Breath of Life

So many estoteric traditions and magical practices make use of the power of breath. But what to do when even your normal ability to breathe is hampered by indoor and outdoor pollutants?

The ability to breathe is fundamental to most life on this planet. For almost thirty years, almost half my life, I have struggled to breathe freely, to breathe clean air. Now I know that billions of human beings (plus our animals and plants) are also struggling with this simple, necessary action in this astoundingly polluted world. However, as someone who experiences many kinds of health problems when exposed to even small amounts of common consumer toxins, my condition still seems exotic or even foolishly “special” or deluded to most people. However, soon people like me will the mainstream, not just outliers, and there is nothing in place to handle that public health disaster (Anne Steinemann’s 2018 study estimates one in four Americans already suffer some form of environmental illness). Medical practices and public policies in the United States have not kept pace with the impact of toxic chemicals on human and environmental health. Unlike many other countries, we have no precautionary principle to guide our decision-making.

Pollution, like climate change and war, is one of the apocalyptic challenges of our time. We will not survive if we don’t address them. These three challenges are interelated and are also deeply emeshed in capitalism and consumerism.

The Impact of Indoor Air Pollution is Seldom Addressed

In 1998, Wayne R. Ott and John W. Roberts published the results of their studies in “Everyday Exposure to Toxic Pollutants” in Scientific American. You can download the PDF here. Quote:

“…most citizens were very likely to have the greatest contact with potentially toxic pollutants not outside but inside the places they usually consider to be essentially unpolluted, such as homes, offices and automobiles. The exposure arising from the sources normally targeted by environmental laws–Superfund sites, factories, local industry–was negligible in comparison. Even in the New Jersey cities of Bayonne and Elizabeth, both of which have an abundance of chemical processing plants, the levels of 11 volatile organic compounds proved much higher indoors than out. (Concentrations of the other volatile compounds tested were found to be insignificant in both settings.) The chief sources appeared to be ordinary consumer products, such as air fresheners and cleaning compounds, and various building materials.”

Nothing has changed. In fact, things have gotten worse. MUCH worse.

Those Who Are Aleady Ill and Know the Cause

Do you have friends, relatives, co-workers, or patients who are afflicted by exposure to toxic chemicals? Are you seeking a way to understand this complex and derided condition? For an excellent discussion of the impact of environmental illness and chemical injuries on everyday people, please see these links to Linda Sepp’s Seriously Sensitive to Pollution blog. Note: “MCS” stands for “multiple chemical sensitivity” and “ES” stands for “environmental sensitivity.”

Part One: What’s It Like to Have MCS/ES? Arms, Brains, and Legs.

Part Two: What’s It Like to Have MCS/ES? Curbs. (I am quoted in this one.)

Part Three: What’s It Like to Have MCS/ES? Toast Chaos. 

For more information, go to the Environmental Health Network of California, Chemical Injury Information Network and The Environmental Working Group Not Too Pretty report.

And check out the documentary, StinkHere’s the trailer. It’s currently on Netflix.

Babies and Children, Innocents at Risk

Even babies are subjected to harmful volatile organic compounds. “Squishy” soft foam toys have been banned in Denmark, due to hazardous scents and other toxins. And here is a quote from “Volatile chemical emissions from fragranced baby products,”Air Quality, Atmosphere, and Health, June 2018:

“Fragranced consumer products have been associated with adverse effects on human health. Babies are exposed to a variety of fragranced consumer products, which can emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some considered potentially hazardous. However, fragranced baby products are exempt from disclosure of all ingredients. Consequently, parents and the public have little information on product emissions. This study investigates VOCs emitted from a range of fragranced baby products, including baby hair shampoos, body washes, lotions, creams, ointments, oils, hair sprays, and fragrance.”

As for the unborn or never to be born, human sperm counts are plummeting worldwide. Here is a link to “Air Pollution and Quality of Sperm: A Meta-Analysis,” 2015. Seventy-six articles were reviewed.

