Monthly Archives: July 2016

Nullification

I am, by constitution, suspicious of narratives that center around the dissolution of “the Ego”, or (worse yet) explicitly one’s sense of self.  One might make an argument that this is a product of my Western individualism, but it owes as much to my suspicion of any programme so clearly open to abuse by a charismatic leader.  This is one of the reasons I  just can’t love Peter Carroll as much as many of my friends do: what they read as “become more malleable” I read as “become the perfect victim”.

Conversely, on the other hand, we space ghosts – witches, magicians, sorcerers, psychonauts, et al. – spent quite a lot of time conceptualizing ourselves as the center of the universe.  My refusal to give up my individuation is not an endorsement of megalomania.  I, for one, take great comfort in my cosmic insignificance.

The following meditation serves as a reminder of that insignificance.  A grounding before or after ritual, or when the pressure of our obligations to the larger world become too much.  As a note: the phrases “ouden eimi” and “nemo sum” are Greek and Latin, respectively, and mean “I am no one.”

 

Nullification

Ouden eimi.

Nemo sum.

I am no one.

 

I came from nothing.

To nothing I shall return.

I am forged of dirt.

I am a sack of meat.

 

Ouden eimi.

Nemo sum.

I am no one.

 

My mind is a morass

of lies and memes.

My soul is enslaved

by the mad godling Demiurge.

 

Ouden eimi.

Nemo sum.

I am no one.

 

I am made of starstuff.

So are cockroaches

and brain-eating amoebae.

So are gods.

 

Ouden eimi

Nemo sum.

I am no one.

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Pagan Leadership: What I Have Learned So Far

Where is the line between “being a leader” and merely “playing a leadership role”?

For most of my life, I imagined that Pagan leaders were somehow exceptional.  That they were magically gifted, or brilliant geniuses, or touched by the gods, or (occasionally) deft predators.  Somehow, they were in the right place at the right time and were anointed by the community.  I could barely imagine myself among their number.  Although I have, often, fantasized about starting a coven or order, I largely kept to myself and practiced only with my partners and closest friends.

For most of my life, I have alternated between hanging out at the back of various Pagan groups, following along without offering suggestions, and forming small working groups where we all fought to balance our own visions with the objectives of the others in the group.  Until very recently, I disdained the explicit pursuit of any public title or acknowledgement, keeping only this blog as as my billboard to the world, and waited for my following to appear.

Then, in July of 2014, Aradia and I finally joined the Heartland Spiritual Alliance.  We were accepted into the Sacred Experience Committee and quickly took charge of the ritual crew.  The senior members of the committee had a certain vision for what they wanted the rituals to accomplish, but the language, the choreography, and (in the end) the performance were ours and the people we brought in with us.

In July of 2015, I was elected Chair of the Sacred Experience Committee, and Aradia took Public Relations.  By January, we had both been asked to join the Board of Directors.  When the Chairman of the Board called a meeting and asked if anyone had a vision for the future of the organization, Aradia and I furnished a five-year plan which was well received by the Board, recommended by the Board to the Membership, who in turn voted the Plan into place in March.  In April, when the Vice President announced her intention to step down before the end of her term, Aradia was asked to take her place after the festival.

In the wake of this year’s elections, Aradia and I still hold our committees.  Aradia has been formally elected and installed as Vice President of the Heartland Spiritual Alliance, and I have been elected Chairman of the Board for the 2016-17 festival year.

By rational analysis, I believe that it is probably reasonable to say that  we have crossed the line, and could fairly consider ourselves “Pagan leaders”.  But … the imposter syndrome is strong.

I am not, I think, exceptional in any way that qualifies me for leadership. I am not particularly charismatic – or, at least, not among Pagans, were we all bear some benefit of the magician’s charisma – or a natural leader.  I am better educated than many, and have been on wilder adventures than some, but my credentials, such as they are, bear little weight in the community.  Although I have been attending the festival for many, many years, I have largely kept to myself and was little known in the community of either attendees or HSA members before I joined.  Now that I am better known, I am certainly not well-loved by all: I am, at best, an abrasive personality, and even when people agree with me, they do not always like me.

