Two Bards.

Tuesday night, I had the chance to see Richard Thompson perform live. It’s a show I’ve had on my bucket list ever since I was introduced to him a few years ago — he’s an incredible guitarist, and watching him play is really an amazing experience. When I stopped being able to go out much for awhile, I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn’t get well enough to be able to see him play. I only learned about Coco Robicheaux on the day of his death, and I missed the chance to see Tom Waits (who doesn’t tour very often) perform when I lived in California; two things I consider some of the biggest missed opportunities of my life.

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I think my S.O. and I were the youngest people in the audience by close to twenty or thirty years, which made me a little self-conscious when we were finding seats. (‘Scuse me, sir and/or ma’am, biker punk and tattooed millennial with a shaved head coming through.) As soon as I sat down, though, I didn’t care. I still whooped it up and applauded hard enough to jam one of my fingers.

He’d just started playing “Valerie” when we got in, which is, bar none, my favorite of his songs. It was honestly a little overwhelming — I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was going to have a panic attack for a few. I teared up at “Beeswing” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” just like I knew I would. (Lucky for me, I’d had the foresight to forego eye makeup for this exact reason.)

The songs were moving, tragic, and hilarious by turns. His voice and guitar playing were superb. His banter made the venue feel small, with the kind of warmth and humor that turns a show into an intimate gathering.

I loved every minute of it.

And then, the next day, I found out that Terry Jones had died.

He wanted to be remembered as a comedian, but I knew him best as an author long, long before I knew anything about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. When I was a kid, we had a copy of Fairy Tales. It was my favorite children’s book — as a kid, I think I learned more important morals there than almost anywhere else. Like Three Raindrops, which taught me that everyone’s grave is the same size, and there’s no point in wasting your life on comparisons. Or Jack One-Step, which taught me the value of collective bargaining. Or The Glass Cupboard, which, I’m fairly certain, is what turned me into a tiny environmentalist.

monster

And then there’s this guy, which I’m pretty sure figured prominently in my nightmares until I was ten. Artwork by Michael Foreman.

I loved Michael Foreman’s illustrations, too. To be honest, I can’t really overstate the impact they had on my imagination as a kid, or even on my artwork now. His watercolors were at once bright and soft and dreamlike, surreal and strange, occasionally with a subtly unsettling edge. They were the perfect accompaniment to stories like The Fly-By-Night and The Wonderful Cake-Horse.

cakehorse

Illustration for Terry Jones’ The Wonderful Cake-Horse, by Michael Foreman.

I’m much older now, but the stories and illustrations still mean just as much to me.

Jones’ passed after a battle with dementia. As much as we like to think that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” there’s still a very particular kind of mourning that happens when someone passes from a brain disease. There’s the loss you experience when someone is no longer who they once were, and the final loss that comes with death. Sometimes, the hardest thing to deal with is that we might not think we feel “sad enough” when someone actually dies, because we’ve spent so long mourning the person they used to be. It’s something I experienced with my grandmother, as she declined from brain cancer. As hard as it was to handle her passing, I felt guilty for feeling relief. Not for myself — I felt relief that she was beyond the pain, confusion, and anxiety that her illness had caused her.

It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with, too. Intracranial hypertension causes brain damage, and it’s very likely that I will suffer a stroke at some point and either die, or have to fight my way back from that. Sometimes, you have to mourn for yourself. The important thing is to process this grief, then get on with the hard work of living. For Jones, that was raising awareness. For my grandparents, it was my grandfather feeding, dressing, and bathing my grandmother. For me, it’s working a little more every day to try to regain some ground before I lose more of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re part of an artist’s primary audience. Life’s too short to miss the concert you want to go to, or to overlook a book just because it’s intended for children. Eventually, like the Three Raindrops, we all become part of the same big, muddy puddle. Draw inspiration and spiritual nourishment anywhere you can.

Turmoil and the Ten of Cups.

I’m not going to write on the state of the world right now. In the words of Dave Barry, “I don’t want to write it, and you don’t want to read it.” It’s impossible to create a picture of my internal landscape without looking at the externals, though, so suffice it to say that we’re on the brink of war, an entire continent is on fire, and to many things suck to even begin to list here. Worst of all, many of them are things that were predicted would suck in this exact fashion, so even just existing is a bit like being given the Ludovico Technique using a slow-motion train wreck.

