A few days ago I wrote twelve haiku for twelve people who are no longer with us and who are being remembered and honored for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Last night, I wrote fifteen more. I wrote each haiku through looking at pictures and bios of our remembered dead, and tried to connect to the life-affirming details about each person, in order to emphasize who they were rather than write about the details of their often horrific deaths.
Some references which may seem obscure, like the “Knight and Orchid gent” for Mel Robert Groves, are specific personal references to an interest, organization, or description of the person. In Mel Groves’ case, this is an organization.
Transponder, our local transgender rights organization, has asked community volunteers to write brief bios and/or haiku to acknowledge each one of the sixty-eight transgender and non-binary people who died violently in the U.S. between Oct. 2021 and the end of September 2022. These bios and haiku will be recorded and read for our local Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th.
Here are the haiku.
3. Mel Robert Groves, age 25
Look into the eyes
Of Mister Mel Robert Groves
Knight and Orchid gent!
22. Duval Princess, age 24
Sweet Duval Princess,
You sure were kown and beloved.
Your family cries.
23. Matthew Ventriss, age 29. (Formerly known from a reality TV show as Destinee Lashaee. Both names are used on the TDOR site.)
Transponder, our local transgender rights organization, has asked community volunteers to write brief bios and/or haiku to acknowledge each one of the sixty-eight transgender and non-binary people who died violently in the U.S. between Oct. 2021 and the end of September 2022. These bios and haiku will be read aloud for our local Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th.
This morning I sat down and wrote haiku for twelve people who are no longer with us. The text came from my impressions from photographs and/or what was written and said about them and their lives.
#4. Tayda Lebon
A vibrant, stellar,
No one will forget.
#16. Martina Caldera, age 38
Martina, your smile!
Kindness shines in your brown eyes
A light sadly gone.
#17. Za’niyah Williams, age 21
Beauty, you are rich,
Brimful rich with golden joy.
Your smile lights the room.
#18. Ke’yahonna Stone, age 32
True heart, battle brave,
Strong in peace, protecting life,
Giving hers instead.
#21. Amerey Lej, age 19
Your legacy lives.
Lady Diamond dance bright,
Your name is spoken.
#24. Matthew Angelo Spampinato, age 21
“A breath of fresh air,
Bright, kind, headstrong and selfless.”
He didn’t give up.
#29. Milo Winslow, age 30
“Loved, deeply loving,
Fierce advocate,” supporting,
#37. Fern Feather, age 29
Sweet, weird, fun-loving,
Life-loving, artist of food,
Adored by all her friends.
#38. Ace Scott, age 15
Your eyes are so full,
You had a lot to tell us.
Dear one, rest now. Love.
#57. Toi Davis, age 34
Toi cared for others:
“Transition has saved my life.”
Her faith lit her path.
#62. Acey D. Morrison, age 30
Opened her home and her heart.
#66. Serena Brenneman, age 16
“Quirky, kind, stylish,
Beautiful, elegant, soft.”
Bless her memory.
I might write more, if the organization needs more. They are not emotionally easy to do, but the writing does seem to come easily, if that makes sense. Update: I did write fifteen more. See this page, More Haiku for Trancestors.
Last night–for the fifth time–I experienced the final numinous moments of the Chinese drama, The Untamed, which has been playing on Netflix for the last year or so. And then I returned to the beginning for yet another pass through this sword and sorcery fantasy series (a hybrid wuxia/xianxia story). And why not? It’s still the pandemic. I live alone. My sources of happiness and indulgence are few. And…The Untamed is purely excellent in just about every imaginable way. It has almost everything I love, except for Norse Loki, cats, Elves, and Jane Austen (and I can get that stuff elsewhere), so why not? Why not indulge? So having thoroughly convinced myself of a right to wallow in unrestrained fandom, I was not prepared for what came next, for what arrived this morning.
This morning started well enough. I prepared for an 8 AM meeting with one or both of my hypnosis students in India, and had a client session booked a couple of hours later. While waiting for the India students to show up on Zoom, I decided to listen to some music. I clicked on this link to TheUntamed’s main theme song, translated as Unrestrained. It is sung by the two main actors, Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, who are also wildly popular in China as singers, dancers, and public figures. It’s a song that has made it onto “my final playlist” even though it is not my usual thing. And then I went on to have my meeting. So far, so good.
And then, in an idle period before my client session, I recalled Wang Yibo’s tweet from January 23rd, which is the birthday of the fictional Lan Wangji, the character he played in The Untamed. (Xiao Zhan’s character, Wei Wuxian–the “grandmaster of demonic cultivation”–is of course given a Scorpio birthday, Oct. 31st.) In Western astroloogy, this makes Lan Wangji an Aquarius not far from the cusp of Capricorn. And his soulmate is a friggin’ Scorpio born on Halloween and the front half of the Celtic Samhain. Perhaps you see where I’m going with this… (and if you do, great, because I’m not so sure…)
Anyway, I found this tweet touching. It showed the actor’s compassion for the character and situation of Lan Wangji (aka Lan Zhan), who will probably always be one of Wang Yibo’s most beloved roles. I have also seen a touching video of many of The Untamed’s cast saying goodbye to their characters. Fifty episodes is a long time to be in any character’s head and this can’t help but have an effect on an actor’s life. Whether actor or audience, writer or reader, I think it is a very human thing to have strong feelings for and about fictional characters. (I know I adore my own and love them like family.) Fictional characters often reveal something to us about ourselves or our situations. I even feel that some great characters take on a spiritual life of their own, almost like demigods. I am not kidding. (But that is a whole other blog topic.)
