August 2022 Cartomancy

•August 11, 2022 • Leave a Comment

The Dark Moon Cartomancy session this month will take place on Saturday, August 27. I will be taking next month off so this will be the last session until the end of October. Click here for more details.

Big sale in my shop

•August 1, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Quick note to tell you all I’ve got a major sale going on in my Etsy shop right now – everything is 15-25% off. Trying to clear out as much of my inventory as possible. This sale goes on through the end of August. After that, my shop will be going on hiatus for at least a month – so if you want something, now is the time!

I’ve got almost all my books for sale there, including the limited edition Gentlemen book and my Carnival Talk book and postcards set, plus the Hermes coins, Odin poem prints, the Girls Underground oracle, several unique vintage items and a piece of original art.

Goblinesquerie Etsy Shop

Boring Return Journey

•July 18, 2022 • 4 Comments

The title of this post is taken directly from TV Tropes. It describes a story where, after a long, dangerous, difficult quest, the characters’ trip back home is just glossed over. No one wants to hear about how equally long, terribly boring, and/or arduous in different ways that return journey was. We just want to see the heroes get back from their adventure and celebrate their accomplishment.

This makes sense in the realm of Story, but the fact is that in reality, you still have to endure that trek back, with all its potential challenges, even after you’ve won the prize. Or, in spiritual terms (since obviously that’s where I’m going with this) – even after you have the big revelation or the transformative experience, it doesn’t mean you’re just “done” and can rest on your laurels now. There may still be more ordeal ahead, or you may have to ride things out for an uncomfortably long time. Integration after initiation can be just as difficult in its own way. Not to mention the fact that often all you’ve done is won yourself more Work to do, more expectations for your new role. Many times, a singular epiphany, however earth-shattering, takes months or even years to fully grok, and to move from something you just know to something you can actually use in practice.

None of that is the fun or glamorous part. The hardships involved aren’t ones we want to boast about, or even commiserate about (in other words, not part of the Story we will tell others). It’s usually a painfully slow process that might look like nothing at all from the outside, even if it is consuming all of your energy. And yet, if you try to skip it, then at best you’re going to end up with a much more shallow gnosis or metamorphosis.

Stick with it. See that return journey to its end, and take the same care with it as you did when you were preparing for the big ritual or courting the divine presence or making the life-altering oath. Because if you really want your life to be altered, it takes more than just a peak experience, it takes all the follow-up work afterwards. That’s the mark of a real commitment to the path, and to the gods. It’s not enough to slay the dragon and grab its gold, you have to bring that gold safely back to your community and do some good with it. You’ve got to figure out how to use what you’ve been given to better worship Them, or to bring others to Them, or to bring Their blessings into the world.

Those moments or periods of hard-won, long-sought, true divine connection and deep change are wonderful to be sure. But they are only the beginning.

Secondary libations

•July 2, 2022 • 4 Comments

I was just performing a very simple, frequent practice of mine that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned here so figured it would be worth discussing a little. Am curious if anyone else does anything similar.

A common question from beginners in polytheism – especially those living in cities – is, ”How do I properly dispose of offerings?” Plenty of people have answered this for their particular traditions (including me, in Kharis), although it’s still debated to some degree. Some innovation is required because in antiquity, people lived in different ways that changed how they would approach this issue. They had dirt floors and constant hearth fires and easy access to wild places.

Now, I would say the majority of my everyday offerings are libations. This is partly due to the preferences of my gods and spirits, and partly due to practical considerations – it’s simply a lot more manageable to make libations and dispose of them frequently than it is to deal with food offerings or other things, especially in an apartment. So all my shrines have at least one drink receptacle, and receive regular libations of various wine, mead, beer, liquor, spring water, and other liquids. And periodically, I go around and empty them out. But while I don’t think it’s necessarily terrible to pour the liquid down the drain (it will all reach the earth or sea eventually, I figure), it has never felt quite right to me either, if for no other reason that it’s rather unceremonious and impersonal, sending it to some distant unknown destination. So instead, I have a simple lightweight bowl I use to collect all the libations together (depending on the constituents this can result in a very strange-smelling brew!) and then I go outside and I pour them at the base of the large sycamore tree in front of my home.

