Quick Post on EBC 2016

My friend, Jacqui, asked me last Friday if I could meet up with her for drinks on Saturday. “Sorry, working the Esoteric Book Conference all weekend”, I replied. To which she followed with, “Save me a Google trip, what’s an esoteric book?”

“Occult”.

It was the second time I volunteered to work for the Esoteric Book Conference (not counting when I once represented my friend John’s company, Waning Moon publications, 3 years ago), and goddammit, I love occultists. I mean I really love them. I want to have all of their black clad babies and then sacrifice them to Cthulhu, Baphomet, Dani Filth, or who ever (little disclaimer: no, occultists don’t really sacrifice babies and in fact, are sometimes very family friendly! But their babies are dressed in black onesies). In contrast to my ignorance of the most up to date information on the printing of the fourth volume of that one book, or just about two thirds of the other books and their authors, publishers, editors, special editions, and whether or not we have the leather bound version (unfortunately it’s way more involved than how great Johnny Depp was in The Ninth Gate); I still love all of the conversations. Even when I notice they get that realization of me not understanding half of what they’re saying about two sentences in, I feel utterly at home with my people. And all I want to do is support this event to keep it alive.

The scheduled speakers are always once in a lifetime outta townie (and sometimes outta country) infamous authors that give phenomenal lectures and sign their books. Not to mention the chance to have a one-on-one convo with them if you want! Plus, the booths after booths of both rare and contemporary books. And the ART! Holy shite. This year’s art was amazing! (and yes I’m using a lot of italics in this post) I couldn’t stop staring at the Kali Ma piece or the Lord and Lady Goat diptych, both by Laura Tempest Zakroff. Or any of Adam One’s geometric awesomeness. And I kept going back to look at Benjamin A. Vierling’s work.

As far as the presentations went, I saw most of them last year (my favorite one being about necromancy), but this year I saw only a couple lectures due to my shifts there and some homework I had to finish up at home. The one that especially stood out to me, however, was called, ‘Invoking the Other: Alterity, Abjection & Dread in the Initiatory Experience’ presented by Richard Gavin. He spoke of the emotion of absolute horror, dread, and complete madness and what spiritually occurs with our psyches in that connection to the gods and to their spirits. When he spoke up of the intense vino of Dionysus and how it did so much more than just “getting his followers drunk”, I thought of that scene in the second season of True Blood when the maenad, Maryann, explained to Tara about blacking out: “Why be embarrassed of pleasure and laughter, ashamed of letting go? Control is just a cage this stupid culture uses to block out who we are. We need to be out of control- we crave it…I have a little theory about blacking out. Maybe you rose to a higher state of consciousness. What about the saints of India? What about the mystics of every religion? They would black out; run and dance through the streets. Levitate. Act like monkeys, run around naked. Everybody thought they were crazy. They were ecstatic. All that fake civilization bullshit just fell away so they could dissolve into the infinite. So they could lose themselves and unite with their god.” It was a great presentation. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, I recommend it.

Oddly, this year I didn’t run into too many people I know. Which was what I always loved about it, a sort of reunion among friends. But honestly, it was kind of a blessing. It gave me the opportunity to converse and meet new people! I found new friends- new buds, and had some great conversations. I definitely look forward to volunteering the next one!

6th-annual-esoteric-book-conference1

Advertisements

Of Solitaires and Covens

“…I’m going to a full moon ritual on Wednesday. I thought about it after we met up last and I asked to possibly join their coven. I just feel like something’s missing.”, my buddy, Darren text me last month.

Good gods, if that doesn’t nail it on the head of how I’ve also been feeling for so long! I have been a solitaire since day one, and only know my rules and morals and ritualistic practice. But then the job gets more demanding, you add classes to your free time, and a fitness schedule. You meet a love interest, go on dates and maybe a marriage, children. A family member becomes ill, a down payment on a house, weddings, funerals, birthdays, social outings and school plays. (Or maybe start a WordPress blog on Paganism and see how often you can post on it!)
Who has time for witchcraft? Sometimes I pray. And sometimes my prayers bleed into my grocery list.

