Ancestors and your Beloved Dead

 

Many different forms of Paganism and Polytheism put some level of emphasis on honoring and/or working with Ancestors. This can be problematic for those whose parents/guardians were less than honorable in their parenting skills, whether that mean abuse, alcoholism/addiction, neglect, or abandonment. It is also difficult for those who were actively or passively “kicked out” of their family – whether their family has explicitly told them to go away and never come back, or if repeated attempts to connect with family show that they have no interest in connecting with you. Having a family whose identity is strictly bound to a certain religion or faith tradition that is incompatible with your life choices and/or spiritual beliefs may also complicate matters or make them impossible. Children of adoption may not have any knowledge about their blood lineages and may feel disingenuous trying to work with their adoptive lineage. In short, many Pagans may find it difficult or impossible to understand why Ancestor veneration is considered a meaningful and important part of spiritual practice.

At first, I made a fiat decision that I wasn’t going to include Ancestor work in my practice. I only know shreds of information about my paternal bloodline, and my father was abusive and neglectful. I felt very close to my mother (and still do in some ways), but my maternal family has never felt very comfortable with me, nor I with them. I also know that my father’s family was Catholic and my mother’s is as WASPish as they come, so attempting to integrate them into my wacky Northern Tradition Pagan-inspired practice seems disrespectful of their beliefs. Also, when I attended rituals that encouraged us to “look back and greet the Ancestors”, I heard nothing but crickets. No long-lost great great great uncles or nieces came lunging through the darkness to guide me in jack shit. So I would stand in respectful silence until that part of the ritual ended.

Later on, at a Samhain ritual, the priest used a phrase that changed the way I thought about Ancestral work entirely.

“You are the product of a million hopes and dreams whispered into the darkness; the yearnings of hearts longing to be remembered for their life’s work and the marks they left upon the Earth, among the people you stand with today.”

I wrote this down and spent a long time thinking and toying with this idea. I spoke about it to other Pagans who had similar reasons to disconnect from the traditional thoughts about Ancestor veneration. The more I tried to deconstruct the concept of “Ancestor”, the more I got an energetic sense of “Yes! You’re on the Right Path! Keep Going!”

So I started to play a game. I thought about what was happening in the world at approximately around the time I was born. Although I am sure in some ways I am the product of my birth parents’ hopes and dreams (and maybe Loki too), they are only three out of millions. So if I am the product of millions of hopes and dreams, who was doing the hopin’ and dreamin’?

The first and most obvious leap was to the early Gay Liberation movement. The mid-70’s was a time where many gays and lesbians were starting to come out both personally and politically. I’m sure that being able to live life as a queer trans* man without being locked away (in a psych ward or a jail) is something the gay liberators desperately hoped for the children born around them. Instead of taking on the whole movement, I looked for specific members that I personally resonated with – ones whom I thought would be honored and pleased when their names came from my heart and lips. Even before she passed in 2008, I considered Del Martin someone who would be pleased to see her struggles made manifest into pleasures in my life. I also felt compelled to find a genderfucker that I could connect with, and when I approached Divine in a meditation and asked her if she would be my ancestor, she gave me a giant hug.

I did this with many other outlier groups: I particularly felt drawn to working with those who died in “insane asylums” or other mental health facilities, especially those who were abandoned by their families (and possibly erased from those family’s trees). I also reached out to some who were working with ecstatic states of worship, regardless of their religious tradition. There are a few who died via suicide because they were lonely and forgotten. There are also some who died because their illness was not diagnosed or treated in time.

Before I knew it, I started having a pretty respectable list of those who have passed, who may have dreamed that someone like me would have the kind of life I have now. Doing this has made me incredibly thankful and gracious about the freedom and acceptance I enjoy, and I am painfully aware that many people laid down their lives for that freedom and acceptance.

As time has passed, I have had many close friends and family members, most recently my mother in early December, who have gone on to become my Ancestors and Beloved Dead. These days, I laugh a little when I remember how I used to think I had no ancestors to work with; now I never know who is going to show up when I make space for them in my altars and during my rituals.

I encourage you, regardless of how close you feel to your lineage, to play the same game. Think about who you are today, and whose dreams you are fulfilling. Do some research into what the world was like when you were born, and who has been forgotten or overlooked that you can identify with. Maybe even go to a local cemetery and find a grave that is in desperate need of tending; spend some time there and see if you feel some sort of permission to groom their grave and leave small offerings. See if your local historian society has an idea who that person was, what their life was like.

There are millions of dead who want only to be remembered, and they may not care whether you’re related to them via blood or not. And remembering someone is not very difficult, and can bring you a sense of connectedness and continuity in your life.

 

 

On Madness, Hallucinations, Being Wrong, Magic, and Belief

People frequently ask me, “How come I can’t perceive spirits/energy/Gods/ghosts?” Others want validation that what they sense – whether it be visual, audio, tactile, or even smell and touch – is “real” in some way. Some see the way I move in the world, where I take for granted that the things I perceive, including things that aren’t easily sensed by our everyday senses, and beg me to teach them how.

You (yes, you) are already seeing things that aren’t there. You’re already perceiving things that your intelligence can’t easily explain. The problem is, it’s happening without your conscious will for it to happen. The things I’m thinking of happen whether you want them to or not.

Let’s start with the most basic. Every person has a “blind spot”. This is a place where your optic nerve passes though the retina, which prevents visual processing. But it’s not like everywhere you look there’s a small void of nothing that follows you wherever you go (unless you’re Eeyore). Instead, your brain fills that space in with whatever else you’re looking at. This means that if you’re in a crowded city, like say Times Square in NYC, your mind is actively creating tourists and cars that don’t actually exist. Unfortunately, you’ll never know which of the annoying slow-walkers is imaginary, because the sense is fleeting and by the time you focus on that spot, you’ll no longer be perceiving an image your mind created so as to “fill in the blank”, but what’s actually in the spot you’re looking at.

When most people think about this, they truly start to wonder what is “real” and what is “imaginary”. They see the two categories as binary opposites, with no spectrum in between. But as any good optical illusion can teach you, there very much is a middle ground, for even when you already know how the optical illusion is created, your brain continues to perceive the illusion. It’s using adaptive technology that we evolved to interact with our world better, but in this limited instance that technology refuses to stop engaging.

Here’s another example: when you drive away from a building, it seems to get smaller and sink into the earth. That’s a literal translation of what your eye is signaling to your brain. However, we have learned in both intellectual and evolutionary ways that the building is exactly the same size and has not (tragically) collapsed into the earth. Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are.

These sorts of perceptions are the very beginning to accepting the idea that not everything you see or sense exists in an objective “reality” that you share with everyone else. Tell me you’ve never had an argument with someone over the exact shade of a color – you demand that they see peach, but all they can see is pink. Does that mean that the shirt exists somewhere in the middle of pinky peachness? Or does it mean that in your reality, the shirt is obviously peach; but your friend is living in a different world that only has pink?

The crossroads of all of these odd human mind tricks is something I’ve done a lot of thinking about for quite a long time. It’s about the idea of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Humans (as we know) love boxes rather than Jackson Pollack paintings; they want easy categories that separate fact from fiction. But this is a lesson you can happily learn from your friendly neighborhood madman – that there is a world (or more than one world) that exists inbetween anything that we perceive as “real” and “imaginary”; and that just because something is “real” doesn’t mean that it’s “right”, and just because something is deemed “imaginary” doesn’t mean that it is wrong.

Have I completely lost you yet?

Madness can impart some pretty awesome life lessons if you only give it a chance. Stop fighting it for a moment and let it give you unique insights into the shapeshifting fog that surrounds us. Where perceptions feel so objectively real that to question them is to automatically be “wrong”. Yet we crazy folk know that sometimes what we perceive, either with our senses or with our emotions, can sure feel real to us in the same way a chair or a balloon is real.

