No Blood, Saliva Will Have to Do

Sadly, there was no bloodletting. That meant that my blood, smeared into the white, rune-carved candles, would not have a chance to dry in the crevices, creating a stark contrast with the smooth, pale wax. I could have been down with that, but alas, it was not to be.

You see, I had dutifully bought lancets at the local drugstore in preparation for this nine day ritual, created by Dagulf Loptson (an author and blogger who has become my favorite and most respected guide to all things Lokean), but when I got home I realized I didn’t know how to dispose of the used lancets, which are considered medical waste. And I was too exhausted*  to research the matter. (Here’s how. I know this now.)

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I performed this ritual, “Breaking Loki’s Bonds,” from Nov. 4 to Nov. 12, beginning immediately after completing the “Eight Days of Loki” ritual created by Loptson and found on pp. 240-251 of his book, Playing with Fire: An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson. I had also just completed 93 days of consistent devotional and meditative practices, a self-created routine I ironically dubbed “Loki’s Spiritual Fitness Challenge” (ha!). I did this to prepare for certain magical learning that I had requested from “my most trusted one.”

So far, November has been a month “crowded with incident,” as Lady Bracknell would say (Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest**): the back half of Samhain and my birthday, the start of National Novel Writing Month (and my second novel), voting in the mid-term election, several intense days of smoke-filled skies from the tragic Butte “Camp Fire” two counties over (the smoke is still settled in the Lake County CA basin), and the unwelcome onset of a painful condition I endure a couple times a year. Plus there were two very unsettling contacts from ex-lovers–one being a real blast from the past (under sad circumstances), and the other sending me straight towards a “survivors of malignant narcissists” Facebook support group.

All this, and Loki too! (Lokeans, please don’t guffaw… I know. I know…)

So all that’s the background to my account of what this ritual has meant to me so far.


Preparation Comments

Aside from buying lancets and forgetting to buy or make a proper disposal container, I also prepared for the ritual by making GarageBand recordings, reading aloud the meditative portions of Loptson’s ritual. I didn’t do this when I went through “Eight Days of Loki” and I wish I had. However I should have made a separate small recording for each day, as scrolling through the previous days to find the start of the current one was a bit of a mood breaker. I also didn’t note start times for Days 1, 2, etc. on the recording, which also would have made things easier. [Note: it was an emotional experience to read these meditations aloud, for recording.]

It was important to have a rune book handy, particularly one which gave Roman alphabet correspondences.

I substituted saliva for blood rubbed on the candle runes, as mentioned above. It’s a personal fluid too.

For Day 3, I made a red paper “ribbon” to write on, as I didn’t want to inhale smoke from burning cloth.

For Day 9, I didn’t use my drinking horn as I had no stand and the ritual instructions are to fill the drinking vessel, then leave it to do something else before getting back to drinking. So I used a goblet instead.

Overall, my feeling is that my execution of ritual was clumsy though heartfelt. I mention the above to be helpful.


 Spiritual, Emotional Impact

Johari_WindowSelf-knowledge is a bitch! (Lokeans, don’t guffaw!)

I just turned sixty-four. I thought I knew myself pretty well. But no, there’s always more surprises lurking in that bottom right hand corner of the Johari Window. (Interesting that Loki’s hideaway cottage had four windows. Metaphor, anyone?) I was not prepared for the entrance of a discarded part of self whose name was unmistakably “Daddy’s Girl.”

[Note: Loki’s kennings for each day and the pronunciation keys below are taken straight from Loptson’s blog.]

Day 1 hails Loki as Inn Bundi Áss (in-boondy-ows), bound god. It is an invocation and contemplation of that horrible story of Loki’s torment. Loptson evokes it well: the dank cave, the screams, our beautiful god bound with the entrails of his dear child, poisonous snake venom dripping onto him every time his wife, Sigyn, has to empty the bowl. No one likes that story. We all hate the torture and gratuitous cruelty that our god suffered. The question during this preparatory meditation is “am I really up for this?” In spite of the caution implied in the above horror, I thought this was a question with an easy answer: “yes, of course.” (And again, “ha!”)

Day 2 hails Loki as (vay), the illuminator. The meditation is a request to reveal a hidden and scorned part of self. And that’s where “Daddy’s Girl” comes in. Poor thing! Her (my!) mother’s own hurts and anger prevent the five-year-old from mourning the departure of her beloved but “worthless” father. The child’s grief is devalued and thus hidden away. The experience of being a treasured daughter is diminished, as one parent is missing and the other is foolish and over-extended, caring for four small children under the age of five. Decades later I would learn that which was hidden from me: my mother had given birth to two children (twins) who were not actually my father’s, thus providing some excuse for his exit from the marriage (even though he was basically a narcissist and a cad and a deadbeat dad). But aside from the foibles and failings of the adults involved, the appearance of the small child (me) who deserved to have her grief honored, not dissed, was like a psychic sledgehammer. “Oh shit” was pretty much my first reaction. “Daddy Girl,” in runes, was written on my sealed bottle of elderberry*** lemonade (my mead substitute). (For some reason I wanted to leave the “‘s” out of the rune spelling.)

