Sexologist Leaves Broom Closet

The “Broom Closet” is a term which refers to neopagans and witches who are not “out” about their religion and practices. As a sexologist and sexuality counselor, I have worked with many people who at one time or another had to emerge from a sexual or gender closet in order to lead a more authentic life.  What I’ve just done is slightly similar, though more fraught with professional peril than with personal difficulties.

Jean-François_Portaels_-_The_witch
The Witch, Jean-François Portaels. Public Domain.

Of course it doesn’t escape me that outing myself as a witchy Lokean neopagan polytheist means my potential dating pool has now shrunk to the size of a small puddle, but hey, what’s not to like? (I mean that with the sincerest irony…)

So here’s the skinny. The last three years–after my divorce and the sale of our family home–have been personally and professionally difficult. I’ve been financially and geographically exiled from my beloved San Francisco Bay Area where my family resides. I’ve had difficulty re-establishing my professional practice in both Hawai’i and here in Lake County. Therefore I’ve struggled with a lack of interest AND motivation with regard to my work. The only truly consuming interest, besides general survival in a new region, has been a deepening of my spiritual life and the pursuit of magical knowledge.

I am a creature motivated by special interests. If I get bored with something, I drop it in favor of a compelling new shiny. Due to lack of business and time-wasting sexual harrassment by pretend clients, the field of sexology began to lose its appeal for me. I felt burnt-out. In Hawai’i, while working on my first novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I began to study magic and witchcraft as research for the book. I was soon hooked by everything about it. Whee! Something that’s even more fun than just plain sexology or just plain hypnosis but which can absorb elements of both (e.g. sex magic, tantra, and trance work)! And I’ve always been a mystic anyway, since about age twelve… (FYI, I’m now working on the second in the Ornamental Hermits series.)

I’m also not good at compartmentalization. I can do it, but it always feels wrong and exhausting. Over the last several months, I’ve been longing to combine my spiritual life with my work life with my (non-existent) romantic life. I just want put it all together in one oddly shaped package as so many others have done before me, and then spend that released energy on more interesting pursuits.

That rune reading, done on Imbolc with the help of my patron deity, Loki, encouraged me to take the leap. That’s what Loki’s all about–pushing his devotees out of stuck places and into new terrain. At first I thought he wanted me to leave my sexology practice altogether. Now I realize he wanted me to MUTATE and deepen it. Therefore, I spent parts of yesterday and today re-writing my professional website to announce my new direction. Doing this does feel like emerging from a rather stale crysalis and my wings are still a bit crumpled and soggy. However, my new page,  “FAQ: Out of the Broom Closet”, was actually a lot of fun to write.

Plus, the idea that I’ll be deliberately working in tandem with my deities and guides means I’m not going it alone any longer. I hope this means my clients will benefit from my improved access to insights and energy, gifts of the gods, belike.

Also the sexual harrassment from fake clients has been a source of worry, but I’ll be invoking protection and warding the heck out of my practice from now on. My Norse deities can be pretty hardcore…

So thanks to them, and Loki in particular, I am expanding and mutating once again. And with Freyr and Freya as deities of both sexuality and magic, I’ll also be appreciative of their ongoing guidance. I hope that in becoming whole, I’ll be doing work now that is “holy” in the best and most expansive sense of the word. I feel excited.

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Breath of Life

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

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

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

The Impact of Indoor Air Pollution is Seldom Addressed

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

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

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

Those Who Are Aleady Ill and Know the Cause

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

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

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

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

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

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

Babies and Children, Innocents at Risk

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

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

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

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Meme source unknown

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

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

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

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

Some Products Used in Magic Rituals Can Impact Indoor Air Quality

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

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

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

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

The Magic of Interdependence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Magic for Settler Colonists

Prelude: A definition of settler colonialism.

My Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have always loved islands…

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

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

Things I Am Still Learning and Sometimes Still Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

• Don’t make assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

• Introduce yourself and vow to do no harm.

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

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

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

• Vow to do good, unobtrusively.

