On leaving Eugene, I began to understand how–and why– we forget.Continue Reading...
Archives For The Other
Much of what changed in my world began a little before I started, soul-wrenching dreams and strange spiritual panics in the face of what I understood of the world changing around me. And there’s been this really…dark thread throughout it that I don’t look at much, waiting for myself to understand.
For years, I’d have a repetitive dream of a massive subterranean industrial complex with no natural light. I’d explore more and more of it each time I returned there, and the dreams would shake me far into the light of morning. A year before I started Druidry, I’d taken to writing prisoners, a timeless leftist tradition. I began a correspondence with a gay metal-head in a southern prison who quickly revealed he was a Heathen, and we’d began talking about Paganism. The dreams I’d been having intensified while writing him, and I’d see more and more of this strange underground complex.
I had to stop writing him. He progressively revealed to me his Neo-Nazi leanings, which we’d argue about until the day a letter arrived from him with a shirtless photo of him (he was an attractive bloke)…in front of a Nazi flag. I was so nauseated I couldn’t continue writing him, regardless of the possibility that I might be able to show him he was being a fucking idiot.
I’d forgotten about him until now, and there’s something I forgot I realized, and something we should all fear.
The Elder and The Golem
Years before, a lover had found an uprooted elder in our alley, left to die. He’d asked the women at the house if he could have it, and she called her husband on the phone asking if the neighbor’s landscapers could have the dying tree (we often got mistaken for not-belonging in the neighborhood we lived, despite having lived there years longer than those making such judgments).
For weeks, he and I nursed the tree back to life. It lost its original living branches but sprouted new ones soon after, and so much love and life had gone into that tree that it became something more than a tree. It became a guardian. My best friend would leave offerings to the spirits there, I’d hang candles in its branches.
A few months after I stopped writing the prisoner, my roommate had done a ritual involving the tree and a golem and perhaps some not-so-nice magic. For weeks, there was this…screaming in my head, incomprehensible, unintelligible. I thought I was going insane. All was relentless panic, and at the same time a relationship that had already begun to unravel suddenly became utterly intolerable to me, like I couldn’t look at him without hearing that screaming in my head.
Exhausted (I didn’t sleep well for weeks), worried by what was going on in my head, and perturbed by the statements of my lover that he’d been seeing a weird fleshy creature wandering around the room at night in his dreams, I found myself looking at the Elder tree and noting that it was dying.
I knew no magic or rituals or anything. But I began digging in the dirt around the tree, extracting buried dark things (careful with your rootwork, y’all), giving offerings to the spirit of the tree and praying (to whom? I don’t know) and uttering a blessing as my body shook in some strange power I didn’t comprehend.
You should know something. I didn’t believe in this. At all. I’d been reading Tarot for years and lighting candles on an altar with cool-looking but meaningless bric-a-brac for years (leaves, feathers, a bell, a gear, a brass chalice of water), but it meant nothing to me, just some nice thing that made my life a little more beautiful. I’d been a functional atheist with whimsical ideas for most of the preceding decade. If the gods were anything, they were great stories, archetypes, or all dead.
I watched the tree immediately get better and watched my roommate suddenly get so ill over three days that he collapsed on our living room floor, muttering incoherently about dreams of being choked by snakes and feeling that the elder tree suddenly hated him.
I didn’t know what I was doing, except that I’d learned it all in a book from a man in a dream when I was young, and the last time I tried to find out more about this I was pinned to the ground by some…thing…with charred skin. What’s that mean, huh?
The Tower, the Candle, the Cauldron
Three years before all of this, I remember making a conscious choice to shut off my spirit. I’d been having really intense visions that scared the fuck out of me, not that they themselves were frightening, but that I had them at all was terrifying to me.
One was of a white tower. I still see it in my head, clearly. I knew it, knew I’d encounter it, knew I was supposed to see it, and knew I couldn’t endure the sort of life I had to live in Seattle while having those visions. So, I stopped.
Around Samhain of the year before I started Druidry, that same roommate made me a door-opening candle, as I was losing a job and had no idea what I’d do next. My relationship with my lover was horrible at this point, and we were both close to being in abject poverty.
Door-opening candles open doors. They’re just not the ones you demand. As an aside, I’ll admit that I’ve had to swallow back a lot of vomit and bile regarding recent talk about magic and money. I honestly want to shake every prosperity magician in the world and then take them on a tour of the homeless shelters I worked at for four years and say, “use your fucking magic to fix this, you selfish pricks.”
