Thursday, December 11, 2014

Whistling in the Dark: Some Ideas Toward a Method of Trancework

Recently I had a interesting conversation with an ADF member about her new friendship with the local river spirit.  She had been getting headaches and was trying to figure out if that was connected to her spirit workings or not.  I hope I gave her a couple good ideas, but the thing that I really carried away from that conversation was Science. 

I have noticed a theme with pagans.  We like science.  We also feel stupid for believing in fairy tales and invisible friends and science all at the same time.  The thing is, Science is not the Theory of Evolution.  (Which is true folks, get over it.) 

Science is a methodology.


That means it's a grouping of tools and a way of thinking logically about the world. This can be applied to anything. Even invisible friends.  So as I continue sharing my thoughts on trancework I will occasionally be pointing out when scientific method might be useful as a way of assessing this nebulous timey wimey world of spirit.

In a previous post I mentioned that I have noticed two main categories of trouble with trance.  In the first category are the people who want to experience all the cool imagery the feeling of the divine watching over you, the synchronicities and seeing what never was and what might yet be.  But they can’t. They get so far and no further.  It all seems hazy and nebulous, like a bad game of lets pretend.  There’s those moments when you close your eyes, see the back of your eyelids and wonder when the fireworks will start. 
           
Then there’s the people who can’t seem to find the off switch to this roller coaster ride.  They space out in the car, in the grocery line, or during boring lectures in school.  They have super realistic daydreams about weird shit that they wouldn’t really choose to imagine if they had the choice.  What do you do when your imaginary friend talks back?

Interestingly, I’ve found that many of the same techniques work for both folks.  It comes down to one word:

Practice.


Yep.  Like learning an instrument,  a science, or a martial art, it takes practice.  This means that if you want to get good at trancework you’re going to have to do it. Frequently.  This goes for the people who are bored by staring at their eyelids as well as the people who can’t get the vision faucet to turn off.  The point in either case is to gain control.

The trick is to keep the practice interesting. 

So. Let’s start by breaking down the skill sets:

I see them as: envisioning, emptying, connecting, maintaining the signal, getting clear signal, knowing the lore, building relationships, and doing the work.

Envisioning: 


This is the daydreamers ability.  It involves being able to make pictures in your head.  When you read a book and imagine what the characters look like, this is envisioning.  It’s a good one to start with and easy to practice anywhere by simply closing your eyes and imagining anything.  Starting with basic shapes is good. Try making a circle, then change the color.  Then make it a sphere.  Turn it into an apple, or a globe, or a tennis ball.  This is a fun game that only has your imagination as the limit.  It’s Minecraft in your brain.

Emptying: 


Welcome to Zen Buddhism, Dorothy, but know that the yellow brick road is an illusion, just like everything else.  This is the “empty mind” and I am aware how annoyingly impossible it is to achieve. It’s like trying to empty a sink while the faucet is running.  But total success isn’t important.  The ability to reach for and find stillness is an incredibly important skill when you’re trying to figure out what in this trance thing is you, and what might be Someone Else trying to chat.  Plus, when you’re trying to consciously fill your mind up with one specific thing, it’s a lot easier when it’s not already filled with your work task list for the next three weeks.

Connecting: 


You know that transcendent thing that people talk about?  That connection to something larger than themselves?  This is what I am talking about here. Psychologists have researched the phenomenon.  There is a specific part of the brain that is triggered.  This is the part of trancework that is about getting out of your own head and into something greater than yourself.  The first two are about getting control of your own brain.  This is where you jump like a fool into the unknown!

Maintaining the Signal:


Do you remember when you started learning to ride a bike?  There’s this moment in the process where for a moment, a beautiful glorious moment, you have it!  Then you fall over. Trancework is like that too.  That balance of focus and openness can be hard to achieve.  Learning how to make it last, how to shut it off when you don’t want it, and how to make it flow well is all part of maintaining the signal.

Getting a Clear Signal: 


We all have doubts, fears, and hopes.  We want things, we desire things.  Sometimes we’re not even aware of what we want. Our shadow selves sneak into our workings and tell a convincing tale.  For trancework to be useful we need to know how accurate it is.  Are we actually reaching anywhere or anyone other than ourselves?  Divination is a big part of this one, as well as are skills that teach us how to discern our own ego from that which is not ourselves. It also leads into the next set of skills.

