Hi, I'm Jackdaw! I'm a sympathizing order muppet, writer, remaker and pagan. I believe in hope, hearth, and fixing as much shit as I can from down here in the mines. I write about everything from practical hearth magic to fictional reconstruction and chaos magic, and from poetry to superhero fiction.
Apologies for the mess, I managed to nuke the site by accident and I'm rebuilding it.
## 🜂 [ Magic ]
## 🜁 [ Other ]
- Dustland Fairytale / Where I Come From
a summary of my how my flavor of paganism works
- /hearth Hearthwork
the practical magic of home
- Jotunwork / On Shapeshifting
thoughts on the Ironwoods and what it means to be from them
- On Fate
my understanding via fictional reconstruction
- On Firebirds
from my experiences working with various firebird energies
- The Library
the place I spend the most time elsewhere
- Theos Logos
meditations on the idea that writing is sacred
- /powers Spirits and Powers
collected thoughts on beings I work with
daily prayers and other devotional offerings
- What's In a Year?
my thoughts on holydays and calendars
"A witch ought never to be frightened in the darkest forest... because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her." – Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith
About me & my site
last updated 8.26.2022
Who are you, anyway?
Hey there! I’m Jack Clayton, a freelance writer, fictional reconstructionist, occultist, and chaos consultant. I write about my adventures in magic, paganism, homemaking, identity and learning new things.
Inspired by my magical interests, I got my B.A. in Religious Studies. I’ve worked in finance, education, bookselling and banking, but through everything, my passion remained in spotting patterns, making connections, and helping people find the guidance they needed.
I got my start as a pagan and a magician in chaos magic, which is all about using whatever systems of magic or belief are going to work best in the current situation. While I no longer call myself a chaos magician, I remain a big fan of bringing order through the appreciation of chaos.
I am transmasculine, genderqueer, bisexual and use he/they pronouns. You can find me at jackdaw#9850 on discord or leave a comment on my blog if you want to reach me. rubedo.work exists to be my home base on the internet.
What do you call yourself?
Fictional reconstructionist. My faith practice has both fictional and historical influences, and I use fiction as a medium to understand my own experiences and faith. Looking at, say, LotR or Dr Who and wondering what those religions looked like. How would it work? Who would you call on? The way you come to understand a religion like that is a framework on which you hang your own understandings and preferences in a religion. In building a relationship between yourself and a “fictional” deity, you’re reaching out to the Powers and saying ‘this is what my life is missing; does it exist?’ and preparing to accept the answers. Much of the time, for me, this is using writing to reach out to powers and invite them into my life.
What else are you?
Sympathizing order muppet. My natural inclination is to prefer order, and I can go down the organizing rabbithole with the best of them, but when working with Chaos Muppets I can embrace the joy of chaos. This is basically how I try to frame my OCD in everyday life- order is good, it's a really solid baseline to base other things on in life, but I can't let the existence of chaos drive me to dark places.
Disaster multipotentialite. I like to do lots of different things. All the things. I also get distracted from all the things. I have a lot of half-finished things. If the previous description is my OCD, this is the ADHD I didn't get diagnosed until I was almost forty; I wouldn't know an executive function if it bit me without my medication. I have auditory processing issues that mean it's hard to actually process what's being said to me, especially if there's a lot of background noise. I love closed captions and I'm really not good at getting instruction from podcasts or youtube tutorials.
What else do you believe in?
Be kind. I try to act with kindness. I am aware that kindness is complicated, and variable, and not as easy as nice. I may not be able to achieve Mr. Rogers levels of kindness, but I try to aspire to them at my best.
Share. I'm basically a socialist. Education and health care should be free. Universal Basic Income should be a thing. Minimum wage should be a living wage and prisons and police should be replaced with social reform.
Spirituality matters. Spirituality is a large part of how I make sense of my life and my relationship with the worlds around me. I don't expect other people to approach the world from the same angle as me, so I try to see where they're coming from, but this is what works for me.
What's a rubedo?
It may be a bit ambitious of me to name my site after it, but rubedo is the fourth and final state of the traditional Western alchemical process. After the dark night, cleansing and awakening comes the rebirth or completion. I don't pretend I'm there yet, but it's a stage associated with the phoenix, which has been a major symbol in my life for a long time. Let's call it aspirational.
I chose a .work domain because alchemy is also called the great work, and also because it was on sale when I was registering it.
Why does this site look like this?
This site is built using a delightfully minimalist new CMS called Lichen that runs on gemtext. My biggest problem with website creation is that I tend to get distracted down in the ditches- some amazing idea or whatever comes up and I spend four hours chasing the CSS for it, never succeed, and walk away frustrated without actually finishing the thing I'd sat down to work on. Or I'd install a new Static Site Generator and get annoyed and give up somewhere around where I had to inevitably make some small change on EVERY file for my site. And okay yes I wasn't already using gemtext so I did have to do some file cleanup when I moved into Lichen but the thing is, everything would have been entirely readable even if I hadn't. I did cleanup, but I didn't have to do cleanup. Lichen JUST WORKS, it gets out of my way, and it keeps me from my greatest weakness, which is my ability to get distracted by literally everything.
I also use
http://nearlyfreespeech.net NearlyFreeSpeech for hosing
http://porkbun.com porkbun for domain registration
This site doesn't technically run on Gemini, though I'd eventually like to figure out a way to serve it on both. If you'd like to learn more or try Gemini for yourself here's some links:
I am very, very tempted by aesthetic. However, I also find it very, very distracting, as I mentioned above. The use of a very simple design and a very simple protocol on this site is an intentional decision made to force myself to focus on my content. In particular, I'm looking to adhere to the philosophies put forth on Brutalist Web Design below, to reduce the number of decisions I have to make and to ensure the site is simple to read and maintain.
https://brutalist-web.design/ Brutalist Web Design
https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/09/how-to-build-a-lowtech-website.html How to Build a Low-tech Website
https://web.archive.org/web/20210305131714/http://gauthierroussilhe.com/en/posts/convert-low-tech Digital Guide to Low Tech (archived)
https://jeffhuang.com/designed_to_last/ Designed to Last
https://contrastrebellion.com/ Contrast Rebellion
https://write.as/synth-ruiner/the-low-tech-manifesto the Low Tech Manifesto
https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2021/01/the-unreasonable-effectiveness-of-simple-html/ The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Simple HTML
http://motherfuckingwebsite.com/ This Is A Motherfucking Website
https://thewebisfucked.com/ The Web Is Fucked
https://tilde.town/~zach/folk-html.html Basic HTML Competency Is the New Punk Folk Explosion!
Who are you writing this for, anyway?
My postings about magic are definitely intended for an audience that already believes in gods and magic, for whatever your personal understanding of that may be, and if you're a hardcore atheist or of a faith that forbids such things, you're gonna have a hard time. If you think I'm crazy, you're probably not my audience. That's okay; there's plenty of internet to go around.
If you're a newbie witch or a seeking pagan, not sure where to start or what's out there, this may not be the site for you either. I tend not to be very good at disclaimers and starting at 101. I'm especially bad at the thing where people who believe in weird stuff are expected to start off everything with disclaimers about how we know we sound wacky and here's a list of all the stuff I know ISN'T possible so please take me seriously. I'm bored of that. I'm gonna assume you can evaluate a source on your own and you don't need me to hold your hand. Here's a grain of salt, I guess.
A Dustland Fairytale
(what I believe)
My polytheism is easy. No quibbling about definitions of gods or spirits; they’re all powers, they’re all addressed the same. The powers that talk to me are the ones I talk to. What I perceive, I consider real. What works is what works.
My polytheism is difficult. It’s timey-wimey, squishy, non-linear. It’s occasionally psychotic, often uncomfortable, always complicated. No answer is complete unto itself. The opposite of a great truth is also true, as Niels Bohr said.
My polytheism is taking out the trash and doing the laundry. It’s finding the energy to cook dinner and tell my daughter to say night night to Mara. It’s gods who know I am able to do my best for them when I am able to do the best for myself.
My polytheism is Norse and Hellenic, it is Buddhist and Taoist and Catholic, it is Narnian and Rainbowlander and Wild. It is undeniably the product of my life to this point. It is pop cultural because I am pop cultural, the product of growing up in a sitcom. It is academic because I threw myself on the mercy of academia trying to figure myself out.
My polytheism is eclectic. I believe in what works. That means I pray to the gods who answer (even the ‘pop culture’ ones) and I do the magic that works (even if it’s a chaote’s mishmash of techniques) and that which gives no results gets no attention.
My holiest of places is the Library, because it encompasses both fiction and non-fiction, and doesn’t say one or the other is more important. My sacred act is writing. My ritual is plugging in the keyboard, booting up the laptop.
Also my polytheism is taking my meds and talking to my psychologist, and my polytheism is experiences that most people would call crazy, and there's no conflict in that.
Is there still magic in the midnight sun
Or did you leave it back in
There are so many things I used to know, that I've forgotten, that I'm relearning. Some of them are things I knew elsewhere and forgot when I came here, but so many of them are things I knew and I let myself forget because it was easier. Because I didn't want to argue with parents, or with schoolteachers, or with friends or significant others.
I have always been a cuckoo, though I didn't know why or how to explain it. I always knew my father was not my father; my mother, I let myself believe in eventually. I never trusted adults as far back as I can remember. I remember being babysat by my grandmother, so I must not have been in kindergarten yet, and locking myself in her bedroom while I played so no one would know what I was doing.
I remember long summer evenings sitting up in the trees, hoping that somehow the sun would not set if I didn't come down, that I might never have to go home. I remember coming home after I left the first time, and no longer knowing how my room was supposed to smell, and thinking that the jig was up, certainly now they'd notice I was faking it and I wasn't really their child.
The last time I went back to my hometown, I spent months feeling adrift afterward. I didn’t know how to feel about really anything when I was there. I think about the me I was with my grandmother, and how, when she died, that person was gone without me really understanding what I lost. There were places and things I loved about the place where I grew up that I’d forgotten about, and visiting was like tearing off that old scar and wondering why it’s bleeding afterward.
There are plenty of beautiful, earthy places in the metro area, but I think I needed that system shock to remind me why I feel so at home here where I am. I will always be a product of my tiny hometown, and of my family, and of the northeastern US, even if I no longer remember the person I was when I was there.
Be their daughter.
My practice includes no standards of purification, no states of uncleanness. It never will again. I have OCD, and am prone to being all too aware of my failures and the ways in which I am incomplete, broken and unacceptable. I drown easily in the fear of being tainted.
My ex, at one point, would often question me when I disagreed with her: “I think you’re being influenced by nasty spirits. Work on your shielding. Work on your psychic hygiene. The real you would agree with me and with the gods.”
Staring at it now, broken down like that, it sounds ridiculous, but at the time it made perfect sense. So I banished. I prayed. I meditated. I learned a dozen shielding techniques and used them all, layer over layer. I banished some more. It was the metaphysical equivalent of washing my hands compulsively, and I had no idea what I was doing, only that I had to keep doing it or I would be infected and hurt everyone.
This was a particularly fucked up instance, but ritual uncleanliness is often a stick used for beating. Look at the taboos around menstruation. Look at the way humanity tends to turn from death, from untouchables, from lepers both literal and metaphorical.
I’m better now. I learned what scrupulosity was, and how to spot it in my thoughts, and how to chase it out. Miasma may be a useful concept for other people, but it is not and cannot be for me.
And that’s okay. My practice seems to be fine without it. My powers do not ask me to ritually purify, and there’s not really a precedent for it in heathen practice anyway. When I have the energy for cleanliness, it’s going to my apartment, because that matters more to my gods. I’m down in the mud and the blood of living and that’s just my way and the way of my powers.
I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form
"Come in" she said "I'll give you shelter from the storm"
I remember long high school afternoons in the drama room, in the library, in the computer lab, in the guidance office, anywhere but in class. I knew all the tricks to make them leave me alone; I have long been Someone Else's Problem, the invisibility, whatever it is, has been there for a long time. Since I stopped dancing, probably. I think it would have been somewhere between the end of my junior year and the beginning of my senior year that it began.
I remember discovering synchronicity in Sunday School, before Communion, when I decided that angels were kin to gods and gave my teacher headaches.
I remember outlining water, earth, fire and air, and their alignments to darkness, light, chaos and order. I dreamt of how life went on after the end of the world before I could even write the stories that went with it.
There were gods before I knew they were gods, who taught me and made sure I knew someone was watching out for me, even if I didn't trust my parents to do it. Professor Dark drew me out, and Jareth held me back. And the Dark Lady was always there to wrap sleep around me, back when I could sleep so easily and well no matter where I was.
I understood that the line between fiction and reality was blurry, and that we could do our best to blur it further. I knew gods in the guise of fictional characters weren't any less real than the ones in my Bulfinch. In many ways, they were more real to me.
And I've always known the Library. I've always had the sense that moving correctly between the stacks will get me lost. Oh, the tiny one in the next town over didn't have room for that, though I always seemed to manage to find a quiet corner anyway, but the one in the city nearby was gloriously old and gothic, with floors that didn't quite extend to the walls. I spent whole days there just sitting, breathing with the books.
I deal with gods because they get my attention and start talking to me. I don’t know if I’d call what I do serving or not. Sometimes they ask me to do things, but not always. I don’t really get the impression that I’m being used “for” anything in particular except perhaps that they miss having followers or they find me interesting. I’ve never felt like I was getting anything arbitrary dumped on me, though, or that I was being wielded like I’ve seen some people describe. Maybe that’s in the cards later on, but I haven’t leveled up that far yet if it is.
One particular relationship I have, I would characterize as parental – I’ve been thinking of Odin as the “other father” for more than half my life, and god knows I was looking for a father figure that I could relate to (he’s only mostly an asshole, which is good, because if he wasn’t one at all, I doubt I could conceive of him wanting to deal with me). I think of Loki as “mother” but that particularly choice took longer to develop.
The others, I feel like I get something out of them – Kuan Yin helps us with internal work, Mara helps us with external work, Ilmarinen honest to god would give advice while I was at the forge. I can’t explain it and I don’t usually try, but it’s real enough for me.
I’ve walked away from relationships before, and also had deities tell me to back off. I’m pretty happy with the ones I have now, though.
You might think that sounds mercenary. That’s fair, I guess, but only for a broad definition of mercenary.
I’m sure Odin has an agenda. He’s the kind of guy who always does. But he’s also a relatively patient son of a bitch, given how much time he’s given in relation to what he’s asked in return so far.
I look at it this way – lots of people decide to become teachers. They all do it for different reasons. Some are in it because a university job covers their research bills and students make good lab monkeys. Some of them are in it for the power trip. Some of them are waiting to get their student loans forgiven, or are working at a private school that pays pretty well. You could call that mercenary. And some of them actually believe that they are educating the leaders of tomorrow and all that other stuff. Kuan Yin and other bodhisattva, I have no trouble believing they’re the latter. They’re in it for the good of mankind, whether the rest of us schmucks deserve it or not.
For the rest of them, well… I don’t have an issue with writing a check for tai chi lessons or accounting classes. The school has an agenda too: staying open. Some people believe that the gods derive power from being given offerings, being believed in, being given devotion. I’m inclined to think that’s the case. Mara wouldn’t have much use for me cutting her a check, but I leave her an offering and I get a little bit of help finding a job.
That’s oversimplifying, and most people would call it impious and disrespectful, but I’ve never gotten shit for it from anybody I worked with very long.
Why I Do What I Do
Understanding how religion works helps you as a theist – or even certain kinds of atheist – get what you need out of religion. Not everyone wants to get the same thing out of it. Some people want mysticism and some people want emotional support and some people just want to know they have a place to go every Sunday and someone who’ll notice if they disappear.
None of these needs is wrong. Maybe some of them seem ridiculous, overkill, or shallow. When I was first realizing as a young Catholic that what I needed from religion was that mysticism and a more… hands on deity than I’d found in Jesus, I thought the “shallow” religion of my fellow parishioners was a sham. Eventually, though, I grew out of using the word “sheeple” and understood that they were happy. (Well, okay, some of them are happy. But you get the idea.)
If somebody is happy with themselves and their religion, that’s great. They’ve got it handled. I’m not writing this for them, though. If you’re here, if you’re reading this as a part of the search for something in yourself, you’re my audience. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that, like Bono, you still haven’t found what you’re looking for. In fact, there’s a version of that song recorded in concert like a decade later where he adds “and I hope I never find it!”
Most of the time, I find I agree with Bono. There is a lot of value in the journey, with or without a destination. Yes, sometimes I get tired. Sometimes I’m envious of people who get their needs fulfilled by showing up once a week. But the majority of the time, I’m like a metaphysical shark. If I’m not moving, I’m drowning.
I’ve studied a lot of religions and magical styles. I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means, but I’ve done a lot of reading and practice. I’ll try anything once, and I’ve tried lots of things more than once. I keep what works.
