Muse versus Monster

 

I used to be afraid of the dark.

I’d figured that it was some survival instinct in action, and all I’d have to do was remind myself that the threats to that survival within one’s own home were rare and not, upon investigation, immediate.

That didn’t help one bit. I wasn’t afraid of trespassers or murderers. I was afraid of the dark.

I told myself that it was just like closing my eyes, which I was fine with as long as there was a light on that I couldn’t see with my eyes closed anyway.

That was how unreasonable my fear could be. When I reached my teens, I told myself that I was too old for this fear, but I had not told myself so in a way that “my self” understood or agreed with. That’s preposterous, of course, even talking to myself in the first place.

Sometimes, I would dare myself to stay in the dark, with the fear, just to see what happened next and to prove to myself that I was anticipating something that would never come to pass. The fear and panic would only intensify, coalescing into billows that would seep into every pore and shred my mind into a million wordless screams.

While I lived this experience out, perhaps the most effective explanation for my being afraid of the dark would be to take the dark itself as a metaphor. What a strange turn this metaphor would take, too.

Dark is just an absence of light, and in a way the source of my suffering was an absence: the schism between knowledge (“there is nothing to fear”) and capability (“so stop feeling afraid”), or between meeting everyone else’s needs (or wants, for me to not be a bother) and sustaining healthy personal boundaries (which required my being at least a bit of a bother), or between truth as a discovery and truth as a creation.

Somewhere along the way of this, darkness becomes an active entity.

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Notions, Billows, and Spectrum of Personification

 

Photo_by_Berndnaut_Smilde

Photograph by: Berndnaut Smilde

Notions can be expressed by experiences. At the same time, an experience is a constellation of notions. My understanding of this is difficult to explain in a way that makes sense.

Let us grant an otherreal overlay on a world we have agreed to identify as reality. In this otherreal medium, I sense things that bypass my senses, that I can only describe by associating it with the sensory: chilly, velvety, the size of a hair ribbon, sustained like a note off a bowed string, with a heady quality similar to the smell and taste of anise, and billowing like a drop of ink in clear water.

That’s the mystery that I grew up with. Everywhere, the billowing of billows of I-didn’t-know-what from I-never-figured-out-where. Some billows were warm as a naked flame. Some billows were silken, or coarse, or sticky. Some were massive as a storm.

I can only grant some overlay of reality where these experiences take place, because these can’t be measured or experienced by most other people. (The ones who do, I can only take their word for it.) By my experience, though, these billows would occupy space and time, have a location, and shape. Maybe that’s my bias towards the temporal world at work, parsing and translating an experience before I can catch myself and decide to take what i experience as it really is.

But I get around to doing the former, eventually, anyway.

Similarly, I grant that a billow is both a constellation of notions, and a notion as a whole of itself.

 

It was the writings of J.A. MacCulloch that drew my attention to the process of personification.

In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and (…) This led later to more complete personification, and the sun or earth divinity or spirit was more or less separated from the sun or earth themselves.

So, it was one thing to associate anger with a natural disaster, and it can be considered a development of that same one thing to associate family drama of human-shaped forces of nature with a natural disaster.

The process of fiction, I consider tangential (for now.) What I took from the development of animism to theism are these notions:

  1. Billows can be associated with anything that occupies spacetime in reality: objects, events, and so on.
  2. Billows are manifestations of personal qualities which themselves form at a sub-conscious level.

Should I encounter a billow as first described above, a melancholy one, and I would rather it not be present, then what I do is identify what I would want present instead: cheerfulness, for instance. I identify the billow as melancholy, I feel melancholy, and I conjure up a process in the present that I have done in the past: “cheering up”.

I have identified that process as within my self, and the melancholy billow outside my self.

I identify the notion of space-between-us, of my-cheering-up-process-occupies-spacetime outside my self, and constellate the latter with the notion of movement-towards-target. Perhaps I anchor it in reality with the act of laughter. This can be experienced as the creation of yet another billow.

As a result, the notions of the billows undergo a transformation, and my experience of that first melancholy billow is that it has perished.

 

I must note that not all otherreal or surreal experiences invite such conscious manipulation so easily. They are, I believe, sub-consciously generated (whether that is a personal sub-conscious or a speculative “collective sub-conscious”), and the process I describe merely serves to bridge the conscious and the sub-conscious. An absolutely conscious process has no such effect, and many similar manifestations of the subconscious can have surprising effects.

