Ramble: A Pop Culture Pagan’s “Peter Pan-theon” and Crystal Gems

The following textwalls were my extemporaneous intro to a Pop Culture Devotional Pagan group. May contain triggering material.

Peter Pan [is] my main canon. Rather canon-divergent Peter Pan, I think my experience would fit better classified as soulbond than pop culture polytheist…and as my “Peter Pantheon” are pirates, structure and hierarchical devotion would sort of go against everything that the crew stands for? [Mutiny is always an option, if not Plan A.] Still, it’s the closest I’ve got or probably will ever get to devotional polytheism.

I highly recommend the novel version by J.M. Barrie, if you can abide the Edwardian-era classism/sexism/racism. As well as being otherwise (ahem) humane, Barrie captured fairy lore well in Neverland, so technically Me Hearties are fairy pirates.

I don’t know whether you have ever seen a map of a person’s mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time. There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. 

It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murderers, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate-pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine threepence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still. 

On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more. 

Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights. 

While (Mrs. Darling) slept she had a dream. She dreamt that the Neverland had come too near and that a strange boy had broken through from it. He did not alarm her, for she thought she had seen him before. But in her dream (Peter Pan) had rent the film that obscures the Neverland, and she saw…

Obviously I’m also a faelatrist, but [more in line with] W.B. Yeats’ depiction of faelatry “belief in and/or devotion to the fae” which follows, paraphrased: Believe in the fae? I’m downright annoyed with them!

I also call myself a changeling, and have soulbonded with an original character from original Fairyland in an original fiction of mine who…turned out to be my parent from some metaphysical otherworld, but…I wouldn’t consider myself alterhuman? Alterhumans have my support (as I read a whole lot of alterhuman hate that’s [overwhelmingly most cases] just like…nobody really hurt you, hater, so why just why?) But I myself haven’t been all there, with a-ha moments of alterhumanism explains so much about my struggles with humanning, or yay I have found my mothership kinfeels community or purpose in the cosmos. It’s wonderful when that happens but in myself it’s been more, “huh. eh,” and just…yeah…

[inaudible comment/query]

Hrmm…Me Hearties began with Captain Hook appearing in my meditations and coming off so vital and autonomous.

This was almost 7 years after I read Peter Pan and decided that Barrie had the best grasp of the otherworld as I understood it by intuition. But I didn’t tend to believe that characters were much more than set pieces or heroes. It was really the cosmology and metaphysics of a source material that capture me…characters, I figure(d) were/are just living their lives and were unlucky enough to make the news report in the wrong parallel dimension for it to be an actual news report—or something—but, yeah, celebrity’s lives are their own private business really, though audiences and fans like me (emphatically, because I am very well aware that not all devotees are like me) can relate to or aspire to…what do we call, character, or somebody else’s persona, or projection screen even…

But, when someone appears so inextricable from the aesthetics, I figure, okay, Captain Hook ought to have a crew. The book names every member. So I deliberately constructed sort of “spaces of expectation” for the crew to come in in the otherworld, at the same time I was relaxing into fanfiction about it For Entertainment Purposes Only here.

I made up a pirate queen character to serve as an affable antagonist to Captain Hook for the fanfiction, not, I repeat NOT for Otherworld spiritworking stuff.

Guess who was the FIRST person to appear in my semi-meditations AFTER Captain Hook?? :p Pirate Queen Villain Sue, natch.

So it’s certainly very canon divergent by now. My version of Captain Hook is in a romantic relationship with Ed Teyente, who is a steampunk robot with a soul and has one older brother and two sisters on the mainland. (It’s not all that romantic to ME but it’s the closest word for what they have.) Noodler is a little old lady. Charles Turley [canon-divergent by another name, appears as well as] retains some mannerisms that I understand as Chinese, but being a fairy pirate of course means that I haven’t checked eir passport for citizenship.

Someone in the crew is a werewolf, I keep forgetting who. Skylights is a giant chrysalis hanging in one of the cabins in the ship.

None of the above is in the book, the stageplay, the Disney animated film, any of the other films or TV series…but they don’t seem to want “correction” in how they’re represented, or even really for anyone else to know about it and make prayers or offerings. It’s not closed, it’s certainly not personal and secret to me, but I’m really not going to systematize it either because…I don’t even believe that any of them dropped in for the purpose of helping me as much as they have, they just sail wherever and bother whoever they happen to pass that they feel like messing around with.

Swordfighting lessons in the otherworld, I really feel helped me to not be as stressed by a zealous mainstream-religious family member [in this world] who would put me in a conversational corner and talk at me for three hours about why I should change my religion (and then get angry at me for looking at the clock so often. I looked 5 times in 3 hours!) It’s difficult to describe the feeling of that noise finally, to me, becoming just a noise. Before then, it would really hurt me because I was living with this zealous person in part to get away from my big sis (my only sibling; single mother passed away, big sis started drinking and getting violent and gaslighting me about it to our mutual friends who were her friends first because I had no people skills.) And [that this person] didn’t want to understand anything about my own spiritual experience except to change me, which simply wasn’t possible with all I have been through in both spiritwork and life—though the pressure to do so was really very painful emotionally.