Doors opened everywhere and closed elsewhere. A new lead singer for my medieval-rock band, which resulted in the end of my relationship with my lover. A slow trudge through a pouring rain in a Seattle winter, most of my life in my backpack (I wasn’t homeless–I chose to give my former lover our place for awhile since he had nowhere else to go and I did). A sudden brutal fuck between that singer and myself after tears and I’m suddenly screaming in a voice that doesn’t feel like mine, “I resist the goddess no more.”
Which goddess? I didn’t know yet. But there’d been the dream of the village in Bretagne. I’m with the now-former lover. We’re fucking with a third guy and I’m not really part of it because I want to be elsewhere and there’s this women staring at me as it’s happening, a look that beckoned, that said “come outside.”
So I did, and I’m walking towards a village where there are people who have power over me are gathered, and I notice there’s another path, a chemin, and so I try to walk up there and there’s an old woman barring my way.
She’s in front of a cauldron, and she demands I answer questions, and I do, and then she tells me I can now use these paths and none that would harm me can follow.
Those paths are dark, you should know.
Imbolc and the Well
I’d considered starting Druidry a year before I started. It wasn’t time, or I made excuses. This happens.
On Imbolc, two months after the end of that relationship, I am praying to Brigid. I don’t realize it’s Imbolc, I’m such a mess. No work, dwindling resources, alone, terrified. My band’s lead-singer and I had a brief really intense relationship (brutally carnal, flesh-tearing soul-fucking) and then ended because it wasn’t good for me. I needed to be alone, to go find something.
I pray to her. I don’t really believe in her a few seconds before I start praying to her, and then I realize I don’t have a good reason not to believe in her. I pray for clarity, some fucking peace, and some idea of what all of this shit I’d been seeing and going through fucking meant, what I was supposed to do, what it meant to have parted with that lover, whether I should try again with him or go my own fucking way.
A day later, I felt such brutal serenity, such feral certainty, such raging clarity. I lived on the top floor of an old house with a massive balcony overlooking the Cascades and Lake Washington, and I stood outside, staring at the world, knowing something I’d hoped was true my entire life actually was.
She existed. She was before me. So were others who I couldn’t see yet. And I laughed, realizing it’d been Imbolc.
I decided I’d do Druidry. I sent off the money for OBOD, and that day ended up talking to someone who’d started it already, a powerful friendship. The witch-roommate (of the candle and the golem) gave me Greer’s Druidry Handbook and I devoured it, and almost immediately, the dreams and visions got even more fucking intense.
One night, I’m at a well. I know this well, I know where it is. Two people are taking me on walks through the chemins, one at a time, teaching me something I need to know. Each time we return to the well, and I wake, shuddering, terrified of an even greater darkness then I’d suspected.
I’ve had a few close friends express jokingly that they’re envious of the preponderance of visions and experiences I’ve had since this all started. And…I don’t understand.
Know what’s it like to try to walk to a Marian shrine to pray because you need some peace and have this overwhelming physical force push you back and say, “no. It’s time to meet another god?”
Or to be midway through sex with a guy and watch his face contort into the face of another god and then have wickedly intense visions of another goddess that you didn’t realize you’d known for years show up at the same fucking time?
Or to have a man roll off a bed, doubled over in pain, demanding to know why the fuck you “let” a giant punch him in the stomach and you really don’t know what to say except whisper “thank you?” The same giant who was sorting through your head disapprovingly noting that you’d fallen in love with some atheist boy that wasn’t gonna fucking happen on Their watch?
Or to cry on top of a Breton druid mountain, exhausted, as a figure dressed in sea-foam derides you for not remembering how the fortifications of a temple are assembled? To have a necklace you spent a week assembling explode in front of a statue of St. Theresa and so you flee back on the Breton streets utterly unclear if anywhere is really safe ever?
To have multiple friends tell you dreams of your death?
To have The Morrigan show up briefly not to say something nice or helpful but to scare the bloody fuck out of you and make really certain you know that She’s watching and will destroy you if you fuck shit up?
I’m not complaining. I used to. I think that started to sound false, even as I meant every bit of that. Then I realized that it wasn’t going to do me any good to complain, because this was happening and I should just fucking grow up. I’m not entirely happy about growing up. But I’m 37. I guess it was pretty close to about time.
The Darkness at the Gates
But I think I can talk about the Gates.
You can scry the gates of the Wheel of the Year. John Michael Greer’s The Druid Magic Handbook explains this quite well, and I recommend this book if anyone really wants to fuck up their mundane world.
I’ve been enchanting stones to use during grove rituals. I’ve four now. The first guards the gate of Lugnasadh. It’s a stone I found at the sea. There’s a hill past there. Climb up it and you can see more than you want to, the march of time and how we’ve fucked something up really, really badly.
