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.

et tu
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!

####

Advertisements

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.

####

Season’s Bleatings

What I don’t like is this seasonal mix of utter despondency combined with perky attempts to foil the utter despondency. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. It’s most wearing.

Page_186_illustration_in_fairy_tales_of_Andersen_(Stratton)

And to make matters worse, “Solvent-based Life Forms” are also out in force. Scented people are everywhere, and scented candles, brooms, and soaps are in every store. As a result, I am even more constrained than usual in my abilty to access just about everything.

I used to like this time of year, as a child, and also when I was raising my own. As a mother, I threw myself into elaborately concocted Christmas stockings, gifts, special breakfasts, annual trips to the California Revels in Oakland, and so on. But that’s all over. One kid is a Luciferian now and the other — well, I’m not sure if I’m even going to see him and his girlfriend over the holidays. I keep asking about their plans, via texts, which are sometimes answered and sometimes not.

But I’m essentially a witchy neopagan and a Lokean who prefers to observe the Winter Solstice and Yule, so why do I even care?

It’s the loneliness. It’s that peculiar holiday loneliness that is suffered when it seems that all the rest of the world is gathered with loved ones, eating, laughing, in rooms full of colored lights and twinkly objects. There are things to do in this county, crafts fairs and such, but I can’t really enjoy the events as it is so depressing to go to them alone.

I do try to be proactive, however. Here’s how:

• Reaching out to other lonely people: Somewhat from a counseling and peer support perspective, I’ve started a Facebook group called “Lonely in Lake County CA” and have revived my BlogTalk Radio show, Love’s Outer Limits, to cover social isolation in four parts, including the last segment on Xmas Day. I’d like to do something to counteract the shame that goes along with being lonely (especially old and lonely).

• As I mentioned earlier, I used to love to make special Christmas breakfasts, so this year I decided to invite my neighbors over on Xmas morning for a breakfast open house. This has the advantage of socializing in a time slot that doesn’t conflict too much with people’s plans for Christmas dinner.

• Then, later in the day I’ll be on BlogTalk Radio with my final “Lonely in Lake County” episode and checking in with the Facebook group throughout the day, in case people need moral support.

And there’s a bit of socializing. Last Sunday I drove 300 miles, round trip, in order to attend the Revels with three good friends (all Scorpios!) and we had a festive meal and modest gift exchange afterwards. And tonight the fraternal organization I’ve recently joined is also having a holiday meal. I may even try a Senior Center meal or two, on the 21st and 24th, knowing full well I’ll probably have to dodge fragrances or leave because someone starts to use harsh cleaning products to wipe down a vacated table (this happened on Thanksgiving).

I’d volunteer to serve food at a community meal or staff a warming shelter, but there’s that fragrance and chemical problem I’ve got. Other people just can’t help pouring that stuff all over themselves at this time of year and facilities tend to use the harshest possible chemicals for cleaning.

Since I have no partner, no idea if I’m gonna see either of my kids, and as I am without neopagan or Norse inspired kindred (except for online connections with Lokeans), I do feel sad about not being in a cozy hall with a blazing fire, surrounded by Lokeans and others, toasting and boasting and blótting the night away as the shadowy figures of my ancestors look on from wherever they are, nodding sagely, “yes, she is most truly our daughter,” or some such thing.

Instead I will expand upon some dim devotional ideas for Yule offerings and a ritual for Loki in the Lokabreanna Tiny Temple. And I’ll look for other ways to get through this most painful time of year. Suggestions are welcome in the comments section. Thanks!

hiding

####

Rabbit, Rabbit

No, I don’t wake up the first of every month saying this. I’ve heard about it, of course: a superstition to bring luck in the next month. But I do pay attention to auspicious signs and portents.

This morning (December 1st), my waking up to The Troth membership opinion survey regarding the hailing of Loki at Troth events was indeed auspicious. The hailing of Loki is controversial within the organization, which apparently consists largely of U.S. membership. I have heard that similiar organizations in other countries find this controversy puzzling and unnecessary.