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

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

• Know some local and ancestral history. 

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

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

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

• Stop polluting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Learn to Ask Permission.

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

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

In Closing

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

PD.GertBuschmann-Juliasetsdkpictlightpot

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Animism, Plastics, and the Unwise Alchemies

Animism is the belief and/or experience of all forms of matter as being somewhat conscious and “alive,” potentially able (but not always willing) to respond to an invitation to “connect.” This may not be a complete definition of animism, but it’s good enough to include in my personal working (and witchy) hypothesis of how the cosmos works. The other part of my working hypothesis is “not everything that is conscious is visible to my eyes.” That naturally includes itty bitty things like microbes (which we do recognize as “alive”) as well as what we call spirits and deities, attached to humanly detectable matter or not.

Univers_Fractal_J.H.Search the words “is matter conscious” and you’ll find many intriguing results, including the scientific term “panpsychism,” defined in this article as “the entire universe is inhabited by consciousness.” Rather than using what’s implied by the word “inhabit” I’ve come to view the entire cosmos as being informed by consciousness, feeling that consciousness is an intrinsic property of matter, though it may be organized in many different ways. It just seems like common sense. Otherwise how could it exist at all, in us or in anything else?


This idea of consciousness as an intrinsic property of matter is addressed in “Is Matter Conscious? Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics,” Hedda Hassel Morch, April 6, 2017. Here’s a quote from the article:

“Philosophers and neuroscientists often assume that consciousness is like software, whereas the brain is like hardware. This suggestion turns this completely around. When we look at what physics tells us about the brain, we actually just find software—purely a set of relations—all the way down. And consciousness is in fact more like hardware, because of its distinctly qualitative, non-structural properties. For this reason, conscious experiences are just the kind of things that physical structure could be the structure of.

Given this solution to the hard problem of matter, the hard problem of consciousness all but dissolves. There is no longer any question of how consciousness arises from non-conscious matter, because all matter is intrinsically conscious. There is no longer a question of how consciousness depends on matter, because it is matter that depends on consciousness—as relations depend on relata, structure depends on realizer, or software on hardware.”


This is a frankly speculative blog. However, let’s agree (just for the moment) that matter is intrinsically conscious. We can also assume that the consciousness of various material substances may be organized in ways which may be “invisible” or undetectable for us in ordinary circumstances, with our ordinary senses. This is going to be true of the consciousness of most or all non-biological substances, including those organized into objects.

What are the ways that we could detect or experience a non-biological consciousness? Well, someone could invent a “consciousness detection device” (which would expand our sense perceptions). Someone might use a mathematical formula or perform scientific experiments (like those performed by quantum physicists). Or there may be intuitive, spiritual, or magical actions capable of creating such perception.

And here I’d like to point out that there are forms of synesthesia that allow the perception of consciousness and personalities in objects, numbers, days of the week, and months of the year. People with such synesthesia may have emotional responses to these personalities. (See this case study: When ‘‘3’’ is a Jerk and ‘‘E’’ is a King: Personifying Inanimate Objects in Synesthesia.) I’ve even explored the romantic, affectionate, and erotic aspect of human/object relations in Love Among the Objectum Sexuals, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality (2010).

Plastics and the Unwise Alchemies

Just for fun, let’s assume that we have a way to perceive the consciousness experienced by artificial substances, such as plastics. Plastics are created from petrochemicals which are refined from crude oil (petroleum). To quote Wikipedia, “A fossil fuel, petroleum is formed when large quantities of dead organisms, mostly zooplankton and algae, are buried underneath sedimentary rock and subjected to both intense heat and pressure.”

So, transformed fossil remains may be found in food containers, cell phones, cars (and what fuels them), toothbrushes, clothing, medical instruments, etc.–not to mention in human and animal bodies and in our oceans and landfills. The crazy thing is, many of these plastic materials are biologically active. They contain endocrine disruptors which affect human and animal reproduction and sexual health.


Here’s some material concerning the impact of endocrine disruptors in plastics:

Not Too Pretty, The Environmental Working Group. PDF of report. 2002.

