I’m pretty sure yesterday, December 16th, was the birthday of the late Michael Rossman, of Free Speech Movement fame and the All Of Us Or None political poster collection (which now lives at the Oakland Museum of California).
It’s been over ten and a half years since Michael died, and I miss him and his friendship. He was fascinating, infuriating, kind, abrupt, inquisitive, eccentric, deeply political, an avid reader and writer, scary smart, a devotee of entheogens and dogs–in all ways, a true original.
Here’s Michael singing “Tom o Bedlam” with the Rude Mechanicals on Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits.
We shared a tantric gazing practice that was so deep and committed that I began to refer to it as “extreme gazing.” We developed a profound and rather replicable familiarity with “subtle body sensations” or what Michael called “the gossamer realm.” In his bout with the leukemia that finally killed him, I believe these experiences helped to give him a bit of comfort. He was devoted to his family and friends and knew he would be leaving many dear ones behind, so his direct experiences of something beyond the physical body, subtle yet tangible…that might well give a dying man some hope.
I refer to Michael as a “trickster” because he was capable of mild mischief and smart ass remarks and seemed to experience, as I sometimes do, sensations of “unholy glee.” One of my favorite memories is the impromptu Bollywood style dance that we erupted into at a really dismal tantra “trance dance,” while Michael loudly declaimed a spontaneous poetic denunciation of the boring event. It was like dancing with Cyrano de Bergerac (a fictional character famous for composing a poem as he founght a duel).
Or there was the time he jumped off a double-hulled canoe in Hawai’i, stark naked, and swam to a nearby cliff and scrambled up it while the rest of us on the boat waited in astonishment. Was he ever going to come back? What had met him at the top of the cliff? We had no way of knowing what would happen next. Fortunately, he soon scrambled back down it and swam back to the boat. The captain, a Hawaiian man not happy with tourist shenanigans, was most relieved.
There was also the time he blithely asked my fourteen-year-old, “and what’s your experience with pyschedelics?” and then realized, ooops, the mom (me) was right there. Nervous laughter all ’round…
Michael’s complexity hooked me early on. And though he was in some ways a sly and dishonest lover, he became, among other things, a very reliable muse. I have written more about him than I have any other man in my life. Probably, if he were still alive, he’d cringe at that, but he was also quite capable of writing just as frankly and intimately about the women he’d known (though he never, to my knowledge, wrote about me. I escaped that fate. He had other fish to fry, and fry ’em he did.)
Perhaps my most stunning UPG moment during our gazing sessions was the realization that he was my first sexual partner ever in my first earthly body, during an early pre-human incarnation. (But I was not his first.) Such a thought had never crossed my mind before, but it slammed me good when it did.
Here is where my writing about Michael can be found:
Eros in Action (previously published in Carnal Nation, April 14, 2010).
These two poems, written about Michael, might give you an idea of some of my struggles in the relationship. The only time he directly expressed love for me was when he scribbled “but how could you not have known?” in the margins of a student study I’d done on Asperger’s Syndrome and sexuality. He was reading my draft and shredding my numbers (he was a gifted mathematician) while getting a blood and platelets transfusion. And though he hurt me quite deeply near the end, with a completely unnecessary deception, he was still a better friend than I would have imagined and I still miss him much more than I’d like to admit.
Fire-walk Stage Left
You are, my dear, at times more coy, Than any burlesque queen, Who struts the stage fan-dancing, Peekaboo.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
And I’m a front row, stage-door Jennie. With flowers at every exit and I’m fervent in applause. Hoping for a smile (oh see me too!) From the Glittering swinging Hide and seeking Whirlwind dervish–Hey! Which way’d he go?
I also know the sequined strut, The spangled life: The more I show, the less you see. Hiding it all by hanging it out in plain sight, yes? My eyes have said Too much that made it to the lips, But I can slip behind the curtain too, (peekaboo). Backstage my question is perhaps The same as yours: Who is brave enough To brave all this, and love me?
(Now you hear me, now you don’t.)