I had started a Pagan Men’s Meetup group, and it ran for exactly one year, with scheduled meetups twice a month. I had a couple of good get-togethers from it, but mostly I just sat at pubs and went on hikes alone. I just can’t afford the time to wait on people to flake. Not to mention, a bi-weekly feeling of self-failure. Don’t get me wrong; I love having me time! Like I said, I’m a solitaire; and an Aquarius, so I have a natural impulse of being a lone wolf (or so I am told). But that was never the original reason behind Green Man Meetup, but rather the opposite. It was for other dudes, like me, who lacked like-minded buddies to hang and chill with. Who wanted to explore our religion outside in the most wild, dangerous, and spiritual of places. To create a brotherhood that can be incorporated within a mostly female oriented religious system so more equality could be felt. But above all, it was for community.

So what does a solitaire Pagan do when they get a little older, get a little busier, feel a little lonely? We seek community. Friends. Family. Ritual. Ergo the coven.
“the attendants go riding flying goats, trample the cross, are made to be re-baptised in the name of the Devil, give their clothes to him, kiss the Devil’s behind, and dance back to back forming a round” -The Compendium Maleficarum (1608)

Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Witches'_Sabbath_(The_Great_He-Goat).jpg

(Witches’ Sabbath by Francisco Goya (1821-23). I was mesmerized by this image at the age of 9, when I looked up the word ‘witchcraft’ in my parents’ World Dictionary. It stated that witches sold their souls to the Devil for their magical powers. So of course, I pretended to pray to him every night and told my 3rd grade classmates that I’m a warlock and they shouldn’t piss me off. My mother grounded me.)

Oxford Dictionary states that a coven is: “a group or gathering of witches who meet regularly.” There are also groves, hearths, kindred, circles, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, assemblies, and communities respectfully. Some are Wiccan, or simply Neo-Pagan. Some are Druidic, Asatru and Heathen. Herbalists, candle-based, gender specific, orientation specific, gender and orientation specific, family friendly, skyclad only, lunar, solar, astrological based, Fey based, eclectic, and so on. And this is just within my area! So how do I choose which one I should join, if this really is the best next step for me? I’ve scoured Witchvox.com, Google, and local community flyers. I know of several groups in my area that friends of mine are members of, and I’ve spoken to them and attended their rituals. But at the end of the day, I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with each one. I guess that’s common with any friend or family member, including covens.

So the best advice I have for myself and for others out there in the same crossroad predicament that I am currently in, is to just ask yourself simple questions. It is all too common to lose yourself in all the options, politics, traditions, formats, customs, rules, morals, and initiations. But remember this all comes down to who you are at your core and how this fits in with each of these groups. Who are you and what makes up you? What is the one thing you want? Once you answer these very simple questions, your next step is to match these qualities with local groups and have a one-on-one convo with their leaders, priests, or priestesses. If you agree with most of what they say, and really get on their same page, then ask if you can attend a “trial” ritual or gathering. This way you can get a feel for other members and who they are (and if you make any friends, even better!), and how their rituals go; if they’re more by the book and structured with memorization and roles, or if it’s more free spirited with “anything goes” style and so on. See how your performance in ritual works with the group’s. And only then can a proper decision be made.

These are the same questions I am asking myself and looking at the journey ahead in finding a group. I am setting myself a time goal of Samhain to make my decision which gives me just less than two months. After weeks of meditation since my Iceland trip, I know the things I am looking for in a coven, or group. And now I am ready to reach out to various ones and start having these conversations; this next step in my pagan development. The one thing I have to remind myself is that this is for ME and MY community and if I offend or hurt the feelings of others by my decision, then those individuals would not have been good coven mates to begin with.

To those of you who are solitaire and love being so (my roommate among you), rock it. Cast it. Don’t ever doubt yourself. I so wish I could continue being one of you, but I know myself too well and I know that it’s just not working anymore. Like my buddy said, “…something’s missing.” To those of us who are at the crossroads of this change from solitaire to group (or vice versa, too, I guess), may it go smoothly and educationally.

