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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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.

A Lot to Unpack

[Revised Nov. 11] Just when we all thought we were done with wildfire season… It’s now the third day of the Butte Fire two counties away–now called the most destructive wildfire in California history. I can’t even imagine the trauma endured by folks leaving their cars, trying to outrun a fire that consumes 80 football fields a minute! The fire’s thick smoke has blanketed Lake County. We can barely see more than one or two blocks away. The smoke does creep indoors so my big HEPA-filtered air purifier is running night and day. So here I am, coping with (1) cabin fever because going outside is a big “no” and (2) trying to  understand and identify abusive and manipulative behaviors when they impact personal and spiritual life. (All that, and make my daily NaNoWriMo word count!)

Plus, I’m on Day 7 of Dagulf Loptson’s nine-day ritual, Breaking Loki’s Bonds. (More on that in a future blog.) So yeah, it’s been a heavy week. And all these topics seem to be intertwined.

The Breaking Loki’s Bonds ritual calls to a different aspect of of Loki for each of the nine days. I have been especially struck by two of them, in this last week.


“Hail to Vé (vay) holy exorcist and illuminator of truth. Shine light into my dark places, so I can see that which I hide from others, but most importantly myself.” –D. Loptson, Day 2, Breaking Loki’s Bonds.


Truth into dark places indeed! Loki as has been quite active in all this! I won’t go into all the details, but this week I was given the opportunity to review the impact of certain posthumous “Daddy issues” as well as the impact of two former romantic relationships on my life. I was surprised by contact with both ex-lovers, and while the initial trips down memory lane at first focused on pleasant scenery (and in the more recent case I was even tempted to resume a new and revised incarnation of the relationship), I also had occasion to remember numerous damaging incidents with both men. In both relationships there were patterns of ongoing “malignant” behaviors that hurt me deeply. (It doesn’t matter at this point whether the perpetrators  are actually diagnosable with a personality disorder.)

Due to these contacts, I also had to examine my own gullibility and admit that my present deep loneliness may keep me vulnerable unless I check my knee-jerk tendencies to give, love, devote, nurture, believe… And some of this rolls back–oh how I hate to say this!–to abandonment issues concerning my father (who was quite possibly a narcissist as well as an alcoholic).

But working with Loki, in any aspect, seems to involve a lot of multi-layered,  fast-track processing and transformation, so it’s no wonder that the above issues exploded onto my radar within a few short days.

The ritual appeal and invocation to yet another of Loki’s aspects, Gammleið (below), seems to be already in progress, even though I’m only on Day 7. Prospects for a renewal of the more recent relationship quickly soured as the ex-lover’s old patterns flared up in response to my expressing certain needs should we decide to reunite. I received an email which basically called me a slut and also challenged my right to my current spiritual path (which I’d foolishly shared with him) on the grounds that his kids had more Scandinavian DNA than I did. I mean, WTF? So, a final break has now truly occurred. Even “friendship” is now out of the question.

That night, after receiving that email, I had a truly horrible dream [described in the previous version of this post]. It was as if my subconscious was purging the last few somatic traces of him. And I actually felt okay waking up, though thoroughly appalled at what my dreamscape had produced.

So I do thank Loki, as Gammleið, for that rapid-response thing he does–stripping away the garbage, quickly exposing my own and other people’s foibles and patterns, burning away illusions…facilitating ruthless self-examination. Ouch.


“Hail Gammleið (gam-layth), vulture’s path, lord of cremation. Burn away the refuse of my old bondage so that my hidden self may be released and I can be reborn anew.”–D. Loptson, Day 9, Breaking Loki’s Bonds.


