Deck of the Week #7: End

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I had a great week with the Liber T.

As one of my favorite decks and one I know very well, I didn’t feel as though I’d have much challenge this week, and I definitely didn’t.  I still didn’t do as many readings as I would have liked — I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing daily readings and have been somewhat suffering for it.  Hopefully I can get back on the horse with that.

There was a really funny moment mid-week I thought I’d share.  As background, there’s a novel I wrote in 2009 which I’ve been wistfully thinking about ever since.  I call it the Novel What Broke Me because it was finished at the apex of my alcoholism, and also because it was an extraordinarily difficult novel to write, given that it was both queer erotica and a meditation on what it’s like to develop psychosis.  Despite its many flaws, it’s still one of my best works, and I’ve been musing about how to rewrite it recently.  My biggest question was whether to remove the erotic element if I revisited the project.  So I had to laugh when I drew a single card for guidance from the Liber T, and it was the Six of Cups — with its straight, gay, and lesbian couples having sex in an oasis.  “Keep the sex!” says the Liber T.

I’m deeply considering buying a backup copy of this deck when I have some available finances.  Although most backups go unused, from what I’ve seen on the forums, I’d hate to lose or damage my only copy years after the deck was no longer available.

I don’t have much brainpower for a long post, so I’ll end here: the Liber T is a seriously powerful deck and is well worth study and heavy use.  Looking forward to coming back to this one another week.

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Pagan Blog Project: A Is For Apathy

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If there’s one fundamental truth about human nature, it’s this: bad habits are hard to break and good habits are hard to make.

Spirituality is an active thing; spirituality without action is just belief.  In theory, it’s a two way road.  You do things for the universe and it does things for you, however you want to define “universe.”  But it isn’t always easy to be active, especially when you’re busy or depressed or just aren’t feeling your spiritual path.

Being a consummate spiritual seeker, I get the apathy thing a lot.  Part of it, granted, is apathy masquerading as a carry-over from my childhood.  My mother is one of those people who needs to be in control of her space, whether or not others in the household suffer for it, and she does it in a charmingly passive-agressive manner that still never fails to get on our nerves.  She’s better about it now that my father and I have learned to set up boundaries and be crystal clear about our respective spaces, but as a kid, I really struggled with it.  The major issue was that if I left something undone, she would do it without giving me a chance to clean up after myself.  If there was a bowl on the counter for a minute, she would wash it.  If there were clothes on my floor for a few hours, she would put them away.  A thousand little things like that.  Additionally, since I was constantly ill both physically and mentally for most of my young life, I was never assigned routine chores, and even simple things like making my bed were never emphasized.  I never learned how to do laundry.  I was never grounded.

And the result was that I never learned a proper work ethic.  To this day, I unconsciously see anything besides play-time as work and labor and too much effort — I can often force myself to do things when necessary, but any chance that I can take to skive work and procrastinate is taken, whether I intend it or not.  If I really want to do something and feel passionate about it, that’s a different story, especially if that thing gets me away from important, boring effort regarding the things I’m supposed to be doing.  I’ve always despised this part of myself and have worked furiously to change it, but old habits, especially those that emphasize the easy lifestyle, are incredibly hard to change.  Aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, there isn’t much motivation to alter a mental habit that allows you to loaf around.

Of course, this loops over into spirituality.  Being a ping-pong ball between religions for years, I would do all the right things until it came time to do the hard things, the habit-making things, the rituals and work…and then my attention would lapse and I would make excuses, even to the point of leaving the religion because it was too hard.  Although it was partially due to ethical and philosophical disagreements, much of the reason I left Kemeticism was because the natron bath ritual was too time-consuming and difficult and scary.  Throughout my two-year exploration of Islam, the one thing I never got around to doing was salat, or the multiple daily prayers, because — you guessed it — it was too much work to learn the prayers and actually do them five times a day.

A lifetime of that makes you feel kind of gross, y’know?

