Ecological grief is a profoundly helpless feeling. You can rage, but you’re only one person pitted against an entity with the (questionable) backing of lawyers and law enforcement. You can point out how bad an idea this all is, but it won’t matter to those who refuse to listen.
Individuals don’t have the police force’s arsenal, or the legal budget of Nestlé. We’re discouraged from organizing at every turn, as protesters are shot with water cannons and workers are forced to sit through propaganda to keep us from marshaling our numbers and the power of our labor. It keeps us willing to accept less and less — less money, less security, poorer health, dirtier air and water, fewer rights, less workplace safety — while we’re also bombarded with encouragement to seek relief through coping mechanisms like retail therapy. In other words, the things that grind us down also keep us supporting the entities behind the grinding.
As communities, our options for responding to environmental trauma expand beyond what we’re able to do as individuals. A single-person boycott, or protest, or letter writing campaign, or even a single thrown fist doesn’t amount to much. Together, we’re stronger, and strong communities can persist in the face of environmental trauma. Identifying the strengths of each member, organizing ways to distribute resources outside of the systems that profit off of environmental destruction, and creating strategies for protecting the local environment may not seem like much in the face of a global problem, but they are. Every community is different, every local environment is different, and it’s on a neighborhood scale that we’ll be able to look out for each other.
I am, perhaps, fortunate to live in a place that’s a nexus for policy and corporate lobbying. My community has options that others often don’t. On a daily basis, our neighborhoods and local businesses see the people who make the decisions that lead to environmental trauma. We know their names. We recognize them. And we can make them know they are unwelcome.
The faces behind the decisions that harm people and the environment are not gods, and they all have names and pictures.
Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!
Sometimes, writing can be a visual art form.
Not the same way logo design or typography are — just the shape and flow of text itself. The letters don’t have to spell anything, they don’t even have to be letters (just look at the beautifully evocative text of the Codex Seraphinianus) in order to have meaning.
In the Codex Seraphinianus, the artist chose to use an invented language that doesn’t map to an existing one — while he invented an alphabet to write in, these letters join together to form words that don’t mean anything. The overall feeling is of being a young child who has gotten a hold of some beautiful and inexplicable book. The child knows the words mean things to those who can read them, and it feels like there is a whole secret world of knowledge there for the unlocking. But, without that kernel of understanding — without some way to turn the jumble of shapes into something that makes sense — there is a perpetually tantalizing, mysterious feeling of knowledge kept just out of reach.
In its primary role, written language is bound by semantics. C with an A followed by a T spells “cat,” and you know the sounds each letter stands for and the small, furry animal to which they refer. Asemic writing is writing unbound by semantics. It has meaning, it can be interpreted, but these things are not subject to the rules and logic of reading. The shapes and repetition of letters are treated as a pattern, neither more nor less than the fronds of a fern or the shapes of Arabesque tile, and the feelings and images they evoke are what give them meaning. This necessarily varies from person to person — where one may read aggression in the slant of a garbled word, another may see exuberance — but this subjectivity does not mean asemic writing makes any less sense than language.
It’s just different.
In some of the magical and spiritual disciplines I work with, language becomes more than its literal meaning, and asemic writing can be doubly so. You can take a sentence, strike out the vowels and repeating letters, then rearrange the remainder into a sigil used to focus energy and intention. A planchette can dash across a page, leaving the uncertain scrawls of a spirit in its wake, while a group of breathless observers try to find sense in the jumble of lines and shapes. Scrubbed of their literal meanings, freed from the restrictions of semantics, letters and words (or alien shapes that only suggest letters and words) can condense into something else.
There are whole areas of literature devoted to analyzing word choice. “Happy” may not always mean “joyful,” and “patience” may not always be virtuous, and its worthwhile to examine why someone chose the words that they did. Even when words no longer have meaning, this still applies. Asemic writing is still made up of the lines and arcs we associate with text, and their placement is never random — there are things to be read in the ascending slant of a line, or a ripe, bubblelike downward curve.
Even when you can’t read the words, there is meaning in them.
“When you are writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.” ― Tom Waits
Ever use shufflemancy? It’s a type of technomancy that relies on shuffling through a collection of music. It could be an album, it could be a playlist of your favorite songs, any sufficiently large number of tunes will do.
