This date snuck up on me. I knew it was coming up “sometime soon,” but honestly, in the flurry of the last two weeks (don’t even ask!), I’d plumb forgotten. I only just realized it today. But how, you might ask, does one forget anything having to do with Loki?
Well, because humans just do that, sometimes, and I’m no exception, and it’s been an unusual time in Midgard lately. And I think the old powers, like Loki–or even, especially Loki–can understand when we loose sight of temporal dates. I have a feeling it would be worse if I forgot his morning offering of cinnamon tea (which I never do) or the weekly offering of a sweet (ditto), because consistent, daily attention seems to be more helpful in cultivating preternatural relationships than observing annual special events.
Nevertheless, I mark this day as significant as one does not lightly oath oneself to a deity, particularly one as complicated as the Norse Loki. And though I didn’t do this lightly, I did it fairly quickly. I was all in within a couple of months of interaction. I’ve never been sorry about it, either. Nothing would have been gained by waffling and waiting.
So what does it mean to me, to my life, that I am oathed to a fiery, shapeshifting, gendershifting, trickster deity? Well, he is the focus of acts of devotion (offerings, prayers, chats) and acts of service (they vary); but I also have a feeling of kinship. There’s a kind of reciprocity and caring that takes place, and a commitment that can be worn lightly even as it goes very deep. I am not sure I can explain it, but I find it very grounding. This interaction can also be described in opposite terms as creating feelings of “unholy glee” and a sensation of “tripping the light fantastic.” For me, Loki is a “Lord of the Dance” as well as a psychopomp; a deity of kundalini energy and witchcraft as well as a spirit of hearth fire. Creator, destroyer, mischief-maker, and (lest we forget) a donut gourmet…
Finally, this Swedish publication arrived yesterday, just in time for me to put it on Loki’s altar. A blog of mine, “Loki the Loving,” was published in it. I am pretty tickled about this! Thank you to the editor to asked to use this piece, and then translated it into Swedish!
Hail Loki Laufeyjarson, Flamehair and Silvertongue, nimble-footed, master strategist! My beloved fulltrui, teacher, and muse!
This personal blog is the place where I write what I cannot express anywhere else. The main focus has always been “magic, sex, Loki and liberation,” but you can find other topics as well. The category I call “biohazard” is a pun for autobiographical material that I also write occasionally. But in these last few months of pandemic “sheltering in place” it’s been difficult to post, except for signal boosting and quasi-political commentary. My own feelings and thoughts have been all over the place and some days its difficult to focus.
I’ve been almost entirely alone, you see, confined to a pleasant house with a view — so I am quite lucky in that respect. I know that. It’s part of my (almost) daily practice to acknowledge blessings, make offerings to my ancestors and deities, and ask for guidance. But seldom seeing a human being, even at the distance of six feet or more, has been difficult. I already have lived an almost entirely hermit-like existence for the last three years since moving here, but not having the option to mingle safely, or sit quietly in a restaurant with a book, means that the last few chances for in-person social interactions are gone. Three months in, and I find the constant isolation is beginning to wear away at my resolve and resilience. And perhaps a bit at my sanity.
Why hermit-like? Three main reasons and I’ll try to make this brief:
(1) Multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness. Once I only dodged airborne toxins like fragrances (often with a mask), now I also hope to avoid a potentially deadly virus. (I’m in a couple high-risk groups.) This has been my situation for thirty years. I am so used to wearing masks in public, you wouldn’t believe it. And part of me is kind of thrilled that other people are now having to wear them, though I am sorry for the reason.
(2) I’m new to the area where I live and aside from a few friends in Lake County that I seldom see (and a brief period spent living with a roommate) I have been alone here for the last two and a half years. I have no community outside of social media. Older friends are far away, in the Bay Area and elsewhere. I have no lover in proximity.
(3) A divorce in 2015-2016 meant that the domestic community (aka family) that gave meaning to my life, especially in my role as a mother, is no longer available to me. My adult kids live far away. It was hard enough to visit them already but now with Covid-19 pandemic raging, I am afraid I will never lay eyes on them again. And we seldom talk via phone or Facetime. I’ve grown tired of begging for contact.
