More Notes on Carl Jung’s Active Imagination Method

It is neither necessary nor desirable for everyone […] to reach the depth of connection to the unconscious at which Active Imagination is required. These pages should not be used as a “how-to-do-it” course, for deep involvement with the unconscious requires guidance from an analyst.

From a certain perspective, everything I write here will be completely incorrect. That is because anyone who reads it too rigidly, without taking into account that the opposite of any statement is always also true, will do violence to the individuality of the psyche.

— Janet Dallet, “Active Imagination in Practice” from Jungian Analysis, edited by Murray and Stein (1982)

[Faemon’s Note: the abovequoted paper is “openheaded spiritworker pagan friendly” on the surface, but has a modern sensibility of not bothering with as well as discouraging thoughts about metaphysical work. Contrast that with early Jungians such as Barbara Hannah and Marie Louise von Franz. Respectively, authors of “Encounters with the Soul” and “Shadow and Evil in Fairytales” the former I quote enough to demonstrate the difference, the latter which has nothing to do with Active Imagination but the author keeps bringing it up anyway! So that readers don’t accidentally do witchcraft. Because That Would Be Bad.]

Jungian psychology held that, in many of the emotional and mental disorders that kept a patient from functioning in society or enjoying life, the way to recover from the “soul injury” that caused such trouble was unique to each individual—and both patient and therapist could find it, if they paid attention to the themes and symbols in the patient’s dreams.

Most of us forget our dreams when we wake up, but that same imaginative psychic (as in pertaining to the psyche) stuff can come up in other ways…or so believed Jung and the Jungians, in the infancy of modern Western psychotherapy. Word association tests, for instance, would be used to catch the thought patterns of a patient; or ink blot tests. These relied on the patient declining to think logically and consciously, for an allotted time so that the underlying subconscious patterns could emerge and be interpreted.

But all of these would be obscure or passive (and not used much anymore.) Jung pioneered a method that worked with both the conscious and subconscious state of mind, that I personally still do undertake and have found helpful both psychologically and spiritually.

The rest of this post quotes extensively from“Encounters With the Soul” by Barbara Hannah, to describe this method.

[Carl Jung] discovered a technique called “active imagination,” which is the subject of this book. I say, very carefully, discovered, not invented, for active imagination is a form […] used, at least from the dawn of history, if not earlier, as a way of learning to know […] God or gods. In other words, it is a method for exploring the unknown, whether we think of the unknown as an outside god—as an immeasurable infinite—or whether we know that we can meet it by contemplating our unknown selves in an entirely inner experience.

As Marie-Louise von Franz comments in the foreword of the same book: “This gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we are dealing here not with a weird innovation, but with a human experience which has been lived through before.” The case studies included mention of Alchemy traditions that use imaginatio ver et non phantastica, an ancient Egyptian document known as “the Dispute between a Man and his Ba”, and a text by 12th century Christian monk Hugh de St. Victor’s Der Arrha Animae subtitled “Conversation Concerning the Dowry of the Soul” and “Dialogue Between and Man and His Soul”…all as though there were ever anything necessarily unsatisfying about the weird and innovative.

I disagree this modern way of expressing an experience ever needs the validation of the old, but I agree to my current method of “questing” being a common human experience really. I was doing it before I thoroughly read up on Jung, but from now on I’ll be more inclined to say that anyone who wants to do this thing “my” way…should really just read Jung, instead. (Faemon’s Note: No wait don’t! I tried to read Jung’s writings, as compiled by Joan Chodorow in the book Jung on Active Imagination…umm, Barbara Hannah is a better writer, so I will keep to quoting Hannah.)

Another main point of Hannah’s is how little it matters “whether we think of the unknown as an outside god (…) or whether we know that we can meet it (…) in an entirely inner experience.” I do agree except that Hannah counters this very point by this passage:

When [Carl Jung] first [turned away from the familiar affairs of our conscious world to face this unknown, unconscious/subconscious] he was horrified to note that the visions which he saw and heard were very similar to the fantasies he had seen overcome many of his patients at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital. At first, he feared that they might overcome him also, and he lived for many months with the fear of madness hanging over his head. This was caused by a repeated vision of great portions of Europe being bathed in a sea of blood. It was only in August 1914, on the outbreak of war [which involved all the countries he had seen submerged in blood] that he realized that his visions of 1913 had been a forewarning of the First World War and did not refer to his own psychology. Thus freed from the terrible nightmare of possible madness, he was able to turn quietly and objectively to the contents of his visions.
Carl Jung was relieved that these morbid and violent fantasies weren’t a sign of mental instability, but precognition…as though precognition of whole countries submerged in a deluge of blood is better than one deeply troubled individual kept more or less to a building with other deeply troubled individu—actually, you know what, I take back my snarkiness and fully agree to this too, precognition is the better way to frame it. So, it can matter. By my cosmology, though, it usually doesn’t matter because I’m an incorrigible earthling: shared understanding, culture and communication makes things fuzzy at the edges, but if my mind is the primary medium by which I have these questing experiences, and isn’t shared (or difficult to share without resorting to some other avenue of transmitting information) because of the nature of the mind world as opposed to the nature of the physical world, then I may as well present it to the physical and societal world as something in my mind. Which, oddly enough, it is. If I’m wrong and it’s an entity crossing over from another dimension, with autonomy and interiority and all that, well, the dissociated positioning I experience would be the same (that it’s my mind, but I can’t fully relate to this person in my mind so it isn’t conscious-ego-me but because this is in my mind this person must —theoretically—be me,) as well as the way I treated the incorporeal other because of it: as having an interiority of their own separate from me, because that’s the experience even if it’s not the theory that gels best with everything else I experience and/or have been taught to interpret.

