March 15th launch of the sequel to The Dire Deeds, in my Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy series!
I am so happy to announce the mid-March arrival of my second book in The Guild of Ornamental Hermits queer urban fantasy and paranormal romance series! As of March 15th, it has arrived, first as a Kindle eBook and soon will appear as a paperback.
Like the first book, The Witching Work takes place on Hawaiʻi Island during a “not too distant future” when the Hawaiian Kingdom is finally unoccupied and able to reform its government. This is a transition time for everyone in the islands, but for the Hermits of Hermitville Farm & Arts Collective, their entire lives have been turned inside out by the sudden death of Hermitvilleʻs founder and the arrival of Elves of The Realm. In The Witching Work, the human Hermits are forced to become adepts in Elven magic in record time, because the human and preternatural foes continue to threaten all Hawaiʻi and humanity as a whole. Can our plucky ensemble of mostly queer, aging misfits and their dishy Elven mentors save the day? Or will the eldritch powers from beyond really land with a pink sploosh in the middle of Hawaiʻiʻs lush Puna district?
This is what some readers had so say about the first book, The Dire Deeds.
I am pleased to announce this publication of The Witching Work, as well as the forthcoming third book in the series, The Queerest Quest, hopefully later this year!
I just have to show off the lovely spell bottle necklace I had made as an offering for Loki’s altar. It was created by a local witchy craftsperson, JD Terrapin, after an enjoyable consultation over tea, with a selection of colors for the necklace and materials for the bottle (minerals, a spice, and Loki’s name in runes).
I’ve commissioned one for Bast too, as an offering of gratitude for my cat’s recovery from surgery.
Professional and Fantasy Writing Take Center Stage in My Life
Yes, I love writing about pagan topics, and Loki in particular, but writing that either (1) pays and/or (2) expresses my fondest queer and paranormal romance fantasies is the bigger focus for me now (fortunately Loki is a big part of my Ornamental Hermits fantasy series). I won’t abandon this blog, but I won’t be pouring ALL my passion into it as I did prior to 2022. In 2022 I was busy launching my first fantasy book and my first hypnosis book, see below, as well as working on other projects.
2022’s Major Accomplishments
I am so blessed to have my first fantasy novel published! And two more with the publisher as well!
Find the first book in my queer, urban fantasy series, The Dire Deeds, at Kindle and in paperback at Amazon. If you read my book, please consider leaving me stars (five are nice) and a few sentences for a review. Thank you! You have no idea how much that helps!!!
Ditto for Sexological Hypnosis. Are there any therapists in the house? This one’s for you! This book is based on the professional training I offer at my Intimate Hypnosis Training Center and also on my 2011 Ed.D. project. Find it here on Kindle and Amazon. Right now it is free on Kindle Unlimited. Reviews and stars will help. Thanks!
I also consider the two seasonal Guild of Ornamental Hermits short stories, also published on Kindle, to have been successful. Both made it into the top 100 of the 45-minute Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Reads category. Mele Kalikimaka, Ginger Croom, clocked in at #30 one day and A Guild of Ornamental Hermits Solstice made it to #60. The algorithm ratings always change, of course, and now that the holiday season is over, they are no longer as popular.
2023’s Major Projects
What follows is not a complete list of projects by any means, but here are the biggest projects that I’ll be working on mostly in the first half of 2023. You might like some of them!
The Witching Work, the second in my series, is going to be published this Spring, or so my publisher tells me. Right now it is with the copy editor and my Hawaiian sensitivity reader, for review.
Meanwhile, I continue working on the fourth book, The Perilous Past. I am not sure when the third book, The Queerest Quest, is supposed to come out but it’s the one where Loki first appears and I can’t wait for people to read it. I hope it is out by year’s end!
Professional Writing About Sexuality & Hypnosis
At this very moment, and as soon as I finish this blog post, I’ll be back at work on Entrancing – which I hope to publish on Feb. 1, 2023. Hypnosis for Community Wellness will be out by May 1, 2023. Both will be on Kindle and Amazon.
Sexuality Writer for Hire
I am also actively looking for paid gigs in this field. If you have a website that needs content, please get in touch.
Okay, I am putting all this out into the universe, beckoning opportunity, paid work, and success, summoning the mighty magicks of all who support me, known, unknown, and my invisible allies. Make it so!
Gentle readers, I have a healthy international readership on this blog. This is why I am crossposting this image and asking you to please take a look at these lovely review excerpts for my urban fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds, the first in The Guild of Ornamental Hermits series. I hope these reviews encourage you to seek out my book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Available on Amazon in either paperback or Kindle eBook.
These books are LGBTQIA++ saturated, yet the characters (and the plot) can be loved and enjoyed by anyone who likes humor, paranormal romance, preposterous plot twists, and plucky humans learning magic from plucky Elves.
The second and third books are with the copy editors and publisher now. The fourth is in progress. The Dire Deeds is not just a first novel with aspirations for a series. I have already written so much more!
Magic fantasies are popular entertainment. Aside from enjoying them, I like to figure out what magical techniques and systems writers have adapted or imagined in their works of fiction. There is such a variety of magic content in The Untamed (2019, currently on Netflix) that I’ve decided to catalog it. The Untamed is based on the novel Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation(Mo Dao Zu Shi) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. [English translation here. NSFW.]
This blog will be a work in progress over the next several days, since I will add to and refine this list through updated drafts. Please be patient if you notice I’ve missed something. Additions, comments and sources are welcome.
