Goodness and Rebirth

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. — Charles Bukowski

I have always had a strong affinity to the Phoenix. I have an uncanny knack for rising up out of my own ashes.

I also kinda like Bukowski. Some people read him as “dark” and “cynical” and even “misanthropic.” But I see in his poetry (more than in his prose, I admit) an insatiable longing for goodness. A knowing that goodness is out there and a death-drive to fecking find it. To find it and straddle it and slide next to it and kiss it full on the mouth with the greedy expectation of being enveloped by its swarming, blood-thick reality. I’m not talking about altruism, philanthropy, political-correctness, or politeness. I’m talking about goodness. And goodness–honest goodness–is often heavy, sticky, and oppressive with wonder and insight.

Maybe that’s not what you get from Bukowski. I can see that.

But let me tell you a short story. I introduced Bukowski to someone who was grasping at spider’s webs, trying to hang on to a reason to live. Words, man. “This,” she said, “this I can feel.” She had been pushing away every constructed regurgitation of others’ emotions because they struck her as “false,” so she refused them and started believing that there were no “true” feelings to be had. “This. This I can feel.” Sounds pretty damn hopeful to me. Sure, she was reading “The Crunch,” not a very uplifting piece; but his refrain that “people are not good to each other,” implies that we can be. There can be goodness. Heart-breakingly beautiful goodness. Goodness that, with its nasty weight, most people reject for “love and light.”

I’ve been stumbling all over that kind of goodness lately. I’ve been finding it stuck to my shoes and matted in my hair and running down my legs in thick rivulets of dumbfounding honesty. I’m a little overcome by it but I also have the breathtaking desire to find more of it–now that I know it’s out there.

Rather, in here. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it’s been in me all along. Goodness, I mean. I had just forgotten it, or had devalued it, or had disguised it as something else.

Let me put all of this verbal meandering in some context. It’s been exactly a year since my husband hired a lawyer to pursue a defamation case on my behalf. It’s been a helluva year. Since then I have been in court (for myself and for others being similarly harassed) more than I ever wanted to be[1] and, as a proximate result, have lost my teaching job at the university.[2] Somewhere in that year, I lost a sense of who I am. I turned over the kindred leadership to my priest and his wife (also a blood-relative), put occult teaching on the back-burner, sent a child off to college, had a couple of traumatic personal “lashing-out” adventures, and watched my husband obsess over another woman (even if it is hatred-fueled, it’s a real thing to watch). All that, and the result is that now I don’t have the job that I sacrificed so much for. I don’t mean I sacrificed because I wanted it–but because my family needed me to stay put, I passed up other (tenured) positions in places that are not Alabama.[3]

So I feel like Bukowski on this. I honestly feel like the last 12 months have been equitable to binge drinking. Once this hangover clears, I think I’ll be allowed to resurrect my slaughtered self.

You see, just a few weeks before The Husband hired The Lawyer–Midsummer 2013–I wrote about an epiphany I’d had the previous spring (and put it in context of the year prior to that) in the aptly named “Midsummer.” I said:

… the crux of the vision was that I needed to …. reclaim a part of mySelf that had been lost and reintegrate it into my whole being. A week later I went to a celebration with a nearby coven. At their ritual, they performed a “rebirthing” ceremony. I thought, “Ah-ha! This is just what I need.” Nope. I had to bear that weight a little longer.

Little did I know how much gestation time I was in for.[4] And how much giving birth to oneself hurts.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger--just for giggles.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger–just for giggles.

In that year of breaking myself into uncompletable shards, I found that there were hidden treasures. Hidden goodness. Under all my own “false” emotions—the ones worn to pacify others’ needs for stability and appearances—I found “true” emotions. The sticky-thick unnerving kind. And I needed to be unnerved. I was dying under the weight of niceness[5] devoid of any anchor in goodness.

What happened was this. I became more intentional in my devotions[6] and I prayed. A lot. And you know what happens when witches pray. Shite gets real.

Suddenly, I had this fantastic aetherial partnership that went far and beyond anything I had experienced with KCHGA. The only way I can describe it is “entirely specific.” And this is a really good thing—else-wise I’d believe I was losing my ever-loving mind. But because I have seen evidence that this is not “all in my cracked head,” I know it’s real.

