Writing this memoir has been a very therapeutic experience in terms of exorcising demons and analysis. For the most part, as long as I’m writing, I’m happy, although the perfectionist and idealist in me tend to gripe from their perches, saying things like “What about the poetry?” or “Not as good as the Beats” or “I thought you wanted to be a Great Writer!” I’ve had articles published in three of Llewellyn’s Almanacs. The first was about Animal totems in their 2011 Magical Almanac. Then I wrote a series of entries for their 2012 Witches’ Spell A Day Almanac. The last was a piece on the Numerology of plants for their 2013 Herbal Almanac.
I’m proud of those pieces, but I have to admit that along the way, something in me transformed, in regards to my ‘spirituality’. I have always felt uneasy with the term ‘atheist’ as it implies the notion of an aversion to spirituality. The idea of calling myself ‘agnostic’ also made me uncomfortable as it came across as laziness, or at least – as being in a holding pattern until something better came along. It was like a ‘just in case’ position, or lying in wait – like a spider on the outskirts of a web, waiting for the tug of the string.
In my earlier years I went ‘out on a limb’ and explored different faiths, reading book after book and attending services and visiting temples. I had countless conversations with a variety of different types of people from different walks of life. I lived in a Buddhist commune for a year and was initiated into the White Tara mysteries. I spent a brief period studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses (boy was that a mistake!), which was brought on by an episodic fear of death. My cousin organized a clumsy religious intervention, disguised as a makeup party, where she and a psychotic garden variety Born again Christian woman did their best to ‘exorcize’ me! They both ended up in tears and I walked away amused but angry that I was duped into wasting my time and energy – AND I had brought good food!
When I was twenty three I met an American woman – Elia, who was from Waco, Texas. She was in her early fifties and had an ad in the paper about teaching Numerology. I had been interested before and decided to look into it so I called her. When she answered and we started talking, for some reason I thought that she was Russian. (It turned out later on she discovered that her family did have Russian in their background!) The lessons were cheap so I signed up and started attending, every Tuesday night. Elia had a degree in Psychology and was also an art teacher. She was thoroughly fascinating and I learned a lot from her.
It turned out that I was the only one who stayed for the complete course and she said that from the beginning, she knew that I would be the only one who would stay. Week after week, someone would drop off until it was just Elia and I, which was fine with me. To this day I still practice Numerology, as it’s been the only thing that has rung true, for me. I have tested it in a variety of different ways and often I find myself saying “Well, it’s all projection!” But when I look back over my chart I get a chill, and realize that whatever happens, Numerology has been like a blueprint that just states the facts ma’am!
I had religious people telling me often that I needed to have faith, but that seemed like too much hoping. I’d rather have knowledge and truth. Something concrete is better than smoke and mirrors. I remember thinking that it seemed as though they all wanted a father figure so badly, that the idea of someone watching over them gave them comfort, and who was I to take that away from them? I thought “Good luck to you – but don’t impose that grasping onto me!”
Fear is a great motivator and pain is a great educator, however – it all depends on where you take it and how you develop it. Every time I had a crazy experience, whether it was a hypnagogic hallucination or a supposedly prophetic dream, I assumed it was my synapses misfiring or whatever I ate the night before. Sometimes they were prompted by auto suggestion or psychosomatic circumstances.
I knew an older man called Keith who did my tarot cards for me every now and then, in my twenties. He reminded me of Khalil Gibran. For years he pursued me romantically but I was not interested – and I never led him on. One night we stayed at a mutual friends’ house and had to share a bed. Apparently he came to bed later and my vibes were so strong that he had to leave the room! When I came out in the morning he was sleeping on a bean bag in their lounge room and was very angry with me, even though I had no idea what had happened! (Later on that day, we were sitting in their backyard and their pet goose came running at Keith in full attack mode! It was like even the animal kingdom was against him!)
I remember that every time he did my readings, there were always messages about me having to let my guard down and to stop worrying about what others thought about me. I had to stop worrying about the ‘pigs and fishes’. The last reading he did for me was using a Native American deck with animal totems. Again the message was about removing the masks and discovering the real me. I wondered if Keith was peppering the readings with subtle hints about letting him in. There was no way that was going to happen. He was sweet – but kind of creepy at the same time.