But over time, I began to feel that this was an opportunity to sort of secondarily dedicate these substances to the land I live on, and the tree which I am very fond of. I won’t claim to know how these things really work on a divine level but I generally ascribe to the idea that the gods/spirits take some kind of vital force from the food or drink we offer Them, and/or reap some kind of power from the act of offering in itself. Once that has happened, we are left with physical substances that may be spiritually depleted in a sense. But when I poured these out into the thirsty earth I did not feel like it was as simple as disposing of some meaningless and even soulless liquid. It seemed in a way like a second layer of offering. And so I began to dedicate these sacrificial remains by saying a prayer to the land, to the tree, and then again to the gods who received the initial offerings.

Funnily, it occurs to me only as I am writing this now that there is actually precedent for this in my tradition. At the dark moon, part of the rites for Hekate surrounding the deipnon involved also sweeping out the house and collecting the detritus of sacrifices (ashes and whatnot) to deposit at the crossroads. So in that case, what had once been offered was in a sense offered again. This is actually also something I practice, by including in my deipnon the ends of incense, matches and other burnt items I collect over a month of ritual work. Somehow I never connected these two things until now. Hm.

In any case, I like these practices because they make even the act of disposal into a holy thing. Not to mention, I think it has helped foster my connection to the plot of land on which I reside – even in an apartment in the city.

A quick thought with deeper implications

•June 30, 2022 • 2 Comments

I suppose the fact that I’m still just a little bit surprised when the magic* actually works, means there’s some part of me that’s still holding back from fully believing in it. I have to work on that.

*Same goes for prayer, though to a lesser degree. But there is always more I can trust Them.

Quick update: Bones booklet

•June 21, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Just a brief announcement that I finally sat down and revised my booklet Working with Animal Bones: A Practical and Spiritual Guide. Most additions/changes are minor, just tweaks based on what I’ve learned over the last 8 years since first publishing it. I also fully updated the Resources section at the back, since at least half of the websites there were defunct. Hopefully this makes it a little more useful for those looking to learn about the topic. As always, it’s available exclusively in my Etsy shop.

Medical Journey as Initiation

•June 12, 2022 • 6 Comments

Before my prophylactic surgeries, I had to have an MRI to make sure there were not any signs of cancer yet, which I was nervous about due to being injected with some kind of heavy metal as the contrast. As I mentioned before, I sat in the room awaiting the procedure just thankful to have my little notebook with me to help me focus on praying. Finally I got in the machine, laying face down with my arms out to either side, and was slid into the tube. The thumping began….noticeably close to the classic trance-inducing frequency (around 220 bpm). In fact, I was having trouble concentrating on the tech’s voice in my headphones because instead I was slipping into an altered state of consciousness. Suddenly I recalled this image (which I’ve been fascinated with for so long it made it into one of my books):

There I was, poison flowing into me, rhythms beating in my ears sending me into trance, in the same physical position as this historical shaman… it felt significant.

In fact, throughout my medical journey, it struck me over and over again how downright shamanic the whole process was. Which I suppose makes a lot of sense, given the radically transformative nature of the surgeries. A friend called it “shapeshifting,” which definitely fits. I was transitioning from one state to another in many ways. From menstruating, at least theoretically fertile, woman to instantly post-menopausal “crone” (or hag as I prefer – might as well embrace that identity as I’ve embraced my gray hair and other signs of aging), firmly and permanently now childless. From a curvy, classically feminine body to one more ambiguously gendered, neutral, able to shift more easily into a masculine mode when needed, for instance during horsing.

Please note: I realize a lack of breasts or uterus isn’t automatically masculine and would not cause the same feelings in many other people, there are a wide variety of valid reactions, but for me this just enhanced a sort of flexibility in my astral body that I suspect had already been there to some degree. I am only ever speaking of my own very personal experience here. For me, I found these changes were deeply Othering, furthering my long drift toward the outskirts of human society with its various categories and roles, and I welcomed that.

