All My Sorrows: RIP John Suter

September 1st marks the anniversary of the day a San Diego coroner showed up at my door, bearing an ornate gold ring and the news that a body had been found in a canyon not far from my Hillcrest apartment.

This was 1975 (or was it 1976?). These days, it’s getting hard to remember the year, though I’ll never forget the circumstances. My “childhood sweetheart,” John Albert Brennan Suter, who had disappeared a couple of weeks earlier, was that body.

John A. Suter-3

Look at him. He should still be alive, and still be my friend. In an alternative universe far kinder to queer and gender variant kids than ours, he would be. He’d probably be married to some delicious older man, pursuing his considerable artistic talents, including a gift for spontaneous storytelling. The illegitimate son of an abusive, Irish Catholic mother and an Arab university student who probably never knew of this child, from a young age John had been regularly locked out of his house and forced to shoplift just to get back in the door. I heard so many stories of corrosion and cruelty.

And since his mother had kicked him out of the house for six months at age thirteen, and again at fifteen, John had done what homeless teenagers do in order to survive. He was well acquainted with sex work by the time we fell in love. I was older–seventeen–with a couple of boyfriends in my past. John had just broken up with a girlfriend (or she’d broken up with him) who had a mother who had also looked after John, knitting him socks and providing food (and probably a place to stay).

Then John came courting me. We were both students at a hippie “free school” called Paideia, and hitchhiked to parks and various teacher homes for classes. He’d been a friend of one of my brothers first, and I remember my mom always remarking how effeminate John seemed. (Grrrr…) That was probably one of the reasons his mother had kicked him out too. But he came over with his hand stuck in a jar (really!) and wanted me to help him get it out. I am serious. That is how it started. He later told me it had been a ploy. He was fifteen and was homeless at the time. (That meant he’d been tricking for a few months again, but I didn’t know that.)

Whether John was really “more gay,” or actually bisexual, or possibly more truly asexual, I will never know. He never had a chance to grow into and understand his own sexuality without it being a bargaining chip for food, money, or a couch (or bed) to sleep on.

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Both boys are in my clothes. John on the right.

I got him a job at a local free clinic, paid for by a government program that provided jobs and training for disadvantaged kids. (I was also in that category.) Our combined income of $380 a month gave us enough for an apartment in Ocean Beach and barely enough for food. John stole furnishings off front porches. I didn’t want him to, but I couldn’t stop him–by this point, it was part of what empowered him. There were times, later on, when he also stole from me.

Drugs were not a problem, though. Just in case you were wondering.

At first we created a marvelous “second childhood” together, which is why I refer to him as my childhood sweetheart. Every month we had an “anniversary” which was an occasion for handmade cards (we both drew and tried to outdo each other with how beautiful and clever our cards were) and other small treats. John’s imagination was rich with Babar elephants, talking birds, Jean Harlow, and creatures of fey realms. I wrote stories for him. He told stories to me. He also upped my glamour, choosing my clothes for me. He had amazing taste.

And then one day we were walking down the street and passed a grown-up couple–a woman with long red hair (very Irish) and a darker man, Hispanic. They didn’t acknowledge us. We didn’t acknowledge them. I thought they were strangers but after they passed, John whispered, “That’s my mom and her boyfriend, Johnny.”

John told me once he ate ground glass, “just to see what would happen.” I was shocked. It wasn’t until later that I realized he was telling me the story of one of his first suicide attempts. Our relationship soon devolved from our idealistic beginnings (pretending we were married) to a desperate struggle. Our government funded jobs were defunded. I can’t even get into everything that happened next, except that John started tricking again. Sometimes we lived together (we shared several apartments over the course of our time together), sometimes not. Sometimes we had other relationships, sometimes not. And the suicide attempts were suddenly more serious and right out in the open.

After the first couple of hospitalizations in the mental wards of San Diego, John got SSI. But there was very little therapeautic help for him beyond a diagnosis of borderline schizophrenia and an array of medications which never seemed to help much. Remember too that those were the days when being gay or lesbian was considered a mental illness in and of itself.

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One of John’s cards to me.
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One of my drawings for John–Valentine’s Day elephants, his favorite animal.

Yes. Things deteriorated. He was raped (probably more than once). He drank drano. He could be found in the infamous “circle” in Balboa Park, a famous trysting spot for gay men. He pushed me into a fishtank during an argument–it shattered and I have a scar on my wrist from that event. He got arrested for breaking into a posh eyewear store (for Christian Dior sunglasses). Even so, we went out dancing, had cats, and continued something that felt like love, though it was usually (and had always been) rather chaste. He started beauty college through some kind of rehabilitation program.

