To arms, to arms

True story: For a while my parents considered naming me Boadicea.
Fun fact: For a while my parents considered naming me Boadicea.

Recently there have been a handful of calls to arms in the magical blogosphere, which have stuck in my memory because they resonate with an urgency I’ve been feeling. It’s time to get to work.

The first place I encountered the call (other than in my own mind and heart) was Josephine McCarthy’s blog. You may know that she has been developing an entire course in magic called Quareia. Back in February she wrote:

“…I was not planning originally to have [Quareia] apprentices working on anything but themselves and their immediate surroundings. But over this last year, powers that are out in the world have gathered to polarise heavily and this is playing out through the barbarity we see in the near east, the corruption of our own officials, and the general blights of poverty and cruelty that are marching across our planet with such power and speed.

“So maybe it is time while writing the last module, to put the apprentices to work magically. Through the module on destruction, the apprentice will learn first how to spot real destructive power (it is not as simple as it sounds) and then they will learn to take action. No one magician can stop what is happening, but collectively, small but powerful magical actions done in a focused and knowledgeable way can start to halt and then turn the tide.”

Hmm, interesting. Then in June, Rachel Izabella counter-cursed a transphobic preacher who declared his intention to basically psalm-magic Caitlyn Jenner to death (which, by extension, is a threat to other trans* people who, if they crossed this preacher’s radar, would likely get the same treatment). The counter-curse is an ongoing project. This preacher may just be one guy, but if he is calling his fellows to the fight, then maybe it’s time we started mustering our fellows against their ilk.

Clearly, that post has gotten others thinking about their own line in the sand, the crossing of which would prompt them to action. Just a couple days ago, Kalagni wondered why it is that more magical folk don’t seem to put their magic to work on the big issues?

“…I challenge all of you, to find some injustice in the world, something big, something beyond your life, your neighbourhood, your city, something so big you’d never think of trying to fix it. Then make a plan, find a specific element in this injustice, and make a magickal plan, figure out how to attack it, how to shift it, how to heal it. Piece by piece we nudge the world toward a better place, we make change more possible, we make it easier for those of us working on the mundane to succeed to improve these things.

“…this is raw, desperate, but targeted magick, trying to throw a wrench in the gears of a systemically corrupt status quo, and bring some good into the world.”

Now, I am all for rolling up my sleeves and getting to work, though at this point I don’t have much skill or knowledge to bring to bear. Still, it has often been commented that when one is planning a magical working, it often seems that the “effects” start manifesting before the “cause” has been enacted. So maybe even just bringing our minds to bear on magical action for a better world starts the wheels spinning. Or even more likely, the wheels are already spinning, and that works on our minds.

But there’s one thing that has often stopped me from applying magic in what is customarily called “practical” ways, and that is the fact of limited vision. We as embodied humans cannot see all the pieces in play in any situation. It’s not that I just trust “higher” powers to take care of me without me doing any work, but even just from my human perspective, I can look back on my life so far and see many episodes where my limited view caused me to make a really dumb decision or would have, had it been in my power to decide.

Mistakes are part of magic, like anything else. And you don’t get on this path because it’s easy, safe, or secure. But if one habitually acts from a relatively short-term and narrow point of view, one gets caught in an unending cycle of screwing up and then scrambling to clean up the mess, in the process only screwing it up even more. (This is pretty much the story of civilization, by the way, which is why I don’t believe in “progress.” But that’s a tale for another day.) If one is lucky, it only effects you and not the rest of the planet.  The potential of getting trapped in that cycle is always there. To break free of it and change things at a level where it really counts, it seems to me we need a bigger perspective. That, I presume, is why there has always been a mystical current in magic, and also why we practice divination. Otherwise magic would be like giving guns to a bunch of toddlers. So, you know, about like 21st century America.

I woke up early this morning, not by choice. It is a rare luxury for me to have time by myself to think, so there I was, thinking hard about this issue of well-directed magical action. Or at least, I thought I was awake and thinking. As it turns out, I wasn’t really fully awake. When I did wake up I realized I had been in a hypnogogic state all along…and as is so often the case in that state, some weird shit went down.

