Magic and Zuzu’s Petals

“Hee-haw!”

I can’t stay mad at someone who loves his little girl like this.

 “I want a big one!”

“My mouth’s bleedin’, Bert! My mouth’s bleedin’!”

“I’m not paying you to be a canary!”

“I wish I had a million dollars. Hot dog!”

 “I’ve read about things like this.”

“Out you two pixies go. . . through the door, or out the window.”

“What do you know about that!”

“Say brainless, doncha know where coconut comes from?”

“I’m going to have a couple of harems and maybe three or four wives.”

“We don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere.”

“Hey, Mr. Martini, how bout some wine?”

–All quotes from It’s a Wonderful Life and any given day at my house.

We quote that movie as if my momma wrote it.

There’s something magical about the moment when a wretched Jimmy Stewart, after having reached the depths of despair and having cold-cocked a police officer, runs out on to the frozen bridge and entreats his Holy Guardian Angel: “Help me Clarence! Get me back. I don’t care what happens to me. Get me back to my wife and kids . . . I want to live again!”

There must be something magical going on, because right after his life-affirming proclamation and vociferous entreaty, Bert—who just five minutes prior didn’t know our character from Adam—calls out his name: “George! Hey, George! George! You a’right? Say, whatsa matter?”

Comprehending that he has a second lease on life, our character realizes that, “My mouth’s bleedin’! My mouth’s bleedin’!”

Thus begins one of the most famous redemption scenes in American cinema.

I know I already played my Frank Capra card a few months back with “It’s a Wonderful Q,” but for my last post of the Pagan Blog Project, my last post for 2012, and my penultimate post on The Bad Witch Files before handing the thing over to Hazey and moving the rest of my furniture over to Ehsha Apple, I’d like to tell you why I hate George Bailey more than any other character in film.

And maybe it’s partly because I am more a Cary Grant fan than a Jimmy Stewart fan. Really, my favorite Jimmy Stewart film? Philadelphia Story. And that’s because of Grant and Hepburn and in spite of Steward. Mr. Smith? No thanks. Rear Window and Vertigo? Love them, but that’s a Hitchcock thing. Give me To Catch a Thief, Notorious and North by Northwest any day.

I named my horse Bringing Up Baby, for pete’s sake. I wanted to name another His Girl Friday but was out-voted.[1]

An Affair to Remember leaves me in tears before the first pink champagne.

After Cary Grant? Paul Newman (I would have named the horse Cool Hand Luke as a second option). But that’s beside the point.

JIMMY & GEORGE

Let me back up a minute and tell you that it’s partly because of my aversion to Stewart’s lanky physique and protracted visage as much as I was to his characters’ typical chowderheaded, simple-minded idealism, and reluctant worthiness that I didn’t see It’s a Wonderful Life until I was an adult. Harsh words for one of America’s best loved actors, I know.

My first exposure to the film was in a Christmastime family game of charades where one sister gave the clue, “movie,” paired with the clues, “four words” and “first word=small word,” and the other sister—as sisters do—finished the thought and won the game. I may have been eight or nine at the time. I had heard of the film, but I knew so little that I didn’t even realize it was a Christmas film.

When I met my husband, I learned that It’s a Wonderful Life was his favorite film of all time and that, aside from Bugs Bunny, George Bailey was his favorite character. (And that his life-long bestie and the Best Man of our wedding, replies to compliments with, “This ol’ thing? I only wear it when I don’t care what I look like.”) So, ready to love this incarnation of Jimmy Stewart as much as I loved my then “boyfriend,” I sat to watch the film for the first time in December 1989.

I watched George save his baby brother, I watched him stand up for his father’s honor against the powerful but coldhearted Mr. Potter, I watched him save the grieved but drunken pharmacist, I watched him plan his escape from Bedford Falls from National Geographic and coconut sprinkles to a wish for a million dollars—“Hot dog!”—and his second-hand monogrammed suitcase.

I kinda like George up to that point. I hoped the best for him. I wished Stewart wouldn’t talk like he had a mouthful of mutton, but I liked George OK. I wanted to see this young man have it all—but, I would learn, the only time Jimmy Stewart makes it to an exotic location, his son gets kidnapped. Que-sera-sera.