A WORD ABOUT ANIMISM
In addition to being influenced by Taoism (sometimes spelled Daoism), Buddhism, and other Chinese traditions, the xianxia and/or wuxia world of sword and sorcery cultivation, as depicted in The Untamed, has a foundation in animism. Swords, rocks, and other “inanimate” objects have the potential to be enlivened, animated, and engaged with as conscious through various practices. For example, in The Untamed, swords invested with spiritual power can “seal themselves” so that only their original owners can unsheathe them if they are recognized as such. (From an animist perspective, one could also acknowledge the cooperation of the sheathe, right?) This concept is not new to many ancient, indigenous, and some modern neo-pagan traditions.
Animism is at the heart of many kinds of magic traditions, practices, and rituals, including forms of spellwork.
From a superficial, Western perspective, we can view The Untamed as a conflict between a solitary practitioner of something resembling innovative chaos magic (with lots of sigil use) and the “cultivators” who belong to several different established mystery schools (aka sects and clans) who share a general set of precepts and traditions (such as “sword cultivation=good/demonic arts=bad”). When Wei WuXian says “I’ll be the precedent,” he’s reviled and marginalized yet years later some of his innovations (compasses that detect evil beings, Stygian lure flags, etc.) are mainstreamed and used by a new generation of cultivators.
Some of what is shown in The Untamed may also be references to or variations of Chinese folk magic. The scary drawings of the “Yiling Patriarch”–sold by a street vendor and having no actual resemblance to Wei WuXian (“famous for his looks”)–might fall under this category. Ditto for some of the other Yiling Patriarch product knock-offs, sold by vendors who falsely claim association.
This is one form of magic practice that is curiously missing from The Untamed, or maybe I just haven’t found and identified it yet. Wei WuXian’s compass for detecting monsters is the closest thing to it.
CATALOG OF UNTAMED MAGIC
Spirit beings or beings altered or created through magic
Demons. The live action series shows fewer of these than appear in the book, either in Wei WuXian’s company or doing his bidding. Early in the series, a demon appears at the Mo clan compound as a vicious, claw-like left hand that possesses several people. In episode four, Wei WuXian says demons are formed from living humans. Wei conjures up a red dressed demon woman to torment Wen Chao is episode 20 (in the book there is a hungry demon baby as well).
Devil Scatter Spell. Lan Zhan uses this to escape Wen Chao in episode eleven.
Dire Owl. A supernatural Wen clan bird, indicated by grey fuzz and a shrill cry. Used for spying and as a temporary vehicle of Yin Iron power. Wei WuXian battles with it.
Dogs. The giant dog owned by the Wen clan which lives in a dungeon and the intelligent “wonder dog” Fairy, owned by Jin Ling. (Wei WuXian is not fond of canines.)
Ghosts. In episode four, Wei WuXian says ghosts are “formed from dead humans.”
Ghost General. Wen Ning as a powerful, fearsome puppet created by Wei WuXian.
“Grey fuzz.” A visual used in The Untamed (along with scary sounds) to indicate resentful energies and ghosts, demons, and so on. This fuzz can be on the prowl or attached to objects. There are also screams associated with the on-screen appearance of grey fuzz.
Imps. In episode four, Wei WuXian defines imps as “formed from living, non-human beings.”
Monsters. In episode four, Wei WuXian says monsters are formed from “dead, non-human beings.”
Puppets. Zombie-like dead or nearly dead people with white eyes and networks of red/black markings on skin. Robbing living people of spiritual cognition is one way to make a puppet.
Stone Fairy. A walking spirit-snatching statue from a temple on Dafun Mountain.
Tortoise of Slaughter. A giant part snake/part tortoise. Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian battle it.
Water Ghosts. Spirits of water creatures that “usually just play tricks on people” but can conglomerate and turn into the Aqua Demon (episode five).
POWERS, SPELLS & TOOLS
Accupuncture. Medical techniques using needles on points and taking the pulse. Wen Ning uses three needles to pacify a giant dog. At different times and for different reasons, Wen Qing uses needles on both Jiang Cheng and Wei WuXian to keep them immobilized. Taking the pulse is a frequent activity throughout The Untamed.
Accupuncture Needles. Wen Qing uses these to test the magic barriers in the back hills of Cloud Recesses.
“The array was scarlet in color and crooked in shape, appearing to be drawn by hand, using blood as the medium, still damp and emitting a strong scent. The array was filled with warped scribbles of incantations, which were somewhat smudged by his body, but came across as gruesome nonetheless.”
Beads. Wei WuXian makes a set of carved protective beads for his newborn nephew.
Blood. Blood is used for magical purposes throughout the book and the series.
Body Sacrifice. A forbidden technique. Performed by Mo Xuanyu in episode one, offering his own body as a curse to bring Wei WuXian back to life, in order to extract revenge on his tormentors.
Body Seizing. A forbidden technique.
Channeling Fire. A Wen clan specialty. Wen Chao uses this to set a Lan clan guard on fire.
Chord Assassination Technique. A specialty of the Lan Clan, used against the Tortoise of Slaughter. (Is it just me, or would “Chord Assassination” be a great name for a Death Metal band?)
Compasses. Designed to detect the presence of supernatural beings. Perhaps a form of divination?
Corpse Powder. Airborne poison.
Curses. Blackened, necrotic looking skin that spreads up towards the heart and scars that don’t heal can indicate a curse. There is also the “Hundred Holes” curse.
Demonic Cultivation aka “Wicked Sorcery.” Seems to include using resentful energy from ghosts.