I found myself, uh, thinking? dreaming? about how nice it would be if the magical community could cut some evildoers–say, the Koch Brothers–off at the knees. As I was imagining? (dreaming?) what that might be like and what bad dudes those guys are, I heard in my mind’s ear a sort of combined roar-growl, something like the sound an angry big cat makes. At the same time in my mind’s eye, something flew at me. It only lasted a split second, but the message was clear: Do not go there. I have no idea who sent the message. Was it my guardian angel or an ancestor saying, do not even think about it, grasshopper? Maybe it was my own better judgment. Maybe I had slipped into pure dreaming for a moment. Hell, I wouldn’t put it past the Koch Brothers to have magical wards up to keep out even the wandering minds of half-asleep apprentice sorceresses. (They wouldn’t be the first corporate bad guys to do that, from what I hear.)

So make of that what you will, but it sent my mind off in a different direction. I then thought, what if the Koch Brothers and their ilk are part of a necessary balancing destructive force? (I strongly doubt this by the way, but I still think it’s a useful thought exercise.)

(Sidebar. This line of thinking would probably make more sense if I told you the background context, but it’s a long story so I think I’ll save it for the next post. So if you’re especially interested in my new acquaintance with universal destructive powers, or if this post sounds crazy, you might want to read the next one.)

In light of these questions about magical action for the general betterment, I thought the latest post at Circle Thrice was interesting. Ivy writes (my emphasis):

“I’ve heard it suggested that the reason there are copycat crimes is that the original criminal gives other’s [sic] ideas. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it’s that evil is contagious, just the same way that violence or panic is contagious in a mob. There are currents of violence and destruction just as there are currents of cooperation and love. When someone taps into a particular current, others find it easier to tap in as well.

Destruction always seems cruel when you’re on the pointy end of the stick. I don’t like seeing baby antelopes die, but I know lions gotta eat. How does one know when the destruction is part of establishing natural balance at a scale too big for a mortal to perceive or understand, or even just an inevitable cyclical eschaton, versus when it is out of place and time and, to put it in Kemetic terms, contrary to ma’at? (Or as I like to call it, wrong or bad.) And even when one is confident of the need to take action against evil, where does one best apply force?

These are questions I am not qualified to answer. I am still learning to walk in magical terms, and any effect I could have on the abundant nastiness in the world today would be pretty small. In a way I get a chuckle out of me asking these questions at all, because I swear I came into this world banging a gavel with one hand and pointing the finger of shame with the other.* When I was a little kid I had few friends because I was a narc. I was not only a tattle-tale, but a self-righteous one at that. If I couldn’t stop someone from wrongdoing, I took it straight up the chain of authority to someone who (I thought) could and would. I mean, I thought that’s what adults were for. Bullying particularly pissed (pisses) me off. When my mom suggested that maybe I might want to dial it back a little, I said in high dudgeon, “But how are they supposed to face the consequences of their actions?!” I was six. My name, in the more popular translation, means “Defender of Men” (as in humans; the Greek is gendered like the English). The less popular, but I’m told more accurate, translation means “She Who Wards Off Men.” Most of the stuff in my horoscope is in the 8th and 9th houses and my whole chart is ruled by Jupiter, the planet of Justice.

Point is, I’ve never been able to identify with the white-lighter crowd because my own experience tells me some people are born to walk right up to badness and slap it across the face with a glove. It doesn’t go away because you turn your back on it–we’ve tried that. But we have to work smart, not just hard–and it’s never too early to start the reconnaissance mission.

*Technically I came into this world asleep.

It came from the deep

Have beings from inner/astral realms influenced, perhaps even deliberately directed, human cultures and civilizations? Should UPG be added to the list of evolutionary forces?

Sumac Icaro, from The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Ameringo.
“Sumac Icaro,” from The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Ameringo.

I am not the first person to pose this question, and some have argued emphatically that yes, our experiences on other planes have shaped our actions on this one (here’s one, here’s another, and another). Let me say first of all that I am not talking about “ancient astronauts”–corporeal visitors from other planets flying nuts-and-bolts spacecraft. If, as certain big-haired proponents of AA theory claim, extraterrestrials had visited Earth in sufficient numbers and over a long-enough span of time to be the Annunaki, build the Egyptian pyramids, the Maya pyramids, Stonehenge, ley lines, etc., I have two questions: (1) where is the material evidence for these material beings and spacecraft? Are you telling me no aliens ever died here, no spaceships ever crashed, nobody dropped an interstellar wrench or cigarette butt? And (2) where are they now? Did they just get bored after the Maya collapse? Did they decide that feeding us scraps has led us to lose our fear of them and start noisily scrounging around their trash bins at night, like city raccoons, or bears in a national park? So now they just drive by occasionally, making sure to keep the doors locked and windows up?