By the time the kid from The Little Rascals opened the gymnasium floor, thus dunking Mary and George, I knew how the rest of the story would go. And I cry every time—from the school dance to “Auld Lang Syne.” But not because I love the story. Because I am so despondent at George’s fate. It’s the famous “love scene” that breaks me. Over the phone, George tells Sam that isn’t “trying to steal anybody’s girl” and he tells Mary, whose been sidling-up against a celibate (assuming Georgie-Porgie and Violet haven’t gotten “tired of reading about things”) twenty-three year old man while telling him that “it’s a chance in a lifetime,” that he doesn’t “want any plastics and [he doesn’t] want any ground-floors and that [he doesn’t] want to get married ever to anyone.”[2] He makes it more than clear to Mary Hatch, played by Donna Reed, the quintessence of American house wifery, when he says, “I want to do what I want to do!” Four seconds later, he’s kissing her. Seven seconds later, they are married.

George gets trapped in a whirlwind of unwanted domesticity,[3] he get shafted at every turn, and no one ever notices—until it’s too late. His life’s savings goes toward his brother’s education and when Harry comes home from school? He’s got a surprise wife and new job in tow. He may become a war hero, but at this moment, he’s kinda a twat.

George could have been as rich as Sam Wainwright, instead he gave his bridal purse to a dying family institution and ended up without a proper honeymoon and in a “drafty ol’ house” with broken windows and a faulty banister newel.

And a very fecund wife, I might add.

George would carry Mr. Gower’s secret to his grave, yet he was set-up for his demise because of the imprudence of his uncle.

Yes, yes. I know. George makes a big difference in a great many lives. Everyone prays for George. Blah, blah, blah.

In real life, we rarely see folks who make that sort of sacrifice; nine times out of ten, we see folks unwilling to make sacrifices yet still expect a town to ante-up in the pivotal scenes.[4] If you have your hand out for help more often than you offer, you aren’t George Bailey; and you’re not even Mr. Potter—you’re just Bedford Falls.

MARY HATCH, BLACK MAGIC WOMAN

Not unfamiliar with delayed gratification, philanthropy, good works, Matthew 25, deferred-dreams, charity, sacrifice, etc. and the ways in which these acts feed/starve the human soul, I still feel that George Bailey got short-changed. Yes, yes, in the end he’s touted as “the richest man in town” (more on that later). However, it remains that he traded in a life where he called the shots, where he planned his location, and where he held his own hefty pocketbook for a life where coconut-hatin’-stone-throwin’-window-breakin’-Mary Hatch called the shots, where the fruit of Mary’s loins roped him down in one place, and where he ended up financially dependent on the charity of others, including Sam Wainwright: “Hee-haw!”

But that damned Mary Hatch. Now that I’ve memorized the movie from twenty-three years of multiple viewings, I get caught up on Mary Hatch every time: “George Bailey, I’ll love you ‘til the day I die.”

Fecking batch.

But even the first time I watched the movie, I knew. I knew. I knew she had cast a binding spell on that poor little sweet-hearted boy and that at that moment she’d lassoed young George with a noose and the albatross of his life.

Not only did she intentionally whisper in his bad ear, she broke windows at the ol’ Granville house where George “wouldn’t live in . . . as a ghost.” George makes a “whole hat-full” of wishes to “[shake] the dust of this crummy little town off [his] feet and . . . see the world.” As he waxes on about the greatness his life will become after college and a great career as an engineer, Mary picks up a rock and casts. Hard. You can see it in her eyes. She’s doing magic. And unlike George, she follows the advice in my “Hush, hush” post and she doesn’t reveal her wish.

Mary Hatch as Bad Witch? Hmmmmm….

I know I’ve pointed out somewhere that my conception of evil magic or “black” magic is that which is done in an effort to bind the will of another. Even if it is done with the supposition of “love,” to bind another to your side—as in a love spell or any spell that binds someone’s loyalties to you, a spell that determines the course of another’s life, their living conditions and location, or a spell that in any way affects the outcome of someone else’s circumstance in a way that benefits the magician—is evil, manipulative, black.[5] That doesn’t mean we don’t all do it from time to time. But, say brainless, this is a shortcoming rather than a strength.

By the time I saw It’s a Wonderful Life, I was about to turn nineteen and was already steeped in the occult. Maybe if I had seen the movie as a kid, or even as an adult with no magic under my belt, I wouldn’t be so hard on Mary.

But I didn’t. And I am.

But back to George.

GEORGE’S WYRD

There’s something about the message that we should be satisfied at living our lives for others. Something about the idea that when it comes time for our “positive wyrd” to show up in the nick of time and plant an old maid’s divorce money on our dining table, we should be overjoyed.

