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.
In times of stress and fear, we generally default to those beliefs and ideas that we feel in our heart of hearts are most protective and empowering – what you might call our “original” or fundamental beliefs. The agnostic in battle flings up a prayer to god; the lapsed Catholic makes the sign of the cross at a near-miss car crash; and the child seeks out mum or dad … presuming that those parental figures are safe and protective. Mine weren’t, so in times of stress as a child I fled inward and to the spirits.
I had an intense introduction to Roman Catholicism after my father left us. Before his departure there had been absolutely no religion in the family so I had had no boundaries around my psychic adventures, astral journeys and ghostly friends (nor did I have help when entities were not so friendly). I was able to unfold in as natural a way as was possible for me, up till the age of 9.
It was not at all a conventional Catholic upbringing as my mother immersed herself into Benedictine monasticism and so throughout my formative teenage years our family friends and visitors were ALL (no exception) priests, monks and nuns. My baptism in Germany, at the age of 9, was a beautiful affair: I was surrounded by a large circle of nuns between the ages of 25 and 90. I walked around and stopped in front of each woman to receive a cross drawn on my forehead with their fingers. It was magical. I had flowers in my hair. And frankly, it was all very pagan. My catechism was given either in the large gardens as we tended the flowers (all godly symbols explained through symbols in nature) or in a red boat as my sister instructor rowed us around the moat of this old German castle, which now served as the abbey home.
My devotion to Catholicism was intense (not least because I found safety amongst the nuns and everything about the castle and my lessons in nature appealed to the romantic in me), although (and this was a major problem) I had no place for Jesus in my pantheon, and I never understood the concept of original sin (helped by my confessional priest who refused to hear my “sins” as he said I was too young to sin and we should just pray together). However, my belief in Christianity crumbled in my teens for two reasons: one, I started to read about witchcraft and paganism and realised that this is who and what I was; and two, I began to study the gospels and Pauline letters in the original Greek. The latter was an issue because so much of the gospels has been redacted in English, changing female disciples’ names into male names, for example, because the established Church finds it too threatening to consider that women were equals in the early Church! If I had been lied to about something as fundamental as this, what else was poppycock?
But even though I abandoned Christianity (not acrimoniously because I respect Christian mysticism), and although I went on to explore and devote myself to witchcraft, I found myself still, in times of spiritual distress, calling on the Abrahamic image of deity as I had experienced him through those formative years. This puzzled me and frustrated me. But it need not have. Archetypes come in many forms, and the cipher with which our mind envisages the archetype is not always within our conscious control. Ultimately we have to explore and examine our beliefs and be totally honest about them. If I am cavorting with spirits and things go tits up, then it really matters what deity or entity I call upon because it may be cool to call on Sekhmet, but if your inner belief is still stuck on the Virgin Mary then you’re going to get an ‘up side the head’ because your inner spiritual integrity is split, which presents a weak face to the spirits you’re trying to work with. Some “beliefs” have deeper roots than others. Like gardening, our spiritual landscape needs constant tending. And this is also why so often in LHP literature, a lot of time is spent on deconstructing and challenging a person’s, generally, Christian faith. If you are going to choose instead to work with Lucifer, then you need to relinquish any guilt you might feel about that, because that guilt will bite you on the bum.
So, I’ve been thinking about all this recently because I am going through a really difficult and stressful time. Everything is in flux, including my accommodation. I am moving to a temporary place and my future is totally unclear right now. In fact, every area of my life is undergoing some kind of transitional phase. And guess what! I hate change. I loathe it. I am a fan of routine and predictability. I like a quiet life because my emotions are on my sleeve and I FEEL so intensely that it hurts. The only way to dull the pain is to maintain a staid and stable life. So I’m hurting right now. My body feels it. My mind feels it. And I’m noticing what I’m doing with all that stress … I am taking it to the spirits. I feel like I have come full circle to the little girl taking her astral journeys “back home” for granted and placing more confidence in the protection of spirits than the humans in her life.
My altar is like an eternal flame right now. As soon as one set of candles burns out, I light the next, muttering my prayers and invocations … ‘Let me feel the joy of your presence … come forth …’ Clouds of incense. Cups of coffee. Glass of water. And love, love, love and gratitude pouring out from my hands to the spirits.
Half my furniture and a large proportion of my stuff has been given to charity. A third of my remaining stuff is in storage, and the rest is predominantly in boxes. But my altar remains standing till the last minute and will only be packed on the morning of my move.
In times of stress, we default to what we believe in, to where our hearts lie and our foundation is strong … at least I do. I wonder if others can identify. Can you? And is your answer coherent with your projected identity? Or is there a split between your inner world and your outer persona?
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.
These are the contents of my new “Who am I?” page, reposted here for your convenience and as a heads-up.
As I stand on the threshold of 2016, after eight years of blogging here, I thought I would write a new “Who am I?” page as my last one had a touch of the “Feck off!” about it. The interweb can make one pre-empt conflict and overcompensate a little.
Having read other “About” pages, I chastised myself and thought I should create one that was a tad more warm and fuzzy. So here goes!
I would say that my formal journey into witchcraft began when I was 17 (I am now 41), although I had had copious experiences with spirits (nature, animal, human and other) for as long as I can remember before then. Witchcraft was both a home-coming and my birth emotionally and intellectually as a Woman. I was initially very much attracted to feminist and Dianic witchcraft which created a powerful, sideways drop-kick counterbalance to 9 years of Roman Catholicism (specifically Benedictine monasticism). I explored my soul crouched in the earth of wheat fields, gazing at the moon, or climbing through woods to a haunted Bronze Age fort that looked out over the valley where I lived on the Welsh Borders of Britain.