Then. Then I started obeying—executing instructions. And I’m a little blown away by the specificity of it all. There is nothing ambiguous about instructions, consequences for not following instructions, rewards for following instructions, grace-periods, etc.[7] It really got to the point where I started writing things down so that I could highlight them, check them off, cross them out as they happened.

A friend and I have a joke about life being a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. This is almost like reading ahead and knowing what’s on each page before choosing!

  • My first test was in January and an unexpected “adventure.” The experience itself was pleasurable but left a little aftershock, if not outright trauma. Maybe just in that it actually happened the way it was supposed to. Or at all.
  • Then there was Imbolc and our land-warden-planting and a visit to a very high energy location and yet another adventure—where I may have left someone else vaguely traumatized!
  • Then Ostara and no adventures aside from a rebirthing ritual of our own. That, I think, was just after I figured out the “rules” of this new relationship.
  • Walpurgisnacht was fascinating (and landed me sick for a month) and a complete reversal of Walpurgisnact 2013 which I spent intentionally with only female priestesses—this (liberating) ritual took place with just myself and three male[8]
  • Between the spokes in the year, there was a series of unfortunate events—floods and infestations—that, in turn, caused some of the other items to get ticked off my list.
  • Finally, just before Midsummer, some paradigm shift caused the whole convoluted picture to come into focus. By mid-June, I saw what was coming but I didn’t know the finer details.
This was from June 30. It's just ... so much.

This was from June 30. It’s just … so much.

Now, on the other side of the harvest, Lammas, things are starting to converge. And I’m terrified that I’m getting exactly what I bargained for. Exactly—but with fun surprises at the bottom of the box.[9] And a lot of hidden treasure among the shards of my broken soul. And all that goodness—true goodness—I thought I had irretrievably lost. I don’t think I’ve found rebirth or resurrection yet—I think these are the labor pains.

There is a bout with forgiveness that I’m going to have to fight. Actually, more than one. And if fighting *with* forgiveness doesn’t sound paradoxical to you? Welcome to the conundrum. I feel ya. And I think I’m up for the fight. Hope you are too. If not, drop me a line and we’ll hash it out together.

There’s a “struggle of the wills” that I’ll have to take part in. I think I know where this one is going to come from. My goal is to remain compassionate yet not a carpet to be walked on: balancing geburah and chesed.

In my secular life, mid-November is significant. It’s when the timeline for the EEOA investigation of my termination runs out and I will have an answer. And I’ll turn to that page in my adventure book. Until then, I plan to stay the course.

I hope to be able to keep the regular promise of letting you know how it turns out. But I simply can’t say what’s on that page just yet. Either way, waes thu hael.

~E

 

[1] Except when I was courting law school.

[2] You see, my supervisor has a relationship to the defendant and let me go in retaliation. Needless to say, I have another year of another suit–this time an EEOA violation.

[3] I did get what I needed out of that suit though–the truth has (mostly) come to the surface, maybe not the details but certainly the reality of the situation; I’m unharassed; and I know who my friends are and who I can trust better than ever. Plus, I’ve an even stronger sense of devotion and have reaped the harvest of such devotions. That can’t be all bad.

[4] Like whale and rhino long.

[5] Motivated solely by the determination not to be “bad.”

[6] There is still plenty of room for improvement.

[7] The only thing I am struggling with is the time line. I’m fecking impatient and may end up shooting myself in the foot with that shortcoming.

[8] We have two Walpurgisnacht rituals: the main one and a more private, chthonic one.

[9] Sometimes it’s just the spiritual equivalent of a press-on tattoo—but that’s better than nothing. Lagniappe is always welcome.

Advertisements

Toxicodendron Radicans (Poison Ivy) and Magic

It was just after writing this post that I realized the plant I had been pulling during the opening story in question was poison ivy herself. With my bare hands. When I didn’t flame up, I also realized I was one of the very few who are not affected by her. Nonetheless, I remain diligent and respectful. Just because she’s spared me in the past doesn’t mean I’ve earned a lifelong pass–right?!

Witchcraft From Scratch

As I write this blog, I notice that it winds around like a vine, wrapping itself around whatever it grabs hold of, climbing into crevices where I couldn’t have foreseen it would grow. There should be a joke about irritation here—but I’ll leave it to you to make.