There’s something about the message that argues—if you bleed your life for others and they save you in a *big* moment—even though they’ve been blind to your daily plight for a dozen years—then everything is all well and good and you should just be happy to be alive.

Bull.

Without the George Bailey’s of the world, as the narrative runs, we’d be a mess. Or something like that. To borrow Hazey’s term, I call that hand.[6] I’ve know quite a number of (real) George Bailey’s in my life. Know what? They didn’t get a lump of cash in the end scene—folks anted up for them all year round.

I guess I just feel like that’s how it should be; we should take care of each other all of the time and not just in the eleventh hour of need. I get burned up by the message that we should be joyful at the prospect of having gone around the bowl twice before being flushed down the crapper only to pull a maladroit and wingless angel out of the drain as our salvation. That’s not how it works. When we take care of others, we don’t end up on the chopping block. No one would allow that.

In the end, it’s the moment when George realizes that he has his daughter’s flower petals in his pocket that he is restored to himself and I can convince myself that there is something vaguely redeeming about this film and its main character: “My mouth’s bleedin’ Bert! . . . Zuzu’s petals! Zuzu’s petals!”

Ah, shit.

Living, no matter how torturous, is always a sight better than dying.


[1] I was also Dr. Spinalzo in a high school production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Couldn’t watch the film often enough to suit my taste.

[2] Strangely similar to my own declaration just months before The Husband proposed.

[3] Ken Jennings supports my suspicion that the rapid-fire romance between Mary Hatch and George Bailey after Harry’s return suggests that George’s Buffalo Girls came out tonight, nudge, nudge, knowwhatimean, knowwhatimean.

[4] This brand of selfish egoism may be one thing I dislike more than George Bailey.

[5] I like Poke Runyon’s long-winded and tangential explanation about parents who lock refrigerators so kids don’t get at the foodses, Mi Lai, and sociopaths—he also gets into a discussion about how using sex-magic unbeknownst to your “partner” is unethical to evil, coz duh! (The Hermetic Hour. Evil, Evil Magick, and Evil Magicians.) Basically, if you are out to “exploit, manipulate, or deceive” for your own good, it’s evil. I define manipulate very broadly. So does Frater Thabion.

[6] Looks to me like, despite the FBI’s warning that the Capra film stank of Commie ideals, George Bailey is an invention of post-war American capitalism. The moral of the story is—don’t leave America or the Pottersville-baggers will win and turn the movie house into a strip joint.

Here’s a thing.

Here’s a thing.

Here’s a slightly less interesting thing.

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Put that in your pipe–Yerba Lenna Yesca

I thought for a minute about writing about Ymir and his proto-productive armpits (like a good Heathen), but then I found myself giving a mythology lesson instead of actually reflecting on something. Then I reflected on the lesson I gave last night about the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) and looked forward to the lesson on the Shemhamphorash but then remembered—“Damn, I can’t blog about that.” I know I want to write about yoiking (a Sami practice) and how it parallels to the vocalizations in Völvaspæ, but I want to do that later. I ran across some interesting Yucatan death gods in last week’s research—only to find that their names (the ones that begin with Y) are corruptions of the correct names.

So, with my end-of-term grades two-thirds-finished, I decided to take a short break from the academy and visit with y’all and have a little herbal lesson.

I used to smoke. On and off for most of my life. Not while pregnant or nursing, mind you—that was a stretch from 1993-2000ish. I teased that I was so good at quitting that I liked to do it often. Aside from one (or three) of those crush-the-filter because it’s too fun not to evenings recently, I’ve been tar-free and following “doctor’s orders” since early-July. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t found alternatives.[1] Now, don’t get any crazy ideas—I believe that cannabis should be legal, but it ain’t in my state (check yours); so, THC is not, um, on the menu.

Katt Williams on the “nature” of weed. Go ahead, watch it–I’ll wait.

I have never been one to shy away from putting “that” in my pipe and smoking it.[2] Turns out that mugwort can make you dream of bridesmades and the impending zombie apocalypse. Morning glories, various nightshades, digitalis and other lovely botanicals have entheogenic effects—but I don’t recommend an untrained hand in the preparation as “Seeing God” might be just what happens for ye. I don’t tool around with it. Um, anymore. Damania, passion flower, mullein, sweet fern, blue lotus? Have at it. IMHO, smoking wormwood is a lot like eating Domino’s Pizza—you could and it won’t hurt but why would anyone do that? Especially when there is perfectly good Absinthe on the shelf.[3] Most people prefer teas to smokes anyway. Me? I love to burn shite.

