Voices

“What are you doing out here?” I’d heard the door. I didn’t have to open my eyes to know it was her. I was laying on my back on the front walk, letting the cold from the stones seep through my flannel shirt and my skin and my subcutaneous fat, and settle in the space in my chest.

Moping, I didn’t answer. Sinking into the earth, and failing even at that. “Thinking.”

“It’s cold.”

“It is?” It was an honest question; I hadn’t really felt it. Autumn was coming on slow, but it was coming.

I felt tiny hands on face. “Wake up, Daddy. Bye, Daddy.”

“Bye?” I opened my eyes and my daughter was right there, bent over my face and giggling.

“She wanted to go to the park,” my spouse explained. “I thought maybe you could get some writing done.”

I sat up like a glacier retreating. “Thanks.”

“Do you have something to work on?”

“I’m open to suggestion,” I sighed more than answered, and she gave me a peck on the cheek.

“You’ll think of something,” she insisted, confident. “Remember the conversation we had earlier?” Then she and the baby were gone, and the house rang with her silence.

I turned the earlier conversation over in my head and wondered what I had to add. Sure enough, my thoughts sorted themselves like salt through a shaker and I hurriedly began to type.

Creating Traditions

We hadn’t actually made plans for Mabon.

In and of itself, fall equinox isn’t a big holiday for either of us. However, the fiber show that falls on this weekend is one we’ve attended every year since we first moved up here. It was the very first one we attended together, in fact.

To the toddler, we extolled the virtues of looking at sheep, at rabbits, at llamas. She enjoyed the livestock at an earlier event this summer, and was looking forward to it. The rabbits ended up being a hard sell, but she loved the sheep and the llamas.

Coming out of the livestock barn, I spotted a gentleman working on something in one of the booths. I pointed him out to my wife, and when we got there they wanted to look in. The booth was full of handmade brooms, and as we walked by he completed one.

My spouse already has a ritual broom, and I asked if they needed a new one.

They didn’t, but we both noticed that the baby was quite taken with the brooms. My spouse noticed that there were a number of half-size brooms likned up, so they asked the baby which she liked.

The baby tried two or three before settling on the next one almost from the moment it was in her hands. She eagerly swept at the surface of the grass as I paid, and then carried the broom herself for quite a while, sweeping or twirling it in her hands.

I think the best traditions and holidays tend to arise organically. This was already a tradition, and adding a first broom only adds to it. The baby has a ritual tool she can grow into. And this holiday will be a little more special going forward.

Agnosticism and Faith and the Hole In My Brain

I still don’t know.

You remember the MRI I mentioned back around Labor Day? The one where I was supposed to have the results on Wednesday? Well it’s a week past Wednesday, I’ve emailed and called my doctor, and I still haven’t heard anything. I haven’t yet had a nervous breakdown yet. I attribute this to Lady Prozac and my patient spouse, who pointed out that the last time I got bad news about a tumor it was very prompt, so it’s probably fine. 

After trying to reach my doctor’s office again today I spent a few minutes freaking out and then sitting with my fear. I’m scared of abandoning my spouse and my child. I’m scared of all the things I haven’t written. I’m scared of all the ways my mind can betray me. 

What I ended up thinking about, though, is that the tumor is there in my brain regardless. It has been there my entire life. It may be growing, and it may not be growing, but whatever it is doing, it was doing it before I had the MRI. Knowing doesn’t change what is actually happening in my head.

So: I am an agnostic on the subject of my tumor. Most of the time I hope it is harmless, static, not doing anything much. I have no way of knowing unless it’s time for my alternate-year MRI, or unless something goes very wrong. (And depending on the wrong, I might not get the chance to know then.) I believe the thing that let’s me stay functional. I probably am fine. It’s statistically likely, and yes, they would almost certainly have called if something was worrisome. My OCD is better and my aphasia isn’t worse and I’m probably fine.

But I wonder: what if it’s not fine?

And I believe in the powers because the alternative if a lifetime of self-delusion and schizophrenia and a world where nothing makes sense, not even my senses. But sometimes I wonder: what if none of it is real?

I was asked recently who or what motivates me as a writer, and as I chewed it over, I realized that a big part of my motivation is fear.

I wrote that last line and then I thought about it for a while, stepped outside and raised my arms. I called: Hekate! Mara! Redbird!

I offered: I make a gift to you of my fear!

I doubted, and then I shook my head. My fear must be precious, because I give it so much space in my heart and my mind. It motivates me and it protects me. Many of my virtues spring from it. I either need to learn to work with it or I need to learn to cast it aside. Do with it as you see fit.

And then I made my offerings as I usually do lately, and since I didn’t bring another way to divine a response, I unlocked the car and turned on the radio.

I was greeted by: Every storm runs, runs out of rain
Just like every dark night turns into day

And it was so perfect an answer that I wondered if it could be that easy, especially when I’d just been writing a blog post about agnosticism. How am I supposed to make my point when the powers are being so obvious? And yet I know that it’s only really obvious to me. I’ve divined by song since the 90s, never in any kind of system so much as I know when a song is meant to be for me. But wasn’t that just the same thing – having faith that patterns meant something, when I had no way of knowing for sure?

About that time the song ended, and the next one I recognized almost immediately.

Feels like the Holy Ghost running through ya
When I play the highway FM
I find my soul revival
Singing every single verse
Yeah I guess that’s my church

It’s a song called My Church, for fuck’s sake, about finding meaning in the songs on the radio and the heart of the wind and I thought okay, okay, you win.

You win.