Chemicals in personal care and household products linked to earlier puberty in girls. Press release from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, Dec. 3, 2018.

You’re not the man your father was. Neal Howe, Forbes, Oct. 2, 2017.

Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. From Levine et. al. Human Reproduction Update, July 25, 2017.

(Thanks to my friend John Kamp, MD, for alerting me to the last three study references.)


And for those fond of cheery reading, you might enjoy learning about microplastics in human feces, plastics in the ocean, and microplastics in fish (which then become microplastics in humans) which brings us back to feces again… Unholy shit!

Okay, perhaps the above explains my use of the term “unwise alchemies” to describe pretty much everything done by the petrochemical and chemistry industries since World War I. Just for irony’s sake, watch this scene from The Graduate.

However, perhaps the term “unwise necromancy” is more to the point. As Aidan Wachter points out in a 2015 blog, we’re all dealing with dead stuff all the time, including “the petrochemical plastics in your shoes…derived from way old dead things.” My impression is, instead of an inexperienced “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” spawning an army of animate brooms carrying buckets and causing floods (remember the Mickey Mouse segment in the 1940 movie, Fantasia?) we’ve got the humungous flood of plastics in every corner–and presumably every creature–of the globe caused by an industry chock full of inexperienced necromancers (uh, aka “scientists”). These feckless neophytes, oathed to the gods of capitalism and armed with a little knowledge but no sense of balance or consequence, summon the remains of ancient beings, subject them to unnatural forces and alchemies, degrade them by shoving them into “bodies” shaped like toilet brushes and Barbies, thereby causing misery for all sentient beings (and for animists, “all sentient beings” includes purty much everything).

Many years ago, when I was in my Anthroposophical phase, I had a conversation with a man who was involved in the founding of a Northern California Waldorf School and who also served as a Christian Community (Steiner spin-off church) priest. We were talking about environmental illness and he asked me to consider the state of health of the “beings” who had such a toxic impact on me. The impression he left me with was one of beings formed outside of “lawful” creation (lacking a “protocol” for their existence?), who were tortured, unwelcome and/or disoriented. All they could do was cause sickness and distress because that was their experience, how they came into being. I’ve never forgotten that conversation and it took me a long time to wrap my mind around it. It was also the first conversation I ever had where I “saw” a person with a spirit eye. Very strange indeed.

Further along in Aidan Wachter’s blog post, I find this key paragraph:


“All manifestations in the field of experienceable existence come about by fluctuations of energy. This energy for the most part changes continuously. However, ‘strong’ events & disturbances cause ‘energy swirls’ that I perceived like a storm going cyclonic (like a tornado), they keep themselves together for awhile and have notable effects. If this ‘swirl’ lasts for awhile, it in essence becomes its own continuous cause. If it persists for a longish time (say moving from moments to hours to days and into weeks or months or years) it becomes a ‘persistent presence’. All persistent presences behave ‘as if’ sentient. For whatever fucked up reason (it’s quite unfair, really!) the Bad Nasties tend to persist more than the good shit. I expect this is because being hurt really horribly produces an inward turning motion where the cyclonic action is a tightening spiral, which, like twisting fibers together to make cord, gets stronger and more durable as it gets more tightly wound. Happiness and joy tend to be expansive and so tend to dissipate fairly quickly.”


So I am reading this and thinking on the one hand of the swirling currents of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and other oceanic plastic patches and also of the chemistries used to force the ancestral remains into all the consumer products we’re addicted to today. Do these chemistries “hurt” these ancestors “really horribly,” causing them to spiral inward, as Wachter says? And are we humans “charmed” by the machinations of marketing and consumerism to continue to inflict such hurt for our own immediate notions of convenience and to the detriment of all life on this planet?

It’s both an intriguing and a tragic train of thought…deeply, mind-numbingly tragic. Is there any hope at all of reversing this situation, even as we deal with other massive challenges such as climate change and the die-off of millions of species?

What Would Witches Do?