A little wild tobacco and dittany of crete in a sensor? Breathe . . .

When I took “union breaks” prior to July, that meant stepping out on to the porch to grab a dose of arsenic and formaldehyde. Not so today.

While I don’t light up the flora like I did in my youth, I have a favorite smoke: Yerba Lenna Yesca.[4] Sometimes it’s touted as being a weed-free high, but it’s not. While YLY serves to relax without stoned-lethargy—especially when I have a cough, which seems to be always these days[5]-anyone who says that YLY is “like pot” has never actually been high. We seem to use herbs a good deal for our “spells” and such, but sometimes we should stop and think of a more direct approach–it’s what our predecessors did.

Union break over. Back to work.

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] Googled “things to smoke” and found this: http://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/406903/1. Laughter is the best expectorant.

[2] I bought the husband a hookah a few Yules back and have acquired a stash of unsmoked shisha—“Th’damn thing takes too long.”

[3] Never drink Absinthe straight. It tastes like the green Formula 44 of childhood nightmares.

[4] It translates as “woody-herb for burning.” Helpful, eh?

[5] Ironic, no? Smoke to quiet a cough.

Xochiquetzal (and Xochipilli)

Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal, from the Codex Borgia

Xochiquetzal (shOw-chee-KET-sAl), the eternally young Aztec and Toltec goddess of love and flowers who symbolizes enlightenment, is also frequently called Ichpōchtli which simply means “maiden.”

This strikes me. I have struggled with all of the different names I have been called—both legally and otherwise.[1] But that’s not why it strikes me. I am only dwelling on that because I have a smattering of initiates that are facing the point in their training where they need to start thinking about their first aspiration names.

For those of you not familiar with the tradition of taking an aspiration name, many magical organizations have a practice of translating a stated aspiration, or motto, into a usable name. Unlike some traditions which names are given to initiates,[2] my students have to make a name for themselves. In our tradition, one can (and should) make an acronym of or abbreviation for (or otherwise truncate and obfuscate) the motto rather than maintaining a direct translation. (Obvs, this can come from divine inspiration and/or/in dreams.) For instance, “Speaker of Words of Power,” would translate as something like “ræðumaður öflugum orðin.” That’s a mouthful to say the least. So, one might apply some numerology (or simply basic aesthetics) and arrive at Ræth Ov Orthin (or Orth if you don’t mind a singular “word”). Still too long? Ræth Word, Ræthword (or even Raithword), or Orthraith, Allraith; you get the picture. Of course, if it didn’t conjure images of the Hundred-Acre Wood, we could go with R.O.O. (or Roo).

Trick is, this name should change with each elevation as your aspirations should grow and change with your training.

This means I’m two names behind. Perhaps two aspirations behind. Needless to say, it’s under my skin.

Mostly it strikes me since I have been spending so much time in the care and tutelage of Frejya, who is often simply called “lady.” It seems that many of the goddesses to whom I’ve been drawn over half-a-lifetime[3] have an awful lot in common. No duh, you say. That’s how it works.

Virginia Woolf’s place-setting from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1974-79), which I lurve. Like, a lot. In reverence to  and reclamation of the divine female, all the dinner plates are intended to look both like flowers and va-whoo-has. Bertie introduced it to us back when it was still in crates, looking for a home. Xochiquetzal is not honored, nor is any other Mayan, Aztec, or pre-Columbian goddess/woman at the table (the only pre-Jacksonion figure is Sacajawea). Though “Primordial Goddess,” “Fertile Goddess,” “Snake Goddess,” “Amazon,” and “Sophia” are among Ishtar, Kali, and Hatshepsut, Coatlicue, the Mesoamerican earth goddess, appears on the Heritage Floor with Omeciuatl, Xochitl, Chicomecoatl, and 995 other female figures.

But when it works the way it’s supposed to work, I can’t help but stop and smell Xochiquetzal’s flowers.

No, wait, that’s not what I . . .

Xochiquetzal is the patron goddess of weavers, also much like Freyja. She is the daughter of Tlazolteotl, goddess of childbirth and shriver of sins (much more on this later). Xochiquetzal, like Freyja and Freyr, had a twin, Xochipilli. She was married to the rain god Tlaloc before being kidnapped by Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror,” the god ancestral memory and of sorcery. Not exactly a psychopomp (as Aztec worldviews create a lore that is vastly different from a Western mythos of an “underworld”) but there are some connections–which I will deal with in my eventual Ehsha post about Xolotl, the dark twin of Quetalcoatl.