Tom Waits has been described as a lot of things: avant-garde, gravelly, whiskey-soaked, experimental, a raconteur. John Hodgman said that “[w]e all hear our own stories in our favorite songs (that is why Tom Waits sings in werewolf language—you can pretend it is about anything you want!),” and I’m inclined to agree.
And so, I tacked together a shufflemancy playlist made up entirely of Tom Waits tracks.
It’s pretty self-explanatory. Clear your head, ask your question, hit shuffle, and listen. (Or, if you’re not using the Spotify app, shut your eyes, scroll, click, and listen.) Do any lyrics leap out at you? What impressions do you get? Let the werewolf troubadour sing(/play/beat the bathroom door with a 2×4) you a divination.
Ever have a card that ends up showing up a bunch? Seemingly out of the blue, it starts showing up in every reading you receive or do for yourself.
Right now, I’ve got the Kind of Wands.
Across multiple decks (he’s been a crow, a man, and even a taxidermy fish in a squirrel suit), he keeps showing up. The first time was when I tried a very interesting three-card reading — how you see yourself and how others see you, versus how you really are. Ever since then, any time I have a question about feeling sure about my place in the world, or keeping up my confidence, he’s there. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever received the King of Wands in a reading before then. Not when I pulled cards for myself, not when I paid for a reading by someone else, not even when my ex’s stepmother was teaching me to read.
In truth, I could do a lot worse than the King of Wands. He’s a leader. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he’s holding a blossoming branch that symbolizes verdant life and the energy of creativity. He’s surrounded by symbols of strength, nobility, and the element of fire. In the Crow Tarot, he is a sign that focus and energy will ensure a successful outcome. In the Deviant Moon Tarot, he’s a charismatic (if easily annoyed) leader or innovator. In the Regretsy Tarot, he is a fish in a squirrel suit.
The King of Wands is a determinator. If he wants to throw his weight behind something, it will blossom. If he doesn’t, it will wither. As a King, he is less impetuous than a Knight. Unfortunately, that also means that the success or failure of an opportunity rests entirely on the King’s willingness to act on it. No pressure, or anything.
I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Even during the times when I know exactly what I need to do to feel happy and successful, health challenges mean that I don’t always have the ability to do them. Here, at least, it seems like the King of Wands is a reassurance that all isn’t lost — I can still achieve what I want with energy and focus.
So, I’ve made no secret of the fact that stones occupy a place of honor in my practice. When I first started learning, I was drawn to the magic of gemstones above anything else. I think I got it from my dad — he made jewelry, beautiful things of silver, bone, and stone. From a young age, I was surrounded by bright lapis lazuli, soothing rose quartz, and shimmering tiger’s eye.
I like gemstones because they resonate with me. I’ve learned how to choose stones that make me feel uplifted and energetic, pieces that are as functional as they are beautiful.
But not everything crystal-related is all sweetness and light.
Most witches and other magic practitioners know that, when you get a new tool — or bring anything into your home, really — it’s a good idea to cleanse it to remove the energy of everyone and everything it’s come in contact with before you. What cleansing is good enough to ease the pain of a nine year old child laborer?
(And all of that’s before you even consider the environmental impact of gemstones.)
The picture isn’t entirely bleak, though. For those who aren’t willing or able to give up gemstones entirely, there’s one easy way to fight back: Know where your crystals come from, and choose wisely.
When I collect a stone or make a wand, I make an effort to find out as much as I can about where the components came from and how they were gathered. I’m not at all against hunting (it beats factory farming), but I use naturally-shed antlers. I know the areas the crystals came from, and try to source as much as I can from mines within the U.S., since it makes transparency a little easier.
There’s only one problem — this really isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most metaphysical shops and gemstone suppliers don’t provide information on their stones’ origins, if they were ever even given it in the first place. The places that do may also charge a premium, because cheap stones come at the expense of things like environmental protections and worker safety. So, if you can find ethical sources of gemstones, support them! Money talks, and the best way individuals have to end the trade in unethical crystals is to create an economic disincentive. It’s a slow, imperfect process, but it’s what we’ve got right now.
Estate sales are another option for those who don’t want to directly contribute to the trade in unethical stones. While they may have been mined under poor conditions, there’s really no undoing that. Keeping estate sale stones in circulation is a way to help reduce our dependence on mining.
Using local stones is another option. Crystals are pretty, and their properties are helpful, but quartz is incredibly abundant. Some of my favorite stones to work with are simple river rocks I picked up on a vacation with my boyfriend, or holey stones found in a creek.
Mining is dangerous and labor-intensive for workers at the best of times, and stones are sensitive things. While crystals may be longer-lived and more durable than animals or plants, they are no less affected by their environment, and these effects are passed on. Take the time to know where your stones come from, appreciate the tremendous amount of energy, effort, and danger involved in mining them, and contribute to reducing the burden on the people and places that bring them to you.
Note: This post contains affiliate links to some of the stones I talk about. They allow me to earn a small finder’s fee, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for helping to support independent artists and artisans, as well as this site!
Creative blocks. We get ’em, we hate ’em. The feeling of grasping for an idea is never fun — words and images seem just out of reach, and we know that if we could just get something down, we’d be able to take it from there.
If you deal with the occasional block, or just want some help channeling your creative impulses, try keeping some of these stones in your work space:
Sodalite is said to promote logic and rationality, but it has a ton of other properties that make it a useful tool in the artist’s arsenal. It’s ability to help balance emotions and soothe panicky feelings can help combat those times when a blank page feels too intimidating. Use it when you need to calm anxiety and trust yourself to create beautiful things.
Golden rutilated quartz is clear quartz filled with golden “hairs” of rutile. It’s an uplifting stone, and is said to help clear energetic blockages. As a form of clear quartz, it can be programmed with your intentions, while the golden rutile needles within it help to stimulate creativity and invite divine inspiration.
Lodolite it my favorite stone, bar none. It, like golden rutilated quartz, is another form of quartz with inclusions of other minerals. However, while rutilated quartz contains characteristic needles of rutile, lodolite can contain any number of different minerals, often in patterns that resemble miniature landscapes. (Hence three of its other names — garden, landscape, or scenic quartz.)
Lodolite is a great stone for enhancing communication, and is especially helpful if a trance or trancelike state is part of your creative process. It’s powers of manifestation can combine here to help you achieve a creative trance, communicate the ideas that come to you, and manifest the creative works in your heart.
Is any stone happier or more effervescent than citrine? I’ve never met one I didn’t like. Using citrine can help connect you to a very joyful energy. It also helps promote the easy flow of ideas, ideal for creative brainstorming sessions, and enhances clarity and visualization. It’s a very bright, energetic stone. Any form of citrine will do, but those that haven’t had their color artificially enhanced seem to work the best.
Fortunately for us, Herkimer diamonds are not diamonds — they’re actually a type of double-terminated quartz. While double-terminated quartz can be found anywhere, though, these are specifically from around Herkimer, New York.
These stones are potent. Like golden rutilated quartz, they help remove blockages to promote the free flow of energy. It’s considered a powerful stone for workplaces, attracting positive attention (and, with it, money). It’s also said to “boost” other stones, helping small stones to act like much larger ones. Most Herkimer diamonds are small, but they don’t need to be big to pack a wallop.
Check out some lovely Herkimer diamonds at BlissCrystals.
Creativity can be a fickle thing, but not all of us can work on its timetable. (Personally, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed an order from a client on a day when the words just. Were. Not. Flowing.) With some discipline and a little help unblocking our energies and getting the creative juices flowing again, we can overcome blocks and keep the ideas coming.
My music needs change a little from season to season. As the weather turns from snow to sun, I start seeking out bouncier, more energetic songs. If you’re like me, you might dig this collection of tunes for planting your metaphorical seeds and getting the sap running. Happy Ostara!
Once, I mentioned to someone that I was interested in visiting a Reiki massage therapist. Immediately after I said it, I received a very baffling piece of advice: “Don’t join a cult.”
I say baffling, because:
What do either of those things have to do with each other?
Cults have a very definite set of characteristics that make them destructive to the people they trap. People don’t join a cult because they’re foolish or don’t know any better. They join them because they are desperate, and cults have a highly evolved set of strategies for preying on this desperation. Saying “don’t join a cult” is an extremely reductive treatment of a set of very complex psychological and social problems.
Cults work because people don’t realize they’re about to join one. Saying “don’t join a cult” is a bit like saying “don’t choke to death on a potato” or “don’t get malaria.”
In Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, Margot Adler points out that Pagan groups don’t share the characteristics of cults. I can’t reasonably say that no Pagan group leader has ever used their influence the way a cult leader does, but the motivations for being Pagan, or even being a secular witch, are not rooted in the desperation and desire to belong that are the hallmarks of someone vulnerable to a cult. (Given the number of solitary Pagans and witches, it would really odd way to go about obtaining a sense of belonging.)
That said, sometimes spiritual advisors and Pagan group leaders take a hard left into toxicity. I mean, there’s a whole range of behavior between garden-variety low functioning manipulators and Shoko Asahara (and none of it is good).
So, how do you tell if your spiritual advisor may not have your best interests at heart?
Dealing with curse-breaking, like other forms of witchcraft, requires practice, learning, and dedication, but there is nothing so special about it that only one person in the world can help you… and it definitely shouldn’t cost you four easy payments of $10k each. But, while most people know to get a second opinion if their doctor delivers some bad news, they often don’t necessarily feel the same about spiritual advisors.
I hate to be all “not all psychics,” but it’s true. Just like with any other bad news, get a second (or third) opinion, and learn what you can do to help yourself first. Curses also aren’t nearly as common as many people think, so the odds of you actually having a curse that needs removing are not very high.
2. Nudity is not optional.
“Going skyclad” is a thing that I think a lot of people have weird ideas about. It’s a way to remove the trappings of rank from people, to place all of the participants on equal footing. It’s also a way to delineate the ritual setting, since most people don’t go about their daily lives in the nude, and to celebrate the body without shame — if you’re uninhibited enough to be in the buff, you’re uninhibited enough to fully give yourself over to the emotions and feelings of the ritual.
That said, nobody has any place to tell someone that they must be skyclad. Nobody.
There have been instances where gross perverts have maneuvered themselves into leadership positions in part to preside over a space full of naked people. Anyone who insists that you absolutely have to be naked in front of them (and isn’t, like, a literal emergency room trauma surgeon) is not anyone who should be trusted.
3. Something something root chakra.
There’s a lot of crossover between Western new age spirituality and the concept of chakras in Hindu tantrism (something which both Hindu people and members of new age movements often feel several ways about). Part of this is the appropriation of the idea of chakra opening.
The root chakra is part of a complex physical and spiritual energy system. I can’t speak for Hindu tantrism in particular, but, in Westernised practices, this chakra is associated with sexuality, survival, security, and all of the other lower Maslow-type business. A blockage of the root chakra also impacts all of those above it. This makes sense — if you don’t feel safe and have your basic needs met, you probably aren’t going to really open up to much else in life.
As with going skyclad, there is no reason to allow someone to do anything to you that you are not comfortable with, even a guru. This isn’t like overcoming fear through skydiving or bungee jumping — this is a predator who wants to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position. Cloaking it in a veneer of spirituality doesn’t legitimize it.
4. “You’re special!”
Here is where things cross over into cult recruitment tactics. One of the things cults are known for is love bombing. Love bombing is sometimes used toward positive ends. More often, it’s manipulation.
Love bombing takes a vulnerable person and makes them feel wanted and special. It can also take a person who just thrives on praise and make them feel elevated and unique. Once that “loved” status is obtained, most people don’t want to let go of it — so they put up with a lot to keep the love coming.
For a very brief time, I was involved in a small coven led by someone I trusted. All of the people involved in it were friends, and we all knew each other pretty well. I didn’t stay long, because my gut feeling pulled me away — I could tell something in the milk wasn’t clean, even if I didn’t know what. In the short time I was there, though, I could see the leader love bombing one of the members. This member got endless compliments, elevated to a higher rank, and the leader insisted that a kiss was part of the ritual structure.
Long story short, some rumors of sexual misconduct and a broken marriage later, that coven isn’t a thing anymore.
5. “The world doesn’t understand.”
Here’s another crossover into cult territory. One of the signs of a cult is isolation — the cult can only function if its members have a complete reliance on it. So, it shuts down critical thought and fosters the sense that the rest of the world is at fault, and it’s good and right to be at odds with it.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be against a lot of the things society accepts as normal. Being anti-capitalist, anti-overconsumption, or anti-patriarchal doesn’t make someone weird or wrong — far from it.
It does become toxic when that feeling extends to being unable to associate with anyone outside of a given belief system. When a trusted advisor tells you that you should alienate anyone who questions what you’re doing, that’s bad news.
Weirdly, it’s something that shows up in multi-level marketing schemes, too. Amway even has a name for these outsiders: dream stealers. This name is a way to “other” people who are suspicious of their activities. If a person doesn’t want to join your downline, buy Amway products, or otherwise go whole-hog into the Amway lifestyle? “Why, they’re just a loser who doesn’t want to see you succeed! They want to take away your dream!”
If your advisor tries to control the narrative by shutting down critical thought, that’s bad news.
6. “Your doctor is holding you back.”
It used to be an oft-repeated refrain that you simply couldn’t practice witchcraft if you were under the influence of anything. While this is understandably interpreted as a caution not to drink your weight in sacramental beer or rip a fat rail off of the back of a toilet immediately before entering the circle, you can still find people who take a dangerous, hard line approach.
As in, you shouldn’t be on anything. The medication you need for anxiety? Nope. The mood stabilizers that help you function? Nah. Antipsychotics? No way.
I think this happens when the importance of practicing with a clear head gets crossed with a kind of orthorexia — the idea that you must adhere to a contrived standard of internal “purity” in order to be worthy, and relying on outside help to function somehow makes you lesser. From my observation, this doesn’t seem to arise out of a desire for control (trust me, I’m much less tractable when I’m anxious), but telling someone to stop taking medication that they need is still destructive.
I’ve had some great experiences with spiritual advisors and group leaders, and some not-so-great ones. When spiritual advisors are good at what they do, they can help foster tremendous growth and creativity. “Help” and “foster” are the key words, though — they are there to advise, while the actual growth comes from within. If someone tries to make you dependent on them by claiming to be the only one who can save you, forces you into a vulnerable position, love bombs you, urges you to isolate yourself from anyone else who might see them for who they are, or tells you to stop taking your medication, it’s time to drop them.
I get a lot of use out of social media. Sure, it’s got its flaws. When you’ve moved around as much as I have, though, it’s a pretty useful way to stay in touch with the people who’re important to you. (Especially when your local postal service can charitably be called “unreliable.”)
Still, there’s something about it that makes me dread using it. Every scroll through my feed is a list of the worst headlines from the last news cycle, friends arguing, and edgelords edgelording, occasionally interspersed with pictures of kittens. It’s a lot to keep up with, and it amazes me how much mental energy it ends up sapping — and I don’t have that much to start with.
Stepping back from it really bothers me, though. Call it FOMO, I guess, or at least the fear of losing touch. But is it even worth it when it leaves me feeling drained and anxious within minutes, and most of the news stories I read are things I’ve read elsewhere? A lot of my social media is private, and I’m not exactly writing to an audience of millions — what does it matter if I like or re-post the stories my friends have most likely already seen? At what point does it become purely performative?
Mental energy is a precious resource for anyone, but I depend really heavily on it to pay my bills. If I can’t stand being online, I can’t write for my clients. If I’m too agitated to focus, I can’t make things. As obvious as that seems now, there was a long while where I didn’t realize it — it felt like that agitation and mental fatigue were normal. They were the cost of participating, or something I had to put up with in order to keep in touch with people and signal boost things I care about.
It seems like such a Millennial problem, doesn’t it? But with six states under my belt and my mobility restricted by my health, social media has become more important to me than it probably otherwise would have. On one hand, this isn’t entirely a good thing (otherwise I wouldn’t be fussing about it now). On the other, I can’t imagine how isolated I’d end up feeling otherwise. I like being somewhat itinerant. I’m an extrovert, and I thrive on meeting new people. The flip side to that is that it’s extra rough when I end up leaving them behind.
On a lark, I pulled a few cards from a tarot deck I recently picked up. I didn’t have any pressing concerns, just wanted to get a feel for the energy of the cards and see what they were like to read from.
“How can I put more into my art and writing,” I asked, “And get to a point where I’m more fulfilled creatively?”
And I got The Hermit.
The Hermit is alone, but not lonely. This card expresses a need for introspection, a meditative period away from distraction. It’s dedication to a goal, and a solid understanding of the path that he is on. The Hermit has to turn inward first, before he can find understanding.
In other words, he needs to be the hell off of Facebook so he can learn a thing.
… Okay, so, in retrospect, this seems head-smashingly obvious. Still, on the tail end of about three entire minutes of Twitter, it really clicked for me. Putting myself through the wringer of reading, liking, and re-tweeting post after post about the worst the world has to offer isn’t really doing much good, even in a signal boosting sense. I don’t want to get all gift-shop-driftwood-plaque-with-the-word-“Breathe”-painted-on-it, but I need to stop this. It’s definitely not improving me as a person, and I don’t think it’s even really helping anyone else.
So, I’m experimenting with another social media hiatus. I’m still updating my Instagram and other strictly blog- and shop-related things, but I really need to figure out better ways to internet while maintaining my sanity.
Learn more about Deepening Resilience here, or read my previous post in this series here.
“Climate change” seems like such a soft term, doesn’t it? George Carlin talked about how euphemistic “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect” sounded, and I agree with him — warm sounds cozy, a house is a home, and greenhouses grow things. Climate change doesn’t really seem to encapsulate the full scope of acidifying oceans, dust-choked air, and the creeping horror of feeling your muscles freeze stiff in the deathgrip of a polar vortex, either.
If you can’t tell, I find the whole thing pretty frightening.
Part of it is that I worry for all of the people hurt the worst by it. This is especially true because the people most affected by climate change are women, especially those in developing nations where poor infrastructure creates additional barriers to preparedness. As long as low income women are the ones experiencing the worst of climate change, you will never get the people capable of making a global impact to care.
Part of it is knowing how many animals suffer because of climate change. Unless they’re cute and marketable, though, the people capable of making a global impact still won’t care.
Part of it is a gnawing dread, like watching a slow-motion car wreck. Knowing that there is a tipping point at which we can no longer do anything (how are we going to capture all of the methane currently trapped in melting ice?). Knowing that we’re pretty much there. Knowing that those with the ability to hit the breaks, aren’t.
Part of it is pure self-interest. Extremes in temperature mess me up. The heat makes my brain feel like its being crushed, I can’t breathe, and my heart pounds. The cold makes every limb feel swarmed with fire ants. Knowing that these extremes are only going to be worse, and come more often, isn’t comforting.
Climate change isn’t necessarily the kind of thing you can prepare for. Sure, you can develop a Bartertown-style compound for surviving a Mad Maxesque, worst-case-scenario apocalypse, but that only lasts as long as your ability to defend it does. Investing in gold or other concrete things would make for a great updated retelling of The Cock and the Jewel. Land and supplies are only as good as your ability to keep them, and even the most ardent stockpiler will run out of bullets, eventually.
Personally, I’m not sure how I’d prepare even if I were entirely able-bodied. I know how to grow food and forage, but this is only helpful as long as the right conditions for growing things last. With the weather weirding and disappearing pollinators, I have no misapprehensions about being able to feed myself. I have other useful skills I could barter, but that isn’t really bankable in such an extreme scenario.
I feel the most prepared when I open myself to the possibility of disaster. It might sound fatalistic, but death positivity has done more to help make me an effective person than anything else. When I embrace the fact that everything is probably not going to be okay, when I can look in the face of the absolute certainty that I’m going to die of something at some point, it’s freeing because I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can hope and work for the best, but expect (and accept) the worst. Death, itself, holds no fear for me.
As trite as it is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are things that can be done now (not “things we can do” — there is very little, on a day-to-day level, that individuals can do to stop climate change), and the people preventing them are not gods.