As a person with almost thirty years of multiple chemical sensitivity behind me (almost half my life now), I shudder at the next, logical step. I’m going way off the deep end here, because I believe that aside from doing all the right environmental activist things, such as advocating for the precautionary principle in public policy and and weaning ourselves of plastics…there’s something we can do on esoteric and spiritual levels.

Capitalist science has failed us. I am not anti-science, but I am anti-thoughtless, consumer-driven, money-hungering science divorced from common sense. And it’s not just science. Cultures and counter-cultures have failed us. Politics and politicians have failed us. Our knowledge and clever technologies fail us. Even as neo-pagans, we have failed us. That’s because we haven’t thought our situation through. What follows is not yet a part of neopagan thinking.

We the witches, magicians, sorcerers, shamans, and all mystic ritualists who work with spirits, deities, thoughtforms, wights, and ancestors, have an interesting skill set which might be useful here.

We could attempt to correct this situation. We could create the new animist or panpsychic protocols for encountering artificial substances, even those that are most toxic and problematic. If we are truly living our animism, we must welcome, bless, and ritually engage with these beings which are also conscious, though artificially and painfully so. We must offer healing, love, acceptance (wow, “unconditional positive regard” to a designer fragrance!) and ask what we can do to help ease this situation for them. It would be a kindness.

It seems to be one of the few acts of grace and generosity we haven’t tried yet, we witches. Instead of casting out these substances, we could acknowledge the hurt of these far distant ancestors of ours and ask how we can comfort them instead. I find it interesting that even as we make more of “them,” they have the capacity to prevent us from making more of “us” (via endocrine disruption of our reproductive systems). Is that their only way of managing this situation? Could we collaborate in some other way?

Let’s get to work on some rituals and magic actions, some “rules of engagement.” Anyone got any ideas about this? Welcoming all suggestions here.

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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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So. The Solstice Happened.

As a solitary practitioner of all kinds of stuff, yesterday’s solstice celebrations were also solitary, as least as far as humans are concerned.

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However yesterday I actually had more than my usual quota of real human contact.

(1) I went to the bank to cash a check and had a few light words with the clerk. Sadly, the bank trip also included a massive fragrance exposure from another customer. People really pour it on this time of year. Fortunately, I had my asthma inhalers with me.

(2) I had a quick trip to the grocery store. I let someone go ahead of me in line and exchanged a few words of cheer with the cashier. (Unless I cross paths with a neighbor, this is usually my only form of actual human contact during the week.)

(3) I talked to one of my part-time neighbors about the feral cats I’m feeding. Sadly, her house was scented with candles (or air fresheners) so I didn’t stay long.

(4) Another neighbor and I yelled a few words across the street. Yes, she and her husband are coming to breakfast on Christmas day.

(5) The dishwasher repairman came. A pleasant and efficient person. He was unscented. SUCH a blessing. So many repair people wear heavily scented deodorants.

(6) But the biggest deal was a shared meal at the Clearlake Senior Center. I’d gone there with a friend on Thanksgiving, and though wary of fragrance exposures, thought I’d give it another try since I was in the area (twelve miles from my home). This was an interesting experience for me. I forced myself to smile while filling out the intake form: yes, I eat most of my meals alone, yes health conditions keep me socially isolated… Honestly, I wanted to cry just admitting to that on a piece of paper, but I didn’t. I even stifled my impulse to go to a table by myself and instead asked to sit with an elderly couple who looked friendly enough. And they were.

The food was okay. A modest salad bar, ham, canned green beans tarted up with fresh onions, mashed potatoes, and a macaroni salad and a roll that I couldn’t eat (wheat allergy). Two men also sat at the same table, but they were not people interested in conversing. Mostly the elderly wife and I talked, and sometimes her husband interjected. I learned a bit about their lives (married over seventy years!) and they learned a couple of things about mine. When they were younger, they lived on a bit of land with plenty of fruit trees and a vegetable garden. They were known for sharing their bounty with the senior center and other places. Now, they live in a trailer home and the husband, older, worries about what will happen to his wife when he’s gone. She sat and nervously smiled. Her fingers were tangled with arthritis. She was still pretty. Married at sixteen, she must have been stunning.

