Eschatology and Daniel Tiger

In the long arc of the Empty Sky, the world ends lots of times. Maybe it’s local or personal. Sometimes it’s changes in geography and even physics. Occasionally, the perception of the past and present itself shifts. The old world is gone.

And the next morning the sun comes up and the story continues.

Right now there’s a lot going on. Yesterday we got approved for a new apartment. It’s on the other side of town, so it isn’t a long distance move, but it’s going to be a lot of work getting ready in the next month. The landlord wants to show the place starting next week, so I have to clean it and declutter and start packing at the same time.

It’s a little sad because this is the place we brought the baby home, where she learned to roll over and crawl and walk and talk. On the other hand, hopefully I’ll stop thinking I hear the cat all the time.

Besides the move itself, I’m trying to see how fast I can get all of my paperwork in order. I’ve been thinking about it since I need to get a new license anyway, and now that thought process is sped up a little. Better safe than sorry.

There’s a lot to worry about right now, and a lot I can be doing. But this move is a good reminder that small magic can add up. I started working with the local spirits near my new job when I went for the first interview, and I know that helped. I kept building the relationship when I started working. It’s an awful housing market right now, but when my spouse and I asked for help they delivered almost immediately.

None of us has control over the big picture. All of us have control over some small corner, and the whole point of magic is to increase that control. Well, I’m taking that and running with it: wards and charms and protections, blessings and curses, luck and strength to those who need it. More offerings and stronger relationships, that they drop gifts in my lap and open my eyes so I can see them.

It’s hard to focus in on what I can do personally, so I ended up turning to one of my daughter’s favorite shows for advice. On Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, when a big storm damages the neighborhood, the cleanup effort has three steps according to one of my dad role-models, Daniel Striped Tiger: first you help your family, then you help your neighbors, then you help your neighborhood. I think this combines nicely with the reminder to put on my own oxygen mask first – you start in the spheres where you can make the most difference.

Taking care of my family is the biggest thing I can do. My family isn’t just my spouse and kid or any kind of blood family, but it’s the people who know me and whom I know, the people who I know are safe to vent to and who feel the same way about me, even if we don’t always agree or face the same problems. Heartsiblings, best friends, the people who drop everything when you need to talk and vice versa. These people are easy to help because you either know what they need or they’re comfortable telling you what they need. If you’re doing it wrong, they’ll tell you and you’ll listen. That’s family. They’re easier to magic for because they trust you and are open to you and often your wyrd is bound up with theirs in some way. These are the people you’d trust your life to at the end of the world.

Once my family is as stable as I can make it, then there’s neighbors. These are the people who live near me – because a lot of the time, my safety and well-being is intertwined with theirs – and this is also friends and other social groups: for me it’s my church, my online friends,  and my coworkers. For you it might be people in your church or grove, your co-workers, your kid’s classmates, your gaming group, whatever. These are the people whose well-beings directly impact your well-being, either because you care about them or their situation impacts yours or both. I don’t know them as well as my family, so I need to pay more attention to what help they want. But not only do I want my friends to be safe and happy, but if my neighbors are in trouble or my coworkers aren’t able to come to work, I’m likely to be impacted by that too. These are people who you probably know at least a little bit, and who probably are willing to trust your good intentions (and you’re probably able to trust theirs). Ask what they need and help them get it if you can. These are the people who are going to be in the warehouse with you at the end of the world, fighting off zombies with baseball bats. You want them in as good a shape as possible.

The neighborhood is the bigger picture: governments, organizations, movements, demographics. I can’t protect every queer person personally, but things that affect the queer “neighborhood” affect all of us. I’m disabled but not dependent on the ACA as much as some people, so I need to listen to other people in the disabled neighborhood to know what is most helpful. I’m not a person of color, but I can try to protect the PoC neighborhoods similarly. Listen, ask, act. Magic and action alike in this area tends to be most effective if it’s supportive magic powering others or precisely targeted: I can join an organization with a regular donation, volunteer at a local group to do a specific thing, knock on doors and get out voters in my district, honey jar my government officials, bless and protect those in the streets.

In that same episode, Daniel Striped Tiger quotes Mr Rogers, telling his son that when he was scared, his mother taught him to look for the helpers. This is important too. This is still the same country it was last week in a lot of ways, but some band-aids got ripped off hard and we popped some stitches. I have a whole house to pack, altars to disassemble, a toddler to take care of, plans to make. We have a lot of work to do for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our neighborhoods. But we’re not alone. I’ve had friends already offer to help with moving. Lots of people are trying to figure out what to do next. That’s what we can do. Those of us who can, get up in the morning. Keep moving forward. And remember the names of the ones left behind.

My Own Dead Bodies

Although speaking of my dead selves, I have to say Hekate absolutely did as she promised and upended my life since I committed to working with her for six months. My life is drastically different: I don’t just have a different job, but I’m in a different field, and one I hadn’t really considered before. I hit a point a few weeks ago where I suddenly began to pass with regularity. I’m taking a course in creativity and spirituality and actually working on the assignments, writing creatively after a long dry spell. I’m doing regular meditation and spellwork. I’m sleeping better. I’m a better dad and I’d like to think a better spouse. I can think clearly  for the first time in years thanks to starting Prozac.

