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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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Genius Locii: Overseer of the Standing Stones


When our friend Sthenno learned that Aradia and I were going on a road trip to the Badlands, she asked us to bring her back some dirt to dad to her collection of Earth and Waters from various parts of the world.  She gave us a baggie to collect the dirt in, and a vial of water and a tea-light to serve as an offering for the exchange.

Although we were happy to oblige, there was the small concern of where and how to do such a thing.  After all, the removal of any rocks or plants from a national park is technically a crime (though we carried off enough mud on or shoes and gear to equal easily five times the volume that we collected for Sthenno).  Further (and, frankly, more importantly), this was not a region where white people have historically covered themselves in glory with regards to the First Nations peoples or the spirits of the land.  Although Aradia got a slightly different vibe off of everything, the overwhelming majority of the spirits that I could percieve in the Badlands were fundamentally disinterested in my existence one way or the other.

The one notable exception to that was a spirit near our camp site.  There was a hill to the West of us that called to me.  And not just me: a camp of hippies near us took it upon themselves to climb the small mountain in the dark.  Aradia and I watched their lights and listened to their yells; I very much wanted to follow them—as I put it then, “carrying our jug of wine and screaming like a maenad”—but Aradia disuaded me.

The spirit knew that we needed dirt, and it called to me.  The second day we did climb the hill, and found concentric circles of carefully stacked stones with a set of three piles that were clearly an altar of sorts, and two extra pairs set like gateways at the heads of two paths leading further away from the site.  The spirit—who we believe called others there to erect the “standing stones”—accepted Sthenno’s offer of water and fire in exchange for the dirt (though the wind made the latter … complicated), but wanted blood from Aradia and I without making itself particularly clear about what it was offering in return.  We politely declined, and—perhaps as a result–the spirit also made clear that we were not to take any pictures of the top of it’s hill, so the above picture from the road is the only image I can offer you; one can just barely see the stones rising up at the top of the hill.

Upon our return, the dirt maintained a clear and potent charge, and Sthenno was startled but intrigued to hear the story.  For myself, I look forward to hearing what comes of her workings with the dirt and the associated spirit.

The site, itself, remains clear in my mind, and it is my intention to return astrally to see what I can learn from that perspective.

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Spirits of Earth and Air

Last Friday Aradia and I skidded into KC at the end of a nine day road trip to the South Dakota Badlands and Rocky Mountain National Park.  As tempting as it was, in theory, to turn the road trip into a spiritual retreat, the fact is that I desperately needed the vacation.  And what a vacation it was.   Even after all the travelling I’ve done with Aradia and my family, I had never seen landscapes like the ones I saw over that week-and-a-half: the Karst cartography of central and south Missouri gave way to the Loess hills of northern MO and eastern Iowa before we set off across the grasslands of South Dakota.  We came into the Badlands from the north, via I-90, and I don’t even know how to describe the feeling when the earth dropped off in front of us, only to rise back up in magnificent spires of white and red stone.

A view from the Juniper Forrest trail.

A view from the Juniper Forrest trail.


Tragically, as our visit coincided with the Perseid meteor shower, it rained on us briefly every day we were there, despite the arid climate, and every night was overcast.  That unseasonable water made it all the more shocking when I tried to get a sense of the spirits of the place and sensed nothing by Earth and Air: ancient, slow-moving things from whom I sensed not just a vast indifference to human life, but to mortal life in general.  My poetic nature wants to describe that indifference as “bordering on cruelty”, but I think that’s a little bit of projection and a great deal of anthropomorphization; I think the spirits that ancient stone, weathered by the wind and by water whose brief appearances is as destructive to the rock as it is necessary to the survival of plant and animal life, are simply the most alien things I have yet to come into contact with.

The Badlands were vast, alien, and austere.  So far from my lands in which I have invested my power, and from the Water which makes up so much of my nature, I felt empty—sucked dry.  Surprisingly, that feeling was healing and cathartic: my waters have been murky, almost poisoned for the last year, by the stresses of my personal and academic life, and by the rigid forces of the ceremonial I had been practicing.  By travelling outside my own personal bog, I was able to let some of those “contaminants” (to continue the metaphor) dry out and be carried off by the constant winds of the desert.