What I do have for company: seven cats to love. I’ve got social security. I’ve got an irrepressible muse/teacher/partner/deity named Loki Laufeyjarson (and a few other spirit guides besides), the love of my ancestors, and the ability to create and work, and the hope of moving from this rural, red-necky area someday. I’ve got curiosity. I’ve got passion for social change. I’ve got a working computer and social media. My sense of humor is intact. I’ve got one long-distance friend that I talk with daily. I have anti-depressant meds. I am blessed with water hot and cold. These are the blessings I count.
And there is my body. I should take better care of it, really. It doesn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Sometimes I am too fatigued or scattered to cook. It doesn’t get enough exercise, but sometimes this body dances. Often it sleeps and the cats cuddle and the air here is clean until fire season. I’ve got a car that will get me and the cats away from here if a fire rushes over the wooded ridge behind my house. If I can get out in time…
It feels strange to write like this. Sometimes I am aware of a gradual loosening of “strings” holding my life together. A resignation. Feelings of shame and regret about life’s mistakes. Other times, I have the simmering, unholy glee that I associate with Loki and with my bravest self. I will fight. I will dance. I WILL see my children again. I WILL be able to rescue myself and move to a place where I feel happy and whole and valued. Maybe I’ll even have a non-spirit lover again someday. So I’d better keep that body strong. I’d better call upon my ancestors and my deities for help–as no one, but no one, will ride to my rescue. I do have sources of support, though. I don’t want you to think I don’t.
For example, Loki indicated recently that he will sometimes “hold the bowl” for me when things get too tough or too sad. But he won’t hold it often or forever. There’s a lot that this old lady has to do for herself.
So, plenty of magic here. Plenty of study and writing. No sex, but I am a sexologist and I help clients with their problems sometimes. Loki? Yes, of course–sometimes distant, sometimes near, but always at the ready. And liberation? As I work for the world’s from my warrior keyboard (since I can’t get out much), I also ponder my own. When, and under what circumstances, will my “liberation” come looking for me?
Disclaimer: In this post, I’m going to write first in a general way, as if I actually know something about this topic, or might be able to find out more. And then I’m going to focus on how I think I might be able to de-weaponize my own tears, in conversations and confrontations about systemic racism and my own internalized prejudices. Will it work? I don’t know. But I promise to strive toward this.
We make tears when we cry. Science identifies three kinds of tears: basal tears which continuously clean and lubricate our eyes; reflex tears which help get rid of specks, eyelashes and teargas; and emotional tears (also called “psychic tears”). Emotional tears contain stress hormones, which perhaps indicates a chemical-cleansing function. Emotional tears are a form of non-verbal communication.
People cry for a lot of reasons: sorrow, shame, frustration, helplessness, joy, tenderness. Tears can flow during depression or after trauma. Emotional tears provoke emotions in others: compassion, sadness, frustration, as well as anger and resentment, especially if the other person’s tears are experienced as manipulative. Yes, tears can be manipulative too.
As a counselor, I do believe that expressing emotions can be a healthy thing. However, there are also times when it behooves us to be responsible for our own nervous system responses–including tears if we shed them–to let people know that they are not responsible for our comfort, that we do not ask them to do emotional labor in response to our responses, and that we are willing, with good will, to continue conversations through our own discomfort and self-regulation.
And one of those major times is now. It’s time for white people to de-weaponize their tears and other sympathetic nervous system responses so we can ALL get on with the task of dismantling systemic racism that has been killing people for centuries.
Why Are White Tears Harmful?
In her book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018), sociologist Robin DiAngelo dissects the mechanisms that white Americans use, consciously or unconsciously, to (1) buffer themselves from deep engagement with necessary conversations about systemic racism, personal prejudice, and necessary reforms, (2) redirect the focus back to white equilibrium aka white power, and (3) put the other person in the wrong, most often BIPOC. These mechanisms includes crying. And this is f’d up. How f’d up? I’m not going to whitesplain.
So. Let’s say you’re a white person who realizes it’s time (and if you don’t know this by now, please step up your game). There are conversations that are overdue. Perhaps there are important conversations in your past that were cut short by your tears. Maybe you feel badly about that. Maybe you don’t. But no one is giving you (or me) a pass anymore.
