Since my almost fatal wounds this year, inflicted by a razor sharp “serpent’s tooth,” I’ve found odd comfort and a strange sort of peace in having survived what I have always felt would be my undoing–if not of life itself, at least of sanity. I am not being dramatic about the “almost fatal” part. As a person with clinical depression who has struggled with suicidal thoughts and feelings for several decades, I did not do very well with the sudden and (to me inexplicable) utter rejection by my eldest child. So, I had some very bad times in these last few months, but I managed to hang on, survive, and now even…dare I say?…thrive.
Let me explain. Ever since I was in my teens I have been deeply afraid of two things: dying in or of childbirth and of losing a child and going mad. I did get through two pregnancies in my thirties/early forrties, though not without problems, so that fear of dying thusly was laid to rest in this lifetime (at least). This fear may have been a “past life” remnant, or (more reasonably) a harsh thread woven through my DNA by hundreds or thousands of female ancestors who didn’t survive birthing but who left an ancestral orphan behind. Multi-generational trauma indeed. As for the other fear–the loss of a child and of sanity–a form of this fear played out in the “spontaneous combustion” incident that I’ve written about in a long ago blog. After that kundalini blast and during that ten-month period of carrying the atavistic spirit of a proud, passionate, deeply lonely woman during her final months of life as a pregnant mother who did indeed lose her baby and committed suicide in post-partum grief, I had to endure all her feelings and then NOT DO THE THING. I didn’t understand this entire episode, or its initiatory impacts, until the final, blessed gestalt when she was gone at last from me, and I could then understand the sweep of the story. Somehow, by not succumbing myself to suicide, I effected a peaceful release for her.
Was she a past life fragment, or simply a wandering spirit who attached herself to me at the moment I was blown to psychic bits and then reassembled, post kundalini? Who knows. I have theories, but no real facts. I think I know where she was living but I don’t even know her name. I never sensed more than a pre-thought of hers. What I did have was the strong personality and emotions of this woman, who psychically surrounded me like a giant cube of agar-agar while I remained intact within, like a small red bean, able to carry on all my employment and children-rearing duties as usual. So it was not a psychic break, dear readers, but a form of extended, extreme mediumship. And I could have never in a million years imagined such a thing would happen to me. I endured all but the final three weeks without any form of external guidance.
Now, to some readers, the above paragraphs may sound truly insane. Whatever. But however strange and strenuous this experience sounds (and it was), this was also a fruitful time that included lucid teaching dreams that have served me well now for years. Reflecting back, did I need this ordeal of “the woman” and her tragic loss to prepare me for the surgically precise torments of this year’s devastation? (Honestly, doesn’t it seem unnecessarily cruel to describe me, a mother who struggled to raise children through three decades of disability, sleep deprivation, and chronic fatigue as “exhausting?” But I digress…) It’s an odd thing to wonder if a child of mine was actually disappointed that I made it through the pandemic without croaking. It’s a worse thing to know that resentment plus mental illness has brought us to this point. Auwe…
So let’s leave the harsh words and murky, karma-riddled past behind now and focus on the lessons and learning that have emerged for me. I’ve been fortunate to have good friends–kindly people–within reach (if not in person, at least electronically). I was blessed to have been able to break free from Lake County, CA and come to a place which actually feels good, truly like home to me. Without my gods and guides, good friends and cats, and that hope of moving elsewhere–plus the distraction of necessary practical tasks to make it so–I am not sure I would have made it through this year (let alone the year before).
Lesson One: I didn’t go crazy with grief and loss. I felt all kinds of things, including suicidal desires, but I didn’t lose my mind after all. I didn’t succumb. So wow. That’s actually pretty cool. Now let me add here that I would never kill myself (unless doctor-assisted due to a fatal disease) since it would be horrible for all left behind but it truly, truly sucks to have to endure those feelings while they last. Those who deal with this understand what I’m saying. So the takeaway from this is a renewed sense of strength and resilience.
Lesson Two: Joy is possible and if it begins to sprout in the crevices of a fragmenting grief, it can gradually push itself to the sunlight and expand. I have an image here of plants pushing through concrete. All this bad, sad stuff? It’s compost, my darlings. Compost. Seeds that I thought would never germinate are now coming to life.
Lesson Three: Better living through dishwashing. Humble tasks are life-saving. And even if you can only manage to wash one teacup, it’s a god-damned victory. Savor it and reward yourself.
Lesson Four: Loki really does come and “hold the bowl” for me when the slow dripping poison overflows, when I really can’t do for myself and must make the ask. Sigyn did it for him. He will do it for us (though not indefinitely). And believe me, nothing is more lovely than the tender mercy of a generous, trickster spirit who dumps the poison, cradles your shattered heart, and then demands a donut. So yes, your deities, ancestors, and/or spirit guides can and do come to help if you want them, if you ask them.
Lesson Five: A good tool-kit helps. And reminders to use your tools are super helpful too. During these last several months I’ve revisited many online materials from sources that I respect, listened to podcasts and daily tarot readings, read books, and put more emphasis on renewing daily practices. Ariel Gatoga’s “solar light” meditation was particularly helpful throughout this year. Ditto for Aidan Wachter’s podcasts and interviews.
Lesson Six: Have fun with people who like you. I’m finally in a location where I can do that, so I’m making the most of this.
Lesson Seven: Call it ALL home, every bit of yourself. In this new house of mine, everything is going up on the walls or coming out of boxes. All these strange bits and pieces of my life, such as it is and will be. I’m welcoming all of me, for the first time in a long time. That also feels good.