At the gate of Samhain, there’s the horror of what we got from Them and how we’ve used it to shut them out. That one was really hard to see, and not because of all the dead.
At the gate of Imbolc, that story continues. Something really horrible is coming. That stone is from Menez-Hom, where I was berated for being so slow to learn how to defend a temple. I was surrounded by candles lit in my grove as I saw this. My three year old nephew had a dream that same night seeing, instead a of man trembling at this knowledge, his uncle being licked on the nose by a she-bear. Sort of wish I’d seen that, too, but it was enough to know it happened.
And at Beltaine, I saw the cliffs. I’ve seen these cliffs before, as have others. You can face what you have to do, or you can jump, and it’s not the death you think it is. It’s a fucking living death, the choice to hide in madness, to shut that door, to wall out the Other, to climb the stairs of a tower and stare instead at a mirror, “to weave the mirror’s magic sights,” instead of stare into this darkness.
This is all I can say, I guess. I have to go find a dead man, and find out what else this strange magical town wants me to know before I leave it to the next place. I also wouldn’t mind knowing why the woman I was in a vision is a skeleton on a mural, and why being here is really like being chained to a 500lb piece of hematite. Should feed more crows. Maybe ride my bike with the huge chunk of obsidian in my right fist like I did yesterday, feeling all black and red and glorious rage and then sip more tea and talk to my lover.
Then, probably more writing about how this gods-shit isn’t happy flowering garlanded find-your-own inner peace while the earth screams below us, the spirits wither and rage and comfortable old people shake their heads at us mad prophets with our twisted genders and seething anger at what they’ve failed to notice this entire time. If I hear one more time that things are fine in the world or nothing can really change or all we need to do is to chant the drivel off a Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle, I won’t be polite any longer.
And, yeah, going on to Ovate after this.
Be fucking well. I fucking am.
I said to a friend, “We see the darkness, and some go in. It is the abyss. We have to find out what is there, to find out if there is meaning.
And we see only the abyss.
And some go mad.
And some never return.
I’m pretty sure Dionysos sort of doesn’t make a bit of sense when you’re on one side of him. I mentioned something about abeyance one time, that is, keeping things at a distance for what you suspect is your own sanity. This is of course nothing approximating an indictment on anyone but myself.
Keep a god in a distance for a while and then approach? This I suspect is the root of Divine Trauma.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the piece I wrote for Mabon. I walked through the woods near my tent in Bretagne carrying a white taper, something I had to do, or needed to do to make something clear to whomever was watching (and fuck did I feel like there were others watching). Trembling, stumbling through darkness lit only by a candle whose light illumines much less than you think except when you stop walking and suddenly all is light around you.
Why did Taliesin run from Ceridwen? Why does anyone run from something so brilliantly inevitable?
It isn’t boasting to declare how sometimes this stuff works, because it’s sort of ugly. Sometimes you walk a myth, and sometimes the myth walks through you, and though you have choice in the matter, you sort of don’t really because, well, the pain of separation from this strange Other, this other World is so unbearable when it happens that you really wouldn’t make another choice.
Your life begins to weave together and you don’t really know why for a little bit, but you start to notice certain threads keep repeating and repeating and this is the thread you’re supposed to learn at this point, the thing you are to see, the thing They are trying to show you.
And so you follow that, because that’s not just the strongest thread that binds everything together, it’s also the only thread that leads out of the sudden tapestry, and you really don’t want to fuck it up because you want to know this time, you want to learn, because you maybe lived a whole lot of your life not quite learning, not following, as Eliot said “we had the experience but missed the meaning.”
So it happens. The night you meet a man that He told you to meet and you’re up for the next 17 hours and you swear there’s a forest around you though you’re inside a home. Or the time you’re suddenly leading something, playing music and you don’t know how you got there but you know it’s all just started. When you wend your way back to a building you saw in vision, or you’re standing 5000 miles away on the side of a druid mountain and you see the vision you had before, or almost all of it, with your eyes instead of your other eyes, except where Bran stood there’s a church and you know what happened.
You walk through it. You follow that thread, sometimes because you don’t feel like you have a choice, sometimes because fuck this is all gods-damned fascinating, and sometimes because you really don’t know what else to do at this point. You can back out at anytime, cancel your subscription or leave the party but you’re here now, it’s all here, and you don’t see a point in stopping because you’ll miss it all.
And it happens, and then (if you’re addicted to words) you try to write about it afterwards, and it all comes out obscured but you hope maybe someone else saw that something happened, something was there. Maybe they wonder if you’re crazy, or just like your words, and maybe they read something entirely different from what you wrote but it’s okay.
