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In the very, very long time since I last blogged, I’ve been thinking (I probably should have written it all down somewhere, but let’s roll with it), and I’ve reached an unavoidable conclusion. I’m not the person I was when I started this blog. Obviously. Superficial stuff aside, I feel like I’ve changed on a fundamental level, and I like to think that it’s for the better*.

I’m not really sure where – or when – it started, but as I read more and accumulated information, I realised that books I had trusted were wrong. That things I believed in (to a greater or lesser degree) we at odds with the way I knew the world worked, and other things that I was interested in felt an awful lot like obligation and not genuine interest. I found myself in a self-re-enforcing thought process based on assumption, guesswork and what other people told me was true and it was really only a matter of time before the entire thing collapsed.
Fortunately, I noticed what was going on and was able to dismantle it before that happened.

I read up on science. I watched videos of religious apologists having their arguments dismantled with greater or lesser degrees of civility and empathy by atheists. I watched Penn and Teller’s Bullshit. I started browsing r/atheism. I stopped browsing r/atheism and started browsing r/science. I stopped reading some blogs and started reading others. I started watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I read up on Pagan Humanism, scientific Humanism, Pagan atheism. Over a matter of months, I recognised the flaws in my beliefs and realised that they were irreconcilable with the fundamental laws of the universe, so I put them aside them one by one, starting with the most implausible, and after that, it got easier.

I’d expected it to leave me with a “god-shaped hole”, but it never arrived. I reasoned that I was grieving; I’d just abandoned a huge part of my identity. I know how my grief works, so I waited.
Nothing happened, or at least, nothing much. Once discarded, the things I’d lost my belief in – an afterlife, ghosts, gods, magic, psychics and psychic powers, ‘energy’, vibrations, crystals, aromatherapy, a purpose to the universe, and meaning to suffering – evaporated with barely a trace, and in their place stood the solid foundations of what I knew.

And they are WONDERFUL.

I get what Neil deGrasse Tyson means when he says “I want to grab people in the street and ask: have you heard this?”. The existence of our universe is so wildly improbably yet almost inevitable (given the potential for infinite universes). My ancestors are not only human, but every creature in our evolutionary history, and – atomically, at least – stretch back to the formation of the universe. We are tiny things in a huge universe, affected by such enormous forces that are sublimely powerful and enormously indifferent to anything on a human scale. Planets, suns, black holes, asteroids, gravity, radiation – if they were capable of empathy, none of them would care one whit about the will or wishes or physical effort of even the entire human race.

Although I flirted with atheism, it didn’t stick. I understand that the existence of spirits and souls can’t be proven by science. I know that the ecstatic experiences I’ve had are almost certainly complex hallucinations; chartable on a EEG or in an fMRI scanner. Yet at the end of it all, I am definitely still interested in ecstatic visionary experiences.
Just because runes and tarot cards depend entirely of my human need to see patterns, just because a pendulum’s movement is based entirely on involuntary muscle twitches, just because the visions I have are imaginary doesn’t diminish their effect. The sense of well-being I got after I hallucinated ‘reintegrating a fragment of my soul’ may well have come from 10-15 minutes of regular breathing and good posture, but that doesn’t mean that experience itself is wasn’t profound and life-changing. If I know what causes the twitching of a pendulum, I can use it to overcome the very real problems I still have without falling prey to threats or fears of ‘possession’ or ‘demons’, and I can use a pop-culture phenomenon that I know is bogus (a “Mayan apocalypse”, for example) to draw a line under my old thought processes, and begin anew.

With that in mind, I think I’ll be closing this blog down.
The name hasn’t fitted for some time now, and I don’t think I can pick a new one. If my readers (the three of you who subscribed, and the one of you who would still be interested) want to follow my experiments in fusing science and art and spirituality into some manageable thought process, I’ll post up a link to the new blog when I think of a good title that hasn’t been taken. Until then, have a good apocalypse, a merry Yule and a happy new year.

