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.
At some level, mental health and the practice of magick have been focal points for me for years. They have recently come into sharp relief due to the illness of a family member.
This family member (FM) has experienced a severe and ongoing psychotic break. A psychotic break is not the same as a nervous breakdown, instead it marks a deviation from perceiving reality “as we understand it”. Already there, we have the crux of my considerations. “Reality” (that entirely subjective and in some respects moralising word) can deviate depending on gender, culture, religion, drug intake and mental health (the latter being determined by whether one fits in with the generally accepted standard of reality dictated by all of the aforementioned).
FM’s break with reality became most apparent to us when she abandoned her home, money and clothes due to a “cyanide bomb” in her house that had “contaminated” everything. Shortly afterwards she was admitted to a psych ward where she soon feigned wellness to get out. It is a fact that those experiencing a psychotic break can pretend wellness to get away from those who would contradict their world view or force help upon them. I speak from experience. Nothing delights a psychiatrist more than a bright smile and an admission that everything you believed yesterday was, well, just crazy! We are called “high-functioning” because we can recognise when to fake YOUR reality and when it is safe to live our own…
So once FM left hospital she hopped on a plane and flew to relatives over a thousand miles away. There she helpfully had a telepathic conflab with the local mice population who promised never to enter our relative’s house again. In the meantime she pendulumed and communed with “the Universe” and has been told what to do next… It will happen on Wednesday. We await developments with baited breath, and there will be a collective “Aw shit!” from the family, if serendipity is on her side and she lucks out.
But all through this I have listened to my “rational”, mainstream, a-spade-is-a-spade family and their judgement of FM’s behaviour and beliefs. Apart from empathising with lunatic moments, I nod inwardly and think, Uff, and if they knew what I think and experience! Furthermore, add to that my pagan/magickal friends’ thoughts and beliefs and, at least in my world, my family starts to be a hawkish minority amongst a swathe of talking spirits, low magick spells, high magick conjurations, and more.
Who gets to say whose reality is the norm? What is real and unreal? Yet even the unreal is by some considered manifest purely by dint of it being thought into existence – I think, therefore I am – I conceive it, therefore it is.
But now I hear the bells of postmodern relativism and the voices that might say, it’s all relative; at some level it is all real. But in everything being real, is nothing actually real? Do we in fact live in a delusional fallacy where madness is the mark of humanity?
Psychiatrists are, contrary to common opinion, wary to label people insane due to their beliefs. More than one psychiatrist has told me that if they turned their inscrutable gaze to any world religion, they would only find neurotics and insaniacs. So there has to be a leeway ground of mad-but-functioning and insane-but-safe; specifically, if the person is harming neither themselves nor another (actually unlike many religious folks) then they should be allowed to go on their merry way … as is, so far, the case with FM.
I know certain pagans would cite a psychotic break as a shamanic experience, a spiritual opportunity to connect deeply and ultimately come out the other side as a healer. This is FM’s version of events. She has taken on the mantle of healer. Some of you might remember the post I wrote about her vitriolic and bile-filed offer of a healing sledgehammer to my own fair head. This chick ain’t no healer. To compare psychosis with initiation is a very dangerous thing and shows a lack of knowledge about either. Certainly there may be some similarities, but just because I hold a feather in my hand does not mean that I am a bird (although as a child I really did believe that a crow had taught me to fly)!
Mental ill-health, be it depression, paranoia, or psychosis, if managed appropriately, can lead to a richer spiritual practice and a more authentic life. But in the process it can also (and must?) tear up the very fabric of your life, your relationships and all that you believe. Some are left bereft and grieving, in a cycle of regret and self-recrimination, while others emerge stronger and more focused, and yet others again oscillate between the two states and all shades in between. This instability can be used as a weapon by the sufferer or those around her to denigrate her ability to be a witch or magickian. And yet, looking back at those we still learn from today, I see dark moods, instability, seemingly irrational behaviour, a certain madness. Who knows if one causes the other, or perhaps if one CALLS to the other.
If sanity is the foundation upon which one is permitted to practise magick, I suggest most of us give up at the starting gate. Personally I think that a little insanity is vital to see beyond the accepted norm.