From there were traveled south and further west, cutting through the top-left corner of Nebraska into eastern Wyoming, where we skirted the foothills into north-eastern Colorado where, after gaining elevation slowly over hundreds of miles, we finally ascended into the mountains proper.  The thin air of the Rockies hit me hard, and I was nearly useless for the first twenty hours or so.  The green and grey vistas of the mountains hit me as hard as the desert had, and I found the magical climate much more to my liking, but even farther from “home” and equally alien.

A View from Alpine Ridge Road.

The Rocky Mountains, as viewed from Alpine Ridge Road.

I don’t know if the Rocky Mountains are actually younger, geologically, than the Badlands, but they felt that way to me.  More patient, and with an indifference to my passing that was somehow less hostile.  Earth and Air still dominated, but Water was more familiar, perhaps even more welcome.  When I finally had the opportunity to perform the Stele of Jeu on the last day—something that I had been trying to fit in for the whole trip—the local spirits wanted reassurance that I was not attempting to dominate them, but they took me at my word that I only sought to purify myself.

By the end of the trip, as we came down off the mountain to get coffee in Denver and struck off eastward for dinner and a hotel in Hays, I finally felt like a person again: scoured clean by spirits of Earth and Air.

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Taking Pain

Taking a break from all the Very Serious Posts which I should be writing, let’s have a little bit of story time.

Aradia and I are hosting some of my college friends right now, so we took them to our favorite bar in Kansas City, which also happens to be the best gay bar in town.  It was also our first trip there since I got back from the summer, and we were delighted to find our favorite bartender working.  He greeted us warmly, made our friends feel welcome, and made us the best drinks ever.  It was glorious.

But he was also holding his left arm at a funny angle, and it was clearly paining him.  I asked what was wrong, and he made a lot of inarticulate noises and hand gestures (which I originally translated as, “I was drunk at the time and I feel stupid”) before finally explaining that he had taken the pain from the lovely lesbian with the broken arm sitting next to us.

“Give it to me,” I said.  “I’m a professional.”  (Perhaps a slight exaggeration.)

“No,” he said.  “I took it.  It’s my responsibility.”

I respected that, so I let it go.  My friends were like, “what?” and I explained the principles to them.

“Oh,” my one friend says, very  much to my surprise..  “I did that once.”  He goes on to tell me about how this one time he took half of his friend’s migraine so that they could both study before a test.  “If I hadn’t done it myself,” he said, “I wouldn’t believe it was possible.”

The evening progresses, and I come back to the bar to order the next round of drinks.  My bartender is in so much pain that he actually shorts me my change.

“Why do we do this, again?” he asks me.

“Because we can,” I say.

As I work down on my third bourbon, though, the whole thing starts to weigh on me.  He’s nourishing the pain, taking it on as some sort of martyrdom, and it’s making it so he can’t work.  I’m reluctant to push the issue, but Aradia argues that it’s just as idiotically macho to let him suffer as it is for him to insist on suffering, and that if I won’t take the pain off of him, she’ll do it.

We all finish our drinks, and its time to go.  Aradia and one of my friends go to the ladies’ room, while my other friend and I go in search of the bartender to say goodbye and (again) offer to take the woman’s pain from him, and to tip him a little more before we leave.  He refuses both my offer and the tip, but then he gets all weird about it, twisting my friend’s arm rather than taking the tip, and patting me on the heart with the wounded arm.

While his hand is resting on my heart something goes off in the back of my brain, and I just breathe the pain into my lungs, and exhale it as fire into the air above us.

He looks at me in shock and says, “You took it.”

“I did.”

“But you know we have to give it back.”

“No, we don’t.”

Aradia shows up and we finish our goodbyes with a little more drama and groping than usual, then leave the bar.

My friend can no longer contain his enthusiasm: “You breathed it out as smoke.  I saw you take the pain.  I was watching really close because I wanted to see how you did it, and I saw you breathe it out as smoke!”

There is nothing like third party confirmation to make an evening perfect.

I feel a little bad about it, now.  He took the burden so seriously.  But the whole martyr angle just grated on me, and the way he touched me with the wounded hand … it just seemed to be the thing to do a the time.


