Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fictional Works that Changed My Religious and Magical Beliefs.

Saw this on Veles' blog, and I figured I'd do it myself. I've been bad for writing lately, and it's a good prompt.

In the order that I remember reading them:

Grimm's Fairy Tales. I remember this old paperback because several of the stories were older versions and so did not align with the Disney movies I'd seen. Ashputtel, Mother Holle (which was also the first place I read the word 'slut'), and the Juniper Tree all nestled side by side, with witches and talking animals galore.

Greek myths in a set of encyclopedias . My sister and I are apparently unusual in that we were raised in a truly secular household - prior to my parents' divorce, I think we went to church with my Grandmother exactly once at Thanksgiving. In our bedroom we had a set of ancient encyclopedias, and I read and re-read the myths about a million times. 'God' was a vague concept; the gods were people.

Pet Semetary by Stephen King. I read this in grade four, and it crashed the concept of death into my brain. Never did get over it.

Some Fucking Book. I've been sitting here googling for twenty minutes now trying to remember what the everloving hell this book was, but no dice. I DO remember for grade eight or nine we read some book where there was a world these people went to where magical society had been divided along gender lines. The women were associated with circles and I think the earth, and the men with straight lines and fire or some shit. I remember this because as a project we had to make games based on the book and I made some bullshit card game because I was good at drawing and used this as an excuse to draw people murdering the fuck out of one another with magic. (I relied heavily on my mom's Conan comics for help.) Anyway, I remember thinking the male magicians were self righteous pricks. (I also suspect this was not the main part of the story. Seriously if anyone remembers this please tell me what the crap I was reading.)

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King. This is going to be a weird one to explain, I think. This was the original cut of the novel, which I picked up secondhand at a used bookstore in downtown Abbotsford. It's not a long book, and I started reading it on the bus ride home. It was early summer, so it was hot out. My bus stop was up a side road - I would get off and walk down a fairly quiet street for a few blocks before I hit the main drag, which I would cross and then continue into the less affluent residential area where our apartment was. I got off at my stop and kept reading as I walked to the main road because I just could NOT put the fucking book down. The first Dark Tower, especially before King re-edited it to make it fit the later books better, is a tale of utterly desolate magic. It's not hopeful.

Dave McKean
Sandman by Neil Gaiman. If you can't see why then you've clearly never read any of it.


I'm going to pause here to say that a LOT of Vertigo titles were inspirational to me as a teenager, even though at the time I used to get them via single secondhand issues. I hardly ever knew what was going on, but there was Constantine fighting demons, Timothy Hunter bitching about fairies, and Jesse Custer hunting down God the Almighty. This was all pretty anarchic shit to a girl now stuck in the Bible Belt.

The Diana Tregarde Novels by Mercedes Lackey. I had some online friends who tirelessly recommended fantasy novels to me, and although I tried several of them it just never clicked. The Tregarde novels, however, were set in the real world. I look back at the pseudo-history of Wicca included in the books now and I chuckle, but at the time Diana was sort of heroine I needed to read about.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. A friend told me to read the book - "you're in it," she said. It remains one of my all-time favourite novels, and one of my all-time favourite depictions of Thoth and Anubis.

The Invisibles by Grant Morrison. This was one Vertigo title I'd missed when it was being published. I actually found the Barbelith forums before I read the books. I blame Pete for this one. Chaos magic used to be really sexy, you guys. ...even if it was still pretty goddamn phallocentric.

 I think that everything we read becomes part of our mental compost heap, but these are certainly the titles that stick out as having had a conscious influence on me as a witch.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Home as Temple/Temple as Home

"Every object in a Lodge should be a symbolic representation of the different aspects of force functioning upon the plane which is is intended to raise the consciousness of the candidate... Form, colour, movement, sound, and incense make their appeal to the gates of the physical senses, each of which is an analogue of the subtle senses..."

That quote is from Dion Fortune in her Esoteric Orders and Their Work from the chapter on The Use and Power of Ritual.  Most of the book is just Fortune acting superior, but that chapter at least has some points I agree with; I don't think anyone who has studied and practised magic for any length of time would disagree with the idea that the physical can influence the mental and spiritual. A ritual space induces a magical state of mind.

