Thank you so much, Mr. Hiddleston, for your wonderful portrayal of “Marvel Loki.” Your performances have served as a “gateway drug” for so many who are now fervent Norse Lokeans! You’re the best “Loki cosplayer” on Midgard!
Thank you so much, Mr. Hiddleston, for your wonderful portrayal of “Marvel Loki.” Your performances have served as a “gateway drug” for so many who are now fervent Norse Lokeans! You’re the best “Loki cosplayer” on Midgard!
Loki is great for my Positivity Ratio! I could never have dreamt I’d find such a rich source of positive emotions in the service (and the metaphysical arms) of a notorious trickster god!
This morning I woke up to find yet another clever Loki-themed meme posted on social media (I will share it at the bottom of this post). The meme caused me to experience immediate pleasure in the form of amusement–the kind I classify as “unholy glee”–as well as a feeling of an almost blissful love. That’s one of the many perks of being a Lokean–access to endless witicisms and scads of great artwork inspired by our favorite Norse deity (example at left) or his deft Midgardian cosplayer, Marvel Loki.
So, what is this Positivity Ratio? Psychologist and researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., has found that we in Midgard need a diet rich in positive emotions in order to thrive. The minimum ration is three positive emotions to every negative one. I learned about Dr. Frederickson’s work through her free Coursera class on Positive Psychology. You can check your own emotional nutrition by taking her Positivity Ratio test online.
You’ll notice in the list below that “happiness” is not included in the list. It’s too vague. Instead, Fredrickson lists happy-making emotions as elements (nutrients!) that can enrich an emotional diet. The idea is, you can do this deliberately, just as you can choose to add vitamin supplements or a fresh salad to your daily menu.
Now, when I took Fredrickson’s online course, I was in bad shape: I’d moved away from California and was desperately homesick, I was waiting for my divorce to finalize, a love affair had soured, I had developed a bad case of social anxiety, and so on. I was often alone, depressed, and hopeless. But when I encountered the above list, I realized that no matter how bad I felt, I could ALWAYS access Interest and Amusement. In other words, learning new things like magic (interest) and watching cat videos (amusement) could improve my mood, even if the improvement just lasted a minute or two.
Increasing the daily frequency of such emotions could–and did–build my resilience over time. Resilience is key.
I would say that Loki the trickster represents a deified personification of “Nonserious Social Incongruity” aka “Amusement” (among other things). I tried to get at this in a previous post, My Lord, I Offer Thee…Twisted Humor.
Through my devotion to Loki and my other deities, I access nine out of ten of the above positive emotions. Certainly I feel Love, Awe, Gratitude, along with Interest and Amusement. The only emotion that I don’t seem to experience in this context is Pride.
I never thought I’d understand what religious practices and beliefs did for people, but after a couple of years of my own daily devotions, now I think I do. Our imagined but not imaginary companions–gods, goddesses, non-binary deities, spirits, ancestors, etc.–present an opportunity to engage and enlarge ourselves through the above emotions as well as the larger beings we’ve contacted. I have a little more empathy now for people who are “high on Jesus” and those who have similar evangelical fervor regarding other deities. They think the rest of us are missing out on the bliss they experience. They don’t understand why others may reject their particular source (which they feel must be the ONLY source). They don’t understand that it may not be the specific deity or set of practices that provide that bliss, it’s the repeated, deliberate connection with something (anything!) larger that provides the emotions that eventually coalesce into a feeling of grace.
I should add that states of grace can be experienced through creative, intellectual, or generous actions–it’s not just a “gift of the gods.”
But for me, Loki is the fast track to all kinds of emotional goodies. When I wake up to a meme like this (based on Marvel’s Midgardian cos-player), I laugh, I feel glee, I swipe the meme and post it myself. I laugh at myself when I do it. And I enjoy people’s reactions. I am amused. And this improves my emotional diet, which can then be tracked via my positivity ratio.
This is just the beginning–sharing such emotional goodies with others is also a way to amplify them. That’s partly why our Lokean community is so vital. We can easily increase our Positivity Ratio by harvesting positive emotions through our Loki-related sharing.
It all makes perfect sense now.
Hail Loki! God of Nonserious Social Incongruity!