So what’s it gonna be? Your props or mine? Or do we toss ‘em all together, bonfire style, And fire-walk to stage left, Winking.
A Poem About Paid Expertise
Hey you got those Qualified Professionals For your sinks and pipes and CPU — Doncha got A Qualified Professional, To fix the stuff, That ails me too?
(It’s not the therapists who’ll do the trick. They ain’t knowing what makes me tick!)
What I want is a Qualified Professional For busted gut and leaky eyes. What I want is a Qualified Professional The kine detectin’ all kine lies.
Perhaps I need the Qualified Professional With voodoun magic and a bag of bones. Or maybe just a Qualified Professional Who’ll cleanse my aura with chants and tones.
(It’s not the therapists who’ll do the trick, They just can’t fix my kind of sick.)
If I could hire a Qualified Professional To soothe my hurts with warm clean hands, Perhaps I could find a Qualified Professional To paint my grief in colored sands.
If one had Band-Aids for my heart, As well as string and glue, Perhaps I’d find the Qualified Professional, To get me over you.
Rest in peace, Michael. I’m glad you’ve missed these last two years of extended misrule, but I’m sorry you’re not here to comment on them!
Please note: This is a blog post of UPG, preliminary thoughts, and potentially fruitful lines of inquiry.
Loki as the “mother of witches” is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of this shapeshifting deity. According to a short prophetic poem in The Poetic Edda, Loki either gave birth to an unknown number of troll-women, ogres, or witches or to one child who then became the source and ancestor of all “troll-women.” In this blog I want to talk about these mysterious daughters and descendents of Loki, the seemingly perjorative names they are given (trolls, ogres), and how they remind me of wrathful dakinis and goddesses of Tantric traditions, beings who are also associated with witchcraft and magic.
But first let’s go to the source of this story.
The Norse Prophecy Poem
This poem, “Voluspa en skamma,” is also called the “Short Volupsa,” “Shorter Volupsa,” or “Lesser Volupsa.” Hollander calls it “The Short Seeress’ Prophecy.”
I will offer up several versions of the two stanzas which concern Loki and some of his children.
Here is the Lee M. Hollander’s translation of stanzas 13 and 14 of “The Short Seeress’ Prophecy” (The Poetic Edda, 1962, pp. 127-139):
13. Gat Loki the wolf with Angrbotha,
and Sleipnir he bore to Svathilfair,
but of all ill wights most awful by far
is Byleist’s brother’s baleful offspring.
14. A half-burnt heart which he had found
it was a woman’s– ate wanton Loki;
with child he grew from the guileful woman.
Thence are on earth all ogres sprung.
The wolf of course is Fenris, and Sleipnir is the famous eight-legged horse that Loki then gave to Odin. But Hollander says in a footnote that “His most baleful offspring is either the Mithgarth-Serpent or the Fenris-Wolf” (p. 138). However, some scholars will disagree with that, as you’ll see.
Here is a translation of “Völuspá in skamma – The Short Voluspo” found on Voluspa.org (note the stanzas are numbered 11 and 12):
11. The wolf did Loki | with Angrbotha win, And Sleipnir bore he | to Svathilfari; The worst of marvels | seemed the one That sprang from the brother | of Byleist then.
12. A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay, And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;– With child from the woman | Lopt soon was, And thence among men | came the monsters all.
From the above we can get a better sense that the “worst of marvels” (aka Hollander’s “most baleful offspring”) referred to in stanza 11 may be the same being(s) discussed in greater detail in stanza 12.
‘Loki got the wolf on Angrboda, and he got Slei[p]nir on Svadlifari; one monster was thought the most baleful, who was descended from Byleist’s brother.
‘Loki ate some of the heart, the thought-stone of a woman, roasted on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked; Lopt was impregnated by a wicked woman, from whom every ogress on earth is descended.
The above translation states that the “wicked woman” is the ancestor of “every ogress on earth.”
Note: because there are complex controversies about who this “wicked woman” may be, I am not going to get into that in this blog post.