It’s not that I think visiting extraterrestrials are impossible, but they are completely conjectural. Experiences of immaterial visitors, however, are attested all over the place. They seem to happen all the time, but even those who have had such experiences often deny their reality because they don’t fit into the dominant philosophical paradigm of materialism. On the other hand, many people either believe in ETs or are at least willing to consider the possibility because that story fits within the materialist paradigm.

I am inclined to believe that Jacques Vallee is right when he argues that UFOs and ETs are essentially the same immaterial, or semi-material, phenomenon as faeries and miraculous visions of the Virgin Mary. As Gordon puts it, “The Neighbours already have a propensity to troll and those that present themselves in the guise of UFO phenomena are the trolliest of all.” At any rate, until someone shows me actual material evidence of ET, I shall remain skeptical of ET’s materiality. In the meantime, I feel there is more than sufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of non-material beings and experiences, even if I cannot explain their nature.

Howard Carter examining the coffin of Tutankhamun.
Howard Carter examining the coffin of Tutankhamun.

For years now I’ve been fascinated by questions of the psycho-magico-spiritual aspects of human civilization. But there are only three ways to investigate it: (1) Ancient texts provide a huge amount of information. The downside is it’s often cryptic or symbolic, and texts are always based in cultural contexts that are now missing. There is a reasonably good chance of unraveling the surface meaning of a text if the writing system has been deciphered, but its twilight language is likely to remain obscure. (2) Oral traditions still exist on the peripheries of the Westernized world, but we usually don’t recognize their importance until they are already disappearing. And sadly, it now seems that these traditions have to be protected from rapacious interests that would first steal, then commodify, and finally destroy. (3) Then there’s Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). This is the most direct route but also the most fraught, since not only do we have to learn to discern gnosis from imagination, it seems our interlocutors often have weird agendas of their own (not limited to trolling in UFO garb) which sometimes includes really crazy shit.

As an archaeologist by training, I often think about what archaeology might have discovered–what it might have restored–if it could have shaken off the chains of materialist orthodoxy. Realistically, I don’t think that could ever have happened, because the academic-intellectual project as we know it (including the discipline of archaeology) derives from the same cultural sources as materialist ontology. The entire moral justification for the practice of archaeology–digging up and confiscating old stuff and the graves of ancestors–is predicated upon the modern Western “religious sensibility” (to use John Michael Greer’s term). To wit, the belief that matter is devoid of spirit, and that includes human matter–so even if souls really do exist, they have long since vacated their mortal coil and therefore it harms no one to dig up the bones and take them to a museum half a world away.

This sensibility constrains the kind of questions that a professional intellectual can publicly ask. It’s perfectly ok to argue that other people are influenced by their culture’s spiritual/religious beliefs and even by hallucinations brought on by psychedelics; but to suggest that encounters with actual, non-material beings with goals of their own not only happen, but that they inspired changes in human behavior, would be to lose one’s job and reputation. Even tenure can’t protect one from those consequences.

During the halcyon “post-processual” era of the 1980s-1990s, archaeology flirted with more philosophical explorations of human being and doing; but that was followed by a hard swing back to quantitative analysis, the more mechanized and lab-centered the better. I butted up against this during my Ph.D. research: Fundamentally, I knew I was researching changes in consciousness that seem to have spread across Eurasia during the 1st millennium BC, and I hypothesized that these changes either dovetailed with, or precipitated, changes in concepts of the self. But there is no way to subject that to a quantitative analysis, and so all I could do was catalogue a list of “beliefs” attested in the literature. Even then, I was forced to add a completely irrelevant and overly simplistic quantitative analysis of categories of Eurasian funerary offerings, to make it all look scientific. I was expected to publish my dissertation, but to be honest, I’m embarrassed by the way it turned out. I’m sure there are some who would say that about the intellectual endeavor of archaeology as a whole. Part of what I’m trying to do here is to break out of those shackles without completely abandoning intellectual rigor.

The solar barque of Ra passing through the 2nd hour of the Duat.
The solar barque of Ra passing through the 2nd hour of the Duat.

When I was a teaching assistant in human evolution classes, we taught the four forces of evolution: gene flow, genetic drift, mutation, and natural selection. What if the Otherworld and its denizens should be added to that list?