She is also said to have been one of two who survived the great flood that ended the fourth age on Aztec mythology.

It bears saying, with 16 days left of this cycle, that many (like me) believe that the Ragnarök tale, like the Maya Periods and the Aztec Cycles, are not exactly eschatological[4] but cyclical. Consider the survival of Líf and Lífþrasir to repopulate the earth.

Likewise, Xochiquetzal survived The Great Flood with her husband, Tlaloc, to give birth to children without the ability to speak. As the myth goes, a dove brought the children speech, but gave to each a different language. Like the Tower of Babal and a slew of other stories involving a flood and/or a high place–like a tower or a mountain.

My last fun point about Xochiquetzal is that she is said to have seduced a priest and then transformed him into a scorpion—just because she could—as a mark of her power. She encouraged sex for pleasure’s sake. For this, she is honored as the patron goddess of prostitutes. (See my post on Temple Prostitution.) There is a safe haven in Mexico City for elderly prostitutes: Casa Xochiquetzal. A sign over the door reads: “No soy buena ni mala, soy mujer.” (“I am neither good nor bad, I am woman.”)

The Dinner Party at The Brooklyn Museum

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet.”


[1] Now, now. I have only ever had one surname; my husband’s surname got tacked on to that in the 90s without my doing. But I had three names before I left the hospital and a slew of nicknames thereafter. A background search for my name will illustrate nothing more interesting than a change in socio-economic status. Sorry gang, no hidden relatives or appellations in Appalachia.

[2] Dig this video of a “Cherokee” naming ceremony. Don’t cha just hate it when folks are fooled into believing something is traditional? I mean, it looks like a fine-enough thing (if you were to take the plains garb off the (presumably) SE dude)—traditional, it ain’t. I encourage everyone to watch Reel Injun to see something like the crapola that plagues me on a daily basis. Like my momma reminds me all the time, “Some people just don’t know no better.”

[3] Twenty-five years is more than half my life—I just mean that I’m hoping for another half to this lifetime.

[4] Not to be confused with scatological, which I do–all the freaking time.

Xylomancy

Weeping Euorpean Beech

Trees have always been invested with symbolic significance, especially to us Pagan folk. (I think of the Craft names, the titles of books (i.e. The Golden Bough), and the Covenstead names related to tree species.)

We have Yule logs and stavs and bell-boughs.

But I’ve never used a tree for divination. Isn’t that odd?

Xylomancy, divination that interprets omens in pieces of wood (their shape, their position and formation on the ground, as well as appearance and movement when burnt), is new to me.

Just last spring, I tried my hand at ovomancy and found it messy and not very insightful.

Pyromancy is my style, so I think I’ll have a go at some pre-Yule-log xylomancy as the nights get colder. But like ovomancy, I have no idea how to interpret what I see.

Obviously if a branch were to fall in my path, I should expect a surprise or a sudden obstacle. If I were to employ the bark-peeling method, how would I keep subconscious human motives from altering my interpretation of signs? If I were to toss the bark on the ground, I’m faced with the same problems I had with tassiomancy and ovomancy and now xylomancy. What’s it all mean?

Knowing me, I’ll draw lines on them and they will turn into new I Ching sticks.

I may give it a try and get back to you. But I really expect that I simply go into a trance while gazing at the fire—not that this is a bad thing. It’s just not xylomancy.

B, Q, 93!

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Walt Whitman

I teach American Literature so I have had my hand at teaching Walt Whitman for a good decade or more. I took a graduate class called “Whitman and Dickinson” in the late 90s. But, unlike my ongoing affair with Giles Deleuze, it wasn’t the academic jargon and the erudite theory that made me fall for W.W.; it was the gritty repetition of work-a-dayness that I discovered while still a lower-class grub in high school.

Strangely, this had nothing to do with my English Teacher, Mrs. C, one of the best teachers I’ve ever known (and who, along with an eighth grade teacher guy named Miles, may be the reason I became an English teacher myself), who was more for Shakespeare and Madrigals than she was for Howling beatnicks. It’s too bad. I could have used some advice about what happened Under the El[1] before finding out about that particular brand of up-close-and-way-too-personal by myself.[2] However, nothing coarse or profane ever worked its way into Mrs. C’s class. I mean, the randiest thing I remember from that grade is The Mayor of Casterbridge. (Mr. B the year before taught us that there was nothing in poetry except sex and death and childhood memories. Only he said it like it was a bad thing.) It was Miss Louise, my drama teacher and the choral director, who chose the musical Working, the songs of which are all based on Whitman’s poetry, when I was a Sophomore in the mid-Reagan years. It was at the point when I too heard America singing and fell hard for the hairy, horny, horn blower.