Between my early days and a significant ritual in my late twenties, I lived in Germany for a while communing with tree spirits, I travelled to New Mexico where I was adopted by a Navajo woman. Together we travelled the reservation, with me as her daughter and she as “shi’ma” (my mother). I fell in love with the spirit of the desert and the genius loci around my grandmother’s property. On my return to Britain I lived in Edinburgh (one of the most haunted cities in Europe, some people say) where I was often taken over by the spirit of Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano on the outskirts of the city) which led me at times to climb up the shear face of the mountain, in the dark, in storms, driven by spirit to reach the top and stand amongst a veritable swarm of entities. In my mid-twenties I travelled to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt. My time in Egypt was brief but my visit to Philae marked my soul as if I was returning to a place I had been to before (the temple itself and the region bordering Sudan).
I realise that I am hot-footing it through the years, merely suggesting spiritual and spirit-based encounters, but there is just not the space here to retell it all. I guess the point of mentioning any of this is to convey the fact that I travelled a lot and wherever I went I engaged spiritually with that location.
Then came a time in my late twenties: I was living alone. My Navajo mother had died. It was Samhain. I turned my kitchen into a shrine to the dead, named and unnamed. I lost myself in ritual for about five hours, during which I danced with Death himself, shed many tears and was reborn spiritually. From that moment onwards I dedicated myself as “witch”, a term I would go on to explore in agonising scrutiny on this blog in its early days (many, many posts have been deleted, those included).
I went through my Satanic phase, my Luciferian phase … I searched and searched for a witchcraft that resonated with the darker shit that I had experienced. Wicca seemed too light, hedge and kitchen witchery too vapid. Now, I can admire what each of those things bring, in isolation, for others, but they just weren’t my paths, however neither were Satanism or Luciferianism. I touched on so-called “traditional witchcraft” but was put off by the bitchy, petty, superior attitude of the adherents I encountered. I began to explore Left-Hand Path traditions (this is a subject I write about a lot on this blog), and I gave myself over to this path for many years. During that time I crumbled psychologically and walked some very dark nights of the soul. I was taken apart and left in pieces. There was no immediate “and put back together again”. For a long time I floated in the blackness; I felt that my experiences of spirit were partially given a context and recognised by the systems I experimented with, but morally I was directionless. In my depression I went past and through duality to having no sense of right or wrong; in fact everything was pointless. I laid myself psychically bare and drifted. Every now and then I would see a light and swim towards it.
I learned about the system of Lucky Hoodoo by Bertiaux. I dedicated myself to the spirits, raised myself up towards the dark sun and became alive again magickally. This lasted about a year before my depression struck me low again. I recanted the spirits … and then followed a year of hell before I realised that I’d struck a contract I couldn’t go back on. So I rededicated myself and began to build things back up again. The Hoodoo spirits remain a part of my daily practice to this day.
Between then and now, I have been deeply involved with Pomba Gira while I worked as an erotic hypnotist. I learned how to siphon the sexual energy off of others to feed to my spirits. And I used this also to strengthen myself. Pomba Gira is known for raising women up from the gutter, especially sex workers, and I was so deeply face down in the gutter I had forgotten a world existed “up there”. She led me to encounters that were to change my life and the way I engaged with this dimension of existence.
It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that the last ten years have been a beautiful incline rising ever upwards and today it’s a “happy ever after”. The darkness still dwells within me. I struggle with it regularly. Being in the dark is a little like vertigo; it gives you a sense of standing on the edge of a cliff, tilting forwards, knowing what it’s like to fall, feeling like you could at any moment … but you don’t. Or sometimes you do. And that’s just the way it is.
These days I work with the Hoodoo spirits and Aakhu (the beautified dead), but also nature spirits (of land, plant and animal) and elements. I am a witch. I could be an Animist. I might have shamanic tendencies. I am open to any beliefs because I am now secure enough to observe them without feeling that I have to agree or engage with them. If you believe something different to me, hail and well met! Life is difficult enough without someone kicking your crutches out from under you. And we ALL have spiritual crutches to hobble through the dark times with. I don’t know The Truth, but I know truths and I keep seeking.
My path is not straight. As my blog’s tagline says, I am “a thought making crooked all that is straight”. This blog charts some of my thinking and explores ideas that occupy my mind and time. You are welcome to dwell here a while and share the journey with me.
The following writing about the possessed state is based on information in The Vodou Quantum Leap by Reginald Crosley (first edition), from which I extrapolate some ideas around hypnosis and exploring multi-dimensions of existence.
Crosley begins by stating that Freud’s concept of the unconscious is the “new myth of the twentieth century”, which overlooks the idea that there are other dimensions of reality. In quantum physics, matter is both particle and wave: in the wave function lies the uncanny and weird phenomenon of nature which is dark matter, shadow matter and/or invisible matter.
James Braid, an English medical writer, found through experimentation that the trance state differed from natural sleep; he suggested the possible existence of a double consciousness in individuals. In many ways, this was the forerunner to Freud’s unconscious. But the concept of a “double” consciousness is also reminiscent of the African “semedo”. In Afro-Haitian ontology, the individual has more than one “double” conceived of as souls; each individual has at least 2 souls (i.e. clone-like reproductions of herself), made of “shadow matter”, which is the Gros Bon Age or semedo, and the Petit Bon Ange or selido. The semedo and selido are counterparts of each other.
