What is Home? People or Place?

Physcially and spiritually I am grappling with the concept of “home.” Who or what is home to me? I am quite lucky right now. I have a physical home of my own. This safe harbor is not something I take for granted even on ordinary days. However the Mendocino Complex fires of last summer alerted me to the precariousness of my current security. All that shelters and sustains me could be gone in a flash. I am so grateful that firefighters managed to save our neighborhood and to minimize damage to most of the homes and communities that circle this lake. Even on this rainy day, I don’t forget that I live in a potential tinderbox.

(And here I am, oathed to a trickster god of fire…)

Is “Home” an Overwhelming Love of Place?

We moved very often when I was a kid and I’ve moved more often than I liked as an adult. So for me a sense of “home” based on locale is unreliable. Yet I become very attached to houses and geographic locations. Very. I’ve lived almost my entire life as a homesick exile, yearning first for the waters of Waikiki and the view of the Ko’olau Range that I remember from a brief (but significant) period of “small kid days” on O’ahu. Later I desperately yearned to return to La Jolla after we were evicted from a La Jolla Cove beach house slated for demolition. I was a teenager then and had woven strong connections with the waters, sands, and cliffs, as well friends and the town itself. I still have a vivid sense of what it was like to feel the air in that place and to be surrounded by friends within walking distance.

lajollacovehousea
The house I used to live in is at the far right, upper corner, partial view.

In my twenties I moved north. In San Francsico there is a building that my uncle owned. I lived for several years in the studio apartment below his flat. It’s the place where I designed and made punk rock vinyl clothing. It’s the place where I’d go upstairs for long wonderful conversations with my uncle before he died. It’s the place where I later spent ten weeks on strict bedrest for pre-term labor, staring at the knotty pine paneling all day while my husband was at work. It’s the first home my first child ever knew, sleeping in a crib in the kitchen. Occupation of that apartment was guaranteed to me in my uncle’s will and now that I’m single again and getting on in years, I could certainly use it–it’s close to health care and other helpful resources that would ease my social isolation–yet certain family members refuse to let me return, due to their greed for high rents.

Across the street from that building there is a house where I lived in the early days of my children’s lives. It’s the first home I ever (co)owned. I gave birth to my second child right there in that house. In the front yard there is a Cecil Brunner rose bush. The placenta from my second pregnancy is buried in that soil beneath the roses. I can never forget that, the birthplace of my second child.

That San Francisco street where I lived, in those two separate places, is in my bones and I ache with the memories of it. I remember gathering blackberries in the summer with my children, on Kite Hill two blocks away…

I also miss that house and neighborhood in Albany where my kids later grew up and where my family ultimately unraveled… I ache for that place too. It was a place where I could walk my youngest to school. I once painted a tile portrait of my only little dog, Iggy, and it is part of a mural in the park across the street.

I miss my house on Mano Street in Pahoa, Hawai’i, the place where I went after we sold the Albany house, while my divorce was in its final stages. I don’t regret the din of coqui frogs at night but I do miss the feral cats on my porch every morning. This was such a brief home, one that held all my dying hopes for a final love. Even so, I spent every moment of my life in that  place homesick for my kids in California and yearning for the sight of an acorn on the ground. Yet I loved that house and its bit of land with all my heart. Sometimes I feel the air of that place on my skin and smell again the rotting strawberry guavas in the jungle. I taste the coconuts that would fall on the lawn.

So here again in California I am still exiled, living 150 miles away from the San Francisco Bay Area where my kids live, as well as several friends and a couple remnants of family. Even in exile I’m attempting once again to make “a home” and a life for myself. I love my house here and the view of Mt. Konocti and the lake. I write constantly. I watch long strings of birds fly by. Turkeys stride through my yard. Deer feast on geraniums. Out back I have my temple to Loki. I have great neighbors. I’m meeting good people. Yes, I’m in love with this house, built the year I was born. But the people I love seldom come here.   I don’t quite feel I belong. Can this truly be my home?

Or Do People Make the Home?

So even though I have an intense relationship with places and fall in love with them easily and deeply, I am more likely to equate family with “home.” Growing up I was sure of my place with my mother and siblings. As an adult with my own children, I was sure of the family I’d co-created. I spent much time “making a home” while the children’s father worked to support us. But neither of these situations was sustainable. In both cases, a great deal of that surety of “home” has unraveled because key relationships have crumbled. And also, my grown children are busy in their lives.

Some people say that friends who are chosen family can be more family than blood kin. I wish I could have that experience of really dedicated chosen family and/or intentional community. But though I have several excellent friends (some old, some new), only one  of them has viewed me as “family” to my knowledge. Certainly they are devoted to me and I am devoted to them, but in some cases they have families of their own, and in other cases, are clearly friends, not family. And none of them are potential co-creators of a groovy intentional community of elders. I guess I’ve given up on that dream.

