River Women, Bright Fathers, and Watchers

The ancestors and the dead are much on my mind these last few days. This is coming up in so many ways.

For one thing, I just began reading Micheal W. Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, which I ordered after reading one of his articles (he writes for The Guardian, among other places). In this book, Twitty explores his ancestry, the connections between American culinary history and chattel slavery, and foods of “the South” (there are many “Souths” and many layers to each). This book is too deep and complex for me to describe it in any way that does justice to it. Just know that it is amazing and we should all buy and read it. (I’m also giving a copy to my youngest son, an aspiring chef.)

This morning I also read an article published in Nov. 2018 in Borderlands (an e-journal): “Mimicry, Mockery and Menace in Swedish International Adoption Narratives,” by Richey Wyver, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Auckland. The author states:

“I will examine the process of the construction of the international transracial adoptee as a ‘mimic’ Swede in adoption narratives, and discuss what this mimic identity entails and implies.”

It’s the cruel predicament of the “mimic identity” with all its colonial and racist impositions, as inflicted on foreign adopted children, that makes me wonder if Daniel Foor’s teachings of “ancestral medicine” could be one way some adult adoptees could deal with the emotional impacts of the conditions described in the article. (This train of thought, however, was not within the scope of the article.)

Descendents Also Make Me Think of Ancestors

My two children have their birthdays in the next week and a half. One will turn twenty-three and the eldest will turn thirty. When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I became passionate about genealogy. There was something about gestation that made me long for “roots.” I also wanted to find out more about my own father, a mysterious and elusive “deadbeat dad” (now among the ancestors himself).  I spent many hours at the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I tracked some of my father’s movements through city directories of San Diego and Honolulu. I also discovered my connection to many New England families, especially around Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

The good news: it was a lot easier to research my family tree as so much has been done already. (New Englanders seem quite obsessed with ancestry.) The bad news: a direct line to  family histories of slave ownership and/or economic benefits from chattel slave economy via cotton trade in the North, as well as complicity in the displacement and genocide of First Peoples. (I’d figured this out in a general way, much earlier in my life, so this wasn’t a complete shock. But now this is more “up close and personal.”)

Every person alive has a complex ancestral history, with villains, heroes, “nobility” and “peasants,” family feuds and bitter wars, all rolled into the coils of their DNA. Our ancestral memories are nightmares. My Scottish Highland ancestors were persecuted by my English ones. Ditto for the Irish and the Welsh. My English ancestors may have suffered at the hands of the Norse ones. How many ancestors died in plague epidemics, wars, and childbirth? And certainly my more recent ancestors were active participants one of the cruelest periods of history–one that is still ongoing.

So while I delight in finding new names for my family tree, it is the delight of a satisfied sleuth, not the delighted pride of ancestry (except for a possible link to Alfonso the Slobberer, a King of Spain, whose nickname does make for a good story…).

So this brings me back again to “ancestral medicine,” a method of healing lineages. The first key premise is that the dead can change, but only with the help of ancient, robust ancestors who are “well and fully seated” (Foor’s language). The other key premise is that the dead can and do enjoy contact with us, the living.

In the method Foor teaches, we begin with a meditative effort to connect with one or more of those fully seated ones. We then ask for help and healing for the lineage, and protection for ourselves while it’s done. We begin to nurture our ties with our ancestors by making offerings or simply talking. We also get out of the way so the wise and ancient ones can bring their healing forward through generations of descendents, all the way to the living and our own descendents. And we continue to nurture our ancestral relationships.

It’s pretty simple and straightforward. One of the beauties is that I don’t have to deal directly with my late father, and you don’t have to deal with your abusive Uncle Roger (or whomever). We can leapfrog over contact with the slave owners and Indian killers–we know they are there–but we don’t have to try to heal their sickness ourselves. We let the wiser ones deal with that. In time, and with our prayers, offerings, and nurturing of ancestral relationships, the ancient ones facilitate a process of (what I imagine is) some kind of responsibility, reconciliation, restitution, forgiveness, and peace.

My Own Lineages

In the last two years, I’ve completed work with three out of my first four lineages (with another four to go). My father’s father’s line (James Marsh, 1854-1938) was the first, and I have to say, is my favorite so far (which surprised me no end). This is the lineage of the “Bright Fathers”–going way back with a sort of flavor that might be Welsh, might be Norse, but is undoubtedly a mixture of all sorts of ancestors. There is a feeling of well-lit halls, feasting, music, jokes, and hardiness. I know, it sounds somewhat stereotypical, but that’s how the first willing ancestor appeared to me. Actually, he wasn’t the “first” I contacted in a light trance. There was a rather dour figure who just pointed me on my way before I “met” up with the Bright Father figure. The dour figure seemed almost “on watch.”

My mother’s mother’s line (Bessie Edmonds Rowell, 1875-1928) came next. In a light guided visualization, I “met” a cluster of fairly silent “River Women” in a landscape of high, mostly unforested hills. Of course, there was a river, and there was a sense of knowledge of water birds and riparian herbs, and the lessons of moving water, but the River Women are not very communicative yet. That’s okay. I haven’t asked them for much either, but I feel comforted by their presence.

The “Watchers and Archers” of my mother’s father’s line (Swift Milne, 1878-1913) were men of the forest. They felt quite ancient, perhaps Pictish, perhaps not. When I first connected with them, one shot an arrow which landed next to me. By picking it up, I signaled that I was asking for communication. This lineage contains some major trauma: my grandfather’s brain tumor, caused by watching the first nuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll; and Swift Milne’s death in the great flu epidemic of 1918. The women and children who survived these deaths had a hard time.

The line now in progress is my father’s mother’s line (Francis Kerwin, 1878 or 79-1953), part of my Irish heritage. I haven’t put in much time with this lineage lately, though I honor it with the all others in my daily rituals. Mostly what I’ve sensed here so far are green hills, standing stones, small houses, and an old woman who flicks away troubles with her cleaning rag. She’s rather “no-nonsense.” There is also a connection to the Celtic Brigid/Brigit, either as her earlier pagan self or later Christian saint or both.