I’m a wholly different person than I was six months ago. That person isn’t exactly dead, but he’s gone. Hekate kicked my ass in the most necessary way.

And when I did my reading on Mabon, I got a clear indication that means she’s not going to be extending the contract at Samhain.

This has happened before – in fact this happens most of the time. Powers come in, we get some work done on both sides, and they wave goodbye when we’re done. The ocean gods took their turns, Kuan Yin is there if I need her but she told me I was ready to stand by myself at a certain point, and even Odin and Loki wander in and out as it suits them. I move around, so many of my wight relationships are time limited. The only power who’s always there is Mara.

So I’m not exactly surprised, and instead I’m trying to pick apart my disappointment. I think I was hoping I’d get something that allowed me to feel like part of something bigger- Hekate is a very popular deity, after all. I joined a Facebook group devoted entirely to her, and considered taking a course that was just about working with her. I never lacked for other peoples’ input on what it meant to work with her.

Maybe that was part of the problem. I have too much history with my own Dark Lady for her to really be anyone I’ve read about in existing mythology, which is of course the thing I realize every time I come to this point. She didn’t introduce me to Persephone and Hades, but to Redbird and Tzymir, wholly different powers with differing stories.

When I try to connect based on belief, I fail. When I try to connect based on practice, I fail. When I try to connect based on values, I am more likely to succeed. I know this. And yet…

Well, it doesn’t matter. I have just shy of three weeks left with my Dark Lady, as we settle into the dark of the year. In November I’ll be participating in the King’s Ride in tandem with NaNoWriMo.

Part of me wants to move on already. I keep catching myself being vaguely surprised that I’m still doing my homework for Hekate. I always have a tendency to check out as soon as I know I’m going to be moving on; as soon as I think about moving, I want to declutter, downsize and start packing. On the first day of camp I was always thinking about the end of the week.

My old selves get left where they fell, their work never done, their bones never buried so much as left to gather dust in a folder labelled Unfinished Drafts. They pile up after a while, but I ignore them. They’re behind me. That whisper about all the things I’ve failed at? Just the wind. Definitely not the Ghost of Projects Past.

But now this is about follow-through. If the self who made the deal with Hekate is dead, well, this can be the wake for him. I have an obligation. I’m not going to let it slip now, for fuck’s sake. I just need to keep doing the thing until the end of the month, and then I can move on to the next thing without having an excuse to be down on myself, and that’s a benefit unto itself.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Loki as Firebird

I’ve mentioned, here and there, that I call Loki “Mom” but I tend to leave it at that. I wave my hands and I use descriptions like “genderqueer” and “shapeshifter” to describe Loki and those are not untrue and yet. Those are terms I chose because they’re more recognizable to others who work with Loki. When my own experiences are hard to quantify, I tend to use the math offered by others.

It does make it easier to find others who might be able to offer relevant information, but the vocabulary one uses shapes the way one understands things. When I read Silence Maestas’s post about Herself this morning, I thought to myself that maybe it was doing her a disservice by using descriptions I thought would make more sense in a wider context.

My confession, if you could call it that, is that I call Loki “Mom” for a reason, and it is because I have known Loki as a goddess at least as well as I’ve known him as a god. She is hearthflame and firebird, Gullveig’s student. She knows despair as real and solid as the Worldbreaker’s madness. She is at the forge, sweet-talking the bending iron. She is sunrise, the reds and purples and oranges of the sailor’s warning. She has descended into the earth and walked the labyrinths there to learn the mysteries of life and death, long before there was a serpent hung over a stone.

I suspect that knowledge is why she shielded her children from the fate of being “known.” Almost nothing is recorded of those she birthed aside from Sleipnir, but nonetheless they are noted as monsters and held against Loki’s crimes. Given the fates of Wolf and Serpent, given how they were treated and how they continue to be spoken of, given the fates of Narvi and Vali for the mere crime of being fathered by him… well, can you blame her?

She is no less dangerous, but she is more circumspect. The hearthfire is still fire, will never not before fire. It is a kinder fire, but it is no more forgiving.

I’ve written a bit about Gullveig as a firebird teacher, but Loki taught me first. Burning and change are synonymous for the phoenix, and it was my Mother who first taught me to burn and to be consumed and to be rebuilt from ash and atoms. She taught me the art of Change.

Change is an art. Creating, making, is a kind of Change. Crafting in particular, the kind of reuse and upcycling that take the “useless” and make it “useful,” is particularly in her wheelhouse.

I finished a set of prayer beads for her today, with beads taken from old necklaces and a glass phoenix feather pendant. I’ve been trying to finish it in one form or another for months and months. I’m not quite sure why this was what it took to finish it, but nonetheless it is done now.