[ADDENDUM: What I feel like I need to stress to anyone who reads this is that what I wrote is about me and me alone.
It's like shoes: these are my boots and they fit my feet. Maybe your feet are bigger, or smaller, or narrower. It's not a value judgement on you if my boots don't fit your feet, or if you don't like the style, or have no need of steel toecaps ,or prefer trainers or something a bit fancier.]

* Which isn’t to say that I was a bad person, or that religion/faith made me less of a person than I am now, but it’s part of a package of changes that includes willingness to use my autonomy, greater self-confidence, more generous, less gullible, more focused, and happier overall.

———————————-

Some of the blog posts and articles that provoked my mental shift:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/08/guest-post-humanist-paganism-on-the-rise.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/12/seeing-god-in-the-third-millenium/266134/

http://humanisticpaganism.com/

therioshamanism.com

http://nature.pagannewswirecollective.com/

Quick update

As Granny Weatherwax would say, “I ain’t dead”.
I’m just really, really busy.

I’m still working through Tranceportation, still trying to meditate regularly (still failing spectacularly).

We’re still renovating That Bloody House, but hope to be done and moved by the new year. It’ll be tight though, since we’ve lost nearly four weekends to various illnesses.

I’m volunteering my time to work as a concept artist for an onling game, hopefully improving my portfolio and taking a step towards getting a proper job in the art field.

My fine art practice has been resurrected, then returned to cold storage until after the move. I’ll be putting up some images at an unspecified future date.

Oh, and I finally decided on a charity to donate to. The Bat Conservation Trust (http://www.bats.org.uk/) now gets 15 of my hard-earned pounds a month to help protect the flesh and blood incarnations of my main spirit guide and mentor.

I hope you are all well; have a great Yuletide if I don’t post again before then.

Rabbits and rooks

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a huge tree who played host to a colony of rooks in its branches, and a warren of rabbits under its roots. The rooks and rabbits worked – more or less – in harmony and, where they didn’t work together, neither group minded very much what the other did because they never competed for food or living space.

One day, a rabbit was eating grass under the trees, when he saw that the ground near the tree was covered in droppings from the rooks. He became angry that the rooks had fouled the grass he wanted to eat and he returned to the warren and said so.

“My son,” said one of the elder rabbits, “the rooks’ soil makes the ground fertile. Yes, some grass gets spoiled, but it is a small price to pay for the  greenest and most pleasant grass in the field. Besides, without the rooks keeping watch, we wouldn’t know when the hawk is on the prowl. Rabbits below and rooks above benefits everyone.”

But the rabbit would not let the matter lie, and he complained to his friends, who complained to their friends. Before long, a small but noisy group of rabbits were complaining to the elders, who pointed out the benefits of living under a rookery. Unfortunately, the rabbits would not listen, but instead took to shouting at the rooks, and taunting them as they rested in their nests.

“Listen to the rabbits shout,” said one rook to another “such a noise! All the rabbits in the warren must be jealous of us, because we are such fine fliers, and they are stuck on the ground. If they don’t like it, they should leave.”

“That wouldn’t be right,” said his companion, “we get a lot from having the rabbits beneath our tree. They always dig up the tastiest grubs and worms from the dirt, and they warn us when the man comes with his dogs. Rooks above and rabbits below benefits everyone.”

The angry rabbits were largely ignored by their warren-mates, who didn’t want to get involved in the conflict, and grew more isolated. They talked to each other of how unfair the rooks’ behaviour was, and what they should do about it. Eventually, the original gripe was forgotten, and the rooks’ presence was enough to make the angry rabbits angrier. They resolved to burn down the tree and force the rooks to leave. All the rabbits would be safe, they reasoned, deep in the warren.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

The rooks did not often look at the base of the tree; it was not their business what the rabbits did. Because of this, they did not notice the rabbits plotting – or, if they did, they did not think it was their concern. They did not notice the kindling being laid – or, if they did, they did not think it was their concern. They did not see the fire being lit – or, if they did, they did not think it was their concern. They did see the the smoke curling through the leaves and hear the fire crackling along the bark.

