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.

Pele_by_David_Howard_Hitchcock,_c._1929
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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Imagined, Not Imaginary

When I was very little, 1950s cartoon characters, Crusader Rabbit and Mighty Mouse were my invisible friends. These characters prompted stirrings of heartfelt yearning even at that young age–a mixed desire for romance and adventure. I remember those feelings quite well and could empathize years later when a five year old of my acquaintance told me he liked Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter’s version) because she had “nice legs.”

So now that I’m cultivating a robust spirit ecology (as a witchy pagan polytheist/animist), you might be tempted think that I never outgrew my childish fantasies. And perhaps you’d be right. Crusader Rabbit and Mighty Mouse provided the little me with unconditional positive regard and I was their comrade, their equal in every way (even though I couldn’t fly). I really loved those guys and I thought they loved me back. These days my deities also seem to radiate unconditional positive regard, even though I (still) cannot fly. Or shapeshift. Or whatever. And yeah, I really love them.

And that mixed desire for romance and adventure? I’ve still got that too. And it’s gotten me into heaps of trouble as an adult. (I haven’t learned my lesson yet, though I’m immensely wary now.)

The culture (so-called) that I reluctantly inhabit takes it for granted that childish imaginations will be dulled, tamed, or destroyed via K-12 education, school bullying, and the drudgery of adult life. And we like to think that’s a good thing, a sign of “maturity.” Anyone who resists the corrosion and destruction of their imagination is suspect.

Of course I think that lifelong resistance to that destruction is actually one of the most important things we can do. Childhood capacities to ensoul and engage with imagined companions are fundamental creative skills, plus they’re precursors to grown-up spiritwork and magic. And so, yeah, I’m unapologetically on the side of most of those who work and play in and about the unseen worlds, along with their spirit pals. (There are some jerks and worse about, of course, as there are everywhere else.)

My premise and ongoing theme is this: there’s a reason human beings have these innate capacities for engagement with unseen companions and worlds, from childhood on. Like the bee orchid, I believe we’ve evolved certain characteristics that facilitate a process of mutual attraction with those unseen. I can’t imagine any other root cause for religions and magic, for fey folktales and Marvel super heroes.

Three books have been my constant companions lately: Dagulf Loptson’s Playing With Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (Asphodel Press, 2014); Jason Miller‘s Sex, Sorcery and Spirit–The Secrets of Erotic Magic (Career Press, 2015); and Aidan Wachter’s Six Ways–Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic (Red Temple Press, 2018). And readers of this blog might have noticed that I’ve referenced Miranda Shaw’s Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism (Princeton University Press, 1994) more than once, I recommend all of these books. They’re excellent.

My ongoing process is threefold. (1) To explore magic, defined as Jason Miller defines it: “the art and science of influencing change to occur in conformity to will” (as quoted in this Down at the Crossroads podcast interview). (2) To get to know and work with some of the “Spirits of the Field” (Wachter, p. 13. And listen to his Crossroads interview here.), including those that “indwell” in material substances (the concept of animism) as well as wights and ancestors (my own and the ones who reside in this area). (3) To cultivate devotional, loving, co-creative relationships with a few compelling deities, especially Loki Laufeyjarson, my “most trusted one.” (This makes me only as proportionately “batty” as any serious practitioner of any mainstream religion.)

It’s been interesting working with the precise combination of books I mention above. Miller’s book on erotic magic includes Tantric and Taoist practices as well as sigil work. And Shaw’s book elaborates on the role of women and female “energy” in Tibetan Tantra, while also describing the centuries-old traditions of working with “imagined partners” (e.g. deities, dakinis, and yoginis). Wachter’s book describes sigil work and devotional practices, and models respectful ways to interact with the Spirits. Loptson’s book–ditto, but with the focus on Loki. Without realizing what I was doing at first, I’ve been combining and reassembling elements from these books into a very individual practice, which I’ve touched on in this blog.

And I am finding that working with “imagined” (conceptually “summoned”) spirits and deities is not an “imaginary” process, as what happens as a result of this work is quite real and yields tangible results. In the last 78 days of my “Loki 90-Day Spiritual Fitness Challenge,” I’ve experienced ebbs and flows, ecstacy and plateaus, and my cats not leaving my toes alone as I try to meditate. Sometimes there are sudden “jumps” to what might be a new level, but so far, I’m still uncertain as to the terrain or my ability to reliably enter and inhabit it. 78 days of sustained, daily practice is nothing, really, and yet it is the first time I’ve ever pledged myself to such an endeavor. I do intend to continue on, because the last few days in particular have been very interesting indeed. My childhood yearnings for romance and adventure could never have imagined this path.

Indian_erotic_painting_Warsaw
“Are we there yet?”

