28 August 2015

Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride 2015

Yes folks, this weekend is Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride 2015!  It's going to be an amazing weekend and I am presenting both days.

  • Saturday 8/29 at 3pm "Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities"
  • Sunday 8/30 at 2pm "Pop-Up Ritual"
For folks who are unable to attend or just want a little more information on these workshops I am posting the basic information below.

Conflict Resolution for Magickal Communities

Identifying positions vs. underlying interests.
  • Positions are a person's assertion of opinion about what they want.
  • Positions are often "my" statements. E.g. "My way is 'x'" or "I need you to do 'y'."
  • Underlying interests are the needs and desires that motivate people. E.g. Safety or validation.
  • Ask "why"? If there is more than one possible answer to "why do you want that?," then that is not the underlying interest - it's a position.

Check your understanding.
  • If you want to be listened to, you must be willing to listen.
  • Make sure you really understand what is being said - don't assume.
  • Reflect back, paraphrase, and ask if you got it right.
  • Restate what appear to be the most important points to the speaker, not what is important to you.

Validate and respect emotions without buying into them.
  • The experience of emotion is always valid and genuine, even if the reasons they are being experienced doesn't seem to be.
  • Empathize with the speaker's experience, but remain objective.
  • Excessive buy-in (over identification) clouds judgment.
Pop-Up Ritual

The purpose of Pop-Up Ritual is to be a flexible and responsive alternative to formal planned ritual. The point is not to replace formal ritual, but to supplement it and to hone your ritual skills so that you can adapt when things don't go as planned.

  • Know 3-5 different ritual formats from different traditions
  • Keep a Ritual Toolkit
    • Items that represent elements, dieties, spirits, etc.
    • LED candles
    • Smokeless incense, cleansing spritzes, salt water, etc.
    • Duct tape
    • Other fun items that you find inspiring
  • Have a collection of ritual appropriate poetry, evocations, incantations, etc.
  • Have a variety of ritual music on an MP3 player and a set of wireless speakers
  • Be proficient in several quick and dirty magickal techniques that can be deployed in a ritual setting and performed by a group including novices
    • It can help to have a mechanism on standby for the most common magickal needs: healing, prosperity, protection, devotions, etc.
 Before the Ritual
  • Know your attendees
    • What traditions are represented in your participants?  
    • What belief systems? 
    • How able are they?
      • If you've got several attendees with movement impairment, perhaps a spiraldance is not the best idea.  
      • Have you accounted for any sight or hearing impaired attendees?  Etc.
    • Ask them if you're not sure
  • Ask if anyone has any pressing magickal needs
    • If several people have sick relatives it might be time for a healing ritual, if many people are concerned about wildfire then perhaps a weather working would be best, etc.
  • Once you've decided on a goal for your ritual ask if anyone has a particular technique they'd like to use to achieve it
    • Your attendees are your best resource.  Let them be as active participants as they'd like to be (within reason).
During the Ritual
  •  Be flexible
    • Weather, bystanders, and sometimes participants can throw a monkey wrench in your plans.  If one plan seems to go off the rails, just go with another idea.  
  • Pay attention to your participants
    • Your ritual isn't just for you - keep an eye on participant energy levels, attention, and of course safety.  Adapt accordingly.
  • Have fun
    • Ritual is supposed to be enjoyable and satisfying.  Don't take yourself too seriously and allow things to unfold (within the bounds of safety, sanity, and reasonable timing).
After the Ritual
  • Be sure to ground!
  • Set up social time to allow participants to decompress
  • Get feedback from participants.  How else are you supposed to get better?

A previous post on Pop-Up Ritual


18 July 2015

Book Review: Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life

I am firm in the belief that effective communication skills are vital to the successful practice of magick.  The way I see it, if you cannot articulate what you truly want to another person how can you articulate it with your magick?  Due to this belief I've spent a fair amount of time honing my ability to listen and communicate well.  I'd heard a lot about nonviolent communication in recent months so I decided to check it out.  I picked up the Kindle version of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg.  Never in my life have I had a harder time deciding if I liked a book or not. 

TL; DR - Recommended with reservations. See below for why.