The Wild Hunt by Peter Nicholai Arbo

As we were clearing land for the kindred hof and ve, my husband got into some poison ivy[1] and spent a week learning about cortisol while he was in Scandinavia. As we piled wood for the fire, we had to check to make sure we weren’t sending toxins airborne. Plus, a thing about poison ivy is that the toxin is carried in a non-water-soluble oil, so if you try washing the affected area with water, you will just spread the irritant further.

What’s this got to do with magic?” you ask?

Nothing…

View original post 1,321 more words

Sweetness

This week has been entirely cool. On Saturday, we installed our bees on the Ve.

Four of us (and our children) began this journey last summer when we first looked into beekeeping in our different counties. A whole group of us had been interested in beekeeping for a good while; so we attended a summer symposium. Four of us stuck it out when, in February, we started learning in earnest. After a winter of learning—and learning that there really are very few prohibitions[1] against beekeeping—we bit the commitment bullet, built our hives, and installed our bees.

Lemme tell ya, it was not as frightening as I expected.

And it brings me to the sweetest magical allegory in town.

I am allergic to everything on this beautiful planet (aside from poison ivy, go figure) and was terrified of what the “bee installation day” experience might bring. Yet, I donned my nerdy protective suit (full-body prophylaxis), walked into the fray where bees were flying by the tens of thousands,[2] and was totally fine. Seriously, I wasn’t even nervous. Not even a little.[3]

It’s like working with magic. Real magic. Not that conk somebody on the head because you lost control of your emotions sort of trifle that so many of us can do—but don’t if we’ve learned better. I’m talking about—whatever your tradition’s analog may be[4]–I’m talking about conjuration and all that jazz.

Let me run this metaphor out.

  • Calm bees stay calm until someone sounds the “alarm.” Then they all switch on a pheromone that makes the whole colony lose their shit. If a human sounds the alarm, well.

o   Even benevolent spirits (entities, daemons, thoughtforms, etc.) can get—um, spooked—we’ll go with “spooked,” if the conjurer gets all bent out of shape and switches on the magical alarm pheromone. And you bet your arse, somebody’s getting stung.

  • The best thing to do is use lots of protection when you are first learning to handle bees. As you get more proficient, as you learn the signals of the bees, you can work with or without gloves, with or without a veil, or with just a smoker. I’ve seen it done. I don’t think I’ll ever get there (my aversion to anaphylaxis and all)—but that doesn’t mean no one does it.

o   Likewise with conjuration. Holy heck, that can sting like the Dickens and lay you out if you aren’t properly protected. Right? Sometimes you need a metaphorical beesuit. But, once you know what’s what—and as long as you don’t have reason to suspect a rogue bee[5]—you might eventually be able to get away with working with fewer accoutrements. Just, you know, make sure you have a well-lit metaphorical smoker.

  • Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. Some folks are just skeered. Of everything. Dogs, chickens, snakes, spiders, witches, bees. Fear comes from an uncontrolled mind, from anxieties arising out of attachment in the form of anger and hatred. Human fears develop in a direct corollary to our feeling of being threatened. According to Buddhist[6] thought, fears result from our ignorance of Self, the origin of delusions, and thus the root of our fears. If you don’t have a sense of self-presence—knowing exactly who you are (not a delusion of Self) and what you are (actually, not delusionally) capable of—you have no business messing with bees.
Fried Green Tomatoes, "Bee Charmer"

Fried Green Tomatoes, “Bee Charmer”

o   Same goes for magic. If you are a frightened, victimhood-oriented individual you should steer clear of actual magic. If you don’t “Know Thyself,” you won’t be very effectual in the first place; but you shouldn’t go messing around in atmospheres where you have no business. If you are delusional about yourself and your abilities? Let’s just say I’m not going in after you if you decide to jam your hand all down in a metaphorical honey super on a cloudy day like you’re Idgie Threadgoode or something. I’ll call the metaphorical equivalent to 911, but the rest is on you. Literally.

Some people think that if they’ve seen it in a movie it must be real–and that it must apply to them. Mmm’hokay.