I came across this article titled “Dream as a Constitutive Cultural Determinant–the Example of Ancient Egypt” (free full-text pdf download available). From the article abstract:

“Among Ancient Egyptian texts there are a number of dream reports, which document an interest in observing dreams. Even larger is the corpus of the night literature that deals with themes of an otherworldly, nighttime reality, the so-called Duat. There are etymologic and textual hints that these assertions on a complex, nightly meta-reality in the Egyptian culture are especially related to the hours of the late night, the peak of REM-sleep and the phase of highest dream recall. This paper develops the hypothesis that the Ancient Egyptian culture appreciated dream experience as a reality deserving high attention; and that the Egyptians deduced cultural knowledge from dream experience, intended for individual and collective, cultural application.

(Emphasis mine.) The author, Gotthard Tribl, bases his arguments mainly on etymological analysis of Egyptian language and hieroglyphs. To follow the argument, you need to know that a glyph can be read as an ideograph (a picture), a phoneme (a sound), or a determinative (a marker that indicates the general category of phenomenon to which the word belongs), and many words consist of all three. Tribl proposes that Egyptians’ consciousness and cognition was shaped by their dreamworking, though, interestingly, a hieroglyphic for “dream” has never been found. Instead the noun we would translate “dream” derives from a verb meaning “to awake in the morning,” with the addition of a determinative meaning “eye.” So it seems the Egyptians regarded the dream experience as a form of awakening, and that it was primarily construed as a visual phenomenon. Moreover, the words/glyph for “morning” (duau) and that for “Otherworld” (duat) are both written with the star hieroglyph (designated N14) plus determinative endings suggesting, respectively, time and space. Another related word, dua, shows a star followed by a man with upraised arms and a papyrus scroll, and means “‘to praise’ or ‘to adore’ in the morning.”

Egyptian literature about night and the Otherworld (duat) indicates that when the sun went down in our reality, it rose in the Duat. My own speculation, based on Tribl’s research, is that there were therefore two mornings–morning in our world, and morning in the Duat (which would have been evening in our world). Waking in the morning seems to have been followed by prayer/ritual/worship–but was this ritual performed during morning in this world, or morning in the Duat, or both? From a modern perspective, this means, was the person awake or asleep at the time?

Tribl’s work suggests that distinction may have been irrelevant to the Egyptians. For example, during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, texts and images indicate that

“…the Sem-priest was performing part of that ritual in sleep state (Hornung and Burton, 1991). Apparently, this part of the ritual dealt somehow with an active use of the sleep state….the sleep state of the Sem-priest is clearly prominent in that ritual and belongs to the most original parts of it (Baly, 1930). Beyond doubt, scenes nine and ten depict sleep conditions accompanied by a ‘vision‘…”

(Emphasis added.) I don’t know if dreaming was understood as a visit to the Duat, though it seems possible, at least based on the etymological argument and the surviving religious texts. Regardless, it seems that what we would call dreamworking and lucid dreaming were a huge deal in Egyptian life, and that priests and/or magicians would have been expected to be skillful navigators of that realm. It’s very interesting to look at other heiroglyphs that include the N14 star glyph. It appears in the word “star,” and in the names of various stars and constellations, but also in the words for “priesthood” and “teaching.”

Egyptian words containing the star glyph.
Egyptian words containing the star glyph.

If you look at the glyphs N13-N15 above, you can see that in the first one, the half-arc above the star indicates the passage of a half-month. Not pictured here is the glyph for a full month, which contains a full arc above the star. I find it very interesting, then, that in the glyph for the Duat, the arc has been extended into a full circle–which rather suggests the cyclical nature of day/night and life/death in Egyptian mythology. (I am not an Egyptologist, just speculating, so I imagine someone else has had this thought before. If you know of a source, let me know.)

Since Egyptian magic, along with that of Greece, is one of the most influential roots of the Western Magical Tradition, one can’t help but wonder what influence this Egyptian dreamwork had upon the WMT, and indeed on Western civilization as a whole. How much of our culture comes from the Duat? And what does that mean for us humans? Can we assume that the beings with whom we are communicating have our best interests at heart, or are we merely bugs that get sucked into their grill as they drive past? From a gnostic point of view, one might hypothesize that the beings guiding us are archons who decidedly do not have our best interests at heart.