In the weeks since the beginning of the new member year, I have already heard the first cry of, “Who IS this punk?”  I’ve been expecting it for a while, honestly.

I just showed up one day.  And then I did the work.  It probably helps that attendees have loved the rituals my crew and I put together, and that the members I have recruited have integrated well with the rest of the organization.  Certainly not everyone agrees with my vision, and I have even been accused of being a part of the hated “inner circle”, but I do not believe that there is any doubt my dedication to the festival … though, because I am so abrasive, there are those who don’t believe that I am good for the community.

So, this is what I have learned in the process of becoming “a leader” in the Pagan community.

  • Pagan leaders are people.  They have lives and ambitions outside their leadership roles.  They have personalities that may or may not be comparable with yours.  Each and every one of us is in it for a different reason.  Whether it’s a calling, or you’re in it for the glory, or you just showed up with your friends.
  • Leadership is work.  Thus it requires professionalism.   Maintain professional relationships with those you personally dislike.  Fire the abusers and the slackers.  Do the work.
  • “Leading Pagans is like herding cats” is a disavowal of responsibility.  Stop saying that.  Herding cats is easy.  You herd cats by providing something they want at one end of the trail, and following along behind to redirect those who get distracted.  (So, yes, I guess that leading Pagans IS like herding cats, just not what people mean when they say that.)  Do the work.

The future of the community is being determined right now, even as we speak, by those who show up and do the work.  I am unworthy, but I am here.  I am doing the work.

Paganism is a movement, not a product for sale.

If you share my vision, show up.  Bring your friends.  Do the work.

If you disagree with my politics, show up.  Bring your friends.  Do the work.

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Ancestors for the Alienated

On the subject of ancestor worship, I find myself deeply conflicted.

Its provenance, of course, is undeniable: it is attested across the whole of the world and the whole of human history, from some of the oldest archeological sites to cultures across the world today.  There are those who see its traces in the roots of all religion, though that is always a bold and, from a scholastic standpoint, unprovable claim.  Its efficacy, also,  as both magic and religion, is well attested in both ancient and modern times.  As Gordon White has said, and others have said before him, who among the Otherworld could care as much or as well for human affairs as those who have, themselves, been mortals?

And yet … I find the notion of ancestry … troubling.

To lay the facts bare: I am a witch from a family of Christians.  I am queer from a family most of which I never felt safe coming out to.  I was assigned male at birth and, for all that I am both more and less and other than that, look the part enough that I am generally ascribed the privileges associated with it, and know first hand exactly what sort of monster men are trained to be.  I am white in a world where white supremacy has brought low every people and nation it has come across, all in the name of profit and purity.  I am not proud of the people I come from, nor should I be.

The one attempt I made at “ancestor work” (for lack of a better word) was a visionary journey undertaken at Heartland Pagan Festival 2009, my first with Aradia.  I was only at the beginning of my visionary studies, then, but visions of that strength have remained few and far between.  The drumming began, and I entered the trance.  When the time came to leave my body, though, things went awry: a column descended from the sky, squares and circles and triangles and other shapes stacked one atop the other, all scribed in bright blue light, poured down and pinned me where I was.  The message, I feel as strongly now as I did then, was clear.  “You are not wanted,” it said.  “Do not call upon us.”

And yet … one without a past has no future.  And witches and queers alike have always sought strength in both the facts of history and the mythic past.

Who are the Mighty Dead that I call upon come Samhain?  Who are the ancestors of the alienated?  Several names come readily to mind.  Doreen Valiente.  Gerald Gardner.  Margaret Murray.  Pamela Coleman Smith.  Aleister Crowley.  Frieda Harris.  Frida Kahlo.  Margot Adler.  None of them perfect people, of course.  But … I wonder.  Would they answer if we called?  We, their spiritual heirs, those who draw strength and inspiration from their life’s works?

I could have the answer to that.  I have tools for divination.  And yet …

Frankly, I fear the answer.  I am, as I said, deeply uncomfortable even with the notion of ancestry and, by extension, ancestor worship.  And then there’s the part where necromancy has a certain (perhaps undeserved) reputation, which was ingrained in me deeply early on.  And, were I to ask, and be told “yes, you may call upon us” … then I would be rather obliged to follow through.