I’ll be sixty-seven come Samhain. Life is too short for avoidable misery or for prolonging the misery that comes your way. I may not have kicked the bucket during the pandemic (and I hope to avoid that fate as long as I can) but since I now live in an area where I could (theoretically) be run over by the Bus of Death at any moment, why not make the most of life for as long as I have it? And when I go, I’ll go “wholly brightly” and even my shadows will be radiant. It’s the greatest prayer and the best “fuck you” to cruelty that I know.
Though I still haven’t found my stash of tealights in any box I’ve unpacked so far, I’ve begun to put together the new altar space in the landing at the top of the stairs. This “in-between” area is a passage between the two attic rooms and the stairs. Behind the back wall is a cubby hole door leading to a cramped, unfinished area which contains spiders, webs, and probably old rat droppings which have fallen between inner and outer wall spaces. I’ve blocked this area off with a shelf, but it’s still somehow appropriate that it is there. It’s a sort of symbolic “underworld” at the top of the house, the fourth path of the landing’s function as a “crossroads.” Someday I’m going to shove a small bowl of red salt in there, for purification, but at the moment it creeps me out and I don’t want the cats to get in there either. (There are similar cubby holes in each attic room, also blocked, also needing bowls of salt.)
As readers of this blog know, I’m oathed to Norse Loki. He (she/they) have most of the altar “real estate” in the form of the tall shelf above. I also honor other Norse deities. In this new house I’m pleased to have expanded areas for Freya, Freyr and Gerda. This place, with its micro-orchard of fig, plums, cherries, pears, and mulberries, is already a very Vanir space and we are in full fruit harvesting season right now (so, yay Freyr!). In the spring I hope the roses, lilacs, wisteria, and camelias, will be pleasing offerings to Freya. I also look forward to planting an herb garden dedicated to Gerda. A bit of outdoors will always be brought indoors, for dedication and thanks. And I’m planning a space for Thor…
Aside from the above Norse deities (and my own ancestors), there are other deities/spirits I honor: the Goetic Lord Amy/Avnas, the Celtic Brigit, and the Egyptian Bast. I look forward to expanding their altar spaces as well. And I am now adding personal deification of two fictional characters who have become spiritual “ancestors” to me: Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. I’d been thinking about this for awhile and when I unpacked a forgotten child’s tea set from China and a small plate with two rabbits under a crescent moon, well, that clinched it. In my mind there is no reason that spirits can’t “inhabit” fictional forms, to assist human understanding. (Deification of fictional characters is not without precedence. I mean, some people have been working with Lovecraft’s pantheon of Elder Gods for decades!) However I haven’t yet figured out the practice for honoring Wuxian and Wangji beyond incense and offerings. Asking for guidance is the next best step I suppose.
I mentioned wights in the title. I mean land spirits. I feel the trees of course. Their protective presence is quite palpable. But there are clearly other beings and other ancestors to acknowledge. I’ve barely gotten started.
Mostly, I am happy. This is an expansive and peaceful time, with many dreams come true. Magic is alive and I live in the midst of it.
This is a time of tumult, clearly. The old tumults (the anniversary of the death of an old sweetheart) and the new tumults (relocation to Oregon and the surprising “loss” of my firstborn) are exhausting and severe, but they are mingled with new joys: reuniting with cherished friends and getting to know this house.
This house! It’s old. There are layers of I don’t know what under the newish sheetrock. I can see the layers of old walls and repairs in the stairs leading to the basement and the exposed step from the backdoor. Yesterday I finally had the courage to open that one (formerly locked) cabinet door in the downstairs bedroom, fearful of what I might find. It was raw, unloved space, littered with scraps of carpet, flooring, and perhaps cans of things I cannot use. I shut the door quickly. Next time I look, I’ll grab a flashlight… Such spaces disturb me (there are reasons). And yet it was a glimpse into the past of this house.
Don’t worry, dear. From now on, I’ll take better care of you.
I knew this house was destined to be mine from the moment a friend forwarded its Zillow page. I seem to be a house-getting witch, as I’ve had uncanny luck over the years finding those places which call to me and are meant to be mine, at least for awhile. This one though, this one is special. I believe it is meant to be my last home, which, like a last love, has a special poignancy.
The ceilings are very low, making me feel rather tall (a first in my life!). My real estate agent thought it might have been a millworker’s house, built with cast-off lumber, wrongly sized. The house is spacious, though, with a sizable basement and two finished attic rooms in addition to the first floor space. The remodeling was cursory, with ridiculous things left unfinished or poorly done (the edge of a new door left unpainted, the bathroom sink fixtures plumbed all wrong, and so on). But I like eccentricity and age in a house. Even the uneven floors don’t bother me much.
I really am giddy with my good fortune here — and so grateful for it. Much as I adored my house in Lake County, CA, I grew terrified by the location. All those fires and only a two lane highway to exit the lake valley… the prospect of having to herd seven cats into crates at a moment’s notice and flee a fire racing through the oaks and pines in the hills behind my house… not knowing where in the world I could go with all those cats… not a good situation for a single, aging person with a few physical impediments! This all too likely danger preyed on my mind. I may miss the turkey flocks which roamed my yard, but I have feathers with which to remember them.