Understanding how religion works and what you need out of it lets you make solid choices when you’re going into that practice. When I build a religion from scratch, I can make sure it addresses my needs. Some people will tell you that what you want or need doesn’t matter. If there is a god picking you up by the scruff of your neck, that may be the case, but even if a god reaches out to you, he or she is not necessarily going to control every part of your religious life, and that’s okay.
Where I Came From
07: Meeting Professor Dark
I was no more than seven, lying in the grass away from my unit and the camp counselor. I wasn’t hiding, I just didn’t want to talk to anyone.
Suddenly a silhouette cut into my view of the sky.
“Are you with them?” he asked, head inclining toward the playground below. I nodded.
“So why be up here?”
I shrugged. He sat down next to me. I should have called out or run — this was the era of ‘stranger danger,’ after all — but I didn’t. He was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt and he had overgrown dark hair that fell in his face. He looked kind of like kidnappers on TV, but I didn’t feel threatened by him.
“You’re different,” he said finally. It sounded more like a statement than a question, so I didn’t respond. He wasn’t looking at me anyway, he was staring far off at the trees.
“You’re too young, really. But someone should, and it might as well be me.”
Then his hand was on my face and it went dark before I realized something was happening.
10: Meeting Aries
Dante had Virgil to lead him through the wilds of the otherworlds, explaining as he went how everything worked. I had Aries.
I don’t know that I could honestly talk about the origins of my practice without eventually talking about Aries, but he’s not a god or a type of spirit that I can put a finger on, so it’s weird and awkward to explain him and I’ve often put it off.
Aries first appeared when I was, oh, probably ten. At this point I’d been working with Professor Dark and Jareth and what I understood to be fae in the nearby woods, as well as made my first attempts at praying to the Greek gods while studying mythology at school. I didn’t know what any of that was, not really, just that my life was full things I shouldn’t tell my parents about.
The first thing Aries said to me when I found him in the woods after school was “You can see me?” He was older than me, probably fifteen or sixteen, and instantly replaced my cousin Becky (who had a leather jacket) as the coolest person I had ever met.
I brought him home, not really thinking about what he said until my parents steadfastly ignored him and I realized this wasn’t just someone who was in the woods. This was Fairy Tale Rules, which is what I called magical things at the time, but I’d never really had Fairy Tale Rules follow me into the house before. Aries tried to explain why I could see him and other people couldn’t, but he wasn’t a scientist and I’d not even had middle school physics yet. I built up a vocabulary from myths and fairy tales and pop culture – one of the terms I used to describe him over the next few years was “cap bearer,” not because he wore a cap but because he could access the doors between worlds.
I'd left before, though I didn't tell him that. I knew the feeling of being outside of myself. What I didn't know, I told him truthfully, was how to choose to leave. I wanted to follow him and I didn't know how.
He nodded. "I want you to sit for me."
"Sit quietly, relaxed, not thinking, the way you practice at the end of your ballet lessons."
I did as he said, trying not to think too much about what she was doing.
"Imagine that your body is a hollow space, like a car that you drive around in. Picture yourself in that space."
I nodded and closed my eyes. The image that came to me was of a large, empty space with a high, curved ceiling. There seemed to be lights above and in front of me.
"Where in your body are you?"
I knew the answer without having to think about it. "My head."
I couldn't see him nodding but I heard the acknowledgement that I'd said what he expected. "There are different places you can see yourself. For some people it's the chest or the stomach."
"Should I try to be somewhere else?"
"No. Where you are is just a reflection of where you're comfortable. For now we're just working on something else."
"Now I want you to imagine yourself still in that space, taking a look around. Look specifically for a door, and you should find one. Do you see it?"
I did, at the back of the space, away from the lights. My door, when I saw it, was of carved wood with simple geometric patterns shaped in it.
"Walk over to the door and take the handle. Brace yourself and then try imagining yourself opening it."
The door handle was cut glass like my bedroom doorknob and it shone bright when I reached my hand out to it.
"Now step through it."
Beyond the door was blackness and nothing else, and I hesitated.
Finally he asked, "Is something wrong?"
Too embarrassed to answer, I threw myself into the void.
So, yes, my first “astral spirit guide” was a teenage boy. Maybe that explains a lot, I don’t know. I’d learned the basics from Professor Dark without realizing what I was doing, but Aries gave me focus. He was like a big brother letting me tag along once I got the hang of it. After a few months I figured out the knack of it myself.
He took me to the realms and places he knew, and as I got the hang of it I managed to drag us other places as well. I ended up in stupid amounts of danger more times than I can count, but like a big brother he made sure I got out most of the time. He introduced me, with the best of intentions, to the young demigoddess who ended up possessing me for a couple of years, but that’s another story entirely, and my own fault.
Aris died when I was in college, but I still see him sometimes, through the vagaries of the otherworlds. I owe him a lot, though – he was my introduction to all of it, all the places I could go when I took my body off, and my big brother and my tour guide.
11: Losing Kelley
When I was small I had a best friend. We were the same age and our mothers were friends, so it was that sort of... inevitable relationship, I suppose. We talked about magic a lot, Kelley and I did. We wrote out elaborate magical rituals in my notebooks and talked about how kids can see fairies but adults can’t and we made plans for when we were older and we could do better magic.
Kelley lived in the next town over, so we only got to see each other on weekends, and as we got older and as we and our siblings had more activities on the weekends, we saw less and less of each other. When I went to Kelley’s eleventh’s birthday party, I said something about it.
There was just a blank look on Kelley’s face. No idea what I was talking about. No memory of any of it, except maybe a fleeting reference to the silly games we used to play. The party was terrible and I don’t know what Kelley’s mom told mine in the morning but we didn’t see each other again until late middle school, when Kelley and I happened to end up in the same room at a regional testing center.
We chatted like nothing had broken between us, but it was the hollow chatter where nothing is broken because nothing had been built in the first place.
I think of Kelley sometimes when I’m pulling out this or that thread of childhood experience, and I wonder what all of that looked like from the other side. From the point of view of the one who put away childish things. From the one who grew up.
After that party, I was terrified that growing up somehow was synonymous with forgetting, so I attached myself to the idea of Not Growing Up with Barrie-like zeal. I was certain that if Grew Up, I would have to give up magic and everything I understood about the universe.
Somewhere along the line I lost it anyway, and now I find myself in the position of reclaiming those childhood things even as I launch headlong through the markers of adulthood in society like marriage and upcoming parenthood. I am wondering now how I will teach my daughter what I believe, and what skill I can give her so she will grow up without forgetting. I know it can be done, and I’m sure it can be done better than I did. Hopefully I can give her the information she needs to learn from my mistakes and instead make her own. That sounds like powerful magic, if I can carry it off.
13: Coming Back
I don’t actually remember if Oz was the first magical land I was introduced to. I mean, there was Wonderland, and there was Terabithia, and Eternia, and Rainbowland, and Narnia, and the Labyrinth. There’s not really a shortage of magical destinations for children.
Oz was the first one I remember really thinking about, though. It was the first one I tried to get to. At night, before I fell asleep, I would picture myself crossing the Deadly Desert and stepping into Oz. I guess you could say I grew up in black and white and found magic in my search for color.
What all of these places do is give children an understanding of how magical journeying is supposed to work. It’s strictly hero’s journey in a lot of ways – the departure, the mentor, etc. But at the same time, it’s a lesson in how things work for someone who’s going to be traveling through faerie, through other worlds or the astral plane or however you quantify it.
This is how you behave. Be polite. Don’t lie. Don’t tell the whole true. Be polite. Take what’s offered. Give what’s asked. Be polite. Help when you can, and you’ll get help in return. And for fuck’s sake, be polite to shit that can eat you.
Honestly, I still think that’s a lesson not enough pagans or magicians take to heart.
And there’s another lesson built-in there too: in the end you come back. I was thirteen the first time I came back, wanting to or not.
For a long time, I didn’t understand the importance of the return. Why would anyone who found their way to Oz come back? What was wrong with Aslan that he kept sending the Pevensies back to London? Which turned into wondering what was wrong with the Pevensies that they had to go back, and then into wondering what was wrong with me.
But looked at from the... from the shamanic perspective, for the lack of a better word, the traveler who doesn’t return is a failure.
Yes, I eventually went out into the world; at this point, I never intend to go back to black and white. But that was a conscious choice made from experience. Similarly, in the Oz books, eventually Dorothy and the Wizard and some of the others make their home there, but it’s not on the first visit. It’s something you have to work for.
You have to earn your place in the world, if you want it to be something other than your parents’ place. You have to go out and find the color. When color just happens, you get put back at the end, nice and neat. When you actually go out and learn to paint, then you can live wherever you want, whether it’s Oz or Kansas or somewhere in between.
(I still vote for Oz, though.)
15: Trusting the Tree
When I was younger, there was a tree I loved. It was about half a block from my house. We all climbed, but I climbed higher than anyone. There was a bandana that I tied at my high water mark, a dare to the other kids in the neighborhood. It was pretty much at the top of the tree… in retrospect, I’m surprised it held my weight at that height. In high school, I spent plenty of afternoons sitting up in the branches, talking to the tree, reading, doing homework. I practiced my drama monologues up there.
Thinking about that tree, I’m surprised how much I still miss her.
The day I climbed to the very highest point on the tree, I was angry and I was hurt and I was sad. There was a girl down the street that I’d considered a good friend, and she’d repudiated me publicly (in that high school way, so maybe “repudiate” is too strong a word, but it felt like a huge betrayal) and so I climbed the tree and I took the bandana we used as a marker and untied it and kept going up. I went way past safety, to the very top of the tree (and this tree was taller than anything near it, so you could clearly see the top from the road). I tied the bandana up there in the hopes that she would see it. I wanted her to know that I’d gotten to the top of the goddamn tree, and that she was never going to get higher than I was.
Then winter happened, and in the spring I went overseas for a year. And then I came back. I won’t say I came back more mature or world-wise or anything like that, but for the first time I understood that the world outside of my tiny Mid-Atlantic town (population 397 at the time) was real and I could reach it and soon I would leave and not come back. I’d dreamed of leaving since I was very small, but it hadn’t seemed possible until I was 16 and I did.
When I came back, I had a lot of time to myself. Due to school years lining up oddly, I finished 11th grade overseas and came back almost two months before school let out in my district. That meant days and days wandering around the neighborhood by myself, while everyone was at school and work and my dad was napping or working around the house. I spent plenty of afternoons in the tree with a snack and a book and nothing to worry about, but one day as I was walking toward the tree I noticed the bandana was still there at the top despite two winters in between.
I was a little more careful than I used to be, testing my weight on the branches as I climbed, worried for the first time about falling. But I made it. I could see the whole town, emptied to work and school. I untied the bandana. I brought it down with me. It didn’t matter anymore.
Climbing down was so much harder than climbing up was. Climbing up, I knew where my hands were, I could trust my arms to hold me as I reached. Climbing down involved several places where my foot didn’t touch the next branch down until I’d given up my grip on the branch above me. It required care, and it required faith.
I trusted in the tree then, and the tree supported and protected me, and that has translated into the way I work with both nature around me and the World Tree since.
My first real boyfriend (as in, the first person I had a relationship with in which we both professed to be interested in each other) was exactly the kind of long-distance internet trainwreck people used to warn you about when the subject of internet dating came up. We met in anime fandom. He was a writer and an artist and seemed to have brilliant ideas. And he wanted to write with me! He drew me things! That was a huge complement. I was seventeen and living in a small town and bored out of my cotton-picking mind, of course I was head-over-heels for him in moments.
I invited him to join my weekly D&D game on IRC. (I just dated myself, didn’t I?) He was jealous of my character’s in-game boyfriend, though, and I ended up making a new character. Soon after, his drama helped destroy the game entirely. It was okay, he told me. Really I should focus on my writing.
I soon discovered, though, that what he meant by “focus on my writing” was “write whatever he told me to, folding, spindling and mutilating my own universes to make him happy.” He wanted to add elves to everything. Everything. Medieval Italy doesn’t need elves. He was also, I realize in hindsight, the king of the Mary Sue, and wanted all my male leads to be based on him, tall and slim with long, dark hair and violet eyes…
You may be expecting me to follow that up with how he wanted “his” characters to date mine. No, see, in the meantime he’d asked me for permission to open up our relationship, which I didn’t mind at first. But now he was telling me to write stories where the male lead was him and the female lead was his other significant other. She was shy and pale and willowy and a total white mage, whereas my “personal” characters tend to run more chaotic neutral.
He was basically asking me, then manipulating me, to write his love stories with someone else. When I pushed back, he would go on and on about how selfish I was and how I shouldn’t be so Mary Sue, wanting to have my characters in my stories. How ridiculous was I? Why did I have to make everything about me? And then inevitably I had to stay up all night and talk him out of killing himself.
(Years later I came across some of “his” art on a Japanese fanart site, and I realized all of it had been lifted. Why I didn’t realize it sooner, I don’t know, but it seems pretty emblematic of our relationship.)
For years after, it was a struggle to co-write at all, and offering to share writing duties on a major project with my SO was a huge leap of faith for me. While I learned my lesson about sharing my fiction, though, I missed the broader take-away from that relationship.
It took me another thirteen years or so to realize I was still falling into that pattern. Instead of writing, though, I was doing it with religion. I would find someone whose ideas were interesting and seemed related to mine. I would share, and they would share, and slowly it transformed the same way my relationship with that first boyfriend transformed, until anything I said or did that didn’t directly relate to whatever that other person was doing was selfish and short-sighted of me and what was wrong with me anyway.
As you might imagine, this interacted poorly with thought patterns that I now realize were/are social scrupulosity. I didn’t want to be selfish! So time and again, and with multiple friends, I put aside my what was important to me and I focused on being the dutiful sidekick, the support staff. I did the research that was promptly misinterpreted or ignored. I made connections, was told I was being ridiculous, and then watched as that same person took the credit for them a week later.
And through it all I stayed quiet, I did my own work on the side but I kept it to myself, because I didn’t want to be selfish, or attention-whoring, or worse. Eventually I was able to dig myself out of that hole, but it was a long time coming, learning to talk about my practices and my ideas, or to keep silent, but not to bend either way.
25: The Time I Promised My Service To The Sea For Dumb Reasons And Lived With The Consequences
I see a lot of general advice about spiritwork, generally of the ‘don’t do it, you’ll fuck it up’ genre, but people rarely seem to talk about what that actually looks like.
When I was in my 20s, my then-significant-other was embarking on a devotional relationship that I believe eventually turned out to be with La Sirene, but at the time she didn’t know who it was. She wanted my support, and as part of that, she wanted me to promise my service with her.
Now, there’s a time and place for making promises to deities who are interacting with you but whose names you haven’t learned yet. However, I do not recommend doing it lightly. In my case, because I didn’t have any real idea who she was working with except what she had told me, I just promised my service to the sea for seven years.
Yeah, don’t do that.
At the time, my work was pretty closely aligned with hers because it made kept happy, so at first nothing seemed amiss. I did the same work she was doing, and it was pretty straightforward. She was overwhelmingly scary sometimes, and so was the sea, but hey, at least we were in this together.
Then the relationship started to get strained and my religious work went off in directions that were not what my ex was doing. I wasn’t getting anything but crickets from most of her gods, so I figured I was safe. I went back to Taoism, and I got a sharp sense that Someone was poking at me. Divination, meditation, and research led me to Tien Hou, a sea goddess.
“You’re already promised to me,” she said.
I’m fairly sure I did the metaphysical equivalent of staring, slack-jawed.
“You serve the Sea. You’ve changed directions, but the Sea is constant.”
Because awkwardly worded promises don’t go away because your interests have changed, it turns out. So I built an altar and burned incense and visited her temple in Los Angeles, and I did as she asked. She’s a merciful goddess, and I was fortunate. I would send someone who needed her help to her in a heartbeat.
And then Odin came back into my life, and directions shifted again. It happens, life is complicated. I can date this one precisely, because I knew I was getting poked and so I sent a request in to a spiritworker for Mabon 2009’s seidhr. I asked the dreaded “who’s calling me?” and was told Aegir, Ran and Njord were poking around.
The sea gods. Well, I felt pretty silly then. Ran ended up with the rights to my “contract” and she was a lot more demanding than Tien Hou. When she wanted me at the ocean I ended up at the ocean – I suddenly had travel obligations for work that landed me oceanfront on both east and west coasts, regardless of the fact that I suffer from vertigo and flying is painful at best. I wrote for her, I sang for her, I gave blood and other offerings in both oceans. When we drove up the California coast I greeted her and her daughters at multiple beaches, like I was on some kind of magical scavenger hunt.
I came to love her. But it was hard, and there was bitterness on my part that I didn’t feel I’d signed on for “this” even though I had. But I did what she asked and while she was demanding she was never cruel.
By the time she released me to the Columbia, I’d all but forgotten service was for a term and not forever. I was pretty lucky, in that respect.
I can’t say I’d choose to do it again, especially blindly. The contract lasted longer than the relationship that prompted it. But in the end, I learned a lot from the Sea, all three of her, and while I went into it completely unprepared, I survived it. My life was not destroyed.
