6 Signs Your Spiritual Advisor Might Be Full of It

Once, I mentioned to someone that I was interested in visiting a Reiki massage therapist. Immediately after I said it, I received a very baffling piece of advice: “Don’t join a cult.”

I say baffling, because:

  1. What do either of those things have to do with each other?
  2. Cults have a very definite set of characteristics that make them destructive to the people they trap. People don’t join a cult because they’re foolish or don’t know any better. They join them because they are desperate, and cults have a highly evolved set of strategies for preying on this desperation. Saying “don’t join a cult” is an extremely reductive treatment of a set of very complex psychological and social problems.
  3. Cults work because people don’t realize they’re about to join one. Saying “don’t join a cult” is a bit like saying “don’t choke to death on a potato” or “don’t get malaria.”

In Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, Margot Adler points out that Pagan groups don’t share the characteristics of cults. I can’t reasonably say that no Pagan group leader has ever used their influence the way a cult leader does, but the motivations for being Pagan, or even being a secular witch, are not rooted in the desperation and desire to belong that are the hallmarks of someone vulnerable to a cult. (Given the number of solitary Pagans and witches, it would really odd way to go about obtaining a sense of belonging.)

A fangy-toothed cat sleeping upside down.

I have no idea what image would be appropriate for this sort of post, but all of the blogging guides say I need to have one. So, here’s Pye’s enormous, doofy face, because the rest of this post is heavy.

That said, sometimes spiritual advisors and Pagan group leaders take a hard left into toxicity. I mean, there’s a whole range of behavior between garden-variety low functioning manipulators and Shoko Asahara (and none of it is good).

So, how do you tell if your spiritual advisor may not have your best interests at heart?

1. “You’re cursed, but I can save you.”

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from people who went to a psychic or other advisor only to be told that they were suffering from a terrible curse, and only the advisor could help them.

By the way, that help will run you into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Dealing with curse-breaking, like other forms of witchcraft, requires practice, learning, and dedication, but there is nothing so special about it that only one person in the world can help you… and it definitely shouldn’t cost you four easy payments of $10k each. But, while most people know to get a second opinion if their doctor delivers some bad news, they often don’t necessarily feel the same about spiritual advisors.

I hate to be all “not all psychics,” but it’s true. Just like with any other bad news, get a second (or third) opinion, and learn what you can do to help yourself first. Curses also aren’t nearly as common as many people think, so the odds of you actually having a curse that needs removing are not very high.

2. Nudity is not optional.

“Going skyclad” is a thing that I think a lot of people have weird ideas about. It’s a way to remove the trappings of rank from people, to place all of the participants on equal footing. It’s also a way to delineate the ritual setting, since most people don’t go about their daily lives in the nude, and to celebrate the body without shame — if you’re uninhibited enough to be in the buff, you’re uninhibited enough to fully give yourself over to the emotions and feelings of the ritual.

That said, nobody has any place to tell someone that they must be skyclad. Nobody.

There have been instances where gross perverts have maneuvered themselves into leadership positions in part to preside over a space full of naked people. Anyone who insists that you absolutely have to be naked in front of them (and isn’t, like, a literal emergency room trauma surgeon) is not anyone who should be trusted.

3. Something something root chakra.

There’s a lot of crossover between Western new age spirituality and the concept of chakras in Hindu tantrism (something which both Hindu people and members of new age movements often feel several ways about). Part of this is the appropriation of the idea of chakra opening.

The root chakra is part of a complex physical and spiritual energy system. I can’t speak for Hindu tantrism in particular, but, in Westernised practices, this chakra is associated with sexuality, survival, security, and all of the other lower Maslow-type business. A blockage of the root chakra also impacts all of those above it. This makes sense — if you don’t feel safe and have your basic needs met, you probably aren’t going to really open up to much else in life.

The weird part is the number of people who want to personally unblock your chakras. Preferably with their junk.

As with going skyclad, there is no reason to allow someone to do anything to you that you are not comfortable with, even a guru. This isn’t like overcoming fear through skydiving or bungee jumping — this is a predator who wants to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position. Cloaking it in a veneer of spirituality doesn’t legitimize it.

