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.

348. Let’s Locate Our Power and Use it (Kelly Maddox)

Original video by TheFourQueens. Official website: here, YouTube account: here. The following text in this entry is a transcript.

When the world is a little bit topsy-turvy, I like to begin with a good cup of tea. Don’t you? (Whispers.) I do. (Holds up a mug of tea and sips.) Mmm!

Hey there, kittens. I’m not really sure what this video is going to be. But I do feel compelled to make it. So, I’m just basically going to let my instincts take control. I’m going to flow into it and just see what comes out, what comes along, and spend a bit of time with you guys, you know? ‘Cause it’s been…a crazy few days, and I think–I think that’s fair to say! I think that’s fair, yeah? It’s a fair comment.

I knew that whatever the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election, I was not going to be over the moon in any way. I accurately predicted that with the outcome being Donald Trump, I would definitely feel (laughs) a lot more panicked and, umm, that my response would have probably somewhat of a nihilistic flavor to it, like, well, hey! If Donald Trump’s the President of the U.S.A. then why don’t we all just do what the fuck we like? (Laughs.) Right? Why do we have any rules? Why do we have any laws? Like…Everything is just on its head, you know. And that was definitely my initial reaction. I did feel like I was in the fucking Twilight Zone. A hundred percent.

But I want to be clear: There’s no bone in my body that’s pro-Hillary. I think that part of the reason that Trump is now heading to the White House is that the liberal agenda was to present Hillary as the sane, sensible choice. And actually, there is a hell of a lot wrong with her, too. You know? There’s a hell of a lot wrong with Obama. There’s like, it’s kind of, it was set up like that and I think that was dangerous. I think Hillary was seen as more of the same, and I think Donald Trump was then seen by a lot of people who are…scared, or feel disenfranchised, or don’t know any better…umm…as the only option for change. The only way to shake things up. And I have a lot of opinions. A lot of opinions about that. And about like, you know, Hillary being selected as the candidate over Bernie Sanders, and how things could’ve gone down differently, and I like to look at things [00:02:00 subjunctively].

That’s not what this video is going to be about, but let me just be clear, you know, had Hillary Clinton have gotten into the White House, I definitely wouldn’t have been over the moon, either. I read a comment on Facebook the other day that said something like, ‘I don’t know how to tell my children when they sit down for breakfast in the morning that hatred now holds the highest office in the world.’ And that was a lot of what I felt, you know. A lot of what Donald Trump symbolizes, a lot of his rhetoric, a lot of his comments…umm, they’re insidious. They’re clearly fucking odious. And there may be a very small minority of people who watch my channel regularly who did vote for Trump or are supporters of Trump, and obviously this video is not necessarily designed to cater for you. But I think there’s probably an even smaller minority of people who watch my videos on a regular basis, who would be surprised to learn that, like, I’m not pro-Trump and never was. (Laughs.) You know? So I don’t think this video’s going to come as a surprise to anybody.

There is so much confusion, and bewilderment, and anger, and apathy, and frustration, and alienation in the psycho-spiritual community right now. And it’s been interesting for me to feel the dust settle inside my own psyche and figure out where the [00:02:16 land lies now] you know? And what it is what I really want to do, how I want to choose my response to this. I’m going to start by reading the status update that I put on Facebook about this the other day, which, for a lot of people that read my Facebook page regularly, did seem to be some comfort during a really difficult time. So I’m going to start by reading that.

I know that lots of people out there in the psycho-spiritual community are feeling disjointed, disempowered, confused and overwhelmed at the moment. I know that we’re all going through our own individual ups and downs, and perhaps can’t always be the beacons of strength and empathy to each other that we would like to be, as we grapple with things in our own ways. I know that some people don’t know where to turn, who it’s safe to reach out to or what to say to comfort those who are feeling afraid. I just want to hold a hand out now to anyone who might happen upon this status and chance to read it during an uncertain moment.

The truth is that your response to this outcome is an autonomous zone. No one else gets to vote on what you choose to do next. Your response to this is your sovereignty in action. You CAN and you MUST locate the sources of power within yourself and bring them into consciousness, into beingness, into the light. If you are jarred, scared, confused or angered, it means that you have deeply held ethics, intentions and beliefs. Find them now, and ask them to lead you forward. If you believe in love, freedom, equality, compassion, acceptance and empathy, then those beliefs are now your sacred fuel. No one can stop you from being in the seat of your own power.

What can you do to spread love? What can you do to create positive change? What will you do to stand in solidarity with those who truly need to feel that their place in this world is valid? How will you put your spiritual ideas into action? How will you begin by just doing your seemingly small but incredibly significant part?

I know it’s so hard to feel powerful right now. But you ARE. You can create a ripple in this dark water, and so can I, and so can anyone who is prepared to take the scary, holy step out of their confines of apathy and into the fire of their deepest vision for this planet.

Let this be a rallying cry from the cosmos.

I know where I’ve been slacking. I know where I could be more present. I know where my love is more needed. I know that I want to be a piece of positive change in this place. I am slowly beginning to raise my head and decide that I’m going to let these events drive me out of my hibernation and further into the good that I can do when I set my mind and soul to it.

Let this pain inspire you…

I’ll leave the link to that Facebook post down below if you want to read it again at any point, or share it, you can do.

I was watching an interview, that a guy from Huff posted, with Gabby Bernstein. It was kind of like a 45-minute, you know, the dust has settled let’s really feel our feelings and anchor into our purpose kind of talk about the election results. In that interview, Gabby Bernstein said that her response to the result of the election…was not a spiritual response. It was not. You know, she didn’t instantly go to Love, and instantly go to Inspired Action, and think about, you know, where she’s better needed and what she can do and how she can be of service and…She was rage-filled. She was fucking angry. As a woman, as a survivor of sexual violence, as somebody who believes in compassion and equality, as somebody who believes in spiritual and religious freedom, umm, you know? She was fucking pissed off.

And to me, that was the most helpful thing that she said, actually. Was that she didn’t have a spiritual response. And that it was a loss, and it’s okay. It’s okay to recognize it as a loss. And like I said, you know, at the beginning of this video — I’m under no illusion about the two-party system in America. I’m under no illusion about what Democrats have been doing overseas, their foreign policy, the things that they’re lying about, the money that they’re embezzling, the corruption that they’re neck-deep in…I’m not under any illusion about that. I do not think Hillary is a paragon of liberal virtue. Not at all!