Freud’s initial studies of the unconscious were in fact done on hypnotised subjects. Under hypnosis, the hypnotist can introduce a new personality to the subject, which is interpreted by Crosley as; the shadow-matter component which is usually in the background to the visible body now moves to the forefront and takes command of the individual’s nervous system. In hypnosis, like in dream states, the limitations of space-time do not exist. Under hypnosis, the shadow-matter self remains under the command of the hypnotist, according to Crosley.
All sensations are apprehended or become conscious after transformation to energy. Space-time events are stored in the visible AND invisible matter components. They can be retrieved to produce hallucinations, dreams and physical events (e.g. sweating, itching, muscles rigidity, orgasm, etc.) or a new personality. I.e. the “language” that we use to apprehend things in this finite space-time continuum can be retrieved and used outside of space-time, in trance, or under hypnosis, to create events and experiences using those same “words” which makes shadow-matter contact comprehensible to the visible body/conscious mind.
The difference in physical reality with the vodouns is that we would not ask a hypnotised subject to e.g. drink poison, or to chew and swallow glass. However, surgery can be performed under hypnosis without pain; a subject can manipulate fire without being burned, and second degree burns can be created by the suggestion of contact with a hot object. There are differences then between the possessed state and the hypnotic state, although the similarities are perhaps greater than the differences, and as such hypnosis could give us a platform from which to create a kind of portal to the shadow realm.
Crosley quoting Kaku: “What we use to label supernatural or spiritual belongs to the physical world of the supersymmetric universe or hyperspace.” I.e. the supernatural, weird and uncanny belongs to the world of the double, the semedo, to the shadow-matter world.
Crosley states that a commonality between possession and hypnosis is sleep. In sleep there is a reversal in dominance of the body, semedo and selido. In waking life, the body is on top and interacts with its environment. In sleep, the shadow-matter “clone” (double) moves to the front and interacts with itself, other components of the individual or the external world. Crosley describes possessed states, where the possessed person sees both the visible this-world and the shadow-matter world, perceiving entities here and there simultaneously. By drawing the semedo to the front, we can engage with the invisible world and open up perception and sensations to the wave function of the shadow world. Imagine then a situation where a person is guided into a hypnotic state by someone familiar with the shadow world, or at least cognisant of its nature, it might then be possible to journey in a shamanic sense through this other dimension from a state not of possession by an alien entity such as a loa but by one’s own double, and as Crosley suggests, this double, the shadow-matter self, remains under command of the hypnotist.
Hypnotists understand the following brain wave states: the waking state, which is the Beta brain wave state (BWS) – hypnosis is ineffective here; deep relaxation is characterised by the Alpha BWS – in this state the hypnotist can implant suggestions that influence waking behaviour and belief systems; a deeper trance state is described as the Theta BWS – in this state, the hypnotist can do more advanced work, such as age and past life regression; finally the state of sleep is the Delta BWS – it is generally thought (contrary to popular, secular belief) that a hypnotist cannot work with a subject in this state and this seems to contradict Crosley’s understanding of hypnosis as a state of “sleep”.
Crosley speaks of two sleep states, namely Slow Wave (SW) sleep and REM: SW sleep involves some dreams, though they are usually dull and related to every day activity – this state lasts about 90 to 100 minutes; REM sleep is the dream state where the double is in full control of the body, producing vivid, uninhibited dreams, also psychic events and visions as well as out-of-body travel – this state lasts about 15-20 minutes after which you return to SW sleep. REM gradually occurs more during the night and on average takes up about 25% of adult sleep time. In dreams, the individual’s own double takes over; in hypnosis, depending on the depth of hypnotic trance this could also be the case of full semedo dominance, or (in the case of a light Theta state) the semedo maintains a partial dominance (similar in essence to the Vodoun possession state of being “brushed” by a loa, except in this case the individual is “brushed” by their own semedo).
Night terrors usually occur at stage 3 or 4 or SW sleep. It seems to result from a struggle between the double and the body as the latter tries to come out from under the control of the former. This reminds me very much of “abreactions” in hypnosis where the subject panics and gets stuck in a negative emotional cycle or tries to come out of hypnosis; usually it is easy for the subject to break trance and come out of hypnosis at will whenever anything is disagreeable, but I have experienced subjects who are so deep down when they experience abreaction that they are essentially locked in and seemingly unresponsive (many hypnotherapists say this is not possible, but my experience says otherwise). I say “seemingly” unresponsive because it is relatively easy for an experienced hypnotist to take control and guide the subject through the experience and bring them back. In the context of Crosley’s analysis of night terrors, it seems entirely plausible that due to an abreaction to the experience of hypnosis, i.e. reaction against a memory or emotion, the body tries to wrest back control from the semedo/double which creates an unpleasant struggle or type of paralysis; the hypnotist’s job is to then disentangle the two and reassert the dominance of one or the other, either by relaxing the subject into a continued hypnotic state (semedo dominance) or by bringing them gradually out of trance (visible body dominance).
On the other hand, the struggle in the case of dreams (not hypnosis) may be caused by encounters with foreign or parasitic entities. A crisis of possession is similar to sleep except that the body and soul are taken over by a foreign entity. It is similar to the dream state in that the awareness systems of the person retreat, but in this case they leave the leading role to the invading entity. I myself have had experiences with such entities since I was a child.