This next example is from Jackson Crawford’s translation of “Voluspa en Skamma” in The Poetic Edda–Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes (p. 166). Crawford’s translation embeds the poem within the “Song of Hyndla” (“Hyndluljoth”) which may be a combination of two separate poems. FYI: Hyndla is a “dead witch” (p. 156).
40. “Loki fathered
a wolf with Angerbotha:
He fathered Sleipnir
But there was one child
Worse than all the others
of those born to Byleist’s brother Loki.”
41. “Loki ate a woman’s heart,
He found it
On a burning Linden tree.
Loki became pregnant from that dead evil woman
And from their child
come all the troll women.”
Crawford’s translation states that Loki had one child who is the ancestor of “all the troll women.”
According to Dagulf Loptson, in Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson, trollkona is the Old Norse word for “troll women” and trolldómr is a word associated with witchcraft (pp. 71-72). While a discussion of the role trolldómr played in Old Norse culture is beyond the scope of this blog post, I will mention that I just found a long study, Trolldómr in Early Medieval Scandinavia by Catharina Raudvere, but haven’t read it yet. I look forward to becoming better informed on this topic through this and other sources. I am also now intrigued by the topic of burnt-heart offerings in Old Norse culture, as a burnt heart hanging on a linden tree seems more like an offering than anything else.
In any case, Loki’s burnt-heart offspring (whether plural or singular) may be referred to as trolls or troll women, ogres or ogresses, and witches.
Actually, this blog post was prompted by an online exchange with someone who listed Loki’s birthing of witches as one of his heinous acts. I responded that birthing witches was a good thing (hey, I’ve done it!). He responded with “yeah, but they’re ogres!” I replied that powerful female beings were often given perjorative names, therefore I still considered this as one of Loki’s happier achievements.
UPG Note: When I made a request of Loki to learn a certain sort of magic, he indicated (via pendulum) that he wanted to be counted as an ancestor of mine in order to receive the “energy” of the practices that I’d be doing. Since then, my daily devotions include honoring him as an ancestor (among other things). However, it wasn’t until today, writing this blog, that I got an “aha” moment about Loki as a “mother of witches” and connected my personal UPG with the above story. Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to see.
A Witch by Any Other Name: Wrathful Dakini Women?
One reason I’m not put off by Loki’s witch kids being called “ogres” or “trolls” is that I have a long-standing love of the Hindu and Tibetan tantra spirits known as “dakinis,” sometimes also called “sky-dancers.” They are also frequently ogre-ish. (And in the East, the taboo aspects of tantra have more to do with magic than with sex.)
Judith Simmer-Brown describes the origin of dakinis in India as “indigenous, non-Brahmanical” and as “demonic inhabitors of cemetaries and charnel grounds,” “witch-spirits of women who died in pregnancy or childbirth,” and “wrath personified.” She also says they are a class of minor deities that attend the (non-Brahmanical) god Siva (Shiva) in his form of Ganapati, as well as the goddesses Durga and Kali. (Judith Simmer-Brown, 2001. Dakini’s Warm Breath–The Feminine Prinicple in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston & London: Shambhala. p. 45).
In Simmer-Brown’s notes for her second chapter, she quotes Alain Danielou (note #8): yoginis are “represented as ogresses or sorceresses” and “dakinis are called female imps, eaters of raw flesh.” (1964, 1985. The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.)
Simmer-Brown also says, “Like their famous champions Kali and Durga, dakinis represented forces marginal to mainstream Aryan society–female, outcaste, impure–and therefore were powerful outlaws” (p. 45). And, with the rise of tantra (7th and 9th centuries C.E.), Simmer-Brown says dakinis were elevated, particularly with the Cakrasamvara-tantra text. Goddesses such as Durga and Kali were also elevated. In fact, in the Hindu tradition, the singular “absolute” could manifest with male and female aspects:
“Alone, the male aspect was impotent and could act only through his female consort (his sakti, in Hinduism), who…became an all-powerful creator and sustainer of the Cosmos.” (Simmer-Brown, p. 46).