But when a guy that openly says racist and misogynistic and hateful things, and clearly has no background in politics, no true understanding of how the political system works, is near totally fucking ignorant of things that even I have a decent working knowledge of…when that guy wins over Hillary? You know, it’s…Your instant response is not really going to be a spiritual one! And I think that that’s the first thing that I’d like to say, is that it’s okay for us to hold space for ourselves and each other, to have a response that may not, when you look at it objectively, be described accurately as ‘useful’. You know? The initial response, I guess it’s ‘useful’ to externalize the rage and the bewilderment and the anguish. Long-term, it’s not going to be useful, it’s not going to be useful to ‘drop anchor’ there. But I think it’s really important to recognize that those responses tend to come first, before the dust settles and we think about what it is we can do — and how we can allow ourselves to feel that inner call to action.

For me (sigh) I would say…it probably took me about 48 hours to get my head together enough to think about what I wanted to do next. What was the thing that I wanted to do? How could I really kind of channel — channel the energy, channel the bewilderment?

I’m very fortunate, because I have like a platform online that I’ve built, which is a lot to do with reaching out to people and having dialogue with people, and sharing ideas, and providing comfort, and providing inspiration. And so, for me, that was a big part of what I considered to be my coping strategy, was just thinking…how can I be there for my ‘tribe’: for the people I hang out with online, my audience, my clients? And I did receive e-mails, I have had clients either scheduling extra sessions or rescheduling sessions that they had set in wake of the election results, just dealing with the response that they’re having to the election results…I’ve had people messaging me, asking me to make a video or wondering what my thoughts are. And I’ve definitely experienced, as I’ve been scrolling through Facebook and stuff, and looking at some of the spiritual peeps that I follow, just a lot of bewilderment, and a lot of discussion, a lot of dialogue, about our emotions and what’s happening within us as a result of this. For me, it was definitely nice to have that feeling of, like, I can do something for people. I can put something out into the world that will be useful. So I started to think about that, and that was a big part of where my sense of center came from. It was just basically, how can I be of service to people who are feeling bewildered and overwhelmed, and are kind of looking for things to inspire them or calm them down?

The other thing that I allowed myself to think about quite a lot, that I do tend to encourage myself to think about in times like this, and I did it as well during the whole Brexit situation, and a lot of the very hateful behavior that came up during that time…was I thought about my personal ethics, my beliefs, you know? And the way that I want to walk out into the world every single day. [00:10:00] The vibe that I want to bring to it, the things that I really want to share with people, and the energy, the vibration that I want to hold. And I thought about the fact that that’s where my agency is.

I think a lot of us are just feeling really, really fucking disempowered, like supremely powerless. Powerless to change what is happening, strapped into this rollercoaster of…inexcusable weirdness, at times, I felt. And powerless. And actually, that is an illusion. We all have agency. We all have the power to create a ripple in this dark water. And I just started thinking about that. I started thinking about how I could be of service, you know? I started by texting my friends and making sure they were okay, making sure that I was creating a vibe of openness and availability in my friendship group.

Giving to the food bank. Thinking about organizations that I could get involved with or join or learn more about. Reading articles, and reading think pieces, and opening up my mind up to different things, you know? Taking the time to really sit with myself and nurture myself and care for myself in the process of all of this. And get my brain oiled in a different way.

I’ve tried to look for the positive things. I’ve thought about how many cultural commentators and writers and things like that I’ve either overlooked or never discovered before, and as a result of being very interested in this election, and now reeling from the result, I’ve actually engaged with a lot of people’s work, and got a few new books on my book list and that’s been cool just from a personal perspective.

And just really thinking about how I can carry the energy of helpfulness and acceptance and my belief in equality. Just making people feel comfortable, making people feel included — in any way I can possibly can. And just trying to be kinder, you know? Even just while I’m out in the street, just making sure that I engage with people, and I give them eye contact, and I just make everybody feel seen and heard and loved. And just try and put that energy out into the world. And all of this has come as a direct result of me sitting down and thinking, what is my little piece of agency in this world right now? Where’s my power? Where’s my power at?

(Laughs.) I need to focus on that! You know? And I’ve been focusing on that, and my hope is that more and more of you, as the days are going on, are being able to focus on that as well, to focus on what you can do for your community, what kind of energy you want to carry with you out into the world, and how you’re not going to allow some of the incredibly potent fear that is clearly infiltrating all different areas of society right now…turn you into somebody who’s fearful, into somebody who rejects others, into somebody who is suspicious of others, and insecure about others, and wanting to snatch power and civil liberties from others.

It’s about knowing where your center is, and where you’re coming from, and not letting those things influence you to be other than what you know you are to be in your soul. There’s so much work to do now, and that’s something that can actually help you bring your A-game to every new day. And another thing that I was thinking about in the last sort of like 48 hours or so, is Shadow Work, and self-love as a daily practice, and digging deep and really anchoring in to self-discovery and self-awareness and self-mastery.

These things that we do, that we talk about with each other, you know, the courses that we pay for, the videos and the audio files that we listen to, the books that we read, these concepts that we have dialogue about…all of that isn’t for nothing. All of that isn’t for vanity! It’s not a fucking caprice! You do that…as training…for this bullshit! (Laughs.) This is what you’ve been training for, you know? And I know some of you watching this video have been training for a hell of a lot longer than me, you know? I know people watch me that have been meditating for upwards of 30 years. I know people watch me that have done upwards of 30 Ayuhuasca ceremonies deep in the jungle with a really experienced shaman. I know people have done all kinds of incredible things, you know, people have been forging their own paths, weaving their own practices, learning so much about themselves and about transpersonal experience and how to plug themselves in and how to turn this shit up! Now! On planet! In this lifetime! I know activists watch me, people that literally have thrown their bodies over Mother Nature in the service of Her greatness.

I know that there’s amazing people out there that watch me, people that have overcome all kinds of mental health difficulties, and triumphed over dark, dark nights of the fucking soul. You’ve done your work! You’re doing your work! You’re coming to your work. And this. Is what. It’s for. This is where the training wheels come off.

Because really, we’re looking at Shadow. We’re looking at Shadow unfolding now. That’s what I truly believe, you know? I truly believe that. The way that Jung was watching the rise of Hitler, and being like (side-eye) “Yeah, ahem, guys? We need to look within!” ‘Cause what we don’t want to see within ourselves is manifesting outwardly…and it’s not great! (Squeezes eyes shut.) It’s not good!

Umm. (Laughs.) That’s how I feel right now. And I feel like that’s the perfect time, then. That’s the perfect time to come at this with everything that I’ve tried to learn. (Nods.) All the strength that I’ve tried to develop. Now’s the time for you to show yourself what you can do. Show your loved ones what you can do. This is the challenge. This is the challenge almost that you’ve been training for, that you’ve been preparing for…If you feel bewildered, if you feel uncertain, if you feel like you don’t know where to start? Start with that realization.