4. “You’re special!”

Here is where things cross over into cult recruitment tactics. One of the things cults are known for is love bombing. Love bombing is sometimes used toward positive ends. More often, it’s manipulation.

Love bombing takes a vulnerable person and makes them feel wanted and special. It can also take a person who just thrives on praise and make them feel elevated and unique. Once that “loved” status is obtained, most people don’t want to let go of it — so they put up with a lot to keep the love coming.

For a very brief time, I was involved in a small coven led by someone I trusted. All of the people involved in it were friends, and we all knew each other pretty well. I didn’t stay long, because my gut feeling pulled me away — I could tell something in the milk wasn’t clean, even if I didn’t know what. In the short time I was there, though, I could see the leader love bombing one of the members. This member got endless compliments, elevated to a higher rank, and the leader insisted that a kiss was part of the ritual structure.

Long story short, some rumors of sexual misconduct and a broken marriage later, that coven isn’t a thing anymore.

5. “The world doesn’t understand.”

Here’s another crossover into cult territory. One of the signs of a cult is isolation — the cult can only function if its members have a complete reliance on it. So, it shuts down critical thought and fosters the sense that the rest of the world is at fault, and it’s good and right to be at odds with it.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be against a lot of the things society accepts as normal. Being anti-capitalist, anti-overconsumption, or anti-patriarchal doesn’t make someone weird or wrong — far from it.

It does become toxic when that feeling extends to being unable to associate with anyone outside of a given belief system. When a trusted advisor tells you that you should alienate anyone who questions what you’re doing, that’s bad news.

Weirdly, it’s something that shows up in multi-level marketing schemes, too. Amway even has a name for these outsiders: dream stealers. This name is a way to “other” people who are suspicious of their activities. If a person doesn’t want to join your downline, buy Amway products, or otherwise go whole-hog into the Amway lifestyle? “Why, they’re just a loser who doesn’t want to see you succeed! They want to take away your dream!”

If your advisor tries to control the narrative by shutting down critical thought, that’s bad news.

6. “Your doctor is holding you back.”

It used to be an oft-repeated refrain that you simply couldn’t practice witchcraft if you were under the influence of anything. While this is understandably interpreted as a caution not to drink your weight in sacramental beer or rip a fat rail off of the back of a toilet immediately before entering the circle, you can still find people who take a dangerous, hard line approach.

As in, you shouldn’t be on anything. The medication you need for anxiety? Nope. The mood stabilizers that help you function? Nah. Antipsychotics? No way.

I think this happens when the importance of practicing with a clear head gets crossed with a kind of orthorexia — the idea that you must adhere to a contrived standard of internal “purity” in order to be worthy, and relying on outside help to function somehow makes you lesser. From my observation, this doesn’t seem to arise out of a desire for control (trust me, I’m much less tractable when I’m anxious), but telling someone to stop taking medication that they need is still destructive.

 

I’ve had some great experiences with spiritual advisors and group leaders, and some not-so-great ones. When spiritual advisors are good at what they do, they can help foster tremendous growth and creativity. “Help” and “foster” are the key words, though — they are there to advise, while the actual growth comes from within. If someone tries to make you dependent on them by claiming to be the only one who can save you, forces you into a vulnerable position, love bombs you, urges you to isolate yourself from anyone else who might see them for who they are, or tells you to stop taking your medication, it’s time to drop them.

 

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The Hermit

I get a lot of use out of social media. Sure, it’s got its flaws. When you’ve moved around as much as I have, though, it’s a pretty useful way to stay in touch with the people who’re important to you. (Especially when your local postal service can charitably be called “unreliable.”)

Still, there’s something about it that makes me dread using it. Every scroll through my feed is a list of the worst headlines from the last news cycle, friends arguing, and edgelords edgelording, occasionally interspersed with pictures of kittens. It’s a lot to keep up with, and it amazes me how much mental energy it ends up sapping — and I don’t have that much to start with.