I can imagine crying during the course of a difficult conversation (about almost anything, really). Shame in particular is a very painful emotion and most people will do anything to avoid it. And tears can be part of processing that. Where tears become weaponized is when they are used to manipulate and avoid, when they are used to undermine or dismiss the substantial time and emotions that the other person or people in the conversation have invested in talking with you! If you use your tears to just walk away from the conversation, or shutdown, or center the attention on yourself and your needs, that’s textbook weaponizing right there.
• Historical Context: Self educate. Learn how the mechanisms of racism create life and death situations designed to pound away at Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. Understand that the tears we white folks might shed at being confronted by our shortcomings and faults are AS NOTHING to the rivers of tears shed by people, families, and communities destroyed and killed over the centuries, right up to present day.
• Communication Context: I know I can be a bore about the communication tool known as the Johari Window, but honestly, I feel a lot of privilege and racism lives right there in that window pane (upper right hand) of “known to others, not known to self.” That’s where the “Clueless Family” lives (you know: Karen, Brad, and Becky…). And when some of that stuff gets shown to us, yeah, it can be painful to understand that yes, we really are those people. Now, it might not be our “fault” that the stuff is there (unless we are people who actively cultivate hate in our lives) as we white Americans have been swimming in racism and privilege for hundreds of years, but once revealed, we have a chance to work on these things, to examine them, disgard them, and vow to do better.
But that’s painful. And you might cry. Other people might be around when you do. Here’s what you can do to protect them from your emotions.
• Calming Skills: Prepare yourself in advance for the thought that you might have a myriad of feelings when dealing with issues of racism or a situation which has become racialized or when someone is calling you out, particularly if there is something you might have done that hurts another. Decide what you can do to acknowledge those feelings for yourself but refrain from giving way to your “flight, fight or freeze” sympathetic nervous system reactions. We can often choose receptivity over reactivity, but it might take some work. So practice some calming skills in advance, such as slow deep breathing.
• Think of Others: Remember that other people are also likely to be triggered by your emotions, so calm yourself for their sake as well. Remember, they’re likely not loving this. And if someone else cries, be compassionate and ask if there is anything you can do for them.
• Take Responsibility: If you have the opportunity, say something at the beginning like, “Please ignore me if I cry during this conversation. I do not expect you to take care of me and my emotions, and I intend to do my own work to calm my nervous system and work through emotions so I may give you my best attention and so we may have a constructive conversation.”
• Time Outs: In advance, establish a protocol for a brief “time out” if anyone involved in the conversation needs time to calm. Make sure you commit to a return to the conversation as soon as possible, preferably within thirty minutes. Do not let the “time out” become weaponized as a technique for avoidance.
• Emotional Repair: If needed, take the initiative in asking if it is possible to do emotional repair. Be prepared to hear no, and lump it. If you are allowed an opportunity, listen more than you talk, and again let the other person know that you are taking responsibility for your own nervous system reactions (and then do so).
If anyone has additional ideas on this topic, I hope you will add them to the comments section. Thank you so much for reading.
At 22:40, Senator Mitchell referred to SB 227, a bill concerning the use of grand juries that “became the law of the land” and then she said:
“…then the court challenges come and the district attorneys find a D.A. in a rural area to put forward the challenge and they’re strategic in finding a court that will very likely overturn it and so while this legislature and the previous governor and our attorneys here in the legislature felt that the bill was constitutional, it was signed into law, it was challenged in the court. It was brought to court by the district attorney from El Dorado County, Vern Pearson, in December of 2016. The 3rd Appellate District Court ruled the measure unconstitutional and tragically our CA Supreme Court chose not to hear it.
And so while we fight the battles here legislatively to talk about [how] grand juries are not the appropriate place for peace officers who commit murder to have their day in court–unlike every other citizen–once we pass the bills and they become law, the court system is then manipulated to continue to protect those who take our lives everyday. And so those are the challenges we must face as black legislators. It’s not enough to carry the bills and get them signed by the law. It’s not enough to carry the bills and fight against the district attorneys, the police chief, the sheriff’s association, to represent the needs of black people. Then we go to the courts and we experience bias once again.”