The mason, the waitress, the farm worker, the fireman, the factory worker, all had a beautiful place in a poetic flow of a nation’s infrastructure.

And I was not a product of the academy; I was the child of a factory worker and a truck driver, granddaughter to sharecroppers all around.

So, you see, it’s no surprise that despite my deep and abiding love for My Captain, I was never able to convey such adoration to a set of undergraduates who longed less for urban poetry and more for the imminent end of the semester.

After I left high school, I went to work at a factory too. The bend-lift-straighten-flip-turn-dump-bend-lift repetition of my days and nights and overtime-weekends would send me into reveries of singing my body electric as I watched products, from which I was ultimately estranged as Marx called it (little did I know at the time that there was a word for what I was feeling-like-a-cogg-in-the-machinery), roll up the undulating conveyor belt like pink salmon driving to their spawny-death.

Death and sex and childhood memories.

But now, PhD’d, clean and respectable, only occasionally getting tipsy and committing candor that horrifies my peers, I don’t read Whitman for the joy he brought me—I teach him for the core curriculum. You see, I was told not to let my students see that I am “human”—and though I usually chuck that advice where it belongs, every once-in-a-while I think, “They don’t need to know that side of me.” And in this case, it’s true. They don’t need to know what happened to me on Ashland, on Kedvale, on Morgan, in Burbank, in Brighton Park, or at that fancy South Shore penthouse. Aw, hell, nobody needs to know that shite.

So—I suck at teaching Whitman.

Until this year.

This pretty little thing wandered her way into my life and scared the feck out of me. I didn’t see myself if her, if that’s what you are thinking. She just loved Whitman. For his grunge—not in spite of it. We stayed up all night talking through a common-mess we’d both been marinated in, and we might have had a spot too much to drink. The next day, I did not have a clue about what I was going to do in class. I’d make a quick PowerPoint, I guessed, and force-feed Leaves to begrudging, entitled George Strait fans. Then I thought—how would I teach this to Hazey? I imagined a sympathetic audience instead of a hostile one.

I made a Power-Point, yes. But I set it to run a series of 19th century faces and bodies—mostly bodies, some human, some not: white men, white women, poor folk, old folk, slaves on the auction block, prostitutes, pigs in the streets of Manhattan, the Golden Gate and the water below. Then, I did the unthinkable. I didn’t lecture.

I read:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

And then I’d tell a little bit about Whitman’s life—kinda like I was talking about my granddad. How he thought abolitionists were full of shite and hot-stink while he lived in New England but then he moved to NOLA and saw what he saw and knew what he knew. All while these images of bodies flashed behind me. And through urge and urge and urge, I think they heard me. The way I meant for them to hear me. The way W.W. meant for them to hear him. I’m sure of it because one young man, the one who had said horrid things about Bradstreet, sat in the back with his eyes welled-up and the edge of his desk in a white-knuckled grip.

At that moment I thought—this is sort of like magic.

OK—not magic—but teaching magic.

I have taught students from a purely theoretical standpoint where I’ve totally thrown my back into the teaching before—and they got it. They didn’t loooove it, but they got it. When I didn’t throw my back into it, they seemed to love it much more. And Whitman is very Pagan-friendly in his god-imbued-nature-and-humanity-is-cool-especially-when-united-in-its-stinky-and/or-naked-ness anyway. So, next semester when I have a new set of preps in ground classes (well, one brand-new—one I haven’t done in a few semesters) and two brand-spanking new preps Online, I think I’ll take the less aggressive route and let the material do the work for me.

I mention all this because it’s (conveniently) a make-up post for my W week and I am starting a new set of classes this upcoming week and I’m a little twitterpated, as usual. I have a full-to-capacity Seekers class (and running-over—I may have to tell two students that they had to wait for the next session, I hate that feeling!!) and a comfortably full Neophyte class and straggling students at other levels. My concerns run from “Where is everybody going to sit?” to “Will I get back in time from belly-dancing to change before teaching X, Y, or Z?”

Maybe I’ll just flash naked bodies on a screen and call it a day.

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] A line from Howl.