The rooks took wing. Some flew out, away from the tree and tried to find new homes. Others flew down to the rabbits and demanded to know why they were doing this, but what the rabbits said made no sense. Angry at being attacked, the rooks used their wings to blow the smoke into the rabbits’ home, trying to choke the cowardly rabbits hiding in the ground.

Many of the rabbits fled the smoke-filled warren. Others, angry at being attacked, joined the rabbits outside in fighting the crows. The tree groaned and lurched above them, but the fighting rooks and fighting rabbits couldn’t hear it. As the flames weakened the tree, it began to lean further, and further until the earth couldn’t hold it any more and it collapsed, crushing the fighting rabbits and rooks.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Some time later, after the tree had burned out and the ashes had stopped smouldering, a dog and a bitch walking past the ruined tree stopped and pawed through the ashes.

“What are these bones crushed under the tree?” asked the dog.

“Either a rabbit or a rook,” replied the bitch, “I cannot tell which, and I do not care.”

Callings and cutie marks

There is a animated series about horses that is very popular at the moment. When one of these ponies finds the thing that he or she is best suited for, a picture of their special talent – a cutie mark – appears on their rump. On days like today, I wish that people were granted that boon.

An admission: no, I haven’t been called to serve.
I have never survived a life-threatening illness, nor had a near-death experience. I have never walked with a god in a  dream, nor felt the presence of the unseen in the waking world.

I find interactions with people tortuous sometimes, and would struggle to counsel the truly desperate. Getting drunk is difficult is difficult because I fear losing control, never mind entering into a trance.
I will never be a doctor, or a doula, a healer or a historian. I am an artist – excuse me – an Artist. A Storyteller.
It is what I do, it is part of who I am.

I am not a Priest, nor a Witch, nor – depending on your definition – a Druid. Not really. It’s taken me a long time to figure it out, but I understand now that that’s OK. I can’t fix an engine, remove an appendix or retile a roof. That’s why there are professionals who do.

I am an Artist; it’s what I want to do, it’s what I’m trained to do. Sometimes, I forget that it’s OK not to be totally self-sufficient.

I might not be part of a grove or a coven, but that doesn’t mean that I’m alone.

Sure, I want to help people, and I will if I can, and I’m always looking to expand my skillset to do so, but that isn’t a calling, it’s basic human empathy. My cutie mark is a palette, not a pentacle.

I am an Artist.

Crisis of confidence

Juni’s latest blog post has me asking a lot of hard questions.

Why am I learning to trance? For what reason? What do I want to do with this skill? Everyone writes about how, but what can you do once you know how? Why would I want to let myself in for this?

I’m shit at keeping a schedule. I’m beyond terrible at keeping up with my own interests, and that’s stuff I WANT to do. Would it be different if I HAD to do it? How much obligation is too much? What would I get out of doing this, and what do I do with it? ‘I want to help’ is a fucking stupid answer. If I wanted to help, I’d quit my job and join a volunteer group. To help HOW? WHOM? I can barely help myself, I’m in no position to help other people. ‘Wounded healer’ is about right.

I have a mortgage, and job, a fiancé (who doesn’t believe in ANY of this stuff); do I have too much invested in the world to risk letting go? Can I strike a balance between spirit and physical, because I’ve always been rubbish at balancing acts. Can I do this without betraying myself or my spirits, such as they may be?

I haven’t even started, and I don’t know where I want to go.

I’m not called to this. If I walked away now, no one would call me back. There’d be no god guiding me back to the path, no spirits giving me nightmares, no spontaneous visions. I haven’t crossed in months, and no one’s come looking. And why would they? A silly little kid, playing at shamanism? We’re a pound a pound.

Fuck it all.

Focus on the house.

The touchstone. The millstone. The big project. The new start. It’s nearly done, only a couple of weeks more. Then I can start working things out on my own terms.

On the recommendation of the charming people at the Wild Geek Hang, I picked up Diana L. Paxton’s workbook on  altered states of consciousness – Trance-portation – a week or so ago. Five chapters in, and Paxton has me convinced to go back to first principles to consolidate my (admittedly slight) understanding of journey-work and, hopefully, expand my understanding and ability.

