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.
Until 1997 I hadn’t lost anyone particularly close to me, other than distant relatives, whose funerals I went to out of respect and to show support. The first funeral I had been to that I remember was for my cousins’ baby who had died of cot death (SIDS) when I was twelve years of age. It was 1978 and a grey day in Melbourne. My cousin was small and skinny with the front of her hair dyed orange and she was clutching onto her boyfriend. They were both crying uncontrollably and everyone else was huddled around them in a protective circle.
I remember the coffin being so terribly small. Everyone commented on how in the hell they could’ve fitted him in there. It was powder blue with a royal blue ribbon around it, only needing two men to carry it up to the altar. Afterwards, at the wake, I heard snippets of hushed conversation about the events leading up to the discovery of his lifeless body in his crib, how the blood had settled in ridges so he must’ve been dead for a while.
At the time, they didn’t know much about cot death and everyone puzzled at what happened, what could’ve been done and how hopeless the situation was. I was a very young twelve year old and didn’t know how to react so just hugged my cousin and said sorry and she gripped me and said “luv ya cuz!” It was all very confusing and sad.
For a long time, death happened to other people and I was somewhat cocooned from it, until 1997, when it caught up with a vengeance. Early in the year, I was in a relationship with – let’s call him John, who was many things but he mostly drove me insane. We had been together for about a year. I learned a lot from him and he was passionate, crazy, insanely funny, hyper intelligent, unemployed and a writer. I loved him to death but he was a serious drain on my energy. I had been doing my own tarot readings for years and at the time had pulled the cards out every so often, but every time I did, as I was shuffling, the death card kept falling out. Every time!
I consider myself mostly secular, but at that time, it freaked me out. It happened six times in one week and I decided not to touch the cards for a while. Two weeks later I picked them up again and carefully shuffled, deliberately clearing my mind and thinking about my career and other pleasant things. When I cut the cards and turned half the stack over, the death card stared me in the face! I was mortified. I quickly put them away again and told John, who was Catholic and straight away he was freaked, telling me to stay away from them.
At the time I hadn’t had my period but I’d always had issues with my cycles so didn’t think much of it, until I ended up having to go to the emergency room with unexplained bleeding. It was a miscarriage. After it was all dealt with I thought of the death card but brushed it aside, as I was upset over losing the child, even though it wasn’t planned and probably for the best seeing as the relationship was by no means stable.
Two weeks later John and were in my kitchen, making dinner when the phone rang. It was my stepfather who matter of factly told me that my younger brother Peter had died of a heroin overdose. Just like that. I’ve always had a delayed panic response to crisis. It’s always way after the dust has settled. I calmly asked what I needed to do. He asked if I could come with them to view the body. I agreed, hung up and asked John if he could watch Zack, who was ten years old at the time, so I could go and identify my brothers’ body. He was dumbstruck and came around the counter to hug me, telling me – “Of course!”
We talked about Peters’ wretched life and how on the one hand it wasn’t a shock, but on the other – how it was still a surprise. We had all tried, at various and numerous times to help him, to offer a stable home and to get him help. But it never worked due to relapses and so on. Things would get stolen, he would get involved with seedy circles and bring them back to our homes. There were mountains of broken promises, rivers of tears, lies and hopeless regrets.
My mother and stepfather turned up and we drove to the hospital. I was worried about Mum as she was so calm and rational. She kept saying over and over that at least the hopeless struggle was over, as though she was trying to convince herself. I knew that deep down it didn’t matter – the struggle, because the bottom line was that her baby was gone. The chance for trying to help him one more time was ripped out of her hands. We talked like robots as though reading from a pre-approved script until we arrived at the hospital. Once inside they took us to a room and a nurse told us that they had him in another room. She pulled me out of the room for a minute to tell me that Peter was on a slab and rigor mortis had set in, so it probably wasn’t suitable for Mum to see him like that. I agreed that it was probably for the best if I was the one to identify him.
