Automatic Asemic

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

Sometimes, writing can be a visual art form.

Not the same way logo design or typography are — just the shape and flow of text itself. The letters don’t have to spell anything, they don’t even have to be letters (just look at the beautifully evocative text of the Codex Seraphinianus) in order to have meaning.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

In the Codex Seraphinianus, the artist chose to use an invented language that doesn’t map to an existing one — while he invented an alphabet to write in, these letters join together to form words that don’t mean anything. The overall feeling is of being a young child who has gotten a hold of some beautiful and inexplicable book. The child knows the words mean things to those who can read them, and it feels like there is a whole secret world of knowledge there for the unlocking. But, without that kernel of understanding — without some way to turn the jumble of shapes into something that makes sense — there is a perpetually tantalizing, mysterious feeling of knowledge kept just out of reach.

In its primary role, written language is bound by semantics. C with an A followed by a T spells “cat,” and you know the sounds each letter stands for and the small, furry animal to which they refer. Asemic writing is writing unbound by semantics. It has meaning, it can be interpreted, but these things are not subject to the rules and logic of reading. The shapes and repetition of letters are treated as a pattern, neither more nor less than the fronds of a fern or the shapes of Arabesque tile, and the feelings and images they evoke are what give them meaning. This necessarily varies from person to person — where one may read aggression in the slant of a garbled word, another may see exuberance — but this subjectivity does not mean asemic writing makes any less sense than language.

codex

A close up.

It’s just different. 

In some of the magical and spiritual disciplines I work with, language becomes more than its literal meaning, and asemic writing can be doubly so. You can take a sentence, strike out the vowels and repeating letters, then rearrange the remainder into a sigil used to focus energy and intention. A planchette can dash across a page, leaving the uncertain scrawls of a spirit in its wake, while a group of breathless observers try to find sense in the jumble of lines and shapes. Scrubbed of their literal meanings, freed from the restrictions of semantics, letters and words (or alien shapes that only suggest letters and words) can condense into something else.

There are whole areas of literature devoted to analyzing word choice. “Happy” may not always mean “joyful,” and “patience” may not always be virtuous, and its worthwhile to examine why someone chose the words that they did. Even when words no longer have meaning, this still applies. Asemic writing is still made up of the lines and arcs we associate with text, and their placement is never random — there are things to be read in the ascending slant of a line, or a ripe, bubblelike downward curve.

Even when you can’t read the words, there is meaning in them.

 

 

 

 

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The Tom Waits Oracle

“When you are writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.” ― Tom Waits

Ever use shufflemancy? It’s a type of technomancy that relies on shuffling through a collection of music. It could be an album, it could be a playlist of your favorite songs, any sufficiently large number of tunes will do.

Tom Waits has been described as a lot of things: avant-garde, gravelly, whiskey-soaked, experimental, a raconteur. John Hodgman said that “[w]e all hear our own stories in our favorite songs (that is why Tom Waits sings in werewolf language—you can pretend it is about anything you want!),” and I’m inclined to agree.

And so, I tacked together a shufflemancy playlist made up entirely of Tom Waits tracks.

It’s pretty self-explanatory. Clear your head, ask your question, hit shuffle, and listen. (Or, if you’re not using the Spotify app, shut your eyes, scroll, click, and listen.) Do any lyrics leap out at you? What impressions do you get? Let the werewolf troubadour sing(/play/beat the bathroom door with a 2×4) you a divination.

Choosing Crystals Consciously

So, I’ve made no secret of the fact that stones occupy a place of honor in my practice. When I first started learning, I was drawn to the magic of gemstones above anything else. I think I got it from my dad — he made jewelry, beautiful things of silver, bone, and stone. From a young age, I was surrounded by bright lapis lazuli, soothing rose quartz, and shimmering tiger’s eye.

I like gemstones because they resonate with me. I’ve learned how to choose stones that make me feel uplifted and energetic, pieces that are as functional as they are beautiful.

quartz

But not everything crystal-related is all sweetness and light.

Diamonds are notorious for their controversy — pulled out of the earth in places stricken by war, sold to finance warlords and dictators. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only stones that are sometimes paid for in blood.

Most witches and other magic practitioners know that, when you get a new tool — or bring anything into your home, really — it’s a good idea to cleanse it to remove the energy of everyone and everything it’s come in contact with before you. What cleansing is good enough to ease the pain of a nine year old child laborer?
(And all of that’s before you even consider the environmental impact of gemstones.)

The picture isn’t entirely bleak, though. For those who aren’t willing or able to give up gemstones entirely, there’s one easy way to fight back: Know where your crystals come from, and choose wisely.

When I collect a stone or make a wand, I make an effort to find out as much as I can about where the components came from and how they were gathered. I’m not at all against hunting (it beats factory farming), but I use naturally-shed antlers. I know the areas the crystals came from, and try to source as much as I can from mines within the U.S., since it makes transparency a little easier.

