The brand new bottle of new-to-me meds is set before the altar. Offerings have been made. The candles are lit. Several consecrated pendulums are beside me. And thus the ritual begins.
“Beloved Loki, this medicine has been prescribed for me. Do you sanction its use?”
Pendulum swings yes. “And will you bless it for me, helping it to be free of any side effects?” Yes again.
“Thank you, my Lord Loki.”
And so on through my pantheon: Lord Freyr, Lady Freya (and her namesake cat appears at my knee to also add her blessing), Lady Gerda, Lady Brigid, and the Peerless Bastet. Ancestors too. One by one, via pendulum divination, they all accept and bless this medicine. I know they want me to be healthy and resilient.
And then I address the beings of the medicine itself–an artificial creation of “big pharma”–asking it to cooperate with me in a healing and resiliency building process. (Notice the animism in this approach?) I also ask my body to collaborate with the medicine. I pledge to continue taking care of my health in general.
And then I take the first dose, confident in the love and blessings of the spirits who are my family.
Caution: Never discontinue or avoid using any medication without first and always consulting with your doctor and health practitioners.
What would I have done if one of my deities had said “no” to the “will you sanction its use” question? I would have replied, “Thank you. I am going to follow doctor’s orders, as I made a vow to do so, so while I understand your concern for me, will you please bless this medicine anyway, so that I can safely fulfill my vow?”
Spirits understand vows. And doctors understand that you will call them if side effects arise.
Better yet, I would have just asked for a blessing on the medication, without using the first question. That’s what I recommend for anyone reading this article. Just ask for the blessing. (And follow doctor’s orders.)
Why Did I Do This?
I’m a hypnotist (among other things) and so I know a little hypnosis history. One of the “greats” was a French psychologist and pharmacist, Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie. He’s the founder of autosuggestion. You have probably heard some variation of the saying, “each day in every way I am getting better and better.” That’s from Coué.
He realized his patients often did better when he offered a positive remark while handing over the medicine, such as “Oh, this is exactly the right thing for you. You’ll do very well with this” (imagined examples). Here are two key paragraphs from the Wikipedia article:
Coué noticed that in certain cases he could improve the efficacy of a given medicine by praising its effectiveness to the patient. He realized that those patients to whom he praised the medicine had a noticeable improvement when compared to patients to whom he said nothing. This began Coué’s exploration of the use of hypnosis and the power of the imagination.
Coué believed in the effects of medication. But he also believed that our mental state is able to affect and even amplify the action of these medications. By consciously using autosuggestion, he observed that his patients could cure themselves more efficiently by replacing their “thought of illness” with a new “thought of cure”. According to Coué, repeating words or images enough times causes the subconscious to absorb them. The cures were the result of using imagination or “positive autosuggestion” to the exclusion of one’s own willpower.
So with my ritual, I have gone one better. Instead of creating a hypnotic autosuggestion ritual, which of course I could have done easily, I wanted the full blessings of my divine pantheon and my ancestors. They are deeply rooted in my subconscious and their participation means the world to me.
Also I had a curious incident a few weeks ago. I was in a crisis state triggered by a family situation. I prayed fervently to all my deities, but to Bastet in particular, for help. There is a line in the supposed “ancient prayer to Bastet” that you find on the internet:
“…slay the evil that affects our minds as you slay the serpent Apep.”
And so I begged her to slay the evils of depression and despair that blight my life. Weirdly, the persistent feeling of being bogged down by a constant state of depression and anxiety actually lifted by the next day and I felt light and free, much better than I have in years. This lasted for a few weeks. It’s like I knew I had been wounded but no longer felt it. “The edge” was definitely not just off, but gone.
Dude! I almost didn’t keep my appointment with the psychiatrist!
But though the deities grant grace and boons and blessings, we mortals are the ones to do the heavy lifting. Loki would rather teach magic and mischief and inspire my writing. Bastet prefers to focus on pleasure, beauty, and dancing. Gerda wants me to water the garden and talk with plants. Freyr reminds me that even toxic relationships can be composted for a new harvest. Freya and Brigid bring me back to explorations of the sacred feminine. In other words, there is more to explore in life and magic and if I want to step up my game…well then! My deities and ancestors are quite willing to give me a boost now and then, and blessings too, but I can’t waste my time in tears.