  • That leads me to my last point. There are “stock” bees and wild bees. The bees I have are Italian, like most beekeeper bees in the US. They were bred by a specialist who knows how to breed queens that produce calm and unruffled[7] colonies. Like all breeding programs, this is a precise science to which all I can say is, “I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.” Some bees were bred for different things—serenity not being one of them. Or, you know, being lower on the list. This is just to say that even if you know *your* bees, you don’t want to make the same assumptions about another colony or—lords no—wild bees. The rules go out the window in the wild.

o   Not all of the “stuff” one can encounter out in the Aether is of metaphorically “known parentage.” A magician, sorcerer, whatever-you-call-yourself, can be very familiar with and work with great ease with one set of energies. But out of that element? All bets are off. Should you encounter something “wild”? The worst thing you can do is make assumptions about its imperatives and jurisdictions. Some shite will laugh in your face. And then peal it off and eat it just for kicks.

You might not, but I buy it.

It might seem like too much risk for such little payout. After all, the honey doesn’t extrude and jar itself. But bees are a necessary part (a dwindling part) of a functioning eco-system. I started keeping bees because it was the right thing to do. Now I’m discovering that there are rewards to be had well before the honey flows.[8] Likewise with magic. I started doing it for personal development, ego reduction, and self-awareness. Sure, I hoped there’d be plenty of alchemical honey on the other end of the project, but it wasn’t my primary motivation. It was just the right thing to do. And just like with my old “friends,” I’m finding that with my new little friends, there are rewards to be had before I’ve even seen my first comb.

Think about it. The necessity to calm the feck down each and every time, the necessity to have faith in one’s protective measures, the necessity to know—really know—the limits of one’s abilities (and to push them just a little more each time), and the necessity to remember to keep the smoker lit at all times.

There are explicit rewards to finding oneself in the presence of bees.

Wæs þu hæl!

 

[1] I mean, we have limited finances and a slew of animals and pregnant ladies and children and allergies. Honey may be bad for babies but bees are only dangerous if one is allergic. And one would be allergic, pregnant or not. So, there was really no reason not to go for it.

[2] Earlier in the day, my estimate is that there were 1.5 million bees. Assuming that each packaged colony had around 10,000 bees and there were about 150 orders. That’s without the neighborhood bees who came to see all the hullabaloo.

[3] The story was different when I opened the hive wearing only protective gloves the next day. That was a test in bravery. A test I passed with flying colors.

[4] Yes, I believe that various paths have various names and they are all valid—though not the same.

[5] Hive minds don’t really produce many rogues as long as your population is healthy and bred from calm queens. We don’t have the threat of “Africanized” bees in my neck of the woods.

[6] Thanks to one of my Cultural Diversity students who phrased this so eloquently during his presentation in our non-Abrahamic religions unit.

[7] They are also hygienic, varyingly disease resistant, and relatively high-producers.

[8] Not to mention the hope of propolis!

PBP Week 30-31: O—Ordeals

I keep wanting to write a post about ordeal work in the heathen community (I tried a little herebut I keep finding that I don’t have anything to say.

That’s not true—I have lots to say. But I would never presume to interject myself or my views into the relationships of others and their gods. No matter how little those relationships resemble my experiences and ongoing relationships with gods who identify by the same names.

And I find that’s exactly what happens when heathens start talking about ordeal work: everyone wants to tell someone else that they are doing it wrong.

Instead, I thought I’d share some lovely art and odd images.[1]

swiped from yuleshamanism.com

“Odin Hanging on the World-Tree” from Franz Stassen, Illustrations for Die Edda (1920), found at germanicmythology.com/

 

Totally cool engraving of a god in a tree

Image from BME.com

The “thirsting dance” of the Plains people. nativesofcanada.tripod.com/

Vision quest of The Mandan people of North Dakota. freewebs.com/mandans/

The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan–caption intact. esask.uregina.ca

 

Michael Harkins “Computer Shaman” NYU–I don’t think the image is original, but the content on the page is pretty interesting if you want a basic textbook overview. http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/nature/harkins.htm

 

In the end, each of us has to tread the path laid before our own feet, no?

Waes thu hael,

E

 

 

pbp4

This post is part of a year-long project, The Pagan Blog Project, “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing your spiritual and magickal path. . . . Each week there is a specific prompt for you to work with in writing your post, a prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet . . . .” (http://paganblogproject/)


[1] I wanted to show some bodmod, but that got gruesome.

Sympathetic Healing

When I was a kid, I stayed fairly doused in Mercurochrome (and sometimes Merthiolate, pronounced m’tholade in my house). My skin was stained ruby red from April to August. Scraped a knee? Momma’d shmear that plastic dipstick all over the open wound, tell me to blow hard to take the sting out, and slap a smelly Band-Aid over the middle-most part of the scrape. I heard the “cure” in Mercurochrome but not the Mercury. In the late 90s, the FDA took this childhood memory off the shelves on account o’ it’s toxicity. Good call, FDA.