Devil Scatter Spell. Lan Zhan uses this spell to escape from Wen Chao, possibly also combining it with teleportation.
Empathy. Wei WuXian uses this technique several times to experience slices of life through another person’s eyes and perceptions, kind of like a Vulcan mind meld. Requires touch. Can be done with ghosts and body parts. Considered to be a perilous technique. Lan Zhan had a spontaneous experience of empathy via the Yin Iron, related to the slaughter of another clan.
Energy. Often used as blasts during fights.
Exorcism. Used against ghosts, such as the Water Ghost in episode five.
First Class Spiritual Tool. A term not explained explicitly, but which probably refers to the primary magical tool of a cultivator. Usually will be given a name.
Flying. With or without swords used as vehicles.
Flying Chains. Used against Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian during their hunt for the Dire Owl.
Freezing in Place. Used on puppets and people alike.
Gestures. Examples include (1) directing energy or magic tools by pointing with the forefinger and middle finger close together with ring and little fingers held down by the thumb and (2) writing a sigil of light with upraised middle and little fingers, (3) snapping fingers to get someone to freeze.
Glitter Talisman. Used unsuccessfully by Wei WuXian against the hallucination mist created by the Dire Owl.
Golden Core. A spiritual power center that is deliberately cultivated and enhanced. In The Untamed, it can irreplacable. This is possibly a reference to the Tai Chi lower Dantian (sometimes called Dan Tian, Dantien, Dan Tien, or the Golden Stove.) Modern cultivation practices include Tai Chi and the Microcosmic Orbit as taught by Mantak Chia.
Golden Core Melting. One of the Wen clan’s followers is known as “Core-Melting Hand” for his ability to destroy people’s Golden Cores.
Golden CoreTransference. Performed by Wen Qing, transferring Wei WuXian’s core to Jiang Cheng.
Golden Silk Barrier. A large net for protection against the onslaught of puppets, particularly against those of Wen Qing’s village.
Graves. Known to generally attract ghosts.
Hallucination Mist. Used against Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian in the forest. It also disrupts concentration needed for spellwork.
Headband. Sacred Lan Clan accessory. Not to be touched by anyone except parents and significant others. Allows inner disciples to enter the warded areas of Cloud Recesses. Often used in The Untamed as a symbol to indicate growing intimacy between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan.
Levitation. Examples include (1) Wen Ruohan lifting Xue Yang into the air as a show of power and as a warning and (2) the cultivators hovering in mid air above the Aqua Demon’s whirlpool.
“Liberate, suppress, eliminate.” In episode four, Lan Zhan says this is the appropriate cultivator way to deal with troubles, such as a dead executioner who is haunting a village.
Musical Compositions. Played with spiritual power to calm or to promote agitation. Lan Zhan recognizes Wei WuXian in Mo’s body because he plays the song Lan Zhan has composed for the two of them.
Musical Instruments. Played with spiritual power (e.g. flutes and guiqins). Often used to calm situations or repel aggression. Wei WuXian plays his “Chenqing” flute. Lan Zhan plays his “Wangji” guiqin. Lan Xichen uses his “Liebing” flute in the exorcism of the Aqua Demon, among other instances. Wen Qing plays a tiny whistle or flute to subdue the villagers who have been turned into puppets.
Nails. Puppet control can be achieved by sticking two nails in the back of someone’s head, presumably at an accupuncture point. (Don’t try this at home.) Used on Wen Ning and Song Lan.
Night Hunts. The sport and pursuit of hunting down supernatural prey.
Paper Dolls. Used for exploring, physical control, and in the practice of empathy. Wei WuXian uses them twice to pester Lan Zhan.
Portraits of the Yiling Patriarch. Sold on the street as folk magic protection for homes.
Ropes and Cords. Conjured out of nowhere.
Sigils (see Talismans). May be written on paper or conjured as a pattern of light and propelled toward a target (person or object).
Silence Spell. A Lan Clan specialty, lasts as long as a stick of burning incense.
Soul Calming Ceremonies. A preventative ritual for children of cultivators, given to prevent them from ever turning into ferocious ghosts when they die. Wei WuXian threatens to turn into a ferocious ghost who will haunt Wen Chao and his mistress, should they torture and kill him. He says he was not given such ceremonies, as he was adopted into the Jiang clan.
Spiritual Cognition. [Description to come.]
Spirit Snatch. [Description to come.]
Stygian Lure Flags. Painted banners designed to draw ghosts or other evil beings. Ones developed by Wei WuXian are used by Lan clan cultivators. Called Phantom Attraction Flags in the book.
Stygian Tiger Amulet. Constructed by Wei WuXian in the Burial Mounds. It is the first magic we see in the series, as it flies around the feet of warriors during a battle. It contains Yin Iron.
Swords. Can be imbued with a spirit. Are often named. Can seal themselves. Can serve as vehicles for flying through the air. Can be used as projectiles.
Talismans(see Sigils). Can be paper, beads, or other objects. Wei WuXian offers a protective talisman in a bag to Wen Qing as a protection for her brother against ghosts. Wei WuXian changes protective talismans with “4 strokes” to reverse them as attractions for evil spirits (taking care of Wen Chao’s bodyguards and mistress).
Telepathy. Some “inner dialogue” between Lan Zhan and his brother, and Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian looks as if it is supposed to be telepathic.
TeleportationTalisman. Used by a masked swordsman.
Teleportation. Did Lan Zhan use this to escape Wen Chao in episode eleven?