This video, and Sen. Mitchell’s statement opened my eyes to the kind of strategies used to undermine all legislation designed to curb police and sheriff violence.
As I live in a rural county without street protests, and am also SIP due to Covid-19, it seems clear to me that one of the most constructive things I can do is begin to pay close attention to legislation put forth by members of the CLBC, and to encourage my CA Assemblymember and State Senator to support their legislation.
Finally, Sen. Mitchell’s rebuttal to LAPD Chief Moore.
This blog is a follow-up to to the April 19th Love’s Outer Limits podcast, with its topic of “Sex and Magic.” Here I want to expand more on the idea of incorporating international statements on Sexual Human Rights into attempts to deal with issues of sexual harrassment and predation in neopagan circles and organizations.
History of Sex and Magic
Very briefly put: sexual energy and behaviors have been and are incorporated into many esoteric traditions, often as part of inner mysteries or circles and initiatory rites or as a vehicle for spiritual transformation. A very few examples include: some practices in the Eastern traditions of tantra and Taoism; Western traditions of old-fashioned witchcraft (e.g. reports of witches sabbats with the devil); modern Wicca and related groups of magical practitioners (e.g. “the Great Rite”); Thelema/OTO; alchemy; modern Satanism; and other Western sex magic practices.
Many practices are symbolic, not explicitly or physically sexual. These symbols are often dualistic (e.g. a dagger dipped into a chalice) and binary-gendered (e.g. rituals calling in a “Lord and Lady” or named male and female deities in partnership).
Sex also may appear in accounts of encounters with deities, spirits, angels, demons, etc. Depending on who you talk to, this might be known as spectrosexuality or spectrophilia (psychology term). Such encounters may be part of a sex magic ritual, or not. They may consist of a single occurance or form part of a long-term relationship.
Some people also have sex with “the deity within” other humans, or as deities together.
This is creepy: I also believe that the tortures inflicted on suspected witches (usually female) during the European witch hunts may have been a turn-on for some of those inflicting, ordering, or witnesses the tortures.
What is Sex Magic?
Simply put, sex magic is any form of magical ritual that uses sexual energy and/or explicit sexual behavior, including orgasm, to add power to the spell or ritual. The sexual aspect may be partnered or solo. Partners may be human or spirit beings.
Sexual fluids may also be used in ritual context, as containing special powers. Some spiritual beings like these as offerings, others don’t. (Best check ahead of time.)
Sex magic is not designed to draw a partner to you for romantic or erotic purposes–that would usually be called love magic.
Magicians and Witches Behaving Badly
It’s not just magicians and witches: incidents of sexual harrassment, abuse, and rape may be found in the neo-pagan community at large, and in many other spiritual and religious communities including yogic ashrams and the Catholic church. These things occur in pretty much any cluster of humans: families, government agencies, prisons, businesses, you name it. By noting the pervasiveness, I am NOT writing this off as “human nature” or excusing spiritual, religious, and magical communities by saying, “well, all small groups reflect what happens in the larger society.” No.
I just want readers to think about this, and about how such traumas happening in a spiritual, religious, or magical community may well compound traumas that have happened to an individual elsewhere. And to notice the cruelty in how even a last refuge may become a place of danger.
And notice how people in communities that use practices already charged with sexual energies and behaviors might be even more vulnerable to such incidents. Notice how predators within such communities (including leaders) might be even more emphatic about pressuring other people to engage in behaviors “for the magic” or for “initiation” or for “advancement” but really just for their own gratification.
In preparing for the April 19th podcast, which I knew would be a mere dip into the sprawling topic of sex and magic–one which spans history, religion, spirituality, witchcraft, human sexual behavior, and so on–I knew I would include at least some discussion of sexual predation and abuse in neopagan/witchy circles.
Many people who trace the abuses found in neopagan groups point to the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960’s-70’s as something which made things easier for sexual predators, and which made it less likely that their creepy behavior would be questioned or understood as abuse.