Studying The Lore:


Because making it all up just isn’t good enough.  Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some amazing, empowering, transformative experiences that had absolutely no grounding in the lore.  At first.   As I delved more deeply into primary sources, reading scholarly articles on Gods and Spirits that ranged from Irish Celtic to Proto-Vedic I’ve become aware of patterns I did not know of before.  I know everyone can’t spend their life researching this stuff, but part of studying the lore is networking with those who can.  Read what you can and at least try to know enough that you can gauge whether an expert has expertise or is just another loudmouth with an agenda.  By knowing the lore, or knowing someone to ask, you can find the context for your work.  I have become increasingly convinced that the ancient knowledge wasn’t compiled by a bunch of idiots and fools.  It’s a resource, and a powerful one.  The Gods and Spirits certainly can and do change, but just like you want to know the history of your boyfriend you want to know the history of your Gods.

Building Relationships:


I work in a paradigm of polytheistic pantheism.  I encounter Spirits everywhere. They have personalities, likes and dislikes.  However, They are not human.  The Wind really doesn’t care about a lot of the things you and I care about.  A tree takes a lot longer to talk than a cat.  Each plant, rock, and bug has a story to share.  Each God and Goddess has many aspects, skills, and desires.  It takes time to build any relationship, and it is worth the time and effort.   So reach out.  If you see an image of a cats eye, leave some catnip on the stoop.  Record your efforts and look for patterns.  Leave offerings.  Pretend it’s all real, even when you doubt it.

Doing the Work:


Once you’ve got all the cool toys, the wands or stones, the spirit friends and impressive list of Godly buddies what do you do?  If you spend all that time to train yourself you will eventually get to the point where you can reliably go into trance. You will find that there are some things you are good at, and some that are harder for you.  Having acquired the skills, then you have to use them.   Will you use them to heal the land or to help the people around you?  Will you use them to create beautiful poetry or make magic?  The answer is dependent on your skills and inclinations, but you’ll only find out if you keep at it.


In the following weeks I will be posting about each of these categories, sharing what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen that’s worked.  I will be pulling on modern psychology, neurological research, and experience to help people find out how to get to the second star to the right and straight on til morning.


Thanks for reading!  If you liked what you read, do me a favor and pick up some of my swag at RedBubble!  Not only will you get neat stuff, but I will make a little money with which I can buy some of the weird ass books I want on Lithuanian culture, pastoral counseling, and women in the ancient world.

Black Lives Matter


I've shared this around the internet, but I wanted to share it here too. We live in a culture of oppression and fear.  We must all take a stand and speak for what we believe in. I believe in this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In Which I Accidentally find a Shrine to Diana

Sometimes I have to work hard to do spirit work.  I struggle and think and fail. Other times it’s dropped in my lap like a gift.  Plop! Have some spirit work!

I wanted to make sure I spent time with both my daughters this weekend. I played violin with my elder daughter, but my younger daughter wasn’t sure how she wanted to spend our time together. I suggested a number of things, and in the end, we went to visit a nearby cemetery in the hopes that we might find some “treasures” on the way there and give some offerings to those nice dead people.

So off we went, hand in hand, and walked through the iron gate into the land of the dead.  This is an old cemetery.  The patient rain has slowly dissolved the limestone of the oldest graves.  The elms and the cedars towered above us as we walked and tried to do our best to honor the dead.  Some of the headstones have broken over the years.  We flipped one over so the writing showed and carefully placed a decorative finial back on the top of another grave.  Each time we stopped we offered brightly colored sprinkles of the sort you might put on a sundae or a sugar cookie.  We are always looking for interesting graves, and there are a number of statues among the names and dates of death. 


We came upon a lovely girl, forever holding flowers in mourning above her family’s plot, a fir tree with a headstone nestled in its roots, and while we were heading back home we saw another statue.  We got closer and it became apparent it was an image of Mary.  I’ve had a fondness for Mary statues for some years now.   The serenity that comes from some of them is palpable, especially the ones you find on sacred ground. 