The pirate queen has appeared to me more like a stern conscience. She confronts me with things I have done wrong and prefer to ignore or forget, but also pushes for me to do things that I feel are wrong but are really just pragmatic and not very nice. [Grr how I hate pragmatism, it eats my soul.] She’s big on duty and honor (a personal honor, not something granted or revoked by society.) She’s not a “real” pirate, actually, she has lands and titles and doesn’t need to go pirating. Captain Hook hates that, but also I think admires her for refusing to get too comfortable with being nobility. From what I have gathered, she goes pirating because she has this idea that…the life of privilege and prestige is not a sure thing, so might as well know your way around the wild lands. She has one daughter, who doesn’t approve of what their mother is doing (especially when getting roped into the latest misadventure) and would rather be a full-on fairy princess as their birthright goes…but I personally don’t believe Pirate Princess can just sit pretty even if they tried, so that’s their (plural they) personal/family issue.

Cookson reminds me to be kind, only because he can’t stand being around so many aggressive people and doesn’t want us to get to know each other if I’m just going to be another aggressive pirate. He and Noodler run the kitchens of the ship. Cookson’s lovingly married to Murphy, who is in charge of the cannons and the guns, so they must have worked something out. Murphy only shoots people and wrecks things with explosions when he has to, because he’s really good at it, it’s not really an aggressive thing (hahahaha, but yeah really Murphy’s the chillest guy.)

I don’t really know the rest very well, yet. They’re certainly very personable…Unlike, say, the Crystal Gems, who I only have this idea that I am working with them because I have watched the show and form a headcanon and something in there matches with who I meet with. So a fellow Steven Universe pagan [might] go, “Heh, of course Pearl thwaps you with the very important mission of sorting your laundry!” But it’s not the same way that the Pirate Queen would nag me to do the same? The Pirate Queen comes off more embodied to me, for lack of a better term, and expressive—I can relate to her more similarly as to another human person.

With Pearl…and Lapis Lazuli…I feel as though there’s some stillness and effervescence about them, like potential omnipresence, that makes them more “goddy”? Pearl tells me to sort my laundry as though it’s the most noble and solemn task any human can undertake.

Of course if someone else relates to the Gems like I describe how I relate to Me Hearties, or sense more canon-keepto with Peter Pan characters except for a sheen of holy solemnity…It’s certainly not wrong, it’s just a different experience that I think [hope!] is interesting to put out there.

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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.

Crystal Gem Cartomancy

The following entry may contain triggering material, spoilers for Steven Universe and Soylent Green.

I appreciate how commonplace playing cards are, and I admire fellow whatever-you-call-us’s tips to turn commonplace objects wishcraftsy. Too bad the images are too abstract for me in this case. I’d have the same reader’s block with a lot of tarot “pip decks”. I like them fully-illustrated with some sort of story to make of those images. At the same time, structure mattered a bit, not enough that I’d ever master the Opening of the Key spread. I’d trimmed the Dream Cards (sliced off the borders, had a corner-rounder for them and everything, though I don’t recommend pen cutters—broad bladed box cutters made for cleaner slices) but kept trying to think them into a tarot system anyway, which was awfully limited of me to think. If I hadn’t lost them when I ran away from home, I’d finish the trimming and try to appreciate that deck as a structureless, intuitive oracle. My first reading with the elected major arcana and court cards of that deck was eerily accurate.

When I wondered about Steven Universe as a pop culture pagan thing, my next thought was that there was enough story to fit with something as abstract and structured as a card deck.

Thought Process

I. Each of the suits would be ruled by one of the four survivors of the Gem Wars: Garnet as the balanced heavy-hitter, clubs; Amethyst as the challenger from Earth, spades; Pearl with the structures and lucidity, diamonds; and Rose Quartz as ruling the suit of hearts.

II. What the ones to tens of each suit would mean then got me thinking about numbers as a pure notion. The tarot aces, I would interpret as a pure, nascent form of the suit. The Ace of Cups would be a flash of intuition or interpersonal understanding, the Ace of Swords would be an irritation or epiphany…Maybe tens would symbolize overall excessiveness, but in between I didn’t think to interpret by pip number. I’d learned keywords, and putting a number to the suit would be more a way to organize those keyword concepts, than significant in and of itself.

III. I drew up a spreadsheet to write keywords in as they occurred to me. Ace of Garnet would be stardust, two would be fission, three would be fusion, four would be home because the fandom name for her is Square Mom…Ace of Amethyst would be seed, two would be rejection, three would be curiosity, four would be self…Ace of Pearl would be order, two would be fealty, three would be balance…

IV. What does suit plus number mean to each of them? Once I filled out the table, I thought, I could consider the whole and find general patterns (what’s the three-ness between fusion, curiosity, and balance?)—and then make adjustments to better fit that general pattern.

Except that the suit of Rose Quartz came to mind like: Ace of Rose is love, two is love (healing?), three is love, four is love, five is love (protection?), six is love (honesty? c’mon R.Q. gimme something more specific), seven is love, eight is love, nine is so much love (cosmic?), ten is so much love…

So I got to actually shuffling an actual deck of cards, to find out what meanings I could intuit based on what I knew of the story. The above spread just occurred to me and felt right to do. The question was: What should I know, about all of you and this method?

1.) Garnet, top, the multiple possibilities of a foreseeable future. Six of Diamonds.
2.) Amethyst, mid-right, how to attack…erm, approach this issue. Three of Spades.
3.) Pearl, mid-left, what to worry about (plan for or resolve). Two of Clubs.
4.) Rose Quartz, bottom, foundations for healing/growth and protection. Five of Diamonds.