The personal inner work remains key, as this passage before the how-to explains:

…if we are still indulging ourselves with illusions about who and what we are, we have no chance whatsoever of being real enough to see the images of the unconscious or hear its voice. We need a very unbiased mind, which has learned to value the truth above everything, in order to register and value what we see and hear [during Active Imagination.]
And then to the how-to, or:

A Short Description of the Actual Techniques That Can Be Used in Active Imagination

  • The first thing is to be alone, and as free as possible from being disturbed
  • Then one must sit down and concentrate on seeing or hearing (Faemon’s Note: or feeling, or abstractly thinking) whatever comes up from the unconscious.
  • When this is accomplished,  and often it is far from easy, the image must be prevented from sinking back again into the unconscious, by drawing, painting, or writing down whatever has been seen or heard. Sometimes it is possible to express it best by movement or dancing. Some people cannot get into touch with the unconscious directly.

An indirect approach that often reveals the unconscious particularly well, is to write stories, apparently about other people. Such stories invariably reveal the parts of the storyteller’s own psyche of which he or she is completely unconscious. In every case, the goal is to get into touch with the unconscious, and that entails giving it an opportunity to express itself in some way or other. No one who is convinced that the unconscious has no life of its own should even attempt the method.The technique for both the visual and the auditory method consists first of all in being able to let things happen […] But images must not be allowed to change like a kaleidoscope. If the first image is a bird, for instance, left to itself it may turn with lightning rapidity into a lion, a ship on the sea, a scene from a battle, or whatnot. The technique consists of keeping one’s attention on the first image and not letting the bird escape until it has explained why it appeared to us, what message it brings us from the unconscious, or what it wants to know from us.

Even in the very different practical context I do this thing, I can’t lay out the steps in this process much better than that. That said, by Jungian standards I have been awful: letting the these play out however they will. Sometimes I’ll post a record because I could write it out into something that makes sense, but other times I’ll post a record of it precisely because it doesn’t make very much sense at all even to me…and sometimes I don’t catch it on any record because I don’t feel like writing.

So, here too is an important relationship between experiencing the imaginative, and recording or expressing it.

I believe it works the other way around too: many of us may not have encounters with the incorporeal others had a traveler in these “otherworlds” not gotten some idea of them from an artistic work encountered in waking life or the “mundane” life first. I also categorize in this the experience of an incorporeal person interfacing the corporeal world; as opposed to not dreaming so much as feeling or thinking various sorts of…internal voices that feel as though they originate externally, matching concepts or feelings to words and writing those down; and meaningful coincidences or synchronistic events.

These would all be works and experiences of Active Imagination, the case studies of which have been a fascinating read to me (from Hannah’s book.) Apart from an analysis of the historic documents mentioned above, they also include the cases of patients, their family histories where relevant, their disorders, and how they met who in the otherworlds through Active Imagination—and how that brought them better functionality and happiness in life.

Lately I have been getting the sense that mental illness or neurodiversity, and mysticism mixing together are broadly unfashionable (even incendiarily controversial), even among mentally ill or neurodiverse practitioners of liminality such as myself. Personally, though, it’s been in specific exceptional instances that I have felt moved to assert that they are separate and should be kept so very separate (an episode I had as a child with hallucinating cooked shrimp talking to me was probably not demons, more recent online discussions wherein the first suggestion or several lobbed at someone with admitted multiple psychotic mental illnesses is “maybe demons/gods/curse” and ‘but maybe mental—’ is met with hostility, and I ought to rethink my use of coffee as entheogen now that I switched to a brand that I metabolize as abysmally uninsightful liquid terror.) Generally though I default to liminal work being mental, denotatively and connotatively, at first because profoundly numinous and liminal experiences have been so pathologized (in my unfortunate experience), and lately because this old school of psychotherapy I’m really into studying the system of gets really very metaphysical about it.

 

An Expeditious Retreat

Rose ought to have a better introduction than this. I was in my mid-teens, mulling over gritty reboot fairy tale retellings that I could do, and she was one of them. I could have sworn that I’d seen Rose as Chelsea Hobb’s Gerda in The Snow Queen (Hallmark, 2002) but apart from the ringlets she’s given when she’s trapped in springtime, there’s not much resemblance. Which is odd, because her actual face and body keep changing whenever I meet her.

The drawing above is of the youngest-looking version of her I’d encountered, who seemed to wear a specific world all the time.

And during our most recent encounter, I was going to suggest that she leave it.

labyrinth

Tuning in to my surreal fetch sometimes comes with senses, attitudes, or memories that my corporeal and sidereal fetch don’t have. Sometimes it manifests in feeling as though a guiser I’d never seen before is a very old friend. Other times, it manifests in my freezing up in the middle of doing something that I surreal-y know how to do without thinking, because I’m sidereal-y thinking about how I do it (because that part of me had never done it before.)

This time, it was an information dump.

I’d taken it as a given that the center of the red brick labyrinth is a walled garden where Rose would sit with her tea set. And I can never find the door. If she randomly wants me to join her for tea, I am randomly summoned there for tea and randomly banished. We never do anything else.

This time, I managed to walk in uninvited, and give a stern warning about someone else who might walk in uninvited; and this was my own fault, but this was how I could minimize the damage, if she would cooperate by evacuating then she’d be one less possible—

What? My corporeal-sidereal mind pulled away from myself a bit. What did we do this time? What did you do?!? This isn’t happening.

That’s an exaggeration. I didn’t answer, because I didn’t ask. I only felt moderately confused by myself.

“Nobody can find this place,” Rose said, meaning that she wasn’t leaving. I’d pointed out that the labyrinth remained open to the sky, but…she had a point. One entrance, one exit, one winding path, and I’d still manage to take a wrong turn. Rose knew this place better: the place did whatever she wanted to whoever else was unfortunate enough to wander into it. Of course she was safe, here.

Then Captain Foxglove strode in and said, “I’ll escort her.”

I might have gesticulated between us and the walls, bleating, to try to communicate that if I could find the center garden of my own volition for once, and Foxglove could do the same and they hadn’t even met, then the security wasn’t very good anymore.

On the other hand, Foxglove and Rose kept looking at each other with expressions that at least told me that they knew one another very well.

So Rose listened to Foxglove after he’d made the exact same report to her, and suggested the exact same course of action as I had—and without any argument at all Rose wrapped up her own tea set in the tablecloth and looked to the bottom of the stone bird-bath for pearls.

“There are seashells in almost any harbor we stop at,” Foxglove told her, though he’d looked terse, he’d kept his tone encouraging. Rose decided not to waste time on the pearls. She had a flower crown that she’d reached up to put on Foxglove’s head. It got there; they’d both looked so solemn about it.

I could make sense of it. Before, I thought that I’d found Rose by a slightly different form accompanying Captain Marigold, and when I’d looked in that one’s eyes she appeared empty of any mind. I wonder now if this exact moment was always going to happen, so that the shell that followed Marigold around would be ensouled by a real Rose. Maybe the shell was a sort of ghost from the future.

I’d stopped this Rose, right before she left, to look in her eyes. I couldn’t. It was like starting mirror work, and all I could see was a mirror. This Rose wasn’t empty that I could see, but all I could see when I looked at her eyes were…eyes.

Despite being sort-of around for a decade, even despite all the tea parties…this was, really, the first and only conversation-like exchange that Rose and I had ever had. I’d described her before as “too obstinately enigmatic to blog about” and maybe that is the thing: she’ll always have a labyrinth of some kind around her, maybe she is safe and content by nature, inherently inaccessible, and I had made some grave mistake in sending her out into the world. Even if she were going to bring life to Marigold’s pet ghost from the future.

Nah, Foxglove’s made the grave mistake, if that were the case, because he’d said the same thing but she listened to him.

Besides, one of Foxglove’s crew had eyes pop out of sockets at the end of accordion springs when I looked into them. Had they been coil springs, I would have guessed that mechanism were built into such a guiser-body to facilitate expressiveness in the eyes. That they were accordion springs swayed my suspicions more towards that every otherworld I quest in is potentially trolling me.

So they both left. Somehow. I didn’t catch them going over the wall, but the center garden of the red brick labyrinth has no door.

Entheogen: Happy Pills 2/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Previously on the Codex of Poesy :

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

The sort of proto-wishcraft I practiced at that time focused on empirical evidence of psychism, with the idea that the mind was the key. To clear the mind of the usual chatter would invite intuitions, so fellow practitioners claimed. Intuitions could tell us the number or suit of a playing card before we could see, or the thoughts and emotional states of the people around us. Willpower directed forcefully through a clear mind could move physical objects.

I could never manage any particularly consistent outside effect. Sometimes, I’d dabble in guided imagery, which would never yield any insightful result. Those quests would usually go in some nightmarish, unhelpful direction. As for within: I could clear my mind, though. I could notice and simply be with the pain, and my mind would go silent, no images would come to mind…and, it was something like peace.

This did not improve my attention span, when depression began to dull the world. This did not hold my thought process high as the structures crumbled into ruin. This did not improve my memory, in those exercises to clear the mind, I may only be now but everything else carried over pains and troubles of the past.

Myself out of meditation knew that my health was failing and I was losing my mind and I’d never meet my goals, the way everything was going. So, I started on what they gave me.

The next time I tried to sit still and clear my mind, the usual chatter would not stop.

That one thing I could do from years of regular practice, now rendered impossible by a pill the size of a rice grain.

It wasn’t so devastating. Once I decided to act to change everything, my mind, my life, my family’s habit of alternating abuse and comfortable silence, I can hardly complain about the changes.

So, I allowed my mind to create images around the chatter. My mind chatter was like that of a crowded, noisy room…like a restaurant, I thought. I saw the milky sunlight through the windows, the swatches of color of so many people’s clothes, heard the chatter and the clatter of metal utensils against porcelain. I could shift my attention to the tablecloth, and the backrest of the chair, and the noise wouldn’t go away.

I didn’t quest in a way that occupied my Surreal Fetch, back then, I would always be watching my Surreal Fetch from somewhere outside myself—another reason these quests annoyed me. This time I was embodied, I knew, seated and smoothing over cloth.

Then I saw myself approach my table, and draw a chair to sit across from me, and sit and watch me. Ey was ready to listen, and to talk.

Much as I loved biology class and the neuroscience unit, and the security it lent me in that I was doing a factually correct and right thing, it’s not what prepared me for the shift in value priority: Forget empirical evidence of telekinesis. This was our life on the line, so now this was the Work we’d do.

~

The skin over my sternum felt as though someone had rubbed mentholated ointment over it, though I was certain this wasn’t the case. When I’d looked up models of the Fetch in other traditions (Otherreal, or Sidereal) I wondered if this were some vortex of compassion activating. Incidentally, I was beginning to care again, about wilting plants and injured animals and what people anticipated or loathed.

Eating used to be like arm-wrestling with myself, the defending champion you damn well know how your mother resents your eating your life away since you were born and now she knows that job security is a lie she hates still having to feed you because she’ll never have a good life like she did as a rich kid, the challenger of but I’m going to faint and they’ll notice and fuss and blame me (which might not be unwarranted, but certainly doesn’t inspire more positive changes) and I’m shitting bloodclots from the ulcers.

If I could muster up the temerity to request therapy and psychiatric medication, I could eat. The oils around meats tasted awful to me, but fine to everyone else who knew it to be my favorite. Eggs and dairy products took on a cloying texture that I couldn’t bear. Fish was barely tolerable. My psychiatrist told me that she’d never heard of a side-effect like that.