Back to this morning. Back to the “shattering.” Back to the crazy, sad, and ridiculously obvious thing that I never saw coming. Somehow all this came together in my brain through the translated subtitles to the song–“preparing a jar of happiness and sadness of life and death to mourn a young man”–and the above Tweeted reference to “no more painful longing” for the character’s soulmate, Wei Wuxian.
Let’s talk for a moment about the understated but strong emotions of the character of Lan Wangji. Here is someone who has had his unrequited love literally slip from his hands to fall into an abyss, to be lost forever, just as Lan Wangji has come to realize exactly what Wei Wuxian means to him. (This is no spoiler–this happens in the first few moments of the series). Later in the series we get hints about what this loss has meant for Lan Wangji in the sixteen long years before Wei Wuxian is revived in another form, through someone else’s sacrifice and revenge curse. We see that Lan Wangji has whip scars on his back and a brand on his chest, identical to a brand suffered by Wei Wuxian during a conflict with a peevish courtesan and a giant Tortoise of Slaughter. The brand on Lan Wangji’s chest is self-inflicted, perhaps to bring him closer to his lost soulmate through shared suffering. We also see that Lan Wangji “made a mess” (as the subtitles put it) and “fought everyone” and then is severely punished (the scars) and banished for three years to a cold place, in solitude except (we hope) for a few little white rabbits. We also learn that Lan Wangji has fostered a child that Wei Wuxian had cared for.
In other words, Lan Wangji’s loss and long grief has shaped his young adulthood just as the loss of his mother (and absent father) shaped his childhood. But because he is naturally taciturn and was sternly raised as a “cultivator” of Taoist practices and swordsmanship, Lan Wangji has very few ways to express his “untamed” emotions. Even his music is restrained, though it aches with longing underneath. In fact, I think some of my favorite moments are when Lan Wangji sits down at his stringed instrument to calm or heal Wei Wuxian and perhaps himself as well.
Though The Untamed is based on Mo Dao Zu Shi(Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation), a sexually explicit novel, Chinese film censorship forced the romantic elements of the narrative into a very delicate tension. The relationship between Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian is allowed to be fond (though chaste) and perhaps even passionate (though chaste). The pair are called “confidants,” “soulmates,” and “cultivation partners.” Though I am a clinical sexologist by profession and can talk freely in mixed company about all sorts of things, I actually like the lack of physical sex in the series. The sexual tension between the two main characters–which is not even acknowledged as such–makes the series so much more interesting and romantic. Given the choice between the sex scenes in Outlander and the merest whispers of flirtation and devotion in The Untamed, I’ll take the latter every time.
Now I haven’t said much here about Wei Wuxian. I can relate to him as a trickster, as a “left hand” practitioner of magic arts; as a queer person; as someone scorned by a sibling who has become his enemy; as someone who is generally misunderstood; and as someone who has become weakened (he donated his golden core to the enemy brother) and is at times dependent as a result. He’s a gothy teen turned visionary outcast. He dies once and returns. He survives. He laughs. His birthday is right next door to mine. Plus, I’d like his wardrobe, thank you very much. (I’m partial to black.)
So what is so shattering about all this? I’m getting there. In fact, I’m here.
Here is my Soulmate. We met in our teens. I was seventeen. John was fifteen. John killed himself at nineteen. I’ve written about him before. John was more than a soulmate though, he was also a harbinger, a shape of things to come. I had a hard time telling the difference between the two of us at times. We were also very chaste. He was bi-sexual but more into men. This wasn’t the best option for me but that was the breaks. He’d gone in drag as me a few times and selected clothes for me that he would like to wear–and I, I never realized that part of me was loving him and identifying with him as if we were both queer, not just him. That I wanted my own beauty, my own being, to be as nonbinary as his. It took me several decades but I finally figured this out not long ago. Too late for the beauty part…
With John gone, I tried to piece my life back together. I was alone in my grief, mostly. And I struggled with the sadness and the strange emptiness of missing “my other half.” Yes, it did feel that way. I don’t necessarily think it is a healthy thing to feel so similar and bonded to another, especially when the other is self-destructive and mentally ill, but there is no denying that this kind of bond is very real. If you ever experience it, it can feel as if you’ve exchanged soul pieces with each other or were cut from the same cloth. Decades later, it is hard for me to believe that John is not somewhere in the astral or etheric realms (or wherever), waiting for me. But I actually hope that he’s gone on to some peaceful realm or incarnated again into a happier situation. If he appeared to me suddenly, in another form but recognizable to my heart and spirit sight, would I even know how to react? I’d feel old, and ashamed, and perhaps even angry.
So here I am–with his pictures on my wall, with quiet gestures of remembrance, with objects he gave me, with a scar on my wrist from the quarrel where he pushed me into an aquarium, and my ears that were pierced by him with a needle and cork, and a heart still raw. Still raw–even with all the other people that I have loved quite passionately in my life. Who would I want as a friend and a “cultivation partner” right now, but him? Who would follow me into the oaks and make witchery with me, but him? Who could talk to the cats and make up stories told by birds, but him? Who would drink tea with me and talk about “husbands,” but him? Was he my spirit brother or my real first husband, or a part of me that went down into a canyon one day with a bottle of pills and never came back up?
I’ll never know. I can’t know. The mysteries of death and the futile search of the living for clues to the missing beloved–this is why I found The Untamed so shattering this morning. Wei Wuxian returned to Lan Wangji. But John will never return to me. This is so final.
Will I watch the series again, for a sixth time? You betcha. Because there’s some solace there, even with what I know now.
I just spent the last two and a half days devouring an online English translation of Mo Dao Zu Shi(Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. The translation, by “K”, can be found here at Exiled Rebels Scanlations. The book is the basis for the 2019 Chinese television series, The Untamed, currently on Netflix. I’ve now read all 113 chapters, but am saving the bonus chapters for “later.” I recently wrote a blog, Wild About The Untamed, after watching the series four times but prior to reading the book.