We learn from the mistakes we make. Most of the time, they’re not permanent and not fatal. I don’t recommend that you go promising yourself to gods known or unknown forever without any exit clauses, and I think you should carefully consider a spirit marriage or job the same way you should consider carefully a job or marriage in your physical life.
But eventually you have to take a risk to go forward. Sometimes you do something without thinking it through. It isn’t the end of the world, either. Keep your promises, fulfill your side of the bargain, and be open to the opportunities you have. If you find yourself in over your head, you have an amazing opportunity to learn how to swim.
I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be, than me.
-Bad Guy Affirmation, Wreck-It Ralph
I’m wild and that’s good.
When I talk about working with Loki, or really with any jotnar, the questions seem inevitable. How do I stand that energy? That intensity? That destructiveness? How do I live with so much chaos around me?
The real question, if you know me, is how could I not live with that energy in my life. There’s a reason I talk about monsterwork and destruction and deconstruction. That’s who I am, and that’s how I work. Jotunheim is a much better fit for me than Asgard. I ain’t no country club boy. When I see Loki, he’s free. When I work with the other jotnar, there’s no pretense of it being safe, or of them being tame. Ran is the ravenous ocean, Hraesvelgr is the churning storm, Logi is the wildfire and Surt is the fire at the heart of creation.
Why do I work with them? Because that’s the energy that I need in my life. Stagnation drives me up a wall, and more than that, it can actually make my OCD worse. There is a fear that, if things are calm, I must be simply waiting for the next chaotic thing. I’m happier when things are happening and changing, whether internally or externally. I may not have complete control over them, but choosing to give up control is still a choice.
People seem to worry that Loki is going to wander uninvited into lives that are happy and settled and completely fulfilled and tear them down for no good reason, or maybe because it’s funny. Loki is not actually the God of Fishmalk. He brings necessary change when things are stagnant. He changes that which needs to be changed. If you’re actually, honestly, in your bones happy with your life- well, he’s probably got better things to do.
Civilization is wonderful in many ways (medical technology and the internet are great), but wildness is also necessary, both within and without. To ask the jotnar to be safe, to be peaceful, to stand down from battling the Aesir... that is to ask them to be something they’re not. Asking “why do you work with chaos” is a meaningless question. We all work with chaos, every day of our lives. We are at the mercy of traffic, weather, cell mutation and the stock market.
The only question is how we acknowledge it.
Everything Louder Than Everything Else
I always feel like I’m living with the volume turned up to 11. For me, being a monster is like speaking capslock as my native language. Everything is experienced immediately and intensely, in a way society tells me is “overboard.” The details vary, as details pretty much always do, but the aspect of Buddhism that draws me in is the philosophy of experiencing each moment fully for what it is.
Whatever I am doing at any given moment, that is the thing I have fully committed myself to. If I’m on a mountain, I’m enjoying the hell out of that mountain right then, not worried about the next part of the trail or whatever pissed me off that morning. If I’m fucking, my partner knows exactly where my attention is at any given moment. If I’m working, the work is what matters and doing it right becomes important no matter how dull the job is. Telling me not to care is meaningless, and this can cause me a lot of stress at work. If I’m watching a movie, my emotions are fully consumed by the movie, regardless of how stupid I might look crying in Wreck It Ralph.
Being a wild thing means being in the moment, not in the past or the future. What matters is what I’m doing now, and whether I could be doing it even better than I already am. Whatever I’m feeling, I’m feeling it one hundred percent. (Even if that feeling is confusion, or even if I’m feeling two different things and I’m at 200%.) Every feeling is valid and important, it’s just what you do with them that matters. Anger and joy are easy ones to picture, and while Americans are acculturated to cringe at expressions of both, we at least know what they look like. That’s not the case with many emotions. Grief, for example, is felt keenly by monsters and most other creatures; I mourn loudly and messily, and I’m a sobbing mess when I get started. (Traditional Irish wakes as well as funerals with wailing and screaming mourners are both closer to honesty than the stoic, silent funeral that’s so common.)
Fear is a feeling like any other, to be felt completely in the moment when it overwhelms you. The beautiful thing about really feeling all of your emotions is that you become aware of the fact that every mood changes and every feeling passes. That fear will pass, and be replaced by anger or relief or bravery; in the mean time, you can appreciate it for the survival instinct it is.
Because every feeling is valid, there are no guilty pleasures, just pleasures. If I like 80s power ballads, then I am going to turn that Journey album up to eleven and I don’t care who hears me sing along. If I’m running, I’m doing it for the sheer joy of running, even if there’s someplace I have to end up as well.
I can tell you without shame that I love bad movies, 80s rock, and cartoons as much as I love deconstructing mid-20th-century American poetry and traditional blacksmithing and opera. None of those is more valid than the other, and I sing along with La Donna Il Mobile and Don’t Stop Believin’ with equal passion. Shame makes no sense. If I like it, it’s clearly worth liking. If you disagree, we can have a lively debate about it, or we can ignore ignore it in favor of things we agree on.
The American cultural ideal of the “polite fiction” is ridiculous. Most monsters will take you at your word; this is why honesty is so important in fairy tales. If you’re going to lie, lie big. Make it worth your while. But when in doubt, don’t lie at all, especially not to yourself or the people you care about.
Yes, this ends badly sometimes. Freaking out when someone “moves your cheese” is frowned on in the workplace. We’re expected to act like we’re simply okay no matter how we really feel. Maybe some people can learn to tamp down their feelings like that, but I never really have. If I’m angry, or if I’m happy, you’re going to know. (I’ve had bosses complain about my “oversharing” before, and I’ve worked on it, but it’s still hard.)
There is also a tendency toward violent reactions that’s not easy to understand if you’re not from a culture that allows honest feelings to flourish. I don’t punch people any more, but I am going to let you know what I think and I am going to call you on your bullshit if I think it’s deserved. Otherwise it not only builds up inside you, but it can turn poisonous, leading you to undermine whatever compromise you reached.
Even my anxiety is something I live at full volume. I don’t have any small, creeping fears. I have terrors, and I learn to live with them. I have my obsessive thoughts, and I think them loudly, and eventually I’m able to release them.
And that’s the amazing thing about living a life where you aren’t afraid to feel everything. Yes, it will hurt, and you will feel every inch of the pain. But the joy and the excitement and all the pleasures are that much sharper as well. When you know every feeling will pass, you learn to treasure all of them, even the anger and the pain and the grief, because you know you’ll never feel precisely this same way again.
This is all I have. I intend to enjoy it.
Gender in the Woods
A friend of mine came out as genderqueer and I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with gender. As a trans man, I’ve put a lot of thought into how I view myself and how I want the world to see me. At the same time, I’m still largely in the closet at work and don’t plan to publicly transition at this job. I spend half my day cross-dressing, essentially.
With as much as I write about opposing forces, you might wonder if this back-and-forth is difficult for me. It’s hard because I’m playing someone I’m not, it’s hard because I’m faced with daily microaggressions from people who don’t know there’s a trans man in the room, but on a metaphysical level, no, it’s not hard. It’s much harder to remember to answer to the right name, actually. I can put on the mask of Who I Am At Work and take on that female self when it’s necessary.
And it is necessary. There are different expectations for the way men and women handle themselves, even here in Greater Portlandia. Actions that would be praiseworthy go-getting from a man are aggressive when they come from me. I’ve made my peace with that, and learned to work with it, but I’ve never really gotten over it. Some days I honestly feel like a woman. Some days, femininity is a role I put on, somewhere between the bus stop and the office. I’m naturally receptive; people tell me things without meaning to. It’s not as useful as it sounds: I’m not good at building rapport, so oftentimes people get freaked out about it after they say it.
This is a kind of liminality, this shapeshifting. I know both sides; I choose how people see me and project what I want to be seen as. Despite the way Western philosophies tend to paint opposing forces as, well, in opposition, they are not inherently at war with each other. The struggle between the two takes place inside my head, and inside the heads of those who don’t understand that gender is not the sum of your parts. Being able to shift is a skill that has benefits. I feel better when I can shift freely, when I am choosing the role I play at work. There are skills that you learn when society treats you as a woman that are different than the skills you gain as a man. On good days I can shift back and forth, taking the skills and mindset that will help the most with whatever I’m working on.
People use 太极图, the yin-yang symbol, all the time without thinking about it, but if you look at it, you can see that it’s clearly meant to be in motion. One energy is rising, the other descending. Often you see the core of one energy inside the opposing energy. Getting stuck in one side or the other is stagnation. This is where stereotypes come in, from the 50s housewife to the dudebro – stereotypes that harm, by encouraging us to view the opposite force as the other.
It isn’t, though. Especially in the case of gender, where “masculine” and “feminine” are almost meaningless as personality descriptions anyway – pushing away parts of yourself because they’re not correct for your gender stereotype is not going to make you a better Barbie doll or GI Joe. Jungian psychology talks about the anima or animus, the part of yourself that is the opposite gender. I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but I do think we each have an other-self that we have to learn to understand.
It’s a misnomer to call it an other-self, isn’t it? It’s still the self.
I think about Surt-Sinmora, about Loki, about the Serpent, about the other jotnar I’ve met who either switch gender at will or have none to speak of unless they need one. The further away you go, the less gender means anything at all. Learning to understand that, and to embrace the shapeshifting I do on a daily basis, has helped me to keep my sanity.
Gender is real, but it’s also not the be-all and end-all society treats it as. It’s a part of who you are right now, and a part of whatever work you’re doing, but it shouldn’t be a prison any more than light or dark, or ice or fire, or any other dichotomy.
It’s easy to get caught up in things that I think define me, to hold on tight to them long after they stop being relevant. Modes of dress, ways of speaking, even hobbies and aspirations have a way of sticking around.
Not long after my child was born, I gave up the thing that I thought defined me. I walked away from working, from passing as female. I donated my entire “women’s clothing” wardrobe to the thrift store in one swoop. I finally came out to my parents after agonizing over whether I was disappointing them when my life was taking such a hard left turn from what they expected. I admitted to myself that some friendships were gone and never coming back.
As a part of sorting through that, I fell back on old definitions of self. I was listening to the music I liked the last time I lived with my parents, I was dressing like I had before I started out into the world, and I was doing it all unthinking. Having forced myself out of one ill-fitting self image, rather than build my new one, I fell back onto the archaeological finds underneath. I knew I was doing it, but I wasn’t ready to stop.
Now is the time for honesty, as we go into the darkness, as the Hunt rides. There is no room for fighting with myself. Just trying things on, one at a time, and seeing what is comfortable and what pieces fit.
This is also a magical act, a kind of shapeshifting, a part of transition. It’s kind of exciting, knowing I’m growing into the person I was meant to be.
It’s an easy trick to fall into, thinking that shapeshifting inherently takes you away from your true self. None of us are who we began as, though, and while going back can be comforting, it’s also confining. I can’t pick up where I left off being 11 or 18 or 26. I’m doomed if I try.
I am a shapeshifter. The answer to my question is to go forward, not back. To discover who I am, what I am, what kind of person I am in the situation I’m in now.
Loki brought all of his cunning to bear, and his brothers brought their poetry and their logic, but all of his attempts to woo the lady were for naught.
Finally he went to her with neither plan nor plot, simply to ask a question.
"If it will see you on your way," Brigid sighed, "then ask."
"Why do you refuse all my attempts at courting?" he asked, and she thought he looked sincere.
"Oh, I wish you'd asked me that when you started," she laughed. "I prefer the company of others of the female manifestation in my bed."
Loki looked as if she'd struck him. "That's all?" And then he left.
A week later she returned, her angular body reshaped, and looked at Brigid expectantly.
"It's not just a matter of shapes, Loki. It's energy and the way you carry yourself, the way you think of yourself. I'm not just interested in what's between your legs."
Loki left straightaway again, and Brigid thought the matter settled. She didn't see Loki again for several years.
One day a great sorceress from underhill came to Brigid's adoptive lands, with an entourage of handmaidens. One of the handmaidens captured Brigid's attention, and she sought the woman out.
"You are not mortal," Brigid said to the woman. "Why do you serve this sorceress?"
"She has taught me something I needed to learn."
"And what is that?"
"How to be a woman."
At that, Brigid recognized her as Loki and she had to admit she was intrigued. "Stay with me, and we'll talk. I'd like to know more of what you've learned."
So Loki turn her leave of the underhill sorceress, and she and Brigid spent some time talking of magic, and energy, and the shapes they wore. They had never been pure energy as their parents had been, but their essence remained.
"And fire is the most changeable element," Loki added.
Brigid smiled at that. "And metal the most unyielding. Yet..."
"Yet you change in the presence of the flame that burns hot for you."
She put an arm around Loki's waist, drawing her closer. "I do. I suppose metal can take a great many shapes, when it is close enough to the fire."
After, as they lay together, Brigid thought more. "Are you more satisfied in this form than in your first?"
Loki considered that. "There are many things I enjoy about a female manifestation, but there are also things I miss. I suppose I don't feel any more attached to one than the other."
"Well, I suspect I could get attached to this one..."
I was born with misplaced cells in my brain, trying to make it do something it was never meant to do.
This isn’t a metaphor. This was an epidermoid brain tumor.
Pagans talk a lot about being embodied, accepting and learning to love the body we have. Strange fences spring up when we talk about fighting our bodies or changing our bodies. “Taking care of” our bodies is considered a good thing, though exactly what that means can vary. Exercising to change your appearance is acceptable, even encouraged. Tattoos and hair dye and piercings are common.
But surgery? Surgery is somehow Too Much. There’s a point where you’re somehow rejecting the body you were “given”. Depending on the kind of surgery, it's cheating. If you’re talking to a certain contingent of the Goddess movement, or some conservative heathens, or other pockets here and there, changing your gender is somewhere on a spectrum between “lying” (to yourself, to other people) and self-mutilation. You’re supposed to love the body you were given.
Some trans people love their bodies, or are learning to do so. Some are pushing for acceptance, and for their bodies to be recognized as legitimate. This is an uphill fight; I wish them luck.
As for me, my body is monstrous: it is incorrect, it is socially unacceptable, it has tried to kill me in multiple ways, with dysphoria and brain tumor and cancer cells. How do you love that which both keeps you alive and tries to kill you? I have never learned the trick of it. I fought my body every time I stepped into a changing room, experimenting with presentation but never happy with the result.
I was working in an office and expected to dress smartly. I didn't have to be particularly femme, but I needed to wear clothes that fit and looked decent. I struggled with shrugs and cardigans and straight-leg trousers. Eventually I went to Loki and said "Look, you know how to be both genders, right? Can you just teach me how to be feminine so this isn't so hard?"
Loki took me to the Iron Woods. We spent some time on astral shapeshifting. My mental image could easily be a bird; why was a woman so much harder? Loki pushed me through hangups about my body that I'd had since puberty, and let me know that it was okay to pretend to be a woman instead of somehow succeeding at being one. I learned to look at myself without seeing myself, a kind of glamour that kept me functioning.
I was satisfied with these lessons. Grateful, even. But even as I wrapped myself in tops from Torrid and trousers from Lane Bryant, my body betrayed me. I convinced myself that I was learning to love my body, but eventually I realized that I was just pretending to love it.
I had forced a truce with my body, but my body wasn't done with me yet. I found the first lump in my breast when I was 27. Precancerous cells were removed with minimal surgery, despite the fact that the oracle of family history said they would return. I found myself disappointed the medical system didn't believe me that I'd be better off without them, the first cracks in my "self-love".
Just as I was getting back on track with forcing myself to love myself, an MRI to rule out a structural issue for my vertigo brought a surprise: another tumor, this one wrapped around the nerves in the back of my brain. It wasn't cancerous. It wasn't even symptomatic. It was, I convinced myself, pretty good (for a brain tumor). As I recovered, I kept repeating that idea: my situation wasn't that bad. I should love my body. I should be grateful.
I asked my goddesses for help accepting my body and making peace. I got dreams where I was buried and my body rotting. I got visits with my cousin who died of breast cancer at the age I am now. During my last lumpectomy, Loki told me that the problem would be solved soon enough.
I thought he meant I should push forward with transitioning to male as soon as I could, right up until the surgeon called to tell me they found cancer, and now he could recommend the mastectomy I'd asked about.
"This is also shapeshifting," Loki told me as I waited for that last surgery, post-cancer diagnosis. I thought about cancer cells hiding in my body, wondering if they were moving, trying to spread. I felt like a monster. I was more at home in the Iron Woods among Loki's kin than I was in most human society.
I'd reached a point where I couldn't ignore the truth. I can’t just flip a switch and get along with my body, so I (and my doctors) have to do what can be done to make my body more comfortable and less murderous. Breasts were removed, taking cancer cells with them. A tumor was gently excised, the scar behind my ear largely forgotten except for biannual checks. Hormones are injected, a biweekly ritual where the blade is plunged into the chalice and then into my body, and dysphoria is reduced. A hundred smaller choices begin to add up.