I’m there now. I’m here in this picture but I’m also in liminal space. Waiting, unsettled, having a difficult time, not able to focus on any one of the twenty different things I could be doing right now, except for blogging.
Loki is a god of liminal space–and so I invoke him now. He’s the pent up fire, and I’ve got the pent up energy, and I’m having to sit with that, rather than dashing off on some mad adventure (which in these here parts generally means a trip down the road for Chinese food. Really.)
I chose this picture of my immediate landscape because it has several discordant elements, as well as examples of different kinds of “between space.” There’s the visible “power” represented by the PG&E and Mediacom wires. These wires enable me to harness the power of light when it’s dark outside, and reach out into the internet world from the little house where I live. I can only see the natural landscape–the real dark and light, the real outside world–by looking between and beyond these human artifacts. And there’s also the invisible powers communicating all around me, through smells and mycelium and sounds I cannot hear. I can also see palm trees (tropical icons) in front of a mountain capped by snow. And there’s the lake and looming rain clouds (water) to contrast with the element of fire represented by Mt. Konocti, a slumbering volcano. The problem is, I am not sure what to do with all this information that’s packed into the landscape in front of me. It’s like that Clash song and I’m not used to being indecisive. I’d rather shatter what holds me back than wait and see.
Maybe I am just supposed to wait. Wait for things to make sense. Maybe this is not a day for reaching out, but rather a day for reaching in. Maybe I should just take a nap and dream of my gods?
Still, I’m restlessly obsessed: what waits for me in the between spaces during these liminal times, and why can’t I see or feel it yet?
One thing that can be done, when I feel so impatient, is divination. I have a very Scorpio urge to “know all”–perhaps so I can brace myself, plan an entrance or an exit if I need one, strategize… Perhaps I’ll cast the runes later.
On the other hand, filling the house with music is another way to warm what feels empty or incomplete. And so on this grey day, I offer up some music of ancient bohemian provenance–Richard and Mimi Fariña’s Celebrations for a Gray Day. Here they are, sitting with Pete Seeger, a saint if ever one existed.
As Mimi and Richard play, my inner child imagines the lake as one big mud puddle (a place to splash) and my ancestors are humming along to the parts that sound like “Old Joe Clark.” And at the end Pete Seeger says, “It would take a dead man not to move to that!”
Just so! Dead or alive, we have no choice but to dance in the liminal space. Loki leads the way. Even when it feels like a mosh pit.
The “Broom Closet” is a term which refers to neopagans and witches who are not “out” about their religion and practices. As a sexologist and sexuality counselor, I have worked with many people who at one time or another had to emerge from a sexual or gender closet in order to lead a more authentic life. What I’ve just done is slightly similar, though more fraught with professional peril than with personal difficulties.
Of course it doesn’t escape me that outing myself as a witchy Lokean neopagan polytheist means my potential dating pool has now shrunk to the size of a small puddle, but hey, what’s not to like? (I mean that with the sincerest irony…)
So here’s the skinny. The last three years–after my divorce and the sale of our family home–have been personally and professionally difficult. I’ve been financially and geographically exiled from my beloved San Francisco Bay Area where my family resides. I’ve had difficulty re-establishing my professional practice in both Hawai’i and here in Lake County. Therefore I’ve struggled with a lack of interest AND motivation with regard to my work. The only truly consuming interest, besides general survival in a new region, has been a deepening of my spiritual life and the pursuit of magical knowledge.
I am a creature motivated by special interests. If I get bored with something, I drop it in favor of a compelling new shiny. Due to lack of business and time-wasting sexual harrassment by pretend clients, the field of sexology began to lose its appeal for me. I felt burnt-out. In Hawai’i, while working on my first novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I began to study magic and witchcraft as research for the book. I was soon hooked by everything about it. Whee! Something that’s even more fun than just plain sexology or just plain hypnosis but which can absorb elements of both (e.g. sex magic, tantra, and trance work)! And I’ve always been a mystic anyway, since about age twelve… (FYI, I’m now working on the second in the Ornamental Hermits series.)