In Tibetan Buddhism Vajrayana tradition, Simmer-Brown says the dakini has become elevated as the feminine principle of wisdom, “defined as insight into emptiness” (p. 51). In Tibet, dakinis are called khandroma, “she who goes through the sky” or “sky-dancer” (p. 51). Noting here that Loki is sometimes called “sky-walker.”
The Tibetan dakini is associated with:
“…limitless space; intense heat; incisive accuracy in pointing out the essence; an emanation body that is itself a powerful teaching tool; the power to transmute bewildering confusion, symbolized by the charnel ground, into clarity and enlightenment; and an unblinking stare from her three eyes, which galvanizes the experience of nonthought.” (Simmer-Brown, p. 51).
It’s also intriguing to note that in India, male counterparts were known as dakas and started out as “male ghouls and flesh-eating warlocks” and were later elevated as dakini consorts and spiritual mentors (Simmer-Brown, pp. 52-53). In Tibet, dakas became known as “heroes” and “fearless warriors” who were often able to obtain “full realization” (Simmer-Brown, p. 53).
The topic of dakinis and dakas is a complex one. There are elaborate classifications of dakinis, yoginis, and other magical spiritual beings, both in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Some are classified as “worldly” or “wrathful,” some are known as “wisdom dakinis.” All are powerful and potentially subversive to human norms. But the essence of these beings may be conveyed by Miranda Shaw’s phrase “numinous, sky-borne women” (1994. Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pg. 37). As for function, Shaw offers a quote from the Mal translation of the Cakrasamvara-tantra (p. 38):
Enjoyment and magical powers are obtained
At places where female adepts (dakinis) reside.
There you should stay, recite mantras,
Feast, and frolic together.
So dakinis (and dakas) are teachers and exemplars of spiritual transformation and enlightenment, in spite of their often fearsome appearances, habits, and witchy magical powers.
Transgressive divine females are also found in the group of Hindu goddesses known as the Mahavidyas. Kali (below) is probably the most famous outside India. In Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine–The Ten Mahavidyas (1997, Berkeley: University of California Press), David Kinsley dates the grouping of these goddesses to a period circa or somewhat after the 10th century C.E., though he says that some goddesses predate the grouping. Kinsley also points out that the complicated “thousand-name hymns” for each goddess contain a mix of attributes that we humans would find fierce, horrifying, nurturing, erotic, and more (p. 5).
This reminds me of the complexity we’re asked to consider in many religious pantheons. In the Norse pantheon, all the deities are a mix of desirable and undesirable traits and actions, but Loki’s complexity often seems most troublesome for those who are not his actual devotees. He has a vast array of aspects and kennings and we Lokeans eventually learn which ones to actively invoke and which are best left acknowledged but not encouraged. I imagine that devotees of Kali and some of the other Mahavidyas are somewhat in the same boat.
Loki’s Witch Baby (or Babies)
I continue to marvel at the mysteries contained in Loki’s evident association with primordial female power. Loki is often referred to as a god of “chaos,” which is one of those attributes that pushes my neo-tantric buttons. In tantric thought, the chaotic and creative kundalini force is feminine. Loki’s last name, Laufeyjarson, refers to his mother not his father–again an invocation and association of female power. Loki even gets pregnant and gives birth (more than once) and even suckles his children (if one is to believe some translations of Odin’s jab in the “Lokasenna”).
So when Loki eats a burnt heart hung on a tree (most likely an offering to a deity, either to him or to another) and becomes pregnant with an important witch ancestress or a number of witches (or troll-women, ogresses, whatever!), this is one of the most intriguing stories I can imagine. I am fascinated by a god who creates powerful female beings with his own body. And perhaps these beings have the potential for experiencing or transmitting spiritual “realization” similar to the powers of dakinis of Hindu and Tibetan traditions.
It seems to me that I could even apply a number of Simmer-Brown’s dakini attributes to Loki! Loki himself is somewhat like a daka. He could be described as a being of:
“Limitless space” — Perhaps also described as liminal space?
“Intense heat” — That god of fire thing? And my UPG about Loki and kundalini forces?
