Fresh herbs.

Getting Real Sick of “Wellness.”

A big part of witchcraft is learning to see through illusions, and let go of that which is no longer useful. So how much longer are we going to keep putting up with wellness?

Sorry, I should probably specify — “wellness.”

I’m not sure when it began, though I imagine it’s an insidious trend that you could probably follow all the way back, beyond the days of irradiated water jugs and Eben Byers’ jaw. There’s money to be made in solving problems, but there’s a fine line — make sure people know they’re unwell, but not too sick in any verifiable way, just unwell enough to require an easily-marketable brand of help. Blame stress, and you can turn attention away from the socioeconomic factors that are actually making us ill in the first place. We’re stressed, and that’s a problem that needs solving! Maca lattes! Yoni eggs! Self-care!

I could go into the ways that self-care has gradually morphed into self-indulgence, or the various racialized and gendered aspects of the wellness industry, but these are things for another day. Instead, I’d like to point out the ways that self-care has adopted a more sinister role: Not only are we supposed to spend money and energy to properly perform “self-care,” we’re supposed to do this in order to prolong our own exploitation. Take enough eleuthero so you don’t feel worn out at your second or third job. Stay hydrated so your eyes don’t get puffy and tired-looking after you’ve been up until five AM with a sick child, or you’ll hear about it from your boss. Your company won’t give you benefits, but there are beanbag chairs in the break room. You have to put in mandatory unpaid overtime, but they’ll let you nap in your office. Forget about adequate sick leave, vacation time, therapy, or health care, you need ping pong tables and this herb-, vitamin-, and crystal-infused water!

The thing is, I’m not stressed by electromagnetic frequencies, or because I don’t know how to sleep properly. People around me aren’t stressed because they don’t have a relaxation app or aren’t drinking the right tea. They’re stressed because economic insecurity requires both parents to work in the majority of families (61.1% in 2016, up from 31% in 1970) while affordable child care options remain sparse and birth control, abortion access, and adequate maternity/paternity leave is considered an entitlement. (Don’t even start me on our maternal death rate.) They’re stressed because they have to hope they can crowdfund insulin this month, or figure out how to make their child’s medical equipment out of scraps from Home DepotOils won’t fix that, Brenda. 

(Cue someone inevitably supplying an ironically smug, “Well, don’t have kids if you can’t afford them,” even though they’re eventually going to need the generation being born now to empty their bedpans, administer their medication, and keep them from wandering into traffic. Save your energy, my dudes. I see you.)

In an article by Jessica Knoll in the New York Times, Smash the Wellness Industry, she mentions that many aspects of it rely on the trope that women, especially, are silly bubbleheads that can’t care for themselves:

[W]ellness also contributes to the insulting cultural subtext that women cannot be trusted to make decisions when it comes to our own bodies, even when it comes to nourishing them. We must adhere to some sort of “program” or we will go off the rails.

The wellness industry exists as a sort of modern day panem et circenses that places the blame for our exhaustion and dissatisfaction squarely on ourselves, while absolving the structures that create these feelings with the vague, yet seemingly immutable, idea that “life is just stressful.” If we’re tired, it’s not because of the number of us required to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, it’s because we’re not sleeping right or drinking enough green juice. If we feel stressed, it’s not because the gig economy is quietly undermining worker’s rights and protections, it’s because we don’t take the right supplements. If we have brain fog, it’s not because of the anxiety and depression we can’t afford to treat, it’s because we sleep in the same room as our cellphones. Modern life, man. Whaddyagonnado?

It doesn’t help that wellness has effectively become a luxury, either. In I Helped Turn Wellness Into a Luxury Good. Now It’s Out of Control, Rachelle Robinett discusses just that:

I see healing sessions staged for the photo-op. I listen to supplement retailers position their wares with promises instead of information (“Calm”, “Youth Water”, “Meditation Tonic”). And, at the boardroom tables of so many companies, I hear how they want their products to represent “a movement,” be “a lifestyle,” and “empower” people. But I believe there’s nothing empowering about selling detox waters, vitamins we can’t absorb, or overpriced herbs without giving people the tools they need to create real, lasting change.

We’re worn down, and the solution we’re offered is something that costs time and money that more and more of us don’t have. The most overworked, underslept, undercompensated, stressed demographics — theoretically the most in need of the wellness industry — are also those least likely to be able to afford help. And, as Robinett points out, even those who can afford it are more likely to get placebos and platitudes rather than assistance achieving actual mental, physical, and spiritual health.

I am not against some of the things co-opted by the wellness industry, myself. Some of it helps. Gods know I use crystals, herbs, and oils. I meditate every day, keep a gratitude journal, and listen to binaural beats-enhanced music, because they work for my situation. I’m not against using them, I’m against pushing them as vague remedies for the symptoms of a much deeper problem. Unfortunately, the commercialization of wellness has turned many of these things into a performance, items to add and check off of a list in the pursuit of a nebulous vision of health and happiness. When we are told what we need to have and do to be well, rather than given the opportunity to get in touch with what we actually need, that’s a problem. When taking care of ourselves becomes a shopping list rather than a mindful practice that we are afforded the time and energy to do, that’s a problem. When we are given things to buy rather than ways to effect lasting societal change at the core of what makes us unwell, that’s a fucking problem.

 

 

 

Advertisements

All the Aces, I guess?

Hello! I haven’t posted in awhile because I was on some medication that made my brain feel like it was being squeezed out through my ears, but, now that that’s done, I’m back up to my nonsense again.

So, if you’ve been following along my (admittedly pretty navel-gazey) tarot journey, you know I’ve been pulling a lot of cards indicating new beginnings. This is unsurprising, for two reasons:

  1. A lot of tarot cards deal with changes and new beginnings, because of the nature of the medium.
  2. I have all kinds of things I could/should/want to begin, I’m just physically limited from doing a lot of them.

It’s a bit frustrating to be constantly surrounded by this very “Yes! Go! Do the thing!” energy all of the time, but I’ve started finding it more and more reassuring as time goes on. I mean, sure, you’ve gotta strike while the iron is hot and all that, but it’s nice to see that this energy doesn’t really expire — everything is a cycle, cycles start and end all the time, and the only constant is change. If I miss one opportunity, there will be another one.

All of this is to say, I did a small tarot reading for myself. It was a three card reading, in contrast to the quick one card draws I usually do each week. I had originally intended to only draw one, but, when I cut the deck, realized that I was unable to choose which pile to draw from. So, three it was.

I drew the Ace of Wands, the Ace of Cups, and the Knight of Pentacles.

aces.jpg

If Aces represent opportunities for Starting the Thing, the Knights are the Doing of the Thing — at least, in situations where they don’t indicate the actual Doer of the Thing. The Ace of Wands indicates new opportunities for growth, I usually find Wands relate to my creative life. The Ace of Cups is similar, but for spiritual and emotional matters. Together, these indicate a new chance to reach or meet others and exercise an outpouring of compassion, connection, growth, and creation. Pretty sweet.

The Knight of Pentacles is practicality. Pentacles are earth — they are monetary wealth, but also the hard work needed to achieve it. If Wand energy is the castle in the air, Pentacle energy is what puts a foundation beneath it. The Knight of Pentacles expresses a willingness to do the hard things, stick to a routine, and continue working at something even when it ceases to be fun or exciting. He has methods.

I can see where these cards relate to my own life, but I also feel a little frustration that the message I’m receiving here comes up so often. I want to be able to act on the opportunities presented to me, but physical obstacles hold me back. There has to be another way around them, but I haven’t quite found it yet.

Wish me luck!

A Mother’s Day Cord-Cutting Spell

Hey, hey!

Does the beginning of May have you on the verge of a headache? Are you nauseated by the sound of commercials for jewelry, flowers, or assorted other Mother’s Day gifts? Does the sight of a greeting card display set your teeth on edge?

I feel you.

Mother’s Day is a rough holiday for a lot of us. Some people have tense maternal relationships, and some of us would probably have been better off raised by actual badgers. This time of year we’re all bombarded with messages about how “blood is thicker than water” and we “only get one mother,” and told we’re obligated to love and respect the people who birthed us no matter what. Unfortunately, if you were subjected to a toxic upbringing, this really super sucks. 

Dealing with toxic people

Digging toxic elements out of our lives isn’t easy no matter what the relationship is, but it’s extra complicated when it’s a parent. What do you do when the toxic element in your life is also the person responsible for your health and safety? What do you do when going “no contact” isn’t enough? What do you do when you know that other relatives and family friends are going to swoop in to defend this person, and make you sound like the bad guy for trying to protect yourself from an abuser? What do you do when you have never been able to feel safe around your own parent?

I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t think there is one. I don’t want to get deep into my own back story, but, for me, the best option was to save up a Fuck Off Fund starting from my first job (I was 14), formulate a secret plan with a friend of mine, and get gone as soon as I was legally able to. A month after my 18th birthday, I moved out and was ensconced three states away. Even then, it wasn’t until years later that I was finally able to go from once-a-year visits, to no contact at all. My story isn’t a very dramatic one, because it all went according to plan — a lot of people aren’t as lucky as I was. Nonetheless, there it is: I made a plan, put it into action, and, when I was ready, I freed myself.