I’m also not good at compartmentalization. I can do it, but it always feels wrong and exhausting. Over the last several months, I’ve been longing to combine my spiritual life with my work life with my (non-existent) romantic life. I just want put it all together in one oddly shaped package as so many others have done before me, and then spend that released energy on more interesting pursuits.
That rune reading, done on Imbolc with the help of my patron deity, Loki, encouraged me to take the leap. That’s what Loki’s all about–pushing his devotees out of stuck places and into new terrain. At first I thought he wanted me to leave my sexology practice altogether. Now I realize he wanted me to MUTATE and deepen it. Therefore, I spent parts of yesterday and today re-writing my professional website to announce my new direction. Doing this does feel like emerging from a rather stale crysalis and my wings are still a bit crumpled and soggy. However, my new page, “FAQ: Out of the Broom Closet”, was actually a lot of fun to write.
Plus, the idea that I’ll be deliberately working in tandem with my deities and guides means I’m not going it alone any longer. I hope this means my clients will benefit from my improved access to insights and energy, gifts of the gods, belike.
Also the sexual harrassment from fake clients has been a source of worry, but I’ll be invoking protection and warding the heck out of my practice from now on. My Norse deities can be pretty hardcore…
So thanks to them, and Loki in particular, I am expanding and mutating once again. And with Freyr and Freya as deities of both sexuality and magic, I’ll also be appreciative of their ongoing guidance. I hope that in becoming whole, I’ll be doing work now that is “holy” in the best and most expansive sense of the word. I feel excited.
Yesterday was Imbolc and I consulted the Norse Runes. Yes, I know. Imbolc is a neopagan and witchy holiday, originally “a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring” and runes have nothing to do with it, really. But it was also Friday (Freya and Frigga’s Day). This is the day I make offerings to all my deities. I often do divinations on this day.
Frankly, I’m more experienced with Tarot, though still a beginner. I use the Rider-Waite deck designed by Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith, a woman of color who is only now beginning to get the credit she deserves (see this article about Colman Smith and listen to this Missing Witches podcast). However the Norse Runes are fascinating and I want to learn more about them. For rune interpretation, I am currently using Nordic Runes by Paul Rhys Mountfort, though I also have a few other rune books.
So I had a burning question concerning the future of my private practice. I want to reinvent and freshen it, and incorporate more of my intuitive and witchy skills before I give it up altogether. Working in this way would be closer to my heart and passions but I want to know if this is advisable. There are some professional risks involved. I asked Loki to assist me in the divination.
Gebo (gift/exchange) was drawn for the first position, which signifies “the issue.” When I pulled this rune I thought immediately of my own “gifts” and how they are not being utilized in my present professional life. This rune holds the importance of equal and fair exchange (compensation) as well as warnings against being taken for granted. I do give away a lot of my time to friends and community, or to people who don’t have much money. Even if it is “a trade,” I seldom end up with my share of the bargain. I have to admit to being haunted by a line from the song, “Some People,” in the musical, Gypsy: “Some people got it and make it pay, some people can’t even give it away…” You’d think sexuality counseling and wellness hypnosis would be in demand ‘purt near anywhere, but right now it seems like I’m living inside an endless loop of Ethel Merman’s brassy voice of doom.
According to Mountfort, the meaning of Gebo can also include “exchanges” within sexual relationships and friendship, as well as rules of hospitality and largesse (pp. 101-105). A great deal of my counseling work addresses disrupted or inadequate exchanges during sexual intimacy, so this rune in this position seems apt on many levels.
Mountfort states that “Odin and his brothers (really aspects of the one All Father” gave humanity “breath, blood, and senses” (pp. 124). However other scholars assert that it was Loki in his aspect of Lodur who gave “blood”and “good color” to the first two humans (Dagulf Loptson, Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson, pp. 22-23). FYI, Loki is Odin’s blood brother. So though Loki is not named in this section he is significant behind the scenes.
Isa (ice/danger) was drawn for the second position, the “roots of the issue.” Mountfort interprets Isa as “stasis, emotional frigidity” or “a deadlock, bound in the coils of a crisis of the soul” and even “unrequited love, separation” (pp. 121-126).