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Loki Pushes My Neo-Tantra Buttons

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Urnes Snake. Scandinavian. Source: http://lokeanwelcomingcommittee.tumblr.com/

Snakes, fire, a robust sexual history and magic expertise… how can I comprehend Loki as anything other than the bearer of knowledge that resembles tantra (or Western-style sex magic)? (Yes, I know he has additional attributes but I’m not concerned with those at the moment.) What follows is my “unverified personal gnosis” (UPG) on this topic.

But let’s back up a bit. Let’s think a moment about this concept called “gods” (I’ll use this word to mean deities of all genders). Dagulf Loptson’s book, Playing with Fire–An Exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson (Asphodel Press, 2014), is an important source for me these days and he describes his concept of gods as “enormous, primordial, creative beings who manifest themselves in both the unseen and physical worlds via nature and human insight.” This works for me. Furthermore, Loptson suggests that gods take many forms, and we humans give them many faces. This also works for me.

I’d like to suggest that among other things, these primordial beings offer templates of spiritual enlargement to those humans who care to partake. Sure, the gods can also torment us, play with us, comfort us, blow our tiny minds, and request offerings (like the colorful donut-patterned shower curtain Loki wanted a few days ago), but when I really ask myself what human/deity interactions are all about, I get a kind of transcendent evolutionary vibe, if ya know what I mean. They can open themselves as doors, if we want to step through them, and change.

That’s why we have scads of spiritual traditions, religions, and magic rituals, with an endless array of techniques for getting in touch with these larger beings: meditation, prayer, trancework, offerings, mantras, visualization of yantras, contemplation, and quite a lot of sexual magic. Sexual actions, energy, and fluids have figured prominently in all kinds of practices, from Tibetan Buddhism to Crowley’s OTO and beyond. And sometimes there are elaborate rituals that include imagining oneself and/or one’s partner as divine (thereby stepping into the template). The process of cultivation is key.

So let’s say there really is an “enormous, primordial, creative being” out there that we call “Loki,” as well as various other kennings (defined as “indirect bynames,” Loptson, p.20). Like other deities, Loki has various attributes and associations, both ancient and modern. And like other deities, he can provide us with a template for spiritual expansion. I’ll repeat the four associations I mentioned above: (1) snakes, (2) fire, (3) a robust sexual history, and (4) magic.

Snakes. Loki fathered the giant Midgard-circling snake, Jörmungandr, and was also tormented by a poison-dripping snake when bound by the Aesir. These days, many Lokeans wear the Urnes Snake as a pendant, though there’s no actual evidence linking this image with Loki in ancient times. (The Lokean Welcoming Committee has a good discussion of the Urnes Snake here and points out that it has now become a modern symbol for Loki.)

Both Hindu and Buddhist forms of tantra are also associated with snakes, which are symbols of  kundalini energy, said to be coiled at the base of the human spine. There are also three snake deities in Hinduism. Shiva (the ultimate tantric god) is usually depicted wearing one of them, Vasuki, around his neck. Also notice that two of the carvings (below) feature two entwined snakes.

Nagaraja_-_Hindu_Deity_-_India
6 October 2011. Source: Nagaraja – Hindu Deity – India. Author: Natesh Ramasamy from Bangalore, India. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In Passionate Enlightenment–Women in Tantric Buddhism (Princeton University Press, 1994), Miranda Shaw writes:

“Kundalini-yoga offered a range of techniques to harness the powerful psycho-physical energy coursing through the body. In India it is believed that this energy can be channeled for procreation, sexuality, creativity, or spiritual experiences and heightened awareness. Most people simply allow the energy to churn a cauldron of chaotic thoughts and emotions or dissipate the energy in a superficial pursuit of pleasure, but a yogi or yogini consciously accumulates and then directs it for specified purposes. This energy generates warmth as it accumulates and becomes an inner fire or inner heat (candali) that burns away the dross of ignorance and ego-clinging.” (p. 31)

Fire: Dagulf Loptson’s book contains a chapter (pp. 136-154) which deals extensively with Loki’s association with fire, specifically with ritual and cremation fires. There is also an interesting comparison of Odin (Nordic god associated with cremation) and the possible role played by his fiery pal, Loki, with the Hindu Shiva (also god of cremation) and Agni (god of cremation fire). I can’t replicate the arguments here. Just get the book if you’re interested in knowing more. I still need to get God in Flames, God in Fetters: Loki’s Role in the Northern Religions, by Stephen Grundy (published by The Troth). With a title like that, I expect yet more examination of Loki’s associations with fire.

Cremation grounds were a popular setting for tantric practices and gatherings. Miranda Shaw writes that “Tantric Buddhists encountered their Hindu counterparts at the cremation grounds…” (p. 31). She also describes bone instruments, ornaments and skull-caps used to serve meat and drink at tantric feasts. Skull Imagery and Skull Magic in the Yoginī Tantras by David P. Gray (Santa Clara University) is another interesting resource.

