Sunday, August 24, 2014


Synaesthesia is my friend. It's been walking my walk for fifty-odd years, and I am entirely delighted with the relationship.
Here's what I had to say on the subject when discussing intuition:
There's also synaesthesia, which I have - where two senses relate to each other (non-synaesthetes would say they get mixed up with each other). I believe these relate very closely to intuitive senses, possibly using the same areas of the cerebral cortex.

I have two forms of it. Firstly, when I taste acid tastes they taste "cold" (a temperature) all the time, even when piping-hot out of an oven or covered in chilli or both. And when I taste alkali tastes, they taste "warm" - creamy vanilla ice cream is just such an example. Also, this overlaps into smell: perfumes I would call "warm" are what perfumers call "base notes", perfumes I call "cold" are what perfumers call "top notes", and I'll bet that has to do with their pH levels again.

My other form of it relates not to all sounds but only to music, and not to all music but only to classical orchestral music (it doesn't work on classical piano music for example). I see colours and patterns and webs and grids that relate not to the individual notes of the music, but its tone, mood, emotional response. These are as real as seeing the musicians' bodies.

I was completely thrown once when I went on a school excursion as a very young thing who had been to a few orchestral concerts and thought that everyone experienced music the same way I did: as a part of the "learning", the orchestra played and some older kids threw coloured paints onto a canvas at the same time. The music was light, bright and airy, full of golds and yellows, but the kids kept using deep blues, reds and blacks. I couldn't understand it at all. I whispered to the kid next to me that they needed more yellow, and she mocked me to other kids later. It was only then, that I knew my experience of music was mine alone.
You know what? Being a synaesthete has its advantages. I can't even imagine how much less beautiful orchestral music would be if it didn't have a visual component, even though other forms of music don't have a visual component and can be exquisitely beautiful. And some composers have a fingerprint look to me, over all of their work - not all composers, just a minority. Two that I can think of now, are Papa Bach, with ornamental, finely detailed filigree goldwork and filigree copperwork, and Ralph Vaughn-Williams, with his forest greens and velvet textures. Other people, the Ravels, the Mozarts, the Leifs, the Brahmses, the Bartoks and the Schuberts, their work changes in its visual aspect with every change of mood and motif.
And the smell/taste thing is a blessing in my life, too. I have an inborn preference for "warm" tastes - but they tend to be calorie-rich foods that with my body-shape I need to be a little careful of. I still like and eat cold foods (hot or cold, they all taste cold) which tend to be leaner foods, but I am programmed to enjoy the heavier foods and the warmer scents.
The local bus company uses an "air freshener" in its air conditioning units. Most of the time it is unnoticeable, but when the units have recently been serviced, it's quite strong. And very acid, very cold. It probably has pretty, floral smells attached to it, but for me they are completely overwhelmed.
When you eat food, it descends into your stomach, where it is bathed in acid. If your digestive system is operating normally, it will gradually become more alkaline as it passes through the intestine. The smell of healthy human faeces, to me, is a warm smell. Unpleasant, yes, but warm. But when someone is ill and has diarrhoea, it doesn't hang around in the gut long enough to be alkalised, and it comes out still smelling cold, acidic. The basic components of that air freshener used in that company's air conditioners, is, sadly, exactly the same degree of coldness as diarrhoea, and so it reminds me of that every time, and I barely notice the other scents it's been combined with.
And I suppose even that is of some benefit to me: I can tell immediately when the air conditioning units in local buses have been serviced, which indicates to me that the company is probably taking care of other maintenance requirements! I would never, ever change how my senses of taste and smell operate as temperature indicators of pH levels. And I would never want orchestral music stripped of its visual component. Neither of these things give me practical, useful skills that I can turn to making money or passing exams, but they do add immeasurably to my quality of life, and I would never want that to change.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dreamcatchers, Witchbottles, Shamanic Initiations, oh my!