Let’s start with the most obvious. You don’t have to be mad to hallucinate (but it sure helps, and it is sometimes cheaper!). Hallucinations can be brought on by extreme physical exertion, or fever, or from drugs like LSD or DXM, or even just from skipping a couple of meals. Heck, minor mirages (like seeing “black ice” on a highway or water in a desert) don’t require doing anything weird to your body or mind. And even if you’re fully aware that the thing you perceive is “not there”, your eyes and brain continue to do it’s damnedest to convince you. This also happens to people who hallucinate because of a mental illness or neurological problems – they see things that aren’t really there, and most of the time they know full well there isn’t a giant purple horse in their living room but yet they keep seeing it. It’s not like Tinkerbell, where if you don’t believe it will die.

Now here’s a thought: most of us think of some hallucinations as being fertile ground for ecstatic spiritual experiences. Many of my ordeal clients have pushed their bodies to a point where they have a breakthrough, and come to some grand spiritual conclusion about how we’re all connected or objectively feel something they couldn’t bring themselves to feel before. Other friends have had faith-altering experiences with entheogens (legal and not so legal), where they saw things and allowed themselves, for the moment, to believe in its realness because, well, that’s the point in taking them to begin with most of the time. And when people write or relate these experiences, we generally accept them as being “real” in the sense that they changed their friend’s mind, or revealed to them a spiritual truth they didn’t understand before.

For example, the first hook pull I ever experienced was not in a space one would think of as “conducive to spiritual breakthrough”. I was in a gymnasium at a summer camp, surrounded by people trying out different kinds of kinky play for the first time. To this day, I don’t know what lead me to ask my friend (and later mentor) Captain to pierce me then; it just seemed like the right time. So I had two eight gauge hooks put through my chest and was attached to some scaffolding by paracord.

I couldn’t honestly tell you anything else that happened in that gymnasium. Someone could have been crowned King Of All That Is and I wouldn’t have known a thing. I was lost in my own trip. During the actual pull, I kept feeling that if I leaned back, I would just fall to the ground lightly, as if in slow motion. There was a point of tension where no matter how hard I was pulling, I didn’t feel anything in my chest at all. It allowed me to have a wonderful experience of feeling like my body was not an immutable boundary between me and the rest of the world. I was the hooks, I was the person with the hooks, I was the hardwood floor, I was the trees outside and connected to all the people inside. What I took away from this was that my body was no longer a limitation, which for someone like me is a pretty big chunk of thinkydo that changed me forever.

When the pull was over, I went outside into a summer’s twilight. I looked up at the sky as stars began to appear, and I literally saw bands of bright blue light that pulsed between all the living things – the trees, the individual blades of grass, the people in the distance, the stars above. I posted a short recording to my journal that makes me sound like a blissed out hippie.

When I facilitate similar experiences for people, I tell them that whatever they eat or drink once the ride is over, will be the best XXXX they ever ate or drank. For me it was bread. I craved bread like a bread-craving bread craver. And even though the bread was slightly stale and unremarkable, to me it was like experiencing the manna that the Jews in exile were given by God. It was the King of All Bread-like Products. I ate slowly, mindfully, treasuring this odd experience of having the best bread I’ve ever eaten.

Objectively (whatever that word means), all of what I related about my experience is “wrong”. I was not literally a hardwood floor. There were no blue beams of light. The bread was pretty damn mediocre. But at the same time, every time I tell that story no one jumps up at me and demands to know if anyone else verified that I was a hardwood floor. No one feels cheated when I tell them it was the best bread ever (and that they’ll never taste it because, well, I ate it all). They can accept that since these things were perceptionally true for me at the time, and that I am not actively trying to deceive them by inventing experiences I did not actually have, that the story is not only true, but spiritually signficant.

Things change when we start talking about hallucinations brought on by means that don’t have the spiritual trappings to it, or if the hallucinations themselves aren’t of a spiritual nature. Once, when I had a very high fever, I was convinced I was not actually laying in my bed, but was hovering over it by such a small distance no one could see. I can still recall the sensation in both my mind and my body, and yet most of you are ready to dismiss this as being false, not true, not spiritually significant, because it was a) brought on by fever and b) isn’t inherently spiritual (at least to them).

Entheogens are a grey murky ground. Most, but not all, people can understand that some have spiritually significant experiences while ingesting certain herbs or chemicals. But I bet you’re already thinking to yourself that LSD can be spiritual, but DXM (sold over the counter in most cough syrups) cannot. Or, coming at it from another perspective, that if I tripped on acid and spent an hour looking at the tie-dyed head of one of my drums (I will not confirm or deny…), that was likely not spiritually significant. (It was.) But if I tell you that smoking a cigar made my skin feel the warmth and breath of a dead person who smoked cigars, you’d probably agree that it was “real”, or at least “significant”.

People who deal with deceptive perceptions – that is, crazy folks – get to live in a quagmire where it can be difficult or impossible to create such clear distinctions over what is “true” and what is “false”. When I am depressed, I feel like my life is made of all things sucky and no good at all. Even if, at the same time, my lovely boyfriend is over for a visit and is showering me with affection. I just can’t access the part of my mind or soul that sees that as a good and life-affirming thing, because depression tunes all our senses to “worst case senario”. Maybe I told myself, “He’s just doing that because he likes having sex with me”, or “He’s just being nice because he wants me to do something for him”. Let me tell you, even clothing that I usually love to wear can become scratchy and uncomfortable when I’m depressed.

Maybe that’s not as grand an example as a schizophrenic who hears voices, but I wanted to go for the lesser extreme and more relatable example.

Now, how does this all relate to seeing ghosts and talking to Gods?

I find that the most difficult two blocks most people face in this endeavor are things that most humans hold dear and aren’t ready to relinquish, even if it means having “super powers”. The first, and most fundamental, is the idea that they could be wrong. That at the moment of their death, completely convinced that they’re going to Valhalla, swept away by the Valkyrie, because they died from injuries in a streetfight over a woman’s honor (let’s say). But then the machine makes it’s long, unended beep, and then nothing. Nothing. No Christian Heaven and Hell, no wandering meadows of Summerland, no Longhall and hangouts with Odin or Freya, no River Styx or seventy-two virgins. You just cease to exist, the end, thank you very much.

I use that example because it’s one most people struggle with but rarely talk about. We all want there to be something more than this, either because we can’t handle the idea that our unique characteristics and funniest stories can disappear and the world keeps turning, the Universe doesn’t even notice. But at the same time, unless you’ve experienced something that you can accept as being a “ghost”, a remnant of someone who was once alive, it can be hard at times to hold onto the belief that there’s a world NASA can’t pilot to where all the dead people ever are hanging out and maybe boffer fighting or playing some damn good harps. (I think if I end up in Christian Heaven – like the Pope says I might – I am going to lead a rebellion to change harps to banjos. Or maybe Ukuleles.) Even some people who’ve had near death experiences eventually doubt what happened and contribute it to random synapse firing.

So having a belief – whether that belief is Valhalla or that you’ve been abducted by aliens – also means facing the feelings that come with being wrong. And our human society tells us that being wrong is a bad, terrible, awful thing. It makes you eat everything from your hat to your shoe, which doesn’t sound like the Best Bread Ever. It removes an illusion – disillusioned – that you had before. It makes you feel as though you want to die or vomit. It may turn out that there are no purple horses in your living room, and it may also turn out that although you lived your entire life as a Godspouse only to find out that the Mormons were right and all us crazy Pagans were making shit up.

Now, most Pagans (well, especially Pagans, but other people too) carry around the concept that I can believe with all my heart that Loki is my spiritual Dad and that when I die I will be welcomed by Hel into Niflheim; but if you believe that, upon death, your soul will go to the Summerlands and frolic with dryads and faires for all eternity, that’s totally cool. Even though the underlying language means one of us – probably you, because if all eternity is frolicking in a meadow I want to live forever, is wrong. But we consider it anything from impolite to downright heresy to declare your spiritual belief to be wrong or misguided, no matter how much personal experience we may have that says that you are. People who believe their religion is right and everyone else is wrong are either fundamentalist Christians or Islamic terrorists, right?