The raison d'etre of Nonviolent Communication is teaching people to speak effectively and to listen well - a worthy goal.  Rosenberg does a good job at giving readers the tools necessary to do so.  The book is very well written and easy to understand.  It's formatted beautifully for both skimming and referring back to it later without needed to highlight and mark it up.  As someone who likes to reread books for their salient points I thoroughly appreciate this.

Some of the most important ideas from the book revolve around learning to how to separate the observation of facts from the drawing of moralistic conclusions.  A huge number of the conflicts in our lives stem from the difference between the judgments we make and what is actually happening around us - particularly when it comes to inferring the thoughts and motivations of others from what we see them do and hear them say.  The book does a great job helping the reader to learn to see their own though process more clearly and be more objective.

The book then goes on to try to teach the reader how to better understand their own needs and desires and how to articulate themselves so that they can actually have their needs filled - also a worthy goal.  This is where the book begins to stumble a bit.  Rosenberg makes it seem like being able to clearly articulate what you want to others is some kind of magic bullet for getting what you want.  While there are undercurrents that can be inferred as saying, "if what you want is selfish and irrational you really need to reevaluate whether you should really get it," it's glossed over.  In fairness, if the book were to delve deeply into all the concerns about understanding our own desires it would be a multi-volume tome rather than a slim, readable book. Rosenberg does about as much as he can within the framework he's designed for himself, but I found this section a bit lacking in reality checks.

Then the book goes on to chapters on listening and empathy.  This is where I really had a hard time, not so much with the tools and techniques described, but in the examples given.  Rosenberg talks about the importance of sincere and attentive listening and having empathy for others and making sure that you've understood what they're trying to communicate rather than whatever your brain turned it into when you heard it.  This is probably the single most important skill anyone can develop in terms of improving your interactions with other people.  It is absolutely critical.  However, in the example scenarios Rosenberg seems to make a lot of assumptions about what other people are feeling rather than letting them tell him.  I think it stems from the fact that Rosenberg is a psychologist and thus has been trained to help teach people about their feelings.  It comes across as arrogant and really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  In mediation folks are taught to never, ever presume they understand what someone wants or feels unless that understanding is specifically validated by the person who's actually doing the thinking/feeling. 

Overall I think that Rosenberg communicates some really important ideas about communication and human understanding.  I don't always like the way he demonstrates his techniques, but I do like the techniques themselves.  Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life has some really good ideas that I think just about everyone who has to interact with other people (aka everyone) can benefit from learning.  Just keep an eye on how much you buy in to how the author demonstrates his techniques and you'll get a lot out of it.

03 July 2015

Exoteric Magick

Those of you that are interested in Pop Culture Magick should check out my new blog over at Pagan Square - Exoteric Magick.  It's focused on approachable pop culture magick for people from any path and at any skill level.
My first post, Finding Pop Culture Magick, talks about the circumstances that brought me to pop culture magick and gives some insight into the strange cauldron that is my brain.  I hope you like it!

Magickal Defense Without Permission

One of the most debated issues in magickal defense is whether or not you should do magickal defense for someone else without their permission.  In this post I'll take a look at a few of the situations where you might be tempted to do defensive work for another without their permission and the various issues they entail.
A general protection sigil.
A little disclaimer: I'm coming at this from a mainstream Pagan perspective in which one always wants to get consent before doing magick of any kind on another person.  I know there are other traditions out there that don't really take issue with doing defensive work without permission and I respect that.  This post is my personal perspective based on my own ethics – take it as you will.

Due to my education (code for "law school warped my brain"), I tend to see any issue of consent and defense in a legal light.  This means that, for me, there are two circumstances in which I can pretty much always do defensive magick without getting express permission from the person I'm defending: 1) there is an imminent threat of non-trivial harm to the target, and 2) the target of the magick lacks the capacity to give consent.

The first situation in which I’m comfortable doing defensive work without permission when there’s a non-trivial imminent threat to the target.  An imminent threat is something immediate, something that will happen in a matter of moments if it isn’t stopped – think of an out of control car careening towards someone.  It’s the kind of situation where there really isn’t time to ask permission, so I really don’t feel bad acting on instinct.  In terms of defensive magick I always have to add a “non-trivial” qualification to the situation before I act.  Most situations that necessitate the use of defensive magick are actually fairly mild in the short term – sure an attachment will do a lot of harm over time, but it’s not going to be any more dangerous or difficult to remove if I wait the few minutes to get permission to act.  For me a situation needs to be a serious threat to life, limb, or sanity before I act without permission.  While I have no problem warding someone when an infernal comes into the room whether they ask me to or not, I wouldn’t do that for a pixie’s arrival.  If something is actually dangerous and needs to be acted upon quickly, then do what you’ve got to do and ask for forgiveness later.