It's probably later at night and I am tireder than I should be when writing something for public consumption, and I'm not even sure why I'm doing this, except that my Writing Gene is restless. It's too late and the light is too bad to even take the photos that properly belong with what I'm thinking of writing about.
In recent days, a friend of mine, a lovely guy, taught me the mechanics of making a dreamcatcher. Dreamcatchers are traditionally made on untreated wooden hoops - we used steel. My companions used a variety of materials, but mine was made of unashamedly synthetic materials in unnatural and very vivid colours. I relish colour.
I've been aware of the presence of dreamcatchers in the world since around the middle nineteen eighties, perhaps a little earlier. I've certainly been aware of the fact that they are not a continent-wide Native American thing but traditional only to the Ojibwe people and that their elders placed a formal curse on all past and future dreamcatchers made for commercial purposes by whites, ever since I started hanging out with a Lakota family in 1986. And this is exactly why I've never bought one: no one has ever been able to give me enough provenance to demonstrate that the curse doesn't apply to any dreamcatchers I've seen for sale that I ever felt tempted to buy. I'm probably not all that afraid of the curse itself, but I have respect for it's having been cast, and the reasons why, and the community that cast it, and out of respect I have chosen not to buy commercially prepared dreamcatchers ever since I found out about it.
Nonetheless, John was teaching me the physical skills necessary out of the goodness of his heart, and my purposes were non-commercial, so I am entirely happy that the dreamcatcher I made for my own use is okay and not under a blanket curse.
Dreamcatchers are traditionally hung over beds and anywhere else you might sleep. They represent spider-webs, which are analogues of connection and communication, just as dreams are. The theory is that happy and beneficial dreams are small and lithe, and can slip through the hole traditionally left in the centre of the webbing so that the dreamer can enjoy them; whilst nightmares are not only terrifying but very large, so they get tangled up in the web and never make it to the sleepers. The beads, stones and shells incorporated in the webbing represent "dream-spiders", spiritual entities much like spiders that move around the web and kill and eat the bad dreams, disposing of them before the sleeper wakes.
So dreamcatchers are all about improving the quality of your dreaming-sleep. This leaves me bothered, though. Let's just say that hypothetically I accept the rightness of commercially made ones (I don't, at least not for myself) and that equally hypothetically I believe that a commercially made magical object might actually be effective when bought and not worked on or used magically by its new owner (I most emphatically don't).
Given that I'm pretending I believe these things, can anyone explain to me why someone might want a pair of small dreamcatchers as earrings to wear during the day, even to work? Is their intention to sleep during the day? And dreamcatchers hanging from the rear vision mirrors of cars - in my community I'm seeing them more and more often in cars, even the cards of two personal friends of mine, both of whom really should know better. What - they want to sleep really well and have nice dreams whilst on the road? Well, thank you but I won't accept a lift - I think I'll catch a bus. One that doesn't have a dreamcatcher hanging near the driver.
Before and after the making of my first dreamcatcher and still now, I'm working on a Magical Scarf for someone. I didn't start crocheting until I was in my early twenties, so some time in the early 1980s, after reading ... a Scott Cunningham book, perhaps, certainly one of the Pagan writers I was reading at the time whom I respected, who talked about incorporating your own magical energy into your household by trancing out when crocheting things like coverlets, cushion covers etc. Every crochet stitch except the joining stitch known as a slip-stich is a twisting and a pulling-through of the yarn, winding itself around itself in a series of small spirals or helixes, a very Pagan thing to do. It seemed to me that each stitch was a Magical Thing, and each group of stitches in very useful granny-squares reflected the Triple Goddess, and that colours and numbers of rows could be chosen magically. And in this scarf the numbers have been chosen magically for protection, health and happiness, even if the colours were chosen by its future owner for taste. And I'm pleased to report that it will have forty-two squares in it, the Answer to the Question, the Great Question, the Question of the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything.
My first magical crocheting project was an enormous one: a queen-sized bedspread that I made during my daughter's gestation from thick knitting-cotton. Knitting-cotton is heavier and warmer than the same thickness acrylic, heavier and warmer even than proper wool. The basic field of the bedspread was a soft dove-grey, and it took the form of a single granny-square worked  until it was the right size, then edged in a pretty pattern in the same grey. All the colours of the spectrum radiated out, and the numbers of rows of each colour, plus the number of rows of grey between them, plus the numbers of rows of each cycle of the whole spectrum, were magically chosen numbers. I was working in the city making money but doing essentially soul-destroying things by day - by night I'd rush home refusing all invitations, and crochet enthusiastically until it was bedtime. I loved that bedspread and slept under it all year round for fifteen years despite the protests of two consecutive live-in partners who thought crocheting was daggy. I gave it away to a Western Australian friend a few years ago before I moved here.
I immediately missed it, but I knew I'd miss it even more if I tried to make it all over again. The magic was in the focus, and in the years of sleeping under it. So a few years ago, I worked out a pattern based on squares of thirteen rows (a lovely magical number) with nine in the main colour of the square (a Goddess number), the tenth row (a round number) white, then more colour to the last row of white. I worked out how big each square would be, and how many squares I'd need to make a queen-sized cover. I was again working the colours of the spectrum and I wanted the squares running diagonally across the bed, so I worked out a map or pattern that would make that happen. And  got crocheting, made the right numbers of squares for each colour, then joined them. I was midway through doing the individual squares when my late flatmate moved in, and he used to be hugely amused by my sitting next to him at night pretending to watch TV but actually watching my fingers working. He had an emotional problem with one of the colours, so I considerately worked those squares in my room or out of the house.
I've slept under this bedspread for two or three years now, and I love it as much as I used to love the other one. The difference is that I'm not planning to cross the continent again, so I won't be stripping myself of all my property - I'll sleep under this cover for the rest of my life. I love the diagonals, meaning every colour rests over me. I love that the numbers of rows in each square plus the number of squares are an act of magic and a magical choice that nobody else in the world ever needs to know about, not even people I might invite to sleep under it. And I love that I had the discipline to do it all again, when I knew from the first time what a big job it was.
I made my first witchbottle not long after I moved into my first independent home in - what? - 1979? I was given some advice by a friend and former teacher, and it sounded like a fine idea to me. I've since done searches, and I can find no references to witchbottles much before 1940 in any of the literature, not even of witch trials which are quite detailed. That isn't to say that there aren't any, just that I personally couldn't find any.