I hope to explore this more as we go.

Connecting to this land–an assay

silvery blue butterfly

I begin with a story to set the stage. It is a very Homo sapiens story.

Sometimes we find ourselves living in places where we just don’t fit, and so it is for me. During my previous incarnation as an academic, one of the topics I studied intensively was human population movements, which archaeologists usually refer to as “migration” although we’re not talking about a seasonal migration like that of animals. Anyway, the motivations for picking up sticks are various, but the pattern is pretty consistent. It usually starts with a bunch of young men in search of land or booty or glory. A few of them settle down in a new place and marry local women. Word gets around that they found a good patch or a made their pile, and others follow–significantly, relatives of those first young men. Entire families start to relocate, along with women and children and animals. From then on, barring some calamity, there is usually a more or less continuous trickle of people from the Old Sod to the New.

This pattern has played out in my own family over and over. I come from a long line of younger sons and daughters of younger sons and daughters. I have traced my ancestry back to the late Roman Empire and perhaps even earlier, but dates get fuzzy that far back–a thousand years or so ago, many of my ancestors were wealthy members of European warrior aristocracies. But by the time my ancestors started coming to the Americas, 350-400 years ago for most of them, they were just ordinary Joes and Janes. The first sons had inherited, so the younger sons had to make their own fortunes, and the daughters had to marry them, or die trying. Younger children of younger children grew ever more distant from the patrilineal line of primogeniture, first becoming poor cousins, then merchants and peasants, until there was no room left for them in Europe, no more booty, no more glory.

A warrior-pillager ethos seems to have been pretty common in European societies, from Odysseus to the Vikings. Its eldest son was empire and colonialism; its youngest son was poverty and exile.

In the last couple generations of my family, this pattern played out again. It started with my uncle, the young warrior (an Air Force officer). He settled where I now find myself, the suburban jungle of greater Los Angeles/inland Southern California. He didn’t have any choice about coming here, but he and his wife decided to stay. His wife, my aunt, was my mother’s eldest sister. When I was away at college, my mother was caring for my grandmother. My aunt promised to help. So my mother followed her family out here. Necessity was the engine of the move, but family was the compass. And when my mother became ill and it was my turn to be the caregiver, I had to move here because she was already too weak to come to where I was. But it all started with a young warrior.

There is no truly empty land, and with young men roaming around in search of brave deeds to do and whatnot, it’s inevitable they will bump up against other people. After all, there has to be somebody else to make war on, somebody else to trade with, somebody else’s women to…er, marry. In the Americas–and maybe other places as well, lost to history–this story became a tragedy when the settlers find their New World inconveniently occupied.

I like cities (lots to do, good food, museums), and I love the countryside (because nature and ponies), but I can’t stand the suburbs. Suburbs have none of those good things. From where I live, you can drive almost an hour in every direction and never leave the suburbs; in some directions you can drive considerably further, like three or four hours, all the way to the sea. One ‘burb simply fades into another. The rivers of this landscape are freeways, the hills are overpasses, the soil is concrete and asphalt, the sky is smog. Everything is tamed, flattened, homogenized, neutered, policed, regimented, and ranked.

Plus it’s hot here. What little green there is, is not native and is inappropriate considering the severity of the drought.

But since this is where I find myself, I have been trying to learn about the land and its history. I have studied some of the native plants. I try to learn the names of the species I encounter so I can try to be friends with them. In spite of all this, it feels incredibly sterile here. I was honestly wondering if the spirits of this land had fled elsewhere, or just gone to sleep underground, to reawaken when wildness comes back to the region.

The first thing I looked for was native folklore, but there isn’t any. No one bothered to write it down in the brief period–about 100 years–between Europeans first settling here and the indigenous peoples being almost exterminated. One of the “Indian Schools” is right in this area–they brought native children from all over the country to this spot to rub the Indianness out of them. There are still some native people left, and I don’t mean to detract from their survival or achievements, but overall, what I see in this area is a monument to their erasure.

