March 15th launch of the sequel to The Dire Deeds, in my Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy series!
I am so happy to announce the mid-March arrival of my second book in The Guild of Ornamental Hermits queer urban fantasy and paranormal romance series! As of March 15th, it has arrived, first as a Kindle eBook and soon will appear as a paperback.
Like the first book, The Witching Work takes place on Hawaiʻi Island during a “not too distant future” when the Hawaiian Kingdom is finally unoccupied and able to reform its government. This is a transition time for everyone in the islands, but for the Hermits of Hermitville Farm & Arts Collective, their entire lives have been turned inside out by the sudden death of Hermitvilleʻs founder and the arrival of Elves of The Realm. In The Witching Work, the human Hermits are forced to become adepts in Elven magic in record time, because the human and preternatural foes continue to threaten all Hawaiʻi and humanity as a whole. Can our plucky ensemble of mostly queer, aging misfits and their dishy Elven mentors save the day? Or will the eldritch powers from beyond really land with a pink sploosh in the middle of Hawaiʻiʻs lush Puna district?
This is what some readers had so say about the first book, The Dire Deeds.
I am pleased to announce this publication of The Witching Work, as well as the forthcoming third book in the series, The Queerest Quest, hopefully later this year!
I just have to show off the lovely spell bottle necklace I had made as an offering for Loki’s altar. It was created by a local witchy craftsperson, JD Terrapin, after an enjoyable consultation over tea, with a selection of colors for the necklace and materials for the bottle (minerals, a spice, and Loki’s name in runes).
I’ve commissioned one for Bast too, as an offering of gratitude for my cat’s recovery from surgery.
No, I haven’t mispelled the word for the Christian underworld. I am deliberately referencing Loki Laufeyjarson’s daughter, Hel, ruler of the Norse underworld. (Hint: she’s not what the Marvel Universe portrays.)
I’ve just jettisoned myself from an online spiritual community where I’ve felt generally at home for about four years. I even served as a moderator, helped create online events, and edited and did layout design for two issues of its annual publication. But there was this one thing I just couldn’t take anymore.
Let me back up a minute. For the last 35+ years, my life has been extremely constricted due to multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness. My ability to access grocery stores, health care, public transport, education, spiritual communities, and social gatherings has been limited due to (mostly) ubiquitious fragrance use in all public spaces. If I come in contact with these airborne pollutants (volatile organic compounds), I get sick. “Sick” may include asthma, fatigue, spaceiness and brain fog, anxiety and panic, and impacts on various organ systems. Some days I bounce back fairly quickly. Others, not so much.
In spite of this, I’ve tried to live a life of meaning, service, creativity, and curiosity. I’ve raised two children, helped to run a family business, volunteered at my kids’ schools, immersed myself in various special interests, loved and lost (big time!), gone back to school earning two degrees and a number of other college units (thank you, remote education!), and written–written my little heart out, actually, throwing my words into a void which seldom responds. I did all this by building in recovery time, masking my symptoms, and pushing through being sick whenever I had to, if I could. I’ve grown used to life on the margins, preferring to experience being marginalized as a kind of liminal space for spiritual exploration and a unique vantage point for socio-cultural critiques.
However the ubiquitous use of fragrance products has denied me equal access to almost all aspects of modern, Western life: professional opportunities (I can’t network at those fancy business breakfasts because someone is inevitably saturated with fragrance! I can’t schmooze at professional sexology conferences, because, ditto!); and employment (I have so many skills, but finding a fragrance-free workplace? Forget about it!). I can’t even anticipate a book tour as a new author (if such things even exist anymore, post-Covid) because contact with the general public can be hazardous to my health. I can vax against Covid, but there’s no vaccination I know of that will halt the impact of toxic chemicals on my body. I know my chronic illness was a source of resentment and frustration in my marriage and it was boring for other partners. And last year, one of my children decided to cut ties with me “forever,” claiming that I am too much work. Damn, but that was cold! And ableist to boot! (Not to mention ageist and unfair. I threw myself into childrearing, body and soul.)
One of the things that has kept me alive–I mean that literally–is connecting with other people through social media and online affinity groups. Just as some disabled people have written that “internet friends are real friends,” so too is internet space “real” space. As such, it can be made accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities and it can become inaccessible and unwelcoming too. That “one thing” that just caused me to exit from my favorite affinity group was the increasing number of group members posting their advertisements for scented candles and other scented products that are made and sold, supposedly, to honor our deities.