Religion, therefore, has always included some deep measure of guilt, not for sinning (although I had my fair share of that in my conflicted Christian days) but for being a slacker.  And remember what I said about how if something was important enough, if I felt passionate enough about it, I could easily do it?  Well, there’s the problem — no system of faith could quite elict that passion, and so I bounced from religion to religion in desperation, looking outside myself for motivation instead of looking inward to see the real problem.  Catholicism came closest, with its near-pagan variety and its heroic atmosphere and its dead languages, and the only thing standing in my way were Catholics themselves, whom I was deeply suspcious of, and watched carefully for any signs of homophobia or racism or fundamentalism.  Which is no way to live.  I later realized, of course, the benefits of a solitary path, no matter what religion one follows, but no one ever said I was a quick learner.  (In some ways I feel uncomfortable talking about Catholicism in these posts, given that it’s the Pagan Blog Project, but to hell with it, this is my blog, and my rules.  If Catholicism plays a big part in my mostly-pagan WIP path, then that’s a part of the Blog Project.)

Having an active spirituality is even harder when you don’t really have a spirituality.  I mean, I do, clearly, or I wouldn’t be writing these posts.  But being an eclectic whose path resembles nothing in particular, cobbled from my Catholic years and my Muslim years and my pagan years, it’s extraordinarily difficult to figure out the structure of things.  What rituals do I use?  How do I pray in different circumstances?  What are my gods?  What are my taboos?  And the answer to all of those is “I don’t know,” because they’re all still works in progress.  It’s like writing a book in which I’m sure I’ll figure out the plot as I go, but I really could use that knowledge now, and leaving empty scenes in my life as I try to work around the gaps is incredibly frustrating.

I keep asking myself what I want from my path, and the answer I generally get is that I want it to be a way of living.  Not just a thing I write about in my journal, or a thing for which I wear symbols, or a thing I read tarot about — a whole lifestyle that influences how I see and interact with the world.  A few months back, I did a thought experiment in which I devised a society and religion that seemed, to me, a platonic ideal of my philosophies and needs.  Part of that involved creating a daily “religion schedule” — the things I would ideally do upon waking up, before meals, at bedtime, etc.  I think to gain any ground on the apathy subject, I need to return to that thought experiment and really develop it.  But most of all I’m going to need discipline — which is, of course, one of the main aims of religious devotion, and by using discipline you develop it.  I have to remember to Do The Right Thing even when that “passion” isn’t there to motivate me, because sometimes I’m going to be tired or apathetic and I need to learn to push myself when the drive isn’t there.

To start slowly, I want to begin my “religious” day by waking up to an alarm, writing a few pages in my journal, then my washing my hands, feet and face when I get up.  I would like to eventually memorize Desiderata and say that every morning and evening as an affirmative prayer.  God knows when I can motivate myself to do it, but I’d like to do a short round of yoga every day when I get into my office.  In the evening, I’d like to either read something religious at bedtime, or use my prayer beads to relax.

These things all together are not terribly much to ask, take up very little of my day, and could have enormous psychological benefits.  If I can do them for a month without procrastinating, I can be fairly sure I’ll stick with them on even hard days — and from there, I can push myself to do more challenging things.

A substantial and long-lasting religious practice is something I’ve always desired, long been envious of, and deeply want to make a pivotal part of my life from which all my other actions revolve around.  Spirituality isn’t a game or a once-a-week thing for me, although I’ve been treating it as such for years.  Can I do it?  We’ll see!  But I know for sure that the Blog Project will continue to inspire me to try, to be harder on myself and develop the work ethic I never had a chance to cultivate, simply by virtue of writing things down.

Language is a magical thing.

Deck of the Week #7: Liber T

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Like many others on Aeclectic, I was first turned onto the Liber T by the unintimitable Scion, who spent an admirable amount of time researching and writing a large Liber T For Dummies handbook.  After reading about ten of his blisteringly intelligent posts, I ordered the Liber T basically sight unseen, and when I opened the box, I was blown away by how gorgeous it was.  At first, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of Scion’s book, so I spend months reading all his forum posts on decans, then finally went straight to the source and bought the enormous new translation of Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy.  It was like a whole new world, and heavily informed my understanding of tarot, to the point where I relied utterly on the decan system when designing my own still-in-progress name-pending Maidens and Monsters tarot.  The Liber T is without question one of my all time favorite decks — and I’m very, very picky.

I like it a lot better than the Thoth.  *ducks tomatoes*

The illustrator, Andrea Serio, is one of those enviable people who Knows What He’s Doing.  Many occult artists aren’t terribly good at their craft — they mash too much into an image, and don’t understand color harmony, and their anatomy skills (especially in the facial area) are often lacking.  I’m not pointing fingers here, because I don’t know the names of any of these illustrators, so this is an extremely broad statement.  But Serio?  Serio’s got it.  His card images are detailed and full of information and symbols, but they never feel crowded.  Everything is there because it must be, nothing more, nothing less.  His sense of color is especially jaw-dropping.  The whole project feels marvellously coherent, which is something to be praised in the tarot world, in which decks often feel like they’re designed by two different people or with two different ideologies in mind.