What early references there are backed up what my friend said, that they were a way for a witch to remove bad energy from her home, and leave a coded message at her boundary that could only be understood by other witches, that the home was lived in by a witch. I made that first witchbottle and all its successors the old-fashioned way from the early literature without taking any short-cuts, which meant, as I was living alone, it took months. And as I made it, I learnt the thing that my teacher had deliberately not told me: that the finished artefact was almost beside the point, and that the making of it was the real magic. And because I learnt that lesson, I started making another witchbottle as soon as I finished the first, and over the decades I have always, always, quietly been making witchbottles. Some witchbottles are faster than others: when you have two heavy drinkers in your home with you who are always breaking plates and cups, the witchbottle will fill far quicker when if you live alone and are careful with crockery!
So how are they made? Well, you'll need to start with a transparent glass jar or bottle that has a sealable lid. Just leave it somewhere in your house. If you drop and break a plate, a mirror, a cup or anything else, by all means sweep it up and dispose of it normally - but take a single broken piece and pit it in the witchbottle. If you sew something and you cut off the leftover piece of cotton, place that cotton end in the witchbottle. If you knit or crochet, as evidently I'm doing at the moment, and you trim off a piece of yarn, place that in the witchbottle. Doing that you are symbolically ridding your home and life of "loose ends" and broken things (including, presumably, hearts).
My current witchbottle-under-construction has in it quite a lot of scrap-ends of yarn from the scarf I'm crocheting, a thread I pulled out of a sleeve of one of my tops, a broken needle-threader, a broken safety pin, a piece of a broken drinking glass, some leftover string from something and a few bent sewing pins. The materials going into it can't be any old waste: they must only be things that you actually broke yourself (bent pins or nails count as broken because they are unusable), or useless leftover scraps from creative projects that you would otherwise throw away. They represent the bad energy of unfinished things and unwanted things.
The big don't-do is to deliberately break things in order to have stuff to put into the witchbottle - it is about cleaning out the normal bad energy from the household, not creating more bad energy to clean out! With a busy family it might take you a couple of weeks to fill the witchbottle. Living alone and being reasonably careful with my things, it usually takes me many months. But, days, weeks or months notwithstanding, there will come that day when you press the last bit of string or nail-fished-out-of-the-compost into it, and you know you can't fit in any more. Now is the time to finish it off.
First you need to put your own energy-signature into it. This could be anything from toenail clippings to spitting in it, from urine to hair from your razor. The person who taught me about witchbottles all those years ago, said quite calmly that she used faeces once - that was real dedication. In honour of her and her bizarre faeces, several years ago I used tampons in one or two of my witchbottles. But honestly, fingernail clippings or that bandaid with your blood on it, or even a tissue full of your dried snot will do the job. The last one I finished before my flatmate passed on, contained a tissue that I had blown my nose in, and one from him as well, since we were both in the house and were both magical people.
Then you seal it. Personally, I don't care how good the jar is and how airtight it is. It doesn't really feel magically sealed to me until I have closed it, melted some wax, and used a paintbrush to paint the molten wax over the join with the lid so as to create an extra seal. Once you've sealed it, you take it out of your house. All those used things, all those broken things, should be taken out - they are a symbol of old, stale energy. Every time I take a freshly completed witchbottle out of my house, I feel the home immediately get lighter and breezier.
The older texts say place it on the boundary of your property, say on a fence, where passers-by will see it so that any passing witch will know a witch lives in the house. Around here, with the local vandals, that's just not practical. But it should be at the boundary of the property, somewhere that is not really your space and not really public space. Boundaries are intrinsically magical places. My boundary-of-choice in this house is the fence to my back yard. I used to wrap the witchbottle up in some fruit netting, then tie the netting up with string and loop that over the fence palings, but since I've started cage-tying things, I tend to cage-tie it and have the loop where I start the tying process large enough to loop over the fence palings.
I've lived here about six or seven years, I think, and there are four witchbottles hanging at my boundary, plus a couple that disappeared when a tradesman took down some of my fencing when I was away from home, plus the one currently under construction in my front room. The witchbottles outside feel inert, they feel as if their time is over, they are now only what I term "magical decoration" as their job is done. The one that feels alive and beneficial is the half-full one in my front room that I'm currently dropping things into. And when its time comes, I'll seal it off, too, and take it out to my boundary, off my territory.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: shamanism is not something you choose, it's something that happens to you whether you like it or not. You can do all the sweat-lodges you like and all the power animal meditations you like, and they will be of benefit in your own self-understanding, but you only become a shaman when shamanism claims you. And this is messy, traumatic, and often involves severe injury or illness. Even when it doesn't, it can be messy and traumatic: imagine doing a nice animal-centred meditation looking for nurturing and guidance, and having an Otherworldly animal-spirit suddenly turn on you and eat you! Tearing the flesh from your bones, swallowing your head. Seeing its bones and muscles around you as you descend into its flesh and into death. Feeling yourself being digested. Actually feeling the pain of all of that. Meeting the guardians of the afterlife. And somehow battling back to your body, forever scarred, forever changed. No, THAT is a shamanic initiation.
And shamanism isn't an end in-and-of itself. It is not a destination. It is not a nice thing you can feel pleased about, or tell people about. Along with the frightening spiritual knowledge that is its definitive hallmark, comes a lifelong commitment whether you're ready for it or not, whether you have time or not. You suddenly have to serve. You suddenly have things to do, things that if you avoid doing, will fester in you and slowly send you barking. If you feel shamanism taking a hold of you and turning your life inside out, you either need the help of an experienced person who knows exactly what's happening to you because it happened to them too who can teach you how to manage it, or you need heaps and heaps of courage and strength. I wasn't lucky enough to find the experienced person until thirty-five years after the event when I'd learnt to manage it the solitary way - it took twelve or fifteen years of battling through an irrevocably changed spiritual landscape and learning what the tasks I need to be continuously doing are, before I managed to pull my life into some semblance of order again, and we met as equals who could talk on a deep level in a way that we really couldn't around even our other magical friends.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Old Woman Tossed Up in a Basket

I was doing a Tarot reading this evening, using the sensational Australian Tarot deck, the 7th World Tarot Deck designed by the talented Terry Whidborne, when the Moon card came out in a five-card spread. In the context of the design of the spread, whereabouts it fell, and the client I was reading for, the card made perfect sense, but it just kept reminding me of the old children's nursery-rhyme:

There was an old woman tossed up in a basket
Seventy times as high as the moon.
Where she was going, I couldn't but ask it,
And under her arm, she carried a broom.
"Old woman, old woman, old woman," quoth I,
"Oh whither, oh whither, oh whither so high?"
"To sweep the cobwebs from the sky."
"May I come with you?"
"Aye, by and by."
And looking at the image of an old woman riding the sickle of a crescent-moon as someone else might ride a bicycle, I was whisked fifty years into the past to very early childhood, and to a book of nursery rhymes I had then. I remember the picture for this one clearly: the sky and the woman's face and clothes were many shades of gentle nacre-grey except for her apple-red cheeks, her wickerwork basket not dissimilar to the ones we used to store our toys in back then, and her broom something magical made of twigs. I'd never seen a broom like that, or an adult who looked so warm and loveable.
But it was the poem that enchanted me when I was a child. I longed, oh how I longed, to climb in her basket with her and ride into the sky, never to come back. Because even then, I sensed it was a one-way journey. It seemed so final, and I knew she was no ordinary cleaning-lady. I knew that those who rode in her basket rode through infinity and eternity, looking around and marvelling at everything while she leaned out of the basket cleaning the universe.
I was three. I didn't know the word "psychopomp".
"By and by", she comes back and collects us all. The friendly lady in her flying basket with her broom, or the washerwoman at the ford, or the Ferryman with his flat-bottomed barge, or the giant cat that sucks your soul out of your body, eats it, then leaps above the clouds and away, they are all the guardians of the gateways and the guides we have no choice but to follow when our time comes.
At that same stage of my childhood, I had a strong memory of being an adult. And adult male, no less, who wore a suit and carried a heavy briefcase and walked along concrete streets to get to work. I don't think I'd been anywhere particularly concreted at that age, but I certainly remembered it, and the sense of drudgery. I remember, as a child, marvelling at how different being an adult was.
I used to prise and pick at the edges of this memory, but I never got any more of it. I already knew my mother wasn't to be confided in or trusted, but she really was my only source of information. So one day I found the courage it took to ask her a question. It was related directly to that memory. I asked what it was like to be dead (and I don't know if anyone had ever even mentioned that word around me yet). She told me it was like being asleep, but without the dreams. I was inexpressibly disappointed, and I now knew that I couldn't talk to her about remembering being a man before I was dead.
I taught myself to lucid-dream in my very early school years -  I was probably six or seven. I had had one dream of flying an aeroplane (a little cute one, as small as a car and with a steering wheel like our car), and I enjoyed the sensation of freedom and control so much that I learnt how to will myself to get back into that dream. I dreamed it many times over.
I also partly learnt to lucid-dream, because I had a repeating dream - not a nightmare, it was quite enjoyable - about being a little brown bear and gambolling up a gentle green slope with picture-like flowers embedded in it. I'd get to a point where I couldn't see the ground beneath my paws but I'd step out anyway - and fall. And in my body, I'd fall out of bed. After about twenty repeats, I learnt to recognise the sequence, and wake myself up before I took that last step that started the tumble. I never fell out of bed again.
Lucid dreaming is a useful skill. If you are a busy person, it creates magical space and thinking-space in your sleeping hours so that you get much more done in a twenty-four hour period. I use it many times a week. And it's a phenomenally good field in which to meet teaching figures. Some of my most potent encounters with teachers have been while I was asleep: the lesson about the universe being a doughnut and the lesson about focussed intent and ping-pong balls being only two of them. When I meditate, I go into the same between-dimensions magical space that I also utilise when I'm lucid-dreaming.
In the last half-century or so, I've encountered various psychopomps at various times. Sadly, I was an atheist when as a teenager I came closest to dying, so I didn't meet any psychopomps, didn't have a tunnel or a light at the end of it, didn't get met by Jesus or ancestors or angels. I did, however, have an awesome time learning about the mind-twisting effects of time and space when it's an actual reality and not just the theories of scientists.
In 2012, I had two public Samhain rituals to attend on different days as well as a private one, and one of the public ones involved a working shaman I knew who was playing the role of Ferryman for the ritual. For this particular group, more than others I'd been involved with, I'd noticed rituals tended to take on the nature of theatre, entertainment, and were more about socialising, and the food and drink afterwards. I didn't mind, I enjoyed all of that, too. I drove the Ferryman and another person to the ritual, and conversation in the car was light and fun. The Ferryman was robed already, but not hooded, yet.
The moment he was out of the car and hooded, everything changed. He became silent, and the energy around him was dark and sombre, and just didn't feel like him-as-a-person. The people stage-managing the rite were still setting up and there wasn't much for me to do yet, so I wandered around the place, being social with people who in some cases I hadn't spent time with in several years. Twice I walked past him, where he stood by the pavilion, tall and sturdy, his working staff and his cloak built no longer of earthly material but of the very substance of the Otherworld. No one else seemed to notice this transformation, but it was a truism that nobody seemed to see him, either, just as most people didn't notice Death itself until it was too late. The second time I walked past him in this state, I stopped and bowed deeply to him. He returned the bow gravely. I knew perfectly well who was inside that suit and that he had a sense of humour, but I had the certainty that he didn't bow out of humour, but out of respect for my recognition and respect for his current state. Sadly, when the ritual started he was surrounded by and led around people who didn't see, and he became merely himself, wearing a costume and doing what the staging of the ritual required.
During my life I've met the real Ferryman on the barge several times and I've become quite fond of him, and different psychopomps at different times. I particularly remember the time, in meditation, he offered me my own personal get-out-of-gaol-free card: a one-way trip to the afterlife without the pain of illness or accident to get me there. The catch was I had to accept then-and-there - and I had a baby to raise. The old woman in the basket, no, I never met her. The book obviously never survived my childhood and I'd thought the memory of the old woman hadn't, either, but obviously she's been riding the skies of my DNA in her basket, with me and in me all the time.
I remember the picture as if it were open in front of me right now. I remember how unlike all the other pictures for the other nursery-rhymes, it wasn't static and fixed on the page, but actually used to move. I remember that the word Death was never mentioned, but I knew for sure she'd come back for me one day, and then all the pain and problems of this life would go away forever.
She made me a promise, silently but honestly and with commitment. She never rescued me from my childhood and I gradually lost hope in her, but now I know she'll keep her promise and rescue me when breathing gets just too difficult to keep on doing. And I know I won't be met by Jesus or angels, but I equally know I will be met by absolutely the best of friends. And sit by that Beer Spring with at least two of them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dealing or not Dealing

