Devotional Orgasm

The Talk

Me to (currently imaginary) New Intimate Partner (NIP), “Dear, we have to have a little talk first.” NIP pulls away a little and looks me in the eye.

NIP: “No problem. I’ve been tested for everything in the last six months. I’m healthy. Plus I’ve brought _______[condoms, lube, whatever].” 

Me: “Me too, except I’ve been exposed to herpes and that never goes away. So we’ll need to use protection. I appreciate your candor. [Kiss.] But I actually had a different talk in mind.”

NIP: “Oh? Now you’re scaring me! What’s up? Are you kinky or something?”

Me: “Not that topic either, though we can talk about that too.”

NIP: “You’ve got me intrigued. Say on!”

Me: “You’ve told me you’re a practicising polytheist neopagan…but you’ve never done sex magic.”

NIP: “Right.” 

Me: “And you know I’m a non-denominational witch, and a polytheist neopagan, and that I’m oathed to Loki.”

NIP: “I don’t have much experience with magic. I’m mostly an academic_________ [Druid, Heathen, astrologer, etc.]. And you never really explained the ‘oathed to Loki’ thing. What does this have to do with us having hot sex?” 

Me, bluntly: “All my orgasms are dedicated to Loki, for the rest of my life…so, much as I’ll enjoy whatever we do together, you just have to be able to handle that.”

NIP: “Uh, does this mean you might, uh, say his name when you, uh, you know?”

Me: “Possibly. Would that bother you?” 

NIP: “I am not sure. Maybe.” [Frowns.] “Is this like we’d be having a threesome with a god?”

Me: “No. Not really. It’s just that at one point I wanted to find the most loving and powerful experience I could imagine and dedicate it to my patron deity. That energy and joy I feel at the moment of orgasm seemed like the perfect gift to a being who has given me so much.”  

NIP: “That’s kind of kinky!”

Me [shrugging]: “I don’t really see or experience it that way. For me, it’s a form of sacred sexuality. You said you were interested in that, right?”

NIP: “Well, yes.”

Me: “Do you need time to process this? I’m okay with that.”

NIP: “Let’s just kiss some more and see what happens.”

Me: “Sounds good to me. And you know we can stop at any time if you need to do that.”

The Reason for The Talk

I’m a sexologist by training and profession. I’ve talked with adult clients about all kinds of personal and intimate issues and supported them without judgment in expressions of their authentic erotic lives (as long as those expressions were adult and consensual).
Even so, I have been wondering how on earth I will explain the above to a real life future partner, assuming there is anyone left on this green earth who can love me.

But writing and therefore rehearsing the above dialogue with an imaginary partner has actually diminished the shame (yes, surprising to find it there–shame!) and the embarrassment I’ve been feeling when contemplating an eventual plunge back into the very sparsely populated human dating pool (sparse due to my age bracket and interests). So, aside from that personal note, I highly recommend imagining and rehearsing a similar dialogue IF you feel you’d want to communicate this to a human partner.

However, if you are NOT comfortable divulging such information, or fear that it will have negative impact on your partner(s) or your relationship(s), please DON’T feel you need to share. It is completely okay to keep such information personal. You may also have agreements in place with your deities and spirits about such offerings, and what to express and what not to express. 

iduna_giving_loki_the_apple_by_h._l._m
Public domain. Captioned as “Iduna Giving Loki the Apple”. The goddess Iðunn hands Loki one of her apples. Date Published in 1901 Source Foster, Mary H. 1901. Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology. Silver, Burdett and Company. Page 69. Author Signed “H. L. M.”

Some people may only do this in ritual space, as part of a sex magic ritual or other kind of ceremony. Others, like me, offer up sexual pleasure–in addition to food, drink, trinkets, natural objects, poems, chants, prayers, incense, etc.–as part of a devotional practice designed to cultivate and nourish a relationship with that spiritual being or beings. Loki likes donuts and whiskey (things which I don’t consume myself) and I am happy to provide them, along with conversation, poems, pleasure, and inviting him along to events I think he’d enjoy. My relationship with my patron deity is part of my daily life, as well as my ritual life. It’s not that devotional orgasm offerings mean I am “having sex WITH a god” but that I am offering the peak moment of the sex I do have (solo or partnered) TO that god.

