What Came First? The Magic or the Book?

1-dire_francesco_del_cossa_010As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve had a lifelong interest in the occult and some very odd experiences too, but I didn’t start studying Western magic and witchcraft until I started writing this fantasy novel on Nov. 1, 2016. The plot required my characters to learn from Western magical traditions and so I figured I had to research this as well. What I didn’t realize was that this study would prove as important and life-changing as any of my other major epiphanies (and I’ve had a few).

The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, now completed, is many things to me. It was my salvation during a very difficult time of loneliness and social anxiety. It was my way of creating community (though imaginary) in the aftermath of a divorce, in a time and place where friendships and family were proving unreliable. And it was my love letter and good-bye to Hawai’i nei (beloved Hawai’i). Dire Deeds is also my social commentary on forms of settler-colonialism peculiar to the Puna District (Hawai’i Island’s “Lower East Side”). Other themes include aging, LGBTQIA etc. struggles, white privilege, and more. But this description makes the book sound far too serious. I assure you, the “tone” is often playful, comic, and sweetly sardonic, even though these topics–and events in the book–are “dire.”

Best_small_ Buffalmacco,_trionfo_della_morte,_eremiti_02 copyNow I begin the second book in what will be a trilogy: The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Spoiler alert – it takes place in Lake County, California, where I now live. All the previous characters will continue in this second volume, and a few new ones will be added–notably the charismatic “drifter,” Lucky LaFey.

The third book will take place in England, and will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was the vehicle for jumpstarting and continuing Dire Deeds, and I am going to begin The Witching Work during this year’s NaNoWriMo contest, which starts (as always) on Nov. 1st (my birthday). I expect to have no problem achieving the 50,000 word count which is the goal of the contest. Even so, please wish me luck. And it would please me too if you went to my book website and read some of the excerpts and blog posts.

Thank you!

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Imagined, Not Imaginary

When I was very little, 1950s cartoon characters, Crusader Rabbit and Mighty Mouse were my invisible friends. These characters prompted stirrings of heartfelt yearning even at that young age–a mixed desire for romance and adventure. I remember those feelings quite well and could empathize years later when a five year old of my acquaintance told me he liked Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter’s version) because she had “nice legs.”

So now that I’m cultivating a robust spirit ecology (as a witchy pagan polytheist/animist), you might be tempted think that I never outgrew my childish fantasies. And perhaps you’d be right. Crusader Rabbit and Mighty Mouse provided the little me with unconditional positive regard and I was their comrade, their equal in every way (even though I couldn’t fly). I really loved those guys and I thought they loved me back. These days my deities also seem to radiate unconditional positive regard, even though I (still) cannot fly. Or shapeshift. Or whatever. And yeah, I really love them.

And that mixed desire for romance and adventure? I’ve still got that too. And it’s gotten me into heaps of trouble as an adult. (I haven’t learned my lesson yet, though I’m immensely wary now.)

The culture (so-called) that I reluctantly inhabit takes it for granted that childish imaginations will be dulled, tamed, or destroyed via K-12 education, school bullying, and the drudgery of adult life. And we like to think that’s a good thing, a sign of “maturity.” Anyone who resists the corrosion and destruction of their imagination is suspect.

Of course I think that lifelong resistance to that destruction is actually one of the most important things we can do. Childhood capacities to ensoul and engage with imagined companions are fundamental creative skills, plus they’re precursors to grown-up spiritwork and magic. And so, yeah, I’m unapologetically on the side of most of those who work and play in and about the unseen worlds, along with their spirit pals. (There are some jerks and worse about, of course, as there are everywhere else.)

My premise and ongoing theme is this: there’s a reason human beings have these innate capacities for engagement with unseen companions and worlds, from childhood on. Like the bee orchid, I believe we’ve evolved certain characteristics that facilitate a process of mutual attraction with those unseen. I can’t imagine any other root cause for religions and magic, for fey folktales and Marvel super heroes.

Three books have been my constant companions lately: Dagulf Loptson’s Playing With Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (Asphodel Press, 2014); Jason Miller‘s Sex, Sorcery and Spirit–The Secrets of Erotic Magic (Career Press, 2015); and Aidan Wachter’s Six Ways–Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic (Red Temple Press, 2018). And readers of this blog might have noticed that I’ve referenced Miranda Shaw’s Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism (Princeton University Press, 1994) more than once, I recommend all of these books. They’re excellent.

