31 Days of Magick, Day 1: Candles

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Being New Years’ Day, it was inevitable that I would talk to some folks about their lives and what they need going forward. I was floored at how many people in my circles seem to need to build strength to shift some burden, change a bad situation for the better, or otherwise make the kind of improvements that are on everybody’s mind this time of year. I would be lying if I didn’t find myself in much the same boat.

I opened with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram before doing anything else. I then dressed two candles on my altar (the top of my dresser) with Oil of Abramelin, applying the oil from bottom to top. I then lit the candles, and my prayer for guidance went out to Brigid, the Irish goddess of fire, poetry, smithcraft, sacred wells, and so on. I had talked about Her with a friend of mine last night, so the choice of her was natural, especially considering her bardic qualities, links with home and hospitality, and sheer Will.

“Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto great Brigid, mother of the fire and the hearth.”

“Thus it is that I pray the light of the Stars be established on Earth.”

At one point, She seemed to indicate that I should dance, so I did. She indicated then that I was to wear the wool Army blanket from my bed as a cloak, so I put it around my shoulders.

I begged the spirits’ pardon to snap the photo above, and implored Brigid to intercede with those of us who need to build strength, to find a place in the world or in ourselves that is a cozy hearth to which we can return, but also a forge in which to create.

I bid the attending spirits to go in peace, extinguished the lights, and wrote this.

31 Days of Magic

Magick is worth a try, and now, like so many other things worth a try, there is a 31-day free trial.

Wanderings in the Labyrinth

I’ve been working with the #StrategicSorcery community (led by Jason Miller) community on and off over the last few years, and I’ve decided that I’m actually going to be doing this project here.

12356825_1668218196797185_4203133643272224416_o 31 Brilliant Ways of rooting your magic in materia

The idea is that on each of the 31 days of January, we’re to do some magical work that uses one of these 31 types of magical work in the illustration at right.  As Kalagni of BlueFlame Magic  points out, the list asks for a lot in terms of technique and skill and development, but doesn’t ask for a lot in the way of cultural or specific spiritual framework.  Essentially, it asks the practitioner to work on putting this specific type of material basis or process to work within their own tradition (which for me is primarily DOGD work at this point, though it contains elements of the work of

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What happens when you de-claw a hipster? Contemporary Conformist.

Yet Another Fashion Revolution

Do you live in a city but strive to look as though you live in the country?

Does your apartment or coffee house or bar of choice use reclaimed wood, bare brick walls, or Edison light bulbs in quaint fixtures?

Do you drink ‘craft’ coffee or beer? Eat ‘artisanal’ bread?

Do you consume curated experiences?

Does your workplace let you wear ‘workplace casual’ clothing?

Do you consider yourself grown out of youth culture, but above or apart from the mainstream?

…Then you may be a Contemporary Conformist.

This new term for the upwardly-mobile, tech-literate, middle-class, urban, declawed-bohemian lifestyle or scene or aesthetic or whatever it can be said to be is the brainchild of Carles, the man behind Hipster Runoff, a now-defunct blog that still attracts a modicum of interest.

His critiques had me hooked on several levels.

First off, I fit pretty squarely within the contemporary conformist on several…

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Love, Hypocrisy, Jesus, and Marilyn

It’s St. Valentine’s Month again. In the deluge of romance across social media, you’ve no doubt seen someone re-posting a certain quote attributed to Marilyn Monroe.

Better writers than I have dissected this little Oscar Wilde-esque quip in terms of interpersonal relationships, but I lately found myself rewriting this little gem in the midst of a recent brouhaha over the terrible things people are willing to do for the love of God.

The President of the United States recently spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast recently, and brought up the fact that violence in the name of God or faith is not exclusive to one religion, backing this up with the specific historical examples of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem witch trials, all of which were conducted by people of faith against supposed enemies of God.

How did the culture at large react to this innocuous reminder of the dark past of the majority faith in the US? Of course, Fox News jumped straight down POTUS’ throat, but they were promptly followed by many other voices in the corporate media, all clamoring for the President to apologize, or to single out “Islamic terrorism” and proclaim it “evil,” or to deny the violent history of Christianity.

Pundits have been lining up of late to put their feet in their million-dollar mouths regarding the role that Christianity played in terms of American slavery and civil rights, and conveniently forgetting that their favorite religion was and is on all sides of  these issues.

How weak does your faith have to be that you can’t even listen to facts about the dark side of its history without screeching shrill protests and trying to drown out the facts with irrelevant points from brighter parts of its timeline?

No faith is a monolith, and Christianity straddles ALL of the major cultural battles of our time. There are Christians on both sides of picket lines in front of companies that abuse their workers, police offices, abortion clinics, pop concerts, military funerals, mosques under construction, and the sites of proposed pipelines and logging ventures. What would it cost those Christians hurt by the President’s words to make room in their heads for the whole history of their faith and not to see reminders of that history as ‘attacks’?