You know, sometimes you forget that you have a permanent impairment, especially if your disability is what is called an invisible disability. Sometimes I even forget there's a problem myself.
This has been going on for years, now. At first, I coped with the help of a very good friend, who had a physical problem: I helped him out with his body-stuff, he helped me out with my head-stuff and for a couple of years there you'd swear we were two functional people because no one ever saw how much help I gave him and he gave me. Both of us were proud - it worked for both of us to keep it that way.
Then, on his death, it became very much more difficult. I had forgotten how much I relied on him: to remind me to leave the house, to remind me what I was doing two minutes ago, to remind me that Thursdays are garbage-night and sometimes rent-day, to remind me who I said I was going to visit.
My affairs seemed to be plunged into immediate chaos. I screamed for services, and in a while did, in fact, find a service provider that I was eligible to use. I resolved to request the minimum possible help that I could get away with, being as I was still proud, and that being as independent as possible is a big part of my self-esteem. I may be dependent on others, but I can choose to be more dependent or less dependent - and every atom in me screams to be less dependent!
Gradually, over time and lots of home visits and lots of paperwork and lots of trips out, my affairs were more-or-less sorted. I developed a rigid set of routines, because I function much better with regular hours and activities than doing things at random. I've locked myself into a pattern that distributes itself identically over every fortnight.
To some people, that might sound scary: where is the room to move? And a few years ago I would have been in that camp. But now it is comforting: I can be reasonably sure the garbage will get put out and the rent will get paid, to look back to the examples I cited earlier. I am not bored: I am bordering on secure. To me, that is valuable, even if I have become exactly the kind of person I was most contemptuous of when I was younger and more able.
The down-side is that I find it terribly hard to schedule in the one-offs that are needed: my home visitor told me on her last visit that I've been complaining about a particular ailment for her last two or three visits, making it four or six weeks, and apparently back then I was talking about seeing my doctor. Have I even made an appointment? I just haven't gotten around to it yet. It would be easier if I just squeezed a regular doctor's visit into the fortnight every fortnight at the same time on the same day, but I can't imagine anything worse than going along to the doctors just-because, only to tell her that my state appears unchanged and I don't really want her to do anything, on most visits. There's a limit to the amount of my doctor's time I'm prepared to squander for no reason.
Way back a few years ago when the stroke-or-whatever-it-was happened, I was assessed by a ... neuropsychologist? neuropsychiatrist? We played games with blocks and bits of paper, and my mathematical ability and linguistic ability were tested. I remember very little about it, but I do remember that the block test was so frustrating that I ended up in tears, gathered the blocks up in my hands, and threw them against the wall. Sadly, the wall I chose to throw them against was directly behind the practitioner's head. Don't worry - he ducked. He also realised the need for me to escape outside at that point for a breather, to calm down.
I don't remember much of the report he sent to my GP either, even though she let me read it, and I remember that a few things outraged me. The only think in the report that I remember now - and this didn't outrage me at all because I knew it to be true - was that I displayed irrational anger and distress and a lack of impulse-control. When I read that, I remembered the block-throwing incident, and suddenly realised that it must have looked like an act of personal aggression against him.
That was ages ago, and what my settled and repetitive routine hasn't enabled me to manage better is my impulse-control. And it's still getting me into trouble.
For instance, some time ago (weeks or months, it still feels lividly recent because of the emotions surrounding it), the young child of a friend told me something personal. It didn't even occur to me that it might be in confidence - they seemed very comfortable telling me, and they knew I was very close to their mother. In fact, I assumed that the mother already knew. The very next day, it came up in conversation with the mother. I blurted it out, any kind of impulse-control completely beyond my abilities at the time. The mother was surprised - she hadn't known at all. And now the child won't talk to me because the one adult they thought they could trust, betrayed them to their mother. I love the child and I love the mother, but I've lost the friendship of the child completely, and I feel uncomfortable around the mother because of it.
And very often at times when I should keep my dignity and just smile, I insist on chattering away, talking about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. My lack of impulse-control strips me of dignity, and has people seeing me as a clown, and probably, as that child now does, as untrustworthy.
But in the adult world, I think it actually makes me much more trustworthy! How can you be more trustworthy than someone who calls it exactly the way they see it, one hundred percent of the time? If something's on my mind, the people concerned know about it. Does that make me untrustworthy - or does it just make me super-honest? Because around me, The Truth Is Out There, and has been consistently out-there for several years. When you don't do impulse-control, there's just no hiding a truth under a layer of politeness or silence.
Sounds great? Yes. But practically, in our society which is built around the silences and lies that we refer to as "diplomacy" and "politeness", it is the most visible part of the disabling handicap I will have to deal with for the rest of my life.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Spaces Between

Like most shamans, I live in magical space all the time, for better or worse. And like most of us, I fluctuate between being more in the physical world, and being more in the non-physical world. And like most of us once again, I am probably more sensitive than most people to places that are between worlds.
Modern neo-Pagans tend to refer to certain dates as times when the walls (or "veils") between the worlds are particularly thin, and/or the space inside cast Circles as places that are between the worlds. Living between worlds (which I recently tried to describe to a bunch of modern Pagans as being similar in perception to a double-exposed photo), I can see places everywhere, many times a day, which are between worlds, and also times which are between times.

Time-wise, the spaces between are not midnight, which you might expect as its role in nominal day-changing, or midday, as you might expect because it marks the transition between morning and afternoon. No, the times between are dawn and sunset.
As to places, all of my life, back to my very earliest childhood memories, I have always looked through windows. Windows are for standing at and gazing out of. Doors too are for standing at and gazing out of, but windows are more powerful than doors. When I still worked in Sydney decades ago, I used to go to a particular café in Macquarie Street most lunchtimes, not just for the food but for the view of the Botannical Gardens. The café had lovely arched windows facing the park, and an al fresco area. I quite regularly took friends and colleagues there. I was regularly asked why I sat indoors "when there was such a lovely view". That was precisely why I sat indoors. If I sat outside, the view was quite tolerable, at least for an inner-city view. But if I sat inside, the view was framed, I could see a progression between one place and another, I could feel that as the equivalent of a shift between one world and another. That greatly improved the view: not only was it aesthetically pleasing, but it was just plain powerful as well.
When I was on the other side of the continent, I was particularly friendly with one of the local Aboriginal Elders. We were friendly for most of the time, but in my last months there, the friendship ramped up. He'd turn up and sit on my front porch most mornings before either of us had to get to work, I'd make tea for both of us, and we'd watch the day start in those long, comfortable, timeless Aboriginal silences. We watched the world, and we listened to it. To the breeze, to the birds, to insects, to the distant shouting of children.
Many of his people, who despite cars, houses, sociological problems and money, were essentially still embedded in their tribal spirituality, lived in the Dreamtime most of the time, pretty much as I live between the worlds most of the time, especially the very young and the very old. In fact, the two states are very closely analogous. Dreaming Stories were at once tales of long-ago-and-far-away, and immediate, playing out here and now. Changes of season, changes of weather, changes in nature, all reflect changes in the Dreaming. I never asked, but I'm pretty sure John also saw the worlds overlaid, like a double-exposed photographic frame.
Doors and windows are the places that I find myself in most often, where it is incredibly easy to see across and through. Other places are where land and saltwater meet, on beaches, cliffs, rocks, tidal lakes or estuaries. Less so but still effective are places where land and freshwater meet: streams, rivers, dams, pools, man-made canals and moats, irrigation channels, plumbing and drainage systems etc.
I find magic in places that have been ruined, also. Fallen houses, burnt-out remnants of cars rusting into the ground, toxic wastelands, they all have a ruination that is beautiful, and carries you between their magnificence and their ugliness, between life and death, between the physical and the non-physical.
Valleys are both above ground and under ground, thus are especially places that connect one to the Underworld, as are volcanoes and remnants of dead volcanoes such as granite plugs and volcanic chambers. Places of wind, such as hills, coastlines and even the concrete tunnels of streets that catch and channel the wind, are also places that the Elements meet, both sky and earth.
For some time I've worked with a local landcare group, who look after a particular nature reserve. It is infested with exotic weeds and going there is a constant battle against plants that simply don't belong. Still, there is always a huge temptation to down tools and simply stay, and look, and feel. A wind crosses the nearby lake, then rises up the earthen embankment, giving us a place between three elements. The land is buckled and ridged, giving us land that is both above ground and below ground. And a long time ago artificial steps were hewn out of raw bedrock, both manmade and natural paths through the magical and psychological landscape. It is a very, very magical place, and when a member of the Landcare group died, we commemorated him there, later raising a permanent memorial to him. Two or three of the group still comment on feeling his presence there, in some places much more than in others.
Recently a young girl asked me to clear her brother's home. I have no intention of discussing the entity that may or may not have been present there publicly, but what I will talk about are the parts of the house it preferred. It preferred the staircase (neither upstairs nor downstairs), both the hallways (neither one end of the house nor the other), a little-used doorway into a room that is only used for storage (both in the home and not a part of it), and windows (both inside and outside). It had, arguably, been sensed in the garden shed, too: both a part of the home and not a part of the home.