Going no contact raises its own set of problems, but is also completely worth it. One thing that really seems to help with the process is cord cutting.

What are cords?

People are bound together by invisible energetic bridges, often called “cords” or “etheric cords.” When we form a relationship and become connected to another person, the cord serves as a conduit of energy between us. If both parties (and by extension, the relationship) are emotionally healthy, the energy is nourishing and the exchange is even. If they are not, one party will end up doing the lion’s share of giving, while the other person takes, and takes, and takes. With a narcissistic parent, this becomes pouring your energy into placating them to avoid narcissistic rage.

A red and white string tied into a heart.

Sometimes, our cords look more like nooses.

Ending a relationship and ceasing contact is not always enough to sever these cords. Some people make a clean break, moving on with the cord no longer in place. I have also experienced cords changing when people part amicably. Sometimes the cord doesn’t change or break. Instead, one or both parties are left suffering from it.

What is cord cutting?

Cord cutting is similar to banishing in that it’s a release, but banishing is external where cord cutting is internal. A banishing is forceful, commanding — it’s a way to tell something to get lost, and make sure it stays lost. A cord cutting is a way to release attachments that are no longer healthy for you.

Look at it this way: A banishment is probably the most efficient way to get magical help ending an unhealthy relationship. You can send out the energy to remove this person from your life, so you can begin the recovery process once they’re no longer around. The end of the relationship isn’t the end of the story, though. Part of what makes toxic people toxic is the way they get in your head… and they can stay there for a long time after the relationship is dead. Cord cutting is a way to root out emotional, spiritual, and mental attachments, release them, and begin to heal without a toxic person living rent-free in your head.

If banishing is cutting away the bramble that pricked you, cord cutting is pulling the thorns from the wound so you can stop bleeding.

Cutting the ties that bind

To start with, if you’re still in regular contact with a toxic parent, I’m sorry. Practice shielding yourself every time you know you’re going to see them, even if it’s as simple as taking a moment to visualize yourself surrounded by a bubble of white light. Ground yourself when you get home, so you can “recalibrate” your energy. Try a quick and easy energy cleansing technique to get rid of any residual grodiness.

If you’re ready to cut the cord, try this. You can do it as simply or as ceremonially as you like, and repeat it as often as you feel is necessary. I’m posting this for Mother’s Day, but it can be used for pretty much any relationship.

For this, you’ll need three white candles, one black candle, a long piece of string (preferably not synthetic), and something to represent both yourself, and the person you wish to sever energetic ties with. This representation can be a figurine, a photograph, a lock of hair, a piece of paper with the person’s name written on it, something owned by that person, or any combination of the above.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.

Always approach candle magic with respect and caution. (E.g., don’t actually put them in the middle of a bunch of dry twigs.)

Next:

  1. Tie one end of the string to the representation of yourself, and the other to the representation of the other person.
  2. Once you’ve done so, touch the string with your dominant hand.
    Say, “This is the energetic cord between me and [the other person]. The relationship is ended, but the ties remain in place.”
    Imagine this cord is the physical manifestation of the flow between the two of you. Feel it thrumming with energy.
  3. Take the black candle in your hands. Visualize it filling with the power to sever this tie, and remove any negativity associated with it. No longer a simple candle, it is a key to your emotional and spiritual freedom. If you wish, you can affirm this out loud.
  4. Light the candle. Hold it up, and say, “With this flame, I sever this cord. No longer will this person drain my energy. No longer will I feel the effects of this relationship. I will be free.”
  5. Hold the flame to the center of the string (carefully! Don’t burn your house down please). As the string burns through, repeat the words, “With the cutting of this cord, I am free.”
  6. Use the black candle to light the three white candles. This symbolizes the release of the negativity surrounding this relationship, and the shifting of your energy into healing. Place the three candles around the representation of yourself.
  7. Sit quietly. Feel all of the feelings that rise up, no matter what they are — there might be anger, sorrow, relief, or even joy. Acknowledge them, and take the time to experience and understand them. Spend as long as you wish doing this.
  8. Either allow the candles to burn out, or snuff them. Dispose of the stubs appropriately.
  9. Untie the string from the representation of yourself. Burn or bury both halves of the string separately, and dispose of the representation of the other person however you feel is appropriate.