You know, I really feel like…obviously, I run a YouTube channel. It’s not an invite-only situation. Anybody can show up and watch my videos, and there are lots of different kinds of people that do watch my videos. I’m really grateful for that, but I feel like the vast majority of people that watch my videos are people who’ve been doing some fucking work on themselves, you know? For some length of time or another. And if you’re watching this and you know you’ve been doing that work, and you’ve been showing up, you’ve been trying to love yourself more and really just dive into your darkness and bring it into integration, if you have been reading about how to live life on a deeper level, how to experience things with more meaning, how to let go of your fear, how to overcome depression…If you’ve been doing any of that shit, if you’ve been meditating, if you’ve been learning tarot, if you’ve been in the process of learning any spiritual discipline, just know that you’ve been training, you know? You’ve been preparing for this. You’ve been getting in shape for this. And that’s a really good starting point, I think. That’s somewhere that I was happy to start, and something that I’ve thought about a lot. And you know, that initial reaction, like Gabby Bernstein said, you know, we’ve got to have room for that shit, of course. You’ve got to have a meltdown. You’ve got to go and hit a punching bag. You’ve got to get that extra session with a therapist. You’ve got to let it go! You’ve got to let it out. But, I really feel like after that, come home to this sense that you’ve got this. You’ve got this.

Your agency is somewhere, it’s somewhere within your grasp, it’s somewhere within your reach. You do not have the agency to turn this around and go back, but you do have the agency to make a difference now that it’s happening. You do have that agency. You do have that power. You can make somebody feel better. You can switch up the vibration in a room. You can teach somebody a chant or a mantra or a prayer that you use that helps you. You can pass one of your loved ones a crystal, and say, “You know what? I know you don’t believe in this shit, but I want you to have this. It’s a master communication stone, and it will help you to express what you want to express or, you know, it’s a stone for creativity and I think it wants to belong to you.” You can take someone a coffee. You can ask if somebody if they want to go for a walk. You can deliver some warm clothes to a homeless shelter. You can offer to walk someone’s dog if they’re feeling a bit frail or sad or under the weather.

Figure out where you can put a bit of your time, where you can give a bit of your money, figure out what’s going on that you agree with that you think is good and positive that you want to get involved in. Think about those things that you were planning on doing for ages that you thought would be a really good idea that you kind of wanted to do but you always convinced yourself you didn’t have time or you weren’t good enough or there’d be a better moment to do it. I’d say the moment is now, wouldn’t you? Because after being slapped on one cheek with Brexit and now being slapped on the other one with this, I’d say the time is definitely fucking now, you know? Anything, anything you want to do to bring that positivity and make that change? Do it now.

The beautiful thing is that that is such a good use of our energy. (Sighs.) We have to have that ungraceful, unmanageable reaction where we do feel rage, and we do feel bewilderment, and we do feel frustration. But that incredible ball of holy electric life force, you know, that comes out of us in that display of rage or that externalization of fear and anguish? That is raw! That is key! That is off the fucking chain! We can do something with that! We can take that. We can harness it. We can redirect it into an avenue where it actually will do something. It will be planted like a seed, and it will grow. It will make other things happen. It will be a catalyst. It will be a part of the alchemy that we need to celebrate and bring into beingness now. So, hold space for your anger. Hold space for your raw terror. And then know that that stuff is power, and you can shape that power according to your beliefs and according to the needs of your self and those around you.

So for me, it was like saying, okay, this is my time to break down, this is my time to flip out…and believe me, okay, it was 6 o’ clock in the morning, umm, and I was going through Facebook, and I realized things were going the way they were going, and I shit you not, I had a panic attack for the first time in years. [00:20:00] I’m just going to be honest. I did. I had a panic attack. I started to hyperventilate. (Breathes.) Umm, it was, it was, it was…shit got real, you know? It was legit, that’s all I’m going to say. And it was difficult. It was a difficult moment for me. And I let that happen. I rode that out. But there’s a lot of power in that, that raw reaction comes from a place of deep belief, and deep intention, and deep love, and that is some pure, real, potent, grade-A uncut shit. That is beautiful. We need to learn how to use it. We need to channel it, we need to harness it.

And when we harness it, and take it away from screaming judgments and obscenities and feeling resentful, and feeling alienated from our fellow human beings and feeling rageful and shutting down and crying and sobbing and doing things we know that are bad for us because we don’t know what else to do…When we take that power away from that cycle, and we put it into what is the next right action? Who can I help? Where can I put this energy? Who needs me? Where are people mobilizing? What can I do to show somebody that I care that they are heard? That their life is fucking valid, that their life has meaning?

That is Alchemy. That’s spiritual Alchemy! And you can do that! You have the power to do that! Every single moment of the day is another moment to choose Alchemy, to choose to be the master of that change.

I think I’ll come back and do another video later because this is my brand new video camera, and it’s not telling me how long I’ve been filming for, because I didn’t remember to kind of go into the settings and put that capability on.

[caption: I’ve actually had it on the wrong light setting and I messed the audio up a little by keeping autofocus on. But hey ho – you live, you learn!]

So I’m not sure how long I’ve been filming for, I’m not sure how long I’ve got left on the camera, I definitely want to pull some cards, I definitely want to do a Tea and Tarot episode pertaining to using our power, finding our sense of personal agency. So I’ll be back! I’ll be back, I have a lot to say, I want to sit with you guys for a lot longer. I want to feel your presence so much. I want to read your comments so much. And I’m sending so much love to you.

Come and hang out with me on Facebook if you want to. Come and hang out with me on Twitter. If you are looking for journal prompts, if you are big on writing to externalize the emotions that you’re going through, I have just literally published 50 journal prompts which were specifically designed as a response to this complete clusterfuck. And maybe you want to use some of them to help you to explore your feelings and, you know, deal with your fears and come to a point of inspired action, so I’ll leave the link for the 50 journal prompts below, please check that out.

If you want to book a spiritual counseling session with me, if you want to have a chat with me, if you want to have a cup of tea with me, I’m available to clients as always, go to kelly-annmaddox.com and click on the Work With Me tab. I’ll leave the link below for the spiritual counseling sessions specifically. If you’ve never spoken to me before, never worked with me before, and you think now might be a good time? I’m ready. I do hour-long sessons and 90-minute long sessons, so come and see me if that’s something that you want to do, if that’s something you would like o invest in, then I’m here.

I’m going to sing you out with a chant. It’s my fucking favorite. If you don’t chant, and you’re feeling stressed, you should chant. It’s a very good use of time. Very good use of time and energy.

