Monthly Archives: February 2016

In Defense of Negativity

Negativity gets a lot of bad press in the modern neoPagan movement.  “You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.”  That’s not a terrible idea, you’re just being negative. “Negativity.  It can only affect you if you’re on the same level.  Vibrate higher.” Depression isn’t real, you’re just being negative.  Sexism and racism aren’t real, you’re just letting other people’s negativity get to you.  “Negative Nancy gained an electron or lost a proton.  Either way she’s unstable.”

Fuck y’all.  Eat urinal cakes and die.  The fuck even is negativity?

I’ll tell you what negativity is: it’s dogwhistle code.  It’s code for experiencing an emotion that makes other people uncomfortable.  It’s code for not laughing at oppressive jokes.  It’s code for holding people accountable for their actions.  It’s code for not accepting apologies.

Damn right, I’m negative.  I’m too emotional to be butch.  Too large and hairy to be femme.  Too young to be an authority.  Too old to be relevant.

My first impulse, of course, is to just blame the New Agers and be done with it, but that would be oversimplifying things.  The poison actually comes from the well of mainstream culture.  And there’s this whole awkward parallel with the fundamentalist Christian mad on against “bitterness” (here code for “not submitting gracefully”).  But that’s another conversation.  When it comes right down to it, I don’t give two wet shits where the admonition against negativity comes from.

I’m here to speak in defense of negativity.

Firstly, I wish to speak in defense of emotional negativity.  You have the right to be sad.  You have the right to be angry.  You have the right to be depressed.  Each and every damn one of us have the right to our mental illnesses and to the full range of emotional states.  Can we have  conversation about how our resulting behavior effects others?  Sure.  Some other day.  Because “don’t be so negative” isn’t saying “please don’t treat me badly”, it’s saying “your emotional state is inconvenient for me so straighten up”.  I’m sorry my lack of constant joy is inconvenient for you; you being an asshole about my depression actually does me structural harm.

Emotional policing and concern trolling is abusive behavior.  Fucking quit that shit, you damn assholes.

Secondly, I wish to speak in defense of negativity in a more general sense.  Pointing out the bad behavior of well-loved people within a community is often dismissed as negativity.  So is pointing out that a practice or policy is either unhelpful or actively harmful.  Often, advocating for any change whatsoever is dismissed as “negativity.”

Can someone please explain to me what’s wrong with getting shit done?  Or how you’re supposed to fix problems without first identifying that they exist?  And if I have to tell you six times that a window is broken, I may be less polite the third, forth, and fifth time.  and I may just yell at you the sixth.  That doesn’t magically mean the window is just fine and that there was nothing ever wrong with it and maybe there wasn’t even a window there in the first place.

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What A Wizard Knows About Death

We don’t know much in the way of details, but this much seems to be clearly known among witches and magicians: life, in some form, extends beyond the mortal material coil.  We existed before we were born.  We shall continue to exist after we die.  There are things out there in the Void waiting (with various degrees of patience) for us to return “home” to them.

It’s come up a few times before.  I seem to remember a few major players talking about it while I was off in the Sunrise Temple.  But what’s gotten me thinking about it a lot, lately, is coming back to the magical blogosphere and discovering that Gordon had started a podcast while I was gone.  (Yes, I promptly marathoned the catalog, why did you even ask?  And this is only the first of several Rune Soup inspired musings, so buckle up.)  It’s one of the subjects he dwells on a lot in his conversation with Alex Tsakiris, but what really stuck in my head was the conversation with Cat Andrews, where he called certain knowledge that there is existence beyond life and death the”door prize” of practicing magic.

Which, after a moment’s consideration, really goes a fair distance in explaining just how weird magicians are.  When I started practicing, just a hair short of twenty years ago, the belief in reincarnation was universal in the literature I got my hands on, and the exploration of past-life experiences was all but expected of a young faun such as myself.  Whatever one thinks of the content of one’s earliest past life regressions from a more knowledgeable and experienced position, the effect of the absolute certainty in life before birth and after death conveyed by those experiences is very difficult to overstate.  If I had feared death before those experiences — which, as an adolescent assigned male at birth, I probably didn’t fear as much as I should have in the first place — I certainly didn’t after.  And there’s a word for people without the “appropriate” fear of death and dismemberment: fey.

For myself, I was always more interested in the “I existed before I was born” half of the equation than the “I will continue to exist after my death” half.  After all: I’ll get to the latter, one way or another, sooner rather than later, regardless of what I have to say on the matter.  In the meantime, I want to live this life and remember the old ones.