I was twelve in 1967. Love-ins happened in the park across the street from my house. So I remember the 1960s-1970s Sexual Revolution very well. It was a time when “chicks” were just naturally expected to put out or risk being labeled as “uptight” and uncool. As a teenage girl, just discovering my own sexuality, I had a good time–mostly–but I also encountered predators, some of whom harmed me, or attempted to harm me. I eventually developed a fairly reliable radar for creepy older men. Back then, I also had relatives who up and joined a renegade (abusive) Thelemic commune in San Diego County. It took them many years to emerge from it. They never shared their experiences with the rest of my family. Now, as a sexologist, I also use that lens to understand the mixed impact the Sexual Revolution had on many people and communities, including neopagan and witchy ones.
Calls for Community Ethics
In the references you will find several excellent blogs and articles written by people in the neopagan/magic communities. These particular blogs and articles span 2015-2019 and encompass the “me too” movement. These are just a few of many written! Many of these blogs and articles recognize the need for sexual ethics and policies against harrassment and abuse, which would be enforced in their various communities. There’s a sense of frustration too, that such changes are often stalled or dismissed by an organization’s leadership as not generally necessary, since only a “rare” case might show up now and then.
Most people, including people in neopagan organizations, are not aware that the Sexual Revolution included discussions about sexual human rights. Early on, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco issued a statement of sexual human rights. Other organizations have done the some, either before or since. The discussion is international. Much work has been done to define sexual health and sexual human rights. The most powerful statement comes from the World Health Organization (WHO).
All a neopagan organization, coven, conference, what-have-you, needs to do is adopt this stance and this language, and perhaps add a sentence about spiritual and magical practice. Voila! You’ve got an ethics statement and policy based on the best contemporary thinking, created by a massive number of international experts.
Among other things, you can think of the WHO language as a popular element of spellwork that has the power to access the energy and intention of all who created it and use it! This reminds me a bit of Declaration 127 against racism and discrimination, a declaration adopted by many Heathen and pagan groups, including The Troth, that worship Norse deities and who wish to practice Norse spirituality and culture free of the taint of white supremacy.
According to the current working definition, sexual health is:
“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2006a)
And here’s a screen shot of the sexual rights language from the same WHO document:
I hope people will bring this idea to their leadership. I hope this helps.
Sarah Ann Lawless, September 2018: “So Long and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community,” and two other pieces which have since been taken down, due to intense harrassment and trolling. I remember reading them when they were still online. (Please consider visiting her herbal apothecary store, Bane Folk.)
Mark Green, January 10, 2018: https://atheopaganism.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/killing-the-sixties-abuse-consent-metoo-and-the-pagan-community/
“The takeaway for our particular community, however, is clear to me.
First of all, we need to root this shit out. It is simply unacceptable to have sexually predatorial behavior in our community. And that means clear policies at events and gatherings about affirmative consent, and firm consequences for anyone—ANYONE, no matter how revered or well known—who violates them.”
“To my mind, we need a community statement of sexual ethics which can serve as a sort of “seal of approval” for organizations and groups which sign onto it. People will then know where the safe environments are and where they aren’t, and can choose where they attend events accordingly. I know that one attempt was made a few years ago to develop such a statement, and it ran aground when resisted by advocates of sexual initiation.”
Fireplace Altar: The only place in the house where candles are lit and incense burned. Features a glass of water offered to the ancestors (since I’d packed up the Ancestor Altar a few weeks ago, thinking I’d be moving). Candles from right to left: Gerda, Freyr, Loki’s red pillar candle, Brigid, Bastet, Freya. One ancestor and two servitor tealights in front.
Group Deity Altar: Offerings of wine, cookies, and cinnamon bread to Brigit, Bastet, Freyr, Freya, and Gerda–and a glass of whiskey for Odin (as a courtesy). Painting of The Conjurer by Disasterina in the background.
My statues and drawings of Loki were packed a few weeks ago, when I thought I’d be moving. What remains are some ritual objects along with a stack of hardening donuts (fresh supplies difficult to obtain due to “shelter in place” restrictions), a dab of Nutella, and glasses of wine and Fireball Whiskey. Also, the daily cup of cinnamon tea. As for the gingerbread house, this is an offering that has greatly delighted him–and he is much attached to it. It stays on the altar all year long.