There’s only one problem — this really isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most metaphysical shops and gemstone suppliers don’t provide information on their stones’ origins, if they were ever even given it in the first place. The places that do may also charge a premium, because cheap stones come at the expense of things like environmental protections and worker safety. So, if you can find ethical sources of gemstones, support them! Money talks, and the best way individuals have to end the trade in unethical crystals is to create an economic disincentive. It’s a slow, imperfect process, but it’s what we’ve got right now.

heart-3243179_1280

Estate sales are another option for those who don’t want to directly contribute to the trade in unethical stones. While they may have been mined under poor conditions, there’s really no undoing that. Keeping estate sale stones in circulation is a way to help reduce our dependence on mining.

Using local stones is another option. Crystals are pretty, and their properties are helpful, but quartz is incredibly abundant. Some of my favorite stones to work with are simple river rocks I picked up on a vacation with my boyfriend, or holey stones found in a creek.

Mining is dangerous and labor-intensive for workers at the best of times, and stones are sensitive things. While crystals may be longer-lived and more durable than animals or plants, they are no less affected by their environment, and these effects are passed on. Take the time to know where your stones come from, appreciate the tremendous amount of energy, effort, and danger involved in mining them, and contribute to reducing the burden on the people and places that bring them to you.

 

 

Let’s Read: Remedios Varo’s Letters, Dreams & Other Writings

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

varoI don’t know if I can express how much I wanted this book using actual, intelligible language words, as opposed to some kind of excited dolphin noise.

Saying “I love Remedios Varo” would be a little… not actually disingenuous, but small. I find her work inspiring. I love plumbing the depth of detail in her paintings. I’m fascinated by her life. If we had lived around the same time, in the same place, and there wasn’t a language barrier, I like to think we would have been friends (assuming she could get past my overly-eager fanning, but whatever). We could’ve had sleepovers, written letters to people we picked out of the phone book, and rearranged crocodile skulls, pipes, and armchairs together.

Incidentally, she was absolutely weird and I could not be more here for it.

See, what excited me about this book is that my Spanish is execrable, and her letters, notes, and other private writings aren’t widely translated. And by “not widely,” I mean that I’m pretty sure this is the only time they have been.

Letters, Dreams & Other Writings is short, but understandably so — it’s not as if she set out to have her notes compiled into a full-length book. It’s also extremely intimate, including details from several of her dreams. The first section comprises her letters to others (Gerald Gardner, who popularized Wicca, among them). Some of the recipients were complete strangers, and the letters were signed with fake names.

Anyway, this is pretty much all just preamble to my favorite bit: “The Observers of the Interdependence of Household Objects and of Their Influence Over Everyday Life.” I’ll let her describe it:

“This group, active for quite a long time now, has already made important verifications that make life easier from a practical point of view. For instance: I move a can of green paint some five centimeters to the right, I stick in a thumbtack next to a comb and, if Mr. A… (an adept who works in tandem with me) at that same moment places his book on beekeeping next to the pattern for cutting out a vest, I’m sure there will come about, on Avenida Madero, the encounter with a woman who interests me and whose origin I’ve been unable to determine[.]”

There are more descriptions of the private “solar systems” of the members of this esteemed (and, as far as I’ve been able to determine, imaginary) group. Armchairs, velvet shoes, skulls, a pipe inlaid with fake diamonds… All of them are described as laid out in a ritualistic arrangement, though it’s never explained exactly why each particular object has significance.

The Surrealist movement has some very strong ties to witchcraft and the occult (a topic I’d like to get into more deeply with a book focused on the subject). So, it’s unsurprising that Varo had her witchy tendencies, as well. The aspect of the practices of T.O.o.t.I.o.H.O.a.o.T.I.O.E.L. that surprised and intrigued me the most was their interdependence. Varo explains that new members of the group are limited in the objects they may use, and the manner in which they may move them. She goes on to describe committing an infraction:

“I permitted myself to add […] a dried hummingbird stuffed with magnetic dust, all of it well tied with cord, just as mummies are wrapped, using red silk thread. I did so without warning my colleagues, a very serious transgression according to the regulations of the group. Only our leader, with his long experience and his high degree of knowledge, can do something like that without bringing on grave consequences. What’s more, I intentionally put the can of green paint under a beam of red light that was coming through the stained glass pane of my window[.]”

She blames this course of action for a change in her paintings (the sudden, irrepressible desire to paint otherwise placid sheep with staircases coming out of their backs, for one), the ruining of a shirt, and the sudden appearance of a large deposit of salt in her bedroom.

Despite existing in discrete systems of their own, under the care of each member, the objects are all interrelated. Moving one affects things in the homes of other members, and doing so without warning is a serious thing. It put me in mind of crystal grids, and the way they (like all magic) can be used to influence something very far away — you don’t need the patient in front of you to work a healing spell, for example. Only, in Varo’s case, the movement and placement of ritual objects in other homes influences the ritual objects in hers, which, in turn, influences her everyday life.