Day 3 hails Loki as Læva Lundr (lie-vuh-loon-der), spider. The meditation asks for help in discovering how one has ensnared oneself in “the web of fate.” The word that came to me was simply “Pinned.” That was written on the strip of red paper standing in as a ribbon. I was reminded of a line from a favorite Leonard Cohen song, “Sisters of Mercy:

Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

Ouch.

Day 4 hails Loki as Ver Sigynjar (vehr-sig-in-yar), Sigyn’s husband. The meditation asks for help in revealing the source of one’s support. The answer came quickly: Loki. His rune was carved into the first candle.

It’s not for nothing that he is my “most trusted one.” Tears…

Day 5 hails Loki as Lóðurr (low-thur), creator. The meditation asks for a revelation of allies. Strangely, the word that came was “Hunger.” Huh! There’s a lot to unpack with this one, but it makes perfect sense, especially when paired with Daddy’s Girl. Hunger for love and acceptance, being seen… those qualities I thought made me weak…but also paired with my hunger for justice, knowledge, growth and transformation. So, runes that spelled “hunger” were carved into the second candle.

Day 6 hails Loki as In Slægi Áss (in-sly-ee-ows), sly god. The meditation asks for the final ally. “Me” was the answer. No valentines here! No one to the rescue, that’s for sure! The runes for “me” are carved into the third and final candle.

I could grumble, but I don’t. Loki provides insight into what we need, not what we want.

Day 7 hails Loki as Loptr (lof-ter), “serpent of fire.” Now, I had some trouble with this meditation. I briefly registered a mental, quasi-visual “image” of fighting when asked to look into the shiny surface of a mighty sword blade (meant to be a kind of scrying), but for some reason I didn’t want to accept that message. But it was the only thing that came, so “Fight” was written in runes on my “ritual blade” (an old kitchen knife–didn’t want to use my athame).

Day 8 hails Loki as Hveðrung (Kveh-thrung), roarer, “mighty harbinger of Ragnarök.” Shit’s gettin’ real now… This meditation is where we release Loki from his fetters and release ourselves from our own. The ritual blade slices through the red paper ribbon in three places.

Day 9 hails Loki as Gammleið (gam-layth), “vulture’s path, lord of cremation.” In the meditation the dross is burned away and all is transformed. I was unexpectedly moved to tears by Loptson’s guidance to see Loki and Sigyn released and restored. I drank my “transformed poison” in the cup of victory (elderberry lemonade in the goblet), burned the scraps of red paper, and let the three white candles burn down all the way in the fireplace. (I hadn’t done that on the earlier, specified day.)

As I watched the rune-carved candles burn all the way down behind the glass window, I had the impression that Loki wanted another altar of sorts right there in the fireplace, which I seldom use.

I also meditated on the flames and found I could look at them in such a way that streams of light came toward me. I reached out and imagined these streams flowing into my hands. I imagined the warmth and energy of the fire invigorating me. Why not? Though based on a trick of the light, it was as good a meditation as any.

Thus ended the nine days of Breaking Loki’s Bonds. Huge thanks, yet again, to Dagulf Loptson, for creating a very valuable ritual. I learned more than I expected. My challenge now is to celebrate and accept Daddy’s Girl and welcome her back where she belongs. With me. Only me. The one who will fight.

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* Chronic fatigue.

** The best film of this play, ever. Nothing else can touch it.

*** My wand is of elder. I associate this tree and elderberries with the Fae.

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Loki Pushes My Neo-Tantra Buttons

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

Snakes, fire, a robust sexual history and magic expertise… how can I comprehend Loki as anything other than the bearer of knowledge that resembles tantra (or Western-style sex magic)? (Yes, I know he has additional attributes but I’m not concerned with those at the moment.) What follows is my “unverified personal gnosis” (UPG) on this topic.

But let’s back up a bit. Let’s think a moment about this concept called “gods” (I’ll use this word to mean deities of all genders). Dagulf Loptson’s book, Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (Asphodel Press, 2014), is an important source for me these days and he describes his concept of gods as “enormous, primordial, creative beings who manifest themselves in both the unseen and physical worlds via nature and human insight.” This works for me. Furthermore, Loptson suggests that gods take many forms, and we humans give them many faces. This also works for me.

I’d like to suggest that among other things, these primordial beings offer templates of spiritual enlargement to those humans who care to partake. Sure, the gods can also torment us, play with us, comfort us, blow our tiny minds, and request offerings (like the colorful donut-patterned shower curtain Loki wanted a few days ago), but when I really ask myself what human/deity interactions are all about, I get a kind of transcendent evolutionary vibe, if ya know what I mean. They can open themselves as doors, if we want to step through them, and change.