Yep. I am the epitomy of the “wounded healer” when it comes to sexuality. Not only are there #MeToo incidents, but my last two long-term relationships were with men who refused all my efforts to salvage the relationships via better communication, transparency, and honesty, and even invitations to go to couples counseling! In fact, it seemed that the more skills I acquired, the more I was pushed away. Perhaps at the core I feel fraudulent, as I was unable to save my own marriage and the other major partnership. I do admit to feeling stuck and uninterested at this point, as well as lacking in confidence in spite of my education, training, successes, and years of practice.
I have also been demoralized by sexual harrassment from people posing as potential clients. At times I’ve been given reasons to fear.
So, yes, Loki, you have offered me some keen insights here with Isa. And yet ice can melt and bring new life. Heat is what is needed and I currently have more “heat” around magic, spirituality, and metaphysics than I do about sexual concerns. What would happen if I combined these elements in my professional practice and drew from deeper intuitive sources, including my guides and my gods?
Mountfort links Skadi, the frost giantess, to this rune (pp. 124-125). But he does not mention the story where Loki makes Skadi laugh by tying a goat to his testicles (a real icebreaker!). Mountfort also does not mention that Skadi sets a poison-dripping snake over Loki as he is bound and tortured. As a person with chemical injury problems who has a lot of fear about toxic exposures (see Loki, A God of Pleasure, Poisoned), that story is especially upsetting. So though Loki is again not mentioned in connection with this rune, he is significant behind the scenes.
Jera (year/harvestime) was drawn for “present events.” We’ve just entered a new cycle, a new year. I could harvest fruits from my spiritual efforts, if I wanted, and put them to work in service to others.
Mountfort mentions Freyr and Freya as those “who bestow favor and plenty upon the matter at hand” (pp. 127-133). Freyr and Freya are Vanir deities of the land, fertility, and pleasure. Freya is also a shamanic practitioner and teacher of magic, including trance magic used in oracular rituals (Seithr, Seidr). As a hypnotist, I can relate to this! My most recent hypnosis sessions have been increasingly intuitive and transformative. I already offer Freya and Freyr daily devotions and feel that having their blessing and guidance in my work could be fabulous!
I think that Jera tells me that I can own this side of myself, professionally, and that I could be confident of a good harvest if I plant these seeds within my practice.
Since I cast these runes on Imbolc, which celebrates the rebirth of The God, I note the association of this rune with Freyr (the corn god who dies and is reborn each year). In addition, the Celtic Brigid (Brigit), is a goddess who has just emerged as important to my spiritual life. Imbolc is very much a day for her celebration as well. So here I have the joining of cosmic male and female energies (sorry to be so binary) and the fruitfulness that can arise as a result.
Ehwaz (horse/movement) is the “likely outcome.” This rune signifies a “vehicle” for movement and change (pp. 165-169). When citing the lore associated with this rune, Mountfort brings up the story of Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir (p. 167-168). Loki is the colt’s mother. (Loki the shapeshifter sometimes gender-shifts and has been both a father and a mother.)
Mountfort also associates working in partnership (horse and rider) as well as boundaries. In considering my private practice as a vehicle for partnership with my gods and guides, as well as with my clients’, this rune seems auspicious.
Additionally, I’m a Wood Horse in Chinese astrology so this rune has extra bonus points for me.
My sexological journey actually began with a spontaneous spiritual combustion (a ten-month kundalini surge) and triggered my study of tantra, so it seems odd that I would have such hesitation about working more deeply and spiritually. It may be that a sense of privacy has held me back, as well as uncertainty.
This reading exceeds my expectations for insight and encouragement to move forward. However, I intend to do several more divinations, asking for advice from Freyr, Freya, Gerda (Freyr’s wife), Brigid, Bast, and perhaps also from the ancestral lineages that I work with. I may use a pendulum and Tarot for the other divinations as Loki’s runework leaves very little (if anything) to be desired.
I believe that working in partnership with my gods, guides, and ancestors will bring additional depth to my client work and will counter the “imposter syndrome” baggage that troubles me. Perhaps the “wounded healer” in me will also benefit from feeling supported and protected by spiritual collaboration.
