Try a Little Tenderness

Sometimes snark is where I park, but I’m less and less enamored with those who consistently bludgeon others with harsh verbal assessments, in the name of whatever. I prefer civil discourse, manners, tact, and even wit. Part of this is personal preference, part is professional training. And in a time when so much communication takes place on the internet, without the complexities and subtext of nonverbal and visual cues, I believe it behooves us to weigh our words and how we wield them.

I have a book of Hawaiian proverbs, called ‘Ōlelo No‘eau, collected by the great scholar Mary Kawena Pukui. Here is one that has always stayed with me:

I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make.

Pukui’s translation: Life is in speech, death is in speech.

Ahapunanaleo.org translation: In the language is life. In the language is death.

The meaning of both translations is clear: “Words can heal; words can destroy.”

My copy of ‘Ōlelo No‘eau was given to me by my ho’oponopono kumu (teacher), Ramsay Taum of O’ahu. Ho’oponopono is a traditional conflict resolving and forgiveness ritual (please avoid the appropriated and commodified version sold by white people). Kumu Taum gave the book to me as a gift for helping to pull together a workshop for him in Berkeley, CA, many long years ago. He inscribed it with words that are also good to review:

E ho’oulu i ke no’ono’o ke kino a me ka uhane.

Protect, preserve and care for life.

Right now, as I write, I am seated in front of my living room window. Mt. Konocti has been obscured by mist but blue sky patches are beginning to appear and parts of the mountain are being revealed. The mist also loves to move close to the surface of the lake, so I can see it gliding (north west?) above it just a block away, beyond the nearby trees I see clearly. I know that the pelican flocks, egrets and other water birds are feeling that same mist glide over their feathers as they sit in the water.

And at the moment, I am one mixed up human being, trying to make sense of people and where I am. I am hoping for a little mist removal of my own. I feel it glide over my eyes as I strain for vision.

In Hawai’i, which has a people and a culture colonized and brutalized by folks like me, I did not find the life I was hoping for, a happy ending with a great love, a life which was filled with people who lived with such proverbs and thoughts in their heart. Yes, a few people do live that way, but overall I was mostly conscious of my own intrusion, my own lack of suitability there. I was mostly lonely, always homesick, and often in truly deep despair. I could not feel cared for, though I tried to care for others. And spiritually, the message (which I had to accept with good grace and a sense of the inevitable) was “go back to your ancestors.”

(And the “great love?” It was pau. Unknown to me, it had run most of its course before I even arrived on Hawai’i island.)

Pele_by_David_Howard_Hitchcock,_c._1929
Pele, by David Howard Hitchcock, c. 1929. Public domain.

Sitting in my jungle home, I got the message at last. I prepared my departure. I set aside the Pele chant I’d been learning and offering in my final months in Hawai’i. I took rocks that had been given to me by that Hawaiian love and gave them back to the land, with discreet ceremonies of thanks. I placed some of those rocks in the Ahalanui Warm Ponds, now covered by last year’s lava flow. Pele took them back in truth, just as she took back the delicate little lava tube fragment that had been taken by Michael Rossman, and which I also returned to that area after his death.

So in the last quarter of 2017 I left Hawai’i in a financially devastating and physically brutal manner. I settled here in Lake County, CA. My body still suffers damage from the physical exertion of packing up an entire house, alone. Parts of my heart are still in tatters. But I took the inevitable beating knowing that a fresh adventure awaited. I just didn’t know how lonely–and yet rewarding–this next phase would be.

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Vanir goddess Freya, Old Norse Stories, 1900. Public domain.

Since my return, I’ve been working with a few deities in the Norse pantheon, as well as exploring the “ancestral medicine” (lineage healing work) offered by Daniel Foor, which I have mentioned so often in this blog. I am learning as much as I can. The Norse heritage and traditions, described as “hyper-masculine” by Jackson Crawford? They’re brutal, man!

I turn again to proverbs to try to show you what I mean. Instead of e aloha kekahi i kekahi (love one another), the “Havamal” (known as “The Counsel of Odin” in The Poetic Edda) says: “Do not sleep in the arms of a sorceress or else she will lock your limbs” (113) (Jackson Crawford’s 2015 translation, which I have at last).

(And here I am, steeped in witchery, oathed now to Loki the “mother of witches!”)

Now obviously I’ve just cherry-picked two proverbs to illustrate differences between two wildly different cultures. However the ancient Hawaiian culture was not all sweetness and light and aloha. There’s plenty of snark in ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: “Kamali’i hupe kole” means “runny-nosed brats” (1471). A lazy person is said to be “huli ke alo i luna, helu i ka ‘a’aho”–“lying face up and counting the rafters” (1141). And the bone-breaking Hawaiian martial art known as Lua (also taught by Kumu Ramsay Taum) sometimes uses shark tooth weapons. It’s brutal, man!

And the Northern traditions are not without moderation and kindness. There are parts of the Havamal which counsel mindful speech: “you will often get repayment in kind for the words you speak to others” (65). There’s even an echo of the Hawaiian view on the death-dealing power of language: “I saw a bad woman’s words bite a man in the neck–a lying tongue was his death and not even with good cause” (118).

So I ponder, wondering why I am drawn to both these traditions, among others. How do I reconcile my deep craving for community aloha with steely notions of personal honor and individualism? In some ways, it comes down to a sense of psychic temperture.  Hawaiian traditions seem “warm,” even the less pleasant parts. Norse traditions seem “cold”–even when hospitable and pleasant.

Hawaiians have a multi-layered tradition of language, known as kaona. As you can see by the examples above, language that is multi-layered and allusive is just as apt as blunt, unadorned statements. And yet the Norse also have a tradition of kennings, poetic and fanciful names for most of their deities which contrast with the stark advice offered in the Havamal.

But as a counselor who uses hypnosis in my work, I am also quite aware of the power of language, how it can impact people consciously, unconsciously, and somatically. Some people respond well to authoritarian commands and direct suggestions. Some will only respond well to indirect suggestions and permissive language. I am the latter person. An authoritarian command brings out my aggression, not compliance.

Words can trigger states of sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight) or lull us back into a calmer parasympathetic nervous system state (sometimes known as “rest and digest” or “feed and breed”). But mostly, people seem to listen better when they are calmer and don’t feel under attack.

In other words, an allusive (and slightly humorous) comment about “counting the rafters” might be more effective in getting a languid teen to take out the garbage than a sharp remark about “lazy bones,” which might cause resistance and defensiveness.

Because I’ve seen the effects of language in a professional capacity, I don’t recommend blunt force verbal trauma applied to a person or a situation in the name of honesty or “tough love.” I think that “tough love” can only work when the people involved have an established intimacy–family, close friends, lovers–so that the reality of truly committed caring is what enables the troubled person to hear the stark truth. That caring will come through nonverbal and visual cues, to soften the pain of the words.

I do believe in the necessity of stark truths, yes, but how these truths are conveyed can vary. Stark truths can be delivered with surgical precision and timing, with compassion and empathy based on how much that person is capable of hearing and listening in that moment. Otherwise, what remains may be emotions of shame, embarrassment or anger and not the important truth that needed to be heard or acted upon.

In some cases, language which is too blunt may be received as aggressive and uncaring. This is a good article about the effects of aggressive and/or abusive language.  The article references studies which show “the circuitry for physical and emotional pain appears to be the same” and also that “the effect of verbal aggression is greater than the expression of love.”

All things considered, I feel that erring on the side of caring or indirect language is generally a more responsible and effective way to communicate.

A Perfect Case for Ho’oponopono

I know that most people have said stupid and hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. My “love affair” with Hawai’i and with a particular person there ended with a last example of words meant to “kill.”