I went back into the room and without explaining why, told Mum that I should be the one to identify him. She agreed – still stunned and said that she wanted to remember him the way he used to be. Before I walked out she said “Make sure you check the tattoos. Remember? Jimi Hendrix? And get the rings if they’re on him.” I said ok and followed the nurse into the hallway where a kindly policeman was waiting to lead me to the room.
Once at the door he turned and stopped me as I was ready to just casually walk inside. He told me to prepare myself. In a calm voice he said “The person you’re about to see is not the same as the one you’ll remember, so take your time.” My mind was racing but I just wanted to get it over and done with, so I nodded impatiently and said ok. He opened the door slowly and held it open for me to walk in. I took two steps and instantly – a tear shot out of my eye like a bullet! There he was, like a statue from Pompeii, on a cold metal slab, on his back, with his arms twisted upwards as though warding off an invisible attacker.
The plastic tubing was still in his mouth and a clear plastic sheet was draped over his body. It was like something out of a horror movie. The expression on his face was contorted as though he was still in discomfort. The smell of formaldehyde was overwhelming. I started hyperventilating. The policeman had a hand on my arm, asking if I wanted to take a break. I said no, but was having difficulty dealing with what I was seeing. I remember thinking “Check the tattoos”. I saw Jimi Hendrix on his bicep. It’s amazing how your mind tries to trip you up. I kept saying to myself “Are you sure it’s him? Check again!”
I kept checking and even when I said to the policeman, “Yes it’s him” and we walked out the door, I had to turn around and have a second look, to make sure. As he walked me back to the room where Mum and Brian were, I composed myself and asked the policeman to make sure we got his rings back. He promised and he did. As soon as I walked into the room I looked at Mum and didn’t even have to say anything. Straight away she collapsed into sobs and it began.
For a week the grief kept its’ distance from me. I was the one who called all the relatives all over Australia and planned the funeral. I organized the viewing before the funeral (we decided not to have an open casket – even though they did a great job on Peter and he looked so peaceful). On the morning of the funeral, that’s when it hit me. I was sitting on the couch next to John, when all of a sudden it was like a cannonball hitting my stomach. I had previously assumed that grief was just like any other emotional pain or depression, just deeper. No-one tells you that it’s a whole different ball game.
I physically felt it, in my stomach, like a rolling black ball, all consuming and dragging me down in a pit of despair. There was nothing I could do to fight it. It horrified me, as I could not control it. I could hear a howl come out of me that I had never heard before. John grabbed me and held me, much to his eternal credit – he did have a human side. I sobbed and gasped, drowning in a pool of darkness, wondering if I would ever come out of it. About ten minutes later it subsided. When I finally came to and sat back up I realized that this might happen at the funeral. I wondered if I might be able to control it then.
At the funeral, one of my cousins played the didgeridoo – which is an amazing instrument at any time, but at a funeral it drags out your grief, kicking and screaming, by the ankles. Everyone was kind of holding it together until he started playing, when the curtain finally closed over the coffin. The deep bellow of the instrument grabbed our souls and we surrendered. It was beautiful and horrible at the same time. But very necessary.
A week later I was having a shower and the grief monster hit me again, right in the pit of my stomach. I doubled over and collapsed on the bottom of the shower and waited for it to subside. It was like being possessed by a separate entity. It came in and after it did what it had to, it left. After that I was able to control it better.
Two weeks after my brother died, we heard about my uncle committing suicide. It was during the anthrax epidemic and farmers were having to cull their stock. He had been depressed and two weeks earlier had started taking prozac. My aunty told me that he had walked into his neighbors’ dam and drowned himself.
A month after that, Johns’ sister committed suicide. She gassed herself in her car after a relationship breakup. John and his family were devastated, as they had already lost a younger sister when John was quite young and their father a few years earlier. That whole period was a fog of death. It was so surreal and it took quite a while to get back to some semblance of order.
It wasn’t until the end of that year when I remembered the death card popping out all those times. It took a long time for me to be able to take the cards out again!