Waking Nightmares and Tarot

The cards shown above come from the Shadowscapes deck, and the spread is one I like to call the Möbius.

1. (Center) Signifies the Querent. The Hanged Man.
2. (Upper-Right) Illusion of the situation. The Moon.
3. (Rightmost) Reality of the situation. Eight of Pentacles.
4. (Lower-Right) Weaknesses, obstacles, hindrances. Death.
5. (Upper-Left) Strengths, opportunities, helpers. Five of Swords.
6. (Leftmost) Querent’s influence on the situation. Nine of Wands.
7. (Lower-Left) Future, outcome. Knight of Pentacles.

I was browsing for groceries earlier this Tuesday, and was generally feeling pretty good. I’d taken on a part-time job here, some freelance side-jobs there, got my laundry done, and my roommate Cecilia didn’t cover for my rent for the last couple of months because I did.

Somewhere between the aisle of sandwich spreads and the checkout counter, it occurred to me that everything I do and say is absolutely wrong because I’m the one who did or said it. And it’s not even going to matter because beyond the expectations of civilized life, beyond even the mirages of material reality, awakes a massive gray blob that hungers…to sift us through its misty teeth and devour our souls.

So. Uh. That was new. I’d been depressed before, but not quite so…suddenly? And the scope of it, well.

When I got back home to the haunted house, I dealt the cards for that one.

Hanged Man, representing some sort of static transition and the suffering that comes from that, in the position of the Querent’s Signifier means, “You Are Here.” Which was accurate. The Moon in the position of the perceived reality indicates that I expect something mysterious and magical to be associated with this experience.

The Eight of Pentacles in the position of what the reality of the situation actually is, indicates that this was likely to be a more physiological brain thing.

Death in the position of “things to be cautious about” reads to me sort of like this deck is saying, ‘You know what your problem is? I’ll tell you what your problem is. You give attention and consideration to everything, even the worst random ideas. And you try to adjust to everything! This was not worth a tarot reading about.’

Ironically, I probably wouldn’t have blogged about this specific reading if the Death card hadn’t come off as so sassy about how what happened wasn’t even worth a reading. But also worth examining, I think, is the Five of Swords in the position of strengths, opportunities, and helpers. By itself, the card indicates abandonment. In this position, I could have interpreted it to mean ‘All possible advantages you could have had, are now lost to you.’ Instead, it came off to me more like, leaving something alone would be the recommended course of action.

The Nine of Wands usually means that the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against the Querent. In the position of the Querent’s influence on events, that suggests the same increased identification with the most prominent figure in the card as the Five of Swords. Instead of being abandoned by, or driving away those show in the Five of Swords, the Querent becomes the deserter. Instead of being threatened by those shown in the Nine of Wands (outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, and outplanned), the card denotes the means and ways to rise far above whatever contender to this position that the world—or perception of the world, with which there would occasionally be some overlap—has conjured up.

And the Knight of Pentacles encourages a shift in focus to more practical concerns, than some otherworldly blob that nobody can really do anything about.

The balance of tarot trumps (the Hanged Man, Moon, and Death cards) against the minor arcana in the spread indicate the querent being enamored with trumped-up mysteries and disadvantages.

Some wishcraft to reverse the Hanged Man could be recommended.

Dreaming and Tarot

The cards shown above come from the Shadowscapes deck, and the spread is a favorite of mine for dream interpretations. Here’s a link to the original spread from Aeclectic, although I modified it a bit and call it “the Red King’s Crown”.

1. (Center) Signifies the Querent. Eight of Cups.
2. (Crossing) The crux of the issue. Seven of Pentacles.
3. (Top) Themes to consider. Eight of Pentacles.
4. (Upper left) Symbols from the dream. Four of Pentacles.
5. (Upper right) Symbols from reality. Four of Cups.
6. (Lower left) Why the dream doesn’t wake up. The Hermit.
7. (Lower right) Why reality doesn’t sleep and dream. The Wheel of Fortune.
8. (Bottom) Future, culmination. Ace of Wands.

09 April 2016. I dreamed of being in a computer laboratory where all the work stations had boxy beige monitors from the mid-1990s. It felt like a grimy, cluttered place and someone out the corner of my eye kept muttering out loud to no one in particular how everything I was doing was going exactly according to their plan. This creeped me out, so I went back to this apartment I don’t live in in waking life, and Miasma was there in a black trenchcoat and lying facedown on a giant mattress. We kept giving each other the silent treatment.

I like that this reading feels like it actually says something meaningful. For a long while recently, any spread I laid out would feel like a number of random cards had been randomized in a shuffle and then randomly drawn.

One of my beliefs in how the tarot works does go that way: The trouble with personal reasoning is that it develops trends and regularities. When one gets stuck in a thought pattern or a life pattern, then something random can get someone unstuck. Specifically, the ideas introduced by some system of divination, which itself can rely on external patterns that don’t reasonably apply. Reasoning can form a trap.

How regularly I read, and the associations that I’ve developed by reading each card, might have made a regularity of a random thing like a deck of cards. Still, I conjecture that the shuffle keeps things fresh.

Another one of my beliefs in how the tarot works developed after a Quest to some vague idea of a tarot or oracular intelligence. She was one of the first guisers I’d met, before I’d even taken to calling these people ‘guisers’. I named her Lavender. After about two years of sharing and working within that liminal space, Lavender vanished with Eddy and all the furniture in my astral home. I can guess at, but can’t be entirely sure of, what happened there. And I have no clue at all about Lavender’s history or nature, apart from that we could interact in the otherreal and surreal, and that Lavender had some association with this tarot deck.