That’s why we have scads of spiritual traditions, religions, and magic rituals, with an endless array of techniques for getting in touch with these larger beings: meditation, prayer, trancework, offerings, mantras, visualization of yantras, contemplation, and quite a lot of sexual magic. Sexual actions, energy, and fluids have figured prominently in all kinds of practices, from Tibetan Buddhism to Crowley’s OTO and beyond. And sometimes there are elaborate rituals that include imagining oneself and/or one’s partner as divine (thereby stepping into the template). The process of cultivation is key.

So let’s say there really is an “enormous, primordial, creative being” out there that we call “Loki,” as well as various other kennings (defined as “indirect bynames,” Loptson, p.20). Like other deities, Loki has various attributes and associations, both ancient and modern. And like other deities, he can provide us with a template for spiritual expansion. I’ll repeat the four associations I mentioned above: (1) snakes, (2) fire, (3) a robust sexual history, and (4) magic.

Snakes. Loki fathered the giant Midgard-circling snake, Jörmungandr, and was also tormented by a poison-dripping snake when bound by the Aesir. These days, many Lokeans wear the Urnes Snake as a pendant, though there’s no actual evidence linking this image with Loki in ancient times. (The Lokean Welcoming Committee has a good discussion of the Urnes Snake here and points out that it has now become a modern symbol for Loki.)

Both Hindu and Buddhist forms of tantra are also associated with snakes, which are symbols of  kundalini energy, said to be coiled at the base of the human spine. There are also three snake deities in Hinduism. Shiva (the ultimate tantric god) is usually depicted wearing one of them, Vasuki, around his neck. Also notice that two of the carvings (below) feature two entwined snakes.

Nagaraja_-_Hindu_Deity_-_India
6 October 2011. Source: Nagaraja – Hindu Deity – India. Author: Natesh Ramasamy from Bangalore, India. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism (Princeton University Press, 1994), Miranda Shaw writes:

“Kundalini-yoga offered a range of techniques to harness the powerful psycho-physical energy coursing through the body. In India it is believed that this energy can be channeled for procreation, sexuality, creativity, or spiritual experiences and heightened awareness. Most people simply allow the energy to churn a cauldron of chaotic thoughts and emotions or dissipate the energy in a superficial pursuit of pleasure, but a yogi or yogini consciously accumulates and then directs it for specified purposes. This energy generates warmth as it accumulates and becomes an inner fire or inner heat (candali) that burns away the dross of ignorance and ego-clinging.” (p. 31)

Fire: Dagulf Loptson’s book contains a chapter (pp. 136-154) which deals extensively with Loki’s association with fire, specifically with ritual and cremation fires. There is also an interesting comparison of Odin (Nordic god associated with cremation) and the possible role played by his fiery pal, Loki, with the Hindu Shiva (also god of cremation) and Agni (god of cremation fire). I can’t replicate the arguments here. Just get the book if you’re interested in knowing more. I still need to get God in Flames, God in Fetters: Loki’s Role in the Northern Religions, by Stephen Grundy (published by The Troth). With a title like that, I expect yet more examination of Loki’s associations with fire.

Cremation grounds were a popular setting for tantric practices and gatherings. Miranda Shaw writes that “Tantric Buddhists encountered their Hindu counterparts at the cremation grounds…” (p. 31). She also describes bone instruments, ornaments and skull-caps used to serve meat and drink at tantric feasts. Skull Imagery and Skull Magic in the Yoginī Tantras by David P. Gray (Santa Clara University) is another interesting resource.

I note here that one of Loki’s kennings means “vulture’s path” (Loptson, p. 36). Vultures were frequent visitors to charnel grounds. Loki is the father of Hel (or Hela), the Norse goddess of death. Her physical description could almost be that of a “wrathful dakini.” (For that matter, Fenris, Loki’s wolf child with Angrboda, could also have a symbolic association as a cremation grounds scavenger. This is pure speculation, however.)

I suggest it might be interesting to consider Loki’s connection with snakes and fire (and death) as an esoteric reference to the “inner fire” of transformative sexual energy, something that Loki may very well teach and/or provoke.

Robust Sexual History: In the Norse poem, Lokasenna, Loki reveals his sexual history with just about every goddess in Asgard (and these days some people speculate about a sexual relationship with Odin as well). Plus, he’s a shapeshifter who mated with a stallion and bore a magical horse. And he’s got more than a few present-day god-spouses (of all genders). Lots of deities have active sex lives, but Loki combines that with his most noted quality: bringer of chaos and transformation. In Western tantric circles, it’s a given that taking up a tantric practice inevitably means that all hell is going to break loose in your life. We would nod at each other and say, “yeah, hero’s path, dude!” in the same way that Lokeans frequently commiserate with each other about the fan-hitting stuff that goes down after accepting Loki into your life.

