The Hidden Light Tarot

My first exposure to Oli StarFrosting’s work was through his self-titled zine. I knew I’d found a gem of a writer and artist when I found myself swept up in passages like these:

bone deep in my blood is magic, I am a Witch too and breathe in mana with each breath, know the knots and tides of magic as my birthright, feel the presence of G-D Herself pouring out through the moon the trees the cold pulsing ground, know with an immediacy and intimacy the Divine gathered in all things, know the array of water and fire and earth on my altar as crucial to my taking my rightful role in creation which is nothing other than G-D Herself becoming cosmos…

The spiraling stream-of-conscious style through which Oli expresses his magical practice, like a kaleidoscope joining a jumble of disparate elements into a breathtaking whole, is what makes his new tarot deck, the Hidden Light, so wonderful to work with and so difficult to write about. The deck consists of Oli’s illustrations juxtaposed with collage work, with several themes emerging across the cards: the pentacles suit, for instance, features multiple photos of shelves laden with bottles of Florida water and 7-day novenas, while the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune, and other cards have a nautical theme with ships and astrolabes. The colors are as pleasing to the eye as an expertly decorated altar, and many of the cards have enough subtle details that one card can offer up an entire spread’s worth of information.


Image: emperor card, depicting a honeycomb with larvae inside.Like many modern decks, the Hidden Light discards patriarchal imagery in favor of new interpretations. One of my favorite cards is the Emperor, which is depicted not as the traditional kingly figure, but as a honeycomb full of bee larvae. What are we to make of an emperor depicted as a batch of grubs? Nascent power? Humility? Collectivism? Each reader will see something slightly different, and therein lies the beauty of this deck. If you’re the type of novice reader who relies on a booklet or manual to feed you the meaning of a card (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), this deck will force you to turn inwards instead and wake up your intuition.

When I first got the deck, I worried that the fullness of each card would lead to busy, confusing spreads, with the many details muddying storylines and symbols. Luckily, that’s not the case. Take, for instance, this sample spread, which I pulled in response to a question I commonly get from clients: What should I do about my love life?

Image: 9 of pentacles, 10 of wands, and knight of swords. Further description in text.

The 9 of pentacles, on which the pentacles rest on a collection of occult supplies, leads to the 10 of wands, which are fanned out against a backdrop of trees. This suggests a progression from gathering resources to going out and using them, but refraining from acting prematurely. Once in motion, though, the client should take calculated risks, as the knight of swords, a man holding a knife aloft, suggests. The supplies at the bottom of the first card seem to erupt into wands in the second, with the client riding that eruption in the third (since the knight’s pose echoes the position of the wands). Perhaps the client should have a charm made, let it cook for 10 days, and then open up OK Cupid. Or maybe they should call a moratorium on dating until they recuperate from a breakup or an abusive ex. This is a hypothetical reading, of course, but the point is that the illustrations tell a clear, nuanced story.

 

The only problem with the deck is that the card titles and numbers can be a bit hard to read against their backgrounds. Whether or not that’s a issue for you will depend on your reading style. If it’s important for you to know which card you’re working with–if, say, you incorporate numerical significance or the Fool’s Journey into your readings–then it may take a bit for you to familiarize yourself with the deck. If you work with pictures alone, though, you probably won’t notice.

You can get the Hidden Light at Oli’s Etsy store, along with an accompanying zine. I love this deck! The cards themselves are well-made, satisfying to handle, and printed in New York City, and I’m thrilled to add the deck to my collection.

Cross-posted at Pagansquare.com.


Need your cards read? Check out my sliding scale services.

My blog has moved!

I’m over the moon–Patheos.com has offered to host my blog!

The new blog, Shekhinah Calling, went live earlier this week. Here’s a link to the first post:

Welcome to Shekhinah Calling!

This blog will eventually redirect to the new one, but I don’t know if that affects people’s WordPress readers, so I wanted to post an announcement first. If you have my blog listed in a blogroll (thank you!!) I’d greatly appreciate it if you updated the link and the name.

See y’all at Patheos!

Getcher $68 Crystals Here! Crystals, $68 a Pop!

Native Appropriations‘s Facebook page posted a link to this Death and Taxes article:

I have always said that Free People reminds me of a ’90s era hippie shop of the sort that sold a lot of broomstick skirts, incense and tarot cards– except, you know, 10 times more expensive. Now, it seems, they’re really leaning into that with the concept of an online “Spirituality Shop.” Which may not be new, I don’t know, it’s not like I’m keeping tabs on the Free People website or anything. But it sells a lot of crystals and dreamcatchers and tarot cards and pretty much all the sticks you can handle.