I have so much to say about this series–and now the book as well–that I plan on writing several blog posts about The Untamed, from a variety of different views (magical practice, sexology, as a fantasy writer myself, etc.). But first I’d like you to understand why I am blogging about something as seemingly trivial as a Netflix series while enduring the fear and smoke of California’s third largest wildfire ever (which is burning part of the county where I live) as well as dangers of Covid-19 and the incompetence of my federal government. I live alone. Earlier this week I packed my car in case of evacuation. Fleeing a fire in a small car, at my age and with seven cats, will not be easy. (So far I have not had to do this–though others have.) So yes, I have become completely absorbed in this particular xianxia fantasy in order to cope with several existential threats and to control my racing mind. But even if I weren’t menaced by all of the above (including my racing mind), I’d still be as fascinated and transfixed.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to convince any of my close friends to watch The Untamed, so I’ve no one with whom I can “geek out” about the series. For those who have not yet experienced this magic, I feel the same sense of pity that I feel for anyone who has not read Lord of the Rings or watched Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. Is it any wonder then that I am writing a blog? This is what prolonged social isolation does to a person…
But let’s move on to some of the reasons I love The Untamed and the novel so very much.
The Trickster Archetype
I mentioned in my previous blog that the “trickster” character of Wei WuXian (aka Wei Ying and Yiling Patriarch) is what attracted me first. I am always captivated by trickster characters and spirits, including the consumate trickster, the Norse god Loki Laufeyjarson (and his Marvel counterpart). Tricksters are mischevious. They are typically outspoken and seldom mince words. They are more apt to slash with them if necessary. They get into precarious situations, often due to a finely tuned sense of their own honor or obligations. They solve problems using their wits but can fight if necessary. They see through hypocrisy and frequently challenge it. They are charismatic. They know their own value. They are seldom deferential enough to authority figures, even when not challenging them overtly. They seldom deign to explain themselves and their actions, so that even their closest companions misunderstand them. They can be fiercely loyal to just a few. They have power and they often wield magic that is considered dangerous, demonic, or somehow wrong or indecent. They attract harsh punishments and social criticism. Tricksters often drive the plot.
Wei WuXian, the “demonic cultivator” of the series, is a classic trickster. He is all of the above. In the book, this characteristic is even more pronounced. He is particularly compelled to prod and poke at Lan Zhan (aka Lan Wangji and Hanguang-Jun), his taciturn companion in swordplay and sorcery, but many of his tricks and jokes backfire. Try as he might, Wei WuXian cannot use obnoxious behavior and guile to undermine or escape his destiny. (I’m giving no spoilers. You can interpret “destiny” as you wish.)
Beauty, GHOSTS, DESPOTS, AND GHOULS
The xianxia world of The Untamed is beautiful. The buildings, costumes, ceremonies, and lotus-filled lakes calm my spirit and refresh my eyes. If I was a child watching this series, it would live in my imagination forever. As an adult, my imagination is also captivated (but “forever” is a shorter time).
But this world is not without its perils. Sociopathic despots rule it and the cultivator clans are governed by authoritarian prudes, wealthy libertines, and stern macho warriors. Resentful ghosts and lurching zombie-like “puppets” threaten armies and villages. Queer love can barely speak its name. And female characters spend a lot of time cooking and serving food, but not eating. (And why do I feel I’ve just described a Republican utopia?)
I also appreciate the beauty of the martial arts choreography. The actors who play Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan (and the others) make it all look effortless, which means of course that (1) they all spent untold hours perfecting their moves and (2) that the film editing is amazing. I particularly like how Lan Zhan’s words and face may often be closed, but his movements with sword and his magical instrument, the guqin, are eloquent and expressive. His actions taken to protect Wei WuXian are always prompt and decisive, though his words and face may rebuff Wei’s overtures. Wei WuXian also provides physical complexity in that he can switch from a lighthearted mood to a stern fighting mode at a moment’s notice. This is also reflected in the choreography.
As an American of European ancestry, I know I miss many markers of cultural significance. How could I not? The translator of Mo Dao Zu Shi does explain a few things, however, and I am grateful for anything that helps me understand more about what I’m watching and reading. However I do think I managed to understand some of the personal and emotional symbols, even during the first viewing. The producers and writers of The Untamed had to be careful how they portrayed the relationship between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan, and so relied on elements with clear–but not explicit–meanings or they scripted ambiguous reactions to explicit meanings. This is a good article about some of the main symbols (Lan Zhan’s headband, rabbits, chickens, etc.) and how they are used.
The development of the complex relationship between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan is of course the main attraction. Superficially it’s a classic “opposites attract” story, but the characters also share many similarities. Both are held in high regard for their abilities (though Wei is controversial first due to his cockiness and later for his demonic cultivation methods). Both are also generally regarded as beautiful men in a culture which obviously values looks. Both are “second” in rank in their cultivation clans/sects. Both are well educated. Both have lost parents at a young age and have been treated harshly, even abusively, by adopted or extended family members. Both are also emotionally and sexually inexperienced, though Wei WuXian likes to pretend he is not. So this is a story of first love as well as a love we imagine will last as long as the two cultivators seek immortality.
There are other types of relationships, love stories, and passionate (but presumably platonic) pairings depicted in The Untamed. There are two wandering cultivators who have a loyal friendship and a common mission to help those who need it–their way of life almost serves as a foreshadowing of the life waiting for Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian, should they commit to each other. Sibling relationships are important and complicated. Parents are either missing or inadequate. Lan Zhan’s brother becomes close to someone who rises in the world (who is therefore acceptable) while Lan Zhan’s partiality for Wei WuXian–even before his “fall”–is regarded as unfortunate and wrong.