“Incisive accuracy in pointing out the essence” — Oh you trickster you!
“An emanation body that is itself a powerful teaching tool” — Shapeshifter, yeah! And any god spouse want to chime in on this one? Plus, he’s birthing witches…
“The power to transmute bewildering confusion, symbolized by the charnel ground, into clarity and enlightenment” — Well, those who follow Loki can speak to the transformative qualities of engaging with this deity…
I end with a tantric song of realization (mahamudra) quoted in Miranda Shaw’s book (p. 93):
When you see what cannot be seen,
Your mind becomes innately free–reality!
Leave the stallion, the wind, behind,
The rider, the mind, will soar in the sky.
My UPG is that something like this state could be part of the deeper “template” of transformation that Loki presents and that clues to access this state may be found both within and beyond the Norse lore. And that we may perhaps “feast and frolic together.”
When I was little, I could get lost in the rain, the waves, the sparkle of dew on the park’s grassy lawn. Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove brought me face to face with moray eels and the neon-bright children of garibaldi, California’s state fish. Sunrises and sunsets, and that sad time before both, were numinous moments for me. Anything that emerged from the fog was…magic!
And then I grew away from all that, reaching instead toward that which seemed bright and glittering and adult. And then later, all that which was in reality tarnished, ironic, and dystopian. I drew strange pictures in pen and ink, created costumes of vinyl and electrical tape, and always dreamt vividly.
Later, as a new wife and mother, the immense mystery of gestation, birth, and the unfolding of child spirit and development consumed my interest. Nothing has ever been as remarkable and humbling as this. And I worked with a will at the (usually thankless) household and parenting tasks in spite of my chronic illnesses. And I tried to bring “magic” into my children’s lives through books and special occasions.
My own longing for a sacred homeland of imagination and spirit remained. By the time I hit my early 40s, all of these submerged capacities and longings for sacred experience came busting out in a series of absurd spiritual epiphanies. I’ve written about some of them elsewhere (here and here). Some, like my Hawaiian experiences, I haven’t chronicled yet.
Today, December 15th, is actually the second anniversary of my final divorce decree. I bring that up because my marriage was so very “secular” and when the spiritual stuff came bashing through, I was embarrassed to confide in my husband. And when I finally did, well, we just didn’t understand each other anymore. I tried at one point to engage him with tantra. That was a huge failure. The rift worsened. Neither of us was capable of mending what we’d once had.
For a long time, Hawai’i was a spiritual beacon for me. That’s because those islands are so alive (so conversational!) and what remains of the cultural traditions are so wise. But while I was attempting to be true to the astonishing things and connections that happened to me there, I was also aware of how alien I was to the place. I still don’t know why I went through what I did in Hawai’i instead of having some Celtic or Norse deity call me home. But I do know that my contact with the Hawaiian islands (mostly Maui and Hawai’i Island) brought out my full desire to live daily in a sense of the sacred, to cultivate practices and relationships which would be grounding and numinous. I tried a lot of things to try to get to that place.
Once my marriage was truly over, and the paperwork was filed with a judge, I moved to Hawai’i island, Moku o Keawe, for nineteen months. Unknowingly, I moved to an area that used to be known for fearsome sorcery. The island kicked my`okole and though I tried to stay pono (appropriate, balanced) there, I was in reality a’ole pono (off balance) pretty much the whole time. I was surprised by this, as I’d prayed for years and asked permission to move there. I thought I had been granted that permission, finally, or I wouldn’t have gone. (So maybe this was a case of spirit saying, “Yeah, sure. Come on over–and then we’ll kick your ass back to California!).
I was immensely homesick for my children. I developed pervasive social anxiety. I was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.” I was frequently suicidal. And in the midst of all the turmoil (which also included the sad souring of a long-term, long-distance relationship), I was learning some important lessons. The islands were now turning me firmly toward my own ancestors and heritage. The message seemed to be, “Okay, you’ve hung out with us long enough, now go back to your own.” And that’s when I began to seriously study witchery and western magic and create a regular, daily practice of devotion and gratitude.