For most modern witches and magicians, our homes are our temples. City dwellers usually don't have the luxury of a back yard (or even a balcony) and if you live alone chances are you don't have a spare room you can dedicate solely to magic. While I do harbour fantasies of having an attic with a permanent ritual circles drawn on the floor, I don't mind having my living space function as magical space because I do feel that it helps integrate my occult practice with my day-to-day life. I am not a kitchen witch, but I understand the appeal of everyday magic that is not set apart as something lofty and 'other.'

The home, then, as temple: your decor becomes your symbolic representations. Form and colour set the emotional tone not just for the mundane but the spiritual as well.

This brings me back to my snarky post the other day about ugly couches. Artists, I think, often possess a magical mindset and so I am even more baffled by those who don't spare a thought for what their home looks like. One of my good friends has an apartment that has the feel of a haunted smoking room - you walk in and expect to be handed a brandy by Vincent Price. It's a magical house that cultivates a particular atmosphere.

It is atmosphere that's been on my mind lately, as a few people I know have moved or are planning to.  In an attempt to be helpful, and also simply because I love home decor, I've spent time looking at Gravity Interior (especially the studio apartment tags), and Tiny-Ass Apartment.

 Perhaps not shockingly, I decided to move the apartment around again last week. (The last time I did so was in the summer, which was long ago enough for my tastes.)


Moving the bed into the bedroom was an ordeal, made not at all easier by the fact that I decided to do it on my own. At one point I did wind up trapped against the wall, trying to figure out how to lower the bed frame before my arms gave out. In moving the bed I also discovered that my heater had been leaking and so rotted part of the headboard - it doesn't seem dangerous and so will have to wait until I have enough money to replace it. When I do I may get a new mattress as well, and if I do that I plan to downgrade from a queen to a double to get a few more inches space in that tiny room.

The living room now seems palatial to me. I gave my sister and her boyfriend my old dresser set in exchange for one of the Ikea wardrobes they had - their bedroom was being dominated by two of them and was not comfortable. I had worried it would do the same in my space, but after some fiddling with location I seem to have found a place for it where it doesn't look too much like a huge fridge. It helps that my apartment is predominately white with wood accents.

My apartment has an old fireplace that has been sealed up, and a little electric fireplace stove was placed there by the landlord. Mine broke a few months back and I never got around to asking it to be replaced, and with winter on the wane it seems silly to bother with it now. Instead I put some flameless candles I found on sale in there, although eventually I want to get some bigger ones. I also want to replace the old black bucket chair now by the mantle, but these are things that can wait.

The living room now has ample space for me to dance in, and I think I could even lay down a properly large circle. My sister says it feels 'airy' and I find myself pleased with that. "Form, colour, movement, sound, and incense make their appeal to the gates of the physical senses" after all, and for me an atmosphere of calm is essential.

As for Fortune's "symbolic representations of the different aspects of force" I considered what artwork to keep up, why I wanted it present, and where in the house it worked in harmony with other pieces.

I'm lucky in that I didn't have to buy a lot of new stuff - I bought some drapes, a floating shelf, some candles. It all came in under a hundred dollars and the reward is a space I feel comfortable both living in, and having others visit. It can function as studio, temple, sanctuary and library. There's space for new objects (a ram or goat skull someday, hopefully) but in the meantime it doesn't feel empty - everywhere I look I see something that reminds me of the life I want to lead.

As for Miss Frances, she's just happy she has her special chair.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

So adorable.

And now, a moment of petty bullshit.

What the Jesus Flying Fuckery is up with visual artists who don't care about fashion or decor? Visual artists. You create beautiful things! Why don't you want beauty all around you at every moment? I know you understand colour theory, you have no excuse!

My friend Amanda says it's because nerds only interact with other nerds, and therefore have never heard a dissenting opinion regarding their questionable aesthetic choices. She may have a point. I may also just be a colossal bitch (okay, I am a colossal bitch, whatever) and I should just learn to relax and accept that for some people, being surrounded by tokens of their hobbies and interests is amazingly comforting and makes them feel at home.

Even if their couch is objectively hideous.