So that’s the science as per Crosley with a few asides and ponderings thrown in by me. As you perhaps surmised, I have experience in hypnosis having worked as an erotic hypnotist for a couple of years. My experience as an erotic hypnotist was intimately bound together with spirit work; I utilised the sexual energy (including orgasm) that I created in my subjects to feed my spirits. It was a win-win for all parties.
Only recently have I begun to consider the further spiritual uses that hypnotism could be put towards, specifically in terms of guiding myself or someone else into a trance experience for pathworking, such as mythological journeying or encountering and engaging with archetypes or even spirits. That is a project in development and an experience that I may offer to interested persons in the future.
But the other thing that sparked my interest with Vodou possession states in relation to hypnosis was my own history of trance, self-hypnosis, hypnogogic experiences and a phenomenon which I call “dream leakage”. I tentatively use Crosley’s terminology here: my semedo and body flip back and forth between occupying the same space-time continuum; I become aware of infinite dimensions of existence and for a time I think the thoughts and have the memories of a person in a dimension which is not this one; once the semedo withdraws I become conscious that my thoughts did not belong to this “me” in this dimension: for a moment, existence fractures into all dimensions, light pouring through the gaps allowing me to live the life of another “me”, lasting only minutes before the gaps seal up and this dimension returns to its perceived integrity. [Note the similarities here with what Crosley says above about the hypnotist introducing a “new personality” whereby the semedo takes dominance over the visible body. As I now understand my “dream leakage” experience, my semedo shifts to the forefront bringing with it the thoughts and memories of other dimensions where I simultaneously exist.] There is a particular trance state, a liminal state, where I encounter this dream leakage, but also entities from other realms that I am able to feel and engage with on a very physical level. Crosley’s description of his science behind the possessed state, the role of the semedo and the interaction with the shadow-matter world all make tremendous sense to me in terms of my own experiences of liminal states of mind.
Since I have experience as a spirit worker and as a hypnotist, I feel that I must do myself justice by exploring this, primarily on myself, and perhaps eventually with others. I am already working on the idea of pathworking under hypnosis, and I cannot help but think that this, in itself, will inevitably bring up some experiences of the shadow-matter world and its entities.
I highly recommend The Vodou Quantum Leap by Reginald Crosley. It is one of my “desert island books”. Theion Publishing released a revised and expanded edition this year and I very much recommend that you avail yourself of a copy while stocks last. See HERE.
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.
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I have recently begun an introductory course in Parapsychology with the infamous Koestler Unit at Edinburgh University. We are an intimate group of just 20 people, not for lack of interest but because small numbers encourage the most intense discussion and don’t allow for people to slip between the cracks and be lurkers.
In addition to coursebook reading (An Introduction to Parapsychology), we have specialist reading each week, as well as several expert interviews and articles to write and/or comment on. We are a varied group with people from China, UAE, Malta, UK, Australia, etc. This brings the additional twist of a range of cultural norms and interpretations. Apparently, ghostly happenings are so de rigueur in Malta that house sale contracts come with an extra clause that says, if any paranormal occurrences happen post-sale that were not declared prior to sale, you can renege on the sale and get your money back, i.e. if you end up with a spook and a spook was not listed in the house contents, you can return the house! Wowzers!
The study group comprises scientists, psychologists, therapists, alternative healers, Christians, non-Christians, a metaphysicist, a philosopher, a paranormal investigator, and me – the only one who put it out there and said, “I’m a witch.”
Part of the reason for me taking this course is to fine-tune my bullshit detector. I’m sure we’ve all been with the woo-woo-wah-wah brigade who declare every creaking floorboard to be a ghost, and it’s hellishly frustrating. I have heard tales and encounters and sometimes I call “Bullshit!” and sometimes I think “Interesting.” But each time I am going on a gut-feeling and it’s not always clear-cut as to why I should perceive one thing to be bonafide and the other thing not.
Sometimes it boils down to trust in the individual telling the tale – personal credibility can go a long way. And as to myself, I have experienced some things that are truly inexplicable (according to science as it stands today) and some things that have proven to be a mere bump in the night and I have just laughed off. So I hope to gain some cognitive skills from this course in order for me to say WHY I think something is BS and something is not. That’s the plan anyway.
The Parapsychology course runs for another 3 months. In the meantime, at the end of April I will be starting a course on Ancient Nubian Art & Archaeology. I am totally stoked about this course. The Nubians apparently are the ones who brought high culture into the Nile Valley, and it was due to the Nubians that Egyptian culture became what it did. Again, I look forward to learning about the roots, causes and facts so that I can back up my opinions with evidence and knowledge.
I saw a thread on Facebook the other day where someone was complaining that he had corrected a Fluff about some point or other, but instead of thanks he received verbal garbage about how if person A *feels* that black is white then it is white to him. No. I do think there is a place for Unverified Personal Gnosis BUT some things just are what they are, and ultimately whatever your spiritual choice there WILL be spade loads of reading and learning involved if you want a sincere and authentic experience as opposed to a lifetime excursion of make-believe.
So embrace every opportunity to learn. However much experience you have, you are always at the beginning of your journey into knowledge.
What is Mystical Practice?
Hollenback states that the essence of mystical technique is the practice of single-minded concentration (recollection) plus the dedication to a mystical lifestyle, which avoids all things that might disrupt the mystical state of mind. This sustained “recollection” empowers the mind to operate on a different level, transforming perception and creating subtle awareness of others and our environment, giving us abilities we wouldn’t otherwise have. Consequently, the transformed, mystical mind has greater possibilities than the ordinary mind.