I went vegan, and carried it on for far longer than the aversion and tastebud weirdness alone would have kept me away from real proteins. I considered the lifestyle change a result of some spiritually superior calling, which I’ve got to admit was a huge mistake.

~

I chose life. My birth family really hammered in how badly I should regret it. It surprised me that I could enjoy something at all, so maybe when I would have taken a silent satisfaction in an outfit I liked, I’d smiled. “What happened to my kid?” My mother snarked, “You’re smiling and eating and interested in fashion.”

“It’s a lot sooner than the doc said the meds would work,” my sibling said pointedly. “You’re just looking for attention.” Drama-mongering faker isn’t really sick. After our mother died, she tsked at my continuing to purchase antidepressants, saying, “I’ve spoken to friends of mine who went through depression. You only need to take meds for one year, then you’re fine, and you’ve had your year.” She’d never studied psychiatry. I’d doubted that she’d even taken a proper survey of depressed friends, plural, it was probably just the one whose personal experience she’d consider the most convenient to impose. “I respect what you’ve gone through,” she lied, “But you were a bitch. You’re not allowed to get depressed or eating disordered again. I know I’m not allowed to say this, but your not-eating thing was a choice.”

~

I’d described to my therapist long ago what the mind fog felt like, like white mold growing on the inside of my skull so I could only find the fuzzy outlines of my thoughts. She suggested, knowing what an iron-cast meditative practice I had, visualizing a way to make that mold go away. I’d made a metaphor out of my experience, couldn’t I make an experience out of that same metaphor? No. No, I could not. It was neurological, biochemical, not a matter for the quests. I’ve read that some people find half an hour of meditation effective in doing away with what they describe as brain fog, and I envy them.

I ran away from home to home and to almost homelessness. I had a roof, at least, and walls, but could only afford to eat so little that my fingernails began to splinter as they grew from the quick. The brain fog came back. I could have a whole meal for slightly cheaper than a single antidepressant pill, and ought to have the meal instead, if the brain fog was from malnourishment rather than depression. It was that sort of way of working within financial limitations. The fog felt familiar as depression, so I took the meds on an empty stomach. I needed a clear mind to work.

Besides, a fusion deity of Hela and the Morrigan was wandering around my room, and I was beginning to get the sense of what She really meant. I named her Lady Hawthorne.

Nausea had always been a side effect, but this time it was surprisingly incapacitating. It’s amazing how nauseous a body can get without vomiting even stomach acid, and by “amazing” I mean “torture” and I can’t brag about it as a feat, really, it’s more like a betrayal: How could my corporeal fetch do this to me. Why would my corporeal fetch do this to us. I wanted to die. Once it passed, I decided against taking the other half of the pill when I was supposed to, and I still wanted to die, but at least I wasn’t nauseated.

Before it passed, I sat on the floor and leaned into the corner, trying to breathe as slowly as I could without fainting, because inside movements made the nausea wane, which meant it would wax full right in a trice. I was trying to keep the nausea steady until it flowed away, like trying to find a part of a river that flowed without ripples.

I’d been reading about the Ophelia, a modern god of rivers (of course: the greatest civilizations in human history formed around a river or two), time, death, and depression. Depression had taken on a broader definition to me: the cold and hollow exhaustion of anxiety, the eroding attention and memory, the restless slumbering.

The suicidal ideations, that’s what Lady Hawthorne attended to. The Morrigan aspect of this fusion god represented the battle, the aspect of Hela (from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” … Literally “concealed place” compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”, from Proto-Indo-European *kel- “to cover, conceal”) represents the hidden nature of this particular kind of battle.

When I thought about the Ophelia as a god of depression, this included the recovery, no matter how nauseating. Time and death, too, it occurred to me had life as an integral part, at least the way my nascent headcanon of the Ophelia claimed. Should I die of natural disaster, injury, illness, or age, I expect to glimpse the Ophelia in that last moment. If I kill myself, I’m the Helrrigan’s.

And if I starve to death in self-imposed poverty rather than eating disorder comorbid with obsessive compulsion (or depending on who you ask, choice)…? Eh, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

They were both in my room then, new gods perhaps summoned by new rituals and new ways to travel so far beyond your ken into the realm of horribly wrong. We three got through it all right. We’re still getting through it all right. All three of us, around this.

Entheogen: Happy Pills 1/2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

The psychiatrist showed me a pill the size of a single rice grain.

“Eating one of those a day is going to make me not want to kill myself? That one whole thing?”

She looked surprised. No, of course not! You should cut it in half.

If I squinted, I could see the groove where it was meant to be halved. “A chisel would be too large for this. I’d need the flat screwdriver from my spectacle repair kit, and somebody to hold the magnifying glass.”

After a week, if I didn’t have too bad a reaction to the meds, I could up the dosage to a whole pill. It would take about three months for the brain cells to unshrivel from the damage of depression, and then I’ll have the energy and clarity to do what I used to be able to do. I shouldn’t expect effects right away. Three months.

(Ten hours after that first dose, taking hold of a glass of water became as difficult as horseback archery because my whole body kept shaking and twitching. That’s a side-effect. I consider it more like an effect, actually.)

My sleep pattern and appetite should get fixed up eventually, too. Oh, speaking of what I shouldn’t eat: no liquor, no caffeine, no chocolate.

“No chocolate! How can life be worth living?” I didn’t really say that, because I hadn’t gotten even my morbid sense of humor back. I did eat chocolate and the teeny tiny happy pill, though.