Six from the suit of Pearl in the position of Garnet generate a Sardonyx with a quality of six-ness. This conveyed to me a moderate number of equally likely futures, perfectly calculable but not worthy of the effort. The stakes of choosing one over another path are average.

Three from the suit of Amethyst in the position of Amethyst, with a quality of three-ness. Just do a thing to make a thing happen.

Two from the suit of Garnet in the position of Pearl didn’t come off as a fusion this time, but an irreconcilable distance between reasoning and passion.

Five from the suit of Pearl in the position of Rose Quartz came off more like a suggestion to being humble and charitable…so, I admit this is a slapdash mess and I post it here for anybody who can make something of it to make something of it.

~

I think what I liked most about this reading was that this deck is made of flippy, slippy, plastic card. As I understand to make it called for dredging up fossilized ancestors to fuel some pollution of the air, and it takes so long to break down and become part of the ecosystem again, and even when it does a bit, the tiny plastic bits displace the nutrients in baby seagulls’ digestive systems and whatever other animals accidentally eat it, so they starve without feeling hungry, so the diligent seagull parents never get to see their baby seagulls grow because they die and the seagulls never know what they did wrong by their babies—I don’t like this part. It’s a horrible part.

But when I wondered if plastic cards would be less conducive to cartomancy for not having some distant relation to some earthly autotroph who was wise in the ways of life before getting bleached and dyed with chemicals we make for a shortsighted purpose and then just throw somewhere else, but it’s tree pulp so it’s natural and more magical…and I admit, I usually am more comfortable working with natural materials. It’s the texture, or the smell. It’s usually comfy. I liked shuffling these cards, though…

…I thought I could hear Garnet reminding me that these cards are made of stardust, just like everything else in the corporeal world—and besides, Gems are all about technological innovation. Waterproof playing cards are fine representations of that.

(…but we citizens of the developed and developing worlds accidentally created an artificial island out of garbage…This deck will outlive me and end up there, and our descendants would be crying over soap bars and tomatoes, visiting tree museums, referring to women as “furniture”, and eating Soylent Green. Soylent Green looks like plastic chips.)

…Hrmm…maybe I should have thought up a Steven Universe based divination system using dice in shapes other than cubes. Those can look like gems.

Beginning Mirror Work

The following entry may contain triggering material.

To share anything—performed, expressed, or explained—no matter how artfully, takes something apart from the lived experience. That dissociation remains valuable.

Here comes a thought
that might alarm me
What someone said
and how it harmed me
Something I did
that failed to be charming

Things that I said are suddenly swarming…

and it was just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. We can watch (we can watch) we can watch (we can watch) them go by…from here, from here, from here.

Was this Erstvale, Surreal? Whatever. It had trees on turf. I’ll call it Erstvale. Beyond the corner of my eye, unhorsed ballerinas swathed in gauze and mist keened faintly for blood. The last time I saw them, they seemed to be kicking body parts around, and chasing where the others kicked. There may have been some splattering. Now, they seemed calmer.

(“Soon,” Giselle had crooned at me, “You’ll find out. Any way that takes you as far as that is not your way at all.”

I’d replied, “When that time comes, it would be because I’ll have the luxury of rejecting allies to getting anything done at all. Kill me before that happens.”

But Giselle would rather die than harm anyone, pure and perfect Cinnabon soul that she is—I loathe her.)

Queen Myrtha stood uncharacteristically still in the clearing, and spoke with uncharacteristic legibility. She and Giselle were never too far from one another, even when they seemed so. The Queen held up an unbroken, unstained hand-mirror and silently asked what I saw.

After a moment of looking, I sighed with disappointment. It was the same thing I saw when I started mirror work, tail end of last year. It hasn’t done much since. “I see a mirror.”

YOU CAN’T SEE A MIRROR!!!!!

That sounded more like Queen Myrtha. No quotemarks to contain her speech; it’s as though the fabric of the multiverse is screaming. It comes into mind bypassing the ears. You’d be surprised what you can get used to.

“But,” I said, and pointed, “There’s one. Right there. There it is. Mirror.” If I overthink, of course, a functioning mirror never can show itself: it shows everything else that’s not a mirror. Hypothetically, then, those with vision have never seen a mirror, but only seen reflections in the theoretical object we think up to explain those reflections. We can support this hypothesis by understanding the material, weight, size, shape, texture, taste and temperature of what we may then conclude to be an object—

DESIST LICKING THE MIRROR!!!!!

I couldn’t. The forest I thought was filled with mist was really more like filled with infinitesimally small snowdrop-beads, moving in wreathes. Some things in the Surreal world do function the same way as the Corporeal, maybe because I think they should…even though I don’t want my tongue to have frozen stuck to a warlord fairy queen’s mirror.

It wasn’t a good hypothesis, anyway. A mirror is a tool that we’ve made, so we know mirrors exist, what one is, how it does, why it works. I suspect that so is Myrtha, or else this would just be embarrassing. (And this has never happened to me in the corporeal world. It’s probably not what it’s really like. One day I should go somewhere cold and get my tongue frozen stuck on something. For science.)

~

Mirrorwork takes the approach that everybody is made up of three things:

1.) What you think of yourself.
2.) What others think of you.
3.) What you think others think of you.