To me, it’s like spraying the stuff in a sacred space that I’d hoped to occupy, if only for a little while. My entire body goes into fight or flight mode just seeing the pictures and reading the blithe postings of people who are making and selling these products. So, seeing that Loki-themed “cinnamon pumpkin spice” smelling candle for sale is like a sock in the gut. And I do mean that literally. My enteric nervous system ties itself in knots.
Far be it from me to get in the way of entrepreneurism, however, does this shit have to be EVERYWHERE? All witchy/pagan spaces seem to be chock full of scented candles and oils for sale: all the actual stores, all the online groups, and probably a lot of in-person rituals. Even my favorite online tarot reader always sprays his reading space first with some kind of cologne and I can no longer bear to watch him on a livestream because of this. I watch the recording later so I can fast forward past that part.
And what about the people and pets who have to exist in the polluted spaces created by witchy sorts who profess animism and spirit devotion, but can’t understand that they are HURTING other people and other creatures with this stuff? That these chemicals add to climate change? I’ve read the studies, folks! Peer-reviewed and everything!
I can’t do this anymore. The grief, the anger, the frustration, the sheer, relentless “Cassandra in a Coal Mine” history of all this is overwhelming. And the ongoing, unexamined stupidity of this seldom acknowledged aspect of ecocide makes me want to scream. I just posted a link to the original “My Gods Are Fragrance-Free” on FB and Twitter today, with the comment that I want this piece read at my funeral (not that I’m planning that anytime soon). I’m serious. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. And it’s my longest, most heartfelt cry I can make in my marginal wilderness. Please read it.
Thank you and blessed be.
The Post I Wrote in 2019:
What follows is imagined, an eco-parable. Gerda, a Jotun, smells only of rich soil, bruised herbs from her garden, and luscious Jotun pheromones. This was enough to dazzle the Vanir god, Freyr, from afar. His sister, Freya, adorns herself with amber jewels, but cares for her skin only with salves of honey, clear water, and powdered grains. The dry tips of her hair are moistened only with the tiniest bit of melted butter. She scorns the feckless chemistries, the unwise alchemies, of Midgard’s humans, which propel poison into every living thing. Freya has complained to Odin that dead warriors are no longer what they once were–they are now creatures with flacid muscles, except for their texting hands, and that they die now with withered sperm counts, and distortions in their DNA.
Even worse–“They (the humans) are even going after the roots of the World Tree,” she whispers, “with something called ‘Round-Up.'”
Freyr, the Corn God, nods. He dies each year for the harvest and comes back reborn, but it’s becoming apparent that the humans who once honored him for this would now rather manipulate the mysteries of the grain themselves. Perhaps an extended vacation in Vanaheim is in the runes…let the humans spend a year without him for once, prefereably after an Icelandic eruption, when ash clouds herald global famine. That’d learn ’em, he thinks, but in the next moment he backs away from such thoughts. He will serve as he has always served, all these long eons. “Perhaps Ragnarök will be a blessing after all…”
Freyr smells of rich earth too, and Gerda’s herbs and mead, and a not-unpleasant tang of godly sweat and semen. Vanir pheromones are also rather scrumptious, carrying a faint scent of apples. But humans, drunk on designer petrochemicals, can no longer detect them.
As for Ragnarök, Loki has no comment. What will be, will be, and has been–so many times. Contrary to his bad press, Loki finds no happiness in wanton destruction…but cleansing…the metabolism of poisons when all else fails…sometimes that is something to be desired. He should know. The next cycle has already unleashed forces powerful enough to bake the planet, to scour it of the unwise alchemies of the paltry, money-grubbing humans. Midgard will eventually recover (Gaia is strong) but Loki isn’t all that keen to be the trickster god of cockroaches. However, he recognizes the cosmic joke about to be played on them all. He’ll do his best to find some fragment of mirth when the time comes. But onlookers will mistake his battle grin for vengeful joy, misunderstanding the mask that hides his hot, angry tears. It was all so unnecessary! It always is! Meanwhile, cremation fires are at hand for another death of a too beautiful world. It’s Loki’s job to ensure that creation follows cremation. Somebody has to do it…
Sometimes Loki wishes Sigyn had gone in for systems change, rather than holding the bowl for him alone. He imagines he could have borne his suffering–bound with his son’s entrails and scorched by viper spittle–if he’d known she was battling the powers that be, on behalf of all sentient beings. Sigyn might have known better though, and who really is to say? Her victory might yet be won.