So, back to THIS house. I live now in the middle of a micro-orchard! I have five cherry trees (Bing and that golden kind), at least two mulberry trees, several plum trees (Italian prune, Santa Rosa plums, ornamental plums), several extremely tall fig trees and a few younguns, a pear tree, what am I missing? Oh, I forgot to mention the Concord grapevine which has climbed via the front yard mulberry to fruit above my roof. All the fruit is far above my head and simply crashes to the ground. However yesterday I reached through an attic window and managed to snag two ripe figs! They were glorious.
All my trees are overgrown and stressed by the drought. I don’t believe anyone has watered them this whole summer. An arborist I have hired had much to say on the topic — and scorn for whoever neglected these trees.
I have wisteria too, in several spots, and one bush is actually prying part of the wood from the house! (We can’t have that!) There are lilac bushes by the front gate (the arborist says they are dying) and several rose bushes (not in great shape but managing). There is a simple white hibiscus tree as well as a camelia. I am not a gardener but I suspect I will spend these last years of my life attempting to become one. And I must get a food dehyrator and canning equipment to cope with all this fruity abundance! I see several learning curves in my future.
For several years I’ve been lucky enough to live in places with beauty and ample plant life. In the last 3 1/2 years I lived with the view of Clear Lake and Mount Konocti, among oaks and digger pines. Before that I lived in Hawai’i, on the “Big Island,” surrounded by giant red hibiscus trees as well as coconut palms, ohia lehua, and invasive strawberry guava. Now I live four blocks from the Willamette River, with close-up views of numerous trees and tendrils and fruits out of reach. I feel protected and kindly sheltered by all this plant life, as well as by the house itself. It’s as if this place had been waiting for me all along. It’s very hard to shake this feeling.
Plus, the cats like it here.
This is a house with a front porch and a sheltered yard–part Hobbit dwelling (the ceiling!) and part “Last Homely House”(the feeling!)–whose delights I wish I could share with both my children. Alas, I guess that’s not meant to be.
Here are the figs I snatched through a window last night and promptly devoured.
One of the trailers for the upcoming Marvel Lokiseries features the intriguing phrase, “Loki variant.” Of course, if there’s one variant, there will be others and I’m not just refering to the series. In fact, Loki “variants” already exist in Norse lore. As a shapeshifter, he (she/they/ze…) appears in the stories as a mare (soon to be pregnant), a salmon, a fly, and more.
• Lóðurr (Lodur, Lodurr): who in the poem, Völuspá, helps to animate two humans who were formerly ash and elm trees. Loptson says you’ll find this story in the 18th stanza of the poem (Playing, pp. 22-26). The association of this byname with Loki is still somewhat controversial.
• Vé: a word which means shrine. This name is often associated with a brother of Óðinn, or with Óðinn himself. We can remember that in Norse Lore, Loki is Óðinn’s blood brother (not his adopted son, as in the Marvel Universe). The association of this byname with Loki is also still somewhat controversial. (Playing, p.26-27).
• Loptr: an accepted byname for Loki which means “airy one or lofty one” (Playing, p. 27-29).
• Gammleið: “Vulture’s Path” which may also be a kenning for air (Playing, pp. 29-31). Loptson associates Loki with cremation fire and sees the vulture as “Loki’s bird” (p. 30). He gives compelling and scholarly reasons for these associations.
• Inn bundni áss: The bound God, which refers to Loki’s punishment for insulting the rest of the gods by telling the truth about them. (Playing, p. 31-32).
In a recently published essay I write of my own “UPG” (unverified personal gnosis) that as a shapeshifter, Loki may have mystic lessons to teach us about cellular and genetic “shapeshifting” in our own bodies (longer, more youthful telemeres, please!). (“Loki-I’m Game!”, Blood Unbound-A Loki Devotional, edited by Bat Collazo, Troth Publications, 2021, pp. 141-142).
God Loki Variant and Satanized Loki Variant
Loki as a God
Was Loki worshipped in old Norse and Icelandic cultures? Many academics say no. However Stephan Grundy mentions Loki’s centrality in Eddic dramas and cites Dame Bertha Philpott’s theory that the Eddic dramas were actually scripts for religious rituals and mentions Terry Gunnell’s later investigations and conclusions regarding this theory, which is now generally accepted (God in Flames, pp. 32-34).
There’s a scene in Marvel’s Thor Ragnarok that might be a clever nod to this theory. In this scene Thor returns to Asgard only to find a huge golden statue of (the presumed dead) Loki erected in front of an “Asgardian Theater” and enters just in time for the conclusion of a dramatic re-enactment of Loki’s tragic demise. Loki himself, disguised as Odin, is enjoying the audience’s response. The scene suggests that Loki has lost no time in establishing a vehicle for his own worship.
Though we have very little evidence of Loki worship in older times, aside from the ritual drama theory, Loki worship is increasingly popular among Heathens and other modern neo-pagans.
Loki as the “Norse Satan”
The Icelandic writer, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), author of the Prose Edda (a collection of traditional Norse poems and stories) and Heimskringla, is frequently cited as the person most to blame for turning Loki into the equivalent of “the Norse Satan” and for otherwise distorting the original Norse and Icelandic material with his Christian perspective. Unfortunately for Loki, Snorri’s slurs stuck fast.
In a further distortion, some American white supremacists not only view Loki as Satan, but also as Jewish, since his second name, Laufeyjarson, refers to his mother (Laufey, a goddess) instead of his father (Fárbauti, a jötunn). A patrynomic, like “Fárbautison,” would have been more usual in Norse culture. (So contrary to the Marvel Universe lore, Loki is not and never was an “Óðinnson.” However, he was and is Óðinn’s blood brother, as mentioned earlier.) What does this have to do with the white supremacist claim that Norse Loki is actually Jewish? Well, in the Judaic tradition, Jewish descent is matrilineal. Such claims about Loki probably predate Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas and Nazism, but Wagner and the Nazis certainly promoted this. (If you doubt this, just type “is Loki Jewish” into a search engine and see what nonsense appears.)