Nothing could be more unlike The Untamed than the 1938 film of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. However those who know Pygmalion might understand me (maybe) if I say The Untamed has a transcendent moment equivalent to “fetch me my slippers, Eliza.” You have to see both to understand.
The book explained some scenes and elements in the television series that I could not understand. I am so glad that an English translation is available online and I feel a lot of gratitude towards K, the translator. This is in addition, of course, to what I feel for the author Mo Xiang Tong Xiu and to all who brought these characters and their world to life in The Untamed.
I have always had special interests which keep me curious, happy, and occupied. The Untamed fits in with so many that I have already: magic and animism, all forms of human sexuality and gender identities, trickster tales, and epic fantasy. And I have such pleasure in the story itself and its characters. That pleasure alone–during these dreary days of pandemic isolation and smokey skies–is worth everything.
After a hard day of dodging unmasked humanoids and prepping for possible wildfire evacuation in 100+ degree weather, I like to put on a clean sarong and unwind with yet another binge watch of several episodes of The Untamed (2019).
Yes, this aging witchy wannabe, trapped in a world she’d like to desperately adjust, has been captivated by the fantasy world of Chinese “cultivator” sorcery and swordplay, and the adorable love story of soulmates Wei Wuxian (L) and Lan Zhan (R) (pictured above), played by actors/singers/dancers Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo. I am not sure what prompted me to initially click on to the Netflix series but the trickster energy of the Wei Wuxian character seemed “Loki-like” and this drew me in. I was soon hooked (for many reasons) but also felt confused. While watching the first several episodes I had to search for articles that would help me understand the characters and context. (This Wikipedia entry helped.) And my response to the series was/is very similar to the one experienced by the writer of this review, “The Untamed, streaming on Netflix, ripped my heart out and fed it to me. I can’t get enough.” Yep. Me too.
Everything is admirable, except the soundtrack can sometimes seem a bit goofy in a mismatched mood way. But that’s okay, because the theme song, sung by Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, is on “my final playlist.” And if I have to kick the bucket before successfully clawing away the pastel printed vinyl wallcovering of whatever ICU gets my covid-racked carcass, I want THIS song and this song only to take me across the liminal divide between me here and me over there somewhere. (Loki, my darling psychopomp, please take note.) It’s not that I love the song that much over all others (though I kind of do at this point), it’s that in my life of deeply felt but ultimately doomed romances, I’m pleased to be immersed in observing the delicate trajectory of a “barely-got-past-the-censors” love story of two young men of magic and chivalry. (And the costumes? They are to die for!)
And as a sexologist, I have to say it’s really rather refreshing to watch nuanced courtship for a change, instead of people throwing each other up against a wall and having at it, sans foreplay, ending with a predictable simultaneous orgasm. (I’ve come to feel a bit of the prudery and boredom of the French writer, Colette, who once got snarky about people who had a regularly scheduled “abyss.” But I digress.)
In The Untamed there are plenty of actual abysses, all glowing with magma or containing Tortoises of Slaughter. There’s even the beyond-death abyss of the lost, wandering soul of Wei Wuxian after he tosses himself off a cliff (this is in the first episode so I’m not spoiling anything).
As for the actors–every single character in this very lavish, sprawling production is played to perfection. But the two main actors are extraordinary. Xiao Zhan has perhaps the easier job (as he has a lot more dialogue and opportunity to explicitly express a wide range of emotions) but the “strong, silent” Wang Yibo manages to convey many complexities with few words and a wide range of subtle facial expressions. Honestly, Wang Yibo has the mystique of Garbo, if it’s okay to compare a young Chinese actor/singer/dancer with the charisma of a bygone Western film star. I really would like to see both actors in other roles. As they outgrow their secondary personas/careers as singers in pop boy bands, I would hope they each get a chance to grow and develop their truly extraordinary acting talents for many years to come.
I’m watching all fifty episodes now for the fifth time. I keep finding more things to discover and enjoy–little details as well as previously unnoticed plot points.
And I live for the moment when Lan Zhan admits he likes rabbits.
Perhaps it is not surprising that The Untamed is starting to influence my daily life. A few days ago, in the course of renting a small storage unit for family photos and keepsakes (in case of fire evacuation), the elderly proprietor came within the six feet of social distance I’d been trying to maintain. Her mask exposed her nose. She touched me on the hand. I said “no touching” and then giggled to myself. It was Lan Zhan’s deadpan delivery. But exactly.
Outside, the world burns. The pandemic rages. My children are far away. But as long as I have electricity and the internet, I’ll be drinking in the world of The Untamed, now my drug of choice for the rest of my forseeable lifespan. Either the Yin Iron goes, or I do.
Yes, I know all about the “Witch’s Pyramid,” including the silence part. However, in a previous blog I said I would be making a money jar spell by the next full moon to help boost Disasterina’s AIDS/LifeCycle fundraising efforts — as she has pledged to ride her bike “545 fucking miles” from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Please donate so she makes her pledge goal. Here’s the URL for the sponsor/fundraising page:
Well, today, March 9th, is that full moon I spoke of. It’s 9 degrees Virgo, with a sun conjunct neptune. Plus, Mercery retrograde ends today. All good stuff! So it’s time to make a witchy plea to the powers that be, on behalf of this valiant fund-raising effort!
Above you see the inside of the jar, which contains basil for prosperity, organic sugar to sweeten the deal, rose quartz chips to bring lots of love to the fundraising drive, three coins to triple the money coming in, and a petition for dollars containing the above URL. Plus, I dumped in a lot of coppery/gold glitter eyeshadow so it looks rather pretty in there. Then I used a Disasterina sticker on the front of the jar. The green candle burning on top of the lid has been inscribed with the words “AIDS LifeCycle” on one side and “Disasterina” on the other. The candle is dressed with Basil infused organic olive oil.