“I will study and get ready, and maybe the chance will come.” -Abraham Lincoln

 

A Great Dragon

I watched the horses run freely together along the Atlantic coast in the setting sun as my ride takes me southbound toward Reykjavik two days ago. This is my last day in Iceland. The melodic black metal sounds of Zhrine play in the rental car’s CD player, a band the three of us had just seen perform in Iceland’s annual metal festival, Eistnaflug. A perfect soundtrack to the island’s desolate landscapes and dramatic cloud cover.

I was an idiot to think this trip was about a metal festival. I was an idiot to think this was a trip. It was a journey. A pilgrimage. A clearly undiluted, loud message from the gods that read: Get over it.

I backpacked along the southern route of the Ring Road in Iceland to get to a tiny ass fishing town on the eastern coast with a population of just over a thousand. Kinda like that quaint little Practical Magic town, only minus the pious locals and hot witches. And like Vikings coming ashore to take over the village, so do the Metalheads for four days every year in July. Two-thousand of them. And I walked/hitchhiked/camped 440 miles to be one of them. I was rained on, attacked by seagulls, constantly pestered by flies, and sunburned. I feared one of my rides was going to kill me, my pack weighed heavier each day, I got blisters on top of blisters, and the skin on my hipbones rubbed raw. But these were just surface annoyances. Toothpaste stains on a mirror. The real weight every pilgrim knows is the weight and the battle within. Here I am; surrounded by mountains, sunlit glaciers, the rolling sea, rivers, and fields upon fields of moss, lupine, and lava rock. Either the land of Faery or a supersized diorama for a little boy’s choo-choo train. And I’m bawling my fucking eyes out. I must be the only one in Iceland who does this. Pushing my physical self to its limits and surrendering to trust in the generosity of others, dished my demons out.

Get…over it.

No one can fix you but you. And sometimes it takes the absolute visual definition of natural beauty, the kind that cannot be explained by any language or camera, to make you see the absolute visual definition of darkness. Once I got to my destination, I set up my tent at the festival campground and met my neighbors. I was very fortunate for two reasons: 1.) These particular Icelanders were awesome. They’re very simple in life, utilize their resources, live for laughing, kinda backwoods, and don’t give two shits about differences because they have enough shits on their own plates to worry about yours and 2.) Metalheads are a family. Always. No matter where from, we are an ostracized niche and so we understand one another and will always be there for each other. I had an absolute blast with this group camping by me! Four days of canned Viking beer, black cloth and corpse paint, the most amazing live Icelandic metal music, laughing until I cried, and the ice-cold stillness of a mountainous fjord. What is there left to keep you from living when you’ve already ditched what remained of your identity hundreds of miles ago?

Like Americans to shopping malls, Icelanders are to swimming pools. For every morning hang over, we would zombie walk to the local swimming pool and wash the stench and headaches away from the previous night in showers, two pools, two different temperature hot tubs, a sauna, and a huge kick-ass water slide! One day whilst soaking in the shallow pool, I met a purple haired chick and a bearded man. Come to find out they were from Seattle, too! Furthermore, we shared the same flight back. So obviously I hit them up for a ride and for three days after the festival, we explored the mythical wonders of northern Iceland. We soaked in geothermal pools and explored the haunting lava towers of Dimmuborgir. We drooled in the Motorcycle Museum and laughed at the awful tour guide for the ruins of Erik the Red’s homestead. We sipped coffees in Akureyri, looked within the majestic falls of Godafoss where the gods fell, boarded a Viking long ship, and shared our interests and lives. Who knew something so serendipitous would have been pool soaking a foot away from me? All we have to do is say hello.

Clearly I was getting over it.

They took me all the way to the Keflavik airport where the huge art structure of Valhalla’s rainbow bridge stood erect. As I sat in seat 34D for 7 hours, listening to Gojira on my iPod, I thought of having to immediately jump back into school and work and all of my mundane routines. I thought of the stress, number crunching, and tasks waiting for me in Seattle. And then I smiled, knowing it was all a petty nothing in comparison of who I am and what I can do.

“…But I grow impatient
Cannot stand the wait
And I start to dig
Within me
This tunnel to I
In this region of me
A great dragon is lying
On the wealth of a mighty world
My own world inside
I saw- I saw monsters”
-Gojira
KIMG0238

 

May’s almost over?!