Only two of her letters discuss this practice at all, which is a shame, because I find it fascinating. Even if she made it up entirely, even if there never was a group of Observers, the description of these magical tableaux conjure up a captivating mental image. The rest of the book is a collection of dreams, a pretend archaeological resource on Homo rodans, a few recipes for inducing specific types of dreams (erotic dreams require, among other things, “1 kilo horseradish, 4 kilos honey, and hats to taste”), and notes on her paintings. It’s a short read, like I said, but was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon that’s left my imagination invigorated.

 

 

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.

 

Let’s Read: Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path.

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

veneficiumEven if I don’t currently include entheogens in my practice, the ideas and practices of the poison path fascinate me. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery, considerable knowledge, and a firm devotion to the idea of expanding consciousness over bodily safety. It relies on the concept that the dose makes the poison, and growth lies on the thin line between curative and deadly.

The concepts of the poisoner and the witch are inextricable. Just look at the reasons people fear “evil” witches: they were said to cause sickness in people and cattle, wither crops, and bewitch others into nonordinary states of consciousness. Just look at the Evil Queen who sends Snow White into a deep slumber with a poisoned apple, or the Sea Witch who glamours herself and tricks the Prince into falling in love with her. (And what is desire, if not an altered state of consciousness?)

Even in the Bible, the lines between magic and poison are blurred, at best. The words “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”  (Exodus 22:18) appear, but may not mean what  they seem to mean. The original Hebrew word, mekhashepha, is of uncertain meaning. Does its root, kashaph, mean “to cut” or “herb using”? A prohibition against magic in its entirety seems unlikely, given the historical context. Other sources later translated the word to mean those who used magic for evil — in other words, witches who “poisoned” by magical means. Could the Bible be warning its readers against poisoners here, instead?

Daniel A. Schulke’s Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path explores the use of mind-altering substances, but it’s emphatically not a “how to” guide. A History of Pagan Europe followed the development and spread of Pagan practices across Europe, and this is in a similar vein — a resource for the history and cultural spread of the spiritual use of entheogens.

One bit I found particularly interesting was the chapter on The Spirit Meadow, particularly the description of bread made of black millet. There’s a sort of folkloric figure called the Black Miller. He’s a powerful, fearsome, shape-changing sorcerer, who makes an appearance in a song by Faun (Die Wilde Jagd), and in “The Black Mill” by Jurij Brezan. It’s unclear exactly where the moniker “Black Miller” came from. In context, it’s unlikely to refer to his appearance or ethnicity — much like the “black” in “blacksmith” refers to the material, not the smith themselves. In Veneficium, some of the information presented by Schulke adds an interesting dimension here, in a section about darnel (Lolium temulentum):

Darnel may well have been present in the notorious ‘black breads’ served at the Sabbat, as documented by DeLancre*, either as a deliberate inclusion or in the bread for its deliriant qualities, or simply as a by-product of the agricultural practices of the time. It is plausible that a toxic stew of deliriant grains, serving as the component basis of the Sabbat-bread, had synergetic effects operating between psychoactive components, if indeed darnel formed a part of witchcraft rites. This idea has been proposed in relation to the everyday bread eaten in medieval Europe[.]

*According to DeLancre, “… their bread is some horrible black cake made of black millet and some other drug…” which ‘confuses the senses’ of those who eat it, and likewise binds them to Satan.

Die Wilde Jadg tells the story of a pair of shapeshifters: one pursuer, one pursued. Based on the connotations of black millet, bread, and hallucinogenic fungi, it’s pretty easy to picture the eponymous “Black Miller” grinding away at the psychoactive raw materials of the “speculative ‘Black Bread of the Sabbat'” — a pretty spot-on occupation for a shapeshifting sorceror.

It would be easy for a book like Veneficium to fall into the trap of being dry and tedious, but it never does. The language is as poetic and striking as it is informative, and the subject matter is absolutely fascinating. If you have any interest in the spiritual use of entheogens and aren’t looking for a guide book, I highly recommend it.

How to Completely @&#$ up a Spell

Many, many people who will attempt spells or rituals will bomb one at some point. I’ve done it. Everyone I’ve known has. There’s no shame in it, it’s all part of a lifelong process of experimentation. The only shameful thing is not using it as a learning experience!

Before I go into this, let me preface it by saying that I’m of two minds about the concept of a spell “backfiring.” Some schools of thought hold that backfiring isn’t really a thing — if you’re treating your ancestors, deities, and spirit guides like you ought to be, they’re not going to let that happen to you. Others hold that you absolutely can screw yourself over despite their best intentions — spirits are there to guide and help you, but self-sabotage is absolutely possible. In my practice, this plane is where things really manifest, so it is entirely possible to willfully mess yourself up if you try hard enough. By that same token, I also think that it takes a lot to do that. (I have seen it happen, though.)

So! If most witches are more or less guaranteed to experience a failed spell at one time or another, why does this happen?

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