The second situation is where the person needing the defensive work lacks the capacity to give me permission.  When I say "the target lacks capacity" I mean that the person you want to defend is unable to give consent either because they're too young to understand the situation, they're drunk, extremely ill, unconscious, mentally unsound, etc.  Under those circumstances I try to get a hold of someone with the authority to give consent for the target (e.g. a parent, spouse, sibling, etc.).  If I can't, then I'll use my own knowledge of the person I want to defend to decide what I think they'd want.  For example, if you have a relative that is in a coma and you want to ward that person you can feel good about doing so, as long as that person wouldn't have religious objections (I'll talk more about that in a minute).  However, as soon as that person came out of the coma you should take down the wards and ask permission before putting them up again.
Deciding to do magick without permission when you can’t really ask them is fairly easy.  But what about when you ask and you get turned down?  That’s a different and much trickier situation.  If you think someone is in danger there is often an intrinsic need to help that person – whether they want your help or not – particularly if it’s someone you care about.  Here are a few situations to think about that you might find yourself in.

What do you do when you feel that someone needs a defensive working but that person does not believe in magick or any type of metaphysical threat?  If you’re anything like me, you probably have friends and relatives that do not believe in what you do.  If you’re lucky these folks will give you permission to do magick on them just to make you feel better.  If you’re not so lucky then you’ve got a difficult choice to make.  For me the deciding factor would be just how bad things could get without a working.  If we’re talking about a violent poltergeist in someone’s attic do you wait until someone gets hurt and your friend comes crawling back for help, or do you so some subtle preemptive work?  What if the target itself needs a serious cleansing due to possession or oppression?  I’m more likely to do magick surrounding a person (e.g. warding their attic) than anything directly to a person (e.g. a cleansing or banishing) who doesn’t want it.  Further, there would have to be some pretty dire consequences to staying my hand before I’d do magick on someone when they’ve told me not to, just as a matter of personal respect.  In fact, this is the kind of situation where I would call in a second or third opinion before moving forward with any magickal working.  When in doubt, don’t act alone.

An even trickier, if sadly common, situation is when the target has a religious opposition to magick of any kind.  I have some friends whose religion is strictly opposed to magick (to the point where I occasionally marvel at them for being friends with me in the first place) and I would never perform magick on them without their express permission unless I thought it was a life or death situation – and that’s seriously unlikely to occur.  I know I wouldn’t want them trying to “pray” evil away from me so I will respect them by not doing the same magickally.  The strictly religious almost always have “proper” channels they can go through for paranormal issues.  If you sense something happening, encourage these folks to seek the help of their priest/pastor/exorcist/etc.  Give their religious beliefs the same respect you want them to give yours – even if you secretly think they’re nuts, I’m sure they feel the same way about you.

The issue of permission becomes that much more difficult when the person in question is a roommate/housemate.  Someone who shares your personal space has a significantly greater effect on your safety and wellbeing than anyone else.  If you share a dorm room with someone who is being haunted or oppressed by a spirit it is going to have a huge negative impact on your life.  If you’re in a situation where you share living space with someone (and moving out isn’t feasible) then doing some pretty heavy workings, even if you’re denied permission to do so, might be warranted.  At that point you’re really working in self-defense due to the target’s proximity to what should be your safe space.  If you don’t feel energetically safe in your own bed because of your roommate’s paranormal problems, then you’re probably justified in doing something about it.  The closer the proximity of the target to your personal space the easier it is to justify doing defensive work.  If it’s someone you share a bed or a room with you can pretty much do what you need to in order to be safe.  (Note – if you’re sharing a bed with someone who’s being haunted or oppressed and they refuse to allow you to help them you might want to rethink your relationship.  I’m just saying.)  If it’s a housemate that you don’t share a room with, then it should depend on the impact the other person’s problem has on you and the amount of harm being done to the person.  If it’s someone who’s just down the hall or in the building, then you should probably stay out of things.  Basically, use proximity and the likelihood of serious harm to make your choice.