It doesn’t take a völva prophecy to know what’s coming. Freya sheds tears. She and her daughter want to save a cat or two. Freya wants the falcons to be okay, and bees. Freyr puts in a word for boars and grains. Dogs too. Their father wants to save whales, sharks, sea turtles, guppies, and coral polyps, among others. His is a long list. Loki would like to send wolves and snakes and salmon and horses to Hel, for safekeeping. Gerda hides seeds in safe places, and waits. The souls of animals are already reluctant, but plants and fungi have not yet given up all hope. Neither has Gerda.
Loki says, “Don’t shoot the messenger (especially if I’m it!). Don’t ignore the voices of doom, of climate change, or the canary in the coal mine. Invite Cassandra onto your podcasts–she’s still got a thing or two to say! Don’t disregard the muttering sibyl, the trancing völva, or anger of witches and Jotuns.” He’d slap this message on t-shirts, even though it’s not a sound bite, in hopes that humans would pay attention, but he distrusts capitalism–particularly the kind that sells toxic petrochemical perfumes wrapped in bottles that look like Marvel Universe characters, especially his!
This last is a particularly painful mockery–big anime eyes and golden horns on keychains are one thing, but this is quite another–all those bottled endocrine disruptors ending up in the salmon, just so a few fans can pretend they have access to “his” scent.
Product of a toxic industry making a mockery of our god, adding yet more petrochemicals to the planet and its creatures, all in the name of money.
Meanwhile the big money laughs and this makes Loki mad. “Stick to cosplay,” he mutters. “Is nothing sacred?” but he already knows the answer to that question. Rather say that nothing is so futile as the sacred, and nothing is more powerful. After all, Loki knows how to stand with two, four, eight legs, or none, in the spaces between all the worlds you could ever name. (Some say that’s why he drinks so much sometimes. He’s so sick of stupid.)
All matter is alive and aware. If we could hear it, all Midgard is screaming at us right now, “Stop it! Go back! You’re hurting us!” The Earth is our hearth. Hearth fires are lit for warmth and nourishment, not destruction. But we have forgotten this. We have forgotten to extend our hospitality (our frith) and our care to all living things. Loki-as-Lóðurr awoke the first humans with his breath, which was clean and alive and full of strength. He warmed us with his breath and gave us fire to warm our hearths. He certainly did not give us a command to go forth and pollute.
I would like to think that human beings still yearn for that first clean breath, that pure air granted to us by a being as old and as vast as a star, and that we’d do anything to get it back. Instead we diddle with gadgets, toys, herbicides, GMOs, scented candles, and guns. We’ve poisoned our Midgard and every living creature in it. Our own bodies now shit microplastics. We’ve inflicted this same diet on animals and plants. Fragrance chemicals are harming aquatic wildlife. Our reproductive systems are drenched in endocrine disruptors (like phthalates) from deli food containers, Round-Up, shampoos, and perfume. Babies are born with birth defects as a result. Our breast milk contains countless contaminants, including an array of self-inflicted consumer toxins from such beauty products as “Loki-Master of Mischief” cologne. Soon plastic golden Marvel Loki horns from the above bottle will find their way to the Pacific Garbage patch, floating among the discarded grocery bags, to be eaten by starving whales who can no longer find enough krill. I don’t think this (below) was the kind of “mischief” Loki had in mind…
Is there any hope at all? Or do I just put another gaudy, food-colored donut on Loki’s altar and sigh, “fuck this shit, Worldbreaker, we’re doomed. Bring it on…”
But Loki will have none of that. He absolutely refuses to let us dodge this wyrd. He says, “Stop buying this crap, especially not in my name. Use your breath for something decent, like saving the planet, while you still can.”