Traffic here gets worse every year. When my aunt and uncle first moved here, people regularly commuted to LA to catch a show or visit a museum. Now you take your life in your hands with LA drivers, if you’re willing to put in the hours of freeway commute to get there. So these former bedroom communities have been cut off and are slowly necrotizing. I do believe the apartment complex is in the most moribund neighborhood of these moribund suburbs. On one side is a concrete-and-chain-link drainage channel that only ever has enough water in it to stink. Usually it’s full of trash and invasive plants. On the opposite side is an abandoned orchard full of dead and neglected trees–at least the cats love that place–and a small nursing home where Alzheimer’s patients are sent to die. The nursing home is hidden from the street, but you can tell where it is because the driveway is lined with cypresses, the “mourning trees.” How perfect.

And yet, the river.

The Santa Ana river–Wanaawna to the Tongva people–flows from the San Bernardino mountains,  across the heart of the Inland Empire, through the Santa Ana mountains that bear her name, and onto the flats of Orange County, out to the sea. She may not seem very grand compared to your Nile or your Mississippi, but she is ancient, millions of years old, and her watershed covers more than 2500 square miles.

Santa Ana river in flood, 1938.
Santa Ana river in flood, 1938.

Every generation, the river would flood, bringing nutrient-dense river silt to the plain. It was this silt that made this area so agriculturally rich. (In the early 1890s, Riverside was the wealthiest city in the nation thanks to citrus agriculture.) But flooding and permanent settlements are not very compatible, and the last great flood in 1938 killed more than 50 people, so they lined much of the river bed with concrete, made her straight where she was curvy, built dams and drains, flumes, canals, and ditches, and now they say there will never be another flood. I wonder. Although I don’t want to see anyone hurt or made homeless, part of me wants the river to flood, to show everyone that Wanaawna cannot be tamed.

My garden allotment is in the mouth of what once was a shallow canyon where seasonal storm water flowed to the river. It actually has its own microclimate, a few degrees cooler and just a little more humid than the rest of this dusty place. We gardeners share the place with rabbits, mice, ground and tree squirrels, raccoons, snakes, coyotes, teenage skateboarders, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, roadrunners, bicyclists, and a homeless community. My point is it’s a desirable locale. And it’s all because of the river.

Recently I’ve been thinking that I’ve gone as far as I can with book learning about this area, and while my meditation skills are still pretty weak, I decided to just go ahead and try to make contact with the genius of this land. (I tend to be unwilling to move forward until I have perfected whatever skill I’m currently working on, and sometimes I have to remind myself that perfection will never happen–and neither will progress, unless I just go for it.) As the first part of my story shows, this isn’t a land where I have any natural links–no deep ancestral roots, no particular love for the scenery, no attachment to any denizens other than my small immediate family. When my mom passes, I don’t expect I’ll linger here. But who knows what the Fates have in store? This is where I am now, and I’m sure there is much it could teach me if I can only bring myself to open to it. And so the obvious candidate for me to try contacting in vision was the river herself, as the dominant natural feature and shaper of this land.

There’s not a lot to tell. I guess it’s not much of a reward for you, if you’ve stuck with me this long! I was interrupted at what I anticipated would be about the halfway point. Oh and also I’m not very good at this yet. I saw the river in her natural state in a kind of flyover, racing from the source out to the sea; then I was taken back to the source, but this time I could see a native person canoeing down the river. It was impressed upon me that the river enabled many cultures to travel and communicate along her length. And then it was just water rushing over me, on and on.

At the end of the vision I saw the lined, brown face of an old gnomish woman–that’s why I call the river “she”–and then in a flash, superimposed on her face, a glowing blue butterfly.

I tried to research the butterfly, but aside from finding out that there are several species of blue butterfly in the area, I can’t find any stories or traditions that might explain or describe it.

Since this vision, I have been struck several times by the beauty of moving water. I suppose that sounds sort of duh; I mean, we’re in the middle of a horrendous drought and we live on the edge of the desert, obviously water is precious. All I can say is that I am more aware. I see this silvery luminosity in it, and the simple act of pouring out a stream of water for a plant touches me and makes me feel connected in a way it never did before.

I plan to revisit the river, both physically and in vision. If I learn any more I will share it, though of course it’s only my UPG. I’d like to try drawing what I see too, though my art skillz are not up to the job.


On karma and magic

“Karmic,” by Horacio Cardozo.

When it comes to the nature of reality, one of the few things I feel pretty certain of is that most Westerners are completely wrong about karma.

The general attitude to karma in the West is that there is some cosmic scorekeeper, who punishes you with unpleasant life circumstances when you do wrong, and rewards you when you do right. Just as declaring bankruptcy doesn’t erase your student loans, death doesn’t rebalance your “karmic debt,” so if you are a bad person in this incarnation you can be assured of having a bad time of it next time around.

