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.

Playing With Sharp Things

The problem with trying to gather up everything of a particular category in one place is that one has to remember where all of the things from that category are. If I’ve forgotten where something is, or even that I owned it, you’d think it’d be easy to cast aside but my memory is terrible and I’ve had things disappear during terrible moves before, so when something seems to be nowhere to be found, well, either it’ll turn up or it won’t, so I move on and put the thought aside.

In this case, it was an array of pieces from Odin’s altar, from the last time Odin had a proper altar. Spearhead, knife, other knife, small sword-shaped letter opener, a necklace I used to wear for Loki and a few other bits and bobs. I come by my obsession with sharp things honestly.

I don’t quiiiiiite have room in my Magical Knives Drawer for more knives, but we all know I’m going to find space for them.

Have I talked about my Ridiculous Knife Collection? Because it’s ridiculous. I have your normal assortment of metal ritual blades and bowie knives and daggers and pocket knives I’ve pressed into service when I somehow managed not to have a fancy knife to hand. I also have knives made of wood, bone, and glass. You know, because you never know exactly how you might want to tweak your elemental associations. (If I wanted to, I could set up an altar where every element was represented by a knife. That generates some interesting energy of its own, as you can probably imagine.)

I actually did take out and consider all of these when I was doing the original KonMari (except, of course, for the ones I just found). The thing is? I really do love them all. They each have different energies, associations and uses. As ridiculous as it might be to have a Magical Knife Drawer full of magical knives, hey, I’ve done much more ridiculous things. If I’m embracing what makes me happy and has worked for me for a long time, well, stabby things are definitely on that list.

The Boring Stuff

I found my fucking bone runes.

Also my two missing tarot decks, and all of the hematite and copper jewelry I used to wear for private, formal ritual, and a few other things besides.

I found them in a storage box that I thought held something else entirely. In other words, it was pure chance I found them now and not three months ago or three years from now. And yet I found them at the perfect time, immediately after I’d designated a storage container for divination tools and other special pieces.

It’s hard to know, sometimes, whether you’re on the right track or the wrong one. Everything can look like it was meant to happen if you trace the path far enough. Everything is fated, if fate is the sum total of everything we’ve already done and the choices we’ve made.

So, I found the damn bone runes. I finally have all my divination and close practice stuff together in one bag, for the first time since before the baby was born. The KonMari practice itself is… well, done, in one sense. A bit on-hold in a way. Ongoing, in another.

Lots of ongoing in my life right now. I’m trying to juggle current responsibilities and enchanting for some new options as well as doing the practical steps necessary for those new options to work out. I need to get the garden box planted this week. I’m working on a post about magical notebooking.

Gotta remember that slow and steady will get me closer than sitting still. I’ve had decent success with my discipline, though I could always be better.

I don’t have enough of a point to this post, but it’s been open for two days now, so I’m just going to call it.

Beltane, Belatedly

In my post about Walpurgisnacht, I talked about accepting my emptiness. I have been mulling the idea of seeing myself as full of something, even if that something is nothingness. I have identified myself with shadows and voids before in my life, and as goth as it sounds, that association is still a comfortable one for me.

The day after, my family got up and went to church at the UU, where a friend from local druid and pagan groups was in charge of a service celebrating Beltane and discussing the important of embodiment. Despite years of dance and martial arts classes, I’ve never quite felt at home in my body. Dissociation and body dysphoria are both recurring issues, and while I’ve made progress with everything from shape-shifting meditation to strength training to hormone therapy and surgery, there are still plenty of bad days to go around.

Embodiment is shadow work for me. I can sit with my darkness far more easily than I can sit still in my skin. Jung talks about being stuck in a stage of melancholia when the shadow is brought forth to engage with the ego, and compares this to the alchemical stage of nigredo or tenebrositas. I wonder if the process of transitioning is bound up in this psychological process?

I’ve certainly felt rather stuck in a year-long dark night of the soul. I get the feeling that internal work overlaps with what Hekate wants to see from me. After all, Jung also talked about the nekiya and katabasis, descents into the underworld, and while he meant it metaphorically, Hekate did nudge me toward Persephone and thence Hades.

I’m still a little boggled by the whole Greek… thing? I guess? One Greek deity was one thing, but I’m getting dangerously close to this being a whole thing and I’m trying to make it clear that I’m not interested in doing a recon route and am not comfortable touching the idea of miasma with a twenty foot pole due to my OCD issues. Hopefully that’s acceptable; if it’s not, I’m willing to opt out, because I don’t want to play chicken with scrupulosity.

And while it feels a bit odd to be doing shadow work as the summer comes on, well, the brightest light casts the darkest shadows, and my shadow work is a bit inside-out anyway.

Silence

Sometimes things are hard to talk about. That may mean they’re things that need to percolate, or things that are hard to explain, or that may mean they’re things we’re hiding. I’m honestly not sure which phase I’m in right now. Working with Hekate is very difficult for me, but that’s more to do with my hang-ups and less with the work itself.

She wants me to keep up with the housekeeping. It’s an uphill battle. I’m making slow progress… I think. It’s hard to be sure in my head.

She wants me to do more magic, and do it less half-heartedly. I’m good at sabotaging myself, despite knowing I’m doing it, and I remain bad at moving my set point. Working at a book store with borrowing privileges for staff means I went right back to my old habit of Reading All The Things, especially when I should be Doing Some Of The Things.

I’m trying different avenues of job hunt magic. I’ve been having… reasonable success with regular meditation, though not as regular as I would like. I’ve been adjusting altars and trying to bring better energy in.

So far the magical notetaking is at least helping. I’ve got a little over six months of trying different things in my notebook. It’s probably about time for an initial post on the subject, even though I’m still tweaking it all the time. If I’ve learned anything from following a bunch of planner/notebook people on YouTube, it’s that you never stop tweaking.

That’s pretty true of my practice as well. Never stop adjusting it, always keep moving forward.

Walpurgisnacht

I remember being nineteen, standing with my then-best friend in the dark of a glass campus walkway on a new moon night, looking at our reflections and seeing someone else in mine. It was terrifying but also exciting, proof to my mind that this was real and that I wasn’t wasting my time on other realms and the supernatural. I used to do a lot of stupid magical things to get that thrill of realness, to see if I could and to see what would happen.

It’s not that I would recommend that kind of reckless thrillseeking to somebody new to magic; actions have consequences, and yes, some of them I’m still living with. But I used to take risks, all kinds of risks, considered risks and desperate risks and insane risks. I’m not sure when that changed.

I mean, a few years ago I quit my job and my significant other and I sold everything we couldn’t fit in the car and moved to the Pacific Northwest with no plan. It worked out, obviously. But since then, perhaps because of the OCD and the anxiety, I’ve struggled with even reasonable risks.

“What do you want from me?” I ask Hekate.

“Magic,” she says.

And I don’t know how to answer that. You’d think it would be easy, given how much stupid magical shit I’ve done, but somewhere along the way I lost my confidence. Everything I do feels empty, and that emptiness isn’t suited to magic. In the thin dark of Walpurgisnacht I confess my emptiness.

I have made progress. Asking for Mars’s energy has inspired discipline. I’ve meditated, written, made progress on chores. But the emptiness only recedes temporarily, because whatever I am given seems always on the verge of slipping away. When I close my eyes I feel the ragged edges of a hole in my chest. I’m not sure what it is, whether it’s depression or an energy body issue or just my nature. At one point I thought maybe the cancer was a product or a representation, and the double mastectomy would remove it or something, but you can’t remove a hole. You can only patch it or fill it, and if you don’t tend to it, your bucket drains away no matter what you do.

I suppose that leaves two choices. I can find a way to patch the bucket, and look to be refilled, or I can accept that an empty bucket is still full, just of something else entirely.

It hurts to look at myself when I am empty and self-destructive and desperate for that realness, especially since I’m not nineteen anymore and I have people who rely on me. But I’m not doing them a whole lot of good the way I am right now anyway, and I can push myself and work with that emptiness without doing things that only sound like a good idea if you want to be a protagonist in a horror novel.

Sometimes the Dark comes with a warm blanket, and sometimes she comes with stompy boots. I need stompy boots, and strong hands that don’t let me flinch away from the mirror. I hate looking at myself, but I have to see myself. Since last fall, really, I’ve been treading water. I spent March caught in a riptide, and April giving in to drowning grief.

I’m tired. I’m ready to crawl onto the shore and let the seawater drain away and confront the emptiness. To find fullness in the void, if that’s what it takes. If I’m going to be thrown into the fucking abyss, I might as well cross it, right? There’s no point in going back to the other side of the sea. Hekate is known as a guide in dark places. I used to know how to trust the Dark. I don’t know when I forgot that.

Teach me, Lady. Teach me, Lady. Teach me, Lady.

Metaphysical KonMari: Spirits and Powers

When I started this process, I was actually eager to leap ahead to “decluttering the gods,” even before I finished the earlier steps I outlined for myself. I was convinced that giving myself some kind of clean (or almost-clean, anyway) slate was the way to solve my anxiety.

Since then, I’ve come around to the idea that what I really need to tidy up my expectations for myself. Rather than getting hung up on whether I have enough or do enough for any individual god, maybe I should focus my effort on creating a sustainable spriritwork practice that’s not dependant on adding more and more work or complexity to my system.

There’s always going to be another spirit. Since I’ve been diving back into Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery, I’ve recommitted myself to active magical work, and that requires working with a variety of spirits depending on the project and my goals. More than that, months ago I read about the idea of a personal spirit retinue, a kind of divination exercise that allows you to find out the spirits who are already interested in and interacting with you in your life. I haven’t pursued having someone else perform this divination for me, but I have been paying attention as much as I can and asking those interested in me to make themselves known. Being open to a project like this is basically the opposite of reducing the number of spirits and powers in my life.

Rather than fight it, though, I’m looking to switch from individual offerings to more generalized offerings aside from when I’m actively working on things that would result in specific offerings. Taking a bit of inspiration from this post, I’ve been experimenting for a few weeks now with offerings for “those who watch over or take interest in me or my family”. I’ve been asking them to let me know who they are when they want to step up; I’ve had some dreams pushing individuals to the forefront and I’m trying to encourage them to let me know what I should be doing. (I can’t do a practice exactly like the wet egg in the link, if for no other reason than my area has a truly amazing ant problem if I so much as leave a few crumbs out too long.) One dream pushed me to reach out to the spirit I tag 1934 Indian, after the motorcycle I see him on. Another dream reminded me of a spirit who shows as much interest in my attempts at cooking as at sorcery.

There’s still Mara, as ever, and in fact I’ve gotten suggestions to shake up the way I worship her again. There’s Hekate, and Odin and Loki, Persephone and Hades, Ganesha, Guan Yin and Guan Yu, my ancestor work and local land and city spirits and others who simply don’t have names. But the difference is that for once I don’t feel overwhelmed.

To put it in KonMari terminology: they all bring me joy. What didn’t bring joy was my expectations of how “offerings” are supposed to happen, so my attitude is what needs to be fixed up. Now I keep going, and I keep refining, until I find a practice that works in the long haul.

Let Your Breath Out and Wait

the river called me down
I didn’t know her name
just the voice calling
across summer so hot the air
stole back everything I drank
til it hung on me, a heavy
drunk like Josh expecting me
to carry him home Sunday morning
I collapsed under the weight
of the shore

I burned the bridges I stood on
collapsed into her arms
and wept, or drowned,
shrouded in charred skin
mourning as molted feathers drifted
across the surface of the water,
gathering in waterlogged eddies
like rice left along the curb
as the car pulls away

she was so close as I stood on the rocks
just past the riptide, just out of my depth
all froth and lace and brokenshell-sharp teeth
the song pounds through my chest
stone brown as my skin, hot as my blood
under my feet as my heart picks out
the rhythm of the river and I jump

between the beats

too fast and not far enough
I can’t tell if the shock is the water
or the rock or my lights
going out as she pulls me close
whispers the lyrics as I hum
vibrating with melody
coughing, choking, spitting her out
but never straying far from her either
never listening to good sense
when she opens her arms and calls my name