This particular day my friend’s son was having some health issues, and as I looked at the age darkened face of this statue I was compelled to pray for him.  I addressed her first as Mary, Mother of God, for that was who she was.  But this particular Mary was standing on the crescent moon.  She had a snake curled at her feet next to an apple.  I know what that iconography meant, but somehow my prayer changed and I was praying to Diana.  It felt right to me and I asked for healing and safety for all involved.  We gave our offering of rainbow colored sprinkles and my daughter insisted that we run all the way back to the iron gate.  It seemed appropriate to run together through the trees.  We dodged graves and for a moment it seemed as if we were running in the company of many women and girls. I did not know if we were the hunter or the hunted but it really didn’t matter.  We ran and that too became an offering to the Goddess of the Hunt. 



This morning as we drove past the cemetery I tried to find her among the headstones, but we were past the place in the blink of an eye.  I thought about her last night and dreamed of leaving candles and round white stones to honor her.

There is a feeling to holy places. There is an aliveness that surrounds me in them.  I remember visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris when I was in my early twenties. I remember the way the stained glass windows looked in the sun, and how the cream and black tile floor drew my eye to the dizzying heights above the altar.   I remember feeling so peaceful in this place and how strange it was that even as a non-Christian I was comforted.   I researched the history of Notre Dame and found that the Pillar of the Boatmen was found underneath the Notre Dame, on the Île de la Cité.  This doesn’t really mean that it was necessarily a sacred site for the ancients,  but I found it interesting to think about how long people had been living and worshiping their gods there.

I do think that a continuity of sacredness means something.  I know many pagans who get all huffy and angry when they think about Christian churches built on ancient pagan sites, but I wonder how many of those churches were built by local people because of the sacredness already inherent in the place.   

The word sacred comes from the Latin word sacrum, which referred to the Gods and anything in their purview.  It also descends from the word sanctum, which means to set apart.  As a pantheist I have often disliked the idea of the sacred as setting something apart.  I feel that the whole world is holy, including the desk I am sitting at, the compost pile outside, and the blue sky above me.  But there is something to these places where religious rites have occurred.  A different feeling where it’s easier to fall into a place of connection.

I looked at a Mary and saw Diana.  Maybe there’s room for both.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Crazy in a Good Way: The Dissociative state and Trancework

This is about controlling the dissociative state. This is about using our own psychology for our benefit.  About taking what we shove into psychosis and instead trusting in all the threads of experience, research, and the ancient lore woven together like a net under circus performers.  Come with me and let us fly above those who would stand by and watch.

Bee Spirit Meditation
The creative process is a lot like trance work. When I work at my best and most creative I move most deeply into a different consciousness.  There is a certain state of mind that I get into where I am not fully aware of my self as a self.  I can feel larger or smaller than my actual size, outside of myself, or simple unconnected to reality.  I also go into this state of mind when I’m deeply stressed, anxious, or feeling threatened.   It’s something I’ve always done.  I go into trance states easily.  When I was first learning this sort of work my challenge was to come out of the trance states, not to go into them.   I find, in general, two main categories of difficulties when individuals want to practice trance work.  The ones who have a hard time getting it to work at all, and the ones who can’t stop it from happening.  I was the second sort of person, and many years later, I know something about how to help people on both sides of that coin.

I’ve always felt a bit on the crazy side. Let’s face it.  When you have hyper real daydreams, don’t feel connected to your own self, have a sense of energy flowing through trees and people, and all the kids in school call you weird, you kind of get the idea that you might be a bit different than the norm. 

You have that moment when you’re like, “Wait.  Everyone doesn’t have dreams of the future? Really? What the hell!”  You think everyone else is weird because they don’t have imaginary friends anymore.   I spent a lot of my adult life running around finding people who did.  It was really helpful. 

Recently I was doing some research and I came across a psychological disorder called Depersonalization-Derealization Syndrome.  Like most official diagnoses it’s hard to know what that actually means. Turns out, it describes a fair amount of the things I experience:

“Common descriptions of symptoms from sufferers include feeling disconnected from one's physicality or body, feeling detached from one's own thoughts or emotions, feeling as if one is disconnected from reality, and a sense of feeling as if one is dreaming or in a dreamlike state. In some cases, a person may feel an inability to accept their reflection as their own, or they may even have out-of-body experiences.[3] “ (Wikipedia)

Wow, just like me!

In reading about the disorder it seemed like the main problem that actually occurred was the anxiety created when people felt like they were going crazy with those symptoms!


My theory is that they aren’t symptoms at all.
They’re skills. 


A talent. Like perfect pitch, or a way with numbers.  But this talent is for connecting with the world on a non-rational level.  A sensitivity to place, people, and space that can aid humans in a number of ways.  A gift for the shamanic, if you know what I mean.

This is the ability to step outside of one’s own perspective, quite literally.  Seeing reality from non-linear non-ordinary points of view has gifted me with an ability to think creatively.  It’s given me hope in this age of decline. I’ve seen how people have been changed and strengthened by developing their own inner narrative through trance work and spirit work.  I believe that this way lies healing.

Also from Wikipedia:

“The core symptom of depersonalization disorder is the subjective experience of "unreality in one's sense of self",[11] and as such there are no clinical signs. People who are diagnosed with depersonalization also experience an almost uncontrollable urge to question and think about the nature of reality and existence as well as other deeply philosophical questions.”

Yeah.
Apparently thinking deep thoughts is now diagnosable.  Damn me and my epistemological quandries!

A study by Dr. Richard J. Castillo indicates that meditation actually is a method of causing dissociative states.  It’s okay when Buddhists do it. But not when average Americans do it.  I get it. We don’t have a context for how to fit that sort of thing into our lives.  We don’t have teachers who can guide us on that path.   We don’t have an infrastructure of culture that can support a time and place for dissociative states.


So I’m learning.  I’ve been studying the occult since I was a teenager in an attempt to understand myself.  I found community and helped build spaces where people could explore this skill set.  I’ve practiced, experimented, and recorded my work so that I could see patterns emerge over months and years.  I am not the only one doing this work.  There are many of us, living normal, productive lives that also include invisible friends and non-ordinary reality.  We are building a culture where we can fit, filled with people who don’t need to be diagnosed at all.



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Friday, October 31, 2014

Samhain Coloring Page for the Morrigan

I've been too busy to think, which is pretty normal this time of year. There's costumes to make, coloring pages to draw, candy to buy, and stuffie pumpkins to sew. (It's a thing. Don't judge me.)  I often feel a little torn between the secular aspects of Halloween and the spiritual side of this time of year.  The balance that I've found is that for the month of October I go full swing into modern traditional celebration.  Costumes, fake blood, skulls, you name it we do it! Then there is the sugar rush of trick or treating.

I switch focus after that.  I take the gory stuff down and switch it out for pictures of great-grandparents and beloved dead.  We light candles and give offerings until Thanksgiving, which seems to work for me.  In the middle of that is our grove Samhain celebration. As part of getting ready for our feast for the Ancestors I was working on creating some content for the younger set, including a coloring page.  I thought I'd share this with the internet world, since I've complained often enough that there aren't many really good coloring pages for pagans.  This year our grove is celebrating in a Celtic style, so we are asking the Morrigan to be our gatekeeper.  She's not usually called on as gatekeeper, but it's what people wanted, and honestly, my grove has always been a little idiosyncratic anyway. So without further ado, coloring page goodness.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I Am My Own Voldemort

Nature Spirit Shrine
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the intrepid trio searches for the bits of Voldemort’s soul that he has hidden in the landscape of England and the lives of those surrounding the individual formerly named Tom Riddle.   The book talks about how damaged he had become by splitting off bits of his soul, twisting himself until he was completely amoral and savage.

In the real world things aren’t that simple, and souls can be broken.

In the real world bad things happen, all the time, every day.  War and death continue onward.  Pain is real and unfair and unbiased.  Pain breaks us.  Trauma is the thing that shaves off bits and pieces of a soul.   We all have lost a bit from time to time. Some have lost more than others.  Occasionally we give some away to a beloved person or place.  Our soul is our self: our energy, time, and psyche all rolled into one.  It’s both a particle and a wave. It is real and imaginary, and can function in both the world of science and magic.