Loki was right. This is shapeshifting in a literal way. My chest is flattened. Since then, the shape of my body is different due to the hormones as well. My body and I are still monstrous, but at least we are monstrous on our own terms. I am doing my best to get my “mental self” aligned with my physical self by bringing the body into alignment with the way I see myself. It’s more permanent that way. It's better for my mental health, too. Not only can I see myself in the mirror again, but other people are starting to see me too.
I'm grateful to Loki for both lessons. The first got me through a difficult time when I didn't have a lot of options. The second is changing my life for the better in the long haul. I'm much happier being a monster and being a man. That's not the lesson I expected when I first asked Loki for help, but it's what I needed to hear.
In the long run you have to accept that the body you’re in is yours, but that doesn't mean you have to accept it as-is. That's not what you do when you accept that an apartment you’re living in is yours. Change it so that it works for your life. Don’t have a dining room if you don’t have fancy dinner parties. Add a workshop for your woodworking projects. Embracing embodiment doesn’t mean settling. It means making what you have healthy for you.
Fate and Connection
The subject of fate comes up a lot in Empty Sky. Fate is a subject I've wrestled with since I first started reading fantasy novels, and I often find the way it's portrayed to be frustrating. I don't agree with the idea that we're bound in any unchangable way. Free will and choice are important.
And yet... I've certainly been in situations where I felt like I was at the whim of a fate beyond my control. Patti-like relationships coalesced out of nothing, I fall comfortably into the same roles in relation to the same kinds of people, certain opportunities turned up out of nowhere and click into place seamlessly. It sure felt like fate. But as I recognized that some of those relationships, and a lot of those roles, were unhealthy for me, I understood that being bound to that "fate" was intolerable and I went looking for a way out.
I discuss this briefly below regarding blankness, but essentially, our past lives stack up behind us as we go. The vast majority of people are unaware of their past lives, and this is how it's meant to be, because the lives themselves have a sort of gravity. Important or pivotal things we've done in the past create patterns and echoes, and if we have not made peace with those actions, people tend to re-enact them. This creates a sense of fate, and is widely used in epic poetry and stories for dramatic purposes- the loves reunited! The lovers re-enact their terrible fate and nothing they do can stop it! A patti comes together in recognition, only to fall apart and perhaps die tragically! Two brothers realize they are the reincarnations of great generals who opposed each other! You can guess how that will end! Usually the characters recognize what's going on on some level, maybe even try to change it, but they ultimately end up giving in to their "fates" because the immediate desire overrides that awareness of a "bad fate."
In short, fate is what happens when you're not paying attention.
This kind of fate can be short-circuited quite easily with free will - there's only habit drawing you into the same destructive patterns over and over again. Of course, you have to recognise the pattern, and you have to want to step out of it. Like riverbeds worn into valleys, it's easier to follow the pattern than to climb out of the grooves. But if can be done and it requires only effort, no magic or complicated rituals.
Any sort of magic or situation that pulls your past lives toward the "surface" and into the present can be fate-effecting. This especially comes into play with eclectic mages who intentionally draw out their past lives to learn from them, but can come up in other ways as well, most notably if someone runs into another person they share a strong history or patti membership with of if they find themselves in a situation that was pivotal for them in a past life. When past lives hang around, they bring their patterns with them, and the gravity of that valley is increased.
Figuring out how fate works has been a long-term project and is ongoing. Some people seem to have an over-abundance of fate, and when I'm writing them, they're clearly barrelling toward an inescapable conclusion (usually a bad one). Others are blank, or might as well be. Most people are somewhere in the middle, getting stuck in the occasional pattern until life jars them loose with something unexpected.
The biggest challenge as a writer was to put aside my assumtions about how fate worked, most of which came from reading too many fantasy novels as a teenager, and instead draw on what I saw the characters doing and what my own experience told me. It's easy to assume we know how any given concept works, but that can limit the stories you tell by making them conform to genre convention instead of allowing them to do something different and exciting.
Connecting in a Patti
“One elephant (Gaja), one chariot (Ratha), three horses (Ashwa) and five foot soldiers (Padhata) form a Patti...”
From early days to now, battles are fought with huge armies, all of whom broke down into smaller units. In ancient wars, the foundational unit, the patti, is traditionally comprised of five padhata, or foot soldiers, three ashwa, or horses, one ratha, a chariot, and one gaja, an elephant. This is the basis of Chaturanga and all the strategy games that have come down since. Some special forces units still follow the basic strategy, though actual elephants are considered rather old-fashioned for modern military service.
A ratha is one who can be ridden by the spirits. Ashwa are swift, talented, usually magically blooded. A gaja is solid, a physical fighter, usually magically insulated or a blank. Padhata aren’t necessarily magical but they may well have some magical skill as well; they’re the ones who do make sure things get done.
Of course, in life people don’t always come with tags labeling them. Ratha are the easiest to spot, and other people tend to orbit around them. A ratha and a gaja who make a strong pair may function on their own, and often a small group of ashwa and padhata will come together without any reason to think there’s something larger behind it. The numbers may not always match exactly. The roles can even shift from life to life. And yet they circle over and over, unknowing the whole time.
Each of their souls has a resonance, and they don’t have to resonate with the same others each time either. There’s usually a patti you fit best with, but you may, like an electron wandering from atom to atom, move through life from group to group. Sometimes a patti forms where the roles are filled but the personalities of the people involved are incompatible, and these tend to blow up spectacularly in the end.
Why the patti? The idea of a group of fated connections between people is well-known in media; Stephen King’s ka-tet comes easily to mind. More often you see the single string of fate connecting a couple – soulmate, lifebond, and so on.
The patti structure describes how I’ve seen this resolve in my own life. There are certainly people I seem drawn to for no real reason, with whom I feel kinship without the explanation of time or blood. There are roles I fall into almost without realizing I’m doing it, depending on the kind of person I’m around.
But at the same time, nothing is guaranteed. No bond, no group, no relationship is bulletproof, automatic and easy. Sometimes they explode, sometimes they just end quietly. It’s tempting to say the connection was never there in the first place, but that explanation doesn’t match my experience.
It’s not about any specific fate, most of the time. Some people just have certain qualities or personalities or talents – some people are ratha, some are gaja, and so on. I’ve met a lot of people with whom I seemed to plug into those connections, enough that I had to learn to unplug when we’re of incompatible voltage.
What I’ve learned is that there’s never just one chance. I wanted to convey that, as it’s not very common in fiction – yes, there’s the rush of excitement that comes from connection, but it also doesn’t have to mean the end of everything if things fall apart.
Empty Sky is about picking up the pieces. Over and over again, everything falls apart, for individuals all the way up to the world as a whole. Over and over again, everything changes, everything falls apart, the world ends and life goes on.
That’s important. That matters.
Blank and Null
To be blank – or to call someone a blank – has a complex series of associations. Among the percentage of the population who can use magic without the assistance of tools, it’s often thrown around as a slang term where you might expect to hear “muggle” or “squib” in the Potterverse.
In the oldest manuscripts, to call someone a clean soul, an unwritten or erased scroll or palimpsest, or, yes, a blank fate, meant that they had no echoes of past lives, obligations, failures or patterns to play out. In many esoteric and mystery traditions this is something to aspire to – unless you have not incarnated before, to have a blank fate means you have paid out all of your debts and scraped the tally clean. On an Enlightenment path, it precedes being subsumed into the Light itself, assuming you can make it through your blank life without incurring any new echoes or obligations. The ones recognized as blank often spend their lives in quiet temples or hermitage in an attempt to avoid attachment, training in the use of magic but choosing to forgo it except in defense or absorption.
It is this last trait that led to the misunderstanding in modern magical practice that referring to someone as blank means they are magically blind or even act as a null. Acting as a null was a highly trained skill for the traditional blank fated person, and is also a natural trait of those drawn to the role of the gaja, and in neither case is it a sign of someone lacking in magical skill or talent. Despite the cutting snark of many a magic-user, there is no such thing as being so bad at magic that you suck it out of other people.
Many of these esoteric paths have been lost over the years as one religion eclipsed another in popularity or as one government or another ferreted out those who resisted the wisdom of this or that emperor or king. Some documents remain in dead languages, and a few temples maintain their quiet ways.
Around the time the Emperor of Shenzhou fled to Mei Guo, there was a resurgence of interest in ancient techniques and a small handful of blooded scholars and adepts did their best to translate existing manuscripts into modern languages and techniques. This fashion for the wisdom of the ancients set two relevant sets of ripples into motion, one the attempts to standardize magical techniques and apply them to technology the way the medical knowledge of herbs and elements had been standardized and applied to biology and health care, the other the spread of magical practice by individuals and small groups of those with blood talent who lacked access to traditional teachers.
The scientists had no trouble applying their own vocabulary and understanding to what they were looking at, while the eclectics were left to patch together the language and techniques of translations of varying quality. An early book building on those translations with original techniques began the modern use of blank when the author wrote of appealing to one’s past lives and echoes to teach magic. Someone who doesn’t have echoes to learn from is, yes, blank – but this is where the idea that blankness means non-magical comes from.
Figuring out how “blank” is used took some time, as I had to work backwards from the way various people used it in casual conversation, as well as how I was prompted to use it in metacommentary. This is very common in fictional recon, where language carries the weight of history but we don’t necessarily have access to that history or etymology. As you would learn any slang, the trick is to observe the usage as much as possible and pin down the commonalities.
The technique referred to above, where one calls on one’s past lives or echoes to teach them, is actually one I’ve used. It’s basically the metaphysical equivalent of someone standing behind you as you swing a golf club, controlling your movement so you can see what it’s meant to feel like. It is a very useful trick for learning things quickly, but requires you to put a lot of trust in the one teaching you. It’s tempting to believe they must have your best interest at heart because they are you, but to be able to use the technique, they must have will, and if they have will, there’s no telling what their goals are.
Only the phoenix rises and does not descend. And everything changes. And nothing is truly lost.
Firebird as Catalyst
I view the firebird as the form of my highest self, and in large part this work has been related to other work that I've done, gathering up pieces of myself that I had put aside and setting myself aflame.
The first thing you need to know if you’re thinking about working with any of the firebirds – Phoenix, Zhar Ptitsa, Feng Huang, Bennu, and so on – is that their energy is catalytic. If there’s something you haven’t dealt with, you’re going to deal with it now. It’s not the only thing that can bring your karma or your wyrd crashing down on you, but it’s definitely one of them. You have to burn through what you’re already dealing with before you can begin again.
It can leak, too, so consider this fair warning. Other around you – friend and enemy – as well as organizations, religious groups and even businesses can have unhealthy practices or untied threads come loose. (I used to refer to this as the feeling that every club and coven I joined in college fell apart three months later.)
If you’re stuck and you don’t like the place you’ve come to, working with firebird energy can make you the sort of person who ends up somewhere else, but you have to be willing to let go of the person who’s stuck where you are.
Firebird as Healer
Firebird energy is healing. While it hurts to burn, what remains on the other side is a new Phoenix, whole and hale, unscarred and ready for a new path. While the old self is the building-block of the new, the deeper one goes into the Phoenix, the more you leave behind each time.
Just don’t look back.
I spent a lot of time with the firebird while I was dealing with my brain tumor in late 2010. It was the first time I worked closely with with the firebird and water-dragon in tandem. The idea was to combine fire to burn away what doesn’t belong and water to carry it away and maintain the systems in my body. I survived, and I suppose that’s as close as you can come to saying something worked.
The phoenix can heal others as well. The fire that cracks and chars skin can be controlled to a healing warmth. Like reiki and other energy healing techniques, phoenix energy can spread through the body, finding areas that need to regrow and helping them to recover.
I called on firebird tonight, on behalf of my cousin who’s ill. I asked that everything that stands her in way be burned up. I asked her to comfort my cousin, if she wanted it. I’m a long way from my family, and I don’t know a lot of the details. Given how recent the diagnosis is, I’m not sure anyone knows the details yet. I go back to what I know, what helped me. Fire to turn foreign bodies to ash. Water to flush out impurities. It’s all I can do.
In the face of things beyond my control, I think of feng huang and the imperial dragon, yin and yang, and the way which cannot be known. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that people can be reborn after suffering, and I know that ends are beginnings too.
Firebird as Diplomat
I’ve seen firebird energy described as diplomatic and that description resonates with me, especially in the aspects of firebird typified in Feng Huang. I’ve relied on this aspect many times in my life, but rather than think of it as diplomacy, I always thought of it as interpretation.
What I mean by interpretation is that I often find myself between two groups, walking the ever-shifting border of vocabulary and definition. Oftentimes people in various groups and subcultures will misunderstand each other, and such misunderstandings quickly grow out of proportion. My job, as I saw it, was to create understanding by explaining how two seemingly-disparate concepts could actually be the same, or related, or have an identical root cause.
The problem with interpretation is that it can quickly become a full-time job by itself. Some people came to depend on having me around to explain their ideas, never learning to bring them to full flower on their own. I also began to take it too far, trying to bring everything together in a personal Unified Field Theory.
The goal of interpretation is not to bring everyone together – it’s not about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony. Instead it’s about guiding discourse, bringing together people and ideas that will go further together than they will apart. Some ideas, and some people, stand stronger on their own, and that’s okay. As always, discretion and discrimination are necessary.
If you’re wondering how interpretation fits in with the firebird’s work, it’s just another part of learning to change – in this case, your mind. It’s about being able to shift your point of view enough to understand both sides and maintain enough distance from both to look beyond the obvious.
In other words, it’s about embracing fluidity and change, just like every other part of the process. Fluidity in thought and concept is as essential as any other kind.
Firebird and Gender
I perceive the phoenix as genderqueer. While firebirds are sometimes assigned a specific gender, this is not always the case. When the myths say there is but a single phoenix at any given time, it is by that definition either hermaphroditic or agendered.
Usually, the phoenix lays its egg without a partner. A phoenix needs nothing but its own will to be reborn, and no fertilization is needed to create the egg. In that sense it could be seen as asexual. In comparison, the huma of Persia is described as being one-half male and one-half female. The Chinese feng huang was in the past associated with both genders and could be seen as having both male and female natures.
Of course, now the feng huang is seen as female in complement to the Imperial dragon in symbology. Thus I tend to think of the phoenix as somewhat genderqueer – capable of male, female, both and neither as the situation calls for.
It’s possible that I feel this way because I personally am genderqueer. While I can’t physically shift my sex without a lot of effort, I have learned to embrace both masculine and feminine traits and mindset, and there are times when I feel like one or the other – or both, or neither – is the correct term for me. Working with firebird has helped me to see this as adaptability, a strength, rather than a weakness of not conforming to the gender markers society expects.
Firebird and Synthesis
Phoenix is also about synthesis and adaptability. Diplomacy is the art of understanding both sides. Once you understand both halves, you can become them and then transcend them.
Male and female polarities are the most obvious, and the easiest for many to start with. Gender-switching gives you an image to focus on, an idea of “other” that you can picture. The genderqueer nature of the phoenix is essential here; without the ability to understand both gender roles, the seeker will struggle to go further. The full concept of polarity includes many mindsets and concepts that are associated with either male or female but in reality belong to individuals, not genders.
There are many different roles to be understood. It’s not simply a matter of roleplaying, but of truly understanding and appreciating both roles: dominant and submissive, master and servant, fire and water, earth and air, hunter and gatherer, and, ultimately, projective and receptive. Ultimately, it’s about the energy.
Remember that the Chinese firebird has already mastered this synthesis, bringing the feng and huang together in a single bird. The larger picture, the Phoenix’s dance with the Dragon, means stepping beyond the individual’s work and bringing in another partner – the Phoenix is the catalyst, taking in and shaping the raw energy of the Dragon. But while the Phoenix is the receptive partner, both need to be capable of giving and receiving for the work to, well, work.
It’s essential to find both those halves in yourself, then, before you go working with a partner. Who you are when no one else is around is your truest self, right? In the silence of your head, can you be male and female? Can you be light and dark? Because as much as you think you know one, you need to understand what separates it from the other. All those trite comments about how you need the darkness to appreciate the light? At the base of it, they’re correct.
Once you can at least see things from every angle, you’ve begun to understand the firebird’s point of view. It can be paralyzing to understand both sides, because you learn where one has to give ground for the other to gain. Taoism finds virtue in this – the tao divides into yin and yang, but one who knows the true tao strives to reach wu wei, the state of acting without acting. A lesser echo of this is that understanding prompts inaction.
I think there is a greater understanding, though, as well – where action instead becomes effortless and one moves in harmony without needing to consciously direct it. It’s necessary to pull back from that lesser understanding, however, and keep pushing toward a higher goal.
Putting the pieces together and seeing both sides of the puzzle doesn’t mean you’re done with your path. It just means you’re finally starting to see the bigger picture.
Firebird and Burnout
I declare I don’t care no more
I’m burning up and out and growing bored
- Green Day
Sometimes I’m very, very tired. It might be work, parenting, my mental health, my writing, general timing, or social issues. Whatever combination it is, I feel overwhelmed.