The artificial candle in the back has been running literally for months, 24/7, on one battery that has never been replaced (ordinarily, it should have exhausted itself in ten hours of continuous use). Every now and then it dims, and then I mention it to Loki and it suddenly “recharges.” I am not making this up! I am reminded a bit of Thomas Pynchon’s “Byron the Bulb”from Gravity’s Rainbow–is this a manufacturing miracle or something more? Who am I to argue with mystery?
The above altars are focuses of a practice which is now becoming daily again. Some daily elements have always been consistent, others not so much.
Thanks to no longer having a roommate and to now living alone, in Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve been able to establish the practices again without distractions.
This isn’t personal drama, just the sober realization that I might not make it through this pandemic, just as others have not, and will not. I’m sixty-five. In this country, I (and so very many others) are expendable. It’s not just older people, it’s queer and trans and gender diverse people, and Turtle Island first nations people, and POC, and immigrants caged… poor people, homeless/houseless… Yeah, I try to put all this in perspective, and to be personally stoic but spiritually open to the fact that my “wyrd” may consist of dying alone, without the people I love.
I’m mainly worried about my cats: Popoki, Niblet, Freya, Varda, Keola, Kia’i, and Arya. Who will feed and care for them? Someone do that for me please!
And my kids–they’ll miss me–and any opportunity for closure they may have needed for some of my most stupid child-rearing mistakes will be gone. All the things they wanted to say, all the things I wanted to say… (I love you, I love you, I love you!)
Unless they say my name and light a candle after I’ve gone. Unless they deal with me as an ancestor newly among many, part of a vast company prepared to shower blessings from beyond, as if I’m present to them in another way, and open to healing. The dead can change…
Thanks to the teachings of Daniel Foor, for the last couple of years I’ve been doing “ancestral medicine” work with my ancestors. My work is not complete but I’ve asked for and then felt healing with most of my stickiest, most painful family quandries (not all, but most). I am at peace with the lineages of my grandmothers and grandfathers. I ask for blessings for my mother (still alive) and for my kids. I’ve even mostly cleansed my relationship with my deceased, neglectful, narcissistic, alcoholic father. I don’t feel love for him, just a kind of pity, and the comfort of not having him as an ever-present, gaping hole in my life. My wounded child is mostly okay now, as far as he goes.
I’m not being morbid. It seems to me that the real work of this liminal waiting time–the time of social lockdowns–is to be spiritually and personally introspective and to make sure that all the relationships that truly matter are cared for in ways that are more forgiving and loving. And to shuck the others that are meaningless or toxic, to wish them well and wave goodbye. Out with the dross. Out with the pointless and thoughtless habits… in with the new, to make a new world. Can I live up to this lofty agenda? I don’t know but I will try. And if I can’t live up to it one hundred percent, I’ll die (eventually) into it.
I’m blessed. Past spiritual teachers of mine have recently come forward with new offerings to the world. Those of us who are clustered around the modern version of flickering firelight–the cold electronic light of our screens (if we’re privileged enough to have them!)–can easily partake. I’m hoping that other offerings of generosity and bravery are showing up beyond the internet: local mutual aid, more food banks, more emergency housing, grocery shopping for seniors and disabled people, and so on.
My affairs are mostly in order. I leave behind cats, books, trinkets, a house, a few bills, and my writing, whenever I do go.
So remember me with forgiveness if you can’t remember me with love. And children, light a candle for me. Find me among our ancestors. Say my name.
I don’t have to tell you all, but this is a time of intense, scary weirdness. Here in the U.S., the pandemic is going to overwhelm our medical system and our “social order” (such as it is), thanks to the criminal ineptitude of our federal government. Many state and local authorities are more competent, but they are hampered by federal grandstanding, lack of money, lack of vital equipment, and federal budget shenanigans. And, unlike Germany, where Chancellor Merkel assured her citizens that all will be cared for, many of us here in the U.S. are considered disposable. Our impending demise is supposed to be “good for the economy.” Now, that’s always been the case here–people who are marginalized, exploited and oppressed in the U.S. have always been considered disposable and many of this country’s policies have always been brutal and genocidal–but the Covid-19 pandemic shines a glaring spotlight on this shadow side of our national history and character.
People like me, who are old, now find we have an “expiration date,” a “shelf life.” I guess that’s one way to ransack the social security system, huh? Just kill off the older people and that’s more moola for 45’s golf games.
