Guisers: Shell Collecting

I grew up with imagination as a very mundane thing. What does a word look like when it’s spelled correctly? I imagine rather than remember. How will that piece of furniture look in the room instead of in the furniture store? Select marquee, copy, paste. I resisted applying that to my spiritual life through visual meditations because it was too easy.

When I opened up to that, I discovered that imaginative constructs and imaginative interfaces can serve as vessels for some strange things. It felt like imagination, it had the same texture, but there would be aspects that I couldn’t make up or force out. Strange things, by themselves, had always been around; I figured that the persistently nagging sense that I exuded billows of invisible ink and everybody did, or the feeling of there being a shark in the swimming pool even though all evidence was against that, were born of the same neurological quirk that got me losing sleep and cocooning in wretched anxiety for months over a typo.

Stories shape imagination. Mythologies are stories, but hypersignificated ones. Hypersignificating a typo wasn’t helpful at all, but the hypersignification of mythologies was tolerated and even encouraged in my childhood. If I decided that they’re all stories, and I get to decide what to hypersignificate, well…not exactly.

Thenea wrote about some experiences with mythological figures that left shells of themselves for spiritworkers to experience, and proposed that fictional characters were the same with a few exceptions. In any being with sentience, one can find conflict deep within their eyes.

So I decided to go around and give all my Guisers eye examinations. ALL of them. Well, the ones in recent memory that have potential to overlap with fictionaries.

With those I’ve named Yahweh, Manannan mac Lir, Carabosse, that’s a challenge I won’t rise to because I experience them as billowing clouds of presence that come and go as they please like some otherworldly weather phenomenon. I just happen to notice. Anyway, they don’t really have eyes. The Lady of Shalott and Quaedam are more like concepts, same problem. With Eddy and Lavender, that’s difficult because they left me a long time ago, won’t come back when I call them and, while they had human-shaped bodies, location, size, color, even fashion senses…one didn’t have a face, and the other didn’t have a head. No eye examinations there.

Long before, I’ve balanced my considerations of Heartwrench and Poppy against one another. The former is a sword I found in a dream that followed me to the otherreal, but I only have it when I think about it or notice. It changes form. I think that sword has more personality than the shield, Poppy. This despite Poppy being animal-shaped, a dragon shape, and I have a bias that animal-shaped guisers and people-shaped guisers would naturally be more animate than inanimate object shaped guisers such as swords or tables or chairs or pencils. I feel that Heartwrench has more personality, though, but because Heartwrench is a sword then it has no eyes for me to look into. When I found Poppy and looked into its eyes, I got the feeling…not of looking into a mask, but of wearing one, like Poppy turned inside out and enveloped me.

During a difficult time in my life, I kept seeing figures from the Shadowscapes Tarot in the otherreal. Most remarkably, the Seven of Swords. After I first saw him, I couldn’t get rid of him, until he spontaneously combusted which was more upsetting than it was a relief. When I remembered him, I could see him in the otherreal. He was just there, right away. When I looked into his mask, there didn’t seem to be a face behind it. Not surprising, because he was supposed to be dead. There might have been the flicker, like an eel in dark waters, but nothing overwhelming.

The Queen of Swords was the second most prominent figure that I used to find, but I intuited from the start that I had accidentally projected her, and she was always cold and empty. Her posture radiated no vibrance, and her eyes even less so.

Lady Hawthorne is the name of a figure that I see sometimes: inky-black hair, glaucously lunar complexion, wears flowy red, bony build, but sometimes her head gets completely round and has a stitchy look to it like a Tim Burton illustration. I don’t like to call her over, because I like to believe that I haven’t got it in me anymore to host psychopomps. She never speaks. She usually just shows up sometimes, and I guess it’s for a reason, and I try to keep her comfortable, and she doesn’t necessarily make me uncomfortable but her presence does herald near-pangs. She doesn’t have eyes, but she has eye sockets like the void of a starless sky, and I looked into those. Okay…so…I think there’s “empty” and there’s “so empty that it will devour you” and Lady Hawthorne is the latter. I didn’t find conflict, except for when I tried to pull out (which was almost right away), but there’s…a lot of emptiness in there. There is so much emptiness, and such an intense emptiness, that it’s broken through its barrier and become a thing rather than a privative. It was like I could see the whole antimatter universe.