My ongoing process is threefold. (1) To explore magic, defined as Jason Miller defines it: “the art and science of influencing change to occur in conformity to will” (as quoted in this Down at the Crossroads podcast interview). (2) To get to know and work with some of the “Spirits of the Field” (Wachter, p. 13. And listen to his Crossroads interview here.), including those that “indwell” in material substances (the concept of animism) as well as wights and ancestors (my own and the ones who reside in this area). (3) To cultivate devotional, loving, co-creative relationships with a few compelling deities, especially Loki Laufeyjarson, my “most trusted one.” (This makes me only as proportionately “batty” as any serious practitioner of any mainstream religion.)

It’s been interesting working with the precise combination of books I mention above. Miller’s book on erotic magic includes Tantric and Taoist practices as well as sigil work. And Shaw’s book elaborates on the role of women and female “energy” in Tibetan Tantra, while also describing the centuries-old traditions of working with “imagined partners” (e.g. deities, dakinis, and yoginis). Wachter’s book describes sigil work and devotional practices, and models respectful ways to interact with the Spirits. Loptson’s book–ditto, but with the focus on Loki. Without realizing what I was doing at first, I’ve been combining and reassembling elements from these books into a very individual practice, which I’ve touched on in this blog.

And I am finding that working with “imagined” (conceptually “summoned”) spirits and deities is not an “imaginary” process, as what happens as a result of this work is quite real and yields tangible results. In the last 78 days of my “Loki 90-Day Spiritual Fitness Challenge,” I’ve experienced ebbs and flows, ecstacy and plateaus, and my cats not leaving my toes alone as I try to meditate. Sometimes there are sudden “jumps” to what might be a new level, but so far, I’m still uncertain as to the terrain or my ability to reliably enter and inhabit it. 78 days of sustained, daily practice is nothing, really, and yet it is the first time I’ve ever pledged myself to such an endeavor. I do intend to continue on, because the last few days in particular have been very interesting indeed. My childhood yearnings for romance and adventure could never have imagined this path.

Indian_erotic_painting_Warsaw
“Are we there yet?”

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Leaving it Right Here

Infinite Donut

Hail Flame Hair, Consumer of Modern Desserts!

Grant us your alchemy of dough and desire,

Sprinkle us with blessings even as this donut is adorned

With multi-colored sugary goodness.

Dip us in the sweet heat of the moment,

Allow us to savor life even as you savor this goodie.

Hail Silver Tongue, may this edible monstrosity grace your tastebuds,

May it provide complete satiation for your infinite appetites.

Please accept this crisp and creamy offering as a token of our devotion.

Hail Loki!

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Meowington: The Temple Cat

Meowington, The Temple Cat
Meowington, The Temple Cat

A few months ago, two people who moved abruptly to Tennessee left three cats behind in the former woodshop on my property–the one that I am now turning into the “tiny temple,” Lokabrenna (Pt.1). The talkative Siamese, Khu, was adopted by neighbors across the street. The nameless and feral grey female bolted from the rafters one morning and I haven’t seen her since. And the last cat, the tabby male named “Meowington” (I didn’t name him), is now the sole occupant.

I have four indoor cats already, and they are only now getting used to each other (the two newer cats joined my family this year). I can’t take in a fifth, even though I wish I could. Though Meowington is an extremely affectionate and personable animal, he must remain “the temple cat,” sleeping and eating in Lokabrenna (Pt.2) and free to roam during the day.

Lokabrenna_1
Lokabrenna Tiny Temple

Thanks to the miracle of polyester shower curtains, Lokabrenna is looking and feeling more like a sacred space everyday. The shower curtains disguise the walls of exposed tar paper and 2x4s. Lokabrenna is in great need of insulation and sheetrock, but I can’t afford the materials or the labor right now.

But winter is coming (where have I heard that expression before?). I’m going to have to do something to at least make a warm, cozy corner for the temple cat, who will be spending quite cold nights in this “meagre palace of Midgard.” Of course I’ll do what I can. Meowington needs neutering and rabies shots too–a big priority in this Lake County neighborhood that borders on the wild. And another big expense.

I adore cats. Meowington has already stolen my heart. But he’s one cat more than I can evacuate in case of fire (as I had to do this last summer) and I worry that he needs more companionship than I can provide. His Siamese buddy is just across the street, but a huge black and white feral cat is bullying him. And there are other outdoor hazards, from coyotes to ticks.

And yet he’s a sweet presence on the land. He reminds me why my first favorites were always tabbies (I’ve since moved on to black cats and “tuxedo cats”). Even so, I’d love to place him in a “forever home,” as he’s a loving cat who will bring joy into someone’s life.

Meanwhile, Loki seems to like having him around, as do I.