Finally, I was establishing a daily connection to the sacred. In a way, Hawai’i midwifed this birth for me. Magic was saving my life.
Once back in California, I continued to study magic and also took up the learning and practices of “ancestral medicine” (based on Daniel Foor’s work). I began to explore devotional work with a few Norse deities, first Frey, then Freya and Gerda. (Loki came later.) I also began to acknowledge and make offerings to the local wights and ancestors as a “thank you for letting me be here” practice. (I’m on Pomo land and I know a bit about the brutal history of this place.)
I could never go back to the merely secular life, ever again. Through magic study, mystic experiences, and devotional practices, I’ve been able to bring my child self home and simultaneously face growing old and older, and to view my eventual death in a balanced way. If I ever have another intimate human partner in my life, that person will have to be someone who already shares similar values and approaches to the sacred side of life.
And the close relationships I have with my ancestors, guides, and deities–particularly my patron Loki–will never be neglected or set aside. This is the stuff of life to me now.
As for the Loki-inspired gingerbread house, that was the brainstorm of a member of Loki’s Wyrdlings on Facebook. The minute she mentioned this as an idea to cheer up the winter holidays, I knew I had to make one.
So this sugar-encrusted gingerbread temple is today’s offering to my patron deity.
What I don’t like is this seasonal mix of utter despondency combined with perky attempts to foil the utter despondency. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. It’s most wearing.
And to make matters worse, “Solvent-based Life Forms” are also out in force. Scented people are everywhere, and scented candles, brooms, and soaps are in every store. As a result, I am even more constrained than usual in my abilty to access just about everything.
I used to like this time of year, as a child, and also when I was raising my own. As a mother, I threw myself into elaborately concocted Christmas stockings, gifts, special breakfasts, annual trips to the California Revels in Oakland, and so on. But that’s all over. One kid is a Luciferian now and the other — well, I’m not sure if I’m even going to see him and his girlfriend over the holidays. I keep asking about their plans, via texts, which are sometimes answered and sometimes not.
But I’m essentially a witchy neopagan and a Lokean who prefers to observe the Winter Solstice and Yule, so why do I even care?
It’s the loneliness. It’s that peculiar holiday loneliness that is suffered when it seems that all the rest of the world is gathered with loved ones, eating, laughing, in rooms full of colored lights and twinkly objects. There are things to do in this county, crafts fairs and such, but I can’t really enjoy the events as it is so depressing to go to them alone.
I do try to be proactive, however. Here’s how:
• Reaching out to other lonely people: Somewhat from a counseling and peer support perspective, I’ve started a Facebook group called “Lonely in Lake County CA” and have revived my BlogTalk Radio show, Love’s Outer Limits, to cover social isolation in four parts, including the last segment on Xmas Day. I’d like to do something to counteract the shame that goes along with being lonely (especially old and lonely).
• As I mentioned earlier, I used to love to make special Christmas breakfasts, so this year I decided to invite my neighbors over on Xmas morning for a breakfast open house. This has the advantage of socializing in a time slot that doesn’t conflict too much with people’s plans for Christmas dinner.
And there’s a bit of socializing. Last Sunday I drove 300 miles, round trip, in order to attend the Revels with three good friends (all Scorpios!) and we had a festive meal and modest gift exchange afterwards. And tonight the fraternal organization I’ve recently joined is also having a holiday meal. I may even try a Senior Center meal or two, on the 21st and 24th, knowing full well I’ll probably have to dodge fragrances or leave because someone starts to use harsh cleaning products to wipe down a vacated table (this happened on Thanksgiving).
I’d volunteer to serve food at a community meal or staff a warming shelter, but there’s that fragrance and chemical problem I’ve got. Other people just can’t help pouring that stuff all over themselves at this time of year and facilities tend to use the harshest possible chemicals for cleaning.
Since I have no partner, no idea if I’m gonna see either of my kids, and as I am without neopagan or Norse inspired kindred (except for online connections with Lokeans), I do feel sad about not being in a cozy hall with a blazing fire, surrounded by Lokeans and others, toasting and boasting and blótting the night away as the shadowy figures of my ancestors look on from wherever they are, nodding sagely, “yes, she is most truly our daughter,” or some such thing.