The survey results will not produce a binding vote, but might help influence the organizational leadership’s position on this topic. Currently, Loki is banned from Troth events (a form of religious discrimination we call Lokiphobia.)

There were three options: (1) continue the ban on hailing Loki at Troth events; (2) no ban at all, so that Loki could be hailed at any time; and (3) a compromise position that would allow one hailing of Loki in the main event, with separate bowls and drinking vessels for Loki-hailers and abstainers, presumably for spiritual “hygiene.”

An aside: the one thing I do wish the survey had included was a second question as to how many people in The Troth membership do hail Loki at all, ever. I think this could have been very interesting indeed, as it would provide numerical information as to allies and practitioners as well as abstainers.

For those who don’t know, The Troth is an organization that promotes inclusive Heathenry (as opposed to all the white supremacists running around with Norse runes tattoo’d on their biceps). The stated policy of inclusivity is why I joined, even though I don’t describe myself as “heathen” per se at this point. Here’s a key portion of their policy statement:


From The Troth website: “We are deeply proud of our indigenous Northern European religious, cultural, and historical heritages. We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, physical ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry. Together, our members practice the moral principles followed by our noble predecessors, including: Boldness, Truth, Honor, Troth, Self-Rule, Hospitality, Industry, Self-Reliance, Steadfastness, Equality, Strength, Wisdom, Generosity, and Family Responsibility.”


Oh, the Irony…

…that such spiritual hygiene should be given such attention when there are a few other  more essential topics the organization could address more robustly.

For example, Jeremy Baer, a  Redesman for The Troth, just blogged his opinion on the divisiveness of the Loki/not Loki controversy and pointed to what he sees as the greater challenge for inclusivity in The Troth and heathenry in general: racists and “Nazi scum.” Baer writes:


Baer writes: “Whether it is on the domestic front in North America, or courting potential allies in Europe, the Troth does itself a strategic disadvantage in actively alienating devotees of Laufeyson. Most Lokeans I have met, because of who they are and Who called them, are natural anti-fascists who would stand against the racialist scourge.”

(Note: Baer uses “Laufeyson” as Loki’s “last name” instead of the more correct “Laufeyjarson.”)

8c066f7adfb283497f5ba5fa7bce66df
Pride Loki” artwork (based on “Marvel Loki”) by DKettchen.

Yeah, gotta agree on that. We Lokeans also seem to be more supportive of LGBTQIA+ and disability issues and many of us exist in marginalized spaces as a result of our own lives and identities.

(I’d personally love to see a survey on that, including the kinds of activism we’re engaged in outside of heathen and neopagan topics.)

However, in the Loki Wyrdlings facebook group, several people have pointed out that Baer seems dismissive and glosses over the problems of inclusivity that we Lokeans face, and that this must be addressed before unity can be achieved. Also, it’s been pointed out that as grown-ups, we can work on more than one issue, say, addressing internal prejudice against Loki practitioners as well as cultural appropriation and misuse of Norse religions by white supremacists.

But Wait! There’s MORE!

BlkPinkmcs_logo
From a hat sold by the Environmental Health Network of CA, http://www.ehnca.org. I was a board member and president back in the 90s.

But, Lokean as I am, I want to throw another issue into the “hygienic” mix, that of disability accommodation, particularly with regard to those who have the invisible disabilties of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illnesses and respiratory ailments (such as asthma) that are triggered and worsened by the exposure to airborne toxins such as fragrances, scented personal care products, candles, incense, pesticides, paints, etc. Such people, at least the ones who have recovered somewhat from previous toxic exposures, generally do pretty well at maintaining their health and stamina as long as such products are excluded from gatherings and public spaces. I hear the Trothmoot this year is taking place on the West Coast. I would enjoy experiencing such a thing, just once in my life, and to be able to go home from it in relatively healthy shape.

Most people with conditions such as mine are socially isolated and many are longing to participate in faith and spiritual communities, including neopagan ones (heathen, Wiccan, etc.). When I moved here to Lake County, I even tried the local Unitarian Universalist church, as UU’s have a history of accepting neopagans. I had a few conversations with someone in the local leadership and decided to try attending a service. Within ten minutes I had to flee due to one person wearing a heavy dose of sandalwood essential oil. I cried all the way home.