I still read this same deck after Lavender left. It still operated the way a tarot deck would, but without Lavender, it would kind of bother me that I didn’t know how. I could default to thematic apperception, subconscious knowledge coming to the consciousness as intuition, or the Weirdly ordered universe doing that weird thing where everything is perfectly ordered and therefore meaningful. That third option which I outright reject because it doesn’t validate my pessimistic and cynical worldview.

Onwards, regardless, to the reading pictured above. The querent’s significator denotes an inner emotional questing, which matches up with a spread for dream interpretation. The crux of the issue appears to be a frustrated fruition of something. Themes I should consider would be the ordinariness, or stability, of daily corporeal life, represented by the Eight of Pentacles.

Symbols from the dream represented by the Four of Pentacles could indicate the sort of expeditious retreat from whoever was in the dream computer lab and verbally holding me to my own nature, just because it would affect the speaker positively (and I neither intended nor consented to that.) It could also indicate the “silent treatment” that Dream Miasma and I were giving each other, when Miasma was literally not doing anything in the dream, and I had felt that same sort of contemptuous repression.

This becomes a symbol of reality, the Four of Cups, in how the tendency to compress ends up draining more stamina than it should (by all reason) save.

The “dream won’t wake up” (whatever that means) because, well, the way the Hermit mirrors the dragon hoarding the coins, it’s a dream that’s already going to be as awake as it’s going to get. And, “reality won’t fall asleep” (whatever that means) because it isn’t the, umm, metaphysical season for the waking and dreaming worlds to cross over each other?

In a spread so locked into ordinariness, regularity, and inwardly-bound movements, the card that represents the outcome is a welcome one. The Ace of Wands represents to me some burst of inspiration, some way out of the rut.

Entheogen: Coffee

Modern culture doesn’t give me a lot of socially acceptable entheogens. It’s very possible that I haven’t searched thoroughly enough, but for now I’m more inclined to consider it an effect of ecstatic spiritual practices being too out-of-control, or maybe just out of fashion. Coffee, at least, increases productivity in Civilization.

I worked the graveyard shift at my first job. We had free instant coffee in the break room, which I never liked the taste of, but it was a time of great change and I’d try anything that would help me adjust or fit in. I’d put enough sugar that it would taste more like liquid candy. And I could feel it working for a while, and then it didn’t work as well to stop me from getting sleepy. So, I switched to caffeinated soda pop and energy drinks. Sometimes I wonder if the instant coffee was even really caffeinated, or if that was some placebo. Sodas hadn’t noticeably given me an injection of wakefulness before I decided to drink sodas for that purpose.

My corporeal roommate Cecilia is a coffee fiend, and generously provided me the opportunity to experience a greater variety of brews, all locally sourced. It amazes me that this substance is still legal, although when I describe what each of these would do to ‘you’ I mean ‘me, who drank it’ so these effects might just be the way my body metabolizes the thing.

Variant A (“Barako”). Highly acidic and very bitter. Drinking this is like being shaken by the shoulders and having everything you haven’t accomplished in life shouted in your face. After the anxiety passes, maybe 3 hours later, the chemical high takes a turn for the highly alert. Very highly alert. Reality Is So Clear I Can See The Whole Universe, alert. This lasts for 12 or 13 more hours, with twitchiness and possibly acid reflux.

Variant B (“Kalinga”). Woodsy and naturally sweet with a hint of molasses, like a floral tea that grew up thinking it was coffee and did its best to fit in. This ushers you gently into wakefulness, like drinking a sunrise…on one of those planets where the sunrise lasts for 19 hours. No perceivable tremors or any ‘burn’ to this high, only an endless stretch of wakefulness, it keeps the mind feeling fresh and ready for the new day even long after the sunset of that ‘new day’. Even long into the wee hours of the morning of the next day. This chemically-induced insomnia feels more natural, somehow more innocent, than even natural insomnia.

Variant C (“Sagada”). Full-bodied. Like drinking a two-hour power nap. 6 hours later, this will repossess that borrowed restfulness with interest. The caffeine crash pulls you into dreamless desolation, consumes you with a darkly burning exhaustion.

Variant D (“Benguet”). This coffee tastes unremarkably like coffee. A cup of this has no characteristic mouthfeel or flavor that distinguishes it from an average cup of coffee. It nudges you awake, maybe with a mildly unpleasant burning sort of high. This peters off about 9 hours later, and leaves you with the feeling of having stayed up for longer than your circadian rhythm would approve.

I take these chemical effects as some hint as to the nature of the spiritual significance of a given cup of coffee. Maybe A would be suitable for taking Craven’s Way (what I call Jungian Shadow Work), and B or D for offerings. The way I go about offerings is something new I’m figuring out, too: Going more by what I’d read than by anything told to me in a quest, I conjecture something like toradh that I believe the fairies imbibe while the corporeal form of the corporeal offering remains. (So, say I’d still drink the whole physical thing because the fae consumed half the toradh, which I offered. Can I take it that they really liked the offering if the offered coffee makes me sleepy? Or maybe I’d be possessed by an insatiable thirst or suffer ceaseless acid reflux, or some reaction more in the vein of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, because sharing offerings is like sharing toothbrushes?)

The ritual around the drinking of it would be another thing. Brewing and drinking A for taking Craven’s Way to confront a specific issue, would be different than drinking it simply because I aim to stay awake for 13 hours instead of 6 hours, or 20. (In the latter, I’d hum two rounds of the theme song of Galavant if recognizing the anxiety as chemically-induced wasn’t effective in detaching from that anxiety.) Or if, for whatever reason, some wonderful incorporeal acquaintance wants the rude A-brew.

notes on the piracy at the crucible

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Previously on The Codex of Poesy:

(Coercion is a matter of opinion, right? I only had the opinion I did because I was there and it happened to me, but too many people have said…Is it in me after all, to abuse in the guise of a victim? Dahlia would know.)