Instead I will expand upon some dim devotional ideas for Yule offerings and a ritual for Loki in the Lokabreanna Tiny Temple. And I’ll look for other ways to get through this most painful time of year. Suggestions are welcome in the comments section. Thanks!
UPG and a Trigger warning: author’s personal account of sexual abuse experienced as a minor. #Metoo story.
This is the blog I was preparing to write just as we Lokeans were hit by the “Loki in the White House”/Wild Hunt kerfuffle. I jumped in, as readers here know. It’s always been easy for me to set aside personal considerations in favor of larger causes. Tilting at windmills is a specialty of mine. I’ve been doing it ever since I was a teen: protesting dress codes at my junior high school, marching against the Vietnam War, and standing in front of supermarkets handing out flyers urging people to boycott grapes in support of farmworkers in the La Huelga strike of the 60s; as a new mom on the board of the Environmental Health Network of CA, desperately trying to get people to understand the plight of people with multiple chemical sensitivity; years spent as an ally/accomplice in solidarity with people working to restore the governance of the Hawaiian Kingdom and prevent the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on sacred Mauna Kea…and now this, throwing my lot in with the Lokeans.
This tendency of mine is pertinent to the story I want to tell you now, as you’ll see why being “silenced” is so painful and how that silencing happened for the first time.
In addition to personally relating to my patron god, Loki, as “a god of pleasure, poisoned,” I also have a deep connection to the image of Loki as someone who was forced to “shut up!” by having his lips sewn together with a piece of leather. Yes, Loki’s ordeal was the result of a wager with dwarves and their retaliation for his fast talking. I know it has nothing to do with my story, but the end result, enforced silence, is what resonates with me.
So, picture a fourteen year old girl, intellectually precocious, socially somewhat behind the curve, shy unless speaking out on behalf of a cause or against a perceived injustice. That’s me. Also extremely naive with regard to sexual matters, even though I was attending hippie love-ins in La Jolla Cove Park from the age of twelve on. I’m just going to say it, I’m not exactly neurotypical. Certain things that were obvious to my peers just didn’t compute. And I was fabulously unsupervised and unprotected.
There was a horrible period, ninth grade, when my mother moved us all away from our beloved San Diego beach towns to the San Fernando…fucking…Valley. Inland. For a confirmed beach brat, “That way lies death!” (And here I am, inland now, but at least I live within a block of a giant lake). Torn away from all my friends, and from the sea, I was despondent that year.
But, there were love-ins (of a sort) in Griffith Park and the previously unencountered Hare Krishna folks would come and dance. So sometimes I’d hitchhike there with a girlfriend or sometimes my mom would drop us off and we’d hitchhike back (see what I mean about lack of supervision?).
One day a man named Steve, who said he worked at the Los Angeles Free Press bookstore, took an interest in me. He gave me and my girlfriend a ride home. I gave him my number because he said he’d be glad to take me to the beach (I hadn’t seen the ocean in months). Wow, cool!
Remember, this guy is in his early twenties and I’m fourteen.
A week later, he picks me up at the house. My mother waves bye-bye from the door. We drive. We “get lost” on the freeway and end up in a subdivision under construction somewhere near Thousand Oaks. Okay, since we’re “lost” and not going to get to the beach, Steve says he’ll teach me to drive. He has a huge, old 1930s-1940s car like something out of an R. Crumb comic (which I hadn’t read yet, otherwise I would have been more sophisticated). It has a huge backseat. He stops the car and just as I’m preparing to scoot over to the driver’s seat to get behind the wheel, he literally throws me in the back seat before I even know what’s happening.
Before I know it, his pants are unzipped and his “thing” is shoved down my throat. He holds my head in place, pretty hard, until he’s finished. Now, while this is going on, I’m baffled, “What is this?” (I’d never heard of such a thing.) “Do people even do this?” and even, strangely, “Did my mother ever do this?” These intellectual wonderments probably saved me from further harm, as it was a form of dissociation that allowed me to seem passive and not a threat after the fact.