But yeah. It is a “Spirituality Shop.” From Free People. Let that roll around in your mind for a minute before we start in on this vision quest.

Image: three small crystals hanging in raffia macrame.

Sixty! Eight! Dollars!

Click through to see some of the items for sale. They are…remarkable. My jaw hurts from dropping so much! My favorite items are the $68 hanging crystals that you could make yourself for about 10 bucks and an E-How video on macramé.

It’s easy to just snark at this for a minute and then congratulate ourselves on how authentic our own spirituality is, but I think it’s worth discussing the ways artisanship gets mixed up in capitalist cynicism and mass production. Most of the Free People stuff is purportedly made–or at least designed–by an artist named Catherine Costanza, although much of it is variations on Indigenous art and spiritual tools. The “cosmic stick” and paulo santo clusters with amethyst tacked on (do customers know you have to take the crystal off to burn the wood?) are pretty ridiculous, but some of the items–the moon chime things, the aforementioned hanging crystals–are actually kind of nice-looking. As in, if I picked one up from a flea market, it would liven up a room.

Here’s what I think:

1. It’s interesting when an artisan, whether or not they’re selling through a larger company, feels empowered to charge farcical amounts of money for objects one could cheaply and easily make themselves. On the one hand, the artisan deserves credit and compensation for a solid concept and good craftsmanship, and if their work is valued, they should be able to make a living off of it. On the other hand, these kinds of prices are only viable in a system in which people feel powerless to make things themselves and/or want the status associated with buying a particular brand. (Then there’s fast fashion, which is the new underbelly of status, but that’s a whole other post.)

2. Artisans aren’t always noble homegrown folk who just love making beautiful things. They can be charlatans peddling snake oil. They can be just as cynical as huge corporations. I’ve never met Catherine Costanza so I’m not going to make guesses about her intentions, but it’s good to remember that “handmade” does not equal “honest.”

True story: once I saw an artist, in a pop-up shop curated by a major museum, selling little scraps of handmade paper with letter-pressed dotted lines on them for–wait for it–$95 each. Because they were art, you puny mortals. The only conclusion I could draw that would keep my mind in one piece was that the shop itself was performance art.

3. The appropriation of spirituality is running amok, as usual. I doubt the majority of people buying the Free People crap actually intend to use it for magic or cleansing or healing or whatnot; they want it because Witchcraft and Shamanism and All Things Native American are in vogue right now. The aesthetic is cool; the lifestyle is not. Case in point: about a year ago, Bust Magazine published an article by Callie Watts about her efforts to become a “real witch.” She made an athame out of a letter opener (legitimately cool) and led a few rituals. At the end of the article, she proclaimed herself a Witch; however, she also rushed to assure her readers that she didn’t actually believe in goddesses or magic or anything like that.

4. Even when things are pretty, even when they’re useful in our magic, we need to own fewer things. Period. A personal collection of meaningful objects is fine; roomfuls of trendy dust catchers are not. A small handful of crystals is probably okay; people have been using beautiful stones for millenia. But we can’t tear apart ancient caves just so everyone can play shaman for two months and get bored.

See? I can take artsy photos of sticks, too.

See? I can take artsy photos of sticks, too.

About a year ago, I found a beech twig lying on the ground beside its tree. I asked the tree if I could have it, thanked it, tied some ribbon around the twig, and consecrated it. Behold: my current wand. It’s much more beautiful and dear to me than anything I could buy in a store. Someday it’ll likely break or get worn out, or maybe I’ll pass it on in a power object exchange. Knowing my time with it is finite only makes it more special.

I am so very glad I didn’t pay the price of a flight to Oakland for it.

Theurgic Binding: A Response

For the past couple of days, I’ve been mulling over whether to post some kind of response to Morpheus Ravenna’s post on dedication to a deity. But whenever I begin drafting something, I get frustrated and delete it. Nothing seems to quite get at what I feel needs to be expressed.

Then, today, a friend of mine linked to a post contrasting the Buddha’s “Parable of the Raft” to Mormon Teachings. Here’s the parable:

A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty – but on the far side of the river, there is safety. But there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves, twigs, and vines and is able to fashion a raft, sturdy enough to carry him to the other shore. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.

The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?’” The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.

The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?”

The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.

The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”

I find online conversations about the Morrigan to be very strange and not much like the practices I see in real life. If you read something about her and find it frightening, or if you find it leaves you with guilt and shame and a sense that you thought you were okay but now you feel like a total fuck-up and you think you’d better let an expert tell you what to do before you get hurt or worse, then take a breath.