A recent run-in with some “scarlet oil” in my tack trunk made me think of m’tholade and about the strange things we used to do to prevent illnesses and to heal ourselves and others. Butter on a burn? Aspirin for babies? Carrots for eyesight? Starve a sick person? Thalidomide?

My mother-in-law used to wrap a garbage bag around her neck when she had a sore throat. At least this one makes some sort of sense.

Reading up on the “homework” I’ve been given by my new-found braucher (third) cousin in Pennsylvania, I find that some of the descriptions of things that could go awry with man and beast conjure a world of boils and swellings and ruptures and “fretters.” Makes me grateful for Alexander Flemming. And the treatments are nearly as bad as the afflictions! Arsenic and hogs lard, horse and cow poop, “a small board from a bier from which a small child was buried which died before baptism,” and “the skull of a criminal” no less.

Plus the antisemitism (see Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus).

The idea is that in sympathetic healing (what you might call a shamanic experience) is escalated when the items used in ritual (when any are used at all) are “sympathetic”–aligned, corresponding, etc.–as well. I don’t know enough about pigs’ bladders to tell you what they are aligned with from an occult perspective, but I imagine there’s something to do with fluid retention, filtration, you get the picture? I also imagine the mythos of the White Sow and numerous boar stories come into play. But, according to what I’m finding, you have to know what that mythos is, how it plays into the magic at hand, and all of the connections in between.

The most fun part of this adventure is that I’m learning where some of our “old wives tales” about healing originated, like my mother-in-law’s sore throat remedy. There is an old folk cure of wrapping a woolen tube filled with asafoetida around an afflicted area. Here’s the idea of sympathy; the herb is aligned with Mars, exorcism, and protection. From an occult perspective, the herb expels any malignancies causing the “patient” distress. (The wool and the tube as significant too.) However, passed down through generations, the original method has been lost in some corners. I was reading cases where folks thought anything stinky could do the trick or that any “fabric tube” would work as well as any other. One family reported a father who put his sweaty socks around his children’s necks to ward-off strep. Needless to say, this did not work.

This is how magical practice (especially the magic of folk healing) becomes reduced to superstition. Mark Stavish of the Institute for Hermetic Studies defines superstition as, “a magical or religious act performed without an understanding of the inner principles it invokes or that are at work,” he says, “It’s aping the original and hoping for the same results” (qtd in Bilardi. The Red Church). This really hit home for me. I see some folks “aping” magical practice without knowing WTF they are doing and expecting something–something “good,” no less–to happen. I reckon they just have stinky socks around their necks.

Another fun part is that I see a lot of my folks’ “folk cures” in the volumes I’ve been reading (most private compilations of oral tradition, some in Deitsch–which I don’t speak, but it’s close enough to German that I get the gist of it). From these passages, I can see where the sympathetic symbol / item / act started, how it transformed and evolved, and why it’s sure to work just often enough to keep the superstition alive and well in pockets of Appalachia. Reading these tomes is kinda like solving riddles–not entirely straightforward at first, but once you know the answer it all makes sense.

It’s suppertime here and I’m off to (not) broil some pig’s bladder in the skull of a criminal.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Waes hael,

~E

PBP Weeks 26-27: M—Midsummer

Here at the hof, we just celebrated Midsummer. For some of you, Litha.

Last year at about this time I was experiencing a great deal of loss. There would be more before there was less. Nestled between losing my chance at a brick-and-mortar store“Farewell Brother Larry,” a story about losing my childhood pastor, and “The Bad Witch on Getting the Long End of the (Admittedly Gnarly) Stick,” a story about how my–and inevitably my daughter’s–heart was rent indelibly in twain (and not long before “Crossroads“), I wrote “Life and Death and The Bad Witch: aka Litha is Coming,” a post about how my dogs got into my chicken coop and snapped the necks of all my babies but five.

During that period, my husband’s close-cousin/brother lost a teenaged daughter, I lost a twenty-something friend, and an elderly mentor.