I’ve never been to a Trothmoot, or indeed any public heathen or neopagan event except for that thing the Druids used to do in Berkeley in the park, and that only once. Reclaiming Witch Camps could be fun, but they are outdoors in the woods in the summer and I know the mosquito repellant would make attendance impossible. (I also dodge airborne toxins at health facilities, schools where I’ve taken classes, public transportation, restaurants, grocery stores, senior centers, and so on.)

Good indoor air quality, which is what people like me need in order to participate in  events and experience those stated Troth values such as Hospitality, Frith, and Self-reliance, benefits everyone in attendance. Go on over to my Why Fragrance Free page on my professional website and you’ll see links to a study published earlier this year that estimates that 1-4 Americans has some form of environmental illness now. ONE IN FOUR. That’s staggering.

From where I sit and stand, always on the outside, I’d much rather see the vast amounts of attention focused on the pros and cons of Loki worship (so, just get over it and let us hail Loki already!!!!) directed instead toward a thoughtful consideration of a ban on fragrance use at such events, as the toxicity of such products is well documented in scientific literature and numerous anecdotal accounts. (Yes, and as grownups, we can also address the problems presented by alt.right fascists and neo-nazi scum, as well as other challenges.)

Because I have no kindred beyond those I find on the internet, and no place of worship beyond my own altars and my Lokabrenna Tiny Temple, I am probably doomed to spend the rest of my life as a solitary practitioner of just about everything. I try to make peace with that, but even writing about this brings tears. When it’s not too painful, I like to imagine the cheer of bright halls where people like me (aging, disabled, kinky, Lokean) are welcome as full members of the community. I long to toast, boast, recite poetry, and look with love on my kindred. I long to rely on the “kindness of strangers” who soon become my friends. I long to stand up and do battle beyond writing these blogs.

Alas.

smallEcoMaskBut, yeah, I’m a gonna bring this up. I’m bringing it up now. I’m tossing my respirator on the ground as a gauntlet. Loki is all about pointing out hypocrisy and the hypocrisy in action against those with disabilities is every bit as damaging as other forms of exclusion.

As for Loki–I’ll leave you with the song stylings of Joan Jett, Bad reputation.

Loki! Loki! (For luck.)

####

Mauna Kea-Facing More Desecration

Heartbreaking news. The Hawai’i State Supreme Court has ruled in favor of construction of yet another industrial-strength development on Sacred Mauna Kea. The heroic case presented by native Hawaiians and allies–the Protectors aka na Kia’i–against the development of this amazingly corrupt and disrespectful project consists of legal-based, fact-based, Hawaiian culture-based, and environmentally-based arguments which all demonstrated, without a doubt, the manifold adverse effects of this humungous building proposed for a delicate conservation district, atop the island’s aquifer, on top of one of the most sacred mountains in all the Pacific. Watch this beautiful documentary, Mauna Kea-Temple Under Siege, for background on an earlier struggle against the Keck Telescope.

11174382_10206078560030244_5234364277477711068_o
Amy Marsh, Mauna Kea Kia’i Encampment, Mother’s Day, 2015.

I am stunned and heartbroken by this news. It was my privilege to stand alongside my former partner in this struggle for almost fourteen years. He was and is one of the petitioners in the court case and constested case hearings which challenged this project. I have had a pretty good ringside seat for many years, knowing what this effort has cost him and the other petitioners. Not just in money, but in family time, self-care time, and the intense effects of constant stress and trauma on individual, family, and community health. Oh, I could go on. I could! But for the moment, I am just simply appalled.

But powerful money interests appear to have won for the moment. The combined influences of CalTech, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and numerous public officials with now nicely greased palms, have formed a juggernaut determined to roll forward over sacred land.

And it’s not just sacred land. It’s Kanaka Maoli  (native Hawaiian) land which was taken and is held by force by the U.S. government, and which–in the opinion of the World Court of Arbitration at The Hague (Lance Larsen vs. The Hawaiian Kingdom)–is an unlawfully occupied nation-state (country) deprived of its proper functioning government. In other words, Hawai’i is not a legitimately acquired “state” of the U.S. and this is becoming more widely known both within Hawai’i and in the most influential circles of international law.