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Devotion and Worship: What Is This? I Don’t Even ….

As I have probably mentioned before, I was raised without religion.  Christianity was pervasive and ubiquitous throughout my childhood, of course: on television and in the Cub Scouts, in my textbooks and in everyone else’s assumptions.  I even went to church for Christmas, sometimes, and Easter.  But my upbringing did not include any actual, direct instruction in Christian religious doctrine or practice.

My early explorations in religion, such as they were, were self-guided, and—ultimately—their own undoing.  One hears about That God and the Bible quite a lot in Cub Scouts and in a Kansas elementary school, but always in ways which presume that one already knows what the speaker is talking about.  Now, generally, this is actually a very effective indoctrination tool: the presumption of knowledge backs most people into a corner where they will agree to anything to avoid admitting that they don’t know what you’re talking about.  That never worked on me.  Gathering the impression that the explanations for all the gibberish could be found in a certain book, I picked up the children’s Bible my parents house.  There were rules, I learned (so many rules, but mostly the Big Ten), with dire consequences promised for breaking them.  But I could see that those punishments weren’t being meted out.  The only conclusions that my pre-teen mind could make from this contradiction were that That God must be absent or unjust.

Thus began my decade-and-a-half “phase” as an angry agnostic.  I wanted no part in any gods.  I found the Neo-pagan movement (Wicca and its offshoots, in particular), and although I found a home, of sorts, for myself … I rejected their gods, too.

All of which is to say that I have no early-life framework for worship or devotion.  I have, in fact, often compared worship of any sort to spiritual slavery.  So…. For about twelve years I celebrated seasonal festivals to satisfy needs I can no better articulate now than I could then.  Nor am I yet certain what changed in my head or why, that day in St. Louis when I suddenly called out to Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Apollo.

Six years after that sharp about-face, my altar is home to nine gods and three familiar spirits.  The spirits I have solid working relationships with: although we are still negotiating the precise terms of our arrangements, we are friends and partners.  The gods, though … Dionysus, Hermes, Hephaestus, Baphomet, Rhea, Athena, the Kouros, the Witchmother, and the Sun … some of them are as uncertain what to do with me as I am with them.  Each has reached out to me, or me to them, and made solid contact at least one time.  Rhea was the first power whose voice I could discern calling to me from the darkness; Athena found her way to my altar through a series of omens; the Kouros answered my call when I went searching for meaning in the Divine Masculine, and the Witchmother came to me through the statue I had used to search for the Divine Feminine; Hephaestus stood at my side when I sat at the bench; Hermes is the chief god of the modern Western esoteric tradition; and Dionysus …  well, that’s a slightly longer story.

I recall deciding, in the strange days leading up to that first call, that if I were ever to worship the gods, Dionysus would be among them.  A youthful, effeminate, sometimes cross-dressing god.  The god of wine and ecstasy, of loosing yourself in the beat of the drum, and of running and fucking in the woods.  The god who causes and cures madness, and who disdains the kings appointed by his father Zeus.  Himself an initiate into the Mysteries of an older, more primal goddess.  As long as I have made mead, I have done so in the name of Dionysus; those of you who have had my wine can attest to its improbable efficacy.  Dionysus was the first god to appear before me at my initiation, and he is always the most firmly present when I perform my pentagram rite.  His leopard visits my astral temple.  And yet, at the same time, he is the most inscrutable of the gods upon my altar.  When I seek him out, I cannot find him.  Only Athena has less to say to me when I pour the libations.

I wonder, sometimes, if it would be easier if it were in my nature to devote myself entirely to a single god.  Could I then count on the god to tell me what was wanted of me, and what I would get from it in my return?  If that were my only dilemma, though, I could simply go the other obvious route, joining one of the Hellenistic recon communities.  I could be well-loved there, as an actual Classicist.  But my own UPG is too far afield, and my witchcraft too radical (to say nothing of my feminism) for those groups I’ve seen.

Each of the powers who has come to me has told me a little bit of what I need to do.  Just enough that, with a little bit of luck and creativity, I have (so far) been able to struggle up to the next step.  I make offerings of coffee, candles, wine, and/or mead at least three times a week.  I must not abandon my visionary practice—I must, in fact, escalate it—but I must also have daily planetary ritual.  But the Orphic hymns aren’t quite …. working.  There’s something lacking : something maybe 25 degrees off.  And while they’ve been showing me how to make masks, magically, I’m still trying to puzzle out some of the material components of the process.  And I have to keep with the lunar and solar calendar I have already devoted so much of my life to.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  So far, none of these are hardships (well, except for the occasional extremely hung over Saturday or Sunday dawn offering rite, and they’re usually pretty forgiving if I’m late).  But … there are disparate pieces that I haven’t figured out how to smelt into a cohesive hole.

How do you obey the gods when they talk so little, and you can’t quite hear them when they do?  When you have no background in “religion” as it is so frequently understood?  When your knowledge of history, and the way in which the gods have been deployed to further—or, given a less charitable set of assumptions, participated in and even instigated—injustice in the name of power for as long as there have been priests and kings, makes the whole idea of “religion” more than a little suspect?  When your grip on sanity is adequately shaky that you’re not one hundred percent certain you’re hearing anything but the echoes of your own derangement?  And, perhaps most to the point, where do you find the missing pieces of a ritual practice that has never quite existed in the form you’re working toward?

True story, y’all: I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.


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An Early Experiment in Shape-Shifting

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.[1]  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.[2]

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.[3]  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.[4]  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”[5] 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.

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Shaping and Shielding II: Learning Curve

My career with the KU Cauldron started almost a decade ago, now.  Back in those days, I thought I was hot shit.  I had a lot of raw talent, had seen and done a whole bunch of strange shit, and was generally more well-read than almost anyone there.  (The fact that I had mostly read Scott Cunningham, and Amber K, and DJ Conway, and a fuck-ton of weird shit on the internet makes that really fucking sad.)

My main problem with shielding had (and has always) been that I tend to build walls I can’t see out of without taking them down, and this was particularly true then.  So, increasingly, I didn’t bother: I was confident in my ability to detect and deal with threats.  When I did, though, I was always experimenting with textures and structures.

I tried great spheres of “glass” with windows that could be opened and closed at will; these worked very well, but still kept things out even when I wanted to let them in.  I tried textured cloaks to draw or distract attention from myself; these worked fabulously, particularly the latter, which could and often did render me near-invisible.  I turned my aura inside-out, squeezed it to a thin plane and turned it “sideways”, which was also produced an effect of near-invisibility—obviously, not literally invisible in either case, but pointedly unnoticed.  Most often, though, I would simply draw my aura back, condensing it until it fit well within my body, leaving only a “corona” at the original edge, which I would use as a shield.

It was during this period that I was really able to test my theories of energetic layers or frequencies of reality, slipping in and out of others awareness and around their shields during games of “tag”.  I cast circles by spinning webs of light into my Pentagram Ward, the likes of which they had never seen.  I was still going through my antagonistic agnostic phase, but I was able to conjure more energy and cast bigger circles by my will alone than they could with elemental and divine invocations.

In general, I postured and strutted about like you’d expect from a dude in his late teens and early twenties who went, basically overnight, from being a social pariah to being someone that others looked up to.  I got cocky and arrogant … and increasingly emotionally erratic.  I had only had two lovers at that point in my life: the first, a one-night-stand, “left” me for someone that would go on to abuse her; the second was also a singular arrangement, and though we became dear friends, she lived quite a ways away and we would not be lovers again for some years.  I was just coming out of the closet as bisexual, and being consistently rejected by everyone I took an interest in.  I had more friends and respect than I’d ever had before … but I was constantly thwarted in the one thing I wanted most.

To add injury to insult, these were also the days when the Cauldron’s resident vampire was starting to emerge.  In retrospect, I wonder how she contributed to the other problems: if, even when I was shielding, she could pierce and/or exhaust my defenses for longer than I’ve ever realized.  I’ve seen the wreckage left by vampire attacks.  That period of my life matches the profile.

All this drama culminated about the time that I started experiencing my first migraines.  When I recovered from all that madness, I really didn’t have any faith left in personal shields as method of defense, at least not from spiritual threats, and it would be years before I was tuned in enough again that I was even certain that my memories of psychic empathy weren’t the delusions of a lonely youth.