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Not-So-Solo (Neo)Tantra

Disclaimer: This is a follow-up to my previous blog: Loki Pushes My Neo-Tantra Buttons. What follows is the result of “UPG” (unverified personal gnosis) and is based on my own personal spiritual practices at this time. These practices are based on instruction I’ve had and books I’ve read, but I do not claim to be an expert in them. I am very much an experimental learner here. You, the reader, must do your own research and reading, and above all, cultivate your own discernment and “gut feelings” about what is right for you. I’ll do the best I can to provide resources and book links, as well as reasonable cautions and observations. If you decide to embark on any portion of what I describe here, know that I take no responsibilty for this decision of yours. Certain mental conditions might be contra-indicated for these potent energy practices. Check with your therapist if you have one. Likewise check with your health care providers regarding any medical conditions you have. 

Above all, please use your common sense. 


Dedication: I dedicate this blog post to my beloved teacher and “most trusted one,” the cosmic being known most frequently as “the Norse god, Loki.”

 

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Urnes Snake. Scandinavian. Source: http://lokeanwelcomingcommittee.tumblr.com/

Okay, lets get on with it! In my previous blog, I wrote: “At this point, I’d say Loki closely fits the “profile” of a deity who offers a template of transformation fueled by sexual energy–using some symbols and methods that are at least superficially comparable to Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions.” In a more recent blog, I’ve mentioned that I am deliberately embarked on a tantric-like, energetic spiritual practice that involves (among other things) engagement with a non-corporeal spiritual being. And I mention that this is not unusual in Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist Tantra. What’s different about what I’m doing is that I’m engaging in this way with a spiritual being outside the Hindu and Tibetan pantheons. But let’s set that aside for a moment. Let’s say you are curious about these practices (with or without a specific deity in mind) and want to know how this works. What follows is just ONE example of a Westernized approach.

First, please read my post Decolonizing Western Neo-Tantra on my sexologist blog, and especially go to the link to Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation by Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff, as well as the other article I mention. This will give you a sense of my history with Western Neo-Tantra and why I am no longer formally associated with the organization where I received most of my tantra instruction. More importantly, you will get an introduction to the issues of appropriation and colonization of yoga (and therefore Tantra as well). Decolonizing Yoga is an excellent website! So please, start there!

Let’s be clear again that what I am about to describe is a hybrid practice, based on my own UPG and traditions that have been modified for–and commodified by–Westerners. This doesn’t mean the practices don’t have spiritual value–they do!–but that this is part of the “genealogy” of what I convey. There is also some meshing here of sexual mysticism (e.g. Tantra) and Western sexual magic.

Now ask yourself why you are curious about these practices? There’s no right answer. Just know what it is you want. A focus on sexual mysticism implies an impulse toward transcendence and perhaps a greater union with that which is larger than humans (including perhaps a union with specific deity or deities). A focus on sexual magic implies a desire to learn to harness the energy generated by such practices in order to create certain outcomes. Or perhaps you are interested in both. (I am!)

Re-examine your capacities for discernment. What tools and techniques do you use?

Please also ask yourself how you will ground yourself if the energies become too much at any given point. How will you handle a spiritual emergency? (Perhaps you might want to read this book by Stanislav Grof.) Who is your support team? Who will have your back in such matters? Do you already have magical or spiritual things that you do in such cases? What kinds of grounding and protection “tools” are already in your toolbox? If there are things you’ve used in the past, but not recently, I suggest brushing up on them.

Give some thought also to how you will involve or communicate with your present human partner(s).

What do you do already that is yogic, tantric, magical, etc.? Can some of what you do already be incorporated into this pursuit? Or should it? Give this some thought. Some things work well together, even if they are from different traditions, others don’t.

Be prepared to do some reading (below). Then to practice the techniques solo for quite a long time BEFORE involving an “imagined partner.”


BOOK LIST — Sorry, these books are all very “gender binary.” Adjust as you see fit.

Tantra:

Jewel in the Lotus–The Tantric Path to Higher Consciousness. Sunyata Saraswati and Bodhi Avinasha, 3rd Edition. 2002. Ipsalu Tantra International. [Techniques]

The Ipsalu Formula–A Method for Tantra Bliss. Bodhi Avinasha. 2003. Ipsalu Tantra International. [Techniques]

Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism. Miranda Shaw. 1994. Princeton University Press. [Background on the Tibetan dakini tradition and the use of “imagined partners.”]

Sex Magic:

The Art of Sexual Magic. Margo Anand. 1995. Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam. [Anand also wrote a famous book on Tantra, The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, but I am not referencing it here.]

Sex, Sorcery and Spirit–The Secrets of Erotic Magic. Jason Miller. 2015. New Page Books.