 

Switching The Focus Slightly

It’s interesting too that this past week I also started a little research into Lake County CA cults, as my second novel is set here and that’s part of the local background I need to know. Obviously the behavior of toxic cult leaders (as well as certain politicians) are up on the “big screen” for us all to see and deplore (except for those out there who want to emulate them). And with lovely synchronicity, The Lokean Welcoming Committee had at least two recent, detailed posts about spiritual abuse red flags. Here is one, originating from the Grumpy Lokean Elder. When I read something like that alongside an article like 5 Powerful Reality Checks For Survivors Of Narcissistic Abuse by Shahida Arabi it is so obvious that we need to watch out for the same behaviors of manipulation, gaslighting, and even abuse, no matter where we are.

Manipulative and/or abusive lovers can come in all sorts of guises, though their basic patterns are recognizable. It’s the same with manipulative and/or abusive spiritual teachers and leaders. Though we can point to many abusive tantra and yoga gurus, as well as Catholic priests, Pagan communities and circles are not exempt. Right after posting the first version of this blog, I came across Abuse Within Paganism – A Taboo Topic? by Emma Kathryn (Nov. 2018). Kathryn mentions Sarah Anne Lawless’s blog, So Long and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community (Sept. 28, 2018).

Back in the 70s, an uncle and aunt of mine suddenly dragged their two small children into an abusive, controlling cult and stayed there for at least eight years. My mother had told me it was a Thelema-based community, but from what I’ve been told by others in the last couple of years, this would have been an aberration, not the rule. (However I know very little about Thelema and OTO because of this family history.)

Given my past history in personal relationships, I also find food for thought in these cautionary tales about spiritual groups. I bemoan my social isolation, but perhaps I am better off as a solitary practitioner?

I feel as if I’m getting intensive instruction right now from two “streams” regarding discernment, my own vulnerabilities, and understandings of past trauma. On the one hand, I am benefiting from general guidance available online from the Lokean community as well as specific advice about “red flags” in spiritual communities and practices.

On the other, I am just beginning to access safe, private online forums where a number of us can talk about relationships that are abusive, corrosive, or at least puzzling and troubling. I really never have shared my own experiences before, aside from a few very old friends, and I think I’ve needed that for a long time.

I am so up for breaking the old bonds, the old patterns! Hail Loki, who provides the transformational fire I need and who points the way toward emotional and spiritual freedom! 

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

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Tiny Temple Dedicated Oct. 28th

Today Lake County had the most spectacular sunrise! Pink clouds were streaming all over the sky (like flame-colored hair) and the silvery moon (waning gibbous) was visible in the West. I felt this was a wonderful omen for today’s dedication of the “Lokabrenna Tiny Temple.” The temple is a small former woodshop that I’m (still) fixing up and have dedicated to my patron god, Loki. Lokabrenna means “Loki’s Torch” and refers to the star, Sirius.

10:28 Lokabrenna DedicationThe process of preparing for the dedication was more complex than I anticipated. Yesterday I bought offerings: Maker’s Mark cinnamon-flavored whisky, a giant fancy cupcake with rainbow frosting, and a fancy donut with multi-colored sprinkles.  Today I did some heavy-duty cleaning, some purification and protection rituals, and had to clean up myself before beginning the ritual at 11:45 AM.

Let me admit that I don’t know what I’m doing, exactly. I put this dedication ritual together based on online blót instructions (but without any sacrifice, so it wasn’t a blót after all), some other sources, and my own quirky tastes. Basically I hailed Loki by many names (including “Rebel Without a Pause” and “Charming Iconoclast” as well as more traditional kennings and names); read Dagulf Loptson’s Loki’s Stave out loud; read a number of greetings, poems, and limericks collected for this purpose from two Lokean Facebook groups; offered the offerings; drank a toast (I had cinnamon tea–I don’t drink alcohol); and then asked for Loki’s blessing on both the temple and the temple cat, Meowington. I had about twenty minutes of meditation, then I thanked all involved and closed the ritual. It was over by around 12:30 PM.