Now, there is a bit of a loophole with this whole permission thing.  It’s not exactly the most upright thing to do, but just because someone doesn’t want you to do magick on them doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do magick to address the source of the problem.  If someone is being haunted you can, more or less, do whatever magick you want on the entity doing the haunting.  You can theoretically dissolve the magick of a curse without magickally touching the target of that curse.  You can make healing energy available to someone without forcing them to take it.  You can ward the exterior boundaries of a property without doing anything to someone’s home.  These little loopholes can allow you to address the source of many metaphysical issues without technically doing magick on someone who doesn’t want it.  Does this sort of thing go against the spirit of honoring someone’s refusal? Yes, absolutely.  Exploiting loopholes may be a bit underhanded, but if it’s a matter of being trixy or watching a friend suffer unnecessarily I will chose trixy every time.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether or not a situation warrants doing defensive magick on someone without their permission.  I look at the immediacy and severity of the situation along with how personal the magick involved needs to be and then weight those factors with the strength of the target’s opposition to the work in order to decide what to do.  If I feel strongly that magick is necessary in the situation I’ll use my loopholes before I go disregarding someone else’s will.  Respecting the autonomy of others is very important to me, so things need to be pretty bad before I’ll go disregarding it.  In the end your ethics are up to you.

24 June 2015

Summer Solstice Prosperity Ritual

This year I had a very low key Summer Solstice, doing an impromptu prosperity ritual rather than a more elaborate full Sabbat.  I’d had grand plans for going out to a big public ritual, but in the end plans fell through.  Things have been rather busy lately and my brain really wanted to just listen to some Debussy and read a nice frivolous novel rather than stress out about driving the hour out to the ritual site and celebrating with a group I’m not all that familiar with.  I went with my instincts and stayed home.

So there I was home alone on the Summer Solstice with no responsibilities other than doing whatever working my heart felt compelled to do.  Not so bad eh?  The day before I’d picked up some chocolate coins at the store with the thought that they’d be great to use in a prosperity ritual.  The coins were sitting on my kitchen counter in front of a half-empty jar of homemade almond granola and an almost dead jar of honey.  As I stood there I realized that I had all the makings of a prosperity spell sitting right in front of me.  I looked outside at the gloriously blue and warm morning and decided to go with it. 

Still in my PJs, I scooped up the honey, granola, and chocolate coins and headed into the yard – followed by my fuzzy familiar, Cleo.  I sat down in the grass by our enormous rhododendrons and took a few minutes to listen to the birds (and my neighbor’s weed whacker) and enjoy the sunshine.  Cleo took the opportunity to hop into my lap and get fur on absolutely everything – gotta love kitties. 

After a few minutes of meditation I kicked Cleo out of my lap and cast my circle.  I felt that all of the elements and deities of the day were already present, so I didn’t bother doing any formal calling or invoking.  I said a few words on the nature of the solstice and asked that the energies of the day allow my prosperity working.  I poured the granola in a half circle in front of me and offered it to nature, particularly to the birds and insects that call my backyard home.  I poured the honey on the ground just beyond the granola and offered it to the earth, in gratitude for the sweetness of the summer season.  Then I held the bag of chocolate coins in my hands and raised them towards the sun.  I asked that the power of the Summer Solstice enter and infuse the chocolate, so that as I consumed them in the days to come I would be consuming the potent positive summer energy.  I asked that they be infused with the energies of prosperity, healthy, wealth, happiness, and comfort.  When I felt that the coins were sufficiently energized (and before they could start melting) and placed them in the shade behind me and gave thanks to the energies that attended and aided me.  I dispelled my circle and then headed back inside.