Loptson references Loki’s “ecstasy” in the thirteenth verse of his “Loki’s Stave.” Sophie Oberlander calls Loki a “God of ectastic union” (The Jotunbok–Working with the Giants of Northern Tradition, Raven Kaldera. Asphodel Press, 2006, p. 269). Fuensanta Plaza writes of an incident in which Loki manifests as a “huge, fierce joy” (Also Jotunbok, p. 265). I believe I have also felt something of this on several occasions, accompanied by delicious shivers.

Magic. Loki has magic powers, particularly shapeshifting (which Loptson also calls “skin leaping,” pp. 238-239). Loptson also mentions “bind runes” and fire magic and divination (pp. 235-237). Elizabeth Vongvisith also credits Loki with runelore (learned from Odin), seidr-craft (learned from Freya), word magic, and sex magic (Jotunbok, p. 258).

Loki is also known as “the mother of witches” (Mordant Carnival, Jotunbok, p. 271), birthing “troll-women” or “ogres” after eating a woman’s burnt heart (“The Short Seeress’ Prophesy,” The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee Hollander, University of Texas Press, 1962, p. 139).

Tantra is known for its association with magic. Powers known as “siddhis” just naturally come with the turf. Miranda Shaw writes that “…supernatural powers and expertise in magical arts…within the Tantric Buddhist context they are accepted as evidence of spiritual attainments.” This includes mastery of the body (including shapeshifting and ritual gazes), control of weather and elements (fire!), and the ability to magically transport objects (including food from people’s kitchens), and more. One famous dakini, Gangadhara, was known to turn into a wolf.

Many Lokeans complain that Loki will often make things disappear out of mischief. There are many anecdotes about missing items that are not “returned” (or made visible?) until Loki is asked (nicely, I hope) to bring it back. I had this experience with a CD that “disappeared” from my car for a couple of weeks, and I did look everywhere for it, several times. I figured out that I’d played one song way too many times in the car and asked Loki if he actually made things disappear or just prevented people from seeing them? Within a few minutes, I found the missing CD at my feet, near the brake. I do feel somewhat foolish for sharing this story, but honestly, many such are shared. I can only hope that if I ever begin to suffer from dementia, that Loki will go easy on me…

Finally, I’ve come across three kennings for Loki: Sky-Treader, Sky-Traveler, and Sky-Walker. These remind me of the term for tantric yoginis and dakinis: Sky-Dancers. I haven’t found a historical or lore source for these particular kennings yet, however, and would welcome one if you have it.

Based on much of the above, I revived my solo tantric practice and dedicated ninety days of continuity to Loki in return for some specialized instruction. I am now on day 53. It’s proven to be an interesting way to work with Loki, and I believe that committed energy work will prove helpful in this ongoing relationship, providing me with the necessary stamina and sensory refinement to “go deeper.”

At this point, I’d say Loki closely fits the “profile” of a deity who offers a template of transformation fueled by sexual energy–using some symbols and methods that are at least superficially comparable to Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions. I am not sure if scholarship will ever uncover the reasons for these similarities, which do not seem purely coincidental. But because human sexual energy holds the potential to become a transformational spiritual force, perhaps the answer to this riddle is that some deities will always be available to assist us with this, no matter what culture or epoch we (and they) occupy.

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P.S. Here’s a reminder that it’s important to decolonize yoga and tantra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unverified Personal Gnosis

Collier-priestess_of_Delphi
Priestess of Delphi (1891), John Collier. Public domain.

“UPG” stands for “unverified personal gnosis” and I’ve been spending time lately in internet spaces where this type of experience is either celebrated or scorned. Gnosis means “knowledge of spiritual mysteries.”

Earlier today I posted about a book I’d been reading in a social media group. I asked if others had read it too. One man responded that the book  was “one man’s UPG” with a lot of “MUS.” (The book in question actually contains material from several people.) I had to ask the meaning of “MUS.” It stands for “made-up shit.”

I read that and had feelings…

Okay, yes, there is lots of “MUS” in this world. Lots and lots. “Gubmint” is full of it these days. And I, in common with you, dear reader, deplore what seems to be a widespread, general decline in critical thinking skills.

However, I’m not willing to sneer at or dismiss “unverified personal gnosis” just because someone’s numinous, transcendent, shamanic (yes, I know this word is often overused in a culturally inappropriate way), meditative, ecstatic, or otherwise deeply meaningful experience doesn’t “fit” within an established spiritual or religious canon. And since this blog contains some of my own “UPGs,” you will understand that I have a major bias against such outright dismissal.

Not that discernment and critical thinking aren’t good things to bring into this arena, but honestly, how in the world would anyone else have been able to “verify” the quality and content of my “spontaneous combustion” experience or the meaning of some of my most powerful lucid dreams? How would someone be able to “verify” yours?