Internally, I’ve been working on adjusting my dose of antidepressants. I’ve finished my Dedicant Path work, so all that remains is to have it reviewed and see what needs to be corrected or elaborated upon. There was another(!) leak, this time in the building’s gas room down the hall, and getting it fixed involved calling emergency maintenance in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve, waiting, being not-terribly-surprised when no one showed, and then calling the gas company and hoping they’d be able to find a way into the gas room the following afternoon. They did, it’s fixed, and now all that remains is to wait and hope that the new management company will see fit to replace the ancient, inefficient, leaking fixtures and appliances.

With the oven and gas room fixed, I can finally cleanse and bless this place the way it should’ve been a month ago. Constantly smelling gas didn’t seem to be a super great omen for that, however, so I’ve been putting it off.

I’m getting stronger day by day. I’ve been able to do things I couldn’t before, and my physical endurance and mental fortitude are improving greatly. I will always have some degree of disability, but it constricts my world much less than it used to even just a few months ago.

I’ve been working on creating my own tarot spread, cobbled together from the spreads I most commonly use, and the kind of positions I inevitably end up tacking on for clarification. I like it so far! There are a few things I may change, but that’s for Future Me to worry about.

I’ve also been doing a small, meditative ritual every day, and regular trancework. Writing it down has been interesting — the way I usually receive and process information from these jaunts is generally very coherent and linear, even the metaphorical bits, so I never really felt the need to jot things down for further exploration. Journaling hasn’t so much changed how I receive or interpret the messages, but having a record of them makes it much easier to pick out sychronicities from journey to journey and elsewhere in my life. I’ve gotten a lot of water lately, but that’s a subject for another time.

So, amid this mix of good news and bad, I was a little hesitant to draw a card this week. I didn’t last week, for just this reason — there was too much unresolved, demanding too much energy, for me to sit down and put down a coherent string of thoughts about it. I think I’ve said it before, though I’m honestly too tired to check: Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.

It’s a pitfall of reading for yourself, or even someone whose situation you’re very invested in. When we’re too emotionally bound up in the answers, they’re difficult to interpret truthfully. I don’t find this to be the case for a low-stakes one card reading, but, if something’s weighing heavily on me, I’m more inclined to ask someone else to read for me — or at least compare their readings to my own to find the commonalities. When I feel like this, highly invested in things that seem to be spinning out of control, it’s usually a challenging time for me to read for myself.

Anyway, without making a long story longer, I drew the Ten of Cups.

The Ten of Cups is one of the most positive cards in the deck. It’s come up for me before, when my S.O. and I finished writing a book. We just recently finished posting the first leg of Ane’s circus caravan’s journey on Phoenix & Rook, and I did also just finally finish my Dedicant Path work… So I’m really beginning to wonder if this card’s going to turn up for me every time I finish a big piece of writing.

No complaints here. I could some some peace and fulfillment — as could we all.

The Lion, The Fool, and The Devil.

First, I want to apologize for the brief hiatus I took a week or two ago. We received word that we could move into our new apartment on the day before Thanksgiving, and so we had to pack, clean, find movers, figure out why the toilet didn’t work, figure out why we kept smelling gas, yadda, yadda, yadda, nobody exploded and everyone is fine now.

Anyway!

During this time, I also didn’t do any tarot readings for myself. Didn’t really want to, to be honest — we’ve been unpacking, cleaning more things, calling the gas company, calling Poison Control because I accidentally had grapefruit this one time, it’s been a whole big thing. I’ve been too busy to really formulate questions to ask, and, of the questions I’ve had, I don’t really think I wanted answers to them.

(If I had to come up with one, I’d say the first rule of reading tarot is this: Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.)

So, this week, I decided to draw three cards. I didn’t have a particular plan for the three — I didn’t intend for them to be explicitly Past, Present, Future, or Problem, Obstacle, Outcome, or anything like that. Just a three-card snapshot.

First, I drew Strength.

Strength is, much as its name implies, associated with strength. Inner strength, outer strength. Courage, bravery, confidence, and mastery over one’s emotions. All things considered, this tracks. I’m doing well with therapy, as far one can gauge that kind of thing. I’m being more active, albeit slowly, here and there. Strength. Booya.

Next, I drew The Fool.

