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.

 

Stars come down in you and love, you can’t give it away

The following entry may contain triggering material.

My corporeal roommate Cecil recently asked me how I’d planned to kill myself. I’d made numerous attempts, all emotionally serious of course, in the unutterably bleakest mindset—but, not serious in the sense that I’m alive today because I’d been transported unconscious to some hospital; that hadn’t happened. So, from the outside, I was just making up exaggerated stories so that my whinging would get more serious attention, and my melancholy laziness excused (though my birth family would have held that same attitude otherwise, I’m certain.) From the inside, I had tidied away every trace of my history, spent the wee hours of each morning in the bathtub with a kitchen knife to my neck and failing to lean into it enough to break skin; considered bleach, oven gas, what to overdose on, starvation; on the morning of my 18th birthday I’d tried to jump off the balcony of the 22nd floor—planned for it, left everything that had been mine in the stairwell garbage, so there was nothing for me to go back to—and was most abjectly terrified that I couldn’t follow through with it, though every fibre of my being remained in far too much pain, (intractable pain, every waking moment, seemingly only from living,) to endure any alternative.

Because of that, I can’t help but suspect that most apparent suicides are secretly accidents in at least the final conscious half-second.

I’ve finished reading Marie-Louise von Franz’s Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, and it is dated. Jungians remain stodgy about gender binary, of course, but common terms in this text include “primitive”, “crippled”…and Franz openly admits to a childhood imaginary monster being human. Because Franz grew up in a neighborhood that very much lacked racial diversity, it seems.

Many other ideas contained in this text, I considered very intriguing and helpful. One of these being how the dead become evil.

…there is a certain amount of life energy in them which has not been exhausted but has been unnaturally blocked before the proper time. The clock’s spring has broken instead of running down, and that unexhausted life energy turns hostile (…) Therefore even people who during their lifetime were really good people and not possessed by evil, can, out of resentment at having been robbed of life, turn into such a thing if they are killed before their time.

That is why late antique invocations of [curse] magic always begin: “Oh, you gods of the Netherworld, Hades, Proserpina, and you the nameless enormous army of those who killed themselves, or who were murdered, or died before their time.” That is a classical late Greek invocation to be found in most of the magical papyri of antiquity.

I’d also told Cecil of my attempt to hang myself from the closet and a twisted-up bedsheet. There’d been a mirror on the inside of the door, and a wide enough gap around the door that the blue evening light could seep in, and I could watch me hang myself.

To Cecil, I’d joked that maybe a mirror does catch at some shade or fade of people, and maybe a future tenant would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, and move to the closet to get a cookie they’d left in the pocket of their trousers that they’d thrown in there, and when they’d open the door, I’d still be hanging there in the mirror, and they would see me hanging there…and reaching out and screaming, in uncanny harmonics, “My cookie!”

…Cecil didn’t think it was funny, either.

It wasn’t true, anyway; I hadn’t really wondered, until now, what sort of ghost I would have been.

To parse this phenomenon on a level of personality and egoism, the evil dead are jealous. To understand it on a level of egoless power dynamic, the evil dead are embodiments of an unlived life, the subtle psychic energy from that which was meant to be lived out and was not. They embody consequence, without interiority.

Almost a decade after the attempt in the closet, I feel fine. I feel happy! No invisible vice tightening around my skull. My ribs don’t feel like a knife rack. I’m not even wracked with anxieties as I was when I was a very small child up to my mid to late teens.

I did get around to proper Mirror Work, recently: looked into a compact that the Dierne Pallis held out to me and I found, at last—palpable venom and poisonous fumes, a ceaseless scream of raw pain in what sounded like my voice (but from the outside, so…not my voice like I know it), and an undertow of sorrow so forceful as to be inescapable.

To which I said, well, yes, obviously, I hope obviously—that’s me in that mirror, for sure. But there’s a bit more to me now.

I’ve lived out all that—or, a comparative lot of that…unlived (oppressed), unspoken (silenced) life.

No more hallucinated planets made of vacuum, or smoke serpents, or insect clockwork dragon…Okay, there’s a flint arrowhead welded to my fetch’s left hand that’s awfully opinionated for an imaginary inanimate object—but that’s just life.

My ghost would have had all the fury of all this unresolved.

I’m in love. This love is requited. I almost wasn’t alive for this. (She almost wasn’t, either, but declined to develop a concept of an afterlife as a consequence, so I wouldn’t presume to speak over that. She’s reading this right now. I love you, Bartie!) In Franz’s interpretation, my ghost would have carried this corrupted potential too: fears never soothed into strength and courage, a world of insecurities never steadied, joys never lived, discoveries never shared.