Aside from the meaning that an individual attaches to a personal gnosis, I suggest that the only context for “evaluating” so-called “UPGs” is through a socio-cultural-religious lens that incorporates anthropological and religious studies as well as a broad knowledge of sacred literature and historical accounts of mystic experiences combined with an account of what happened to the person during the specific incident.

Some people also use “PCPG” which stands for “peer-corroborated personal gnosis” in which information and narratives are vetted by comparing independent accounts from several people which might convey similar “information.” Raven Kaldera explains PCPG as a way to assessing personal accounts and experiences in Jotunbok: Working with the Giants of the Northern Tradition (pp. 3-6).

An interesting book which I need to re-read is The Woman in the Shaman’s Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine, by Barbara Tedlock, Ph.D. (an anthropologist). (Here is The Occult Book Review on YouTube.) Tedlock’s book surveys an array of cultures and practices, but with regard to this blog, I am remembering  that the book contains a discussion of how women (and female-identified people) are historically and culturally more likely to be “self-initiates” (Tedlock calls them “inspirational” shamans — having UPG experiences!) and/or hereditary shamans, linked with a family tradition. In other sorts of spiritual traditions, cis-gendered men tend to be initiated within an institution or a mystery school. (I am guessing that people who are gendered beyond binary, including those with multiple genders, were probably also often self-initiates.)

Tedlock writes: “Shamanism as a practice, however, has rarely become a formal social institution. Almost everywhere, shamanism was in the past and still is today a set of local activities and perspectives, rather than an ethnic or national institution” (p. 20). She suggests we consider “shamanic activities and perspectives” rather than “‘shamanism’ as an ideology or institution” (p. 20).

Common perspectives include perceptions of “vital energy,” “a web of life,” various “levels” of reality and the ability to journey to and through them, and “extraordinary forces, entities, or beings whose behavior in an alternative reality affects individuals and events in our ordinary world” (pp. 20-21).

According to Tedlock, shamanic activities may include forms of divination, trance work, healing, ritual ingestion of special substances, rituals, meditation, dreaming, waking dreams and visions, spirit journeys, spirit possession, gender shifting, erotic ecstasy, spirit “marriages,” chanting, and other ways of pursuing knowledge and serving the community.

These activities are ancient. And in addition to the above activities labeled as “shamanic” in Tedlock’s book, people have fasted, prayed, had ritual energetic sex, danced, ritualized pain, worked magic, focused on yantras or other sacred art, and done many other practices in pursuit of spiritual connection and transcendence, with and without concern for verification.

In ancient Greece, the Delphic Oracles experienced the gift of prophecy by inhaling ethylene fumes that occured naturally from a small cracks in the floor of the temple (first dedicated to Gaea, then Apollo). The ancient Greeks knew about the fumes as a causal factor but the Oracle, always known as Pythia, was presumably well educated and esoterically trained as well (for example, she was said to give her prophecies in a form of poetry known as dactylic hexameters). I mention this as our modern world is overrun with common sources of petrochemical toxins that effect our neurology. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause hallucinations. Teenagers huff oven cleaners, glues, spray paint, and other inhalants to get high.

In addition to environmental toxins, other factors that could contribute to a UPG might include: side effects of prescription medications; recreational drug and alcohol use (not associated with esoteric ritual); “mental health” history; and even physiological or medical conditions such as electrolyte imbalances. As a teenager in the 60s, I had two experiences of nirvana on LSD, and while the effects of these two enlightenment episodes were emphemeral (compared to the life-changing impact of non-drug related UPGs I’ve written about this blog), they did seem quite “real” at the time. So I get how intentional or unintentional use of “entheogens” can work. I don’t believe that the existence of any of the above factors necessarily negates the value of the UPG either.

Ganesha_Yantra
Ganesha Yantra, by Hasanthi, March 8, 2010. Creative Commons, Attribution Share-Alike 3.0.

Given that some spiritual traditions include meditation on a “yantra” (geometric representation of a deity) or actual image of a deity or spiritual being as a way to gain spiritual advancement and attributes, I note with pleasure the role that pop culture can play in creating ecstatic experiences for fans of superheroes and antagonists, such as Marvel Loki. This video of the actor, Tom Hiddleston, appearing as Loki at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, is a great example of a witty and vibrant invocation of an mythic figure with a growing following. I would not be surprised to learn that at least one fan “saw god” during this brief appearance! It’s no secret that persistent focus on a beloved “movie idol,” pop star, or character might very well create states similar to religious ecstasy and a longing for connection that can sometimes get out of hand for both fan and “star.” As a hypnotist, I often counsel my clients to practice self-hypnosis and/or listen to recordings to create robust neural pathways to support the changes they want. Spiritual practices are also ways of creating robust neural connections. Like the meditative focus on the tiny dot in the middle of the Ganesha yantra above, ecstatic or devotional focus on representations of deities (pop culture or otherwise) can also create experiences of personal gnosis.

So I suggest that it would interesting to know if a person’s experience of “personal gnosis” included any of the above elements. This could provide a better context for understanding and for also legitimizing the phenomena in general. (Remembering however that spontaneous experiences can also occur and transform a person’s life.)