Can’t hurt, could help. Immensely…
My life has been spent experiencing and responding to epiphanies. There have been many. Sometimes they have created massive upheaval. Other times they simply add understanding and nuance to what I’m already learning. Back in my punk rock phase, at the time when I was shifting into my feminist space activist mode (1980’s), I was suddenly struck by the epiphany of feeling myself as an “ancestor” in the making, as a link in a chain of being (though I didn’t have children yet). This prompted the making of two issues of a ‘zine, Young Ancestors, which I wrote and illustrated.
By the end of that decade I was married and expecting my first child. During my pregnancy I spent countless hours doing genealogical research in the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I had a deep spiritual hunger to know my people before bringing another life into the world. My mother’s lines were easy to research as there were dozens of early New England ancestors and tons of books and records. (New Englanders are apparently obsessed with genealogy.) My father’s people were harder to find as many of them were newer arrivals from Ireland and Wales. But I was able to track my missing father and some of his family through city directories in the midwest and San Diego. By the time my first child was born, I had a pretty good grasp of my genealogy, with some lines traced as far back as the 1300’s and more.
I found marvelous books which gave me scads of dead relatives, such as The Descendents of Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. My mother even had a two volume copy of Michigan Pioneers, which gave me the abolitionist Swifts who helped to settle Palmyra, NY and then Flint, MI. I found Richard and Elizabeth Warren of the Mayflower. I had Rowells from Candia and Orford, NH. I found so many ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany–many of them settler-colonists who were most assuredly conveying a heritage of atrocities such as Indian genocide and African chattel slavery. Though my understanding of this heritage has deepened over the years, even at that time I was aware that my genealogical chart held horrible secrets and privileges gained at the expense of others. Still, I was eager for the knowledge of “my people” even as I rued their deeds.
Later I would also do a bit of research into my (now ex-) husband’s family tree, to learn more about the heritage that my children shared. My mother also was bitten by the genealogy bug, but some of what she’s logged within Ancestry.com is confused and confusing, and possibly contaminated by sketchy, not well-documented work of others.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that I started actively working my ancestors, thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, Ph.D., and his book Ancestral Medicine–Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. I also took his first online course in Ancestral Medicine. These content-rich classes have enabled me to connect with my ancestors in a dynamic way–requesting healing for each great-grandparent lineage from very distant “well and truly seated” ancestors who are capable of assisting the more recent dead to release inflicted and experienced traumas. This is truly healing work and also meshes well with my Norse-infused spiritual practices, as ancestors are quite important in these (reconstructed) traditions. Foor encourages working with the least messy line first, then moving gradually to the ones which are more traumatized.
Daniel Foor’s methods enable me to leapfrog over dozens of traumatized generations in order to make contact with much earlier “well and robust” ancestors, in order to bring healing to the generations who have experienced and/or inflicted more recent horrors of conquest, religious conversion, warfare, genocide, torture, disapora, starvation, plague, and slavery, as well as personal family traumas (abuse, suicide, alcoholism, divorce, neglect, etc.). “The dead can change” is a fundamental concept here. I experience Foor’s work as a form of ho’oponopono (see below), resulting in forgiveness and healing (though not forgetfulness).
This is also an opportunity to create an active, ongoing relationship with my ancestors. As I do so, I learn more about the blessings and gifts of each lineage. I have a daily routine of offering poems and acknowledgement to my ancestors and a weekly practice of making other sorts of offerings. I speak with them also, thanking them and asking them for blessings for me and my children.
At present, I have completed the initial stages with three lineages, and have just begun working on a fourth (my father’s mother’s line). There will be a total of eight in all. During the ritual meditations and imaging, lead by Daniel Foor via video in the online course, I have made contact with either individual ancestors or clusters of ancestors. Each line has a very distinct “flavor.”
The contact in my father’s father’s line is someone I call “Bright Father.” He seems to radiate a robust golden joy, a “feasting in the hall” sort of presence. He “told” me (via meditative journeying and pendulum divination) that his line “comes from the stars,” perhaps from Sirius. This is the most Nordic-feeling line so far, but there is also some link to Wales and a long wide beach backed by hills or mountains. I have a strong feeling of poetry, song, and stories from this line. Incidently, several months ago Loki agreed to function as an ancestor for me and he has since indicated that he is connected to this line.