Stepping back from it really bothers me, though. Call it FOMO, I guess, or at least the fear of losing touch. But is it even worth it when it leaves me feeling drained and anxious within minutes, and most of the news stories I read are things I’ve read elsewhere? A lot of my social media is private, and I’m not exactly writing to an audience of millions — what does it matter if I like or re-post the stories my friends have most likely already seen? At what point does it become purely performative?

Mental energy is a precious resource for anyone, but I depend really heavily on it to pay my bills. If I can’t stand being online, I can’t write for my clients. If I’m too agitated to focus, I can’t make things. As obvious as that seems now, there was a long while where I didn’t realize it — it felt like that agitation and mental fatigue were normal. They were the cost of participating, or something I had to put up with in order to keep in touch with people and signal boost things I care about.

It seems like such a Millennial problem, doesn’t it? But with six states under my belt and my mobility restricted by my health, social media has become more important to me than it probably otherwise would have. On one hand, this isn’t entirely a good thing (otherwise I wouldn’t be fussing about it now). On the other, I can’t imagine how isolated I’d end up feeling otherwise. I like being somewhat itinerant. I’m an extrovert, and I thrive on meeting new people. The flip side to that is that it’s extra rough when I end up leaving them behind.

On a lark, I pulled a few cards from a tarot deck I recently picked up. I didn’t have any pressing concerns, just wanted to get a feel for the energy of the cards and see what they were like to read from.

“How can I put more into my art and writing,” I asked, “And get to a point where I’m more fulfilled creatively?”

And I got The Hermit.

thehermit

The Hermit is alone, but not lonely. This card expresses a need for introspection, a meditative period away from distraction. It’s dedication to a goal, and a solid understanding of the path that he is on. The Hermit has to turn inward first, before he can find understanding.

In other words, he needs to be the hell off of Facebook so he can learn a thing.

… Okay, so, in retrospect, this seems head-smashingly obvious. Still, on the tail end of about three entire minutes of Twitter, it really clicked for me. Putting myself through the wringer of reading, liking, and re-tweeting post after post about the worst the world has to offer isn’t really doing much good, even in a signal boosting sense. I don’t want to get all gift-shop-driftwood-plaque-with-the-word-“Breathe”-painted-on-it, but I need to stop this. It’s definitely not improving me as a person, and I don’t think it’s even really helping anyone else.

So, I’m experimenting with another social media hiatus. I’m still updating my Instagram and other strictly blog- and shop-related things, but I really need to figure out better ways to internet while maintaining my sanity.

 

 

 

5-Minute Energy Cleanses

Ever have a day when you just feel off? You’re not getting sick, nothing really caused it, you just have a sort of wrong feeling. Maybe you’ve been around someone who left you feeling drained, overheard something that made you uncomfortable, or even just had to listen to an annoying, insipid muzak soundtrack in line at the grocery store. You’re left feeling bogged down, maybe even annoyed.

You need a five minute pick-me-up.

A landscape emerging from a very large book.

This picture has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was cool.

These short rituals are designed to be able to be done whenever you have the time for them — there’s not a lot of ceremony involved, just simple, effective rituals to help get you back on an even keel.

1. Use a Sponge

For this, you’ll need:

  • A clean sponge
  • A bowl (preferably glass or china)
  • Water
  • Sliced lemons, or a few drops of your favorite essential oil

Add the lemons or oil to the water, and stir in a clockwise direction with your dominant hand. As you stir, picture the bowl filling with warm, bright, effervescent energy.

Take the bowl somewhere peaceful — maybe in your garden, or your favorite chair. Hold it on your lap, and inhale the uplifting scent of the water.

Hold the dry sponge in your hand, and visualize all of the stress, tension, and negativity in you pouring into it. Dip the sponge in the water, hold it over the bowl, and squeeze it as hard as you can. Let the sponge soak up your negative energy, and let the clean, empowered water wash it away.

Repeat this as many times as necessary — really crush that sponge like a soggy stress ball, and let your tension fall away. When you are through, pour the water on the earth with thanks.

2. Try the Cloud Meditation

Find somewhere where you can sit quietly and comfortably. If you have trouble focusing on your breath or meditating with your eyes closed (me too!), don’t worry. Just imagine a soft, fluffy cloud directly over your head. It glows with a bright light, the color of a sunset, and smells like fresh rain.