What say all of you? If you’re a fellow traveller, please get in touch.

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I Had an Anthroposophical Epiphany But All I Got Was This Rudolf Steiner T-Shirt

Actually, the headline is misleading, as headlines so often are. It was a t-shirt that started the whole thing, and I did get far more than I bargained for, during the time I was involved. Prepare for another tale of strange…

youth200-Rudolf-Steiner-e1519533590401This is Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) at about age eighteen. He looks like a nice young man from Austria, but he’d been clairvoyant since the age of three. For much of his adult life, he was a teacher and a scientist. He edited Goethe’s books on science. He was a serious fellow, but in his early forties decided to “come out” of the pyschic closet and therefore, in certain circles, “his rep was ruined.” He began lecturing at the Theosophical Society and later went on to found the Anthroposophical Society. (Here’s the link to the American branch.) Steiner is best known as the founder of Waldorf Schools and biodynamic farming.

I first encountered Waldorf education while looking for a kindergarten for my oldest child (my only child at the time). The San Francisco Waldorf School seemed perfect for this particular kid, and for many years, I do think he was served well by it. Now he has mixed feelings (as I do), especially when we discovered that some of Steiner’s lectures–the untranslated ones–are racist and contain other prejudices. He was, for all his brilliance and clairvoyance, a man subject to the ugly, unexamined prejudices of white, Eurocentric privilege. And I had no interest in Steiner either, at first. I just wanted my kid to go to a really wonderful school with lots of art and singing and drama and storytelling.

It seemed a magic place.

The incident I am about to relate is one example of why I now recognize the huge role a certain Trickster has played in my life. Most of my important and significant spiritual experiences and epiphanies have been accompanied by absurdities and incongruities. I was about forty-two when this incident happened. According to Steiner this is the time of life when the spiritual world tries to get your attention. (This story predates my spontaneous combustion story by almost a decade, by the way.)

So, just a few doors down from the SF Waldorf School, there was a toy store, The Ark, owned by one of the major donors to the school. The store was usually staffed by Pam, a hip gal with a beret who was also a Waldorf parent. (Later Pam would buy The Ark, move it to 24th Street in San Francisco and later to Fourth Street in Berkeley–but I digress.)

One day I was in there, buying crayons or beeswax or wool or something, and Pam was behind the counter. She was wearing a white t-shirt with that “portrait of the clairvoyant as a young man” image on it. Yes, the same one that I’ve placed in this article. The radio was playing “Falling in Love Again” and I couldn’t take my eyes off the image. Never have I stared so long at a woman’s chest! There was feeling I couldn’t explain–I was in the grip of something utterly new. C.S. Lewis might be the right writer to invoke here: “instantly her world was unmade” (That Hideous Strength, p. 139). I felt the presence of an unseen but welcoming assembly. It was warm, embracing, lovely. And lasting. For months.

Of course the sardonic portion of my mind was protesting, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me I’ve finally reached the age where the image of a handsome young man is going to upset my world!” I have a horror of such emotional indignity, probably from reading too much Colette in my youth. (I still read her…) And the dadaist in me was saying, “Well, OF COURSE it would happen this way, with surreal juxtapositions and humor.” (I was just a few years past my punk rock vinyl artist phase, after all. Motherhood hadn’t completely ruined me.)

The course of my life has been overturned several times by epiphanies consisting of powerful insights and spiritually compelling calls to action. This was the second one I’d encountered (the first had to do with women and outer space exploration). My first response, after stunned wonder and gratitude, is to research the hell out of whatever it is that’s calling my name. Therefore I plunged into anthroposophical reading. The school had a dimly lit library where I checked out volume after volume of Steiner’s lectures, including his autobiography. I will say that his “foundation books” create a true esoteric experience for the reader. There is something in the way that they were constructed, not just the content, that creates a change. It’s subtle, but definite. I also joined the Anthroposophical Society (national and the Bay Area branch), went to study groups and events, had interesting conversations… but remained a loner in my explorations. Socially, I felt a certain coldness in these gatherings, even though we were always lighting candles for warmth.

I even attended the long, long production of Steiner’s mystery play, The Soul’s Awakening, which was one of the strangest theatrical experiences I’d ever known. The director (whose name I forget) gave an interesting lecture a few days before the performance. He galvanized my attention with the statement: “There are two streams, the visible and the invisible.” Since I’d been experiencing this very thing and had no one to talk with about it, I felt very grateful for this confirmation.

I also gained a lot from lectures by Dennis Klocek, who is definitely a “real deal.” I still use his “etheric star” meditation sometimes. Another notable experience was a conversation with a Christian Community priest who was the first person I ever saw with my inner eye (kind of like that scene where Arwen is bending over the injured Frodo–elf princess one moment, woodland elf the next). This man suggested that artificial chemicals, such as the ones that make me ill, were not welcomed into creation in an appropriate way and their toxicity is a result of their “agony.” It is an interesting concept and I’ve played at times with “blessing the toxins” (but have not been consistent enough to report any results).

