Try a Little Tenderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protect, preserve and care for life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

old_norse_stories_(1900)_(14595035089)
Vanir goddess Freya, Old Norse Stories, 1900. Public domain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Perfect Case for Ho’oponopono

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Sensing the Sacred

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Declaration 127-A Stand Against Hate

A few years ago, “180 organizations in over 20 different nations” created a repudiation of the Asatru Folk Assembly’s (AFA) policies of discrimination against people of color and LGBTQIA people. Read about this here, at Huginn’s Heathen Hof, which sponsored the Declaration. After the specific language concerning the AFA, the following paragraph is relevant and significant.


“…We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do. We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frið, to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.”


D127stickerBNow, because this Declaration 127 was written and then signed by a number of Heathen and Asatru, or otherwise Norse or Northern-identified spiritual groups and people, a denunciation of discrimination against people of other religions wasn’t included. That’s because this was a statement of acceptance of all people wanting in, not all people in general, but I like to think that the general principles of inclusivity and non-discrimination are implied in Declaration 127 and that solidarity with people of all religions is therefore also implied.

That’s a terribly important point to ponder. As are critiques of Declaration 127 which “does not go far enough,” as Snoof Madrune Obline blogged in 2016. We need actions as well as “dissociation.”

Even so, yesterday I signed Declaration 127 as an individual, and also in the name of the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple. I am a member of The Troth and am in the Heathens Against Hate Facebook group, but in my mind, my signing Declaration 127 puts ME on notice that I’d better step up my game. My statement below doesn’t mean that I now get to sit back, satisfied that I’ve done my share in “speaking out.”


I, Amy R. Marsh and the Lokabrenna Tiny Temple, fully support Declaration 127 and am completely opposed, now and forever, to racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, discrimination against immigrants, and all other barbaric superstitions and acts of injustice, violence and hate.


These times are too dire. And people are dying–have been dying for decades, centuries!–as a result of (1) acts of violence and (2) acts of complacency.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I can’t do it in one blog. What I can offer, and it is a poor, outdated document at best, is the Real Zombie Apocalypse Resistance Handbook which is chock full ‘o links to good organizations to support. I did it in the first month after the 2016 election, and though I meant to make monthly updates, I just…couldn’t…keep up… with all the atrocious developments in the new…regime. But go there, find even more organizations to support as you (and I) gather our remaining strength and wits, leverage our community ties, and try to figure out how to stop this horrific slide into utter, reactionary, barbaric fascism.

1. Resistance Handbook – First Issue

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Loki Limericks

With Loki you’ll never be bored,

For his tongue is as sharp as a sword.

And his heart is pure gold,

While his humor is bold,

And of mischief he’s always the lord.

I just explained, in a general way (meaning on social media) that all this “woo” stuff I’m doing is (1) a serious study, (2) also a deliberate application of a homeopathic dose of “madness” that keeps the rest of me sane, and (3) it’s enjoyable and fun as hell.

I am sheltering from the Mendocino Complex Fires in a completely empty apartment, in a region with better air quality. I am here with my four cats, a sleeping bag, and my computer to keep me company. Without a table or chair, it is hard to work on my book. The cats frequently burst out into a “wild rumpus” (at all hours) and thunder through the flat with games of chase and hide and seek. I worry they are waking the newborn baby (and parents) downstairs. I also worry that they are waking me, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Except write limericks to a beloved god in my current polytheistic pantheon:

Our Loki’s the coolest of gods,

Though other folk think us quite odd.

We love his flame-hair,

And don’t-mess-with-me glare,

And his tricks we will always applaud.

I suppose limericks are one way to beseech and propitiate a god of fire as well as mischief. And it’s a lighter touch than “please save my house, please save my neighbor’s house, please save everyone’s house, please save the poor woodland creatures, even that poor lame fawn who is finding it harder and harder to follow its mother through my yard…”

Our Loki loves cinnamon sweets,

And chocolate and other fine treats.

We can pour him some mead,

Or bake bread that we knead,

But we always make sure that he eats!

Yeah, so, Norse gods. To be specific, I am currently “working with” Frey and Freya of the Vanir, and Gerda and Loki who are Jotun (though as Odin’s blood brother, Loki is also counted as Aesir). When I started to get into this Norse phase, I joined The Troth because it’s an “inclusive heathenry” organization that has a specific and stated policy against racism and other forms of discrimination. But I don’t seem to be a heathen by their definition. (And The Troth is not exactly supportive of Lokeans.) I think Raven Kaldera’s “Northern Tradition Paganism” may be a decent umbrella term for me, at least for now.

