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Archive for the ‘journalling’ Category

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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Besom and staff

I bought a besom on Saturday. I’m not sure why, which made explaining my fiancé and his mum’s questions about why I bought it and what I’ll use it for difficult. I regret the stupid answers I gave.

I was conflicted for a while – should I have made it? Do I need it? Will I use it? What for? I’m a druid, not a witch. Is my fiancé right, and was it a waste of money?

In the end, I bought it because I like it, and because some part of me thinks that it’s important and that I should have one. Even if I only ever use it as a yard broom.

.

I also bought a sturdy stick which is taller than I am and has a fork at the top. I’m not calling it a stag, because I have no idea what it is yet, nor what it’s for, but I’ a lot more definite about this than I was about the broom.

I also bought it because it seemed important.

I REALLY like the stick. It has grooves spiralling around it where a vine used it as support. Parts of the vine are still there, where the three grew around it. This all seems significant.

I want to hang charms, feathers, bones and bells from it (I want to hang charms, feathers, bones and bells from everything at the moment). I want to mount a skull in the fork and to carve or burn symbols into the wood. I want to do all sorts of things that would eventually make it look like a prop from a third-rate occult thriller from the 80s, but I won’t. I need to be sensible about this, and curb my enthusiasm. I trust that these things will come as and when and if they’re needed.

But maybe a few bells won’t hurt?

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A couple of odd things happened this last week.

Firstly, I have been dragging my carcase out of bed at 06:30 to do early morning meditations (that’s not the odd thing). Since I’m still finding my feet, I’m reading the Dorling Kindersley 101 Essential Tips: Basic Meditation and trying out different things here and there.

I was doing the door-and-stairs bit – visualise a door and go through it, descend the stairs you find and go from there – and I ended up in a corridor lined with doors. Picking a door at random, I opened it and entered. I found myself deep underwater and above a drowned city, barely visible in the murk below, and felt a terrible sense of unease – as if I were in a Lovecraftian horror. Not wanting to face the inevitable Shoggoth monstrosity, I visualised a door and departed. So far, so normal (for me, anyway)

Back in the corridor, I opened another door and entered into a cave. Tall and deep and sandy-floored, this is the cave I use when I go walkabout. I knew that the end of the cave leads down into the Lower World, but I avoided it; I haven’t been out on the beach much and I felt like exploring. Turning, I found that the cave had been blocked. The walls ware still brightly lit, as though the cave mouth was open to the sky, but huge boulders blocked my path. A voice echoed inside my head – ‘now you’re trapped, and will never be king’. I knew the woman whose voice I could hear and could call her to mind easily – tall and imperious, with alabaster skin and raven hair, and dressed in black from head to toe, like Morgana leFay in an 80s BBC drama.

Confident that I couldn’t be trapped there, I opened my eyes, and shut them again very quickly – I knew that I wasn’t fully in my body, but was looking at the world from just above and behind my head. I couldn’t just get up and walk off; I knew had to finish this properly, so I went to the back of the cave and through the tunnel into the Lower World.

When I started journeying, the books I read suggested forming a ‘safe place’ within the Other Worlds that you could venture forth from, or retreat to, and that’s where I ended up. It had changed some since the last time I visited, but was still familiar and – most importantly – safe. Salmon was waiting for me in the pool in the middle, and I knew that was where my exit would be found, so I waded in and spent a few, wordless, moment with him, before completely submerging myself, visualising my exit and leaving.

~~

At the public Vernal Equinox ritual/Full Moon Grove on Saturday, we did a ‘grow new habits’ spell. Once again, I had no idea what  I was doing and just went along with what I was told.

I thought hard about what I wanted to grow and spread the seeds around the ritual space, still thinking about my intentions, then returned to the circle. Since it was my first spell, I wasn’t sure it would work, so I added a bit of personal visualisation to reinforce the affirmations I’d been repeating to myself.