So if the first block is pushing forward with your spiritual beliefs and experiences with the full understanding that you could be 100% wrong, the second block is even harder. You will have to accept that nobody experiences the same reality as you. We could have a scientific debate about whether that statement is factually true, but since I’m totally okay with being 100% wrong (at least most of the time), we’d probably be wasting precious time we could be masturbating or something. When I teach magic (as opposed to spirituality, as I believe the two are fundamentally separate things), I tell people that the first step to doing magic is believing it exists and then going out and seeking proof of this. Whether it’s smoking a cigar with the intent of summoning your great-grandfather, or seeing the delight in a child’s eyes when you become the “dragon” that their little cardboard swords attempt to slay, it doesn’t matter how you approach magic or how you want to define it. But there’s no skipping the step of becoming totally invested in the belief.

And this is not some halfassed silly excuse why some people do “spells”, or even “curses”, and don’t get a result and others do. I’m not the kind of dude who’s going to judge your failed attempt by saying, “well, I guess you didn’t believe in Tinkerbell quite enough”. At the same time, we all know stories of mothers who have lifted cars off of their children, even when they’re elf-sized and need help carrying groceries. Because in their terror, they only saw one option to save their child, and in that moment the belief that maybe, just maybe, they can do something, excited the neuropathways of the mind and the body began pumping her full of adrenaline and other hormones, and before she can stop herself and say, “Waita minute, I am not the Hulk!”, her child is no longer trapped.

Another thing I frequently teach about magic is that, to me, it is only 50% metaphysics. Yes, there are some tried-and-true ways of doing magic that yield results, like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I could blather on with different metaphysical theories, but I’ll save that for some night when we’re both drunk and want to talk about metaphysics. The other half of magic, the part that needs you to believe in purple horses and cigar-summoning rituals, is psychological. In the same way that if I tell you seeing Elephants means you’re going to win the lottery (yes, I’ve used that example before) you’ll start seeing Elephants where you didn’t – if you do a spell to help you find a job, you’re also going to notice more job-getting opportunities, listen to conversations and notice when someone mentions their business is hiring, and you’re more likely to peruse job sites on the Internet. Whereas if you just keep thinking to yourself, “I should do a spell to help me find a job”, you’re likely going to only notice how hard it is to find anything you might be qualified for, and your friend’s conversation about zir’s business will sound like ze’s droning on about how great the company ze works for is, again.

Here’s the point I’ve been frolicking around in my blog meadow, making long-ass paragraphs along the way. If you sincerely want to have psychic experiences, you need to simultaneously believe that whatever you may psychically perceive is 100% unprovable by any objective means, and that sometimes you’re going to be 100% wrong. Whether you try divining for the first time, or think that Anubis wants you to wear black lingerie on every other Saturday, you need to do your best to invest in the idea that you’re right about that, at least in the moment, and do whatever you need to do to bolster your belief in your rightness. But, with a bit of cognitive dissonance, you also need to accept that you might be totally bonkers, or just outright wrong, or that ghost you see of your dead business partner might be a blot of mustard.

When I hear Gods, I know that there’s a chance that it’s not actually a God at all. It might be my own inner voice, my intuition, sounding more removed than normal. It might be another spirit masquerading as the God I’m trying to reach. Or it might be a God, but not the one I thought it was. For example, I’ve had a few cases lately of people thinking that Loki wants to marry them, only for me to discover that it’s not Loki; however, because there are lots of Loki’s wives on the Internet, some of them are disappointed and don’t want to be the only Aegir’s wife or Angrboda’s husband on the web. They wanted to join a community of people having similar experiences, and so they were doing their damndest to believe that voice was Loki’s. On the other hand, who the fuck am I? I mean, I can talk about how long I’ve been doing this spirit work/shamanic thing, or give you references to many people for whom I’ve helped them with their relationships with Gods, or whatever, but in the end, you either have to invest your belief that I am actually talking to Gods and can tell which God is which, or there’s no fucking reason to ask me in the first place.

I tell people all the time, that for the first three years I was working with this mysterious spirit who showed up in the looney bin, I thought Loki was Talesin, a Celtic hero. I had an altar to Talesin, read stories and other research about Him, made offerings and prayed to Him. I have no idea what Talesin thinks of all of this, as I’ve never actually talked to Him (even after making the differentiation and wanting to apologize). All that time, Loki knew I was wrong, and He was okay with it. He didn’t punish me or abandon me or break me; He just waited for me to figure it out. I can’t promise all Gods will have the same reaction, but that’s not why I tell this story. I got it wrong, big time, for three years.

It happens. Part of spiritual evolution is figuring out when something you believe in doesn’t serve you any more, or isn’t as true as you thought it was, or is downright wrong. I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, but I sure did when I was 18. After some reflection and thought and feeling myself out on the matter, it just didn’t make sense to me anymore.

I want to make sure I credit the book I’m currently reading, which lead to this diatribe. It’s called “Being Wrong; Adventures In the Margin of Error”, by Kathryn Schulz. I definitely relayed some of her ideas and examples, but did not actually quote the material. It’s an excellent book, and if this did anything for you, or if you want to understand how being wrong doesn’t have to be as bad as wanting to die, I highly suggest you take the time to read it.

Belated: National Suicide Awareness Day and Thoughts About Suicide from your Friendly Neighborhood Madness Shaman

This isn’t going to be easy to write, so please bear with me.

I have a long and complex relationship with suicide. When I learned that yesterday was National Suicide Awareness Day, I felt I wanted to write something to encourage those who may be contemplating suicide to get help if they can. Y’know, one of those posts that lists a bunch of hotlines and websites where you can talk to someone if you’re thinking about killing yourself.

I couldn’t bring myself to write it, and at first I didn’t know why. So I meditated about it, and eventually the truth began to come out of the confusion. I wouldn’t be able to write an essay about why you should get help if you’re suicidal because I am in the midst of a depressive episode, and it would either be, or feel an awful lot like, hypocritical if I gave a blanket “suicide is never a solution, get help” sort of message.

I’ve written extensively about the fact that I have mental health issues. They used to be a lot worse than they are today, but I was never “cured” or “in remission” or anything like that. I just found a place between “so crazy I can’t have a conversation ” and “stone cold sane” and started building a new life in that place. Most people know that it involved a shamanic crisis. Some people know that part of that process was me trying to kill myself, only to have a talk with Loki and wake up a little groggy, but otherwise okay.

That was not my first suicide attempt. I tried to kill myself four times while I was growing up. I never told anyone and did not get help. I was already in state-mandated therapy for other reasons, and I knew that if I told the therapist the truth, my life would change drastically in ways that would not, in the end, really help me at all.

I have a general policy now, that when someone tells me they’re going to kill themselves, I will do what I can to keep them from doing it. Most of the time, it comes down to me calling their local police department and having the police pick them up. I have learned that although this policy has saved the lives of people I cared about, it had two completely unintended and, ultimately, heart-wrenching effects. One was that people who ended up in a hospital because I called the police not only didn’t take the therapy seriously, but also stopped talking to me and in one case, killed themselves later on without talking to me. The second effect was that when two of my friends decided to kill themselves, they purposefully didn’t tell me. In one of those cases, the person was killing themselves in order to end their life with dignity rather than suffer a terrible illness, and many of my friends knew about the person’s plan but didn’t tell me because they were afraid I would call the police.

It puts me in this terrible position that I don’t know what the answer to is. I understand at a heart-level what it feels like when there are no other solutions, and I can be a really good ally to have if you want help finding solutions that can’t be seen when you’re in the thick of it. I know a lot of really good mental health programs, and therapists who could give a rat’s ass if you’re poly or kinky or queer or trans or “alternatively spiritual” or whatever flavor of freak you are. It is an important part of my madness shamanism to be able to enter into another person’s point of view (that is tainted by their madness) and help them get to where they want to go from inside the madness, rather than most people who are staring at you from the outside and can’t really get deep in the trenches because they just don’t see why you feel the way you do, or why you’re making the choices you are. I can do that, and I’ve helped a lot of people that way.

On the other hand, I am obviously not a medical professional. I’m just some dude who lives in the suburbs who has had a lot of experience with being a mental health patient and general crazy person; but this does not qualify me as a person who always knows what to do when a stranger, friend, or family member tells me they want to kill themselves. Sometimes it can be hard, because I have to push past my personal relationship with this person and the emotions that well up because of it, and put on my “work hat” – and I’m not perfect at that.