There were a few days at the end of last year when I actually thought we would reconcile, under somewhat different circumstances. During that time I confided about my new spiritual path and how rewarding I was finding it. But when it became obvious that reconciliation was not going to happen after all, it was painful. My former love, a life-long opponent of the “blood quantum” policies that adversely affected him and many Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiians), declared that his kids, who are part Scandinavian, have more blood-right to my current spiritual practices than I do, because they have more Scandinavian DNA. It was probably the strangest and most unexpected parting shot I could have imagined.

It makes me wonder how he could have put up with me for all those years, when my interest in supporting Hawaiian causes and learning about the culture was so keen? I had no “koko” (Hawaiian blood) but he used to acknowledge and even praise my spiritual connection to Hawai’i. He encouraged it and it also formed a basis for our own relationship. But that connection certainly had no foundation in my DNA!

That parting shot was made of words designed to kill–to kill my self-confidence and my self-esteem. To make me ashamed. To make me feel a fraud. And to make me pay for leaving him. However, since I am strong with my practices and strong with my patron deity, Loki, nothing died as I read those words except my belief in this man as a someone who truly lived by his stated convictions, his word. Otherwise, he would have respected the honor of my path just as I had always respected his.

And so, after this long ramble, I wish one thing. I wish that we would save our harshest words for those who are truly our enemies and that for the rest of the people who touch our lives (even ex-lovers and people on social media and those who make us feel impatient or annoyed), that we use speech that is thoughtful, kind, tender, and face-saving, even as we must sometimes deliver a stark truth. Because we can make life with our words, or death.

Let’s all try a little tenderness. And I’ll go make some ho’oponopono…

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Sensing the Sacred

When I was little, I could get lost in the rain, the waves, the sparkle of dew on the park’s grassy lawn. Snorkeling in La Jolla Cove brought me face to face with moray eels and the neon-bright children of garibaldi, California’s state fish. Sunrises and sunsets, and that sad time before both, were numinous moments for me. Anything that emerged from the fog was…magic!

LaJollaCoveHouse1
I once lived in the house that’s highlighted in this postcard. La Jolla Cove.

 

And then I grew away from all that, reaching instead toward that which seemed bright and glittering and adult. And then later, all that which was in reality tarnished, ironic, and dystopian. I drew strange pictures in pen and ink, created costumes of vinyl and electrical tape, and always dreamt vividly.

Later, as a new wife and mother, the immense mystery of gestation, birth, and the unfolding of child spirit and development consumed my interest. Nothing has ever been as remarkable and humbling as this. And I worked with a will at the (usually thankless) household and parenting tasks in spite of my chronic illnesses. And I tried to bring “magic” into my children’s lives through books and special occasions.

My own longing for a sacred homeland of imagination and spirit remained. By the time I hit my early 40s, all of these submerged capacities and longings for sacred experience came busting out in a series of absurd spiritual epiphanies. I’ve written about some of them elsewhere (here and here). Some, like my Hawaiian experiences, I haven’t chronicled yet.

Today, December 15th, is actually the second anniversary of my final divorce decree. I bring that up because my marriage was so very “secular” and when the spiritual stuff came bashing through, I was embarrassed to confide in my husband. And when I finally did, well, we just didn’t understand each other anymore. I tried at one point to engage him with tantra. That was a huge failure. The rift worsened. Neither of us was capable of mending what we’d once had.

For a long time, Hawai’i was a spiritual beacon for me. That’s because those islands are so alive (so conversational!) and what remains of the cultural traditions are so wise. But while I was attempting to be true to the astonishing things and connections that happened to me there, I was also aware of how alien I was to the place. I still don’t know why I went through what I did in Hawai’i instead of having some Celtic or Norse deity call me home. But I do know that my contact with the Hawaiian islands (mostly Maui and Hawai’i Island) brought out my full desire to live daily in a sense of the sacred, to cultivate practices and relationships which would be grounding and numinous. I tried a lot of things to try to get to that place.