One of his fellow students sold him 100 barbituates that he would take into that canyon, along with a water bottle from my fridge. One of his fellow students saw the ornate gold ring on television, posted on the news by police anxious to find something about the identity of the corpse that had been stinking up the neighborhood a few blocks away. Whoever that student was, he knew John well enough to direct the police to my house. I suspect it was the man who had sold John the pills.

The coroner left with a photo of John, smiling, so that it could be compared to the body’s teeth. It took his mother two weeks to claim the corpse and arrange for burial, far away. Without a car in those days, I could never go visit the grave. I never have. John wanted to be cremated, but no, he had as close to a Catholic burial as his mom could arrange. John wanted his favorite childhood toy back too (his Steiff teddybear) but his mom never gave him that either.

John & Amy-2So, at age 22 I was effectively widowed even though I’d never been married. The coroner just couldn’t help telling me some of the grosser details of the condition of the body, which made for nightmares for years. And so this haunting has continued, though I’ve done all kinds of things to try to stop it or soften it–even “reading to the dead” as per anthroposophical recommendations. (That helped a little.)

My own children were born on dates within a week of each other, and these dates happen to flank this anniversary of Sept. 1st. I’ve always considered that a mercy. For years I could distract myself from mourning by planning birthday parties and focusing on my kids. Now that both are very much grown, I am once more confronted by the stark meaning that this day has always held for me.

But this year may be different in that I now have my pagan devotions–and my gods and guides and ancestors and wights to support me. So I will light a candle in John’s honor and wish him well. We always say “rest in peace” for the dead, but for those who survive the suicide (or other violent deaths of loved ones), there is never any peace at all.

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My Lord, I Offer Thee…Twisted Humor

Hail Loki, Breaker of Worlds, Master of Mischief, Shapeshifter Supreme–and, I venture to add–God of the Gleeful, Lover of Laughter!

Though I’m admittedly a newly-minted Lokean, and perhaps too eager to blog this to the rest of the world (which cares not), I have come to understand that the presence of the “trickster” has been with me at least since my teens. This was evident in my own love of semi-confrontational pranks (which usually contained some political or topical message). I was an intellectually precocious twelve-year old in 1967, and at some point became an ardent vegetarian (no longer one). An old friend recently reminded me of the time I drew tiny purple cows on big marshmellows and scattered them around La Jolla Cove Park, to let people know that marshmellows were conjured from animal flesh (or something like that).

Yeah, I know, obscure. But mirthful (at least to me).

My adolescence in the Sixties was a golden age for topical pranks. I remember when a bunch of us “protested” the Vietnam War by burning the tiny paper American flag on top of the “Mount Helix” giant ice-cream bowl for ten at the old Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor in San Diego. We thought we wuz so radical and clever, but we were really just stoned. But maybe the Yippies and Merry Pranksters would have approved. Nevertheless, mirth.

Of course, there were also really dumb pay telephone pranks, with no redeeming social content whatsoever. We’d call the payphone that was in the park across from my house, watch from the window to see who answered, and then say stupid stuff. I had a friend who used to call pet cemetaries and ask if they delivered… (I was never that bold.) Nevertheless, gales of laughter. Snickers. Mirth.

Mabuhay Genetic Damage FlyerLater, in my San Francisco punk rock days, we had a “fashion protest” in Union Square. A bunch of us held signs like “Polyvinyl is Truth: Tweed is Madness” (my brother Patrick composed that one) and “We have proof the CIA killed the mini-skirt.” We marched around a few blocks and the oppressed workers in posh boutiques came out on the sidewalk to applaud. My first fashion show featured a man wearing a jock strap mask attacking a T.V. with a chainsaw. Those early days of punk were chock full o’ pranks.

A few years later, as a prank-starved new mother at home with my baby, I fed my deep desire for pranks and humor through mild crushes on Peewee Herman and Jambi.