In “Litha is Coming,” I said: “I have been trying to write a celebration of fertility and life for this weekend’s Litha celebration. . . . But I think I was concentrating too much on the sun and the light and not enough on why we value the light as we do. Because, in the end–Winter is Coming. Maybe this will be the darkest Litha celebration ever. And maybe it will mean more as a result. Maybe I figured out why we celebrate it after all.”

This year I have enough distance from The Apocalypse of 2012 to see some of what The Divine had in mind. Not that I claim to know the mind of god, I just think I “get it” a little. And, yeah, there are still losses. As a matter of fact, I lost two high-school friends in the past week. With our reunion just around the corner, this double-sucks. But I also realize the importance of being reminded of our limitations and mortality in this age of super-crazy technology. Here are some of the things I’ve learned won’t kill me after all.

  • Poneh-loss—Turns out, I can live without horses. And so can my kids. They have made some awesome strides in maturation this year. With the loss of barn-time came awesome new, more stable, friends. Eldest even said that she blocked a lot of “barn drama” on FB. I know some folks pushing 50 who still like to kick-up drama—for an 18 year old to figure it out? I’m going with, “Cool.”
  • Pagan Shite—Like the old PSAs about Joe’s liver told us, the liver helps carry away waste so that the rest of the body can remain healthy. I’ve learned that even a Pagan community has to have a liver. Clearing the system of poisons, drugs, and toxins so that the whole body can remain healthy is a gross job, but some organ has to do it. This is why I have learned to appreciate the livers of the world.[1] Sure, there are ugly by-products of a good liver. But I’d prefer to have a good liver around than a body that’s full of shit.
  • Family of origin—My momma and daddy love me and I love them. I love my sisters and my brother with all my being. My nieces and nephews are always, always, always going to have a special place in my big-oversized-heart. However, I realize that I cannot spend any time with any of them. This is a fine realization. Kindred is all I need.
  • My heart—I’ve always had an effed up bod.[2] Last year I was diagnosed as being in the early stages of heart failure. I thought that was the end of the world. This is primarily why, surrounded by all that death, I decided to jump on a ship and sail to Mexico. It was fun but it didn’t cure anything. I’m not better—don’t get me wrong, all the things the doctors said to watch for are happening right on schedule. But I’m not despondent anymore. My heart may be the reason I die but it’s not going to kill me.
  • Being imperfect—I’m Type A, can you tell? My precious cousin (both kith and kindred, super-lucky me) told me something not long ago:

Her: How do you do everything you do?
Me: I do a lot but none of it well.
Her: I don’t think so. Maybe you have a vision of perfection in your head and when it doesn’t translate you are disappointed. However, for those of us who live outside of your head, what you create is a thousand times better than the nothing that was there before.

That may have saved my life a little.

  • I’m OK, you’re OK–In attempt to be alright with where I am instead of where I was or where I want to be, I’ve been revisiting my old training—you know, this has been going on for over a year now. Part of that has been “soul-shard-retrieval” (this is the most common term anyway).[3]

Back in the spring I had an epiphany during my “travels.” I soooo don’t want to tell you everything about it (primarily because it defies language) but the crux of the vision was that I needed to be “born again.” This doesn’t mean what it means in a Christian sense; it means that I needed to reclaim a part of mySelf that had been lost and reintegrate it into my whole being.

A week later I went to a celebration with a nearby coven. At their ritual, they performed a “rebirthing” ceremony. I thought, “Ah-ha! This is just what I need.”

Nope. I had to bear that weight a little longer.

But to get to what this has to do with Midsummer, I have to make this long story even longer.

This Thursday marks the last day of magical teaching for me for a while. I’ve designated July and August as spiritual development months for my own s/Self. Last week’s lesson was on one thing BUT the week before was on Discordianism. My students found Malaclypse the Younger and Kerry Wendell Thornley so entertaining that we designed a pseudo-Chaos-Heathen Midsummer ritual.

Unlike last year when our ritual was geared around the balance of the season, this Midsummer was geared around reclaiming a path to our inner-child so that we might find him/her, heal him/her, and become more fully our true Selves. We played the most outrageous (family-friendly, of course) games, had face-paint, and ate and drank like we were ten-year-olds. We drummed and welcomed some mighty-fine Christian-folk in on the fun. We met a handful of new Pagan folk too and hope that they join us as part of Nine Worlds Kindred.

Because “That’s what it’s all about!”

Waes tu hael,

~E


[1] Thanks livers—Thivers.