In addition, sometimes getting into the muck with someone means that I push them out, but I leave myself behind. I’m still someone with multiple pysch issues, and I’m not free from triggers. My life is far from peachy, and it only takes a split second for me to let the muck suck me in.

That’s not why I’m depressed now, though.

It hit me last week, as I was reading a memoir. I read a single sentence, a passing mention of something that had happened to a family member; it said “{family member} had not recovered from their divorce.” (Emphasis mine.) It hit me like a medicine ball to the stomach. I literally stopped breathing, started trembling, and broke down and cried.

A literal shit-ton of jarring life experiences have happened to me in the last year and a half. It’s been a year since my marriage fell apart and I had to move out in a matter of a week. I’ve had friends die. I’ve been in the hospital and had multiple surgeries, one of which I almost didn’t survive. My financial situation changed drastically, and things I hadn’t had to worry about for years suddenly became life-shaking realities. My diabetes, which had been mostly controlled by diet, got much, much worse and is contributing to my overall health. I had to move three times. I walked away from parts of my life that meant a great deal to me. I moved far away from most of my friends and it’s not as easy for me to go to social stuff and no one lives close enough to just “drop by”. I spend a lot of time alone. I don’t drive, so I am always relying on the kindness of friends to help me do simple things like go to doctors or run errands. Not very long ago, I didn’t have enough gas to get me to the ER, nor could I afford it (I went anyway, but the way I got the money was not easy nor did it make me feel good about myself or my life).

I’m not writing this because I want people to sweep in and start solving my problems. I frequently don’t post about problems in the day-to-day because I don’t want people to think I’m walking around with my hand out. Or people whom I could help – something that makes me feel good about myself and my place in the world – decide I am too engulfed in my own shit and ask someone else. I also know that there are people who celebrate (publicly) when I am depressed or sick or just not doing well; there are others who think I’m making it all up, or just trying to get people to give me money/attention/pity/etc.

I’m writing this because on National Suicide Awareness Day, I want to say something not just about suicide, but about the suffering and anguish that many people who don’t kill themselves go through. It’s one thing to tell them suicide is not the answer, but it’s a very long and intricate process to actually make other answers seem viable and attractive to someone who is that lost. It’s extremely difficult to remember that it’s not about you, or how much you love them, but there are years (or decades) of neglectful upbringing, or traumatic experiences, or biochemical imbalances (in some, but not all), or plain ol’ suckitude, that brought them to this place, and a single act of happy-making isn’t going to solve the problem, or in some cases it can actually make things worse. That no matter how strong and sane you are, the person likely needs a professional if they can get one. If not, you have to choose – are you going to put your arm around them and really commit to walking them back to a place where they are functional? Are you going to do the homework to find them a professional to talk to that won’t get sidetracked by their freak factor(s) (ask me sometime about the therapist who thought all my problems were because I went to Rocky Horror a few times a month!)? Can you be strong when they engage in behaviors you know are bad for them or are symptoms of their mental illness?

Writing love on your arms is pretty, but there’s a whole lot more involved if you want to help someone come back from suicidal ideation.

I feel like I want to say something about what it’s like to have a loved one commit suicide, and how I (and others) never forget, never really move on. Many suicidal people convince themselves that their friends and family are better off without them, or that they’re a burden rather than a blessing, and that once they’re dead everyone will feel relief. It is just not true. Even when I know that the person was truly in hell, physically or emotionally or mentally or all three, and that maybe now that they’re dead they suffer no more; it doesn’t make the grief any less, or the feeling of failure you feel that you couldn’t help them, or that they didn’t reach out to you, or that you didn’t fully grasp how bad it was.

On the other hand, I am a strong supporter of body autonomy, and in my case that includes the right to off yourself if that’s how you want to go. Not only do I support people with terminal or end-stage/uncurable chronic illness having the right to decide to die sooner rather than suffer through months or years of pain and suffering; I support the right of people who just want to control the way they die. Even when I’m doing well and mentally stable, the idea that I have to surrender my life in a way not of my choosing seems foreign and oppressive. It’s my life, and I should have the full right to do with it whatever I want, including ceasing it’s function. If someone truly and sincerely asked me to help them die, and they could make a cogent case as to why they should, I don’t know that I would say no.

Suicide is not a black/white thing, like everything else in humanity. It’s not all bad, all the time, no matter what. But frequently, it’s not the cure for mental illness, either. Even now, in the midst of a bad depressive episode, I know that I don’t actually want to die; I just want to stop feeling terrible and having terrible things happen to me or those I care about. I want a quick and easy answer to my struggle. Death is attractive in moments like this, but I know it’s not the right choice for me now. Doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, fantasize about it, or don’t allow myself to imagine a plan.

I also want to make sure people understand that there is a difference between thinking about suicide and actually wanting to kill yourself. The medical term is “suicide ideation”, which just means that you think/fantasize about suicide, and may feel suicidal, but either don’t actually want to kill yourself/die, or won’t go through with it. I won’t say everyone thinks about killing themselves at one point or another, but it’s a common experience. One of the ways I work with my mental illness is to remind myself that it’s totally okay to think about suicide, and a whole different kettle of fish to actually plan to kill myself. For me, it’s better if I let my thoughts flow as they will, rather than punishing or correcting myself if I’m thinking about something I “shouldn’t”. When I think like that, many of my compulsions kick into high gear, and I start doing very unhealthy things in the name of what I “should” be doing.

It’s also okay to call a suicide hotline even if you don’t have a gun to your head or a bottle of pills in your hand. These people want to talk to others, even if it’s just a friendly chat so you feel less alone in the world. If you have secrets you can’t talk about with anyone, it can be a big relief to call a stranger who doesn’t know your real name or where you’re from (and you can use many online programs to call from a number other than your personal home or cell, like Google Voice), and tell them your deepest darkest secrets. I first confessed that I thought I might be queer to a suicide hotline. I also talked to one when I thought my spouse was cheating on me and I didn’t want to get any of my friends involved. I called one not very long ago, for reasons I’m not going to write about here just yet. None of these times were moments out of a movie, with the caller literally putting the noose around their neck and begging the hotline volunteer to talk them out of it; it was more, “I’m feeling very lost and alone about this or that or all of the things in my life, and I’m not seeing many solutions or resolutions other than running away or killing myself.” There’s no meter or metric that you can measure your suicide ideation with to confirm or deny that you’re “suicidal enough” to call for help.

Hi, I’m Del, and I have multiple mental health diagnoses. I’m in a depressive phase and things don’t feel so good. Sometimes I think about suicide, but I don’t have any plans. I take medication for my depression, and I’m not afraid to say so. I know I will have to take it for a long time – it’s not a course of antibiotics that you take until you feel better. I have to take them until such time as situations in my life are more balanced and only then with the help of a professional – if ever. If I have to take them for the rest of my life, I would much rather take a few pills every day than ever feel as bad as I have in the past. I would rather take a few pills than go back to a psych ward. I would rather take a few pills and deal with a few side effects rather than spread my crazy onto all of my friends and loved ones.

I’m only going to list a few resources here: I figure you all have Google and can find the more nationally-known hotlines and services. These are a few places to start if you’re in need of a therapist who won’t judge or pathologize parts of your life that others might.

Kink Aware Professionals: This is a list of all different kinds of services, from lawyers to contractors to therapists. It helps if you’re close to a major city, but there are some out here in the boonies. I also like that they encourage listers to categorize how hep to kink they are: “Friendly” means they generally know what an average citizen knows about kink, and won’t judge you on it. “Aware” means they’ve done some research and have some understanding of kink/power exchange, and “Knowledgeable” means they either are kinky themselves, or know enough about the lifestyle that you’ll find yourself not having to explain an awful lot.
I should mention that I refer a lot of people, kinky or not, to the KAP because you’ll find that a therapist or counselor who is hep to kinky stuff is much less likely to lose their shit about other alternative lifestyles, including spirit workers/shamans or LGBTQ folks.