As my first-born began to read from Kentucky Derby glasses at the dinner table, I once boasted I would write a short story that incorporated the names of all the winners of the Kentucky Derby from 1875 through 1999. A few years later my kid asked, “Hey mom, whatever happened to that story that started with ‘Sunny’s Halo slipped sideways as she took a genuine risk?'” Of course I had to make good my boast then, and so I did! I still feel tingles of unholy glee when I re-read it. (It’s called “The Strange Saga of Fonso Aristides” and it’s published in my “slim volume of poetry,” below).

lol-hemogoblinIn my first years as a sexologist, I was lucky enough to write a weekly column for a NSFW website called Carnal Nation (no longer published). Many of my columns were serious, like “Domestic Ultraviolence” and “Said to the Rose,” but others were flat out pranks. There was that column about infiltrating vampire chat rooms as “Dr. Hemogoblin” in order to explore the sexy vampire thing. Or that review I wrote of a semen cookbook…

I’m gonna be cremated so I’ll never have a tombstone, but if I did it would read “Not Insane”–a line from an old Firesign Theater routine. My slim volume of poetry is titled “I Was a Hybrid in a Black Brassiere” (kind of like “I was a Teenage Werewolf From Outer Space”). My youngest son wants to name my youngest cat, “No Country for Old Men.” One of my brothers used to play drums while wearing meat. You see, this stuff runs in the family.

And so my dear Lord Loki, my most trusted one, my beloved teacher and friend (see, I can’t stop gushing!), please accept these offerings from one who styles herself as your “plucky comic relief.” May they please you as they’ve pleased me.

May they provide thee with mirth.

Randy Rainbow’s videos.

The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

Cards Against Humanity, including the 2018 Pride Pack. Especially the card that reads “whatever straight people do for fun.”

This meme (I don’t know the wag who created it, but I bow low to that person):

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Puddles singing “Royals.”

Wilkinson’s Family Restaurant and anything else done by Liam Lynch.

Prisencolinensinainciusol.

Any of the “butter bug” scenes from A Civil Campaign by Lois McMasters-Bujold.

Whoever wrote “this gum tastes like rubber” on a condom dispenser.

“I am Part of the Resistance Inside Nyarlathotep’s Death Cult.”

Literature’s Great Couples on Tindr

[This list is a work in progress. Come back for lots more.]

Are you a fellow traveller? Offering jokes and pranks to Loki too? Would love to hear about it! Please comment!

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My Need for Kindred and Cahooting

I’m living here alone, almost on the shore of a large lake, in a county that’s one of several scorched by the Mendocino Complex Fire (which is still raging). I was able to shelter in San Francisco for two weeks during the evacuation, in a neighborhood where I previously spent many, many years of my life. Though I was in an empty apartment and sleeping on the floor, I was happy. Every day I could leave the flat and walk down a hill and see people–whether in the Castro District or Noe Valley. I could eat, window shop, and just get my body moving and feel a part of life, of a community. I began to hunger for my daily walks, to be out, alive, and able to exchange insignificant pleasantries with people behind the counters of health food and hardware stores.

I was closer to most of my oldest and dearest friends, as well as my two grown children and my mother, and was able to see most of the people important to me in that short span of time. It was heaven.

Back here in Lake County (beautiful as it is, and with some very good neighbors), I am mostly alone. No lover, no roommate, no job, no clients, and with only a sad little scruff of a post office as a walking destination. The nearest towns are three and six miles away, and their sidewalks are barely populated. There are no brisk crowds to navigate. Barely any restaurants. No cafes for fomenting revolution or falling in love.

My isolation is also largely due to years and years of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illnesses (which explains the “no job, no roommate” part). I live carefully, dodging chemical toxins, including the ubiquitious scented products that are everywhere and on everybody. Outings with new friends sometimes involve that person’s habitual scented hand lotion or hair product, and I roll down the windows and try to focus on enjoying the person, ignoring my frustration at breathing and tasting the damned stuff, and having to plan for yet more “downtime” to recover from their “chemical companions.”

1280px-Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_021Sometimes, because of the constant toxic exposures, I feel like giving up on attempts to socialize, but that way is death. Suicidal thoughts have been too frequent these last few years, especially since my divorce. I won’t act on them, I know. But I suffer nonetheless.

 

So my strategies for combating loneliness and isolation have become more far-fetched and eccentric, though to me they seem quite reasonable. My pagan, polytheistic spiritual practices keep me going. I court my gods and the local wights with offerings and poems. I  talk aloud to my cats and my “most trusted” invisible friend. I work with my ancestors. I adhere to a regimen of solo tantric practices. And I keep my antenna up for anything that might provide an opportunity for actual human cahooting in spaces that might be non-toxic enough.

Last week I went to a local senior center’s “open mic” night. It was sparsely attended but welcoming. The sound system was dysfunctional. Even so, I read some of my poems. I went with a new (unscented) friend and I think we both enjoyed ourselves, at least until one of the musicians was inspired to perform a Neil Diamond medley. At that, we fled.