And that’s the thing about my fears, and the gods. I can’t prove the powers exist in any objective way. I can’t prove that my fears are impossible, even if they’re statistically unlikely. That doubt worms in despite the drugs and the therapy techniques and the meditation… but throwing off that agnosticism feels so good, even when I know it’ll be back. Giving myself permission to believe things, to try them on and see if I’m happier with them or without them, is my big act of faith. I can always stop having faith later if it’s not working out for me.

So: You win. For now, I believe, because the alternative is worse. I need to go back to writing more, because the alternative is worse. I ask: Hekate! Mara! Redbird! I make a bridle of my compulsions, I make a saddle of my goals! Help me to tame my fears and to ride them out. Show me how to find motivation without being swallowed up!

And I say: Voice of Fear, I see you, I hear you. I call you out. Work with me. Let us have a partnership. 

I have a Muse who inspires me, but I suspect the Voice of Fear is a title for someone who’s been around, and pushing at me, for a while. I think I need to learn to take from, and give to, both of them.

Why do I write like I’m running out of time? Because you are, he whispers. But I’m running out of time whether I write or not. Energy moves whether I believe in it or not. The gods answer as they will, regardless of how I feel in that moment.

I feel better when I write. I am happier when I make. I feel better when I believe in the gods. I am happier when I have faith. I feel better when I accept that I will die eventually, and I am happier when I tell myself that it’s probably not now. I won’t know until I do know. I’m agnostic. But I choose to have faith, I pick a side and march forward, I keep going, because the alternative is to… I don’t even know. I just keep moving forward.

Is There Community in #mypolytheism?

I’ve been a member of a number of religious groups. Whether parish, congregation, sangha, temple, cult, grove or Heathen Sunday School class, I actively seek out opportunities to compare notes with others about my spiritual and metaphysical experiences. I’m happy to be a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation; I enjoy the support of other people, being part of something larger than myself, and working with others toward a common goal informed by our understanding of virtue and ethics.

What I have never found, aside from the companionable understanding of my spouse and my sister, are coreligionists. I have friends who have aspects of their practice that align with mine in many ways, but I have no group I can go to where their offerings, their powers, and their metaphors will be the same as mine. I made my peace with this back when I was doing Project Protagonist.

I can’t help but feel like trying to find a single religious community that fulfills all of my needs is likely to end in trying to fit myself into the beliefs of the larger community. My faith and my religious experience and #mypolytheism are small scale; they exist within myself and my close family, within my mantra repetition and my offerings in the dark, within my spouse and I discussing theology at midnight while the baby sleeps, within my daughter waving and saying “thank you” at Mara’s altar. #mypolytheism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in a wider context, but it exists apart from that wider context.

Community exists outside of my specific beliefs and experiences of the spirits and powers, outside of my household and my family. My community is the UU church, not because CUUPS encompasses my beliefs (it doesn’t particularly, and tends to have meetings I can’t make it to besides), but because the people there have been welcoming and because I have different things in common with them.

My values and ethics come from my gods, but they are not unique to my gods. I sought out a community that embraced many of the same values I do, and my spouse and I decided the UU church and values were the best fit. They value family enough to provide childcare and religious education. UUs value spiritual exploration and questioning, social justice and compassion and dignity. We come together on Sunday mornings (and sometimes Friday nights, or Tuesdays, or Saturday afternoons…) because we believe in trying to create a community based on those values. The UU church strengthens my understanding of how faith and the world interact, and in return my gods send me back to the church. (Redbird’s really excited about me teaching OWL this year, let me tell you.)

My polytheist community is on The Cauldron and Facebook and, yes, Tumblr, in pockets of people and Skype chats and IRC, places where I feel comfortable talking about what I’m working on and getting feedback. I enjoy these kinds of places precisely because everyone there has a different background, different deities, different ways of acting on what we know about magic and religion. What each group gives is a common language, a context in which we can discuss various techniques and experiences so that others are more likely to understand what we’re talking about and coach their advice or encouragement in the same language.

Online community has other benefits, as Estara T’Shirai outlined in the post that planted the seed for this one. Facebook and message boards fit into my busy schedule, allowing me more time to discuss the gods than I’m able to carve out for coffee shop salons or pagan store classes. I missed so many meetups and rituals when I was working two retail-sector jobs, but I could always find a space online to talk about offerings or rituals or what I was reading.

In a related vein, #mypolytheism offers a language and a time in which to have a conversation. Unitarian Universalism offers me people to have a conversation with. Maybe none of these people believe the exact same things as me, or work with the same powers and spirits. Who cares? Not me, not them. Neither did most of the the druids or the heathens or any of the explicitly pagan groups I’ve attended. Having my own beliefs, interacting with #mypolytheism, doesn’t stop my from interacting with communities both online and face to face. They’re simply two related, but separate, concepts.

Uncertainty

I spent a chunk of my long weekend (and praise and thanks to the powers who helped me land a job where I have weekends off and paid holidays again) in a large tube, getting pictures taken of my brain and making sure the hole in it is right where I left it. Of course, thanks to the long weekend, it’ll be several days before a radiologist looks at it and sends their interpretation along to my doctor.

In the meantime… well, praise and thanks to Lady Prozac, handmaiden to Delirium, because I’m actually not a nervous wreck for probably the first time since the original tumor was found. I am still anxious about the results, of course. Despite the fact that I put off getting the MRI as long as possible (because I hate getting MRIs), suddenly now I can’t get an answer soon enough.

There’s been a lot of uncertainty to go around the last few months. I’m settling into the new job now, but there’s a learning curve and what makes me feel settled and sure in a job is feeling like I’m good at what I do. I don’t expect to have that feeling as a brand new employee but not having it is still leaving me feeling a little adrift. Not to mention that now that I have a job we’re talking about moving… 

I keep waiting for it to settle down, but it never really does. I can work to deal with that, though, and find peace where I can, now that I know what it looks like. 

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.