Pele_by_David_Howard_Hitchcock,_c._1929
Pele, by David Howard Hitchcock, c. 1929. Public domain.

Once my marriage was truly over, and the paperwork was filed with a judge, I moved to Hawai’i island, Moku o Keawe, for nineteen months. Unknowingly, I moved to an area that used to be known for fearsome sorcery. The island kicked my`okole and though I tried to stay pono (appropriate, balanced) there, I was in reality a’ole pono (off balance) pretty much the whole time. I was surprised by this, as I’d prayed for years and asked permission to move there. I thought I had been granted that permission, finally, or I wouldn’t have gone. (So maybe this was a case of spirit saying, “Yeah, sure. Come on over–and then we’ll kick your ass back to California!).

I was immensely homesick for my children. I developed pervasive social anxiety. I was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.” I was frequently suicidal. And in the midst of all the turmoil (which also included the sad souring of a long-term, long-distance relationship), I was learning some important lessons. The islands were now turning me firmly toward my own ancestors and heritage. The message seemed to be, “Okay, you’ve hung out with us long enough, now go back to your own.” And that’s when I began to seriously study witchery and western magic and create a regular, daily practice of devotion and gratitude.

Finally, I was establishing a daily connection to the sacred. In a way, Hawai’i midwifed this birth for me. Magic was saving my life.

Loke,_Fenriswolf_und_MidgardschlangeOnce back in California, I continued to study magic and also took up the learning and practices of “ancestral medicine” (based on Daniel Foor’s work). I began to explore devotional work with a few Norse deities, first Frey, then Freya and Gerda. (Loki came later.) I also began to acknowledge and make offerings to the local wights and ancestors as a “thank you for letting me be here” practice. (I’m on Pomo land and I know a bit about the brutal history of this place.)

I could never go back to the merely secular life, ever again. Through magic study, mystic experiences, and devotional practices, I’ve been able to bring my child self home and simultaneously face growing old and older, and to view my eventual death in a balanced way. If I ever have another intimate human partner in my life, that person will have to be someone who already shares similar values and approaches to the sacred side of life.

And the close relationships I have with my ancestors, guides, and deities–particularly my patron Loki–will never be neglected or set aside. This is the stuff of life to me now.

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Solitary, Eclectic Witchery

Baba_Yaga_by_I.Bilibin_(priv.coll)

I want to describe what I like about solitary, eclectic witchery. I just had a lengthy text session with a very old friend, where I was attempting to describe the how and why of what I’m doing now. Texting is inadequate for that kind of conversation so now I’m thinking, why not just write a blog about this? (As if I needed an excuse to blog!)

I was a weird kid, and a weirder teenager, okay? I read widely in occult and Eastern metaphysics literature when I was a teen, and at various points in my later life. But I had to admit that as a teen, the closest I ever got to working a spell was taking a piece of spearmint gum, shoving it between two banana halves, wrapping it all in foil and burying it in the back yard for two weeks, then digging it up. No incantations. No nothing. I was solely in pursuit of intoxication (chewing the banana infused gum–hey, the next artisan delicacy!) because one of my best friends assured me all the kids in Berkeley did this to get high.

And even with all the years of all sorts of woo weirdness (some of it chronicled elsewhere in this blog), I didn’t approach a determined study of magic and witchcraft until 2016, when I was living in Hawai’i and I began my first fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. In my elevator speech, this is “a tale of mid-life magic.” It’s what happens when a bunch of Elves show up at a post-hippie/post-punk commune in Hawai’i and a group of middle-aged (and older) people discover they are heirs to a magical legacy. They have to learn magic real, real quick too because (surprise!): bad guys. So because I was writing about magic and witchery, I had to learn about it. And to learn about it, I had to plunge myself into it, as any good Scorpio would.

Yes, magic has become a consuming special interest. No one who knows me well is surprised by this. I am always consumed by one thing or another.