Of the remaining lineages, two were healed without my active request, just due to their proximity to another lineage. The Bright Fathers did work that encompassed the lineage of James Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth Hutt or Houghton. And the River Women did work on the lineage of Bessie’s husband, William Fraser Rea (1876-1941). So that really just leaves me with Swift Milne’s wife, Elizabeth Harding (1880-1974) and her lineage, and the lineage of Henry Baxter Hodson (1868-1943), Francis Kerwin’s husband.

The idea is that we are less likely to unconsciously replicate family traumas and negative family patterns if we’ve accomplished healing for our ancestors. Ideally I would have done this work before having children, but of course that didn’t happen. However at this time of my life, ancestor work has become part of “getting my affairs in order.” Instead of leaving behind a “clean-looking corpse” (James Dean’s quote), I aspire to leave behind a cleaner collection of less problematic lineages so that my kids have less to deal with. It would be great if one of them got interested and began working on their father’s side too. It could happen. Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing, was recently assigned in the master’s program my oldest is attending.

Not Just One Way, But…All Our Ancestral Roads Lead Back to Africa

Every person alive today shares the mitochondrial DNA of one woman from Africa, from about 150,000 years ago. She is known as the “Mitochondrial Eve (also mt-Eve, mt-MRCA)” and “is the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all currently living humans.”

And so I note that the genealogy of Daniel Foor’s teaching comes from his learning in “European pagan paths, Native American ways, Mongolian shamanism, and West African Ifá/Òrìṣà tradition” and that he is “an initiate of Ifá, Ọbàtálá, Ọ̀ṣun, and Egúngún in the lineage of Olúwo Fálolú Adésànyà Awoyadé of Òdè Rẹ́mọ and student of Yorùbá culture” (from his bio.) Africa…

Obviously the hybrid method Foor teaches isn’t the only way to connect with ancestors. Let’s swing back to Michael Twitty. In his book he combines genealogy, history, and explorations of food and old-time cooking methods. He writes:

“I dare to believe all Southerners are a family…We are the unwitting inheritors of a story with many sins that bears the fruit of the possibility of ten times the redemption. One way is through reconnection with the culinary culture of the enslaved, our common ancestors, and restoring their names on the roots of the Southern tree and the table those roots support” (preface, xvii).

If that’s not a quest for healing–ancestral healing–I don’t know what is. And here I imagine what a lovely and potent thing it could be to go as far back as our Mitochondrial Eve, and implore her good offices in sending her healing to the rest of us, her unruly children, down through the long millenia.

In addition to other practical and spiritual benefits of doing this work, I’m not likely to have grandchildren. So why not end my own ancestral story with healing of all those who have gone before, and with a healing extended to my kids, the very last descendents?

44193241_10156593692470242_4928732631543054336_n
This meme was posted on the Ancestral Medicine forum group on Facebook. I just had to share it.

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Sunrise Ceremony

Something unseen prodded me awake at 4:11 this morning. I wasn’t going to argue. So off I went after feeding the cats, to a ceremony of forgiveness, honoring the Pomo women, children, and elders who’d been massacred at Badon-napoti (“Old Island’), later known as “Bloody Island.” This was the 20th year of this event, organized and hosted by the descendents of a six year old girl who had survived the slaughter by hiding in the reeds around the island. Her name was Ni’ka (Lucy Moore).

The promised storm had not yet arrived here in Lake County, CA so the curving road north was blessedly dry. I hoped the ceremony would be as well–I had no raincoat, no umbrella. I felt sleepy and solemn and spoke to my deities and ancestors as I drove, stating my intentions for participation: “be quiet, be reverent, stay in sacredness, honor the local people.” I asked my ancestors to attend the ceremony with me.

The gathering was on Reclamation Road. Once I turned off Highway 20, I felt like I was driving in Hawai’i again, on one of those rough country roads that require about ten miles an hour, fifteen at most. I arrived in the last darkness before dawn. I parked the car and took out my flashlight. I needn’t have bothered. It wasn’t long before sunrise.

I stood on the cracked asphalt road. Mr. Clayton Duncan, Lucy Moore’s great grandson, was speaking on the microphone.  I knew this because I’d heard him on KPFZ FM. We had never met. When I wasn’t looking at the speakers or singers, I was looking at the oaks on the hillsides and at the small California poppies at my feet. I wondered if I’d see them open.

There were beautiful songs, stories, and a visiting Tibetan woman conducted a healing ritual. I closed my eyes. I wanted so much to sit down, but I stood and probably swayed a bit as I listened. I had a stupid busy mind though and I had to struggle with my tendency to veer off into all sorts of needless trivia. It was better after I closed my eyes. I eventually felt entranced and a little more grounded. There was a moment when I felt my cat, Meowington, around me.

There’s a deep generosity in this ceremony. I think that’s all I can say about it right now. I need to give what happened time to work its way in. However I will also say there was deep generosity in the nourishing breakast provided to us at the gymnasium down the road, and the heart-felt circle of introductions and prayer which preceeded our meal. People had been cooking since long before dawn…

I will go again next year. I feel a lot of gratitude for this experience.

SunriseCeremonyMay18

Signal Boosts! Ancestral Lineage Healing Intensive & Pu’uhonua O Wai’anae

Signal Boost One

I am breathless with wonder. Through a wonderful shaping of the world’s wyrd, two of my most important spiritual practice teachers are collaborating in a workshop on O’ahu, taking place April 24th through the 28th. I am talking about Kumu (teacher) Ramsay Taum, my ho’oponopono instructor from years back, and Dr. Daniel Foor, who shares ancestral healing techniques that have become immensely valuable to me over the last couple of years. The knowledge which both men carry and share is in many ways complementary in intention. I sense a fruitful synergy in the making.

I wish I could be there myself to marvel at how these two will weave together their teachings and their own inate wisdom, along with the contributions shared by the workshop participants, but I have surgery coming up. Instead I will marvel from afar!

Daniel Foor interviews Kumu Ramsay in this video, just posted a few days ago. Please watch it to get a feeling for the two teachers and for a sample of the vast, yet intimate, terrain which may be covered.

Podcasts and audio interviews with Daniel Foor may be heard here.

I am also quite happy to signal boost this event as Dr. Foor is quite sensitive and responsive to issues of colonization, cultural appropriation, privilege, and social justice. He is a humble man and has spoken honestly about the hard learnings that come when approaching another culture or spiritual tradition.