Okay, let’s raise this motherfucker up to the roof. (Chimes.)

Ong na mo
Guru dev na mo
Ong na mo
Guru dev na mo

That means: ‘I bow to the teacher that lives inside me.’ And we have to do that now. That’s the fucking plan, okay? So we’ll reconvene here, sooner rather than later, I’ll be back, you know where to find me if you need me. Much, much love, pickles. And blessed be.

An Ethnomusicology of the Baylan

The following content felt very important to me personally and it also made me so very sad.

I sat in on one of Cecilia’s classes in linguistic anthropology. The professor made it clear that such an intangible thing as language was still no mere point of philosophical debate. People agree to words for that which we embody and enact. Platonic philosophers can get bent.

Of course, in that class, the word would lead. A cursory glance through Life Hacks tells me that on the contrary, embodiments and enactments should lead, because the word or name for a thing limits our thinking.

Then I read Deepak Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard, and what I neglected to address in my review of it was when Chopra casually stated that Alchemy came from India. My first book about Alchemy was MacCoun’s who tried to combine Vajrayana and maybe chakras, and I didn’t get the feeling that these traditions combined well, at least not on the page. Maybe some embodied enactments in Hermeticist Alchemy came off to Chopra as very similar to some Indian mystical traditions? At this point I’d go by the word history as an indicator for who consolidated the ideas described by the words, and where.

The word “Alchemy” contains the Arabic article al- combined with the name for Egypt, the land of black soil, Khemia (or possibly the Greek khymatos, “to pour, especially to pour juice or sap”.) The discipline might be slightly less chemic now, for the most part, let alone chemical.

I also sat in a couple of Cecilia’s Religious Systems classes, and flinched several times at Durkheim’s use of totemism and too many other important writers’ respectably academic use of shamanism. When I asked one of Cecilia’s classmates about Mudang because she came from Korea, and Cecilia didn’t know what a Mudang was, and I didn’t know either which was why I asked, but I forgot how to pronounce Babaylan which I guessed was sorta maybe close to something kinda like—

I resorted to the S-word already.

There’s a lot more of that sort of thing coming up, though I really felt that that the following lecture by Grace Nono to the Harvard School of Divinity’s Women’s Studies in Religion Programme about Philippine shamanism is…important.

The general term for practitioner in this indigenous Philippine practice is babaylan, a word that’s probably from the Hiligaynon language (but I’m not certain: you can’t skip a pebble here without annoying representatives of like 5 different ethnolinguistic groups that occupy that distance, but of course I’m exaggerating) which is the mother tongue of my corporeal roommate Cecilia. My language would have been Tagalog, which is completely different—not a dialect, a completely different language—and I grew up in Jakarta anyway and instead learned Bahasa (which is the word for “language” in Bahasa Indonesia) in addition to my mother’s language, which was Bahasa Inggris.

Grace Nono talks about baylan, a possible linguistic cognate of babaylan. After taking to the podium, her initial introduction is in a spoken Philippine language. I understood every noun of it, but either the conjugation or the accent is unfamiliar to me. Or maybe I didn’t understand every noun, I only think I do because the syllables sound familiar by complete coincidence. Maybe the introductory speech actually was in Tagalog, but too technical and/or spoken too fluently for me to understand. In any case, this speaker having a mother from Mindanao and a father from Luzon is a significant regional distinction.

Filipino was supposed to be the national language, kind of like how Bahasa Indonesia is different from Javanese or Balinese, but last I checked, Filipino was mostly Tagalog anyway. Cecilia’s better at complaining about that than I am. To protest this imperialism of the capital, I refused to learn this domineering language. Also because Tagalog is slightly less agglutinative than Entish and difficult to learn. I speak English instead, which isn’t at all imperialistic or privileged. (The English language is totally imperialistic, everyone. And so is Esperanto, kind of.) Seriously, though, Cecilia and I speak to each other in English, except for the words that English doesn’t have for some things. My family took a trip to the northernmost island of Batanes once, and the people there didn’t even speak the language of the capital, they spoke the language of Batanes and they spoke English. I’ve heard people from the region of Cebu speak Cebuano and English. We’ve got to start somewhere.

The lecture above contextualizes the baylan on the border of Visayas and Mindanao. The baylan that is Nono’s specific case study, and more broadly babaylan, practice a way of life and spirituality in decline. This decline is evidently due to the introduction of both Christianity and Islam, Western medical science, environmental devastation, the political tensions between modern capitalist development and the pushback movement of militant communism, and that some baylan are even captured and fed to crocodiles. Wait, what? What. WHAT. Apparently all the aforementioned circumstances didn’t make life difficult enough. Still hung up on the Burning Times? The Crocodile Times are still happening! (I watched National Geographic documentaries. Death by crocodile is messy and painful.)

Baylan continue to exist and practice, at least fitting in the communities that don’t feed them to crocodiles. Nono asserted that the “disruption” caused by a baylan‘s continued existence, to commercial development, to recognized world religions, to violently antitheist communism, is not necessarily active resistance. I can guess that there would be some digging in of the heels when getting dragged towards the crocodile is involved, but seriously, some people just be how they be.

I’m just going to put dots on the rest of the lecture’s parts.