And then there are the basic logistical questions: what do the rituals look like?  Having been raised in the heart and soul of White America, a land where Protestant Christianity has done its best to scrape all the ritual and ecstasy and tradition from even its own religion, I have no native rites to turn to for inspiration.  Nor do I wish to engage in any appropriation of others’ cultures: I am seeking to undermine my ancestors genocidal legacy, not participate in it.  Perhaps the dead, themselves, might instruct me.  That would be the best option, but it still leaves me floundering for a place to begin.

Who are the ancestors of the alienated?  What are their rites?

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In Pursuit of a Queerer Witchcraft

For those who haven’t caught on yet: I’m fucking queer.  This shapes my experience of magic every bit as much as it does my interaction with the rest of the world.  Sometimes positively.  Sometimes negatively.

I live in Kansas City, where the Pagan community is “cool” with people like me  …  just as long as we never complicate their gender binary, or challenge the gender dynamics of their power structures.  Sunrise, Indiana, was worse: excepting Sannafrid, they had that awful Viking vibe of aggressive heteronormativity.  Lawrence, Kansas, where I come from originally … well, honestly, it’s hard to say.   I was pretty closeted and ignorant back then, and the world ten and twenty years ago was a very different place.  Although I have known a variety of other LGBT witches, pagans, and sorcerers in my time, barely a handful  of them have been politically queer, and most of those from the …well, to be blunt, from the anti-radical cis gay political end of things.

Literature has largely failed me, as well.  The things I have found in print largely pigeonhole Pagan queers: speaking exclusively to cisgender gays and lesbians, and framing them guides and teachers for the pagan community at large, a teaching tool for others but of no value to or in themselves.  They also tend to be very appropriative, stealing language from First Nations peoples, and poorly researched in terms of the ancient peoples they point to for comfort and inspiration.  There are some explicitly radical and trans-positive Pagan ebooks available in the world (interestingly: almost all anthologies) but I find it increasingly difficult to read from a screen, and strive to spend most of my digital time producing content rather than consuming it.

I know  that there are,  in the world, traditions of witchcraft more friendly to queer ethics and politics than any I have seen in person or in print.  I hope, someday, to find a teacher.  A coven.  A community.

In the meantime, however, I must write the book I want to read.  I must create the community I wish to find.

What does it mean, to me, to be a witch?  What does it mean, to me, to be queer?  What does it mean, to me, to be a queer witch?  I have been asking these questions for fifteen and twenty years.  So far my answers are still ephemeral, less than satisfactory.

Witchcraft is both a being and a doing: to be a witch is to practice witchcraft.  Not all forms of magic are witchcraft, though, and sometimes it’s hard to say what is and what isn’t.  Often, it’s a sort of “I know it when I see it” sort of thing.  But what I can say is this: it is transgressive.  It is an explicit rejection of one’s assigned place in the world, particularly with regard to sanctity and blasphemy, but also with regard to class and caste.  It is movement outside the boundaries.  It is reaching too high, and stooping too low.  It is addressing gods as equals and cavorting with forbidden powers.

To be queer is likewise to transgress the boundaries assigned by society.  To be queer is to reject traditional limits of masculinity and femininity.  To be queer is to engage in forbidden loves and lusts.  It is to take your identity into your own hands – and, by doing so, often putting your life at risk, as well.

To be a queer witch, then, is doubly transgressive, doubly marginal.  It leaves practically no area of my life safe from public condemnation.  I cannot be a model minority.  Even if I were to otherwise submit utterly, the very fact that I exist is a challenge to the system.

I am Outside.  I am Other, even among Others. Everywhere I go, I find … “No, not this, either.”

And yet … what I am not is an unsatisfactory exploration of what I am.

I must clear new paths, pave new roads, perform new rites, write new books, dedicate new temples.

But it’s so, so hard to travel alone.

I am one mad, damaged queer.  My vision is insufficient to tear down the edifices of the Patriarchy.  These two hands are not enough to destroy the gender binary.  Alone, even with my friends and lovers, I cannot find or create new gods adequate to the new age which we must build together.