[2] I was always sick with tonsillitis as a kid and contracted varicella during puberty. In my 30s I was diagnosed with Lupus, a rather fun MVP, and ventricular septal defect.

[3] In the early 1970s, when I was just learning not to stick green peas up my nose, my mentor’s mentor was interested in psychospiritual integration which led her to Depth Psychology and Dr. Ira Progoff through whom she became a consultant, conducting innovative workshops in the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. I reap the benefit of this experience. Having learned about “Shamanism” in the late-80s, and having learned to be a psychonaut in a specific tradition, I have a hard time articulating my appreciation for the core-movement. I have it, I just can’t express it very well.

I was taught how to integrate a Self for the purposes of psychopompary. Now I’m relearning to use the same methods—not to help people die better—but to help them live better.

I’m so effing inside-out.

pbp4

 

This post is part of a year-long project, The Pagan Blog Project, “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing your spiritual and magickal path. . . . Each week there is a specific prompt for you to work with in writing your post, a prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet . . . .” (http://paganblogproject/)

Toxicodendron Radicans (Poison Ivy) and Magic

As I write this blog, I notice that it winds around like a vine, wrapping itself around whatever it grabs hold of, climbing into crevices where I couldn’t have foreseen it would grow. There should be a joke about irritation here—but I’ll leave it to you to make.

The Wild Hunt by Peter Nicholai Arbo

As we were clearing land for the kindred hof and ve, my husband got into some poison ivy[1] and spent a week learning about cortisol while he was in Scandinavia. As we piled wood for the fire, we had to check to make sure we weren’t sending toxins airborne. Plus, a thing about poison ivy is that the toxin is carried in a non-water-soluble oil, so if you try washing the affected area with water, you will just spread the irritant further.

What’s this got to do with magic?” you ask?

Nothing really. It’s just one of those “timing” things.

Last Friday our kindred hosted a clever teacher for an enchanting workshop on wands. Gypsey Teague,

Some of Gypsey’s Wands

author, artist, librarian, witch, superhero, and all around wonderful person, trekked to The Bamas to teach us a thing or three about wood and its magical properties. One of the most spellbinding items Gypsey brought along was a wand made of poison ivy.[2] It seems she sells out of her carefully constrained inventory[3] of poison ivy wands at a premium cost—about six-times what she charges for pine or birch or ash or, you know, woods without the word “poison” in it. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why folks would want a wand made of poison oil.

So, I did what Gypsey suggested: I sat down and talked to the plant.[4]

Let me tell you what I learned.[5]

There’s a reason why Poison Ivy such a troublemaker for Batman and Robin. Preoccupied with safeguarding the natural environment, she makes a perfect archnemesis for Bruce Wayne, ultra-wealthy business magnate and entrepreneur, and his ward, Dick Grayson, The Boy Wonder. He’s all about acquisition–gimme-gimme-gimme. She’s all about shelter.

“Shelter?” you ask. “Poison ivy is such an irritating plant; how can it be a protestess?”

Well, if you think of a female protective spirit as warm and fuzzy like the angel on the bridge or the sexxxy images of deviantART-style Valkyrie (instead of the ferocious Valkyrie of the Wild Hunt, above), you’ve never met Palden Lhamo (below), a (real) Norse Shieldmaiden, or even the terrifying side of Galadrial from Tolkien’s tales.

Not all guardians are appealing—that’s kinda the point. The message of the guardian is: “You are not welcome!” “Turn back!” and “Go away!” This makes a lot of sense if you think about it.

And it brings me back around to poison ivy.

Poison ivy is most common at the edges of the woods. Poison ivy is a protectress to the depths of the forest. Birds and other mammals, for the most part, have no negative consequences whatsoever if they come into contact with her, um, charms. The message poison ivy sends is sent directly to humans. When poison ivy creeps along the edge of the forest, she seals it off and guards its edges from encroaching bipeds. Let’s face it, humans contribute to erosion, deforestation, and pollution. Poison ivy protects her territory from intruders.