However, there is nothing at all wrong with the former. See my blog on spectrosexuality and god spousery. I say that both as a sexologist and as a magical practitioner.

And I am hardly alone in doing this, though the topic is seldom mentioned outside of esoteric circles.

Sadly, there are otherwise reasonable people who sneer at those with magically dedicated sex toys. This seems a ridiculous position to take. If we magically dedicate a candle or a wand, a broom or a knife, why not a sex toy? Sheesh! And dedicating a toy to a god/dess could/would/should probably include a ward against any other unwanted energies or entities that might wanna come along for the ride…

Seems like common sense.

992px-a_terrifying_deity_in_yab-yum_lacma_m.74.139.8
Public domain. Deities in Yab Yum. Tibet or Northwestern Nepal, 19th century Paintings.Mineral pigments on cotton cloth. Gift of Dr. Ronald M. Lawrence (M.74.139.8) From the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Again, I am hardly alone. From the witches sabbat to tantric embrace, from “brides of Christ” to chaos magick, human beings have connected the experience of sexual energy and orgasm to an experience of god/dess and/or transcendence and have sought to harness or direct its power. You can find material about this in numerous cultures. I am not even going to supply links, there is so much information out there!

Anyway, writing this blog post has taken a load off my mind. I guess public confessions really are good for the soul! And as for the “‘ickle talk” which I may someday have with a future partner, heck, I could take the coward’s way out and just direct that person to this blog post!

But no, I’d rather have a real conversation.

Perhaps one day.

In the meantime, I still giggle at the moment in this 2013 Comicon footage when Marvel Loki commands, “Say my name!”

It’s a private joke…but one I’m now sharing with you. Anyone who gets close to me will have to have a damned good sense of humor…

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Try a Little Tenderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protect, preserve and care for life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

old_norse_stories_(1900)_(14595035089)
Vanir goddess Freya, Old Norse Stories, 1900. Public domain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Perfect Case for Ho’oponopono

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Happy Heart: The Troth Lifts Loki Ban at Trothmoot

The Troth, an organization which promotes “inclusive heathenry” (non-discriminatory practice of Norse-derived religions) has just announced that their previous ban on hailing Loki at Trothmoot events is now rescinded. This decision was made based on a survey of Troth membership late last year, and though controversial for some, also brings a huge sense of relief and joy to Troth members who are accustomed to hail Loki in their own practices.

As a member of The Troth, I’ve known this news for a little while but needed to wait for the official announcement (published Jan. 2nd) before blogging about it.

For me, as person who is oathed to Loki as a devotee and who hails Loki on a daily basis (along with a few others in the Norse Pantheon), I find that my heart beats faster and happier at this news. And I particularly like this part, which I find wondrous:


“- The Loki ban lasted ten years, but its original verbiage has not been found in organizational Minutes. As such, as Schuld to Laufeyson* and to our members whom the ban impacted, the organization will hold an official Loki Blót for the next ten Trothmoots in a prime time slot. After the tenth Trothmoot, Loki Blóts may be held as any other blót or Sege, and the timing of the Blót will become adjustable to meet scheduling needs.”

[*Should be Laufeyjarson.]


OMG! Loki and Lokeans are so ready for prime time!

But before I give way to more rejoicing, let me back up a bit and define some terms:

Trothmoot is the annual gathering of Troth members. I have never been. Here is the link to the 2019 Trothmoot page.

A blót is a sacrificial ritual in Norse paganism and heathenry. There’s a fair amount of hailing and drinking toasts to the various deities.