“Do this,” he says without winking, “and maybe you’ll get a whiff of my pheromones…”
There I was, driving across the river to Eugene, to meet a friend and do my laundry at the most ecologically aware and environmentally healthy laundrymat I’d ever imagined (you simply CANNOT bring your own detergent–they provide the fragrance-free stuff). And there I was pondering magic and gender and the nature of matter and all kinds of other things, as I often do when I drive. And there I was, also listening to Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand:”
“…Dance on moonbeams, slide on rainbows…”
So, mundane, right?
And then it hit me, in triplicate: the wave/particle “duality” of matter (including human bodies); the wave/particle plurality of gender; and magic defined as willful collaboration with a wave state to manifest workings in the particle realm. And don’t forget the liminal, the spaces “between,” or rather the connective, shaded, gradations of energies (a rainbow bridge?) leading to the perceived binary of wave and particle, wave OR particle.
And wasn’t it great that my earrings (ones I haven’t worn for at least two years) were perfect illustrations of that nifty little epiphany had while grooving on Bryan Ferry’s voice?
I’ve been reading a little bit about Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy, in relation to pagan traditions of theurgy. The vertical ascent from “man” (matter) to union with “the one” (a personified wave?) never made much sense to me (neither did the Christian “descent” from “sinner” to “damnation”). These days nothing can be so neatly ordered or so clearly defined, especially in such crude terms. The quantum physics theory of wave-particle duality would have knocked the socks off Plato and subsequent adapations of his philosophy (including the Christianized versions).
The screenshot below is from ScienceDaily, which took the text from Wikipedia. Note that the explanation says “all objects” (meaning quantum-sized objects), sidestepping the mind-blowing implications for “all creatures great and small.” I mean, if less than bite-sized portions of ourselves are flickering between states, does that mean that we are also, as a larger entity–in some way–doing that too and our senses just aren’t refined enough to detect this? Perhaps just enough of our flickering portions stay particle-ized long enough to provide the illusion of continuous particle-ized existence? I’ve long accepted the “matter is mostly empty space” idea, though I don’t experience myself or my tables, chairs, and cats this way, but that matter could also be “mostly inconsistent empty space” is a conceptual stretch. Is this the “void” that mystics have described, sans particle accelerators? This isn’t a new or original question, obviously. I remember calling up Gary Zukav (long long ago), halfway through The Dancing Wu Li Masters, to rave about this very thing.
But what exactly am I writing about here? I had a flash of mystic understanding, a brief moment of crystal clarity. I “saw” how magic and mystic practices are designed to reach (or struggle toward) the “wave state” (a kind of fluidity or creative chaos) for communion, manifestation, and/or enlightenment. Now I am having a hard time explaining it. And am I “right” in a absolute sense? Probably not, but I’m probably not “wrong” either.
As a non-binary person, I feel gender as a shifting state that I can describe as wave, particle, AND the liminal connective states. As a particle, photographed and therefore frozen in time, I could be (or feel) “gendered” one way. As a wave, a continuum, the static photo becomes a film, or at least a montage, and I could be (or feel) “gendered” in other ways. It seems natural then that my feelings about my material existence and how it entwines with the rest of creation, would also incorporate a sense of fluidity and a desire to bring something out of the creative chaos of the wave state, via magical workings, and into the “reality” of more static, particle-ized existence. Meditations, trances, devotional practices, spellworking… I see them now as designed to access awareness (of the creative power) of the wave portion of our existence.
But that’s just me. It’s “gospel” (as in the old, non-denominational meaning of “good news”) with a small “g,” only meant for me and perhaps others who might resonate with a bit of this or that. My epiphany can be classed as “unverified personal gnosis.”
Anything, really, to avoid my year-end bookkeeping. At least the laundry got done.
Though I still haven’t found my stash of tealights in any box I’ve unpacked so far, I’ve begun to put together the new altar space in the landing at the top of the stairs. This “in-between” area is a passage between the two attic rooms and the stairs. Behind the back wall is a cubby hole door leading to a cramped, unfinished area which contains spiders, webs, and probably old rat droppings which have fallen between inner and outer wall spaces. I’ve blocked this area off with a shelf, but it’s still somehow appropriate that it is there. It’s a sort of symbolic “underworld” at the top of the house, the fourth path of the landing’s function as a “crossroads.” Someday I’m going to shove a small bowl of red salt in there, for purification, but at the moment it creeps me out and I don’t want the cats to get in there either. (There are similar cubby holes in each attic room, also blocked, also needing bowls of salt.)