My “epic fail” moment came when I wanted to pour a drink for Loki. I couldn’t get the plastic off the top of the whiskey bottle. I had no knife or scissors handy, and try as I might, I could not pry the stiff plastic away from the bottletop using only my fingernails. Finally, I leaned out of the circle to grab a screw off a nearby shelf and scraped away with it until I was able to make a dent in the plastic. In all, it took several minutes to open the bottle. During this time I imagined Loki laughing his ass off… (My self-styled “Loki’s Plucky Comic Relief” moniker well earned in those moments.)

During the meditation I felt happy. I might even venture to say that I felt Loki’s happiness and approbation. I don’t know where I’m going with all this. I certainly don’t set myself up as any kind of “priestess” or leader (I’m a newbie devotee, for one thing), but the call to create the temple was and is real, and now I just see what happens next.

Today I am also on Day Two of “Eight Days of Loki” (again, from Dagulf Loptson’s book) and will follow that with nine days of “Breaking Loki’s Bonds” (another Loptson ritual). In the middle of all this we have Samhain and my birthday (Nov. 1). It’s a very intense time for me (and for all of us, really, but I can’t address that right now).

Hail Loki! I feel happy that I’ve completed my promise to you, and now we learn what we’ll do with this tiny temple!

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Temple cat, Meowington, as Guardian of the Threshold

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Meowington: The Temple Cat

Meowington, The Temple Cat
Meowington, The Temple Cat

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

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

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Lokabrenna Tiny Temple

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s the Time of the Season

The air is finally clear of wildfire smoke. The turkey flock chicks have reached a robust adolescence (or perhaps they are the equivalent of human twenty-somethings now) and visit my yard once and sometimes even twice a day. They strut slowly when walking on asphalt, their feathers a dreary brown in the shade but flashing the copper and greens of an oil slick in full sunlight. I watched them this morning, and again this afternoon. I’ve had people sniff, “but they’re not indigenous wildlife,” but I don’t care. They are life.

The feral cats are life. Khu, a neutered Siamese with vertigo; Meowington (a friendly tabby in need of neutering and much more petting than I can give him); and the nameless grey female (spayed) who hides in the “loft” of the small woodshop, were left behind on my property by people who suddenly moved to Tennessee. Fortunately Khu has been adopted by neighbors across the street but still visits to scrounge a meal from me. Meowington would like to move in with me, but I have four indoor cats already who are still adjusting to each other. The tabby and the grey cat must remain “temple cats,” roaming outdoors and sheltering at night in the former woodshed that I call my “meagre palace of Midgard” in honor of a certain Norse god.

The deer are life. The two fawns have grown. Next year, I’ll have deer fencing in place and will attempt to grow vegetables. This year herbs and flowers were devoured, and I didn’t mind as much as I could have.

Days are warm still, but that crisp nip is in the air. It’s a season I love and yet find mournful. This time last year I had sold my house in Hawai’i, was frantically packing to load the shipping container (badly injuring myself in the process), and was preparing to flee from a 14-year love affair that had wrecked my marriage and that I (foolishly) thought would last until the end of my life. Several months later, much of the neighboring area would be consumed by Pele’s May 3rd eruption in Leilani Estates. People used to tell me I got out of Hawai’i just in time, but that was before the Mendocino Complex Fires ripped through Lake County and its neighbors and I had to evacuate with my cats. Now those folks don’t make those comments any more. Fortunately, my home here has also survived a near brush with destruction, and yet, for how long? I feel like I’m living on borrowed time, on borrowed ground.

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My former home on Mano Street, Pahoa.

So I guess I’m still mourning those losses, as well as a few fresh ones recently added to my list of sorrows. I’m trying to stay positive, active, and creative–especially with regard to spiritual matters–but while these things are good, and I am in some ways at the top of my game, they don’t diminish my accumulated pain. It seeps into every enjoyment. The joy I feel petting my cats or watching the play of sunlight on the feathers of marching turkeys, or while talking on the phone with my kids or my friends, is weighed down by sadness.