The candle is burning now, even as I type.
That Blue Burning Candle
That’s for me. It’s a Jupiter spell for general luck and prosperity, which I need right now. I have a complex set of changes to make in the next couple of months, and I’ve begun this time of mucho magicQ with (1) an offering to the lake where I live, as I pulled the “Lady of the Lake” card (surprise!) from the goddess deck today; and (2) the Jupiter spell. In the coming days, I have way opening, protection, health, and certain other spells to craft. It’s going to be a busy, busy time–and I’ve had to get out of the daily practice doldrums and renew that too. I can’t do this without my spirit allies!
Certain material I’ve come across recently also encourages me to cultivate relationships with “the smalls”–microbe magic. Go to microanimism.com and check out the work of Siobhan Watkins, Ph.D. Can’t hurt, could help. (I’m in the high risk group–age and pre-existing health conditions–so I am thinking about this stuff rather a lot these days.)
So… people… we’re gonna need all the luck, resilience, and smarts we can possibly muster in the days ahead. Bring in your protection wards and health-strengthening magic while you’re washing your hands for more than 20 seconds. Charge your medications on your altar, if you have one. I also recommend you check out the Healing Tao “Six Healing Sounds” and do them–particularly the lung sounds and poses. Do anything else that strengthens you.
There is so much to say…but perhaps that’s another blog post. Be well!
Whether you’re in service to spirit beings who dig it when you work for a good cause in their name or a kitchen witch with a soft spot for drag queens and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment–or any other witchy sort, actually–you might enjoy whipping up a nice prosperity spell for the sponsorship webpages of those who’ve pledged to ride in the upcoming AIDS/LifeCycle, which raises funds for the SF Aids Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. And these funds help sick and poor people get the life-saving help they need!
Disclaimer. I’m not writing as an expert in the craft! I’m a learner. What follows are merely ideas, with references to work by those who ARE well-respected experts.
A few days ago, I encouraged readers of this blog to sponsor Disasterina as she prepares to ride “545 fucking miles”–in drag!–from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. So go ahead, watch the video below and give money NOW by clicking this link to Disasterina’s fundraising page. And readers, do remember, this kind of sponsorship is not just a charitable gesture, it’s a gol-durn Act of Resistance! As Disaterina reminds us in the video below, this is the stuff of community here, and we sure do need to come together in this time of increasing fascism and brutal repression of all we hold most dear (more on that in an upcoming blog).
Honey Money Jars & Other Prosperity Spells
Use Your Western Witch Privilege To Help Others
In the U.S. and many other Western countries, we witches are no longer tortured, hung, or burned for our practices. (Let’s hope another “Satanic Panic” isn’t in the works–many lives were ruined.) However, people in many other countries ARE harmed, killed, or shunned for the kinds of things we gleefully post on Instagram. Plus, even if we are seldom destroyed or ruined for wearing a pentagram, other people in this here country experience injustice, neglect, bodily harm, and even torture and death for being gay, lesbian, trans and gender variant, intersex, black, indigenous, otherwise “of color,” immigrants, Muslims, and so forth. Even kids and old people are not protected. We can take our pentagrams off–or cover up tattoos–and go stealth if we must. Other people are not so fortunate. People with HIV/AIDS are still among the neglected, and must suffer and die if they cannot get help. (I watched my own uncle dying, in the days before retroviral drugs, and it was not a good death.) So nonprofits and community clinics are essential. They need our support. AIDS/LifeCycle is an important player.
In this spirit of using Western Witch Privilege as a form of allyship to this cause, I also asked my readers to consider using their witchy superpowers to charm Disasterina’s sponsorship page, to encourage even more donations to come pouring in. Of course, as a star of Dragula (a show with lots of witchy references), Disasterina has a large fan base and platform from which to draw support. I am sure she’ll reach her $10,000 goal. However, there’s nothing wrong with us witchy types adding a little extra plus plus, is there? But remember, folx, we’re charming the sponsorship page, not the person. Consensual magic is what it’s all about.
For a great discussion of queer magic, including the importance of consensuality, please visit your favorite independent bookstore and order a copy of Misha Magdalene’s Outside the Charmed Circle. (Chapter Seven is the specific chapter.)
In addition to Magdalene’s book, I’m basing this blog post on some of my other favorite books and sources. Let’s proceed.
Step One: “Get Help.”
If you work with one or more spirit beings, let them know what you’re doing. Get ’em on your side. I’m talking deities, land wights, ancestors, demons–whatever! Talk to them about why this particular cause and sponsorship is important to you and make the appropriate offerings. If you have a devotional practice, dedicate your magical efforts and spellwork as an act of service.
For example, the gendershifting, shapeshifting Norse god, Loki Laufeyjarson, aka the “mother of witches,” is my main focus, though I work with others too. I’ve already promised extra donuts on the altar to gain his assistance in this matter. And because he’s known to be a champion of outcasts, and is very LGBTQIA+ inclined, I am sure he’ll be delighted to help out.
For thoughtful and practical suggestions for magically cultivating and working with “invisible friends” of all kinds, I highly recommend Aidan Wachter’s book, Six Ways (see references below). It’s one of my favorite “go-to” books.
Step Two: Charming 101
A talented witchy educator, Ariel Gatoga, disappeared from internet land halfway through 2017. (His website was hacked and who knows what else was going on?) His Witches Primer podcasts were very important to me during a difficult time of my life, and I’ve also enjoyed many of his lectures for the Druidic Craft of the Wise, though his tradition is not my own. Though he has disappeared from the public eye for the time being, his podcast lectures are preserved in Google Docs.