Poly Friendly Professionals. A similar list, except instead of kink stuff, these people are either polyamorous or aware/non-judgemental about being poly. I find poly-aware therapists are usually open to non-traditional relationships of all stripes and colors, including Godspousery. (Again, not all, but most of the ones I’ve talked to or worked with.)

The Open List: This is another list of professionals of all stripes that are welcoming to all those in alternative lifestyles, with a focus on non-monogamy. What’s nice is at the bottom of the page, they list other lists that have similar foci, should you not find what you are looking for here.

Broken Toys is a website hosted by Raven Kaldera that has many essays about kink and mental illness. Although the full title says it’s about Submissives, the articles come from all sorts of people in power exchange relationships from the Top and the Bottom. It’s not a place to find a therapist, but it does have some great essays both on what to do when you/your partner is struggling with a mental illness, and also first hand stories/experiences.

Although it is geared towards teenagers, Kate Bornstein’s book Hello Cruel World is a wonderful list of 101 alternatives to suicide. If you’re depressed and web searching anyway, google Kate and listen/read/watch what she has to say on the topic; she and I feel very similarly about suicide. Her mantra is “Do whatever it takes to make your life worth living; anything at all.” She even hands out (and offers on her website) “Get Out of Hell Free” cards, so if your God(s) punish you for doing what it took to make your life better, she’s volunteering to do your time for you. Her only rule? “Don’t be mean.” Her book even has an app on Itunes, so if you can’t get the book, or if you need something right away, this is a good start.

Kate also has posted her own “It Gets Better” video on YouTube; it made me cry my eyes out in a good way.

I hope this terribly long and windy post helps someone, somewhere, to feel better even for a moment. Maybe posting this will help me feel better for a moment. Who knows?

Revenge of the Month for Loki (RMfL) Post II: Not a Godspouse, I.

In the last few months, I’ve stirred up some dust for poking at Loki’s mortal wives – even though I count some of their number as my nearest and dearest friends. I encouraged readers to write about their own relationships with Him, especially if these relationships were not spousal.

Time to put my money in my flapping maw, I guess.

One of the biggest misgivings I had about answering Loki’s call – even though I had already surrendered to Him as His servant – was that I was not happy about His claim of being my “father”.

As a Christian apostate, I had spent too many years of my life desperately trying to relate to God as a cosmic Daddy. It never worked for me, and as I got more involved in my particular flavor of Protestant faith (United Methodist), I was lucky to find others who weren’t so quick to assume God-the-Masculine. It was just becoming the new vogue to refer to God as either “She”, or gender neutral words. This was much more in line with how I experienced God, and that feeling grew moreso in my first forays into Paganism, at the hands of Dianic Wicca, a particular kind of Wicca that is Goddess-centric (to the exclusion of a male “God” at all, or worship/mention of male deity) and wouldn’t even let men into their rituals. (Or Trans* Women either, let’s be honest.)

So just as I was getting more comfortable in my relationship to the Holy One(s), a Male Deity showed up and claimed to be my father. And not just in some metaphorical, archetypal way either – He actually detailed for me the scene at my conception, to prove He had been present, even if my (human) parents knew nothing about it. He claimed to have molded me in the womb, to be what I am today, so as to be a better shaman/spirit worker for Him.

Part of this relationship with Him was specifically engineered to help me overcome the deep wounds I had about my human father. He was a very troubled soul, nearly friendless throughout my lifetime, wrought with depression and other severe mental illnesses, as well as the results of a horrific childhood. I tried for years to come to better terms with him, especially as I became an adult and saw him for the sad man of circumstance and bad choices he really was, rather than the abusive tyrant he had been in my youth. Not that I explain away or mean to make excuses for the fucked up things he did to me and my siblings (and my mother too), but I understand much more where those dysfunctions came from. When I first learned of his death in 2007, I honestly couldn’t tell if I was sad or glad he was gone. So ambivalent my family and what little friends he had were, I was the only one brave enough to give a eulogy at his funeral, and even then I made sure to make it known that I wasn’t going to ignore or pretend that he hadn’t been an asshole to a lot of people in his day.

It’s obvious, then, why I never really felt God as a reflection of my father, which was really the only “father figure” I ever had – the only other male who served as a role model in my youth was a very fey gay man, go figure – because I could not separate the idea of my father as the self-proclaimed sovereign of my childhood household and this supposedly benevolent Being who not only never saved me from the terrors of abuse as a child, no matter how much I prayed, but who saw fit to give me a deep desire for spiritual service combined with a strong sexual attraction for gay men and lesbians. Either way you sliced it, the idea of a Holy Male (or wholly Male) never really felt right to me.

But there Loki was, not only claiming to have a hand (so to speak) in my actual conception, but now wanted me to worship Him as a child does their Father. I wasn’t having any of it.

But Loki, in his infinite patience, bore out all of my fighting and rejecting and trying to reframe our relationship in any other matter but this, until finally I came to accept my lot. And honestly, it’s more that I can totally see myself as not unlike His brood via Angrboda – a monster, not quite human, but of this world nonetheless. And this is why, friends, that I get really fucking pissed off when I call myself “monster” and you feel bound to assure me I am not. I do not see this as a bad thing, nor really a good one either, but just a thing, like being a redhead. In some ways, I see it not unlike many of the other labels I have come to accept for myself, many of them having once been epithets but now reclaimed: queer, trans, crip, fat, weirdo, geek, etc.

Then, of course, just as I started to feel comfortable with my lot, I found Loki’s mortal wives. Some of them are wonderfully nice people, fellow Lokeans that I love dearly. But just as many told me horrible things, like “If Loki really loved you, He’s marry you” or “If you’re Loki’s child, and I’m His wife, that must make me your mother-in-law in some way”, or “Why would someone *choose* to be a monster like Fenris, who is an enemy to the Aesir?” and so on. It broke the shaky confidence I had gained. I cried for months, through which Loki stayed mostly distant, waiting out the temper tantrum for what it was. I felt ugly, abandoned, unworthy, unloved, because He did not choose me for a wife, but instead a child. It made me feel condenscended to (from both the mortal lot as well as He), like I was fated to always be seated at the kid’s table, that no one would take me seriously as either a spirit worker or Lokean should I make my relationship with Him known.

(Maybe now you can see why I get so fucking angry when Lokeans come to me having been told similar things – the gas over Loki only really loving His wives being among them – because not only does it fucking hurt, not only is it not even remotely true, but because I’ve known more than one who have turned from Loki completely, feeling that if He did not want them for a spouse, they would find a different God who would take them as such.)

Part of my journey with Loki is to learn about being a non-asshole Father, but even more deeply as I started my transition, how to be a non-asshole man. Unfortunately, as many formerly abused children do, I have dated some pretty fucked up individuals in my day, hoping to find some sort of Daddy replacement, only to get wounded all over again. It has been difficult for me to figure out what kind of man I am, or want to be, because there aren’t many role models I’ve had access to in an intimate enough manner (not meaning “fucking”, but as in “understanding all aspects of them”) that have panned out. I think my picker has gotten better as I grow older, but it still needs some WD-40 from time to time.

It has also been about being the underdog, the minority voice fighting to be heard, to be respected. In the past few years, some have told me they see me as an Elder, and knowing how hard I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously (both in general and as a Lokean), I find a deep honor in that. I don’t know if I’m ready to take on that mantel quite yet, so for now I’m happy to be a Pope (which I will write about soon).

So that is my relationship to Loki, as well as I can tell it today. He is my Dad, and His blood runs through my veins as surely as my mortal parents do. I have learned to see my human father as a three dimensional human being, rather than just “the bad guy”, and I have learned to cultivate the aspects of masculinity that suit me, and to remember not to emulate the aspects that don’t, even if I might pass more as a man if I did.

The Revenge of the Month For Loki: Post I (Invocation)

Hail Loki!

Hail the son of Laufey, nestled at the teat of Jotunheim, upbrought by the Giants of the Earth.

Hail the young wanderer, naught but a sack on his back and a dog nipping at his heels!

Hail the love-struck of Angrboda, the doe-eyed at the feet of the wolf-mother; winning love through teeth and blood! Hail the reluctant bride, hard won through her fierce independence and her dislike of trifling odes of love! Hail her strong protection over her heartsworn, even after he drifted astray!