“Don’t mind if I do!” A familiar silver hook at the end of a cerulean blue sleeve shot into my vision and made away with the shard. I turned my head to follow, only to find empty space.After a roll of my eyes, I turned to where Dahlia had been. “Didn’t even stay to make your acquaintance properly. Can you believe the ner—” Dahlia had vanished, too.

Even as I wake and type in the corporeal world…my surreal fetch is still in that room. There, I’m rattling at locked doorknobs, walking into a force field where the anteroom opens up to the kitchenette, clawing at locked windows and climbing up the bookcase.

“I’ll rescue you,” my corporeal self grumbled to my surreal self, one week later. When I consider how much what is psychic means ‘pertaining to the psyche’ as much as ‘pertaining to the paranormal’ it opens up a lot of other options, subparanormal (normal?) options, to get out of something like that. Rituals, not magic rituals, but more like rituals as in routines I never do. For instance, I dug up some entries that I’d posted to online friends at that time, and re-read some entries in my paper journals, in search of some contrast in perspective.

I wouldn’t like to find contrast in perspective, though, because that often manifests as embarrassment at my younger self. It should be healthy, my present self should embarrass my future self of the same number of calendar years. But my self of that time left the present and future a lot more rubble to pick up than usual. If we discover that was irredeemably avoidable or worth less than the consequences, I wasn’t sure what I’d do with ourselves.

I remembered a lot of people I respected telling me that what I found unbearable wasn’t that bad, that I wasn’t focused on solutions, that I neglected the value of a United Front, that I antagonized valuable allies—it wasn’t only respect I had, actually, it was reliance. And if they were right?

In a way, it would be worse if I didn’t find any contrast in perspective. It would mean that I haven’t recovered, let alone grown, in the precious time apart for which I’d sacrificed…a lot. (Integrity. Sanity. Reputation. Dubiously nominal privileges I’ve never missed, not even when I was so malnourished that my fingernails would fray as they grew. I’d argue that last one was undeserved but preferable to the purported Only Way for that not to happen…but arguing implies interacting with people who say I can’t complain about self-imposed poverty when the option to ingratiate myself to the power structure of abusers was right there and so shiny. Or bootstraps. Let’s all say bootstraps to the barefooted.)

So, I read them over. Miasma and her enablers remain wrong. What I found unbearable back then showed to be so much worse with a number of telling incidents I’d actually forgotten since, my solution that Miasma maybe dial back on being the worst was a fairly obvious one, the United Front they’d herded me into left me feeling like lifeless lint and ash inside, and the allies weren’t to an appalling degree and for reasons I’d still argue to have been unconscionable.

But I hadn’t exactly oozed with the flavors and fragrances of a Cinnabon soul too pure and good for those circumstances, either. I write that I sacrificed personal integrity to get abusers away from me, and most of me is still of the opinion that that just doesn’t happen. I should either reframe that I’d found personal integrity instead (and that it just wasn’t what I always thought it would be, from big bad abusers who would tell me what integrity was while gaming the system), or own up to whatever I did that was so terrible on the way out that I’ve lost any moral high ground that I’d ever have. I’m not ready for either. Sanity, reputation, and dubious privileges were probably never really mine.

I will note that my actions and words showed an uncompromising and unkind attitude, to predictably unhelpful effect. More than being wrong, that attitude is morbidly fascinating now that I notice it. Long before then, I’d been a pushover, and absolutely hated it whenever someone disliked me because it was a safe bet that it had been my fault (Why else would I be the focus of someone’s negative attention or regard? It shouldn’t be more complicated than that.) During the quest, a recurring question came up of why I didn’t fight. Miasma would imply often that I’d blame her when I really regretted my own spinelessness, or that she’d won and I should accept it instead of complain. When I realize that she’d bring up that I didn’t fight in the middle of essentially complaining that I was fighting, the once profoundly troubling question worth meditating on becomes a meaningless noise.

The pull of the surreal memory of that room isn’t so strong anymore. I take that to mean my fetches have reassimilated, or however that probably works.

Last night, while half asleep, I felt belligerent. Not at anything in particular. The lack of true direction for that feeling wasn’t what gave it such a strange quality. It was more that I might have been used to turning hostile in some desperate defense. There’s always some awareness that I’m likely to regret whatever I do while feeling like this, and it’s not a particularly pleasant feeling during, anyway. But that sort of belligerence felt more like an aspiration, as though I’d realized that Human Weapon had been my calling in life all this time. Now that I’m awake, I don’t think so. (Why don’t I fight? Someone might get hurt, doi, I already am. This qualifies me to recommend against harm.) But things like that don’t leave because I dismiss it, and it isn’t even like a Jungian Shadow, actually, it’s a lot more positive a notion. It’s just uncomfortable to go around feeling like my head is one of those spiky metal balls chained to a stick in medieval weaponry, and that I’m staring daggers at everyone when it’s really just that my eyes are open.

[Aethyr Arr] Piracy at the Crucible

The following entry may contain triggering material, descriptions of emotional and sexual abuse.

When I was a child, the whole world was…I’d now just call it information. I make some distinction between this sort of Default World and the Other World(s) now and what would be found in it; I didn’t used to, because I was still learning how the world worked, that is, worldsss workeds as it turned out at the time of this writing. As a child, I’d pick up on a superstition here, a prayer there, a word for something and glean the meaning from the attitude of the speaker during the saying of the thing: “ghost” “angel” “demon” “duende” “engkanto” “third eye”.