With that in mind, the first exercise in the book is a self-evaluation questionnaire. Apparently, I have readers now, so I feel like I should say thay this might get a bit TMI in places, so feel free to skip it if that’s not your thing. I’ll post something on deodorant later in the week.

~~~

Support Systems

Q1. What is your living situation? Do your family or house-mates support your spiritual practice? Will they allow you the privacy in which to practice the exercises? If you are in doubt, negotiate, or find somewhere else to work.

A1:  At the moment, I live with my family. They’re fairly indifferent to what I do, but I wouldn’t say they’re terribly supportive of the space or time I try to allocate for my practice (religious or artistic). The best way for me to get space would be to leave the house.

I’ll have to revisit this question when I move out, I’ve no idea what it’ll be like living with Jamie.

Q2. Do you belong to a prayer circle, kindred or coven, or other spiritual group? Does it practice trance work or meditation? If so, what kinds, how often and for what purposes? Are any other group members working with this book? Will your group support your efforts to master these skills?

A2: No, to all questions.

Q3. Do you already have a power animal or totem? How did you acquire it? How often do you contact it, or how does it contact you?

A3: I’ve had contact with a small number of animal spirits in the past; always on the other side. If they’ve tried to get in touch over here, I haven’t noticed. I don’t recall the last date I went over, but it’s been far too long.

Q4. Do you have a strong affinity with/devotion to specific god/desses? How did you acquire them? How often do you contact them, or how do they contact you?

A4: I have a preference for the Celtic pantheon, with an interest in the  Norse one. I believe that I was recently contacted by Lugh, but – although he said I was being watched – he denied being my patron.

It should be noted that I have no idea how to acquire a patron/matron, nor how to talk to deities. I probably conducted myself like an idiot child.

~~~

Background

Q1. How do you make a living? What states of consciousness or mental skills do you use in your job, and how did you learn to attain them?

A1: I’m a software tester. It’s an incredibly tedious job that requires just enough engagement to keep you from zoning out, and entails sitting in front of a computer monitor in a basement lit by fluorescent tube lighting. It’s a struggle to keep on task, but I keep trying to improve.

Q2. What other work or hobbies occupy your time? What states of consciousness do you use? How did you learn to attain them?

A2: When I’m not funnelling my free time into renovating a house, I paint and write, and I have occasionally (far too occasionally) slip into a state where I lose track of hours at a time. I can’t induce them, but I do enjoy them after the fact.

I also read, play computer games and tackle new and outrageous projects. Like renovating a house.  Seriously, don’t do it unless you have a bottemless money pit.

Q3. What is your academic training? What kind of thinking did your department teach?

A3: I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, which is mostly teaching you how to think like an artist and analyse concepts.

Q4. What strengths or skills do you already have that can help you in trance work? What do you think will be hardest to learn?