Wards/Seals. Fields of energy used to block entrances or protect areas.
Yin Iron. A powerful cosmic object broken into five shards, hidden for many decades. Revealed as the missing part of the Dancing Fairy in episode nine. During part of the story Lan Zhan carries a shard that had been hidden by the Lan clan. Part of the Stygian Tiger Amulet.
Zidian. A magical tool looking like a ring (book) or bracelet (series), with a purple lightning force that is often used as a whip. Bequeathed to Jiang Cheng by his mother. Recognizes its owner or verified substitute user. Was unable to detect Wei WuXian’s soul as “foreign” to Mo Xuanyu’s body.
CONTEMPORARY AND HISTORICAL MAGIC?
Here in the United States we have “witch privilege” in that we are not usually actively persecuted for witchy and neo-pagan practices. Magic is big business here, and entertainment depicting magic and witchcraft is popular. (However, another round of “Satanic Panic” hysteria seems to be gathering steam in this country among trumpites and evangelicals and this is not good.) Some countries still persecute and kill witches. August 10th is “World Day Against Witch Hunts.”
I was curious about contemporary witchcraft laws in China–if any–and while I haven’t come up with any information yet, I did come across this account of Empress Chen Jiao of Wu, accused of black magic, who “is remembered as an ancient Chinese witch…She was the wife of Emperor Wu of Han, who ruled between 141 and 87 BC” [Western Han dynasty?]. I don’t know if this information is accurate, but I am still intrigued. Supposedly the Empress was drawn to witchcraft as a last hope for producing a child for the Emperor. I feel very curious about the development of magical arts and folk magic in ancient China, and though The Untamed is set in a historically inaccurate fantasy world, it should be fun to see what fictional magic elements are based in actual traditions. This is completely new terrain for me.
I just spent the last two and a half days devouring an online English translation of Mo Dao Zu Shi(Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. The translation, by “K”, can be found here at Exiled Rebels Scanlations. The book is the basis for the 2019 Chinese television series, The Untamed, currently on Netflix. I’ve now read all 113 chapters, but am saving the bonus chapters for “later.” I recently wrote a blog, Wild About The Untamed, after watching the series four times but prior to reading the book.
I have so much to say about this series–and now the book as well–that I plan on writing several blog posts about The Untamed, from a variety of different views (magical practice, sexology, as a fantasy writer myself, etc.). But first I’d like you to understand why I am blogging about something as seemingly trivial as a Netflix series while enduring the fear and smoke of California’s third largest wildfire ever (which is burning part of the county where I live) as well as dangers of Covid-19 and the incompetence of my federal government. I live alone. Earlier this week I packed my car in case of evacuation. Fleeing a fire in a small car, at my age and with seven cats, will not be easy. (So far I have not had to do this–though others have.) So yes, I have become completely absorbed in this particular xianxia fantasy in order to cope with several existential threats and to control my racing mind. But even if I weren’t menaced by all of the above (including my racing mind), I’d still be as fascinated and transfixed.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to convince any of my close friends to watch The Untamed, so I’ve no one with whom I can “geek out” about the series. For those who have not yet experienced this magic, I feel the same sense of pity that I feel for anyone who has not read Lord of the Rings or watched Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. Is it any wonder then that I am writing a blog? This is what prolonged social isolation does to a person…
But let’s move on to some of the reasons I love The Untamed and the novel so very much.
The Trickster Archetype
I mentioned in my previous blog that the “trickster” character of Wei WuXian (aka Wei Ying and Yiling Patriarch) is what attracted me first. I am always captivated by trickster characters and spirits, including the consumate trickster, the Norse god Loki Laufeyjarson (and his Marvel counterpart). Tricksters are mischevious. They are typically outspoken and seldom mince words. They are more apt to slash with them if necessary. They get into precarious situations, often due to a finely tuned sense of their own honor or obligations. They solve problems using their wits but can fight if necessary. They see through hypocrisy and frequently challenge it. They are charismatic. They know their own value. They are seldom deferential enough to authority figures, even when not challenging them overtly. They seldom deign to explain themselves and their actions, so that even their closest companions misunderstand them. They can be fiercely loyal to just a few. They have power and they often wield magic that is considered dangerous, demonic, or somehow wrong or indecent. They attract harsh punishments and social criticism. Tricksters often drive the plot.
Wei WuXian, the “demonic cultivator” of the series, is a classic trickster. He is all of the above. In the book, this characteristic is even more pronounced. He is particularly compelled to prod and poke at Lan Zhan (aka Lan Wangji and Hanguang-Jun), his taciturn companion in swordplay and sorcery, but many of his tricks and jokes backfire. Try as he might, Wei WuXian cannot use obnoxious behavior and guile to undermine or escape his destiny. (I’m giving no spoilers. You can interpret “destiny” as you wish.)
Beauty, GHOSTS, DESPOTS, AND GHOULS
The xianxia world of The Untamed is beautiful. The buildings, costumes, ceremonies, and lotus-filled lakes calm my spirit and refresh my eyes. If I was a child watching this series, it would live in my imagination forever. As an adult, my imagination is also captivated (but “forever” is a shorter time).
But this world is not without its perils. Sociopathic despots rule it and the cultivator clans are governed by authoritarian prudes, wealthy libertines, and stern macho warriors. Resentful ghosts and lurching zombie-like “puppets” threaten armies and villages. Queer love can barely speak its name. And female characters spend a lot of time cooking and serving food, but not eating. (And why do I feel I’ve just described a Republican utopia?)