As readers of this blog know, I’m oathed to Norse Loki. He (she/they) have most of the altar “real estate” in the form of the tall shelf above. I also honor other Norse deities. In this new house I’m pleased to have expanded areas for Freya, Freyr and Gerda. This place, with its micro-orchard of fig, plums, cherries, pears, and mulberries, is already a very Vanir space and we are in full fruit harvesting season right now (so, yay Freyr!). In the spring I hope the roses, lilacs, wisteria, and camelias, will be pleasing offerings to Freya. I also look forward to planting an herb garden dedicated to Gerda. A bit of outdoors will always be brought indoors, for dedication and thanks. And I’m planning a space for Thor…
Aside from the above Norse deities (and my own ancestors), there are other deities/spirits I honor: the Goetic Lord Amy/Avnas, the Celtic Brigit, and the Egyptian Bast. I look forward to expanding their altar spaces as well. And I am now adding personal deification of two fictional characters who have become spiritual “ancestors” to me: Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. I’d been thinking about this for awhile and when I unpacked a forgotten child’s tea set from China and a small plate with two rabbits under a crescent moon, well, that clinched it. In my mind there is no reason that spirits can’t “inhabit” fictional forms, to assist human understanding. (Deification of fictional characters is not without precedence. I mean, some people have been working with Lovecraft’s pantheon of Elder Gods for decades!) However I haven’t yet figured out the practice for honoring Wuxian and Wangji beyond incense and offerings. Asking for guidance is the next best step I suppose.
I mentioned wights in the title. I mean land spirits. I feel the trees of course. Their protective presence is quite palpable. But there are clearly other beings and other ancestors to acknowledge. I’ve barely gotten started.
Mostly, I am happy. This is an expansive and peaceful time, with many dreams come true. Magic is alive and I live in the midst of it.
Right hand path, left hand path…these are useful distinctions when applied to magic and mysticism but they somehow leave me unsatisfied. I have a yearning for the in-between, the liminal. Why not a “Möbius path” as a way to transform the dualities in a magical or mystic way? I am not sure what I’m getting at, exactly, but something speaks to me here and I intend to play around with it.
The Möbius strip is a mathematical discovery attributed to Listing & Möbius in 1858, however similar images are found in Roman mosaics (c. 200-250 CE). Its mystery is that the simple action of giving a strip of paper a half-twist, then attaching both ends, turns a double-sided object into a single-sided one. If you trace your finger around the strip, or imagine a small insect traveling along it, you notice the path is seemless along all of its surface.
The Möbius strip seems related to the symbols below (left to right): the Ouroboros eating its tail, the figure 8 eternity symbol, the Urnes Snake (often associated with Loki) and related rune stones like the Näsby, even the pattern of this kundalini yoga meditation! At bottom right is a Mobius strip in a Roman mosaic (circa 200-250 CE).
What the Möbius strip says to me is “why pick a side when everything changes with just a half-twist?” It’s a kind of shapeshifting, really. With a simple gesture (physical or mental) you’ve immediately altered reality and your perception of it. How can this be applied to magic and witchery? Or kundalini meditations, for that matter? Some ideas:
Use the Möbius strip as a talisman.
Meditate on the Möbius strip.
Write sigils or spells on thin strips of paper, then half-twist and tape the ends together to make a Möbius strip. Does this change anything?
Find ways to look at situations with a “half-twist.” Does this change anything?
Are there spirits or deities who seem interested in, who resonate with, or who can teach you anything about this symbol? I know I have been associating it (and the other symbols above) with Loki Laufeyjarson for at least a year or so.
Can the spirit of the symbol itself teach anything? What happens if you establish a relationship with it?
Are there types of rituals or practices where this concept is appropriate? Not appropriate?
Magic fantasies are popular entertainment. Aside from enjoying them, I like to figure out what magical techniques and systems writers have adapted or imagined in their works of fiction. There is such a variety of magic content in The Untamed (2019, currently on Netflix) that I’ve decided to catalog it. The Untamed is based on the novel Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation(Mo Dao Zu Shi) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. [English translation here. NSFW.]
This blog will be a work in progress over the next several days, since I will add to and refine this list through updated drafts. Please be patient if you notice I’ve missed something. Additions, comments and sources are welcome.