I hadn’t, however, expected to find so much spiritual power even in the most mundane aspects of the process. Of course, I was being opened up and my organs and tissue removed and sewn back together as something new – that’s almost a classic initiatory experience. I certainly had to face my fears repeatedly as in most initiation rituals. But there were other steps that played a part.

For instance, before my hysterectomy, I was required to drink a noxious liquid to purge my insides to make the operation safer. I had to give up some of my most reliable plant allies beforehand, but was also given access to others (including a medicalized version of one of the poison plants I have grown and loved and sometimes ingest ritually). There was purificatory bathing with antiseptic cleaners. A special diet to follow, before and after, and a period of total fasting. I had to undergo tests to prove my health in order to move forward, and to pass through several gatekeepers which were owed payment for their assistance. There was a special space set aside for the “ritual” to be held, with even more intense purity protocols. I was put into a deep trance state from which I emerged transformed.

And afterwards, during a liminal period set aside before I resumed normal life, there were rituals of healing and integration. For a week, I had to remove the excess blood and lymph via drains in my body, manually collecting and measuring and disposing of these fluids in an extremely visceral, somewhat disturbing twice daily practice that was eerily reminiscent of old shamanic dreams I’ve had. For weeks (and still sometimes now) I would experience periodic electric shocks across my chest, as the nerves knitted back together – and day by day I watched the incisions in my skin do the same. I did daily work with breath and chi to keep my physical and spiritual energy circulating, and received treatments from a healer to help with that.

This isn’t just a metaphor. This is the reality of my experience. I was taken apart and put back together in a new shape which changed my societal status, my spiritual capabilities, my bodily functions, my aesthetic appearance, even my emotional landscape to some degree. And every step of it was sacred, even the parts surrounded by medical professionals who (while overwhelmingly competent and kind – especially nurses, who are incredible) most likely had no sense of the role they were playing in a religious journey.* Even the parts with laxatives and binding garments and covid tests, as awful and “mundane” as can be. All sacred.

It was beautiful and humbling to see how the gods and spirits could manifest and accompany me in even the strangest and most overwhelming situations. Even in an MRI tube. Even on the operating table, as my last mental words before the anaesthesia dragged me under were Their names. There is no part of our lives They cannot touch. And transform.

*Many nurses took incredible care of me, but I will always remember the name of one. As I was being wheeled into the OR for the second surgery, having burned bay leaves for Apollon just that morning, I was told that my nurse for this part of the journey was named Amber. I felt remarkably calm after that.

[And one last note – Early on in my process I was lucky to listen to Ivy Bromius talk with Gordon White on Rune Soup about “Health Crises as Initiations” in regard to her work with the spirits of chemotherapy and other aspects of her experience which resulted in The Cancer Grimoire. Highly recommended to anyone going through an illness or just interested in ways in which one can approach such situations from a religious or magical perspective.]

Every Cure Is His Epiphany

•June 7, 2022 • 4 Comments

The title of this post is a quote from Karl Kerenyi’s book on Asklepios, one that immediately hit me like a ton of bricks, and which I inscribed in large letters in my aforementioned notebook. I thought I should follow up on the last post with a few more details about Asklepios worship for those who may be called (or may need to call on Him).

His two biggest festivals in antiquity were the Asklepieia at Athens on 8 Elaphebolion, and the Epidauria on 17 Boidromion. I decided to keep the 8th of the lunar month as His holy day (that would be today, for anyone counting), based on that first festival and the fact that it falls after Apollon’s holy day on the 7th. Interesting side note – when I first found His statue in the antique store, I decided to commit to a year of cultus for Him, figuring that would take me through my full recovery period, after which I would most likely pass on the statue to someone else in need. When I looked up the lunar cycles to figure out in advance the dates on which those two festivals would fall this year, the second happens to be the day after that year is over. So I guess it will be a year-and-a-day cultus, and I will end with a final sacrifice of a capon, if I can find one, since the rooster is sacred to Him.