~

The psychiatrist also hastened to clarify that this was a misnomer. Antidepressants don’t make people feel happy for no reason, like some chemical puppetmaster. Medications targeted thought processing issues, memory problems, stress metabolism, fatigue, oversleeping. Dissipating suicidal ideations coincided consistently enough, but this would never lead to a drug high.

Perhaps I was merely happy to feel normal, two months into the regular dosages. No, I’d made an online acquaintance to whom I could not commit to a friendship, unfortunately, though the way her liminal experiences carried her through a bad situation made our shared conversations something I ought to have clung to; she told me that her mother died and her father physically abused her, and on the other side of the Internet where she couldn’t see, I erupted into giggles. It wasn’t even absurd or unbelievable, maybe I would have begun to laugh at that time without anybody talking to me. Had this been an offline friend, this would come off horrifyingly callous, and I was genuinely and completely horrified at myself for laughing. I couldn’t stop, not even when I desperately made the effort to recognize that someone else’s situation was horrifying and painful to them. It was like the tremors and twitches, in that respect, but I can’t say it was purely mechanical—like, I began to hyperventilate as though I were laughing. Instead, bubbles of sheer delight filled my chest. It was an intrusive mood: I was not delighted.

Fellow depression recoverers would say things like, “that’s the depression making you think/feel that way, not you,” and I would never understand that dissociation. Happiness wasn’t me, especially not this kind, this was the pills. The psychiatrist told me it was a misnomer, and I don’t want to say she was mistaken. I’d heard the opposite too often, too, a derisive, “go take your happy pills,” or “take your chill pills” whenever I came off glum or angry. Even if it weren’t the case that psycho-social stressors (from, say…people who take the same lousy health-bigot attitude as that…) played a significant role in triggering my depressive episodes…it didn’t work that way. It wasn’t a way to get high.

Some new magazine research or another would inform this friend or that how antidepressants caused depression. I’m inclined to blame the stigma associated with medication, becoming itself a psycho-social stressor. I’d also differentiate between stages of depression. I’d go quiet and shrink into the conviction of my own worthlessness if someone so much as informed me that my shoelace was untied, and that anxiety would carry over into every little thing I did. Learning not to care about every little thing could be healthy, or could be a sign of further depression, because then I stopped washing up or eating—but that’s probably more like ennui. Then there’s suffering so much physical and emotional pain that I’d chase death just to make it all stop, every waking moment like I was being stabbed in the head with all the tears I forced myself to hold in because crying wasn’t helping anymore (but not crying wasn’t helping, either, it was just bothering people less,) and the heartburn and stomach ulcers.

Starting on the antidepressants got me back to anxious about my shoelaces. I’d almost preferred the bleakness, only because serenity and joy and adventure didn’t feature as options. Maybe depression is a way for the psyche to modulate the focus and sensitivity that leads to distress, dulls the senses, gives a bit of mindspace to find one’s center again…but, then nothing can modulate the modulation. Not philosophy, not theology, not activity—I’d gone for all that—and certainly none of the advice from people who condescended to care but really refused to get a clue (not that I explained or described it well, then or even now—but I can’t believe it was all my projected frustration.)

And I won’t say the medications were the one true solution, either. I believe that medication eventually did away with the feeling that I was holding a solid iron bowling ball in my skull (though I still wake up to spikes—I may want to learn to cry properly again), and more eventually did away with the sort of misty mold that grew on the inside of my skull so I could only make out the fuzzy outline of my own thoughts. That’s a huge improvement over my quality of life, and I have not entirely been the one to foot the whole cost of that improvement. It was expensive, and hardly worth it to my birth family, who believed I should be somebody else entirely (someone on whom a pressure-cooker of abusive dynamics has no effect; let me reincarnate a few million more times and then maybe I shall spring from the womb so unshakably enlightened.)

One bit of good fortune that I’ll admit to gratitude: I have not required an adjustment in the dosage and kind. I haven’t exactly suffered from an adjustment in the dosage and kind, or days when we couldn’t find a pharmacy that stocked them, or days when we could but my mother muttered about the expense so I would lower the dose. I ate them with chocolate sometimes although the psychiatrist with the million-dollar education in this field told me not to, and the effects wouldn’t be better or worse than times I didn’t eat chocolate with the antidepressants—but that doesn’t make my decision an inherently good decision. When these pills took me from bleak to anxious (and queasy, and so twitchy that I couldn’t hold a glass of water), I made the decision to keep taking them anyway, and the result was good enough for me—but anyone else for whom the drugs leave psychologically raw and undefended, in a different life situation than mine, with vastly different predispositions and body chemistry, well, it stands to reason that my decision to keep taking what was prescribed can’t apply across the board as a good one. When I caught myself laughing at a very real abuse testimony from a dear acquaintance, I lowered the dosage without consulting my psychiatrist—and the intrusive high moods stopped. I will neither recommend this course of action nor heed accusations of my excusing psychopathy with medication: a drug happy-high wasn’t worth eclipsing empathy, no matter how generally miserable I’d become—rather, the matter was that I was exactly as miserable as I’d become, so maybe someone more depressed or differently-depressed would have made a different decision.

Only I can draw a line like that for me: sometimes I’ll get so excited about something that I overstep my bounds and come off like my happiness is so much more important than the comfort of people around me (and I’m sorry); sometimes I’ll flip the bird at what’s clearly a dishonest attempt at emotional blackmail (and I’ll often still be sorry, and have to keep telling myself I’m in the right.) One time I decided that sharing someone else’s pain and misery completely was worth the risk of inexpertly adjusting a rice-grain-sized drug that effectively shakes the nervous system to the mindcore. I’m as likely to help myself to imaginary bone-shaped biscuits either way.

The Human Experience is chemical, and theological, and genetic, and philosophical, and physical, and personal, and social, and circumstantial, and relative, and overlapping-confounding, and clearly distinguishable and objectively conforming to a specific value judgment.

