Estrogen and Mysticism

Do estrogen fluctuations cause extreme challenges to women’s mental health? It seems that they do. But can they also trigger mystical experiences? If so, why? And how do we tell the difference?

Disclaimer: This blog focuses on cisgender women, as the Lisa Miller article (below) focuses on cisgender women. I am not sure what research has been done regarding the mental health impacts of menopausal-type estrogen fluctuations on transgender and non-binary people. I’ll be on the lookout for that.

Menopause: A Walk on The Wild Side

On December 21st, 2018, The Cut published an article by Lisa Miller titled “Listening to Estrogen–Hormones have always been a third rail in female mental health. They may also be a skeleton key.” Yesterday a sexologist colleague shared this article via Facebook.

I read this article and found it personally significant, and not just for the Solstice publication date. My own experiences with hormone fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause were deeply unsettling. Pregnancy was like a mind fuzz with a metallic taste–literally–and menopause was a quiet riot of thoughts and feelings, impulsive decisions, and a desperate need to reinvent myself (again). It didn’t help that at the same time, my youngest was entering adolescence and my oldest kid was having a second puberty, via transition and testosterone. The youngest was throwing knives at the floor and using his airsoft gun indoors on the antique bed that his father had lovingly refinished for him (no, he wasn’t allowed to do this!). And the oldest? Well… let’s just say a lot was going on for all of us.

I would say between the ages of 45 to 55 were the most intense. Aside from all kinds of emotions and angsty uncertainties and forbidden secret crushes on really ridiculous people, I was also having mystical experiences, including the “spontaneous combustion” I wrote about in the first month of this blog. There was also at least one waking vision and several vivid lucid dreams of great power and significance. Giving birth to a tiny translucent mo’o (Hawaiian lizard god)? Yep. That was one dream. Actually, I had two of those dreams, with a total of three lizard kidlets in all. (And who the heck was the father?!) Another immensely powerful dream, with the theme of “as above, so below,” inspired the tattoo on my right ankle.

And the wild thing was, sometimes other people would share an observation about me that seemed to confirm that “something real” and transformational was actually going on. There were times when I knew I was in rough waters, and I hung on to the mainstays of my life (children, house, a sense of family) but all the while these mainstays were also unraveling. I was also told later of a couple of incidents that I really do not remember, including one where I scared my kids by threatening suicide. Holy shit, Batman!

Mostly though, I don’t think I was potentially harmful to myself or others. I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs. I still got the children fed and off to school. I kept the books for the family business. Menopause was also when  I went back to school to study sexology and hypnosis and started my career. I joke now that all those initials after my name is how I spell “mid-life crisis.” It’s true.

Given the above, I do consider that I was mostly sane (functional) during this period (though not always making the right decisions). And yet I was constantly “trying to hang on to myself” — whoever that was. And I wanted very much to know if my mystical experiences were valid and valuable. The only thing I could do was to consider them as valuable and see where that took me.

Menopause and Mental Illness

But let’s get back to the impact of menopause itself, and the fluctuations of estrogen. Lisa Miller’s article recounts several stories of women who went completely bonkers just before and during menopause: hearing voices, becoming dangerously delusional, and even “psychotic, catatonic, and suicidal.”


Here are four key paragraphs from Miller’s article. Hearken to the fourth one, in particular.

[Begin Quote] Youth has been a diagnostic criterion for schizophrenia for a hundred years, including within the pages of the DSM, where schizophrenia has sometimes included an age limit: As recently as the 1980s, a person could not be tagged schizophrenic if he or she was older than 40. Some clinics targeting early intervention have cutoff ages as young as 24.

But schizophrenia does not neatly comply with that simplistic understanding. In the early 1990s, three British psychiatrists, curious about why men with schizophrenia had their first psychotic episode so much earlier than women, took a look at the voluminous diagnostic records in doctors’ offices and hospitals in one populous London neighborhood covering a period of 20 years. They found something astonishing: a demonstrable “second peak” of first-onset schizophrenia after 45. These patients were predominantly female.