A4:

~~~

Physiology and Psychology

Q1. What is your general state of health?

A1: Pretty good. Some pains here and there, but I’ve been worse :)

Q2. How do you rate your temperament in the following areas? Consider the column on the left to be 1, and the column on the right to be 5. Where do you fall on the continuum?

A2:

Calm – -¦- – Lively

Forceful -¦- – – Responsive

Robust -¦- – – Sensitive

Q3. How do you react to stress?

A3: Better than I used to, but still very, very badly. I don’t recognise shifts in my emotional state, and stress is one of those ones that sneaks up on me and pulls the rug out from underneath me, then beats me into submission. It usually ends in shouting, swearing and tears, followed by weeks of embarrassment.

Q4. Do you have any chronic or cyclical problems or conditions (especially heart, blood pressure, diabetic, menstrual or menopausal symptoms) that affect your mood, energy or focus? Are you on any medications?

A4: No, and progesterone-based contraception, which means no bleeding, cramps or PMT. Fookin’ A.

Q5. How do you react to alcohol or drugs?

A5: The only recreational drug I’ve ever taken is marijuana, and that had no noticeable effect. Medicinal drugs do what they’re meant to, I guess. No allergic reactions, any road. Alcohol makes me more relaxed, and eventually sleepy; I’ve only been drunk once, and I hated the feeling of being out of control and nauseous.

Q6. How much and what kind of exercise do you get? Are you eating your vegetables?

A6: I’m taking pains to get more fruit and veg, and I’ve recently started back at martial arts after a five-month absence. I also run two or three times a week, with a view to building my stamina to the point where I can do the British Army fitness programme (I’m not joining the army, I just want to be fitter). At some point in the next five years, I want to run a marathon

Q7. Have you ever had a life-threatening accident or illness? Did you have any weird experiences during the crisis? Did it change your attitude toward life?

A7: No

Q8. Have you been in counseling? What kind and for what? How did you respond to it?

A8: Ugh. I was in counseling for a couple of years for my ‘behavioural problems’. Who’d have thought that an Aspergic kid who was bullied from the age of five, and blamed for being bullied would have anger-management issues? My school put me in one-on-one counselling at ten, and that was fine, until they replaced the sympathetic therapist with a patronising one. The professional therapy the school put me in after I refused to go to the new counsellor landed me in a group with arsonists and juvenile delinquents, and I refused to go after the third session started with another session of learning each other’s names. Apparently, I didn’t think that a therapist who could learn out names after three sessions wasn’t much cop.

~~~

Skills and Knowledge

How would you rate yourself on the following topics? Excellent? Adequate? Willing to learn?

Relaxation

Adequate

Breath control

Willing to learn

Visualiasation

Excellent

Lucid dreaming

Willing to learn

Self hypnosis

Willing to learn

Shamanic journeying

Advanced beginner. Not intermediate, yet.

Sensing and moving energy

Willing to learn

Divination

Willing to learn

Folk magic

Willing to learn

Mythology

Willing to learn

Shamanism

Willing to learn

Jungian psychology

Willing to learn

~~~

Purpose

What are your goals in beginning this training? Why do you want to learn how to do trance work? Once you have learned it, what do you want to be and do?

I want to help. Who and how, I don’t know, but I want to make the bit of the world I’m responsible for a bit better when I hand it on to the next generation than it was when I took charge of it. That said, I’d settle for not making it any worse.

I’m also hungry for knowledge. I started dabbling in Shamanism because I was curious, I think (apparently I’d remember if I’d been called. IDK). I’ve seen enough thus far to believe that there’s more to life than can be known by empirical means, and I want to know more. I want to see what’s beyond the physical world, and I want to share that experience through my writing and painting.

Using unadulterated bicarb as a deodorant was a disaster, and resulted in me having very painful chemical burns everywhere the stuff touched. Although I’ll be looking into non-cosmetic applications later, I’ll be applying it with a pair of marigolds on, just in case.

Water saturated with bicarb worked about as well as regular spray deodorant, but without the ease of application. Which is to say – it lasted for about 6-8 hours, provided the temperature wasn’t too high and I didn’t do anything to energetic (like go for a brisk walk). In addition, it took far too long to dry to make it practical.

I’m not really temped to try the cornstarch/bicarb mix. getting the powder to stay on my (dry) skin was hard enough, and my bathroom floor was horribly gritty afterwards. Maybe there’s a trick to it, but everywhere says ‘apply to dry skin’, so I don’t really see it working. None of the other alternatives I posted up look particularly appealing or effective and I’m broke for the time being anyway, so I’m getting  experimental with whatever we have in the cupboards, which just happens to include lots of bees’ wax. This stuff sticks to your skin like no-one’s business, so I went looking for deodorants based on bees’ wax.

Crunchy Betty

Electroherbalism

Autonopedia.org – The Practical Encyclopedia for Sustainable Living

Squidoo.com

If I’m honest, looking for an effective, homemade deodorant has been a huge pain in the arse (although dwarfed by the difficulties in finding recipes that give measurements). I’ve not given up, but I’m not looking forward to doing the same thing with toothpaste.

Crunchybetty.com

Tammysrecipes.com

While we’re talking of toothpaste: what’s actually in it? Is fluoride good for you, and If so, how much is too much?

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