While people who have have suffered less competent psychiatrists than I have would, perhaps, develop a completely valid aversion to the whole thing entirely (and I don’t exactly love my psychiatrist, could be another reason I would do everything to avoid checking in on an adjustment)—I do consider a theological exclusion of psychiatric medication…umm, wrong.

To be concluded…

p4Zxw8-I2

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Biology class helped a lot, to prepare me for what was going to happen. At first I was so disappointed when our teacher cancelled the ecosystems unit that had been on the syllabus “because they’re only any fun if you can go on exciting field trips.” She’d gone on to assure us that the nervous system was in fact very interesting, although all I could think of was a rumpled lump of chewing gum topping the purple roots of some tree.

We studied human sensory organs. Iris, retina, optic nerves, shortsightedness, astigmatism, colorblindness, vitreous humor, aqueous humor, and what part of the brain processes sight, then we had a whole class dedicated to trying out different optical illusions; in the same detail, hearing, smell, taste, how complex the skin really is as an organ, how we sense location and balance and time…

(If I overthink the liminal quests too much, wonder why anthropomorphism, how gravity or thermodynamics carry to the otherworld, what is language even what is meaning…it’s a bit because I know that our corporeal experience is such a faulty process. Most of what we physically experience can not be physically true outside of our mind. Find enough people who can’t be arsed to consider that every moment, though, and we’ve got something like a life.)

We got to study the brain: neurons, neurotransmitter molecules, dendrites, electro-chemical signals, and all the structures that have been mapped. Prefrontal cortex for logic. Amygdala for emotions. Hippocampus for memory. Hemispheres. Music does this to the brain. Language does that. Potassium. Magnesium. Iodine. The effect of splitting the corpus callosum with what looked like an ice pick, because this science teacher wanted us to really think about the relationship between science and humanity: stem cell research, eugenics and genetic engineering, evolution, thalidomide, and how wrong it is to treat crazy people like they’re not people and take an icepick to their brain even if dressed in all the authority of a scientific medical doctor. Oh, we can be kind, if we so insist, but science means (or ought to mean) no excuses ever.

~

I’d had a horror of what fellow Catholic schoolkids call demonic possession. To explain what that is gets pretty deep into mythology that I don’t recognize anymore, but back then it was an almost constant source of anxiety. When I learned how delicately structured the brain was, and how those conveyed corporeal human life experience, I’d begun to consider my body like an elaborate lock. It stood to reason that whatever tried to come in that wasn’t myself would contend with everything stored in my body: my motor skills (or lack thereof), my myopia, that I was a super-taster, my preference for schmaltzy show tunes and the accompanying Pavlovian reaction honed over a lifetime, my predisposition to distress and melancholy…and considering the extremes of that last one, better you than me, demon.

Learning biology helped me claim my body, for better or worse. I’ve been trying to hammer out an entry or two about the facet that’s better, but everything I’ve got drafted about the concept of the Corporeal Fetch has been how I personally hate it for every conceivable reason. This fetch is mine, though, possibly even me and mine.

~

Eventually, I’d figured that my brain was malfunctioning. Whoever said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem had me at “permanent solution” to pain so intense that no one should have to survive or even encounter it. A few failed attempts at that solution and I thought, fine, try another difficult way. Asking for help at all was really, really, really difficult, more like a meep though I made sure my mother understood it—and she’d sent me to piano classes instead, which were the same price and looked more productive and she’d read somewhere that music cured depression and…she was the mom. The brain fog by then was so bad that I couldn’t read the alphabet, let alone musical notation, but I went because she told me and because nobody noticed my moods had gone from volatile to bleak to catatonic and I didn’t dare ask again for another year. This was after I’d dropped out of mainstream schooling, and she’d enrolled me in a homeschooling course with the expectation that she could leave me alone with the exercise books and I could just blaze on through them. I was so tired and mysteriously pained all the time that I couldn’t even get up to eat, and dropped to 70 pounds at a height of five foot nothing.

I’ve offered that, and my difficulty reading, and scieNCE~! as reasons why my mother ought to have followed through the second time I asked. That wasn’t why she did (ought or ought not), though, and I’m not sure anymore that those are the ought-to anyway. (Depression is bad, I don’t really have more persuasive words; so unless someone’s been there, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in any shared understanding or belief. Even then, I’ve gotten handwaved by people who testified to have attempted suicide once or twice a week when they were my age, and that the trick was just not to dwell on the past so much—which I’ve found to be unhelpful and even damaging to put out, duty to speak your truth or not.)

At the therapist’s office, I’d emptied my head out onto a box and a half of facial tissues and filled out a survey, a series of statements I’d rank from one to five. Have I had thoughts of suicide so-and-so number of times per week? Have my sleeping patterns changed drastically? Has my sex drive increased or decreased drastically? Did I often feel “blue”?

I remember anxiously asking my therapist how I was supposed to check that I was a Level 5 Blueman. Knowing people out there who had spent their childhood in sexual slavery, or on the front lines of battle, ought to keep me aware of my place on the bell curve—shouldn’t it? In any case, my therapist graded me with red stars and a referral to a psychiatrist.

My mother resisted and tried to appeal to my spiritual side. Wasn’t Free Will a good concept? I should give it a go even though it was Christian (and because it was Christian—it’d sure helped her through trauma, though apparently not enough to, umm, not perpetrate it.) Or what about meditation! (I’d been doing nothing but over that year as a drop-out shut-in. No, I have not achieved telekinesis.) And if my fasting came out of a determination to be more than my body then couldn’t I understand that I was more than my body? (It was an eating disorder, that I could die from.) Anything but the pills. Anything but.