All these places, and more are between places, and powerful shamanically for jumping.

A few days ago I went to Sydney. My blanket dislike of all cities is legendary, that one in particular since it is the only one I ever lived in - and when I grew a brain, I immediately moved out of it. I don't visit cities easily or willingly.

But I did have an intercontinental friend who was going to be in Sydney for one day only before flying out to her home continent, and there was no question of missing catching up with her. I am between cars at the moment, so the trip down to see her involved an intercity train.

Every time I do any long-distance driving, I see the road not as a scar across an ancient landscape, injuring it (as some other occultists do), but more as a grey, insubstantial ribbon laid across the landscape. Sooner or later, the landscape and life it is teeming with will reclaim it as man ceases to use and maintain it: the bitumen will crack, it will get covered in dust, and sturdy, indifferent plants will force their way up through the cracks, helping wind and water to erode it. This may take centuries or tens of centuries, but the only certainty we have in life is that it will happen.

The spaces between towns are not the spaces between worlds, but just like towns, country areas contain many spaces between worlds. Sometimes they are man-made, like a gateway or cattle-grid that has become overgrown, or a line of fencing that leads into a shallow lake, an eroded gully running down towards a creek, or a corrugated iron shed, abandoned, rusting and falling down, or a path curving around the edge of a hill and out of sight.

More often they are natural: fissures leading to cave-systems large and small, both flowing and dry riverbeds wending their way through the landscape, rows of consecutive hills like the vertebrae of an immense creature slumbering under a thin layer of rock and soil, large weathered granite plugs in a flattened, eroded landscape or, dramatically, large, almost perfect granite spheres, often in "family groups", that have been fired out of long-extinct volcanoes at enormous speeds high into the atmosphere, cooling into spheres in the atmosphere, then becoming misshapen only slightly on landing.

These places become alive: the spirit of the land condenses thinly everywhere, but more thickly at such places, just as water in the atmosphere condenses more readily on a chilled surface than on a warm one.

On my train trip, I was travelling through a lush, over-watered coastal landscape, where the tree-trunks are thick and swollen with water and the trees are close together because the subsoil is moist fairly regularly, as opposed to the red, "barren" landscapes of my heart, where trees rarely stand much taller than a couple of humans, and are rarely thicker than a forearm, and where there is not enough water in the soil to nourish those dry, thin, wiry trees if they grow close together, so they space themselves decently apart.

For some of the trip, the sallow, brackish waters of the Hawkesbury curved through the coastal hills, mirrored by the curve of the railway. It lay in the landscape, quiescent, its course through the landscape carved between the hills by the force of its very body as it endlessly sought out the sea. Its muddy, grey-green waters were alive even though they were quiet, biding their time and silently watching everything that went past. I got a sense of immense power.

There are places on that train journey where rather than skirting around a hill or climbing over it, the train will plunge through it in a short tunnel, then emerge again. There is one place where the train does that, then crosses the water on a metal bridge, then goes through a tunnel on the other side again. I like to drop into a light trance, and allow myself to feel the different energies of earth all around me, water below me and so forth, just for those few moments.

When the city is reached, it is necessary to leave this train and catch another to the airport. This means descending from the grubby city air into a network of tunnels, and walking underground. Surrounded entirely by artificial surfaces, artificial light and artificial air, this is an odd experience.

It is made even odder if you reach out and try and feel the land-spirits. They are not there. Instead there is something alive, but it doesn't feel healthy, it doesn't feel comprehensible, and it really, really doesn't feel Australian. It's easy to say that the land is screaming because it doesn't want to be full of concrete, sewerage, people, machines and electrical cables, but that doesn't feel accurate, either. The land is not screaming. It is terribly, terribly quiet. No one talks to it, no one listens to it. The feeling was not unlike the "hollow" feeling you sometimes get in your body at times of loss.

And yet, walking through those tunnels is still a magical experience. You have the sense, as with most tunnels, of leaving "normal" spacetime and entering a different reality, or perhaps more accurately, entering a bardo between normal space-time and the Otherworld. And you have the same shift of consciousness when leaving those tunnels, too. Yet the earth around you is dead or dying or transformed utterly to something its own spirit doesn't even recognise.

What is interesting is looking at the people you encounter, walking through those same between-spaces. Some of them have hunched, defensive body-language, most of them look sick (but that's true of city dwellers on the surface, too), but what stands out is that the huge majority of them have no comprehension at all that they are in a special place, a magical place, a place between worlds. Me, I never tire of places between the worlds and I never take them for granted: I enjoy and take notice of even the "special" windows and doors in my own home, which I experience many, many times a day. I cannot imagine having my senses so dimmed that I wouldn't even know - perhaps it's like being blind or deaf, you try to compensate with your other senses and you can certainly get by, but there is always that one form of perception which is a lack in life.

Two and a half, nearly three years ago, a friend of mine started asking me to dragonboat regattas (and lots of other events in lots of other areas of his life, too, but let's stick with dragonboats for now). There are regular annual regattas that take place in more or less natural watercourses: Dobroyd Point, Darling Harbour, the Hawkesbury, Tacoma, the Beachcomber. These recur every season. Then there are several per season that all happen at the Penrith dragonboat regatta centre.