I wrote a poem called “Under the El” in 1990 while organizing and performing in local “Slams”—remember those?—making a prolonged metaphorical connection between the poet and the rapist: “I use my tongue / to invade your space . . . my verse / [fills your mouth] / with the bitterness / and you can’t breathe / gasping / gulping / your chest won’t expand / and yeah . . . you really don’t / want me / to / stop.” I look back at the absolute violence of the entire poem (bits of which I will not publish here) and I wonder how the feck, given the first-hand nature of it all, I got out of the 80s alive.

I also wrote a poem about heroine—called it “screaming Hyacinths”—and proclaimed myself, “a fabulous junkie.” At that point in my life, I felt that “Scraping the bottom / with my mirror and razor / was better than floating in cinder-block / office wall mediocrity.”

[2] I mean, I was with my sister when she was mugged when I was only three-years-old, saw my first DB while in second grade, and was never really a stranger to sexual cruelty—but this shit is different, y’all.

Vitiki Vocalizations

I’ve been having a ton of fun this week putting together various bits of galdr. A bit of a poet at heart with a real penchant for Old English kennings and alliteration, this kind of work is fun.

But then–the vocalizations. It seems I’d become a bit inhibited in my old age.

There are elements of vocalization which play with vowels, nasals, and frictives (think of the familiar Apache “squaw-dance songs”), keening (think of the Banshee or Bean-shìð or even a little like ululation), and yoiking (traditional to the Sami people, but we see it in American rural culture too).

I could LBRP with the best of them karaoke with the worst of them. But when it came to undefined vocalizing, over the last few weeks, I’ve frozen.

I started wondering WTF? It wasn’t range, a natural sopralto, I’ve got this. It wasn’t know how. Because, damn, I got this. It wasn’t audience—I couldn’t even get it up in the car.

Then I realized, this is where my real power is.

The Husband has made a habit of howling, “Ahooo,” a la Warren Zevon these days.

Right now, I’m a little wary of tossing my resources about. Not that I toss wily-nily. But I’m storing it up. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until—well, until I realized I was doing it. Like tucking a dollar away every day for a bigger purchase. Like damming a river for a bigger deluge.

I’m doing a workshop and demonstrating a ritual for a neighboring Pagan grove on Sunday. It will focus on stav meditation and vitiki vocalizations–the practice of chanting the runes to internalize their vim and verve. It’s a good way for me to practice making a little noise without blowing my magical load, as it were.

As ever, I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Visualization

I actually started this awhile back and decided not to post it. But I keep getting bombarded with Eckhart Tolle advertisements on Yahoo, on G+, on Facebook, so I figured I’d revisit the idea.

Photo: Sophia Haynes/My Shot

 

Lately I have seen an onslaught of requests for positive-thought-visualizations: “Please send positive thoughts,” “Please visualize X problem gone from my life,” etc. I can see where the idea that positive thought as the panacea for everything that ails us might be very appealing to some. But . . .

I part ways with the “I have room for positive-thoughts-only” assertion that turns its head on anything negative without actively doing anything about it. This is a newly-popular idea. I see this a lot in New Agey[1] type philosophies which find their way onto Oprah’s book list. An idea that gets tacked onto Eastern concepts that don’t translate well into Western (binary) values.

Acceptance, acquiescence, submission, complacence.

I’m reminded of Ram Dass, who I somewhat like, and his echo, Eckhart Tolle[2] who’s made a fortune and compiled more celebrity accolades than L. Ron Hubbard. In his The Power of Now, Tolle claims that “Thinking has become a disease,” and then he compares thinking to cancer (7).

Lord help us.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the effects of visualization and the law of attraction—like I believe in effects of motion and the law of gravity. But I don’t think we can “positive visualization” all of our problems away. We actually have to act. It’s banal, it’s not sexy, it’s hard. And, damnit, it requires accountability. Ew.

There is a book out right now, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. I agree with Barbara Ehrenreich’s assertion that convincing scads of people that positive thought will solve all of their problems, we set them up for failure—and then self-blame—and then even more tribulations. Though I like the overall idea and find that herlogic hangs together, I have some serious issues with Ehrenreich’s language: she’s caustic and makes some fairly cheap-shots at other authors. I don’t believe that the best way to critique positive-thinking is with negativity and vitriol. The book is short, but if you aren’t inclined to read even that much, have a look at these reviews for the gist: “Have You Been Bright-Sided?” “Happy Days,” and Ehrenreich’s own page. 