Artists also took up this notion. There was a period of time when Loki was depicted as looking middle-Eastern, clothed as middle-Eastern, or with a hooked nose (a stereotyped “Jewish” feature). Here are two examples from Wikimedia commons. At top: “Loki. An illustration from Fredrik Sander’s 1893 Swedish edition of the Poetic Edda.” Below: “An illustration of Loki with a fishnet, from an Icelandic 18th century manuscript.” FYI, I cringe every time big blond Marvel Thor describes his bro, Marvel Loki, as “greasy.” For shame, screenwriters!
Worshipping Loki as a Gender Fluid, Queer Diety
With regard to contemporary worship of Loki as a god, Lokeans and others who hail and appreciate him, often view him as a queer god and a god of outsiders and oppressed people. Collective Lokean gnosis would easily accept Loki as being supportive of anyone who is oppressed due to religion, gender, and/or ethnicity (and so on). Based on community gnosis, Loki is not likely to be sympathetic to any oppressive cause. In fact, even the Marvel Loki “variant” is widely perceived as a deity who celebrates Pride (art by D.Kettchen on Deviant Art).
Dagulf Loptson has created and shared many Loki rituals with the community of those who honor Loki. Here’s one example, a Lokean Washing Charm. Holidays adopted by Lokeans include April 1st, Lokabrenna (the rising of Sirius in late July/August), Loki Spongecake Day on Sept. 4th, and Dec. 13th as his “birthday.”
Once the new Marvel Loki series appears on Disney, I predict that membership in the various Loki-related social media groups will more than double. For example, Loki’s Wyrdlings on Facebook has experienced enormous growth just since 2018.
Loki’s Pop Culture Variants
As I’ve said before, Loki Laufeyjarson is the consummate muse. He has long been a favorite of artists, storytellers, novelists, fan fiction writers, and screenwriters. And there are numerous ways of portraying him. Below is a screenshot summarizing his appearance in Marvel Comics, which of course resulted in his inclusion in Marvel action movies.
However, the Marvel Universe can’t claim the only recent portrayal of Loki. Spoiler alert: The Norwegian series, Ragnarok, cast Jonas Strand Gravli in the character of Laurits Seier, a teenager just learning of his true identity as Loki, a non-human jötunn (below). Jonas Gravli does an amazing job in this series.
I posted this first on Facebook today, sent it to a few family members, and now I’m putting it here.
So. Okay. Am I really going to do this on social media? Yeah, WTF. I am. Here’s my #nonbinary coming out story, as far as I can understand it to date.
My sense of being disconnected from “being a girl” dates all the way back to early childhood, but I never wanted to “be a boy” either. I just wanted to be me–whatever that was–but as I was assigned female at birth, I tried in many ways to do the best I could with what I was given. But in my imagination I was usually Captain Nemo, Sir Lancelot, or Doctor Doolittle. The most femme I got was “Pirate Queen.” And I did like to draw princesses with huge treasure chests of jewels. My Madame Alexander doll was a “mechanical genius” and inventor–so not your ordinary female doll persona.
Puberty was weird. For a couple of years I wore a woolen peacoat year round in Southern CA, to prevent being harrassed about my breasts. (That shit was non-stop.) I was sexually active in my early teens, thanks to an 18-year old boyfriend, but I do remember really kind of checking out most of the time during sex, even though I did like the attention and physical affection. It was kind of like floating above or outside my body. There were traumatic moments later on, not with him, but with others. I think being on the edge of some kind of neurodiversity also added to the dissociation. At least I grew up in the 60s so that my lack of understanding about how to do girl world was masked by being a freewheeling “hippie chick.” It was okay to break rules, rebel.
But I kept being drawn to the so-called “androgynous” fashions and rock stars of the time, and beings who showed up in science fiction stories, like the Spacers in Samuel Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah.” I remember a Richard Brautigan novel where a young girl is freaked out by her developing, voluptuous body but ends up dealing with it by becoming a stripper. And (during my teens) there was the relationship with a boy who was prettier than I was but in other ways I couldn’t tell us apart. He wore my clothes sometimes but I didn’t wear his… There were all kinds of little sign posts along the way that told me I was not completely comfortable in my gender assignment, but there was nothing I could do or change about these very deep feelings.
Fast forward through the relationships which positioned me as female in various ways, through the weird metallic feelings of pregnancy hormones, the challenges (and rewards) of childrearing, and the utter chaos of the menopause. I have a friend and colleague who coined the term “reluctantly gendered” a few years ago and that term struck home for me as a first dim “hey…what if I’m also…?” But I kept those thoughts secret and I kept them safe, kind of like the One Ring that Frodo has to schlep around until he throws it into the volcano. At the time I was in a relationship with someone who would often say, “I’m a boy and you’re a girl” and I’d always recoil inside, having a thought like “well, not actually” though I’d outwardly agree. Like what else was I gonna do? And, deeper still, “who am us anyway?” (A Firesign Theater quote).
It’s hard to move sometimes from the known to the unknown.
I credit a lot of things and people and influences for helping me along: my patron deity, genderqueer Norse Loki; trans, nonbinary, and questioning people I know; internet resources and books; and so on. And writing my Ornamental Hermits novels has allowed me to experience the genders of my characters, humans and Elves, in imaginary ways.