After several years of studying (but still not feeling community), I was slammed by another series of epiphanies which swept me on to different explorations. But I’ve learned to detect the influences of anthroposophical “streams:” such as the long  association of “The Inklings:” J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield; and in the work of Jacques Lusseyran, the “blind hero of the French Resistance.” (He was a child of anthroposophists and learned to “see” when in a state of accord and balance.)

The “tales of strange” I will relate in this blog are more than a series of spiritual “special interests” taken up by an eccentric neophyte. I feel into them now as a kaleidescopic journey through “seven directions” of a pattern which I hope actually has meaning. On the other hand, my invisible friend, The Trickster, may simply be leading me through a rabbit hole of fun house mirrors, an endless reflection of hapless self stumbling through  a multi-verse of karmic snarls.

Either way, the primary question is always asked and answered: “Are we having fun yet?”

If you’re a fellow traveller, let me know!

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Spontaneous Combustion

“It happens sometimes. People just explode.” Repo Man, 1984.

“Suddenly, with a roar like that of a waterfall, I felt a stream of liquid light entering my brain through my spinal cord. Entirely unprepared for such a development I was completely taken by surprise; but regaining self-control instantaneously, I remained sitting in the same posture, keeping my mind on the point of concentration. The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the roaring loude, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light.” Gopi Krishna, Kundalini – The Evolutionary Energy in Man. Shambala Publications: Boulder and London, 1971. pp.12-13.


Yes. People just explode. For me it was like a blast of wind that blew every molecule apart and put me back together again in a nanosecond, but with a slightly different assembly. Prepare for a tale of strange.

It was the evening of Nov. 7, 2001. My husband, children, and I had just moved into a new home in September. We were about to light a fire in the fireplace for the first time. I remember my husband’s mood as somewhat disgruntled though I can’t remember why. But it was a Wednesday and so it was likely he’d had a hard day at work.

I’d already had several unusual experiences in my life, especially in the year that immediately preceeded this incident. You could label them “psychic” or “spiritual,” and  though I was fascinated by them, they were not a welcome topic of conversation in my marriage. In fact, I’d become obsessed with Hawaiian culture in that last year, as most of these experiences had happened in Maui and Hawai’i Island. I wanted to understand these experiences and their possible cultural context. To that end, I’d been corresponding with some native Hawaiian activists about sovereignty, and had also taken up the study of hula. And I was doing as much reading as possible. (However it would be a few years before I was also aware of the impact of white settler/colonists having spiritual experiences in those islands).

That evening, because my husband was grumpy, I went into the bedroom to check email. I was in the middle of a particularly generous and informative correspondence with a cultural practioner in O’ahu, and I was always delighted to get an email from him. I had so many questions, and though he couldn’t answer them all (why should he?), he was kind enough to answer some. There was a phrase in his latest email, a particularly poignant one (from a historical and spiritual view), and when I read this phrase, it was like a light switch turning on.

The big wind ripped through me, the energy rushed through me, it tore me apart, left me staggered and changed. In that brief span of time I had also acquired a “visitor” and she (I know it was a she) was with me until the sponteneous kundalini surge finally subsided on Sept. 29, 2002.

“Alive…in a body…again!” The fierce visitor cried out in my soul and sounded through my body, and I, my little self encased like a small red bean in a gelatinous cube of her, could scarely believe what was happening.

So, you’re thinking “psychotic break,” right? I only wish it had been that simple. I could have gotten help. However, it might not have been the right kind of help. Stanislav and Christina Grof, who helped pioneer the concept of spiritual emergence (that might become an emergency) vs. psychosis, would have been the people I needed the most at that point. But I didn’t know of the existence of their work, or even what I was dealing with.


“…the Grofs’ definition of spiritual emergency, which is ‘both a crisis and an opportunity of rising to a new level of awareness'” (Grof & Grof, 1989, p. x)” Viggiano, D. B., & Krippner, S. (2010). The Grofs’ model of spiritual emergency in retrospect: Has it stood the test of time? International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 29(1), 118–127.. http://dx.doi.org/10.24972/ijts.2010.29.1.118


Though I was aware that I was experiencing something that was extremely abnormal, my only way of dealing with the question of my sanity (at least at first) was to ask, “Am I functional?” And the answer was, yes, I was. I continued to take care of my children, work at a part-time job, carry on normal conversations, and look and act mostly as I usually did, even with this fierce guest surrounding me like a marshmellow aura. For she was not “in” me, she was surrounding me. I never knew her name and only really knew her emotions and “pre-thoughts” (quasi-verbal). Clear statements like “alive, in a body…” were rare. She was ancient, with a consciousness very unlike that of a modern person, the embodiment of an atavistic culture. I could not presume to know her well.