But when I used to hear such things from recoverees, about how great they’d noticed life could be with an attitude adjusted to “happier than suicidal” I could only take it as condescending glibness. The only response I could muster would be, “oh how nice for you.” Automated, not even lively enough to have a sarcastic grudge behind it.

So…maybe I can’t claim that we need ghost lore and fairytales about the dead, to express something much bigger than a mind can carry—let alone generate.

At this point I’d shoehorn other tidbits about ghosts that I’d picked up before reading Shadow and Evil in Fairytales. The Tiv people don’t appear to have ghost lore, as Laura Bohannan discovered in the attempt to retell Hamlet to her host family in “Shakespeare in the Bush”. Stephen Greenblatt’s “A Touch of the Real” was more about the culture, and especially the literature (nonfiction and fiction), surrounding ghost encounters in medieval Europe. That’s where I read it outright stated that ghost lore and Christian lore fuses divisively (against all my own intuitions of conceptual geometry): Catholic dogma allowed for the belief that spirits of the deceased wandered the earth and interacted with the living; Protestant dogma held that such apparitions could only be evil spirits in the guise of deceased loved ones. As tensions rose between Catholicism and Protestantism, someone could fall under the suspicion of being Catholic just by making a casual mention about ghosts as though they weren’t evil spirits, and that accusation would also come with not a small amount of political baggage.

…It used to be good enough for me that my family calculated every moment of my life as monetary debt—can’t kill yourself yet because you haven’t turned your education into a career, can’t cut your losses because therapy and psychiatry is expensive and we’re coughing up more than you deserve already okay?!

It was a revelation when I entered a discussion about negative reactions to suicide, and I voiced the standpoint I’d come to in the paragraph immediately above. A respondent turned it around with this idea: If I killed myself, even the threat of it in a mention of planning to suicide…it would cause the people with that attitude to question whether the calculated value of their own lives truly held a meaningful measure. To remove compassion from the approach to suicide (or confuse compassion with condescension) was a way to resist bearing witness to their own weakness. (Protective projection, maybe, on the part of us discussing this. I still doubt that threat of existential angst would endanger anyone who wasn’t, say, predisposed genetically to depression. Projection it may be, but it still saved me from internalizing an idea that wouldn’t ultimately have been helpful. I had made a foothold of it because it was unfeeling, at a time that my feelings threatened to fatally overwhelm me.)

Ghost lore could still factor as a thrill. Some Jungians I’d eavesdropped on lately mentioned an adolescent tendency towards fun fictional violence—as adolescence is a frequent breaking point of societal accommodations, leading to Shadow-possessed rebellion, or a fascination with unsavory ideas that an adolescent had not been allowed to explore—death, for one example, externalized as a ghost in a fictional way that could be mastered.

More mature attraction to ghost lore might have more to do with a grieving process. This isn’t to say the “adolescent” (not necessarily the category, but I haven’t figured out yet what would be) use of ghost lore is the wrong way to hold it, only that the same cultural phenomenon can have different significance depending on the developmental phase in an individual person’s life…or, indeed, depending on the culture.

With Franz’s interpretation…It’s weighing on me, the way it hadn’t before, the cosmically colossal loss that a suicide—even of a nobody like me, then and now, no cyclopes-badgering in between—truly is…when the (Jungian) Soul has an instinct for so much more to be lived out or lived down than the ego can own, especially in a mind of such singularity as a suicidal person’s. Stories provide—or, maybe at least to narrative psychologists, stories have provided—an intermediary for this sobering revelation (in my opinion, anyway—immensely sobering.)

For that, I can almost forgive the negligence of Franz’s Shadow & Evil in withholding judgment on this circumstance described: that it’s traditionally (not only commonly, but ingrained in lore as a trope) oppressed and abused people who suicide, having a communal Shadow laid on them in life, having to go through more of the same after death.

(…) there are many types of ghosts, but the worst are those of people who hang themselves. Generally these are the ghosts of women of poor peasant families who, if ill-treated by their mothers-in-law, or if hungry, or over-worked, get discontented. If they quarrel with their sisters-in-law, or are scolded by their husbands, if they don’t see any way out of their trouble, often in despair they will put an end to their lives. They take poison, or jump into a well, but most hang themselves, and such people make those awful ghosts. Our grandfathers say that the ghost of a woman who has committed suicide always tries to seduce other women, for only thus can it go to the Beyond and be reborn (…) and return to life. Until they have found a substitute they have to wander

This post from last year on Gods & Radicals, “Thinking About the Dead” has a more advanced commentary on this, that I like.

The Rainmaker, by Carl Jung

The following entry may contain triggering material.