My mother’s mother’s line yielded a group of mysterious “River Women” and a feeling of a mountain landscape with few trees, perhaps the Scottish highlands (or perhaps not). They are more remote and quiet and I probably have to do more work to cultivate my relationship with them, to learn more from and about them. The River Women feel quite witchy to me.
My mother’s father’s line manifested as several “Watchers and Archers” in a forest. One of them shot an arrow at me when I first approached. The arrow was meant to land next to me (not in me) and when I picked it up in my mind’s eye, I held it aloft to make my request for healing. I felt these particular ancestors may have been Pictish. The main feeling I experience with them is a sort of wariness, though they are also willing to work with me on the lineage healing.
I have written poems for each of these three lines and I recite them daily. Now I am in the process of writing a fourth. My father’s mother’s line has a lot of Irish and it seems the most mysterious for some reason. I also have a strong sense that Brigid is important (both as a pagan goddess and later as the saint). During one of the meditation journeys, the phrase and image of “Brigid of the long blue dress” appeared in my mind. There is much more work I need to do with this lineage and it is possible that I’ll be adding Brigid to my devotions.
I am devoted to this process of ancestral medicine as a way to help my children heal from residual trauma in my own lineages. (They’ll have to cope with their father’s stuff themselves.) It is also a way to prepare for my own death and transition. It feels like a developmentally appropriate work.
Years ago, I studied the Hawaiian process of Ho’oponopono with Kumu (teacher) Ramsay Taum, of O’ahu. I helped to organize two weekend workshops for him in Berkeley, and also took the workshop once more on Maui. (If you google “ho’oponopono,” please do NOT take the Joe Vitale method as being in any way authentic–it is an appropriated and commodified travesty of the traditional practices.)
When I began working with Daniel Foor’s methods, I quickly saw that this was a form of forgiveness and healing as profound as what I’d learned with ho’oponopono–and also quite complementary in intention and method. Through both methods, one can reach back through time and forward into the future, effecting subtle but powerful changes in spiritual and ancestral realms.
In this video of Ramsay Taum, talking about the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, which he teaches as well as ho’oponopono, there is also a discussion of our relationships with our ancestors. Ramsay Taum says:
“We have to make sure that everyone is in alignment…and when you’re out of alignment, when you step away from your kuleana, your responsibility and obligations, your ancestors have no identity because the line stops with you, see? So when you’re lost and you’re out of balance and you step away from your responsibilities and from your place in community then interesting enough your ancestors, your line stops, there’s no more future… Everything that they’ve [ancestors] done–good, bad, or indifferent–we own that and they’ve created that space and we’re now standing at the end of the line and we just follow their footsteps. And the challenge for us living in today’s society is that you know we say that, ‘I’m following in the footsteps of our ancestors. I take comfort in that. I take pride in that.’ But when we get to the end where they stopped it’s beholden upon us to take the next step for the next generation. It takes individuals who are standing at the edge of the line to walk, to take the next step because now our ancestors, their legacy lives on through our steps, but more importantly we are now setting direction for the next generation. So when I step back in line, now I am giving my descendents identity… Our daily practice should include that meditation, that thought, what will my great grandchildren, seven generations from now, say about us, about me, what did I do? So that really speaks to kuleana.”
Working within the methods of ancestral medicine and ho’oponopono, I do truly own what my ancestors have done but take steps to cleanse the residual trauma–allowing the dead to change and reach their full potential as ancestors. That seems to me to be part of my own kuleana. And when I do this, I can walk without hesitation, transforming the path ahead now that the previous “footsteps” have been healed and cleansed.
As I once realized that I was an ancestor in the making, doing this makes perfect sense. With this practice, perhaps I can ease the path ahead for my own descendents, releasing them from the burdens of ancestral traumas.
Can’t hurt, could help…immensely.
Do estrogen fluctuations cause extreme challenges to women’s mental health? It seems that they do. But can they also trigger mystical experiences? If so, why? And how do we tell the difference?
On December 21st, 2018, The Cut published an article by Lisa Miller titled “Listening to Estrogen–Hormones have always been a third rail in female mental health. They may also be a skeleton key.” Yesterday a sexologist colleague shared this article via Facebook.