The thing about Christianity — and Islam, for that matter — is that they evolved out of tribal religions to become world religions. Both Jesus’ and Mohammed’s message was that the body of believers, whether the Christian Church or the Islamic Ummah, would contain people from all different tribes, building bridges with which to understand and sit in fellowship with people from all over the world. At their best, that is what world religions do. But in practice, that came with a lot of unpleasant baggage. Both Christianity and Islam were partially spread by force, the former swallowing up the aging Roman Empire, and the latter creating an empire more or less from scratch, and both used the imperial might gained to turf out or stamp out indigenous, tribal religions across the Middle East, North Africa, Mali, the Swahili trading ports in the east of Africa, Central Asia, and Europe, and later the Americas and the South Pacific. There is barbarity enough to spare in this process for both religions, but there is also the legacy of the peaceful spread of ideas through trade and diplomacy. Forgetting either the bloodshed or the brotherhood does these religions and their adherents a disservice. We need to remember both, not out of some quest for ‘fairness’ or ‘balance,’ but out of respect for the facts, and a need to understand other people and things as complexly as we wish to be understood ourselves.

In all of this recent cacophony, with politicos popping off on all sides, I found myself thinking about Marilyn’s quote.

Christians, if you can’t handle a reminder of the worst parts of your history, don’t expect my applause when you remind me of the best parts.

And finally, here’s some advice for what to do when somebody insults your religion from the late lamented Bill Hicks:

A Country Conundrum

This video is very interesting to me. A year or two ago, I would have said that this shows country artists are just lazy musicians, leaning on the same old tropes and the same old riffs. Indeed, a lot of my musician friends seem to see it that way, and hold up this video as a laughingstock and a way to feel smugly superior. But after learning how important middlemen like producers, promoters, and the like are to the music industry, I am revising my own ideas about this phenomenon. Some of these songs may be the product of genuine laziness on the part of the artists, but if any of them really are, we may never know which.

The music industry is enormous. With bands and acts being put together daily, a global market, and different sounds and scenes emerging constantly, anyone who wants to make money has to keep their ears open. ‘Twas ever thus, but the music industry seems to be getting ever more complex, diverse, and entangled. Genres are mating and budding subgenres like nobody’s business, and people are using the Internet to become stars without reliance on typical music-industry pathways to breakout success. In a world like that, with so much sound and so little time, industry middle-entities gain power to push certain songs through to radio stations, movies, TV, and even playlists for retail stores and other spaces.

That flies in the face of what many of us like to think about pop music. We give pop music a pass to be mediocre because that is how we think of the rest of the music-consuming public, who must have requested or purchased or upvoted or retweeted or liked whatever silly, inane, but irresistibly catchy song is on in the mall enough for it to get some airtime. We think that pop music is a democracy, but in fact, it is much more complicated than that. Companies invest in not only capturing what is actually trendy at the moment, but also in anticipating and in many cases creating the stuff that will be trendy tomorrow. PBS Idea Channel explains it better than I:

This is clearly not just a pop-country problem. Often times, a really innovative rock band will put out a very bland single just to get airplay – think of the Raconteurs’ hit Steady As She Goes – it’s a solid song in its way, but nothing anywhere near as psychedelic, wild, or even as musically interesting as the rest of the album it comes from.

Fans of independent music of many genres have long been aware of the seeming disparity in creativity between small, local outfits who do it for the fans/ for the art/ etc. and the national or international faces of the genre in question, who (we assume) are only in it for the money.

So… where does that leave us? As a folk musician & songwriter, it would be easy enough to ignore this, or to hold it up in comparison with my own work and feel smugly superior myself. But something stops me. It seems to me that the folk processes that created the songs I hold dear, the songs that I curate as much as perform, are a rough opposite to the top-down market forces that shove pop songs in our faces until we learn to like them. In days long forgotten, folk music and popular music were two terms describing basically the same thing. Its subject matter, instrumentation, languages, keys, modes, and rhythms were different not only country to country but region to region, community to community. People preserved songs from the old days, rewrote lyrics reflecting their specific life experiences, adapted to new instruments, appropriating and sharing other traditions, stole songs from church and made them bawdy, or took bawdy songs and made them holy — and all as they saw fit, with only the opinion of their peers to make a song sink or float. The divorce of folk music and popular music came only recently in the long dance of humanity. I suspect that recorded music had a lot to do with it, as well as the rise of tin pan alley, though the professional composers and songwriters have also made a great deal of both art and money mining traditional music, like Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, and traditional music has appropriated some commercial popular music — many beloved ‘Irish ballads’ I might name are actually English music-hall numbers meant to satirize and dehumanize the plight of the Irish. Irish and Irish-diaspora singers took some of these songs and made them their own, and over the years, their origin has mostly been quietly ignored.