From the workshop announcement and registration page:

“We acknowledge this event is taking place on the occupied ancestral lands of diverse Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) peoples. We encourage participants to become educated on the history of the land, including the illegal occupation of Hawai’i, and to support Hawaiian-run organizations working to support traditional wisdoms and cultural wellness.”


Signal Boost Two: And Now Please Support the Pu’uhonua o Waia’nae community.

The organizers of the above workshop encourage people to support Hawaiian-run organizations. Since the workshop is being held in Wai’anae, a community on the west side of O’ahu, what better place to start than Pu’uhonua O Waia’nae! (A pu’uhonua is a place of refuge.)

Man with happy kid in shopping cart, man with guitar outdoors, woman with young boy outdoors, text.
Image description: Upper Left-Back of shirtless Hawaiian man with glass, happy Hawaiian kid sitting in shopping cart watching him. Upper Right-Shirtless Hawaiian man with guitar, outside. Tents behind him. Lower Left: Woman and young boy facing forward. Woman hugging boy with one arm. Both smiling. Outdoors. Lower Right–Text “Pu’uhonua O Wai’anae.”

From the website: “Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae not just the oldest and largest houseless village on the Hawaiian island of Oʻahu, but a visionary laboratory for community that I think holds significant importance for all of us.”


You can donate to Pu’uhonua O Waia’nae here. Your donation will help to purchase land and other necessary things for the Kanaka Maoli who are creating a “place of refuge” and ongoing community in Wai’anae.

And if you are willing, please signal boost the work of the people at Pu’uhonua O Waianae on social media. You can use #AlohaLivesHere and a link to their donation page, above.

Thank you so!

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A Demon Named Amy?

Because I am willing to write and talk about the unknown, the unseen, and the inexplicable, many people in my life have told me tales of transformative incidents–often spontaneous, often happening outside a specific spiritual context or structure. Things happen. The clouds part, the rock speaks, the ancestors beckon, the spirit descends…or erupts! Yesterday I sat in a homey Lake County cafe–nothing pretty or upscale about it–eating (rather greasy) hashbrowns and one egg. (The salsa was good, though!) I was with a new friend and collaborator and we began to tell chicken-skin stories. Originally our topic had been the Norse gods, specifically Odin and Thor, but we soon branched off into personal epiphanies and occurences.

All over the world, people have these experiences. Some talk about them, some don’t. Some, like me, blog about them. But it took me years to get the nerve to do it.

Several years ago I began to see certain incidents in my life as signposts, perhaps planted by me before I was born. (I know, sounds weird). But there have been too many incidents, too many coincidences, to not have developed this odd little personal philosophy. Trouble is, do the signposts mean “go thataway” or “make a U turn, now?” Do they appear at entries or exits? Or both? This is a problem in discernment.

Two concentric circles with symbolic line drawing in the center. The letters A-M-Y are between the two circles.
Seal of Solomon for Goetic Demon #58, Amy aka Avnas. Image Description: Two concentric circles with symbolic line drawing in the center. The letters A-M-Y are between the two circles.

Earlier this week I came across one such “signpost” which is surely too durned odd and obvious even for me to disregard! But is the message stop or go? What am I to make of stumbling across the mention of a fiery Goetic demon named “Amy” (or “Avnas”) who is (according to one source) a Scorpio (like me) and rules the period Oct. 23-Nov. 1? (November 1st is my birthday.) Though in the U.S. we usually think of Amy as a female name, this demon usually shows up first as a flame, then as a dude, though he can appear as a woman too. He is said to teach astrology and “reveals treasures, bestows familiars, and provokes authority figures to give a positive judgment.”

As a self-proclaimed witchy person, I have to admit I just haven’t been drawn to Goetic demons. I’ve been more interested in other categories of beings, mostly in Celtic and Northern traditions. But I know people who work with the demons, like them, revere them, and who are respectful of them. And I am respectful of the knowledge and advice of these friends.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, the word “demon” has instant negative connotations of evil. They are imagined as horrifying, malicious, and perilous. But the original meaning of the word was more often positive or neutral. In Ancient Greek daimōn meant spirit or genius, or a kind of guardian spirit. In Latin, daemon or daemonium could mean deity or a lesser spirit (sometimes evil).

Now, there are forms of peril probably attached to most kinds of magic, just as there’s peril associated with all aspects of life in general. It doesn’t do to be stupid or naively romantic about motorists, food expiration dates, or unseen beings. I look both ways when I cross the street, so when I stumbled across this Goetic signpost in the middle of my Lokean life, I started looking both ways (as well as four directions, up and down, and inside and out). And of course I utilized my trusty search engines and pendulum to discover more.

So, I found info like this: Amy is number 58 in the roster of Goetic demons, is a fallen angel (therefore in Lucifer’s camp), and is an Earl or President of Hell. Amy also rules mediumship and possession, other forms of trance work (I’m a hypnotist), and likes snakeskin offerings. (I immediately thought of my gold snakeskin ankle boots from the 80s, carefully preserved, worn on stage during an Iggy Pop concert at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco…). And there was a bunch of other stuff I don’t understand, not being familiar with this tradition.

Little_Women-Demon-_frontispiece-1

And here I pause to giggle to myself. I never liked the name “Amy.” My mother said she named me after Amy March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But now I dig it. I much prefer the idea that my mother was unconsciously and mystically prompted to name her firstborn after a Goetic demon–one who is sure to share my taste in boots–than the rather spoiled little sister of the peerless Jo March. Actually, the above could explain a lot about my dysfunctional upbringing and social difficulties.

Though I now have some information about the Goetic Amy, I have no idea yet what it means in the context of witchery, my mostly Northern devotional practices, and my life. Of course I check in with Loki (via pendulum and divination). The response is cautious/positive about my learning more, but the pendulum swing says they “get along.”

And there may be an ancestral connection as well. My context is the Ancestral Medicine practice from Daniel Foor. In his teaching, one of the discoveries we can make about our lineages are the spiritual traditions which were/are important for those ancestors, including those from pre-Christian times. For example, my father’s father’s line seems connected to Norse traditions and even to Loki. Another example: I recently started working with my father’s mother’s lineage. The Irish/Celtic Brigit showed up as being important here, which makes sense because this line brings my Irish ancestry. As a result, I’ve begun to add Brigit to my daily devotions. So it may be that the Goetic Amy was important to one or more of my ancestors. I’ve got some divinatory indications for that but they are too vague to say any more at this time.