I also appreciate the beauty of the martial arts choreography. The actors who play Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan (and the others) make it all look effortless, which means of course that (1) they all spent untold hours perfecting their moves and (2) that the film editing is amazing. I particularly like how Lan Zhan’s words and face may often be closed, but his movements with sword and his magical instrument, the guqin, are eloquent and expressive. His actions taken to protect Wei WuXian are always prompt and decisive, though his words and face may rebuff Wei’s overtures. Wei WuXian also provides physical complexity in that he can switch from a lighthearted mood to a stern fighting mode at a moment’s notice. This is also reflected in the choreography.
As an American of European ancestry, I know I miss many markers of cultural significance. How could I not? The translator of Mo Dao Zu Shi does explain a few things, however, and I am grateful for anything that helps me understand more about what I’m watching and reading. However I do think I managed to understand some of the personal and emotional symbols, even during the first viewing. The producers and writers of The Untamed had to be careful how they portrayed the relationship between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan, and so relied on elements with clear–but not explicit–meanings or they scripted ambiguous reactions to explicit meanings. This is a good article about some of the main symbols (Lan Zhan’s headband, rabbits, chickens, etc.) and how they are used.
The development of the complex relationship between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan is of course the main attraction. Superficially it’s a classic “opposites attract” story, but the characters also share many similarities. Both are held in high regard for their abilities (though Wei is controversial first due to his cockiness and later for his demonic cultivation methods). Both are also generally regarded as beautiful men in a culture which obviously values looks. Both are “second” in rank in their cultivation clans/sects. Both are well educated. Both have lost parents at a young age and have been treated harshly, even abusively, by adopted or extended family members. Both are also emotionally and sexually inexperienced, though Wei WuXian likes to pretend he is not. So this is a story of first love as well as a love we imagine will last as long as the two cultivators seek immortality.
There are other types of relationships, love stories, and passionate (but presumably platonic) pairings depicted in The Untamed. There are two wandering cultivators who have a loyal friendship and a common mission to help those who need it–their way of life almost serves as a foreshadowing of the life waiting for Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian, should they commit to each other. Sibling relationships are important and complicated. Parents are either missing or inadequate. Lan Zhan’s brother becomes close to someone who rises in the world (who is therefore acceptable) while Lan Zhan’s partiality for Wei WuXian–even before his “fall”–is regarded as unfortunate and wrong.
Nothing could be more unlike The Untamed than the 1938 film of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. However those who know Pygmalion might understand me (maybe) if I say The Untamed has a transcendent moment equivalent to “fetch me my slippers, Eliza.” You have to see both to understand.
The book explained some scenes and elements in the television series that I could not understand. I am so glad that an English translation is available online and I feel a lot of gratitude towards K, the translator. This is in addition, of course, to what I feel for the author Mo Xiang Tong Xiu and to all who brought these characters and their world to life in The Untamed.
I have always had special interests which keep me curious, happy, and occupied. The Untamed fits in with so many that I have already: magic and animism, all forms of human sexuality and gender identities, trickster tales, and epic fantasy. And I have such pleasure in the story itself and its characters. That pleasure alone–during these dreary days of pandemic isolation and smokey skies–is worth everything.
After a hard day of dodging unmasked humanoids and prepping for possible wildfire evacuation in 100+ degree weather, I like to put on a clean sarong and unwind with yet another binge watch of several episodes of The Untamed (2019).
Yes, this aging witchy wannabe, trapped in a world she’d like to desperately adjust, has been captivated by the fantasy world of Chinese “cultivator” sorcery and swordplay, and the adorable love story of soulmates Wei Wuxian (L) and Lan Zhan (R) (pictured above), played by actors/singers/dancers Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo. I am not sure what prompted me to initially click on to the Netflix series but the trickster energy of the Wei Wuxian character seemed “Loki-like” and this drew me in. I was soon hooked (for many reasons) but also felt confused. While watching the first several episodes I had to search for articles that would help me understand the characters and context. (This Wikipedia entry helped.) And my response to the series was/is very similar to the one experienced by the writer of this review, “The Untamed, streaming on Netflix, ripped my heart out and fed it to me. I can’t get enough.” Yep. Me too.
Everything is admirable, except the soundtrack can sometimes seem a bit goofy in a mismatched mood way. But that’s okay, because the theme song, sung by Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, is on “my final playlist.” And if I have to kick the bucket before successfully clawing away the pastel printed vinyl wallcovering of whatever ICU gets my covid-racked carcass, I want THIS song and this song only to take me across the liminal divide between me here and me over there somewhere. (Loki, my darling psychopomp, please take note.) It’s not that I love the song that much over all others (though I kind of do at this point), it’s that in my life of deeply felt but ultimately doomed romances, I’m pleased to be immersed in observing the delicate trajectory of a “barely-got-past-the-censors” love story of two young men of magic and chivalry. (And the costumes? They are to die for!)
And as a sexologist, I have to say it’s really rather refreshing to watch nuanced courtship for a change, instead of people throwing each other up against a wall and having at it, sans foreplay, ending with a predictable simultaneous orgasm. (I’ve come to feel a bit of the prudery and boredom of the French writer, Colette, who once got snarky about people who had a regularly scheduled “abyss.” But I digress.)
In The Untamed there are plenty of actual abysses, all glowing with magma or containing Tortoises of Slaughter. There’s even the beyond-death abyss of the lost, wandering soul of Wei Wuxian after he tosses himself off a cliff (this is in the first episode so I’m not spoiling anything).