“I have come to understand that the lawful political status of the Hawaiian Islands is that of a sovereign nation-state in continuity but a nation-state that is under a strange form of occupation by the United States resulting from an illegal military occupation and a fraudulent annexation.”

–Dr. Alfred M. DeZayas, Feb. 25, 2018, written as a Memorandum of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.*


So, TMT and just about everything else inflicted on Kanaka Maoli and descendents of Hawaiian Kingdom nationals (naturalized citizens) by the “fake state” government is a probably a war crime as per international law. Got that? The situation in Hawai’i is THE longest running occupation in recent world history, but most people don’t even know this. (See this news  and community meeting video regarding a local elected official’s efforts to take action on the war crimes issues.)

I will publish a link of the petitioners’ official response to this decision when I see it.


For more information on the Hawaiian Kingdom, see https://www.hawaiiankingdom.org

See also political history of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

* Source: Video of Presentation by Councilwoman Jen Ruggles, Puna, Hawai’i.

**This is an overs-simplified statement for me to make. Please see this page called Government Re-established.


“Biohazard” Section of this Blog Post

Now, I am not trying to “center” myself here, but I want you do know why I, a non-Hawaiian, care so deeply about this issue. (And yes, this is a “woo” blog but my spiritual life has always been mixed with my life as an activist, so political and social justice matters will appear from time to time.)

My long history of supporting Hawaiian independence and the struggle to protect Mauna Kea as an ally (and later as the partner of a native activist and cultural practitioner) was the result of various spiritual epiphanies and events that took place prior to, and concurrent with, my learning the truths of Hawaiian history and the political situation. I had been granted certain life-changing experiences in Hawai’i, and therefore I felt a duty to “give back” to the people and the ‘aina (land) in the form of activism and support. I didn’t always do things in the right way or with the right understanding of protocols and local ways, and to my sorrow I realize I was sometimes (often?) clumsy and off-putting in my enthusiasm, but I did try to help when I could.

My “wyrd” threw me a curveball when it upended my previously comfy residence in a San Francisco-centric world of punk rock, motherhood and marriage, anthroposophy and Waldorf schools, and environmental health activism. That “spontaneous combustion” I wrote about previously took place in this context of a “Hawaiian” connection (the nature and meaning of this event is still a central mystery in my life). My wyrd has now changed course, bringing me back from my love affair with the islands (and my island love affair), to purposeful encounters with other spiritual traditions and other urgent political and social justice issues. I’m in Pomo land, here on Turtle Island, and I stay aware of that as I adjust to my new surroundings.

But I don’t forget Hawai’i. And I don’t forget the Mauna. And I stay in solidarity, though with more distance now. I know the fight to protect this mountain and other sacred lands of Hawai’i is far from over. Please check out the Protect Mauna Kea Facebook group, and other groups supporting Kanaka Maoli struggles for independence, restoration of the Kingdom, and other social and political justice issues. Thank you.

#KuKiaiMauna #AoleTMT


Some of my contributions over the years included making websites for people and causes, writing articles, and raising modest sums of money:

“America’s Tibet,” Hawai’i Island News, 2004, with Kukauakahi Ching and David Ingham.

PDF of article in Slingshot, a publication associated with The Long Haul in Berkeley (however, I know better than to write “Hawai’ian” with an ‘okina. The editors didn’t consult me): 2005_Slingshot_1 

2005_Slingshot_2

2005_Slingshot_3

I originally designed and maintained this website for one of the Kia’i (Protectors). I also made a website for StopBombingHawaii.org but it seems to be gone now, or at least, I can’t find it. There is a Facebook group though, so please go there!

11101506_10205849855312769_3636175305474971602_o
Amy Marsh, circa 2015. T-shirt designed by Laulani Teale.