Energetic cords are tenacious, none more so than the ones that bind us to family. Severing these ties can help us pick up the pieces of ourselves, and continue on to heal our hearts and end the toxic cycles we were born into.

 

 

The Heirophant and the King of Wands

Okay, I’ll admit — sometimes I look for the easy way out.

It’s a habit I’ve slipped into over the course of several years, pushed by the need to find easier ways to do pretty much everything. When you regularly forget you’ve let the stove on (until the smoke alarm reminds you), you find easier ways. When it’s tough to stand in the shower without falling over from vertigo, you find easier ways. Sometimes, finding the easy way isn’t a bad thing. Besides, laziness creates efficiency.

Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for hard work.

I have a lot of goals right now, which I won’t enumerate here so I don’t jinx myself. For most of them, there is no easy way. (Gods know I’ve looked.) One or two I’ve managed to make a lot of headway on the past few days, bolstered by last week’s Knight of Swords.

For this week, I didn’t do my usual one-card reading. Instead, I used one I reserve for times of frustration. I don’t put much stock in mediumship as a rule, but there’s someone I connect with through the Queen of Wands. When I want their advice, or even just an encouraging word or two, I shuffle my deck, seek out the Queen, and look at the cards immediately in front of and behind her. The one in front may be an obstacle; the one behind, the solution. Sometimes the one in front is a situation, and the one behind is the context. Sometimes the one in front is a problem, and the one behind is the outcome. It depends.

Today, she was sitting between The Heirophant and, oh hey, it’s your boy the King of Wands again.

kingwands

Okay, it’s not a traditional depiction of the King of Wands, but it’s still my favorite. 

The Heirophant is a card that comes up for me fairly often, usually when I need to stop trying to reinvent the wheel. He’s old-school, traditional, pragmatic, and conventional. Here, he’s a reminder that, sometimes, the only way out is through. There is no substitute for doing things the old-fashioned way, and sometimes that means hard work.

The King of Wands is a creative force. He’s a charismatic leader, able to bring ideas to fruition. I went a bit deeper into him in a previous post, but his appearance here is… interesting, to say the least. Before, he was a sign that I achieve what I want as long as I put some energy and focus behind it. Now, he’s here with The Heirophant to call me out.

It’s disheartening, but I know it’s true. I can achieve the things I want, but most of them are going to take an old-fashioned approach — and, in all likelihood, more energy than I have right now. Sometimes there just isn’t a way to make things easier on myself, but, buoyed by the promise of the Ace of Wands and the Knight of Swords, I still have hope.

Now I just need to keep my choroid plexus from kicking my ass..

Knight of Swords

Last week came with a lot of downtime, interspersed with bursts of activity. Most of my S.O.’s time was taken up by studying for an important certification exam (he passed!), while mine was eaten up by writing for clients, working on my own projects, and dealing with medicals. I have more tests coming up this week, and, at times, it feels like they’re never-ending. It’s had my energy at a pretty low ebb — it’s hard to rouse myself to do anything beyond the bare necessities when I’m feeling poorly as it is, and upcoming medical stuff hangs over my head like a cartoon anvil.

It’s a bit disappointing after last week’s Ace of Wands. I have so many ideas and places I want to devote my energy to, but not enough to go around. If I try to spread myself thinner, something inevitably suffers for it. It’s a frustrating position to be in, but it can’t last forever… Can it?

So, I drew a card to see what this week has in store for me. More waiting and brainstorming, or will I finally be able to start to see some things through?

I drew the Knight of Swords.

Knight on horseback on a crackled brown background.

Not actually from a tarot deck, but I thought it was pretty cool.

In many (though not all) decks, the Knight of Swords shown riding at a swift pace. His is  an energetic, active state. He is ambitious, quick-witted, and driven and, once his mind is made up, few things are able to get in his way.

He is basically the polar opposite to how I’m feeling right now, to be honest.

In The Crow Tarot, the Knight of Swords indicates an energetic start to a new project. Following the Ace of Wands, it’s a really good sign — the Ace of Wands is the seed, and the Knight of Swords is the energy of germination. He shows that there is a lot of potential here, and the strength to see it through. It’s not all roses, however, since he is no more a guarantee of success than the Ace of Wands is. It’s still possible to screw up, even in the face of these two very good omens, by acting without thought.

Really, this comes at a good time for me. I’m feeling low-energy, but knowing that my ideas have potential helps give me some impetus to see them through. By the same token, not having the energy to spare means that I’m more likely to apply it carefully, and avoid wasting it on frivolous pursuits. With the potential of the Ace of Wands and the strength and warnings of the Knight of Swords, I feel like I’m in a pretty good place.