The practice of such “recollective” techniques leads to a greater ability to realise so-called paranormal phenomena or mystical experiences; these experiences are synthesized with and differentiated by language, emotion and belief systems that are determined by sociocultural context.
For example, astral projection is enabled by the empowerment of the imagination through techniques of recollection. This ability is then synthesized with the cultural belief system of the mystic: some mystical practitioners speak of being fully clothed during astral travel, whereas others take animal form. The mind externalises thoughts/images that then create an astral body.
To summarise: mystical practice comprises techniques of sustained recollection which transform the mind of the individual by expanding awareness on both a mundane and super-natural level and by empowering the imagination.
Jewish Mysticism: Developments in Safedian Kabbalah and in the Hasidic Movement
The second wave of Kabbalah was characterised by a move outwards from small, elite circles. Instead, circles of 10 to 20 people clustered around mystical, charismatic figures and Kabbalists converged from around the globe in Safed. Leaders of these groups, most notably Luria, began looking into the souls of followers to see if they were suitable to join the group: a so-called diagnosis of the soul (similar to psychoanalysis). In addition, Luria, gave each student a Tikkun (meaning to prepare, correct or fix) their soul. Safed Kabbalists promulgated that each person interprets texts according to their own soul – this personal, individualistic approach would have had a great levelling effect at a social level within the groups.
The third wave of Kabbalah, the Hasidic movement, which began at the end of the 18th century, wanted to turn Kabbalah into a social movement, moving beyond circles around charismatic figures and expanding it into a mass movement. This was achieved within 40 to 50 years, appealing to both the masses and scholars. The Zaddikim (charismatic mystical rebbes) addressed people’s everyday concerns not just their spiritual lives – this was the power of the Hasidic movement.
Garb suggests that the Zaddikim (leaders of the Hasidic movement) acted as shamans. In their role as shamans they put people into group trance, providing healing to the community. In private consultations, the rebbes would look into the person’s soul, using a form of trance hypnosis, exploring their unconscious and providing healing for the individual. The Hassidim believed that the Zaddikim had access to paranormal powers; as shamans, the roles included those of mystic and magician, healers of both body and soul. This form of healing through trance work would have had an integrating effect not only on the social community at large but on individuals.
Jewish Mysticism: The Writings of Rabbi Kook
Rabbi Kook states that free choice is “nothing but the superficial aspect” hence already implying a system of further aspects of human experience and expression that go beyond the superficial. As Kook says, “the reality of the will that is manifested in practical choices [i.e. in the superficial world “in relation to good and evil”] is only a shadow and imprint of the hidden depth of free will.” Even though he refers to a “higher free reality”, he is in fact referring to an inner, deeper level that reflects the concepts of Depth Psychology which investigates the deep layers underlying behavioural and cognitive processes.
Kook purports that the internal level and deeper part of the psyche are beyond morality. Rabbi Kook gives context to this discussion by saying that he is “not dealing now with the psychological questions” (he takes the discussion beyond cognitive processes to a mystical level of the soul); rather it is “divine science” which occupies his thoughts. Divine science is concerned with freedom of an absolute, cosmic reality; freedom on a deeper level through choices of the soul not the ego or persona.
These two statements are indeed non-contradictory because Kook is referring to free choice on different levels and applying different meanings to each: the first being the superficial “ego” and the second being the deeper part of the soul.
Rabbi Kook’s radically monistic view laid the foundations for him to be more pluralistic and accepting of secularist movements. This view sees reality as an absolute unity where all reality is a manifestation of the divine and no single philosophy or theory can contain the multiple dimensions of existence. Kook referenced a sociological, political and spiritual vitality, akin to the “Bejahung” or Nietzschean affirmation (Nietzsche’s “Yes to Life!”): “If we affirm one moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; … in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.” (Nietzsche, The Will to Power).
Kook believed that a new generation of young people would arise in the land of Israel that would revive (bring new life to) the Jewish body giving it a more vigorous independence. He developed an entire national psychology around revitalising the national psyche; he saw this vitality (a Jewish “Bejahung”) as being manifested in secular movements such as Zionism. For Kook, however, such secularism was still incomplete in that it focused on the revival of the material and secular needs of the Jewish people. He emphasized that the spiritual aspects of national revival should not be neglected, so his sympathy towards secularism was not without criticism.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Hesychasm & St Theophan’s Notion of Sin
St. Theophan taught that the focal point of sin is self-preoccupation. The sinner is not defined by adherence to a set of rules but instead by the psychological and existential state of their being, i.e. by being egotistical. However, the self that we, as sinners, are preoccupied with is not the true self. There is an external and an internal self; a concept common in both mysticism and Jungian psychology, for example. The external self with which we are preoccupied is focused outwards on status, possessions, conformity with society and materialism. Consequently we are alienated from the true self, represented by our heart, which is habituated to pursuing external things in a search for satisfaction.
St. Theophan’s title of his book, “Turning the Heart to God” adjures the reader not only to focus on the true internal self (the heart – that part of oneself that God works through; note the passive tense as this is an act of God’s grace), but to renounce self-preoccupation (sin) by realigning one’s focus away from external things that boost the ego and instead to turn towards God and repentance.