The shell itself, if the embodiment is a shell, actually sort of contradicts what she contains.

So, I took a break. I wonder if syncretic deities not established really look like that, or if it’s peculiar to Lady Hawthorne as (I intuited) a syncretism of Hela and the Morrigan.

Then I wondered that it was so easy to get Guisers that I haven’t encountered in several months to show up immediately (except for Eddy and Lavender).

***

For the crew of The Jolly Roger, I went from the otherreal to the surreal, because only Foxglove goes outside it. I should revert to calling Foxglove Captain Hook, except that Foxglove has both hands sometimes in lieu of blindness or crippledness, and he looks like a Far Easterner. Also, I named him Foxglove so that I wouldn’t bear with the embarrassment of saying that Captain Hook was my spirit guide. Anyway, I called him to the otherreal first and looked into his eyes. All four of them. There’s a pair hidden within the evident pair. It’s like he can’t make up his mind whether to syncretize or not, but I gleaned a “robust” and “gracile” variant of the same thing. He’s not empty, but what is behind is eyes is static and pure–unconflicted. Despite that he acts like he’s jealous of himself when I spend more time with one version of him than another, even though evidently he could be both. The structure of complexity doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something there (as I found out later with Noodler.)

Interpretation: He is my Animus, then. The whole of his consciousness is just a fragment of my psyche, so all the times that he’s told me everything would be all right, the decision to accept it and believe him was a bad decision. He doesn’t really know where I’m headed. He’s me. That’s kind of devastating, but I did have the buffer of constantly doubting the nature of an incorporeal hottie whose only personality trait is loyalty.

When I went to the ship on the surreal, I decided that I wanted to compare Foxglove with Captain Hook classic: the old white guy who came to mind when I first read the novel. As soon as I thought it, there he strode, long dark ringlets, supervillain-scarlet coat that I thought was copyrighted by Uncle Walt, not much with “the touch of the feminine” that Barrie described made James Hook slightly psychic. He appeared completely out of place, ignoring Foxglove who organized the rest of the crew (that Foxglove doesn’t actually have.) My version of the crew of the Jolly Roger wasn’t Barrie’s that he put on the page, after all.

When I got in classic Captain Hook’s way to look him in the eye, though, there was…stuff. Confidence. Pragmatism. Condescension. Calculation. Poise. Pretension. Predation. A lot of points of conflict, but rather than sparking with friction, they flowed into eddies and gyres behind his eyes. Nothing overwhelming, though; I let him walk past me and then disappear. Of course, then I wondered if that was just how Barrie wrote him or if it’s how I imagined.

Ugh, I forgot to check if that one had lost his left hand or his right! I was so focused on looking him in the eye that he might not even have had any missing limbs and I didn’t notice. And I’m only going “ugh” because I actually don’t feel like I can pull off that summoning again.

*

I was about to look right into Starkey’s eyes when he said, matter-of-factly, “I’m Dahlia.” The romantic heroine of Otherfaith folklore? That Dahlia? He made a gesture as if to say “obviously”. I wrote that Dahlia once, though, and my headcanon was different. Starkey suggested that I try looking into her eyes first.

So, I imagined myself standing on a beach beside my headcanon Dahlia. I could see her eyes, but I couldn’t even get a sense of emptiness by looking at them. It was less like examining a shell and more like examining an uncut geode, which is to say, you can’t really know that it’s a geode until you’ve cut it, so it might just be a rock.