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Shaping and Shielding I: The Old Days

The first person I ever met who shared my interest in magic and the occult was a young man I’ll call Shire.  We were sixteen, maybe fifteen years old when we our curiosity blossomed into outright experimentation.  I don’t remember, now, what his framework was, but I was already identifying as Pagan.  I came from a generic Protestant background, more informed by the Boy Scouts and television than by any churching; his mother was a hardcore White Light New Ager.  Our experiments began with the most basic elemental conjuration you can imagine: holding our hands over candles and bowls of tap water, trying to absorb and tune to Elemental Fire and Water.  He was more sensitive; I was better at focusing and projecting power.

Like most young men with an interest in the occult, especially in the Midwest of the early 1990s, I exhibited a certain paranoia:  I was convinced that there were spiritual forces arrayed against me, and I focused much of my time and attention on the creation of protection spells and psychic shields, and on developing ways to penetrate or circumvent them.  To this day, I remain one of the most skilled magicians I know (at least in meatspace) when it comes to building and dismantling magical protections.

My first shields were formed by visualizing myself in a suit of armor.  I don’t know where I got this idea.  This was before I owned any books beside the “Simonomicon”, so if I didn’t come up with it on my own, I must have gotten it off of one of the message boards I was frequenting in those days.  Because I was a serious geek back in the day, my armor looked something like this:

My earliest magical attacks were “swords” I held in my hands, soon replaced by a knife-like formation that I would throw.

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Empathy and Other Psychic Senses

Half a lifetime ago, when I was but a wee faun of a mage, I had a number of talents that bore little resemblance or relevance to the sort of power I wanted as a practitioner of magic.  I had no access to whatever community elders there may have been, and the internet was not the deep well of knowledge it is today.(1)  It was my first year of high school and, although I cracked my first book on astrology at the age of thirteen, I had been practicing magic for no more than nine months—probably just since the beginning of the summer—with a repertoire limited to a stripped-out version of the LBRP which I had found on a message board, and about the most simple elemental energy-work you can imagine.  My chief occult interests at that time were circles of protection,  the sort of aura sight seen in bad martial arts anime, and astral projection.

I was totally unprepared for the full panorama of what psychic senses really feel like.  To this day, one of my very few crystal-clear memories of high school is of walking down the hall, looking at people and knowing things: “They’re really in love.”  “They’re not, but they’re having sex.”  “She’s cheating on him.”  These thoughts, these knowings, were alien to me: I didn’t know the students in question, and I would not discover my taste for gossip for another five or six years.  But I was absolutely certain of each and every thing that burst into my mind as I turned my gaze on each set of couples I passed on my way to English class.  The knowing, the invasion of those unwitting people’s privacy, terrified me.  I shoved the knowledge out of my head, and slammed the door closed behind it.

Over the course of the next two years, as I met more and more magical practitioners, several of them were the sort that identified as “empaths”.  In particular, one of my close friends and mentors.  The talent never seemed to bring him much pleasure, so at first I felt that I’d made the right call … but around the time I graduated high school, I started to wonder what I was missing. 

Medeia had a friend—an off-and-on student and lover—that we hung out with some times.  Hearing the above story, he offered to help me out.  Unfortunately, as it turned out, he was less than helpful.  His solution was brute force: we sat down and entered a trance; I let him into my head; he found the door, and kicked it in.  It hurt, and I panicked, and tried to slam it shut.  But the “door” was broken, now, and wouldn’t close all the way.

My practice was never very regular back in the day.  It certainly wasn’t founded on banishing or meditation.  If it had been, that shit might have just sorted itself out on its own, before I blew my circuit-breaker.  Even after that dramatic event, my psychic senses have always been a little wonky.  I have experienced “empathy” not as a knowledge of what others are feeling, but a direct, vicarious, and often unknowing and unwelcome experience of it: I walk into a room where someone’s in a bad mood, and suddenly so am I.  Of course I always picked up unpleasant emotions first, and often exclusively.  Living with Aradia, we frequently shared physical pains, and occasionally panic attacks.  And you, my dear readers, may recall some complaints about the psychic toxicity of the mall.