I’ve been doing trancework for over two decades now.  I didn’t even know this spacing out and seeing stuff that I was doing had a name when I started.  Many years later I do.  I’ve been around the block, read the books, and tried the things.  I know exactly how little I actually know.  But in all this self-exploration and pondering of the cosmos I’ve learned a few things.  Along the way I learned I was broken.   Most people who have had traumatic stuff happen to them know this about themselves, but I’m stubborn.   I figured it out though, and realized that surprisingly, being broken is helpful.  At least it’s helpful for a spiritworker! I use pieces of my soul to do things.  I send them off with tasks.  I am my own team!  

Huginn and Muninn (private collection)
A fetch is a piece of a soul in the shape of an animal that a spiritworker sends off to do his or her bidding.  I happen to have a fetch shaped as a bird.  Turns out, this is totally normal for shamans and spirit workers. In the lore, the soul is often described as a bird.  Odin has his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. Their names are translated as Thought and Memory.  Just like how a fetch functions, he sends them out, they do his bidding and when they come back he knows all that they know.  

So I am my own Voldemort.  I use my soul as a tool to heal, to guide, to watch over people.   I use the pain that I have felt to transform my self, and my community.   I think that’s what they mean when they talk about the Wounded Healer Archetype.  It’s not such a bad place to be. I kinda like it. But it’s definitely not something I would suggest anybody go and do to themselves.  Busting off pieces of soul right and left is a bad plan.

Take a moment and remember something really bad that happened to you.  Just for a moment, and eat some chocolate or laugh at something funny afterwards.  But for a moment, remember it.  That feeling of emptiness and pain?  That’s the kind of thing that causes soul loss.  It sucks.

Everyone has the potential to have horcruxes. None of us are an island, rising out of an ocean of nothingness. We are connected by our relationships and our energy and thoughts are part of that.  Our souls interact.  Pieces get stuck in corners or fall off like a rusty muffler.  Funny thing about souls, you can grow them back.  If a soul is energy and time and our thoughts and memories then we are constantly creating soul.  All the time. Every minute. Even Voldemort.  It’s what you do with your soul that counts, not how many pieces it’s in.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wherein I See a Flame, Speak of Fate, and Find a Spark of an Idea

Woods In a Storm 
(original available for purchase)
I wasn’t feeling well that afternoon, and there was a damp chill to the air in the house.  The north wind had brought his bounty of frost tipped leaves and slowly melting flowers.  I carefully laid twigs in a crisscross on the logs laid in the fireplace.  I hoped to drive the cold and the damp back out into the cloud covered landscape, and watched the fire closely, guarding the tiny youthful flames.   The first flush of the light and heat rose up all bright yellow and sunny, only tinged with orange.  As I fed the flames twigs and paper it rose high and then died down again and again, each time drying out the wood a little more, creating a few more hot coals to keep the blaze alight.  As it began to truly catch and the heat was building to the point of no return, I saw that while the fire dwindled in light each time, it was not so with the heat of the flame.  As the paper was reduced to ash, the fire condensed on the logs and got hotter and darker, a blue flame surrounding the red-hot center of the fire.  I was reminded of chemistry lab long ago adjusting the Bunsen burner to create the blue flame of chemical transformation. My eye was caught by the dark vivid cobalt blue of that flame, the exact same color as the robes of the elf in myvision.

I was held in that moment where I sank into my internal reality while perceiving the external reality, trying to grasp the gestalt of what that color connection might mean.  I often am led by the world around me.  A hawk’s flight above me, a flash of color, or a word scrawled on the pavement can all be heavy with wisdom.  It’s all about perspective.

These things I see and perceive are but metaphors for reality.  It is a reality stranger than most, but I believe in the truth of it.  The thing I must remember is that my reality is always tinged by my perceptions, seen through the lens of my neurons.  The stories and preconceptions that make up my consciousness are the river that flows through my life, catching up flotsam and omens, cutting deep into the earth of my existence, carving channels with each choice and belief. 