Our predecessors walked away from the One God.  They found a new Goddess and her Consort.  They found that the Old Gods had never truly left.  But our peers are too complacent, looking too much to the past and the present.  We must look to the future.  We must be transgressors and innovators.  We must complicate witchcraft.  We must queer it.

So I beg you: come forth, and follow with me. Lead me, if you will.  Let us make witchcraft a wilder, stranger place than it has ever dreamed.

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Unveiling The Sorcerer’s Workbench: Talismanic Jewelry Design Prototypes

I’ve had a lot of great opportunities come my way lately.  One of them has left me in a position to begin making jewelry that I want to make, and take on clients of my own.  Mostly I’m doing repairs for friends, so far, and (if all goes well) one significant piece of custom work.  But I’m also putting out my own line of magical jewely.  Some of the designs are my own art; some of the talismans come to me by gnosis; still others are inspired by the grimoire traditions.

The first, and the one most likely to see some revision, is pure art: when I started Project Null, my Chaos Magic study, I wanted a pretty picture to go with it on the blog.  So I took an ourobouros I had drawn, and Levi’s Baphomet, and a Chaosphere, and mashed them all together.

projectnull-EditIMAG0936_1

The second is a Solar talisman, based on the Sun Mask I made some years ago, and has already proven itself an excellent access point to solar currants.

solar mask image 3IMG_20160713_081102

The third Is an image of Venus, formed by combining two of the images described in agrippa: a bird-headed woman with eagle’s feet, and a maiden with a comb and an applet.

talisman of venusIMG_20160712_131323

All three pieces are 1.5 inches in diameter.

They are available as copper talisman disks (shown) for $25 +shipping.  They can be made wearable with a silver bezel and bail for $45, or cast in sterling silver (with or without a bail) for $75.

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Witchcraft is Transgression

Witchcraft is transgression.

We are not “just like them”.  Though we may wear their clothes, to do so is a mask which must be discarded each day at the first opportunity lest we lose what we are.

We are the darkness.  We are the ecstasy.  We are the song in the night.  We exist to rend the veil between worlds.

Never forget: there is more to life than your mortgage.

Witchcraft is transgression.

The Roman Empire gave up the Old Gods and knelt before of the One.  The Greeks gave up the Mysteries in favor of the Savior.  The Norse abandoned traded their sacrifices in return for the keys to the Kingdom of God.

Do you honestly believe that the Mysteries lead to empire?  Do you honestly believe that the Old Gods will bless the empires of the One?

Take up arms against the oppressors, not against your neighbors.  There is no place for patriots among Pagans.  If you love your country, go back to Jesus.

Witchcraft is transgression.

Neither sex nor gender are cosmic principles.  Does a prokaryote have a penis?  Does a cactus have a cunt?

Your body is not your destiny.  You are not what your parents and their doctors told you that you must be.

Gender is a toolbox.  Build your identity with your bare hands.

Witchcraft is transgression.

Reject materialist values, not the material world.

Feast upon the bounty of the harvest and the hunt.  Sing your joy and scream your rage.  Dance for the sun and cry before the moon.  Love all that you can.  Fuck all that you will.

The dead envy the living for a reason.

Witchcraft is transgression.

Wage war against the Archons.  Wage war against the Machine.

We will survive by whatever means are necessary.

We must dance on the bones of the empire.

Assimilation is death.

Witchcraft is trasgression.

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Apolitical Paganism Must End

At its inception in the first half of the 20th Century, modern neo-Pagan witchcraft was inherently political.  It was a new religion for a new age.  Disdaining the One God for a Goddess and her consort.  Challenging mainstream religion with (then new, albeit now discredited) interpretations of historical fact.  Giving religious authority to individual worshipers and, more frighting, to women.

In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Pagans of all stripes were closely allied with the environmental and animal rights movements.  Witchcraft traditions, in particular, were almost synonymous with feminism.  The Feri and Reclaiming traditions, just to name two, were political protest organizations as much as religious ones.