No reason this list should exclude “what others think you think they think of you” or “what you think others think you think they think of you” or even “what they think you think they think you think they think of you”. What they each think of themself is their bailiwick.

She raised the hem of her dress slightly and looked down at her shoes.

They couldn’t be real glass, or else she’d be hobbling towards some emergency first aid by now. Nor were they transparent. The human foot is a useful organ but is not, except to some people with highly specialized interests, particularly attractive to look at.

The shoes were mirrors. Dozens of facets caught the light.

Two mirrors on her feet. Magrat vaguely recalled something about . . . about a witch never getting caught between two mirrors, wasn’t it? Something she’d been taught, back when she’d been an ordinary person. Something. . . like . . . a witch should never stand between two mirrors because, because, because the person that walked away might not be the same person. You were spread out among the images, your whole soul was pulled out thin, and somewhere in the distant images a dark part of you would get out and come looking for you, if you weren’t very careful.

—Witches Abroad

The moment Queen Myrtha frees me from the fairyland mirror that has connived my capture, I can move onto more Intermediate Mirrorwork.

Preferably with the Dierne, instead.

Spring Awakening, musical adaptation by Duncan Sheik | ASL production by Michael Arden

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for the musical Spring Awakening.

Disclaimer: I never got around to reading the original stageplay. And I only started re-listening to the music from here because I was looking for “There Once Was A Pirate” song from the off-Broadway version, replaced by “The Guilty Ones” in the official show version that became the fan name so I’m probably not going to find the pirate song again.

On Spotify, I could only find the Stage Stars version of Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening, and the vocals are exactly whelming. The overall score of the show itself isn’t what I’d call life-alteringly sublime, no, it’s fairly pop-y: I could skip right over “The Bitch of Living” or “My Junk” or “Mirror Blue Night” or “And Then There Were None” or…but the songs I do love, I love.

One minor complaint of mine is that, at the time of this writing, this particular Spotify album mistitled the song “The Guilty Ones” that should actually be “Blue Wind / Don’t Do Sadness” (And that awesomely rocking duet mistitled as “The Guilty Ones”). Here’s a clip of “Blue Wind” from the American Sign Language revival known among Guilty Ones—fans of this show still are calling themselves that, right?—as Deaf Awakening.

The full song, both full songs being sung together in counterpoint, is so cathartic for me in a way that’s difficult to explain without spoilers. So I’m going to write so many spoilers. First, the major opinion I want to put out there about the Sign Language revival version is that the movements make sense now. (The original stage musical version had settled into this choreography motif of everyone circling their nipples and rubbing their bellies through their clothes, which I suppose was supposed to be artsy, but I couldn’t understand any deeper meaning than Interpretive Dance Looks Artsy. But they kept doing it. I continued to not get it.) Also, American Sign Language looks admirably efficient and concise. The Tony Awards performance of Deaf Awakening had some singers and some signing, and I noticed the signers moving so slowly when the vocalized part had so many syllables there was no worry at all that the vocals would outpace the signing.

The entire show is about teenagers growing into sexual maturity in a 19th century German town: a cozy, intensely repressive, community. The main character, Wendla, has an unplanned pregnancy because her parents only reluctantly informed her that to make babies, you get married (and nothing about the details, so she had no clue that consenting to sex with a guy she didn’t marry would still pose a pregnancy risk.) Her parents then force Wendla to abort. It gets worse for Wendla from then on.

Hanschen is another character. As I recall, he and his partners survive being gay in a storytelling medium, and even serve as the comic relief in an otherwise painfully tragic morose morass of tragedy and pain. He has no story arc, no real subplot, no personal or interpersonal conflict because he’s simply better than everybody else: he knows it, the show knows it, and his partners quickly come to agree. He’s practically perfect, like a gay German dude version of Mary Poppins.

My favorites are still these next two, not necessarily together sexually or romantically—the ships-passing-in-the-night aspect of whatever their relationship would have been is heartbreaking, though—but just…Moritz Stiefel is a suicidal school flunkee. I was a suicidal school flunkee. I would play Moritz’s elegy song, “Left Behind” on loop back when it was young Jonathan Groff singing, and it was as though I could still breathe through the emotional knifeblock that my rib cage had become because someone (fictional, but whatever) knew what it was like to live on. That was Melchior, but narratively I feel as though he is half of Moritz, or this Melchior-Moritz Wonder Twins combination of…really, processing suicidal grief and depression. They’re both players in this story, and at the time this story had (I would put it this way now, not at that time) bespelled me.

Moritz is the shadow, the part that gets it. Moritz died—killed himself—so that I wouldn’t have to. He gets it, what it’s like to be driven to that point when you’re only a shadow cast by real living people who did things to “you”, “you” with Quote Marks of Emphasized Technicality because the concept of being a person isn’t there anymore. Moritz gets it when so many condescending and unhelpful outside perspectives to depression and suicide…did not.

Moritz pulled the trigger because, “I don’t do sadness.” And that’s one way to stop it, that sadness, if it’s sadness…but…more important than not making death an option is owning that option as a choice. For me at least, having mustered up—well, borrowed, from this song—even that speck of personal sovereignty? Suicidal ideations become less inevitable. He’s the Lord of Shalott.

~

There’s a modern tradition of mysticism, I guess it can be called one, known as soulbonding. Sometimes it’s the way creators describe how alive their characters have become, as they immerse themselves in a creative process. Other times, characters from existing works are treated like spell correspondents, or gods with responsibilities over a sphere of influence that can be appealed to.