Perhaps my biggest desire is for what is known in pagan circles as a “kindred.” I’m actively working on creating my Lokabrenna (Loki’s Torch) “tiny temple” (the structure formerly known as the “woodshop” and fondly referred to as a “meagre palace of Midgard“). I am seeking to fill it with like-minded Northern Tradition Pagans and Inclusive Heathens who are Loki-friendly. Yep. And I’m calling in  the tarot readers, the rune casters, the tantrikas, the mystics, the occultists, and the witches too. Come one, come all (come fragrance free!). I will serve you tea and if you wanna light a candle or do a ritual, I’m down. In the tradition of hospitality that was sacred to my ancestors, I am welcoming visitors and am LGBTQI etc. friendly. I am hoping that from among these visitors (should any appear), there will emerge a closer band of boon companions, kindred for my–and our–waning years. Lake County needs this. And I need it too.

One thing I do know–I simply can’t afford to adopt any more cats. Four in the house and two in the temple are quite enough.

Are you a fellow traveller? Searching for kindred too? You can let me know right here.

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Spectrosexuality: Spirit Sex and God Spousery

Some call it “spectrophilia.” I’d be more likely to call it “entheosex,” but avid explorers of entheogens have already coined that term to mean sex while using psychedelics. As a sexologist and sexuality counselor, I think I’ll be most comfortable using the terms “spectrosexual” and “spectrosexuality.” I believe many people may experience these desires in the context of a full-blown sexual and affectionate orientation rather than as a fetish. That’s my premise–and it’s based on a hunch, not data. 

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Today’s blog outlines my initial attempts to understand this phenomena in a sexological context: people who say they have sex with spirits and deities (or who desire this), and those who claim committed relationships with such beings. Much as I did when I began to learn about objectum sexuality (Love Among the Objectum Sexuals), I begin by trying to view this phenomena by many different angles, including a sexological lens, and to see what shows up in “the literature” (books, professional journals, etc.) as well as reported “lived experiences.” And of course these kinds of accounts are showing up in pop culture, but I’m going to ignore that for the moment.

Apologies are due to you, dear reader, as most of what I cite below is cisgendered and heterosexual. Am looking for other sources. This is the just first of many blogs on this topic. [Update 8/23/18: Please read this excellent piece about being a god spouse, written by Bat Bruja.]

Let’s start with Alfred Kinsey’s classics, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (with Pomeroy, Martin, and Gebhard, 1953) and Sexual Behaivor in the Human Male (with Pomeroy and Martin, 1948). In the Female book, I scanned the index and found “psychic masturbation” (not found in Male book) which led me to this text on page 163:

“Some 2 per cent of the females in the sample had reached orgasm by fantasying erotic situations, without tactiley stimulating their genitalia or other parts of their bodies (Table 37). Exceedingly few males are capable of reaching orgasm in this fashion while they are awake, although orgasm from psychic stimulation while asleep is a common enough phenomenon among males.”

The footnote (38) attached to this paragraph gives additional terminology: “idealized coitus,” “mental cohabitation,” “moral or psychic masturbation,” “the mental vulva,” and “erotic day dreaming.” Kinsey et al. lists a number of sources for these terms including pioneering sexologists Iwan Bloch (1903), Havelock Ellis referenced in Albert Moll (1921), Magnus Hirschfeld (1916), and others. Kinsey notes that several of these sources “express the curious and certainly unfounded opinion that this is the ‘most noxious’ of all forms of masturbation.”

So the purported (cis) female ability to have “think gasms” was once thought to be “noxious” by white, (cis) male “experts.” Why are we not surprised? But rather than get hung up on that, let’s say that the interesting thing is that “psychic masturbation” showed up in very early sexological research. Later researchers have also noted this ability to “think off.” In The Science of Orgasm (2006), Barry Komisaruk, Carlos Beyer-Flores, and Beverly Whipple discuss fMRI (imaging) studies of “non-sensory induced orgasms” (pp. 260-261). They found that:

“…in thought-induced orgasms, as in orgasms produced by vaginocervical self-stimulation, the regions of the nucleus accumbens, PVN, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex are activated.” (p. 261).

However, the amygdala “was not activated during thought orgasms” (p. 261).

Previous research into this topic included Whipple, Ogden and Komisaruk (1992) and Komisaruk and Whipple (2005). In the 1992 “thought orgasm” study, “–heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, and pain threshold–approximately doubled during orgasm compared with initial resting baseline.” Bonk author, Mary Roach, also includes an amusing anecdote about a woman who “thinks off” in this TED Talk video.