For lack of structure and vocabulary of an established spiritual tradition, I make up my own terms for some things that are based on or combine with this, that, or the other thing I’ve read about (fairy lore! pop alchemy! dreamtime! neo-shamanism! psionics! jungian psychology!) because the phenomena described in any of those traditions at a given time is part of my life. I still find myself in situations of unutterable can’t even, but not as often or overwhelmingly…as when I was five and six and seven, suffering from bad vibes that I didn’t have a word for let alone ways to keep off (because “subtle energy” and “shielding” weren’t a thing in my mind yet), and everyone’s patience had failed when it came to my resulting tantrums and oversensitivity; or fourteen or fifteen or sixteen and still bed-wettingly terrified of the dark (because…that’s for another entry, but it was mostly something otherworldly. Partly. Maybe a little.)

I mean, the damage of that neglect or dearth-of-knowledge in that area of my life is done, I mean done as in no more of that in the foreseeable future, I am better equipped now to face the world or worlds. And housebroken. That is a good, let’s all throw confetti!

Aaand recognize that all the aforementioned traditions have some integral internal consistency, and application that simply (or complicatedly, through any number of technicalities) excludes me, how I think and live, and especially what I try to make the do thing. (I wasn’t stealing Dreamtime! I was just believing out loud that it’s real outside of Australia. But yes also colonialism decimated the very thing it named, so maybe that sort of thing I do doesn’t help a Lost Generation to recover.)

That wobbly balance is where I come from, as this entry heads West.

*

I haven’t gone on a quest in a long while. If I try to go quest, the quest doesn’t follow me, so it doesn’t happen. So, I take that to mean that I’m either not up for it right now, or that the otherworlds aren’t inclined to let me in to do stuff. I say that as though an otherworld can decide that, but I don’t know, sometimes it happens when I’m not trying, so it’s more like the weather.

Before this most recent one I’m about to write about, I’d been refreshing what I’d read of Otherfaith canon, and what caught my attention was the Dierne’s ability to smell something foul on those who had violated consent. the Laetha Ava had a similar ability, and I speculated on whether the spirit Dahlia had the same.

How would that work? What sort of energetic dynamic comes off as a stench? Whether it’s the sort of energetic signature of a perpetrator’s feeling of guilt, or the peculiar quality of a victim’s attention to their perpetrator then ‘marking’ that perpetrator for these gods and spirit…I’d love to believe in beings who just know and wreak justice on violators, especially when it’s that clear who did something so wrong, but I’d appreciate a reliable way to know what they’d know even more.

Because it happened to me, or I feel like it did, but everyone I trusted enough to tell said that it didn’t count because these so-called perpetrators were female and it was physically impossible and politically incorrect, or it wasn’t as bad as a real rape, or that nobody cares what I have to say about it. It wasn’t something I should have developed suicidal depression and dropped out of school to live as a recluse for, unless I’d consciously sacrifice seven or eight years of my life for whatever ‘rewards’ I can reap from emotional blackmail. So they said, my corporeal friends and family.

Dahlia would kill over a sexist heckler, but how would she know? Is the heckler’s fatal misstep being caught in the act because Dahlia is occasionally watching? Or does the act of street harassment change someone’s spiritual or psychic composition?

(And is it in me after all to abuse in the guise of a victim? Dahlia shows probably the lowest tolerance for that sort of thing. She’d know.)

*

The quest began in what I recognized as the anteroom of the apartment that Miasma and I had moved into together after our mother died. We didn’t have a father. Oh, I mean, biologically, it’s a high statistic possibility that we had a father, but I couldn’t say in good conscience that we had a Dad.

The apartment was furnished the way it had been after I had started my first job, and made a friend there, and brought up the possibility to Miasma that this friend could become our roommate. (“Is she going to sleep in your bed?” Miasma asked, her face twisted with apprehension and disgust. I thought Miasma would be worried about sharing her queen-sized mattress with a stranger, so I said sure Cara would be roommates in my room, and when Miasma’s expression didn’t change I asked what was wrong with that. “Association?” Miasma answered, even though the tone of her voice made it sound like a question, and the words were something other than Absolutely Not, that’s what it truly meant. I believe this wasn’t even Miasma’s opposition to my deviant sexual orientation—great to out me to people I don’t know so that Miasma herself gets a reputation for having an interesting alternative accessory of a person in her life, not so great to actually live with a gay person who does gay things. It wasn’t even like that with Cara and me: we were just friends. Rather, I believe this was more like Miasma’s revulsion of the Plebian cooties that I would catch from Cara, because I’d taken a job below the class that Miasma and I had grown up in, and Miasma had been stressed enough that we’d moved to a one-bedroom apartment with a narrow kitchenette counter against the wall instead of a kitchen as a separate room. And Miasma worked at a magazine, instead of a theater like she’d wanted.

When a professional diplomat friend of Miasma’s referred a destitute rebellious daughter of a political dynasty to us, that’s when it had become obvious that the room was never mine. Miasma put a pillow on the narrow slot of uncluttered tile floor in front of the bookshelf, for me to sleep on. That wasn’t a question. When I look back on this, I believe Miasma didn’t foresee a use for Cara. Miasma could, however, one day call in a grand favor from a not-so-destitute rebellious daughter of a political dynasty. Let’s say our new roommate’s name was Prudence.)

And Dahlia sat on the tiles by my pillow, with a feline insouciance.

I said, “You’re looking well—” meaning, Dahlia’s appearance was more like my headcanon of her had been, like a less hawkish Angélica Celaya. Not like the time that one of Captain Foxglove’s crew started insisting that he was Dahlia. Why would he do that. Why would she do that. Did she? I forgot to ask. “But,” I added, “This isn’t the time or the place where it happened, what I wanted your opinion about.” (Coercion is a matter of opinion, right? I only had the opinion I did because I was there and it happened to me, but too many people have said I’m wrong for me to expressly or even consciously sustain that opinion.)

With Socratic irony, although I guess now that ought to be Dahliac irony, she wondered, “Why is this where we are, then? This is made of your memory.”