She was very emotional. The first three months were agony. In fact, as soon as she appeared in my life, a smell of death entered the house and lasted for three whole weeks. Everyone could smell it. We had heating vents and the basement inspected, tried to locate the source of the smell, nothing was found that could explain it. It was a cold, rainy season, and my youngest son was sick during part of that time, and so I could not open the windows for fresh air. The terrible odor built to a crescendo until the moment I could feel it subside. I was halfway up the stairs to the second floor, and I felt it decrease. You can imagine my thankfulness.

She cried at the sight of islands in San Francisco Bay, while driving across the Bay Bridge. She was astonished at the sight of magnolias blooming against a bright blue sky. She wondered where her people were. She wanted to share what she was seeing. She wondered why she was torn out of time. She didn’t seem to wonder about me, at all.

I wondered about her, of course. Was this a past-life fragment? Or a spirit “sitting” on me (noho) as one of my Hawaiian correspondents thought? I experienced her as sexually and emotionally intense, proud, lonely, and full of anticipation–but anticipation for what? Whatever she was, she was 24/7 and there was no escaping her.

My own heightened kundalini surges were also part of this mix. They were agonizing too, especially before I got used to them. I also experienced powerful lucid teaching dreams during this time. But could I tell my husband about all this? It took me about six months to do it. The results were…mixed. I felt estranged. Still, my family grounded me during this period. Without them, I would have been unmoored.

Fast forward to a period of crisis. Toward the end of summer, 2002, I began to feel suicidal. I was exhausted by my experiences, but there was nothing in my life (except her) that would have caused me to have these feelings. Now I was worried. I began to question my ability to cope. And still I soldiered on with family tasks. “Professional help” was not an option for some reason. Perhaps I was afraid that I really was crazy after all.

However, I encountered two healers. One was a man skilled in a Tibetan modality that used chanting and breath work, and though he provided a bit of relief, it wasn’t enough.

Then on Sept. 29, 2002, I took my oldest kid to the Novato Renaissance Faire, feeling utterly horrible yet determined to provide a nice outing for my child. As we approached the Caravansary portion of the faire, I grabbed my kid’s hand and said, “We’re going to get a reading!” (I’d never done that before.) We made a beeline for one of two “fortune tellers.”

“You’re a writer. You have to write the happy ending,” said the fortune teller, a woman who was to become a friend. This was the key phrase to end the “enchantment” of the first phrase that had triggered the whole incident in the first place. Magic words indeed. I had the power to “write” the happy ending. The fortune teller saved my life.

By the next morning, the woman who’d been with me all that time was gone. She’d melted away. In her place was a gestalt, a vista of that woman’s situation as I could understand it, the fragment of her life that I’d relived along with her, for whatever reason.

She’d been pregnant and anticipating the baby’s arrival with love and joy. She had also counted on the baby as important to her status (within her community or perhaps with the father–I am not sure). But she’d lost the baby, either as a still birth or shortly afterwards. I think her natural grief was complicated by post-partum depression, maybe even psychosis. She leapt off a cliff, but returned to her senses just as her feet left the ground. (I could feel that, an equivalent to “oh shit!” in modern terminology.) Now, the above may just be a narrative offered by my subconscious as a comfortable context, but the essence feels “true,” even if the details are not. Who is to say?

And so my challenge had been to experience her and her emotions, but to not do as she had done. At least, that is the meaning I took away from this bewildering incident. Also, there are other parts to this story that I am not sharing as they are more deeply personal.

Once this experience was over (to my profound relief), I began to study tantra with the thought that if a spontaneous kundalini surge ever happens again, I want practices that will help me deal with it.

Later I would find the book, The Woman in the Shaman’s Body, by Barbara Tedlock (Bantam, 2005). She offers anthropological evidence of “self-initiation” among women, contrary to the usual practice for men, which she says generally consists of study and initiation within established mystery schools and traditions. She also writes of her own experiences with koyopa (“sheet lightening”) as “flowing and shimmering” body energy: “Initially these ecstatic feelings seemed strange, and I was frightened that I was becoming possessed by something outside myself” (p.79).

When I was in my late teens, someone took me to a dowdy little “psychic church” in San Diego. At the time, I was in the midst of dire circumstances, mostly involving a suicidal childhood sweetheart. When it was my turn in the circle for comment from the medium, she took one look at me and said, “Don’t waste your time on tears, honey.” And though I’ve shed too many over the years, I’ve also tried to accomplish whatever it is I think I’m supposed to be doing here.

I have come to see my own experience of “spontaneous combustion” as a true “spontaneous initiation” of the sort known by female-identified and multi-gendered people throughout time. It forced me onto a (very convoluted) path and though I haven’t always known what I’m doing, I do know that I have to do “it” anyway. Tears or not.

Thanks for reading. If you’re a fellow traveller, let me know you’re out there.

Fk-142

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