When I was travelling to regattas with this particular guy, we'd get up at around three, to be dressed and have the car packed for a 4.00am start to the trip, we'd get to the regatta centre at about six-thirty, and sleep in the car, curled up trustingly next to each other, for an hour and a half before we got out and got the day started. Don't ask me why - he seemed to want to do it that way, and also really, really wanted my company. Once when a regatta coincided with something else in my life (and I came only as a supporter, not a participant) and I declined the invitation, he was terribly disappointed and I never heard the end of it.

I vividly remember the very first time I went with him to the regatta centre. It was in largely flat country, with flattened houses and the odd rounded hill. From perhaps a kilometre away you could see the approaches to the regatta centre: low rolling hills with bands of native trees growing on them ... but something was very wrong. Driving over to the parking on "the island", it got even creepier. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that the eye could detect that was wrong, but the place was as-spooky-as. I just couldn't get comfortable, in such a wrong-feeling landscape.

Time went on, and I kept going to regattas. I loved regattas - the whole team accepted me, and I quickly formed personal friendships amongst team members, independently of him (which when he died later, was invaluable in my healing - many of the team members as well as many of his other friends sought me out privately later to tell me the kinds of wonderful things he'd been saying about me behind my back, stuff I wouldn't have minded hearing directly from him, but which definitely helped me heal afterwards). I also became useful to the team very quickly: I'd mind their kit when they were on the water, once when a mother couldn't get care for her kids I unofficially babysat all day, and so forth. I didn't go for that reason: I went firstly because my friend made it perfectly clear how much he wanted me there, and secondly because I ended up enjoying it anyway - although if he had stopped wanting me there, I would have welcomed being able to sleep till normal hours on regatta days!

After I'd been along to a few regattas at the centre, I began to work out why it felt so creepy. The land didn't feel alive. There was nothing to it - it was solid yes, but it seemed empty, somehow, lacking in some vital essence, not quite present there.

Then there was a regatta at which two Buddhist monks performed a ceremony to do with calling water-spirits from the water and into the actual boats. I dropped into a light trance, and followed the ceremony. I couldn't understand the language they were using, but I could understand the energy. And they were trying to evoke a water-spirit from dead water, and nothing was rising to their call. It was terrible, it was very sad to watch.

Afterwards that same day, remembering how I'd thought the phrase "dead water", I went for a walk around the island. I saw cormorants fishing and ducks paddling. I saw a fish that a cormorant caught in the water. I saw a heron fishing. I saw a shoal of baitfish, their flanks shining just below the surface. And I saw water-weed. The water was clearly not dead in any conventional sense - it supported life. But it was clearly not alive in a spiritual sense. Not just myself, but the two Buddhist monks evidently sensed it, too.

Driving home, I asked my friend about it. I told him that the whole landscape felt empty of spirits to me, and that the hills didn't feel like hills and the water didn't feel like water. He told me this: that it had been built for the Sydney Olympics a decade earlier. The original landscape had been bulldozed lock, stock and barrel, and all the soil, plants and rocks trucked out of there. Then they trucked in a whole lot of soil and rocks from somewhere else, sculpted the watercourse, the island and the pretty surrounding hills, and planted grass and trees.

That was my D'OH! moment. Of course. There were no ancient land-spirits in the land because that wasn't a land, just a land-shaped construction made of earth and stone instead of bricks and mortar. There were no water-spirits in the water, because that was no more a natural watercourse in the landscape than my old tropical aquarium had been a natural watercourse in my home: both had abundant plant and animal life, but neither had wild water-spirits living in them.

You cannot make nature-spirits live where you want them to. You can invite them, you can shape the environment in such a way as to make it inviting, but if they don't want to live there, you cannot force them. In Australia, which is the continent which has had its present geology the longest of any continent on earth, we have a lot of land-spirits. Sensitives can find places, overseas, where nature-spirits are present. In Australia, it is hard to find places where they are not present. In the first fifty years of my life, I found no such places, Then in the last three years I have found two: man-made tunnels under a city, and a man-made water-feature in the landscape. And because I and every other Australian are used to moving through an intensely populated landscape, we find it creepy to walk through places that have no spirits, whilst people in less well-populated landscapes find it creepy to walk through places that do have spirits.

And this is why I wouldn't and couldn't live anywhere else, although there is perhaps one other country I would like to see one day. Empty land just feels awful. I prefer my land alive, I really do, and I love visiting the spaces between.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Dropping into trance the evening before a Full Moon, I went to a place between dimensions, between elements, the coastline. Where the sea meets the earth is the domain of both Earth and Water. In spirit-body, I walked along for a while, feeling the cold of damp sand under my feet, seeing the stones, dying seaweed and broken shells on the sand.
At the top of the dunes, Earth and Water meet Air, so I climbed the crumbling sandy mountains punctuated with that dry salt-resistant sand-grass that characterises many of our beaches, and walked along the ever-changing crest of sand.
Half-buried in the sand, I saw an iron-bound wooden classically styled "pirate chest", one corner pointing to the sky. I pulled it further out of the sand, so that I could open its simple hook-latch. It was full of golden coins, large and heavy. I dug around in them, and close to the bottom found the real treasure, a solid mass of deep-pink rose quartz probably almost the size of my head.
Carefully, I covered it with the coins again so that the quartz would not touch the wood, and reburied the box in the dry sand with my hands. It belonged here, in the place between elements.
One of my patron-gods is Hephaestos, the crippled smith-god. Hmmm ... perhaps that's why I have had perpetual ongoing knee injuries since 1984! I kept walking along the dunes, and he joined me, limping companionably alongside me. I am used to the company of gods - many people find their energy overwhelming, but in the final analysis many of them are simply my friends, and he is one of those.
After a while we had walked enough, and I fell behind to follow him, because I knew he would lead me somewhere. I found that we were walking through the informal or poorer quarter of what felt like an older city, with grey-bleached wooden buildings on either side of a very narrow cobblestoned street with their higher floors overhanging the street itself, too narrow for horse and coaches, only just wide enough for two people to walk abreast if they were friendly, or one person mounted on horseback.
The cobblestones were erratic and uneven underfoot, I had to make sure I wasn't going to trip. I could smell woodsmoke and coalsmoke and hot animal fat and a hint of sewage. I kept following Hephaestos. We turned right, pushing aside a curtain of raw animal hide, and entered a comfortingly dark room. Along one wall was a table. Out of a wooden dish, Hephaestos picked up a shred of smoked eel (okay, something brown - don't ask me how I knew it was smoked eel, I just knew), and pressed it to my lips. It wasn't for eating - it was a kind of blessing or benediction. I tasted its smoky, fatty richness as exactly a blessing. Next, he picked up an iron cup, and put it to my lips. It was full of cool water, another blessing and benediction.
He then showed me the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was out at the time, the place was messy, with tools and wire and paint and diagrams everywhere. There were also, sadly, dirty clothes everywhere, it has to be said. I got to flick through one of Leonardo's current notebooks, got to see the mind of the master in action, even though I couldn't really read the archaic font, the early dialect of Italian, or even my own tongue in mirror-script. This was a marvellous moment.
Then Hephaestos went to work. I realised this was his workshop, and there was a small forge in the centre of the room. He pumped the bellows until the coals burned more brightly and burst into white flame, then inserted the blade of a half-made sword with his bare hands, not with blacksmith gauntlets. Drawing it out red, he placed it on his anvil, and hit it with the hugest hammer. In the fire, in water to temper, in the fire, on the anvil to be beaten.
And I became aware that I was the sword he was making.
I am the sword of a god.  I have been forged in the fire of a god. I have been tempered in the water of a god. The strength of the steel is my strength. The hardness of the steel is my hardness. The sharpness of the blade is my sharpness. The Ancient Crippled Smith has walked beside me for decades: the I that exists now, am his creation, his child, and his companion. There have been times when I have been in god-form and he has tried out being human. Currently, he is in god-form and I am trying out being human, but never forget that I am the sword of a god.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Gladney's Story