Oh man. So much for writing on this blog regularly! I swear, life is like the land of Faery; you get enticed by cake and dance, a couple shots of brandy, a little brown-chicken-brown-cow and BAM! Three years have gone by when you swear you’ve only danced an hour, tops!

April was a rough month for me. Full of loved ones who chose to make poor decisions, one after another, and me having to learn one of the hardest lessons in life to learn- having to watch them burn and not being able to do anything about it, other than letting them know I’m here for them if they need me. In fact, I’m still learning this lesson because it is a bitch to accept.

And that’s really all I wish to say about that.

May has proven to be much better! I began the month with my annual attendance at a  kick-ass Beltaine ritual in Ravenna Park in Seattle, run by the fabulous Radical Faeries (if you’ve never heard of the Radical Fae organization, they’re a large group of gender bending pagan awesomeness! You can check out more here: http://www.radfae.org/)! It was a beautiful, sunny day and full of laughter and friends. (shirtless me on the right)

17623

Since then, I’ve mostly just been plugging away with work and school! I did finally see a band perform here that I’ve been dying to see live for years! Amon Amarth is a viking death metal band and every time they’re in town, I’m outta town. Hella annoying. This year however, I was finally able to see them and decided to post the event on my Meetup.com, Seattle Metalheads site. I also organized it so that those who were planning to attend could meet me at Pike Place Brewery across the street, for a little pre-show grub n’ drinks! Two guys and two gals showed up at the restaurant, and they all had just moved here. One was from Oklahoma, one from Texas, one from Massachusetts,  and one from Brazil. They had come to the brewery for the same reason I had: to find friends in the American metal community, an ever ostracized niche. It proved to be a huge success! Everyone was very respectful of each other’s differences and had such a great time that we even stuck together for the duration of the show. And we still keep in touch and invite each other to shows and events via text.

But even if there wasn’t a rare-for-me viking death metal band playing, or sharing it with my new viking death metal band loving friends, there is something about simply being at a metal show that I cannot explain. When I first arrive and the opening band is just starting, there’s a lot going on. People are coming and going from the bar, they’re searching for open seats (if there are any), they’re still congregating outside, grabbing something from the merch table before it’s gone, and empty spaces are filling up. And throughout all this, a wave of calm silence comes over me. Kinda like when you’re in a bath and you let your head sink below the water surface and your hearing is now confined to the inner walls of your head. This happens to me at …every …show. And when this happens, I am overwhelmed with comfort. Like I’m at a family reunion and there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be. All of my problems and worries and concerns melt away as a wave of familial love and comfort wash over me. Sounds like a humorous contradiction at a heavy metal concert, I know. Think of it this way: If heavy metal is about anger, trauma, sorrow, and rage; then those who enjoy it must understand these emotions and maybe coping with their own. And when they congregate together, it’s only natural there’ll be an unsaid deep respect and bond between everyone. Kinda like group therapy. Also! I once read a research article where these scientist guys discovered that the “random” patterns of individuals in a mosh pit replicate the exact patterns of a school of fish! How rad is that?! Science.

Speaking of metal, I’m also getting ready to travel to Iceland’s metal festival, Eistnaflug, next month! I haven’t been to a European metal festival for two years and I can’t wait! I’m also looking forward to viewing the new Asatru temple (albeit still under construction), Iceland’s first Norse pagan temple in 1,000 years! Plus the Blue Lagoon of course. Stoked! I’ll hafta write a blog post when I get back. Until then, keep it metal! \m/

“So what do you do?”