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Meme source unknown

Animals Can’t Tell You They’d Like Clean Air Too

As for animals, it is a shame what we’re doing to them. Even people who adore their pets have no problem subjecting them to toxic personal care products, essential oils, “air fresheners,” scented candles, and scented animal washes and even toe nail polish on dogs. Here’s a quote from an article by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, which outlines some of the reasons pets are at great risk:

“Most pets are even smaller than kids.
They tend to spend a lot of time near the floor where all indoor air pollutants eventually wind up.
They groom themselves and each other, which means they’re ingesting the pollutant particles that have accumulated on their fur and in the environment.
Many pets spend up to 100 percent of their time indoors, and are living with very high levels of airborne toxins.
These factors combine to put pets at the highest risk of anyone in the household for health conditions related to indoor air pollution. Even if neither you nor your pets are having symptoms, it’s still possible the air fresheners in your home are harming your health. Most of the effects of these products aren’t immediately obvious and may not even manifest as respiratory issues. Some people say, “If I was having a problem, my pets or I would have watery eyes. We’d be coughing or wheezing.” But that’s not always the case.”

In other words, the use of products which create airborne toxins is chemical abuse of children and animals (not to mention adult humans). 

Some Products Used in Magic Rituals Can Impact Indoor Air Quality

From that same article by Dr. Becker, there’s also a caution for those of us who love our animals and children, but who also engage in magic and devotional rituals indoors:

“A 2001 EPA study concluded that candles containing fragrance produce more soot. It’s possible organic compounds in poor-quality candle wax may increase cancer risk.(2) A 2009 study warns that the chemicals emitted into the air by burning candles can have a harmful effect on human health.(3) Paraffin candles produce potentially toxic chemicals, including alkanes, alkenes and toluene.

Like air fresheners, scented candles can also contain dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde and VOCs. Cheaply made candles can contain toxic levels of heavy metals in the wicks. When one of these candles burns, the lead particles are released into the air. Frequent use of these candles could contribute to the development of health conditions such as asthma, allergies and cancer.

Research shows that burning incense can be dangerous to human health, and a 2015 study even suggested it’s much worse that inhaling cigarette smoke.(4) Incense smoke is mutagenic, meaning it can cause mutations in DNA that can lead to cancer. In the 2015 study, incense was found to be more toxic to cells and DNA than cigarette smoke. Of the 65 compounds identified in incense smoke, two were determined to be highly toxic.”

The Magic of Interdependence?

Switching now from science to metaphysics, I’ve touched before on the spiritual and esoteric quandries posed by artificial substances and toxins, those substances that result from what I call “unwise alchemies.” And I am personally desperate for anything–ANYTHING–that can ease my remaining years on this planet and provide a semblance of better health. I am frankly weary of fleeing fragrant products in particular, which are everywhere I go. And I am tired of living as a hermit (though I fancy myself “ornamental”).

And I’ve used various breath techniques for years–tantric breathing, HA breath for ho’oponopono rituals, the “six healing sounds” (Taoist) practice, and so on–though I often forget to resort to these techniques in times of crisis (like when the stove repair man comes into my home offgassing a scented deodorant).

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the uses of language, sounds, breath, and how to put these together to help myself. Obsessing, really. I don’t use the word “desperate” lightly.

So I was staggered this morning when I came across a possible helpful technique, a combination of breath and sound, explained in a way that I could understand. I found it in a link from a post made by Aidan Wachter (author of Six Ways: Approaches & Entries for Practical Magic).

The link was to the Perfumed Skull (I know, not a completely auspicious name from my perspective), a blog written by Ben Joffe, “a cultural anthropology Ph.D. candidate” as of 2016. (He’s probably received his doctorate by now.) His June 19, 2016 post is titled “The Magic of Interdependence: A General Description of the View of How Mantras Produce Results.” It concerns a book on mantra healing called The Science of Interdependent Connection Mantra Healing (rten ‘brel sngags bcos thabs kyi rig pa) by Dr Nida Chenagtsang and Yeshe Drolma, Beijing People’s Press, December 2015. The post includes a translation (his translation?) of “Chapter Four: A Rough Explanation of How Mantras Work.” Though there are all kinds of compelling implications for Western magic practitioners in this chapter, here is the part that grabbed my attention, because it may be of practical value to me:

“As an example of how the way in which breath flows generates results, if, taking the mantra-syllables OM AH HUNG, one intones OM when one inhales, AH as one abides (or holds the breath), and HUNG as one exhales, the three-fold arising, entering and abiding of the rlung flows in the proper way, and as a result this is greatly beneficial for the body. Through the good qualities of the proper movement of the constitutive elements, five winds, as well as life-bearing and upward-flowing (winds), bodily illness is cured (and) the constitutive elements are balanced. It (also) endows one with the good quality of mental happiness. These are the reasons that what are called the three Vajra seed-syllables are extolled by all mantra-holders or ngakpa as the highest of mantras. Moreover, intoning ‘HA’ and expelling HA! with a strong sigh for diseases of the vital and heart-winds, for mental discomfort, memory loss, mental agitation or anxiety directly expels stale rlung in the life-force channel(s) from out the body and thereby cures disease.”

[The above also credited by Ben Joffe as from ‘The Science of Dependent-Origination Mantra Healing’ (rten ‘brel sngags bcos rig pa), written by Nyida Heruka and Yeshe Drolma, 2015, mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 36-52.]

I am particularly struck by the instructions to inhale, hold, and exhale each syllable. In all the neotantric workshops and pujas I’ve ever attended, not once we were we ever instructed to OM on an inhale. (So, is a little–neotantric–knowledge a dangerous or an ineffective thing?)

The authors say “reciting the three Vajra seed-syllables (OM AH HUNG) balances the breath and resolves sickness.” I have tried this now a few times, in the recommended manner, and it will definitely take practice. To generate the mantra syllable “Ah” while holding my breath is no easy feat! And I have to take gulps of air between each series of syllables. I am going to practice this a lot and see what happens.

I am also staring hard at the chapter’s reference to “mantras for poisoning,” because poisoning is exactly what we are all experiencing at this time, on this planet. Do I sense a practice that might be useful for transforming the toxic effect of the unwise alchemies? What would happen if many practitioners gathered together to ease the poisoning of a place, with such a mantra? I want very badly to understand this.

Finally I am happy to find this sentence as well: “One’s own mind and the minds of others are made sick through harsh words, and conversely, expressing pleasant words can gladden others’ hearts.” I was attempting to address this very topic earlier this week in my blog post, “Try a Little Tenderness.”

I notice that toxic and uncivil words and harsh sounds are as ubiquitous as toxic chemicals in modern American culture. There are so many ways to make and keep us sick. But perhaps somewhere in a skillful use of our breath, and mantras of seed syllables, and the weilding of pleasant words, there may lie a little more healing for me and for all of you too.

As always, comments are very welcome. Thank you, readers!

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Try a Little Tenderness

Sometimes snark is where I park, but I’m less and less enamored with those who consistently bludgeon others with harsh verbal assessments, in the name of whatever. I prefer civil discourse, manners, tact, and even wit. Part of this is personal preference, part is professional training. And in a time when so much communication takes place on the internet, without the complexities and subtext of nonverbal and visual cues, I believe it behooves us to weigh our words and how we wield them.

I have a book of Hawaiian proverbs, called ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, collected by the great scholar Mary Kawena Pukui. Here is one that has always stayed with me:

I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make.

Pukui’s translation: Life is in speech, death is in speech.

Ahapunanaleo.org translation: In the language is life. In the language is death.

The meaning of both translations is clear: “Words can heal; words can destroy.”

My copy of ‘Ōlelo No‘eau was given to me by my ho’oponopono kumu (teacher), Ramsay Taum of O’ahu. Ho’oponopono is a traditional conflict resolving and forgiveness ritual (please avoid the appropriated and commodified version sold by white people). Kumu Taum gave the book to me as a gift for helping to pull together a workshop for him in Berkeley, CA, many long years ago. He inscribed it with words that are also good to review:

E ho’oulu i ke no’ono’o ke kino a me ka uhane.

Protect, preserve and care for life.