I took a moment to intuit. It’s like sifting through the connotations of silence. Some silences are empty, some are very full; some are complicit, yes, but some silences are the opposite, powerfully contemptuous. “I left something important behind, here. There.” In the pillow beside Dahlia. The space around that area rippled with something like magnetic heat—is what I would write, to make it more visual. Really, it was more like the place at which Dahlia sat began to feel Important now that we’d deigned to notice it, which is less interesting to describe.

(Both Cara and Prudence were single mothers. I knew how difficult that would be, I would have gladly slept on the floor. So, I did. Gladly. It was almost like a choice. Miasma had expected Prudence’s connections to rally at a snap of Prudence’s fingers: Miasma had told me that sleeping on the floor would only be for a few days, weeks at most. Four months later, Miasma took me into Prudence’s room for a private talk. Prudence and her son had gone out to see their friends, or something. I hadn’t been complaining about Prudence, but Miasma wanted me to. From what I remember of the conversation, Miasma had really wanted me to say that I was resentful and frustrated at being forced to sleep on the floor for so long. I wasn’t.

I was resentful that Miasma didn’t give me a choice as to who I would do that for or when, and that was what I said instead. Prudence was fine! Prudence was awesome, especially for figuring out within five minutes of meeting me that I loved to have a job, unlike my own sister who insisted that the industry sapped my soul the same with it did all artistic talents who had to sell out and get such Real Jobs for the money. Prudence and her child could stay with us for as long as they needed to! We totally jived, Prudence and I! Besides, Miasma knew that it took far more than four months for some people to get back on her feet financially. Our own mother had been like that after she lost her job. How dare Miasma ask me now when Cara—

Miasma’s face twisted into a condescending flinch, and she told me, “It’s not about you.” Why ask me, then? The day after, Prudence stopped me on the way out of the bathroom—with a word. She lay in her bed, weighed with early-morning sleepiness or what I feared was the same abject misery my own mother took on four months after losing her job. Pru told me that Miasma had spoken with her—she and her son would be out of our apartment by next week. And that she, Prudence, owed me an apology for taking my bed. She hadn’t known I’d be so resentful.

In this manner, I learned that Miasma had recited the script with which Miasma would confront Prudence, a script that Miasma mentally composed before Miasma checked in with me: a script that spoke for me, but full of words I had never said.)

Miasma had wanted me to fight…eventually. Why hadn’t I, from the start? She was going to tell Prudence and everyone that I was selfish about having my own room, anyway, when Miasma had taken to sharing the queen mattress on the floor with a third roommate of Miasma’s own choosing. They’d met at work. I didn’t know Danica very well before then. Danica would know I wasn’t some brat who banished herself and a long-suffering Miasma to a mattress on the floor of the anteroom, but the knowledge between us was enough for her; Miasma would ensure that everyone else heard the lie that I had my own room. She was very personable. Everyone else believed her, and, apart from work, I didn’t have any friends who weren’t Miasma’s friends first. I’d dropped out of school, and never had friends there.

Why hadn’t I fought? Didn’t I know something wasn’t right?

Sleeping here was almost like a choice, but not one I made. This was a past life I’d forgotten. It’s enough of a mystery that the person I am now has a difficult time controlling my sneer when I hear that somebody’s been hurt emotionally, and at the tip of my tongue: “Why didn’t you speak up, say no and mean it? Why didn’t you fight? Why don’t you just leave that abusive situation already?” Why don’t we get over these things. Already.

I reached out, fingertips of my non-dominant hand questing for what felt like some sort of siphon, some sort of magnetism, in the field of Importance that weighed or scented the memory. Dahlia folded her legs up to her chest so that I’d pass her by instead of step over her, and that was a strange thing to do because my hand went into the pillow. My palm grasped something flat that stung, like a jolt, not bad enough for me to let go or jerk back.

But I knew what this was, even though I’d never encountered it before in a quest. It was a part of myself that I’d cut off, and it radiated: “You don’t deserve more than this. You’re indebted to the world for all the space you take up, for every breath of precious oxygen you take that’s wasted on you. You’re twenty-three with a tenth grade education. You lay down in a soft bed under a roof while your mother was alive, doing fucking nothing. Getting to sleep on a pillow on the floor is a fucking favor the whole world is doing. You’re not allowed to complain. You’re not owed anything in life but death. What titles do you think you were born into, that you can expect dignity? What titles do you think you’ve earned? The answer is none because you’re a waste of everything and anything. You’re broken and should be tossed away.”

“Eww,” I whinged, as I released the shard and backed away. “I don’t want that part of me back. Can we move on over to the memory of when my mom and Auntie Vicky violated my sexual boundaries together? Please? Everybody I complained about it to was right, it wasn’t this bad. It was only moderately worse than street harassment, which actually isn’t bad, I mean it is bad but not vigilante-death-penalty-execution bad.” Auntie Vicky had already apologized, several years after the hotel room incident, and in the most point-missing way possible: she and my mother had prayed away the gay. I wanted to wave my hand up and down in front of her face. There was no way Auntie Vicky could have missed Miasma’s boasts about what a gay sister she had in the family. That wasn’t what I of all people sought restitution for.

“Take it,” Dahlia urged, referring to the shard, “or someone else will and they’ll use it against you.”

(Aunt Vicky and my mother thought I’d be too deeply asleep to notice they were having sex in the same bed that I was trying to sleep in. This not two minutes after I put The Two Towers on the nightstand and put out the light. They should have woken me up, suggested I finish The Two Towers book by the hotel pool or go to a dance club or something. Or gotten themselves another hotel room. I’d finally been enrolled in a school that reinforced anti-bullying policies, regained some motivation and ambition in this academic career path, only for my mother to pull me out again because she’d lost her job. My mother and I both mourned the future we’d never had. We both needed comforting. Sex with Auntie Vicky only worked to that end for one of us.