So I’m giggling again. “Amy? It’s a family name.” And honestly, if this demon is known as a “president from hell,” he can’t be any worse than the one that’s currently seated you know where.

We’ll see where this goes.

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Where Am I With the Ancestors?

Young Ancestors

My life has been spent experiencing and responding to epiphanies. There have been many. Sometimes they have created massive upheaval. Other times they simply add understanding and nuance to what I’m already learning. Back in my punk rock phase, at the time when I was shifting into my feminist space activist mode (1980’s), I was suddenly struck by the epiphany of feeling myself as an “ancestor” in the making, as a link in a chain of being (though I didn’t have children yet). This prompted the making of two issues of a ‘zine, Young Ancestors, which I wrote and illustrated.

By the end of that decade I was married and expecting my first child. During my pregnancy I spent countless hours doing genealogical research in the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I had a deep spiritual hunger to know my people before bringing another life into the world. My mother’s lines were easy to research as there were dozens of early New England ancestors and tons of books and records. (New Englanders are apparently obsessed with genealogy.) My father’s people were harder to find as many of them were newer arrivals from Ireland and Wales. But I was able to track my missing father and some of his family through city directories in the midwest and San Diego. By the time my first child was born, I had a pretty good grasp of my genealogy, with some lines traced as far back as the 1300’s and more.

I found marvelous books which gave me scads of dead relatives, such as The Descendents of Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. My mother even had a two volume copy of Michigan Pioneers, which gave me the abolitionist Swifts who helped to settle Palmyra, NY and then Flint, MI. I found Richard and Elizabeth Warren of the Mayflower. I had Rowells from Candia and Orford, NH. I found so many ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany–many of them settler-colonists who were most assuredly conveying a heritage of atrocities such as Indian genocide and African chattel slavery. Though my understanding of this heritage has deepened over the years, even at that time I was aware that my genealogical chart held horrible secrets and privileges gained at the expense of others. Still, I was eager for the knowledge of “my people” even as I rued their deeds.

Later I would also do a bit of research into my (now ex-) husband’s family tree, to learn more about the heritage that my children shared. My mother also was bitten by the genealogy bug, but some of what she’s logged within Ancestry.com is confused and confusing, and possibly contaminated by sketchy, not well-documented work of others.

Ancestral Medicine

But it wasn’t until 2017 that I started actively working my ancestors, thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, Ph.D., and his book Ancestral Medicine–Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. I also took his first online course in Ancestral Medicine. These content-rich classes have enabled me to connect with my ancestors in a dynamic way–requesting healing for each great-grandparent lineage from very distant “well and truly seated” ancestors who are capable of assisting the more recent dead to release inflicted and experienced traumas. This is truly healing work and also meshes well with my Norse-infused spiritual practices, as ancestors are quite important in these (reconstructed) traditions. Foor encourages working with the least messy line first, then moving gradually to the ones which are more traumatized.

Daniel Foor’s methods enable me to leapfrog over dozens of traumatized generations in order to make contact with much earlier “well and robust” ancestors, in order to bring healing to the generations who have experienced and/or inflicted more recent horrors of conquest, religious conversion, warfare, genocide, torture, disapora, starvation, plague, and slavery, as well as personal family traumas (abuse, suicide, alcoholism, divorce, neglect, etc.). “The dead can change” is a fundamental concept here. I experience Foor’s work as a form of ho’oponopono (see below), resulting in forgiveness and healing (though not forgetfulness).

This is also an opportunity to create an active, ongoing relationship with my ancestors.  As I do so, I learn more about the blessings and gifts of each lineage. I have a daily routine of offering poems and acknowledgement to my ancestors and a weekly practice of making other sorts of offerings. I speak with them also, thanking them and asking them for blessings for me and my children.

At present, I have completed the initial stages with three lineages, and have just begun working on a fourth (my father’s mother’s line). There will be a total of eight in all. During the ritual meditations and imaging, lead by Daniel Foor via video in the online course, I have made contact with either individual ancestors or clusters of ancestors. Each line has a very distinct “flavor.”

The contact in my father’s father’s line is someone I call “Bright Father.” He seems to radiate a robust golden joy, a “feasting in the hall” sort of presence. He “told” me (via meditative journeying and pendulum divination) that his line “comes from the stars,” perhaps from Sirius. This is the most Nordic-feeling line so far, but there is also some link to Wales and a long wide beach backed by hills or mountains. I have a strong feeling of poetry, song, and stories from this line. Incidently, several months ago Loki agreed to function as an ancestor for me and he has since indicated that he is connected to this line.

My mother’s mother’s line yielded a group of mysterious “River Women” and a feeling of a mountain landscape with few trees, perhaps the Scottish highlands (or perhaps not).  They are more remote and quiet and I probably have to do more work to cultivate my relationship with them, to learn more from and about them. The River Women feel quite witchy to me.

My mother’s father’s line manifested as several “Watchers and Archers” in a forest. One of them shot an arrow at me when I first approached. The arrow was meant to land next to me (not in me) and when I picked it up in my mind’s eye, I held it aloft to make my request for healing. I felt these particular ancestors may have been Pictish. The main feeling I experience with them is a sort of wariness, though they are also willing to work with me on the lineage healing.

I have written poems for each of these three lines and I recite them daily. Now I am in the process of writing a fourth. My father’s mother’s line has a lot of Irish and it seems the most mysterious for some reason. I also have a strong sense that Brigid is important (both as a pagan goddess and later as the saint). During one of the meditation journeys, the phrase and image of “Brigid of the long blue dress” appeared in my mind. There is much more work I need to do with this lineage and it is possible that I’ll be adding Brigid to my devotions.

I am devoted to this process of ancestral medicine as a way to help my children heal from residual trauma in my own lineages. (They’ll have to cope with their father’s stuff themselves.) It is also a way to prepare for my own death and transition. It feels like a developmentally appropriate work.