Now I’ve got a bag of magickally charged organic chocolate coins sitting on my earth altar.  I’ve been eating one a day and am absolutely enjoying it.  There’s something luxurious and rich about good dark chocolate that make it particularly apropos for prosperity work.  That it’s delicious doesn’t hurt either ;)

I do love simple, heartfelt ritual.  There’s something about doing what you feel just when you feel it’s right that it’s hard for more rigidly planned rituals to replicate.  As much as I love a good formal ritual, for my personal work I think I’ll stick to going with the flow.
Cleo says Hi

25 May 2015

Questions on Pop Culture Paganism

A few days ago a call went out for folks who work with either technopaganism or pop culture paganism to talk about what they do for a piece in Vice Motherboard.  Naturally, my hand shot up immediately like Hermione Granger's.  I got in touch with the gal doing the research and here are the questions she sent me and my answers.

**Update 6-15-15** You can read the article here.

Note - She asks some fairly specific questions regarding my past writings on pop culture magick, so you may want to review my previous posts on the topic.  

On 2015-05-22 09:41, Creatrix Tiara wrote:
1. You talk about how geeks' tendency for passionate near-obsessive energy works really well with magickal practices. This brings to mind notions of "celebrity worship" and "fan shrines" and how a lot of language between spirituality and fandom can often be very similar. Could you talk more about the connections you draw between fandom and spirituality?

I think fandom and spirituality can, but don't have to, overlap.  In both fandom and spirituality, people feel a deep personal connection between themselves and the object of their attention that makes their lives better.  It's that sense of connection and personal understanding that really makes both worthwhile - to me at least.  In fandom we get connection both to the people creating the object of our attention and other fans.  Less obviously but perhaps more potently, we get a sense of resonance with the material that lets us feel deeply understood, if in a round about way.

For example, I'm a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That show came out when I was a sophomore in High School and Buffy Summers was exactly my age.  In a sense we grew up together; faced the same challenges of growing up at the same time, if in different ways.  I saw that character struggle with the same kinds of problems that I did and make the same kinds of mistakes I was making, and then got to watch her overcome them and move forwards with her life. At a time in my life where my family and friends had trouble understanding me I got to see a girl on television that I knew would understand me completely and then talk to other people who loved the show and totally got it.

When spirituality and its resultant community is healthy the sense of support and understanding it gives is virtually identical to that of a healthy fandom.

The main difference I see between fandom and spirituality is intent.  The point where a person goes from "this is an awesome thing that I love" to "I'm going to use this thing to improve myself and my life" is where someone passes from fandom into spirituality.  You can absolutely have both (e.g. I love Doctor Who and I use the image of the 10th Doctor as my spirit guide), but you don't have to.

One thing that a lot of people factor into spirituality that they don't factor into fandom is what they get back from the object of their attention.  In many spiritualities there is the belief that the thing you love loves you back. Some might disagree, but I would argue that this is totally possible in a fandom. First, it's not uncommon for the people responsible for creating major fandoms to go to conventions and other public venues and express their appreciation for their fans, and that can mean a lot.  Further, a lot of major fandoms (e.g. Star Wars, Marvel, Doctor Who, Sandman, etc.) have so much energy poured into them that they exist as thoughtforms on the astral plane - functioning in very, very similar ways to other spiritual forces.  They might not be as old, as big, or last as long as some other spiritual forces but they are quite real and potentially potent.

2. Similar to talking about passionate obsession in fandom - is there such as thing as a casual pop culture pagan, the same way there might be casual fans of a pop culture product? Does someone need to be a True Fan to incorporate that fandom into their spiritual practice - or, in the reverse, does someone need to be very spiritual to incorporate pop culture into their spirituality?

Overall, yes I'm sure you can be a casual pop culture pagan (PCP). In practice, I think it really depends on the fandom.  As of right now, 5/25/15, I think just about anyone on the planet could call on Imperator Furiosa and get a solid response because that character is so intensely in the public eye at this moment in time. I think just about anyone could call on the character of Sherlock Holmes because the character is so well known and so ubiquitously part of mainstream culture.

Beyond major characters that are actively in the larger public eye I think it would be more difficult to be a casual PCP.  Working with pop culture icons isn't that different from working with any other metaphysical entity.  If you want to work with established metaphysical entities (like the fay) you're expected to develop a relationship with them over time: giving them offerings, talking to them, working with them regularly, etc. Working with pop culture figures is no different; you'll get better results of you've got an established relationship than you would if you didn't.  That's not to say you can't work with something casually, just that you might not get the same quality of result as you would if you were less casual about it.

