“…the world flamed into life. How else to describe it? There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with ‘the All,’ as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, and one reason for the terrible wordlessness of the experience is that you cannot observe fire really closely without becoming part of it. Whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze.”
I just read a rather fascinating book and wanted to share it with you all. I recently read an interview with writer/activist Barbara Ehrenreich on her new book about – of all things, considering her staunch and public atheism – the mystical experiences she had as a teenager, and what they all might be about. It intrigued me enough to pick up the book (fortunately at our public library) and I finished it in two sittings.
It’s interesting, from the perspective of being a very spiritually-inclined person who has had many, many such experiences, to read her descriptions of recurring dissociative states (I’m particularly familiar with depersonalization and derealization) and then a singular mystical experience, which she had no context or explanation for. I was impressed that, while she had been raised an atheist and was certainly not “converted” by her experience, she remained relatively objective about the whole thing.
The writing is witty and captivating, and I found that I had a lot in common with her description of her younger self, which is unusual for me (my internal mental states seem to be relatively uncommon).
But what makes me recommend this here is the end of the book, where she (finally!) starts exploring the possibility that something spiritual is not necessarily something monotheistic. I suppose that given her background and the time she grew up in, it’s not entirely unexpected, but still a bit frustrating to see her return again and again to her rationale against a monotheistic theology (with which I entirely agree, of course) as she struggles to define her experiences. Eventually, she begins examining animism and polytheism, and finds them much more reasonable and compatible with her personal encounters. While she remains skeptical, and open to many other possibilities, it’s still interesting to see our worldview from her perspective, and to see it discussed rationally by an eminently rational person.
For instance, she discusses the prevailing theory that our brains are predisposed to detect agency where there is none, because once we were potential prey and needed to be constantly on guard against any predators, so therefore we should ignore feelings of presence in the trees, or faces in the clouds, or whatever. She points out, however, that there actually *were* predators out there, and therefore there might likewise be other sorts of beings out there that we are having some kind of contact with, which seems like something we should seriously investigate. She also gets the fact (which many pagans actually seem to miss) that gods and spirits are not necessarily benevolent – or malevolent – but that both concepts are totally anthropocentric, and they may very well have their own agendas that only incidentally help or harm us (which she amusingly compares to the relationship our bodies have with E. coli).
A thought-provoking read for anyone interested in these topics, but especially vindicating for us, as polytheism and animism are often entirely left out of the conversation in modern times, when in fact they provide a lot more rational explanations than the dominant religions.
“But amoral gods, polytheistic gods, animal gods – these were all fine with me, if only because they seemed to make no promises and demand no belief. You want to know Kali or Epona? No ‘faith’ is required, because there are, or were at one time anyway, rituals to put you directly in touch with her.”
n., v. a form of poetic terrorism, glamourbombing involves acts of random beauty, magic or wonder whose purpose is to raise ambient levels of glamour in the area; glamour being the unique magic of the fae. A glamourbomb is any public act or work that aims to inspire genuine curiosity and childlike befuddlement, a change of thought process, belief in magic, belief in the fae, and/or a sense of wonder in the recipient. (Urban Dictionary)
Increasingly I have been driven to leave glamourbombs around the city as a devotional act for my spirits. The reasons for this are complex, but one aim is indeed to instill a feeling of magic (albeit perhaps a creepier sort than others intend with this practice) in whoever might come across my offerings. But I’m discovering a tangential benefit to making artistic glamourbombs (as opposed to more spontaneous and simple acts). Because I know they are by nature ephemeral, in that I will not be keeping them but rather releasing them into the wilds and never knowing who might find them, or their reactions, I can make whatever comes into my mind without the usual angst about getting everything just right. It is very liberating.
For May Day, I was inspired to make three small masks to leave along the sacred route we will be walking, to the place where we will have our ritual. I had no idea what these masks would look like going into it, and I did not purchase or gather any new materials for them. I simply looked around my house and found some likely objects, and then began creating. The process was in many ways more purely devotional than other artistic endeavors (even though all art is for me connected to my spirits), because I only sought to channel temporary, ritually-appropriate magic that would serve Them, and because I will then have to part with these masks even if I might want to keep them, because they always belonged to the spirits.
I recently visited Sannion in New York City, and of course we stopped at the Greek and Roman exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I decided to replicate my efforts at the British Museum last year, and photograph every instance of Dionysos’ appearance. After awhile I almost regretted it, since there were so many things to photograph! Especially vases. Here’s all of those together:
(Click any of these photos to embiggen!)
Note the one at the bottom, one of my absolute favorite vase paintings of Him ever, which was a thrill to see in person. I just love the kind of unfocused staring into the void as He drunkenly stumbles along the procession. Here’s a close-up:
Here are a few non-vase pieces:
Moving beyond Dionysos, a few other interesting things we came across. A lobster-claw vessel:
A rhyton that was half-ram, half-donkey, all madness:
An incense burner with nicely retained paint job, quite lovely:
A vessel in the shape of a large animal knucklebone:
Another famous vase painting I was excited to see – Persephone emerging from the Underworld with Hermes and Hekate (and Demeter around the side). This one was rather larger than I’d expected.