These older patients compose just a fraction of the total number. About one percent of people worldwide receive a schizophrenia diagnosis, and almost 20 percent of them are diagnosed for the first time after the age of 45. But the data suggested a deeply embedded bias in the way doctors had thought about schizophrenia for a century, overlooking the middle-aged women who came to them with psychotic symptoms, refusing to believe they could have schizophrenia because the official classifications, and medical tradition, excluded them. In their view, “madness” associated with “the change of life” was not madness at all — not a serious affliction to be taken seriously — but a women’s malady to be treated with bleeding and leeches, herbs and ointments, drugs, alcohol, and the desiccated and powdered ovaries of farm animals. Committed to American asylums in the late-19th century, women with mysterious symptoms were labeled “insane from suppressed menses.” And a whole ecosystem of diagnosis and treatment failed to grow. 

There is, to be sure, genuine tragedy in lost human potential at a young age. But it is also tragic for a woman to become mentally ill in the middle of her life, at a time when she has, if she’s been lucky, built a universe — a family, a job, friendships, a network of responsibilities and dependencies erected on the assumption of stability. She might have adolescent children and aging parents, professional duties and bills to pay. She might have a classroom of students; she might be the mortgage broker helping a family keep ownership of their home or the doctor advising on a chemotherapy plan. [End Quote]


The article continues to discuss and make a case for “the estrogen hypothesis,” the role that estrogen may play in modulating psychosis, based on the work of Mary and Philip Seeman, and others. Mary Seeman first published this hypothesis in 1981. (And the general public is only now hearing about it? Argh!) A few researchers have paid attention though. Miller writes:

“In 2009, an Australian psychiatrist named Jayashri Kulkarni began publishing the results of extraordinary experiments that took the estrogen hypothesis to the next step. If fluctuations in estrogen exacerbated psychosis, then shouldn’t infusions of estrogen — supplemental hormones — regulate and ameliorate it.” 

Kuklarni’s results were positive and encouraging. But U.S. physicians and psychiatrists are slow to catch on. Health care providers are still talking women out of hormone replacement therapy.

There is so much more to this article, which was also published in the December 24, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. I urge you to read it in its entirety, especially if you’re a woman approaching your own menopause.

Vulnerability or Capacity? What Can the Grandmothers Tell Us?

Now I want to swing this topic back around to an almost anthropological context and ask why human females would be the butt of what seems to be a cruel hormonal joke? Why would this destabilizing influence evolve, seemingly designed to wham women upside the head at the end of their reproductive lives? I tend to believe that most of what evolves in creatures is or was once useful and even humans are no exception. So why this?

I believe that a lot of the “cruelty” of this predicament is cultural and social. Miller ends her article with a quote from “Janet,” one of the women she interviewed:

“And I think there is knowledge out there, but I think it’s old, ancient knowledge that has been lost to the generations through the rapid, rapid changes — I’m talking about the past 50 years — and explosions in population. We don’t live the way we used to. We used to live tribally. The tribes could always share. There was a huge close-knit community that could share. I know what we need. I don’t know how to get it, but I know what we need: We need people who understand what is happening to us to sit down with us and explain it.”

I think Janet is right. And I’ll add this: in the not too distant past a lot of women did not live past their childbearing years. In fact, a lot of women died in the middle of them. In many cultures, the women who reached the age of grandmothers were respected as carriers of unique wisdom. Could it be that menopausal fluctuations of estrogen sometimes act (are “supposed” to act?) as another form of natural entheogen or as a catalyst to transcendence, at least in the right circumstances?

I am sixty-four now, nine years away now from riding the menopausal roller-coaster, yet still living in the wreckage of it (divorce and other estrangements). What if I’d been living in a society where the onset of menopause meant immediate intervention and nurturing from a group of elders who’d “been there, done that?” What if husbands and children understood and respected this special time? They understood how the wife and mother would be challenged by her potential transformation into a healer or a seer? What if they knew the red flags that meant special intervention was necessary? What if most menopausal mental breakdowns were averted by the understanding and care of an entire community? Perhaps not every woman would make it to the actual role and work of a seer or healer, but those who didn’t would not be scorned. They would still have a place in their family and their community. They would not be unloved for having gone through the ordeals. Grandmothers would still watch over them. And those who did come through their ordeal to take up the work would in turn look after the younger women coming up.

I really do need to re-read Barbara Tedlock’s The Woman in the Shaman’s Body (2005, Bantam). I need and want more multicultural information about the relationships of menopause and aging to such things as shamanic practices, healing, the working of magic, and so on. I sense a quest. From now on, I’ll be investigating this as I am so many other things, including trying to find information that is not strictly focused on cisgender women.