So I kept the appointment. And this morning I lifted the now consecrated tablet to my lips. I washed it down with tea and set the bottle on the altar, to remind me that the medicine is now sacred.
This approach could work for anyone, monotheist or pantheist, no matter who or what you call upon for assistance. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Loki is great for my Positivity Ratio! I could never have dreamt I’d find such a rich source of positive emotions in the service (and the metaphysical arms) of a notorious trickster god!
This morning I woke up to find yet another clever Loki-themed meme posted on social media (I will share it at the bottom of this post). The meme caused me to experience immediate pleasure in the form of amusement–the kind I classify as “unholy glee”–as well as a feeling of an almost blissful love. That’s one of the many perks of being a Lokean–access to endless witicisms and scads of great artwork inspired by our favorite Norse deity (example at left) or his deft Midgardian cosplayer, Marvel Loki.
So, what is this Positivity Ratio? Psychologist and researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., has found that we in Midgard need a diet rich in positive emotions in order to thrive. The minimum ration is three positive emotions to every negative one. I learned about Dr. Frederickson’s work through her free Coursera class on Positive Psychology. You can check your own emotional nutrition by taking her Positivity Ratio test online.
You’ll notice in the list below that “happiness” is not included in the list. It’s too vague. Instead, Fredrickson lists happy-making emotions as elements (nutrients!) that can enrich an emotional diet. The idea is, you can do this deliberately, just as you can choose to add vitamin supplements or a fresh salad to your daily menu.
Now, when I took Fredrickson’s online course, I was in bad shape: I’d moved away from California and was desperately homesick, I was waiting for my divorce to finalize, a love affair had soured, I had developed a bad case of social anxiety, and so on. I was often alone, depressed, and hopeless. But when I encountered the above list, I realized that no matter how bad I felt, I could ALWAYS access Interest and Amusement. In other words, learning new things like magic (interest) and watching cat videos (amusement) could improve my mood, even if the improvement just lasted a minute or two.
Increasing the daily frequency of such emotions could–and did–build my resilience over time. Resilience is key.
I would say that Loki the trickster represents a deified personification of “Nonserious Social Incongruity” aka “Amusement” (among other things). I tried to get at this in a previous post, My Lord, I Offer Thee…Twisted Humor.
Through my devotion to Loki and my other deities, I access nine out of ten of the above positive emotions. Certainly I feel Love, Awe, Gratitude, along with Interest and Amusement. The only emotion that I don’t seem to experience in this context is Pride.
I never thought I’d understand what religious practices and beliefs did for people, but after a couple of years of my own daily devotions, now I think I do. Our imagined but not imaginary companions–gods, goddesses, non-binary deities, spirits, ancestors, etc.–present an opportunity to engage and enlarge ourselves through the above emotions as well as the larger beings we’ve contacted. I have a little more empathy now for people who are “high on Jesus” and those who have similar evangelical fervor regarding other deities. They think the rest of us are missing out on the bliss they experience. They don’t understand why others may reject their particular source (which they feel must be the ONLY source). They don’t understand that it may not be the specific deity or set of practices that provide that bliss, it’s the repeated, deliberate connection with something (anything!) larger that provides the emotions that eventually coalesce into a feeling of grace.
I should add that states of grace can be experienced through creative, intellectual, or generous actions–it’s not just a “gift of the gods.”
But for me, Loki is the fast track to all kinds of emotional goodies. When I wake up to a meme like this (based on Marvel’s Midgardian cos-player), I laugh, I feel glee, I swipe the meme and post it myself. I laugh at myself when I do it. And I enjoy people’s reactions. I am amused. And this improves my emotional diet, which can then be tracked via my positivity ratio.
This is just the beginning–sharing such emotional goodies with others is also a way to amplify them. That’s partly why our Lokean community is so vital. We can easily increase our Positivity Ratio by harvesting positive emotions through our Loki-related sharing.