After that last reading I had an incredible out of the body experience. All of a sudden I was floating in space with two creatures – much like a white demon I had seen in a painting, with faces on their groins. They were on either side of me, holding my arms and they were grotesque. They told me telepathically that I needed to ‘drop the mask’ and to learn to see beyond the masks of others. In front of us I could see a huge black planet rolling towards us like a bowling ball. I was afraid but they kept telling me to relax. Then I saw a brilliant white light coming up over the horizon of the black planet. It was growing brighter and brighter as it came closer, appearing over the planet, still rolling towards us.
I wriggled and tried to break free, screaming in my ‘mind’ that I wanted to go back to my body and that I wasn’t ready. The creatures (or angels?) kept saying “You’ll regret it!” The white light was getting bigger and closer to the point that it was almost unbearable to look at. Finally I broke free, screaming “I can’t!” and I snapped back to my body. Fair enough, as soon as I sat up in bed I regretted being a chicken and not waiting to see the light, as it dawned on me that the white light was my ‘Higher Self’. To this day I feel bad about that, even though I’m still not sure if it was just my synapses misfiring!
One constant thing that has always been a part of me or my spirituality, is my pagan side. I have always felt strongly connected to the earth, the seasons and to the animal kingdom. I have always been fascinated with ritual and witchcraft too. When I was about twelve years old I came across a book of ceremonial magic that my mum had in her bookcase. It was given to her by a friend of the family, who had given it to us as he thought he was cursed by the witch who gave it to him. He was a guitar player in a band and he had an affair with her. He said that she scared him as she was very controlling and definitely had ‘the power’. When he broke up with her he started having terrible problems with arthritis in his hands, to the point where he couldn’t even play guitar. I don’t know what he did to “break the spell” but giving the book to us apparently helped a lot.
I remember taking the book into my room and setting up a ritual with candles, casting circle etc. However I freaked out when the wind picked up and the candles flickered so I quickly snuffed them out, packed up the altar and put the book back in its spot in the bookcase. Years later, mum threw the book in the fireplace.
In my late twenties I started dabbling with an ouija board. My neighbor at the time, Debbie, came up with the bright idea, and even though we didn’t have a board, we decided to make one out of a piece of masonite and some scrabble pieces. We used a little liqueur glass and placed our index fingers on it. Immediately it started moving. It was strange as it seemed as though it was moving of its own accord. Both of us were quite skeptical and wanted to test it, out of curiosity. Sometimes it would go so fast that it would slip out of our fingers and keep moving across the board. It was hard to keep up with it.
The same people would come through and it would say random crap that usually bored us to tears. We noticed that even after just twenty minutes our energy would be drained dramatically, and we had to stop to recharge our batteries with cups of tea and cookies! One time was freaky though. An entity came through and told us that Debbie’s son had torn his pants climbing over a fence at school. I went with her when she picked him up and fair enough, when he got into the car, he told his mum that he ripped his pants climbing over a fence! We raced home to jump back on the board!
It was amazing though, that we couldn’t get the lottery numbers! It wasn’t long before a nasty entity came through, saying that my brother Peter was going to die (he did die a few years later). I was so angry I told Debbie that I wasn’t going to do it anymore so we broke the board up into little pieces and threw it away.
I still wonder about what happens with an ouija board – whether you’re just channeling your own subconscious energies through it, or if there really are actual ‘spirits’ coming through.
Debbie and I started getting into tarot cards and read for each other over the following years. We also went to a professional reader who did a reading for me that I will never forget – as it made me laugh so much. She said that I would end up living in Argentina on a cattle ranch, with 40,000 head of cattle! Debbie promised me that if it ever eventuated, she would personally get on a plane and come to the ranch and eat her own shit from a gold platter. The funny thing is, it kind of came close. I did relocate to the U.S. and am living in Nashville, just not Argentina and without the 40,000 head of cattle. I hope to one day make enough money to do that, just to see Debbie eat her own shit. (Just kidding!)
Whenever I did my own tarot readings I recorded the questions I asked as well as the answers, so I could go back to them after a certain time to see if whatever was predicted came true. The problem with doing this is that once ‘programmed’ with the supposed outcome, you subconsciously bring about the result, unless you’re a saboteur and stop it from happening. I found it annoying when I realized that no matter what, I had the power to begin with, to bring about whatever change I wanted. Even though it was fun and enchanting to do a reading, whatever question I asked – I already had the desired answer in my mind.