And so I sit here, in my Baba Yaga phase, a solitary practitioner of this, that, and the other thing, making offerings to gods and talking to plants and ancestors. I’ve come out the other side, not undamaged, but not wholly wrecked either.

Given the above, will I call my doctor now to ask about hormone replacement therapy? Yes, I certainly will, assuming there are some benefits at this age. I don’t feel HRT will negate what I’ve already experienced and learned. I think it will help me be more comfortable in my body as I move through the rest of my life in this cold, cruel society.

You’ll hear more from me on this.

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Deepening? Another Eight Days of Loki

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Sand play, based on Day 1: Magic.

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

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

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

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

Day 2’s theme is death.

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Day Two: Death.

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

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

day3loki

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

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Magic for Settler Colonists

Prelude: A definition of settler colonialism.

My Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have always loved islands…

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

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

Things I Am Still Learning and Sometimes Still Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

• Don’t make assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

• Introduce yourself and vow to do no harm.

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

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

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

• Vow to do good, unobtrusively.

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

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

• Know some local and ancestral history. 

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

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

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

• Stop polluting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Learn to Ask Permission.

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

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

In Closing

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

PD.GertBuschmann-Juliasetsdkpictlightpot

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I’ve Eaten My Own Burnt Heart and Given Birth

To witches, no less. (Be not afraid, this is a writer’s metaphor, not “Lokean drama”…)

Oh, are you there? Pardon me while I decompress in public after the wild joy ride of National Novel Writing Month, which was certainly already intense enough. Just try producing a coherant stream of 50,000 words in one month! Those who have done this know what I mean! It can either leave you feeling like an Awesome God or Godette of Literary Potency or like a limp dishrag, or a bit of both.

But then all that Karl Seigfried Lokiphobia controversy gummed up this last week’s literary flow! I chose to engage though, and I’m glad I did! I became enraged! I made new friends! I shared moments of gleeful mirth! (And I have so much more to say on that topic, but later for that!)

First, a musical interlude. Wild One, Iggy Pop, ’cause I am literally dancing with joy and relief. (Did I ever tell you that story about that time I ended up on stage with the guy at San Francisco’s Old Waldorf, wearing a bright magenta space dress and hood and gold snakeskin boots? Or the time I drove a silly girlfriend of my brother’s over to the Miyako Hotel so she could try to sell him some… stuff…that’s now legal in California? Well, another time. Later for that.)

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Me back in the day. Punk wearable artist. About the same time as I ended up on stage with Iggy Pop. Photo by Jaen Anderson, published in Slick Magazine.

Oh my dear heavens, I am decompressing sumthin’ awful! But stay with me. This blog actually has a point.

I’ve mentioned before that this book I’m working on, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, is the second in a trilogy. The first, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, is set in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island (south of Hilo). The volcanic goddess, Pele, was very much behind the scenes in the book and in my life. I was living in her country when I started writing the first novel, and was learning to offer the chant Aia la O Pele. I actually pledged to read the entire first draft aloud to her, as an offering. I was on her land so it seemed only fair. And those nineteen months of exile were the loneliest and most depressing of my life. I felt so far from my children and the San Francisco Bay Area, my home. The book provided my most consistent cheer and focus.

Indeed, I was writing from my own burnt heart at that point–newly divorced and lonely as hell, surrounded by a nightly cacophony of coqui frogs chirping incessantly for sex— so what else could I do but birth a sassy community of witches and Elves nestled in an imagined intentional community deep in the Puna jungle? I was creating characters that I wanted to know, and Hermitville, place I wished I could live in. And just as the practice of magic entered the lives of my post-midlife crisis characters, so magic also entered mine.

Even back here in California I continued to read the first draft aloud to Tutu Pele. The book provided closure to the life I lived–as a junior Baba Yaga in my jungle house on stilts, surrounded by coconuts, hibiscus, wild orchids, feral pigs, and unleashed pit bulls. My characters also began to say their good-byes to the home they’d known for so long.

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Pele, by David Howard Hitchcock, c. 1929. Public domain.

Now Pele is known as a sometimes “difficult” goddess, commanding great respect. In fact, seven months after I left Pahoa, the Leilani Estates eruption (May 3, 2018) began to take out acres of land and forest preserves, houses, the Wai’opae tidepools, the Ahalanui warm pond, the Hawaiian language charter school,  roads, and more–creating a massive crisis for the people of  that impoverished area. The massive lava flows continued for months. And yet the people in Puna remained proud of Pele and they rallied around each other with aloha, in a way that (now looking on from a distant shore) I envied.

