I wouldn’t have called it that at that time, of course. Shapeshifting was something that happened to your body, something dragons and gods could do, but mortals could only pull off in the pages of the trashy fantasy novels I liked to read. Sadly, I don’t remember what I actually did call it: it would be misleading to say that my notes from those earliest days were a shamble: I didn’t keep any. All I have are some drawings that I can date back to 10th and 11th grade, and four lines of notes dated 8.11.98.
It might be an understatement to say that I was socially awkward. I was never actually that kid with no friends, but when I say that I often felt like I was, I think a lot of you might know what I’m talking about. But, unlike a lot of socially awkward people, I understood the principle of trial and error: when I identified a behavior that wasn’t working, I would try substituting a new behavior. And I sometimes got very, very creative with my “new behaviors”.
In the process of one such episode of social (and magical) trial-and-error, I “identified” (read: developed and then “discovered”) four “facets” of myself which I understood as other “selves” inside me. Each one had a name, which I will totally not share because … well, I was a 17 year old who read too many fantasy novels, and I’m embarrassed by my former self. Each also corresponded roughly with one of the four Classical elements. The language I use to describe these things today, of course, bears little resemblance to the way I conceived the experience at the time: again, the lack of journals.
The first was my academic self: small, self-contained bordering on asexual, a creature of elemental Air in a brown trench coat surrounded by walls upon walls of books. At times I identified with him very closely, even using him as an online identity. At other times, though, I feared that his erudite reticence served me poorly.
The second was a sort of Fiery shadow-self: hot, sharp, dark, and savage; he carried a sword, wore a black cloak, and had black eyes with no visible iris or pupil. He was my rage, my hate, my impulse to violence …. I believe, at the time, that I framed him as a sort of self-defense mechanism, or protector.
The third was a great, horned beast-like figure: massive and furred, with wings and claws, even digitigrade legs and a tail. Interestingly, the drawing from my oldest Book of Shadows depicts him standing on an ocean shore—someplace I had never yet been, nor ever felt the elemental pull to that so many seem to experience at some point in their life. He was elemental Earth and—more interesting still—the bearer of both my sex-drive and social impulses.
Fourth and finally was an aspect of myself that I was never able to put an image to: Watery and female, the keeper of my emotions, intuition, and pain. This is the earliest point at which I can recall having conceived of myself as partially female. Not much later than this, I would come to the conclusion that I was “Yin instead of Yang” in nature; if I’d had the framework, I might have experienced this as gender dysphoria, but instead I was simply bitter that my sensitive, emotional nature was so difficult to reconcile with my masculine body and socialization.
I worked with the first and third “facets” extensively: calling upon the one or the other when intellect or social grace was called for. I worked with the second mostly to the end of keeping him at bay: I have feared my own temper for many, many years. I had no framework within which to relate to the fourth, though I wanted to: my experiences had already taught me that my emotions were chiefly a means through which others could torment me.
Over a period of several months, however, I found myself increasingly unable to function without slipping into one of my personas. I felt like I was fragmenting internally, splitting into four separate entities. To my credit, I immediately recognized this as a bad thing. My solution, which I actually still stand by in retrospect—I might or might not do differently, now, but knowing what I knew then, it was the only sane solution—was to reincorporate all four.
In essence, I created four separate magical personas, then devoured them. All at the tender age of seventeen. Now, to put this in a little bit of context: I had read Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual of Transcendental Magic, but I hadn’t understood a damned word of it; following that, the most sophisticated thing I had ever gotten my hands on was a dumbed down version of the LBRP. These were my days of DJ Conway and Amber K and Scott Cunningham. I had no way of understanding that this magic might be called invocation by some, or shape shifting by others.
Given all that, then, I don’t think I did too badly.
1 – Still like to read, actually, though I don’t talk about that side of my nerd-ness, much.
2 – Yeah. That’s right. August of 1998 and before. We’re stepping into the Wayback Machine.
3 – If you think that I have an overdeveloped sense of drama now….
4 – See note 3.
5 – People who know something of Chinese mysticism need not inform me of how asinine this was. I do know better now.