As an aside, many erotic hypnosis enthusiasts also create and/or experience hands-off “hypno-gasms.” I teach these techniques myself.


Two important points here:

(1) Some human bodies are able to respond with pleasure, including orgasmic pleasure, simply from “thoughts” or psychic stimulation. Is this an evolved capacity? What function does this ability serve (besides sheer pleasure)?

(2) Psychic sexual stimulation and orgasm is most likely to show up in sexological literature in the context of solo sex and fantasy, or as a fetish. Not as god or spirit partner sex, even if there is the presumption that the partner is imaginary.


In Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices (1992) by Brenda Love, we find spectrophilia defined as “either coitus with spirits or arousal from image in mirrors” (p. 312). Spectrophilia is discussed as a fetish often involving incubi and succubi. Many people have at least heard of sexy “attacks” by incubi and succubi spirits and perhaps have learned of the recent research into sleep paralysis (“night terrors”) which appears to explain this kind of phenomena. (Love’s spectrophilia entry predates this research.) Her entry also mentions the Babylonian Lilith, forced confessions of demonic intercourse during witchcraft persecutions, the “Thai Shrinking Penis Syndrome,” and the famous tale of the Virgin Mary and the Christian God (pp. 269-270).

[FYI: Love also has entries for altered state orgasms and near-death experiences (p. 189), as well as astral orgasms–annecdotal accounts of astral projection as a result of orgasm (p. 191), psychic orgasms (p. 192), and tantric orgasms (p. 193).]

Contemporary references to god or spirit sex may be found in books on Western magic, including sex magic books. For example, in Sex, Sorcery, and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic (2015) by Jason Miller, he discusses spectrophilia and other matters in his chapter called “Raise Your Spirits: Sex for and with Angels, Demons, Gods and Spirits” (pp. 151-167).

Spirit/human intimacy may be found in anthropological literature. An example would be The Polynesian Family System of Ka’u, Hawai’i (1998) by E.S. Craighill Handy and Mary Kawena Pukui, particularly the chapter called “Psychic Phase of the Relationship” and a discussion of “spirit lovers of the night” (kane and wahine o ka po) (pp. 116-159). Such lovers may be beneficial, and may even produce children, or they may be inadvertantly dangerous, sometimes causing human beings to pine away with desire through no fault of their own. Sometimes expert spiritual intervention is sought to sever the relationship and save the human being.

Myths, folklore, and religious traditions from all over the world and many historical periods contain accounts of human/spirit sex and intimacy. With regard to spiritual traditions, some ancient Buddhist and Hindu tantric practices include energetic sexual rites performed with spiritual beings as part of the path to transcendence. People may be asked to imagine themselves as a deity or to imagine a human partner as a deity, or to imagine the deity as a partner. Such practices were learned under guidance, during long years of study. (The above discussion of tantra is vastly oversimplified.)

Writers have often written about sexual relationships with spirits. One of my favorite stories is A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (1994).

The internet being what it is, of course we can find references to partnered spirit sex and god spousery in blogs, websites, articles, videos, and podcasts. But I’m not incorporating a pop culture discussion in this particular blog.


Two more important points:

(3) Accounts of sexual encounters with gods and spirits have been recounted by human beings in varied cultures and historical periods. Therefore let’s consider that something about this is “real” beyond the types of reports or stories that might be explained by sleep paralysis.  

(4) People in many cultures have created and refined practices designed to create and facilitate human/spirit interactions, including sexual ones. People have devoted vast amounts of time and energy to create these practices and traditions. Why? 


It’s imporant to remember, however, that human/spirit sex was not always (or perhaps even often) looked upon with favor by religious and secular authorities. In Sex Crimes: From Renaissance to Enlightenment (2002), by William Naphy, we are told of the harsh punishments meted out to suspected witches (male and female) who have been accused of sex with demons (pp. 224-232). Even today we could probably find many instances of persecution–societies and religions which can barely tolerate gay sex are certainly not going to countenance spirit sex, which is even more transgressive as being pretty much undetectable (unless one blogs about it).

As I consider the above, from a sexological view, I have many questions. Here are some of them.


The biggest question:

What emerges for us when we understand (1) that human bodies have measurable orgasmic responses to psychic stimulation and combine this understanding with (2) a knowledge that humanity’s mythic/religious heritage includes a vast array of accounts and traditions of human sexual relationships with spirits, angels, gods, demons, etc.? What are the spiritual and cultural implications, as well as the sexological ones?