A WORD ABOUT ANIMISM
In addition to being influenced by Taoism (sometimes spelled Daoism), Buddhism, and other Chinese traditions, the xianxia and/or wuxia world of sword and sorcery cultivation, as depicted in The Untamed, has a foundation in animism. Swords, rocks, and other “inanimate” objects have the potential to be enlivened, animated, and engaged with as conscious through various practices. For example, in The Untamed, swords invested with spiritual power can “seal themselves” so that only their original owners can unsheathe them if they are recognized as such. (From an animist perspective, one could also acknowledge the cooperation of the sheathe, right?) This concept is not new to many ancient, indigenous, and some modern neo-pagan traditions.
Animism is at the heart of many kinds of magic traditions, practices, and rituals, including forms of spellwork.
From a superficial, Western perspective, we can view The Untamed as a conflict between a solitary practitioner of something resembling innovative chaos magic (with lots of sigil use) and the “cultivators” who belong to several different established mystery schools (aka sects and clans) who share a general set of precepts and traditions (such as “sword cultivation=good/demonic arts=bad”). When Wei WuXian says “I’ll be the precedent,” he’s reviled and marginalized yet years later some of his innovations (compasses that detect evil beings, Stygian lure flags, etc.) are mainstreamed and used by a new generation of cultivators.
Some of what is shown in The Untamed may also be references to or variations of Chinese folk magic. The scary drawings of the “Yiling Patriarch”–sold by a street vendor and having no actual resemblance to Wei WuXian (“famous for his looks”)–might fall under this category. Ditto for some of the other Yiling Patriarch product knock-offs, sold by vendors who falsely claim association.
This is one form of magic practice that is curiously missing from The Untamed, or maybe I just haven’t found and identified it yet. Wei WuXian’s compass for detecting monsters is the closest thing to it.
CATALOG OF UNTAMED MAGIC
Spirit beings or beings altered or created through magic
Demons. The live action series shows fewer of these than appear in the book, either in Wei WuXian’s company or doing his bidding. Early in the series, a demon appears at the Mo clan compound as a vicious, claw-like left hand that possesses several people. In episode four, Wei WuXian says demons are formed from living humans. Wei conjures up a red dressed demon woman to torment Wen Chao is episode 20 (in the book there is a hungry demon baby as well).
Devil Scatter Spell. Lan Zhan uses this to escape Wen Chao in episode eleven.
Dire Owl. A supernatural Wen clan bird, indicated by grey fuzz and a shrill cry. Used for spying and as a temporary vehicle of Yin Iron power. Wei WuXian battles with it.
Dogs. The giant dog owned by the Wen clan which lives in a dungeon and the intelligent “wonder dog” Fairy, owned by Jin Ling. (Wei WuXian is not fond of canines.)
Ghosts. In episode four, Wei WuXian says ghosts are “formed from dead humans.”
Ghost General. Wen Ning as a powerful, fearsome puppet created by Wei WuXian.
“Grey fuzz.” A visual used in The Untamed (along with scary sounds) to indicate resentful energies and ghosts, demons, and so on. This fuzz can be on the prowl or attached to objects. There are also screams associated with the on-screen appearance of grey fuzz.
Imps. In episode four, Wei WuXian defines imps as “formed from living, non-human beings.”
Monsters. In episode four, Wei WuXian says monsters are formed from “dead, non-human beings.”
Puppets. Zombie-like dead or nearly dead people with white eyes and networks of red/black markings on skin. Robbing living people of spiritual cognition is one way to make a puppet.
Stone Fairy. A walking spirit-snatching statue from a temple on Dafun Mountain.
Tortoise of Slaughter. A giant part snake/part tortoise. Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian battle it.
Water Ghosts. Spirits of water creatures that “usually just play tricks on people” but can conglomerate and turn into the Aqua Demon (episode five).
POWERS, SPELLS & TOOLS
Accupuncture. Medical techniques using needles on points and taking the pulse. Wen Ning uses three needles to pacify a giant dog. At different times and for different reasons, Wen Qing uses needles on both Jiang Cheng and Wei WuXian to keep them immobilized. Taking the pulse is a frequent activity throughout The Untamed.
Accupuncture Needles. Wen Qing uses these to test the magic barriers in the back hills of Cloud Recesses.