I think the most important aspect of the Liber T, at least for me, is the human and humanoid figures.  Deck art treads a very fine line for me.  Too stylized and I can’t emphazise with the figures.  Too realistic and I get profoundly uncomfortable.  Serio’s sinuous, fluid figures are clearly human and have a great deal of emotional power.  They’re human without being a specific human, or a specific type of human.  Perfectly anonymous, but not so anonymous as to be blank, like the International Icon (which just bothers me and I cannot use, for a variety of reasons).  The godly or astrological figures are suitably otherworldly and awe-some.  This is a deeply visionary world, the world of mystics and alchemists, and yet is surprisingly accessible and applicable.  This ain’t any old theme deck.

It’s also deeply weird, as quick flip-through will show — bee people and bestiality, headless men and hermaphrodites, Egyptian deities and cthonic figures.  It’s the Thoth after you take six hits of LSD and read the Picatrix upside-down.  I don’t have much tolerance for weird if it isn’t done well (the Deviant Moon was about as far as I could go in the deck world before “weird” turned into “disquieting and uncomfortable”) and a lot of weird decks have a lot of gore and phobias instead of true weirdness.  The Liber T is less Carlton Mellick III and more China Mieville.  It feels like a Catherynne Valente novel interpreted as a deck, sort of.  The Liber T is how fae kingdoms should be portrayed: sumptuous and rich and fwooshy, full of color and temptation and glory and danger.

And despite all this, despite my favoritism, I rarely read with the thing.  Maybe I feel intimidated?  Maybe I’ve been wooed by all the pretty new decks that have been coming in and out of my collection, while the old favorites languish?  Whatever the case, this week is dedicated to the Liber T, in all its freaky glory.

Deck of the Week #6: End

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Well, it’s Friday!  I seem to have gotten into the habit of “starting” my new study week on Saturdays, but what the heck, it works.

Here’s what I posted on the thread:

My week with the Ironwing was…interesting.

I have no doubt that it’s a powerful deck — it was almost too powerful, and a few days of incredibly insightful readings lead to a major, life-changing epiphany regarding my mental health, the ramifications of which I’m still working through (and really didn’t have time to have, but that’s life!).

The most important lesson that I took from this week, aside from the above epiphany, is that coloring a deck is definitely the best way for me to get to know it. I don’t know how many decks I’ll get around to doing that with, since it’s a heck of a lot of work and I didn’t make too much headway on the Ironwing (dozen cards or so) but it’s an unbelievably good tool. The deck also prompted me to get over a big fear and contact a semi-local blacksmith to be put on the mailing list for beginner’s classes. With any luck, I’ll take one of those in the fall!

That epiphany, which felt a little too personal to speak about on the forums and also sort of off-topic for the thread, regarded an evolution of my daemons from three back to just one, which is where I hope it will stay, although I cannot tell a lie and say that bidding those two farewell was easy.  I’ll have a post about daemons and mental health and my wacky-times childhood soon enough, when I get to D in the Pagan Blog Project.

The blacksmithing thing is one the same level of huge, since my fear of taking lessons in blacksmithing was enormous.  Still is.  I have horrible nightmares of things breaking my fingers and molten metal being poured onto my face.  But the key with fears like that, especially ones that lapse over into dreams, is to take the bull by the horns and show my brain that I’m not going to snap or fall over or horribly maim myself by going to one class and making a fire poker.  And you never know, it could be the start of a career.

Now I just need to find a swordfighting deck to get me over my fear of taking fencing classes.  *grin*

I’ll probably have a post up later today, or at most tomorrow, regarding next week’s deck choice.  I also hope to have a new Pagan Blog Project post up on the weekend, but the second A has been confounding me, so we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, have a lovely day, my little weblings.

Shamansim: A Clarification

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I also thought I’d make a quick post on this, to clarify the concept for myself and possible readers.

I don’t feel called to be a shaman.