Beautiful statue of Hypnos pouring a soporific liquid, poppy pods clutched in his other hand. The face is so eerie.
This one was just….odd.
An extremely exciting moment came when I saw this kylix… because I have been using a replica of this piece for probably 15 years as my main Dionysian drinking cup! I had bought it off eBay long ago, but remembered, seeing this, that it was marked as a replica made by this exact museum, so that makes sense… I just had never thought about the original. It looks exactly the same.
Finally, this is the best image of Hermes I have ever seen. The posture, the expression… wow. He looks like a god not about to take crap from anyone. Or maybe this attitude is supposed to be indicative of some magical operation? Hard to say if He is pissed off or just very focused. Look at the way He holds the kadukeios. Interesting.
“In 1937, my grandparents joined a carnival for a season. He sold candy, she ran the milk-bottle game. In his spare time, he took photographs. And they learned the secret speech of the carnival folk, which they later taught to me. After speaking Carny for many years, I decided to seek its origins. I fell head-first into the world of the Depression-era travelling carnival, brought to life by my grandfather’s photos. In the process, I discovered a linguistic legacy spanning over a century, and turning up in the most unexpected places.”
This is it folks, the project I’ve been working on and obsessing over for the last couple months. It’s a slim volume, but it contains a wealth of information on “Carny” – a linguistic oddity first developed amongst carnival folk at the turn of the last century, which then found its way into professional wrestling, children’s games, and mainstream hip hop where it is still heard today.
But this is not just a cultural history, it is a personal one as well, since I learned Carny directly from my grandparents and used it frequently in my teenage years as my own secret language. Last year I recalled that my grandfather had kept an album of photographs from their journey with the carnival, and the idea for this book was born. I found some academic papers, books and websites talking about the Carny argot, connected a lot of dots, and ended up with what I believe is the most complete history of its evolution.
The text is accompanied by 30 of my grandfather’s photographs in their original sepia tones – really interesting slices-of-life from an incredibly fascinating period of history, which I’ve annotated with comments on the people, places and things shown (for instance, there were at least three midgets travelling with them that season who ended up playing Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz movie two years later!).
The book is 8.5″x8.5″ with a matte cover, 50 pages. It is under my new imprint Fær Press, which I’ve created to publish all of my future books on a variety of esoteric topics. The list price is $17, and you can buy it directly from Createspace, or from Amazon.com, and it should soon be available to order from your local bookstore.
But wait, there’s so much more! I have also produced a set of postcards featuring 10 of my favorite images from the book, and three 8×10 prints, as well as some bookmarks. You can buy the prints (select one or all three) and postcard sets alone if you are interested in the photographs more than the book contents… and you can buy various sets of these items including a signed copy of the book too (at a discount off the combined prices, of course)! They’re all available at my new Carnival Talk Etsy shop, and here’s a photo of the most complete package (signed book, bookmark, 10 postcards, 3 prints):
Finally, there’s the website at carnivaltalk.wordpress.com. There you can read more about the book, see the Table of Contents, view bonus photographs not published in the book, try out an English-to-Carny translator, visit a bunch of links to carnival websites, movies, books and songs, watch the book trailer, and watch a video compilation of the examples of Carny from popular culture which I mention in the book. And if you haven’t clicked through to any of that yet, here’s the book trailer video, featuring a few of the photographs, and audio of me speaking Carny!
As with all such projects, getting the word out is key. So please, if you know anyone you think might be interested, pass this on! Post the book links, Etsy shop and/or Youtube videos on social media, send them to your friends or colleagues, and especially to anyone you know who loves linguistics, history, old photography, and carnivals or circuses. Thank you in advance for your help!
This has been a true labor of love for me - a way of honoring my ancestors, indulging my academic curiosity, a creative and artistic outlet, and even tied to my spirits in a strange way. I’m very happy to finally be able to share it with all of you.
“While Whorf did not find separable notions of space and time among the Hopi, he did discern, in the Hopi language, a distinction between two basic modalities of existence, which he terms the ‘manifested’ and the ‘manifesting.’ The ‘manifested’ corresponds roughly to our notion of ‘objective’ existence, and it comprises ‘all that is or has been accessible to the senses…with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future.’ The ‘manifesting,’ on the other hand, ‘comprises all that we call future, but not merely this; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental – everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the heart, not only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature, in the heart of nature [itself]…’
“The ‘manifested,’ in other words, is that aspect of phenomena already evident to our senses, while the ‘manifesting’ is that which is not yet explicit, not yet present in the senses, but which is assumed to be psychologically gathering itself toward manifestation within the depths of all sensible phenomena. One’s own feeling, thinking, and desiring are a part of, and hence participant with, this collective desiring and preparing implicit in all things – from the emergence and fruition of the corn, to the formation of clouds and the bestowal of rain. Indeed, human intention, especially when concentrated by communal ceremony and prayer, contributes directly to the becoming-manifested of such phenomena.”
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
A fascinatingly different way of conceiving of “time” which much more directly allows for and explains the efficacy of magic.