It is easy to feel alone. Here we are in an over populated world of constant digital communication, specialized dating sites, forums and websites catering to people (from girls named Rebecca to moviegoers), surrounded by our peers in cities and schools, concert venues and offices. And I think we all know it is yet, still easy to feel completely alone. And due to being a minority religion, maybe it’s more common to feel this way as Pagans. In 2008, the Academic Registration Information System (ARIS) states that there are 342,000 American individuals who identify as Wiccan, and 340,000 who identify as neo-Pagan (http://www.religioustolerance.org/wic_nbr3.htm). Depending on specific sects, the majority of these Wiccans and neo-Pagans are women. When considering those more male-dominated sects (Asatru, Odinism, and Druidry), they’re still out numbered (http://www.academia.edu/7969429/Gender_and_Paganism_in_Census_and_Survey_Data). Now most guys I know are pretty cool hangin’ with anyone and becoming good friends with the Christian father of two down the street, so long as they respect each other. But I have ordered at MOD Pizza before in downtown Seattle, and seen the bearded man behind the toppings bar light up with a huge smile, and reveal his Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) necklace from behind his shirt, and greet me with a nod. There is an unsaid understanding that is deeply personal and thus, gratifying when you meet someone who shares similar religious beliefs as yourself.

Last summer, I started a Meetup group for Pagan men called, Green Man. It is a chance for Pagan guys to take a break from their hectic lives and meet some new like-minded peeps. We meet up twice a month; once a month in a social environment (like a bar or a café) and once a month outside (like on a trail or a river). I started this Meetup for two reasons: 1.) I remember what it was like only having non-Pagan friends nearby and no one able to relate to you like that, and 2.) When I just exhausted myself summiting a mountain by drinking my CamelBak dry 3mi ago, snagging my new shirt, and feeling my knee lock up only to realize that I still have to go back down; I get to the top and see the beautiful majesty that only Nature has and ever will have. The sight and the silence that follows after tearing apart and sacrificing every last comfort zone you had left to the mountain, to the rushing river, to the woods, to the constant sun, or to the unforgiving sea; is humbling. It’s spiritual. And it is when I feel the closest to being a man before my god. (id est: It is a crazy fucking high and I wanna share that shit)

Yesterday, a really bad wind storm hit and many Seattleites lost their power due to it, including traffic lights found on the same grids. I was on my way to a friend’s house on the 522, stuck in this stop-and-go traffic, when I received a notification on my Meetup app on my cell phone. The members in my Green Man Meetup are mostly guys who identify as Pagan, but a lot of them are not. The latter are either dudes who are curious about the religion and would like to meet others to learn more, or simply are just members to get out and have fun. And so a guy posts on there asking, “what do pagan men do exactly?” Thanks to a small town, Midwestern upbringing, this little-defensive teenager inside of me is always ready for revenge (and Pizza Rolls) and really wanted to reply, “We give each other naked bro-hugs and hump trees, what the hell do you think we do?!” But I knew that the guy was honestly curious and probably worked himself up to ask so publically. As I just learned from this documentary film I watched on Thursday called, The Mask You Live In (which is an awesome film, I totally recommend it!), I’m reminded I need to be more constructive in my communication. So as I’m inching from one lightless traffic light to another and being pelted by rain, I’m swirling that question around in my head. What do Pagan men do? How does it differ from any other man? How does it differ from Pagan women, or from a mixed gender group? The more I attempt to answer this in my head, the more I come up short. So I put the task aside until I returned home from my friend’s house. And when I did just this, I learned very quickly there was a 1000 character limit for posting on there. I rewrote it and rewrote it, discussing different styles of practice, pantheons, hobbies and interests, covens and solitaires, and even mentioning mead making! Deleting it each time.

Finally, I took a deep breath and a sip of my porter.

Pagan men do exactly what non-Pagan men do. The only difference is that we can relate and understand each other better than we can to someone who does not share our beliefs. Yes, there is a higher chance we may have shared interests in music, literature, and art as these are emotion driven, like our religions. But that’s not always the case, and it’s really about feeling free to act however you want to act and to say those things that you would normally leave out when you’re chatting it up with your sister’s boyfriend. Maybe the only real way that separates us from non-Pagans, is how we see things; how we view our world and our surroundings. But how do I really know this? How do I really know what my Atheist buddy feels after he summits a mountain and sees his accomplishment, or his Buddhist girlfriend beside him, for that matter? No, I think we’re just like everyone else. Except we have more candles.