Other questions:

Are some people “wired” for a spectrosexual orientation or spectroattraction? Or should this be considered a “capacity?” (I just don’t think it’s a fetish–it’s too full-blown.)

What kinds of behavioral, emotional, and sexual variations may be found within a “spectrosexual” spectrum? I am sure we will find a range that encompasses polya spectrosexuality to mono spectrosexuality to asexual spectroattraction and more, plus ranges in genders and gendered attractions (and non-gendered attractions). We will find experiences ranging from a single encounter to committed relationships, as well as those desiring such encounters or relationships but who have not yet had them.

Will spectrosexuals eventually “come out” as a sexual minority community? (Since I know ecosexuals and objectum sexuals, this seems reasonable to me.) How will individual spectrosexuals and spectroattractors deal with their own coming out processes?

How do god spouses and spectrosexuals/spectroattractors deal with “sharing” a god or spirit?

How do spectrosexuals/spectroattractors navigate their relationships with intimate human partners? How much acceptance do they generally receive from other humans in their lives?

What kinds of discernment criteria, support, and other social structures will emerge as spectrosexuality and spectroattraction become better known?

Are there demographic and cultural factors or emotional and personality factors that are common to spectrosexuals/spectroattractors? Or not?

What sort of distasteful media circuses and pop culture travesties will emerge? What sort of cultural backlashes and oppression may we expect? What’s going to appear that is cringe-worthy (that we haven’t seen already)? How many Ph.D. candidates will do a dissertation on this topic?

For now, that is my initial take on spectrosexuality. Sadly, earlier today I lost most of my first finished draft and have had to reconstruct it all a second time. (That’s what I get, I guess, for my devotion to a trickster god.) I am sure I will be writing more on this subject, as I find it fascinating!

Are you a fellow traveller? Let me know you’re out there. Please “like” and share. Thanks for reading!

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Meagre Palace of Midgard Part Two

I just spent two weeks in evacuation mode, fleeing first the smoke then the actual threat of the Mendocino Complex Fires, which made it to the valley beyond the ridge which is behind the community I live in. My view of Mt. Konocti this morning is either smoky or misty, but I suspect it’s smoke that veils it.  Driving back yesterday I saw broad bulldozer lines cut into the hills. Some of the hills around the lake are either blackened or tinted hot pink from fire retardant. It’s a new twist on an old landscape, with the forest fire raging now in other counties besides ours, drawing help from as far away as Samoa and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

I have asthma and other respiratory problems, so returning to this area hasn’t been an easy prospect to face. (Even as I write, my eyes burn and my throat constricts.) But my house (and the neighborhood) survived, and the cats were growing increasingly restless in the empty apartment where I sheltered, with absolutely no furniture except a sleeping bag and a folding table and chair I bought from Target. But I was–and am–super fortunate to have had that resource. It may not be there next time I need it.

The return trip was a challenging three-hour drive in hot summer temperatures with four cats in crates, which means no chance to stop for a bathroom break because the cats might suffer in a stopped, hot car for even the five minutes it takes to grab a key from the station attendant and run to the nearest stall. Prior to setting out, I asked my “most trusted one,” Loki, for a travel blessing. Because one doesn’t ask for favors from this trickster god without offering something in return, I promised that this week I’d buy some paint to begin fixing up a woodshop on my property in order to turn it into a Loki “tiny temple.” (I wrote about this idea before the start of the fires.) Since my house is intact (thank you, firefighters!) and I have the notion that it’s a good thing to keep a fire god happy, I have pledged to begin work on this Lokean sanctuary.

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In some ways, the project will be an “architectural folly” and I imagine Loki stalking the grounds as an “ornamental (manic pixie dream god) hermit.” For example, I’ll be painting a Loki mural on the outside (really trying hard to NOT imagine him in the mural as a gratuitously shirtless, hunky firefighter…). Any future owners of this property are going to have to “just deal with it.”

Much of my impulse for this “folly” comes from a deepening connection with this trickster god. This is something I never would have expected to enter my life. Sure, I’ve had lots of odd spiritual experiences but my path is always twisty and often opaque. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be at this place, overcome with devotional love for a northern deity, I would have scoffed or thrown a coconut at you (I was living in Hawai’i then, on Pele’s land).

But another impulse comes from the recognition that we Lokeans are outcasts. I’m no stranger to that social strata, so the idea of making a place for us is an appealing thought, even if no one actually comes to visit the sanctuary besides me.

But as a teacher of mine used to say, “it’s all in the invitation,” and so perhaps this place will provide the soil to germinate the community I seek.