Ho’oponopono

Years ago, I studied the Hawaiian process of Ho’oponopono with Kumu (teacher) Ramsay Taum, of O’ahu. I helped to organize two weekend workshops for him in Berkeley, and also took the workshop once more on Maui. (If you google “ho’oponopono,” please do NOT take the Joe Vitale method as being in any way authentic–it is an appropriated and commodified travesty of the traditional practices.)

When I began working with Daniel Foor’s methods, I quickly saw that this was a form of forgiveness and healing as profound as what I’d learned with ho’oponopono–and also quite complementary in intention and method. Through both methods, one can reach back through time and forward into the future, effecting subtle but powerful changes in spiritual and ancestral realms.

In this video of Ramsay Taum, talking about the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, which he teaches as well as ho’oponopono, there is also a discussion of our relationships with our ancestors. Ramsay Taum says:

“We have to make sure that everyone is in alignment…and when you’re out of alignment, when you step away from your kuleana, your responsibility and obligations, your ancestors have no identity because the line stops with you, see? So when you’re lost and you’re out of balance and you step away from your responsibilities and from your place in community then interesting enough your ancestors, your line stops, there’s no more future… Everything that they’ve [ancestors] done–good, bad, or indifferent–we own that and they’ve created that space and we’re now standing at the end of the line and we just follow their footsteps. And the challenge for us living in today’s society is that you know we say that, ‘I’m following in the footsteps of our ancestors. I take comfort in that. I take pride in that.’ But when we get to the end where they stopped it’s beholden upon us to take the next step for the next generation. It takes individuals who are standing at the edge of the line to walk, to take the next step because now our ancestors, their legacy lives on through our steps, but more importantly we are now setting direction for the next generation. So when I step back in line, now I am giving my descendents identity… Our daily practice should include that meditation, that thought, what will my great grandchildren, seven generations from now, say about us, about me, what did I do? So that really speaks to kuleana.” 

Working within the methods of ancestral medicine and ho’oponopono, I do truly own what my ancestors have done but take steps to cleanse the residual trauma–allowing the dead to change and reach their full potential as ancestors. That seems to me to be part of my own kuleana. And when I do this, I can walk without hesitation, transforming the path ahead now that the previous “footsteps” have been healed and cleansed.

As I once realized that I was an ancestor in the making, doing this makes perfect sense. With this practice, perhaps I can ease the path ahead for my own descendents, releasing them from the burdens of ancestral traumas.

Can’t hurt, could help…immensely.

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Magic for Settler Colonists

Prelude: A definition of settler colonialism.

My Introduction

It is appropriate to begin with a self-introduction and a brief genealogy. It is a courtesy.

I am Amy Rebecca Marsh. I come from a long line of settler colonists on Turtle Island. My mother is Chloe Alexa Milne and my father (deceased) was Richard Edgar Marsh. I was born in Mesa, Arizona but grew up in San Diego (here is a timeline for indigenous people of San Diego). Coronado was my home for most of my early childhood. It was once an island. Then we moved to La Jolla. A house I lived in, across from La Jolla Cove, was later torn down. I heard a native burial was discovered there as a result.

Eventually I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. My two children were born there. I lived there for many years before I realized it was an Ohlone place and that the bay was surrounded by numerous sacred shellmounds and the remains of shellmounds.

I have also lived in the Hawaiian islands. When I was four (1959-60), I lived for several months on O’ahu, in the Waikiki Ahupua’a of Honolulu, on Lipe’epe’e Street near the Ala Wai Canal. From January 2016 to September 2017, I was living in the Maku’u Ahupua’a (Pahoa, Puna District) on Moku o Keawe (Hawai’i island). O’ahu and Hawai’i islands are part of the unlawfully occupied Hawaiian Kingdom.

I currently live in Lake County, California, on Pomo land, not far from the Elem Indian Colony, on the continent known as Turtle Island. Personally, I feel like a child of the Pacific Rim. Genealogically and historically, I have come understand my settler colonist status.

AncestryDNAStory-Amy-180318-2My own genealogical research has revealed ancestors who are English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, German, and Spanish. My genetic test results are overwhelmingly English and “British Isles,” with some Iberian Penninsula, Finnish and Scandinavian. Many of my American ancestors were among the earliest European colonists. Two of my confirmed ancestors were Mayflower passengers (Richard and Elizabeth Warren) and were most likely complicit in the massacres of indigenous people that form the hidden story of the American Thanksgiving Holiday. I am sure that other ancestors must have owned slaves and that some profited in the north from trading southern cotton. A few of my later ancestors, the Swifts, were abolitionists and had their homes burned down for being so outspoken. I can point to them with pride. The others? Not so much. Who knows what cruelties they accomplished, with pious words on their lips?

My Magical “Genealogy” Doesn’t Match My Physical Genealogy

Given the above, I have no idea why my most extraordinary, spontaneous, magical and spiritual experiences happened in and around Hawai’i. I have no genealogical connection at all, though my father and maternal grandfather were both familiar with the Pacific Ocean and at least somewhat appreciative of its many peoples and cultures. My grandfather was devastated by witnessing the atomic test at Bikini Atoll (from the deck of a Navy ship) and died of a radiation-caused brain tumor years later. My father sailed all over the Pacific, dodging child support. He lived in Guam for awhile. I do know that.

And I have always loved islands…

But none of the above explains why Maui and Hawai’i islands were among my most important spiritual catalysts and teachers from 2000-2017, as well as the source of some very painful lessons, including lessons pertaining to my status as a settler colonist. It would have been much easier for me (and for others around me) if my spiritual “groove” had remained congruent with my ancestry and cultural background. But then, I wouldn’t have had this ongoing learning.

I’ll write about those Hawai’i experiences some other time. This blog post concerns the necessity of acknowledging settler colonist status and issues while engaged in the neopagan spirituality, including the pursuit of magic (which may or may not include a devotional relationship with foreign gods and spirits). This isn’t about being “PC.” It’s about understanding the true nature of our histories, our genealogies, and our continued impact on the lands and peoples we’ve displaced. It’s a precursor to partaking in a grand healing of our Earth and our relationships with other living beings–the most important magical work we can do.

Things I Am Still Learning and Sometimes Still Forget

• Wait to be invited or at least be a good guest. Check your privileges.