3. What got you interested in pop culture paganism? How does it connect with your overall spiritual practice? Do you feel connection, disconnection, something else with other forms of paganism and
spirituality? (Part of my draw towards pop culture and techno paganism is that I never really connected with how people revered nature - but the things people were feeling about nature were the same things I felt about tech and art.)

I've always worked with a mixture of pop culture and more traditional pagan iconography.  When I was first starting out I had trouble feeling a personal connection with the idea of the traditional four elements, so I visualized them as the four members of Metallica and that solved my problem.  I often visualize the deities I work with as modern day characters or people, just because it's easier for my brain to do so than to try to pull an image out of the astral whole cloth.  I don't see anything remarkable about it, it's just the way I've always done things.  When I call powers to aid me in ritual I've got old gods, figures from myth and legend, literature, and modern pop culture characters side by side and they've never had any problem with it, so why would I? I'm a big believer in doing what works for you when you need it to work, whatever that happens to look like, as long as everyone involved is OK with it.

4. Neil Gaiman's American Gods plays with pop culture paganism to some degree, with his notion of modern-day gods. Do you see pop culture and technopaganism being explored in the mainstream elsewhere? On the one hand, when the mainstream _does_ acknowledge witchcraft, it's often in
a Hippy Nature Woo sense, but on the other hand I'm thinking that sci-fi and cyberpunk would eventually lead towards technopaganism as a given.

I hadn't really thought about that before.  I could certainly see how the current flow of pop culture, particularly online pop culture, could make technopaganism and pop culture paganism more appealing and more natural for a lot of people.  In the comic books The Wicked and The Divine (
http://www.wicdiv.com/ - I highly recommend these), you see modern day deities using our current cult of celebrity to gain the powers and worship they want. In reality, our contemporary cult of celebrity is quite similar to how folk saints have been created in the past (seriously, just visit Elvis' grave and tell me folks aren't using his name in magick).  Similarly, you could easily look at things like memes as modern versions of spells or bardic magick. Look at the power of the trending topic to shift world wide perceptions in a matter of hours and tell me that isn't a form of contagion magick gone, quite literally, viral.  Do I think our current culture is on a crash course to technopaganism - no, but I think all it would take would be the tiniest push from a person in the right position.

5. I've noticed pop culture paganism really jumping in popularity with young people on Tumblr who are active in fandom (and possibly social justice). How in your view has Internet culture and social media boosted or interacted with pop culture paganism?

I think internet culture has been huge in spreading pop culture paganism, particularly amongst the under 30 crowd.  One of the gifts of the information age is that people are exposed to a lot of different viewpoints on every possible issue.  For those of us that have grown up steeped in internet culture, it is very easy for us to understand that, for most issues, there is more than one "right way" of doing things.  This means we don't cling to tradition the way that older generations tend to, making us more open to new ideas - like pop culture paganism.

For those of us who grew up stewing in pop culture, using those ideas in magick seems only natural.  With the proliferation of smartphones and other internet connected devices, many people spend all day connected to the stream of pop culture - why wouldn't we want to harness that and use it to our advantage?  Working with pop culture today is no different to us than connecting to the stories and legends of the past was to people in their day; what we now identify as myth was their pop culture at the time.

6. You talk about how you're not entirely comfortable with the idea of worshipping pop cultural figures as deities since they haven't been around a long time. However, it can be argued that some of these figures are reworkings of age-old archetypes; some even are often deliberately designed on known mythological figures. One could also argue that since pop culture is man-made, it's not as spiritually pure - but a lot of myths could also be said to be man-made even if divinely inspired. Could you talk more about your thoughts on this?

The way I see it, pop culture figures are essentially thoughtforms on the astral plane.  The more energy we in the mundane world pour into them, the bigger and stronger they get in the astral.  I see many of the metaphysical entities worked with in modern magick (spirits, fay, loa, saints, deity, etc.) as also being astral entities that are, at least partially, shaped by the energy fed into them by people on the mundane plane.  The entities that I call deities are generally very, very old and very, very strong - to the point that they can function entirely independently of the energies fed to them from people.  I see pop culture figures as being lesser than deity in that they are still almost entirely dependent on the incoming energies from people for their existence.  As such, while I might respect and even venerate a pop culture figure, I wouldn't worship it.  To me worship requires a sense of subordination to the thing being worshiped that I just don't feel for pop culture figures.