What will happen? I wondered. And what will happen to me? I have four cats. If I die alone, they’ll feast on my corpse until I’m found.

The shortest day was starting to feel a lot longer than I’d expected. Back home again, once the dishwater repairman left, I could get busy with Solstice observances.

I swept the floor of the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple and brought a couple small offerings to the altar (a candy cane and a cinnamon stick). I lit candles and sat awhile, enjoying Loki’s donut patterned shower curtain and the view out the front door. Then I shut my eyes and tried to connect with my favorite deity. Meowington, the temple cat, rolled on the floor and soon became bored.

Inside my house, where my main altars are located, I made my weekly offerings to Frey, Freya, and Gerda as well as to Loki. Friday is my usual “all gods” day so that was part of Solstice too.

I also did another bit of meditative “journeying” work with my father’s mother’s lineage, as per the instructions of Daniel Foor (Ancestral Medicine). This is the last of the “first four” lineages I’m working with and the focus shifted from a previous (quite distant) ancestor to one even further back. The idea is to connect with the most recent “truly well” ancestor and to ask their help in healing the more recent generations (while also forming a protective circle or barrier for the living as the work is done). It’s quite a wonderful system. Each lineage I’ve worked with so far has a distinct “flavor.” I honor these ancestral lineages daily with poems and weekly with offerings.

When I began trying to connect with my father’s mother’s line, I had an impression of green hills and standing stones, a landscape which suggested Ireland to me. In that first visioning meditation, I came upon an old woman who emerged from a small, stone hut. She seemed to be a no nonsense type who would flick away “the troubles” with a cleaning rag. She seemed to have a sense of humor based on observing human foibles, but was not a grand visionary (which I foolishly expected the most ancient ancestors to be). She was willing to help, though, and I was grateful for that. I realized also that I am not at ease among “salt of the earth” folks–I am too much of a 20th century (and now 21st century) construct. She made me uneasy because I probably couldn’t dazzle her with fancy words or ideas. She had probably lived her entire life more in the moment than I ever have. I don’t think this is romanticizing her–I think her life had been too busy for idle thoughts.

But yesterday I ended up beyond this old woman, facing a taller, younger woman in a long blue dress. Brigid was the name (though probably not the saint) and she had some affinity with doves. I asked her, as per Foor’s suggestions, “how do you see the world?” and her answer was to spin around, to look at all sides. I felt that she was on a hill or a tower, as there seemed to be a lot of landscape around her as she turned. She wanted an offering of water and also seemed to want an embroidered or beaded hanging of some kind, a small one. She is also willing to help heal the lineage.

And there was a message too about “empty nests” which I associated with the dove. I tried to write a scrap of poetry about this, but failed.

I did an eight card “Winter Solstice Divination” reading which was pretty darned interesting, went outside and looked at the moon, and ended my night with the smallest black cat on my lap, doing my usual thirty minute Loki meditation.

It was a good day for a short day that was far too long. I encountered other human beings. I sat with my sadness. I let the tears flow. I busied myself with writing and a bit of cleaning and cooking. I enjoyed my cats. I did ceremony. Such days, stretching to the end of my life, are not such a bad thing to contemplate though I yearn for so much more.

Welcome Yul.

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Loki’s Witch Daughters & Wrathful Dakinis

Please note: This is a blog post of UPG, preliminary thoughts, and potentially fruitful lines of inquiry.

Loki as the “mother of witches” is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of this shapeshifting deity. According to a short prophetic poem in The Poetic Edda, Loki either gave birth to an unknown number of troll-women, ogres, or witches or to one child who then became the source and ancestor of all “troll-women.” In this blog I want to talk about these mysterious daughters and descendents of Loki, the seemingly perjorative names they are given (trolls, ogres), and how they remind me of wrathful dakinis and goddesses of Tantric traditions, beings who are also associated with witchcraft and magic.