As for the actors–every single character in this very lavish, sprawling production is played to perfection. But the two main actors are extraordinary. Xiao Zhan has perhaps the easier job (as he has a lot more dialogue and opportunity to explicitly express a wide range of emotions) but the “strong, silent” Wang Yibo manages to convey many complexities with few words and a wide range of subtle facial expressions. Honestly, Wang Yibo has the mystique of Garbo, if it’s okay to compare a young Chinese actor/singer/dancer with the charisma of a bygone Western film star. I really would like to see both actors in other roles. As they outgrow their secondary personas/careers as singers in pop boy bands, I would hope they each get a chance to grow and develop their truly extraordinary acting talents for many years to come.
I’m watching all fifty episodes now for the fifth time. I keep finding more things to discover and enjoy–little details as well as previously unnoticed plot points.
And I live for the moment when Lan Zhan admits he likes rabbits.
Perhaps it is not surprising that The Untamed is starting to influence my daily life. A few days ago, in the course of renting a small storage unit for family photos and keepsakes (in case of fire evacuation), the elderly proprietor came within the six feet of social distance I’d been trying to maintain. Her mask exposed her nose. She touched me on the hand. I said “no touching” and then giggled to myself. It was Lan Zhan’s deadpan delivery. But exactly.
Outside, the world burns. The pandemic rages. My children are far away. But as long as I have electricity and the internet, I’ll be drinking in the world of The Untamed, now my drug of choice for the rest of my forseeable lifespan. Either the Yin Iron goes, or I do.
This blog is a follow-up to to the April 19th Love’s Outer Limits podcast, with its topic of “Sex and Magic.” Here I want to expand more on the idea of incorporating international statements on Sexual Human Rights into attempts to deal with issues of sexual harrassment and predation in neopagan circles and organizations.
History of Sex and Magic
Very briefly put: sexual energy and behaviors have been and are incorporated into many esoteric traditions, often as part of inner mysteries or circles and initiatory rites or as a vehicle for spiritual transformation. A very few examples include: some practices in the Eastern traditions of tantra and Taoism; Western traditions of old-fashioned witchcraft (e.g. reports of witches sabbats with the devil); modern Wicca and related groups of magical practitioners (e.g. “the Great Rite”); Thelema/OTO; alchemy; modern Satanism; and other Western sex magic practices.
Many practices are symbolic, not explicitly or physically sexual. These symbols are often dualistic (e.g. a dagger dipped into a chalice) and binary-gendered (e.g. rituals calling in a “Lord and Lady” or named male and female deities in partnership).
Sex also may appear in accounts of encounters with deities, spirits, angels, demons, etc. Depending on who you talk to, this might be known as spectrosexuality or spectrophilia (psychology term). Such encounters may be part of a sex magic ritual, or not. They may consist of a single occurance or form part of a long-term relationship.
Some people also have sex with “the deity within” other humans, or as deities together.
This is creepy: I also believe that the tortures inflicted on suspected witches (usually female) during the European witch hunts may have been a turn-on for some of those inflicting, ordering, or witnesses the tortures.
What is Sex Magic?
Simply put, sex magic is any form of magical ritual that uses sexual energy and/or explicit sexual behavior, including orgasm, to add power to the spell or ritual. The sexual aspect may be partnered or solo. Partners may be human or spirit beings.
Sexual fluids may also be used in ritual context, as containing special powers. Some spiritual beings like these as offerings, others don’t. (Best check ahead of time.)
Sex magic is not designed to draw a partner to you for romantic or erotic purposes–that would usually be called love magic.
Magicians and Witches Behaving Badly
It’s not just magicians and witches: incidents of sexual harrassment, abuse, and rape may be found in the neo-pagan community at large, and in many other spiritual and religious communities including yogic ashrams and the Catholic church. These things occur in pretty much any cluster of humans: families, government agencies, prisons, businesses, you name it. By noting the pervasiveness, I am NOT writing this off as “human nature” or excusing spiritual, religious, and magical communities by saying, “well, all small groups reflect what happens in the larger society.” No.
I just want readers to think about this, and about how such traumas happening in a spiritual, religious, or magical community may well compound traumas that have happened to an individual elsewhere. And to notice the cruelty in how even a last refuge may become a place of danger.
And notice how people in communities that use practices already charged with sexual energies and behaviors might be even more vulnerable to such incidents. Notice how predators within such communities (including leaders) might be even more emphatic about pressuring other people to engage in behaviors “for the magic” or for “initiation” or for “advancement” but really just for their own gratification.
In preparing for the April 19th podcast, which I knew would be a mere dip into the sprawling topic of sex and magic–one which spans history, religion, spirituality, witchcraft, human sexual behavior, and so on–I knew I would include at least some discussion of sexual predation and abuse in neopagan/witchy circles.
Many people who trace the abuses found in neopagan groups point to the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960’s-70’s as something which made things easier for sexual predators, and which made it less likely that their creepy behavior would be questioned or understood as abuse.
I was twelve in 1967. Love-ins happened in the park across the street from my house. So I remember the 1960s-1970s Sexual Revolution very well. It was a time when “chicks” were just naturally expected to put out or risk being labeled as “uptight” and uncool. As a teenage girl, just discovering my own sexuality, I had a good time–mostly–but I also encountered predators, some of whom harmed me, or attempted to harm me. I eventually developed a fairly reliable radar for creepy older men. Back then, I also had relatives who up and joined a renegade (abusive) Thelemic commune in San Diego County. It took them many years to emerge from it. They never shared their experiences with the rest of my family. Now, as a sexologist, I also use that lens to understand the mixed impact the Sexual Revolution had on many people and communities, including neopagan and witchy ones.
