Psychic Hygiene, Miasma and Me

This post was inspired by Ravew’s Purity and Devotion.

I didn’t really understand what Prozac could do, when I hesitantly agreed to medication. I thought it would reset me to my normal levels of functionality but it’s been a bit of a lightning bolt. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Knowing I had an early schedule this week, I went to bed at reasonable hours all weekend. (This turned out to be a good idea because apparently night weaning means the baby gets up at 6:30 on weekends now.) I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night despite having to do chores after the baby went to bed. I fell asleep in a reasonable amount of time, and was not kept awake by self-loathing or rehashing mistakes I made ten years ago.

I got up this morning just after five, along with my very gracious spouse who altered their schedule to accommodate mine. I felt gratitude that they were doing this for me, but not guilt. 

This is all so new. 

My practice includes no standards of purification, no states of uncleanness. It never will again. I have OCD, and am prone to being all too aware of my failures and the ways in which I am incomplete, broken and unacceptable. I drown easily in the fear of being tainted. 

My ex, at one point, would often question me when I disagreed with her: “I think you’re being influenced by nasty spirits. Work on your shielding. Work on your psychic hygiene. The real you would agree with me and with the gods.”

Staring at it now, broken down like that, it sounds ridiculous, but at the time it made perfect sense. So I banished. I prayed. I meditated. I learned a dozen shielding techniques and used them all, layer over layer. I banished some more. It was the metaphysical equivalent of washing my hands compulsively, and I had no idea what I was doing, only that I had to keep doing it or I would be infected and hurt everyone.

This was a particularly fucked up instance, but ritual uncleanliness is often a stick used for beating. Look at the taboos around menstruation. Look at the way humanity tends to turn from death, from untouchables, from lepers both literal and metaphorical.

I’m better now. I learned what scrupulosity was, and how to spot it in my thoughts, and how to chase it out. Miasma may be a useful concept for other people, but it is not and cannot be for me.

And that’s okay. My practice seems to be fine without it. My powers do not ask me to ritually purify, and there’s not really a precedent for it in heathen practice anyway. When I have the energy for cleanliness, it’s going to my apartment, because that matters more to my gods. I’m down in the mud and the blood of living and that’s just my way and the way of my powers.

My Polytheism

Inspired by here and here and here and here and here

My polytheism is easy. No quibbling about definitions of gods or spirits; they’re all powers, they’re all addressed the same. The powers that talk to me are the ones I talk to. What I perceive, I consider real. What works is what works.

My polytheism is difficult. It’s timey-wimey, squishy, non-linear. It’s occasionally psychotic, often uncomfortable, always complicated. No answer is complete unto itself. The opposite of a great truth is also true, as Niels Bohr said.

My polytheism is taking out the trash and doing the laundry. It’s finding the energy to cook dinner and tell my daughter to say night night to Mara. It’s gods who know I am able to do my best for them when I am able to do the best for myself.

My polytheism is Norse and Hellenic and eclectic, it is Buddhist and Taoist and Catholic, it is Narnian and Rainbowlander and Wild. It is undeniably the product of my life to this point. It is pop cultural because I am pop cultural, the product of growing up in a sitcom. It is academic because I threw myself on the mercy of academia trying to figure myself out.

My holiest of places is the Library, because it encompasses both fiction and non-fiction, and doesn’t say one or the other is more important. My sacred act is writing. My ritual is plugging in the keyboard, booting up the laptop.

Also my polytheism is taking my meds and going to bed when Redbird tells me to, so I’m going to leave this here.

Fulfilled

You may remember that I gave Redbird a month.

I started my new job this week, almost exactly one month after the conversation.

Thank you, Redbird. Thank you, Jupiter and Hekate. Thank you, Mara and Ganesha.

So… now what?

Thus far, Redbird has mostly been working me through specific energywork techniques. I’m not yet sure what she is going to want me to do next, or how she fits into my regular pantheon, but I’m open to finding out. In the next couple of weeks, as I get more space in my head, I expect to spend more time with her.