His June 2, 2017 lecture, “A Charmed Life,” is one of my favorites. His main theme is if you want to live a charmed life, you actually work to charm your life. This means constant attention to the active practice of “charming,” spells throughout the course of the day, attached to everything from wallets to shoes and other objects.
The first eighteen minutes of this hour-long podcast episode concern a raffle and answering some online questions. You can skip that part. The latter portion lets you know how to charm everything–including money. This is solid theory and practice. You’ll want to add this understanding to your spell for Disasterina’s AIDS/LifeCycle sponsorship page.
One of the things Ariel emphasizes is the importance of saying things out loud as opposed to silently. So here’s an example of a spell for Disasterina’s sponsorship page that you can say out loud:
At h-t-t-p colon forward slash, forward slash: We ask all Powers to grant big cash.
At w-w-w dot fight HIV: We ask for ten thousand, three times three.
Dot org, forward slash, go to, forward slash: Sponsors contribute great gobs of cash!
Disastereeeena, the Qween of Flash, rides five forty five, on a Green Money Path!
To banish all AIDS & HIV, her page draws ten thousand, three times three!
Step Three: Elements of Spellcrafting
Jason Miller’s Elements of Spellcrafting book is a guide to “macro- and micro” enchantment. It’s another one of my favorite books–a great guide for beginners and experienced practitioners alike. The idea is to cast the big “macro” enchantment–in this case, “$10,000 three times three”–and then enchant every single element of the circumstance you want to influence, persuade, and charm. So as you create a nice, donor-boosting spell for Disaterina’s webpage, consider ways you might want to add a little more bang to your spells for sponsor bucks.
For example, if you feel increased media coverage for Disasterina’s efforts would bring more sponsors, and that this would be a great element to include in your own spell, you can: (1) take a practical action such as copying your social media signal boosting to major and minor media outlets on Twitter, such as @latimes, @sfchronicle, and other newspapers, television, and radio stations along the AIDS/LifeCycle route; (2) then include those twitter names in your spellwork via paper petitions and/or sigils. Skillful use of hashtags can also be incorporated of course. Any of our usual social media outlets can be worked in this manner. Other enchantable options might include the name of the newspaper ripped from an actual printed page, or a bit of soil from the media outlet’s parking lot (often there’s some vegetation somewhere!). You are not trying to enchant the actual media outlet here, just connect their energies to the sponsorship page.
Step Four: Set Your Intention with Visualization and Guided Imagery
When you go to Disasterina’s sponsorship page (and have donated something yourself), you’ll see the “Personal Progress” section on right side of the page. You can see the current amount and percentage of funds raised, along with a red bar that can expand from left to right as more funds come in. Visualize (or think or feel or simply imagine) that the red bar is growing quickly to the right (which unlike politics is a good thing), growing larger and longer and more robust, swelling with donations, bursting into a crescendo of a glorious 100% of the goal of $10,000 and more! Remember to bless the page as you click away.
And yeah, if you wanna do a little sex magic at this point, be my guest. (Solo is fine.) Just keep that visualization present as you reach your own thrilling crescendo. (Jason Miller has a good book on sex magic. See below.)
Step Five: What Kind of Spell?
There are many kinds of prosperity spells. Ellen Dugan has an entire book of them. You can do candle magic and jar spells. You can charm objects. You can include planetary influences, moon phases, crystals, herbs, sigils, and yes, sex magic too. With regard to sigils, I’d like to become proficient, but I’m a rank beginner at present. But I do like Laura Tempest Zakroff’s book, Sigil Witchery, as a “how to” guide.
I really like jar spells. They are earth-friendly, since you are using a recycled object. The jars and their lids keep everything in one place. Jar spells are transportable–you can bury or carry them. The spells can be assembled on a kitchen counter, using many materials that are easily at hand. Glass, as an “amorphous solid,“ feels nicely liminal. And if you’re a hipster, you’re already deeply in love with Mason jars, so there’s that. You can also incorporate sigils or written petitions for money and burn green or gold candles on top of the lid, for more juice.
A “Honey Jar Spell for Love, Prosperity, and Protection” can be found in Besom, Stang & Sword on pages 74-76. Honey Jars can also use sugar or other sweet substances. I also like their “lucky nutmeg” spell on pages 76-77, and think a whole nutmeg might be a nice addition to a prosperity spell jar.
You’ll probably find yourself consulting the internet if you don’t own the above books. That’s fine. Know that you’re probably going to be working with some variation of these basic elements:
A glass jar with a lid; a candle (green or gold); paper and pen for writing a petition or sigil (in this case, the page URL: https://www.fighthiv.org/goto/disasterina); oil to dress the candle; honey or sugar (optional–use if you want this to be a “honey money” spell to attract donors to the sponsorship webpage); money attracting herbs and spices such as basil, cinnamon, bay leaves (such lists can be found in many magic books and websites), crystals (pyrite, peridot, malachite, etc.) and/or lodestones (along with metallic sand to “feed” the lodestone). However, you might want to check this article on the crystal mining industry and its adverse impact on the environment (including indigenous lands). Make sure your rocks are ethically sourced.
Ellen Dugan also likes using three different colored coins in her Lodestone Witch Jar Spell: gold, copper, silver. Duggan also recommends adding extra dollars or coins to the jar for a six month period (depends on the size of your jar, I guess).
Examples of Money Jar Spells on the internet can be found here and here, There are also merchants who make and sell special oils and ingredients for Money Jar Spells. You don’t actually need these, or you can find a way to make your own.
Step Six: Timing
Our next new moon is February 23rd. Our next full moon is March 9th. Between these two dates, or on March 9th, You’ll have plenty of time to research and gather materials for your magical workings. If you work in group rituals, that also gives you time to alert your colleagues. Some people also prefer various days of the week, or times of day.