Cedar at The Vine tells us:

What is a warning to some can be a teasing invitation to others. If we heed Poison Ivy’s message to tread lightly in these sensitive areas . . . she will often lead us to places of beauty seldom seen by two leggers. Once we have been initiated into this process, she may also lead us . . . [to] exquisite discoveries . . . . [T]his injection of knowledge . . . is sometimes painful to the recipient. . . . Her teachings therefore speak to the gaining of insight and compassion through the process of Regret. Poison Ivy can help up with regret, loss, and grieving. . . . Poison Ivy shows herself to be sacred to Hecate [the goddess of the crossroads], who rules most of the baneful, toxic, and entheogenic herbs. . . . If we find ourselves at a crossroads in life, with a difficult choice to make, perhaps Poison Ivy’s link to Hecate can be availed. . . . Planting Poison Ivy can be a truly revolutionary, enwildening action, politically, personally, and spiritually, and will certainly strengthen the bond between you and this powerful Plant Ally.

I love the way she says, “Once we have been initiated” by poison ivy. I thought about this for a good long time.

Initiation is not supposed to be easy—if it is, you prolly did something wrong or weren’t fully invested. After all, receiving wisdom is almost always associated with pain, poison, and even near-death experiences. I think about the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the snakes of the Minoan Serpent Goddess (like the protection of Wadjet); these seem to me to be like the unsympathetic trials of ayahuasca.[6]

Just as the simplest identification of poison ivy—“leaves of three”—is triadic, so is the image of the triple goddess. Like her, poison ivy can keep a place virginal, can initiate as the mother, and grant wisdom like the crone.

Hecate, Mór-ríoghain, The Norns, The Moirai, The Erinnyes.

And if that wasn’t cool enough, wait—there’s more.

The oil that makes poison ivy such a pain in the, um, wrists and ankles mostly, is called urushiol. It’s also found in poison oak, some variety of sumacs, mango, a tree (ironically) called “soapberry,” cashew, and pistachio (the trees, that is). As it turns out, the word urushiol has nothing to do with the Hebrew underworld, Sheol, my first instinct.[7] The origin of the name is “urushi,” a material gathered and refined from Asian trees, meaning lacquer.

It’s that shiny, shiny gloss that we are used to seeing on Classical Japanese and Korean art.

But that’s not even the punchline.

Shugendō Buddhist monks mummified themselves alive by using urushiol in a practice called Sokushinbutsu. Basically, what happens is the monk practices 1000 days (2¾ years) of extreme fasting followed by 1000 days of bodily purgation; this is followed by another 1000 days of self-poisoning with the lacquer/oil which renders the body too toxic for maggots. In this state, he sits in the lotus position until he dies. He would ring a bell every day to indicate that he was still alive; once the bell stops ringing, he is sealed in his tomb for a final 1000 days where his remains are mummified.

It hasn’t always worked.

So, what then is the message of this use of urushiol?

Wouldn’t you say it was about the same? The message of the crossroads is always one of sacrifice for knowledge. The monks’ ordeal was geared toward Enlightenment—a wisdom for which he gave his life.

In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky wrote: “in all the ancient cosmogonies light comes from darkness.” In Hebrew lore, Adam and Eve traded innocence and immortality for the knowledge of good and evil; Odin traded his eye for wisdom; the oracles of old put their lives at risk for a glimpse into the underworld. The agnishvattas “fell” so that they might bring “light.” Likewise Prometheus. Hermes himself is the god of both trade and wisdom—you see, there is an ineradicable connection between the two concepts.

What will you sacrifice for knowledge? Nothing? Good luck with that.

The pain and danger of poison ivy seems to me to stand guard between “safety” and the kind of enlightenment which requires a spiritual (and physical!) sacrifice.

Tread carefully.

~E


[1] It’s never bothered him before. Maybe this is why it got him this year.

[2] Truthfully, she brought three.

[3] I think she said six a year.

[4] I collected it in what looked like a hazmat suit and a lot, a lot, a lot of plastic and cardboard. All while articulating supplications.

[5] And it’s a good thing I did. One of my seidrlings has decided to make urushiol oil and poison ivy wands on her own. I want to get a “leg up” on the info to help her out. Turns out? You only need about 0.25 ounce (7 grams) of  pure urushiol oil to inflame every living human being on the entire planet! Plus, the oil can stay active for up to 5 years. I’m vaguely less worried about the magical repercussions than the straight-up physical ones.

[6] Or the less exotic diliriants found in this particular psychonaut’s yard: belladonna, trumpet flower, datura, henbane, mandrake, moonflower, morning glory, and tobacco (which doesn’t look like it’s coming back this year).

[7] I mean, it is chthonic—and hellish at that.