The “Broom Closet” is a term which refers to neopagans and witches who are not “out” about their religion and practices. As a sexologist and sexuality counselor, I have worked with many people who at one time or another had to emerge from a sexual or gender closet in order to lead a more authentic life. What I’ve just done is slightly similar, though more fraught with professional peril than with personal difficulties.
Of course it doesn’t escape me that outing myself as a witchy Lokean neopagan polytheist means my potential dating pool has now shrunk to the size of a small puddle, but hey, what’s not to like? (I mean that with the sincerest irony…)
So here’s the skinny. The last three years–after my divorce and the sale of our family home–have been personally and professionally difficult. I’ve been financially and geographically exiled from my beloved San Francisco Bay Area where my family resides. I’ve had difficulty re-establishing my professional practice in both Hawai’i and here in Lake County. Therefore I’ve struggled with a lack of interest AND motivation with regard to my work. The only truly consuming interest, besides general survival in a new region, has been a deepening of my spiritual life and the pursuit of magical knowledge.
I am a creature motivated by special interests. If I get bored with something, I drop it in favor of a compelling new shiny. Due to lack of business and time-wasting sexual harrassment by pretend clients, the field of sexology began to lose its appeal for me. I felt burnt-out. In Hawai’i, while working on my first novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I began to study magic and witchcraft as research for the book. I was soon hooked by everything about it. Whee! Something that’s even more fun than just plain sexology or just plain hypnosis but which can absorb elements of both (e.g. sex magic, tantra, and trance work)! And I’ve always been a mystic anyway, since about age twelve… (FYI, I’m now working on the second in the Ornamental Hermits series.)
I’m also not good at compartmentalization. I can do it, but it always feels wrong and exhausting. Over the last several months, I’ve been longing to combine my spiritual life with my work life with my (non-existent) romantic life. I just want put it all together in one oddly shaped package as so many others have done before me, and then spend that released energy on more interesting pursuits.
That rune reading, done on Imbolc with the help of my patron deity, Loki, encouraged me to take the leap. That’s what Loki’s all about–pushing his devotees out of stuck places and into new terrain. At first I thought he wanted me to leave my sexology practice altogether. Now I realize he wanted me to MUTATE and deepen it. Therefore, I spent parts of yesterday and today re-writing my professional website to announce my new direction. Doing this does feel like emerging from a rather stale crysalis and my wings are still a bit crumpled and soggy. However, my new page, “FAQ: Out of the Broom Closet”, was actually a lot of fun to write.
Plus, the idea that I’ll be deliberately working in tandem with my deities and guides means I’m not going it alone any longer. I hope this means my clients will benefit from my improved access to insights and energy, gifts of the gods, belike.
Also the sexual harrassment from fake clients has been a source of worry, but I’ll be invoking protection and warding the heck out of my practice from now on. My Norse deities can be pretty hardcore…
So thanks to them, and Loki in particular, I am expanding and mutating once again. And with Freyr and Freya as deities of both sexuality and magic, I’ll also be appreciative of their ongoing guidance. I hope that in becoming whole, I’ll be doing work now that is “holy” in the best and most expansive sense of the word. I feel excited.
My life has been spent experiencing and responding to epiphanies. There have been many. Sometimes they have created massive upheaval. Other times they simply add understanding and nuance to what I’m already learning. Back in my punk rock phase, at the time when I was shifting into my feminist space activist mode (1980’s), I was suddenly struck by the epiphany of feeling myself as an “ancestor” in the making, as a link in a chain of being (though I didn’t have children yet). This prompted the making of two issues of a ‘zine, Young Ancestors, which I wrote and illustrated.
By the end of that decade I was married and expecting my first child. During my pregnancy I spent countless hours doing genealogical research in the Sutro Library in San Francisco. I had a deep spiritual hunger to know my people before bringing another life into the world. My mother’s lines were easy to research as there were dozens of early New England ancestors and tons of books and records. (New Englanders are apparently obsessed with genealogy.) My father’s people were harder to find as many of them were newer arrivals from Ireland and Wales. But I was able to track my missing father and some of his family through city directories in the midwest and San Diego. By the time my first child was born, I had a pretty good grasp of my genealogy, with some lines traced as far back as the 1300’s and more.