Staying distant from the fire gives you some light, but if you carry the fire with you, you can see elsewhere, not just where you started.
I doubt this makes sense, or maybe it does, or makes a different sort of sense. But that’s how it happens, at least for me, and to what ends?
I don’t know. But it’s kinda fucking glorious in its absurd relentless dance, and staring at a stone and remembering a spell you got to help keep that distance from someone which is also keeping your distance from Someone, and remembering you can always close off your heart and spirit from it if you wanted to, and then remembering you don’t want to at all because–fuck. That dance breaks you open, brings you near death, and you don’t just see His face, you see the faces of the others too and know why they all exist though you could never actually really know that…
Nah. I’ll follow this thread again. Happily. Because I’m not the only one dancing.
P.S. I just learned I’ll be writing a monthly piece on The Wild Hunt. This makes me happy.
This post will make more sense if you read it first. I cannot overstate (and I never overstate–right?) how thrilled I am about getting to write there.
I’m also excited about the series I’m writing. A question which has haunted me my entire adult life: where’d the magic go? Once could almost say that I’ve spent a significant part of my life attempting to create gates for it to re-enter, and those gates have been equally within as without.
I will occasionally post stuff that didn’t quite make it into my posts there (1000 word limit is…going to be good for me, I think), including this one.
More on Chakrabarty
The quote I reference from Dipesh Chakrabarty deserves more attention. I’ll quote it in full:
“One historicizes only insofar as one belongs to a mode of being in the world that is aligned with the principle of “disenchantment of the universe,” which underlies knowledge in the social sciences (and I distinguish knowledge from practice). But disenchantment is not the only principle by which we world the earth. The supernatural can inhabit the world in these other modes of worlding, and not always as a problem or result of conscious belief or ideas. The point is made in an anecdote about the poet W.B. Yeats, whose interest in fairies and other nonhuman beings of Irish folk tales is well known. I tell the story as it has been told to me by my friend David Lloyd:
One day, in the period of his extensive researches on Irish folklore in rural Connemara, William Butler Yeats discovered a treasure. The treasure was a certain Mrs. Connoloy who had the most magnificent repertoire of fairy stories that W.B. had ever come across. He sat with her in her little cottage from morning to dusk, listening to and recordering her stories, her proverbs and her lore. As twilight drew on, he had to leave and he stood up, still dazed by all that he had heard. Mrs. Connolly stood at the door as he left, and just as he reached the gate he turned back to her and said quietly, “One more question Mrs. Connolly, if I may. Do you believe in the fairies?” Mrs. Connolly threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, not at all Mr. Yeats, not at all.” W.B. paused, turned away and slouched off down the lane. Then he heard Mrs. Connolly’s voice coming after him down the lane: “But they’re there, Mr. Yeats, they’re there.”
As old Mrs Connolly knew, and as we social scientists often forget, gods and spirits are not dependent on human beliefs for their own existence; what brings them to presence are out practices.”
Dipesh Charkrabarty is particularly important because of his (I think) successful attempts to describe why historians who attempt to write histories of people without including their religious practices and the deities they worship are really just attempting to write their own sort of history over the actual experiences of the subject. That is: historians (and other social scientists) who ignore the actual existence of the spirits and gods that a culture worships engage in the project of disenchantment.
A hypothetical example will help: if a people performs a pilgrimage because they believe their god has told them to do, writing about it as if their god doesn’t exist imposes a western, secular spin on their practice which speaks nothing to their experience. If they experience their god as real, you cannot tell their history without acknowledging this.
This has many ramifications for debates within paganism that I won’t go into right now, except to point out that overlaying a secularist narrative on the experiences of people who believe that gods and spirits talk to them is part of the process of disenchantment.
On The Other
The Other is the term I use to describe all what we term spiritual and sublime. It need not refer to gods and spirits (though, when I use it, it does), nor to any specific theology.
The Other is also a term from philosophy and psychology to describe that which is not Self. There are shades of this in my usage of the word, but I mean something more. Take the phrase Experiencing the Other in an Other and the difference may become clear.
If you’ve ever been to an anti-globalisation protest, you’ll have heard another usage of this term, and it’s more clear in non-American discourse than in America (the U.S. is pretty much one big machinery of discenchantment…). The chant: “Another world is possible” can and should be also construed as An Other world is possible. One of the translations of the french word for anti-globalization is Altermondialism, or Other/Alternate-worlding. The fact that so many anti-globalisation protestors were also neo-pagans, new-agers, and other spiritual “deviants” should suggest that there is a link between embracing The Other and fighting economic injustice.