So are the actions of “making a home” what matters? If so, I am mostly occupied with making a home for my cats, and though they are definitely dear “family,” they’re cats. It’s been very hard to understand these last three years that I am no longer making a home for my children, not even a vacation home for their weekend amusement, as I’d hoped. All I can do at this point is leave the property to them when I die and hope they don’t bicker about it too much.

So if home is not a place, and it’s not even people, and it’s kind of about cats, what else is there? Home is me in my body. Home is my unseen community. “Making a home” means living inside my DNA construct, which is “home” to countless microbes. It becomes the act of welcoming ancestors and deities, who represent other kinds of enduring relationships. Feeling at home on a piece of land means making offerings to wights and expressing gratitude and good will, no matter where I am.

Humans will come and go as they will, Houses will remain or they’ll crumble or burn. So I must carry the idea of home in my body and see to the needs of my four-footed “children” who are sadly not immortal. Worship is portable, as is creativity. That’s pretty much all I can see.

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My Happy Heart: The Troth Lifts Loki Ban at Trothmoot

The Troth, an organization which promotes “inclusive heathenry” (non-discriminatory practice of Norse-derived religions) has just announced that their previous ban on hailing Loki at Trothmoot events is now rescinded. This decision was made based on a survey of Troth membership late last year, and though controversial for some, also brings a huge sense of relief and joy to Troth members who are accustomed to hail Loki in their own practices.

As a member of The Troth, I’ve known this news for a little while but needed to wait for the official announcement (published Jan. 2nd) before blogging about it.

For me, as person who is oathed to Loki as a devotee and who hails Loki on a daily basis (along with a few others in the Norse Pantheon), I find that my heart beats faster and happier at this news. And I particularly like this part, which I find wondrous:


“- The Loki ban lasted ten years, but its original verbiage has not been found in organizational Minutes. As such, as Schuld to Laufeyson* and to our members whom the ban impacted, the organization will hold an official Loki Blót for the next ten Trothmoots in a prime time slot. After the tenth Trothmoot, Loki Blóts may be held as any other blót or Sege, and the timing of the Blót will become adjustable to meet scheduling needs.”

[*Should be Laufeyjarson.]


OMG! Loki and Lokeans are so ready for prime time!

But before I give way to more rejoicing, let me back up a bit and define some terms:

Trothmoot is the annual gathering of Troth members. I have never been. Here is the link to the 2019 Trothmoot page.

A blót is a sacrificial ritual in Norse paganism and heathenry. There’s a fair amount of hailing and drinking toasts to the various deities.

Schuld has a few definitions, including a debt or a responsibility. With this portion of the announcement, The Troth admits to having been at fault for enforcing a ban which actually did not show up in their organizational minutes and the organization has now chosen this action to make amends.

Wow!

I would like to attend this year’s Trothmoot to witness this historic change, and to be able to hail my beloved patron god in community with others, but Trothmoot takes place at the start of our California fire season. I’d need a cat sitter who was committed to evacuating my cats if necessary. Plus, my environmental illness issues might be insurmountable. So, we’ll see.

In the meantime, it is crazy how much joy I feel at this news. Honestly, having spent most of my life in a kind of gauzy pagan-esque haze with not much to back it up, I never expected to be so emotional about a religious matter! But, duh! I guess daily devotional practices really can and do create and nurture strong links between a human being and a larger spiritual entity.

Why am I so surprised to find this goes deeper than my intellect allows? Inside, I sing. I cannot deny the song.

Hail to thee, blithe Loki! (And because I’m perverse in spite of–or because of–my devotion, I keep wanting to add, “bird thou never wert,” but hey, he’s a shapeshifter who donned a falcon skin, so bird in fact he was. Wert. Whatever. I’m just happy. That’s all.)

loki's_flight_to_jötunheim

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Deepening? Another Eight Days of Loki

day1loki
Sand play, based on Day 1: Magic.

Last year felt at times like “a mad scramble for a place in this chamber, in this meagre palace of Midgard” (to quote a certain actor playing a certain god). My personal, professional, familial, financial, and creative foundations were all challenged–and in some cases demolished–and I was frequently in despair. Lonely too. Such suffering! And yet 2018 was also a most fortunate year because I “met” the most compelling and interesting supernatural being I’d ever imagined. Naturally (being a Scorpio), I was quick to oath myself–sort of like having a Vegas wedding with someone I’d only met that weekend–but have absolutely no regrets. I also took on several spiritual challenges to prove my own mettle to myself, including making the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple.

However, I’ve got a stack of books I haven’t yet read completely, most of them accumulated during 2018. At this point, I have to stop reaching for the New Shiny and relax, re-read, and revisit material I already have. It’s time to regroup and to deepen practices I’ve already encountered.

So it makes sense to usher in the new year with another round of Dagulf Loptson’s “Eight Days of Loki” ritual (from this book). However, I wanted to do things just a bit differently this time. I wanted to engage more of my unconscious so I decided to use my sand play toys and sand tray. I grab toys from the shelves and place them very quickly, without too much thought in advance. Creating the tray scenes is a way of manifesting unconscious thoughts, giving them physical form.