And while it was happening, because I knew my mother needed it even though I hated it, I hated what this meant about what they thought about me, as possessed of no more consequential perception than a pillowcase or a doll on a shelf, I just quietly edged off the mattress of the hotel bed and slept on the floor—huh. How about that, a parallel. Hrmm.

Anyway, the next morning, my mother pretended that nothing happened, although Auntie Vicky awkwardly brought up some yoga trivia she thought I would be very interested in: the kundalini serpent re-explained as a metaphor for how the sex drive is too strong for anyone to really control themselves. No, I don’t believe Auntie Vicky said this to me that morning as a sexual predator necessarily, just as an embarrassed and repressed grown-ass woman who was cheating on her husband with my mother and trying to explain herself without admitting to anything. But the irresponsibility of fully-grown adults with unhealthy boundaries just got worse from then on. And if they didn’t grow up, neither have I.)

I reached back in and pulled the thing out of the pillow. I’d expected it to be like a tarry shred of fabric gone stiff, the same color as the terror I felt as a young teen after lights out, or maybe like the ink sac that Foxglove cut out of my body on the first quest I found him.

Instead, the shard glinted like early afternoon sun and was the same shape and texture as a flint arrowhead. Unlike corporeal gold, it weighed next to nothing and almost floated out of my hand. “That can’t be right,” I said, “What this thing broadcast when I held it, what it means by existing in this quest, is more like the repressed vices, the shadows…the prima materia or imperfect metals of psychological alchemy. It’s not a golden idea already. It can’t be.” I wasn’t exercising my intuition, though, I was just spitballing dismayed and confused guesses.

Dahlia hummed doubtfully and stifled a yawn, but didn’t stifle it enough that I didn’t catch her at it, and I wasn’t even trying to catch her at anything. “Maybe it’s done the best it could since you left it all alone. Like I would know. Yeah, I might be a seafaring adventurer, but I don’t chase after shinies.”

I liked Dahlia already. The first time I started to ramble at Foxglove about how the emotional logic of repeating a trauma (maybe you’ll win and get it right this time, but we’ve got to repeat the same harmful pattern to be sure that win and right is what happens) conflicts with the logical logic (just get away) he jumped overboard. Maybe he was trying to be funny, but it was his ship so that wasn’t clever. Foxglove ripped an ink sac out of me, but instead of laying it on a platter or an ink well, he let it pool in caskets and chests. This was before I read any books on alchemy, so it’s tempting to foreshadow that Foxglove knew that my emotional darkness that had kept me so intensely miserable could be removed, stored and turned into some sort of emotional gold. That would be his, and I wouldn’t object. “Captain Foxglove might like to take a look at this, he’s my, um—”

“Don’t mind if I do!” A familiar silver hook at the end of a cerulean blue sleeve shot into my vision and made away with the shard. I turned my head to follow, only to find empty space.

After a roll of my eyes, I turned to where Dahlia had been. “Didn’t even stay to make your acquaintance properly. Can you believe the ner—”

Dahlia had vanished, too.

*

So ends this telling of the quest, but even as I wake and type in the corporeal world, I think I ought to mention that my surreal fetch is still in that room. There, I’m rattling at locked doorknobs, walking into a force field where the anteroom opens up to the kitchenette, clawing at locked windows and climbing up the bookcase. It’s only been a few days of that in corporeal time, and my experience only dips into that sometimes. Maybe there’s something else in that room I need to find. Maybe the memory itself decays on its own, like eggshell. It is a five or six year old memory. I’d venture to guess that this sort of quest cul-de-sac happens as often as a recurring dream. Quests and fetches are what I call otherworldly journeys and spirit bodies respectively, although I find potential confusion on the point that Foxglove isn’t explicitly a Western fae and Dahlia isn’t a guiser or familiar. In any case, these denizens of the high seas hadn’t taken my fetch with them for a good reason, I’m sure. Myfetch and I’ll find our way out, and maybe find out.

Modes of Discourse

So, I recently read a marvelously concise summary of the academic categories put to stories. The first point being that context is the determiner of these categories, not content. My personification of Context has no determination, though. Context lounges on the sofa singing, “que sera sera” while accompanying eirself on a plastic ukelele, which Context has never studied. Seriously, though, I can understand this, context, being the unspoken guidelines and sensitivities of a group of people towards these stories.

Myths are believed in: we can infer this from how a body of stories (categorized as myths) can be cited as an authoritative explanation for how things are or how behavior should be. Folktales, on the other hand, are purely entertainment, perhaps I could say that some firewall is more of a given between reality and fiction.

Before I read this, my approach to stories was of a categorization between tales and lore. The tales, the way I use the word, were any ideas, philosophies, experiences or representations thereof that a recorder-writer-person makes explicit in a medium of recorded history or fiction. The lore would be the sense of self, sense of world, relationship, and perceptions inferred and adopted from the tales, and refers to the given circumstances from which the tales would be generated, and lore becomes a sort of tale if I even try to explain what lore is (so, when it gets fuzzy then these terms are interchangeable.)

And, personally, I think I’ll keep it that way. Because I do believe that even the myths survive by sustaining some veneer of coolness and entertainment, and that even the folktales and pop culture stories intended for entertainment in the first place become really popular when there’s some deeper resonance.

What I did consider interesting was the category of a legend, basically running the gamut of attitudes between “well yeah obviously course this is completely made up” to “this might have actually been a thing so keep it in mind” and having one other main distinction: that is, of referring to the earthly rather than the cosmic. Legends have more verisimilitude. Two stories for example:

Story One: Little Red Riding Hood skips through the woods and encounters a talking wolf, which whom she engages in conversation without any pre-establishment of her animal communication superpowers. Myself as a young reader would have some intuition that this story refers to mythic rather than literal truth, or that it’s a folktale. All the humans in this story can speak Wolf. Whatever.