Sunset cloud over a calm field.

Tree’s about to get cleansed like whoa.

When you have a solid mental image of the cloud, visualize it beginning to rain down on you. The rain is bright, just like the cloud, tinged with golden light. Everywhere it touches, it washes away the stress, tension, and negativity in your energy field. Imagine the gentle caress of the gleaming water trailing down your skin, carrying away all of the negative energy with it. Keep this up for as long as you need to, then allow the cloud to dissipate.

3. Use a Selenite Wand

I love selenite. Not only is it helpful for pain (for me, anyway), it’s widely used to help cleanse energy fields. If you have access to a selenite wand, no matter how small or unpolished it may be, you can use it to quickly sweep negative energy away from you.

Hold one end in your dominant hand, the way you’d hold a lint roller, or the handle of a portable vacuum. Sweep the wand over yourself, about 3-4″ from your skin, from head to toe. At the end of each stroke, give the wand a shake. If you prefer, you can also point the end of the wand at yourself, and twirl it the way you’d twirl a cotton candy stick. Visualize the negative, stagnant energy catching on the end of the wand, then shake it off, move the wand to a new area, and repeat.

4. Hold a Stone

For this, you’ll need:

  • Stone
  • A body of water

To do this, take a stone in your dominant hand. Hold it tightly, as you visualize all of your stress and negative energy filling it. Let the stone take your tension and worries from you. when you are ready, toss it into a moving body of water with your thanks. The water will rinse away the negativity, and return the stone to a place where it can help someone else.

5. Feel the Sun and Wind

The weather can be a powerful ally when it comes to energy cleansing. If it’s a windy day, stand in the wind and feel it carrying the negative energy away from you. If it’s a warm, sunny day, close your eyes, turn your face up to the sun, and feel the warmth and brightness burning away whatever negativity clings to you. Say your thanks, and continue your day feeling lighter, safer, and more relaxed.

Sun rising over mountains.

Picturesque mountains optional.

It’s hard to avoid negative energy entirely. Depending on what you do, it may not be a good idea to try — it’d be hard to be a trauma counselor or ER doctor if you consciously distance yourself from negativity! If you’re feeling bogged down by the people, places, and things you’ve come in contact with, taking a few minute for an energy cleansing ritual can help you relax and return to normal.

 

The Buzzcut: One Year(ish) Later

The New Year’s day before last, I shaved my head. The whole thing, right down to the skin. I did it for a variety of reasons — some magical, most mundane. Now, after a year (and change), how does it feel?

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Not shown: the picked-over patches hidden by that ridiculous part.

I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t regret it. I only regret not having done it sooner.

I don’t keep my hair as (non-existently) short as that first cut. Most of the time, it hovers between a #3 and a #5. I’ve debated allowing it to grow out again, but, every time, I hit about an inch in length and get the urge to buzz it again.

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Bald af.

It was a little tough to get used to, at first. I’ve almost always had very long hair. It was part of how I mentally pictured myself. Even in dreams, I had long hair. A big part of why I cut it was trichotillomania — after two decades of feeling through my hair, looking for all of the strands that were too thick, to coarse, too curly, or otherwise too different, and then pulling them out, I was ready to stop. I also knew I didn’t want to go the route of buying hair fiber sprays or putting in expensive extensions that’d only end up damaging what hair I had left. Unfortunately, like a lot of things on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, it’s not that easy to just up and quit trich. Buzzing it short removes not only the temptation, but the ability to grasp hairs and pull them. As a “fix,” it’s a bit hardcore… but it works.

Sometimes I struggle with the idea of keeping my hair short. Most of the people — men, women, or otherwise — who informed my standard of beauty growing up had long hair. The typical image of the witch in popular imagination is a woman with long, wild hair. Some spells even call for unbinding and shaking out hair, using hair as a taglock, braiding hair together with other objects, or wearing items in hair. Some traditions call for keeping hair bound or covered. I have never been a part of one that did, but I kept my hair bound anyway — I shed like a golden retriever, so it helped keep my hair off of things. (It also helped keep it out of other people’s hands. No sense in giving someone an easy way to focus a jinx on you, you know?)