Here’s where the new phase of positive-visualization self-help-philosophers are getting hung up, in my opinion. By interpreting Eastern philosophy and placing it in a culture habituated to Cartesian binaries, we have created a false-dualism in “True-Self” versus “Ego-Self.”[3] One must be good and the other necessarily evil. This initiates an internal struggle which will never allow us to be whole persons; nor will we be able to find inner harmony. In original Eastern perspectives, there is no good/evil attached to “ego.”[4] The goal is balance and release from the cycle of desire. Even desire is not evil. It just is.

From what I’ve read of Tolle[5] and others like him,[6] is that their goal seems to be a loss of individual identity through the superimposition of manufactured positivism; this is not the same as the (real) Buddhist concept of oneness.

Putting out the “vacancy” sign on our minds is certainly a desirable state for some kinds of meditation. (As a Sorcerer, I tend toward more active brain states–more on that in a minute.) Blocking everything out is not the solution to all meditative practices. It’s certainly not a good way to deal with medical diseases and financial obstacles.

I’m reminded of how I reacted to “church-folk” in my youth. There were always people who said things like: “God will work it out,” “One day our trials will be over,” and “Nothing on this earth matters anyway.” The latter statements just seem to indicate an unhealthy death-drive. But as for the first statement—faith is good, but even in magical practice, we know that we have to try all mundane solutions before resorting to magical interventions; we are responsible to try to do things ourselves rather than leaving everything up to the divine to do for us (lazypants).

This is just to say that (passive) “positive intents” and “positive visualization” can’t take the place of real (active) mystical pursuit of transformation. Consider: the Night of Pan, or N.O.X., is a mystical state that represents the stage of ego-death in the process of spiritual attainment. The playful and lecherous Pan is the Greek god of nature, lust, and the masculine generative power. The Greek word Pan also translates as All, and so he is “a symbol of the Universal, a personification of Nature; both Pangenetor, ‘all-begetter,’ and Panphage, ‘all-devourer’” (Sabazius, 1995). Therefore, Pan is both the giver and the taker of life, and his Night is that time of symbolic death where the adept experiences unification with the All through the ecstatic destruction of the ego-self. In a more general sense, it is the state where one transcends all limitations and experiences oneness with the universe.

This is not to say that I don’t think there’s a place for “positive thought and visualization.” Just that it’s only appropriate when it’s useful–when you are acting in the ordinary world and using visualization (active visualization, that is) to assist your mundane efforts–not in place of mundane efforts. If you allow (passive) thinking and hoping and visualizing take the place of health modifications and paying the bills on a regular basis . . . of course you are going to be unwell and the bill collectors are going to call.

I’m always willing to send someone positive thoughts when they have car trouble—but sometimes that will be in the form of: “I think it would be positive for you to change your oil more often.”

Love and light—and daily aspirin—and Make Good Choices,

Ehsha


[1] I once heard someone tease: “Newage – rhymes with sewage.” He wasn’t very nice.

[2] Tolle claims that “Thinking has become a disease” and then he compares thinking to cancer (PON. 7). Lord.

[3] I agree that ego can be perceived as a trickster (Dak Dzin in Tibetan. Dak = “self” & Dzin = “to grasp.” Therefore “ego” is always already “taken hold of”). But, with an understanding of the trickster figure, we can appreciate how the inherent humor of narcissism and emotional aloofness illuminate that our egos are both our allies and our adversaries. In most cultures, the trickster is the hero instead of the bad-guy. In Buddhist philosophy the ego is much more than simply a fear/attachment machine; it is in recognizing the ego that we are able to laugh. Through that laughter we lose attachments. This is why I tend to recommend a hearty belly-laugh as the best form of exorcism, grounding, or banishment.

[4] Used appropriately, ego is a support for the True Will, or Ātman to use a Buddhist term, not as a support for the “false self” or “will of desire.”

[5] Maybe I’m just too hard on Tolle. I have an admitted bias against him. Once, I needed – really needed – to be supported by a family member. Rather than sustenance, I got some Tollian mimetic pseudo-psychiatric nonsense about “pain bodies.” That conversation changed my family dynamics forever. So, I bothered to read the book. It was so nonsensical that I use it to teach my Comp students about logical fallacies. This guy agrees with me: http://www.blacksunjournal.com/books/1875_debunking-the-power-of-now-the-greatest-obstacle_2009.html

[6] Though I thought it was a good thought exercise in “I Had a Few Words . . . ,” having revisited What the Bleep . . . , I realize that it too is a crock. *BadWitchFrown*

 

This post is for Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project: “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).