I visualised the seeds germinating, and the tiny shoots emerging from the soil … and promptly lost control of the visualisation. The shoots erupted from the ground, twined together into a large tree, came into leaf and presented me with a large, dark red apple. I took the apple and took a bite before returning to reality.

~~

It’s the second meditation session in six months that’s turned around and done its own thing, and – if the visualisation during the ritual is anything to go by – it seems to be getting more common. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I have a suspicion that I’m being called back to journey-work.

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The first thing I learned about the occult was that words have power – they shape people’s perceptions and thereby shape reality.

Recently, an article posted by WitchVox’s FaceBook channel has caused some rather lively debate, and got me thinking about the way that the Pagan community describes and defines itself and its practice.

In short, a man in the USA has, during the course of some genealogical research, uncovered a death in the 16th century that was attributed to witchcraft. He laments the trivialisation of witchcraft on contemporary pop-culture and ends the article with an expression of his Christian faith. The comments got a bit rowdy – “we’re being slandered AGAIN!”, “further evidence of women’s oppression throughout history” and so on.

Having just finished Wilby’s Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, I was left wondering something else entirely: ‘Why ‘witches’?’

Why have Pagan magical practitioners chosen the word ‘witch’ to describe themselves? It is a loaded word, heavy with history and with negative connotations. We could describe ourselves as ‘good witches’, white witches’ (for those that don’t get squicked by the inherent racist connotations) or ‘healing witches’, but it all seems like qualifying or mitigating a word that – in my opinion – didn’t need to be used in the first place. There are lots of words to describe magical practitioners – magician, pellar, wizard, cunning wo/man, druid, sage, mystic, occultist (actually, that’s not much better in terms of negative connotations), mage or magus, medicine man, priest/ess, duivelbanner, toverdokter, Hexenmeister, kloge folk, klok gumma/gubbe, curandero, saludador, benandanti, dyn hysbys, seiðr, shaman, táltos, houngan, devins-guérisseurs, leveurs de sorts… – some of them are inappropriate for the intended purpose and others shouldn’t be used outside of a specific tradition, admittedly, but the point is that we aren’t limited to words in current use, or English words, or even words that are real words. At some point, for some reason, we’ve chosen ‘witch’ as our go-to word to describe (almost) any Pagan magical practitioner.

It could be reasoned that ‘witch’ is any magical practitioner, and certainly that fits with the etymology of the word, but in CF&FS, Wilby shows that a distinction was made between cunning folk, who use their spirit familiars largely for beneficial purposes, and witches, who use their spirit familiars largely for malevolent purposes. That’s a distinction drawn by the witches’ peers, not the academics and authorities, and even that definition was based on the way the familiar relationship was utilised most of the time. Some witches healed and some cunning folk cursed, but in terms of encountering or acquiring these spirits, in the descriptions, behaviour, demeanour and demands of the familiars there are profound similarities.

‘Witch’ has been used to describe bad people for a long time, and the archetype is entrenched in our mythological and cultural history. While it isn’t be impossible to reclaim or redefine a word, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort to do it with a word still in common parlance.

Which is which I find it curious that strident voices are being raised every time the word ‘witch’ is mentioned in a negative context. It’s a negative word. If Pagans don’t want to be confused with people who curse their neighbours over a perceived slight and worshipped devils (as the authorities saw it), they shouldn’t call themselves the same thing! The men and women who were killed during the witch trials era were not Pagans (they certainly weren’t Wiccans), they were Christians with lingering pre-Christian beliefs, and they were tried and punished for (in most cases) doing nasty things to other people using magic.

I’m not the boss of anyone’s pants but my own; I’m not trying to make anyone change what they define themselves as, but I’ve given it some thought, and I am not comfortable with calling myself a witch. I won’t do it, I won’t let other people do it and I won’t support them if they get a bee in their bonnet about people calling witches evil. If a person wants to get snippy about how they and their religious practices get represented in the media, perhaps they should try giving some considered thought to the words they use when describing them to others.

They shape their own reality with those words. If they don’t like it, change it. In the end, that’s what magic is for.

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