Right now, as I write, I am seated in front of my living room window. Mt. Konocti has been obscured by mist but blue sky patches are beginning to appear and parts of the mountain are being revealed. The mist also loves to move close to the surface of the lake, so I can see it gliding (north west?) above it just a block away, beyond the nearby trees I see clearly. I know that the pelican flocks, egrets and other water birds are feeling that same mist glide over their feathers as they sit in the water.

And at the moment, I am one mixed up human being, trying to make sense of people and where I am. I am hoping for a little mist removal of my own. I feel it glide over my eyes as I strain for vision.

In Hawai’i, which has a people and a culture colonized and brutalized by folks like me, I did not find the life I was hoping for, a happy ending with a great love, a life which was filled with people who lived with such proverbs and thoughts in their heart. Yes, a few people do live that way, but overall I was mostly conscious of my own intrusion, my own lack of suitability there. I was mostly lonely, always homesick, and often in truly deep despair. I could not feel cared for, though I tried to care for others. And spiritually, the message (which I had to accept with good grace and a sense of the inevitable) was “go back to your ancestors.”

(And the “great love?” It was pau. Unknown to me, it had run most of its course before I even arrived on Hawai’i island.)

Pele_by_David_Howard_Hitchcock,_c._1929
Pele, by David Howard Hitchcock, c. 1929. Public domain.

Sitting in my jungle home, I got the message at last. I prepared my departure. I set aside the Pele chant I’d been learning and offering in my final months in Hawai’i. I took rocks that had been given to me by that Hawaiian love and gave them back to the land, with discreet ceremonies of thanks. I placed some of those rocks in the Ahalanui Warm Ponds, now covered by last year’s lava flow. Pele took them back in truth, just as she took back the delicate little lava tube fragment that had been taken by Michael Rossman, and which I also returned to that area after his death.

So in the last quarter of 2017 I left Hawai’i in a financially devastating and physically brutal manner. I settled here in Lake County, CA. My body still suffers damage from the physical exertion of packing up an entire house, alone. Parts of my heart are still in tatters. But I took the inevitable beating knowing that a fresh adventure awaited. I just didn’t know how lonely–and yet rewarding–this next phase would be.

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Vanir goddess Freya, Old Norse Stories, 1900. Public domain.

Since my return, I’ve been working with a few deities in the Norse pantheon, as well as exploring the “ancestral medicine” (lineage healing work) offered by Daniel Foor, which I have mentioned so often in this blog. I am learning as much as I can. The Norse heritage and traditions, described as “hyper-masculine” by Jackson Crawford? They’re brutal, man!

I turn again to proverbs to try to show you what I mean. Instead of e aloha kekahi i kekahi (love one another), the “Havamal” (known as “The Counsel of Odin” in The Poetic Edda) says: “Do not sleep in the arms of a sorceress or else she will lock your limbs” (113) (Jackson Crawford’s 2015 translation, which I have at last).

(And here I am, steeped in witchery, oathed now to Loki the “mother of witches!”)

Now obviously I’ve just cherry-picked two proverbs to illustrate differences between two wildly different cultures. However the ancient Hawaiian culture was not all sweetness and light and aloha. There’s plenty of snark in ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: “Kamali’i hupe kole” means “runny-nosed brats” (1471). A lazy person is said to be “huli ke alo i luna, helu i ka ‘a’aho”–“lying face up and counting the rafters” (1141). And the bone-breaking Hawaiian martial art known as Lua (also taught by Kumu Ramsay Taum) sometimes uses shark tooth weapons. It’s brutal, man!

And the Northern traditions are not without moderation and kindness. There are parts of the Havamal which counsel mindful speech: “you will often get repayment in kind for the words you speak to others” (65). There’s even an echo of the Hawaiian view on the death-dealing power of language: “I saw a bad woman’s words bite a man in the neck–a lying tongue was his death and not even with good cause” (118).

So I ponder, wondering why I am drawn to both these traditions, among others. How do I reconcile my deep craving for community aloha with steely notions of personal honor and individualism? In some ways, it comes down to a sense of psychic temperture.  Hawaiian traditions seem “warm,” even the less pleasant parts. Norse traditions seem “cold”–even when hospitable and pleasant.