My return to California shifted my focus from studying Hawaiian culture to continuing my studies of Western magic. I felt a strong call to begin working with my ancestors. And I began to feel my way into the Norse pantheon. I began with Frey, then Freya and Gerda.  Loki was not on my conscious radar then, though looking back I see his influence in my life, going back decades. I wish I’d known then what I “know” now!

10:28 Lokabrenna Dedication
Lokabrenna Tiny Temple altar, on the day I formally dedicated it.

And then, bam. He began tugging at my attention during a bitter crisis. Suddenly Loki and trickster references were everywhere, from pop culture to things I was stumbling across in my reading. Really very present, even in my astrological chart. This was much more up close and personal than even my fleeting “encounters” with Pele, who up to then had provided the most nearly “real” spiritual experiences of my life. (Someday I might write about those too–a story for another time.) As a result, I began serious, daily, devotional practices and reading. I probably was a little too quick to oath myself to Loki, but it seemed right at the time and I have no regrets. I do realize now that it was a bit of a hasty, newbie thing to do.

Given all this–and the fact that I started NaNoWriMo month with two Dagulf Loptson Loki rituals (here and here)–I should not have been surprised when Loki jumped right into the start of my second book, dominating the first few pages and now driving much of the story line. He’s right there, a fictionalized version named Lucky LaFey, along with my characters, the mortal “Hermits” and the Elves of The Realm. They’ve set up a new Hermitville right here in Lake County and have a new supernatural villain to defeat. I’d originally imagined a different plot line with this second book, but what’s happening now fits beautifully. It’s much stronger than my original plot concept.

In fact, last night, I took a deep breath, on the day before the close of NaNoWriMo, and because I was about to write a chapter from Loki’s perspective, in his first-person voice, I asked for some contribution from him, to come through me into the chapter. I wanted to get it right, you see. I felt that this was somewhat edgy–I’ve never taken such a step, so I took care to set time limits and “boundaries,” not knowing what to expect.

What happened was, the chapter flowed. What had been stuck now moved. There was no dramatic channeling or “horsing” or anything of that nature. But I felt close to him and wrote from the inside out with that feeling. He was/is my active muse.

And yes, I read the whole of the first book to him, aloud, and now I’m reading my draft of the second. It’s a satisfying sort of offering to make.

Loki As Muse

“Loki as Muse” doesn’t get nearly as much attention as he should. Someone should create an encyclopedia of this god’s cultural, creative, literary, and musical impact. From the old surviving Norse lore, where Loki drives a lot of the stories, to modern opera, movies, comics, visual art, fiction (including fan), costume design, pop music, and more. An encyclopedia would be a brilliant project, actually!

Since entering “Loki Land” I’ve been so impressed with high quality artwork, crafts, and writing–from blogs to books. And of course I enjoy Marvel Loki, which is a witty twist on the traditional mythology (even if it is fairly distorted).

I find myself less and less aligned with statements that equate Loki with “chaos” (as in the popular sense of meaningless, destructive disarray). I’m not saying he’s never chaotic, negative, or “too much,” but that there also seems to be a bandwidth that I would describe as “catalytic” and transformational instead. It may be that artists and creative souls are more “at home” with Loki, as they may be more used to playing in realms of quick connections, influences, passions, and intellectual and spiritual epiphanies. With Loki, stuff swirls, dances, glances, and recombines.

In other words, along with the other roles that Loki plays in my life (adopted ancestor, teacher, patron deity), Loki-as-muse is positive, challenging, and hella fun. And he gives me courage to write and birth magic from my own burnt heart. Hail Loki!

Finally, here’s my #NaNoWinner2018 certificate, just because I want to boast a little. As you might have guessed, this book will end up as an offering to him, just as the first book will have a dedication to Tutu Pele.

Oh, and that “birthing witches” thing I said? Aside from my twelve fictional, magic-wielding “Hermits,” one of my kids is actually a witch. My other is more of an entheogens fan though. Who knows what he’ll get up to later on?