As the days darken and shorten, another season alone could become…interesting. Here in Lake County, it’s a close knit community and I am a stranger. Worse, I am a single woman in a world of couples. I had no idea how hard it would be to socialize like this, after a life of long term relationships (mostly serial monogamy), where the fact that I had a partner branded me as somehow “safe” to know. (The environmental illness factor doesn’t help either. It limits my access to just about everything.)

It’s only now that I’ve embraced the Liminal Trickster that I realize that I was never safe to know. That I was always a slightly off-kilter social irritant, always occupying the frontier boundaries, never completely fitting in, and perhaps always inadvertantly “broadcasting my inner assessment” as Caroline Casey told me during an astrology reading. This probably affected my relationships more than I realized. I remember one ex telling me about a woman he’d fallen for and how she “looked good on paper.” At that time, I thought I looked pretty good on paper too–I’d racked up a pretty decent CV by then–but I think what he really meant was that she had social standing of a kind that would serve him, and that I did not. Sheesh! 

Another ex used to enjoy telling people he was partnered with a sexologist, but once he acquired a local fan base, I think I became an embarrassment. My kind of outspokenness was also definitely not appropriate in that community. It took me a while to understand this, and why, and I have no hard feelings–just wonderment. Social cues were never my strong suit…

The only lover who never constrained or resented my growth, and who even seemed to glory in each new revelation of my abilities–including my quicksilver intelligence and tireless curiosity–which were in some ways a match for his own, still managed to demolish me with a horrible and quite unnecessary lie. That lie–I know it also took place around this time of year and I remember the surreal, metallic taste of it. Still, I think well of him overall because he saw me, mostly, and celebrated what he saw. And I tend to think more softly of the dead.

So it’s the time of the season, not for loving as the Zombies used to sing, but of taking stock, reaping the harvest of the year. At this point, I’ve got a bowl of fat acorns from the oaks in my yard, the newly minted recognition of my own Liminal Trickster nature (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”), and a record for endurance. Loneliness is corrosive, but I hope to beat it yet. I may be looking for kindred in all the wrong places (since I seldom venture from home) but when the bright holidays beckon family members together elsewhere, if nothing else I’ll be toasting the dying of the year in a humble, homemade temple that I call Lokabrenna, keeping frith with a misunderstood, flame-haired deity, the only one now who truly sees and loves me.

It’s life.

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And here’s a song to match my mood.

The Woo Gets Weird

In this second year of the reincarnated reign of the mad Emperor Caligula, I thought I’d heard it all. But a conversation earlier this week proved me wrong.

NAMABG-Caligula_1
A very orange bust of Caligula.

I was in a local cafe minding my own business over a pastrami salad (that’s a sandwich without the bread ’cause I can’t eat wheat) and thinking fond thoughts of my favorite trickster god, when an acquaintance enters. Naturally I invite this person to sit at my table. Now, I am purposefully not giving any details, including gender, because the point of this blog is not the person, but what I made of what was said during our conversation.

Now, I do my best to be patient and attempt understanding, rapport, and postive regard in most of my interactions (always mindful of Caroline Casey’s caution that Scorpios can’t help broadcasting their “inner assessment” of people). This person’s woo is a decidedly different “brand” than my Norse/witchy/polytheist pagan woo and this person is much more emphatic about communicating it as Truth. But because I’m quite grateful that my friends are tolerant of my various esoteric passions, I try to extend the same courtesy to others.

I should also explain that in my life, weird woo stuff has always plopped itself down in front of me. During my formative teen years, my mother let a lunatic cut a cross in her arm because he’d convinced her that the revolution was coming and the scar would be a sign that she wasn’t with “the pigs.” (Needless to say, her children were appalled and somewhat traumatized by this.) She also spent many years partnered with a pompous New Ager who was also appalling, though not sadistic. Some of that New Agey stuff stuck though, even as she returned to the Episcopal Church and a less trendy spirituality.