Hawaiians have a multi-layered tradition of language, known as kaona. As you can see by the examples above, language that is multi-layered and allusive is just as apt as blunt, unadorned statements. And yet the Norse also have a tradition of kennings, poetic and fanciful names for most of their deities which contrast with the stark advice offered in the Havamal.

But as a counselor who uses hypnosis in my work, I am also quite aware of the power of language, how it can impact people consciously, unconsciously, and somatically. Some people respond well to authoritarian commands and direct suggestions. Some will only respond well to indirect suggestions and permissive language. I am the latter person. An authoritarian command brings out my aggression, not compliance.

Words can trigger states of sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight) or lull us back into a calmer parasympathetic nervous system state (sometimes known as “rest and digest” or “feed and breed”). But mostly, people seem to listen better when they are calmer and don’t feel under attack.

In other words, an allusive (and slightly humorous) comment about “counting the rafters” might be more effective in getting a languid teen to take out the garbage than a sharp remark about “lazy bones,” which might cause resistance and defensiveness.

Because I’ve seen the effects of language in a professional capacity, I don’t recommend blunt force verbal trauma applied to a person or a situation in the name of honesty or “tough love.” I think that “tough love” can only work when the people involved have an established intimacy–family, close friends, lovers–so that the reality of truly committed caring is what enables the troubled person to hear the stark truth. That caring will come through nonverbal and visual cues, to soften the pain of the words.

I do believe in the necessity of stark truths, yes, but how these truths are conveyed can vary. Stark truths can be delivered with surgical precision and timing, with compassion and empathy based on how much that person is capable of hearing and listening in that moment. Otherwise, what remains may be emotions of shame, embarrassment or anger and not the important truth that needed to be heard or acted upon.

In some cases, language which is too blunt may be received as aggressive and uncaring. This is a good article about the effects of aggressive and/or abusive language.  The article references studies which show “the circuitry for physical and emotional pain appears to be the same” and also that “the effect of verbal aggression is greater than the expression of love.”

All things considered, I feel that erring on the side of caring or indirect language is generally a more responsible and effective way to communicate.

A Perfect Case for Ho’oponopono

I know that most people have said stupid and hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. My “love affair” with Hawai’i and with a particular person there ended with a last example of words meant to “kill.”

There were a few days at the end of last year when I actually thought we would reconcile, under somewhat different circumstances. During that time I confided about my new spiritual path and how rewarding I was finding it. But when it became obvious that reconciliation was not going to happen after all, it was painful. My former love, a life-long opponent of the “blood quantum” policies that adversely affected him and many Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiians), declared that his kids, who are part Scandinavian, have more blood-right to my current spiritual practices than I do, because they have more Scandinavian DNA. It was probably the strangest and most unexpected parting shot I could have imagined.

It makes me wonder how he could have put up with me for all those years, when my interest in supporting Hawaiian causes and learning about the culture was so keen? I had no “koko” (Hawaiian blood) but he used to acknowledge and even praise my spiritual connection to Hawai’i. He encouraged it and it also formed a basis for our own relationship. But that connection certainly had no foundation in my DNA!

That parting shot was made of words designed to kill–to kill my self-confidence and my self-esteem. To make me ashamed. To make me feel a fraud. And to make me pay for leaving him. However, since I am strong with my practices and strong with my patron deity, Loki, nothing died as I read those words except my belief in this man as a someone who truly lived by his stated convictions, his word. Otherwise, he would have respected the honor of my path just as I had always respected his.

And so, after this long ramble, I wish one thing. I wish that we would save our harshest words for those who are truly our enemies and that for the rest of the people who touch our lives (even ex-lovers and people on social media and those who make us feel impatient or annoyed), that we use speech that is thoughtful, kind, tender, and face-saving, even as we must sometimes deliver a stark truth. Because we can make life with our words, or death.

Let’s all try a little tenderness. And I’ll go make some ho’oponopono…

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What is Home? People or Place?