When I joined the movement in the mid 1990s that was still the case.  The Satanic Panic was “officially” over, but the echoes had not yet died down.  We were fighting for the right to serve openly in the military.  Every Pagan web page on the internet had a link to, or the full text of, Isaac Bonewits cult identification rubric, and/or a disclaimer addressing law enforcement, assuring them that we did not believe in Satan, curse anyone, or perform human or animal sacrifices.  A presidential hopeful (who went on to win) scored points with his base by condemning us as “not a real religion”.  There were an increasing number of people who resisted calling any of that “political”, but that didn’t change the reality that it was.

In the 1990s and 2000s, though, an underlying current of assimilationism made its way to the forefront.  I don’t know, exactly, what happened.  Perhaps, like we’ve seen in the Gay Rights movement over the last few years, those with the least to lose decided that they had won enough recognition that they are prepared to throw everyone else under the bus in order to keep it.  My own belief is that, in the wake of, first, the Satanic Panic, then the 9/11 attacks, fear and nationalism took over: “we’re just like everyone else” stopped being a strategically deployed shield, and became a goal.

People stopped looking quite so askance at Neo-Nazi Norse Pagans, and that – combined with the spikes in racism and sexism in mainstream society – backflowed into the Pagan mainstream like an overflowing sewer, reinforcing the underlying racism and swank pedestal sexism that had always been a part of the movement.  Explicitly nationalist (and often implicitly heterosexist white supremacist) reconstructionist Paganisms emerged in both Europe and the United States.

Now event organizers pride themselves on their political neutrality.  When Pagans discuss what they need to to to achieve greater “mainstream acceptance”, more than half will tell you that Paganism needs to keep out of politics.  When trans folx demand to be included in gendered rites, half the opposition is from pole who don’t want their religion politicized.  When others among us demand un-gendered spaces, or try to complicate gendered archetypes, we are accused of “overthinking things” or dismissed as having “an agenda”. When some of us point out that Native Americans have asked not to be counted among our number, have asked us to stop stealing their language, to stop aping their their rituals, to stop copying and selling their tools, we are accused of being too political.  When some of us speak up against police brutality, against war, against rape culture, we are shouted down as being too negative, too divisive, too political.

That doesn’t work.  Literally everything is political.

For Paganism to stay out of politics, it must become empty and meaningless.  And, even then, it’s still political: it’s become a product to be sold, a lifestyle to be aspired to, an aesthetic without ethics or ecstasy.

Politics is ethics in practice.  If our religion does not inform our ethics (and vice versa, for that matter), then it is nothing.

Paganism must be political.  Pagans must take public stances, as Pagans, on the issues of our day.  We must agitate.  We must argue.  We must take action.

 

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Ritual Timing and the Risk of Preemptive Defeat

An act of magic does not begin only upon the release of the cone of power, the empowerment of the sigil, the charging of the talisman or spirit-aid.  An act of magic does not begin with the casting of the circle.  It does not even begin with the purifying bath before the ritual begins.  An act of magic begins the moment you set your will to an end, and echoes, still, after you achieve your result.

This is a thing that, I think, we all know, but which we all forget.

This is why, if you plan your rituals thoroughly or even just a few days in advance, you begin to see results before you have charged your sigils or talismans, or even finished arranging your correspondences.  I find that this is particularly common with multi-stage rituals, or when you’re doing magic for other people: frequently, Aradia’s mother will ask her to enchant for something, and then receive it while the offering candles are still burning.

Sometimes, you don’t even need to follow through with the ritual.  I think this is what a lot of people are talking about when they say they “manifested” something, but then get dodgy when you ask about their technique.  This is, interestingly, one the phenomena I have seen scare people away from magic in their earliest experiments.  (When my sister gave me back the magic books I had lent and bought her, she told me with wide-eyed terror about how, when she wanted things, “they just happened!”)

Conversely, when you are attempting something particularly difficult – an exorcism was the example that came up Gordon’s recent podcast interview with Jenny McCarthy – you can begin to encounter resistance as soon as you declare your intent.  Personally, I find this phenomenon most pervasive with my social justice magic: the apathy and depression which beset me when I begin to contemplate how best to undermine the structures of Archonic power; the mind-numbing blank, so much worse than normal writers block, which I struggle against when I attempt to work on my hypersigil novels; the reflexive planning-stage push-back I get from people who were down for the cause until the moment I announced I would actually take action.