Day 1’s theme (above) is “magic” and involves a contemplation of fire. For me, that’s a contemplation of both inner and outer fire. I’ve been practicing a breath meditation technique that’s supposed to generate inner heat, but haven’t gotten too far along with it. My hands, though, have begun to tingle and pulse like crazy in the last few weeks, and to have a sense of pressure, as if I am holding hands with someone who is very warm. So that red jewel in the center of the left hand palm print is significant. I also felt like I was doing a “cave painting” of a handprint by pressing my hand into the sand. It felt like an archaic gesture.

Day 2’s theme is death.

day2loki
Day Two: Death.

Though I didn’t visit a graveyard on Day Two, as suggested, I did pour out an offering of pomegranate juice on the place in my yard where two newborn kittens are buried, poor things. I work with my ancestors on a daily basis, and it’s that sense of being surrounded by them that comes out in the tray, with the skull and skeleton impressions in the sand. The glowing pink/orange skull cup symbolizes Loki’s connection with cremation fire.

Day 3 is today. The theme is wealth, as in wealth of talent and possibilities. The idea is to make something beautiful and worthy that can be offered to Loki but writing is my main form of creative expression these days. For the tray, I chose the jeweled box and the golden egg plus a few “jewels” for the sand. Looking at this now, a few hours later, I see the box as what’s known and in progress and the egg as unknown potential. The red, faceted jewel links Day 1 and Day 2 together. Magic and creative wealth are two aspects of the same thing, perhaps.

day3loki

I’ll post the rest of the days as I go along, perhaps a couple at a time. I’m taking this slowly, taking time to savor.

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Magic for Settler Colonists

Prelude: A definition of settler colonialism.

My Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have always loved islands…

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

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

Things I Am Still Learning and Sometimes Still Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

• Don’t make assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

• Introduce yourself and vow to do no harm.

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

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

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

• Vow to do good, unobtrusively.

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

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

• Know some local and ancestral history. 

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

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

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

• Stop polluting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Learn to Ask Permission.

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

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

In Closing

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

PD.GertBuschmann-Juliasetsdkpictlightpot

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Animism, Plastics, and the Unwise Alchemies

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Plastics and the Unwise Alchemies

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

What Would Witches Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spiritual Compost in the Liminal Space

Franz_Marc_CroppedIt’s December 28th. I’ve always felt that the week between Xmas and the new year is a strange, uncomfortable time, even if it is still technically the neopagan Yul. I can never “settle” into this week. Life is on hold. Everything seems like a waiting game and that’s even more true this year than ever before. After all, the Lord of Sadly Extended Misrule has decreed a government shut-down and “I’m…waiting for the Dems…” (sung to the tune of Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for The Man.”).

It’s a liminal time, a liminal space, a between time. I’ve been emotionally and physically exhausted, living on Xmas breakfast leftovers (not wanting to go the grocery store), and spending far too much time in bed binge-watching Travelers, an utterly dystopian experience. I’m letting myself vegetate without guilt. It’s a form of spiritual composting. So with a mild “turning” of the composted dregs of this last year, I’ve done a little bit of psychic culling and a bit of forward thinking. Yesterday I even emerged from the torpor and resumed working on the novels again. However, I am doing so with limited expectations for creative production during the rest of the week, even though the making of art requires habitation of liminal states.


Here’s a quote from this article about liminal space and liminal states of mind:

You can define liminal space in several different ways. It’s talked about as a threshold, and indeed, the etymology of liminal comes from the Latin root word “limen,” which means threshold. Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next.

Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something. Liminal space is, of course, a literal space. And there are plenty of examples of physical liminal spaces… But there are also spaces of liminality in our mental states. This, too, is a type of liminal space.


This idea of spiritual composting is something I’ve snagged from Caroline Casey, the astrologer who hosts the Visionary Activist program on Pacifica radio stations. It’s been a helpful concept for years, giving a sense of appreciation and purpose to these strange, fallow “down times.”

During this liminal period between two major holidays, when I seem to belong nowhere in particular–certainly not to the same sense of family that I had a few years ago–that I appreciate (yet again) my patron deity, Loki. He is a spirit of liminality and “chaos” (creative chaos, the swirling source of all). If I remember to do it, I can offer up my sense of discomfort as well as the eventual growth that will emerge fern-like from the debris that’s scattered about, seemingly to little purpose.

LOKI_0031-897x1024Loki helps me to remember the heat that’s generated in a compost heap, when dregs and discards combine in a vibrant alchemy, cooking away the toxins and creating fertile soil. Promises lurk under the surface (just add water!). Eventually seeds will burst open and climb toward the sun through the muck, transforming the landscape. So it is with our minds and spirits.

So, in this coming year, I look forward to yet another cycle of pheonix burning and pheonix rising; composting and regenerating… It’s tiring, but with the help of my deities and ancestors, and Loki in particular, I hope to navigate 2019 with more heart, more courage, and more magic than last year.

Wishing you all well, in the coming year.

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So. The Solstice Happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome Yul.

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