(This applies to both genders, incidentally. Your balls do not stop me from judging you for wearing the same gross hoodie for four days in a row, or for living in what looks to be a college dorm when you're 35.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Beautiful Harpies

Have you ever heard a woman say that she "just doesn't get along with other women"?

Perception.
Not a wild statement at first glance, but if you truly consider it, what it's really saying is, "I'M not like other women, I'm special. I'm the Cool Girl who hangs out with the boys." This is generally considered to be a form of internalized misogyny - a poison belief that all (other) women are either too 'girly' in their interests, or are jealous, catty harpies. It's a load of shit, of course, but it is depressingly common and usually based on experiences we had in our teens and early 20s when we're still feeling out who we are and what we're interested in.

Compounding the problem is that there is social conditioning at work that sometimes dictates subject matter in conversation - there's an archaic idea that women in a group MUST talk about makeup, or babies, or cooking, or some other 'feminine' topic while the men play beer pong in the next room and talk sports and philosophy. If a woman is bored by babies and lipstick, she should not assume all the other women in the room are interested solely in these things - she should try bringing up a different topic and see what happens. Maybe one of those women who likes lipstick also likes serial killers.

I'm quite lucky in that I know many fantastic women, and I feel even luckier in that I have the pleasure of working with several. Last Friday, a group of us went out for drinks and spent a good few hours just talking. (I may have, after three glasses of sangria, suggested that women need to stop being racist and homophobic and just band together since if we have a united front we outnumber horrible old white men, buuuut... see three glasses of sangria.)

The following day I had my first Gracefully and Grandly class with Ruthe Ordare, and at the beginning of the class we made introductions. I was surprised by the fact that more than one woman was taking the class specifically to meet other women - one of our classmates is an engineer, and she said she was surrounded by men all day during the week and just needed to get away from testosterone sometimes. Obviously there wasn't much talking in a dance class since we were, you know, dancing but I was still struck at the time by how safe a space it was. Some of the exercises we did for free movement were, objectively, hilarious... but nobody was sitting there judging anybody else, and nobody was laughing or being bitchy. It was a supportive female environment.

Women - like men - can be wonderful people, or terrible. Both genders (and any and all in between or beyond) are simply people. Treating them as anything but is bound to cause problems and leave you missing out on some great experiences and opportunities for friendship.

And honestly, if you really think that every one of your own gender is a jealous, catty bitch? Well. YOU'RE probably being the cunty one and could stand to do a little self reflection. Come on, ladies. Let's not buy into this trap.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sisters of the Moon

There's an episode of the Faculty of Horror that discusses witches in film - it's one of my favourites, and I have listened to it more than once. I had not, however, seen two of the films discussed: Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, and Lars von Trier's Antichrist. Earlier in the week my sister and I watched the former, while last night we finally got around to watching the latter.

(Antichrist. Holy hell.That movie probably deserves it's own post, but suffice to say that I don't believe it to be a misogynist film. I personally found it to be quite the opposite.)

Luis Ricardo Falero
There is an acquaintance of mine from work who has similar taste in films as I do, and so of course I told her I'd seen Lords and was planning on viewing Antichrist. She told me that she was curious to know what I thought of von Trier's film, and then went on to tell me that of all the sub-genres of horror she found witch movies to be the least accessible to her - she wasn't sure she 'got' them.

Now, my initial reaction was basically "what's not to get?" but that hardly seems a nuanced response, now does it? And so for the past few days I've been thinking about the figure of the witch in popular culture, and how varying contexts can inform how she is received.

The Witch as an archetypal figure has changed remarkably little over the years. Anton LaVey described the witch as female, and stated that she is "a wretched looking old crone... or an extremely sexy girl." This statement can be very easily traced back as far as the publishing of the Malleus Maleficarum in the late fifteenth century, and continues to be the dominant view even today 44 years after LaVey`s Satanic Witch was published. That's some staying power, alright. 

Witches in horror cinema are, by and large, sexual creatures. In this way they are granddaughters of the Malleus, existing to tempt man to sin and revelling in carnal lust with the Devil himself. Their sexuality is a weapon, and is often depicted as perverse. There are films where the witches are not blatantly sexual, but in these too they are aberrant women - baby killers, Satan's disciples, vindictive harpies. 