Schuld has a few definitions, including a debt or a responsibility. With this portion of the announcement, The Troth admits to having been at fault for enforcing a ban which actually did not show up in their organizational minutes and the organization has now chosen this action to make amends.

Wow!

I would like to attend this year’s Trothmoot to witness this historic change, and to be able to hail my beloved patron god in community with others, but Trothmoot takes place at the start of our California fire season. I’d need a cat sitter who was committed to evacuating my cats if necessary. Plus, my environmental illness issues might be insurmountable. So, we’ll see.

In the meantime, it is crazy how much joy I feel at this news. Honestly, having spent most of my life in a kind of gauzy pagan-esque haze with not much to back it up, I never expected to be so emotional about a religious matter! But, duh! I guess daily devotional practices really can and do create and nurture strong links between a human being and a larger spiritual entity.

Why am I so surprised to find this goes deeper than my intellect allows? Inside, I sing. I cannot deny the song.

Hail to thee, blithe Loki! (And because I’m perverse in spite of–or because of–my devotion, I keep wanting to add, “bird thou never wert,” but hey, he’s a shapeshifter who donned a falcon skin, so bird in fact he was. Wert. Whatever. I’m just happy. That’s all.)

loki's_flight_to_jötunheim

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Deepening? Another Eight Days of Loki

day1loki
Sand play, based on Day 1: Magic.

Last year felt at times like “a mad scramble for a place in this chamber, in this meagre palace of Midgard” (to quote a certain actor playing a certain god). My personal, professional, familial, financial, and creative foundations were all challenged–and in some cases demolished–and I was frequently in despair. Lonely too. Such suffering! And yet 2018 was also a most fortunate year because I “met” the most compelling and interesting supernatural being I’d ever imagined. Naturally (being a Scorpio), I was quick to oath myself–sort of like having a Vegas wedding with someone I’d only met that weekend–but have absolutely no regrets. I also took on several spiritual challenges to prove my own mettle to myself, including making the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple.

However, I’ve got a stack of books I haven’t yet read completely, most of them accumulated during 2018. At this point, I have to stop reaching for the New Shiny and relax, re-read, and revisit material I already have. It’s time to regroup and to deepen practices I’ve already encountered.

So it makes sense to usher in the new year with another round of Dagulf Loptson’s “Eight Days of Loki” ritual (from this book). However, I wanted to do things just a bit differently this time. I wanted to engage more of my unconscious so I decided to use my sand play toys and sand tray. I grab toys from the shelves and place them very quickly, without too much thought in advance. Creating the tray scenes is a way of manifesting unconscious thoughts, giving them physical form.

Day 1’s theme (above) is “magic” and involves a contemplation of fire. For me, that’s a contemplation of both inner and outer fire. I’ve been practicing a breath meditation technique that’s supposed to generate inner heat, but haven’t gotten too far along with it. My hands, though, have begun to tingle and pulse like crazy in the last few weeks, and to have a sense of pressure, as if I am holding hands with someone who is very warm. So that red jewel in the center of the left hand palm print is significant. I also felt like I was doing a “cave painting” of a handprint by pressing my hand into the sand. It felt like an archaic gesture.

Day 2’s theme is death.

day2loki
Day Two: Death.

Though I didn’t visit a graveyard on Day Two, as suggested, I did pour out an offering of pomegranate juice on the place in my yard where two newborn kittens are buried, poor things. I work with my ancestors on a daily basis, and it’s that sense of being surrounded by them that comes out in the tray, with the skull and skeleton impressions in the sand. The glowing pink/orange skull cup symbolizes Loki’s connection with cremation fire.

Day 3 is today. The theme is wealth, as in wealth of talent and possibilities. The idea is to make something beautiful and worthy that can be offered to Loki but writing is my main form of creative expression these days. For the tray, I chose the jeweled box and the golden egg plus a few “jewels” for the sand. Looking at this now, a few hours later, I see the box as what’s known and in progress and the egg as unknown potential. The red, faceted jewel links Day 1 and Day 2 together. Magic and creative wealth are two aspects of the same thing, perhaps.

day3loki

I’ll post the rest of the days as I go along, perhaps a couple at a time. I’m taking this slowly, taking time to savor.