Speaking of which, connected to the rooster is the time of sunrise, and hence all of my devotions take place as close to dawn as possible. While I did not focus on dream incubation as part of my practices (as I was not actually seeking a cure, per se), it occurs to me that it would be quite appropriate to follow up a night of incubation with a sunrise devotional.

Consultation of the god in antiquity often involved baths in cold water, especially sea water, after which one would don a clean, white garment. I made a special trip before my first surgery to the source of my nearest waterway, up in the hills, where I bathed in the early morning in a very cold stream. Before my second surgery, I made a further trip to the coast where I submerged myself in the absolutely frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean (more on that ritual in another post). Both of these felt incredibly purifying.

Asklepios occupies a somewhat ambiguous position in Greek religion in the sense of not being quite a god, or a hero, or an ancestor, but some combination thereof, and changing over time. The son of a god who was nonetheless killed by a god and then underwent apotheosis, His cultic roots seem firmly planted in chthonic soil, with snakes as His companions, and healing plants at His command, and He seems particularly attuned to the vagaries of mortality, being acquainted with that state Himself. His worship has much in common with that of the dead, and yet His boon is to bestow wellness and life (which is, actually, what got Him killed in the first place). Over time, His temples slowly morphed from centers of dream oracles and straight miracle cures, to the addition of surgery and drugs to help the afflicted, eventually becoming something closer to sanitariums. He straddles the divine and mundane, the spiritual and physical, more than most of the gods.

Sources for Study:

  • Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician’s Existence by Karl Kerenyi
  • The Cult of Asklepios by Alice Walton (1894 but not to be discounted; I found the chapter on the god as an earth spirit particularly interesting)
  • Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies by Emma Edelstein
  • Truly Beyond Wonders: Aelius Aristides and the Cult of Asklepios by Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis
  • The Rod and the Serpent of Asklepios, Symbol of Medicine by Jan Schouten
  • Asklepios at Athens by Sara Aleshire
  • Epidauros by R.A. Tomlinson
  • Cure and Cult in Ancient Corinth by Mabel Lang
  • Where Dreams May Come: Incubation Sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman World by Gil Renberg
  • ETA: I completely forgot that there is one modern devotional – To Rejuvenate and Nourish: Nine Days of Prayer to Asklepios, God of Healing by Galina Krasskova

Healer of All

•June 5, 2022 • 11 Comments

I’m going to share some very personal information here, as much as that makes me uncomfortable, because I cannot shake the feeling that posting about this might help someone else navigate their own situation, somewhere down the line. And because I wish to honor a god that has helped me. But understand that I am only doing so in order to address the spiritual ramifications of these experiences, rather than seeking emotional support. I am actually doing very well and have found this overall to be a positive chapter in my story, albeit one with many challenges.

I spoke in my last post about change. Trust me when I say I am very well acquainted with that. Over the past 18 months, I have gone through three significant life changes and am looking at a fourth before too long. Each one affected my spiritual life to varying degrees, directly and indirectly. But this is about only one of those things, the one that has had the most impact so far.

Last summer, after I had adjusted to two big shifts in my circumstances, I found I had the spoons to face something I’d been fearing and avoiding for most of my life – the possibility that I had inherited my matrilineal ancestral legacy of a BRCA1 gene mutation, putting me at extremely high risk of ovarian and breast cancer. I realized I could not only handle the diagnosis, which I expected and received (I had a 50% chance but my gut told me it was there), but I could actually do something about it. And so I began a journey that has radically altered my body, inside and out, which then altered me in other ways, too.

The doctors recommended, as I suspected they would, that I take an aggressive approach to avoid cancer, by removing the susceptible parts – a full hysterectomy, followed by a total mastectomy. And I was ready for it. Thus followed months of research and preparation. I realized I was in a unique position to approach this properly from the start, in a spiritual sense, since I didn’t have an active illness requiring most of my attention and emotional engagement (it is so much harder, I’m sure, to think about devotional activities when one is facing treatment for a serious condition, which is part of the reason I am offering this in case it might be helpful). I knew immediately that this was, inherently, a sacred journey I was undertaking, and a powerfully transformative one, and that it needed to be honored and ritualized every step of the way. That I was in the hands of the gods, now more than ever.