I knew what I wanted to happen so I felt that I was affecting the outcome with my subconscious desires. I resorted to doing readings where I just asked “You tell me.” I got more honest and interesting results, which I still recorded and checked, months down the track. At times things did come true, but then it was easy to project certain outcomes. These days I don’t bother with the cards, as I rely more on cause and effect, research and knowledge, based on what has gone on before and what seems logical and reasonable.
We also started getting into witchcraft but I dropped it when I got into my relationship with Jim, the crazy unemployed writer. When I split up with him I picked it back up. I went the whole hog, doing rituals, wearing capes and pentagrams, celebrating the Sabbats and Esbats, writing my own incantations, gathering herbs, playing with gems, oils, spells and so on. I was already into dream interpretation, astral traveling etc so it went hand in hand. After years of practicing I realized that essentially, I was still an atheist at heart. I wondered how I could reconcile this with my pagan heart. Then it dawned on me.
We use magic as a touchstone to program the mind and deities as archetypes to understand our psychology. Symbolism is the language of our subconscious and ritual allows us to tap into it and to project our intentions. I realized that my connection to nature and the animal kingdom was what expressed my spirituality. It is my spirituality. The collective unconscious and the symbolism of the world is what speaks to my ‘spiritual mind’.
It’s not necessarily a faith, as it’s something that I can test and can see real outcomes eventuate in my life. Although my spirituality is still a work in progress (which is the same for all of us), I do feel that I don’t need a religious dogma to nail it down.
Organized religion has an agenda that is not in accordance with the ebb and flow of the rhythms of nature. It is preoccupied with the motivations of greedy and power hungry humans, who are hell bent on controlling other humans. I am happy to side step all of that and to find peace with the reality of nature, without the unreality of religion.
We’re all on our own journeys in terms of spirituality and I, like most others have vacillated between a variety of beliefs (and most recently, more towards non belief). But for me, at least, it’s far more interesting to go back to when I was a child and to remember what it was like to not know, or at least, to wonder. As an adult I hate not knowing and much prefer concrete evidence, common sense, reason and intellectual understanding. I can look at a sunset, knowing that it’s a collection of vapors and chemicals and can still be exhilarated by the beauty of it all without having to attribute it to a deity. (I don’t mean to offend the religious, each to his/her own etc – this is just my opinion, at this stage in my life.)
However I do remember the ‘magic’ of otherworldliness. I do remember being mystified by the idea of fairies and the idea of an all powerful, all knowing Godhead who watched over us and had all the answers. I remember believing that my teddy bears and dolls had feelings and souls. One early memory I have is being a toddler in my crib and setting fire to it, with a box of matches I had found. I lit the matches one by one, throwing them to the edges of the crib, watching the flames in rapture, feeling like I was in the center of a birthday cake.
My mother remembers the screaming, calling the fire brigade and crashing into the room to save my baby brother and I. My nightdress had gone up in smoke and all that was left were the arms and the back of it. I didn’t have any burns whatsoever! Everyone thought it was a miracle. My teddy had a burnt leg and I was completely grief stricken. Every time I looked at him I was wracked with guilt for having hurt him so much.
Even as a young adult I felt a twinge of shame and it took a long time for me to realize that he was just an inanimate object! (It was even worse when I had taken him for show and tell at school years after the fire, when a nasty little shit had ripped out his eyes, the bastard! I thought – now he’s blind too! I couldn’t bear to let my mother sew new eyes on him for fear of putting him through more pain. More guilt for me!)
When I was about ten years old I walked into our kitchen and straight out asked my mother if she believed in fairies. I did – but I needed an adult to tell me so I could feel secure in the ‘knowledge’ that fairies were real. I knew the instant she responded with that ‘Oh god, I better humor her’ look, that fairies were not real. I was angry, hurt and deeply depressed. Even though she tried to convince me “Yes darling, of course I believe in fairies!” with that patronizing smile, it was too late. I had my answer.
Mind you, I didn’t stop reading fairy tales, and books by Enid Blyton, mythology, Catweazel, The Children of Green Knowe etc. I was 50% willing it to be true and pretending it was true and 50% knowing it wasn’t and ignoring that fact. For me, the bottom line was that it was entertaining and afforded me the kind of escapism I dearly needed.