Are you a fellow traveller? Do let me know!

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Mendocino Complex Fire

“Lady of the Lake Interrupted”–that was going to be the original title of this post. But why not just get to the point? Almost two weeks ago I fled the thick “clam chowder” smoke of Lake County, just a few days before the advisory, then mandatory, evacuation for the North Shore communities. I begged shelter from some relatives and have been here now, in a completely empty San Francisco apartment with four cats, a sleeping bag, and several boxes of family photos (plus a few books and treasured artwork). I could have gone home a couple of days ago, but I’m hoping for more smoke to clear.

Back in May, when the volcano began to erupt in the middle of Leilani Estates in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island, friends and acquaintances began to congratulate me for “leaving Hawai’i before the eruption,” as if I’d somehow unfairly cheated fate. A lot of my friends and acquaintances back there did have to evacuate, some are still without a permanent place to live, and yes, I feel sad that I wasn’t there to have helped out as Puna “stayed classy” through the crisis (“Stay Classy Puna” is a local slogan). On the other hand, I might not have survived. Between the asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity condition that I live with, the volcanic air–or threatened toxic releases from the geothermal station– might have taken me out. I’m glad that I didn’t stay to either die or force my kids to fly over to rescue me in dire straights.

But now all those folks who think I dodged a kharmic bullet can rest easy. I have now fled the largest wildfire in California history, a fire that was just one ridge away from my home in Lake County, and though I am not in a shelter, I’m “sleeping rougher” than I have in years (on the floor), and “oh my bursitis!” I’m here knowing that the next time Lake County has a fire, I may not have anywhere to go. This apartment won’t stay vacant for long. Shelters are out, as the fragrant personal care products and cleaning products that prevent my equal and healthy access to all kinds of ordinary goods and services in the best of times, also keep me from accessing public facilities in the worst of times. I can’t afford an RV or even a truck with a camper shell, so I’m actually expending a fair amount of time obsessing over my options during the next fire, even though there are none.

Friends who would take me gladly, as a temporary evacuee, are not prepared to shelter my four cats as well. But the cats are my companions and familiars, and they go where I go.

I was lucky this time, to stay in San Francisco as the fire rages. And privileged too. A lot of people were sheltering in parks. The heat up there, in the summer, gets into three digits… can you imagine? Kids, elderly people, pets, in a tent with no fans, under those conditions? And in one park, there was only one propane burner for cooking for dozens of people. And the smoke–they couldn’t escape it like I did. Plus, a cluster of people from one of the regular shelters have come down with a norovirus blamed on donated, canned water. I have only myself to blame for getting sick from pre-made deli food.

I’m lucky too in that my house and neighborhood are intact. The firefighters did a tremendous job keeping the Ranch Fire flames away from our North Shore towns (just as they prevented the River Fire from reaching Lakeport). But other people have lost their homes. Housing is already scarce.

But this is a blog about all things woo, spiritual stuff, magic… Loki… and whatever else I feel like writing now that I no longer care much what anyone thinks. So yes, there is a woo side to this narrative. Let me continue to over-share.

Among my evacuation items, I brought most of my pagan altar doodads, my magical tools (except my crystal chalice), my tarot deck, and a few choice books that I’m in the middle of reading. (I also packed my Lois McMasters-Bujold Miles Vorkosigan books and a complete, hardbound set of Jane Austen, but I digress…).

While here, I’ve kept up my daily tantra exercises and meditations as well as my devotional practices for Frey, Gerda, Freya, and Loki (which I do in an Inclusive Heathen context, as per The Troth, combined with a greater personal and spiritual affinity with the approaches of Northern Tradition Paganism). All this has helped. Greatly. Feeling as if “my deities” are “with me” is also a comfort and these workings have deepened. I begin to understand people who rely on religion–this kind of thing is new to me.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve actually done really well in “remembering my tools” while under duress. I credit the daily practices above. Whatever it is we do, spiritually or religiously, these things can build resilience so that when crisis does strike, there’s a bit more ability to keep a cool head (at least at times) and to feel less overwhelmed (mostly). I also recognize that being here, alone, in an empty, non-toxic apartment in my old neighborhood, rather than in a public shelter among scented strangers, also contributes greatly to my resilience.

I suppose my biggest concern going back, aside from smoke exposure, is how do we build a better framework for mutual aid before the next crisis hits us? The local motto for our community is “Lake County Strong,” but old-timers are the most likely to benefit from long standing family and social networks, just as I have from a family connection here in the Bay Area. How do we have more of that for people who are marginalized and less socially connected?