“Magic is the art and science of influencing change to occur in conformity to will.”– Jason Miller.

This is one of my favorite descriptions of magic. I think the source is this Down at the Crossroads interview with Miller. I have two of his books, The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery and Sex, Sorcery, and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic. I recommend them both. Here’s his website.


Turns out learning the rudiments of magical theory and practice was a lifesaver as well. So good for my mental health, which was seriously eroding in the aftermath of a divorce, a sadly souring love affair, separation from my children, and the election of 2016. I began my research with a Magic in the Middle Ages course from the University of Barcelona and offered through Coursera.

My first actual “how to” witchcraft education came through Ariel Gatoga’s online Witch’s Primer and DCW lectures. Ariel, with his delightful personality and well-organized wisdom, got me through some very bad moments and helped me to muster the courage to move back to California from Hawai’i. However, all his podcast links on the internet have been corrupted or have vanished, so you can only find working links to his material here. This is a treasure trove for beginners. I am not kidding.

The Down at the Crossroads podcast, hosted by Christopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire, has also been a fantastic source of information and inspiration. I’ve bought many books after hearing interviews with authors on that show. I also cannot wait to get my hands on their first book, Besom, Stang & Sword: A Guide to Traditional Witchcraft, the Six-Fold Path & the Hidden Landscape. I pre-ordered. Release date is December 1st.

Daniel Foor’s Ancestral Medicine work has also been profoundly influential for me (go here for free access to lectures and podcasts).

Of course, I now range widely through books and the internet in pursuit of tips, tricks, lore, and history, but as a witchy autodidact, my larnin’ is sketchy on such topics as Crowley and the OTO, variations of Wicca, and so on.

However, I’m a solitary practitioner, partly by nature and partly due to disability, which is really a bore. I haven’t gone to a single Northern CA spiral dance (don’t wanna suffer from airborne essential oils) or a Reclaiming Witch Camp (camp=woods=mosquito repellent). I haven’t even made it to a PantheaCon! (It’s not just the multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness stuff that gets in my way. I also need a good cat-sitter.)

So what do I do all by my lonesome? Here’s a general outline.

Daily and Weekly Routine: a daily “energy” exercise and meditation practice for health and will power, plus devotional practices and offerings to my deities (Loki, Freya, Frey, and Gerda), ancestors, and guides. Food offerings to ancestors and land wights take place once a week, usually.

I’m pretty much a slacker when it comes to witchy celebrations, except for Samhain. If I had some other folks in my life who did this stuff, I’d probably enjoy this.

Divination: Learning Tarot and Norse Runes (very much a beginner). I use the pendulum often for certain kinds of check-ins.

Current Studies and Magical Interests: Ongoing ancestral lineage healing, as per Daniel Foor; cultivating relationships with unseen beings and ecologies (Aidan Wachter and his book, Six Ways-Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic, is a good influence here); and “charming” daily life, infusing it with magic (you can listen to Ariel Gatoga’s A Charmed Life podcast here). I’m currently learning practical spellcraft techniques such as sigil magic, witch jar spells, and solo sex magic. Plus, I’m an avid learner with regard to Loki and my other deities.

Imaginative_tales_195501So, that’s the basic gist. Does this make me a bad or delusional person? I think not. It’s actually quite a wonderful pursuit for my declining years. Since I’m no longer a “young chick” (a term I never embraced, but ex-lovers have used), it’s kind of great to be transforming into an “old witch.” Especially if I could find a spell that would let me rock a spangly red costume like the one at right.

If you’re a fellow practitioner, would love a comment!

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Transforming Ancestral Poisons

“Putting the fun back in dysfunctional,” was how one of my brothers use to refer to our family. But it’s been at least a couple of decades since anything even resembling “fun” has happened between my mother, sister(s), and brothers. And the family I created, with a husband and two kids, has evaporated as well, though ties with my adult children remain strong.