Shielding is the answer, of course.  It’s time for the next round of experiments to begin.

1 – These were the wild, early days of IRC and CompuServe.  HTML was shiny and new.  FTP was the preferred method of sharing files, and GOPHER was still relevant.  The internet was so small that there were published books of internet addresses, much like a Yellow Pages, and people used them.  I’ll stop now before I make anyone else feel even older than I already do typing out this footnote.

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HPF 2012: The Blessings of Dionysus Upon you All


"Bacchus" by Caravaggio.

“Bacchus” by Caravaggio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flannigan’s Right Hook was playing their cover of Paint it Black as Aradia and I stumbled back from one of the furthest-flung encampments at Gaea, still high from our first shamanic journey.  That was Friday night of HPF 2009, our first year together; they played again the following year on the Sunday night main-stage, to which they returned  this year.  I missed the first part of this show, too, eventually abandoning half of my encampment to their face-painting shenanigans.

After the quiet of rest of the festival, walking up to the stage was like running face-first into a cacophonic wall of neon light and raucous sound.  A beautiful, much-needed wall, the impact with which brought me back to 2k9 and ‘10, returning to those moments in cyclical time.  The guitars, the cello, the electric fiddle … it was catharsis, pure and powerful.

I needed it desperately.  The festival, to that point, had had its ups and downs.  The main ritual, the day before, had been an utter disaster from which we were all—despite the passage of twenty-four hours, multiple cleansing rituals, and the completion of the public closing ritual just hours before—still recovering.  Even the land was stained.

So I stood there, vibrating with the music, and trying to let go.  To let go of my frustration with the Sacred Experience Committee.  To let go of my frustration with my camp-mates, most of whom had not yet made it to the pavilion[1].  To let go of my desire for the festival—which I have been attending since I was eighteen years old, to which I have introduced probably a dozen people at this point, and to which I had brought three “virgins” this very year—to be perfect, and just enjoy it as it was in the then and the now.  Perfection doesn’t exist in this world.  I’m skeptical that it exists anywhere.  …. So why, then, do I get so upset when things turn out to be less than perfect?

The music was amazing, the light show was a blast, and I was drinking thoroughly-blessed wine.  And yet, I was still struggling to find the fun.  My ambivalence must have been clear.  When Aradia asked me if I was alright, I didn’t lie.

Aradia and Aurora had been to one of the workshops I’d missed on account of my work exchange obligations.  The workshop was on aura cleansing and chakra balancing.  Together, as I stood there listening to the music, they worked over my energetic bodies until I was almost in tears.  Finally, something inside me broke loose, the tears came, my aura opened up, and I was able to let go and find the fun.  Power filled me, and a few sudden insights.

The band was clearly having the time of their lives, too.  Somehow, bottles of mead kept finding their way on stage.  At one point, the band stopped to toast the audience.  I raised my glass and toasted them back: “The blessings of Dionysus upon you all.”

My wine, as I said, was well-blessed.  Recognizing that I was not the only one in my encampment stained by the miasma of the previous night’s ritual, I took the box of wine Aurora had offered for the purposes, and called upon Dionysus to bless it so that all who drank of it would be purged of the stain and incited to sacred revelry.  I wish I’d thought to wright down the specifics, but I kinda got lost in the moment.  I completed the blessing by pouring a libation in a circle around the box; suddenly, it was “hot” to the touch.

“Holy shit,” said Aradia.  “What did you just do?”

When I toasted the band, my blessing spread to their bottles.  But one of the things about working with gods and spirits, I guess, is that once you start talking to them, they’re listening more than you realize.   And I had said “upon you all.”  Little lights started going off in the audience as the blessing spread to those bottles.  And then little bells started ringing in my head as other bottles throughout camp were lighted with the same blessing, too.

It was about that time that the rest of our encampment showed up, beaming and with faces painted.  The wine flowed liberally and, when the concert was over, we found a secluded place to load a bowl while they lit the bonfire.

The tenor of the evening was changed, radically, and for the better.

1 – I love you guys, but you can’t spend five days camped with anyone and not end up a bit frustrated at some point.


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