This was confirmed very early on in the process. I had just received the genetic results and had my initial consultations maybe a month before, and had only just begun figuring out which of my gods and spirits I would be petitioning for assistance, when I was antiquing with a friend one day and stumbled upon a beautiful old statue of none other than Asklepios – heavy and substantial, with classic iconography and even His name in Greek scratched into the base. I think we both knew right away that this was no random find.

Honestly, while He may seem an obvious choice in my situation, I hadn’t even considered approaching this god – although I had thought of His father of course, having had a prior devotional relationship with Apollon. But seeing Him there, I immediately realized how fortunate I would be to have the help of the god of physicians, in addition to the many gods of healing and transformation and luck I was already surrounded by. Because this was not a simple matter of overall health, but a very medical road I was embarking on, in both ancient and very modern ways, full of doctors and technicians, tests and procedures, even the arcane workings of health insurance. And I quickly felt that this is why Asklepios was presenting Himself to me, as a guide through that particularly strange and complex world.

I bought the statue, delved into research on His cultus (the university library here fortunately had several books dedicated to the topic), carefully set up a shrine with all the necessary symbolism (locating it near both my ancestor photos and my houseplants – sharing space with my snake plant, of course), and began establishing ritual protocols.

I got a notebook and filled one side with doctor’s numbers and to-do lists, expenses to prepare for, questions to ask at my next appointment…. and the other side with notes on Asklepios worship, ideas for devotional practices (for Him and Others – there were many aspects to this work and I may talk about the rest in a future post), and the Orphic Hymn to the god in two languages. I took that notebook with me to every appointment, and it helped ensure that I always remembered the sacred aspect of this process along with the physical. (And it meant that, for instance, when I was left in a tiny room alone for ages waiting on an MRI, I could pass the time reading the hymn and thinking about its meaning.)

In the few weeks leading up to each surgery, I rose at dawn each day to light the tiny oil lamp on Asklepios’ shrine [1], share a cup of herbal tea [2], light a special blend of incense [3] and read the hymn aloud in Greek and English followed by whatever specific prayers I had. (I was also doing daily work with Dionysos and one of my spirits, centered on letting go, and keeping my chi flowing.) But in addition to this formal daily practice, throughout the months of this process, every time I did anything related to the medical stuff – before doctor’s appointments, during calls to the insurance company, waiting for test results – I lit the lamp and asked for His help. It was such an immense lesson in making even the most tedious, difficult and scary “mundane” experiences into holy ones.

And over and over again, He (and Others) came through. The whole process was remarkably smooth overall (not to say there haven’t been challenging parts, but it could have been much, much worse, and I was very lucky in the doctors I was assigned). And most importantly, I came through both surgeries healthy and whole – well, except for the parts they removed, of course, but it feels like a new kind of wholeness rather than a loss… perhaps more on that in a future post, especially the way it basically propelled me into instant cronehood. Suffice to say for now that I feel quite comfortable in my new body, and while I recognize and respect that losing one’s fertility (even if mostly symbolic at my age) and most of the internal and external physical markers of femaleness (I did not have reconstruction after the mastectomy) would be difficult if not tragic for many women, for me it actually turned out to be a welcome release and transition to a new way of being embodied. And gave me some extra mojo, in fact.

One interesting thing about Asklepios is how He echoes in some ways the traits of Apollon, but as a hero-god who died Himself, and as one who deals primarily with people in a state of imbalance or miasma, there aren’t the same purity rules at all. While I veiled certain shrines during my recovery periods, I actually made a special sacred space for the healing work by turning my adyton into a temporary incubation chamber where I slept for weeks until I felt I had passed through the liminal, miasmic stage. There was a lot of discernment involved to determine which gods and spirits were appropriate and willing to surround me for this process and which needed to be away from it. But the incubation chamber served its function well, and indeed like it happened in antiquity, I had a dream while there which directly tied into my healing and my future.