Hail the young father of monsters: who continued to breed and to welcome their much-needed and much-heeded existence in all the Worlds! Hail his most-hated children – Jormungand, the anger and passion that rides the waves! Hail Fenris, the heat and meat on this most earthen place! Hail Hel, who holds between and betwixt her half-fleshen hands the hallowed halls of the common dead! Hail to my brethren: all of the children of Loki who walk the monstrous path!

Hail to Odin’s companion, bloodsworn brothers who tasted the fruits of masculinity and femininity alike! Taking trusted enemy in hand, leaving enmity to the winds of luck and the waters of friendship (and mayhaps love?)! Hail to the road-weary twins upon their mighty return to Asgard!

Hail to the King’s Jester; not in motley clad jovialry, but always there with the hard-spoken truth and the answer none other would dare suggest! Hail to the solver of all problems – even if you ne’er agree to his solutions! Hail to the rescuer of Molinir; to the eagle-winged saver of blessed apples; to the Mare who won a much-needed Wall!

Hail to the many-wedded Lover! Hail to He who won the heart of the innocent Sigyn! Hail to the husband who can be as gentle with His love as He is harsh; but also Hail to His unfaltering oaths of devotion and steadfastness (if not monogamy?)! Hail to the Eternal Well of Passion, which He shares without hesitation or fear!

Hail to the Tester of Truths! When anyone speaks that “none may harm”, He will always find the catch in the clause! Hail to the reaper of Mistletoe, to the one who gives Balder his righteous and holy saga! Hail to the one unafraid to put His mask on the roles none dare play, yet must be done!

Hail to the Speaker of Hard Truths! Hail to the hardy heart, ready to remind each and sundry that none are made wholly without fault, not even the Aesir! Hail to the warmer of the mortal hearths, who ties our clay-meld miens to the tales of the Holy Ones! Hail to one who brings voice to the things we truly must hear, even if we never ask it spoken to us! Hail to the harsh mirror, who reminds us that the journey is more important that the destination! Hail to He who can name His own faults as quickly as He does anyone else!

Hail to the Mourner of the Innocent! He who sheds few tears, but emotes an ocean for his twice-torn seed! Hail to the Helpless Witness, who looks at His bride wracked with loss but does not turn away or leave! Hail to the Mason of Eternal Strength, who does not break nor bow when His sons Narvi and Vali pay a too-hefty price for His tongue! Hail to the Ocean of Tears that the souls of His children ever sail, for wont of a boat!

Hail to the Tortured and Hanged Man! Hail to the one held by sorrow and entrail! Hail to the Brave Countenance of Acceptance, who lies Himself down to be bound with the offal of His loin! Hail to The Constitution of Self, that withstands such harshness as is His role to play!

Hail the Breaker of Worlds! Hail the tsunami of wroth held within His mighty breast! Hail the Dancer in the Lands of Madness, whose surrender is a strength instead of a weakness! Hail to the Piper of the Mad, the one unafraid to suffer through his mind’s betrayal and yet show the greatness that lies in that path! Hail to the Maelstrom Intoward, who lies in wait for the appointed hour, lest He rend the Tree before its time!

Hail to the Tester of Gods! To the Martyr of Truth! Hail He who gives His blood once again so that the story of Man and God is told! Hail to the God forgot, or thrice-cursed, or hidden in the hearts of men, whose name years to be heard alongside his brethren Aesir! Hail to the Patient, who gathers a flock mighty in number, no matter that some spit upon His name and countenance! Hail to the Shepard of the Mad, the Forgot, the Lowly, the Twisted, the Meek, the Queer, the rounded pegs pounded upon square holes!

Hail to ye, my fellows in arms, that chose to recognize Him in these Dog Days! Hail to ye, who tell His mighty tales, who sing His praises admist the jeers, who refuse to stay silent but ring the ears of the Hubristic with your cries of worship! Hail to ye, whose right action calls out against the tide of man! Hail to all of ye, whether Loki be your Man-o-Arms or your Least-Trusted-Ally; as long as you accept His place in the Stars, who toast Him in your halls – and especially ye who toast Him where He is least bidden – I hail ye heartily, and open my home to you always!

Hail to Loki! May the Month For Loki begin!

Hundreds of Ways

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” – Rumi

“But not that way, that way makes you a poopiehead.” – Rumi’s younger cousin Boomi

As I mentioned briefly in my last entry, there’s been some controversy around certain portions of the Pagan blogosphere about the intersection of fandom and faith. Some talk of whether or not writing fanfic involving a God from older mythology is appropriate. Others want to know if making an altar to Superman is the same as making one to Osiris, or if its okay to use comic-book-derived images of certain Gods (most notably Thor and Loki) on altars to those Gods.

What I hear underneath it all, is a strong bias. No one would blink an eye if I wrote about how a modern song deepened my relationship to a God from an older mythology. Or if something considered “high art”, like a painting, a photograph, or abstract sculpture was an acceptable addition to an altar if the art somehow related to the God or concept the altar was for; that wouldn’t cause a stir at all. But if you venture into any sort of pop culture art (except music, as I see many respected bloggers use popular music in their Work) all of a sudden it is considered irreverent, inappropriate, and ridiculous.

I smell snobbery. Somehow, someone who thinks it’s okay to make a rough-hewn altar out of sticks, rocks, and leftover candle snubs if that’s all a person has access to, freaks out if instead of those things, they use images or representative art that was made post 1960. Graphic novels – you know, the fancy title for comic books – somehow do not receive the same level of artistic respect, even if the artist involved also dabbles in “higher” forms of art as well. In some way, a declaration is being made as to what kinds of art are acceptable to the Gods, and well, I’m not one to get in the way between a devotee and their relationship to a God, including what offerings are found acceptable or not.

These same snobs have no problem if someone writes a tome of modern poetry to a Holy One, or a creative retelling of stories that already exist in the lore; heck, some of them are even open to new stories based on UPG, as long as they’re written in a certain format. But the moment that creative writing impulse is used in a way that resembles some of the fan-fiction that exists on the Internet, it is a totally different story. (Ha, get it? Story?) As if writing new mythologies in the first person, that stem from a person’s interaction or conception of a God or other spirit, cannot be reverent. They must be told in the third person, in an objective a way as possible, and the only other characters must be other Gods and spirits from that pantheon – never a modern-day human being, recording their experiences or creating morality tales. If I chose to write a heretofore unrecorded story about Loki, it better meet mustre or I’m just a lonely fanfic writer who doesn’t know their ass from their elbow. I also see much of this derision placed on writers who may not be prolific at their craft – that is, a well-crafted and grammatically correct tale is acceptable, but if it relies on hackneyed tropes and could use a good spellchecker then it must be “fanfic”.

Again, there’s this retched stench of snobbery coming across from those who reject certain art forms as being introduced to a religious or spiritual construct that they seemingly share. I don’t understand how other people haven’t made the connection between those who feel their precious Gods would never deign to ask a follower to undergo or perform ordeals in that God’s name, and those who feel it is exactly what that God asked them to do. In that debate, we can usually come to the understanding that the Gods are bigger than we can ever understand, and in that bigness we include that one’s relationship with Them might be radically different from devotee to devotee; therefore if Loki loves the little green and gold outfits on Moonbeam’s altar, but Sophia thinks the Marvel rendition is atrocious and disrespectful, who’s to say that Loki told Moonbeam (who is also probably younger, but I’ll get to that in a minute) one thing, and Sophia another? When did it become our jobs to declare what was Holy and what is Profane?

I also believe the fact that most (but not all!) of those who engage in these forms of devotion happen to be younger, come from a different generation that had a vastly different relationship to fan fiction than their elders, is part of the problem. I don’t think most of us old farts understand that although fan fiction did get much of its start in the fevered fantasies of Star Trek fans who wanted to see Kirk and Spock get it on, the younger generation grew up in an age where you only wrote fan fic for the Works you loved the most. It is considered an act of devotion, in and of itself, to write a story using someone else’s world. Granted, not all authors feel that way, but many have come around to seeing it as the flattery it is. Also, that only a small portion of fiction created in a shared world has anything to do with slash (slash: fiction written where two characters from a shared world have sex with each other, usually written when the characters did not have romantic or sexual relations in the referential work). Writing fan fiction, especially first person or “Mary Sue” stories (Mary Sue stories: When an author creates a character based on themselves and inserts that character into a shared world story.) In fact, many of these authors write side stories, exploring characters who were not given much time or attention in the referential work, simply because something about that minor character caught the author’s eye and inspired them to create a story featuring that character.

I bring this up when thinking about Loki in specific. Although he is mentioned often in the referential work in question, He rarely gets stories that are specifically about Him. He’s usually playing second fiddle in some way, helping Thor get his hammer back, or assisting Odin in getting a wall built. Not much is told about what Loki does when He’s on his own, but only in relation to when He decides to be chummy with the other Aesir. Although I admit I have not read much of this “Loki fanfic”, it doesn’t surprise me that it exists. Devotees of a God naturally begin to have curiosity about what that God does when They’re not playing second fiddle or providing a needed plot twist – these followers want to hear stories in which their God is the main character. And since I have not been present when one of these works has been written, I can’t say (nor can I not say) that there was a subtle Guiding Hand – or screaming UPG, for that matter – that inspires the author to write. It also harkens back to the idea that people who were raised in the generation of fan fiction were taught, some in early childhood, that writing fan fiction was an act of devotion. That writing stories where you insert yourself into the referential work helps them feel as though they have a personal connection with the characters, the story, the world, or all three. How is this any different than doing guided meditation with the goal of trying to figure out how you, a mere mortal, fits into a Holy One’s plans? The only difference is that these authors are writing it down, and sharing it with others in hopes that maybe someone else will glean meaning from what the author learned in their process.

Now, when it comes to revering modern day superheros as Gods in their own right, I go back to looking at how the older mythologies came to be. For sake of this argument, we can probably agree that most mythologies started out as a set of oral tales and traditions that were considered sacred by the people who told them, heard them, and began to shape their lives based on them. These stories were shared over time, and eventually some of the characters seemed to “come to life”, and before long there were offerings left to them, and altars and temples built, and places named after them. Ceremonies re-creating parts of the stories were considered spiritual and necessary.

Who has the stick-of-knowing-it-all to say that modern stories are exempt from this process? I’m sure the people who first started cults to characters from the sacred stories were also met with derision and ridicule. I’m sure the first family to put their shoes outside so a magical saint could fill them with coins or candy looked pretty fucking stupid to all of their neighbors. In the same way, when people raised in a Christian tradition see a bunch of people wearing renaissance faire clothing (if they’re wearing clothing) doing a ribbon dance around a pole with a penis on the top, they think we’re an embarrassment to the human race. So what do I care if a person decides to draw their moral and spiritual inspiration from Superman, or Star Wars, or My Little Pony? Rumi never clarified that only the solemn ways were the right ways to kneel and kiss the ground – sometimes what seems outlandishly ridiculous to one can be life-alteringly sacred to another.

Take a moment and try to look at some of your spiritual practices from the view of an objective outsider – when I do this exercise, I like to pretend I’m Penn Jilette. Not only because I have a huge crush on him, but because he’s an very opinionated atheist and objectivist to whom many people listen because he’s a celebrity. Whenever I need to get a good headcheck about whose spiritual practices are “right action” or “reverent” or “appropriate”, I try very hard to have a Penn moment. I’m sure he’d take one tour of my house, filled with altars, with magical items above the doors, and with some of the odd habits I keep in order to maintain the wards and spiritual life of the home, and decide I was a loony. And not only would he dismiss me for being crazy, but he would feel I was actively hurting other people when I talk to them about my faith, because I might encourage them to work magic in hopes of attaining a goal, or pray for guidance, when they could be doing something more tangibly productive. But I rest my faith in the spiritual choices I make, and so I don’t let it get to me that Penn thinks I’m a harmful goofus.

I do the same thing when other Pagans come at me for some of my practices and beliefs. I frequently remind people that “serious doesn’t always mean solemn” – one of the public rituals I helped write that got the most acclaim from my Pagan community involved two giant pinatas (a cock and a cunt) that were rigged to slam into each other until they rained condoms and candy on the waiting crowd. It brought joy and laughter to a holiday that frequently challenges people who still have shame around sex, body image, and attractiveness. Too many Beltane rituals that I have attended do not take into consideration that those attending might not feel comfortable in a sexually-charged atmosphere, so those Pagans lose out on the sacred fertility (both reproductive and otherwise) that comes from a Beltane celebration. So I wanted to write one that included everyone, from the dirtiest pervert to the most body-conscious prude, in celebrating a holiday about love and joy and creativity.

And yes, some people thought it was overly silly, and not “reverent”. And you know what I say?

Fuck them. It was magical for those who were present. And that’s all that matters.

As for this debate, I come to much the same conclusion. I’ll do my own spiritual stuff over here, and that includes believing in a Goddess whose mythology was written by a living author. I have a tattoo that is fish puns and butterflies, and to me it is as sacred as any other mark I have taken on for a God I serve. I don’t care that Her lore was published in the 1980’s; what I care about is that by being Her devotee, I have done more for the mentally ill and the spiritually lost than I would have otherwise. I truly believe that although Loki removed the majority of my crazy, it was Delirium who taught me how to live with the crazy that was left behind. Once a year, I release a balloon into the sky for Her. And yes, I have written non-canonical stories about Her, using Her character to help others understand how to better live with their mental illness (rather than fight it).

Because one of the hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground is writing new mythologies. New stories with Old Gods, old stories with New Gods. Looking at oral, written, and recorded stories that stir something deep inside of me and make me feel whole as a sacred human being. As long as I’m right with the Gods I serve, whose judgment should I really be worried about, anyway?

PS. I’m open to be corrected on this, but I believe that the original spelling of the Goddess of Death/Daughter of Loki was H-E-L, and that H-E-L-A was adopted by Marvel because the comic book censors wouldn’t let them use H-E-L because it was too close to H-E-L-L, which was a banned word at the time. So although I believe that it just bled into the mainstream, anyone who uses the H-E-L-A spelling is dabbling in their own form of fanfic.

The Arrival of the Quilt

The story begins several years ago. A drum was borne, and in that drum lay a spirit. The spirit was neither “good” nor “evil”, it just posed a challenge few were ready to handle. Much less the one that borne the drum. So it was bound, and hidden, awaiting the right person to take ownership of such a thing.

Then there I was, unaware of all that had happened, and it was quickly decided that this drum was *mine*, or at least *my problem now*. I took it, not really knowing what it was for, only hearing stories of those who had interacted with it.

I removed the layers upon layers of binding it had been given, this poor little spirit inside the drum. And it roared to life in my hands, with a single thrum. It was starving, it told me, so hungry, and it feeds on the drippings of madness. It told me it was like a vampire, sucking the madness from the deep within where we humans tend to bury it, pulling through the layers of fat and arteries and veins until it’s sticky sweetness comes oozing through their pores, into the air like a contagion, and the drum revels in it, soaks it in, makes it stronger.

To me, the spirit seemed like a bratty bottom. Not unlike a brazen sort who demand to be tied to a post and whipped, but only in the ways that it likes, and only to the strength it can take, and only with the toys made of materials that feel good. They call it “topping from the bottom”, and this spirit had it in droves.

Except it had not met me. I am a top who likes to put bratty bottoms in their place. Deep inside of their loud demeanors and urgent demands is a submissive, waiting to be cowed, but they want you to earn it. They don’t want to bow their neck to your title, or to your collection of toys, or to your swagger. They want you to wrest it from their hard-clenched fists, their balled-up hearts, begging for release so desperately underneath their shield of bravado. I have met many of them in my day, and this drum was no different.

I knew the drum was only one of two tools needed for the purpose. But I had the drum in my hands, so I focused upon it. I fed it its fill of my own madness, knowing how and when to let it come to the surface and let it wash over my otherwise collected mind. I am one of the rare ones, a madness shaman, and it is within this energy I am strongest. It showed me many things, this drum – the secrets of my depression, the scars of my abuse, the tears of others shed for my insanity, my rapist going on with life like nothing had happened, all the things that brought me to that climactic moment, the moment I gave way and gave Will and gave reigns to the Lord of Madness Himself.