FM’s whisperings from the universe may come true. She may even heal some people along the way. But for now, as long as she does not hurt herself or others, she must be allowed to walk her path. Just as I walk my path, except that when I feel spirits and see daemons I don’t mention it over coffee to my friends and family … I just tell you … and you’ll keep it secret, right? 😉
It’s difficult treading the narrow ground between spotting the natural patterns that appear in life, those synchronicities, and a sense of paranoid megalomania. But sometimes the Universe really does speak to you through the lips of another person.
This morning, J. at the fruit and veg stall, began to wax lyrical about how important it is to embrace change. She leaned over the peaches and stared into my eyes intently asking, “What do YOU want? What do YOU like? Who are YOU?” I felt a little as if I were in one of my dreams. Will the apples morph into skeletal cherubs and fling their arrows at the melons? Yet, such conversations are indeed normal with me, with passersby and people whose names I know but who do not know my name. I am the woman they talk to. My identity is unimportant, and for the first part of the conversation I was merely an ear listening to what she had to say, and boy does this lady have a tough life. But when I said I understood, she swivelled her focus around to me and left me speechless. “Who are YOU?”
I am not a good talker. I listen well. There are only a couple of people in my life with whom I feel comfortable enough to talk. Everyone else gets the stuttery, dry-mouthed, monosyllabic me. I try hard, but the contents of my brain remain behind a reserved and very shy curtain. So I replied with that handy English all-weather phrase, “Hm, yes, exactly!” and nodded at her vigourously, a response that deftly turned her direct questions into rhetorical questions that did not require an answer as such. And yet, I’ve been pondering them all day.
Who am I? You’d think it was a basic question and one that did not require much pondering. I think most would jump at defining themselves in respect of others, saying they are mother, daughter, sister, >insert career position here<. In my hubris as a younger person, I might have jutted out my chin and said, “First and foremost, I’m a witch!” But as an older and more jaded woman, I shake my head and point at myself: where’s the proof? where’s the main focus of your time? Like so many, I lack discipline, although attempting consistent discipline with my ailments feels like trying to build a bridge with cook spaghetti! Irrespective of excuses, good or bad, the fact remains: my focus is not where I want it to be most of the time.
Some guy once said, if you ask someone what is important to them, you may or may not get a true answer. But if you ask that person where they spend their time and money most, you would get the truest answer. Run the budget of your life, where is that time spent? Running the hamster wheel of profit to stuff the mattress of your future? Perhaps, pondering and pursuing various ways to get a hook-up? The focus could be negative – doing all you can to avoid fears, risks, change; or positive – seeking out thrills and ways to fulfill different aspects of yourself.
But is what we DO what we ARE? I would say not. Take me out of my environment, change my routine – am I not the same person? Yes and no. The external is mutable and responsive. It is like water that fits the shape of the cup into which it is poured. The internal … is that rigid and unchanging? I don’t like to think that it is. My hubris never spread so far as to relinquish the desire that I were different. This whole post is actually an exercise in considering not only who I am, but who I WISH that I were!
That is why I cannot see the truth of it. I am looking at myself through dual lenses: one eye sees the projection of all things bad that I think of myself; the other eye sees the hope of all the ways that I could improve. Tinted lenses that “protect” me from the pure light of my own essence. How could I ever know who I am unless I remove the lenses. And could I bear the sight of that unadulterated me?
Could you bear to see yourself clearly? Shirk off the roles of brother, father, husband – those masks-in-response-to-others. Stand naked. Remove the lenses and really see. Who are you?
Summarising from “Rocks” by Jan Zalasiewicz:
The Big Bang produced hydrogen, helium and lithium. These formed outrushing, expanding and cooling gas clouds. At some stage, gravity came into play. Gravity pulled these gas clouds together until they formed the first stars, igniting the nuclear furnaces that begin transmuting (metamorphosing) those original elements into the rest of the periodic table. It was the DEATH of large, fast-burning stars (supernovae) that explosively completed the elements we know today, flinging this new matter out into space. The new elements sped out as high-temperature plasma, and then cooled, condensed and solidified into the first minerals (detectable today in “presolar” grains of interstellar dust). Subsequently the gas clouds, this time including mineral dust (the crucial difference for future life), coalesced into rocks that collided, sometimes smashing apart, and sometimes aggregating to form planetesimals (kilometres across) that became the raw material for planets.