So, this is a time of tumult, suffering and uncertainty for all, on all kinds of scales. Personally, I have been totally alone since February 27th, with approximately five actual in-person human contacts since then. I live a reclusive life anyway, but I did cherish my ability to go to the grocery store now and then, or have a meal out, alone, with a book for company. Now I don’t dare. My cats are my dearest companions in this time, as everyone else I love is far away. I’m kind of holding on to a thread right now, hyper-alert to the sounds of traffic from Highway 20, a voice from the neighbor’s backyard, and the sight of the mist that travels over the mountain outside my window. However I do talk more to friends and family on the phone, or the internet. And I do know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and some canned goods in the cupboard (though my toilet paper stash is low).
So, with all this happening, it was amazing to be graced with two magical miracles this month. On the same day, March 10th, two beings (of very different kinds) returned to my sphere. Both were important to me (for different reasons) and I thought both were gone forever.
The Cat Returns
For most of 2019 and the first part of 2020, I had been feeding and gradually taming an outdoor cat which I named Arya because she was such a tough little thing. She was a beautiful silver-grey cat with extra toes on her front paws and celadon green eyes. She had one clipped ear because she’d been spayed by the owner who’d abandoned her on my property (Meowington was another one of those cats). She became feral and fearful. I worked hard to earn her trust with regular meals placed near her lair in a wood pile, sitting near (but not too close) while she ate. She got used to me and I moved closer. Once she began to trust me, she began to enjoy my petting her while eating. She became a faithful creature, always watching for my appearance at the back door once dinner time approached. She was very punctual. And her confidence in me was precious.
By mid-January, I thought she was at the point where she might let me pick her up. (I wanted to get her into a crate and take her to the vet for shots.) I was also considering if I should bring her into my indoor cat family. (I have six indoor cats already and taking on a seventh might be too much).
But during the coldest part of January, a neighborhood tom cat began trying to chase her off around mealtimes. (He’s not a cat I feed.) Sadly, he succeeded. She disappeared for a couple of days and I tried to not worry. Then she showed up for dinner again at her usual time. I was so relieved! But the tom cat must have scared her away again because after that one meal she never came back. A neighbor told me she saw Arya one evening a couple days later but no one saw her after that. I would call for her during my walks, worried that she’d gotten stuck in someone’s basement or garage. Finally, I gave her up for dead–figuring a coyote or wild cat had killed her.
I grieved for Arya. I missed her more than I anticipated. So I was stunned and shocked when she appeared on the road outside my house on March 10th, near her usual dinner time. It was an incredible coincidence–I’d just gone outside to take the trash cans out. Arya was super-skinny and wobbly. At first she was too nervous to come to me. But a large bowl of canned food drew her near enough for me to touch her. I could feel every bit of her spine. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in weeks. I went indoors to grab a cat crate while she wolfed down the food. She was so intent on eating that I was able to scoop her up and plop her into the crate. This scared her of course. But once I had her indoors in the enclosed sun porch (somewhat separate from the rest of the house), she relaxed after a few minutes of panic. More food calmed her. I stayed with her as well, petting her until she felt comfortable.
(Bottom left, Arya before she disappeared. Middle, Arya half-starved when she reappeared. Right, Arya getting plump and healthy again.)
I’ve been caring for her ever since. One of the few times I’ve gone out in March was a trip to the vet, so she could get her shots and be tested for feline leukemia and HIV. She now has a clean bill of health, along with flea, tick, and worm treatments. She’s eating well and putting on weight. I have resolved to keep her indoors as the mean tom cat is still around. I am in the process of introducing her (carefully) to the rest of the cats.
Arya’s return is the first of March’s miracles.
The Teacher Returns
And now for the second, which gives an important boost to my determination to use magic (and common sense) to get through this pandemic.
The Witch’s Primer course, offered online by Ariel Gatoga, was an important resource for me during 2016-2017, when I started my first Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy novel and began planning my move (my escape!) from Hawai’i back to California. I had stumbled across The Witch’s Primer on the internet and was quickly captivated by the material as well as Ariel’s voice and humor. Each class helped me to focus my energy and pay attention to self-care. In this way, Ariel became my first official witchcraft teacher. I have studied, and still study, other esoteric traditions and have had some wonderful teachers. However, I don’t think I ever enjoyed a teacher’s personality so much.