I don't really subscribe to idea of spiritual "purity." Sounds like snobbery to me. As I've said before, I belong to the "use what works" school of thought.

7. You have a page discussing "which Doctor" - as in, which iteration of a character would you incorporate into your practice. I know that even in general fandom there can be a lot of debate and discussion about certain characters and settings, and when the original author does something that contradicts fanon, hell can break loose! How much does authorial intent play into pop culture paganism? Could there be any connections between differing fandom interpretations and differing
interpretations of holy text?

Now you have me thinking of differing "ships" in fandoms being akin to different sects of a religion with "god" (aka the author) standing on top of a mountain shouting, "What the f**k are you doing? I didn't write any of this!" The image is almost frighteningly apt.

When it comes down to it, pop culture is essentially a majority rule.  Whatever it is that the most people agree upon and embrace is what becomes pop culture.  For that reason, authorial intent isn't as important as it would be for something like literary interpretation.  The meaning of art is in the eye of the beholder and the creation of pop culture is in the hands of the masses.  It's the ultimate in egalitarianism.

My Pop Culture Magick Index

17 May 2015

Book Review: Penumbrae

One of the books I was most looking forward to this spring was Penumbrae, an anthology of occult fiction edited by Richard Gavin, Patricia Cram, and Daniel Schulke.  I was not disappointed. When I say this book was good, I mean it was practically perfect in every way.  Seriously, stop what you're doing, go order it, and then come finish reading this.

Penumbrae is unlike any other book of fiction I have ever read.  Instead of being a book of stories about the occult, it's a book of stories where the occult is just part of the landscape.  In most "magical" fiction you get heavy handed stories where the magick is the point of the story - the young boy learns to use magick to defeat the antagonist, the girl saves herself through the use of an ancient charm, etc.  In Penumbrae you get a more authentic occultism.  In these stories the magick simmers underneath the action, flowing through the story the way real magick lies beneath the surface of our everyday lives. 

The magick you find in "Turquoise on a Bed of Skulls" by Patricia Cram is the desperate folk magick of the hopeless.  Of all the stories in this anthology I found this one the most striking.  It's not a story about magick, but a story about terrible circumstances in which a woman takes power in the only way she can.  That happens to be through the use of what amounts to a series of Hoodoo jar spells.  However, the magick is not the point of this story.  This story has a much deeper message that sinks in to your skin and makes you itch for days afterwards. 

Most of the stories in this anthology are...not outright horror stories, but they are unsettling.  There is often something "not quite right" with the characters and their actions.  The magick and occultism they encounter tends to be extremely otherworldly - it doesn't quite fit in our reality.  So many works of fiction portray magick as a wondrous cure-all that just makes everything better, and yes real magick is a glorious thing, but it's not all white light and rainbows.  Real magick runs the gamut from gorgeous and uplifting to filthy and wrong.  When you really see magick changing reality is can be deeply, deeply unsettling - like when you see a movie displayed at the wrong frame rate and every movement just looks "off."

"The Spider" by Hanns Heinz Ewers was probably my favorite story to read: it's half mystery, half horror with just a pinch of the unreal.   This story has such a subtle thread of the unworldly.  It begins as a mystery that slowly deepens from the purely mundane to "that which should not be."  As someone who has practiced magick for a long time and who is widely read, I caught on to the occult elements fairly quickly.  I can't help but wonder how different this story would be for someone who didn't know the occult at all.  Still scary I would imagine, but much more shallowly so.

There were several stories in this anthology that had strong ties to Lovecraftian lore, though none so clearly as "Andromeda Among the Stones," by Caitlin R. Kiernan.  This story perfectly straddled that line between being uncomfortably close to reality and bearing the weight of unspeakable horror.   It highlighted the madness that deep occult studies often skirts and the consequences of allowing too much rigidity into our practices in the face of evidence that we should be doing things differently.  Unsettling, frightening, and yet magnificent.

So if you haven't done so yet go order this.  Then read it slowly while sipping a nice glass of red wine while listening to Debussy during a rain storm.