Take another.

And one more.

Dear one, you’re doing okay.

This is me, a mother and an educator and a priestess who may or may not have a little more experience than you, promising you that you’re doing okay. Maybe you flew headlong into a formal dedication because it just felt right. Maybe you’ve had a good relationship with a god but now it’s starting to go sour. Maybe your practice is just in a rut right now and you’re discouraged and anxious that some all-powerful being has it out for you.

You’re still doing okay.

You didn’t sign away the next nine generations of your family by telling a god you wanted to be close to them. You’re not going to meet some disaster because you followed your gut and not a contract. If the Morrigan or any other deity is putting other people through those kinds of tests, then it’s because that’s what they need in their lives at this moment. You’re your own person, with your own needs and strengths.

Maybe you know for a fact that the gods are real and powerful. Maybe you know for a fact that they’re just archetypes. Maybe you know for a fact that they’re all aspects of one divine reality. Maybe, like me, you have absolutely no idea and you feel your way along, day by day, wanting only to live an authentic life of service and gratitude.

Whatever the case, gods can’t hurt you unless you continually give them that power. And no, you didn’t already sign that power away by lighting a candle and saying some words. Did the god give you any indication at all of what they wanted to take from you? No? Not even a hint? Then they’re not entitled to it unless you consent.

And even if you did knowingly sign away your life and your house and your dog and your Playstation 4 and now you’re losing sleep because it was a huge mistake, then simply tell the god you need to terminate that contract. Figure out a good compromise. Maybe they get the Wii instead. Tell them you’ll throw in Smash Brothers. Our spiritual lives aren’t mortgages. Put down the raft; you were never meant to carry it forever.

But above all, let me reiterate: no matter what scary things you read on blogs, you’re doing okay. As we say in the Reclaiming Tradition, you are your own spiritual authority.

Always.

No exceptions.

Blessed be.

Morrigan Hymn #7

Behind the teeth of nightmare there is knowledge.

Within the monster’s chambered heart is love.

Your fear can be a threshold to the sweetest wisdom,

Your mind a mirror of the earth.

Go in, go in, go in.

Tantrum (A Prayer to Badb and Nemain)

Tonight my daughter happily emptied three baskets of toys onto the floor. Before her bath, we asked her to clean them up. But she didn’t want to clean up–she was busy drawing. I gently took the marker out of her hand. The tantrum started.

This was her second day of preschool and, for the second day in a row, she was fragile and exhausted on the ride home. I was reminded of days that I spend walking through busy city streets or ploughing through projects at work. Those days when my physical exertion is minimal, but I finish the day unable to move, my brain putting all its energy into processing the stimuli to which I was subjected.

Which is to say, this tantrum was a landmark on a very clear map.

#

Before I found a good treatment plan, I had days so bad that I cried my throat raw. I had days so bad that I hurt myself just to relieve the pressure. I had days so bad that I wanted to tear myself out of my own head. This is what depression and anxiety feel like. I lost weeks, months, to the lowest periods.

By the time she was in the bath, my daughter was jerking and catching her breath from crying so hard. She screamed and screamed, her voice hoarse. “Are you all done with the bath?” my husband asked. “NO!” she shrieked. “Do you want to stay in longer?” I asked. “NO!” she wailed. In a tantrum, a toddler no longer knows what she wants. She’s a slave to her most primal self, the part of the brain that squirt cortisol into her blood and make her writhe with rage. My daughter flailed her arms and screamed piercing, staccato screams.

In her agony, I saw myself. I saw those days before I found the right medication, when anxiety would send me over the edge and I would curl up on the floor and grab my hair, wanting anything in the world except to be conscious. I saw those days when I really, truly believed things would never get better. I saw the hell my brain created for me.

I felt such sharp compassion for my screaming girl.

#

While my husband toweled her off, I went downstairs to get a binky. By the time I got back up, the tantrum had subsided, and glassy-eyed, she opened her mouth to let me pop it in. “Medicine,” I whispered.

Then I knelt in front of her and stroked her hair. “I’ve been there,” I said. “I know how it feels to be sad and mad. I know, sweetie. I’ve been there. I know.” She watched me wordlessly. “Do you want to go put on your nightgown?” I asked. She nodded and when I held out my hand, she took it.

I thought of my own mother, brushing me off when I was upset, snapping at me when I was suicidal. If I hadn’t had my own experiences with emotional horror–and if I had never learned to navigate through it and come out the other side–I would have never been able to give my daughter what she needed at that moment.