####

My Need for Kindred and Cahooting

I’m living here alone, almost on the shore of a large lake, in a county that’s one of several scorched by the Mendocino Complex Fire (which is still raging). I was able to shelter in San Francisco for two weeks during the evacuation, in a neighborhood where I previously spent many, many years of my life. Though I was in an empty apartment and sleeping on the floor, I was happy. Every day I could leave the flat and walk down a hill and see people–whether in the Castro District or Noe Valley. I could eat, window shop, and just get my body moving and feel a part of life, of a community. I began to hunger for my daily walks, to be out, alive, and able to exchange insignificant pleasantries with people behind the counters of health food and hardware stores.

I was closer to most of my oldest and dearest friends, as well as my two grown children and my mother, and was able to see most of the people important to me in that short span of time. It was heaven.

Back here in Lake County (beautiful as it is, and with some very good neighbors), I am mostly alone. No lover, no roommate, no job, no clients, and with only a sad little scruff of a post office as a walking destination. The nearest towns are three and six miles away, and their sidewalks are barely populated. There are no brisk crowds to navigate. Barely any restaurants. No cafes for fomenting revolution or falling in love.

My isolation is also largely due to years and years of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illnesses (which explains the “no job, no roommate” part). I live carefully, dodging chemical toxins, including the ubiquitious scented products that are everywhere and on everybody. Outings with new friends sometimes involve that person’s habitual scented hand lotion or hair product, and I roll down the windows and try to focus on enjoying the person, ignoring my frustration at breathing and tasting the damned stuff, and having to plan for yet more “downtime” to recover from their “chemical companions.”

1280px-Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_021Sometimes, because of the constant toxic exposures, I feel like giving up on attempts to socialize, but that way is death. Suicidal thoughts have been too frequent these last few years, especially since my divorce. I won’t act on them, I know. But I suffer nonetheless.

 

So my strategies for combating loneliness and isolation have become more far-fetched and eccentric, though to me they seem quite reasonable. My pagan, polytheistic spiritual practices keep me going. I court my gods and the local wights with offerings and poems. I  talk aloud to my cats and my “most trusted” invisible friend. I work with my ancestors. I adhere to a regimen of solo tantric practices. And I keep my antenna up for anything that might provide an opportunity for actual human cahooting in spaces that might be non-toxic enough.

Last week I went to a local senior center’s “open mic” night. It was sparsely attended but welcoming. The sound system was dysfunctional. Even so, I read some of my poems. I went with a new (unscented) friend and I think we both enjoyed ourselves, at least until one of the musicians was inspired to perform a Neil Diamond medley. At that, we fled.

Perhaps my biggest desire is for what is known in pagan circles as a “kindred.” I’m actively working on creating my Lokabrenna (Loki’s Torch) “tiny temple” (the structure formerly known as the “woodshop” and fondly referred to as a “meagre palace of Midgard“). I am seeking to fill it with like-minded Northern Tradition Pagans and Inclusive Heathens who are Loki-friendly. Yep. And I’m calling in  the tarot readers, the rune casters, the tantrikas, the mystics, the occultists, and the witches too. Come one, come all (come fragrance free!). I will serve you tea and if you wanna light a candle or do a ritual, I’m down. In the tradition of hospitality that was sacred to my ancestors, I am welcoming visitors and am LGBTQI etc. friendly. I am hoping that from among these visitors (should any appear), there will emerge a closer band of boon companions, kindred for my–and our–waning years. Lake County needs this. And I need it too.

One thing I do know–I simply can’t afford to adopt any more cats. Four in the house and two in the temple are quite enough.

Are you a fellow traveller? Searching for kindred too? You can let me know right here.

####

 

Mendocino Complex Fire

“Lady of the Lake Interrupted”–that was going to be the original title of this post. But why not just get to the point? Almost two weeks ago I fled the thick “clam chowder” smoke of Lake County, just a few days before the advisory, then mandatory, evacuation for the North Shore communities. I begged shelter from some relatives and have been here now, in a completely empty San Francisco apartment with four cats, a sleeping bag, and several boxes of family photos (plus a few books and treasured artwork). I could have gone home a couple of days ago, but I’m hoping for more smoke to clear.