As humans living 4.6 billion years after the creation of our own planet, we are used to seeing that life leads to death – it is ever before our eyes, if not amongst our own kin and kind, then amongst the animals we slaughter in the billions each year or the red rose from a lover that wilts and sheds black petals. Yet look at two of the greatest myths of humanity – the Osiris myth and the Christ myth – both tell us of resurrection after death. Christianity has taken this at least amongst its worshippers to be a promise of another life after this one, eternal, better, in “another place” (the beyond, heaven, paradise), certainly not on this planet or in this phenomenal realm. The fear of death and hell have created out of the myth an idea of immortality, that as a believer (and only as a believer) one can pass by the door to damnation and be led through “the pearly gates” to join all the other righteous people.
But what if instead, these myths are a primal memory of the fact that our entire existence is owed to a dying star, that from death came life? Perhaps the myths are not promising a reductionist heavenly holiday camp, but in fact they are describing a primal process at the core of this phenomenal universe – that death births life which embodies death and eventually yields to its grasp only then to be reborn. Again, karma is another such mythological interpretation of the rebirth concept, but which (at least in the West) has become a comforting cipher for the idea that bad people will get their comeuppance (cf. the Rule of Three) – after all, life is so much easier to bear if we believe in some guiding structure of justice, even if there is little proof in the here and now that it actually exists … lucky that to many they can again comfort themselves with a belief in heaven and hell, or whatever equivalent. Their gods could never be unjust or indifferent – to believe fervently in a Creator, and yet to believe that “our Creator” (our original father/mother) could, seemingly indifferent, freely allow us to suffer and bad men to prosper throws us into a pit of existential fear and angst (perhaps the Abyss?). I have always thought that in this respect and many others, mankind’s vision is too insular, too microscopic, and too much up its own arse. Expanding one’s vision to the primal … not primal man but cosmic origins and primal space, even beyond the 4.6 billion years of our planet (of which man has existed for far less than even one half percent!), then one might perhaps see or sense the patterns, flows, energies, cycles that exist and persist – some recognisable to us within our life times and some that seem chaotic because they last beyond man’s capacity to record it – how anthropocentric of us to label things chaotic when our lifespan is that of a gnat commenting on the movements of a giant tortoise!
As any good witch knows, there are chthonic powers and daemonic beings that are far older than we are, and they inhabit places that again are older than us and shall outlast us. Doesn’t even the attempt to cling fast to mythological ideas as fundamentalist fact and truth – stories to comfort the star child in the dark expanse of space – seem ludicrous against the possibility that they are perhaps symbols and portals to understand (and access?) something beyond the capacity of our words and intellect. “Be as a child”, said Jesus … open yourself up to experiencing sensually and soulfully without the ability to name it and fragment it into intellectual categories.
Some might give up at the immensity of it all, while some might admit defeat by taking their inherited stories at face value; and I would blame neither person because to strike out on a different path that attempts to connect with the primal is terrifying; the chthonic world where the rocks dwell, the record keepers of the universe.
As I say daily to the Dead: Through me shall you live, through you shall I live. The world was born from death: It is Death’s womb that is fecund, and she who repeatedly ingests (em-bodies; makes part of her body) her Lover/Son and brings him to Life again through her starry loins.
Our Mother is Dark.
She is the fleshly womb that bore us,
She is the bones in the land that feeds us,
She is the rocks beneath our feet,
She is the expanse above our heads,
She is all we know and beyond all we know.
She is the supernovae – gone billions of years ago
Yet visible still in the heavens to those who look.
It’s Tuesday, the 17th November, 2017 CE … yet more than that, it is the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era in the Phanerozoic Eon!
This morning I listened to a wonderful interview with Professor of Paleobiology, Dr Jan Zalasiewicz. He is chairman of a group that is working towards the recognition of a new geological era, namely the Anthropocene Era. Those versed in etymology will recognise the Greek word, anthropos, man. This is a controversial concept because it admits to the fact that humanity is impacting on the Earth in a comparatively large way that will continue into the future. Currently our sedimentary layer comprises half a metre, which is microscopic in terms of Earth-depth (6,371 km), yet enormous compared to the contribution of past eras and eons.