These days, it’s also heartening for me to see so many people willing to cover, remix, rewrite, and re-imagine pop songs. People feel empowered to do so, and sometimes the parodies or covers or remixes get almost as big as the original. Does this mean that pop music is becoming subject to the folk process? Maybe. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here, curating, re-working, and creating songs that reflect my own life experiences – putting my shoulder to the wheel of the folk process, whatever instrument I use or style I embody. I know that I am not an island, not a rugged individualist writing songs ex nihilo for my own enrichment and aggrandizement – I have a tradition, several in fact, that I feel called to participate in. I enjoy it, and other people seem to as well. I have musical ancestors that I choose to honor in my way, and I hope that one day I get to be somebody else’s musical ancestor. I find myself delightfully stuck: I can’t divorce myself from rock and pop covers and rock and pop-influenced originals enough to go full-time folk music curator, and I can’t break away from history and tradition enough to go full pop. It seems to me that many country artists may feel the same as I do. Folk and country scenes often seem to look at one another across an abyss, but I trust those on the other side enough to know that there is genuine creativity there – beyond what the CEOs decide to sell us. All that the seeming monotony in pop music means is that we have to look a little deeper to find that creativity.

At the end of the day, I love making music. The rest is nonsense.

Notes and Meditations

The recent wave of police slayings has had me thinking this way:

The police detain, question, search, arrest, torture, and kill people, far too often Black and Brown people, in service of a political and economic fiction. They are then exonerated by a legal fiction, and despite being condemned far and wide by actual people, the accounts of these various fictions and their agents are somehow more binding than the real will of real people.

These same fictions set up profit-and-loss games marketed as meritocracies but fatally skewed by social privilege, forcing these games on people with other, more humane games to play. These fictions put real people’s very lives on the line if they decide the game is rigged and try to get off the treadmill. Any violence or threat of violence to these games is seen as base treachery, and punished as much as or more than violence toward actual people.

These same fictions tell us what to do with our lives, tear apart traditional social structures in every culture they infest and replace them with alienating alternatives. We survive on currency no more real than the tickets spat out in an arcade – only our devotion to the fiction makes them valuable.

We are taught to regard these fictions as extensions of our own family – bigger versions of our own mother and/or father, with all the Freudian implications thereof. Thus we ourselves begin to emotionally invest in these fictions, seeing ourselves as powerless to do the things we see them do. We tattle on our naughty neighbors like the teacher’s pet in a great big Kindergarten, and we are taught to go to agents of these fictions rather than friends, family, or neighbors whenever we need help.

Why not write better fictions? Many have tried, and many have been crushed. Anyone who presents a serious threat is monitored, censored, discredited, recruited or disappeared. The only thing that has a chance to disrupt the prevailing fictions, perhaps, is a resistance so crazy that instead of fighting back, people humor it, and willingly join the fun. The case of Emperor Joshua Norton comes to mind.

But how can we possibly be crazy and lighthearted and joyous when our neighbors are being slaughtered in the street, by the authority of the prevailing fictions of our time?

Fight or Flight Forever

Are we all walking around in a constant flood of stress hormones? A lot of articles floating my way via social media seem to say that a constant, low-grade fight-or-flight response explains a great deal of the anxiety, stress, and even the murderous rage that seems to be on the rise in modern Western cultures. These articles go on to stress the importance of relaxation, promulgating the usual yoga or meditation techniques (is anyone else super tired of hearing how good for us these practices are?) and end with a bland optimism that if everyone can just chill, everything will be all right.

I am forced to wonder how much of this is real, but then again, it does make sense. In a culture where we push children to achieve at their peak from day one, and where all that hard work may still count for nothing on the whim of a bank, a government, or a ‘lone nut,’ we may well feel more stress than our ancestors would have. The dissolution of tight-knit communities and traditional support structures has probably not helped either. As we subvert more of our traditions to the demands of the economic and political fictions and factions, to say nothing of our individual Wills, we feel disempowered and oppressed.

Whether or not everyone has artificially high stress levels because of these or other reasons, enough of us are suffering through anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental complications that it begs the question – is Mother Culture interested in our mental health? She seems to regard physical health as the sole provenance of those who can afford to pay for it – why should she be any less cavalier about its mental counterpart?

How does Mother Culture demand we look at people who take their physical health into their own hands as opposed to leaving it all to the doctor? How does She look at people who do the same with their mental health?

The economy doesn’t care whether you’re healthy as long as you can service your debt. The government doesn’t care about your health as long as you pay your taxes and don’t cause trouble. Until we take this cultural behemoth in hand, we need to care for ourselves and one another. To have health as a priority is radical because the culture wants us to leverage our health on our ‘success’ or ‘failure.’ Take care of yourselves.

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