Story Two: Some random villager takes a twilight walk through a familiar meadow, only to find a cave in a hill in that meadow. This familiar meadow had no such hill or cave yesterday. There’s a party in the cave. The random villager’s sweetheart is serving on the wait staff of this party. The random wandering villager is well aware that this sweetheart died of tuberculosis two years ago. What the—just what is going on? What is this??? WHAT. IS. THIS?????

Story Two is, academically, a legend. In my personal categories, I would have sorted Story One among the Tales and Story Two among the Lore before, but now they’re both Tales to me. I appreciate how the flabbergastedness echoes through the generations of telling and retelling of the second one. The firewall of this being fiction is thin, here, and to me it feels like it could be too real.

That’s inevitable, comfortable—and perilous.

I find a contemporary gamut of legend in celebrity gossip and Real Person Fanfiction (RPF). The democratization of any corporeal living person’s image into fictionalization just sat so wrong with me. I personally shouldn’t write about someone else’s life unless I know the canon, if it were an incident belonging in my own diaries, or a result of exhaustive research that I should hope hadn’t become stalking or harassment by the end. What I personally shouldn’t do, though, would itself never stop gossip columnists. I’m inclined to consider the entitlement to another’s existence and life as the same between the sloppy journalists of celebrity gossip magazines or tabloids, and those who write RPF. One important difference is that RPF makes no claims or call to social action for something that plainly isn’t true, and if that absorbs the collective sense of entitlement into a body of harmless fanworks, then I’ve got to not only tolerate that RPF exists but argue for people’s right to write it. Besides, I have no problem with the fictionalization of historical figures, even though, by all this logic, I should. (Respectable news reports are a whole other thing entirely.)

So, I continue to make a distinction between the facts of the Corporeal, the contested perceptions of the Sidereal (my word for a layer of cultural value, so I might write “my corporeal friend Cecilia” or “my corporeal friend Anjie” but the value of friendship is psychological and cultural and therefore sidereal), and the forays and quests into the Ethereal, Incorporeal and Surreal. These have earned their categories by their very different natures in my experience, for the most part, but the firewalls between them can become too thin. So, I’m still mulling over ifwhen a distinction is or isn’t made, versus ifwhen a distinction should and shouldn’t be made.

The Way of the Wizard, by Deepak Chopra

The following blog entry may contain triggering material.

It didn’t seem unusual to me that I knew all about mild, green Camelot even though I lived under a fierce tropical sun…or that Merlin’s crystal cave really existed, despite every author assuring me that wizards were mythical. I knew differently, because I was an Indian boy, and I had met them.

I’d consider bardic mysticism a method (the things that happen, the things to do, to produce a thing) that I incorporate or is the way I incorporate, whereas alchemy is a process or mode (that is, the mechanics behind why a method works) and have been trying to combine the two. Texts of bardic mysticism at least give the reader some credit: the cauldron of poesy is stirred with joy and sorrow. Once upon a time, I would have taken that as possible telekinesis instructions, but now I’m more inclined to take that as a clue that the cauldron itself is also metaphorical. Then I read up on modern resources on alchemy that keep reminding the reader that older texts were always coded metaphors that didn’t need to literally involve precious metals. Why wouldn’t they writers of older texts have just said so, in the first place?

Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard combines these well. In it, Chopra explains an Alchemical life philosophy through a series of short stories and accompanying meditations or writing exercises. The stories describe the mysterious apprenticeship that a young King Arthur served under Merlin in the crystal caves, and how Merlin’s lessons continued to follow Arthur into adulthood.

I very much liked the format. Even fairy tales with the notes at the end about what the moral of the story was could get annoying, so accompanying meditation and journaling exercises would (should) be difficult to foist on a reader who wouldn’t already agree with what’s taught every chapter-step of the way. The “sayings” in each chapter came off to me as trite enough to ignore, but the exercises felt open enough structurally that it wasn’t necessarily patronizing.

The thought behind each lesson or chapter could be interesting, but…mostly incompatible with where I am now.

My corporeal roommate Cecilia recognized the author’s name from a signal boost (or several) by an influential talk show host named Oprah Winfrey. My mother subscribed to O magazine, and I would read those, and I caught the occasional event (an offhand remark by the great Winfrey about going vegetarian correlated with an undeclared grassroots boycott that moved cattle farmers to sue, A Million Little Pieces was a fake memoir promoted by the great Winfrey who was eventually very angry that it had been fake, and “Look under your seats…Everyone gets a car! You get a car, and you get a car, and you…”) but Deepak Chopra was a new name to me.

I can understand why this expression of spirituality fit alongside the little I’ve heard of the Law of Attraction and the Secret. Chopra’s Merlin and Arthur speak in terms of ego and energy, which came off to me as anachronistic and specific to new age spirituality (rather that psychology or physics). In chapter eighteen, King Arthur gives terrible counsel—my opinion, not the book’s opinion—to an angel in the guise of a grieving father, and in that thought I found some echo of the Middle Way of Buddhist philosophy between the illusions of the material cosmos and the asceticism that would reject that suffering. Not itself a bad idea, but I felt the way that story in that chapter set it up kind of minimized human suffering and blamed the victim for not being enlightened enough. Apart from that aspect, I might have considered a introduction of an Eastern philosophy into a Western aesthetic, even in defiance of the Heaven/Hell dichotomy of a most Christian King Arthur, as…interesting, as well as the modernizations. (Two chapters after that, Chopra ends the book with how it’s a wizard’s or alchemist’s duty to alleviate suffering. I feel ambivalent about that.)