The word “Anthropocene” was coined by Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen in about 2000. Currently the Anthropocene Era has been determined in terms of its proximate shape and size, but now the details are being examined, such as its precise beginning, ranging from 1000 years ago, to the Industrial Revolution to the 1960s.
Subsequently Jan wrote an article about what humanity’s legacy to the Earth would be taking a period of 100 million years into our future. He playfully envisaged petrified cities – the rocks and sand of disintegrated concrete, the silt of farmed and irrigated lands, the degraded metals and synthetics … cars as a pattern of metal dust in amongst sedimented layers.
We are not long for the grave. Just as other eras have passed, so too shall this one. In the face of a world of conflict, terror and war, I wonder at those who bring children into the world still, that they must possess a sense of hope that I do not. My instinct shrills in a Delphic manner that the cycle of generations will be warped and parents will see their children die before them or with them.
Yet the rocks are eternal and I must think back to my very first engagements with beings unseen. I was a lonely child and I spent much of my time in the garden, or slipping through the fence to the large construction site that was to become the secret headquarters of British military. The rubble they used for that site was replete with fossils. I would come back with skirts full of rocks. After a cursory wash in the sink, my mother would help me to put clear nail polish over the fossilised shells to “make them pretty”. Perhaps due to my closeness to the ground as a child, I was fiercely aware of the life of plants, trees, moss, lichen, rocks, earth, worms, woodlice, ladybirds etc. If a bud had unfolded, I knew about it; if grass was sprouting, I saw it.
My father dug a hole for a pond. It was a small pond, maybe a metre and a half in diameter. I have no idea how deep the hole was because to my small eyes it went on forever! It took a while before the pond was made, so I took advantage of this and spent hours with my upper body hanging over the edge of the hole, examining the layers of silt, clay and rock, looking for fossils and rocks and crystals. Sadly, my English garden was not a place for crystals; those would arrive in the post, sent by my grandmother in New Mexico.
And it was to the crystals that I turned in my teen years as I began to explore witchcraft. Crystals became my meditation focus, my spell “ingredients”, my conjuring tools and my wards. These days I have a chest, a box and a shelf of rocks, minerals and crystals. Through all my voluntary and involuntary periods of down-sizing, never have I let a rock go!
In meditation, I find myself split between the awe of connecting to beings so ancient that truly contextualises the blip of humanity in the continuum of time; then at times I find myself merging with the crystal and experiencing a sense of stillness … By stillness I mean that the rapidity of time passing stops. The crystal I hold in my hands has existed through millennia and more. It has no drive or sublimated panic to “seize the day for tomorrow we die”! It IS in the now, because existence is ad infinitum … And even if one day I took a hammer to it and pounded it to dust, each speck of dust would still hold the millions of years of existence inside and continue beyond the time when my own bones have turned to dust.
Ultimately, my mark on the world will not be a fossilised footprint in the sand as the Happisburgh footprints in Norfolk (800,000 years old and the oldest preserved footprints outside of Africa), since my feet more often touch concrete than sand or earth. My disintegrated physical essence will continue like the crystal dust, even if invisible to the eye, absorbed again back into the strata of the Earth which charts the world’s history layer upon layer since the globe was birthed by the adhesion of gas and dust in the colliding cloud of material that formed our sun.
And to me, this is all incredibly comforting, to know that really, very little matters. We die, decompose and our remains enwrap a tiny, tiny portion of the Earth. And upon the sediment of our “civilisation” shall grow the microbes and larger life forms of the future. What hubris of mankind to think we will destroy the world. Yes, we may destroy our world, and for many that is all they care about. If you live separated internally from what is out there, then time will pass frenetically and death will seem like a misfortune robbing us of “living life to the full”, but if you tap into the planet, perhaps through a rock or a crystal, you will see that we are a mere footnote on a page in a chapter of a book in a series on the shelf of the universe.
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.