I read this article and found it personally significant, and not just for the Solstice publication date. My own experiences with hormone fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause were deeply unsettling. Pregnancy was like a mind fuzz with a metallic taste–literally–and menopause was a quiet riot of thoughts and feelings, impulsive decisions, and a desperate need to reinvent myself (again). It didn’t help that at the same time, my youngest was entering adolescence and my oldest kid was having a second puberty, via transition and testosterone. The youngest was throwing knives at the floor and using his airsoft gun indoors on the antique bed that his father had lovingly refinished for him (no, he wasn’t allowed to do this!). And the oldest? Well… let’s just say a lot was going on for all of us.
I would say between the ages of 45 to 55 were the most intense. Aside from all kinds of emotions and angsty uncertainties and forbidden secret crushes on really ridiculous people, I was also having mystical experiences, including the “spontaneous combustion” I wrote about in the first month of this blog. There was also at least one waking vision and several vivid lucid dreams of great power and significance. Giving birth to a tiny translucent mo’o (Hawaiian lizard god)? Yep. That was one dream. Actually, I had two of those dreams, with a total of three lizard kidlets in all. (And who the heck was the father?!) Another immensely powerful dream, with the theme of “as above, so below,” inspired the tattoo on my right ankle.
And the wild thing was, sometimes other people would share an observation about me that seemed to confirm that “something real” and transformational was actually going on. There were times when I knew I was in rough waters, and I hung on to the mainstays of my life (children, house, a sense of family) but all the while these mainstays were also unraveling. I was also told later of a couple of incidents that I really do not remember, including one where I scared my kids by threatening suicide. Holy shit, Batman!
Mostly though, I don’t think I was potentially harmful to myself or others. I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs. I still got the children fed and off to school. I kept the books for the family business. Menopause was also when I went back to school to study sexology and hypnosis and started my career. I joke now that all those initials after my name is how I spell “mid-life crisis.” It’s true.
Given the above, I do consider that I was mostly sane (functional) during this period (though not always making the right decisions). And yet I was constantly “trying to hang on to myself” — whoever that was. And I wanted very much to know if my mystical experiences were valid and valuable. The only thing I could do was to consider them as valuable and see where that took me.
But let’s get back to the impact of menopause itself, and the fluctuations of estrogen. Lisa Miller’s article recounts several stories of women who went completely bonkers just before and during menopause: hearing voices, becoming dangerously delusional, and even “psychotic, catatonic, and suicidal.”
Here are four key paragraphs from Miller’s article. Hearken to the fourth one, in particular.
[Begin Quote] Youth has been a diagnostic criterion for schizophrenia for a hundred years, including within the pages of the DSM, where schizophrenia has sometimes included an age limit: As recently as the 1980s, a person could not be tagged schizophrenic if he or she was older than 40. Some clinics targeting early intervention have cutoff ages as young as 24.
But schizophrenia does not neatly comply with that simplistic understanding. In the early 1990s, three British psychiatrists, curious about why men with schizophrenia had their first psychotic episode so much earlier than women, took a look at the voluminous diagnostic records in doctors’ offices and hospitals in one populous London neighborhood covering a period of 20 years. They found something astonishing: a demonstrable “second peak” of first-onset schizophrenia after 45. These patients were predominantly female.
These older patients compose just a fraction of the total number. About one percent of people worldwide receive a schizophrenia diagnosis, and almost 20 percent of them are diagnosed for the first time after the age of 45. But the data suggested a deeply embedded bias in the way doctors had thought about schizophrenia for a century, overlooking the middle-aged women who came to them with psychotic symptoms, refusing to believe they could have schizophrenia because the official classifications, and medical tradition, excluded them. In their view, “madness” associated with “the change of life” was not madness at all — not a serious affliction to be taken seriously — but a women’s malady to be treated with bleeding and leeches, herbs and ointments, drugs, alcohol, and the desiccated and powdered ovaries of farm animals. Committed to American asylums in the late-19th century, women with mysterious symptoms were labeled “insane from suppressed menses.” And a whole ecosystem of diagnosis and treatment failed to grow.