The accident of birth and family placed me in California. There’s not much I can do about that. However, when I moved to Hawai’i, I was there to be with my former partner, a part-Hawaiian activist. I thought he had invited me to come and that we would finally make a life together on the same land mass. When the love affair soured, I had no excuse for being there. I moved back to California.

But before I moved to here Lake County, no native person said to me, “Hey, Amy Marsh, we’d like you to live here on our land.” However, I am here nevertheless. That’s a feature of my settler-colonist and capitalist privilege. I can make those decisions and ignore the important protocols and courtesy of asking permission and waiting to be invited.

So I must be a good (uninvited) guest instead. What does a good guest do? A good guest is respectful of his/her/their/zir hosts. A good guest is not greedy or rude. A good guest tries to figure out the rules of the house or the place, and to follow them. A good guest does not trash the premises or steal. A good guest takes no for an answer. A good guest will bring food to share. Those are basics.

Magical actions: In lieu of actual spoken permission, ask for guidance and use divinations to gauge level of permission. If you can, ask someone else to perform the divination for you, just so your ego doesn’t intrude. Remember that religions which prosletize and convert (often violently) have also claimed divine guidance, so beware of wishful thinking and misinterpretation.

• In addition to being a good guest, don’t invade and/or desecrate indigenous sacred places.

It’s not just corporations and government agencies who invade and desecrate–new agers and hippies just as likely to do this. An example: In 2015, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe had to order members of the Rainbow Family to evacuate from Mount Shasta, a sacred mountain.


Quote from the “Cease & Desist Order …written by Chief Caleen Sisk, chief and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe:”

“THERE IS NO PLACE IN OUR INDIGENOUS TERRITORIES FOR RAINBOW FAMILY ACTIVITIES, AND YOU ARE ORDERED TO NOT TO RETURN TO MT. SHASTA FOR FUTURE RAINBOW FAMILY GATHERINGS,” WRITES CHIEF SISK. “BY HOLDING SUCH LARGE GROUP ENCAMPMENTS AND GATHERINGS IN ECOLOGICALLY AND CULTURALLY SENSITIVE AREAS, YOU ARE CAUSING HARMFUL IMPACTS THAT CANNOT BE UNDONE BY EVEN THE MOST FASTIDIOUS CLEAN UP,” CHIEF SISK CONTINUES.


[See this article from The Sustainable Thought Box about the footprint of Rainbow Family gatherings.]

In Hawai’i where signs saying “kapu” (keep out, taboo) warn tresspassers away from private and/or sacred places, I have known tantra practitioners and other “spiritual” types who think they are entitled to ignore these signs because of their own “spiritual” claims or intentions. Please don’t do this. If you need to take over someone’s space in order to pray or do ceremony, go find a church or a park bench.

Magical actions: Cast a spell on yourself so that you never, ever violate native wishes in this way. (I’m only half-kidding.) Ask your guides and gods to help you stay observant and respectful.

• Don’t make assumptions.

Just like I couldn’t assume that every native Hawaiian person I met was a devotee of Pele (because many are Christian), or that they would be delighted to hear how I was personally interpreting their culture (I hate to tell you how long it took me to understand the latter!), back here in Lake County I had better not make any assumptions either.

Recently I was at a gathering of local activists and cultural people (one of the few I’ve attended) and ended up speaking with a young native man from this area. A fellow neopagan joined the conversation and proceeded to draw equivalencies between what we do as neopagans and what he presumed the Indian man did (a man who after all could have been a practicing Christian or engaged with some other religion). It was a cringe-worthy moment. The young man listened politely, as he had to me, yet I was uncomfortably aware of the many white assumptions revealed in this conversation, particularly the assumption that indigenous people share “one culture” or that all are engaged in earth-centered spirituality, and that we (non-natives) can know all about it based on a few adjectives or descriptors (which happen to be the ones that we choose). The other neopagan meant well and was speaking from an impulse to create a feeling of solidarity, however I am not sure if that result was achieved.

Alas. Assumptions can create micro-aggressive impacts, even if we don’t mean harm. Remember that.

And would I have liked being on the receiving end of assumptions about my spirituality? What if I mentioned my Norse gods and goddesses and others immediately assumed I was a Neo-nazi? (There are Norse pagan Neo-nazis, sadly.) Plus, to anyone on the outside, white American culture is extraordinarily violent. We (meaning white people) don’t notice because we swim in this violence, like fish in water. It could be a quite reasonable assumption, as voting stats indicate that plenty of older white women in America are racist and reactionary in their politics.

Magical actions: Listen and be humble. That can yield magic results.

• Introduce yourself and vow to do no harm.

By this, I mean a verbal introduction given to the local land spirits and ancestors, in ritual or when making offerings, as well as to people (if called to do so in a semi-formal way or in a ritual setting). The genealogy above is probably too long for most purposes, but I went into some detail just for the sake of giving an example.

Magical actions: Use a simple introduction when making offerings to local wights and ancestors. I love Aidan Wachter’s language in his book, Six Ways–Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic: “may there be peace between us for all of our days.”

Also, avoid trying to copy anything you think might be an indigenous ritual for offerings. It’s likely to be an appropriation (see below) and you won’t know the proper protocols anyway. Just put out the food and/or drink and say a few words of greeting and well-wishing.

• Vow to do good, unobtrusively.

Find some form of community service or engage in environmental action that will benefit the land and people. Be a good caretaker of the place where you live. Give money to indigenous causes. If you’re white, try very hard to not center yourself in any allyship or activism you take on. Do the job and then get out of the way. (That’s a very hard lesson. Don’t get discouraged. Keep learning.)

Magical actions: If you don’t have one already, craft a ritual for self-forgiveness for when you make a mistake. Also have forgiveness rituals to help ease conflicts with other people. Make sure to keep yourself grounded and do a lot of self-care when in service to others.

• Know some local and ancestral history. 

In the U.S., we live on blood-soaked ground. Understand that the violence causes multi-generational harm (to all involved) and that while we ourselves maybe didn’t “do anything,” we have privileges and patterns that resulted (directly or indirectly) from those violent acts. Those who are native and indigenous to the places where we reside certainly still feel the results of what happened. We, white settler-colonists in particular, are potentially still dangerous, even if it’s just our ignorance now that makes us so.