“Dismemberment…is a universal shamanic symbol of initiation,” writes Peter Grey in Apocalyptic Witchcraft. “The initiate is often seized by a flying creature and torn by talons and beak.” One might be tempted to believe that a Witch can only achieve this kind of initiation through deep trance or flying ointment or a carefully rehearsed ritual. Those initiations absolutely have their place in our practice, but to chase after them will only ever make it brittle and shallow. If you live a life of any meaning at all, you will be destroyed more times than you can count.

#

I made my daughter’s nightgown do a dance and she laughed. I asked her if she wanted a hug and she said yes. Then, when we took her downstairs for her snack, she cleaned up her toys.

I recognized in her the deep, wrung-out peace that comes after the catharsis of weeping. I saw in her that good soreness that comes when you realize you made it through the dark tunnel.

Hail to Badb, the dismantler. Hail to Nemain, who brings chaos. Hail to the Morrigan, dark lady of the deepest self. When I hold my little daughter, I know why you chose me.

Morrigan Hymn #6

Sacred lover,

Your menstrual blood the wine of warriors,

Your breath that which shudders the earth into flower–

Come to me, proud queen,

And, quaking, I will accept your gifts.

Shrieking one, whispering one,

Bathe me in the bliss of knowing you.

Let me embrace you in the dew of dawn

So that I may smile at your perfect love.

Morrigan Hymn #5

Dark lady, you whisper in my ear.

Witch queen, you whisper:

Weave magic into the wind

And carry it to the far places.

Feel the lamia writhing in your blood.

At night she becomes your power.

Warrior queen, you whisper:

Bare your teeth and howl to the sky.

Let the land mold you

Into a glinting knife,

Ready to slice through greed

And banish the invaders.

Prophetess, you whisper:

Be shrewd and thoughtful.

Look to the far future.

Let the battle-frenzy take you

And let it fade like incense.

 

Lady, you speak for the rivers and meadows.

You speak for the spirits whose voices are soft.

You call to the thousand goddesses and say,

See, sisters, the world swells to reclaim itself.

This is my age, stripped bare by my anger,

Molded by my wisdom.

 

Lady, the world shivers around me,

Watchful and awake.

I will listen, O shadow.

Stillness within, Power Without

I have depression, and I’m under treatment. Luckily, my current (and hopefully permanent) treatment is very good: Wellbutrin, mindfulness meditation, and a kickass therapist. Nowadays, when I enter a low period, I can recognize it for what it is instead of being destroyed by it. I can recognize that it’s biochemical and that it’ll pass.

But it still hovers around me like a fog. I fight thoughts that I’m a bad Witch and a bad Pagan because of it. Because if I really were such a magical and intuitive and connected being, if I really did have a couple of deities that cared about me, then I would feel fantastic all the time, right?

Right? the depression says. Right? If anyone loved you, you would feel perfect all the time.

* * *

I had a power candle and Hermes took it away.

The long version of the story would give me carpal tunnel, so the short version: I was called, possibly by the Morrigan, to burn a candle to foster personal power. I turned the specific types of power I needed into a sigil and dressed the candle with mugwort and juniper and cinnamon. It was a big purple pillar candle. I was going to burn it for a few minutes each night and re-dress it each Monday. I knew a candle isn’t how you get power, but I liked the ritual of it, the way the sigil looked underneath the herbs. I was doing it because it was beautiful. And for a week, while I burned it, it worked.

Then I asked Hermes for a favor. I burned him some incense in thanks, but he decided to take the candle, too. Or, to put it mundanely: that night I lit it and forgot about it, and the whole thing burned down to a puddle of wax.

What’s interesting is that technically, the spell is complete. It wasn’t interrupted–it was expedited by the god of speed. I know enough about magic not to expect instant results. I’m not incredibly upset that the spell ended this way. But I do miss my pretty candle.

* * *

I had an insight a few days ago:

Power within, stillness without.

Stillness within, power without.

I know I’m not the first person to ever have this insight, but I liked the way it was phrased. Power and stillness go together. Power and turmoil do not. If someone is screaming and yelling and hissing and spitting, they are revealing how little power they have. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an opportunity to look at oneself honestly.

* * *

A few weeks ago I was attacked by a tiny handful of very loud people for offering an interpretation of the Morrigan’s pre-battle shriek as an act of nonviolence. I felt like I loaded the interpretation with as many disclaimers as I could, and I thought it would be obvious that I wasn’t denying the Morrigan’s more bloodthirsty aspects. I really thought I was just offering an interesting reinterpretation of one aspect of a complex goddess.