But perhaps the state of not being “partnered” for the last four years and the solitude of this pandemic time has been as important as anything else. Without the demands of gendered performances, I have come to know myself, though without an imagined shape or form to “transition” into. I only know that I’d cheerfully part with my secondary sex characteristics if I could, and perhaps even with some primary ones as well, and have no desire to acquire any others.
I like long hair, makeup, and cleanshaven faces on most people — including myself — so perhaps I’ll always appear “femme.” Or not. I have no idea. I don’t know where I’m going but now at last I know what I am not. There: consider that “assigned female” thing tossed into the nearest volcano. (There’s one across the lake from me!)
(Pronouns ze/zir but she/her can be tolerable, sometimes.)
Right hand path, left hand path…these are useful distinctions when applied to magic and mysticism but they somehow leave me unsatisfied. I have a yearning for the in-between, the liminal. Why not a “Möbius path” as a way to transform the dualities in a magical or mystic way? I am not sure what I’m getting at, exactly, but something speaks to me here and I intend to play around with it.
The Möbius strip is a mathematical discovery attributed to Listing & Möbius in 1858, however similar images are found in Roman mosaics (c. 200-250 CE). Its mystery is that the simple action of giving a strip of paper a half-twist, then attaching both ends, turns a double-sided object into a single-sided one. If you trace your finger around the strip, or imagine a small insect traveling along it, you notice the path is seemless along all of its surface.
The Möbius strip seems related to the symbols below (left to right): the Ouroboros eating its tail, the figure 8 eternity symbol, the Urnes Snake (often associated with Loki) and related rune stones like the Näsby, even the pattern of this kundalini yoga meditation! At bottom right is a Mobius strip in a Roman mosaic (circa 200-250 CE).
What the Möbius strip says to me is “why pick a side when everything changes with just a half-twist?” It’s a kind of shapeshifting, really. With a simple gesture (physical or mental) you’ve immediately altered reality and your perception of it. How can this be applied to magic and witchery? Or kundalini meditations, for that matter? Some ideas:
Use the Möbius strip as a talisman.
Meditate on the Möbius strip.
Write sigils or spells on thin strips of paper, then half-twist and tape the ends together to make a Möbius strip. Does this change anything?
Find ways to look at situations with a “half-twist.” Does this change anything?
Are there spirits or deities who seem interested in, who resonate with, or who can teach you anything about this symbol? I know I have been associating it (and the other symbols above) with Loki Laufeyjarson for at least a year or so.
Can the spirit of the symbol itself teach anything? What happens if you establish a relationship with it?
Are there types of rituals or practices where this concept is appropriate? Not appropriate?
This morning, in the wee hours after a good night’s post-impeachment rest, I watched a man turn a large rusty nail into a tiny, perfect sword (fit for a sturdy mouse warrior) and learned of the sea shanty craze on TikTok. I even sang along. However, a fellow Tweeter pondered the appeal? Why sea shanties? Why now?
I’d like to add “non-serious social incongruity” (aka “amusement”) to the list of reasons for this sudden popularity (see that link above): “easy to learn,” “easy to sing,” and “unifying, survivalist songs.” These songs are historical throwbacks and have little to do with most people’s modern lives, hence the social incongruity. The very oddness of this unlikely trend also adds to its appeal. Sea shanties are nerdy. They blend well with my already long list of special, consuming interests (many of which are represented in this blog). (Personally sea shanties also remind me of a happier time, the years when my young children and I would attend the annual performances of The California Revels in Oakland, CA.)
Amusement as a Positive Emotion
A couple of years ago I took Barbara Fredrickson’s positive psychology course on Coursera. My main take-away was her idea of creating “positivity portfolios” as a way to provide quick hits of positive emotions throughout the day. I realized that no matter how low I go, amusement and interest can always provide me with a way up and out. I began to assemble an online file of things that make me grin: memes, cat video links, websites, and so on. I have plenty of books but most are interesting not amusing (I need collections of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons). I don’t always remember to do it, but this practice of intentionally dosing myself with amusement and interest has served me well through most of this pandemic.
However this last week since the Jan. 6 white supremacist insurrection attempt, I should have tempered my hypervigilant doom-scrolling with dose of snarky commentary from the webpages of The Gallery of Regrettable Food. My attempt at similar humor: “Cooking with 7-Up?” –epic neo-nazi fails never tasted so good! Here boys, drown your post-sedition sorrows with a frosty glass of lemon-lime soda. It’s in your gelatin salad too! Just like mother used to make!”
Now I don’t mean to imply a link between 7Up (currently owned by Keurig Dr Pepper) and white supremacists and neo-nazis. I’m using the above recipe example purely for vintage cuisine humor. However it’s interesting to look at the company’s 2020 political donations to federal represenatives and senators. An examination of the 2020 Keurig Dr Pepper PAC donations reveals only one donation to a congressperson who ended up voting on Jan. 6th to contest the 2020 federal election results (Yourish, Buchanan & Lu, “The 147 Republicans Who Voted to Overturn Election Results,” N.Y. Times, Jan. 7, 2021). That was Represenatative Richard Hudson (R/NC) for $1,000. Five of the seventeen representatives who received 2020 donations from the Keurig Dr Pepper PAC voted against the 2021 impeachment: Van Taylor (R/TX) for $8,000; Vickey Hartzler (R/MO) for $5,000; Dan Krenshaw (R/TX) for $2,000; Ron Estes (R/TX) for $2,000; and again, Richard Hudson (R/NC) (mentioned above). (OpenSecrets.org is the source of the above campaign donation information.) So, could be worse…
And here I find I’ve spiraled over to “interest” as another positive emotion, which means I could easily do a prolonged dive into the weasel burrow of political campaign donations and the food corporations responsible for regrettable recipes. I suppose I’d better get into the main purpose of this blog: how to make skillful use of positive emotions.