I found marvelous books which gave me scads of dead relatives, such as The Descendents of Thomas Durfee of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. My mother even had a two volume copy of Michigan Pioneers, which gave me the abolitionist Swifts who helped to settle Palmyra, NY and then Flint, MI. I found Richard and Elizabeth Warren of the Mayflower. I had Rowells from Candia and Orford, NH. I found so many ancestors from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Germany–many of them settler-colonists who were most assuredly conveying a heritage of atrocities such as Indian genocide and African chattel slavery. Though my understanding of this heritage has deepened over the years, even at that time I was aware that my genealogical chart held horrible secrets and privileges gained at the expense of others. Still, I was eager for the knowledge of “my people” even as I rued their deeds.
Later I would also do a bit of research into my (now ex-) husband’s family tree, to learn more about the heritage that my children shared. My mother also was bitten by the genealogy bug, but some of what she’s logged within Ancestry.com is confused and confusing, and possibly contaminated by sketchy, not well-documented work of others.
But it wasn’t until 2017 that I started actively working my ancestors, thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, Ph.D., and his book Ancestral Medicine–Rituals for Personal and Family Healing. I also took his first online course in Ancestral Medicine. These content-rich classes have enabled me to connect with my ancestors in a dynamic way–requesting healing for each great-grandparent lineage from very distant “well and truly seated” ancestors who are capable of assisting the more recent dead to release inflicted and experienced traumas. This is truly healing work and also meshes well with my Norse-infused spiritual practices, as ancestors are quite important in these (reconstructed) traditions. Foor encourages working with the least messy line first, then moving gradually to the ones which are more traumatized.
Daniel Foor’s methods enable me to leapfrog over dozens of traumatized generations in order to make contact with much earlier “well and robust” ancestors, in order to bring healing to the generations who have experienced and/or inflicted more recent horrors of conquest, religious conversion, warfare, genocide, torture, disapora, starvation, plague, and slavery, as well as personal family traumas (abuse, suicide, alcoholism, divorce, neglect, etc.). “The dead can change” is a fundamental concept here. I experience Foor’s work as a form of ho’oponopono (see below), resulting in forgiveness and healing (though not forgetfulness).
This is also an opportunity to create an active, ongoing relationship with my ancestors. As I do so, I learn more about the blessings and gifts of each lineage. I have a daily routine of offering poems and acknowledgement to my ancestors and a weekly practice of making other sorts of offerings. I speak with them also, thanking them and asking them for blessings for me and my children.
At present, I have completed the initial stages with three lineages, and have just begun working on a fourth (my father’s mother’s line). There will be a total of eight in all. During the ritual meditations and imaging, lead by Daniel Foor via video in the online course, I have made contact with either individual ancestors or clusters of ancestors. Each line has a very distinct “flavor.”
The contact in my father’s father’s line is someone I call “Bright Father.” He seems to radiate a robust golden joy, a “feasting in the hall” sort of presence. He “told” me (via meditative journeying and pendulum divination) that his line “comes from the stars,” perhaps from Sirius. This is the most Nordic-feeling line so far, but there is also some link to Wales and a long wide beach backed by hills or mountains. I have a strong feeling of poetry, song, and stories from this line. Incidently, several months ago Loki agreed to function as an ancestor for me and he has since indicated that he is connected to this line.
My mother’s mother’s line yielded a group of mysterious “River Women” and a feeling of a mountain landscape with few trees, perhaps the Scottish highlands (or perhaps not). They are more remote and quiet and I probably have to do more work to cultivate my relationship with them, to learn more from and about them. The River Women feel quite witchy to me.
My mother’s father’s line manifested as several “Watchers and Archers” in a forest. One of them shot an arrow at me when I first approached. The arrow was meant to land next to me (not in me) and when I picked it up in my mind’s eye, I held it aloft to make my request for healing. I felt these particular ancestors may have been Pictish. The main feeling I experience with them is a sort of wariness, though they are also willing to work with me on the lineage healing.