I have a friend called Gladney Oakley, a dear friend whom I knew for years before he died something like twelve or fifteen years ago. He was one of those quiet, deep people who are real-world mystics: in and of the world, but bringing a quiet gentleness to it, and working under the radar. The kind of person who never sought publicity or acknowledgement (as, sadly, I do), but just went about the business of improving the world in a calm silence. He is still with me and around me on a regular basis - he is, in fact, one of my favourites in my tribe of non-physical friends.
He's been hanging around me for a while today, and reminded me of a story he once told me when my daughter was a baby, so probably twenty years ago.
The story was of a man, and I always strongly suspected the man was him, but he never said so or gave the man a name.
The man was born, and grew up. He had a wife and a couple of kids, and ended up with a house, a dog, a garden, and a few backyard hens (okay, so he told me this story at some stage after I started keeping backyard hens).
He and his wife had the odd fight, but they rubbed up well enough against each other to describe the marriage as happy.
He got irritated with his kids occasionally and yelled at them unjustly, but the kids always knew that he loved them.
And the dog just adored him all the time.
All in all, he had every reason to consider himself a modest success in life.
The man had never been inclined towards mechanical maintenance, paying professionals to look after his car etc. In particular, he hated his lawn-mower. He was always running it over rocks and ruining the blades, or flooding the carby, or getting grass into the fuel tank when refuelling, or otherwise harming it. And the lawn-mower returned his lack of understanding with active malevolence. In particular it kept breaking down even when he hadn't neglected or harmed it, just out of spite.
As the years passed, he grew to loathe it more and more, until after many years he got a hold of an old-fashioned scythe and scythed the worst of the grass down. He also partitioned his land up into a number of very small fenced sections and kept his hens penned up in one section at a time until they over-grazed the section they were in, removing every trace of green from the ground before he moved them on. This lessened the amount he had to mow with the mower that hated him.
But much though he wanted to love his hens, he just couldn't look after them properly. Not being a very manual man, every chook-shed he built for them collapsed in high winds, just when the hens needed their shelter most. He neglected his fence-line, and his hens were always finding holes and gaps, squeezing through, wandering out onto the suburban road, and getting hit by cars. He had no idea, either, that you needed to treat them for worms and birdlice infestations, and they were itchy and sickly all the time.
Frustrated by these two areas of ineptitude in his life, he sat down one day when his grand-children were asleep and all was quiet, and lit a candle. He dropped himself into a trance, fronted up to his secret inner soul, and made a deep and serious promise.
He vowed a permanent and sacred vow that in his next life he'd get the small-machine thing right, and be able to maintain his mower and any other machines that came his way.
He grew old, as we all do, and as we all do, he watched his children and grandchildren grow into capable adults. There came a time when he was no longer needed in the world even by those who loved him, and his body was getting just too old and uncomfortable to live in any more. So one night, he put himself to bed, fell into his last sleep, and dreamt his last dream. He never woke again, and when his old wife was asked about it, she said she found him with a contented smile on his face, the smile of a man who had lived a good life, done what he had to do, and died a good death at the right time.
Somewhen, not very far away, a little baby boy was born. He grew up greatly loved - his young mother said that when she first met his eyes a few moments after the birth, he looked at her with the compassion and wisdom of a saint or a very wise old man. But after that moment, he was just a little baby boy, and did all the things baby boys did and none of the things they didn't do.
As he grew, he turned out to love first dogs, then all animals, then all of the world. As a young man he was sometimes selfish, but as time passed he left behind the friends and lovers who brought drama into his life, and stuck by those who were as peaceful as he was. In time he married, then bought a small house on a bit of land. He put up a shed in the backyard, and put a few laying hens there - he had wanted hens all his life, he didn't know why. He put up another shed, and put a lawn-mower and some tools into it.
He took an interest in machinery, and learnt to look after his own machines, repairing and servicing his own car, lawn-mower and so forth, even fixing things like toasters. Everyone in the neighbourhood started bringing him machinery - completely untrained, he still seemed to be able to fix anything no matter what. His special forte was lawn-mowers - he could take a rusted wreck and make it purr like a kitten as it flattened jungles into velvety lawn.
But his hens! The poor little things. He didn't seem to be able to store their supplementary grain in such a way as to dissuade the rats. He couldn't prevent them from growing ill, or escaping and being injured. He had the best of intentions, but although he was regarded as the nicest man anyone who knew him had ever met, he just couldn't have happy hens no matter how hard his tried.
But his lawn-mower was always perfect!