Years ago, when her dear dog died, she phoned one of my brothers with the request to take Puppy’s ashes to Mount Shasta. My brother’s response was, “But Mom, Puppy’s never been to Mount Shasta.” Her response, “Oh.” I think they finally settled on La Jolla as a more suitable location (as Puppy had romped along the beaches there), though last month I found the box of Puppy’s ashes in her former apartment and returned them to her. I tried to tell this story to a friend recently and found myself hysterical with laughter and sadness, to the point of being unintelligble. For me, it sums up so much about my family.

And it wasn’t just my mother. I had an aunt and uncle who disappeared into a really screwed up cult for many years, taking their two young children with them. There was the archetypal warped charismatic leader, admonitions to not talk to family members, probably financial abuse and who knows what else. My uncle eventually left, taking the kids, and his wife got out a year or two later. Thelemites I’ve met since have assured me that they don’t usually operate that way. But this was San Diego in the 70s, and weird woo was wafting from all directions.

As a young teen, I even had a close encounter with the Hare Krishna movement. I used to hitchhike to the Venice Beach temple (again, the 70s) to dance and chant and eat exotic vegetarian food. I was lonely as hell. We’d moved from La Jolla (where I had a close knit group of friends) to the San Fernando Valley, a place where I was often bullied and harassed for my hippie ways and my Black Panther button, which I wore proudly to junior high school. Of course I’d be fascinated by friendly dancing people wearing beautiful fabrics–never mind the signs on the walls disparaging women as alluring impediments to enlightenment… My little brother even got into it too, but balked when the devotees wanted to shave his head in preparation for a visit from their main guru.

I left too. They didn’t want to know about the Black Panthers anyway. I went back to trying to get my LA friends to join the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and ditching school. And though I retained my interest in esoteric topics, including Eastern mysticism, I became leery of group think.

So throughout my life I’ve met and conversed with Buddhists, tantrikas, EST-followers (who remembers that now?!), born again Christians, and more. I even went to sexology school with a pleasant Raelian. However those who share my chosen brand of woo are a bit scarce in these here parts. I’d like to meet a nice kindred and settle down, frankly, but my chances of that seem as likely as getting an actual date via OK Cupid or finding a man interested in a female-led relationship that doesn’t involve foot worship.

So, back to my cafe conversation. I was trying to follow the person’s train of thought involving an ancient “AI” who is programmed to control all our thoughts even if we don’t think we’re controlled, and something about positive attitudes and ascension to the fifth dimension (“the new earth is already here, we just can’t access it yet”).

And then the person said those “magic words” designed to cause instant, stomach-churning discomfort, “Trump is clearing the swamp. He’s bringing back our freedom.”

I am sitting there, in shock, and wondering “What the frack just happened?” The conversation had just gone from ascension to the fifth dimension for the chosen few who somehow choose to vibrate in just the right way (a vision I find appalling in any case) to the mad Emperor himself as the agent of spiritual transformation! “He’s the only one who can do it,” this person insisted, “but I’m not political.”

Then this person told me that “51,000 indictments” were coming and that all the “pedophiles and sex traffickers” would be rounded up. This was supposed to convince me that the mad emperor was doing that spiritual transformation thing for real. All I could think of was if there were really 51,000 indictments, they’d most likely include political foes, activists, immigrants, etc. Everyone that a mad emperor would like to remove. And hey, more fodder for the prison-industrial economy.

I…can’t…even. I first tried asking this person to change the subject, but it didn’t work. I finally had to spew (which I tried to do as nicely as possible but by that time my “inner assessment” was showing).

Anyone who can create a policy that forcibly separates children from parents, and then loses a bunch of the kids so that they can’t even be found to be returned to their parents, is not someone I want to share a “fifth dimension” with. And I could go on and on, but I won’t.

And the idea that those who are destroying our planet (and its inhabitants) feel that they will just ascend away from the mess in some kind of elitist paradise while the rest of us rot in our “negative energy,” well, if that ancient AI is doing its job as this person claims, that would be some kind of programming, wouldn’t it? 

Just saying.

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