Magical actions: I highly recommend Daniel Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine, to help heal our ancestral lineages. Many of our ancestors participated in and/or were harmed by numerous atrocities. Foor’s method helps the more recent dead to heal and change (yes, it’s possible!) with the assistance of your own ancient, truly well ancestors. Please see his website for more information and for many free informational lectures. I engage with my ancestors every day, according to this work. It’s really helped in a lot of ways.

Forgiveness rituals might come in handy here too. But depending on your experience, beware of taking too much on. And don’t talk about what you do–it could be triggering or taken the wrong way by others. Act from the heart but keep this work private.

• Stop polluting.

One of the dangerous things about us, as consumer settler-colonists, is that we cheerfully consume resources and pollute air, water, and soil everywhere we go and with almost everything we buy. We make hardships for all living things. This is one way that our ignorance makes us dangerous.

Magical actions: Create rituals for blessing and forgiving harmful plastics and other consumer products. Do what you can to take care of the spiritual ecosystem as well as the worldly one.

• Don’t appropriate spiritual practices, symbols, and objects from indigenous cultures.

Unfortunately, a lot of “new age” and neopagan people have done this. Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s were also avid appropriators. Now the conversation about cultural appropriation is evolving and becoming increasingly nuanced and sophisticated.  The line between appreciation and appropriation is not as clear as you might think. If in doubt, don’t. If you’re not in doubt, question yourself more deeply, just in case you should be in doubt. Absolutely refrain from making money off anything that commodifies a native practice or object. Don’t give money or promotion to non-native people who do this. There’s lots to say on this subject and some of the hard lessons I’ve learned (and still learn) fall in this area. Be guided by the wishes and priorities of the native people.

Magical Actions: Critique your rituals, tools, etc. to make adjustments as necessary. Begin to replace appropriated elements with ones which are more authentic to your own heritage and cultures.

If you have been trained in a tradition outside your own culture, continue to pay attention to guidance from your teachers about what you may and may not do with what you’ve learned.

• Learn to Ask Permission.

As neopagan settler colonists, we may be bringing in work with spirits and deities who could be as invasive as we are. Will they be good guests too? Do the local ancestors and land wights feel okay about your spirit guides, gods, and demons? Do they agree to allow and support your spiritual path? What can you do to ask permission to gather substances and/or to create rituals? How can you do what you do without insulting or harming local spirits? What kind of containment and agreements can you put in place?

Magical Actions: Again, divination, offerings, respectful engagement with local ancestors and land spirits, letting your own spirit community know how to be a good guest too. Create and maintain relationships of trust with the unseen as well as the seen.

In Closing

There’s a lot required of us when we begin to cultivate spirit relationships and work in magical realms. I hope this collection of thoughts encourages others to add an understanding of settler colonist status and issues to their practices.

PD.GertBuschmann-Juliasetsdkpictlightpot

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Animism, Plastics, and the Unwise Alchemies

Animism is the belief and/or experience of all forms of matter as being somewhat conscious and “alive,” potentially able (but not always willing) to respond to an invitation to “connect.” This may not be a complete definition of animism, but it’s good enough to include in my personal working (and witchy) hypothesis of how the cosmos works. The other part of my working hypothesis is “not everything that is conscious is visible to my eyes.” That naturally includes itty bitty things like microbes (which we do recognize as “alive”) as well as what we call spirits and deities, attached to humanly detectable matter or not.

Univers_Fractal_J.H.Search the words “is matter conscious” and you’ll find many intriguing results, including the scientific term “panpsychism,” defined in this article as “the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness.” Rather than using what’s implied by the word “inhabit” I’ve come to view the entire cosmos as being informed by consciousness, feeling that consciousness is an intrinsic property of matter, though it may be organized in many different ways. It just seems like common sense. Otherwise how could it exist at all, in us or in anything else?


This idea of consciousness as an intrinsic property of matter is addressed in “Is Matter Conscious? Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics,” Hedda Hassel Morch, April 6, 2017. Here’s a quote from the article:

“Philosophers and neuroscientists often assume that consciousness is like software, whereas the brain is like hardware. This suggestion turns this completely around. When we look at what physics tells us about the brain, we actually just find software—purely a set of relations—all the way down. And consciousness is in fact more like hardware, because of its distinctly qualitative, non-structural properties. For this reason, conscious experiences are just the kind of things that physical structure could be the structure of.

Given this solution to the hard problem of matter, the hard problem of consciousness all but dissolves. There is no longer any question of how consciousness arises from non-conscious matter, because all matter is intrinsically conscious. There is no longer a question of how consciousness depends on matter, because it is matter that depends on consciousness—as relations depend on relata, structure depends on realizer, or software on hardware.”


This is a frankly speculative blog. However, let’s agree (just for the moment) that matter is intrinsically conscious. We can also assume that the consciousness of various material substances may be organized in ways which may be “invisible” or undetectable for us in ordinary circumstances, with our ordinary senses. This is going to be true of the consciousness of most or all non-biological substances, including those organized into objects.

What are the ways that we could detect or experience a non-biological consciousness? Well, someone could invent a “consciousness detection device” (which would expand our sense perceptions). Someone might use a mathematical formula or perform scientific experiments (like those performed by quantum physicists). Or there may be intuitive, spiritual, or magical actions capable of creating such perception.

And here I’d like to point out that there are forms of synesthesia that allow the perception of consciousness and personalities in objects, numbers, days of the week, and months of the year. People with such synesthesia may have emotional responses to these personalities. (See this case study: When ‘‘3’’ is a Jerk and ‘‘E’’ is a King: Personifying Inanimate Objects in Synesthesia.) I’ve even explored the romantic, affectionate, and erotic aspect of human/object relations in Love Among the Objectum Sexuals, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality (2010).

Plastics and the Unwise Alchemies

Just for fun, let’s assume that we have a way to perceive the consciousness experienced by artificial substances, such as plastics. Plastics are created from petrochemicals which are refined from crude oil (petroleum). To quote Wikipedia, “A fossil fuel, petroleum is formed when large quantities of dead organisms, mostly zooplankton and algae, are buried underneath sedimentary rock and subjected to both intense heat and pressure.”