  • (7 mins) Nono addresses the universalization of the term shaman, a consequence of globalizing European modernity, according to Thomas Carl Oliberts(?) The term babaylan similarly gained prominence not by the choice of the babaylan themselves, but because of nationalists, feminists, decolonization scholars, and social movements since the 1980s. The term refers to the ritualist, oralist healers in the Visayas. The same function or role is performed across the Philippine islands.
  • Nono describes the main informant, whose name I think is spelled Ondine Potensiano. The event described takes place in/near Surigao del Norte, among the people known as Agusan Manobo.
  • Important concepts include the entities known as abiyan (I hope it’s spelled that way) and the practice of yagung, or the embodied voice. The embodied voice becomes enacted in the gudgud ritual songs, or the tudlum (possibly tud’um) songs.
  • (11 minutes) Ondine suffered a long bout of an undiagnosed illness. As a granddaughter of a baylan, this deceased relative descended upon her as an abiyan at which point Ontine began to heal herself, and conduct healing ceremonies, childbirthing, and so on.
  • Of interest to an ethnomusicologist, is how this yagung is generated, how it is listened to by ritual participants, what the yagung tells us about baylan and abiyan, and how this relates to dominant understandings of voice.
  • Dominant understandings of the voice (in the West, the voice has an individual material source, Roman rhetoritician Quintilla says that every being has a voice of their own, Mladen Dolar wrote that we can “unfailingly identify a person by the voice…the voice is like a fingerprint, instantly recognizable and identifiable”)
  • (15 mins) Connors notes: Late classical and medieval concept of the body was not an object so much as a dynamism, vulnerable to invasion by other forces and agencies; “insides” and “outsides” produced each other reciprocally, and this was steadily eroded in the 17th and 18th centuries by the notion of the body as an object in a coherent and fixed field, an individual unity by itself.
  • Such a concept of the body, and by extension the voice, was introduced via colonialism to indigenous people in different parts of the world, which modern society now compelled to rid their own bodies and voices of coming and goings of ancestors, deities, and spirits.
  • “…the relational voice that arises from plural and overlapping materialities continues to be heard as we speak in ways that does not annul the individual agent, but maintain a critical participation in composite acts of voicing.”
  • It would be easy enough to locate the baylan‘s spirit helpers, the abiyan, in a pantheon not their own, and in so doing, distort baylan experience. Vicente Rafael writes: “…in reorganizing the structure of native beliefs…(standard missionary practices situate/document) spirits in a type of spiritual order that positions this hierarchy as part of a set of reflections of a distant pre-Christian past.” Other misunderstandings include how missionaries equated offerings as a sign of respect to these spirits with idolatry, conflating the nature of these offerings with that of Christian offerings.
  • In comparison with Haitian spirits, by McCarthy Brown: “The Vodou spirits are not always models of the well-lived life; rather, they mirror the full range of possibilities inherent in the particular slice of life over which they preside. Failure to understand this leads observers to portray these spirits as demonic (…) Virtue is less an inherent character trait than a dynamic state of being that demands ongoing attention and care. Virtue is achieved by maintaining responsible relationships, characterized by appropriate gifts tangible and intangible.” When such relationships are disrespected or disrupted, illness can result that can be healed with the intervention of the baylan.
  • (20 mins) Description of the Panumanan ritual, involving prayers to the Creator for protection, and a string of beads and bells dedicated to the spirits, and a transfer of human song to spirit song from the same voice. The spirit was an established one in the myth of the people, followed by Ondine’s deceased grandmother’s spirit. The first message to come through: “For us to sing in a house not our home makes us feel ashamed.” When asked after the future of humans, considering hardships and uncertainties, the spirit replied in song that, “No one accepts the law of Ginoo/Magbabaya anymore, that’s why you shouldn’t be surprised at the difficulties people are experiencing.” A spirit of midwifery and healing added, “Even our medium commits many mistakes!” The informant later clarified that these included drinking too much, skipping ritual offerings, not owning a gong that was necessary to the ritual, and having children who misunderstood or despised tradition. Returning to the topic of human concerns: “We have become weak, lowly and diminished in our ability to help and to keep assurances regarding the future.” Finally, a specific patient was brought to the baylan, and the recommended remedy was for the patient to apologize to the patient’s own father (whose own abiyan convinced a storm spirit to curse the patient) and offer a chicken as sacrifice so that the patient’s leg would no longer feel pain.
  • (32 mins) Nono’s disclaimer: “I knew I wasn’t necessarily sharing in my fellow ritual participants’ habitus—” (Becker’s term for overlapping structures of understanding) “—of listening…for though I was born and raised in the same province, and I had ritual healers also among my maternal relations in Mindanao, I was not socialized in baylan rituals and their sounds, having grown up in a heavily colonized lowland area where rituals hardly took place. I was outside this community of listeners.
  • Description of the mechanics of the trance among those who conduct the rituals, and the “summoning songs” that act like a telephone—those go both ways between baylan and abiyan. During possession, a baylan can both give voice to an abiyan and hear the abiyan in conversation with those beyond the body who those in the corporeal realm could not hear. This implies multiple levels of listening.
  • (43 mins) Description of the bodies of the abiyan: invisible and intangible except to those who also have a meditator or special hearing, light enough to travel with the wind and penetrate walls and human body parts, an abiyan‘s original form takes a gender and an age that help determine the quality of voice but these forms and voices can change, location in the cosmology (such as a deceased elder would inhabit Maybuyan, the city of the dead, and travel to the world of the living, or a nature spirit would dwell in the mountains and also travel to take possession of a baylan), categorized as ancestors, land spirits, and those with wider jurisdictions such as storms, all employed under a Creator.
  • (47 mins) Obstacles to abiyan activity, rivals of people’s devotion, and Western medicine, have chased away the abiyan. The continued applicability of shamanistic healing, and the culturally acceptable medicines.
  • (52 mins) “At this point, I would like to ask a question. Is yagung-s or voices’ permeability and plurality applicable only to baylan? What about people like ourselves, who may not even believe in spirits, let alone think of ourselves as entered by these spirits?” Martin Dowdry: The voice is constructed in part through our memetic, dialectic, dialogic, and polyphonic relationships with the voices that surround us from birth, voice is not the essence of a unitary self, but an instrument through which our personalities and our many overlapping selves are projected out into the world.
  • (53 mins) Nono sings a tudlum, a ritual song without possession, distinguished from the gudgud, which is a song guided by the abiyan.
  • (55 mins) Closing statement on reclaiming ancestral voices.
  • (56 mins) Q & A portion, from a scholar in Chinese shamanism. What is the social or legal status of baylan? What could be the psychological or social factors that make someone want to be a shaman, or shamanic healer, in spite of those obstacles? Answer. The Philippine government gives legal status to albularyo and hilot practitioners, but ritualists—Babaylan, broadly—not so well-consiered. (Baylan continue to be fined for practicing midwifery and the one giving birth also penalized with a fine, noted later.) As for the traits of a potential baylan, nobody wants to be one, not only because of the stigma, but because the life of a baylan is a commitment to instability and poverty. It takes a kind, gentle, and generous soul. It takes a conscientiousness to the spirit world and adherence to the rituals, and a talent for speech and singing.
  • Inaudible question by Ann Braude, who introduced Nono at the beginning of the video.
  • (62 mins) Q & A portion, from a scholar in Peruvian shamanism, noting the commonalities in colonial history between Philippine shamanism, Chinese shamanism, and Peruvian shamanism. A minister of health tried to outlaw Ayuhuasca, and did so successfully for two weeks until people revolted. Urbanites in Latin America and further north increased the commercial demand for Ayuhuasca, and the consequent subculture of charlatanism. A friend of this scholar, a French doctor apprenticed among local shamans, had these spiritual guides direct him to treat drug addiction, and augmented this shamanic practice with a medical degree and transpersonal/Jungian psychotherapy. Sometimes, a spirit is involved in the havoc, and states that “Modernity willfully closes its eyes to this reality (of spirits.)” A colleague of this questioner, the Dean of Mt. Julio College or Smith College, has a book of channelled messages from a Tibetan Bodhisattva, Teachings from Manjushri, authorship encouraged by the Bodhisattva. Answer. There is a growing fascination among the intellectual elite who want to know more about the babaylan, previously inaccessible as history textbooks claim the babaylan have completely disappeared. Nono’s work involves uniting well-meaning intellectuals with those who can more patiently teach an unfamiliar embodied practice beyond intellectual discourse. (Mention of the legal persecution of midwives come up at this point.)
  • (70 mins) Q & A portion. How does someone receive recognition, or otherwise qualify? Is a teacher-student relationship required? To what extent is this formalized or is it informal? Answer The first way is through lineage, as in an apprenticeship. When Ondine’s grandmother passed away, the spirit of this grandmother continued this informant’s training. Otherwise, a potential babaylan have strange dreams and fall ill as a way of spirit initiation. Ritual acceptance of this initiation can involve animal sacrifice, that’s the extent of the formality. If the practice is effective, then more people begin to refer others to a babaylan. The practice is not generally to be advertised.
  • (71 mins) Q & A portion. About the fossilized or idealized notion of the babaylan, and the competition between the traditional spirits with other religious spirits and forms of modernity. Have there been any changes in the conception of the spirit world that reflect changes in the contemporary world? For example, voice recording, do those also get reflected in the spirit world or concepts thereof? Answer. The different spirits of different babaylan would have different reactions to recordings. Some allow only still photography. Others would be eager for the recording of these practices with cutting-edge technology. Sometimes there are disagreements between the babaylan and the abiyan. (However, no mention of the concept of the spirit world changing to reflect or as this adapts to the presence of technology.)
  • (74 mins) Q & A. What is the journey of these multiple voices at work? If the spirit voice is not just the reproduction of existing language, then what is the implication of the spirit voice, in terms of a reconstitution of the language and maybe the creation of a different language? These babaylan, what is the relational field? What is the nature of community between them? Answer. The second question’s answer comes first, because the first question is complicated. There is no centralized governing power amog babaylan. Each community will have a family that has the lineage. Babaylan don’t necessarily know each other, they call different ancestors, they call different spirits, and adhere to different histories. There can be common threads between practices, but also differences of course. Only with recent intervention are some of these babaylan beginning to meet, and for the most part, these babaylan were happy to meet with each other, introducing spirits to each other. As for reconstitution of language? Clarification is needed. Q & A (78 mins) Any language is understood theoretically in terms of social practice. The babaylan believe in a world of language, but when you hear the voice of the spirit, then it is not just the reproduction of an existing social language. What can be the implications of that with rethinking language? Would new forms of poetry and literary work come from this? Answer. It’s the other way around. The language of the Manobo come from spirits. The spirits do not reproduce the language of humans, the humans reproduce the language of spirits. The human language does change due to history and upon encountering another ethnolinguistic group, but then it seems the language of spirits keep an archaic quality. That’s why interpreters who are elders are needed, because younger people don’t understand what the spirits are saying. It’s not just the languages’ referential meanings that are important in this practice, however, but the sound itself. It’s important, if you become a babaylan, you have to learn how to not just speak the words, but to sing them in a way the spirits can recognize. To the spirits, talking is sung, in the same way that walking is dance.
  • The Middle Kingdom