I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, though. I’ve come to believe that burning out is actually an important step in on the firebird’s path.
In almost every tradition, the journey to the higher self includes a moment like it – it’s often called the Dark Night of the Soul in Western mysticism, after the writing of St. John of the Cross. It’s the moment where everything feels empty and meaningless, nothing feels like it’s working, and you wonder why you ever bothered in the first place.
The firebird works without as much as sie works within: between the catalytic energy surrounding me, the temptation to take interpretation too far, and the feeling like I have to have the perfect nest and I have to have it now, well, it’s easy to burn myself out.
That’s an important lesson, to know where your limits are. Until you push yourself as far as you can go, you don’t know how far that is. If you’re afraid to push to your limits, you’ll never push past them.
And sometimes instead of pushing past, you crash and burn. That’s okay too. It happens.
When you fall apart, you get to look at all the pieces as you’re picking them up. It’s a wonderful opportunity to decide which puzzle pieces really fit and which belong to someone else’s puzzle entirely.
And once you’ve gathered your pieces up, you can start to put them back together.
Firebird and Dragon
For the first eighteen years of my life, I thought of dragons as fictional – inherently something that existed only inside the imaginations of children. The dragons I knew were Falkor and Puff and Figment. While I read fantasy novels as a teen, the dragons in them never resonated with me like these “imaginary” ones did when I was a child.
Then I had my first real, in-person relationship. I had just been introduced to group ritual via the university’s pagan organization, and he was the first person I worked with one-on-one. I didn’t really understand what we were doing, and I doubt he did either, but when we raised energy, it was obvious we were on opposite-but-complimentary wavelengths. Raising energy was fast and effective with him.
He mentioned, in passing, that his mental concept was of a dragon. I didn’t think too much of it; I’d heard much weirder things on the internet, after all. We parted on good terms, eventually. I didn’t think too much of it until my current partner mentioned that her higher self takes the form of pan long, a coiling ocean dragon. Apparently dragons are just my type.
In the Chinese tradition, the pairing of feng huang with long, usually the imperial dragon, is common. The dichotomy represents the yin/yang, dark/light balance as well as pairing the relatively self-contained feng huang with the outwardly-focused dragon.
I am fortunate to have a dragon as my working partner. I find that having a working partner on a different but complimentary path has been incredibly helpful in my own development. There are dozens of little ways in which we balance each other, from the contrast between fire/air and water/earth energies to the fact that one of us is there to hold the other through periods of difficulty.
For a partnership to work, both members must have relatively close levels of commitment, background knowledge and independence. In my experience, we both had to do a lot of internal work before we were ready to work with a partner in a serious, magic-using way.
When we work together, we are natural opposites. My energy tends to fall within the yin principle – dark and negative even when I’m feeding the flame. Hers is naturally yang, bright and positive. At first glace, that might seem like it’s not conducive to working together, but it’s actually very effective. Combining one positive reactor and one negative reactor allows for energy to build up as in a battery. Then it’s simply a matter of mustering sufficient will to direct it.
If you know much about yin and yang alignments, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not purely yin and she’s not yang – if nothing else, our genders don’t match. This ties in very neatly with the genderqueer aspect of firebird for me – I can draw on feminine energy during ritual, and she can draw on masculine, as the situation requires. Because there is yang within my yin, and yin in her yang, each of us is a system unto itself. I find that the more our energy is in motion, the less mental effort is required to maintain it before release.
I know several people who do most or all of their work with disincarnate partners – they work with tutelary spirits, or are godspouses, or variations along those lines. I was just recently reading a post from someone in that sort of situation, about the strengths of such a relationship, and it got me thinking about my own partnership.
I prefer having a physical partnership. While we both do our own internal work, and we can’t truly see inside one anothers’ heads, I feel like she can understand me better because we stand together through the same challenges. Sometimes I need the pressure of a warm hand to pull me out of journeywork. Sometimes two magicians working on a problem can approach it from different, but complimentary, perspectives. Often she’s the sword to my shield, or I’m the sword to hers. I play both roles and so does she, but we each have our strengths and we use them.
At some point in every journey of self-improvement, you have to step outside of the “self” mindset. Having a partner helps me do that – she keeps me grounded when I’m inclined to fly off the handle, and I draw her to the surface when she goes too deep.
I don’t think a working partner is necessary for everyone. But this is what works best for me; taking the next step along the firebird path requires having someone to walk it with me. Firebirds and dragons have a long history of working together, and drawing on that imagery and tradition helps strengthen the work we do together.
The feng huang is a uniquely Asian bird, though in modern times it’s associated with the European phoenix and Egyptian bennu. Its plumage is very distinctive; it is described as having the head and body of a pheasant, but a long graceful tail in the style of the peacock. The tail is more richly colored than even a peacock’s, having all five sacred colors among its feathers: red, yellow, blue, black and white. Unlike the western firebirds, the feng huang is truly immortal; it doesn’t die and renew itself.
Sometimes, particularly in later iconography, the feng huang was paired with the dragon. They might be paired peacefully, as a symbol of love, or they might be depicted in combat. Often they were used as symbols of the emperor (the dragon) and the empress (the feng huang). In this context, as you might expect, the imperial dragon was the masculine energy and the feng huang was the feminine, thus giving the bird the traditional yin/lunar associations of the female huang.
The feng huang can also represent the power of systems within systems. Aside from the dragon and phoenix symbolism that is commonly depicted in art, there is also the duality of the feng huang itself. The name “feng huang” was originally two words: feng was the name of the male bird, with the usual masculine connotations of yang energy and the sun. This aspect of the bird is closest to the “fire bird” image associated with the phoenix. The female bird was called the huang, and was given the female associations of yin energy and the moon.
Thus, it is both completion in itself and part of a larger whole. This is a common theme in East Asian religion and Chinese philosophy, where an enlightened bodhisattva will delay Nirvana to help other souls find enlightenment, and where a person can only be wise in the Tao when he is in sync with society and the world around him.
Despite coming from a northern European culture, I ended up studying Buddhism as well as primarily Chinese philosophy and folk religion. Feng Huang is the form of the firebird I know best and have worked with the most. I first met her during a guided meditation meant to lead me to Kuan Yin and she has patiently kept an eye on me ever since.
Feng Huang comes to me with a distinctly feminine presence, like the Russian Zhar Ptitsa, but she understands both sides of the gender coin. She knows a thing or two about losing your place in the world – before the Imperial Dragon rose to match her, she was complete and sovereign unto herself. But she also teaches me the importance of being willing to play a part in something large than yourself.
The feng huang in the role as the guardian of the south is sometimes also conflated with the zhuque. The zhuque, or red bird, is grouped with the dragon, the tortoise, and the tiger. Together they are referred to as the Celestial Guardians and represent the four directions. In this aspect the zhuque is said to live in the south and is associated with the color red, the element fire, and the sun.
Most of the main branches of mythology have some variety of firebird in them, whether well-known or obscure. While the Norse mythology is oddly lacking in firebird figures, it does feature a lesser-known goddess whose story is a good example of firebird work.
Gullveig is only mentioned in one surviving myth, recounted in the Prose Edda:
She that remembers, the first on earth,
when Gullveig they with lances pierced,
and in the high one’s hall her burnt,
thrice burnt, thrice brought forth, oft not seldom; yet she still lives.
Heidi they called her, whitherso’er she came,
the well-foreseeing Vala:
wolves she tamed, magic arts she knew, magic arts practiced;
ever she was the joy of evil people.
So, review: a powerful seid-worker with a bit of a one-track mind is boring at a party and so Odin sets her on fire repeatedly (Man, remind me never to go to his parties.) and this allegedly started the Aesir-Vanir war. Seems a little over-reactive on Odin’s part, doesn’t it?
If you want an allegory, instead consider that what she was trying to do was teach him. Odin was interested in learning every bit of magic he could, and the Vanir seid magic seems to have fascinated him despite, or maybe because, it was limited to women. And yet it can’t have been easy for him to submit to a Vanir and a woman besides- we know he eventually learned it from Freya, but he had to dress and live as one of her handmaids to do it, and Loki wouldn’t have tried to mock him for it in the Lokasenna if it wasn’t considered a little odd.
Gullveig tried to teach him a different path of seid from Freya’s sex-flavored practice. Hers was more alchemical, almost – in alchemy, remember, the search to turn lead into gold was a metaphor for the refinement of the soul. Frustrated with Odin’s unwillingness to understand the metaphor, Gullveig resolved to show him.
She had to burn three times to get the point across, and even then it was Loki, not Odin, who understood what she was offering. (Though from my experience with Odin, I can see why alchemical sex magic suited him better in the end…)
Gullveig was the first goddess in the Northern tradition to reach out to me, and she remains one of few I deal with regularly. She helped me take the first steps from being drawn to the firebird to actually doing the work – seeing the patterns in my life, strengthening the healthy patterns, dulling the unhealthy ones. All archetypes have strengths as well as weaknesses. Knowing both keeps you from playing out the old stories again too easily.
I still go to her when I’m dealing with necessary sacrifice; she taught me how to mourn the person I was leaving behind, and still continue forward. The process of becoming is never truly finished. When I finish burning, I’ve started to gather kindling for the next fire.
She likes the sacrifice of irreplaceable things that you really shouldn’t have kept. I gave my ex-boyfriend’s letters to her. I call to her when I’m re-organizing, sorting through old things, deciding what to keep. I called to her a lot when I was getting ready to move last fall.
She is the one who says, “Let it go.”
She is the one who says, “Let it burn.”
The eagle that lives atop Yggdrasil is never named in the lore.
And yet there’s a similar story about Mimameid, a tree named for Mimir (in the same way Yggdrasil is named for Odin), with a rooster at the top named Vidopnir. There are some academics who’ve suggested that Mimameid and Yggdrasil are both names for the same World Tree.
Why, you may ask, is this tagged ‘firebird’? To start with, the eagle is one of the species of bird associated with various firebird legends. The rooster is too, though admittedly through a more circuitous route. Through both my own and other peoples’ UPG, eagles in the Northern lore are linked to lightning, and thence to the thunderbird/firebird.
I set out to work with Vidopnir because I was curious. I like finding firebirds and seeing what they are willing to teach me.
At it turned out, working with Vidopnir also meant working with Yggdrasil. As you might imagine, being the Guy At the Top of the Tree, Vidopnir’s pretty into the big picture. He and I talked about goals, and what’s important, and where I’ve been wasting my energy.
I think of Vidopnir as the firebird of the controlled burn, with the perspective to see what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Not long after I moved out of my parents’ house, I had a series of dreams. A beautiful woman with wings, who was also a bird, and was guiding me through some kind of initiation. She bid me to walk through the fire and be remade for her. She told me her name, and I wrote it down as “Ahnka,” thinking of the spelling of the Egyptian symbol. I googled it a couple of times but never turned up much, so I thought of her as one of the personal spirits I work with.
Sometimes you have zero information besides your own experiences. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and they’d rather stick to things other people are going to recognize. If nothing else, it’s much easier to have a conversation online about Odin or Brigid than it is about a being nobody else knows.
In the last few years, people have become more open to talking about unnamed deities, and I admire those who were able to make that leap and find ways to open up about their practice. Seeing that helped me find the clarity to start revisiting my own experiences and explore those I’d forgotten.
That was how, years later, I thought about Ankha, the bird-woman who’d bid me remake myself. And knowing that there’s more out there all the time, I googled again. And like Mara, suddenly there was fact where in my mind there’d only been fiction before. I read about the Anka Bird, Zümrüdü Anka, and made the connection.
It felt like coming full circle, after more than a year of firebird work to come to understand that first firebird I ever knew.
Let me tell you about the Library.
The Library is a large building near the heart of the City. It is made of stone with columns out front and guardian animals and large, leaded windows. The main doors do not open easily for the casual traveller, and when they do, the answers they find are not always the ones they want.
Ancient as it looks, the contents of the Library vary widely. Like most places I visit in the City, it is larger on the inside than on the outside. Inside are everything from maps to ancient scrolls to modern trashy paperbacks, stored in narrow aisles. Aside from the many floors of stacks, there are also small rooms and carrels for study.
It's the archetype of every library you've known - old and gothic, new and spacious, a little of everything. Most people find there way in on the first floor, a large, open space with tables and map books as well as reading areas. The reference desk is here as well; if you have questions, that's the best place to start.
The main reading room, where the Librarians meet with guests, usually has tall, gothic ceilings and wide worktables when I'm there. Between the reading room and the vestible is the circulation desk, where various regular inhabitants of the Library can often be found. There is always at least one person at the circulation desk, sometimes more.
The upper floors are packed with narrower walkways between the stacks, and they seem to change as you walk through them, the shelves and flooring shifting. Another way to access the Library, usually by accident, is by starting in a branch library, some real world library or personal collection, and taking a turn that feels like it shouldn't be there, and then ending up among the stacks.
There is also a sub-basement that is far more modern than anything else found in the library, including a room dominated by a very large computer. This space uses data storage crystals in a way that could easily be interpreted as Atlantean or Lemurian, if you were looking to make such a connection.
The Library always smells faintly of ash and salt.
It isn’t just the big things – the Library of Alexandria, the Hanlin Academy, 焚書坑儒, and the like, though names like Aurelian, Itzcoatl and Qin Shi Huang and not even whispered in the halls – but the flames of chance as well. Hundreds of thousands of individual manuscripts were committed to paper or papyrus and then lost forever. Paper burns, vellum is scraped clean, clay tablets crumble, languages are forgotten. War destroys stories even as it destroys lives. And the ashes end up there in the Library.
There are the lost works of famous authors, books we only know about by the references to them in other books, and then there are the stories written by second graders, manuscripts that were never rescued from drawers, journals that their owners burned. Scrapbooks packed to the margins with pictures of landmarks that were never celebrated, families that never began, children who never grew up.
The closest thing I’ve ever heard described is the Akashic Records, but I’ve never met anyone whose worldview I meshed with that worked with it, so it’s hard to figure out. I often go there when I’m not sure what to do next or I don’t know what I’m dealing with, just as I do with my local library. In this case, though, it’s more like journeywork than just hopping on the bus.
I have, on occasion, used a combination of pathwalking, where I wander with the otherworld overlapping this one, and bibliomancy in the library/Library itself. It can be brutally efficient, but I can’t recommend it lightly-- it tends to be hard to separate the overlapping spaces afterward.
The apartment was advertised as a studio. As I move my boxes and bookcases in, they start to form walls. It’s being balkanized into small rooms, nooks, crannies. I wasn’t aware I owned this much stuff. After three hours, I think I can see the back of the moving van.
When I come back for the next load, I can’t.
I begin to suspect I don’t actually own this much stuff.
The boxes are not identical, but they’re a similar parade of Florida Oranges, cheap vodka, and jumbo eggs. I open one. The books inside are mustier than anything I remember owning. I pull the one on the top of the pile. The text isn’t English. I’m not even sure what language it is.
I pick up the box and carry it inside anyway.
I try to get out the next day and look for job openings. I get distracted by unpacking books instead. The day after, I open my door to find someone waiting in front of it.
“I’m looking for a book,” is all he says.
I let him in. They’re not mine, after all. Maybe one of them is his.
He browses for several minutes before asking where the philosophy section is.
“I can’t help you,” I answer honestly. A look of frustration cuts across his face, and is quickly replaced by sadness. He hurries away before it occurs to me that my words could be taken as “won’t” instead of “can’t”.
I sigh and tell myself that if he doesn’t want to listen, it’s his own fault. Instead of worrying, I go back to unpacking boxes. I finished unpacking clothes and kitchen stuff yesterday. The bookshelves around my futon are lined with books that I’m mostly sure were mine before I moved. It’s slightly more reassuring that way. As I unpack a series of religious texts - Bibles, Qur’ans, Torahs, Bhagavad Gitas, and a string of things I don’t remember from World Religion 001 - I decide to try an experiment. I stack the books on the floor. I walk out of sight.
When I turn back, they’re resting neatly on a bookshelf. That makes this somewhat simpler, though I can’t help wishing they could unpack as well as shelve themselves. At least it’ll save me the trouble of putting enough pressboard bookshelves together to hold them all. At this point, there isn’t enough floor space to lay down the pieces of one anyway.
Out of curiousity, I stack the context of several boxes on the foor and walk away. They’re neatly spread across two bookshelves when I return. I unpack a single book. It, too, gets shelved.
I suppose I’d better not forget about books I’m in the middle of reading. I might never find them again.
I turn a corner in the process of unpacking and come upon the young man again. He looks very lost.
“This system doesn’t make any sense! How are they organized?” he demanded.
I shrugged, thinking of them shelving themselves. “However they want to be, I think.”
The library, I discovered, had a will of its own. It’s more than just mysteriously-appearing books.
One afternoon as I tried to walk from the kitchen to the bathroom, I found myself momentarily distracted by a book title I saw in the corner of my vision. When I blinked and looked again I realized it was not at all what I’d thought it was. It was A Wizard’s Guide to a Midlife Crisis, by Diane Duane.