fire

Altering to the Altar

Several months ago, I was alone in my home on my day off and I heard a murder of crows just outside the door, and then it was suddenly quiet. When I opened the door, I noticed that our “We’re All Mad Here” Cheshire Cat doormat was tossed aside and the three pennies that my witchy roommate had placed under it for good fortune, had been arranged in a nice and even row, one above the other. Weird. I replaced the mat back onto the pennies and shut the door. Not five minutes later, I hear more crow cackling going on just outside the door. Opening it, I notice that the mat had, once again, been tossed aside to reveal three shiny pennies. Except this time the pennies were evenly rearranged in a row side by side. Am I in a fucking fable?! Once again, I replace the mat and shut the door (albeit skeptically looking at the trees as I slowly shut the door). And once again, the party of crows yammerin’ away at the exact spot. This time, the exposed pennies were arranged as three points of an invisible triangle. And then the crows left and that was that. And I poured out my beer.

I told a client who is into Biblical numerology about the story some days later, and she snatched my calculator nearby and proceeded to write all these math equations down on scrap paper and punched the calculator emphatically. Then she’d pause and laugh hysterically, and punch in some more numbers- scratching down the answers on the paper. From my Western mind, she looked like a crazy lady found in some downtown city! (But I have to remind myself: If that same crazy lady was once known as the Oracle of Delphi, would she still be crazy? …Probably, but we’re all mad here, right? And maybe that’s the point.) Suddenly, she stood up straight, threw back her shoulders, and announced the answer to whatever she was trying to figure out. “It was a message! [The crows] were trying to tell you that your upcoming year will be very spiritual and religious for you.” Makes sense. Three pennies in three separate arrangements (done by crows!) is steeped in religious symbolism. And so far, I’d say that’s been pretty accurate, actually!

Now, I was pretty active within my religion already; practicing in public, and in private, in rituals with groups and covens. I also would do the occasional little spellwork, volunteer at the Esoteric Book Conference, and attend social outings and discussion groups that were hosted by friends. But what I had done over the years, that I didn’t even realize, was begin to lose touch with my religion. My relationship with my god, and with Nature. So to remedy this, I did the one thing I’ve never done; I erected an altar (cue the lightning and storm winds and the poor, reluctant ox; dragged to his fate).

I always associated altars with the Church, which was a little too close to home for me. I felt that all my tables, counters, and shelves were little altars and I can practice my craft on them because after all, isn’t our religion found in everything? On everything? And for more than half my life, this worked just fine; I’ve got deities scattered everywhere! But then, those little altars would get random things thrown on ’em. Bills and junk mail, car keys, pocket knife, pens. As though these little altars were ironically symbolic of my life; void of religion, of personality, and stifled with junk mail. I needed a REAL altar. A little place, close to my closeness, that which nothing but sacred and intention rests on. So I found me a little wooden table and placed it right by my bed, under the window in my bedroom. I Dremel’d totem animals onto it. I added items and tools and images of deeply personal love and reasons. I went to my friend’s shop, Gargoyles Statuary in Seattle, and purchased the Green Man face that spoke to me the clearest, and hung it just above the altar. I added a green altar cloth and two empty Gulden Draak bottles, one white and one black, that my best friend and I drank together when we camped in the magical old-growth woods by Mt St Helens. I placed Spring flowers in the bottles and some fake green ivy on the wall above Green Man. Slowly, my new altar became a space (that wasn’t a space) that I’ve never had in my home. When I look upon it, in the calm of the evening or the brightness of the morning, I feel the exact same way as I do when I’m in a clearing in the woods. Some would call this a “nemeton”, a sacred place. Where the trees that surround you are still, and the birds are quiet. And the light above shines down and you feel a strange calm. Like it’s 1:30pm on a Sunday and it’s gonna stay that way no matter how long you stand there. I love that feeling and I only feel it when I’m in a clearing in the thickest of woods. And whether I’m praying, practicing, or just…being there, I now feel that exact same way when I’m at my altar.

There are other ways my life has become more religious and spiritual, in their own right, lately (crows are hella smart!). But this has definitely become one of the more important ones as it helps me to just reset my day and take a moment for me and my religion. I hope that, if anyone who is reading this who does not already have themselves a little nemeton, they can find a place (that isn’t a place) somewhere and breathe.

woods