    The following entry may contain triggering material.

    Chinese influence might, by example or conquest, extend to Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia, but its culture lacked a transcendental set of values that non-Chinese could adopt. An individual could become a Muslim; it was not so easy to become truly Chinese, even if one occupied the throne of the Middle Kingdom.

    — Joel Kotkin, The City: A Global History

    I haven’t been able to read the whole book that I quoted above. This one other title by the same author goes from riveting to snoozeworthy in the span of, well, a title—Tribes: How Race, Religion, and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economzzzzz…zzz… The scope of Kotkin’s City is broad, tackling civilizations from the beginning of recorded history and worldwide, but scant in contextual positioning and sort of slapdash when it comes to details that are supposed to characterize city life.

    That said, I agree with the quote above. Well, maybe not that an Emperor would have any cultural purity contested, maybe not even when the Empire was shared with the Mongols. (It’s just an intuitive ambivalence I have, for Kotkin began the first section mainly dedicated to Chinese cities with…the Polos from Venice. Tsk, tsk!) Some transcendental values could easily be named Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism; a braid of these philosophical lineages could be adopted…and turn out as Chinese maybe as a mushroom stew recipe from Minecraft turns out to be mushroom stew.

    In Southeast Asia, where I was born and bred, Chinese-ness has been at once ubiquitous and unattainable. I felt it more evident in Metro Manila than any part of Indonesia that I lived, although awareness of Singapore was always somewhere there being its First World Island City State self and reputedly more Chinese than Malay, although I don’t have the demographic statistics and don’t know of any objective measure of cultural power.

    Here I feel it’s safe to generalize that every other random person probably knows their Chinese zodiac, to wear red on New Year’s (whether Gregorian or Lunar), that eight is a very auspicious number, that there’s a difference between hopia and mooncake…a cousin of mine even attended a prestigious private school where Mandarin was a mandatory subject whereas French was probably an elective. I have also read of slurs used by families with a peculiar complex about being of Chinese descent (because most people where I live could casually claim a fraction of Chinese ancestry) for their youth’s paramours who are not themselves Chinese enough. It might be an Old Money thing. An erstwhile roommate (of Miasma’s, Cecilia’s, Anjie’s and mine) is Taiwanese, and while we lived together she used to voice some angst about relatives from back home giving her flack for having gone native and lost her Chinese-ness, and at the same time she would often make all-embracing jokes about not being one of those dodgy mainlanders.

    Oddly, I was never forced to read Romance of the Three Kingdoms or Journey to the West at school. Instead, I picked up on a handful of folktales: Why There is a Rabbit on the Moon (which doesn’t even really explain why there is a rabbit on the moon; most of the versions I’ve read focus on the quarrel between the lovers who become the sun and moon spirits and renders the rabbit completely incidental), Why the Jellyfish Has No Bones (it failed to steal the liver from a monkey to cure the illness of a deep-sea dragon princess, so the king dragon had the guards beat the jellyfish into a pulp and the jellyfish did not die from this), how twelve animals raced to the Buddha for a place in the zodiac, and how P’an Ku hatched the universe and went around with a chisel and a turtle and some sort of bird…I forget what happened next.