I’ve only recently encountered this story that Jung and Jungian protégés made a cornerstone of the philosophy. As I’ve read, no lecture, no compilation of info even, should ever go without this story if it would be Jungian (or, Jungian active imagination, the sources being most insistent on it.)

It also relies on culture clash. While I was celebrating not being fictionkin of an unspecified stereotype of an indigenous American character written by a Scotsman, (inhale) but more likely lived the archetype of this tractably Inuit mythic figure as interpreted by a Latina woman—the telling of Clarissa Pinkola-Estés’ “Skeleton Woman” hadn’t much to ground it (in anywhere but Estés’ voice), and for that, I don’t find an uprooting (insofar as it’s up to me to find or not find.) The shared understanding of culture becomes appropriative with the willfully ignorant misunderstanding/misrepresentation of specific names and symbols in demographic power imbalance. I suspect that every human being has a skeleton, and most have figured out that there’s good eatin’ on a fish.

This, in contrast…

There was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result.

Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker. And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days.

On the fourth day, clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.

In true European fashion [Wilhelm] said: “They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?”

And the little Chinaman said: “I did not make the snow, I am not responsible.”

“But what have you done these three days?”

“Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came.”

I think it’s a good idea often enacted in bad ways. I grew up having an awful lot of awful events handwaved away as part of some Grand Cosmic Plan that would ultimately show to be Benevolent. It begged a redefinition of benevolence, and in retrospect the result would be the obedience and passivity of whoever was subject to that suggestion. Those who’d held to that because New Thought style philosophy worked so well for them, I couldn’t help but notice often came from wealthy and well-connected families—the results attributed more easily to spirituality than privilege—and at least one I’d met I would describe as very politely transphobic and affably homophobic. Gender binary cis-heteronomativity was a very obviously integral part of the Correct And Proper Order Of The Universe, to them.

So, I find what I call Sidereal workings (in Maven’s Way) almost incompatible with this, Haven’s Way approach in which there’s nothing to work. Coincidental ego-level external benefits come from inner work alone—literally alone, self-locked in a room for three days at least. Obviously I’m not There (Yet), so I’m awfully cynical. Even when I disagree, though, I can’t help incorporating some part of it theoretically. Frances Hodgson Burnett described a similar metaphysical system in A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, which I’d taken interest in examining before. I can’t claim to reject New Thought completely, especially when the gist of it comes at me from so many different sources. At least I can complain whenever it comes up. I’m sick of striving to serenity in what silence and solitude I can manage. That’s only been a trap.

Symbols: the Labyrinth

So it took some explaining for me to appreciate the labyrinth. Mazes, I could understand the appeal, as those “require acute attention to choices at intersecting paths and a high degree of critical awareness to remember detours and dead ends. Mazes do not grace those who enter; they taunt, tease, and challenge.”

Cretan Labyrinth

Cretan Labyrinth (pg. 81) “Exploring the Labyrinth” by Melissa Gayle West, Broadway Books NY 2000. ‘It is the oldest (…) form of the labyrinth, dating back at least 3,500 years.’

Labyrinths, in Melissa Gayle West’s case studies, do grace those who work with them. They provide a time and shape-of-space set out for liminality, for psychic (as in, pertaining to the psyche) development—yet, the structure is open enough that anyone can travel in them at their own pace, in their own way, with any approach they have. I find two common processes in the cases included in Exploring the Labyrinth: The first is those who have been harmed and hardened (into “small selves” as West describes it; having created a complex or intense focus around a specific issue) travel a labyrinth and gain a bigger perspective through that walking meditation; that intensity, or that defensiveness that precludes healing, tends to soften and release. The second are labyrinth-travelers who enter too lofty, too cerebral, and find the travel grounding—the labyrinth has an opposite effect of focus and integration.

Mentioned often, too, is the benefit of Second Thinking. If a traveler can catch how they approach the labyrinth, they can examine how they approach life. I’d considered labyrinths pretty but pointless. From entrance to center and out again, it’s too easy to be worth working with. It took more explaining before I could appreciate it.

Three labyrinths featured in the book included the organic, off-center Cretan labyrinth above, drawn from an equal-armed cross axis. West presented the Chartres labyrinth below as an innovation in labyrinth design that diverged from labyrinths throughout world history, but I can’t help but expect more than a surface scratching of art or architectural history would show the lineages and influences of it.

chartres

Chatres Labyrinth (pg. 96) “Exploring the Labyrinth” by Melissa Gayle West, Broadway Books NY 2000. ‘Named after the permanent stone labyrinth set into the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France during the thirteenth century…It is a distinctly Christian pattern, an equal-armed cross visible in its elegant layout.’