Training is a new and tiring schedule. Right now I’m keeping up my daily recitation for Hekate and doing some kind of general offerings every day and that’s as much as I can say.

I have a lot going on – in spirituality, in work, in other commitments. But for a change I feel like maybe I’ll get the chance to catch up if I just keep going.

I’m Psychiatric Now

Is it peace or is it Prozac
I don’t care
No need to know that
– Cheryl Wheeler

A few years ago, my mom mentioned off-handedly that there had been a funny mix-up with my dad’s new anxiety medicine. 

I had long suspected that I got my genetic seat at the anxiety spectrum from my dad, but things like “psychologists” and “mental illness” and “mood drugs” were not welcome in my house growing up. There was never anything said, exactly, but it was there in what didn’t get mentioned to the doctor and in what seemed normal because my dad did it too and in the way my parents reacted the one time my high school required I get a psychologist to sign off that I was safe to return to school. 

And while I’ve always been of the opinion that drugs are wonderful for the people they work on, I was equally sure that I wasn’t cut out for them – I was “not that bad” and besides my ex didn’t like the idea of drugs and I didn’t want to have that fight. Not that bad. I’m getting by. I’m fine. 

Except I wasn’t fine. I have had good times and bad times, but the bad times have been getting worse. I took my Yaya’s passing harder than I expected to, and job hunting is a dehumanizing process that wears me down. I caught myself telling the baby things that were definitely my anxiety talking. I thought about the times growing up when I can see how my dad’s illness impacted me.

And then I asked my doctor what she recommended, therapy or medication, given how therapy had gone for me before. She said both was an option. Tonight I took Prozac for the first time. 

I spent an embarrassingly long time staring down the bottle. I know tons of people who have benefitted from it and similar drugs. I have no problem thinking of myself as mentally ill. I’d already admitted I needed outside help. Why was I giving myself a panic attack over it? 

Well, the answer is because I’m fucking crazy and if my anxiety were logical, I wouldn’t be crazy. So I thought about wanting to be better for my child’s sake, and then I took the pill. 

I’m terrible at self-care. I’m much more successful when I frame it in terms of someone else’s needs. My child needs me to raise her well. My spouse needs to be able to depend on me. Destroying myself hurts them, so I should stop.

Whatever keeps me moving forward, right?

Scrupulosity + Distance

Red Lady - red silhouette against a brown backgroundTwo weeks ago, a spirit came to me and said she wanted my attention. She’s poked here and there at recognizable names, but for the moment the best is Redbird, a spirit from the Empty Sky side whom I haven’t had much experience with before. Redbird is one of the four “children” of the Dragon and the Firebird.

In the oracle deck, Redbird is associated with knowledge and with small beginnings that turn out to be big outcomes. She’s a raw enough power that she doesn’t have a simple element or portfolio – there’s fire, there’s magic, there’s sex and death and creation. She’s the most like her mother out of the four children, but she has her differences. She and her siblings don’t ride often or for very long.

So far she’s largely instructing me in how to do certain kinds of magic more efficiently. In exchange, she gets to direct the magical effects of my practice work, so it’s basically been split 50/50 between work for me and work for her.

One of the things I’m stressed about is how many obligations I have going on at the moment, though. When she came in and asked for my time, I told her that I could give her a few weeks but I need to focus on finding a job before I can give much attention to anything else. The job hunt is playing havoc with my anxiety, enough that I’m thinking about asking my doctor for medication or a referral.

Adding another long-term esoteric practice sounds exhausting, but I also need to accept the help I’m offered.

“I’ll give you a month,” I told her. “Help me find a job by the end of it and we can talk.” This is a lot like what I said to Juno, several months ago, and that resulted in me getting very close to a job but losing out at the last moment. I’m hoping she comes though; I’ll be happy to give her more time if she can.

Things are going reasonably well with the Dark Lady, as far as I can tell.