19th C. Hesychasm was primarily based in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Romania and most of Russia. It was distinguished at the time by Marxist Socialist ideas of alienation and conformity with society. So the concept of sin was couched in terms of the external/false self being preoccupied specifically with social conformity, materialism and status (all points of criticism under Marxism). This changed in the 20th C. with the fall of the Soviet Union. Hesychasm moved towards the West and began to see a merging, or at least a conversation, between Eastern and Western mystical traditions in what was widely acknowledged to be a “globalization of spirituality”.
Another major change and difference between 19th and 20th C. Hesychasm is that 20th C. teachers were writing in an age post-Freud and post-Jung, so even though they continued to write within their tradition, they were heavily influenced by psychoanalytical thought and language. Archimandrite Zacharias, in his book “The Hidden Heart of Man”, speaks of a similar yet different form of transformation to that taught in the 19th C. In the 19th C. the idea of spiritual transformation involved seeing the old self as an enemy that had to be defeated through inner warfare; this self is demonic and must die – a process that happens passively only through the grace of God. In the 20th C. the process is still a passive one relying on God’s grace, but the battle is less about self-mortification and more about identifying attachments (including thoughts) and transforming them by transferring them to spiritual states. It is an ontological process, where one positively changes ones thoughts, emotions and very being.
Catholic Mysticism: The Connection Between Passivity, Trance, and Antinomianism from the 17th-18th Century Onwards
The Catholic so-called “Religion of the Heart” (RotH) movements challenged traditional authority in the name of new individualistic values, such as the idea that religious meaning is found in the heart of the individual. “The key element in their understanding of religious life … was their insistence that the “heart,” denoting the will and affections … is the central point of contact between God and humankind.” (Chapman, p. 3) For liberal Christians, the RotH movements were “an anti-communal, grossly individualistic perversion of religions belief.” (Chapman) There are three main points to look at in the RotH movements’ oppositional stance to the mainstream: passivity, trance, and their antinomian stance.
Passivity here is defined by the belief that repentance and removal of sin could not be achieved on one’s own but only through the grace of God working through the seat of emotions which is the heart. E.g. 17th C Molinos’ book ‘Spiritual Guide Which Disentangles the Soul’ says the primary thing is to allow God to do the work.
A divine influx into the psyche was believed to transform the heart of the individual, where the heart is a psychic centre of inner life as opposed to external life/authority/ritual practice (by emphasizing a passive, inner experience over external authority, the movements struck a decidedly antinomian stance).
In approaching the heart, one must bypass the intellect entering a state of trance where one looks deeply inwards to the heart or to what Teresa of Avila calls “the internal castle”. Quietness (cf. Quietism) and oneness with God are achieved by removing oneself from the distractions of the outer world of intellect. This includes letting go of the will, replacing verbal prayer with constant internal prayer; a form of self-hypnosis or guided meditative trancework.
This internal state is important to RotH movements in relation to the idea of the Catholic mass where one partakes passively of the body of Christ, ingesting Him in a state of receptivity (passivity) and deep internal focus (trance). Trance is additionally used to find new psychic resources to transform existing habits, to let go of the habituated “will” and to transform the heart to a more receptive state for God; and this is how trance works as a subversive (antinomian) force by challenging the status quo and habituated will of the individual.
E.g. in 17th century Flanders, A. Bourignon developed an entire religious critique around the belief that when the soul reaches a higher state it doesn’t need external observance (books, religious/intellectual/economic structures). She said that the true Church is in the heart and soul of the believer: this exemplifies an antinomian position (a stance opposed to mainstream conservatives and the generally accepted Church ethos) achieved by a passive approach (the belief that spiritual progress is through the grace of God and being receptive to God) that moves the mind and heart of the believer inwards through a state of trance (constant internal prayer and a focus inwards away from external, worldly trappings), thus linking all three points in the achievement of divine communion.
Protestant Mysticism: Quietism and Pietism
“Will” is defined as a property of the mind/intellect and the capacity to have desires and act on them (Wikipedia).
Molinos’ Quietist psychology says that you have to bypass the intellect and let God do the work. The mind must be calmed so that a divine influx can enter the soul, which is the main focus of connection, not the intellect/will. One should lose this active power of will. Molinos says you must go into quiet, stillness, not-doing, into the sleep of the soul. One removes oneself from the outer world of intellect, relinquishing all distractions so one can be alone with God. For Molinos, the will is something to be pacified, lost and bypassed.
Böhme speaks about the inner psychology of God, that He has various psychic forces both negative and positive. Creation is God’s therapy. Through creative play or work, God explores his own psyche, contending with various contradictions inside Himself. This divine psychology is paralleled in the psyche and will of mankind where there is an idea of dialectical opposition between conflicting forces. The resolution of psychic conflict involves going beyond one’s own desire/will, to align oneself with the divine will. Protestantism teaches that one shouldn’t rely on one’s own will (cf Molinos), because one should rely more on faith, on grace; in this point Böhme departs from tradition to some extent by saying that one has to transform one’s will. It’s not about abdicating one’s will or creative impulse. The will is necessary in order create. The point is to align your will with the will of the divine, so that your will becomes the divine will. And thus you join in God’s therapy. Böhme focuses on the transformation of the will, on aligning it with the divine will.
The Move from Mysticism to Spirituality
According to Prof. Jonathan Garb, mysticism comprises movements based within an individual religious tradition; spirituality, however, is more of a blend of mystical thoughts (plurality), collaborative across traditions without being anchored within one mystical stream. The transition from mysticism to spirituality happened at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries and continues to the present day. It is characterised by both the exile of schools of thought during the two World Wars, and the migration of thought from East to West from the 1960s onwards (consider such teachers as Sri Aurobindo, Trungpa, the Dalai Lama, as well as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism).