I have written poems for each of these three lines and I recite them daily. Now I am in the process of writing a fourth. My father’s mother’s line has a lot of Irish and it seems the most mysterious for some reason. I also have a strong sense that Brigid is important (both as a pagan goddess and later as the saint). During one of the meditation journeys, the phrase and image of “Brigid of the long blue dress” appeared in my mind. There is much more work I need to do with this lineage and it is possible that I’ll be adding Brigid to my devotions.
I am devoted to this process of ancestral medicine as a way to help my children heal from residual trauma in my own lineages. (They’ll have to cope with their father’s stuff themselves.) It is also a way to prepare for my own death and transition. It feels like a developmentally appropriate work.
Years ago, I studied the Hawaiian process of Ho’oponopono with Kumu (teacher) Ramsay Taum, of O’ahu. I helped to organize two weekend workshops for him in Berkeley, and also took the workshop once more on Maui. (If you google “ho’oponopono,” please do NOT take the Joe Vitale method as being in any way authentic–it is an appropriated and commodified travesty of the traditional practices.)
When I began working with Daniel Foor’s methods, I quickly saw that this was a form of forgiveness and healing as profound as what I’d learned with ho’oponopono–and also quite complementary in intention and method. Through both methods, one can reach back through time and forward into the future, effecting subtle but powerful changes in spiritual and ancestral realms.
In this video of Ramsay Taum, talking about the Hawaiian martial art of Lua, which he teaches as well as ho’oponopono, there is also a discussion of our relationships with our ancestors. Ramsay Taum says:
“We have to make sure that everyone is in alignment…and when you’re out of alignment, when you step away from your kuleana, your responsibility and obligations, your ancestors have no identity because the line stops with you, see? So when you’re lost and you’re out of balance and you step away from your responsibilities and from your place in community then interesting enough your ancestors, your line stops, there’s no more future… Everything that they’ve [ancestors] done–good, bad, or indifferent–we own that and they’ve created that space and we’re now standing at the end of the line and we just follow their footsteps. And the challenge for us living in today’s society is that you know we say that, ‘I’m following in the footsteps of our ancestors. I take comfort in that. I take pride in that.’ But when we get to the end where they stopped it’s beholden upon us to take the next step for the next generation. It takes individuals who are standing at the edge of the line to walk, to take the next step because now our ancestors, their legacy lives on through our steps, but more importantly we are now setting direction for the next generation. So when I step back in line, now I am giving my descendents identity… Our daily practice should include that meditation, that thought, what will my great grandchildren, seven generations from now, say about us, about me, what did I do? So that really speaks to kuleana.”
Working within the methods of ancestral medicine and ho’oponopono, I do truly own what my ancestors have done but take steps to cleanse the residual trauma–allowing the dead to change and reach their full potential as ancestors. That seems to me to be part of my own kuleana. And when I do this, I can walk without hesitation, transforming the path ahead now that the previous “footsteps” have been healed and cleansed.
As I once realized that I was an ancestor in the making, doing this makes perfect sense. With this practice, perhaps I can ease the path ahead for my own descendents, releasing them from the burdens of ancestral traumas.
Do estrogen fluctuations cause extreme challenges to women’s mental health? It seems that they do. But can they also trigger mystical experiences? If so, why? And how do we tell the difference?
Disclaimer: This blog focuses on cisgender women, as the Lisa Miller article (below) focuses on cisgender women. I am not sure what research has been done regarding the mental health impacts of menopausal-type estrogen fluctuations on transgender and non-binary people. I’ll be on the lookout for that.
Menopause: A Walk on The Wild Side
On December 21st, 2018, The Cut published an article by Lisa Miller titled “Listening to Estrogen–Hormones have always been a third rail in female mental health. They may also be a skeleton key.” Yesterday a sexologist colleague shared this article via Facebook.
I read this article and found it personally significant, and not just for the Solstice publication date. My own experiences with hormone fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause were deeply unsettling. Pregnancy was like a mind fuzz with a metallic taste–literally–and menopause was a quiet riot of thoughts and feelings, impulsive decisions, and a desperate need to reinvent myself (again). It didn’t help that at the same time, my youngest was entering adolescence and my oldest kid was having a second puberty, via transition and testosterone. The youngest was throwing knives at the floor and using his airsoft gun indoors on the antique bed that his father had lovingly refinished for him (no, he wasn’t allowed to do this!). And the oldest? Well… let’s just say a lot was going on for all of us.