NaNo-2018-Winner-Certificate

 

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Toy Witchery Part One

When my kids outgrew the Bionicles, Polly Pockets, Playmobils, and menageries of tiny plastic turtles and foxes–and all the other fossil fuel conjurations of consumerism which had been saturated with their power of their imaginative lives–I couldn’t quite bear to give them up. And that turned out to be a handly thing, because I eventually privately trained in what is known as “sandplay therapy,” and these cast-offs became the nucleus of my therapeutic collection.

My teacher was a poet and a Jungian-infused therapist who worked in the field of addictions, mostly. Her house was overrun with her collection of toys and figures, which was a gazillion times larger than mine. Every horizontal surface, except the stove, was strewn with three-dimensional talismans and invitations to the subconscious.

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A small part of my collection.

I do not use my collection in the usual way, however. As a hypnotist and sexologist, I use sandplay as a kind of imaginative “lube.” My clients would create a tray (silent and swift selection of figures, arranging them in the sand tray) and I would make notes of the figures, order of placement, and so on. After, we might talk and I would learn something about why certain figures had been selected. Often a meaningful story would emerge and that story would be part of our hypnotic session. This is a great way to work with adults who are not actively imaginative. They engage with the childlike play and the creation of their miniature world in context of therapy and are often surprised by the results.

It’s a magical process, really, and I was always impressed by the insights that would emerge from the sand tray.

Now that I am exploring witchery, it occured to me that just as I repurposed these toys for sandplay, now I could repurpose them again, consecrating them for spell-casting. This thought came to me as I grabbed a tiny metal wizard and placed it in a spell jar for extra “oomph.” Then I had my “aha!” moment.

I have so many toys that could go in witch jars…Boom!

By combining the rich symbolism and subconscious appeal of these toys with the usual candles, herbs, and minerals (and other ingredients and aids to magic) it should be possible to create a rich and potent scene of my desired outcome.

For a magical worker and/or animist, the possibilities are truly intriguing! Already I can think of several ways of doing this. Toys can be used as a “home” for thoughtforms (if not already inhabited). They can represent obstacles, desires, and outcomes. Our subconscious can be invited to select the appropriate toys for a spell or ritual via a pendulum or other form of divination. And the unleashed potency of dinosaur remains, the endocrine-disrupting petrochemicals from which our modern plastics are conjured, may spark or fuel the workings of our will.

There is more to come on this topic, including some ideas for “how to.” Just understand that this is new, there is no tradition that I know of (except for poppets, I guess), and I haven’t seen anyone else talking about the use of small plastic toys and action figures in magic–but that doesn’t mean others aren’t doing this too. Ideas often emerge in several places at once.

Stay tuned for more!

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Some of the mythic and fairytale figures in my collection.

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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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What Came First? The Magic or the Book?

1-dire_francesco_del_cossa_010As I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve had a lifelong interest in the occult and some very odd experiences too, but I didn’t start studying Western magic and witchcraft until I started writing this fantasy novel on Nov. 1, 2016. The plot required my characters to learn from Western magical traditions and so I figured I had to research this as well. What I didn’t realize was that this study would prove as important and life-changing as any of my other major epiphanies (and I’ve had a few).

The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, now completed, is many things to me. It was my salvation during a very difficult time of loneliness and social anxiety. It was my way of creating community (though imaginary) in the aftermath of a divorce, in a time and place where friendships and family were proving unreliable. And it was my love letter and good-bye to Hawai’i nei (beloved Hawai’i). Dire Deeds is also my social commentary on forms of settler-colonialism peculiar to the Puna District (Hawai’i Island’s “Lower East Side”). Other themes include aging, LGBTQIA etc. struggles, white privilege, and more. But this description makes the book sound far too serious. I assure you, the “tone” is often playful, comic, and sweetly sardonic, even though these topics–and events in the book–are “dire.”

Best_small_ Buffalmacco,_trionfo_della_morte,_eremiti_02 copyNow I begin the second book in what will be a trilogy: The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Spoiler alert – it takes place in Lake County, California, where I now live. All the previous characters will continue in this second volume, and a few new ones will be added–notably the charismatic “drifter,” Lucky LaFey.

The third book will take place in England, and will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was the vehicle for jumpstarting and continuing Dire Deeds, and I am going to begin The Witching Work during this year’s NaNoWriMo contest, which starts (as always) on Nov. 1st (my birthday). I expect to have no problem achieving the 50,000 word count which is the goal of the contest. Even so, please wish me luck. And it would please me too if you went to my book website and read some of the excerpts and blog posts.

Thank you!

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