So, transformed fossil remains may be found in food containers, cell phones, cars (and what fuels them), toothbrushes, clothing, medical instruments, etc.–not to mention in human and animal bodies and in our oceans and landfills. The crazy thing is, many of these plastic materials are biologically active. They contain endocrine disruptors which affect human and animal reproduction and sexual health.


Here’s some material concerning the impact of endocrine disruptors in plastics:

Not Too Pretty, The Environmental Working Group. PDF of report. 2002.

Chemicals in personal care and household products linked to earlier puberty in girls. Press release from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, Dec. 3, 2018.

You’re not the man your father was. Neal Howe, Forbes, Oct. 2, 2017.

Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. From Levine et. al. Human Reproduction Update, July 25, 2017.

(Thanks to my friend John Kamp, MD, for alerting me to the last three study references.)


And for those fond of cheery reading, you might enjoy learning about microplastics in human feces, plastics in the ocean, and microplastics in fish (which then become microplastics in humans) which brings us back to feces again… Unholy shit!

Okay, perhaps the above explains my use of the term “unwise alchemies” to describe pretty much everything done by the petrochemical and chemistry industries since World War I. Just for irony’s sake, watch this scene from The Graduate.

However, perhaps the term “unwise necromancy” is more to the point. As Aidan Wachter points out in a 2015 blog, we’re all dealing with dead stuff all the time, including “the petrochemical plastics in your shoes…derived from way old dead things.” My impression is, instead of an inexperienced “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” spawning an army of animate brooms carrying buckets and causing floods (remember the Mickey Mouse segment in the 1940 movie, Fantasia?) we’ve got the humungous flood of plastics in every corner–and presumably every creature–of the globe caused by an industry chock full of inexperienced necromancers (uh, aka “scientists”). These feckless neophytes, oathed to the gods of capitalism and armed with a little knowledge but no sense of balance or consequence, summon the remains of ancient beings, subject them to unnatural forces and alchemies, degrade them by shoving them into “bodies” shaped like toilet brushes and Barbies, thereby causing misery for all sentient beings (and for animists, “all sentient beings” includes purty much everything).

Many years ago, when I was in my Anthroposophical phase, I had a conversation with a man who was involved in the founding of a Northern California Waldorf School and who also served as a Christian Community (Steiner spin-off church) priest. We were talking about environmental illness and he asked me to consider the state of health of the “beings” who had such a toxic impact on me. The impression he left me with was one of beings formed outside of “lawful” creation (lacking a “protocol” for their existence?), who were tortured, unwelcome and/or disoriented. All they could do was cause sickness and distress because that was their experience, how they came into being. I’ve never forgotten that conversation and it took me a long time to wrap my mind around it. It was also the first conversation I ever had where I “saw” a person with a spirit eye. Very strange indeed.

Further along in Aidan Wachter’s blog post, I find this key paragraph:


“All manifestations in the field of experienceable existence come about by fluctuations of energy. This energy for the most part changes continuously. However, ‘strong’ events & disturbances cause ‘energy swirls’ that I perceived like a storm going cyclonic (like a tornado), they keep themselves together for awhile and have notable effects. If this ‘swirl’ lasts for awhile, it in essence becomes its own continuous cause. If it persists for a longish time (say moving from moments to hours to days and into weeks or months or years) it becomes a ‘persistent presence’. All persistent presences behave ‘as if’ sentient. For whatever fucked up reason (it’s quite unfair, really!) the Bad Nasties tend to persist more than the good shit. I expect this is because being hurt really horribly produces an inward turning motion where the cyclonic action is a tightening spiral, which, like twisting fibers together to make cord, gets stronger and more durable as it gets more tightly wound. Happiness and joy tend to be expansive and so tend to dissipate fairly quickly.”


So I am reading this and thinking on the one hand of the swirling currents of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and other oceanic plastic patches and also of the chemistries used to force the ancestral remains into all the consumer products we’re addicted to today. Do these chemistries “hurt” these ancestors “really horribly,” causing them to spiral inward, as Wachter says? And are we humans “charmed” by the machinations of marketing and consumerism to continue to inflict such hurt for our own immediate notions of convenience and to the detriment of all life on this planet?

It’s both an intriguing and a tragic train of thought…deeply, mind-numbingly tragic. Is there any hope at all of reversing this situation, even as we deal with other massive challenges such as climate change and the die-off of millions of species?

What Would Witches Do?

As a person with almost thirty years of multiple chemical sensitivity behind me (almost half my life now), I shudder at the next, logical step. I’m going way off the deep end here, because I believe that aside from doing all the right environmental activist things, such as advocating for the precautionary principle in public policy and and weaning ourselves of plastics…there’s something we can do on esoteric and spiritual levels.

Capitalist science has failed us. I am not anti-science, but I am anti-thoughtless, consumer-driven, money-hungering science divorced from common sense. And it’s not just science. Cultures and counter-cultures have failed us. Politics and politicians have failed us. Our knowledge and clever technologies fail us. Even as neo-pagans, we have failed us. That’s because we haven’t thought our situation through. What follows is not yet a part of neopagan thinking.

We the witches, magicians, sorcerers, shamans, and all mystic ritualists who work with spirits, deities, thoughtforms, wights, and ancestors, have an interesting skill set which might be useful here.

We could attempt to correct this situation. We could create the new animist or panpsychic protocols for encountering artificial substances, even those that are most toxic and problematic. If we are truly living our animism, we must welcome, bless, and ritually engage with these beings which are also conscious, though artificially and painfully so. We must offer healing, love, acceptance (wow, “unconditional positive regard” to a designer fragrance!) and ask what we can do to help ease this situation for them. It would be a kindness.

It seems to be one of the few acts of grace and generosity we haven’t tried yet, we witches. Instead of casting out these substances, we could acknowledge the hurt of these far distant ancestors of ours and ask how we can comfort them instead. I find it interesting that even as we make more of “them,” they have the capacity to prevent us from making more of “us” (via endocrine disruption of our reproductive systems). Is that their only way of managing this situation? Could we collaborate in some other way?

Let’s get to work on some rituals and magic actions, some “rules of engagement.” Anyone got any ideas about this? Welcoming all suggestions here.

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