The book generally reads with a lot of bait-and-switch philosophical progression. It’s after the chapter that framed enmity as a kind of love, (because enmity was attention, and love as an enlightened wizard understands it is the very makeup of the cosmos that becomes evident with any and all flow of attention,) that comes the chapter on how to break down the objectification of another person in the first place. Most of all, I noticed a call to replace blame, dislike, and other negative value judgments with a cosmic trust, that is, to cultivate complacency as a spiritual tenet. Justice is portrayed as an illusion that’s far less useful than suffering, for pain can be recognized as an untruth that at least serves as a way to truth.

So, I want to say that a handful of the chapters at least delve a little further that the sort of victim-blaming, cosmos-trusting sort of spirituality that I can only take as a reflection of the spirituality of the privileged (despite the claims that a privileged life is a reflection of or developed from this spirituality). Maybe it does a bit?

I was at least entertained at some parts that portrayed Merlin being a dickweed.

Arthur pitched into his task, digging with all his might, but after an hour he was exhausted, and still Merlin had not told him to stop. “Is this long enough?” he asked. Merlin regarded the ditch, which was perhaps ten feet long and two feet deep.

“Yes, quite sufficient,” he said. “Now fill it up again.”

Accustomed as he was to obeying, Arthur did not like the order very much. Sweating and grim faced, the toiled under the blazing sun until the ditch was entirely filled again.

“Now sit beside me,” said Merlin. “What did you think of that work you did?”

“It was pointless,” Arthur blurted out.

“Exactly, and so is most human effort. But the pointlessness isn’t discovered until too late, after the work has been done. If you lived backward in time, you would have seen ditch digging as pointless and not begun in the first place.”

Merlin, you dickweed!

I did like the chapter that described Arthur introducing Guinevere to some of what he’d learned from Merlin. I thought it was sweet. For brevity, unfortunately, I don’t include the lead-in in the quote below, which had Guinevere and Arthur conversing as anachronistic equals and Guinevere’s medieval sass:

He asked the queen to leave their chamber and promise not to return until the stroke of midnight. Guinevere did as she was told, and when she returned she found that the room was pitch black, all the tapers extinguished and the velvet curtains drawn. “Don’t worry,” and voice said. “I’m here.”

“My lord, what do you want me to do?” Guinevere asked.

Arthur replied, “I want to find out how well you know this room. Walk toward me and describe what objects are around you, but don’t touch anything.” His wife thought this a very strange test, but she did as she was bidden.

“This is our bed, and over there the oak dowry chest I brought across the water. A tall candelabra of wrought Spanish iron stands there in the corner, and two tapestries hang on either side.” Walking cautiously so as not to bump into things, Guinevere was able to describe every detail of the room, which in truth had been furnished down to the last pillow by herself.

“Now look,” Arthur said. He lit a candle, then a second and a third. Gazing around, Guinevere was astonished to see that the room was entirely empty. “I don’t understand,” she murmured.

“Everything you described was an expectation of what this room contains, not what was really there. But expectation is powerful. Even without a light, you saw what you anticipated and reacted accordingly. Didn’t the room feel the same to you? Didn’t you tread cautiously where you feared you might stumble into things?” Guinevere nodded. “Even in the light of day,” Arthur said, “we walk around according to what we expect to see, hear, and touch. Every experience is based on continuity, which we nurture by remembering everything as it was the day before, the hour before, or the second before. Merlin told me that if I could see entirely without expectations, nothing I took for granted would be real. The world the wizard sees is the real world, after the light comes on. Ours is a shadow world we grope through in the dark.”

I enjoyed some aspects of a few other chapters: the ones that demonstrate that labels are meaningless, and the ones that demonstrate that words (and labels) mean things.

But when I read the one above to Cecilia, her reaction was basically:

“Arthur, you dickweed!”

The second part of the book has Merlin encounter Percival and Galahad in the woods and talking at them about the development of a spiritual self from the immature stage to the mature. I thought that was a bore, but maybe it was better-organized.

*

Here’s a checklist of the exercises from this book that I paraphrased.

1.) Meditate without like or dislike on existence alone.
2.) Notice, without anticipating, one’s responses to the list of words provided. (Lesson: words for things are bad because labels are awful.)
3.) Seek the light (levity) and love in all things. (In my notebook, this item has an arrow going to item 7.)
4.) Immersive meditation that voids thoughts and names.
5.) Complete the sentence “I am afraid of…” several times with a different ending each time.
6.) Remember someone you know well, and deconstruct the appearance of their memory.
7.) Allow moments of absent-mindedness to become gates to divine impulse.
8.) Develop a god complex by stargazing. (I did not like this chapter and exercise, must be why I phrased it this way.)
9.) Clear a path from intention to reality by developing cognitive bias. (This note is the same as item 8.)
10.) Access subpersonalities by revisiting traumatic memories and breathing through them.
11.) Imagine a scroll of your life to more to and fro in time; transcend this awareness of mortality.
12.) Imagine the scroll in exercise 11 is a film of Nemo Nobody. (Alternatively, The Butterfly Effect, starring Ashton Kutcher. These weren’t in the bok, I was just watching something that reminded me of the exercise for this chapter and thought, close enough to something like that yeah.)

13.) Taste tests w/ blindfolds are the power of uncertainty.
14.) Accept loss, admire devastation, replace blame and dislike with cosmic trust. (Ditto 8 and 9 for notes.)
15.) Age your beloved’s image with imagination, remember a time that ego turned love to hate.
16.) Ask what happened before a given point in time and after, up to an eternal infinity. Rewrite nowhere as now here.
17.) Seek signs, turn self-pitying Why Me into a question out of genuine curiosity.
18.) Supplementary: void meditations for spiritual pursuit.
19.) Recall past desires, live the desires now.

Some of these were helpful, some interesting, some I’m put off by, and some maybe I’ll get around to another time. This is a book I’d like to keep as a product of post-colonial relative personhood, as well as an example of dated bodies of mythology and how these become filtered through a contemporary perspective.