“The array was scarlet in color and crooked in shape, appearing to be drawn by hand, using blood as the medium, still damp and emitting a strong scent. The array was filled with warped scribbles of incantations, which were somewhat smudged by his body, but came across as gruesome nonetheless.”
Beads. Wei WuXian makes a set of carved protective beads for his newborn nephew.
Blood. Blood is used for magical purposes throughout the book and the series.
Body Sacrifice. A forbidden technique. Performed by Mo Xuanyu in episode one, offering his own body as a curse to bring Wei WuXian back to life, in order to extract revenge on his tormentors.
Body Seizing. A forbidden technique.
Channeling Fire. A Wen clan specialty. Wen Chao uses this to set a Lan clan guard on fire.
Chord Assassination Technique. A specialty of the Lan Clan, used against the Tortoise of Slaughter. (Is it just me, or would “Chord Assassination” be a great name for a Death Metal band?)
Compasses. Designed to detect the presence of supernatural beings. Perhaps a form of divination?
Corpse Powder. Airborne poison.
Curses. Blackened, necrotic looking skin that spreads up towards the heart and scars that don’t heal can indicate a curse. There is also the “Hundred Holes” curse.
Demonic Cultivation aka “Wicked Sorcery.” Seems to include using resentful energy from ghosts.
Devil Scatter Spell. Lan Zhan uses this spell to escape from Wen Chao, possibly also combining it with teleportation.
Empathy. Wei WuXian uses this technique several times to experience slices of life through another person’s eyes and perceptions, kind of like a Vulcan mind meld. Requires touch. Can be done with ghosts and body parts. Considered to be a perilous technique. Lan Zhan had a spontaneous experience of empathy via the Yin Iron, related to the slaughter of another clan.
Energy. Often used as blasts during fights.
Exorcism. Used against ghosts, such as the Water Ghost in episode five.
First Class Spiritual Tool. A term not explained explicitly, but which probably refers to the primary magical tool of a cultivator. Usually will be given a name.
Flying. With or without swords used as vehicles.
Flying Chains. Used against Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian during their hunt for the Dire Owl.
Freezing in Place. Used on puppets and people alike.
Gestures. Examples include (1) directing energy or magic tools by pointing with the forefinger and middle finger close together with ring and little fingers held down by the thumb and (2) writing a sigil of light with upraised middle and little fingers, (3) snapping fingers to get someone to freeze.
Glitter Talisman. Used unsuccessfully by Wei WuXian against the hallucination mist created by the Dire Owl.
Golden Core. A spiritual power center that is deliberately cultivated and enhanced. In The Untamed, it can irreplacable. This is possibly a reference to the Tai Chi lower Dantian (sometimes called Dan Tian, Dantien, Dan Tien, or the Golden Stove.) Modern cultivation practices include Tai Chi and the Microcosmic Orbit as taught by Mantak Chia.
Golden Core Melting. One of the Wen clan’s followers is known as “Core-Melting Hand” for his ability to destroy people’s Golden Cores.
Golden CoreTransference. Performed by Wen Qing, transferring Wei WuXian’s core to Jiang Cheng.
Golden Silk Barrier. A large net for protection against the onslaught of puppets, particularly against those of Wen Qing’s village.
Graves. Known to generally attract ghosts.
Hallucination Mist. Used against Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian in the forest. It also disrupts concentration needed for spellwork.
Headband. Sacred Lan Clan accessory. Not to be touched by anyone except parents and significant others. Allows inner disciples to enter the warded areas of Cloud Recesses. Often used in The Untamed as a symbol to indicate growing intimacy between Wei WuXian and Lan Zhan.
Levitation. Examples include (1) Wen Ruohan lifting Xue Yang into the air as a show of power and as a warning and (2) the cultivators hovering in mid air above the Aqua Demon’s whirlpool.
“Liberate, suppress, eliminate.” In episode four, Lan Zhan says this is the appropriate cultivator way to deal with troubles, such as a dead executioner who is haunting a village.
Musical Compositions. Played with spiritual power to calm or to promote agitation. Lan Zhan recognizes Wei WuXian in Mo’s body because he plays the song Lan Zhan has composed for the two of them.