Positivity Portfolio – A Way to Keep Sane in These Pandemic Times
I mentioned Fredrickson’s “positivity portfolios” earlier. The idea is simple. Collect things that trigger and nourish the following emotions. Put the collection(s) in a place where you can find them. Access them as often as you need to remember that something about this life is actually good. In fact, it’s a good practice to do this several times a day.
As I look back on life since mid-March, I’ve experienced positive emotions mostly through amusement, interest, and inspiration (the latter mostly through my novel-writing). Love hurts too much since I’m entirely alone except for my cats and haven’t seen my children or friends in all this time. I make an effort to cultivate serenity via meditation and devotional practices, but serenity is not as emotionally powerful as amusement, interest, and inspiration. I experience gratitude but often it feels intellectual–not quite enough to distract me emotionally from my plight (and the plight of everyone else in this world). We are, after all, living in the midst of multi-facted existential crises and I don’t know about you, but I need strong medicine for prolonged high threat situations.
One of Fredrickson’s articles was critiqued for the maths used by her co-author, M.F. Losada, in Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing (American Psychologist, 2005). Here is her response to that critique). I notice that pleasure/sexual desire/lust are positive emotions that are not included in the above table. As a sexologist, I say it’s important to not deny those sources of positive feeling, but for some of us shutting down might be easier than being in touch with our desires and physical needs. If that’s the case, opening back up again may take some work in a safer post-pandemic world. Fantasies, fandom, erotica (yes, that too!), music, performance, and dance might allow those who have shut down to open back up again.
Speaking of Gratitude
My experience of gratitude as an emotion is less intellectual when I think of what I’ve been lucky enough to access. Aside from long-distance connections with family and friends, here are my personal shout-outs to some of the things that have kept me emotionally nourished in these last several months (in no particular order):
The Untamed series on Netflix
Videos of Chinese street dancing performances & swordplay choreography
My own writing – novel & blog
Fantasy casting of my characters
Dragula (three seasons)
Daniel Foor’s courses thru ancestralmedicine.org
Also Daniel Foor’s courses
The work of Disasterina & Ave Rose
Study of magic, witchery & sorcery
Aidan Wachter’s books
My seven cats
Books on pandemics & history
Norse Loki Laufeyjarson
Reading Covid-19 research
Sea shanties on TikTok
Creating & teaching hypnosis courses
Movements for social justice & enviromental action
The Gallery of Regrettable Food
Genealogy & ancestor work
Dreaming, meditation & trancework
Succumbing to geeky fandom without shame
Co-hosting a podcast
The local turkey flock in my yard
Plotting escape from Lake County
How my kids are handling all this
Some ways I access positive emotions.
I hope this blog post helps other people understand how they can engage in conscious cultivation of positive emotions. Please let me know if anything is particularly helpful, using the comments features. Thanks!
Magic fantasies are popular entertainment. Aside from enjoying them, I like to figure out what magical techniques and systems writers have adapted or imagined in their works of fiction. There is such a variety of magic content in The Untamed (2019, currently on Netflix) that I’ve decided to catalog it. The Untamed is based on the novel Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation(Mo Dao Zu Shi) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. [English translation here. NSFW.]
This blog will be a work in progress over the next several days, since I will add to and refine this list through updated drafts. Please be patient if you notice I’ve missed something. Additions, comments and sources are welcome.
A WORD ABOUT ANIMISM
In addition to being influenced by Taoism (sometimes spelled Daoism), Buddhism, and other Chinese traditions, the xianxia and/or wuxia world of sword and sorcery cultivation, as depicted in The Untamed, has a foundation in animism. Swords, rocks, and other “inanimate” objects have the potential to be enlivened, animated, and engaged with as conscious through various practices. For example, in The Untamed, swords invested with spiritual power can “seal themselves” so that only their original owners can unsheathe them if they are recognized as such. (From an animist perspective, one could also acknowledge the cooperation of the sheathe, right?) This concept is not new to many ancient, indigenous, and some modern neo-pagan traditions.
Animism is at the heart of many kinds of magic traditions, practices, and rituals, including forms of spellwork.
From a superficial, Western perspective, we can view The Untamed as a conflict between a solitary practitioner of something resembling innovative chaos magic (with lots of sigil use) and the “cultivators” who belong to several different established mystery schools (aka sects and clans) who share a general set of precepts and traditions (such as “sword cultivation=good/demonic arts=bad”). When Wei WuXian says “I’ll be the precedent,” he’s reviled and marginalized yet years later some of his innovations (compasses that detect evil beings, Stygian lure flags, etc.) are mainstreamed and used by a new generation of cultivators.
Some of what is shown in The Untamed may also be references to or variations of Chinese folk magic. The scary drawings of the “Yiling Patriarch”–sold by a street vendor and having no actual resemblance to Wei WuXian (“famous for his looks”)–might fall under this category. Ditto for some of the other Yiling Patriarch product knock-offs, sold by vendors who falsely claim association.
This is one form of magic practice that is curiously missing from The Untamed, or maybe I just haven’t found and identified it yet. Wei WuXian’s compass for detecting monsters is the closest thing to it.