When I sat in trance and sent my imagination outward I fared forth along the river.  I saw a troubling place in the flow of the river and I interpreted it as a story about a nature spirit in pain.  Is that the truth?  To quote Obi Wan Kenobi, “So what I told you was true…. From a certain point of view.”

Am I speaking with an elf with cobolt colored robes? Am I speaking to a piece of the cosmos that is the embodiment of the concentrated blue flame I saw in the fire?  Am I speaking to a story my mind is creating? Am I speaking to a blue dwarf star in a galaxy far far away? 

It’s a question I don’t think I can answer. 

Nor do I think I need to. It can be all those things. It can be something else.  To me the question that is important:  Is this useful?  Is this helpful either to me or to someone or something else?  I have had enough experiences in my life that I have finally given in to the thought that there is something to this stuff.  It may not be something that I completely understand, but this quest for knowledge, this journey into the inner (or outer) worlds is worth something.  Worth the time and the questions and the bizarre knowledge that the things I do are not scientific and do not fit into a standard world view.

So, back to the elf.

This summer, on the back hill, in the dark, I saw him for the first time.  He seemed fluid in his movement and dangerous in his gestures and expression.   He came from the wood and offered to teach me. I told him I had limited time for such teaching, and wasn’t sure he was the sort I wanted to work with anyway.  He seemed to take my honesty well, but mostly ignored it when he told me I would need to come visit on a regular basis.  He meant spirit work.  Faring forth.  Wasting my time navel gazing and then writing about the figments that live in my imagination.  I mentally shrugged and said in my mind, “I’ll give it a try. But no promises.  No bonds.  No oaths.  I’m busy with my life and life must come first.” 

He nodded and seemed pleased.  It occurs to me that his haughty looks and domineering attitude are a thin cover for desperation. I don’t know what makes him so desperate. 

The farm work is slowing down.  The trees are coming into their fall colors early this year and I too have been changing.  I am attempting to do weekly trancework again.  I have even decided to share that work in a public forum in the hope that my experiences might have some utility for others.  Apparently my pointy-eared friend was willing to be patient with me, because even though I had forgotten about our conversation, he clearly had not.  We have continued our negotiations: what will be required of me and what I want of him.  

He wants me to carve a sigil. “What kind?”, I asked, and he didn’t care. The process of creating the sigil and making it was what he wanted.  I had decided what I wanted.  Luck bringing magic.  The skill and knowledge of that tricky and indefinable word.  I have heard it said that the land is the luck and that the luck flows from the land.   I already do luck magic.  It’s something I’m asked for from time to time.  There are two main ways to effect the outcome of a probability.  One is to line yourself up with the waves of fate and ride them like a surfer, and the other is to alter the flow of the water itself.  In my own work I often use the fabric of reality metaphor. I see lines of fate and force in my mind’s eye.  I use my will to alter them, to create a sink hole, or bend a line.  Sometimes I have been known to create a totally different fabric and let it settle onto the world like a gentle tissue paper overlay.  I want to learn more, and like so many other things, it’s the spirit world that will teach me.

I have work yet to do in this endeavor for luckwork.  Luck is seen as an uncontrollable force, a force of nature, or god, or chaos.  She is a goddess in many lands, with many names.  Names such as  the Roman Fortuna Bona, the Lithuanian Laima who allots fate at birth and her sisters, Dalia and Giltinė, happiness and death. The Norns connect in this web as well. They are those who concern themselves with the bending and the placing of the lines of fate.  

Synchronicity seems to be another path my mind wants to tread.  Carl Jung defined it as “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events”  or the unlikely alignment of events into what appears to be an ordered and significant framework.  Then there’s the Norse ideas of Haminja and Maegen, a luck that is created by good deed and good word.  Those words relate to luck that can be handed down from one generation to the next.  My mind turns to the fairy rade for some reason, when the fey folk walk the land.  This seems to tie in with my work with the ley line and I wonder, is this synchronicity itself?  I can only hope that research weaves together with experience to create wisdom.  It is an adventure of the mind, walking off into the labyrinth, with only a thread of thought to guide me.

It appears a deal has been struck. 

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