I would say between the ages of 45 to 55 were the most intense. Aside from all kinds of emotions and angsty uncertainties and forbidden secret crushes on really ridiculous people, I was also having mystical experiences, including the “spontaneous combustion” I wrote about in the first month of this blog. There was also at least one waking vision and several vivid lucid dreams of great power and significance. Giving birth to a tiny translucent mo’o (Hawaiian lizard god)? Yep. That was one dream. Actually, I had two of those dreams, with a total of three lizard kidlets in all. (And who the heck was the father?!) Another immensely powerful dream, with the theme of “as above, so below,” inspired the tattoo on my right ankle.
And the wild thing was, sometimes other people would share an observation about me that seemed to confirm that “something real” and transformational was actually going on. There were times when I knew I was in rough waters, and I hung on to the mainstays of my life (children, house, a sense of family) but all the while these mainstays were also unraveling. I was also told later of a couple of incidents that Ireally do not remember, including one where I scared my kids by threatening suicide. Holy shit, Batman!
Mostly though, I don’t think I was potentially harmful to myself or others. I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs. I still got the children fed and off to school. I kept the books for the family business. Menopause was also when I went back to school to study sexology and hypnosis and started my career. I joke now that all those initials after my name is how I spell “mid-life crisis.” It’s true.
Given the above, I do consider that I was mostly sane (functional) during this period (though not always making the right decisions). And yet I was constantly “trying to hang on to myself” — whoever that was. And I wanted very much to know if my mystical experiences were valid and valuable. The only thing I could do was to consider them as valuable and see where that took me.
Menopause and Mental Illness
But let’s get back to the impact of menopause itself, and the fluctuations of estrogen. Lisa Miller’s article recounts several stories of women who went completely bonkers just before and during menopause: hearing voices, becoming dangerously delusional, and even “psychotic, catatonic, and suicidal.”
Here are four key paragraphs from Miller’s article. Hearken to the fourth one, in particular.
[Begin Quote] Youth has been a diagnostic criterion for schizophrenia for a hundred years, including within the pages of the DSM, where schizophrenia has sometimes included an age limit: As recently as the 1980s, a person could not be tagged schizophrenic if he or she was older than 40. Some clinics targeting early intervention have cutoff ages as young as 24.
But schizophrenia does not neatly comply with that simplistic understanding. In the early 1990s, three British psychiatrists, curious about why men with schizophrenia had their first psychotic episode so much earlier than women, took a look at the voluminous diagnostic records in doctors’ offices and hospitals in one populous London neighborhood covering a period of 20 years. They found something astonishing: a demonstrable “second peak” of first-onset schizophrenia after 45. These patients were predominantly female.
These older patients compose just a fraction of the total number. About one percent of people worldwide receive a schizophrenia diagnosis, and almost 20 percent of them are diagnosed for the first time after the age of 45. But the data suggested a deeply embedded bias in the way doctors had thought about schizophrenia for a century, overlooking the middle-aged women who came to them with psychotic symptoms, refusing to believe they could have schizophrenia because the official classifications, and medical tradition, excluded them. In their view, “madness” associated with “the change of life” was not madness at all — not a serious affliction to be taken seriously — but a women’s malady to be treated with bleeding and leeches, herbs and ointments, drugs, alcohol, and the desiccated and powdered ovaries of farm animals. Committed to American asylums in the late-19th century, women with mysterious symptoms were labeled “insane from suppressed menses.” And a whole ecosystem of diagnosis and treatment failed to grow.