There is, to be sure, genuine tragedy in lost human potential at a young age. But it is also tragic for a woman to become mentally ill in the middle of her life, at a time when she has, if she’s been lucky, built a universe — a family, a job, friendships, a network of responsibilities and dependencies erected on the assumption of stability. She might have adolescent children and aging parents, professional duties and bills to pay. She might have a classroom of students; she might be the mortgage broker helping a family keep ownership of their home or the doctor advising on a chemotherapy plan. [End Quote]
The article continues to discuss and make a case for “the estrogen hypothesis,” the role that estrogen may play in modulating psychosis, based on the work of Mary and Philip Seeman, and others. Mary Seeman first published this hypothesis in 1981. (And the general public is only now hearing about it? Argh!) A few researchers have paid attention though. Miller writes:
“In 2009, an Australian psychiatrist named Jayashri Kulkarni began publishing the results of extraordinary experiments that took the estrogen hypothesis to the next step. If fluctuations in estrogen exacerbated psychosis, then shouldn’t infusions of estrogen — supplemental hormones — regulate and ameliorate it.”
Kuklarni’s results were positive and encouraging. But U.S. physicians and psychiatrists are slow to catch on. Health care providers are still talking women out of hormone replacement therapy.
There is so much more to this article, which was also published in the December 24, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. I urge you to read it in its entirety, especially if you’re a woman approaching your own menopause.
Now I want to swing this topic back around to an almost anthropological context and ask why human females would be the butt of what seems to be a cruel hormonal joke? Why would this destabilizing influence evolve, seemingly designed to wham women upside the head at the end of their reproductive lives? I tend to believe that most of what evolves in creatures is or was once useful and even humans are no exception. So why this?
I believe that a lot of the “cruelty” of this predicament is cultural and social. Miller ends her article with a quote from “Janet,” one of the women she interviewed:
“And I think there is knowledge out there, but I think it’s old, ancient knowledge that has been lost to the generations through the rapid, rapid changes — I’m talking about the past 50 years — and explosions in population. We don’t live the way we used to. We used to live tribally. The tribes could always share. There was a huge close-knit community that could share. I know what we need. I don’t know how to get it, but I know what we need: We need people who understand what is happening to us to sit down with us and explain it.”
I think Janet is right. And I’ll add this: in the not too distant past a lot of women did not live past their childbearing years. In fact, a lot of women died in the middle of them. In many cultures, the women who reached the age of grandmothers were respected as carriers of unique wisdom. Could it be that menopausal fluctuations of estrogen sometimes act (are “supposed” to act?) as another form of natural entheogen or as a catalyst to transcendence, at least in the right circumstances?
I am sixty-four now, nine years away now from riding the menopausal roller-coaster, yet still living in the wreckage of it (divorce and other estrangements). What if I’d been living in a society where the onset of menopause meant immediate intervention and nurturing from a group of elders who’d “been there, done that?” What if husbands and children understood and respected this special time? They understood how the wife and mother would be challenged by her potential transformation into a healer or a seer? What if they knew the red flags that meant special intervention was necessary? What if most menopausal mental breakdowns were averted by the understanding and care of an entire community? Perhaps not every woman would make it to the actual role and work of a seer or healer, but those who didn’t would not be scorned. They would still have a place in their family and their community. They would not be unloved for having gone through the ordeals. Grandmothers would still watch over them. And those who did come through their ordeal to take up the work would in turn look after the younger women coming up.
I really do need to re-read Barbara Tedlock’s The Woman in the Shaman’s Body (2005, Bantam). I need and want more multicultural information about the relationships of menopause and aging to such things as shamanic practices, healing, the working of magic, and so on. I sense a quest. From now on, I’ll be investigating this as I am so many other things, including trying to find information that is not strictly focused on cisgender women.
And so I sit here, in my Baba Yaga phase, a solitary practitioner of this, that, and the other thing, making offerings to gods and talking to plants and ancestors. I’ve come out the other side, not undamaged, but not wholly wrecked either.
Given the above, will I call my doctor now to ask about hormone replacement therapy? Yes, I certainly will, assuming there are some benefits at this age. I don’t feel HRT will negate what I’ve already experienced and learned. I think it will help me be more comfortable in my body as I move through the rest of my life in this cold, cruel society.
You’ll hear more from me on this.