After years of being quite smitten with another tradition entirely, the message came “go to YOUR ancestors now,” and so I am trying that very thing, in various ways and with many kinds of interesting results. But I lack a “kindred.” There’s a Facebook group that is the closest I’ve come, but gosh, I sure wish I could find people in my area.

Except “my area” is currently on fire. Lots and lots of fire.

Loki's_flight_to_Jötunheim

Are you a fellow traveler? Are you fleeing disaster? Let me know you’re out there.

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Adding this one:

Our Loki is one sexy guy.

He’s more Pan than Het’ro or Bi.

With god spouses galore,

He’s up for lots more,

And none of us even ask why!

Loki, a God of Pleasure, Poisoned

Loki,_by_Mårten_Eskil_Winge_1890
Loki (1890), Mårten Eskil Winge. Public domain.

This. The snake drips perpetual poison on captive Loki (a  complex “trickster” deity of the Norse tradition). One of his wives, Sigyn, holds the bowl to keep the poison away, but the bowl eventually fills and Sigyn must empty it. The poison that falls on Loki during that time causes terrible suffering–people even believed that earthquakes resulted from his writhing agony. And it never stops.

For me this is the most apt depiction of the constant suffering of the growing number of people who are chemically injured and environmentally ill. (Download PDF of  2018 study.) Industrial, agricultural, and consumer toxins are ubiquitous in our world, supposedly produced by people dedicated to “civilized” progress. All the world and all its creatures are at risk now, from the entwined catastrophes of climate change and pollution. The exposures never stop and neither do the consequences.

Those who are suffering now, and who will suffer in the future, are inevitably made outcast. They are rejected by loved ones who prefer to continue their use of designer fragrances or smelly hand lotions to that of recognizing a mild request for breathable air and unscented companionship. Marriages die, friendships wane, children grow up and start using products that make visiting difficult or impossible. Jobs are lost, employment prospects are slim to none, and activities of daily living inevitably involve toxic encounters: aisles in the supermarket (cat food is always across from the toxic cleaning products!), air fresheners in the clinic restrooms, that heavily perfumed customer behind you in line, or at the next table over, causing headaches and asthma and actually preventing you from tasting the food you ordered.

The poison drips. The agony persists. Suicide beckons. Loneliness is pervasive. You are alone in a cave (or a foil-lined studio apartment) that no one else will enter. If you’re lucky, someone is with you, doing what they can to forstall or prevent toxic exposures and letting you know you’re worth loving even when you’re spoonless. For those with chemical injuries, Sigyn’s dedication is all too rare outside the world of myth and sacred literature.

Okay. So what? This is a blog about esoteric and spiritual stuff, right?

Right.

So I’m outing myself as a Lokean as of this moment, though this metamorphosis has been going on for awhile. For me that’s super big spiritual news even if it doesn’t mean much to anyone else. This spiritual journey grew from an experimental approach to Norse paganism, with a devotional practice initially dedicated to Frey, Freya, and Gerda (Frey’s Etin wife). Because of their associations with sex, fertility, reproduction, and magic, Frey and Freya (who are Vanir not Aesir) are particularly apt deities for me to cultivate. But a giant chunk of something was missing from my spiritual practice and deep down I knew what it was. Or rather, I knew who it was, but I was reluctant to “go there.” I’ve already got several social deficits: the environmental illness disability; aging; and a tendency to go batshit over “special interests.” Declaring myself a dedicated follower of Loki is just not going to win me a goodie bag at the next senior center ice cream social (not that I’ve ever been to one–a lot of older women wear perfume).

But there have been few developments in my life as inwardly gleeful, rich, and pleasurable as finally saying, “Okay, I’m in. I’m in all the way. You’ve been there all along and I finally acknowledge it.” Yes, this is a personal relationship I’m talking about. I sense interaction and exchanges–seldom in words, most often in a sense of presence and intuitive tugs at my gut. At the moment I consider myself a neophyte devotee and a sort of “plucky comic relief.”

Even so, it wasn’t until yesterday, when I considered this story of Loki’s torment, that I realized how completely perfect this is. I mean, wow, I’m hanging out with a deity who actually understands my condition (though I cannot possibly comprehend all of his).

Loki: hailed as the god of tricksters, outcasts, deviants, and more, I now hail you as the god of all who are damaged by toxic chemicals, who are made outcast by their illnesses. This probably won’t make me popular among Lokeans either, but it’s my gnosis, not theirs. And knowing what I know now will probably keep me alive a little longer. Loki is within earshot, if not actually holding a bowl.

Are you a fellow traveller? Make yourself known.

Loki's_flight_to_Jötunheim

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