There is, to be sure, genuine tragedy in lost human potential at a young age. But it is also tragic for a woman to become mentally ill in the middle of her life, at a time when she has, if she’s been lucky, built a universe — a family, a job, friendships, a network of responsibilities and dependencies erected on the assumption of stability. She might have adolescent children and aging parents, professional duties and bills to pay. She might have a classroom of students; she might be the mortgage broker helping a family keep ownership of their home or the doctor advising on a chemotherapy plan. [End Quote]
The article continues to discuss and make a case for “the estrogen hypothesis,” the role that estrogen may play in modulating psychosis, based on the work of Mary and Philip Seeman, and others. Mary Seeman first published this hypothesis in 1981. (And the general public is only now hearing about it? Argh!) A few researchers have paid attention though. Miller writes:
“In 2009, an Australian psychiatrist named Jayashri Kulkarni began publishing the results of extraordinary experiments that took the estrogen hypothesis to the next step. If fluctuations in estrogen exacerbated psychosis, then shouldn’t infusions of estrogen — supplemental hormones — regulate and ameliorate it.”
Kuklarni’s results were positive and encouraging. But U.S. physicians and psychiatrists are slow to catch on. Health care providers are still talking women out of hormone replacement therapy.
There is so much more to this article, which was also published in the December 24, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. I urge you to read it in its entirety, especially if you’re a woman approaching your own menopause.
Vulnerability or Capacity? What Can the Grandmothers Tell Us?
Now I want to swing this topic back around to an almost anthropological context and ask why human females would be the butt of what seems to be a cruel hormonal joke? Why would this destabilizing influence evolve, seemingly designed to wham women upside the head at the end of their reproductive lives? I tend to believe that most of what evolves in creatures is or was once useful and even humans are no exception. So why this?
I believe that a lot of the “cruelty” of this predicament is cultural and social. Miller ends her article with a quote from “Janet,” one of the women she interviewed:
“And I think there is knowledge out there, but I think it’s old, ancient knowledge that has been lost to the generations through the rapid, rapid changes — I’m talking about the past 50 years — and explosions in population. We don’t live the way we used to. We used to live tribally. The tribes could always share. There was a huge close-knit community that could share. I know what we need. I don’t know how to get it, but I know what we need: We need people who understand what is happening to us to sit down with us and explain it.”
I think Janet is right. And I’ll add this: in the not too distant past a lot of women did not live past their childbearing years. In fact, a lot of women died in the middle of them. In many cultures, the women who reached the age of grandmothers were respected as carriers of unique wisdom. Could it be that menopausal fluctuations of estrogen sometimes act (are “supposed” to act?) as another form of natural entheogen or as a catalyst to transcendence, at least in the right circumstances?
I am sixty-four now, nine years away now from riding the menopausal roller-coaster, yet still living in the wreckage of it (divorce and other estrangements). What if I’d been living in a society where the onset of menopause meant immediate intervention and nurturing from a group of elders who’d “been there, done that?” What if husbands and children understood and respected this special time? They understood how the wife and mother would be challenged by her potential transformation into a healer or a seer? What if they knew the red flags that meant special intervention was necessary? What if most menopausal mental breakdowns were averted by the understanding and care of an entire community? Perhaps not every woman would make it to the actual role and work of a seer or healer, but those who didn’t would not be scorned. They would still have a place in their family and their community. They would not be unloved for having gone through the ordeals. Grandmothers would still watch over them. And those who did come through their ordeal to take up the work would in turn look after the younger women coming up.
I really do need to re-read Barbara Tedlock’s The Woman in the Shaman’s Body (2005, Bantam). I need and want more multicultural information about the relationships of menopause and aging to such things as shamanic practices, healing, the working of magic, and so on. I sense a quest. From now on, I’ll be investigating this as I am so many other things, including trying to find information that is not strictly focused on cisgender women.
And so I sit here, in my Baba Yaga phase, a solitary practitioner of this, that, and the other thing, making offerings to gods and talking to plants and ancestors. I’ve come out the other side, not undamaged, but not wholly wrecked either.
Given the above, will I call my doctor now to ask about hormone replacement therapy? Yes, I certainly will, assuming there are some benefits at this age. I don’t feel HRT will negate what I’ve already experienced and learned. I think it will help me be more comfortable in my body as I move through the rest of my life in this cold, cruel society.
Honeymoon. Honeyed Moon. What a strange but alluring combination of words and meaning! What is a “honeyed moon?” Four days ago I was turning this phrase over in my mind (some phrases lodge there), imagining a magical and spiritual practice leading to a sort of “charmed life”–a way of being attentive to pleasures large and small, partnered or not. I had even decided to start with a thirty-day practice from Jan. 14 to Feb. 14, conveniently beginning the day after my ex-husband’s birthday and ending Valentine’s Day (my previous wedding anniversary, a day I now dread).