But first let’s go to the source of this story.

Jean-François_Portaels_-_The_witch
The Witch, Jean-François Portaels. Public Domain.

The Norse Prophecy Poem

This poem, “Voluspa en skamma,” is also called the “Short Volupsa,” “Shorter Volupsa,” or “Lesser Volupsa.” Hollander calls it “The Short Seeress’ Prophecy.”

I will offer up several versions of the two stanzas which concern Loki and some of his children.

Here is the Lee M. Hollander’s translation of stanzas 13 and 14 of “The Short Seeress’ Prophecy” (The Poetic Edda, 1962, pp. 127-139):


13. Gat Loki the wolf                     with Angrbotha,

and Sleipnir he bore                       to Svathilfair,

but of all ill wights                          most awful by far

is Byleist’s brother’s                          baleful offspring.

 

14. A half-burnt heart                     which he had found

it was a woman’s–                           ate wanton Loki;

with child he grew                          from the guileful woman.

Thence are on earth                       all ogres sprung.


The wolf of course is Fenris, and Sleipnir is the famous eight-legged horse that Loki then gave to Odin. But Hollander says in a footnote that “His most baleful offspring is either the Mithgarth-Serpent or the Fenris-Wolf” (p. 138). However, some scholars will disagree with that, as you’ll see.

Here is a translation of “Völuspá in skamma – The Short Voluspo” found on Voluspa.org (note the stanzas are numbered 11 and 12):


11. The wolf did Loki | with Angrbotha win,
And Sleipnir bore he | to Svathilfari;
The worst of marvels | seemed the one
That sprang from the brother | of Byleist then.

12. A heart ate Loki,– | in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he | the woman’s heart;–
With child from the woman | Lopt soon was,
And thence among men | came the monsters all.


From the above we can get a better sense that the “worst of marvels” (aka Hollander’s “most baleful offspring”) referred to in stanza 11 may be the same being(s) discussed in greater detail in stanza 12.

From a translation by Carolyne Larrington, found online.


‘Loki got the wolf on Angrboda,
and he got Slei[p]nir on Svadlifari;
one monster was thought the most baleful,
who was descended from Byleist’s brother.

‘Loki ate some of the heart, the thought-stone of a woman,
roasted on a linden-wood fire, he found it half-cooked;
Lopt was impregnated by a wicked woman,
from whom every ogress on earth is descended.


The above translation states that the “wicked woman” is the ancestor of “every ogress on earth.”

Note: because there are complex controversies about who this “wicked woman” may be, I am not going to get into that in this blog post.

This next example is from Jackson Crawford’s translation of “Voluspa en Skamma” in The Poetic Edda–Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes (p. 166). Crawford’s translation embeds the poem within the “Song of Hyndla” (“Hyndluljoth”) which may be a combination of two separate poems. FYI: Hyndla is a “dead witch” (p. 156).


40. “Loki fathered

a wolf with Angerbotha:

He fathered Sleipnir

with Svathilfari.

But there was one child

Worse than all the others

of those born to Byleist’s brother Loki.”

 

41. “Loki ate a woman’s heart, 

He found it

half-burned

On a burning Linden tree.

Loki became pregnant from that dead evil woman

And from their child

come all the troll women.”


Crawford’s translation states that Loki had one child who is the ancestor of “all the troll women.”

According to Dagulf Loptson, in Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson, trollkona is the Old Norse word for “troll women” and trolldómr is a word associated with witchcraft (pp. 71-72). While a discussion of the role trolldómr played in Old Norse culture is beyond the scope of this blog post, I will mention that I just found a long study, Trolldómr in Early Medieval Scandinavia by Catharina Raudvere, but haven’t read it yet. I look forward to becoming better informed on this topic through this and other sources. I am also now intrigued by the topic of burnt-heart offerings in Old Norse culture, as a burnt heart hanging on a linden tree seems more like an offering than anything else.

In any case, Loki’s burnt-heart offspring (whether plural or singular) may be referred to as trolls or troll women, ogres or ogresses, and witches.