Here’s hoping I’m right.

Ace of Wands

Few things feel as nice as a new beginning — that’s why I like the Aces so much.

They’re a fresh start, the energy of limitless potential. They’re a blank page, an unlocked door, and a new day. They’re the impetus to take the first step on a journey of a thousand miles.

The Ace of Wands card from the Rider-Waite deck.

From the Rider-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.

I didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I drew this week’s card. I’m still working on things from last week, still looking forward to more medical tests. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have the encouragement that I’m going the right way.

It’s hard to interpret aces, sometimes. While they have the energy of all of that possibility, that’s all it is: possibility. Tarot never guarantees anything, aces doubly so. They’re the seed of an idea that needs effort to grow. They’re a promising opportunity, but only an opportunity.

I always seem to draw Wands when I have something creative going on. In this case, it’s the fact that holy crap I am completely sick of figuring out how to display things, I mean damn.

See, pre-stretched canvas is expensive, unwieldy, and difficult to store and ship. Canvas stretchers are cheaper, but still need space to store. Roll canvas is less expensive to buy, and easier to ship and store, but it’s also more difficult to work with and a pain to display. Want to frame it? Good luck — unless it’s smaller than 11×14, you’re probably going to have to figure out how to either stretch or mount it first. Hopefully there’s room to stretch it without losing any of the image! Good luck with mounting, too, because any permanent mount will decrease the piece’s lifespan (and probably its value),

I have a plan, I think, albeit a harebrained one. I’ve no idea if it’ll work. It’ll look really neat if it does, but will also involve ignoring a lot of what I’ve been taught and picking up a few new skills. It’ll be interesting to try, if nothing else, and the Ace of Wands indicate that it might not actually be a bad idea!

The Ace of Wands can also indicate an opportunity for personal growth. I’m hoping it’s pointing to my doctor’s appointments later this week — if I can get that resolved, if I can put those years of pain and frustration behind me, it’ll open up more opportunities than I can even begin to imagine.

Either way, I have a lot to look forward to.

 

Painting What You See

cropped-drawingThe simplest piece of artistic instruction is also the most useful: Draw or paint what you can see.

It’s surprisingly difficult to keep our minds from filling in the blanks — we see a cup, and we know the cup is round and three dimensional. Our eyes tell us the mouth of the cup is a flattened oval, but that isn’t what our hands want to make. Our brains know better than what our eyes tell us.

The ability to “know better” and anticipate shape and distance like that is an adaptation that’s probably helped us, in an evolutionary sense, but it isn’t much use when it comes to accurately translating a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional space. That’s when the admonishment to create only what you can see becomes useful.

For me, it’s also a bit ironic.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension about seven years ago. It used to be known as “pseudotumor cerebri” — in essence, a brain tumor that isn’t. It mimics all of the symptoms of having a large brain tumor, but without any mass present. One of its hallmarks? Vision changes. As cerebrospinal fluid pressure increases, so does damage to the optic nerves.

I can’t drive, because I can’t see well enough to. I have dead spots in my vision, which are almost impossible to describe. It isn’t really not seeing anything, it’s seeing nothing, in the same way that House of Leaves‘ Zampanò defines uncanny as ‘full of not knowing.’ Lines and space warp and deform around their edges like miniature event horizons, wholly confined to my eyes. Sometimes, I turn my head too quickly and see showers of golden sparks, or scintillations like the sun reflecting on water.

My brain often tries to “help,” by compensating for the strangely existentially horrific idea of seeing nothing, like a kind of neurological horror vacui. It inserts spectacularly mundane things into the places where my eyes don’t work anymore — a spare copy of my laptop stuck in my peripheral vision, or a stack of books I’ve never owned. A poached egg in the middle of the floor. A glass of water that yields only air when I reach for it.
I’m not sure why it does this, but it feels like the bones of a good short story. You would think that having your brain spontaneously insert images into your vision would be the opposite of helpful… Unless hallucinating several bunches of bananas was somehow preferable to what it’s trying to protect you from seeing. Fun!

If I said that coming to terms with the idea of potentially, possibly, let’s-face-it-probably going blind was difficult, I’d be lying, because that’d imply that it was possible to begin with. I don’t know that it’s any harder for me because I work with visual media — who wouldn’t be upset at not being able to see anymore?

I’m at the point where my vision loss has slowed considerably, if not entirely stabilized. With time (and, hopefully, a prolonged remission), some of my vision might come back. A lot of it won’t.

Sometimes, I do paint what I see.

And it’s fucking weird.