Musical Instruments. Played with spiritual power (e.g. flutes and guiqins). Often used to calm situations or repel aggression. Wei WuXian plays his “Chenqing” flute. Lan Zhan plays his “Wangji” guiqin. Lan Xichen uses his “Liebing” flute in the exorcism of the Aqua Demon, among other instances. Wen Qing plays a tiny whistle or flute to subdue the villagers who have been turned into puppets.
Nails. Puppet control can be achieved by sticking two nails in the back of someone’s head, presumably at an accupuncture point. (Don’t try this at home.) Used on Wen Ning and Song Lan.
Night Hunts. The sport and pursuit of hunting down supernatural prey.
Paper Dolls. Used for exploring, physical control, and in the practice of empathy. Wei WuXian uses them twice to pester Lan Zhan.
Portraits of the Yiling Patriarch. Sold on the street as folk magic protection for homes.
Ropes and Cords. Conjured out of nowhere.
Sigils (see Talismans). May be written on paper or conjured as a pattern of light and propelled toward a target (person or object).
Silence Spell. A Lan Clan specialty, lasts as long as a stick of burning incense.
Soul Calming Ceremonies. A preventative ritual for children of cultivators, given to prevent them from ever turning into ferocious ghosts when they die. Wei WuXian threatens to turn into a ferocious ghost who will haunt Wen Chao and his mistress, should they torture and kill him. He says he was not given such ceremonies, as he was adopted into the Jiang clan.
Spiritual Cognition. [Description to come.]
Spirit Snatch. [Description to come.]
Stygian Lure Flags. Painted banners designed to draw ghosts or other evil beings. Ones developed by Wei WuXian are used by Lan clan cultivators. Called Phantom Attraction Flags in the book.
Stygian Tiger Amulet. Constructed by Wei WuXian in the Burial Mounds. It is the first magic we see in the series, as it flies around the feet of warriors during a battle. It contains Yin Iron.
Swords. Can be imbued with a spirit. Are often named. Can seal themselves. Can serve as vehicles for flying through the air. Can be used as projectiles.
Talismans(see Sigils). Can be paper, beads, or other objects. Wei WuXian offers a protective talisman in a bag to Wen Qing as a protection for her brother against ghosts. Wei WuXian changes protective talismans with “4 strokes” to reverse them as attractions for evil spirits (taking care of Wen Chao’s bodyguards and mistress).
Telepathy. Some “inner dialogue” between Lan Zhan and his brother, and Lan Zhan and Wei WuXian looks as if it is supposed to be telepathic.
TeleportationTalisman. Used by a masked swordsman.
Teleportation. Did Lan Zhan use this to escape Wen Chao in episode eleven?
Wards/Seals. Fields of energy used to block entrances or protect areas.
Yin Iron. A powerful cosmic object broken into five shards, hidden for many decades. Revealed as the missing part of the Dancing Fairy in episode nine. During part of the story Lan Zhan carries a shard that had been hidden by the Lan clan. Part of the Stygian Tiger Amulet.
Zidian. A magical tool looking like a ring (book) or bracelet (series), with a purple lightning force that is often used as a whip. Bequeathed to Jiang Cheng by his mother. Recognizes its owner or verified substitute user. Was unable to detect Wei WuXian’s soul as “foreign” to Mo Xuanyu’s body.
CONTEMPORARY AND HISTORICAL MAGIC?
Here in the United States we have “witch privilege” in that we are not usually actively persecuted for witchy and neo-pagan practices. Magic is big business here, and entertainment depicting magic and witchcraft is popular. (However, another round of “Satanic Panic” hysteria seems to be gathering steam in this country among trumpites and evangelicals and this is not good.) Some countries still persecute and kill witches. August 10th is “World Day Against Witch Hunts.”
I was curious about contemporary witchcraft laws in China–if any–and while I haven’t come up with any information yet, I did come across this account of Empress Chen Jiao of Wu, accused of black magic, who “is remembered as an ancient Chinese witch…She was the wife of Emperor Wu of Han, who ruled between 141 and 87 BC” [Western Han dynasty?]. I don’t know if this information is accurate, but I am still intrigued. Supposedly the Empress was drawn to witchcraft as a last hope for producing a child for the Emperor. I feel very curious about the development of magical arts and folk magic in ancient China, and though The Untamed is set in a historically inaccurate fantasy world, it should be fun to see what fictional magic elements are based in actual traditions. This is completely new terrain for me.
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?
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!