Actually, this blog post was prompted by an online exchange with someone who listed Loki’s birthing of witches as one of his heinous acts. I responded that birthing witches was a good thing (hey, I’ve done it!). He responded with “yeah, but they’re ogres!” I replied that powerful female beings were often given perjorative names, therefore I still considered this as one of Loki’s happier achievements.

UPG Note: When I made a request of Loki to learn a certain sort of magic, he indicated (via pendulum) that he wanted to be counted as an ancestor of mine in order to receive the “energy” of the practices that I’d be doing. Since then, my daily devotions include honoring him as an ancestor (among other things). However, it wasn’t until today, writing this blog, that I got an “aha” moment about Loki as a “mother of witches” and connected my personal UPG with the above story. Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to see.

A Witch by Any Other Name: Wrathful Dakini Women?

4x5 original
Dancing Vajravarahi (Dorje Pagmo). 14th Century, Nepal. In LA County Museum of Art. Public domain image.

One reason I’m not put off by Loki’s witch kids being called “ogres” or “trolls” is that I have a long-standing love of the Hindu and Tibetan tantra spirits known as “dakinis,” sometimes also called “sky-dancers.” They are also frequently ogre-ish. (And in the East, the taboo aspects of tantra have more to do  with magic than with sex.)

Judith Simmer-Brown describes the origin of dakinis in India as “indigenous, non-Brahmanical” and as “demonic inhabitors of cemetaries and charnel grounds,” “witch-spirits of women who died in pregnancy or childbirth,” and “wrath personified.” She also says they are a class of minor deities that attend the (non-Brahmanical) god Siva (Shiva) in his form of Ganapati, as well as the goddesses Durga and Kali. (Judith Simmer-Brown, 2001. Dakini’s Warm Breath–The Feminine Prinicple in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston & London: Shambhala. p. 45).

In Simmer-Brown’s notes for her second chapter, she quotes Alain Danielou (note #8): yoginis are “represented as ogresses or sorceresses” and “dakinis are called female imps, eaters of raw flesh.” (1964, 1985. The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.)

Simmer-Brown also says, “Like their famous champions Kali and Durga, dakinis represented forces marginal to mainstream Aryan society–female, outcaste, impure–and therefore were powerful outlaws” (p. 45). And, with the rise of tantra (7th and 9th centuries C.E.), Simmer-Brown says dakinis were elevated, particularly with the Cakrasamvara-tantra text. Goddesses such as Durga and Kali were also elevated. In fact, in the Hindu tradition, the singular “absolute” could manifest with male and female aspects:

“Alone, the male aspect was impotent and could act only through his female consort (his sakti, in Hinduism), who…became an all-powerful creator and sustainer of the Cosmos.” (Simmer-Brown, p. 46).

In Tibetan Buddhism Vajrayana tradition, Simmer-Brown says the dakini has become elevated as the feminine principle of wisdom, “defined as insight into emptiness” (p. 51). In Tibet, dakinis are called khandroma, “she who goes through the sky” or “sky-dancer” (p. 51). Noting here that Loki is sometimes called “sky-walker.”

The Tibetan dakini is associated with:

“…limitless space; intense heat; incisive accuracy in pointing out the essence; an emanation body that is itself a powerful teaching tool; the power to transmute bewildering confusion, symbolized by the charnel ground, into clarity and enlightenment; and an unblinking stare from her three eyes, which galvanizes the experience of nonthought.” (Simmer-Brown, p. 51).

It’s also intriguing to note that in India, male counterparts were known as dakas and started out as “male ghouls and flesh-eating warlocks” and were later elevated as dakini consorts and spiritual mentors (Simmer-Brown, pp. 52-53). In Tibet, dakas became known as “heroes” and “fearless warriors” who were often able to obtain “full realization”  (Simmer-Brown, p. 53).

1024px-Vajrayogini_from_Thangka
Vajrayoginī, a “semi-wrathful” dakini, in the form of Nāropa’s Ḍākinī from a Thangka. Public domain.