Physcially and spiritually I am grappling with the concept of “home.” Who or what is home to me? I am quite lucky right now. I have a physical home of my own. This safe harbor is not something I take for granted even on ordinary days. However the Mendocino Complex fires of last summer alerted me to the precariousness of my current security. All that shelters and sustains me could be gone in a flash. I am so grateful that firefighters managed to save our neighborhood and to minimize damage to most of the homes and communities that circle this lake. Even on this rainy day, I don’t forget that I live in a potential tinderbox.

(And here I am, oathed to a trickster god of fire…)

Is “Home” an Overwhelming Love of Place?

We moved very often when I was a kid and I’ve moved more often than I liked as an adult. So for me a sense of “home” based on locale is unreliable. Yet I become very attached to houses and geographic locations. Very. I’ve lived almost my entire life as a homesick exile, yearning first for the waters of Waikiki and the view of the Ko’olau Range that I remember from a brief (but significant) period of “small kid days” on O’ahu. Later I desperately yearned to return to La Jolla after we were evicted from a La Jolla Cove beach house slated for demolition. I was a teenager then and had woven strong connections with the waters, sands, and cliffs, as well friends and the town itself. I still have a vivid sense of what it was like to feel the air in that place and to be surrounded by friends within walking distance.

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The house I used to live in is at the far right, upper corner, partial view.

In my twenties I moved north. In San Francsico there is a building that my uncle owned. I lived for several years in the studio apartment below his flat. It’s the place where I designed and made punk rock vinyl clothing. It’s the place where I’d go upstairs for long wonderful conversations with my uncle before he died. It’s the place where I later spent ten weeks on strict bedrest for pre-term labor, staring at the knotty pine paneling all day while my husband was at work. It’s the first home my first child ever knew, sleeping in a crib in the kitchen. Occupation of that apartment was guaranteed to me in my uncle’s will and now that I’m single again and getting on in years, I could certainly use it–it’s close to health care and other helpful resources that would ease my social isolation–yet certain family members refuse to let me return, due to their greed for high rents.

Across the street from that building there is a house where I lived in the early days of my children’s lives. It’s the first home I ever (co)owned. I gave birth to my second child right there in that house. In the front yard there is a Cecil Brunner rose bush. The placenta from my second pregnancy is buried in that soil beneath the roses. I can never forget that, the birthplace of my second child.

That San Francisco street where I lived, in those two separate places, is in my bones and I ache with the memories of it. I remember gathering blackberries in the summer with my children, on Kite Hill two blocks away…

I also miss that house and neighborhood in Albany where my kids later grew up and where my family ultimately unraveled… I ache for that place too. It was a place where I could walk my youngest to school. I once painted a tile portrait of my only little dog, Iggy, and it is part of a mural in the park across the street.

I miss my house on Mano Street in Pahoa, Hawai’i, the place where I went after we sold the Albany house, while my divorce was in its final stages. I don’t regret the din of coqui frogs at night but I do miss the feral cats on my porch every morning. This was such a brief home, one that held all my dying hopes for a final love. Even so, I spent every moment of my life in that  place homesick for my kids in California and yearning for the sight of an acorn on the ground. Yet I loved that house and its bit of land with all my heart. Sometimes I feel the air of that place on my skin and smell again the rotting strawberry guavas in the jungle. I taste the coconuts that would fall on the lawn.

So here again in California I am still exiled, living 150 miles away from the San Francisco Bay Area where my kids live, as well as several friends and a couple remnants of family. Even in exile I’m attempting once again to make “a home” and a life for myself. I love my house here and the view of Mt. Konocti and the lake. I write constantly. I watch long strings of birds fly by. Turkeys stride through my yard. Deer feast on geraniums. Out back I have my temple to Loki. I have great neighbors. I’m meeting good people. Yes, I’m in love with this house, built the year I was born. But the people I love seldom come here.   I don’t quite feel I belong. Can this truly be my home?

Or Do People Make the Home?

So even though I have an intense relationship with places and fall in love with them easily and deeply, I am more likely to equate family with “home.” Growing up I was sure of my place with my mother and siblings. As an adult with my own children, I was sure of the family I’d co-created. I spent much time “making a home” while the children’s father worked to support us. But neither of these situations was sustainable. In both cases, a great deal of that surety of “home” has unraveled because key relationships have crumbled. And also, my grown children are busy in their lives.