Back in May, when the volcano began to erupt in the middle of Leilani Estates in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island, friends and acquaintances began to congratulate me for “leaving Hawai’i before the eruption,” as if I’d somehow unfairly cheated fate. A lot of my friends and acquaintances back there did have to evacuate, some are still without a permanent place to live, and yes, I feel sad that I wasn’t there to have helped out as Puna “stayed classy” through the crisis (“Stay Classy Puna” is a local slogan). On the other hand, I might not have survived. Between the asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity condition that I live with, the volcanic air–or threatened toxic releases from the geothermal station– might have taken me out. I’m glad that I didn’t stay to either die or force my kids to fly over to rescue me in dire straights.

But now all those folks who think I dodged a kharmic bullet can rest easy. I have now fled the largest wildfire in California history, a fire that was just one ridge away from my home in Lake County, and though I am not in a shelter, I’m “sleeping rougher” than I have in years (on the floor), and “oh my bursitis!” I’m here knowing that the next time Lake County has a fire, I may not have anywhere to go. This apartment won’t stay vacant for long. Shelters are out, as the fragrant personal care products and cleaning products that prevent my equal and healthy access to all kinds of ordinary goods and services in the best of times, also keep me from accessing public facilities in the worst of times. I can’t afford an RV or even a truck with a camper shell, so I’m actually expending a fair amount of time obsessing over my options during the next fire, even though there are none.

Friends who would take me gladly, as a temporary evacuee, are not prepared to shelter my four cats as well. But the cats are my companions and familiars, and they go where I go.

I was lucky this time, to stay in San Francisco as the fire rages. And privileged too. A lot of people were sheltering in parks. The heat up there, in the summer, gets into three digits… can you imagine? Kids, elderly people, pets, in a tent with no fans, under those conditions? And in one park, there was only one propane burner for cooking for dozens of people. And the smoke–they couldn’t escape it like I did. Plus, a cluster of people from one of the regular shelters have come down with a norovirus blamed on donated, canned water. I have only myself to blame for getting sick from pre-made deli food.

I’m lucky too in that my house and neighborhood are intact. The firefighters did a tremendous job keeping the Ranch Fire flames away from our North Shore towns (just as they prevented the River Fire from reaching Lakeport). But other people have lost their homes. Housing is already scarce.

But this is a blog about all things woo, spiritual stuff, magic… Loki… and whatever else I feel like writing now that I no longer care much what anyone thinks. So yes, there is a woo side to this narrative. Let me continue to over-share.

Among my evacuation items, I brought most of my pagan altar doodads, my magical tools (except my crystal chalice), my tarot deck, and a few choice books that I’m in the middle of reading. (I also packed my Lois McMasters-Bujold Miles Vorkosigan books and a complete, hardbound set of Jane Austen, but I digress…).

While here, I’ve kept up my daily tantra exercises and meditations as well as my devotional practices for Frey, Gerda, Freya, and Loki (which I do in an Inclusive Heathen context, as per The Troth, combined with a greater personal and spiritual affinity with the approaches of Northern Tradition Paganism). All this has helped. Greatly. Feeling as if “my deities” are “with me” is also a comfort and these workings have deepened. I begin to understand people who rely on religion–this kind of thing is new to me.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve actually done really well in “remembering my tools” while under duress. I credit the daily practices above. Whatever it is we do, spiritually or religiously, these things can build resilience so that when crisis does strike, there’s a bit more ability to keep a cool head (at least at times) and to feel less overwhelmed (mostly). I also recognize that being here, alone, in an empty, non-toxic apartment in my old neighborhood, rather than in a public shelter among scented strangers, also contributes greatly to my resilience.

I suppose my biggest concern going back, aside from smoke exposure, is how do we build a better framework for mutual aid before the next crisis hits us? The local motto for our community is “Lake County Strong,” but old-timers are the most likely to benefit from long standing family and social networks, just as I have from a family connection here in the Bay Area. How do we have more of that for people who are marginalized and less socially connected?

I’m pondering. I’m wondering what I can do, personally, with the resources I have. Ideas are welcome.

Are you a fellow traveller? Or even a local Lokean? Let me know you’re there!

mendocino-1400

####