I know a great number of magical people who rely too heavily on the first two of these three phenomena.  They are accustomed to the path opening for them effortlessly.  They mistake effective magic for destiny and, as a result, take every obstacle they do encounter as a cosmic DO NOT ENTER sign.  These are the same people who spend their lives wondering, “what am I supposed to do?” and flinch at the question, “what do I want?”

Linear time and causality are the meat and bread of historians, but they are illusions of mortal consciousness.  We are witches and sorcerers and magicians and priest/esses.  We are subject to illness and doomed to die, but in all other regards we disdain the limits of mortality.  The past pushes.  The future pulls.  Things outside of time – ourselves included – stir the pot.

Sometimes, of course, we do encounter DO NOT ENTER signs.  And sometimes we should even heed them.

But we are witches.  We are sorcerers.  We are wizards.  We are priests and priestesses and healers and mystics.  We are crossers of the hedge, climbers of the World Tree, explorers of the astral realms.  We are dabblers in forces forbidden to mortals.  We are possessors of knowledge others fear to face.

If we have any ambition at all, the obstacles we face become challenges which must be surmounted or circumnavigated.  We must set banquet tables for strange gods, even if we must then strangle them in their sleep.  We must slay or subdue or even seduce the dragons.

When you set out on a quest, the resistance you face is pro often of that you are going in the right direction.  Take solace in the stretches of easy, open road, and rest when you can.  And don’t take every challenge personally.  But remember that some of the obstacles arose in opposition to your intention; crush them and use the rubble as stepping stones.

And when you see a DO NOT ENTER sign on a side path, consider that it might be a challenge to be accepted.

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Armed Venus

Armed Venus

“Armed Aphrodite”

A young woman stands bare chested, a cloth draped around her waist, a golden-colored apple in her left hand and a sword in her right.  From a Classically themed photoshoot with a friend from college, this image was inspired by a combination of art and myth.  The apple identifies the figure as Aphrodite; the sword is inspired by a spear-bearing statue of Aphrodite that I saw at the temple of Asclepious in Greece.

From a photo shoot about this time last year, this post somehow got lost in my drafts folder.  To see the rest of the series, or order prints, please check out my portfolio.

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Ozark Mountain Nightmare and the Mundus Occultus

At the beginning of the month I released my second novella on Amazon:

ozard mountain nightmare-1

For sale on Amazon – Kindle only.

Megan has been coming out to the cabin every summer since Eric and Liz brought her and James with them on their family vacation after their sophomore year of high school.  Things have changed since then – Eric’s gotten married; James is now exclusively gay – but the tradition remains: the axis of peace and hope and, for lack of a better word, family around which her otherwise banal and depressing year revolves.  Angel comes with them, now, and every year James brings a different boy.  This year is no different,  at first.

An unseasonable cold hits the mountain as evening approaches, and a cold rain falls as the sun sets.  The wind sounds like someone screaming, and the lamps don’t illuminate the cabin like they should.  They manage to convince themselves it’s just their imaginations, at first — rain happens when you’re camping, right?   And James’ buddy Randal is just a religious nut who’s scared of storms.  Nevermind that the locals don’t go out alone after dark, or the number of tourists “lost” in the Ozarks every year.  The darkness can’t move outside the window.

What’s worse, though, the darkness, itself, moving?  Or something moving outside in the darkness?

Having released my second story set in that world, I am also releasing the logo, which you will also see at the top of my page to the right.  All my stories will be available at that link as they are released.

mundus occultus logo

The Mundus Occultus is my world of occult horror and supernatural mystery.  Unlike most of the genre, however, my stories are rooted as much in my life experience as a neo-Pagan witch as the conventions of the genre.  Along side all the werewolves and vampires and flesh-and-bone monsters, half the thigns we love, you will see magic that makes sense, refferences to books you’ve read, books you wish you’d written, and an insider’s perspective on how Pagans and magicians would live in such a world.  I also strive to defy the conventions of the genre in respect to the treatment of queers, women, and people of color.  This is not a world with hero cops or innocent white boys.  The world may not be saved.  That may not be a bad thing.

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