But almost as soon as I determined to live life exquisitely for this period of time, my resolution was smudged. For the last three days I’ve been very ill and there is nothing at all “honeyed” about my existence at present, except for the sweetening I add to hot water and vinegar to drink at times like these and the fact that I’ve got still got an internet connection in spite of the storms.
But I must be recovering, as I am actually sitting up and writing at this moment. And so I looked up the origin of honeymoon. It’s based on the Old English words hony and moone. The combination of the two basically refers to a mead-fueled “sweetness” that lasts about a month (one moon) after marriage. And then I guess it’s back to business as usual, right?
Except I don’t want business as usual. A couple of years ago I discovered Ariel Gatoga’s online Witch’s Primer course and his Druidic Craft of the Wise lectures. This lecture, A Charmed Life, is one of the last he did and I absolutely love it (scroll all the way down on that lecture link page–A Charmed Life is in the row second to the bottom). But I have only acted on this material sporadically. It needs to become habitual. The idea is to actively, continuallycharm (bless) the heck out of the things and activties that we feel we might be able to control to some extent. And since we perform numerous mundane activities each day, why not add some magic sparkles and charm?
This sounds like a lot more fun than just slogging through the day, grumbling. Plus, can’t hurt, could help, right? Except it’s hard to do much charming when coughing and blowing one’s nose all day long. Should one really waste one’s sparkles on sputum? (That’s a rhetorical question…)
So what opportunities do we have for charming? We can charm our wallets, dating profiles, computers and cell phones, pots and pans, the act of putting on our shoes or lipstick or answering emails. Right now I am “charming” (blessing) my body and immune system. Each morning as I open the living room curtains onto a lovely view, I say a greeting and blessing on my house out loud. I greet my household and land, trees, lake, mountain, people, plants, animals, deities, ancestors, spirits, and elements. It’s an expression of thankfulness. When I do this, I am acknowledging and charming my relationships with these things as well as the things themselves. And I’ll tell you something strange: for months I forgot to add “people” to the mix. Shortly after I added this general category, I noticed that my social life started to improve. What you leave out can be as important as what you include.
So I imagine “The Realm of the Honeyed Moon” as the life that is intentionally full of charmed experiences of pleasures. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Amélie, in which the lead character, a lonely young girl, is shown cultivating “small pleasures” by dipping her fingers into a barrel of beans, savoring the sensation. I suppose I am talking about a sort of sensual “mindfulness” (though I’m not so fond of that overused word). So when I pet the youngest of my four silly cats (a tiny black former feral named Varda), my fingers and palms appreciate how soft her fur has grown now that she has a decent, regular diet and to be glad she likes to wash my hands as I type (instead of feeling annoyed by her persistence and raspy tongue).
Another example: I have some pretty things. I could use them (or wear them) more often on a daily basis (otherwise, what’s the point?). I could “charm” each meal or cup of tea, even when taken alone, slowing down to savor the experience. When I look outside my bedroom window, I can appreciate the red berries on the small tree outside, their contrast to the greenery and the grey sky. Like my cats, I could be thrilled by the stream of water that comes from my faucet (I am so lucky to have that water!). And even though I am sick, I could enjoy my “pleasant land of counterpane” more, even though my convalescence is more like a “pleasant land of Netflix.”
I have to admit though, for the last two days I’ve done minimal or no devotional practices. I am generally strong in my daily practices but I have very little energy, no juice to speak of. My voice is hoarse and raspy, sometimes gone altogether. I don’t want candle smoke or incense. And since I am sick alone here, I feel like I am in a physical and mental fog. The outside world feels far away.
There is a point, though, when I start to become well again and I am surprised and pleased by renewed feelings of strength, the abiliity to breathe again more easily and to taste my food. My senses come alive again as I start feeling better. This is the perfect time to celebrate life (what’s left of it) and to enter again the Realm of the Honeyed Moon.
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.”
“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 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.
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!