The other tool, He told me, would be a quilt. I sighed very, very deeply, many times. Of all the handicraft my parents tried to instill in me, sewing was one my clumsy hands could never tame. I can barely sew a button on a shirt, much less a hem on pants, even so much less create a quilt out of madness. But I tried, four times, collecting scraps and drawing ideas and reading websites and nothing. I have too many scraps of material half-sewn to show for my efforts.

I went back to my Lord and begged of Him; may I have another do this thing for me, so that I can move forward? He showed me then, what the quilt was for. It was a map, He said, of the Land of Crazy. The Drum will bring their madness to their skin, draw it out from its hiding place, and that essence will manifest, read the map, find its way back to the shattered part left behind. If the journeyer had enough strength, enough willpower, and a steadfast heart, they can wrest that shard from the Land, take it back with them, and claim a more clear-headed life.

So I needed a map. I don’t know many, if any, who understand the borders of the land of crazy the way I do. But then I get a warning, a strong one: I cannot ask this of someone who will lose their way. To some, the Land of Crazy feels comforting and warm, like a quilt, and if they begin to wind it’s paths with their mind, they will get lost, never to return. It was hard for me, to turn down offers of very skilled hands, because secretly I knew they would fall down the rabbit hole and never emerge.

Then, one night, a crone-like woman tells me she has been called to make this quilt. I have but barest explained to her what it is, what it is for, and I can feel the fervor in her eyes. She is the one, I have no doubt. I worry, as I do not know her well, that she may get lost; I am assured by her loved ones that her feet are strongly planted.

I see a few pictures, as she begins to sew. My heart tingles. She is the one.

And then, silence. I am going through my own journey, too much to see and do and focus on, but in the back of my mind I knew it is being built. I get word, time and again, that work progresses. I survive my journey, come back to the land of the living, where many had predicted that my time dancing with Madness would cease. But I knew, oh I knew, that what waited for me upon my return was this masterpiece.

Today, a large package arrived at my house, accompanied with a smaller one. I knew what it was immediately; the waves of the land of my heart slid over it like a waterfall. I opened the small package first, and I’m confused. Tiles of various sizes, different materials. I keep hoping for an explanation, but then the box is empty and I do not know what is for. There is, in an envelope, some of the craftswoman’s cards, and a single key.

I know then that I will only understand the tiles when I open the larger package. I take a moment and breathe, thinking to myself, this is like when I met the drum for the first time only stronger. I take out my grounding tools, to have them close at hand, as I hack away at the brown paper and duct tape that holds the package together.

With one deep sniff I can smell the flowers of Madness. I can feel the power of this magical item pulse the air around me. I begin to lay it out, so I can take in all of it’s wonderousness, and it is so. It is exactly as I had described: a path, but not a clear one, that leads from one kind of madness to another. There are secret pockets and hidden treasures. And then I remember the tiles.

I had told her that this quilt needs to have tie points, markers that help me guide the journeyer through a land maybe foreign to them, but home to me. They also need reminders of the here and now, should the journey pull them under, or make them lost, or send them in circles without finding a thing. The tiles fit neatly upon the various squares of the quilt, different points for different people. For the Land of Crazy is never static, even in our attempts to map it. But at least this is something, a guide if nothing else.

I debated if I should send you an image, as it is as much an awesome piece of art as it is a tool. But after spending only a few minutes in its full presence, I found myself warping and winding and grasping for my ground. I do not know if this effect can be had by proxy, but I’d rather not tempt it.

Needless to say, I am more than pleased; pleased at the art of it, at it’s completion; even though the night the deal was struck turned into one of difficulty for me, I would suffer gladly a ten-time repeat of it if it meant I would get such powerful beauty as a reward.

I guess this means I’m really open for business.

The Gradients of Life

For now, I am still a madness shaman. Part of that job is to speak for those who struggle with their madness, who suffer from the inside from something our medical science has yet to learn how to treat effectively.

In that role, I feel it is my duty to say something about the terrible tragedy that happened in CT today. Before I say anything else, of course I have great sorrow for all the innocent children who were wounded or died, and the adults who tried to keep them safe. I have not forgotten them, nor do I intend to. But I think it’s easier for most people to hold that grief for me, to support those families and those souls, and I am only one person with only the focus of myself, and so I choose to look at this from a different angle.

No sane person wakes up and thinks killing innocent kindergarteners is a logical way to spend a morning. I do not feel saying that Adam Lanza had a mental illness is an insult. I have a mental illness, and I do not feel ashamed to say so. It is why I was chosen for this path in life, to speak for these people; it is what made me special, different, and skilled in the Work that I do.

First of all, I grieve for all those in Adam’s life who lost a friend today. Dorothy Hanson, his grandmother, not only lost her grandson and daughter today. His older brother (whom the press has not named) lost a large portion of his family today. And I’m sure there are others, who are ripped apart at the knowledge that someone they cared for and knew was suffering so deeply, so completely, that this was what it lead to.

This year, my friend Jon killed himself. And although in hindsight there were glimmers of things he did or said that may have clued us in, everyone in his life were pretty shocked that it happened. And although it’s not exactly the same, I know what it’s like to sit with your family of choice and wonder how you failed him. Why he didn’t reach out. Why he didn’t seek help, or say something, or even just act more like a stereotypical suicidal person so we could have seen what was going on in his head. He was a smart kid, and I know he knew that if he did, we would have done something, and that might have stopped him. And it hurts, deep in your soul, to feel like you failed as a friend, and for me, as one who is dedicated to helping those who lose themselves in the land of crazy. I, personally, felt like I had not only failed my friend, but failed my vocation.

I can’t imagine how much this is magnified with the shame of having your loved one being immediately branded as evil, sick, demented. I know these words are thrown around because it’s too hard to see things in shades of gray – it’s much easier to think of the world as good vs evil, sane vs. crazy, criminal vs. victim. We need someone to vent our frustration at, a figure to express our rage that things like this still happen. And in a way it’s safe, too, because he’ll never fight back. We’ll never find out that maybe he called an anonymous hotline last night and told them he was afraid of doing something bad, and they failed to stop him. We won’t ever have to deal with the gradients that come with knowing what lead him to do this, why no one saw it coming. Not that I think there’s ever a redeeming reason for killing a bunch of kids (y’know, unless they’re zombies or something), but it would be much harder to hate him if we knew the depths of his suffering.

But the shame his family and friends will bear, will long outlast the country’s notice of him. People barely know his name now, and as soon as the next big news story hits – the next storm, the next political disaster, the next tragedy – we will quickly forget anything about him at all other than he was “evil”. His family won’t be able to talk about him to outsiders; they won’t be able to hang pictures of him on their walls; people will feel odd looking through yearbooks and seeing his picture there, smiling like everyone else. No one will be allowed to feel sad for him openly, to talk about anything good he’s ever done in his whole life. His biography will be written by people who never knew him as a child, who saw him as a complex creature – it will only be, “That guy who killed those kids in CT”.

I dare you. Without Google, tell me something about Dylan Klebold, other than what he did. Or Marc Lepine. Charles Andrew William. Or Jeff Weise. I bet you only recognized one of those names, or maybe two, unless you grew up in towns near them, knew them, or have an obsession with school shootings. Even if you Google them now, all you’ll probably find is that short biography – “That guy who killed kids in a school.”

I obviously don’t condone turning these people into heroes, or to lessen the impact of what they did by excusing their behavior. I have never said, nor will I ever, that it’s okay to do whatever you want and then reason it away by claiming you are mentally ill. Everyone is responsible for their actions, even if they didn’t make them in a sane manner. But at the same time, we can’t forget that these people were people, not characters from some cop show called Reality. They are complex people who touched many lives, both positively and negatively.

So tonight, I am assured that many people will be there for the many families touched by this tragedy. I will be saying a prayer for Dorothy, and for the unnamed brother, and for everyone else who will live with this stigma for the rest of their lives.