Wishcraft: Sigils

 

So, we’ve established a turnkey between sensing and activating. To activate more reliably or effectively, though, there are a number of methods, and one of these is the creation of a sigil, whether as a billow or a character.

In one sigil-making method, the first step would be writing the statement of the intention, and then combining the lines and curves of the letters until it no longer resembles an ordinary sentence that anybody can read. The sigil-crafter’s sub-conscious knowledge of this sigil’s origins fixes the notion to that finished symbol. Another, more complicated, way involves a template of Arabic numerals and a code key relating the characters in the Latin alphabet to those numerals. The notion associated with the planet with which the template is assigned, becomes the determiner of which template would be the most appropriate to use.

I just doodle shapes that I like and follow what the notions associated with them, or I start with a notion and draw it in my own style and then try to sense what notions it would have (because it might not be the same notions that I started with).

leafshield

This is a protective sigil inspired by the idea that, when dealing with a billow that one did not generate from one’s own self, the notion of not being influenced by this strange billow can take the shape of a misdirecting warp rather than a wall.

The notion of a fixed wall found its way in there a little, anyway. I mirrored the misdirection, only because I happen to like symmetry, and this resulted in asymmetry because the process just gets weird. Mainly, it resulted in a sigil that represened “notions more fixed than given to conjunction with any other notions.” At the same time, because I didn’t begin with the notion of fixedness, this sigil represents more like “an ongoing process of preservation” (if that makes any sense.)

The “wings” of this sigil are meant to turn clockwise and anticlockwise to one another, moving against and then through each other.

By my experience, the sigil above doesn’t protect the wielder from the pollution of particularly “loud” billows, but it does enough for common noise.

It even developed some associations with other notions that I didn’t plan, for instance, that it generates a restorative notion, helping to¬† sustain some mental stamina or emotional wherewithal. Made static as a character, I can also use it as a sort of tracker in the surreal world by putting the notion of what I desire to reach within the swirl at the center. It will then turn its point in the direction of what I seek using, I believe, the notion of “like belonging with likeness” and it is then operated by this “longing”.

Complementary notions, that are not alike, can also be made to conjunct, so maybe this and its opposite requires deliberation instead of coasting on it as some natural law of the world.

TriSpi_cosmology

Above is another example. In my favorite mythology, the world is considered the result of three components: Sky, Earth, and Ocean. They all have notions associated with them, for example Ocean can represent death (even though the real world ocean is full of life and indeed might be the material source of life.) They can be realms, or elements, or whatever: three makes it complete.

Personally, I like the notion of the number eight. It’s a lifetime of associations outside of the magic system in my favorite Discworld novels, plus that. So, I used to try to make unicursal octograms or eight-pointed stars, just for their own sake. When I wondered about the symbols I could use to activate that notion of Sky, I thought, “The sky has stars, even the sun is a star, I should draw a star…how many points should my star symbol have, though? What number is significant to me?” And I just dusted off that old sigil for a new use.

For Earth, because I’m a landlubber, I wanted a symbol that would evoke sturdiness. In the modern tradition of Chaos Magic, the most common symbol of that tradition is eight arrows extending from the center, to symbolize exploration in all directions of a Cartesian plane. I thought, “Huh, that’s not very chaotic. There should be an x-axis and a y-axis, and at least one other vertical line because ‘rise over run’ would mean that line divides by zero which is mathematically impossible. That’s chaotic.” Just as I prefer to protect myself with warps rather than shields as I demonstrated with the sigil above, so did I begin to use that symbol for protection against more persistent polluting notions than the swirling sigil could protect me from. When I wondered about the symbols I could use to activate the notion of Earth, my favorite protection symbol became the obvious choice to use.

For Ocean, I was stuck for a while until inspiration eventually came to me that the Arabic numeral shape of eight resembled ocean waves. I just doubled it on itself for complexity, and now I have my sigil of Ocean. It’s held its own well enough compared to the other two, despite its simplicity.

PIC_1708

Above is a work in progress. I still haven’t been inspired to draw the sigils for Knight and Bishop, but once I do, then I’ll have my own functioning sort of “elemental system” of notions.

Elsewise

 

When I wrote about notions and billows, I mentioned that these “non-existent presences” was something that I grew up with. I didn’t know what they meant. While I had a belief and interest in the supernatural, it didn’t occur to me that those billows could be associated with that. I did have this nascent idea that not everybody else was as bothered by the billows as I was, but I didn’t want to be a bother myself. So, their effects would be worthy of notice, but not of mention.