But, now that it’s been pointed out to me, I can’t help but dwell on the consequences of that knowledge and how it shapes the people who possess it.  The certainty of existence frees us to pursue our convictions and ambitions.  And it makes, by interesting contrast, the lack of such conviction in most ostensibly religious Americans quite clear.

On the reverse, it makes me really wonder about the experiences of those few magicians I have encountered who did not believe in reincarnation or an afterlife.  Do they operate exclusively on psychological and cybernetic models of magic?  How do they explain the phenomena that do not fit within those rubrics?

In the end, though, all those questions are academic to me — or, better yet, conversations to be had over a beer or five.  I know that I was.  I know that I am.  I know that I will be.  What I’m really excited about is the process of being.

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Goddess and Consort (c) 2015 Wormwood Groves Photography

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Elemental Excursions

So it seems that, in all the alternating depression and excitement of the last month, I forgot to announce some fairly important and amazing news!

My artwork was selected to represent the theme of this year’s Heartland Pagan Festival!

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My formal Artist’s Statement reads as follows:

The image is constructed of circles interlocking in the manner of Celtic knots.  The outer four circles contain the traditional alchemical symbols for the four Classical Elements: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.  The central circle reveals a landscape at sunset or sunrise, with a road stretching from the foreground plains to the sun-topped mountains in back.  The plains are marked by a lake on the left and a tower on the right.

The symbolism may feel familiar to students of the tarot, particularly decks descended from the images of Pamela Coleman Smith, and this is no coincidence.  The tower by the lake and the road evokes The Moon, which challenges the practitioner to face their fears head on.  The tower, on its own, evokes The Tower from which the unwary fall when they cannot overcome those demons.  The Sun shines down over it all: the mountain cliffs from which The Fool threatens to fall, the road The Chariot traverses, and the field where Death reaps. This is the magical and material World made up of the Elements which we must explore and master.

But here, in this public yet intimate space, I’m just going to come out and say that I’m fucking ecstatic.  Seriously, I cannot even begin to articulate how happy it makes me to have my art representing the festival that has been such a significant part of my life.

Moreover, between my position as Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee, my committee’s close work with the Speakers and Bands Committee, and now the official festival artwork, I have a hand in most of the most visible aspects of Heartland Pagan Festival 2016.  And just to be clear, this is not a power trip.  This is me nerding out hard core.  This festival has been a huge part of my life since I was eighteen years old.  I have attended more festivals than not since 1999 — twelve out of sixteen, if I recall correctly.  And now, just by virtue of having shown up to do the work, I have a significant voice in how this festival is going to be experienced and remembered by everyone who comes this year.

So please, allow me to invite you to join the festivities.  Come to Heartland Pagan Festival 2016 and explore the four elements with me.  (Please forgive the current state of the web page; we’re suffering some technical difficulties, but the registration system DOES work.)  When you get there, look for the long haired, tattooed, hippie fuck in too much eyeliner working the Sacred Experience Committee booth, and tell him you want to throw back some mead with your favorite satyr.

And, if you live close enough that you’d like to get involved, don’t hesitate to member up at the same link.  There’s a lot of work to be done to put on a festival, and we’ll be glad to have you.

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Working Jupiter I

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Aradia and I built our Jupiter altar just short of a week ago.  Since then, we have done relatively little Jupiterian magic — a couple Orphic Hymns, participating in the Magical Working Against the False Kings, a bit of dream incubation — but the changes in our lives have already been remarkable.

The very minute we established the altar, the feel of the whole house changed.  The … wan malaise that had permeated everything was replaced with a vigorous readiness.  We rose at dawn the next day to perform our rites at the Dawn hour of Jupiter, something we had not done since the very beginning of the Solar work.

Since then, we have both been filled with ambition — and, more importantly, motivation.  I can’t even begin to get into how much we’ve gotten done in the last week.  It has been so, so easy to find the time and energy to do things.  I’m not falling asleep on my commute any more.

Even better, for the first time since I came back to Kansas City from the Sunrise Temple, I have felt that old magician’s charisma again.  The way people have been responding to me … again, it is beyond words.

Jupiter and witchcraft, it seems, go together far better than I would ever have imagined.

Things are going to get exciting as we start escalating.

 

 

 

 

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Imbolc Musings

Aradia and I actually put up our Imbolc altar almost three weeks ago, as a part of the ritual of “putting Christmas away.”