In that community, I find people asking for recommendations for fictional characters they could “summon” as soulbonds, to ease the challenges of coexistence. Which characters can redirect or reframe personal feelings of jealousy? Which characters encourage discipline and motivation towards a given goal? Which characters help someone to make friends if they’re shy, or hold them accountable to honesty if they’re too anxious not to say what they think other people want to hear?

When one recommendation request came on to help cope with anxiety and depression, I almost suggested Moritz or Elaine Ascalot. I think it’s good that I didn’t. I only know what worked for me. If it’s possible that Moritz’s portrayal of suicide glamourizes and encourages the act when most people would rather that never happen…well, I’m fortunate that I reacted to Moritz’s songs the way I did. I’m fortunate to have encountered this work with this character at the time that I did at all, but as I can’t even know anybody else’s internal world (I only understand a stakely situation) I wouldn’t want to risk someone else taking it as less helpful or even opposite helpful than I did.

Blue_Wind_Deaf_Awakening

Back to “Blue Wind” singer Ilse Neumann, first name pronounced like “EL-sa”, and…she’s a goddess. Lauren Pritchard plays Bohemian Ilse as free-spirited but with some grounded serenity. Krysta Rodriguez plays Bohemian Ilse as a manic pixie dream. There’s a German cast whose Ilse has a singing voice like a clear stream of the purest nectar (I heard her “Blue Wind / Don’t Do Sadness” on YouTube playing opposite a Moritz who delivers the line meaning ‘you startled me’ like it’s a death threat, unfortunately, but he hit the high notes in his half just fine.) (Or, I don’t speak German, so maybe they changed the script.)

(Comparisons of “The Dark I Know Well” Ilses would be so much more…something…method acting analysis…but…intense, so no? I’ll just keep myself to all the possible dozen infinite Bohemian flower bouquet unbraided hair “Blue Wind” crooning Ilses.)

However Ilse’s played, I feel as though there’s this mantle of magnificence this character gives people to carry throughout the show. She completes another duet, “The Dark I Know Well” with Martha, revealing both to be victims of incestuous rape. We don’t see much of Martha after—she establishes that it’s a horrifically common problem in their tiny, tight-knit town. “The Dark I Know Well” is a disjointed sort of call-and-response double soliloquy. Ilse suffered as much as Martha, but some aspect is bigger than that, even when the whole song is about how “there’s a part I can’t tell about the dark I know well…” and they can’t let on to anyone but themselves and the watching audience, it isn’t “suffering as much” but “suffering with” even when it’s not possible for them in that town, to bring it out or up and share it.

Ilse bears witness to Martha’s violation as well as her own. She does the same with Moritz when she sings “Blue Wind”, and her body language during the staging of “Left Behind” (Moritz’s funeral scene) is a scathing condemnation of the irresponsible adults who drove Moritz to suicide. No flighty, promiscuous teenager repressing trauma should have the power to scathe without a word…but, Ilse. Ilse Neumann, is all.

And, despite Melchior being positioned as the hero and protagonist, as Moritz’s only friend, as Wendla’s lover…it’s not him but Ilse who leads the final chorus. “The Song of Purple Summer” describes the passage of time through pain, and it catches at the voices of everyone; it’s a song of acknowledging pain and grief, for everything passes, and hope for everything passes, and it’s vast and complex, as though one song from one specific character, because of her story, because of her nature…opened this giant gate to life and the world itself. No barely-present side character should have that much p—Ilse, damn it all, Ilse Neumann. Goddess of summer and life and the universe and everything.

The Secret Garden, musical adaptation by Marsha Norman & Lucy Simon

The following entry may contain triggering material, and spoilers for the Broadway musical version of The Secret Garden, extending spoilers to the book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I was so happy to find this musical on Spotify. It’s one of my very all-time favorites simply for the music, especially the Broadway recording that polished everything up. The songs don’t always lend themselves to egoistic solos, or toe-tappingly earwyrm-hummingly catchy show tunes. The book is hardly the quotable tragicomedies of Sondheim. What makes this my favorite show is the choral arrangements, counterpoint melodies in duets or quartets, and orchestration. I listen to the strings more than the voices. It’s almost ambient in how diffusively the music carries the story. The styles range from jigs to Gregorian chants to operatic arias, yet always remain distinctly story-telling songs.

The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in 1911, begins with a young English girl living in India. Mary Lennox is rich and spoiled and her parents are always too busy partying with other rich English people to do any actual parenting, so they leave her to be raised by Indian servants, and they all die of plague. The End.

Oh, no, wait—Mary Lennox is the sole survivor of the plague. Now orphaned at ten years of age, the soldiers who discover her then whisk the child off to her nearest relation in Yorkshire, Not In India. Her hunchbacked uncle Archibald Craven is too busy grieving as a widow to be a parent, whether that’s to Mary or to…well, there are other children in the enormous manor and on the moors that really nobody wants to pay attention to, except to keep them apart. Mary Lennox—being far more temperamental and belligerent than a life of privilege can usually explain—is having none of it.