The topic of dakinis and dakas is a complex one. There are elaborate classifications of dakinis, yoginis, and other magical spiritual beings, both in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Some are classified as “worldly” or “wrathful,” some are known as “wisdom dakinis.” All are powerful and potentially subversive to human norms. But the essence of these beings may be conveyed by Miranda Shaw’s phrase “numinous, sky-borne women” (1994. Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pg. 37). As for function, Shaw offers a quote from the Mal translation of the Cakrasamvara-tantra (p. 38):

Enjoyment and magical powers are obtained

At places where female adepts (dakinis) reside.

There you should stay, recite mantras,

Feast, and frolic together.

So dakinis (and dakas) are teachers and exemplars of spiritual transformation and enlightenment, in spite of their often fearsome appearances, habits, and witchy magical powers.

Transgressive divine females are also found in the group of Hindu goddesses known as the Mahavidyas. Kali (below) is probably the most famous outside India. In Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine–The Ten Mahavidyas (1997, Berkeley: University of California Press), David Kinsley dates the grouping of these goddesses to a period circa or somewhat after the 10th century C.E., though he says that some goddesses predate the grouping. Kinsley also points out that the complicated “thousand-name hymns” for each goddess contain a mix of attributes that we humans would find fierce, horrifying, nurturing, erotic, and more (p. 5).

Kali_Devi
The Goddess en:Kali, 1770 Print. Public Domain.

 

This reminds me of the complexity we’re asked to consider in many religious pantheons. In the Norse pantheon, all the deities are a mix of desirable and undesirable traits and actions, but Loki’s complexity often seems most troublesome for those who are not his actual devotees. He has a vast array of aspects and kennings and we Lokeans eventually learn which ones to actively invoke and which are best left acknowledged but not encouraged. I imagine that devotees of Kali and some of the other Mahavidyas are somewhat in the same boat.

Loki’s Witch Baby (or Babies)

I continue to marvel at the mysteries contained in Loki’s evident association with primordial female power. Loki is often referred to as a god of “chaos,” which is one of those attributes that pushes my neo-tantric buttons. In tantric thought, the chaotic and creative kundalini force is feminine. Loki’s last name, Laufeyjarson, refers to his mother not his father–again an invocation and association of female power. Loki even gets pregnant and gives birth (more than once) and even suckles his children (if one is to believe some translations of Odin’s jab in the “Lokasenna”).

So when Loki eats a burnt heart hung on a tree (most likely an offering to a deity, either to him or to another) and becomes pregnant with an important witch ancestress or a number of witches (or troll-women, ogresses, whatever!), this is one of the most intriguing stories I can imagine. I am fascinated by a god who creates powerful female beings with his own body. And perhaps these beings have the potential for experiencing or transmitting spiritual “realization” similar to the powers of dakinis of Hindu and Tibetan traditions.

It seems to me that I could even apply a number of Simmer-Brown’s dakini attributes to Loki! Loki himself is somewhat like a daka. He could be described as a being of:

“Limitless space” — Perhaps also described as liminal space?

“Intense heat” — That god of fire thing? And my UPG about Loki and kundalini forces?

“Incisive accuracy in pointing out the essence” — Oh you trickster you!

“An emanation body that is itself a powerful teaching tool” — Shapeshifter, yeah! And any god spouse want to chime in on this one? Plus, he’s birthing witches…

“The power to transmute bewildering confusion, symbolized by the charnel ground, into clarity and enlightenment” — Well, those who follow Loki can speak to the transformative qualities of engaging with this deity…

I end with a tantric song of realization (mahamudra) quoted in Miranda Shaw’s book (p. 93):

When you see what cannot be seen,

Your mind becomes innately free–reality!

Leave the stallion, the wind, behind,

The rider, the mind, will soar in the sky.

My UPG is that something like this state could be part of the deeper “template” of transformation that Loki presents and that clues to access this state may be found both within and beyond the Norse lore. And that we may perhaps “feast and frolic together.”

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