But Mara… Mara feels different. I continue to offer to Mara but I’m feeling at a loss. It’s hard to know what’s going on there, and divination has largely turned up ‘it’ll work out’ messages from her, but I’m literally incapable of not worrying. Part of me is worried she’s unhappy about something – that maybe she didn’t like Merciful Earth, or she didn’t like how long it took to produce. That I made some mistake when I got her her own altar, or when I expanded her space, or when I konmari-ed the space. That I’m not making enough room in my budget for charity. That I’m not spending enough focus on her in her season.

It’s almost certainly religious scrupulosity talking, I know that, but knowing it has no effect. Summer is her season. If I’d gotten my shit together last fall and done my six months with the Dark Lady starting with Samhain, I’d be on the correct schedule… but I didn’t, and it’s not like I can go back in time and feel bad when I could have done something about it.

I can try and make enough time for Mara too, and I do, but I just end up worrying whether it’s enough, which is not a problem I’ve had before. Usually my religiously scrupulous tendencies manifest differently. But I know distance is sometimes normal in relationships with powers, and I’m trying not to read more into it than is justified.

It’s a struggle with myself, and ultimately I’m answerable to myself as well as the spirits. I keep going as best I can. I do what I can, I offer what I can, and then I move on.

I can only hppe it’s enough.

Spirals

down sie went into the mountains, into the earth
deeper than sie could ever remember going
down this far, hir head hurt and sie lost track
of where sie began and ended
there was so much sie had not remembered
and hir Mother would only say that sie
had already chosen not to know

deep in the earth are the labyrinths
past the grass snakes and the turnips
past the springy loam and the roots
past the groundwater and the worms

you are here again, the labyrinth said

again?

you may walk. the price does not change, wyrm.

unsure what that meant, yet
unwilling to wait and miss hir stop
sie went down, down and curled up
shed hir skin and diminished

Politics? In my religion?

Today at the Unitarian Universalist service, there was a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence. Growing up I was vaguely aware that this kind of patriotic thing was done in some churches, but we were Catholic so it never came up, disloyal Papists that we were.

The UUs make no attempt to hide that they are very political. My church is small and more conservative than a lot of my friends, but my friends are super liberal, and the UU folks are trying very hard. UUs march at Pride and take positions on human rights laws and talk about why Black Lives Matter. We’re not perfect about it but this work is a huge part of what it means to be a UU community.

Even when I was Catholic, I grew up with the understanding that religion and politics were intertwined. I grew up in a state and at a time where it was not uncommon for Democrats to be pro-life, and while I never got more conservative than “I wouldn’t choose it but other people should be able to” I knew very clearly how my church expected me to fall. In high school I learned about liberation theology and I think on some level I never forgave the church for failing to live up to it.

Part of the appeal of paganism for me at that time, as a queer teen, was the liberalness of it. I had as much experience with angels as I did with gods and powers, but paganism seemed to be a place that I would be a person, while I was increasingly aware I would always be a person-shaped pile of sin that needed correction in a Catholic church. The need to correct me is what I’d always heard, and what I continued to hear, from society at large. My church, my school, the voices on the television and in the newspaper and just talking around me, they were always letting me know the myriad ways in which my existence was a glitch in an otherwise smooth-running society.exe.

Paganism, at least at first, felt different. Since then I’ve learned that pagans are no better and no worse as a whole than any other group. I’ve learned to accept that I am a glitch, a monster, a danger lurking in dark corners. I do not want my code to be cleaned up by respectability politics, but there they are again. Politics. My existence is inherently political; it must be, because laws are crafted against those like me. I believe in a cosmology that allows for and can even celebrate monsters and glitches, and defends their right to exist, so my religion is inherently political as well.

I exist, and in a country where that is a political statement, a religion that would allow me to exist is political. Demanding life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness is political.

Happy 4th, to those who celebrate.

On Shapeshifting

I was born with misplaced cells in my brain, trying to make it do something it was never meant to do.

This isn’t a metaphor. This was an epidermoid brain tumor.

Pagans talk a lot about being embodied, accepting and learning to love the body we have. Strange fences spring up when we talk about changing our bodies. “Taking care of” our bodies is a good thing. Exercising to change your appearance is acceptable, even encouraged. Tattoos and hair dye are common.