In addition to the Primer, I spent many hours listening to his lectures while preparing my house for sale (painting bedrooms, cleaning…). For months, thoughts of magic and magic practices permeated my house. I am not surprised it sold quickly once it was on the market. (FYI, A Charmed Life is one of my favorite lectures. I’m revisiting it again as I prepare for my next out of state move!)
Then Ariel dropped out of sight in the middle of 2017. There was no explanation. It was all very abrupt. I was very sad. I missed the teachings and his humor. I worried that some catastrophe had happened. And then I moved on–basing my subsequent explorations of witchery on other books and sources, yet weaving them in with what I’d learned from the Primer. Ariel’s teaching remained foundational as I began to develop a regular, eclectic practice.
Fast forward to March 10, 2020. Suddenly a group email appeared from Ariel Gatoga (I’d been on his previous mailing list). The email heralded his return, which now consists of a new website, links to all his vintage lectures (plus new materials) on a new YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and an Instagram account. And over the last few days, Ariel has been offering online Tarot readings (group and individual). I encourage all who are interested to visit his site and his offerings. I think you’ll be pleased.
As for me, I couldn’t be more delighted to have Arya the Cat and Ariel the Teacher back in my life. Magic is alive. Blessed Be!
For those who don’t know, MCS stands for “multiple chemical sensitivities,” a rather unfortunate term which has often branded its sufferers as “special snowflakes,” hypochondriacs, and misfits. “Environmental illness” is another broad term, often abbreviated EI. And you may often seem these terms used together as EI/MCS.
I wish I could convey to you what it means to have this condition–one which results in years and even decades of partial or even total social isolation–in times like these, a time of massive, world-wide (but hopefully temporary) “social distancing.” Linda Sepp does an excellent job of this in two of her recent Seriously Sensitive to Pollution blog posts: Dear Quarantined and Socially Distanced and Two Tales: Temporary Quarantine or Long-term Segregation. As she states in Two Tales:
“Many other people are worried about having to stay at home for a couple of weeks, without access to their regular activities, because they have never had to think about what it’s like, but some of us (indeed millions around the world) have been forced to stay confined and isolated, sometimes for most of our lives! Our stories are seldom told, and when they are told, they’re often dismissed as anomalies and quickly forgotten.”
Please note that such isolation is usually not just social, but also economic, medical, spiritual, familial, recreational, and educational. We fucking know how hard this is–but unlike the rest of you who do not have this or other chronic illnesses or disabilities– there will be no return for us to what most people consider a socially normal way of life.
In fact, it will be even harder for us. With the uptick in the use of heavy cleaning products and germicides in all public places, including grocery stores, we MCSers are well and truly fucked.
I’ve had 30 years of dealing with EI/MCS, and periods of partial isolation. During the last four years, while living in semi-rural areas, I’ve had long stretches where I haven’t seen a living soul besides my cats for days and weeks at a time. There have been many weeks when a grocery store clerk has been my only in-person interaction. I am heavily reliant on the internet and social media. Loneliness is now known to be more detrimental to health than 15 cigarettes a day. Just think about that. Think about us.
It’s airborne toxins which are the main problem for most of us. I can’t access disaster shelters (in a region known for several fires a year) or senior centers due to widespread use of fragrances and scented personal care products, combined with heavy cleaners. I’ve had to give up exercise classes, forego the comraderie of senior lunchs and the local UU as well as a fraternal organization that promised me scent-free accommodation at meetings and then didn’t honor that promise. Yes, I have a private practice but it is very part-time in this rural area. I could use something a little more regular in this gig economy (and I know that goes for millions of other people besides!). I’ve tried to educate, I’ve complained, I’ve asked for equal access, and I’ve cited studies–all for naught.
And my home, which is my environmentally clean safe space, is not always “free from contagion.” The choking fumes from heavily scented detergents, coming from my neighbor’s washing machine (located in an outdoor driveway) often seep into my house. Another neighbor will sometimes gun a motorcycle engine or leave a car running for several minutes at a time. I smell that in my house too.