The Fool is freedom and innocence, but also a fair amount of naive dumbassery. He’s youthfully spontaneous, but also… Well, foolish. He symbolizes new beginnings, often those that require a leap of faith, of sorts. While most readers interpret The Fool as a positive card, as cards that symbolize beginnings often are, I’ve always viewed him with a little suspicion — Aces are beginnings too, but they don’t have the same careless energy as The Fool. I’ve been taught that The Fool’s backpack contains all of The Magician’s tools, and he could use them to do and be whatever his heart desired, if he only knew they were there. To me, The Fool symbolizes a new beginning with a hidden element, something that needs to be sussed out before taking that leap of faith.

Last, I drew The Devil.

I was initially taught that The Devil signified a manipulative person, but I don’t generally get a big “person” energy when I read tarot. Few of the cards I pull really seem to stand for an actual individual, though it does occasionally happen. In most cases, I see The Devil as something that someone’s given away their power to — it could be an addiction, or even something less severe. People give away their power to things that offer the illusion of safety, even if that “safety” is purely because the manipulative person/situation would make it dangerous to leave.

There are a number of things in my life that could be The Devil. There are things I’ve given power to, or adopted in the name of safety. I don’t use anything stronger than herbal tea and prescribed Zoloft anymore, so it isn’t a substance I can think of. I’ve been careful to root out the people who were unhealthy for me, so it isn’t a person I can name. Manipulation isn’t always obvious, though. Neither are the ways in which we lose our power.

Look at habits. To call me a “homebody” is… euphemistic. I’ve spent a long time managing a chronic illness, so going into environments I can’t control is daunting. Will it be too hot? Will I be dehydrated? Will there be fresh air, or strong smells? Will there be a crowd, or bright lights? A chronic illness isn’t a thing that you really get to choose to give your power away to, but am I managing it in a way that’s really healthy, or just easier?

Or the internet. I’m trying to furnish a living room, a place for my S.O. and I to relax, something that reflects us and the things we enjoy. Do I really want that sofa, or do I just think I want it because it looks just like one from this Pinterest post that some influencer made, even though they actually hate it and would never have considered it if they weren’t being paid ten grand to pretend they don’t? How much of my power have I given away to shitty advertising?

Not every kind of manipulation is overt. Not every addiction is to drugs or alcohol.

Of course, maybe The Devil isn’t here in a negative aspect. Sometimes, he has a positive role to play — like a devil-may-care attitude. He can be entertainment, laughter, sex, and rock’n’roll.

I drew an extra card, just in case. Three major arcana cards is a pretty big deal, the majors carry some strong energy. I got the Two of Wands.

The Two of Wands shows up when two paths diverge in a wood. It can signify a lack of contentment, but cautions that the grass may not be greener on the other side. In the deck I typically use for myself, the Crow Tarot, it’s an urging to leave your comfort zone.

That… That makes sense.

A big part of why we moved is because having stairs to climb made things more difficult (believe me, my dudes, you don’t want to fuck with a tile staircase when you’re having vertigo and your vision’s gone all sparkly). Now that I’m here, I’m enjoying the comfort of more space, and a new, cozy living room… Which would make it very easy for me to do the safe thing, to succumb to the self-deception that tells me that I should make a comfy nest here to nurse myself, instead of using the tools I have gathered to actually help myself. Zoloft and therapy have helped me gain mastery over many (though certainly not all, of course) of my negative emotions, so there’s Strength. This is a new beginning I should embrace with enthusiasm, but not carelessness, so there’s The Fool. I want to stay here, where it’s warm, comfortable, and spacious, and enjoy myself rather than putting these tools to the test and embracing a much less comfortable freedom, and there’s The Devil. I’m not content right now, because illness has hampered my life. I have to use the gains I’ve made to leave my comfort zone, and there’s the Two of Wands.

Heck.

 

Crystal Power, Crystal Healing

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting writers and this site!

cpchI recently picked up a copy of Crystal Power, Crystal Healing, by Michael Gienger, based on a recommendation by the lovely people behind Dreaming of Avalon. What really intrigued me was the idea of a more “scientific” guide to crystal healing — that is, one that’s based on trials and a definite system, as opposed to some of the very vague information circulating on the internet.

While I can’t necessarily say that the information in Gienger’s work adheres to the scientific method, it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. He breaks crystals down by their structure, mineral class, elemental composition, color, and method of formation. This yields some very interesting ways to choose a stone for your particular purpose. For example, halides have a dissolving property, chlorine-containing minerals break down tension and stress, and green minerals help release emotions. By cross-referencing your lifestyle with the specific chemical properties that would be the most helpful to you, you can find a stone to try working with — or, perhaps most interestingly, get advice for the next geological formation you should visit or move near.

