into their stomachs and then we have to wait until the substance has worked its way around their system and they die. This can take anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes. The latter death was traumatic for me due to the way she fought in spirit to hold onto life. Trust me, it was her time to go, but a rat’s tenacity to life is indomitable.
So for me, death is a large part of my relationship to rats. Death is in the room with me right now. Tomorrow I will be taking my oldest girl to be put down. Her spirit is still lively and she is bright as a kitten, but her body is ridden with tumours and she can barely walk due to a massive tumour that has deformed both her back legs. She is the oldest surviving rat I have ever had. She is my “eternal girl”. I will miss her very much when she passes.
I am preparing myself to be a Death Doula tomorrow evening. I have felt this decision weighing on me since before Christmas. Sometimes I have wanted to look away from Death’s face, to ignore this part of our life. I wish I could be callous and leave her to die on her own, have the responsibility taken away from me. But part of my role as Death Doula is that *I* take on the pain of death. It is not for me to leave her till her tumours rupture and she dies in agony, or till she can no longer eat and drink and she starves slowly to death. As a Rat Witch, my role is to give them joy in life, and to smoothe the transition to Death as best I can by lethal injection and having them fall asleep in my arms as my heart breaks.
I once had a boyfriend who refused to accompany me to the final appointment with the vet, because he found it “too hard”. To this day I am astounded and annoyed because the implication was that it was easy for me. It’s not. It is the hardest thing ever and I admit that at times I have thrown myself into a bottle of alcohol or a pile of pills afterwards because the pain is so excruciating. But when I welcome a rat into my life, I welcome their death too – I take all parts of them into my hands. However difficult it is, I have no choice … or maybe I do, I choose to hold them as Death takes their soul. I choose to cradle their bodies as their muscles spasm releasing their spirit and their final death rattle is squeaked from their lungs … their final word.
It’s a big responsibility to choose the time of another creature’s death. I am not talking about animal sacrifice, which I abhor and reject unreservedly. I am talking about compassion which is truly a Merciless Path; to live with compassion means to take on the pain. In some circles they speak of taking on the Passion of Christ, being killed on the cross with him. I know some of you will be rolling your eyes at such a comparison with the death of a “mere rat”. Vermin, right? To you maybe. But to me they are massive souls in tiny bodies. They are companions, and they have literally saved my life on several occasions.
As much as I enjoy the life of my rats, I must also honour their death and be Death Doula helping them to die into Death as much as we are born into life. Tomorrow I will hold my old girl in my arms and stroke her, calling her all my affectionate names and singing to her until she passes.
To my Beautiful Girl with a smoky nose and eyes like pomegranate seeds: I shall miss you. Let me take on the pain of your death, so that you may no longer suffer. So mote it be.