When I was little I remember going to stay at my aunt’s farm in the country. She and her boyfriend were hippies. They had chickens and a ginger cat called Peter, who went on adventures with me. They had a statue of David for a doorbell. There was a sign over his penile unit that said “Pull”. You flipped the sign up & pulled on the penis that was attached to a wire that sounded the doorbell. Hilarious! They had a big shed full of these statues. I was mystified by these statues. (Not sure if it was the start of Agalmatophilia, which is sexual attraction to a statue or figure – but I don’t feel like that now, even though I appreciate them!)
I would spend ages hiding in the shed, just staring at them, transported to another dimension. I can’t remember what I was thinking, but it was magical. A few years earlier, when I was around five years of age, I had started having hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations – which is basically dreaming while awake. I’ll write about those experiences in more depth later as there’s quite a lot of ground to cover. But at that time I had also started to get up in the middle of the night and would talk to myself in the mirror. Needless to say, it freaked my elders out! They would put sheets and towels on the mirrors but I would just go to another room and do it again!
I was always attracted to the idea of alternate worlds, portals, other dimensions. Maybe it was a subconscious need for escape, as my parents were divorced then and I was living at my grandparents with my father and my cousin and brothers. I kept having a recurring dream of a mountain which still haunts me to this day. I’ve always wanted to find ‘my mountain’. In the dream, I would wake up at my Nanna’s house and go out into her garden, around the side of the house and I would see this majestic, snow capped mountain behind the shed.
I could never get to it because there was always something in the way, like a gate I couldn’t get through, a clump of weeds or bushes, etc. I can see now that it probably represented the integrated self calling to me – for a chance to escape all the crap our families were going through and to ‘find myself’. Every time I see a perfect, snow capped mountain I get a chill of excitement, like I’m still waiting for it. It’s almost a spiritual pull. But it’s a very particular type of mountain and for some reason, ever since I can remember, it’s somewhere in Sweden!
(Not Sweden – but looks just like my mountain!)
When I was living at Nanna and Pa’s, around five years of age, I had an experience that could be explained as either my synapses misfiring, or a narcoleptic experience (although they say that hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are not technically under the umbrella of narcolepsy). It could have been a dream. The funny thing is – my Pa had the same experience when he was a boy and so did my father and his twin, in the same room! (Pa had his experience in a different house.)
In my event I was asleep in my room at Nanna and Pa’s, when a bright light suddenly filled the room and woke me up. It was so white that it was tinged with blue and was almost too bright to look at. I was under the covers, afraid and wondering what was happening when an astronaut came into the room. (When it happened to my father and his twin brother they called him the white milkman and my Pa had said he thought it was a ghost.) As soon as I saw the astronaut I passed out. Then I felt waves over me, as though two people were on either side of the bed wafting the blanket up and down on me. I was so scared but couldn’t move.
I’ll talk about my ‘narcoleptic’ experiences in another post, as they would take up a whole chapter. The sensations were always the same, tingling up and down my spine, feeling frozen and not being able to move, not being able to scream for help. My father and uncle had said that the white milkman came to them when they were in the crib and the room also went a vivid white color. Apparently he just stood there staring at them for a while and then he disappeared. My Pa had a similar experience with his ghost.
I’ve also had OBE’s (out of the body experiences – also known as astral traveling). I’ve seen fantastic planets with colors that I’ve never seen before and had experiences that aren’t easily explained. One time, I slammed back into my body so hard that my boyfriend at the time freaked out and leapt out of bed, thinking that I had deliberately jumped onto the bed from the ceiling! He was angry, scared and confused. When I explained to him what happened he still didn’t believe me and thought I was nuts.
The idea of these magical experiences being real is quite delicious, as they hint at otherworldliness, which would mean that there is something else out there, the ‘unknowable’, that would allay my fears of death and ceasing to be. In my twenties, when I was going through a phase of fearing death, I had an OBE where I was floating in a strange place amongst a lot of crazy mathematical equations. I kept hearing a voice telling me that death was not the end. Of course, when I woke up, my fear of death had vanished.
A religious person would say that it was God coming to help me. A scientist would say that it was my subconscious will trying to calm myself down so I could keep operating. My attitude is – whatever works.
I enjoy fantasy as it juices up the imagination and enriches my creativity. I also enjoy reason as I am most comforted by the truth, facts and figures. I like my feet firmly rooted in the earth so my head can safely wander through the universe and back again.