Secrets of Western Sex Magic. Frater U.D. 2001. Llewellyn.


I’ve been engaged in mostly solo tantra since 2005, sometimes with large gaps in having a consistent daily practice. What I am presently doing is a diligent daily practice of (1) the following Neo-Tantra exercise, energy, and breath techniques; and (2) twenty minutes or so spent in establishing a meditative, visualized, and energetic connection with my chosen imagined partner. Taking up this daily practice again is a condition I intend to meet for at least 90 days as a way to prepare for further instruction in sex magic. It is also a way to come closer to my patron deity. Some days are juicier and more rewarding than others. Some days I wonder what the heck I’m doing. (So be prepared for ups and downs.)

I generally do the following (1) and (2) after my usual daily devotions to my deities, ancestors, etc. so I am already in a somewhat spiritually receptive frame of mind.

(1) Daily Practice: These techniques follows the simplest Ipsalu Tantra ASATE formula (using the set of practices taught in Ipsalu’s “Level One” weekends).

• Activate the body — Rishi Isometrics (Tantra Bliss, pp. 57-60; Jewel, pp. 62-66).

• Still the mind — (1) Nadi Shodhana/Alternate Nostril Breath (Tantra Bliss, pp. 169-170; Jewel, pp. 83-84). (2) Hong Sau Breath (Jewel, pp. 152-156).

• Arouse sexual energy — (1) Aswini Mudra (Jewel, p. 174). (2) Vajroli Mudra (Jewel, pp. 174-175). (These two exercises work muscles in the perineum and pelvic floor.)

• Transmute the energy — I am initiated in three forms of the Ipsalu Cobra Breath, which I’m not allowed to share, but you might want to try some of the techniques in Jason Miller’s book (pp. 53-69),  followed by meditation. Inner Fire is particularly good. Do up to fourteen rounds of whatever technique you choose.

LokiWand
Immortals Wand. I painted a picture of Loki on it.

• Enjoy — You could just dance to something wonderful for five minutes. I also use the Immortals Wand. It requires an implement to cup and hold between the palms of your hands. I have a special wand from Ipsalu Tantra International, but a simple dowel, 1 in. diameter and 10.5 inches long, would work.  3. ITI – Instruction_for_Immortals’_Wand.

The above books have lots of other practices to offer, and I encourage you to find ones that fit the above ASATE pattern. Plan on devoting about 45 minutes to all this, per day.

(2) Connection. The practice of invoking and imagining my non-corporeal partner is a little more intuitive and less scripted. I usually invite my chosen imagined partner, Loki, to be with me, but also add that if that’s not possible, I’ll still be continuing the practice with “a semblance” (as the whole point is to DO the practice). This sets a relaxed, no-strings mood that seems to work well with this particular deity. Usually he “shows up” in greater or lesser intensity.

I have some special music that I am using at the moment and I often bring in the “Vase Breath” (Miller, p. 55) or other breaths before diving into the “connecting” imagery and breath work. This consists of several different kinds of visualized/imagined/experienced breath and energy cycles between me and the “imagined partner.” There are cycles where I breathe out and imagine my partner breathing in, and the cycle connects us between the heart and root chakras (for example). Or this pattern is reversed. Sometimes there is a figure eight pattern of energy and breath (which is wonderfully snake-like). Sometimes I visualize/imagine our combining the “red drops and the white drops” of inner alchemy (Miller, p. 49). And often after spending time in these specific patterns, I relax and allow a kind of inner dance, which often consists of feelings and images of shape-changing, joyous play.

At the end, I thank my partner and usually I will “check-in” (via pendulum). This may sound daft to anyone who hasn’t worked in this way, but I feel that this is respectful and satisfies a need for closure of the session.

Working in this way allows me to feel the benefits of self-discipline, the pursuit of transcendence and magical knowledge, and additional connection with my patron deity. I have not noticed any downside to this, at all. Even so, I would caution beginners to go slowly, curb expectations, and to really go with their gut feelings about what works or doesn’t work for them.

Also, use your common sense about who you choose for your imagined partner. Tantra is frequently known as “the heroes path” because all hell generally breaks loose when you begin a Tantric practice. And people who follow Loki (often called Lokeans) may often experience some similar shake-ups. Combining the two… well… think about it! If you desire a calm(er) entry to this kind of working, choose a less potent, less fiery being to work with, at least in the beginning. But as I said earlier, do these practices first for a long time before you move beyond solo. Every extra element you add just adds to your learning curve!

What I describe above is simply my way and it may or may not be helpful for you. Good luck!

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