The musical takes some liberties with the story. The deceased Lily Craven’s soprano has far more presence onstage than in prose where her ghostly influence (of memory, of serendipitous coincidence) can afford to be more subtle. Doctor Neville Craven, Archibald’s undeformed brother, is the most passive antagonist I have ever read. In both versions, rumors about how mercenary Dr. Craven is do come up, and Neville doesn’t do anything or even scheme to do anything to pick up that plot point. He just does his job as the family doctor, as competently as an Edwardian-age physician can. This isn’t very competently at all because, in the world Burnett has constructed, people need magic, whether that’s the magic of a relationship with the land, or the magic of ghosts guiding us from the afterlife even through our grief, or the magic of friendships between upperclass children and the half-wild siblings of the sassy-but-not-too-sassy servants, or…the magic of an individual thinking so positive that they’re not disabled anymore…Anyway, versions that aren’t the book seem to really like putting Neville in a love triangle with Lily and Archibald so he’s misunderstood about being mercenary.

The music—

Hold on. One day maybe, I’ll write about Burnett’s magic as a proto-new-age sort of Law of Attraction or New Thought type belief system, or the Glamour dynamic of Mary Lennox’s and Sara Crewe’s relationship with Indian-ness and the exoticization of their ancestral home, or friendships across class/age/gender gaps (more like chasms) in The Secret Garden, but for now this video has this transcript and I recommend them for purposes of becoming wiser than fictional Edwardians when it comes to disability.

The-Secret-Garden_Marsha-Norman_Lucy-Simon

My fancasting would be Priti Ghandi as Lily Craven (warning: autoplay of music samples on every page). And, I don’t even know if Naveen Andrews sings, but he can rock a top hat so that’s my fancast/headcanon Neville.

Naveen Andrews

Naveen Andrews can rock a top hat!

“A Girl in the Valley” served as the background music while I was writing The Red Room and now that I hear it again, “It’s a Maze” must have been what inspired a red-brick labyrinthine Scape that I call the 2nd Chamber (and in Western Faery, the Sienna Sierra. Sierra Sienna? One of those.) I never blog about the 2nd Chamber because it’s usually just there to slow down Point A to Point B and a Guiser named Rose may or may not sometimes be there. Rose has been too obstinately enigmatic to blog about.

My favorite song remains “Winter’s On the Wing”, which I’m beginning to associate with a personification—I call guiser—of time—I call phase, and put in a subcategory under guiser. Dickon Sowerby whistles in spring time that I, having been a tropical creature all my life, haven’t the foggiest idea what the big deal around equinoxes is in almost all pagan or occult literature. Or even a foggy idea about fog. But here he is, and next up is my personification of the summer lady: Ilse Neumann from another Broadway musical, Spring Awakening.

The Lady of Shalott, Again

The following entry may contain triggering material.

Talk about problematic favorites. Emilie Autumn is a violinist whose works I personally enjoy, whether that’s the songs (something surreal happened with Shalott) or the aesthetic. Raw anguish and wrath isn’t a catharsis for everyone, of course, and I’m referring to the Opheliac album, not Emilie’s twee pop-experimental Stateside Celtic Enchant album (that I must admit to also liking), nor the Broadway rock musical style Fight Like A Girl album. Opheliac-era Plague Rats appear to mostly dislike Fight Like A Girl because Emilie’s sound mellowed out so much. Because Broadway rock musical. (I must admit to also also liking.)

That is Emilie being mellow.

I finally got to listen through The Opheliac Companion album, which were tracks of Emilie and producer InkyDust talking about the process behind each song. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about these two joking about potato famine, fewer complaints about Emilie’s description of “I Know Where You Sleep” percussion as ‘tribal’ and that the concert staging for this song involves the chorus girls stamping about in a circle while wearing feather hats.

The commentary track for the six-minute song “Gothic Lolita” is ninety minutes of talking about anything but “Gothic Lolita”—the song’s about child molestation, which InkyDust mentions Emilie having a difficult time talking about ‘because of personal stuff.’ I believe the implication.

On a far more personal level, one major theme of Opheliac was reclaiming narratives lent to the mentally ill or disordered, hence the Victorian insane asylum aesthetic. Emilie Autumn is an expert on this, having grown up struggling with a mental illness, and even having been institutionalized later in life…and, I have my own perspective on this issue because of my mental illness, and…I am kind of horrified by the message of this album.

The term Opheliac imitates the term for those with mental conditions (compare “insomniac” or “hypochondriac”) while borrowing the name of a Shakespearean character famous for going an unspecified sort of crazy and then drowning herself to death—Ophelia. Early modern painters in the Western world prolifically portrayed the Shakespearean Ophelia’s drowning, and how: Emilie Autumn describes the collective works on this subject as ‘a wet T-shirt contest’ and focuses on the intersection of misogyny and mental-disableism. The lyrics of “Opheliac” describe this condition more from the inside:

I’m your Opheliac, I’ve been so disillusioned;
I knew you’d take me back, but still I feigned confusion…

You know the games I play
and the words I say
when I want my own way;
You know the lies I tell
when you’ve gone through hell
and I say I can’t stay

You know how hard it can be
to keep believing in me
when everything and everyone becomes my enemy
and when there’s nothing more you can do,
I’m gonna blame it on you—
It’s not the way I want to be
I only hope that in the end you will see
it’s the Opheliac in me

That…doesn’t sound like a good person. As Emilie says later on in the album, “I am on to myself.” That goes for patterns in the creative process, as well as traits of the Opheliac.

That’s never enough.