My track record the last few years seems to have been to abandon my readers for most of the year, only to rally betwixt Yule and New Year with some kind of rah-rah polemic or opinion piece. I’m a little behind schedule in this respect, and I’m not sure I have anything worth saying as such.
The year has been fraught with the good and the bad, often the good coming first under the guise of the very bad. On some things the jury is still out; on other things it’s a case of adjusting and accommodating, remembering that life is not about avoiding discomfort but about ploughing on through to the other side. Discomfort does not mean you are on the wrong path … but then neither am I one of those people who believes that growth requires pain. Comme ci, comme ça! Life is not so easily put into boxes. The key is to remain flexible – something we can all improve at.
When I first began this blog, some 8 or 9 years ago, I used to pooh-pooh the occultists and pagans who seemed to hide behind their “secrets” and “initiated knowledge”. But now I am hesitant in my own writing because much of what I work on esoterically is private, not for public consumption because to bare all would be to bare my soul and make me more vulnerable than I am willing to be amongst strangers’ eyes; and a large part would not be understood by the main in the way that I understand and engage with it. For example, I laugh when I am still accused of being “wrong” and “immoral” for my LHP leanings, because that says nothing about me and everything about the ignorance of the accuser. Occasionally I am asked, “So what do you believe?” and I cannot answer that. The best answer I can give is to suggest that we have frequent discussions over the next few years and see. That is not to sound woo-woo or grandiloquent, it is just that words fail me to express the *experience*. Describe a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth. Even with my own spiritual mentors I struggle and I feel like such a fraud because I cannot put it into words. If I could open up my chest and push their hands inside and say, “Feel!”, that might help; if I could crack open my head and say, “Look!”, they would know. But instead, I read my studies and like a child I can only parrot, “Me too! Yeah, that’s how I feel/see/know!” So as much as I would wish to share my journey with you, I struggle. But “immoral” and “wrong” … >laughs out loud long and hard< oh boy, you’ll just never get it.
On a practical note, I am withdrawing from social media. I have spent the last day or so tidying up my web presence. I find the vacuous echo chambers tiring, draining, distracting and the epitome of delusion. Some manage to master their engagement so that it is beneficial to them. I applaud them. I cannot do that. To me it is at times an amusement, but for the most part vampiric. The plus side is that I shall instead be focusing more on blogging and writing. But this is primarily for myself. I have a secret hideaway elsewhere on the web that has become my writing haven, and I have here. Since I get few to zero comments and engagements on my blog, it will not demand the same ego-juggling (my own and others’) that social media like Facebook and Twitter do.
Since I intend to prioritise my occult study and practice this year, I am hoping that I will eventually find enough words to express tidbits of interest to you. It would be nice to see the fires burning again on this blog.
Until soon. Amour Amour.
At a certain point in my exploration of and attempted living of a Left-Hand Path esoteric life, my morality was suspended, but this was not a liberated state where I moved unencumbered by external strictures. It was a place without life meaning or significance.
I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
Some LHP-ers live hedonistic, countercultural lifestyles, turning their upbringing, the norms of the culture they live in and the dominant religion on their heads. They take the above as a guide and do the opposite or a diametrical offshoot of it … but then consider themselves “free” in that adversarial state, without realising that they may have struck off the path and written their own map but their True North is still the things they often despise so vehemently, namely mainstream culture and established religion. If you define yourself in opposition to A Thing you are not free as you still require The Thing to determine your opposition.
If the majority stand BY a wall but you decide to lean AGAINST the wall, you are still in a position relative to the wall. In my mind, the point was to negate the wall entirely and see how freely I could move without any self-imposed limitation (bearing in mind that I live within a world of limits, perceptively anyhow).
If you live in a culture where drinking is “the norm” then choosing to drink absinthe (a common LHP-er’s tipple) is neither original nor daring, it is merely imbibing another alcoholic liquid, albeit one with a romantic backstory. In addition to a pleasant high, the best you might get out of it is to live the lives vicariously of all the poets and social fringe dwellers known to imbibe in the stuff.
In a society where everything is sexualised, down to the social experience and expression of children/childhood to the selling of commodities, then merely having sex a lot, even with multiple partners, even with multiple genders, is not that daring or enlightening per se.