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We kept it simple: white candles, red cloth, and the images of our household gods and spirits.

And then we wondered … what does Imbolc mean, really?

The internet is a strange journal, but at times an effective one.  Looking back over my Imbolc posts here on the blog and the “memories” offered up to me by the Book of Faces, it becomes clear that deep depression in January has been a part of my life for at least as long as I was in school.  Every year, when I have written anything at all, I have written about the dream of returning warmth, of waiting for Beltane, and the struggle to maintain my practice and relationships despite my internal Abyss.

The weather grows stranger every year and, here in Kansas City, this year’s Imbolc marks a (brief) return to cold, rather than a desperate hope for warmer weather.  I have to specify Kansas City, though, because last night Aradia and I watched the weatherman describe the movement of the blizzard currently threatening Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, but Missouri as if brushed away by the hand of some local god, leaving KC all but untouched and pounding St. Louis with yet another round of torrential rain.  (To whatever KC witch, wizard, magician, or sorcerer is responsible for the repeated deflection of major storms: mad props to you, Mx., and if you’ll agree to meet me in person and talk tech, I’ll buy you dinner and drinks and swear on the River Styx to never reveal your identity.)

This year’s depression, by contrast, has been much, much stronger.  It is the warmth of joy that I pray for this Imbolc, not just the warmth of the Sun.

But… still … what does Imbolc mean?

More than any other Sabbat, I see this question asked and tentatively answered around the Pagan circles of the Book of Faces.  I particularly like Shauna Aura Knight’s answers about creativity and work (article the first, article the second), which is why I have spent the last two days working on blog posts and this coming HPF’s rituals with particular fervor, and updating my photography portfolio (shameless plug).  I intend to spend this afternoon updating this very blog, cleaning up links to dead blogs and making things prettier.

As I light the fires on the altar, I strive to re-light the fires within.

 

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The Sun versus Depression

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Midwestern Gothic 22 by Wormwood Groves Photography

When Aradia and I set out to spend the year re-exploring planetary magic and reframing it in terms more accessible to witches, we started with the Sun for a variety of reasons.  Firstly, we were beginning at the Winter Solstice: the return of the Sun or – depending on how you frame things – the be beginning of the waxing year.  Secondly, from a naturalistic standpoint, if there is any planet that rules the heavens, then it is the life-giving Sun around whose gravity all the other planets revolve. Thirdly, as witches, the Sun is familiar and friendly to us, second only to the Moon.  And, finally, we had hoped that the Sun would help me overcome the deep depression that overshadowed the second half of 2015.

In this last, we found a ourselves to be very wrong.

There are a lot of reasons.  The crash after leading the main rituals at Heartland last year (an event that I still haven’t written about).  My house flooding in the Biblical rains we had here in KC from April through June.  The implosion of a long-standing friendship.  Family drama, in part political, in part related to the problems with my house.  Financial troubles.  All manageable, even taken together, except … I just didn’t have it in me.  This has been one of the worst years of my life for my mental health.

Here in the depths of winter … even the Sun wasn’t enough.

There were days … weeks when I considered abandoning the project altogether.  I thought that perhaps I should switch to an elemental experiment, to better prepare me for the rites of HPF 2016.  It got to where just walking into the room with the altars gave me panic attacks.

In retrospect, I think that conjuring the Sun at the Winter Solstice was not the best plan.  The Sun is not the Moon, where it’s ebb is the flow of a different sort of power.  The Sun is always there, holding the spinning orbs in place, and the turning of the terrestrial seasons has little bearing on the efficacy of traditional astrological magic.  But I was … am practicing witchcraft, and the turning of the seasons is the heart of that power.  And right now the Solar year is waxing,  but it is still … distant.  And cold.  And it is the warmth of the Sun that I needed to drag me out of my Abyss.

Instead, I have been climbing out of my depression the other way available to those of us without the appropriate healthcare: by what Aradia describes as the ladder of anger and anxiety.  Fortunately, most of my friends are as mad as I am, and have been very understanding of how difficult it is to be around me.

As I said, I very seriously considered giving up the experiment of planetary witchcraft.  But we did get some very solid results early on, and in contemplating the Sun I did also gain some insight into how to more effectively proceed.  More importantly, though, I remembered something I learned from all my science friends: negative results are not the same thing as a failed experiment.  The things I learned from this round will help me execute the next.

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