I picked it up, browsed a few pages and set it back down, intending to get it after I was done in the bathroom.
When I looked up I realized I’d gotten quite lost in my own apartment. This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten lost since the books had moved in, but something felt strange. As I turned corners, the shelves seemed to change from Ikea pressboard to solid oak, and the light shifted, and the ceiling got higher. Soon it was clear I was not in my apartment at all.
“Hello?” I called, as loudly as I dared. It was a library, after all.
“You must be the new branch librarian,” a cool but friendly voice said behind me.
I jumped and turned. The man looked about somewhere in early middle age, with brown hair in a nest of messy, loose curls and smallish, squarish glasses. His eyes were grey with a hint of brown, his nose was wide, his jaw tapered. I blushed a little.
He took my hand and shook it. “I’m still rather new to the Librarian job, but it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I forced myself to smile back, still not sure what to make of everything. “Nice to meet you. This is all extremely new to me.”
“Do you want the grand tour?” he asked, and I nodded.
When we started, I didn’t realize just how grand the tour was going to be. We walked past rows and rows of library stacks, each full of books. Small rooms here and there had a variety of uses he told me about, rattling them off. Study room, map room, microfiche room, scroll room, dorm rooms, clean rooms...
And then we reached the staircase, and I realized the floor I’d arrived on was actually one of the upper floors. I stepped onto the stairs, ready to explore the Library.
This is where I talk about the “hows” of what I do – the process of fictional reconstruction and the implications of Theos Logos, the idea that writing is a sacred act.
I am a writer, and I am a magician. For me, writing is a magical act. At the heart of this is the idea that there is as much reason for human suffering in this world as there is in any book you read – it means we’re part of a good story. Just as we create stories, we are created. Just as characters suffer and grow, so do we.
Think of Achilles. He chose a life like a falling star over a long, happy, peaceful existance. His story is timeless, and has long endured. What was the last story you read in which no one took risks, suffered, or made mistakes? Achilles was presented with two plots and allowed to choose. Of course, this is a metaphor for our lives as well. We can take the easy route or the hard one, and decide what kind of story we want to carve.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word said In the beginning...
And yes, I know I keep coming back to that. That’s because I think it’s true.
Do you ever find yourself narrating your everyday life in your head? Does it help you approach decisions in a more balanced way? Does it allow you to remain calm in the eye of the storm? This has qualities of both magic and meditation – meditation because it allows you to calm yourself and take that critical outsider’s look, and magic because by directing your narration, you can subtly affect the way your story is written, merging your own will with that of your author (and don’t we all, as authors, have those moments when characters make it clear they are imposing their will on us?).
This is just a collection of thoughts about that philosophy.
The Path of the Protagonist
“Fantasy and reality often overlap.” – Walt Disney
The Path of the Protagonist is about taking control of your own life. There are many roles and archetypes out there – Hero, Sidekick, Love Interest, Villain, Teacher, Evil Overlord. The Hero is the one most people think of when they think of the Protagonist, but that’s not actually the case. In fact, books where the protagonist is a known Villain were all the rage a couple of years ago – see also: Wicked – and I’ve seen fantasy authors take on most of the others at various times as well.
As a protagonist, or someone learning to be a protagonist, this year’s goal is to be unapologetically in charge of the story of my life. That means prioritizing what’s important to me, not what I feel should be important or what other people think is important. It means taking care of myself. It means exploring the symbols that repeat over and over in my life, and working with those spirits that have asked for my time and attention.
The thing about those symbols, I believe, is that they show up for a reason. If something shows up repeatedly in my life, resonates to the point that it makes my heart sing, then there’s something to learn there. There’s a story to be told.
At this point, I’ve spent enough time turning my spiritual journeys into fiction and using fiction to work through thoughts and ideas that I couldn’t articulate any other way that separating the two out would be nearly impossible. I don’t think I could separate what I knew as a child from what I’ve read and written in the meantime.
I also don’t think it’s necessary. Sure, there are pagans and magicians who talk as if they don’t know the difference between how magic works in fantasy novels and how it works here. But I know I can’t cast Magic Missle, and more importantly, that’s not what I’m trying to do. It’s about understanding Wyrd through The Thread That Binds the Bones, or the elements via My Little Pony, or whatever works for you.
Choosing Your Own Adventure
People say that everyone’s the hero of their own story, but that doesn’t mean having to play the Hero all the time. We can have other roles, and be aware of them. I doubt Robin has any illusions about being the star when he stands next to Batman, even if he is the star of his own comic book.
There have been periods in my life where I felt very much like everything that happened to me was purely in relation to other people being protagonists. I’m thinking specifically of vast periods in which I was a sidekick to other peoples’ various adventures, but there’ve been periods where I played the villain and the love interest (both at the same time with one boyfriend, which as you might imagine was interesting).
We are humans, we define ourselves in relation to other humans. For a lot of people, that means that our mental image of people consists solely of how they relate to us — think of the first time you saw your teacher outside of school when you were a child. You didn’t really think teachers, or doctors, or babysitters, or librarians stopped existing when you left their domain, but it never occurred to you to think that they had families and homes and errands.
If we’re aware of this, we can take a measure of control in our relationships with others. By understanding how they see us, what kind of characters we are to them, we can invoke the archetypes of our stories to make relationships more harmonious and effective. After all, two “heroes” working at opposing goals will continually get in each others’ way.
Say someone finds herself the villain, despite her best efforts. Rather than try to court the hero, she gently lets him “turn” her to his side, if she wants him to work with her, or shows him a common enemy against which they both struggle. If she doesn’t want to change his mind about her, she can use his perception of her as a villain to draw him into making mistakes or forceful accusations he can’t back up. Or she can sit back and complain about why people treat her that way without trying to either change her archetype or use it to her advantage.
In my case, when I was the sidekick, I felt like I was drifting without a place, and being a sidekick, a loyal friend and a sympathetic ear, allowed me to be part of something larger, something grand and romantic. That doesn’t mean that my friendship or my sympathy were insincere. (I would actually consider it a different kind of sincerity — because at the time I was happy with my role as it was, and not looking for ways to be the hero myself.) I mean them quite deeply and it didn’t bother me at the time that I was trailing along on her adventures. Any adventures were to be cherished.
If we are going to pursue the awareness of our ability to write our own stories, it is necessary that we consider the value of all the roles we can play, find the ones we are most comfortable with and most effective in, and use that awareness to craft ourselves a place in the world that uses our strengths and balances our weaknesses with those of the people we surround ourselves with. Even within the path of the protagonist, there are many roles besides Hero to choose from.
For every great King, there can be are Advisors, there are Warriors, there is a Queen and a Prince and perhaps an Evil Brother. And perhaps it best suits our goals to be the second-string character in the story of someone else who can bring about our goals more effectively than we can. Kings and Heroes aren’t always the protagonists of the story; sometimes they’re the ones who set things in motion for other people.
The key is in understanding the role you’re playing, choosing to own it and put it to work for you, or moving on to another story.
The First Draft
Are the ideas of the divinity of the world around us and the idea of a greater reality inherently contradictory?
On one level, sure, of course they are, but I’m a big fan of the quote about the opposite of a great truth also being true. A reflection in the water can be beautiful even if the water is troubled, or even be made more beautiful by the pattern of ripples.
There is a kind of perfection in imperfection. The first draft of a story is imperfect, and yet it is the most raw, most honest form of creation.
The act of editing, polishing, and correcting is moving close to that divine perfection that casts the shadows, and is important too, but that doesn’t mean the shadows are any less a part of the beauty of existence. It’s easy to simplify the gnostic idea of the imperfect photocopy-of-a-copy of creation, the Demiurge pressing Sophia’s work up to the copier to make his own zine called The World, but I don’t see this world as a trap just because it is imperfect.
We learn through our rough drafts, and that learning process is just as real as the higher truth in the final draft.
Three Kinds of Writing
There are three kinds of writing that fall under “theos logos”:
- Transformative writing
- Creative writing
and each of these has mundane as well as magical essence. (There are non-theos writing motivations as well, such as writing purely for money or amusement, but to write purely and entirely for those reasons is rare.)
Record-keeping is the most straightforward type of storytelling. It’s simply a matter of writing down what happened. When your teachers tell you to “write what you know”, this is where you end up, and even journalism can fit in this category.
The mystical aspect of record-keeping is the act of channelling. This can also fall under the description of soulbonding, musing, or some kinds of multiplicity. When someone comes to you and says “this is my story”, and you write it, that’s channelling. Sometimes it’s said that this has no creativity to it — or at least not in comparison with other kinds of writing. That’s drek, however. There’s an artform to telling a story, regardless of whether it was told to you at first or not. (There were many, many stories about the Trojan War. The Iliad survived.) There can, in fact, be a great deal of duty attached to a channeller, especially one who is charged with relaying the stories of dead planets, forgotten races, and other such dusty muses.
Transformative writing starts with simplistic actions — self insertion fanfic, wish fulfillment fantasies, and so on. It is writing what we want to see, rather than what is.
Magically, transformative writing is all about understanding that the world we live in is also a story, and that we as characters can influence the author as surely as those who speak to the record-keeper influence their own stories. Write yourself a better life, a girlfriend, everything you want. This is similar to chaos magic, in that both encourage the use of symbols as a focus for energy. (I’m still looking at sigils and narratives, Grant Morrison stuff.)
Creative writing (and that needs a better term, really) is the act of creating a world by writing about it: playing God, so to speak. The best description of this I’ve seen is in the Myst games and their related material, where the philosophical debate about the existence of the worlds being written is actually part of the plot.
from Myst: The Book of Atrus:
You have spent six weeks now, learning how to copy a number of basic D’ni words and have discovered just how complex and beautiful a script it is. But those characters also mean something, Atrus. Something much more than you’ve previously understood. And not just in this world. They were developed over tens of thousands of years for a specific task — that of describing Ages… of creating other worlds. They are not like the words you and I speak casually, nor can they be used so in the books. Writing — D’ni Writing — is not merely an Art, it is a science. The science of precise description...
When we begin, there is nothing. It is... uncreated. But as soon as the first word is written — just as soon as that first character is completed, the last stroke set down upon the page — then a link is set up to that newly created world, a bridge established... Ahead lies an immense amount of hard work. Every aspect of the Age must be described, each new element fitted in. — pp 171-174
What if they weren’t so much making those worlds as linking to pre-existing possibilities?
At first he had dismissed the notion as a foolish one. Of course they created these worlds. They had to be! How else would they come into being in such precise and predictable forms? Besides, it was simply not possible that an infinite supply of different worlds existed out there, waiting to be tapped. Yet the more he’d thought about it, the more he had come to question his father’s simpler explanation. — pp 203-204
All writing is creative, but some of it is more creative than others. Creating a world, discovering its gods, and getting to know its inhabitants is a way to draw closer to deity in your own life.
There are other ways to use writing as a stepstool to the divine, but these are the three I know best. If you’ve got suggestions too, let me know in the comments.
The art of recording what you’re told – taking dictation – has a long and storied history in religion. Moses, Mohammed and Joseph Smith all did it at one point or another. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Just take what you’re told and write it all down.
I’ve been listening to Jack Spicer’s Vancouver lectures lately on my way to and from work. I was particularly caught up by his first lecture, on poetic dictation. Spicer was of the belief that the most worthwhile and true poetry came from outside of the writer. He referred to his source as Martians, but I suspect the source itself was not as important as the poetry in his mind.
He asked, “What are you here for?” And the spooks replied, “We’re here to give metaphors for your poetry.” -Jack Spicer on Yeats in his first Vancouver lecture
The concept of dictation is associated with the Berkeley Renaissance poet Jack Spicer, but he pointed back to Yeats as a source. Under other names, though, the concept is quite common among writers – the idea that your story, your images, your words are given to you. They are inspired from without.
In a pagan context, they could certainly be inspired by deities, but this kind of inspiration is not limited to deities. In fact, where it comes from is a secondary concern much of the time. Spicer would tell you that it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from, and speaking purely in terms of Theos Logos I would agree. I don’t know where my inspiration comes from. I don’t know how I why I am allowed to hear the stories I retell. I offer to the Firebird and to Sarasvati but that’s more for the ability to produce something with it.
Later in the lecture, Spicer says something that’s likely to sound familiar to spiritworkers and those who discuss their godphones: “I just don’t think that whatever the source of energy is gives really very much of a damn about you. It wants to keep you in good condition, just like the farmer wants to keep the cow in good condition. Or the butcher, or the rancher, and then the butcher wants to keep the steer in good condition until it’s butchered.”
The point is, as always, the story.
Spicer goes on to describe the process of figuring out what dictation feels like, how it is different from regular poetics. It’s a process of discernment that’s likely to sound somewhat familiar to spirit workers: learning that you’re listening to something, learning to listen intentionally. When practicing writing as a spiritual discipline, as a part of Theos Logos or any other practice, listening is a key skill.
When I talk about taking dictation in the context of Theos Logos, I’m not talking about a god rattling off advice or instructions. I’m talking about the process of hearing, and telling, someone’s story. That might be someone in the past, in another world, or a god. Whoever it is, they are trusting you with their stories.
To my mind, this is a sacred responsibility. It is as if I have been given a beautiful, raw stone. The stone’s owner expects me to cut and polish it, to find the flawless gem inside. This is no simple act of scribbling down shorthand. The art of writing is my own, the word choices, the arcs of the characters, the themes and metaphors. If I am lucky, I take the raw facts and polish them into something true.
Even if I am not doing the worldbuilding myself, it is still the process of creation, which is sacred because it is godlike. Taking what you’re given and turning it into something finished is an art. Listening is an art of its own.
Fan Fiction and Journeywork
There are, roughly speaking, two kinds of spiritual journey. One is travelling through other places, what I call going sideways: Faerie, the Nine Worlds, that kind of thing. That is a useful skill to have, and can be a wonderful or terrible experience in its own right, but it’s not what I’ve had on my mind lately.
The other kind of journey is more internal. That’s not to say it isn’t real; the inside of your head can be a very dangerous place, and your self is absolutely real. It isn’t taking you elsewhere, though. The beings you interact with there are often archetypes – spirit animals, guides, parts of yourself, and sometimes deities. You go somewhere inside yourself, and you learn something if you’re lucky, and then you return.
I have experimented with using the writing process to guide this type of journey. When I am in the right mindset as an author, writing fiction is a bit like automatic writing. I feel as if I have very little control over the way the story is going, and I share in the emotions of my main characters. This makes it possible to “write” a journey that has at least as much emotional space and room for surprise as a guided meditation.
Because it is meant to be a practice heavy with archetypes, I found that using fan fiction can make the process a lot easier. If TV Tropes has taught us anything, it’s that media is just filled to the brim with archetypes (which is just a nice way of saying cliches, sometimes) and the themes of myth are being reenacted right now on network television. If Once Upon a Time or the Vampire Diaries or, hell, Hannibal or White Collar gives you the framework you need to hang your internal work on, I say go for it.
The trick is in being able to reach that mindset where you’re honestly experiencing the emotions of the main character you’re writing, making choices as a person in the experience instead of from authorial fiat. Once you can step that far in, writing can be done in a light trance (again, not unlike automatic writing) and the journey may begin to surprise you.
Talking to alternate versions of myself is a skill I learned young – one of my first spirit teachers taught me it, along with astral travel.
The way I do it is by picturing the multiverse like a book open on the table. We’re on, let’s say, page 539. Closer ones – ones that are more like this reality – are easier. You could say I regularly check in with pages 535-547 or something. Going all the way over to page 12 would be a lot harder.
I connect to these places via the Library. Whether or not the Library is the place some people refer to as the Akashic Records when they’re looking for past and future lives, I don’t know. Getting to the Akashic Records is a pretty common destination for astral journey-type stuff, though. It’s one of those archetypal destinations. You shouldn’t need much help finding some branch of it, even if you’re not drawn to the Library I see.
=> library.gmi The Library
“Practice makes perfect” is very true for this skillset. Once you get comfortable with it, you may find yourself drawing certain pages closer to yourself. You can get to know the You you want to be, learn from your other selves, and bring the pages you like into your own story.
Once you’re comfortable doing it, you might start getting flashes of other choices at relevant times – when the lesson learned was something that’d be useful to know at whatever you’re doing now, or when you’re thinking about doing something you already did somewhere else.
Another way to approach it if you’re not into guided meditation is as a thought experiment. Pick some big decision in your life and ask yourself what happened if you went the other way. You can consciously direct it as a fantasy for a little while, if you want, and see what details start popping up that you wouldn’t pick on your own, or you can relax and let it run like a cross between a daydream and automatic writing. (In fact, writing is a good way to focus on this, if you’re having trouble.) And again, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Using this technique, I’ve met versions of myself who I would consider both better and worse off than I am. Sometimes I’m the one encouraging another version of me, too – I’m not the One True Me, after all. But either way, it gives me a sense of perspective and guidance when I’m really not sure what would be the best thing for me.