Step Seven: The Actual Ritual
Do the usual: state your intention, ground and protect your space, build your energy, ritually add the ingredients to the jar, say your words of power, seal it (unless you plan to add more cash later), burn the candle, envision the spell having worked, and put the jar where you’d like to keep it. This link has a good set of basic instructions for jar spells.
Step Eight: Forget About It & Thank Your Helpers
Okay, you’re done. You just did a good thing. Thank your spirit helpers. And then put the spell–and the jar–out of your mind. Let your magic unfold as it will.
This is a signal boosting post to laud Disasterina’s commitment to raise $10,000 for the AIDS LifeCycle, riding a bicycle in drag for “545 fucking miles,” from San Francisco to Los Angeles, (May 31st to June 6th). The money she raises will ultimately go to the SF AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LBGT Center, via AIDS LifeCycle, to provide free HIV testing, medical care, and services.
So send your dollars, why doncha, to this link here and support/sponsor Disasterina in this epic fund-raising ride on California’s highways to hell, all in a good cause!
But dear witchy readers, I’m going to ask for something more from you–if you can’t spare the cash (and even if you can and do!) won’t you consider also casting a nice, fat, juicy Money Spell to charm and boost Disasterina’s fundraisingwebpage to attract more cash? You want the spell to be directed at the webpage, by the way, not at or on the person doing the fundraising (consent issues here.)
You can do this. I know you can. Get yourself a green candle (don’t forget a match). Get yourself a jar. Throw in some basil and other prosperity herbs, lucky coins, a lodestone or other stones known to draw abundance, green edible glitter (not the ocean polluting kind), and/or any other magical element you like to use to bring in extra cash. Then write the words “AIDS LifeCycle 2020” and this URL: http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/disasterina.
If you want to add a little picture of a bicycle, you can. Whatever! Then do your witchery! Get out there on the next full moon, make offerings, beseech support from your invisible friends, bury the jar, and visualize glorious abundance filling Disasterina’s fund-raising coffers via the above URL. Wouldn’t it be great to know your MagicQ is boosting this effort?
Speaking of “boosting,” signal boosting is also helpful. Use your social media superpowers to get the word out! Whip up support!
I know I’m going to be offering up a few extra donuts to Loki, on behalf of this good cause. And I’ll bring a request for cosmic support to our next group ritual, next time we gather.
But why is this cause important to me? And why am I so struck by this particular performer’s efforts on behalf of people vulnerable to HIV/Aids? Here’s why this cause is important to me:
Personal: I lived in San Francisco, in the Outer Mission and Castro, during those first years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I saw many people learn their HIV-positive status, and some who died during the time I knew them: clients, co-workers, friends. My most beloved uncle, David Rath, was one of the early casualties. He was diagnosed a couple of weeks after I married and my new husband and I moved into the apartment below his to be close to him during that time. I was with him a lot and helped care for him during his last year. He left his affairs in my hands. During that time I also worked for a public opinion research company that developed the first AIDS surveys for the SF Department of Public Health. Some of my co-workers went on to help found and volunteer for the Stop AIDS Project in 1985.
Today, my oldest kid is in an “at risk” group. He is informed, aware, and I trust him to take steps to decrease his risk. Even so, any time he tells me he’s “been sick a lot lately” some part of me goes into a silent scream. (I’ve never told him that–I try to keep my alarmist fears out of his life as much as possible. I don’t always succeed.)
Professional: As a sexologist and sexuality counselor, I am utterly committed to supporting LGBTQIA+ people and issues. I care about this issue and try to stay current on such things as PrEP, safer sex practices, and who provides services in my community.
Donor: I’ve also donated money to past participants in the AIDS LifeCycle rides and to other organizations that deal with HIV/AIDS and sexual health.
Why I’m Supporting Disasterina in 2020: Gosh, that sounds awfully political, doesn’t it? Damn, now I’m having a presidential campaign fantasy. She would be the best person help us feckless “A-merkins” to throw off our chains (the non-consenual kind!) and to dismantle this pathetic and ruthless oligarchy! I can see the Boulet Brothers in her Cabinet (if there was one big enough for their hair) and a few other “Drag Super-Monster” appointments… However, I digress.
First of all, I love it when performers and artists I enjoy and admire reveal themselves to be people of compassion and conviction in their private lives. So, there’s that. How I enjoyed Disasterina, “LA’s Most Disasterous Drag Queen,” in Dragula Season 2 (now on Netflix)! Yeah, I’m a fan, but not in that weird fangirl-y sort of way (I save that for my main deity, Norse Loki) but as a mature former burlesque artiste/punk wearable-artist turned sexologist witch who deeply appreciates punk/goth drag laced with rapid-fire wit and visual puns. (This description of Disasterina’s artistry is not really adequate, I know. I know…) But for me, given my own unsavory past and off-beat cultural references, Disasterina serves it–hot! And now, riding from SF to LA to raise money for HIV/AIDS testing and treatment? How can I resist this? Big respect!
I also can’t resist the prankster-esque nature of her video appeal! Oathed as I am to a trickster god, I can’t help but see Disasterina (and the artist/performer behind her) as one of Loki’s ilk, if not one of Loki’s own. (I feel the same way about Nina Hagen.) I mean–bright red hair, clown glamour make-up, gender fuckery, and puce-colored fake fur!–the visuals in this particular video are all there for those of us who spend precious hours of social media time discussing “who reminds us of (Norse) Loki” when we should be looking for work in our serf/gig economy. Of course I shared the video in Loki’s Wyrdlings FB group, hoping others in my spiritual community would also be moved to support (in spite of the fact that many of us are, as I said, under-employed or in danger of losing our social security or SSI benefits). But there’s a bunch of witches there, so… prosperity spell jars, anyone?