It makes sense that Westerners would see karma this way–it’s a viewpoint drawn directly from Christianity. Though there are some sects of Christianity in which it is believed that there’s no way for a person to deserve God’s grace, there are others–especially Catholicism–in which a person can accrue merit through good deeds. This may or may not result in blessings in this life; my understanding is that usually it’s construed as shortening one’s time in Purgatory. Many Protestant sects, especially those influenced by Calvinism, are of the opinion that happy life circumstances are a sign of God’s favor, whether or not you did anything to deserve them (not that you ever could, you miserable sinner). In fact, they argue that your behavior is already pre-ordained anyway, so the amount of grace in your life was determined before you were born.

In the 20th century, many Christians abandoned the idea of a judgmental God, original sin, and heaven and hell, but still wanted wrongdoers to be punished, and a misunderstanding of karma as an impersonal yet deterministic and judgmental force fit the bill. Even people who are not Christians (at least not any more) love the idea. There are even magic(k)al versions, such as Wicca’s threefold law of return (everything you do comes back to you in triplicate).

I recently came across this opinion that karma “has no place in western [sic] society” and “there is no karma unless you choose to believe in it.” (Spoiler alert: The author doesn’t believe in the threefold law either, and is pretty down on Wiccans generally.) I am not a Wiccan so I have no dog in that race, but I do take issue with the idea that karma exists only if you believe in it and you shouldn’t believe in it if you’re from the West.

I don’t have the slightest problem with learning from other cultures. Indeed, it would be stupid not to. Archaeologists and historians are pretty sure this is why the Norse colony in Greenland died out–they tried to farm and raise livestock like they had back home, and when the climate proved unsuitable, they opted not to learn marine mammal hunting from their “heathen” Inuit neighbors. The Inuit made it through the Little Ice Age fat and happy; the Norse Greenlanders all died. Racial and cultural essentialism is ahistorical bullshit and also stupid from a survival perspective.

But appropriation is a big worry for many Western white people nowadays. Basically, we pitched most of our traditions into the rubbish bin in favor of scientistic materialism, then, having grown dissatisfied with that, many white Westerners cast about for something that would give them a sense of spirituality and meaning and connection, and they/we pretty much had no choice but to borrow from other cultures that hadn’t fallen into the materialist trap, or occasionally, make up new stuff. (I’ll come back to appropriation in another post.)

At the same time, not coincidentally, European empires were heavily invested in oppressing and exploiting various less-materialistic societies, and that created a convenient opportunity for mining interesting philosophical and spiritual teachings. Especially for the British in India, where there were thousands of years’ worth of philosophical writings to reward those who could be troubled to learn Sanskrit and Pali. And so karma–or rather the total misconstrual thereof–made its way West. There were a lot of things that the Theosophists didn’t get right (and to be fair, plenty of Asians get it wrong too, as is the way with all esoteric conepts), but “karma” has probably been the most popular for the reasons I outlined above.

But as defined in its original meaning–and there are subtle differences of interpretation among different Indian philosophical schools, as one would expect–karma is an immutable law, and a damn useful concept. It’s an essential component of a worldview that magic(k)al people should recognize.

It works like this:

All beings are interconnected, directly or indirectly (six to infinity degrees of Kevin Bacon). For us animists, that means literally everything is interconnected. (Here’s one take on that.) Sticking with Indian philosophy for the sake of consistency, we can call this Indra’s Net, in which each being is a multifaceted jewel. From the Avatamsaka Sutra:

“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.

(My emphasis.) Indra’s Net is thus a metaphor “used to describe the interpenetration of microcosmos and macrocosmos.” Hmm, interpenetration of microcosm and macrocosm…where have I heard that before? Oh right. That would be the Western Magical Tradition then.

If we accept the interpenetration of microcosm and macrocosm, and thus of all beings in the universe, it stands to reason that the ripples of one’s actions touch all beings. Given sufficient time (and pretending for the moment that time is linear and unidirectional), each action would affect and reflect from every single jewel in Indra’s Net, bouncing around and back again.

That’s karma. Karma is the situation of every action as–to borrow John Michael Greer’s phrase–“an ongoing cascade of interactions” within the infinite interconnectivity that is the universe. The complexity of it is beyond what the human brain can grasp.