Calls for Community Ethics
In the references you will find several excellent blogs and articles written by people in the neopagan/magic communities. These particular blogs and articles span 2015-2019 and encompass the “me too” movement. These are just a few of many written! Many of these blogs and articles recognize the need for sexual ethics and policies against harrassment and abuse, which would be enforced in their various communities. There’s a sense of frustration too, that such changes are often stalled or dismissed by an organization’s leadership as not generally necessary, since only a “rare” case might show up now and then.
Most people, including people in neopagan organizations, are not aware that the Sexual Revolution included discussions about sexual human rights. Early on, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco issued a statement of sexual human rights. Other organizations have done the some, either before or since. The discussion is international. Much work has been done to define sexual health and sexual human rights. The most powerful statement comes from the World Health Organization (WHO).
All a neopagan organization, coven, conference, what-have-you, needs to do is adopt this stance and this language, and perhaps add a sentence about spiritual and magical practice. Voila! You’ve got an ethics statement and policy based on the best contemporary thinking, created by a massive number of international experts.
Among other things, you can think of the WHO language as a popular element of spellwork that has the power to access the energy and intention of all who created it and use it! This reminds me a bit of Declaration 127 against racism and discrimination, a declaration adopted by many Heathen and pagan groups, including The Troth, that worship Norse deities and who wish to practice Norse spirituality and culture free of the taint of white supremacy.
According to the current working definition, sexual health is:
“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2006a)
And here’s a screen shot of the sexual rights language from the same WHO document:
I hope people will bring this idea to their leadership. I hope this helps.
Sarah Ann Lawless, September 2018: “So Long and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community,” and two other pieces which have since been taken down, due to intense harrassment and trolling. I remember reading them when they were still online. (Please consider visiting her herbal apothecary store, Bane Folk.)
Mark Green, January 10, 2018: https://atheopaganism.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/killing-the-sixties-abuse-consent-metoo-and-the-pagan-community/
“The takeaway for our particular community, however, is clear to me.
First of all, we need to root this shit out. It is simply unacceptable to have sexually predatorial behavior in our community. And that means clear policies at events and gatherings about affirmative consent, and firm consequences for anyone—ANYONE, no matter how revered or well known—who violates them.”
“To my mind, we need a community statement of sexual ethics which can serve as a sort of “seal of approval” for organizations and groups which sign onto it. People will then know where the safe environments are and where they aren’t, and can choose where they attend events accordingly. I know that one attempt was made a few years ago to develop such a statement, and it ran aground when resisted by advocates of sexual initiation.”
Fireplace Altar: The only place in the house where candles are lit and incense burned. Features a glass of water offered to the ancestors (since I’d packed up the Ancestor Altar a few weeks ago, thinking I’d be moving). Candles from right to left: Gerda, Freyr, Loki’s red pillar candle, Brigid, Bastet, Freya. One ancestor and two servitor tealights in front.
Group Deity Altar: Offerings of wine, cookies, and cinnamon bread to Brigit, Bastet, Freyr, Freya, and Gerda–and a glass of whiskey for Odin (as a courtesy). Painting of The Conjurer by Disasterina in the background.
My statues and drawings of Loki were packed a few weeks ago, when I thought I’d be moving. What remains are some ritual objects along with a stack of hardening donuts (fresh supplies difficult to obtain due to “shelter in place” restrictions), a dab of Nutella, and glasses of wine and Fireball Whiskey. Also, the daily cup of cinnamon tea. As for the gingerbread house, this is an offering that has greatly delighted him–and he is much attached to it. It stays on the altar all year long.
The artificial candle in the back has been running literally for months, 24/7, on one battery that has never been replaced (ordinarily, it should have exhausted itself in ten hours of continuous use). Every now and then it dims, and then I mention it to Loki and it suddenly “recharges.” I am not making this up! I am reminded a bit of Thomas Pynchon’s “Byron the Bulb”from Gravity’s Rainbow–is this a manufacturing miracle or something more? Who am I to argue with mystery?
The above altars are focuses of a practice which is now becoming daily again. Some daily elements have always been consistent, others not so much.
Thanks to no longer having a roommate and to now living alone, in Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve been able to establish the practices again without distractions.
I don’t have to tell you all, but this is a time of intense, scary weirdness. Here in the U.S., the pandemic is going to overwhelm our medical system and our “social order” (such as it is), thanks to the criminal ineptitude of our federal government. Many state and local authorities are more competent, but they are hampered by federal grandstanding, lack of money, lack of vital equipment, and federal budget shenanigans. And, unlike Germany, where Chancellor Merkel assured her citizens that all will be cared for, many of us here in the U.S. are considered disposable. Our impending demise is supposed to be “good for the economy.” Now, that’s always been the case here–people who are marginalized, exploited and oppressed in the U.S. have always been considered disposable and many of this country’s policies have always been brutal and genocidal–but the Covid-19 pandemic shines a glaring spotlight on this shadow side of our national history and character.
People like me, who are old, now find we have an “expiration date,” a “shelf life.” I guess that’s one way to ransack the social security system, huh? Just kill off the older people and that’s more moola for 45’s golf games.