Witches, in the view passed on to us most clearly by Kramer and Sprenger, are every negative stereotype of a woman ramped up to the nth degree and given magic powers.

It's perhaps not shocking, that the figure of the witch shifted slightly whenever feminist movements began to influence the dominant culture. The 60s saw Bewitched on television, and while horror films kept up their love affair with the dark side of the occult it is interesting that Samantha and her crazy family popped up in the mainstream at the same time second-wave feminism was making an impact. (Now, Samantha was a housewife but at the same time it was undeniable that she had more power than her derpy husband.)

Third-wave feminism coincided with The Craft, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All of these depicted witches less as concubines of the devil and more as young women trying to come to terms with their power. The past few years, we've seen American Horror Story: Coven and Salem appearing at a time when feminist issues are once again at the forefront of the cultural discussion.The witch serves as a handy shorthand for women's power, so this isn't terribly surprising.When the womenfolk start demanding their rights, it seems that the witch will once again appear, whether her depiction is positive or no.


Leaving archetypes for a moment, it's also interesting to consider the figure of the 'modern witch' in horror cinema. Coinciding with second-wave feminism again, we had the goddess movement and the rise of neo-pagan faiths. While not as common as the 'traditional' witch, we still saw this particular enchantress pop up in a few places - George Romero's Season of the Witch is a perfect example, where a bored housewife attempts to find meaning outside of her marriage by exploring witchcraft. This doesn't turn out well for her - a theme we see again in Antichrist, come to think of it. Both the character of Joan in Romero's film and She in von Trier's are drawn to female power and then find themselves terrified of (and terrorized by) it until everything explodes and goes to shit. Neither woman escapes the patriarchal trap laid for her - She winds up dead and burnt, while Joan becomes a widow still defined by her late husband.

Our 90s modern witches fared a bit better... unless they weren't 'nice,' of course.

So. What's to 'get' about the popular image of the witch? LaVey still isn't off the mark, but looking a bit deeper over both the history of cinema and further back into real events, we can see that it's a bit more complex than that - the witch seems very much to be the fear of woman personified. This fear permeates so much of our culture that is is simultaneously suffocating and barely noticeable, and so the witch remains both a scapegoat and something that more and more we seem to want to reclaim as our own. This reclamation, I feel, is important, and one that I hope to see become wider - I sincerely hope that our next wave of pop culture witches features more women of colour, trans women, queer women. 

If we must be feared, let us be because we are powerful. If that makes us evil, then so be it - a world in which subjugation is good is hardly one worth living in. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Strike the death knell.

Well, it's the start of a brand new year so I suppose it's time to take stock of the things we have learned. 2014 was a fine year on a personal level, but on a global one it definitely could have been a lot better - environmental, race, and gender issues dominated my newsfeeds, and not much of the news was good.

When one examines the continuing struggle for equality, one lesson stands out above others: you do not get to decide how a minority group should react. I've seen an awful lot of people react negatively to groups who are trying to achieve equality, and usually this is born out of a knee-jerk defensiveness. While this may be understandable considering that nobody wants to feel like the bad guy, it is also a destructive impulse that serves only to shut down any progress that could be made.

If you are a man, you do not get to tell me I am over-reacting to rape culture. As a Caucasian, I don't get to tell a person of colour she is overreacting to abuse by authority. As a heterosexual, I don't get to tell homosexuals to stop worrying about the legal rights of their spouses. And so on, and so forth.

If you are not in the minority group, you don't get to tell that group how to feel. You don't decide what is offensive. Doing that, or turning the conversation back around to YOU and YOUR rights, is douchebaggery on a level that in 2015 we should really not be mired in.


I'm sure everyone has their own resolutions for the new year. Get in shape, stop drinking malt liquor, learn how to wrestle a unicorn, all that shit. I think that maybe in addition to whatever personal goals we have this year, we could all benefit from promising too that we will listen - really listen - to our fellow humans and take steps to ensure that we do not through our actions (or inaction) condemn another to a life we personally would not want to live.