In any case, I pursued my interest, and followed the directions of a tutorial for developing extra-sensory perception and the ability to transmute that extra-sensory experience. This tutorial was written for people who didn’t have any experience with (what I now call) billows (and take as a manifestation of notions) and otherworlds at all.

It proposed that an altered state of mind was a requirement for developing skills with this liminality. A specific altered state of mind could be reached through mind-altering substances, or by inducing pain, or by sexual stimulation, or a number of other ways.

Unsurprisingly, the one way that the tutorial continued on with was the quite harmless meditation. To sit still, to relax, in a soundless and dark space with no distractions…This would naturally prompt a shift in attention away from the real world, and towards an altered state of mind whereby the notions and billows can then be experienced.

With enough practice, one can experience the notions and billows without “meditation”, that is, without sitting, without relaxing, with noise and light and something else to do…Familiarity with the altered state makes it easier to shift to.

At first, I thought that I was doing something wrong because nothing about my regular experience was truly changing, but eventually I figured out that I had a natural attunement to the otherworld that was as sensitive as it was ever going to get…and that liminal work was not out of the ordinary, or necessarily empowering, at all.

 

The next step after that, in the tutorial, was a particular meditation technique that was supposed to induce an experience that I now call “far-fetch”. I describe this technique in my own words:

First, the physical position. I use what’s called the “dead man’s pose” in yoga, laying flat on my back, with my arms relaxed at my sides and palms up. Sometimes I have something supporting my neck. I massage my face with my fingers to clear any stray wisps of hair and relax my forehead (I have a bad habit of frowning) and jaw. Then I sort of shimmy my shoulders against the surface I’m lying on to make sure the muscles are relaxed, becoming aware of the relaxing muscles in the arms, hips, legs, ankles and toes… basically moving the wave of deliberate relaxation slowly down, until I am completely relaxed and just letting the surface I’m lying on support me.

Then I wait, until thoughts like “What will I have for dinner? What will I wear tomorrow? Did I really understand my work or should I check with someone? I remember a song… can’t stop singing it in my mind… that’s annoying. And these images, are they memories or imagination or what?” — just wait, until they quiet, and stop. Until they trickle off into the dark behind my eyelids, and inner silence, a deep and total blank-slate silence. Any sound I hear from outside is just released in the meaninglessness of being in the moment.

Some online tutorials recommend to use this sound, to simply listen out, with a blank mind. This did not work for me, and neither did any visualizations. Personally, I found two things key in this blanked-mind state:

#1.
Sense of location. With my mind silenced and dark, I just think of the concept or feel of “the air/space in front of my face”. I don’t imagine it moving, don’t visualize anything, just become aware of that space. Then, I think “the air/space in front of the air/space that is in front my face” and just slowly ease that idea forward until I’m meditating on some vague location beyond my body… about a foot and a half beyond.

#2.
Holding the above thought, that sense of location– and this is the hard part– with absolutely no effort. It’s after I’m out that I get to celebrate, or recall what I’m supposed to do, but during the meditation, I need to cultivate a deep feeling of… well, the best word I can think of is “defeat.” I have to sort of trick myself into replicating the feeling of giving up on this in the middle of every time I have a go at it, because that state of being relaxes me far deeper than deliberate relaxation does. It quiets the thrum of excitement, or irritation, even boredom. It’s really just utter defeat, letting whatever will happen, happen. (While maintaining that spatial sense of “beyond” as described in key #1.)

With correct balance, so to speak, I should make it through the disruptive transition to gain the experience of “floating up and away from body” between 20 minutes and 2 hours from starting.

The writer of the original tutorial testified to a heightened form of extra-sensory perception, conviction of an otherworld, and other phenomena following this far-fetched experience. (That is, I use “fetch” in the notion of the experience of being embodied, the relationship with the physical body, and the process of identifying otherwise. Identification is the main thing.)

As I haven’t been able to do this regularly since following treatments for depression, and haven’t experienced such a dramatically heightened effect as the tutorial-writer has, I include the above instructions as a curiosity.

This experience isn’t deliberated. The plan is there, but not the expectation. In initiating a far-fetched experience this way, the expectation must be defeated in order to accomplish the thing. Deliberate imagination doesn’t factor at all. It’s completely passive, and it happens anyway, and that’s what makes it real: Only the passivity in observing a phenomenon makes the experience of the observer true.

At least, that’s what I used to think of this. That same passivity within the construct of a planned, expected, imagined meditation…Well, that’s what I do nowadays, that’s what I’ve found to be more helpful, and that’s what I’ll continue to write about.