However, it would be wrong to say that all strict traditions are being watered down, rather they are adapting to a world that has undergone a major levelling out in terms of accessibility to information and teachings (e.g. through use of the internet). As such, it would be worthwhile to examine the current state of affairs through both a social anthropological/ethnographical lens as well as through text-based historiography. I would not emphasize the efficacy of either approach above the other as each can provide us with a different layer of understanding.
For example, would reading the bible give us an accurate understanding of the way Christianity is practised today? Or even in the 17th Century? No. It would provide us with a theoretical framework, an inspirational text which the practitioner interprets and aspires to fulfil. In order to understand actual practice, we would have to look at a social anthropological study of practitioners, e.g. Luhrmann on American Evangelicals.
But an ethnographical account provides us with only one layer, including all the flaws and transgressions innate to human activity. If our aim is to document, then ethnography is the way, although the danger is of exercising overzealous “Presentism” to the exclusion of the past, leaving mankind a form of free-floating organism without mystical roots (and also no history of mistakes from which to learn).
What if, through our study of mankind’s relation to the divine, we wish to inspire and not just document? Then we might turn to mystical texts such as those of Ignatius of Loyola and the mystical visions of Jung in his Red Book. It is text-based historiography that shows a glimpse of what mankind aspires to and what drives both mystical and spiritual movements forwards.
In summary, humanity has moved gradually and inexorably, due in large part to the globalisation of cultures through technology, from separate, partially closed lines of mystical tradition towards an open melting pot of spiritual expression. In order to continue raising our souls to the divine, I, myself, would include both an examination of spirituality as practised now with a text-based historiography. History is but a minute ago. Religious thinkers and mystics continue to publish their thoughts; and those publications reach wider audiences than ever before in human history. The challenge is not just to read, but to do. To quote the title of Rabbi Cooper’s book: “God is a verb”.
I feel like I’m in a strange place in my life at the moment. This year has been one of extreme change – all internal. My external world putters along pretty much unchanged.
Sancho Panza has been ramping up the pressure on me to be my authentic self. Firstly I had to learn what my authentic self was; then I had to learn not to fear it but accept it; and finally I am learning to express it. This engagement with the authentic self carries with it power. Some might call it “being self-empowered” but I would extend it further than that to a sense of power in general.
Often in the pagan community we have quite an ambiguous relationship with the concept of power. After all, power can be abused and misused. Power implies a hierarchy – the empowered “above” the powerless. Hierarchies, to many people, involve implicit abuse because we don’t like to compare or judge others as less than … God forbid that we would put ourselves ABOVE other people or be made to feel that we are LOWER than other people. But we are primates, it is part of our genetic biology to exist in social groups made up of hierarchies, so I dismiss any faintheartedness over who’s better and who’s worse. It’s like attractiveness – there will always be someone uglier than you and there will always be someone prettier than you. The same goes for character, power and influence. Get used to it.
So let’s just take hierarchy as a fact of life and return to the idea of “power”. It would be extremely easy to mistake power for something that we generate inside ourselves, that we CREATE power and direct it by our wills. This is an ego-driven misrepresentation of power. In my experience, the best and purest form of power is when you step out of your own way and allow the power to flow through you. If you can learn to call down the power, it will flow through you and like a funnel you can direct it towards certain areas of your life and invoke change.
That is, I think, a key point to remember with power, and by extension magick: it is most effective in affecting change. Life is in a continual state of flux. Our purpose is to develop and grow, to evolve towards the divine (either to be consumed by divinity, or to become divine); any attempt to put the brakes on a situation subverts the natural flow of life.
So the power that I am referring to is an external force, channelled by myself, which I can direct and apply at will (or more accurately BY my will). In knowing my authentic self, I remove blockages to the flow of that power; I can approach the source of my power (in my case, the spirits) with a truly honest heart. Know Thyself, was the maxim at the Temple of Delphi, and this goes deeper than any ego-centric, superficial knowledge of who you are, the mundane face that you show to the world. In my relationship with the spirits, the first thing I learned was “honesty”. If I want something, I need to be honest about it without guilt, without reticence or excuses.
Often we are taught that we should only desire “good” things because we are good people, or worse, we should have no desires at all. So we sublimate our desires and displace our need for A by giving ourselves the more readily available and perhaps more socially acceptable B. If you go to the spirits asking for B, when your heart is longing for A, either nothing will happen, or you will get B and feel dissatisfied or you will get a slap upside the head for being dishonest with the spirits. You can’t approach them with your neuroses and complexes and expect them to weed through the shit in your head to understand the poor little flower you are inside. No. YOU have to work through the shit. YOU have to learn radical honesty with yourself.
Sometimes I can’t always express the honest desire. I am aware of it, and I feel it, but I cannot adequately verbalise it. That is something different. In such cases, I can still sit before the spirits, explain what I can, then I open my heart and allow them to see the true desire, while I take full responsibility for the outcome of asking for my true will to become manifest.
If you want “something bad” to happen to another person, really want it with no scruples or hang-ups, then it will happen when you apply your own power: “your own power” being your relationship with the spirits and your skills in magick.