For a while I was really paranoid and worried that I was.  I broke out into cold sweats at the thought of shamanic death or being “recycled” if I didn’t heed the call — but after some time I realized that an interest in shamanism and shamanic history on a scholarly level does not a shaman make, and I have no evidence in my life that I’ve been called to anything besides a solitary life.  If I refused any call, it was the one to become a nun.  That call was bone deep and dark and thrilling, and to this day it hurts to have turned down that opportunity, though it has the potential to rise again.  Despite being somewhat ambivalent about my Catholic leanings and not being sure if I’ll ever return, if I’m ever to answer a call, it will be this one: a nun, an anchorite, a solitary woman at the edge of the world, a prayerhold.

There are a lot of aspects of shamanism that I disagree with on a very personal level, mostly revolving around my belief that treating sick people should be left to medical professionals.  It’s the same reason I won’t do tarot readings on health issues — I’m not a doctor.  I have no interest in medicine or healing, and little knowledge of either.  When I was a participant in that new age cult in my teens, I was deeply uncomfortable about the faith healing aspects of it.  We would use reiki or pendulums or drumming to “heal” bodies and souls, and throughout it all I had the deep conviction that we weren’t doing anything good, that it was all placebo effect, and that it was possible that someone could feel their medical problem was resolved by laying on of hands and never go to the doctor about a serious problem that might kill them.  I’ve since lost my guilt about the year of my life I lost to that cult, although it took years to cure myself of it, but the ethical issues it raised still remain a core part of my beliefs.  I’m only missing one certificate to be a reiki master, but I have acknowledged that dubious achievement and let it go.  I leave the healing to others.

A similar paranoia and misunderstanding happened when I was first interested in Catholicism a few years ago.  When my interest in Catholicism as a religion waned, but I still retained my scholarly appreciation for it, I was upset.  I thought that I wasn’t allowed to enjoy a religion on a historical or literary basis — I had to be a practitioner or nothing in order to admit that I was interested in it.  My paranoia about being called to shamanism and ignoring the call stems from the same place.  To needlessly worry myself just because I’ve worked with a couple of shamanic tarot decks and have read a few articles on world shamanism is absurd.  As well to say that I’m called to be a psychologist because I’ve been reading Jung lately, or called to drive because I love the look of old cars.

If, someday, I get a clear and unmistakeable message that I should be a shaman, I’ll deal with that then, but I find the outcome exceedingly unlikely.  Shamanism as it’s generally practiced in the West (making a very broad and general statement here, so please don’t be offended) seems to me an abberation of indigeous shamanism.  The idea that you can teach yourself to be a shaman through books or spirit teachers or even large classes seems egotistical — it’s my understanding that one only becomes a shaman when the signs are right and the current shaman takes you under his wing as a pupil, to replace him when he dies.  To pursue a shamanic-style path is certainly one thing, but to call oneself a shaman with no true, singular professional training feels like calling oneself a doctor after reading medical books for a few years, or taking first aid classes.  It doesn’t mesh, in my head.

And neither does the picture of me as a shaman.  When I try to think of myself that way, I just get a picture of me the way I am, an anchorite.  Extraordinarily solitary, with no teacher or mentor (unless you count the interenet), and happy that way.  If I was to be called as a shaman, I know for a fact that I would be utterly miserable, possibly to the point of suicide — and given my belief in a generally benevolent universe, I can’t imagine being handed a death sentence like that.

When I was younger, I would have been deeply disappointed to have brought up another religious choice only to turn it down as unacceptable, but back then I was utterly desperate to have a path, any path, as long as it had a name and didn’t involve being a jerk.  Nowadays, I look at this as a blessing, and a beneficial part of my journey — I’ve been able to look objectively at a path and know that it isn’t for me, that I have not been called to it, and can move on.  Building my personal path may take me my entire life, and although teen-me would have railed and screamed at such an eventuality, I now find the potentials to be astonishing and miraculous.  To have a good sixty or eighty years ahead of me to build a personally tailored spiritual home, a thing matched to my quirks and fetishes and ethical grounding, is such a magical experience, and I’m grateful for every minute of it…even when it’s hard.

Blacksmithing Update

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I did a brave thing before breakfast today.

After reading a bit about Tengerism and Mongolian shamanism, I found a page on the Circle of Tengerism website that talked about other shaman-y things people can do if they aren’t called to be shamans, and one of those things was blacksmithing.  Which of course got me thinking about smithing again.

Five minutes later, I found a somewhat local blacksmith who does beginner’s and intermediate classes out of his home/forge, and emailed him for schedules and fees.

I don’t know if I’ll have the money or the courage to sign up for a class, but I made a big important step, and I feel more peaceful for having reached out.