But surgery? Surgery is Too Much. There’s a point where you’re somehow rejecting the body you were “given”. If you’re talking to a certain contingent of the Goddess movement, or some conservative heathens, or other pockets here and there, changing your gender is somewhere on a spectrum between “lying” (to yourself, to other people) and self-mutilation. You’re supposed to love the body you were given.

My body is monstrous: it is incorrect, it is socially unacceptable, it has tried to kill me in multiple ways, with dysphoria and brain tumor and cancer cells. How do you love that which both keeps you alive and tries to kill you?

Embodiment is a crock, but it’s a crock we’re stuck with. I can’t just flip a switch and get along with my body, so I (and my doctors) do what can be done to make my body more comfortable and less murderous. Breasts are removed, taking cancer cells with them. A tumor is gently excised, the scar behind my ear largely forgotten except for biannual checks. Hormones are injected and dysphoria is reduced. A hundred smaller choices add up.

This is shapeshifting. My body and I are still monstrous, but at least we are monstrous on our own terms. I am doing my best to get my “mental self” aligned with my physical self. In the past, that included astral shapeshifting to reduce dysphoria, practicing having a “feminine” shape so that I would feel less uncomfortable in the physical body. These days the shapeshifting is much more bringing the body into alignment with my mental self. It’s more permanent that way.

It’s hard, but in the long run I’m learning an important lesson about embodiment: accept that the body you’re in is yours in the way you’d accept that an apartment you’re living in is yours. Change it so that it works for your life. Don’t have a dining room if you don’t have fancy dinner parties. Add a workshop for your woodworking projects. Embracing embodiment doesn’t mean settling. It means making what you have healthy for you.

The Banquet

she knows what it means
to drag a body up
from the ground, from nothing
taking sharp steps on the way
care, love, giving, all knives beneath
calloused feet and dirt-brown footprints

the black crepe is hung up in the corner
out of the way of smiling life
but always in the corner of your eye
she has waited, frozen and unsure
she has torn lovers apart
in her despair, and mourned

she has made a feast of loneliness
so none will go hungry
there is always another to your right
and another to your left
no matter the laughter in the conversation,
we all know what we’re drinking

salt and copper and spoiled milk
sitting in our mouths
we look straight ahead
stumbling forward, and she will catch us
as we fall and she will free us
from the dirt and she will embrace us
as we are burnt and we will go on walking

Ask Again Later

My sister did a card reading for me the other night, and the takeaway was “don’t worry, keep going.” She kept apologizing and pulling more cards, and the answer kept staying frustratingly the same, because there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell cards “I get that but be more helpful, please.”

I realize I’m the one who picked the theme for the year but somehow I didn’t expect it to be applied to my life for me. I’d say “lesson learned” but… well, ha, probably not.

I have discovered a new kind of stabbing things that I’m enjoying: needle felting! To the left is my new representation of mom!Loki. I’m really pleased with the fire hair. She’s my third project and the first time I’ve experimented with highly technical and complicated design techniques like arms. I can’t tell you the last time I thought so much about how arms work, you guys. And hands!

Needle felt sculpture feels very intuitive to me. It’s easy to pick up and put down, which is a bonus around a toddler. Unlike beading, I don’t need to have a lot of small, easily-lost things out, which is also a bonus around a toddler.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly fleshing out a more complicated but still meaningful daily magical routine. “Just light a candle” is ths survival mode I fall back on when I can’t do anything else, and I’d been in survival mode for too long. I’m adding complexity one thing at a time, trying things on – more daily practices and even a new moon ritual. I figure I can do anything for a little while and see how it goes.

For a while I was doing regular breath meditation after I asked for discipline, but I was struggling a lot with my old friend Falling Asleep Sitting Up, so I switched styles to something a bit more active. It’s working much better. Changing is not quitting.

I’m not sure what’s next. I’ve got some more complicated needle felt ideas I want to work on. Maybe I’ll make figures for some of the spirits I work with that are largely unknown, just to see how challenging it is to get a feel for what they look like.