Bookbinding is the art of drawing the pages together and making a well-connected whole. Once you start to understand the pages around you and the choices you didn’t make as well as the ones you did, you gain a sense of the story of your life and how intentionally you write it vs letting it be written.
Blessed Are the Betas
There is a moment in considering the sanctity of writing, especially the sanctity of one’s own writing, in which one looks at the words on the page and says “This is perfect! This is just as it came to me!”
The latter may be true — it may even be a word for word dictation from the main character, or even from deity. However, that does not mean it is perfect. Just as important as the act of writing itself is the act of revision, and that’s not possible without good feedback and criticism.
How can that be, when writing is a divine, magical act? It’s true for several reasons.
First, the writer has a responsibility to herself. Spirituality is meant to be a process in which one touches something greater than oneself and seeks to become part of it. It is not a stagnant state, especially during the highly changable process of being incarnate. In order to refine and expand any spirituality, outside insight into our progress is necessary.
This is where the beta reader or reviewer is invaluable. A good revision requires as much energy as the initial setting-down. It requires clarity of vision and an erasing of ego.
Ego is a terrific problem for a writer. Someone who is too impressed by the brilliance of their own prose serves neither the charcters, the story, nor his true self. An egotists’s writing will ring hollow because there is no spark of soul in it.
The writer must constantly pursue improvement in form and in word, in characterization and in structure, as part of the process of tempering the soul and training the self to see the world more truly.
Second, a writer owes it to the characters to revise. This is particularly true in the case of channelled writing. Would you want to pour your life story out to someone so it could languish in a drawer or a computer file? Of course not, and neither do they. The author is not just a glorified typewriter for his characters. Like celebrity ghostwriters and authors of historical fiction, he is not a glorified typewriter. He is an artist, and just as a sketch is not a finished product, so is a first draft something that must be polished and finished.
A good beta shows us our faults and suggests the paths that may help lead us forward, as better writers and with a better understanding of our place in the world.
Merciful Earth, be with us
Bountiful Harvest, be with us
Lady Luck, be with us
Mother Market, be with us
Bread-raiser, be with us
Hearthtender, be with us
Queen of Rot, be with us
As an exercise in creating daily practice and spending more intentional time with different powers, I set out to create a set of daily prayers, with each day's power chosen to match the planetary energy of the days of the week. I spent a month developing it, and so sometimes ended up with more than one prayer for the power of each day. Most often now I do a more general daily offering rather than varying who I spend time with, but I like having these prayers as a go-to when I want to engage more.
Redbird, firstborn, brightest star
Lifegiver, death’s lover
Desert mirage and warm summer grass
Snowblindness and hopeful thaw
You burn hot in all things,
Magic and sex and simply living,
The riddle of contradiction
Let me study you; continue to teach me
Allow me to be your student and
Ensure the enemies of my household
Burn themselves down and flame out
Redbird, Fiery One, Bright Lady,
Grant my household passion
Grant us inspiration
Grant us magic
Dark Lady, Velvet Sky, Black Blade
I come before you on your day,
in the sacred nighttime
As the voice of my household
to ask your blessings.
Cover us in your hair that we
may go unseen by our enemies
Cover us in your maille that we may not be harmed
Teach us to wield your weapons
Strengthen our magic
Remind us that we need not fear for we are the monsters under the bed.
Righteous One, Honorable One, Maligned One, Lord of Battle,
Master of the Stolen Crown,
Striver for Balance, Dread Fairness,
I come to you on your day, at this sacred place
As the voice for my household.
Lend me your glaive and shield
That I might protect my family
From those that would harm us
Reinforce my words and show me
Discipline to maintain my work
Grant all of us wisdom as we face
the challenges of the day and the world.
Protect my child and help me keep her safe
Pillai, Sweet One, Son of Luck,
Bring me opportunities
Show me doors that I might pick locks
Bluebird, Darling One, Harbinger of Spring,
Teach me not to be afraid
Help me recover and go on and find new options
Pillai! Darling Bluebird!
I come before you on your day, in this sacred place
As the voice for my household
Grant us luck and grant us hope
Grant us opportunities and ensure we can see them
Turn away ill luck, poor health and bad timing.
Pechak, Hawk, great battler,
Velos, Serpent, cunning fighter,
On your day and in this sacred place
I come before you as the voice for my household
Pechak, mighty one, swift one,
Lend me your strength,
Smash the enemies of my household,
Leave them unable to work against us.
Set your wings around us as a shield
to keep us from harm.
Velos, clever one, cunning one,
Lend me your strategy,
Confuse the enemies of my household,
Make them distracted and let their work
against us be wasted. Keep us safe
from poisonous tongues and teeth.
Wrap your scales around us as a shield
to keep us from harm.
On your day and in this sacred place
I come before you as the voice for my household
Brhenti, hearthfire, inspiration
get me through this longest of work days,
inspire me and grant me
luck and wit in my creative projects,
energyy in maintaining my house and family.
Brhenti, lady of putting by,
sealer of mason jars, gentle heat of dehydration,
guide my thoughts as I prepare.
Keep me quick to spot a deal.
Keep me reasonable in the face of threats.
Keep me calm when everyone is shouting.
Brhenti, mother of artifice,
Teacher of craft and lady of the forge
Keep me on track when my mind wanders,
Remind me that I am happier when I create.
Protect our household,
Remind us to put by and squirrel away,
To make good choices and invest in the future.
Brhenti, Mericiful Metal, Copper Woman,
Be sword and shield,
Defend my household
Protect us and guide us to prepare
For a future we cannot know.
Tzymir of the broken crown,
Father of Crystals, Source of Magic
On your day and in this sacred place and this late hour,
I come before you as the voice for my household
Dead god and labyrinth-walker,
Teach me grace and confidence,
Guide my study, lend me magic
Bring us wealth from your realm
deep in the earth
Bring us wisdom from the labyrinth
Guide us through the twisting paths
and lead those who would harm us into wrong turns and dead ends.
Poems for Kuan Yin
In my mid-twenties, I went through a very difficult relationship, a cross country move, and my first round of health scares. Somewhere in there I ended up finding the most comfort in Buddhist meditation and practice, and especially in cultivating a relationship with Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. I would have bouts of vertigo so severe that moving more than an inch at a time would lead to nausea for hours, and without the ability to read or watch anything, and trying not to panic about whether I would recover and what this might mean. I prayed, and I recited mantras, because I didn't know what else to do, and eventually it helped.
Prayer to Kuan Yin
Om mani padme hum.
Hail to the jewel
in the heart of the lotus,
goddess of compassion
and bodhisattva of patience.
I often cause suffering.
My mouth moves faster
Than my regret, coughing up
Emotional acid reflux.
Share your infinite compassion
With my fucked up self,
A minty chewy taste
When my foot’s in my mouth.
Teach me how you love all beings
When they’re so fucking stupid.
Teach me how not to
Call them all so fucking stupid
Since that doesn’t seem
Terribly Buddhist of me.
I really am a terrible Buddhist,
O lady of compassion.
Luckily for me you put up with that.
Show me how to save everyone
Or if you can’t, I’ll settle
For learning when to shut up.
Thanks, o bodhisattva
Who sees the suffering of the world.
Namo guan shih yin pusa.
The Bodhisattva Vow is a vow taken never to cause harm to a living being. At first glance, this sounds quite simple – most of us don't usually go out of our way to hurt people, right?
It's pretty easy to decide, say, not to hit people. What about saying things that are hurtful, though? Many people can't resist at least a little gossiping. What about when speaking the truth is harmful? What about the careless thing you say that stings, or the time you put your foot in your mouth because you just don't know that something is a painful subject for someone.
And don't forget that 'living beings' is not limited to people. It obviously means taking care of your pets, and making sure that potted plant in your kitchen is taken care of. What about that ant trap under your sink, though, or your instinctive reaction to smash a spider on your wall?
Suppose you want to take the afternoon off and go for a peaceful nature walk. First you must make sure that taking the afternoon off won't hurt anyone; obviously the severity of this depends on what you do for a living, but start simple: will someone else have to work later to cover for you? If you pack a lunch, did the cows or pigs or poultry suffer before it became lunchmeat and cheese? Once you're out there, watch your step- you might be crushing insects with your every step. Don't disturb anything, or you may disrupt the habitat of a wild animal.
Not as easy as it looked, is it?
The more attention I pay
to the insects, to the
thousand tiny lives
around me each day,
the harder it seems to get.
Ants appear out of cracks,
grasshoppers fling themselves
at my feet, even moths
land under my shoes.
The more precious the life,
the harder to avoid
I need more eyes,
more arms, fewer legs
perhaps, or just your blessing
and patience as I try again.
According to myth, Kuan Yin chose to incarnate as the princess Miao Shan. Her father the king was a cruel man, and insisted that she marry an older, rich man. When she refused, saying that she wanted to enter a temple and study the words of the Buddha, her father first imprisoned her and denied her food, then allowed her to enter the temple while ordering the monks to work her to the bone. Still, she was devoted to her work and her purity caused the animals of the forest to befriend her and help her. Furious, her father set fire to the temple. Miao Shan put it out with her bare hands and was not burned.
Her father ordered her killed, but the executioner’s weapon shattered three times when he approached her. When he finally resorted to strangling her, Miao Shan, understanding that the executioner would suffer at her father’s hand if he did not succeed, allowed herself to be killed and took on the karmic guilt of the murder. This karma caused her to descend to one of the many hells of Buddhist belief, where she took pity on all those suffering. She released much of her own good karma, causing the hell to transform into a paradise and the souls within it to be freed to their next life. One of the lords of hell sent her back to earth to keep her from wreaking havoc in his realms. Miao Shan then traveled to the Fragrant Mountain and studied Buddhism full-time, as she’d always wanted to do.
Gently Burning Heart
Lady phoenix, Miao Shan,
arms aflame in the temple,
body burning as your spirit.
Death drawn out, accepted,
folded into your heart
in origami flowers you
planted in hell, watered with
your tears and grew up again,
embers rushed back to life
and still seeking.
a thousand arms,
a thousand comforts
against the many arrows
look at me
one among everyone
suffering in your view
True understanding and compassion for others begins with the self. If you do not feel sympathy for yourself, or cut yourself some slack, you will have a hard time accepting the weaknesses of others as well. When I hate myself, when the depression sets in and the snow falls inside my chest, I look to Kuan Yin for reassurance. When I can't warm myself, she is gentle as a mother wrapping a child in hats and mittens for the snow. She gives me strength, and knowing that she feels my suffering, no matter how petty I worry that it is, is like having a thick, warm scarf I can wrap myself in.
What's in a Year?
thoughts on religious calendars
There are a number of different kinds of holydays and events marked on my religious calendar so that I can keep an eye on them. One is dates belonging to specific ancestors or Narnian saints' days. These dates are all relatively personal, though many of them are marked by other people on the internet in different ways.
Most of these dates are simply the birthdates of the ancestors being celebrated, whether they're my blood ancestors or whether I'm honoring Maurice Sendak on June 10th or Carrie Fisher on October 21st.
Carrie Fisher actually falls under two days on my calendar, the second in a different category that's more like Pop Culture Holidays. May the 4th, Star Wars day, is another day for honoring Carrie on my calendar, and I also mark the Glorious 25th of May for Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams.
The Narnian saint days are a bit different, in that they're nicked from Catholic saint days with the correct names, so we celebrate Queen Lucy on December 15th and Queen Susan on August 11th and so on.
And then on top of those dates are the holidays where I mark the passage of the seasons in the world around me, what I suppose I would call my Wheel of the Year in a pagan crowd. These are dates that often will- or at least should, in my opinion- vary between location and even from year to year. Not all of them will be celebrated by everyone, and not all in the same way.
For example, before we had kids, my first New Year was Samhain, the fresh start that comes in the welcoming darkness of the year, but now that our kid is in school, the first New Year is right after labor day, and it's a celebration of the re-establishment of routine and new things to learn. Samhain's New Year belongs to the Good Earth and the Deep Waters, as we go down into the darkness and leave behind the previous year and its sorrows and its challenges. In my house, this means roast pork with apples and supper with the dead, and then journeying forth in the dark to a liminal space to prepare for First New Year and preparing for the Hunt.
As I see Wodanaz in both the Hunt and the Carnival, the first carnival of the year is a moment like the first farmer’s market, where I am seeing a power shift from their winter self to their summer self and I stop to acknowledge the passage of time.
This is, of course, entirely UPG, but the role of carnivals in pop culture is liminal and dangerous, a place where the bad are punished and strange blessings and curses both might come up, so it seems reasonable to me that archetypal Carnival might feed on the same energies as the Hunt. And of course, I first met Wodanaz wearing the face of Mr Dark.
=> /odin Wodanaz/Odin
Some years I sit awake in vigil for the New Year, burning bonfires of creativity, armed with words and caffeine. I await the stroke of midnight so I can dive into new projects for the new year. So begins the month long festival called National Novel Writing Month.
I also celebrate two other New Years, the pop-cultural zeitgeist new year that follows the longest night, and the lunar New Year at the first hint of spring. The solar New Year on January 1st actually marks the end of Twelvenights, a long Yule; it starts as a more meditative festival on the solstice when I try to keep watch for dawn, then is a family holiday around the 25th since there's not really any way to avoid it, and then shifts gears to goal-setting and fresh-start energy that I like to take advantage of.
There are a few others that have snuck in out of habit, like Walpurgisnacht. I still think of the day as Walpurgis because that’s what I first learned it as, before I knew about the wheel of the year. (Hello again, Catholic upbringing, nice to see you.) I tend to consider it a complement to Samhain, a time when the veils are thin, the otherworlds are close, or whatever your description of choice might be. Magic is a little bit easier. Change comes a little bit faster.
I imagine several holydays as a pair, most notably Samhain and Walpurgis – for me, Samhain is about internal shifts, and Walpurgis about external shifts. Samhain is the new year, and is about clearing out old things about yourself, getting straight in your head. Walpurgis is the beginning of summer, making changes in relationships, friendships, how you interact with the world. Samhain is a holyday that belongs to Marzanna, Lady of the Earth, She Who Cradles The Body, and Walpurgis belongs to Mara, the Fruitful Earth, She Who Bears.
I also celebrate exceptionally local holydays like the opening weekend of the farmer's market, the first local berries, and the first autumn rainy day. There's something roughly analagous to Lammastide that I like to mark, a First Harvest, but that's harder to put my finger on. It's more a change in the air than anything else, but it's roughly August when you can say harvest season has begun, festival season has begun. My favorite way to celebrate first harvest is to go to the county fair.
The apex of Fair-as-First-Harvest, in my opinion, is the growing competition. Flowers, fruits and vegetables are harvested, gathered, tagged and judged. Some of them win ribbons. Someone is best in show. All of them are dead before the first judge sets eye on them.
I prefer to visit the fair on the first weekend if I can, because by the second weekend, inevitably time and Hel have taken their toll. Of course, this can assist you in a meditation on the death in the harvest, especially if you honor the sacrifice of the Lord of Plenty at this time of year. Hundreds of farmers – hundreds of thousands across the country – offer up their first and their finest to the judges and to Death. The rest of us look on and honor the sacrifice and appreciate the ritual.
Eventually, of course, it’s all harvested. But there’s a difference between rounding up all of your apples for the market and choosing the finest apple to enter into the county fair. It is the very best that is offered, and just as may happen at our own deaths, we are judged and found exemplary or wanting.
The thing about any religious calendar is that it has to make sense to you, the person celebrating it. Think about what you're celebrating, and why, and when it makes sense to appreciate those things.
How I Read Without Amazon
It's hard to beat a good local library for browsing, if you're lucky enough to have one. I'm fortunate enough to find a lot of books through mine, both physical and digital. Want to use your local library? Library Extension tells you if your local library has what you’re looking at, while WorldCat allows you to search virtually every library out there.
https://www.libraryextension.com/ Library Extension
Want to support a brick and mortar alternative to Barnes and Noble? Bookshop or IndieBound can help with that. Failing that, there's always Powell's, which is one of my local bookstores and also one of the largest indie bookstores in the world. I am, again, priviledged to have access to many local bookstores, offering both new and secondhand options. I also get cheap used books from BetterWorldBooks.
https://boardgaming.com/localstores Boardgaming (for gaming stores)
http://betterworldbooks.com/ Better World Books
I don't always buy hardcopy books- I've moved enough times in my life that I really value the ability to own an ebook library- but I also enjoy owning really beautiful books, or having physical copies to read we're having Family Reading Time (yes, we're really that twee I guess) and I'm putting my screen down because my kid can't really tell the difference between me on my phone reading a book and me on my phone messing around. I especially like graphic novels in hardcopy, and I tend to buy MG and YA books I'm interested in so that they can hang around in case my kid gets interested in them later. I did a lot of exploring of my Dad's paperback collection when I was a kid, and I want to make sure my kid has that opportunity.
