[This post was originally written ten months ago for a queer occult Zine that, to my great disappointment, seems to have gone defunct without publishing. The tone is more … literary, and the content a bit more intimate than most of my posts. ]
The void opens before me and the crystalline spire of the World Tree rises into infinity where there ought to be a horizon. The ground beneath my feet is an illusion for my convenience: there is nothing but the void and the Tree.
In the physical realm, I am uncomfortably male. Although I reject all the social tropes of masculinity, excepting only a few which are synonymous with being a decent human being, I am generally read as so butch that I am routinely mistaken for straight. While wearing a skirt. In a gay bar.
In the Otherworld, however, things are more complicated.
My most familiar spirit approaches me before I even reach the Tree. She is eager, and there is mischief in her eyes. Until recently, she appeared as a gorgon; now, just a woman. I ask if she has any adventures planned for me, and although she is one of the few spirits whose voice I can hear reliably, tonight she answers only by taking my hand.
Together, we walk to the World Tree. She places her hand on the shimmering facets of the bark, and slides into the pillar of crystal. I follow.
It is quite telling, in retrospect, that I have been fixated on leaving my body since I first began my study of the occult at the age of sixteen. Although I have never mastered astral projection, my success with Michael Harner’s visionary techniques, to which I was introduced by a friend a decade later, has been markedly greater. Enough so, in fact, that I began having experiences that my source materials could not help me contextualize almost immediately. I began seriously exploring and experimenting with visionary techniques in the spring of 2009. At first, as I imagine it is for many people, it was all or nothing: the trance would either elude me, or I would find myself in a mindscape which I could barely comprehend. Those first visionary experiences were frightening—some of them are, still, as I have no cultural context in which to ground them.
We descend, spiraling into darkness, and emerge at the edge of a stone circle. There is a drummer hiding in the shadows on the far side. Beautiful dancers writhe in the inconstant light of a small fire. I cannot see their faces clearly, or hear their voices over the drum.
I leap into the circle, joining the dance with abandon. Our bodies collide to the rhythm of the drum. There is nothing but the drumbeat and the heat of the fire and flesh. My hips and breasts sway as I dance and spin, round and round the fire.
It probably goes without saying that, at first, my spirit-body appeared as an idealized version of my mortal flesh: a little more muscular, a little less soggy around the middle. For a while, before I realized that it was irrelevant, I tried to form an “astral body” that was more “realistic”. Then I just let it be what it was: trying to dismantle that small bit of vanity was a distraction from the real work of exploring the spirit world. So, the first time it was radically different, I almost didn’t notice.
I was at a Qaballistic workshop at the local New Age store. The instructor was leading us on a visionary journey to Malkuth, the Earthly Kingdom. The path led across a bridge over a river, where we were to abandon certain symbolic representations of our mortal lives. Seeing my reflection in the river, I was surprised to see that I was a woman. My tattoos and ritual garb were what I had formed as I entered the visionary trance, but my flesh was not. For much of the rest of the journey, which was clear and productive, I was viscerally and self-consciously aware of the differences between that body and my mortal one—and of the fact that I had been unaware of those differences until I saw my reflection.
The drummer has slipped outside the fire light, and moves around outside the circle of stones, deosil to our widdershins, so that he is always just out of sight. One by one, the other dancers disappear as I make my way around the circle again and again. One turn I am a woman: my center of gravity lower, my breasts swaying and bouncing with my gyrations. The next I am a man: my cock slapping against my thighs as my center of gravity rises. Though the movements themselves are not so different—I am a terrible, unoriginal dancer, either way—the relative proportions of hip to shoulder create the illusion that it is otherwise, both visual and tactile.
The goddess I met at the end of that journey was not the Queen of Malkuth, but the Titan goddess Rhea: vast beyond my imagining, reclining nude and crowned and flanked by lions. To this day I have always-but-once been a woman when summoned to her presence in my visionary work. Other spirits, too—such as the equally vast but yet-unnamed goddess of Elemental Water—prefer that I be female in their presence. I have always been male in the Elemental Realm of Fire. My gender in the Otherworld is increasingly uncertain and malleable: male, female, both, neither. I shift at random, or at will, or at the behest of the spirits with whom I entreat.
All that remain, now, are myself and the the fire and the drummer I still cannot see. But my body has solidified in the image of Hermaphroditus: full breasts and hips, bearded and phallic. My hair is thick and glorious, from my head to my feet. Horns crown my head. A satyr’s tail sways behind me, and a satyr’s Priapism sways in front.
I leap into the fire, and we consume one another. My flesh is incinerated, then reformed, as I swallow the flames. When I emerge, the drummer has reveled himself: my Natal Demon. My Genius is there, too, and my most familiar spirit.
* διγενὴς ἔκστασις – “Diges Ekstasis”, lit. two-kind displacement, alt. trance of doubtful sex. διγενὴς cf. LSJ.A, ἔκστασις Middle Liddel.A.II.4