I’ve had hypersomnia, fatigue, and executive dysfunction dismissed as ‘laziness’ so often that I can’t believe in laziness anymore. Whenever I can wash a dish (or haul the garbage out, or spend an hour handwashing laundry,) it’s not a chore, it’s a miracle, and I always appreciate having enough life to do it. Whenever someone else says they’d do something but they’re lazy (rather than tired or somethng about time), my first thought is that they’re secretly depressed instead, weighed down wherever they would move in the world, thoughts of ‘should do’ devoured before they can form. That’s horrible. (But if that were the case, wouldn’t more people be more understanding?)

I had—still have—difficulty with the concept of doing something you don’t want or don’t feel like doing. If I do anything, it’s usually because I had the ability to. That said, my mother was a great fan of shaking and slapping depression out of my body, but it was mostly the bodily hauling to the location of the thing needed done and more shouting about how useless I was that got the thing done. I could barely register language enough to sustain any of it as personal wound by that point, but I can’t call it a cure. It got me to thing done, which I keep being told is all that really matters.

The brain, in all its sparking wires and chemical balances and nodes of language and motor skill and emotion and processing sensory perceptions and maths and memories…is an organ, and it can stop operating properly, and that’s what happened to me, and I fell ill. Or I was (am) neglectful, and lazy, and selfish for attempting suicide, and selfish for living on choosing to act worthless and hopeless and lazy instead of solving it so simply (by suicide?), and mental illness is an excuse for my bad behavior. I’ve been told the latter enough times that it’s become what I’ve got to deal with, that impenetrable fortress of narrative, even though it’s so far from what it’s like on the inside that I can’t even manage a double-think.

Yet I’ve begun to get the sense that it might still be easier to accept depression as a mental illness rather than a moral failing, compared to De Clerambault’s, Munchausen’s by Proxy, compulsive lying, violent mania, substance addiction… As horrifyingly abusive as Munchausen by Proxy literally is, if I build my own narrative fortress against any of those, go, “I’m just not well; you’re evil and toxic and irresponsible and manipulative and conditioned with circumstances to…” would that be true, though? What could it even do? If I get get away from it, I wouldn’t need to say that; if I’m stuck with it, saying that won’t help and never has. At best, I am ‘on to’ myself. That’s just not good enough. I’m still not a good person. That’s why I’m horrified: “Opheliac” implies that that’s okay, that’s good, that’s the way it’s got to be. (“God Help Me” especially with the companion album commentary, has a different approach to it: Places, everyone! This is a test / Throw your stones, do your damage, your worst and your best / All the world is a judge, but that doesn’t compare / to what I do to myself when you’re not there.)

~

The alias I gave my abuser and elder blood sibling here is Miasma. My corporeal roommate Cecilia suspects that Miasma might have narcissistic personality disorder. I’d read this had been excluded from the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, so it might not be possible for anyone to have it anymore. If Miasma hadn’t been diagnosed or otherwise glommed ‘on to‘ herself, then this could still explain a lot. But we’re blood siblings. If it’s genetic, neurological…and she has it, I could very well have it.

One time I screamed at Miasma. She’d torn my scalp open two years before then, shrugged off my telling her the next morning that I had been hurt and what she did was not okay, ran off crying to another friend when I insisted that she at least recognize this and not do it again, came back crowing about how this other friend forgave her for what she’d done to me so I should drop it already, and (when I moved out) sobbed that she couldn’t change and this wouldn’t be the last ‘misunderstanding’ from an imperfect human rather than the non-abuser I expected. So I shouldn’t move out, she’d argued, because I never warned her that I would leave over this, she had no concept that I could, I should have warned her, or else I would be leaving without even trying to work things out. It had been an accident.

With so much resistance to that mere acknowledgment, she might as well have done it on purpose. She was used to sending me out to walk to the grocery store in the rain for a packet of iced tea, then rant for hours and pick up the rant again for days about how I’d returned with the wrong flavor and then had the gall to come down with the flu, as though it wasn’t hard enough for her to taste peach in iced tea instead of berries. She was used to agreeing to drop me off at a corner before continuing the cab ride to where she was supposed to be, then ordering the driver to rush right past it because she was late, but right after getting out she still found the time to shout at me for a quarter of an hour because I’d sulked about having to walk. Every day was something like this. Every hour.

I hadn’t screamed at those specific instances. I’d sulked quietly, starved in silence, kept a stern indoor voice with “I feel X when you do Y because Z” structured sentences, all to no effect but for that I eventually began to develop brain fog and ulcers and (eventually) see smoggy smoke-snakes or reptile angels with orange anime hair that nobody else could see.

She silenced me, and for that I’ll spend the rest of my life screaming, and turning everything upside down that isn’t the ground, and setting everything flammable aflame. But that one time, I just screamed. Our extended family had tried to reconcile us. I screamed and it scraped my tarry heart red again. Miasma sent word to our mutual friends (well, I didn’t have any friends that weren’t her friends first, she made sure of that) that I had a manic episode in my lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. Which I’d never been diagnosed with, and pretty sure I don’t have. Cecilia and Anjie seemed to have had enough of Miasma being so dishonest with them, at that (they were both very much in our lives when I started therapy, and knew that this armchair layperson diagnosis hadn’t come up.) She would rather they consider me crazy than angry—when it suited her. She’d never attribute an empowered individual choice to me whenever that’s what I was actually doing, I had to be crazy or immature and acting out, but she’d evoke free will bootstraps when I knew my limits and had the temerity to ask for help with them. She couched justification for all this in religious terms, and I still have to keep reminding myself that it depends on how the individual uses the symbols and vocabulary and concepts of their faith, not that Miasma’s religion inherently condoned abuse. Most days, I still can’t believe the reminder.