It was just so unfashionable. There was no way that a chalky little tablet could really have such a dramatic effect on The Human Experience (at least, The Human Experience bits that have got any chance of being understood or accepted.)

~

The psychiatrist had to get out a plaster model of a neuron and what looked like tiny clear rubber balls without jacks. Depression wasn’t only emotional, of course, it had to do with stress metabolism at a chemical level, and sleep habits, and energy levels—which made it a medical issue. (I’d been saying the same thing, but not with plaster models and pamphlets and the right kind of coat.) She also explained about the genetics, this psychiatrist, and she casually asked my mother whether she’d ever attempted suicide. Once in university, my mother had replied, with some tablet overdose; they’d had to pump her stomach.

You see? The psychiatrist said with a smirk. Genetics!

I’d like to believe that I still had it in me to be dismayed and appalled at them both. My mother knew what it was like to be driven to suicide, and she’d still do the same to her children.

To be continued…

Discernment, Defense, and Dickweed Indigenous Fae

The following entry may contain triggering material.

After an entry about santol fruit, I wanted to write up a local myth about the taro plant. Taro is best-known as a root crop that may or may not be purple, although I know a recipe that stews the very green leaves into mulch. (Dioscoria alata is definitely purple and a root crop, but called something else.) My research, which in this case means Wikipedia, suggests that taro is one of the earliest cultivated plants, its origins being Malaysian although cultivation has spread as far as the New World since then, whether by trade routes in Oceania long Before the Common Era, or because colonial masters said so.

It could be interesting to consider, because the story I know has an Engkanto in it, and I’m not entirely certain that’s an indigenous folkloric being. Neither do I know how strong the connection ought to be between the story about the plant and the corporeal plant itself. If this is a Philippine myth about a Malaysian plant, and Malaysia is like right there, why is this story so Spanish?

In the version of the story that I picked up by osmosis, the taro plant is known as gabi because of a girl named Gabriella whose nickname was Gabi. The stress is on the wrong syllable to suggest any association with the evening (gabi) which has more Austronesian vowels than Indo-European etymology anyway. An Engkanto tried to flirt and seduce Gabi into the otherworld to be his wife, and she said something like, “no thanks”. So, the Engkanto cursed her into a plant. Her toes became underground tubers so that she could never move from where she’d been cursed, and also they’re maybe sometimes purple? The plant’s leaves would be heart-shaped so that the whole world would know what her heart was like. The rain would fall upon the leaves and roll off, like his rain of love and attention upon this shrewish soul-eating harpy who couldn’t appreciate it. When her heart softens to him, Gabi can become human again. Obviously, it hasn’t happened yet. But how can this curse not have already been broken? Hasn’t this otherworldly suitor been so charming???

Seriously though, there is no story I know about Engkantos that tells of them being anything other than total dickweeds.

Gabi_Plant_th

I think this is a gabi plant but they’re not usually so large.

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Sandoricum Season

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Excerpt
An excerpt from Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection: Malay Peninsula (1803-1818)

Sentul / Sentul / Sandoricum koetjape

Native to Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, the sentul is widely distributed as a backyard plant in tropical Asia. it is a semi-deciduous tree reaching up to 45 m. The fruits are large round berries that become bright yellow when ripe. These are eaten fresh or made into chutney or jam. The plant is also used in traditional medicine. Sentul, also known as kecapi, is an endangered species in Singapore.

Unlike with the durian, I don’t know a myth about this fruit off the top of my head. I do have a story, or more of an anecdote. A memory of the santol tree in my grade school campus serves as the marker for a scape I named Erstvale:

PIC_1638

The tree didn’t corporeally have a door at the root, the rest of this Scape is not from my grade school, and I have no idea where the pine trees on the left side came from. There should be a bamboo grove there instead.

Some of the older kids taught me to throw a basketball at the boughs to knock the fruits down. I’d been so taken up by the sheer novelty of eating fruit from a tree (instead of from a grocery) that I would never notice that it wasn’t entirely ripe. Most would be so tart that my gums went numb after the third or fourth santol, but I’d kept eating anyway. The end.

Pictures of fruit under the read more tag, because it’s currently santol season. The fruit segments are like chewing a damp, maybe half-felted cotton ball soaked in fruit juice. When they’re really ripe, the sugar seeps into the skin, so even that can be spooned out and eaten. Being slightly more tart than the fruit segments, it goes well with chili salt or soy sauce.

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Close Scapes

On the 15th, I dreamed that I walked through the courtyard of my grade school campus. Sometimes it would continue into some garden spa that, of course, wasn’t part of the campus in waking life. My therapist had arrived, and then this giant cumulonimbus cloud tried to descend to meet us—meet my therapist, really, having mistaken my therapist to be some high-ranking member of this cloud’s holy order. Unless that wasn’t a mistake…hrmm… Anyway, what I remember next was walking on the sidewalk on the main avenue that (in waking life, too) linked all the university campuses, and meeting who I intuited to be the spirit of the road, or associated with the road or something. I remembered ey introducing emself as Guidon. (Which I wrote down, with much less difficulty than I usually have writing in dreams, so I didn’t glom onto the fact that this was a dream.) As we walked together, I remember feeling mildly amused and informed by the sheer amount of intellectual posturing that Guidon was doing.

When I woke up, I ran the name through a search engine, and eventually wondered if I might have been prodded or might be called by Gwyddion.

Then I thought to divulge this dream to my corporeal friend and roommate Cecilia, who gets more vocally irritated at the undergraduates who populate the now-gentrified Universityville. I described Guidon as that, because ey looked young and dressed in the fashionably unfashionable way of the Kids These Days, and seemed to have an awful lot to say about theoretical (theo-rhetorical?) matters. Eventually, Cecilia and I got back to grumbling about how, Back In Our Day, it was condiment pasta and farmer’s wet markets crowding the empty lots, not all these fancy schmancy restaurants in newly-constructed malls with giant air-conditioned grocery stores in the basement.