The ancient healing shrines of Asklepios were filled with inscriptions of gratitude, declarations of healings accomplished, along with votive objects representing the parts of the body affected. So, after my hysterectomy in January, I presented the god with a small pewter charm of a uterus and ovaries [4], and in April after the mastectomy I added a milagro of breasts. And I consider this post and picture to serve as my public inscription of gratitude to the god who held me safely through a dangerous, frightening and sometimes bewildering journey. May He do the same for all those who come to Him.

Hail Asklepios, greatest of physicians.

Asklepios, lord Paian, healer of all, you charm away the suffering of men in pain.
Come, mighty and soothing, bring health,
And put an end to sickness and the harsh fate of death.
Helper, blessed spirit of growth and blossoming, you ward off evil,
Honored and mighty scion of Phoibos Apollon.
Enemy of disease, whose blameless consort is Hygeia,
Come, O blessed one, as savior and bring life to a good end.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] I’ve been using oil lamps for my Hellenic gods in recent years, with great success, using a variety of receptacles. This time I simply took a small brass pipe fitting of some kind from the hardware store, put a rubber washer under it to protect the table surface, used a metal wick-holder from making tealight candles (but leaving it uncrimped), inserted a very short length of cotton wick, and filled it with olive oil. Makes a lovely light for about an hour.

[2] Just as I was embarking on this work, a religious colleague, unaware of any of it, brought me a gift of a dried plant I had never encountered before called Sideritis syriaca, or Greek Mountain Tea. It is used as a panacea, so I thought it might be an appropriate offering for Asklepios and indeed it was well-received. It’s also quite a compelling, subtle flavor. I alternated sharing small amounts of this with tisanes brewed from other herbs.

[3] In case anyone is interested, the incense cones I made consisted of bay leaves, rosemary, Greek mountain tea, yarrow and sage, with makko for combustion, and mixed with khernips to form the dough.

[4] Funny story about this – the only one I really liked was made in Sweden so I took a chance and ordered it, leaving plenty of time for it to arrive. It was shipped quickly but then something went awry and the tracking showed it bouncing around various far-flung distribution centers in random directions for weeks. I had to laugh because I realized it had become a “wandering uterus” (the ancient belief that sometimes the uterus wandered around a woman’s body, causing problems, hence “hysteria”)! It ended up arriving the day before my surgery. Of course.

Dionysos and Change

•May 28, 2022 • 7 Comments

I have several ideas for posts waiting for me to write them but instead I’m going to begin with this, which hit me powerfully last night and seems like a good way to start.

The other day I was watching a Youtube video where strangers are asked, “When have you felt most alive?” So I started considering my own answer. And I realized that, while I have had many intense mystical experiences, the times that I am truly most present with the awareness of being alive is during times of significant change. The liminality becomes almost a tangible thing…and in fact, it is, in the sense that it is Dionysos.

Transformation. Initiation. Life-Death-Life. Fermentation. Becoming. The uncertainty and potential all wrapped up together, the hinge moments, when anything could happen. That is the presence of Dionysos making your heart race, burning your life down so something new can grow in the rich, charred soil. This for me is one of the most intimate experiences of the god – surrendering to where He leads me next. Letting go of control. Trusting Him. Putting myself in a position where I will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through. [1]

And this is when I feel the pulse of living most acutely. Because life is dynamic, it is change. And yet, paradoxically (because Dionysos is all about paradox), through repeated change we more clearly see what is eternal, through annihilation we find what is indestructible in us [2], and there also dwells Dionysos, the god of indestructible life.

Over and over in myth, Dionysos’ arrival precipitates drastic change. Women abandon their families for the mountain. Men become women, in one sense or another. Or they become dolphins. The world is turned upside-down. And so it is when He enters a devotee’s life and heart – for the first time, or one of many over a lifetime. You will not be the same as you were before, often in a very real, literal way – you may find yourself (willing or not) changing your relationships, your job, your home, even your body. The closer you get to Him, the more He tends to get His hands in there and shape you into something else, and the process isn’t always gentle…though sometimes it is. But always it is true that fighting makes it worse. Over time you learn to recognize the call to surrender. And then it’s up to you how to respond.

______________________

[1] “But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” (Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God)

[2] “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart)