life, Neodruidry

Could 15th century poetry have an antidote for toxic positivity?

So, toxic positivity. If you haven’t personally encountered it, you might be thinking, “J, you absolute drill bit, how could positivity be toxic?” Just roll with me on this.

What’s toxic positivity?

Eat a healthful diet and exercise regularly, and that’s healthy. Obsessively count calories and jog for hours to burn off every meal, and that’s an eating disorder. Play video games to relax, and that’s good and fun. Play video games for hours on end, to the point where you’re eating at your desk and your room looks like a Superfund site, and that’s unhealthy escapism. Looking on the bright side of things is healthy. Police your thoughts to avoid having an iota of negativity sneak in, and that’s toxic positivity.

Toxic positivity shows up in a wide variety of ways. In this context, I want to talk about the stay-positive-at-all-times-to-attract-a-better-life-for-yourself that still seems to pervade the internet and new age thought in general.

In some sects of fundamentalist Christianity, women are told to “keep sweet.” Despite what they may feel, they must be “joyfully available” to their husbands. No matter what, that positive facade must be upheld.

This happens in new age circles, too. Concepts like the Law of Attraction tell people that negativity begets negativity. That means that you should fill your life and thoughts with positivity, so your life gets better. If things are bad, you’ve clearly brought it on yourself by being negative.

Positivity becomes toxic when it’s rigidly enforced in the face of all sense and reason. When you’re told that your negative thoughts and feelings attract bad things to you, thereby holding you responsible for all of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that’s not healthy. It’s natural to feel bad — and even act on that feeling — when bad things happen. People who are born into poverty, become disabled or very ill, or experience other misfortunes don’t manifest these things for themselves.

Toxic positivity happens in a climate that enforces a status quo. When you’re made to feel responsible for misfortune in your life, and, above all, not to ever let on that you’re unhappy, you’re less likely to agitate for necessary changes in your life and the world around you.

It wasn’t always like this.

It’s also not uncommon to see new age gurus misappropriating very spiritual concepts in order to push this modified version of the prosperity gospel. You can see this in the idea that ever having or expressing a “negative” emotion could block one’s chakras, disrupting one’s internal energy flow (at least, until you pay a guru for a class, video, tool, or treatment to fix it).

The thing is, while this idea isn’t exactly new, it’s relatively recent. It’s also something that crops up as a means of control — tell people that their negative emotions will harm them, and it saves you from the inconvenient work of having to care about other people. Get enough people to believe that their misery is their own fault, and the rich and powerful get to stay rich, powerful, and beyond criticism.

The Three Cauldrons as a Remedy for Toxic Positivity

Amergin was a Druid and bard in the Irish mythological cycle. The idea of the Three Cauldrons is attributed to him, taken from a collection of poetry and prose that dates back to the fifteenth century CE. While these writings come from that period, the ideas within them may hearken back as far as the eighth century.

In these writings, humans are regarded as having three cauldrons within them: Coire Goiriath, the Cauldron of Warmth; Coire Ernmae, the Cauldron of Motion (or Vocation); and Coire Sois, the Cauldron of Wisdom. These should not be conflated with the energy centers found in other spiritual writings and systems — the Three Cauldrons aren’t simply a European equivalent to chakras. The writings don’t actually specify where, exactly, the cauldrons are. Are they in the body, the soul, both, or neither? Despite this, it’s generally accepted that Coire Goiriath resides in the lower belly, Coire Ermae in the chest, and Coire Sois in the head.

With this in mind, people are generally considered to be born with their Cauldron of Warmth upright, filled with vitality and the capacity for physical growth. Their Cauldron of Motion/Vocation is on its side, and turns upright only after growing, learning, and experiencing things. The Cauldron of Wisdom is upside-down. It should be noted that not everyone’s cauldrons are oriented the same way — some people have differing talents, levels of physical vitality, and so forth. There is no ideal way for your cauldrons to be, they simply are. It’s your job to do the work to maximize the potential of what you’ve been given.

My own existence springs forth from the Cauldron of Poesy,
Which was created by the gods from the dúile;
Enlightened is each inspiration
That streams forth in my speech and from my center of being.
I am Amergin White Knee,
Ancient in years and gray of hair.
My inspirations are found within
The many forms of poetry
That are born within my Cauldron of Warming.
The Gods do not orient each person’s Cauldrons equally
Or fill them with the same talents and abilities:
Some are formed upside down, some tilted or upright.
Some are empty, while others are half full,
Some are filled with knowledge like Eber and Donn,
Capable of creating chants of life and death,
Through a skillful combination of words
In the power of three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter,
And possessing the strength of three measures: double letters,
Long vowels and short vowels.
My Cauldron of Vocation is trained
Through a study of the arts of poetry
And sustains me through proper composition.
I sing also of the Cauldron of Knowledge
That allocates the gifts of wisdom
According to the laws of each art
And the work of each artist in general.

Amergin, The Cauldron of Poesy

The Cauldron of Motion

While people can be born with their cauldrons oriented in different ways, they don’t need to stay like that. For people who wear blinders throughout their lives, their Cauldron of Motion may be upside down. Those who practice the arts may have their cauldron on its side. Those who go through the depths of sorrow and heights of ecstasy may turn their cauldron upright.

I want to highlight that last part: the depths of sorrow and heights of ecstasy. Eighth century poetry acknowledged that, in order to write, sing, and create art, you needed to experience things. Not just one kind of thing. Sorrow is as integral to the process as joy is.

The writings get more specific here, too. Longing, grief, envy, and the search for the divine are all acknowledged forms of sorrow. Good health, marriage, and accomplishment are some of the acknowledged forms of joy. The concept of balance — not just between joy and sorrow — is further emphasized:

The Cauldron of Vocation
Fills and is filled,
Grants gifts and is enriched,
Nourishes and is enlivened,
Sings praises and is praised,
Chants invocations and is enchanted,
Creates harmonies and is harmoniously created,
Defends and is strongly defended,
Orients and is aligned,
Upholds and is upheld.

Good is the wellspring of measured speech.
Good is the home of the well of speech.
Good is the joining of their powers:
Strength is made durable.

It endures longer than any fortress.
It is better than any tradition.
It is our guide to wisdom,
As we free ourselves from ignorance.

Amergin, excerpt from The Cauldron of Vocation

This power comes not from upholding positivity in the hopes of attracting a better life. It comes from the work of experiencing both joy and sorrow, devoting yourself to a greater pursuit, and acting and speaking with honesty and integrity. This is the origin of strength, endurance, and freedom. This is what lets us change things not only for ourselves, but for the world.

life

I will become… Five Punch Man.

Studying Neodruidry has given me a lot of exercise for mental discipline, but didn’t really come with a physical side. Plogging is something that follows that mindset, but is also something I’ve been doing for ages and don’t really consider an additional physical activity. I wanted another way to make myself stronger, enforce physical discipline, and burn off some of the extra ADHD energy.

Even if you aren’t a degenerate weeb (just kidding — ily degenerate weebs) you’ve probably seen/read/heard of One Punch Man. Even if you haven’t done any of that, you’ve probably seen a meme or two based on it.

Anyway, at one point, someone asks Saitama how he became One Punch Man. His answer?

100 Push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and 10km running EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

It’s not bullshit, either. There are tons of breakdowns of (and testimonials about) the One Punch Man Workout all over the internet at this point.

My only problem is that, while I covet the muscular limbs of a Percheron, my own are noodly and disappointing. Shovelglove has absolutely helped my upper body and my endurance, but I need something for my most-of-me.

So, for now, I’m adding in what I call the Five Punch Man workout. It is basically the same as Saitama’s, just… one fifth of it for now. Twenty push-ups, twenty sit-ups, twenty squats, and about a mile and a half’s worth. I’ll work my way up to a hundred, assuming my knees don’t come apart in the process.

Wish me luck!

Blog, life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Back into the woods.

it’s a rly good deal tho, I texted.

My phone buzzed a second later.
I’m literally about to get on a plane right now, he’d sent back.

This back and forth happened a few more times, before he finally agreed that a couple hundred dollars off a four-day vacation was, in fact, a very good deal.

This all started when my partner realized how much vacation time he had left over at the end of last year. It doesn’t roll over and he can’t cash it in, so it was pretty much just kind of wasted. Ever the supportive devil on his shoulder, I urged him to make sure he takes all of the paid time off he could this year, especially if it was just going to evaporate if he didn’t.

“Your job’s able to offer you this because of the value created by your labor. It’s not a free perk or a fun bonus, it’s literally something you’ve earned. If you can’t get the equivalent value in your paycheck, you should take whatever you’re offered. You’re basically giving up part of your salary otherwise.”

(I also have the same attitude toward expensed meals, fitness equipment, and other benefits. Just because it isn’t money doesn’t mean it isn’t compensation, friends!)

And this is how, on a shuttle immediately before boarding a plane, my partner prayed that his phone’s battery and internet would hold out long enough for him to book a four day stay in a Getaway cabin. It was a scramble to schedule everything before the sale ended or his phone gave out, and he succeeded with almost no time to spare.

A sign on a cabin that says "Getaway Shirley."

We’ve stayed in a Getaway tiny cabin before, so I knew this’d be a good deal for us. Last time was during winter, so I was pretty excited to experience the area when it was a bit warmer and greener. That part of Virginia isn’t exactly in full bloom just yet, but was still beautiful — especially if you’re a weirdo like me who experiences aesthetic arrest from the sight of, like, an extremely good mossy log.

Interior of an apothecary shop, with shelves full of incense, candles, herbs, and remedies.
Image from Visit Waynesboro.

When we weren’t walking in the woods, taking pictures, trying to identify plants, or “catch and release” mushroom hunting, we were reading or writing. One day was a bit too chilly and rainy to do much outside, so we went for a drive down Skyline to Waynesboro, VA. There’s a fantastic apothecary there called PYRAMID, with some really wonderful locally made candles, incense, artwork, jewelry, herbs, teas, remedies, and curios.

A close-up of violet flowers.

The environment of the cabin was just as relaxing as last time. There was a very beautiful patch of violets right near our fire pit (I picked a few for pressing), and we were tucked far enough away in the trees to have privacy but just close enough to other cabins to not feel completely isolated. Along the stream in the woods, Christmas ferns were sending up tons of spiraling fiddleheads. The moss was verdant and bright green, and the lack of leaves on the trees was more than made up for by the abundance of lichen and mushrooms on the ground. The weather was cool, alternating between sun and a light, silky drizzle that made everything seem fresher and brighter. Though the trail we took was relatively short, it took us a while as we kept stopping to get down, snap pictures, sketch, or identify something.

We packed well this time around, though we brought way too much food for the two of us. Pasta, salmon, shrimp, steak, cinnamon rolls, ingredients for s’mores… He cooked the meat and fish over the fire, and made some of the most amazing, crispy salmon I’d ever had. It was simple — just fish cooked in the cabin-provided olive oil, salt, and pepper — but the texture and subtly smoky flavor were perfect. We had it with lentil pasta all’arrabiata, and I’ve been craving campfire cooked salmon and pasta ever since.

A close-up view of the inside of a violet flower.

(We did run out of salad greens at one point, which got me wondering how I’d scrape together some from the surrounding landscape if I had to — there were violets, dandelion greens, and the pink flowers of redbud trees… Christmas ferns can be eaten the same as ostrich ferns, so fiddleheads too. Fortunately, I did not become responsible for foraging for our vegetables, because I did not want to play “Fuck Around and Find Out: Salad Edition.”)

Coming back took a bit, mostly because we’d scheduled things so we still had a day or so between going home and going back to work. It meant that we were able to visit all of the pottery shops, antique stores, and farm stands that we passed along the way. We ended up coming home with coffee beans, copper sculptures, and a cypress knee(!!!) that we hadn’t originally intended to, so I’d say our sidequesting was a success.

Here ’til the crow flies and the flies crow,

J.

life

Hello! I’m full of holes.

So, I had an electromyograph and nerve conduction test done on Tuesday.

When I say this, it sounds like I took a car in to figure out why the dashboard was full of warning lights. (I think. I don’t know how cars do.)

I’ve been through a lot of medical tests in my life, including spinal tapping and having to put my face in a machine that blasted soundwaves into my eyeballs and took pictures of my optic nerves. I have to say, nothing really drives home the point that we’re just perpetually faulty bags of electrified meat like an EMG and NCS.

A plate of grapes and Swiss cheese.
It me.

The idea is this: If your nerves or muscles go all fucky, they can’t do electricity right. This is measurable. Like when an electrician uses a multimeter to check for shorts, a neurologist can stick electrodes on you, stimulate your nerves, and see what happens.

Of course, by “stimulate your nerves,” I mean “jab you with a thing that feels like the unholy spawn of a TENS unit and a cattle prod.”

If you’re lucky enough not to know what the hell a TENS unit is, it’s a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator. It’s often used in physical therapy. Basically, they place a pair of electrodes on the muscles that need doing, and hook them up to a battery. It makes you all twitchy and feels super weird, but I am assured that it is sometimes necessary and not just an elaborate practical joke created by bored physical therapists.

To be honest, the nerve conduction study wasn’t bad. The only part that actually sucked was when they had to test the nerves as they ran through my elbow. That felt bad, but also took barely any time to do. Afterward was a bit crap, too, since I was there because of a burning nerve pain down my arm. As you can probably surmise, jabbing a burning nerve with a tiny taser doesn’t do much to improve matters.
Hey, it’s diagnostic, not therapeutic.

The next part was the EMG. This, admittedly, made me nervous as hell. I’d never had one, so I looked up what to expect. Five minutes later, I was positive that the entire internet was fucking with me.

The EMG is similar to the NCS, only for muscles instead of nerves. The NCS sees how well your nerves send and receive signals, the EMG figures out what your muscles are doing about them. In more complicated terms, it measures the electrical potential your muscles create when they’re stimulated by either electricity or signals sent by your nerves.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading about people’s experiences with EMGs. (Don’t do this. I was smart enough not to read about spinal taps before getting one, and it helped a lot with my anticipatory anxiety. I didn’t do the same this time around, and it sucked a ton.) Most described it as extremely painful — some to the point where they had to stop the test halfway through. Everyone responds differently to pain, and I have a fairly high threshold at this point, but I still felt really anxious about it.

Fortunately, between a very kind, reassuring neurologist with an excellent bedside manner, and enough tincture of chamomile to sedate multiple kaiju, it wasn’t too bad. After the NCS, the doctor came in, asked a few questions, conducted a physical examination, and then stabbed two inch needles into all of the muscles of my arms, one at a time, and had me try to move them while a machine blared static into my ear.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

Was the static uncomfortable to listen to? Kind of, but it was also really cool. Needle goes in, static is quiet. Muscle moves, static gets louder. It was neat to actually hear the electrical stuff that goes on in a body. I don’t often go out of my way to remind myself that I’m just a sack of organized seawater and electric meat, so it’s kind of cool in an eldritch-body-horror-biological sense.

Did the needles hurt? Some of them, yeah. Most hurt less than a vaccination, and much less than getting an IV. A few areas, like the heel of my hand, hurt quite a bit. Fortunately, testing each individual muscle doesn’t take long. A few seconds, and the needle was out again. Weirdly, I barely felt the ones stuck into my neck or the back of my forearm. Go figure.

Did I bleed a lot? Not really. I am covered in those tiny little roundyboy band-aids, but that’s probably because I’m on sertraline and it tends to make me bruise and bleed a bit easier. The doctor mostly just put them so I wouldn’t end up with little bloody spots on my clothes and didn’t come out looking like I’d been roughed up by a gang of drunken biker wasps.

I came home, made lunch for my partner and myself, and got some writing work done. I did feel like I needed a nap in the afternoon, but that was probably the burnout from all of the anxiety I was experiencing.

Now, I wait and find out why my nerves are bad at electricity.

life, Neodruidry

The Wheel of… Kind of Whatever at This Point

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. Honestly, there’re few things more disheartening to me than making big plans, anticipating changes, trying to improve myself and my life, then waking up to… the rest of January. Bleh.

This year is especially weird, because it’s less, “What do I want to do to improve my life this year?” than, “What will my desire to stay out of the ICU let me do?” (I’ve been in one before. I ain’t going back.)

Usually, I make summer resolutions instead. A lot of Wiccans, Neodruids, and other Pagans try to live following the “Wheel of the Year” — that is, living alongside the rhythms of rest, sowing, growth, harvesting, and so forth. My particular rhythms have always precluded that. Summer is my downtime, because I don’t do well in heat, summer storms worsen my intracranial hypertension, and I’m allergic to grass pollen. No thanks. Winter is when I have more energy, though the rest of the hemisphere doesn’t seem to want to follow suit.

So, I’ve been using this New Year energy to time a psychological exercise that my therapist showed to me. It’s fairly simple, and I won’t go too far into details, but the Wheel of Life has been tremendously helpful for visualizing changes I want to make, prioritizing them, and turning vague hopes into actionable plans.

You take a wheel, divided up in the manner of pie. Each slice is part of your life: Finances, Health, Social life, and so forth. You rank your level of satisfaction with each area. You then note where the biggest gaps in your current level of satisfaction, and ideal level of satisfaction lie, and choose areas to prioritize. You figure out where you can conceivably raise your level of satisfaction in one month, three months, six months, and a year. Lastly, you come up with three actions you can take to measurably increase your satisfaction, and set a deadline for them.

Honestly, life is pretty good right now. My creativity’s flowing like a dingdang fire hydrant and, while I haven’t been able to write for myself much, I’ve been getting lots of paid writing assignments (as well as working on a book proposal with my partner, but that’s another story). My home life is harmonious, and I’m surrounded by love. I’ve even managed to socialize more, both online and off, since I’ve increased my physical endurance to the point where I can do more stuff. I’m not wealthy, but I have enough money for what I need, extra for helping people, and enough discretionary income to pay my friends to create the things they love making. It’s pretty rad.

I’d still like to make improvements, because who wouldn’t? I want to sell some of my original art, because I can’t hold onto it forever. I want to resume my language studies. I want to learn how to write poetry that doesn’t make me cringe so hard that I swallow my own face. I want to learn more about regenerative agriculture and landscaping, so I can put it into practice once my partner and I are in a place where we can do so. I want to continue down the path of the Neodruid.

(I also want to set up a way to recycle Styrofoam into usable carbon dioxide for a grow cabinet. I’d like to turn my partner’s old coffee grounds into a useful mushroom substrate, but, so far, all of the mushrooms that seem to do well on coffee grounds are also the ones that make me feel like I’m being beaten up internally by a horde of drunken fairies, so more research is needed.)

Of course, pretty much everything is hijacked by COVID, but there’re ways around that. A lot of the things I want to do don’t involve contact with other people. Even socializing can be done remotely, to an extent, and this distanced socializing helps forge bonds and build anticipation for when we’re all actually able to hang out in person.

Here’s hoping the New Year’s energy helps us all get better at the things that are important to us.

life

The Benefits of Not Being an Emotional Empath.

Much has been made over the idea of being empathic. This is pretty similar to being empathetic, in that both are based on structures in the brain that fire in response to other people’s behavior. While empathetic people can essentially “feel” the emotions of others, in the sense that they feel happy when others express joy and sad when others grieve, this goes deeper for empathic people.

A lot of articles have been written on the pros of being an empath, and some go so far as to treat it like a kind of superpower. At times, it can get weirdly confusing — some quizzes conflate being empathic with being generally energetically sensitive, when they aren’t the same. I’ve been called an empath because I feel drained after big gatherings and get headaches from floor cleaner, but, even if those are traits that are common to empaths, they aren’t signs of being emotionally empathic.

Anyhow, all of this is to say that being an empath isn’t necessarily optimal. The world needs empaths, but it also needs people whose mirror neurons aren’t doing the equivalent of cutting the brake lines on an F1 car. And so, here’s a list of reasons why it kind of rocks to not be an emotional empath:

Your energy is yours.

Sure, everyone should know how to shield themselves from other people’s energy. For empaths, though, this process is a lot more involved. People whose mirror neurons are more selective don’t have to worry as much about whether the feelings they feel are theirs, or the detritus of someone they came in contact with.

You can provide another kind of emotional support.

Empaths are good at emotional support because they feel what other people feel. Depending on the situation, that’s not always desirable — sometimes, you need someone who has an easier time maintaining distance to provide stability. There are also plenty of emotional situations where it doesn’t actually help to be told, “I understand you.” Some people need a witness to their experience, not someone to be in it with them.

This is a time when sympathy and compassion are helpful, but empathy may become detrimental. Not just detrimental to the empath, either — an empathic response can actually block what the other person needs from you. In the words of Graham Johnston, “using the prefrontal cortex to mentalise […] might be more helpful than using the anterior cingulate cortex to empathise with them.”

You can still be empathetic without being empathic.

Empathy arises in a specific area of the brain. In some people, this is more active than others. There is no hard line between being an empath and being devoid of empathy. It’s a spectrum.

What’s more, even if you’re not able to feel empathy like others do, you can still have sympathy and exhibit compassion. As mentioned above, there are plenty of times when a compassionate response is more helpful than an empathetic one. Even if you can’t empathize with someone’s grief, you can sympathize with their misfortune and treat them with compassion.

Projection is more difficult.

The number of people who consider themselves empaths probably outnumbers the actual empaths in the world. Unfortunately, empathy is often treated like the one good thing it isn’t possible to have too much of, but this is a) not true, and b) something that tempts people to identify with a label that may not actually apply to them.

As a result, there are an awful lot of empaths who don’t so much feel what others feel, as they project their own feelings onto other people. What if you honestly think you’re feeling what someone else is, but your feelings are inaccurate? What happens if you misidentify the source of these emotions?

Even if you are empathic, and you do accurately feel another person’s emotions, these emotions aren’t paired with that person’s personal, mental, and cultural context. You can respond to them in a way that you feel would be helpful, but, even if you’re feeling their feelings, you will always be responding from within your own context. If someone is grieving, and you feel their grief, you might want a hug to help soothe that pain within you. If you project this desire onto the other person, it’s not helpful. In the end, the solution is still to act from a place of sympathy and compassion.

An empathic response can actually increase bias.

This is a bit complicated, but follow me here.

Say you wear a red shirt. All of your friends wear red shirts. Maybe you even go to conventions about red shirts. Red shirts are awesome.

There’s another group of people who wear blue shirts. Maybe you understand why they do this, maybe you don’t. That part doesn’t matter. The red shirted people are your in-group. The blue shirted people are an out-group. Your groups’ experiences differ. They don’t go to your red shirt conventions, and you don’t get invited to their blue shirt parties. Unfortunately, this can lead to bias against people who are in the out-group.

In a 2009 study, some researchers performed experiments to see how to mitigate the effects of in-group/out-group biases. One big thing that helped was contact with members of the out-group. Another was empathy toward the out-group. Both empathy and contact reduced prejudice and biases. Here’s the weird part, though: When put together, they negated each other. Empathy plus contact didn’t improve the situation.

The researchers explained this through the concept of a “meta-stereotype.” This term refers to how a person thinks they are perceived by a member of their out-group. When an in-group member anticipates having contact with an out-group member, this concern is activated. Empathy heightens it. When you’re that preoccupied with feeling what a member of the out-group thinks of you, it becomes much more difficult to have a productive, natural interaction with them.

Worst of all, these findings were backed up by another study by a different group of researchers for years later. In this one, researchers found that attempts to take an empathetic stance toward members of an out-group actually reinforced in-group identity and negative attitudes toward out-group members. Oof.

This doesn’t mean that empaths are more likely to be prejudiced against others, of course. It does mean that, when you’re that sensitive to the feelings of others, it creates a heightened sensitivity in yourself that actually makes it much harder to relate to people in a natural, helpful way. High levels of empathy don’t always lead to better interactions between different groups of people. It’s a double-edged sword.

You take longer to burn out.

Feeling all of the feelings is tough. That’s why there are so many resources out there for empaths to learn to shield themselves, ground themselves, cleanse their energy, and generally cope with the aftermath of being exposed to other people’s heavy duty emotions and energies all of the time. This can be extremely exhausting for them, and some may even get burned out.

Burn out is a (sadly) common hazard of caretaking. People who work in medical fields or veterinary medicine, or even just provide care to young children or elderly relatives, can just become mentally and emotionally exhausted. If you’re not in those fields, don’t have access to professional resources to help you prevent burn out, and are still faced with feeling other people’s emotions, it can be pretty grueling. This is especially true when you’re primarily exposed to other people’s negative experiences (grief, loss, et cetera).

People who are empathetic in an average sense, and not empathic, still suffer from burnout. It’s just not quite as rough when you aren’t literally feeling other people’s feelings on top of everything else.

You can still be sensitive.

Being an empath involves having a deeper-than-average response to another person’s exhibited emotions. That is, your mirror neurons go off like a string of firecrackers when someone else has an emotional response to something, triggering those feelings in you.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with other sensitivities, though. You can still be sensitive to foods, scents, energy, sounds, and all kinds of things that have nothing to do with other people or their emotions. Someone may be an emotional empath, but less perceptive to subtle energies. Others are just Highly Sensitive People. Childhood trauma can even make some people extremely sensitive to displays of sadness or anger in others. This isn’t because their mirror neurons trigger feelings sadness or anger in them — they’re sensitive because they have an anxiety response to displays of negative feelings. Their heightened perception is a survival mechanism.

Empaths are wonderful, caring people, but the internet is literally full of articles praising the virtues of the empathic. Being an empath isn’t automatically an enlightened state of being, however, and can be detrimental to oneself and others. There are numerous benefits to having an average capacity for empathy, and it doesn’t exclude you from being sensitive to things other than emotions. Remember, it takes all types. If everyone was an empath, or everyone had low empathy, we’d be screwed.

art, life

I’m bad at throwing flour at people, my dudes.

It’s one of those things that you don’t usually find out you’re good or bad at until you actually have to do it. Not many skills translate, you know?

Let me back up.

I’ve been in the grip of another bout of what I call ennui, what my psychologist calls cyclothymia, and what some people refer to as “bipolar III.” Maybe it’s the change in seasons, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve gone without one for awhile and my brain realized it’d neglected to kick me squarely in the face lately.

So, when my partner mentioned that he was going to go help a friend with an art project by throwing flour in an abandoned place, I reacted with the kind of excitement typically reserved for golden retrievers with overactive bladders. Art! Abandoned places! Throwing things! Friend! You couldn’t construct a sentence more designed to be catnip to me unless you added banana cream pie and ponies. He asked if it was okay if I tagged along, and the answer was yes. Rad!

We drove out to a neighboring town. Between traffic and an early sunset (4:52 PM, which is a bullshit time for a sunset in my opinion) we ended up skipping the abandoned spot and going to someone’s house. I met his friend (who seemed very cool) and the photographer (also cool), and then we helped set things up for the shoot. She was going to be the model, and my partner and I would be throwing flour from outside of the shot.

The photographer handed us two small bags of flour, and asked if we wanted to practice on a tree in the corner of the yard. I was a bit perplexed by this. You take the flour, you throw it. How hard could it be?

Hard enough for me to fuck it up repeatedly, is how.

I tried tossing a handful of loose flour, which fluttered in the almost nonexistent breeze and never made it to its target. I tried squeezing it together into a little clump, so it’d stay together and be easier to throw. It flopped and fell with a disappointing paff.

Being defeated by a bag of flour was not helping the ennui.

I also realized that I have literally no idea how to socialize anymore. The photographer was the first person I’d shaken hands with in three years. I approached every opportunity to converse like an overeager and terrified college student defending a thesis.

It was actually a lot of fun. The pictures seemed to turn out well, despite my struggle to properly flour the model. The weather was nice — cool and a little breezy, but not cold enough to make shooting outdoors unpleasant (I still felt bad for my partner’s friend, though. I was comfortable in pants, boots, and a jacket, but she couldn’t exactly wear any of that for the photos). The photographer was very helpful and understanding.

Now, I’m eating a homemade chocolate chip Belgian waffle. So I guess you could say that flour and I are even.

crystals, Witchcraft

Moldavite: Is it bad luck?

So, moldavite.

These small greenish stones are considered one of the highest-energy crystals you could own or work with. They’re uncommon, occurring in only one area of the world, and carry a high price tag — if they’re real. Because of their reputation, the market has been flooded with fake moldavite. That may change, however, as increasing numbers of people are coming out with their bad experiences using these crystals.

What is moldavite, anyway?

Moldavite (sometimes called vltavin or Bouteille stone) is a type of natural glass. Unlike volcanic obsidian or lightning-made lechatelierite, it formed fifteen million years ago as a result of a meteoric impact. When the meteorite struck the Earth, it instantly liquified the surrounding silica. This splashed up into the air, cooling on the way down. Since it cooled in mid-air, moldavite developed all kinds of cool swirly textured patterns on the surface.

It’s typically a sort of olive or mossy green color, and has a hardness of 5.5-7 according to the Mohs scale. Since these stones are essentially droplets, they’re generally not very large. Faceted or tumbled moldavite is also pretty much unheard-of in the metaphysical market, since this would negate its uniquely beautiful pitted or fernlike patterns.

Photo by Moldavite Association, CC BY-SA 4.0. No changes were made.

What is moldavite used for?

Crystal workers and healers ascribe a lot of metaphysical and healing properties to this stone. It’s used as a focus during meditations to connect to the Higher Self, to aid past life regressions, and to break maladaptive behavioral patterns. It’s a stone for ascension, and some say that the meteorite responsible for its formation was sent here specifically to create moldavite and help the entire planet ascend.

Emotionally, some people use it to cut through world-weariness and cynicism. It’s said to open the mind to new possibilities, and ease worries by helping the user arrive at new, creative solutions to their problems. People who enjoy dreamwork sometimes use moldavite for this purpose, in order to better connect to their Higher Intelligence through dreams and visions.

For people who have a Hindu Tantra-adjacent practice, moldavite is sometimes used for the heart chakra (Anahata) or the crown chakra (Sahasrara). As an ascension stone, it’s considered helpful for connecting the soul to cosmic intelligence. As a green stone, it’s also said to resonate with the heart area.

Sounds pretty good. Why’s it considered bad luck?

It really depends on what you mean by “bad luck.”

As the section above suggests, moldavite’s considered a very high-energy stone. It also breaks through maladaptive patterns and pushes you toward your highest good.

However, your highest good might not be the life you’re currently living. You could have a stable job, a decent relationship, and all kinds of things that you’re comfortable with. “Comfort” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are aligned with your highest good, however. If that job has you earning a comfortable salary, but mentally and spiritually stagnating, or your lifestyle doesn’t exactly set your soul on fire, expect moldavite to shake things up.

And shaking things up doesn’t always feel good. Who likes losing their job or getting dumped?

This is why moldavite is sometimes considered bad luck. When it seems like things aren’t going well, it’s tempting to ascribe this to a hex, curse, or plain old misfortune. Sometimes, it’s what has to happen for you to reach your full potential.

If moldavite were a tarot card, I’d call it The Tower. It stirs things up with a big stick. It’s also important to remember that stones don’t have human ideas about what comfort and success look like — you wanted an ally to help you reach your highest good, and boy howdy are you going to get one. The Tower is the foundation-deep destructive force that allows new growth to take place. The card that immediately follows it is The Star, the card of hope and renewal. Could that hope and renewal take place without The Tower?

In short, moldavite isn’t bad luck or cursed. It’s just a catalyst for changes we may not be fully ready for. I’m not going to be all, “Everything happens for a reason,” but sometimes parts of your life need to burn down for new growth to take place. I’ve been there and experienced it myself, and, while I definitely didn’t enjoy it at the time, I couldn’t be more grateful that it happened.

crystals, life, Witchcraft

Top 7 Crystals to Hide in Your Relatives’ Homes So They Stop Falling for Weird Toxic Bull@#$%

Good morning!

If you’re like most people, you have at least one person close to you who will occasionally come out with some completely bonkers, destructive nonsense. Unproven conspiracy ideas like, “vaccines are a conspiracy to implant tracking chips in everyone (posted from iPhone)” or “Jewish people caused the oil crisis by always getting their groceries double-bagged at King Kullen.”

(I have heard both of these unironically from actual human people.)

You might think this person is mostly cool, save for one or two beliefs that you’d swear were the byproduct of some kind of brain worm. You might also just be obligated to spend time around them, because you’re a dependent and they’re related to you. Maybe you just hold out hope that they’ll someday become the people they were before they got wrapped up in the fringe. If trying to talk to them or send them actual empirical data doesn’t work, here are the best crystals you can strategically plant wherever you’re forced to interact with them:

Lapis lazuli

Lapis has a hell of a reputation. For one, it’s been used in everything from cosmetics to artistic masterpieces, so it has some strong associations with creativity and expression. It’s also blue, which people who work with chakras will recognize as the color of Vishuddha, the throat chakra. (It rules expression and communication.) This means that it’s a pretty rad stone to have on you when you’re forced to defend yourself against accusations of being a NWO shill or secret lizard person from space.

Lapis has another talent, though. It’s often called the “Stone of Truth.” Its energy is said to help the user uncover hidden truths, both about themselves and the people and things around them. Most of us wouldn’t necessarily consider the idea that multi-level marketing schemes are a scam designed to profit off of people’s desperation to be a “hidden” truth, but you’ve got to meet people where they are.

Emerald

Now, I’m not suggesting that you drop a bunch of dosh on a fancy table-cut emerald to cram under your uncle’s recliner this Thanksgiving. You can get tumbled emeralds that aren’t gem quality, but are still emeralds and will still work for our well-intentioned-yet-nefarious purposes.

The idea here is that emeralds are tied to the heart. People who work with chakras consider them a stone for Anahata, the heart chakra. Even if Hindu tantrism isn’t your jam, emerald has a reputation as a stone for love and compassion. (Like instilling more compassion in the hearts of those around you who have notions about a super secret “gay agenda,” for example.)

According to color magic, green is also associated with growth. This is typically taken to mean increase, as in an increase in prosperity, fertility, and so forth. But green is associated with growth because of its connection to plants and nature — a lush, green plant is a successful, healthy, thriving one. You can empower a tumbled emerald to help your family grow and develop as people before you hide it behind the TV.

Amethyst

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list of calming, meditative crystals that didn’t include amethyst somewhere. There’s a reason for that. This stone is associated with things like divination and meditation, sure, but it’s also very relaxing and enhances a person’s connection to their intuition. (That means that it might be able to amplify the tiny voice inside your grandpa that says that maybe Democratic Socialists aren’t coming to take his toothbrush.)

Amethyst is also credited with increasing the user’s spiritual awareness and guarding against psychic attacks.

Smoky Quartz

Smoky quartz is pretty much clear quartz that, like Bruce Banner, was exposed to radiation and came away with some extra powers. It’s said to be helpful for grounding, as well as filtering energy and transmuting the negative into the positive. This means that it can help keep things on a smooth, even keel when Aunt Karen gets a couple of glasses of eggnog in her and starts ranting about immigration.

Rose Quartz

Ah, rose quartz. Any love-drawing crystal spell or list of stones for heart-related matters is basically guaranteed to include this pink stone. The thing is, it’s good for a lot more than just flowery, hearts-and-chunky-angel-babies romantic love. It’s also very rad for compassion, friendship, and familial love.

Like emerald, it can be helpful for getting people to meet you where you are. It can encourage the opening of hearts and minds. While lapis is a better choice for getting people to see the truth, rose quartz is better for getting them to see people as people, with the same pain, fear, hope, and aspirations as they have.

Black tourmaline

Like smoky quartz, black tourmaline is a weapon against negativity. It’s a very powerful energy filter, and can help neutralize bad vibes. Large specimens (especially ones intermingled with spangles of golden mica) look extremely cool, which means they’re great for keeping in your own living spaces to ensure that nobody’s bullshit sticks around to bother you. Smaller stones are good for keeping on you as a protective amulet, or, as the title suggests, stashing around anywhere you’re forced to be.

As an FYI, crystals that act as energy filters need regular, thorough cleansing. Think of them like vacuums — they can suck negativity up, or even transmute it into positive energy, but that canister’s gotta get emptied sometime. The more crap they come in contact with, the sooner they’ll need to be recalibrated with a cleansing.

Spirit Quartz

Spirit quartz also goes by the names cactus quartz and fairy quartz. These are quartz points (usually amethyst or citrine) that are entirely covered in tiny, druzy points. This makes them all spiky, like cacti.

Spirit quartz help in a number of ways. Amethyst is a stone for introspection and harmony, as was mentioned above. All of those tiny points effectively amplify this energy and send it out everywhere. The druse also symbolizes many tiny units working together in a cohesive whole, so it’s great for fostering feelings of community and cooperation.

Amethyst spirit quartz is also said to be particularly helpful for getting rid of negative attachments or entities. It can’t get rid of the weird radicalizing podcasts your cousin insists you check out, but it can help pull their hooks out of him.

As with anything involving crystals, make sure yours come from an ethical source. Sadly, much of the mining trade (not even just the crystal trade — a lot of crystals are byproducts of mining for gold, platinum, lithium, and other materials used by the electronics industry) relies on exploited labor and environmentally damaging methods. Always know where your stones came from, and how they got to you.

Many, if not most, sources say that it’s unethical to perform magic or energy work on someone without their consent. While it’s nice to abide by the rules, sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to get the right thing done. The energetic toll of trying to get someone to be less hateful, or less absorbed in destructive conspiracy theories and hoaxes, is going to be way less than, say, casting a love spell on an unwilling target. Use your own judgment. If you belong to a marginalized group and need to do something to keep yourself safe and sane, do it.

life

Trafficking doesn’t look like you might think it does.

I’m gonna get cranky and serious for a minute.

The Epstein case and Pizzagate hoax brought child trafficking into the public eye.

Well, the “public eye.”

For some sectors of society, human trafficking has been a known reality. People were aware that there was danger, just like they’re aware that breast cancer exists. Just look at the long-running efforts to find answers about missing Indigenous women for one example. Unfortunately, narratives surrounding human trafficking have begun to solicit attention by playing to a very specific type of fear — the fears culturally pushed on middle- to upper middle-class white women. This isn’t an uncommon tactic, either. To paraphrase Henry Zebrowski’s comment about a true crime documentary, “Are ya scared, ladies? Are ya scared?”

Look at it this way. How many posts on social media have you seen about “unpublicized numbers of missing children,” or pieces of paper, flowers, or plastic bags used to “mark” cars for kidnapping attempts, or families being targeted at Walmart, IKEA, or the grocery store? Many of them aren’t even new, they’re just making the rounds again.

The trouble with these stories is that they put forth a picture of human trafficking that ends up doing more harm than good. While concerned about strange people at gas stations, shops, and parking lots, they’re overlooking what human trafficking is, how it works, and what it looks like. These stories overlook these things in favor of a more dramatic image that strikes a chord in the people most likely to make sure they’re posted over and over again. And they do it in ways that might actually be putting kids in danger.

I’ll give one very specific example. There was one mother who was concerned about her kids getting snatched. She always held their hands in public, never let them out of her sight in crowds, and even had nightmares about someone kidnapping one of her children. She paid far less attention to the fact that one of her kids was of a marginalized gender and orientation, mentally ill, and suffering from living in an unstable home. In focusing on the idea of tot snatchers, she had overlooked the things that were actually dangerous.

These were things that a potential trafficker saw. Maybe it was the way the kid carried themselves, their worn, ill-fitting clothes, or the fact that they were walking home down an otherwise-vacant street, alone, long after other kids had already left school. Either way, he crept on this kid and tried to convince them to get in his car for “a ride home.” He even held out his watch as he circled around behind them, encouraging them to get closer, to see exactly how late it was.

Abductors choose their victims the way a hyena picks out the sick and injured.

Luckily, I panicked and ran for it.

I second-guessed myself afterward, too. Maybe he was just trying to be nice. Maybe I was the asshole here, getting an innocent man in trouble. When he turned up the next day with a group of his friends, harassing my local crossing guard to try to find out where I lived, I decided that I was probably right the first time.

Not all kids are so lucky. My experience was an outlier in some ways. For one, this guy was a stranger to me — the majority of kids (76%) are snatched by those they know. (He also could’ve been a garden-variety serial killer, but I’m giving him a very, very small benefit of the doubt here.)

There are other reasons why posts that say things like, “we should be publicizing the numbers of missing children the way we publicize COVID numbers” are severely missing the point. The number of people who aren’t concerned about missing children is vanishingly small, and always has been. Who would this statistic help? The only people who have somehow managed to remain unaware of child trafficking until now are the people who haven’t experienced a reason to pay attention. A statistic isn’t going to do it.

It also plays into several myths about human trafficking. A significant number of trafficking victims aren’t “missing” at all. Trafficking doesn’t require someone to disappear. People forced into labor against their will are trafficked, even if they never go missing. A teenaged girl whose boyfriend exploits her vulnerability to convince her to perform sex work to earn money for him might go home to her unknowing parents every night. She’s still being trafficked.

Not all trafficking victims see themselves as missing, either. They may have genuine feelings for the person trafficking them, and think they are helping. They may not be desperate to leave their trafficker, or seek help to do so. Believe it or not, some may not want their families to find them.

Lastly, of the roughly 800,000 children reported missing yearly in the US, a huge number of them are victims of parental kidnapping — one source claims over a quarter, while the Parents.com page linked above claims 49%. (The discrepancy may lie in the fact that almost half of all kids kidnapped by a parent aren’t considered missing by the other parent.) There’s also the number of runaway and homeless youth: 1 in 10 young adults between the ages of 18-25, and 1 in 30 children between 13-17. This includes kids who ran away or were kicked out. Conflating missing children with trafficked children overlooks a vast array of other reasons kids disappear, as well as a ton of kids who actually are being trafficked.

There are also children trafficked by their foster or adoptive parents. The situation of “rehoming” “problem” adopted kids is a very deep rabbit hole that’s outside the scope of this post, however. It’s also somehow manages to be even more depressing to write about.

Anyone can be trafficked, but some people are much more likely than others. Human traffickers are like other criminals, they don’t want to go after a target that’s more trouble than its worth. They don’t want to snatch someone who will draw attention. People who have exploitable vulnerabilities — who are walking home late and look lonely and uncared-for, who have been kicked out of their homes for being gay or trans, who run away from an abusive family, who are recent migrants who experience difficulty navigating a new language and country — are the easy targets.

If this was about murder instead, trafficking victims would often fall into the category of “the least dead.” They’re the people who tend to attract less attention and coverage when something bad happens. Few criminals want people to take an interest in their activities.

This doesn’t mean that all kinds of people don’t get snatched by strangers. It does mean that posts and memes focusing on that specific scenario do a disservice to the very people that need to be protected. It’s kind of like posting about how huffing drain cleaner can give you lung cancer. While true, it’s also not a very effective way to prevent lung cancer.

The Epstein case also narrowed the focus to sex trafficking. In reality, human trafficking encompasses far more types of labor. By playing on the media-friendly fear of sexual violence, it draws attention to one very specific type of child trafficking. How many memes about missing children examine the amount of trafficked labor it takes to pick vegetables, butcher meat, mine ore, or sew garments? They don’t, because that doesn’t garner enough attention.

The thing that really shits me is the bone-deep irony of people who purchase counterfeit designer goods reposting memes about human trafficking. Not only do counterfeit goods rely on trafficked labor to produce, they’re a significant income stream for organized crime syndicates. So is sex trafficking. Purchasing fakes doesn’t just save the buyer money — it incentivizes human trafficking and puts money directly into the pockets of the organizations that profit from it. Fake purses create a market for trafficked kids.

Tl;dr, human trafficking is an enormous problem that goes way, way deeper than is often represented. Memes about protecting oneself and one’s family from kidnappers, or publicizing numbers of missing children versus COVID numbers aren’t helpful, and may be actively harmful by misrepresenting what trafficking looks like. Even if they’re well-intentioned, they end up supporting an agenda different from actually ending human trafficking.