In a society where drugs are the norm from the socially acceptable stimulants and depressants like sugar, coffee and alcohol to the medically widely prescribed opiates and amphetamines, then going to “the man on the corner” for your drug supply makes you neither a maverick nor particularly savvy – play the system better and get your drugs on repeat for free (at least if you live in the UK)!
So in contemplating the above I experimented subsequently with the nominal counter-counter norms of abstinence and celibacy – if you want to live an adversarial position to mainstream culture you might want to announce that you are a celibate, teetotal vegan! … then learn what it is to live in opposition to the norm.
But yet again, this state of opposition merely helped me to shake up my assumptions, I was not liberated from being defined by the things I rejected. I fell into a pit of meaninglessness, a place where neither The Thing nor The Opposite of the Thing had significance or meaning to me. And without meaning I spiraled into depression as I was caught in the grip of adversarial paralysis.
The only way out of this was to admit that what I was doing wasn’t working for me. I began to observe others who appeared happier, more focused and more creative (in their artistic, professional, spiritual and/or emotional lives) than me. And this included the “hippie-dippy-shitty-airy-fairy brigade” – a group of people I was used to criticising and (yet again) defining myself in opposition to. My ego protested, but I remonstrated with it that, up till now, its decisions had been isolating, deflating and unhealthy – in fact un-inspiring (inspire: to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence).
I did a lot of “fake it till you make it” which ironically is a state of aligning yourself against someone else’s norm, hardly an adversarial stance; the difference being that I had to still my shrieking ego. Over time I found my own meaning and significance. The key? To lay aside ego. My meaning? That is not relevant to you as it is my path and my journey, my baggage, history and personal make-up. Your meaning will be uniquely your own.
In freeing myself from defining myself “as X” and “as NOT X” I have managed to step over the fundamentals of right/wrong, which as a social anthropologist I know to be severely culturally determined – no absolutes! (Cf. postmodern relativism) Instead of acting one way or the other in re-action to a moral duality, I now choose to act in accordance with my personal meaning; a meaning that is continuously fed by an indefinable thing that can only be know experientially through practice, study, integration and in-corporation (in corpore – in the body) of both and through putting aside egoic desires to be the same as/better than/different to XXX.
I guess you might define it as a life study in Becoming; I hesitate to say of “Being” – that potentially stagnant and anti-cosmic state of “I am that I am”. Instead I become Atum, self-engenderer from the primal chaos, bridge between what is “not” and what “comes forth” in a process of continuous unfolding.
And that’s another point: the path unfolds as I Become. Defining myself against the moral landscape around me at any particular moment belies the truth of existence. It places a premature and deceptive full-stop against a life that should at any point em-body the pregnant sentiment of dot-dot-dot … to be continued …
“Art is another language which, if you undertake to learn it, will open up a new world that permeates, surrounds and elevates this dull metropolis.” ~ Seshat
When first you enter the pagan or occult world, you will be faced with all sorts of good (and bad) advice. So let me just throw my glove into the ring with a suggestion of my own.
For those of you who are regularly readers (for which I thank you), you will know that I am a great proponent of using one’s imagination (see HERE for my latest article on the subject). Aside from sitting by the fire day dreaming, some might wonder where on earth to start with honing their creative and imaginistic muscles. First and foremost I would recommend art … although that might feel to turgid and bound by rules of aesthetics and skill … so let’s expand that word to “the arts and crafts” which could include everything expressive from music to painting to woodwork and textiles, such as sewing or even knitting. I know that last might baffle you – what benefit could something like knitting have to a magickal life?! But I would ask you to put aside such “art snobbery” and be open to the idea of creation.
Creating A Thing is a practice that involves making and holding a vision, imagination, commitment to follow through and skill to execute. No part of that sequence involves any judgement over “good” or “bad”, “beautiful” or ugly”, “useful” or “useless”. This is not the realm for debating “What is art?” – this is the domain of learning to envision, create and manifest. Sounds a little like the basics of magick and spellwork, right?