On the flip side, a large component of magic is embracing change and releasing what no longer serves you. Honoring sunk costs or holding on to things that do nothing for you only serves as an energy sink that detracts from your ability to grow, create, and bring in things that don’t suck the joy out of living. With that in mind, and considering how much mental energy it took to go through the hair-pulling process, obsess about it afterward, try to hide the evidence, and keep my hair in decent shape, I don’t at all regret shaving it.

Will I let my hair grow out again? I don’t think so. I like how it looks short. I love how little care it requires. I like that I can make bars of shampoo last much longer now. I love that I never have to worry about it being dull, or limp, or frizzy, or unmanageable. Not having long hair has taken a tremendous load off of me.

Strangely enough for someone who’s had long hair pretty much her whole life, I feel more like myself with little-to-no hair at all.

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I still like to wear hats, though.

DIY Brain Chemistry

I’ve been doing a lot of reading.

I don’t want to call it “research,” because looking up a bunch of studies isn’t really the same as designing an experiment or compiling a meta analysis, but it’s a lot of reading nonetheless.

See, for years, I’ve been trying to find ways to mitigate some Brain Things. It isn’t purely panic disorder, because there are some very evident physiological aspects to that aren’t really adequately explained by anxiety. It also isn’t purely physical, either.

The first doctor I ever discussed it with was my pediatrician. I was thirteen, had begun experiencing regular panic attacks, and my mother was tired of it.

“It’s anxiety,” he said. And that was it.

It went untreated for years — I was told it was all in my head, that the liver absorbs adrenaline in under a minute (lol what), and there was no reason for any panic attack to last longer than that. This left me with two things:

  1. A raging, untreated panic disorder.
  2. A diagnosis of anxiety.

Getting diagnosed with anxiety is a curse in its own right, particularly if you’re medically female. Women’s pain is often ignored as it is, particularly for black women. If you have a history of anxiety and depression, it is downright impressive how many medical conditions it’ll get blamed for. (Like the time I was given SSRIs to treat a symptomatic hemangioma. Fun!)

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Living my best life is sucking the life out of me.

Its 2:00 in the morning, and I am writing because I have, once again, destroyed my sleep schedule.

Well, not just my sleep schedule.

I have idiopathic intracranial hypertension. It makes me forget things, feel crushing headaches every moment of the day, occasionally lose my ability to see, and want to sleep basically forever. Left to my own devices, I will sleep for twelve hours and still be able to take a substantial midday nap.

Such is life.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t allow me much time for anything else. This doubly sucks, because what time I am left is also devoted to coping with the headaches, dizziness, anxiety, depression, and other trappings of having a head full of surplus brainjuice. Showering is tiring. Clothes hurt. On a high-pressure day, even holding my head up is more than my neck can manage.

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Why “Unseelie?”

So, I’ve gotten asked, “Why do you go by Unseelie J online?”

There are a couple of reasons. Yes, it’s a pun on unseelie fae, but it goes a bit deeper than that.

While the word unseelie, particularly when attached to the unseelie court, is taken to mean “malevolent,” it has a number of uses. Seelie, its opposite, meant blessed, lucky, or happy. Unseelie, therefore, meant unhappy, unfortunate, or not blessed. It’s a term that resonates with me.

I have mostly created my own luck in life — I was born to a poor family, in a not-terribly-great family situation, raised by an abusive, staunchly religious homophobe, nearly killed in a car accident as a teenager, and, to top it all off, was diagnosed with a very rare, poorly understood, incurable, potentially lethal neurological disorder about six years ago.
It’s been quite a time.

I’ve also long realized that my primary purpose in life may very well be to serve as a cautionary tale to others, and I’ve become okay with that. I’m also okay with the fact that I am chiefly alive out of pure contrariness.

After all, like Maria Bamford says,

spite.gif

So, while I’ve got a neurological disorder, anxiety, physical pain, and the weight of my past to carry around, I’m okay with being unseelie. At this point, I also aim to be the biggest thorn in the side of the status quo that I can be, so I’m even okay with being considered malevolent.

It all depends on who’s doing the considering.  💜