I’m pondering. I’m wondering what I can do, personally, with the resources I have. Ideas are welcome.

Are you a fellow traveller? Or even a local Lokean? Let me know you’re there!

mendocino-1400

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Transforming Ancestral Poisons

“Putting the fun back in dysfunctional,” was how one of my brothers use to refer to our family. But it’s been at least a couple of decades since anything even resembling “fun” has happened between my mother, sister(s), and brothers. And the family I created, with a husband and two kids, has evaporated as well, though ties with my adult children remain strong.

In the early 2000s I took up a “cleansing and forgiveness” practice, taught by a very reputable person, and have used it off and on to deal with much of the family crud, trying hard to metabolize the poisons of resentment and unfair treatment. But it’s been clear for a long time that this was not enough: I and other family members have been replicating old patterns that predate our birth. It’s the same old story, told over and over again, until someone writes a new one.

“Writing a new one” has been my deepest focus these last few years. How to do it has been elusive.

So in October 2017, I was delighted to find Daniel Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine. I was so impressed with the book and his online lectures and blog that I signed up for his online course in healing ancestral lineages. I’ve since “worked with” deeply archaic ancestors of two grandparent lines (paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother) to heal the troubles of the more recent dead and, in Daniel Foor’s terminology, “bring the blessings of that lineage” into my own life and that of my children. I’ve got to say I do feel a difference as I cultivate relationships with these grandparent lineages (the focus is less on individuals, more on the collective).

I am now working on a third lineage, my mother’s father’s line. I have just begun to apply the ritual sequences and format for engagement suggested by Dr. Foor.

Part of this work is to metabolize and transform family histories and patterns of poisoning.

On my mother’s side, my grandfather was exposed to radiation during the nuclear testing off Bikini Atoll. It killed him (via a brain tumor).  Let’s remember that radiation experiments were being performed on Pacific Islanders during that time (Nuclear Savage documentary) and that Micronesians and others are still suffering the multi-generational health problems from the testing and “research”, incuding cancers and birth defects, as well as the contamination and loss of their ancestral homes–so tragic as my grandfather’s fate was, my family got off relatively lightly.

Operation_Crossroads_Baker_Edit

My late Aunt Mary’s twin, Jamie, died as an infant apparently from eating poison thrown into the backyard by a neighbor, originally meant for the dog.

On my father’s side, there was another infant poisoning. He was apparently careless with a pesticide and the baby got into it. (His third wife took it hard.) Plus, he worked as a cropduster for several years, during the first years of his marriage to my mother (his second wife and second “child bride”). It is no wonder that my mother and I both deal with environmental illness now, after those early and frequent exposures to pesticide residues and particulates. I note that my father also dealt with a brain tumor in his last years.

Like an underground river of molten lava, emotional poisons also run through my family’s history and current dynamics: resentment, lies, assumptions, envy, backstabbing… all there.

So going to the source–the quite archaic but much “healthier” ancestors–and asking for their help makes sense. Can’t hurt, could help, right?

Right.

In a recent attempt to organize my rather slipshod and eclectic collection of pagan practices and devotional offerings, I’ve dubbed Saturday as “Ancestor Day.” Sundays are for my Vanir/Jotun deities. Loki gets extra attention on Tuesdays as my fulltrui (“fully trusted one”) and adopted ancestor. As I wrote in a previous blog, part of the lore of Loki also includes a story of poisoning as a punishment. As a spiritual practice, I am dimly sensing a need to create ritual which deals with this part of Loki’s lore, as well as my own.

I have read of a practice called “Holding the Bowl,” in which some devotional Lokeans meditatively hold a bowl for a period of time, as Loki’s second wife, Sigyn, does, to collect the poison dripping on to Loki from the snake. Here is one beautiful account of this ritual.

According to astrology, I may be predisposed to this kind of work. In my blog post, To the Stars, I mention how astrologer/activist Caroline Casey identified a theme of “metabolizing poisons by conjuring the antidote” as a key focus of my astrological chart.

So, the challenge is to “conjure the antidote” as a way to transform and “metabolize” these histories of poison. One way to do that is via Daniel Foor’s collaborative work with ancient ancestors to bring healing to an entire lineage. In addition, I could find or create rituals that conjure forgiveness instead of resentment; generosity instead of envy. I want to consider and conjure these antidotes carefully. When it feels appropriate, I will use forms of divination to get advice.

Let’s see what happens. Can’t hurt, could help.

Are you a fellow traveller? Please chime in! “Like and comment” too!

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