A fair amount of Gienger’s advice runs contrary to what I’ve seen in numerous other crystal guides, which I rather liked. (You won’t find dodgy claims of curing cancer or reversing heart disease, for one. Any physical healing properties are discussed in a supporting sense, not a curative one.) If you’re meditating or working with one of the handful of usual suspects recommended by crystal expert and not getting anywhere, you may want to see what Gienger suggests. Even if you aren’t into working with crystals as a healing tool, the sections on lifestyles, crystal formation, and chemical properties make for a fun, intriguing read. (I learned that I’m rhombic.)

Overall, I recommend this to anyone who uses crystals, even just in a crafting or jewelry-making sense. It’s an interesting book, dense with information, and probably has something to teach even veteran crystal-workers.

The Magician

The Magician is resourcefulness. He means creativity, power, and the ability to achieve your goals. He shows up to tell you that you have the things you need to do the things you want.

In my case, I think he means serotonin.

It’s kind of funny, really. I’ve tried cognitive behavioral therapy, which had some success for some aspects of my anxiety. (What’s the worst that can happen if I embarrass myself in front of people? They get a cringy-funny story to tell, and, since I don’t mind laughing at my own dumbassery, so do I.) However, it did not work super well for others. (There’s a 99% chance I don’t have a heart condition, but, if I am wrong, I die and cats eat my face.) I already meditate, breathe diaphragmatically out of habit thanks to several years of singing class, and practice roughly seventeen different kinds of relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

I use aromatherapy — there’s a duke’s ransom in lavender, sweet orange, and ylang ylang oil in my bedside table. I use herbs, even though lemon balm mostly just makes me sleepy. I carry crystals, which helps considerably with the meditation and mindfulness. Even so, I still felt panicky.

It wasn’t until trying an SSRI that any of it really started to stick. Even though I’m on the tiniest dose imaginable, the difference is already noticeable.

There are a lot of witches who aren’t willing to do healing spells or health-related divination, and I can’t blame them. Magic works best when it’s focused on something — it’s why I don’t really hold with a lot of the pop-witchcraft ideas of doing things like enchanting your tea for prosperity. Nonspecific witchcraft brings nonspecific results. If you cast a healing spell, what should it do? If you ease soreness, you’re really erasing one of the body’s signals that tells you something is wrong. Ease inflammation, and you’re really altering a powerful mechanism for healing. Without knowing the root cause of something, without knowing what it is you’re really trying to change, it’s difficult, at best, to address.

The trouble with mental illness is that there often isn’t a simple way to diagnose it and figure out the root cause. I have intracranial hypertension, and I know this because a very nice team of doctors stared into my eyes, stuck needles in my spine, and ran more tests than I previously knew existed. I have anxiety, but there’s no blood test for that. They can’t stick me in an MRI and tell me why my brain malfunctions the way it does. The best tools I have right now are persistence and experimentation. They can’t tell me if it’s genetic, from some form of trauma, or has some as-yet unknown etiology. Fortunately, that experimentation is starting to pay off.

It isn’t that I was performing CBT wrong, or meditating improperly. It goes deeper than that, in ways diet and lifestyle could only help so much. I’m happy I’m closer to understanding my panic attacks and anxiety, and I can’t even tell you how happy I am that I feel like I can finally do something about it now.

I’m not one hundred percent where I want to be yet, but I know the way to get there.

And then everyone saw my butt.

Hello, I’m writing this to you with one hand, because the other one is mostly shrinkwrapped.

I’ve talked about my anxiety before — about starting sertraline, taking beta blockers, the whole nine. My health is not really something I’m secretive about at all. Too many people have anxiety and panic disorders as it is, and I’ve been dealing with it for too long to give half a shit in a handbag about being ashamed of something I can’t control.

I have not, however, mentioned nocturnal panic attacks.

I’m lucky in that I don’t get them super often — once in a blue moon, really, usually when I’m under a lot of stress. At first, I thought they were something akin to a night terror, but the presentation is actually very different. I’m aware when I wake up panicking, albeit usually confused for a bit. My heart races, I feel a sense of impending doom. They suck super hard, but, as I said, I don’t get them often.

Then this afternoon happened.