The third labyrinthine pattern, a simple spiral, made a brief mention.
spiral

Ibid.


My one’s more like a spiral, really, as the path doesn’t ebb to the periphery before flowing towards the center again. It just zigzags towards the center.
combinationlock
While the full-sized labyrinths are meant for walking meditations, I very much like the idea now of having a hand-held labyrinth to work with. The meditative mind state can be done while the labyrinth-traveler traces the path with their fingertips. Made out of pottery clay or salt dough, that would provide a tactile component, and of course the same time and symbolic shape-of-space that labyrinths make, to invite or facilitate that meditative mindset.

Mixed Metaphors, A Ramble

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Still letting percolate how to shmoosh together Fairy gold (which is traditionally and in my quests A Bad Thing) with Alchemical gold (which is supposed to be the best thing, and in the context I go well okay then.)

Mostly, though, I realized that in all my excitement about Proscenium, and stage magic, and pledge-turn-prestige cycles, and how spatial that poesy is and shmooshes well with Fairy chess…I was developing a new language for the exact same ideas that I ought to have been working on all along: proper Glamour and correct Spelling. Here’s a relevant link to introductory linguistic semiotics. I haven’t read all the way through it; I’ll get to it!

I’d been allocating some one-on-one time with every guiser I’d ever met, or at least to pace and focus my consideration for why we would be (or have been) in one another’s lives.

Cookson from Captain Foxglove’s crew told me that I’m too angry for him (Kelp Cookson) to want me to get to know him better.

So for once, I thought to work on that, because I’m so reluctant to let go of anger that tells me enough is enough after a lifetime of being some weak, kind, doormat of a person…and I still don’t feel that “not being enraged and embittered anymore” is a choice that I consciously made, with step-by-step instructions to repeat next time anger starts giving me acid reflux and a pirate’s vocabulary. But I feel much better now, and I think it’s going to last.

Next on the list to plan some quality time with is Queen Myrtha of the Wilis—who only shows up when my anger has evaporated into this unadulterated, concentrated venom that even I sometimes mistake for calm rationality.

But, the Queen’s been around several literal hells of a lot more often than Kelp “Simmer Down” Cookson…and when it’s mattered, too. But the timing’s wrong, but I should practice making things I think and want to happen actually happen instead of leaving it always up to timing, but I probably should, but I really shouldn’t, but I want to not want to…eh, she showed up in the Otherreal for the first time last December, so maybe she’s a seasonal guiser.

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.

Ten Thousand Spoons When All You Need Is A Knife

The following entry may contain triggering material.

I thought I’d been here before, here being the meadow just within the Gates of the West. It was an overcast day, and I wondered if some sympathetic fallacy would at least spare those from being sung out the door under moderately sunny skies, by chirruping tiny birdies. The Spider Lady’s eyes were like eight dark glass marbles of varying sizes pressed into dough, over a beard split by the make—and stirred by the movement—of eir fanged mouth. Eir limbs appeared human: knees were human elbows, feet were human hands. Eir elbows, too, were human elbows, four of these human arms ending in human hands that—

—cast the razor net.

My beloved became a collection of net-hole shaped pieces as the threads fell through him, though it can’t have been heavier than a cobweb. I suppose the physics of the otherworld, the metaphysics, are largely signifiers. I thought I’d been here before, although hadn’t, I thought I’d watched this happen once or twice before—not to someone I knew who blessed the air with every exhale, who would stop my chest from aching just by consenting to my holding him in my arms. Of course this was “different”, an “exceptional case”, of course: I was upset.

Pieces of him fell bloodlessly, though, which my imagined memory compared to the others who’d burst—tellingly.

Cobb reeled in eir net in the moment it took for me to throw myself onto his body parts. They sunk into the ground, and I turned around up to cry to the Clarene, bring him back, heal him, there wasn’t a drop or sliver of the vile stuff so how could you—

The Clarene looked on with human eyes, set in a darkly beautiful human face, under though mostly in front of a magnificent frizz of human hair, anything other than anthropic or able-typical of her body swathed in a gown made of celestial eclipses. When she spoke, her tone was blunt as a lightningbolt. “What will you pledge in exchange?”

Nothing! I’d answered, because I had nothing suitable for pledging, which itself is unsuitable for pledging. I lose my mind fairly frequently, so I might not have had it with me. Despite my crying over somebody else getting hurt, I was sure I was heartless. I couldn’t pledge any service with a lifetime of learning that I’m useless. Mostly, though: Do it, or don’t do it! But you know what’s right!

If that’s call to close the gate against me, so be it. Even in my despair and desperation, I trust the Clarene’s judgment.