In the early 2000s I took up a “cleansing and forgiveness” practice, taught by a very reputable person, and have used it off and on to deal with much of the family crud, trying hard to metabolize the poisons of resentment and unfair treatment. But it’s been clear for a long time that this was not enough: I and other family members have been replicating old patterns that predate our birth. It’s the same old story, told over and over again, until someone writes a new one.

“Writing a new one” has been my deepest focus these last few years. How to do it has been elusive.

So in October 2017, I was delighted to find Daniel Foor’s book, Ancestral Medicine. I was so impressed with the book and his online lectures and blog that I signed up for his online course in healing ancestral lineages. I’ve since “worked with” deeply archaic ancestors of two grandparent lines (paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother) to heal the troubles of the more recent dead and, in Daniel Foor’s terminology, “bring the blessings of that lineage” into my own life and that of my children. I’ve got to say I do feel a difference as I cultivate relationships with these grandparent lineages (the focus is less on individuals, more on the collective).

I am now working on a third lineage, my mother’s father’s line. I have just begun to apply the ritual sequences and format for engagement suggested by Dr. Foor.

Part of this work is to metabolize and transform family histories and patterns of poisoning.

On my mother’s side, my grandfather was exposed to radiation during the nuclear testing off Bikini Atoll. It killed him (via a brain tumor).  Let’s remember that radiation experiments were being performed on Pacific Islanders during that time (Nuclear Savage documentary) and that Micronesians and others are still suffering the multi-generational health problems from the testing and “research”, incuding cancers and birth defects, as well as the contamination and loss of their ancestral homes–so tragic as my grandfather’s fate was, my family got off relatively lightly.

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My late Aunt Mary’s twin, Jamie, died as an infant apparently from eating poison thrown into the backyard by a neighbor, originally meant for the dog.

On my father’s side, there was another infant poisoning. He was apparently careless with a pesticide and the baby got into it. (His third wife took it hard.) Plus, he worked as a cropduster for several years, during the first years of his marriage to my mother (his second wife and second “child bride”). It is no wonder that my mother and I both deal with environmental illness now, after those early and frequent exposures to pesticide residues and particulates. I note that my father also dealt with a brain tumor in his last years.

Like an underground river of molten lava, emotional poisons also run through my family’s history and current dynamics: resentment, lies, assumptions, envy, backstabbing… all there.

So going to the source–the quite archaic but much “healthier” ancestors–and asking for their help makes sense. Can’t hurt, could help, right?

Right.

In a recent attempt to organize my rather slipshod and eclectic collection of pagan practices and devotional offerings, I’ve dubbed Saturday as “Ancestor Day.” Sundays are for my Vanir/Jotun deities. Loki gets extra attention on Tuesdays as my fulltrui (“fully trusted one”) and adopted ancestor. As I wrote in a previous blog, part of the lore of Loki also includes a story of poisoning as a punishment. As a spiritual practice, I am dimly sensing a need to create ritual which deals with this part of Loki’s lore, as well as my own.

I have read of a practice called “Holding the Bowl,” in which some devotional Lokeans meditatively hold a bowl for a period of time, as Loki’s second wife, Sigyn, does, to collect the poison dripping on to Loki from the snake. Here is one beautiful account of this ritual.

According to astrology, I may be predisposed to this kind of work. In my blog post, To the Stars, I mention how astrologer/activist Caroline Casey identified a theme of “metabolizing poisons by conjuring the antidote” as a key focus of my astrological chart.

So, the challenge is to “conjure the antidote” as a way to transform and “metabolize” these histories of poison. One way to do that is via Daniel Foor’s collaborative work with ancient ancestors to bring healing to an entire lineage. In addition, I could find or create rituals that conjure forgiveness instead of resentment; generosity instead of envy. I want to consider and conjure these antidotes carefully. When it feels appropriate, I will use forms of divination to get advice.

Let’s see what happens. Can’t hurt, could help.

Are you a fellow traveller? Please chime in! “Like and comment” too!

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