CATALOG OF UNTAMED MAGIC
Spirit beings or beings altered or created through magic
Demons. The live action series shows fewer of these than appear in the book, either in Wei WuXian’s company or doing his bidding. Early in the series, a demon appears at the Mo clan compound as a vicious, claw-like left hand that possesses several people. In episode four, Wei WuXian says demons are formed from living humans. Wei conjures up a red dressed demon woman to torment Wen Chao is episode 20 (in the book there is a hungry demon baby as well).
Devil Scatter Spell. Lan Zhan uses this to escape Wen Chao in episode eleven.
Dire Owl. A supernatural Wen clan bird, indicated by grey fuzz and a shrill cry. Used for spying and as a temporary vehicle of Yin Iron power. Wei WuXian battles with it.
Dogs. The giant dog owned by the Wen clan which lives in a dungeon and the intelligent “wonder dog” Fairy, owned by Jin Ling. (Wei WuXian is not fond of canines.)
Ghosts. In episode four, Wei WuXian says ghosts are “formed from dead humans.”
Ghost General. Wen Ning as a powerful, fearsome puppet created by Wei WuXian.
“Grey fuzz.” A visual used in The Untamed (along with scary sounds) to indicate resentful energies and ghosts, demons, and so on. This fuzz can be on the prowl or attached to objects. There are also screams associated with the on-screen appearance of grey fuzz.
Imps. In episode four, Wei WuXian defines imps as “formed from living, non-human beings.”
Monsters. In episode four, Wei WuXian says monsters are formed from “dead, non-human beings.”
Puppets. Zombie-like dead or nearly dead people with white eyes and networks of red/black markings on skin. Robbing living people of spiritual cognition is one way to make a puppet.
Stone Fairy. A walking spirit-snatching statue from a temple on Dafun Mountain.
Tortoise of Slaughter. A giant part snake/part tortoise. Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian battle it.
Water Ghosts. Spirits of water creatures that “usually just play tricks on people” but can conglomerate and turn into the Aqua Demon (episode five).
POWERS, SPELLS & TOOLS
Accupuncture. Medical techniques using needles on points and taking the pulse. Wen Ning uses three needles to pacify a giant dog. At different times and for different reasons, Wen Qing uses needles on both Jiang Cheng and Wei WuXian to keep them immobilized. Taking the pulse is a frequent activity throughout The Untamed.
Accupuncture Needles. Wen Qing uses these to test the magic barriers in the back hills of Cloud Recesses.
“The array was scarlet in color and crooked in shape, appearing to be drawn by hand, using blood as the medium, still damp and emitting a strong scent. The array was filled with warped scribbles of incantations, which were somewhat smudged by his body, but came across as gruesome nonetheless.”
Beads. Wei WuXian makes a set of carved protective beads for his newborn nephew.
Blood. Blood is used for magical purposes throughout the book and the series.
Body Sacrifice. A forbidden technique. Performed by Mo Xuanyu in episode one, offering his own body as a curse to bring Wei WuXian back to life, in order to extract revenge on his tormentors.
Body Seizing. A forbidden technique.
Channeling Fire. A Wen clan specialty. Wen Chao uses this to set a Lan clan guard on fire.
Chord Assassination Technique. A specialty of the Lan Clan, used against the Tortoise of Slaughter. (Is it just me, or would “Chord Assassination” be a great name for a Death Metal band?)
Compasses. Designed to detect the presence of supernatural beings. Perhaps a form of divination?
Corpse Powder. Airborne poison.
Curses. Blackened, necrotic looking skin that spreads up towards the heart and scars that don’t heal can indicate a curse. There is also the “Hundred Holes” curse.
Demonic Cultivation aka “Wicked Sorcery.” Seems to include using resentful energy from ghosts.
Devil Scatter Spell. Lan Zhan uses this spell to escape from Wen Chao, possibly also combining it with teleportation.
Empathy. Wei WuXian uses this technique several times to experience slices of life through another person’s eyes and perceptions, kind of like a Vulcan mind meld. Requires touch. Can be done with ghosts and body parts. Considered to be a perilous technique. Lan Zhan had a spontaneous experience of empathy via the Yin Iron, related to the slaughter of another clan.
Energy. Often used as blasts during fights.
Exorcism. Used against ghosts, such as the Water Ghost in episode five.
First Class Spiritual Tool. A term not explained explicitly, but which probably refers to the primary magical tool of a cultivator. Usually will be given a name.
Flying. With or without swords used as vehicles.
Flying Chains. Used against Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian during their hunt for the Dire Owl.
Freezing in Place. Used on puppets and people alike.
Gestures. Examples include (1) directing energy or magic tools by pointing with the forefinger and middle finger close together with ring and little fingers held down by the thumb and (2) writing a sigil of light with upraised middle and little fingers, (3) snapping fingers to get someone to freeze.
Glitter Talisman. Used unsuccessfully by Wei WuXian against the hallucination mist created by the Dire Owl.
Golden Core. A spiritual power center that is deliberately cultivated and enhanced. In The Untamed, it can irreplacable. This is possibly a reference to the Tai Chi lower Dantian (sometimes called Dan Tian, Dantien, Dan Tien, or the Golden Stove.) Modern cultivation practices include Tai Chi and the Microcosmic Orbit as taught by Mantak Chia.
Golden Core Melting. One of the Wen clan’s followers is known as “Core-Melting Hand” for his ability to destroy people’s Golden Cores.