The thing is, I had never gone by any guiser’s eyes before. They radiated personality from their pores, even the disembodied personalities. (Lady Hawthorne had a childlike simplicity and joy streaming out of her pores, along with something that brought about anguished grief although it wasn’t that itself, but the joy somehow didn’t get in her head to push against the desolate vacuum.)

When I returned to Starkey, I said, “But you’re laconic, and a female-bodied ace dude. You don’t have Dahlia’s vibrance.” I looked into his eyes, also thinking that he was getting too many names: Starkey, Dahlia, and I personally called him Oliver. Only when I thought “Oliver” did the mild flickering behind his eyes beam with something like security or a robust serenity.

I figured that either the Oliver Starkey construct was horsing Dahlia, or for whatever reason Oliver wanted to claim to be Dahlia. So I asked, “What are you doing here?”

He answered, “You keep whining at Ophelia about your being lesbian, she doesn’t fucking care.”

Not the Ophelia, I noticed. “I’ll get back to you.”

*

Ed Teyente was up next, with all his siblings that I invented for him. Pre-pubescent Lucia had a flicker. The eldest, Pedro, was empty. Susana, like my headcanon Dahlia, didn’t seem to notice that I was there. When I looked into Ed’s eyes, I heard through my sight a lot of squeaking, cranking, and clanking. Not so much passions, reasoning, or more abstract qualities. Just the cold mechanical noises. Apparently, Ed is a robot.

*

Murphy took the form of a large, muscular man, sort of like Dr. Joshua Sweet from Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Behind his eyes was an expansive billowing, sensitive sentimentality, warmth and mildness that reminded me of Manannan mac Lir. I think he can be scary, in the way that when the nice teachers start to yell angrily then you know it means something very serious. The thing is, I had conceived him as the bookish sort, nonetheless trained and talented in the necessities of warfare on the high seas. That is, shooting people dead with bullets and cannons. There ought to have been more conflict there from such a gentle giant, but then again, we’d never gone warring.

*

Charles had flickering and stirrings behind his eyes, a mildly subdued complexity, some tension between sorrow and contentment, still not exactly conflicted sparks.

*

Noodler was empty, but I could see the structure…of a complication, rather than a complexity: a single twist in a ribbon behind her eyes, nothing to move it.

*

Cookson, I conceived as a giant Samwise Gamgee going gray. Behind his eyes was something a lot like Murphy’s, but even thinner and lighter, perhaps with a tint of anxiety. Still no conflict, but that’s a surprising lot more from a character that I had next to no interest in.

*

When I looked into Geordie’s eyes, his eyeballs popped out of his head and dangled out of his skull by the lengths of accordion springs. I heard a lot of squeaking. Nobody was supposed to be a robot. Decided to take another break.

***

Skylights behaved the same way as Susana Teyente and my headcanon Dahlia had. Alf, Cecco, and Foggerty were partially absent, only misty or gauzy figures that would vanish entirely if I paid too close attention.

So, I went back to Oliver and told him, “If I start going around saying ‘this Western Faery spirit is like this’ and ‘this Western Faery spirit is like that’ and ‘you’ve all got to believe me because of my paracosmic superpowers’ then I’ve got to do the tradition justice and put it front and center in my life. It’ll be rude to call those spirits ‘guisers’ even though I’m not willing to leave that approach behind, and Foxglove might not commit to an address change but I’m not putting him in a corner. That’s what you’re setting into motion by what you’ve been saying, just so you know. I was really happy being laiety.”

My spiritually-disillusioned younger self once pledged never again to take in what she’d simply been told to believe. She’d give anything a go, but if gods or spirits wanted recognition, they’d better show up; if they wanted adoration, they’d better do something good and prove it. Meanwhile, I do me. What we hadn’t considered was that anything could be told and you just know it’s true, and the conviction that these are the gods that the modern world needs. When submissions to the body of work appeared to change from “channeled” to “spitball” I leapt at the chance to contribute.