And even though creating artistically can indeed give expression to the subconscious mind (I am a supporter of therapeutic art), this does not mean that I equate magick with the mere machinations of one’s own unconscious, or even the collective unconscious. Magick is not mere psychology and the entities one encounters are not necessarily (although they can be) projections of your own mind. So let’s just make that clear. I am proposing some form of artistic involvement as a means to develop the full spectrum of imagination: a process of shifting a thing from energy into matter. This does indeed include music, as I consider sound vibrations to be a material manifestation. So my remit for “arts and crafts” really does include all forms of creativity.
So, now I shall expand a little on my own artistic practices:
Some people, especially in occult practices, like to work fast and furiously on their art, allowing no room for internal censorship. One of my art practices begins like this, in that I put pen to paper, close my eyes, draw madly in swirls and lines for a few seconds and then stop. But that is the fastest I get in my art. In fact, my art – whether it is sketching, felt painting, or textile work – is characterised by an exceptionally slow pace. It can literally take me months to complete a piece. Surely, when working so slowly, I have to battle often with the censor and conscious mind forcing it into a particular conceptual mould? Yes and no. Certainly I occasionally have to battle with the censor, but the processes for my art are often described by others as tedious and boring; I frequently hear, “I would never have the patience to do that!” But for me, it requires no patience. Due to the minute focus that is required, I slip into a hypnagogic state where the boundaries between conscious censor and fluid unconscious are permeable and mobile. This allows my imagination free reign and expression, often with surprising results. I never know when I start a piece, how it is going to turn out. But where’s that “vision” I spoke about as the starting point? For me, the vision is merely the unmistakeable physical pull and urge to create; it is a very corporeal as well as mental drive – for me personally, this is my vision and the manifestation is a process of welcoming the Other that nudged my psychic senses and bringing into a material form. The process will most likely be different for other people, but maybe some of you can identify with my own experience and methods.
And I must make an aside, regarding textile art (e.g. knitting, although in my case not knitting per se as I have injured hands and can no longer knit without pain). I embroider and create knot ropes; again, both techniques are laborious and easily induce a light trance state due to the focus and repetition. My knot ropes (for which I use spools, or French knitting dolls, but also the Anglo-Saxon lucet) may seem banal to onlookers, but to me they are invested with thought and emotion. By doing such repetitive work, importantly while focusing on a particular thing (a solution to a problem, a state you wish to come into being, magick you wish to actuate, or a person) you anchor that thing in muscle memory for a start, making the thing you create a part of your body (mundane example: the first time I watched The Shining I was knitting socks. The next day after watching the film, I picked up my socks and experienced such powerful flashbacks from the film that I could no longer continue knitting. It took a week for the muscle memory to abate enough for me to pick up again). But also, by taking the slow route, one comes to know the Thing one creates intimately well: that point where the shade of wool changes a fraction, that slip in the stitch that creates a loose mark, that struggle to tie in a bead or feather… So what’s the point, you may ask? The point is to enhance concentration, memory, focus, experiencing creation with the body not just the mind, and of course exercising of the imagination. Never underestimate the simple rural crafts such as knotting, spinning, carding, weaving, crocheting, and yes, knitting. They hold an equal place in my heart alongside the more “mainstream” arts of painting and sketching.
The proof is in the pudding. Try it. Try everything. I have sung, played classical guitar, painted, sketched, used textiles and wool, knotted and finger painted! And in each I have been able to reach that hypnagogic state – not always, because it’s not always appropriate – but at will, which is a sign that it has developed into a discipline. The neural pathways are laid, the psychic arteries are flowing, my imagination is working.
The wonderful thing about art is that it is a life-long companion. There is always room to improve your creative and imaginistic skills. Remember that cerebral judgement about “art” does not apply here. If you can think it, you can do it – and that is not a literal adjuration to do whatever you like. Not everything should be enacted literally, but that is the beauty of imagination and art, – there are no rules. I have seen art created by finger painting with menstrual blood, alongside the “Fine Art” painted canvases; I have seen thread embroidered into the very skin on the hand of an artist, alongside ecclesiastical gold embroidery. The end product is almost irrelevant; it is the inner journey that is important – the vision, the actuation, the material manifestation. But like all good magick, don’t hang on the results. Once you’ve finished a piece, do not rest on your laurels, but immediately begin the next! Only so (I suggest) will you develop invaluable skills to your occult, pagan and magickal practices.