    While browsing one of the library cafes in Universityville, I came across China: Land of Dragons and Emperors by Adeline Yen Mah, which I found richly informative. I got a lot more context for the linguistic-numerical associations that decide which numbers would be considered auspicious. It provided a concise history of the dynasties of Imperial China, from the arrogant, ostentatious, inventive and phenomenally effective First Emperor of the Qin dynasty (one event of his reign which made a very pretty movie)…

    …to the Qing Dynasty’s reign over an empire in tragic decline (Yen Mah unfortunately describes this Eastern Imperial contemporary of Victorian England as a “crippled” nation) and who passed the law for Chinese men to shave their heads and grow rat tail braids for essentially the same motive as a fraternity hazing…but on a nationwide scale. And all the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot historical drama in between. Well, not all. Red Cliff was fairly Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

    Religio-politics gets better coverage in this book than I’d ever been taught, such as how General Yang Jian established the Sui Dynasty in 581 CE via holy war in the name of Buddhist enlightenment. Chinese historians considered the defeat on the Talas River during the Tang dynasty (731 CE) as a border skirmish, a minor loss, whereas world historians attribute the spread of Islam through Central and South Asia to the result of this battle.

    Eunuchs of the Imperial court became a history-changing demographic in their own right, from a single prominent figure such as Eunuch Zhao (who brought in a deer and called it a horse, which the Second Emperor of the Qin dynasty considered so funny that he put to death any advisors who insisted that Eunuch Zhao’s “horse” was a deer, which is of course a disastrous abuse of honest advisors by their Emperor, but Zhao and Qin II still thought it was funny,) to the stigmatization of eunuchs in later dynasties that led to the limitation of all sea travel, as the eunuchs had traditionally advised overseas trade. Imperial courtiers implemented that policy just as the rest of the world was going through what would be considered the Age of Sail. The courtiers celebrating this spiteful victory over the eunuchs had, arguably, doomed the Empire. (The following photograph of a Chinese barque isn’t from the book, my roommate and a classmate of theirs from the university had to visit a museum for one of the papers and they let me tag along.)

    This concise and detailed history doesn’t only capture the decisions of major players through time, it also includes information on artifacts for nerds that like to know the difference between the porcelain from the Tang dynasty and Song dynasty and Ming dynasty. Or, that the first movable type was made of pottery, that people wrote on silk cloth or bamboo slat scrolls before an artisan figured out how to make paper thinner (before then, wood pulp was used to make…armor? That one artisan must have had a very peculiar mind.) Or how the third Song Emperor took a tribute of drought-resistant and fast-growing rice seeds from Vietnam and distributed the bushels to the peasants in the Yangzi basin, and why that established rice as a staple in the south whereas wheat bread and noodles remain more popular in the north.

    I appreciate that I got to read all this. It explained a lot, and informed a lot more. At the same time, it gave me a sense of awkwardness about learning culture from research rather than growing up in it that I don’t get from, say…living a sort of faelatry that includes Japanese yokai just because that is what happened or this is what I’ve found that I think makes too much sense not to be it, probably because so far no one’s been arsed to tell me that I’m culturing all wrong on that front. (Religioning all wrong, well yeah, that’s happened often offline and I guess that’s part of culturing, but eventually my reaction just usually became “no u”.) But I have grown up on the periphery of the Middle.

    Aristotle’s Poetics and Finally Some Structure to Wishcraft

    Tune in for Aristotle being such a sexist!

    Lately, I’ve been thinking of Poetics. The word reminded me that I never got around to reading Aristotle’s lecture notes on Greek theatre, The Poetics, so I finally got around to reading it.

    It didn’t have much to do with my Poetics, or my ideas of what it would be as these ideas form, but it was an interesting read.

    Much of it pertained to the technicalities of Greek theater, specific meters, how the Chorus should be treated, dramatic beats defined as Reversal of the Situation (Peripeteia) and Recognition and the necessary setups for that (I’m guessing that’s now like the chase scene as a narrative convention that Charlie Chaplin rebelled against in his time, which is not to say that narrative conventions such as “chase scene” or a “main character” aren’t worth exploring the significance of in its context or even today), but a lot of it could be applied to any narrative. It’s definitely dated, although interesting that Aristotle made the distinction between that which was virtuous, that which was appropriate, and that which was “ennobled”: so, characters in a play must be good and even a woman who is also a slave and doubly lowly can technically be so; but must also be appropriate, and valor and cleverness in a woman was inappropriate to show to audiences onstage (while learning something new would be a big draw, on some levels individual audience members do expect some validation of some of their worldview as-is); and yet, every defect of character preserved and presented onstage is necessarily ennobled by a poet. There were also some recommendations for information that must be left offstage, even as it affects the story shown onstage. The definitions and history of comedy versus tragedy were also interesting, with the comedy having no history according to Aristotle because it wasn’t taken as seriously (ba-dum-bam) as epics and tragedies.

    The Poetics proposed that the stageplay was an imitation of life, and there was a whole chapter on how to address critics of a play on the basis of how the imitation went. To me it spoke of how artistic license and the tumultuous relationship between the work and the audience have been issues for a very long time.

    *

    Six parts of a drama that determine the quality according to Aristotle (translated by S.H. Butcher here): Plot, Character, Thought, Spectacle, Diction, and Song. I conjecture that they go in order, when Aristotle continued that two constitute the medium of imitation (so, I’ll guess that’s Plot and Character), one constitutes the manner (Thought, or perhaps theme as the political and rhetoric), and three constitute the object (Spectacle, Diction, and Song.)

    I think of it more like the story as medium versus the story at large and at small. If we start small, a story is primarily description, dialogue, and narrative (or spectacle, diction, and song.) As a medium, audiences infer characterization and plot development or plot twists from the primary. I sometimes think of narrative as broader than plot, so they should switch places in size rankings, but I’ll position Song in a special way in my own system later. Thought, or what I could call Theme, positions the work in the context of society, which is the larger view of storytelling.

    I recognized notions as both the basis of a belief system and generated or synthesized by the same. Beginning to think in ritual structure, now, the qualities in parts of a drama can serve as placeholders of a structure that can synthesize notions, the filler of the structure being the Ogdoad (and the application in Ways, that I haven’t yet written about.)

    (Developments in Ogdoad can be followed here, although I recently decided to just do away with affricates and plosives already and just make a language with what’s left.)

    I have thought about some significant differences between the Animist approach to mystic elements (that treated these powers as animate) and the Ceremonial (that tended to treat these powers as inanimate or resonant worldly extensions of the elements within oneself). Ogdoad would be neither, rather themselves being a perception filter construct, strengthened by recognition of how these notions (or elements) invite or apply to the greater world.

    A one-to-one correspondence of narrative parts to Ogdoad definitely made it simpler, but I guess if intuition moved for a ritual that was all Pawn, or all Castles (even in the song, plot, and character positions) then that’s how it would go.