The rest of the time, I tend to go for ebooks. The joy of never not having a book has not dimmed since I was trying to get books on my PalmOne, and I love having my entire Calibre library available on my phone, should I need it.
https://weightlessbooks.com/ Weightless Books
https://subterraneanpress.com/ Subterranean Press
https://bookviewcafe.com/ Book View Cafe
https://standardebooks.org Standard ebooks
https://scarletferret.com/ Scarlet Ferret
https://angryrobotbooks.com/ Angry Robot Books
While many of the older books on Kobo have DRM, recent purchases I've made from them are downloadable and I was able to load into Calibre.
https://bundleofholding.com Bundle of Holding
https://joinbookwyrm.com/instances/ BookWyrm (fediverse)
It's free! It's sometimes better than the original! It's often queerer than the original! How can you go wrong? First of all, I like to download fics in ebook format when I can:
http://archiveofourown.org/ Archive of Our Own
The AO3 has almost everything represented, it's a huge resource, and it has built-in magical epub/pdf/mobi downloads. Love it.
http://amalthia.mediawood.net/ebooks/index.php Ebook Library
This doesn't have a huge selection but it's curated and the fics are formatted individually. I've read fic I wouldn't have read otherwise because it was collected here.
For stuff on other fanfic archives:
Downloads a multichapter story from fanfiction.net, fanficauthors.net, mugglenet.com as a single epub. For when I hit a fandom that's still heavily on ff.net.
http://www.flagfic.com/ Fanfiction Lightweight Automated Grabber
Web-only downloader for fanfiction.net, and some Twilight archives.
For stuff that's on LiveJournal, deviantArt or other websites:
Saves a webpage as an epub. Short and sweet. In dA, I make sure to use "download as HTML" and then save from the plain HTML doc that opens.
You can use folders to collect a bunch of webpages on a theme and then save them as a single epub file with a table of contents. Good for fics with chapters in multiple LJ/DW posts. Also sends to Kindle.
http://amalthia.mediawood.net/tutorials/ebooks/index.html Ebook Formatting Tutorial
Is what it says on the tin. Great reference.
https://jessmahler.com/where-to-buy-ebooks-other-than-amazon/ Where To Buy Ebooks Other Than Amazon
Jess Mahler's page, which inspired me to post my own round-up of links
Paperwork and Why It Matters
This morning I was part of a discussion about legal marriage and whether it's necessary or useful. I don't think it's necessary, and I think it's usefulness varies, but I ended up on a tangent about why I'm married, and then paperwork in general, and I have a lot of feelings about this.
My spouse and I have been together in one way or another for almost 20 years, functioning as a married couple since 2009 and legally married since it became an option in 2012 in our state. While we were able to put together paperwork that covered much of the same ground as marriage beforehand, we still made the decision to get married almost immediately for one reason: health.
Not health care, even, though domestic partner benefits used to be a complicated minefield before federal marriage recognition simplified things for taxes, but health. I've had my share of serious health issues over the years, and my spouse has had their share of sitting anxiously in hospital waiting rooms while I was in surgery. There were times and places in the last twenty years hospital access has been denied for me because I wasn't legally married to my partner, though thankfully for me it hasn't been within the last 10 years. For other people, in other places, it can be much more recent.
Marriage doesn't guarantee safe treatment, but it makes things simpler. And so we got married. (In a library, but I digress.) When our child was born, I was automatically listed as the father because we were married. I could have done a second-parent adoption (and there are those who recommend one regardless) but it was certainly simpler. Our taxes are simpler since we don't have to decide who benefits the most from claiming that child now.
In an ideal world, paperwork exists to make things simpler. You put what is important to you in writing so that other people know what matters to you.
For example, I am putting my thoughts on paperwork and financial enmeshment here, so other people will know how I feel about them.
Medical Power of Attorney
What is it?
A power of attorney is a legal document that grants you the power to act on behalf of someone else. Also called an Advanced Directive, a medical power of attorney lets the person of your choice have control of medical decisions that need to be made when you're incapacitated.
Why do you want it?
If something happens to you, would you rather your best friend got to tell the doctors what you'd want, or do you want them calling your parents? If the idea of your parents having the power to answer that question makes you uncomfortable, you need a medical POA (aka an Advanced Directive) to show hospital staff that your friend is the one who should be making these important decisions.
What is it?
A living will is a legal document that explains what choices you want made on your behalf if you're incapacitated. It usually lists specific instructions, like whether you'd want to be kept alive under certain circumstances.
Why do you want it?
It takes the guesswork out! A living will is a good compliment to a medical power of attorney. The living will outlines your choices in specific situations and the power of attorney allows someone you trust to make decisions when your situation is more nuanced.
Financial Power of Attorney
What is it?
Like a medical POA, a financial Power of Attorney names someone who is able to make financial decisions on your behalf.
Why do you want it?
If you're going to be in a situation where you can't reach your financial service providers- jail, overseas, unable to travel, etc- and you want someone to be able to talk to your bank on your behalf. You can create a financial POA that will only be triggered if a condition is met, such as if you're unconscious or imprisoned or whatever, as well. Not everyone needs one, but it can be really handy to have one.
What is it?
I feel like this is the one everybody knows. Your will is what you want done with your stuff when you die.
Why do you want it?
If you want anyone other than your legal next of kin to get your stuff, you need a will. If you have anyone that's dependent on you that you want to be sure they're provided for, you need a will. If you think people will fight over your stuff, you need a will. "Stuff" here means not only physical stuff, but also intellectual property, so if you have any writing, art, music, anything that you want to outlast you, you should have a will. Mine talks about what I want done with my writing and who I want to have guardianship of my kid if something happens to both me and my SO.
I'm Dead Now What file
What is it?
Separate from your will, this is a letter or document intended only for a significant other, close friend, or other individual or small group outlining other things you think they want to know if you're no longer around.
Mine includes things both specific to-dos like "if something happens to me, here's how to let my employer know and once you have a death certificate here's all the places you'll want to contact to close my accounts" and more abstract things like "here's what I'd recommend you do with the funds from my life insurance" and "here's information about filing for SSI survivor benefits for our kid because I'm the kind of nerd who knows this shit and you've probably never needed to" and "here's an explanation of the file system I use for family pictures on the media server" and stuff like that. Some people also use them to talk about what kind of service or rememberance they'd like to have.
Why do you want it?
If you have ANYTHING you've set up in a particular way that makes sense to you but may not to someone else, or you have a plan that if you died your SO could do X and Y and be set for a while, you should write it down because you won't be there to explain it, and no matter how together of a person someone is, right after the death of a loved one is not when we are at our best remembering a hundred thousand tiny details.
Recently I got an update on a fanfic that is unfinished, from a family member of the author, explaining that the author had passed away but they had her notes and knew it mattered to her so they were going to find a way to share what she had intended. That inspired me to add some additional notes to my file, so my SO knows what I'd like done if that happened to me.
A Joint Bank Account
What is it?
A bank account that has both you and your significant other as account owners.
Why do you want it?
I recommend having household expenses set up to come out of a joint bank account, because if something happens to one of you, your bills can still get paid without you having to do anything more complicated than make sure money is still in the account. Most joint accounts will have right of survivorship, which means if something happens to one owner, the account just remains in the name of the other account owner. Minimal paperwork, maximum continuity.
In addition, if you have any accounts at all that list both of you- a lease, a utility, anything- you may someday get a check made out to both of you. It can be much, much simpler to deposit a check made out to two people if that check can go into a bank account both of you share, because then the financial institution doesn't have to go to extra lengths to show they made sure both of you financially benefitted from the check.
An Individual Bank Account
What is it?
A bank account that's just in your name. This could be at the same bank or credit union as your joint account or at a separate one.
Why do you want it?
No matter how much you love and trust your SO, it's good to have something that's just yours. Even if all you use it for is making surprise Christmas purchases, you know it's there in case anything ever comes up.
A Beneficiary on Your Individual Bank Account and Any Other Account That Lets You List One
What is it?
A beneficiary is the person who will receive the benefit of the account if/when the criteria is met. The beneficiary on your life insurance is who gets paid when you're dead. The beneficiary on your bank account is who gets access when you're dead.
Insurance folks are generally pretty good about requiring a beneficiary, but you might want to make sure yours are updated. Bank accounts usually don't require one, but will allow you to add one.
Why do you want it?
If you have one, it makes everything flow more smoothly into the hands of the person you want to have your money if you're gone. Accounts that have a beneficiary don't have to wait for probate or any kind of estate handling, generally they only need the certificate of death to get things moving.
A Credit Union Account
What is it?
A credit union is a not-for-profit financial institution that's member-owned. Basically it's the co-op version of a bank. They're usually smaller and more local, often offering better rates than banks with many of the same types of accounts and loans.
Why do you want it?
Disclaimer: I work for a credit union. If you have a local credit union, I highly recommend you check out their products and services. Most credit unions will offer you a better rate on loans than most banks, and many have products designed for people who are building or rebuilding credit. My coworkers in lending will look for alternative options if they can't get someone approved for the first thing they applied for, my coworkers on the phone will do our very best to solve your problems, and a real person is involved in pretty much every step of the process. Local credit unions are also more able to listen to their members and support their local communities; every local CU I know of donates money and pays employees to donate their time to local charities. We listen to member feedback and can act on it.
These are the things I have opinions on off the top of my head. I'll probably add other things later if I think of them.
https://tinyurl.com/pagandeathpreparedness Everybody Does It: Death Preparedness for Pagans and Polytheists
https://www.joincake.com Cake: End of Life Planning Tools
https://www.mycreditunion.gov/about-credit-unions/credit-union-locator Find a local Credit Union (US)
https://www.financialbeginnings.org/ Financial Beginnings
https://paychecksandbalances.com/ Paychecks and Balances
https://www.wealthnoir.com/ Wealth Noir
http://www.bitchesgetriches.com/ Bitches Get Riches
https://minafi.com/ Financial Independence by Investing, Minimalism & Mindfulness
I started out with comics, drawn on notebook paper and meticulously photocopied at the library for distribution to a handful of kids I knew, mostly people whose thinly-disguised superhero characters made it into the stories. Within a few years I was making zines in high school, enjoying the opportunity they offered to be cool by proxy in the late 90s, because I was never going to be cool in the actual town I lived in. I was typing up terrible poetry on my lunch hour in the library or meticulously handwriting it so it was readable, writing little articles and essays. I made a couple of perzines inspired by the zines I was learn about online and send away for, mostly because I wanted to have something to trade with the immensely talented people I was mailing my well-hidden dollars to. My best friend and I published two issues of an underground newspaper until we got in hauled in front of the principal for (in retrospect, very mild) reporting. Eventually I discovered blogging and then livejournal, and I started posting my writing online instead, but every few years I get the itch to produce something that I could print and staple, if I wanted to.
Lately I've been thinking about zines again and there's a desire to make them that I haven't fully unpacked, but I think it's about wanting to have something to show, to point to that I've finished. I'd been looking for a good place to share some of my older projects and I think I've finally found one via discovering Zine Jams on itch.io, so both old and new projects are going there now.
Brainflowers is a zine I made in 2011, following a long year of physical and mental health issues. It was a series of essays that marked the first time I really sat down and gave thought to my gender and my relationship with my body, and marked an important step in my transition even though, at the time, I had no belief I would be able to physically transition in the future.
https://cjackdaw.itch.io/merciful-earth the Merciful Earth
the Merciful Earth is a bit more of a booklet than a zine, clocking in at 66 half-size pages. It's a compilation of poems and prayers and storylets I wrote for a goddess, and it was both intensely personal and the first thing I actively, intentionally published in a long time. I've never gotten it physically published but eventually I'd like to print and bind a copy for myself.
Anamnesis is a short poetry zine about memory and repetition. It's not long but it's the first thing I've put together in a few years and I'm pretty pleased with how it came out.
/thing-i-did The Smart Thing and the Thing I Did
Jack Rose, forcefully retired airship pilot, hasn't been making a lot of good decisions lately. Today he's making worse ones than usual.
Garcia’s been quietly building her practice as a freelance supernatural troubleshooter in Phoenix for years, and is almost ready to break into full-time if she can just deal with a thief, a library ghost, man-eating mermaids and her own relationship issues.
deceitful.gmi The Heart Is Deceitful
It's 1972, and Dan McCarthy is trying his damnedest to dodge the draft, the Department of Superhuman Affairs, and his ex-girlfriend, but all three keep coming back to haunt him.
antimony.gmi Antimony and Lead
The world ended weeks ago and Lacey’s been cast out of the safe bunker she called home with her husband and sister-wives. Now she’s got to figure out where she should go and who she can trust to stay alive in post-apocalyptic Utah.
http://ib-archive.livejournal.com/107703.html In Mercy's Shadow, Nothing Grows
Originally published in Imaginary Beasts
On The Internet, Everyone Knows You're a Dog
The first time I got invited to a members-only mailing list I was seventeen. The person inviting me had read a fanfic I wrote (an aching pool of queer angst, like everything I wrote at seventeen) and reached out to me by email, and after dancing around mutual weirdness over the course of a few days I was invited to join a mailing list of a dozen or so people who shared our weirdness.
From there, it was not long until I was discovering the many, many interesting corners of weirdness the web had to offer twenty-plus years ago. I hung out in vampire chat rooms, joined mailing lists for multiple systems, posted in forums for otherkin, and got a LiveJournal account. While there was always a level of concern around making sure you didn't overshare your "real life" details, much of what we did was not only findable, it was designed to be found. There were dozens of resource pages and smaller websites full of essays on individual experiences. Groups of people pooled their past life memories in the hopes of recreating something they felt they had lost.
Did it get weird sometimes? Was there drama? Were there secret mailing lists, and locked LJ communities? Oh of course. Otherkin are still people even if we're not human.
But the amazing thing was that all of these sites were out there, waiting to be found. Cringe had not yet been invented and doxxing was still a relatively rare occurance. Alterhumans, plurals, and other subcultures didn't spend most of our time and energy gatekeeping trolls out, because there were comparatively few of them compared to, say, what the average public Discord server I'm in seems to get these days, and when they did show up they were usually just crude and easily banned.
I think there's a lot to be said for private spaces; you can have conversations in private that are too personal for public consumption, for people who don't understand the full context of what you're talking about. They can be invaluable for discussing specific topics, or even just for talking about one's personal life in a way that can be too personal.
But I think there's also a lot to be said for public spaces, easily-find-able spaces, in the same way that the Hot Topic in the suburban mall performs a public service. It lets people find these ideas and this terminology and it lets them investigate without a lot of emotional investment right off the bat. Even if I hadn't gotten that email from a random fanfic reader, I would probably have found the Elfenkind digest while it was active and joined the chats linked from Sanguinarius's ridiculously massive site. They weren't hard to find, and that was the point.
https://www.murkworks.net/~elflist/ Elfenkind Digest
I think a key element in there was the separation between "real life" and online identity. They say that on the internet, no one knows you're a dog, but that's not true. On the internet, everyone may know you're a dog because you run iamadog.com, which mostly consists of your essays about what you miss most about being a shiba inu, but nobody expected you to sign up for lycanspace with your real name or your Facebook account.
The way discussion happens has changed. The increasing popularity of "real name" policies and the problematic assumptions that come with them, alongside the growing popularity of raids and doxxing and good old-fashioned link rot, caused a lot of older resources to be taken down as people decided that casual discussion and sharing was no longer feasible. New communities grew up in new spaces like Tumblr, where pseudonymity could continue, but the forcefully public and searchable nature of Tumblr opened all users up to trolling, and the rise of cringe culture only increased infighting as people sought to ensure that casual viewers knew what were "real" plurals, otherkin or other identities. (And in turn, trolls capitalized on that infighting to troll further.) Private Discord servers have taken up some of the slack of IRC and mailing lists, but, again, they're hard to find and harder to join if you don't know they're there. There are still people making 101 guides and resource sites, talking publicly, but doing so requires more energy for discourse and a thicker skin for trolls than a lot of people have. Many of the resources that are out there are unsigned, making it that much harder to form connections.
Eristic.net has two collections of links discussing how the otherkin community online has changed over time:
http://www.eristic.net/fey/info/index.php#commhist community history
http://www.eristic.net/fey/community.php#changes changes in the community
Other resources for the interested
http://frameacloud.com/nonfiction/ Orion Scribner's community history
https://dreamhart.org/ Dreamhart, run by a longtime community member
https://therianthropy.info/ Therianthropy info
https://houseofchimeras.weebly.com/ Chimeras Library
http://www.karitas.net/blackbirds/layman/ The Layman's Guide to Multiplicity has been around a long time
https://alterhumanarchive.neocities.org/ the Alterhuman Archive is a newer website
https://alt-h.net/ Alt+H acts as an alterhuman advocacy group
https://www.beyondhumanity.net/home Beyond Humanity hosts resources
https://www.machinesoul.net/ Machine's Soul is about machine otherkin
https://obscurities.sonverrid.org/ Radiant Obscurities addresses less common therian identities
https://otherkin101.carrd.co/ Otherkin 101
https://morethanone.info/ More than one
An example of a photo gallery with a lightbox.
This page is not referenced in the menu, yet it exists.