The Clarene melted away—into a more godly-cosmic form, as I can only imagine one does when one is a god—or summoned away maybe? I don’t know.

My beloved resurfaced from the earth, whole and sleeping.

Before I could thank the gods, though, the Spider tsked and threw the net again. I heaved his body away at the threat of eir movement, too slowly: a thread caught on his left forearm, and the hand fell away in chunks. Those didn’t sink into the earth this time.

“Cobb!” I shouted eir name, or at least what I called em. “What the Hell?!?”

The Spider’s marble eyes betrayed no emotion, no reason. I held my beloved tightly—his back to my chest, like I learned in swimming class in the human world, to rescue someone who doesn’t know how to swim—and found Heartwrench’s hilt had appeared, between my hand and his chest. I’m not supposed to still have this.

In any case, the Spider had reeled in the net and made to throw again. Of course Heartwrench’s blade was out, too, and if I only thought through the sword enough then—

—there. Like a bubble of glass, or like an air bubble in water, the rind of a sphere appeared around us. With my free hand, I tugged at his jeans, to try to get his feet inside the sphere. Heartwrench’s spheres are only permeable to those and whom I treasure. Usually. A knowledge dusked on me then: Heartwrench’s sphere couldn’t stop Cobb’s web.

I suppose the physics of the otherworld, the metaphysics, are largely signifiers. Heartwrench makes bubble-shields…and most of the bubbles I’ve taken as a reference, the ones from the human world, those can float. Heartwrench and I had never done that before. Usually, though, if I only think through the sword enough then—

We floated up, and away. Cobb didn’t even look up to watch us go.

~

Even in the otherworlds, my emotional metabolism is too slow. I was still crying in despair when really, I should have been relieved. I didn’t know where we were headed, on what currents we coasted, through the overcast day into clear late afternoon. I caught sight of a dome in the sky, the average size thereabouts of an airport near a capital city, stained glass in no particular pattern, something like stairs sort of notched around it coming from and back around a single wide balcony.

Princess Irene waved us through the balcony opening and into the dome. A description: anthropic, except for the butterfly wings; about as tan as I am, but with slantier features (more refined); hair that could be described as a pixie cut; and wearing something between a toga and a Regency-era gown made out of gauzy veils, so a simple cut and line, but as many hues in the layers as there were in the dome.

Heartwrench and I dissolved the protective floaty sphere over a divan, where I laid his body. Maybe I shouldn’t have been relieved: the color was draining from his body, his hair, and even his clothes.

“He’s not going to die,” I said, although I didn’t know it until I said it, and then I spontaneously knew a bit more: “He won’t wake up, either. It’s not really sleep, it’s…a curse, you know, like in modern versions of the fairy tales he…”…needs somebody who loves him truly to kiss him and wake him up. I sighed. “We’ve got to summon his husband.”

Irene shrugged as if to say, “If you’ve got to, you’ve got to.” Then she wandered back to the balcony.

I might’ve been misled about high fantasy adventures. In the ones I’d read, usually, everybody rushes to help the hero and they fret anxiously until it’s done and okay (especially hospitable bystanders.)

In my experience with the otherworlds, if you know enough about somebody—who’s subject to the metaphysics of that world, anyway—and you find a space that has the potential for that somebody to be there, and you project your own expectation onto it…then they’re there. That’s what I call summoning.

Sometimes you don’t know them well enough. Sometimes there’s no potential to be intuited. Sometimes we don’t know how to project that expectation. Sometimes, I’m sure, they just don’t want to be there. So then they won’t be there.

The husband strode through, too swiftly and determinedly for me to want to slow this with more description—I tried to say how glad I was that he’d come over, but he glanced at the stump of our beloved’s left arm and snapped at me, “Haven’t you done enough?”

I backed away and went over to the balcony.

Epilogue

I shouldn’t still have this, I thought to Heartwrench, and at the corner of the balcony stood the one who was supposed to have it. She was a warrior princess, anthropic, with a quick smile, armored and caped like the Ophelene, but white—for that moment. The next moment—even before I could say hi or how are you doing here—she began to dissolve, starting from the head, into silvery glitter that fell upwards and vanished. A single orange-red, translucent stone appeared, buoyed up in the last curtain of glitter.

I took it and held it into Heartwrench’s hilt until silvery thorns grew around to hold the stone, because that seemed to be the thing to do. From Spenser’s Faerie Queene (Book II, Cant X…okay, the real source material is Shakespeare’s King Lear) I’d called the princess Cordelia—though perhaps she was really Carnelian, some new Crystal Gem from Steven Universe.

So anyway, that was odd.