In fact, this worked so well that he drove me home instead of burying me under a pile of construction debris. So yay, one point for me. And then, as I stumble into the house, still dazed, to take my place at the family dinner table, my mother says of my abuser, “he has such a good face!”
Yeah, Mom, you should have seen what he just did to mine. I could have said it, but I didn’t. Instead I ate my iceberg lettuce salad with the Kraft Italian dressing sold as a powder in a pouch and you mix it “fresh” in a special Kraft bottle with a plastic lid. The salad tasted real funny for some reason. I didn’t tell her what happened for two years.
Now my mother had already had another child molested, one who was sent on unsupervised camping trips with a “nice man” who went around to all the schools and showed travel slide shows to kids. She should have known better than to let me go off in a car with a total stranger. And I was fourteen and as I said, naive as can be.
No, I didn’t tell her. Instead I started to go silent. That “thing” shoved into my mouth stayed with me for a long time as a gag. I couldn’t speak on my own behalf, or explain my truth or my feelings, for a long time. I started wearing a woolen, hand-embroidered pea coat in all weather, including the San Fernando heat, wrapping it around me for protection. (I was so glad when we left L.A. and moved back to San Diego!)
My body and spirit had received a message from the universe, a forcible “shut up,” and it took a long time to begin to work my way out of it. And over the next several years I did some really weird things to regain my agency, my soul, my own disrupted eroticism, and power of voice. Working as a pregnancy counselor at a free clinic (age 16-18), and as a stripper (age 18-21), and then later getting into punk rock were the most healing things I did.
As a pregnancy counselor, I learned to advocate for women in crisis (and to examine the systems that put them there and the predatory sexism that landed me in that back seat of a car).
As a stripper I learned that I was in charge of my own sexual and gender “performance” and could play with it and manipulate it at will. (This was a creepy venue for personal growth and transformation, but working at “the clubs” also allowed me to support my suicidal childhood sweetheart while trying to attend nursing school.)
After John killed himself, I left San Diego again, this time for San Francisco. I plunged straight into the glorious scene centered around the Mabuhay Gardens. My breakfast of champions was cathartic punk snark. I snacked on bizarre juxtapositions. I dined on creative mutations of anger. And I dreamt of a new world while I worked odd jobs and spent my spare time as a dystopian “wearble art” designer whose motto was “garbage worn as fashion because that’s all that’s left.” It was a wonderful time of creating a slightly scary, oddball gender persona, combining colored duct tape with hand-drawn ameobas, and orange 1950s capri pants with turquoise heels. (Back then, when the scene was still new, punk girls didn’t get much street harassment. Joy! Bliss!).
However, the effects of trauma persist. The damage to my neck showed up in my early twenties as two deteriorating cervical vertebrae. I still live with that pain.
Men with mustaches and the name “Steve” are still triggering. (Ironically, I married a Steve and had children with him. I took me awhile to get past his first name, frankly.)
And like most people in marginalized categories, I have had frequent struggles with efforts to silence me.
I call this category of blog post “Bio Hazard” as a reference to my chemical sensitivity struggles as well as an acknowledgment of the many hazards of autobiographical writing. There will always be a few experiences I will never write or speak about. That I can now write about this one, fifty years later, startles me.
This is one of the unexpected joys of having survived this long. I no longer care very much what most people think. My career as a sexologist is winding down, due to not having clients in this area. My marriage officially ended in two years ago. So I care not, except for my children, some close friends, and the community of my new Lokean “kin.”
So perhaps you might see why Loki’s sewn lips have a special significance to me, because he knows what it’s like to be forcibly silenced–and to suffer thusly–and he knows what it’s like to have those bonds removed. I trust the Lokeans I’ve engaged with (online) because I think most of us know what it means to be silenced and shunned. I am pretty sure we’re not going to do that to each other. I hope that our god will take care that we don’t stray into that kind of hypocrisy.