Some people say that friends who are chosen family can be more family than blood kin. I wish I could have that experience of really dedicated chosen family and/or intentional community. But though I have several excellent friends (some old, some new), only one  of them has viewed me as “family” to my knowledge. Certainly they are devoted to me and I am devoted to them, but in some cases they have families of their own, and in other cases, are clearly friends, not family. And none of them are potential co-creators of a groovy intentional community of elders. I guess I’ve given up on that dream.

So are the actions of “making a home” what matters? If so, I am mostly occupied with making a home for my cats, and though they are definitely dear “family,” they’re cats. It’s been very hard to understand these last three years that I am no longer making a home for my children, not even a vacation home for their weekend amusement, as I’d hoped. All I can do at this point is leave the property to them when I die and hope they don’t bicker about it too much.

So if home is not a place, and it’s not even people, and it’s kind of about cats, what else is there? Home is me in my body. Home is my unseen community. “Making a home” means living inside my DNA construct, which is “home” to countless microbes. It becomes the act of welcoming ancestors and deities, who represent other kinds of enduring relationships. Feeling at home on a piece of land means making offerings to wights and expressing gratitude and good will, no matter where I am.

Humans will come and go as they will, Houses will remain or they’ll crumble or burn. So I must carry the idea of home in my body and see to the needs of my four-footed “children” who are sadly not immortal. Worship is portable, as is creativity. That’s pretty much all I can see.

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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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The Fey Divorcee

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post with this title for quite some time, ’cause… puns! I give my readers notice that this will be one of those “talk story” blogs (Bio Hazard category) in which I, your sexegenarian polytheist Lokean sexologist, attempt to please no one but myself.

When Loki entered my life and my daily devotions, I naturally gravitated toward online communities and blogs where I could learn more. I can’t tell you how many times I have read the words “Loki saved my life” from so many different people. This is truly a being who has made it a point to gather up (and often productively shake up) people who feel broken and outcast. And here I’m gonna testify myself: “Yeah, Loki saved mine too.”

It was during a period of intense, soul-killing shame. The shame was so great I did not think I could bear it. The shame was triggered by a really ridiculous, almost romantic encounter (completely unlooked for and unsought) in which someone figuratively fell at my feet, practically begging for a certain kind of relationship, declaring himself to be wild with interest and capable of profound devotion. It was a peculiar form of “love bombing” I suppose, though it wasn’t love exactly that was on the table. So I (being unutterably lonely at the time and reeling from the consequences of divorce and another bad break-up) frakkin’ fell for it.

All my hibernating capacities for intimate, human contact roared to life. (I’d been smashing them into dust out of self-preservation. Just thinking about being with another person again had been inconceivable!) And then this feckless, self-centered man had his little crisis of “feeling scared” and withdrew after our first video conversation. Well, I think I know why. I do know why. I was “too old.”

brassaï-la-môme-bijou,-bar-de-la-lune,-montmartre,-paris
I was a teenager when I first saw this portrait of La Môme Bijou, bar de la Lune, Montmartre, Paris , 1932, by Brassaï (French, 1899–1984).

I’d never misrepresented my age. And, frankly, I’m not “into” people who are much younger than I am. Given a choice between Gandalf and Legolas, I’m more likely to pick Gandalf. My last two important relationships have been with people 16-18 years older than I am. But this strange “last chance” for another kind of intimacy seemed so surprising, so much of what the doctor might have ordered (if the doctor had been Charles Moser!), that I tried to overlook the difference in age. Yes, I’m hinting at something a bit kinky here, so why not come out and say it? The fellow in question was interested in what’s called a “female-led relationship.” Calling the shots, being the boss: what could be better for an aging woman, especially one as emotionally leery and battle worn as I was?