So, this is a time of tumult, suffering and uncertainty for all, on all kinds of scales. Personally, I have been totally alone since February 27th, with approximately five actual in-person human contacts since then. I live a reclusive life anyway, but I did cherish my ability to go to the grocery store now and then, or have a meal out, alone, with a book for company. Now I don’t dare. My cats are my dearest companions in this time, as everyone else I love is far away. I’m kind of holding on to a thread right now, hyper-alert to the sounds of traffic from Highway 20, a voice from the neighbor’s backyard, and the sight of the mist that travels over the mountain outside my window. However I do talk more to friends and family on the phone, or the internet. And I do know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and some canned goods in the cupboard (though my toilet paper stash is low).
So, with all this happening, it was amazing to be graced with two magical miracles this month. On the same day, March 10th, two beings (of very different kinds) returned to my sphere. Both were important to me (for different reasons) and I thought both were gone forever.
The Cat Returns
For most of 2019 and the first part of 2020, I had been feeding and gradually taming an outdoor cat which I named Arya because she was such a tough little thing. She was a beautiful silver-grey cat with extra toes on her front paws and celadon green eyes. She had one clipped ear because she’d been spayed by the owner who’d abandoned her on my property (Meowington was another one of those cats). She became feral and fearful. I worked hard to earn her trust with regular meals placed near her lair in a wood pile, sitting near (but not too close) while she ate. She got used to me and I moved closer. Once she began to trust me, she began to enjoy my petting her while eating. She became a faithful creature, always watching for my appearance at the back door once dinner time approached. She was very punctual. And her confidence in me was precious.
By mid-January, I thought she was at the point where she might let me pick her up. (I wanted to get her into a crate and take her to the vet for shots.) I was also considering if I should bring her into my indoor cat family. (I have six indoor cats already and taking on a seventh might be too much).
But during the coldest part of January, a neighborhood tom cat began trying to chase her off around mealtimes. (He’s not a cat I feed.) Sadly, he succeeded. She disappeared for a couple of days and I tried to not worry. Then she showed up for dinner again at her usual time. I was so relieved! But the tom cat must have scared her away again because after that one meal she never came back. A neighbor told me she saw Arya one evening a couple days later but no one saw her after that. I would call for her during my walks, worried that she’d gotten stuck in someone’s basement or garage. Finally, I gave her up for dead–figuring a coyote or wild cat had killed her.
I grieved for Arya. I missed her more than I anticipated. So I was stunned and shocked when she appeared on the road outside my house on March 10th, near her usual dinner time. It was an incredible coincidence–I’d just gone outside to take the trash cans out. Arya was super-skinny and wobbly. At first she was too nervous to come to me. But a large bowl of canned food drew her near enough for me to touch her. I could feel every bit of her spine. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in weeks. I went indoors to grab a cat crate while she wolfed down the food. She was so intent on eating that I was able to scoop her up and plop her into the crate. This scared her of course. But once I had her indoors in the enclosed sun porch (somewhat separate from the rest of the house), she relaxed after a few minutes of panic. More food calmed her. I stayed with her as well, petting her until she felt comfortable.
(Bottom left, Arya before she disappeared. Middle, Arya half-starved when she reappeared. Right, Arya getting plump and healthy again.)
I’ve been caring for her ever since. One of the few times I’ve gone out in March was a trip to the vet, so she could get her shots and be tested for feline leukemia and HIV. She now has a clean bill of health, along with flea, tick, and worm treatments. She’s eating well and putting on weight. I have resolved to keep her indoors as the mean tom cat is still around. I am in the process of introducing her (carefully) to the rest of the cats.
Arya’s return is the first of March’s miracles.
The Teacher Returns
And now for the second, which gives an important boost to my determination to use magic (and common sense) to get through this pandemic.
The Witch’s Primer course, offered online by Ariel Gatoga, was an important resource for me during 2016-2017, when I started my first Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy novel and began planning my move (my escape!) from Hawai’i back to California. I had stumbled across The Witch’s Primer on the internet and was quickly captivated by the material as well as Ariel’s voice and humor. Each class helped me to focus my energy and pay attention to self-care. In this way, Ariel became my first official witchcraft teacher. I have studied, and still study, other esoteric traditions and have had some wonderful teachers. However, I don’t think I ever enjoyed a teacher’s personality so much.
In addition to the Primer, I spent many hours listening to his lectures while preparing my house for sale (painting bedrooms, cleaning…). For months, thoughts of magic and magic practices permeated my house. I am not surprised it sold quickly once it was on the market. (FYI, A Charmed Life is one of my favorite lectures. I’m revisiting it again as I prepare for my next out of state move!)
Then Ariel dropped out of sight in the middle of 2017. There was no explanation. It was all very abrupt. I was very sad. I missed the teachings and his humor. I worried that some catastrophe had happened. And then I moved on–basing my subsequent explorations of witchery on other books and sources, yet weaving them in with what I’d learned from the Primer. Ariel’s teaching remained foundational as I began to develop a regular, eclectic practice.
Fast forward to March 10, 2020. Suddenly a group email appeared from Ariel Gatoga (I’d been on his previous mailing list). The email heralded his return, which now consists of a new website, links to all his vintage lectures (plus new materials) on a new YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and an Instagram account. And over the last few days, Ariel has been offering online Tarot readings (group and individual). I encourage all who are interested to visit his site and his offerings. I think you’ll be pleased.
As for me, I couldn’t be more delighted to have Arya the Cat and Ariel the Teacher back in my life. Magic is alive. Blessed Be!