    At first, I figured that the Pawn would always be in the position of Song, if I think of Song more as the connections that make the whole more than the sum of its parts. Depending on the notion to be synthesized, (which would only be complicated if one thinks in categories that would then fracture the notion rather than activating a whole that can then only be described in what would once have fractured it) the “plot” of the spell can either be imbued Kingly, Queenly, or Pawnly; same as the “character”. And the final three qualities would be imbued with the remaining pieces, for balance of the spell, and compatibility with that which the spell applies to.

    Outside of this, where most modern spellcasters would put a circle, I’d put a triangle instead: sea, sand, and sky; the pledge, the turn, the prestige; or craven’s, maven’s, and haven’s ways. Craven’s Way applies more to personal development, Maven’s Way applies more to external entities on the same wavelength, and Haven’s Way applies to external forces and entities not on the same wavelength.

    Aarghthropology

    I’d been curious about Dreamtime just for the word. It wasn’t something I could learn about from osmosis. The most culture-altering thing I learned from going to an Australian school was that it’s a “rubbish bin” not a “trash can”. So, to start with the first ethnography I could get my hands on isn’t the recommended beginning. Definitely, it gave me a lot more to consider about one’s relationship to the land than the usual sentiment to just have that relationship and figure out how to keep it up from there.

    But there was barely any connection to the hallucinations people get during sleep.

    I finally figured out why. Lucien Levy-Bruhl was a French scholar who wrote Primitive Mythology: The Mythic World of the Australian and Papuan Natives, among other titles. Many of his observations influenced ideological lineages that I adopt heavily, such as Jungian psychology.

    This work also influenced the translations of one William Edward Hanley Stanner, an anachronistically conscientious journalist, soldier, and political advisor. He was one of the first to speak out against a “naive search for uncontaminated cultures” and posited that anthropologists had a responsibility to see to the welfare of contacted and colonized peoples. Stanner counseled against racist policies in Australian law of his time.

    For all those good things, Stanner glossed alcheringa as Dreaming and then Dreamtime. This was a mistranslation, or a misinterpretation. It got popular. So, Dreaming continues to be the gloss of wingara, mungai, poaradju, and everything in all the Aborigines languages that might be something sort of maybe like alcheringa. None of these, evidently, can be accurately Romanized because half the sounds in Arrernte are absent in English. Other Aboriginal languages might be very slightly more compatible.

    There may have never been any such thing as Dreamtime.
    Continue reading

    Charted Territory

    I found this chart of the Rungus spirit world from a paper entitled Conservation as an unintended outcome of cultural practices, by Ashley Massey, Shonil Bhagwat, and Paul Porodong.

    At the time I found this particular chart, it felt very rigid. My experiences didn’t match up with the shape of it, so I couldn’t make a similar Poesy Spirit World chart. Now I think that might have been because I had filters on those experiences that I kept switching out: anthropological theories about animism and anthropomorphism on a spectrum of personification, psychological interpretations for something that must be interfacing with my psyche (as each experience left less corporeal evidence than a corporeal experience), and a sort of instinctive mental dissection because if something beyond me wasn’t happening in corporeal spacetime with energy-matter then how does it imitate or deviate from that? And if I intuited associations with these almost-sensory experiences, then why would one confer the other?

    As much as I tried to notice what was happening before taking a stand for What’s What in the worlds, all those interpretations would feed back on the experience. To make a chart of flowing movements, media, agents, contexts or planes where those applied…that might lock me onto one filter of something happening, that was organic, that invited multiple approaches.

    I didn’t like the idea or the feeling of being mode-locked, but eclecticism makes a mess. I was comfortable with that mess, maybe even as comfortable as I long ago would have been with a chart like that (because it’s visual! Spatial! Labeled! So much sense and accessibility! Awesome!)

    I’m still comfortable with the eclectic mess, but I’m beginning to see the appeal of charting something like that again. It doesn’t lock the approach any more than writing out an experience does, or making drawings of guisers. Those are not the experience, yet they refer to or serve as signifiers of the experience. But for some reason, I had considered the writing and drawing as matters of utility and creative expression, whereas something like a chart had come to represent pretensions to authority: it announces that I Know What’s What and this is It.

    Really, a chart can just be another way of writing and drawing. I’d managed to forget that writing can be put forward as What’s What, but I never hesitated to write as long as I kept to descriptions rather than explanations, and descriptions of the abstract turn into explanations anyway. There’s always going to be the glue of sense-making, the connections that make the whole thing more than its separate parts.

    And there’s always going to be categorization. Recently, I read about something called ethnoscience, which recognizes that people make categorizations that are useful to themselves, and that categorization has value. Ethnozoology (for one example) isn’t taxonomy, but rather than be disregarded as not up to taxonomical standards, the ethnozoological categories remain worth noting for their cultural value. Categories of “large game, small game, livestock, vermin, pets, human-eating predators,” can be considered ethnozoological, and prove more useful in some contexts than “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, sub-species” of the taxonomical categories. This doesn’t even mean that one or the other approach must be eliminated (or even diminished) in a culture, just that it’s important to keep clear that pets aren’t an order under the class livestock, that a pet in one culture can be a pest in another, and that most taxonomists can’t be bothered with sub-species (breeds, races) unless they’re really desperate to name something after themselves.

    *

    I keep going back to the categories that I use most often: corporeal, otherreal, surreal, sidereal. These are shortcuts for a quality of experience that I have, so I hesitate to say that they are literal otherworlds. I don’t even use “sidereal” that much because I don’t feel a strong conviction or justification for the definition of it, or maybe that lack of conviction-justification means that I use the word less.

    This chart (from Marcel Danesi’s A Basic Course in Anthropological Linguistics) might be closer to the messy eclecticism and comparative categorization that I’m comfortable with:

    When I look at a rainbow in the sky, I usually only see three colors. It stands to reason that where those colors blend would generate at least two more colors in a rainbow (four more, counting the outside edges of a rainbow band, which shouldn’t count), but if I hadn’t been told what to look for, my natural categorization instincts would take that there were three colors.

    I’m taught to name seven colors in a rainbow, but also to have suspicions about “indigo”. Isaac Newton named seven colors because seven was a sacred number in whatever mystical tradition it was he followed. Indigo was shoehorned in. Most people who aren’t colorblind don’t bother to make the distinction between indigo and violet as routinely as the other colors (red distinct from orange, orange from yellow, yellow from green, green from blue…)

    I should say, most English-speaking visual people who aren’t colorblind, because the following chart makes a case for language shaping perception. Aqua in the Shona language is a color all its own, rather than a shade of blue or green actually blue or green would be a shade of aqua.

    Continue reading