I note here that one of Loki’s kennings means “vulture’s path” (Loptson, p. 36). Vultures were frequent visitors to charnel grounds. Loki is the father of Hel (or Hela), the Norse goddess of death. Her physical description could almost be that of a “wrathful dakini.” (For that matter, Fenris, Loki’s wolf child with Angrboda, could also have a symbolic association as a cremation grounds scavenger. This is pure speculation, however.)

I suggest it might be interesting to consider Loki’s connection with snakes and fire (and death) as an esoteric reference to the “inner fire” of transformative sexual energy, something that Loki may very well teach and/or provoke.

Robust Sexual History: In the Norse poem, Lokasenna, Loki reveals his sexual history with just about every goddess in Asgard (and these days some people speculate about a sexual relationship with Odin as well). Plus, he’s a shapeshifter who mated with a stallion and bore a magical horse. And he’s got more than a few present-day god-spouses (of all genders). Lots of deities have active sex lives, but Loki combines that with his most noted quality: bringer of chaos and transformation. In Western tantric circles, it’s a given that taking up a tantric practice inevitably means that all hell is going to break loose in your life. We would nod at each other and say, “yeah, hero’s path, dude!” in the same way that Lokeans frequently commiserate with each other about the fan-hitting stuff that goes down after accepting Loki into your life.

Loptson references Loki’s “ecstasy” in the thirteenth verse of his “Loki’s Stave.” Sophie Oberlander calls Loki a “God of ectastic union” (The Jotunbok–Working with the Giants of Northern Tradition, Raven Kaldera. Asphodel Press, 2006, p. 269). Fuensanta Plaza writes of an incident in which Loki manifests as a “huge, fierce joy” (Also Jotunbok, p. 265). I believe I have also felt something of this on several occasions, accompanied by delicious shivers.

Magic. Loki has magic powers, particularly shapeshifting (which Loptson also calls “skin leaping,” pp. 238-239). Loptson also mentions “bind runes” and fire magic and divination (pp. 235-237). Elizabeth Vongvisith also credits Loki with runelore (learned from Odin), seidr-craft (learned from Freya), word magic, and sex magic (Jotunbok, p. 258).

Loki is also known as “the mother of witches” (Mordant Carnival, Jotunbok, p. 271), birthing “troll-women” or “ogres” after eating a woman’s burnt heart (“The Short Seeress’ Prophesy,” The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee Hollander, University of Texas Press, 1962, p. 139).

Tantra is known for its association with magic. Powers known as “siddhis” just naturally come with the turf. Miranda Shaw writes that “…supernatural powers and expertise in magical arts…within the Tantric Buddhist context they are accepted as evidence of spiritual attainments.” This includes mastery of the body (including shapeshifting and ritual gazes), control of weather and elements (fire!), and the ability to magically transport objects (including food from people’s kitchens), and more. One famous dakini, Gangadhara, was known to turn into a wolf.

Many Lokeans complain that Loki will often make things disappear out of mischief. There are many anecdotes about missing items that are not “returned” (or made visible?) until Loki is asked (nicely, I hope) to bring it back. I had this experience with a CD that “disappeared” from my car for a couple of weeks, and I did look everywhere for it, several times. I figured out that I’d played one song way too many times in the car and asked Loki if he actually made things disappear or just prevented people from seeing them? Within a few minutes, I found the missing CD at my feet, near the brake. I do feel somewhat foolish for sharing this story, but honestly, many such are shared. I can only hope that if I ever begin to suffer from dementia, that Loki will go easy on me…

Finally, I’ve come across three kennings for Loki: Sky-Treader, Sky-Traveler, and Sky-Walker. These remind me of the term for tantric yoginis and dakinis: Sky-Dancers. I haven’t found a historical or lore source for these particular kennings yet, however, and would welcome one if you have it.

Based on much of the above, I revived my solo tantric practice and dedicated ninety days of continuity to Loki in return for some specialized instruction. I am now on day 53. It’s proven to be an interesting way to work with Loki, and I believe that committed energy work will prove helpful in this ongoing relationship, providing me with the necessary stamina and sensory refinement to “go deeper.”

At this point, I’d say Loki closely fits the “profile” of a deity who offers a template of transformation fueled by sexual energy–using some symbols and methods that are at least superficially comparable to Hindu and Buddhist tantric traditions. I am not sure if scholarship will ever uncover the reasons for these similarities, which do not seem purely coincidental. But because human sexual energy holds the potential to become a transformational spiritual force, perhaps the answer to this riddle is that some deities will always be available to assist us with this, no matter what culture or epoch we (and they) occupy.

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P.S. Here’s a reminder that it’s important to decolonize yoga and tantra.