If my crime was not being clear enough in my writing, then I take full responsibility for that crime. I come from the Jewish tradition, in which unconventional interpretations are tossed around all the time because experimentation is how you come to understand a text, but of course I’m not writing for a Jewish audience.

Here’s the thing, though–

The level of vitriol leveled at me seemed to suggest that people found the idea of a nonviolence-practicing Morrigan offensive. I found myself put in the ludicrous position of feeling like I had to praise violence. “Don’t get me wrong,” I was supposed to say. “Violence is awesome! I’m no fuzzy-wuzzy gaia-worshiper! Gimme blood and death any day of the week! Yeah, baby!”

I don’t know exactly what Peter Grey means when he refers to “dark fluff,” but that term feels apt here. Here’s some truth: despite its lovey-dovey reputation, nonviolence is infinitely scarier and more difficult than violence. It is so easy to punch someone in the face or lash out at them on a blog. It is so easy to shout someone down, call them names, shoot them in the chest, drop a bomb on their city. It is not easy to defend yourself and your community without perpetuating a cycle of bloodshed and misery. It is not easy to calm your impulses and dig to the root of a problem.

Does that mean the Morrigan isn’t violent? No. The Morrigan embodies both our highest acts of bravery and our darkest acts of horror. Because she is war and that’s what war does; she is battle-frenzy and that’s what battle-frenzy is. If a human warrior can nonviolently resolve a conflict one day and lose control and slaughter another person the next day and go wild with grief and guilt the day after that, why wouldn’t a goddess be capable of the same multitudes? A deity embodies their sphere of influence, and any sphere that’s reducible to three or four simple attributes is a sphere that isn’t really worth its own deity. Yes, deities are usually summed up with a short list of keywords, but each of those words is a map of a vast landscape.

Or, to look at it from a different angle: if, let’s say, the body of a deity is made up of their followers, then those followers must necessarily be diverse. If everyone engages with a deity in exactly the same way, then that is a deity with a thousand left feet and nothing else. What the hell is the use of such a deity?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most vicious commenter shrugged off issues like Gaza and Ferguson as irrelevant to spiritual work and too big to take on. That, to me, is the pinnacle of dark fluff. I suspect that the people who are the most excited about the Morrigan’s bloodiest aspects are the very people who would turn and run from any real fight.

I am a devotee of the Morrigan, and the language she speaks to me is the language of nonviolence and eco-justice. That doesn’t mean I feel worthy of the title warrior every day, or even most days. But she has her reasons for reaching out to a Reclaiming Witch, and denying the messages she’s giving me is a disservice and an insult to her. If you can’t handle my practice, if you think a deity has to speak the same language to every devotee, then you are a child with too much time on your hands. If you call yourself a warrior but are uninterested in fighting any battle of consequence, then shame on you.

* * *

That’s all been festering for weeks, but I’ve finally released it. I’m done.

Power within, stillness without. Stillness within, power without. I know I snapped at at least one person during the fiasco because I felt like a cornered animal. I wrote the above partly so that I wouldn’t have to silently carry it anymore, but I know parts of it are harsh and I don’t claim to feel very powerful. It’s liberating to know that you don’t have to be perfect, no matter what the demons in your head and the voices on the Internet tell you.

* * *

I did save the wax from the power candle. The sigil and the dressing are still in there somewhere. I have votive molds and wicks. Maybe the spell isn’t over yet; maybe it won’t be complete until I burn all of the wax. In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much. I’m really doing this spell because I love doing spells.

Here in Los Angeles, the campaign for a $15 minimum wage has moved to the petition stage. I plan on volunteering and I’m gearing myself up for a long, hard fight. I don’t relish the thought of getting yelled at on the street. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit this into my already-bursting schedule. I’m dealing with the inner conflict of knowing that, in the face of global Capitalism, a higher minimum wage is a tiny band-aid on a mutilated body. I know the fight for a higher minimum wage is one battle in a vast war. But here, in my city, it’s an important one.

Writing helps lift my depressive episodes. I feel better having written this post. These words are one moment in time, a blip in my lifespan.

Back into the fray. Be well, be loved, be powerful.


 

A quick note: I’m closing comments on this post because I don’t want to revive any of the arguments that took place on and around the original post. If you need to respond, please feel free to do so on your own blog. If you’re bothered by the fact that I’m not allowing you to criticize me or defend yourself in this space, take solace in the fact that I’m not allowing any praise, either.