So I have learned to know my authentic self and I am applying my authenticity to my relationships by admitting my vulnerability AND not hiding my strength. Sometimes it is not always about hiding your vulnerabilities but also about down-playing your strength so you don’t intimidate or scare other people off. Humans can be very deceptive; the key is not to lose awareness of the masks you wear – always remember the true face under the mask less you one day wake up and believe that a mask is the true you … then, frankly, you’re fucked, and your magick won’t work and a whole host of other things in your life won’t work either.
Authenticity leads to greater power; greater power is a better relationship with spirits and a more effective magickal life. For me, these things combined together dampen the ever-present fear I have lived with throughout my life. Sancho Panza calls it my Lizard Brain: this is the Amygdala, that part of the brain which has been evolving for nearly 300 million years; the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight reactions; the animal part within us that responds to stress not as a civilised human but as an animal (you hurt me, I hurt you OR you hurt me, I keel over and play dead). An over-stimulated Lizard Brain leads to paranoia, aggressiveness or, like in my case, a constant state of frozen fear that has gradually exhausted me mentally and physically leading to chronic illness. My Lizard Brain is knackered from having been exposed to too many life-threatening situations. My Lizard was flat on his back, legs in the air; he had given up and was playing dead.
By expressing your authentic self you can calm the Lizard Brain. If the Lizard is calmer, he can rest and recover. My ever-growing power makes me courageous and counter-acts the habit of fear. This too will calm my injured Lizard Brain, giving me room and space for healing.
I am hopeful that through authenticity, my magickal practice and my developing relationship with the Akhu, the Beautified Spirits, who are always generous, I can look towards a future of health and wholeness. So mote it be.
Please head across and look at the excellent Henadology blog: – HENADOLOGY
Especially good articles on:
At the end of July, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, announced plans for a nationwide ISP porn filter. Apparently, by 2014, broadband users will have to voluntarily opt IN to view porn as the default setting will be to block porn sites. This is supposedly in an effort to restrict paedophiles and protect young people from inappropriate material.
However, the Open Rights Group quickly found out that it wasn’t just porn that was falling under the censor’s axe but also subjects such as anorexia and eating disorder websites, alcohol, smoking, web forums, and “esoteric material” to name but a few (see HERE).
The pagan community in the UK has rightly gone up in arms. Some are dismissing the hoo-ha and saying “It’s been debunked” … although what they think has been debunked I don’t know as the censorship plans still stand in spite of the petitions being signed. Others say it’s a non-issue because it’s “easy to opt in” but my first thought to that is, yes and then the ISP has YOUR details as one of the people opting in to see blocked content (what better way for the government to keep an eye on the rabble-rousers and those who run against the ever growing conservative line in British society?). “Esoteric material” can cover everything from Satanism to Wicca, information sites to business sites and, let’s not forget, blogs! On a point of principle, why should I as an occultist and pagan have to opt IN to express my spiritual beliefs when a Christian, Jew or Moslem does not have to? Where is MY freedom of expression and choice?
It’s at times like these that social networking really comes into its own and I have been thrilled to see how quickly government e-petitions were drafted:
(Please follow the hyperlinks and sign if you are a UK resident.)
But in addition to this, pagans and occultists of all kinds have rallied to form a group waging a magical battle against the curtailing of freedom of expression and the rise of censorship in the UK.
I would like to draw your attention to The Magickal Battle of Britain, a Facebook event that gathers together an ecumenical group of occultists and pagans of every shade you could imagine with the sole purpose of building a cone of power in the run-up to 17th December. Here is the group’s statement of purpose:
Freedom to express and create is essential for human development, and in the U.K this freedom has been steadily undermined in an exponential way, that is near impossible to keep track of, let alone protest.
The title of this group,’The Magickal Battle of Britain’ harks back to a time time when war was necessarily fought on other levels, in less than conventional ways.
Our freedom can be fought for with our own weapons. The weapons of art and magick, or if you prefer, the weapons of art and suspension of disbelief.
Images, sound, cut-ups, sigilisation, meditation, sex with focus, charms, fetish and mantra. These are only some of our creative tools and these can create clarity in focus and chaos in their ability to subvert oppression.
This page is about creating change.This isnt about which angle your approach comes from,but about where it is directed.
Directed at fighting oppression, censorship and control of expression.
If we start building the energy now,by the 17th of December when we gather in spirit and intent (whatever your actual geographical location)we will have built one immense and VERY effective cone of power!
Group and individual meditations every Sunday at 9 pm Greenwich Mean Time until the 17th December.
These can be done anywhere and aim to join us in solidarity, focus and snowballing strength.
If you don’t have much time, you can tune in by glancing at the sigil created by Dis, that is on the banner of the page (above St Pauls) Otherwise a meditation on a strong image of what we don’t want (authoritarian controlling state, police with batons, misrepresentative puppet media for example) followed by an image of what we do want. Individual Freedom of Expression.
This is an open event/group so please follow this link HERE to join and add your personal creative magickal expression to a battle that is long overdue.
If you do nothing then, in my mind, you forfeit your right to complain as the government slowly and inexorably curtails your individual creative and spiritual modes of expression. This IS still an issue, and until we have won the battle against fundamentalist, conservative (with a little ‘c’) censors it will remain an issue. If you wish to continue to enjoy your place on the fringes as different, other, unique, creative, pagan and FREE to do as you please (And it harm none, do what thou wilt … Do what you will shall be the whole of the law …) then shake off the apathy! Sign the petitions! And join the battle on the astral to keep our country a place of extreme creativity, love, lust, magick and freedom of personal expression!