The upshot of this sudden withdrawal, this squirrely-ness on the part of my formerly ardent suitor, was that I saw myself through another set of eyes. The vision was…unkind. Every single stabby phrase of Colette’s, aimed at old courtesans who “prey” on younger men (read Cheri and The Last of Cheri), flooded my mind. I saw myself grotesque and self-deluded. I remembered scenes from Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Oh, I beat myself up but good, even though I was the injured and innocent party, hardly the “predator.”

Yes, how dare I–divorced, dismissed, disrespected, and old–aspire to another, a new form of love? One of Colette’s quotes is “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiam.” Well, you can only wear that one well if you’re young(er). (She, however, did find happiness in her third and final marriage, with a much younger man!).

e5ac77e1ac3d03cd05f6b333c837e966
The author Colette and her third husband, Maurice Goudeket.

This bizarre roller-coaster ride happened not once, but twice! More fool I! Though wary, I was gulled by contrite behavior, excuses, accounts of his genuine life crises (if I am to believe anything he said), further expressions of interest. And so even though I know to believe actions, not words, I sat back as if to watch and see what would happen next, with just the tiniest dollop of hope.

But I knew what would happen.

More shilly-shallying.

Excuses.

Nothing.

And because I was giving this polite fiction less and less energy, whatever energy “it” had has gradually dwindled to just about nothing. Which is more than fine, I assure you. These many months I have watched the trajectory of this man’s diminishing communications with a sceptic’s eye. The discrepancy between what he says and doesn’t do no longer hurts me. I no longer care.

But back to Loki and his life-saving mercy, which is much more interesting to me.

You see, even as I was filled with shame and self-loathing for being so “stupid, stupid, stupid!” I was redeemed (yep, using that word deliberately) by the unexpected attention of a cosmic “god,” a being so awesomely compassionate and yet so iconoclastic that he could rescue me–poor, shattered me–and help me put myself back together again with equal parts of tough love and world-breaking humor.

Loki doesn’t do it for you. He loves you as you do it for yourself. Therein lies the appeal.

I can barely even recall now how all the Loki signals came flooding in, but it was precisely at the worst moments of the first crisis that I became aware of him running up all kinds of “signal flags” in the forms of pop culture references, books, images, you name it. The signal flags arrived with a sense of a presence just as I was contemplating how good it would feel to not be alive. That’s one thing about me, interesting phenomena can always capture my attention. Loki’s strategy worked.

Yes, I believe in doing “foolish things” with enthusiasm. Before I knew it, I was Loki’s own. Devoted, oathed, and quite happily embarked on the adventure of a life-time–well, what’s left of it, anyhow.

Loki likes all kinds of humans. He’ll like me even as I come to resemble La Môme Bijou. (And why shouldn’t I too deck my aging flesh with rhinestones and artificial pearls?) And if I occasionally feel myself to be grotesquely hopeful about one day meeting someone who will love me (A Gandalf? A Maurice?), I can offer that up to my patron god and he’ll accept it (along with the sweets and cinnamon tea that are his usual lot). Though I’ve got major “trust issues” with mortal men, I have complete confidence in my patron god. Though a trickster, he’s never cruel.  He now makes sure that people show their true selves to me–quickly and without artifice. He knows I have little time to waste and he saved me from cutting that time short.

Colette once wrote about the “absurd courage of girls.” The absurd courage of aging women is even more astounding. My patron god grants hope that causes no shame.

Hail Loki!

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Mourning a Real Life “Trickster”

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).

MRboat
Michael Rossman on Captain Kiko’s canoe, Kealakekua, Hawai’i Island. His hat in the foreground.

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.

And here’s Michael talking at the Oak Tree Sit on the UCB campus in 2007, when we were all trying to save the oak grove from destruction.

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.

MRAouonBirthday
The poster I drew to celebrate Michael Rossman’s All of Us or None (AOUON) political poster collection. His collection is now part of the Oakland Museum of California (but this poster is not).

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.

Kikocanoe copy
Michael Rossman, front right, on Captain Kiko’s canoe. I am front left, in black. Kiko’s wife is up front, in the middle.


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:

Three Square Blocks of Berkeley–An interiew about his early Berkeley days.

Off Road Tantra (previously published in Carnal Nation, November 4, 2009).

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!

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