Then:

“The newsletter for Ateneo de Manila University is called Guidon,” Cecilia informed me. “Spelled that way, too: G-U-I-D-O-N.”

I hadn’t know that. I must have just picked it up and forgotten it, let it steep in my subconscious until it comes out in a dream like this. Still, we had a good laugh about how the personification of the Avenue wasn’t just one of those brilliantly irritatingly twee undergrads, but an Atenean (with all the associated stereotypes born of university rivalries).

Seriously, though, I’ve considered just leaving a clove cigarette and libation of Red Bull somewhere in the corner of the Avenue, to appease this minor dream-god of Young People Going Places, may ey forgive us nearly-elderly fogies our negative expressions of nostalgia.

In waking life, I did get around to seeing my therapist again. My sessions first started nine years ago, not continuously of course, and I have angst about how much of a lifetime a person can lose to the blearghy bleargh blah life plus neurotransmitter whatever… While waiting, I did finally get my hands on a copy of Jung on Active Imagination by Joan Chodorow, and it contextualized the Red Book enough that I realized I had been going about this all wrong. (From a Jungian psychological perspective, anyway. Maybe kind of.)

Cecilia and her family also invited me to stay with them in the Visayas for the summer. I’d heard so much about the place that I was excited to actually get to walk around in it, so that’s where I’m typing this from now. More later hopefully. Probably.

[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.

Wishcraft: Truth Behold

I only put up with the bard at all because Emilie Autumn likes him. Sure, I’ve read about how he invented modern English (in any case, influenced more than all the Jutes ever could), that every story is just one of his stageplays rearranged, and that his works are absolutely the only way to remain human in a Huxleyan Dystopia.

Maybe I don’t like him because I was lucky enough to be tasked to comprehend his greatness in 10th grade English literature class. Mostly, though, I don’t like his stuff because I just don’t like his stuff. It’s rarely given me all of the feels to snuggle into. Relating to Sonnet 121 provided a bit of an ego boost? Appreciated it. Otherwise…

Okay, otherwise, it took some footnote rant in an academic-seeming paper about how there is no connection between Shakespeare’s King Lear and Manannan mac Lir to get me to read a Shakespeare play voluntarily. My immediate reaction was that I had better start reading King Lear to search for any connections between the Lear and the Lir. You know…to keep them properly apart.

I didn’t find Lir. I did find Cordelia. In a striking similarity to many surviving versions of the Beauty & the Beast (most not-Disney ones of that) and Cinderella fairy tales, Cordelia had two wicked sisters. Cordelia herself was supposed to be The Good One, but I felt the text itself welcomed the interpretation that Cordelia is initially kind of a jerk. “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.” Integrity isn’t only about your personal feelings, Cordy! Communication maybe matters in a relationship? Heave your heart into your mouth, girl, and tell your dad you love him he is clearly the most insecure thing to breathe air and your country will collapse into an anarchist democracy or something if you don’t…oh, fine, be that way.

Really, though, I read this at the time that I sought refuge with my extended family, and my uncle was putting the pressure on for me to convert to Catholicism and forgive a self-righteously unrepentant Miasma for abusing me. On my life with a roof over my head, I couldn’t heave my heart into my mouth either.

What’s re-occurred to me lately has been this couplet:

Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides
Who covers faults, at last shame them derides

The strict cadence is known as iambic pentameter, an iamb being any two syllables that pair unstressed to stressed. Compare the English words “desert” and “dessert”. The latter is an iamb. Pentameter refers to five (penta) such two-syllable iambic meters.

I could chant Cordelia’s couplet over and over like a curse, although it would only be a curse or a blessing in the contexts that it should be. If this spell works for the truth to out, then it should by nature rebound on the caster. Whether that risk is worthwhile is not the question: My god of Truth is a hungry warrioress.

I could take a representation of all the illusions and distractions that can be met in life…

…and draw a unicursal pentagram on it with my finger, two syllables per stroke like a metronome.

I feel that a similar spell could possibly be found in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart. To counter these, however, there’s Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s…most stuff I guess. There’s also the real-life story of then nine-year-old Maria de Sautuola who discovered the cave paintings of Altamira in the 1870s. Her father was ostracized for fraud, the authenticity of Maria’s discovery only vindicated after his death. It’s that last story gets me staring at the wall with the corners of my mouth turned down.

What if there is no magic spell to summon truth? Whether it’s science or crime investigation there could be only work, luck, more hard work, all too easy to override if enough people can lie loudly enough or even silently pass it on.

But back to Cordelia. She was apparently a historical figure originally mentioned in The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, without any corroboration outside of it. Shakespeare retold Cordelia’s invasion as an utter failure, probably for expedient tragedy’s sake, and Tate later gave everybody a happy ending and made Edgar a mustachio-twirling creeper. If it happened at all, it might be something in between. Monmouth’s King Leir sought asylum with Cordelia after Cordelia’s sisters usurped him. (Cordelia’s sisters usurped Leir after he disowned Cordelia and married her off without a dowry.) In response, Cordelia raised an army and battled to reclaim the throne. Of course, after Leir died of old age, he left the throne to the one daughter out of three that didn’t usurp him, even though Cordelia was the youngest. The throne that Cordelia essentially won in battle was lost mostly to politics: that her elder sisters made legitimate baby heirs with the dukes of neighboring countries, and that they probably begrudged her more than they did each other, sealed Cordelia’s fate.

That version would well serve as a lesson to talk less, smile more, and not let them know what you’re against or what you’re for. I’m more inclined to work with Cordelia in hopes of gaining some reinforcement so that I never make that mistake again.