I could go on, I suppose, dissecting the nuances of performance, and my giddy delight in them, which serve to motivate my enthusiasm. I will just end with a heart-felt “well done” to Disasterina and others who are making that ride later this year, and look forward to the accounts of this epic journey, as they are vlogged, blogged, tweeted, or whatever!
To Disasterina, best wishes for enduring make-up, a really good bicycle seat, inflated tires, an excellent adventure, and a sweet homecoming to your dear ones at the end!
Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in Magical Practice, by Misha Magdalene, is a challenge to review. That’s because the book is so deep, so rich, and so necessary, that in order to do it justice you almost have to quote great heaping gobs of text. I’ll try to not do that–I want you to read the book itself.
I was privileged and honored to read a PDF draft in advance. When the book was published I ordered two copies, one for me and one for a family member. This is the kind of book you want to talk about, the kind you want to give to others, the kind that makes you want to shout “YES!” into the oak groves at midnight or wave at passing motorists by day.
So why am I, a witchy person and a sexologist, so darned enthusiastic about what Misha Magdalene has to say? Well, it’s also that I’m kind of like that “over-enthusiastic PFLAG mom” meme that was going around a few years ago, only I’d be in a black t-shirt saying “My Transgender Witch Child Makes Me So Proud” and I’d be wearing less bracelets. So, the topic of “exploring gender & sexuality in magical practice” is deeply personal on several levels. I feel its urgency. At the core, I want my children (both cis and trans) to be respected and safe, and I want everyone else’s kids to be safe and respected too. It’s just basic human empathy and justice, qualities which are lacking in this world and sometimes this lack bashes into our spiritual lives, where we go to be strengthened, but are also frequently deeply vulnerable.
In spite of the topic’s complexity, this book is quite “user friendly.” Each chapter contains exercises to help the reader think through and experience the material. The appendices and bibliography are also wonderfully helpful.
In the introductory chapter, Misha Magdalene describes their book as “an exploration of magic through the lenses of gender and sexuality.” I think the reverse is also true. The book asks also us to examine gender and sexuality through the lenses of our magical practices and beliefs. Magdalene is extremely qualified to write from and through both (and several) perspectives. For me, in this book, intersectionality reveals its liminal nature, and liminal, magic practice reveals its intrinsic intersectional necessity. Circles and spaces, within and without, all are essentially “charmed.” If I’m interpreting correctly, I feel this may be one reason why Magdalene writes “magic is queer.”
The second chapter, “Getting Our Bearings, Knowing Our Terms,” is a helpful “101 and beyond” navigation through sex and gender terminology, which–as Magdalene points out–can and does change over time.
The book focuses next on the body, embodiment, and all the baggage that may be heaped upon bodies, often internalized. This third chapter is practically a body-positive “user’s manual,” a way to set ourselves up–not just conceptually but also physically–for the body’s ability to be “an instrument of magic.” For myself, as a person who is finding the physical and social transition to old age as bewildering as adolescence, this appreciative and mindful focus on the body as a location of self, wisdom, and power, provides a much needed reminder to take care of what I’ve got. I have a hunch other readers will appreciate these reminders (if not for the same reason).
The fourth chapter, “Gender Theory and Practice,” takes us deeper into considerations of this topic and how gender essentialism is incorporated and enacted in various magical traditions. (And now I find that these chapter descriptions are so simplified that it is almost embarrassing. Just…read…the…book…)
The next chapter moves powerfully into a discussion of queerness, queer deities, and more. I (cis, het, spectro-sexual, Lokean) particularly resonate Magdalene’s description of queerness as “a metaphysical yearning for something beyond the scope of our understanding” and also as a “pursuit” of potentiality. While I (cis, het, spectro-sexual, Lokean) don’t presume to the label of “queer,” this chapter helps me to understand my own allyship and the underpinings of my own spiritual quests.
My only quibble with this chapter (and it is a small one) is that an important aspect of Loki Laufeyjarson–the Norse trickster and shape-shifter–is overlooked. He was/is a mother not just once, but twice. In the Norse Voluspa en skamma, Loki ate a burnt woman’s heart (an offering?) and promptly gave birth to innumerable “troll women.” “Troll” was another word for witch. Loki, therefore, is a Mother of Witches, an important (gender-shifting) ancestor of magic practitioners. I would have liked to have seen this aspect acknowledged. But as I said, this is a minor criticism.
Chapter six brings us to one of my favorite topics. It’s called “Safer Sex Magic for Beginners (and Experts)” and I must say, this chapter is a thing of both sexological and magical beauty. I highly recommend the section called “How to Learn Sex Magic in Three Easy Steps” and the exercise for working solitary sex magic. In fact, I highly recommend the entire thing. Just…read…it!
The next two chapters on consent are also full of common sense and wisdom. The second one, chapter eight, concerns the process of negotiating consent with gods and…wow. Just wow. One of my professional interests, as well as personal/spiritual orientations, concerns spectrosexuality and god-spousing, and I can honestly say that so many people need the perspective and information contained in these chapters! These chapters are a stunning example of sex education at its best.
The last three chapters bring everything together in a context of individual magical practices and working within (or without) magic communities. Can I just say that even as I flip through these pages, as I write this review, I find myself wanting to swoon with admiration? So much common sense, so much compassion, so much inclusivity, so much impeccable information…
I believe this pioneering book is destined to be a classic. It is certainly one that I will take from my shelf again and again, and will continue to recommend whole-heartedly to all who are interested in such topics.
Well done, Misha Magdalene! I look forward to your next book!!!