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Sharing-Loki: Guardian of Sacrifice — A Polytheistic Life

One of my favorite myths about Loki is the one in which he kidnaps Idunn because it is the myth that I feel best demonstrates his character. In the most common version of the myth, Loki, Odin, and Hoenir were traveling to Jotunheim and stopped to cook an ox they had hunted. A problem arose, […]

via Loki: Guardian of Sacrifice — A Polytheistic Life


 

I really like the above blog post a lot. It has a good retelling of the myth and great analysis too!

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Magic for Settler Colonists

Prelude: A definition of settler colonialism.

My Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have always loved islands…

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

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

Things I Am Still Learning and Sometimes Still Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

• Don’t make assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

• Introduce yourself and vow to do no harm.

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

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

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

• Vow to do good, unobtrusively.

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

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

• Know some local and ancestral history. 

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

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

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

• Stop polluting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Learn to Ask Permission.

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

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

In Closing

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

PD.GertBuschmann-Juliasetsdkpictlightpot

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Spiritual Compost in the Liminal Space

Franz_Marc_CroppedIt’s December 28th. I’ve always felt that the week between Xmas and the new year is a strange, uncomfortable time, even if it is still technically the neopagan Yul. I can never “settle” into this week. Life is on hold. Everything seems like a waiting game and that’s even more true this year than ever before. After all, the Lord of Sadly Extended Misrule has decreed a government shut-down and “I’m…waiting for the Dems…” (sung to the tune of Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for The Man.”).

It’s a liminal time, a liminal space, a between time. I’ve been emotionally and physically exhausted, living on Xmas breakfast leftovers (not wanting to go the grocery store), and spending far too much time in bed binge-watching Travelers, an utterly dystopian experience. I’m letting myself vegetate without guilt. It’s a form of spiritual composting. So with a mild “turning” of the composted dregs of this last year, I’ve done a little bit of psychic culling and a bit of forward thinking. Yesterday I even emerged from the torpor and resumed working on the novels again. However, I am doing so with limited expectations for creative production during the rest of the week, even though the making of art requires habitation of liminal states.


Here’s a quote from this article about liminal space and liminal states of mind:

You can define liminal space in several different ways. It’s talked about as a threshold, and indeed, the etymology of liminal comes from the Latin root word “limen,” which means threshold. Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next.

Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something. Liminal space is, of course, a literal space. And there are plenty of examples of physical liminal spaces… But there are also spaces of liminality in our mental states. This, too, is a type of liminal space.


This idea of spiritual composting is something I’ve snagged from Caroline Casey, the astrologer who hosts the Visionary Activist program on Pacifica radio stations. It’s been a helpful concept for years, giving a sense of appreciation and purpose to these strange, fallow “down times.”

During this liminal period between two major holidays, when I seem to belong nowhere in particular–certainly not to the same sense of family that I had a few years ago–that I appreciate (yet again) my patron deity, Loki. He is a spirit of liminality and “chaos” (creative chaos, the swirling source of all). If I remember to do it, I can offer up my sense of discomfort as well as the eventual growth that will emerge fern-like from the debris that’s scattered about, seemingly to little purpose.

LOKI_0031-897x1024Loki helps me to remember the heat that’s generated in a compost heap, when dregs and discards combine in a vibrant alchemy, cooking away the toxins and creating fertile soil. Promises lurk under the surface (just add water!). Eventually seeds will burst open and climb toward the sun through the muck, transforming the landscape. So it is with our minds and spirits.

So, in this coming year, I look forward to yet another cycle of pheonix burning and pheonix rising; composting and regenerating… It’s tiring, but with the help of my deities and ancestors, and Loki in particular, I hope to navigate 2019 with more heart, more courage, and more magic than last year.

Wishing you all well, in the coming year.

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