Still, I only knew a lot of these figures through those stories–same, actually, as Foxglove’s crew back when he was Captain Hook. Barrie only gave me their names. They occupy some in-between mythopoeia and theophany, which was the reason for this entire eye examination, to make some sort of distinction.

Since Oliver didn’t answer, and I got another idea, I made my way over to my headcanon of Princess Irene’s palace, and I’ll add now that identification of Irene here is pending. I waved hello at headcanon Irene who, unlike headcanon Dahlia, noticed me and waved hello back. When I tried to get in front of her to look into her eyes, she jerked back away from me and peered as if I’d shoved a soybean curd sculpture of a turkey up to her face. When I explained that I just wanted us to lock eyes for a few more moments so that I can check how fictional she was, she batted my hands away from her personal space and pointed towards the door with a resolute frown. I didn’t get the impression that she was angry, more like, “Go to sleep Faemon you cannot words sense.” That was a lot more expressive than a shell, but can hardly count as data.

On the way out, I paused by Irene’s balcony and called out to check if William was around, because I thought I heard him once, and Althea Altair, who I can never quite capture but keeps popping up (like Lady Hawthorne). Neither appeared to be forthcoming, for the latter Oliver (who’d come with me why) told me I ought to go to temples that I hadn’t been invited if I wanted to examine the oracle, so I returned to the ship and found Marigold waiting for her turn. I’d forgotten her.

***

Marigold comes off as surprisingly bubbly, not necessarily in a pleasant or insipid way. Before I looked into her eyes, she’d come off to me as wooden like a gavel. When the bubbles cleared, I glimpsed something like Foxglove’s static, pure, simple darkness, like her mind was a cannon ball, only much bigger.

Marigold’s ginger-haired harpist sidekick was empty.

***

The Shin Megami Tensei series of video games had its own collection of…well, the point is that they’re all based on mythological and folkloric beings, but how members of that “collection” are treated and programmed depends on the series. It’s different enough that I don’t know what to call them.

The games generally use the same animated designs for Raido Kuzunoha: Devil Summoner as the Persona series. However, in the former, the eponymous character has a special vision and ability to hop into parallel dimensions. Raido’s “collections” there are able to be communicated with, flattered, bribed, threatened, turned into friends or enemies. The contrast between “a” spirit of a kind, and “this specific” spirit of a kind gets foggy when Raido can store them in a dictionary to re-summon after fusing (trying not to remember Nina from Fullmetal Alchemist)…but for the most part, they’re treated in-game like spirits and gods with agency.

Contrast that with the later installments of the Persona series, when the “collections” (again, same design and animation for the most part) only have agency because the main characters reject some part of their own self. Once they are accepted, they become a symbolic presence very much like a thoughtform construct…or like a mask with nothing behind it. I could rest easy with fusions, then, because of course ideas and symbols are going to flow in together. It doesn’t have to be creepy.

I would think that makes crossover fanfiction difficult to write, but fanon does let the Persona collections talk as though they were part of Raido’s collections, likely because it’s just more fun that way.

***

My subconscious mind is really good at turning pixels and cartoons into perfect-looking cosplayers that I’ve never met. To end the experiment, I thought I’d visit a couple that I’d had the occasional recurring dream about before. This was still in the surreal, though somewhere between the imagined empty campus of P4:Arena and my own schools. I found them in a tiled hall.

When I looked into Naoto Shirogane’s eyes, I gleaned the exact same composition as Foxglove.

Kanji Tatsumi was empty behind his eyes, which was odd because every movement and word from him brimmed with what I thought was life.

I took note of that and left, and then wondered if he might not have known at all how to let me see. How do I even know that I know how to see? I just read about that interesting thing and thought to try it.

Maybe I should have done something to clear the Surreal of variables, although even when this started out in the Otherreal it was easy to just expect my guisers to be there and for them to already know (for the most part) why I was looking right at them.

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