Golden CoreTransference. Performed by Wen Qing, transferring Wei WuXian’s core to Jiang Cheng.
Golden Silk Barrier. A large net for protection against the onslaught of puppets, particularly against those of Wen Qing’s village.
Graves. Known to generally attract ghosts.
Hallucination Mist. Used against Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian in the forest. It also disrupts concentration needed for spellwork.
Headband. Sacred Lan Clan accessory. Not to be touched by anyone except parents and significant others. Allows inner disciples to enter the warded areas of Cloud Recesses. Often used in The Untamed as a symbol to indicate growing intimacy between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan.
Levitation. Examples include (1) Wen Ruohan lifting Xue Yang into the air as a show of power and as a warning and (2) the cultivators hovering in mid air above the Aqua Demon’s whirlpool.
“Liberate, suppress, eliminate.” In episode four, Lan Zhan says this is the appropriate cultivator way to deal with troubles, such as a dead executioner who is haunting a village.
Musical Compositions. Played with spiritual power to calm or to promote agitation. Lan Zhan recognizes Wei WuXian in Mo’s body because he plays the song Lan Zhan has composed for the two of them.
Musical Instruments. Played with spiritual power (e.g. flutes and guiqins). Often used to calm situations or repel aggression. Wei WuXian plays his “Chenqing” flute. Lan Zhan plays his “Wangji” guiqin. Lan Xichen uses his “Liebing” flute in the exorcism of the Aqua Demon, among other instances. Wen Qing plays a tiny whistle or flute to subdue the villagers who have been turned into puppets.
Nails. Puppet control can be achieved by sticking two nails in the back of someone’s head, presumably at an accupuncture point. (Don’t try this at home.) Used on Wen Ning and Song Lan.
Night Hunts. The sport and pursuit of hunting down supernatural prey.
Paper Dolls. Used for exploring, physical control, and in the practice of empathy. Wei WuXian uses them twice to pester Lan Zhan.
Portraits of the Yiling Patriarch. Sold on the street as folk magic protection for homes.
Ropes and Cords. Conjured out of nowhere.
Sigils (see Talismans). May be written on paper or conjured as a pattern of light and propelled toward a target (person or object).
Silence Spell. A Lan Clan specialty, lasts as long as a stick of burning incense.
Soul Calming Ceremonies. A preventative ritual for children of cultivators, given to prevent them from ever turning into ferocious ghosts when they die. Wei WuXian threatens to turn into a ferocious ghost who will haunt Wen Chao and his mistress, should they torture and kill him. He says he was not given such ceremonies, as he was adopted into the Jiang clan.
Spiritual Cognition. [Description to come.]
Spirit Snatch. [Description to come.]
Stygian Lure Flags. Painted banners designed to draw ghosts or other evil beings. Ones developed by Wei WuXian are used by Lan clan cultivators. Called Phantom Attraction Flags in the book.
Stygian Tiger Amulet. Constructed by Wei WuXian in the Burial Mounds. It is the first magic we see in the series, as it flies around the feet of warriors during a battle. It contains Yin Iron.
Swords. Can be imbued with a spirit. Are often named. Can seal themselves. Can serve as vehicles for flying through the air. Can be used as projectiles.
Talismans(see Sigils). Can be paper, beads, or other objects. Wei WuXian offers a protective talisman in a bag to Wen Qing as a protection for her brother against ghosts. Wei WuXian changes protective talismans with “4 strokes” to reverse them as attractions for evil spirits (taking care of Wen Chao’s bodyguards and mistress).
Telepathy. Some “inner dialogue” between Lan Zhan and his brother, and Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian looks as if it is supposed to be telepathic.
TeleportationTalisman. Used by a masked swordsman.
Teleportation. Did Lan Zhan use this to escape Wen Chao in episode eleven?
Wards/Seals. Fields of energy used to block entrances or protect areas.
Yin Iron. A powerful cosmic object broken into five shards, hidden for many decades. Revealed as the missing part of the Dancing Fairy in episode nine. During part of the story Lan Zhan carries a shard that had been hidden by the Lan clan. Part of the Stygian Tiger Amulet.
Zidian. A magical tool looking like a ring (book) or bracelet (series), with a purple lightning force that is often used as a whip. Bequeathed to Jiang Cheng by his mother. Recognizes its owner or verified substitute user. Was unable to detect Wei WuXian’s soul as “foreign” to Mo Xuanyu’s body.
CONTEMPORARY AND HISTORICAL MAGIC?
Here in the United States we have “witch privilege” in that we are not usually actively persecuted for witchy and neo-pagan practices. Magic is big business here, and entertainment depicting magic and witchcraft is popular. (However, another round of “Satanic Panic” hysteria seems to be gathering steam in this country among trumpites and evangelicals and this is not good.) Some countries still persecute and kill witches. August 10th is “World Day Against Witch Hunts.”
I was curious about contemporary witchcraft laws in China–if any–and while I haven’t come up with any information yet, I did come across this account of Empress Chen Jiao of Wu, accused of black magic, who “is remembered as an ancient Chinese witch…She was the wife of Emperor Wu of Han, who ruled between 141 and 87 BC” [Western Han dynasty?]. I don’t know if this information is accurate, but I am still intrigued. Supposedly the Empress was drawn to witchcraft as a last hope for producing a child for the Emperor. I feel very curious about the development of magical arts and folk magic in ancient China, and though The Untamed is set in a historically inaccurate fantasy world, it should be fun to see what fictional magic elements are based in actual traditions. This is completely new terrain for me.