Armchair layperson psychiatry was a bad that we both did. I don’t think Miasma’s narcissistic, either, it may have been something else…but something.

One day, two years after that, I was on lunch break at my job and eating what I now mythologize as the Hotdog of Enlightenment. At the time, it was an ordinary convenience store hotdog. I hadn’t even been thinking about Miasma, but the thought bubbled up that she could no more control her violence, dishonesty, or possessiveness over food than I had any real control over my eating disorder. She would insist that my problems were my choices, but all the manipulation she did to cover up and keep the image of someone mature, responsible, and sane—were all probably because she couldn’t admit to herself that she was spiraling out of control of herself. There was a serenity in that, recognition of the once too-intense suffering now a fact of life that we all try to figure out, but we forget in our limitations and selfishness. That lunch break, I rediscovered a new level of compassion.

A week after that, though, I had another nightmare about her and spent the wee hours of the morning seething about what she’d done to me, was still doing, and she had never had to suffer even a fraction of the consequences that I had suffered all my life growing up with her…There must have been cannabis or opiates in that hotdog; enlightenment was not it.

~

The Lady of Shalott is the alias I gave to the power that breaks those narrative fortresses. She dies in the process, over and again, both as I do a little bit and so that I don’t have to literally. She knows a world beyond her weaving and looking-glasses that’s clear, true, real, and better—one she’s cursed to never be a part of, but it’s worth reaching for just to move. She won’t say it’s going to be all right. Her message is more, “Do it anyway. You must choose this.”

She owns the paradoxical gate of The Only Choice.

She is a god to me. As stubborn as I used to be about never again believing in what someone else told me unless I experienced it myself, including gods, I’ve never met this being and I believe and devote myself to Her. Something about her feels more alive and personable than the run-of-the-mill way I like to take a story and crunch the meaning up in interpretation. She never responds, sends signs, or appears as a billowing presence or clear anthropomorphization in the Otherreal or Surreal. She is the most frustratingly conceptual and abstract being I have ever included in my life, and in a way had been the most profoundly helpful.

She might also be a spell. This was what Emilie and Inky had to say about “Shalott” which is a song about the Lady that first introduced me to her:

EMILIE: She was another perfect representation of the Opheliac, it’s…she had a choice between life and death, she chose to do something that would basically drive her over the edge, she chose it, knowing that—in her mind, she didn’t have a choice, and she ended up dying in the water.

INKY: So this is an Ophelial-related…

EMILIE: Exactly. Basically, like, the word ‘Opheliac’ is the medical term for the condition of being an Ophelia-like character. It is basically a self-destructive type, whether you do it yourself or whether you ‘allow’ things from the outside to do it. And, almost, the taking, as we talked about before, with, like, Opheliac—the song—taking responsibility for the fact that you play a part in this. You can blame everybody—and you’re right, and you should! And you should get revenge. But realize…that either you…had a, a mental thing that got to you, even if it’s not your fault, or, from the outside, if it’s external…you let someone kill you. So, you may have had no power at the time…

INKY: Right.

EMILIE: …But… (Pause.) You did. You just didn’t know it. So, the goal is to educate people, to say, so that they know it—just know it. And if you still make that choice, fine. But.

In the story, the Lady lives under a death curse if she witnesses a world not in her mirror or in her weaving. Who cast the curse, or why, doesn’t actually matter anymore by that point. I could blame Carabosse because I blame Carabosse for most curses. That the focus remains on someone ‘half sick of shadows’ is a wishcraftsy one to me: At that moment, I imagine the Lady has begun to hate being nothing but a cumulation of what someone elses have done to her. She’s spread as insubstantial and clingy as a shadow. The hate is power, though, because…if she thoroughly weren’t even a person anymore, who would be doing the hating? Even that would be an inevitable reaction, if we only focused on the mechanics of the thing, but the spell develops when she owns something more complex and mysterious than pure pain.

Emilie crafted this song with that specific purpose. I wouldn’t even feel moved to turn to how this—as Emilie puts it—archetype is Older Than Modern and Elsewhere In World (And Therefore Real-er), it would be cool if I had been taken by a categorical spell rather than a categorical goddess all this time, or even if there weren’t as clear a line between the two in this instance.

It doesn’t have to happen this way. I have a memory of going somewhere earthly every day, where everyone I’d met wordlessly reminded me that I was a person. They weren’t even trying. They didn’t ‘bully’ as the grown-ups called it, not because someone told them not to, but because they really wouldn’t. I hope I’d reflected back the same, but this casual nurturing of personal sovereignty wasn’t something I’d gotten at home, or from anywhere else throughout my childhood. The depression after that was worse in its many physical effects, but it could never manage to feel as utterly consuming as it had in its relatively milder forms when I was a child. That sort of personal sovereignty is valuable, and not as easily revoked as it sounds, but I know it can be forgotten. The Lady of Shalott came along to show another kind of personal sovereignty I could work with. If it doesn’t come from a good place, alas, earth often isn’t.