We upped my dose of sertraline last night. I’ve also been on Bactrim for the past few days, which made every joint in my body feel as though it had been beaten by a team of enthusiastic pixies with cricket bats. Both of these can potentially increase anxiety, and panic disorders can be pretty unpredictable anyhow. I lay down to take a nap late this afternoon, and woke up feeling like someone had hooked most of my organs up to a car battery.

So, I did what I usually do: call my S.O. and ask him to hang out on the phone with me until things calm down, in case I lose consciousness, or experience transient blindness, or something else happens that keeps me from being able to call 911. Usually, it takes about twenty minutes for the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and override the adrenaline response portion of a panic attack. I usually spend it on the phone, doing breathing exercises, holding an amethyst palm stone, waiting for things to pass. There isn’t really a way to speed up the process that I’ve found. Most of the emphasis is on riding it out with as little mental trauma as possible.

Twenty minutes came and went. I thought this might be more than I could handle on my own, so I took a beta blocker. (They’re not pleasant, but they’re pretty neat. From what I have experienced, read, and been told, they help me by blocking the adrenaline receptors in certain areas of the body. Pretty rad when your primary anxiety symptom is a racing heart, right?) Twenty minutes after that, my heart rate was almost normal. I also couldn’t breathe and felt like a donkey had kicked me in the sternum.

Welp. Plan B. I called an ambulance.

To make an already too-long story short(er), it was probably a reaction to the propranolol. We’re not sure why I had the original nocturnal attack, but I wasn’t actively having a heart attack when I got to the hospital. In fact, my vital signs were impressively normal, considering the completely dumbass amount of pain I was in. Just to make sure everything was okay, they took an EKG, drew some blood (shoutout to the dude who was able to draw from the back of my hand), and had me strip down and put on a robe for chest x-rays.

Remember when I mentioned taking Bactrim?

Do you know how hard it is to properly tie one of those damn robes on a good day?

Reader, I stood up to hold onto the x-ray machine so they could get a few shots of my heart, and flashed my entire butt at radiology. (To add insult to injury, when I got home, I realized I accidentally stuffed the hospital gown into the bag with my other belongings. So now there’s a permanent souvenir of my shame.)

Part of me berated myself for relying on medication. The fact of the matter is, though, that if you believe in an herb or crystal’s ability to heal, you must necessarily recognize its ability to harm. Anything can trigger an allergy. Anything can cause an adverse reaction. You can have a bad time with anything you put in your body, whether it’s a drug, a plant, or a sandwich. It’s the price we pay for having bodies, which, when you think about it, are both delicate and largely terrible. (Who’s idea was it to put the esophagus and trachea right next to each other? It makes no damn sense.)

Truth be told, butt-exposing aside, this went really, really well. My biggest fear has always been having an emergency when I’m alone, and potentially screwing up the things I need to do to handle that emergency. I was still half insensible with grogginess when I was fumbling with my phone to call for help, I was afraid of taking beta blockers because of the side effects, I experienced my worst fear after taking them, and came through it alright. I can’t say this has inoculated me against fearing these things in the future, but it’s a step. It was terrifying, and I did it, and if it happens again, that’s future J.’s problem.

And that’s something worth celebrating.

Cup Party

Party!

Kind of!

I am currently on enough antibiotics to make a Belgian Blue hallucinate, so I will make today both short and sweet: I drew the Three of Cups again.

Last time I did, it was at a time when my S.O. and I had a number of things in the works. We’d initiated the process of moving into a new place, I’d finished some paintings, and we were working on getting a site up and running. This time, I’m pleased to say that these things are reaching their fulfillment — appropriate for the full moon, no?

The apartment is about done being renovated. I received proofs of the images of my paintings that I sent to the printer, and they look awesome. We have a business license, our site is up, and we’re happily posting bits and pieces of the story of The Teller of Fortunes. It’s time to celebrate!

(It’s the culmination of something else, too: filtering and bottling my raven oil. It takes me a year to make, and I set it up and filter it on October’s full moon. One of these days, I might get around to compiling my recipes and processes into something I can share. This one, in particular, is good stuff.)

Of course, while the full moon marks the culmination of a cycle, the waning moon comes right behind her. Next is the time to work on the tiny, unseen things, followed by the new moon, before the energy ramps up again. I don’t really have much that I need to work on this cycle (well, not externally, anyhow); there are plenty of balls rolling already, it’s time to see where they go.