Is there some cosmic calculator that makes sure you get punished for being bad? Of course not, but there is already shit in the pool, and if you shit in there too, there will be even more shit to swim through. What is this “shit”? It’s the Black Iron Prison, it’s man’s inhumanity to man. No one punishes you, you just deal with what you and others have co-created.

Magicians, sorceror/esses, witches, wizards, occultists–I haven’t met one that doesn’t believe in taking ownership of one’s creations. I don’t believe in a law of return, but I do accept the laws of thermodynamics. Because I recognize my part in unconsciously befouling the pool, with my conscious actions I try to fill the pool with rose petals, diamonds, and unicorns. Inevitably I am, like you, only magnificently human. We mess up a lot. Your personal system of ethics doesn’t have to include the concept of karma; you don’t have to be guided by empathy for others; you don’t have to think about the wider (indeed, infinite) effects of your actions or the unforeseen unfurling of your magics in space/time. But whether you think about it or not, you are bound in Indra’s Net. We are all in this universe together (unless we’re not, but that’s a topic for another day). Now that the term has been well borrowed into my native language, English, I find “karma” to be a convenient and succinct handle for this truth. What you choose to call it is up to you.

DeepDream: solve et coagula

What is up with those DeepDream images all over the internet lately? Are they anything more than visual nonsense?

DeepDream's knight in shining armor?
DeepDream’s knight in shining armor?

I guess great minds think alike, because I started a draft of this post (when I’m on a hot streak I write a lot all at once and schedule the posts you see) and and BAM! Gordon over at Rune Soup beat me to the punch. I knew someone with an interest in magic and/or metaphysics would have to address it sooner or later.It’s too weird not to be…Weird.

Call it a visual solve et coagula: The goal was to see if Artificial Neural Network (ANN) programs could be “taught” to recognize images. The program is shown repeated images of something, say, a leaf, in hopes that it will learn how to recognize the core attributes of leaf-ness and ignore irrelevant or nonessential details. Then, the ANNs were asked to draw their own versions, to see if the lesson had taken. But after all their learning, the ANNs had a lot of material with which to generate images–and what Google’s DeepDream produced are psychedelic fractal layers upon layers of dogs and eyes.

(Clearly the major conclusion here is that we are really, really, really into dogs.)

The really trippy stuff comes from what the researchers call “inceptionism” after that terribly pretentious movie, where they tell an individual layer of an ANN to produce more of whatever it “sees” in the picture. Once the program has seen dogs, it sees dogs everywhere. Cyber-pareidolia. And, just as with human pareidolia, DeepDream creates arguably the most interesting images from scenes with a lot of visual noise for them to play with.

I can’t help but feel that somehow this DeepDream has inadvertently stumbled upon something of metaphysical importance. Gordon calls it a haunted technology, and that just feels right. I wouldn’t put it past spirits to communicate in this way, because there seems to be enough randomness for them to work with, and enough recognizable imagery for the human mind to add its own pareidolia and make meaning. Since Google has made the code available for you to mutate your own photos, I can foresee someone using this for some kind of divination.

DeepDream randomly generated neural net dream

Is it mere coincidence that more than voice of experience says DeepDream’s images bear more than a passing resemblance to psychedelic/entheogenic trips? When I first saw a DeepDream landscape, I immediately thought of Pablo Amaringo‘s Ayahuasca-inspired (induced?) art. The scientific explanation says the resemblance comes from the fact that drugs disrupt our brains’ higher-level processing (such as interpreting or identifying an image–“this is a knight with a dog for a hand”), and lets the more, for lack of a better word, primitive levels go crazy with lines, shapes, and colors.

Over years of practice with tarot cards, I have developed an intuitive way of reading that doesn’t necessarily rely on the “textbook” explanations. There’s a ton of information in a tarot card that you can read: the image as a whole, separate components of the image, the number, the suit, the colors used, the body language of any people or animals depicted, and you can read these elements literally or according to various types of traditional symbolism (Kabbalah, astrology, numerology, the Golden Dawn, etc.). Learning which bit of information is relevant and what it means this time comes with experience. But whoever or whatever is on the other end always seems to know which cards to use to get certain ideas across.

I think apophenia works like that too. I suspect that the “random” stimuli which the mind filters, breaks down, and reassembles into something meaningful (solve et coagula) are also being filtered from the other end–at least sometimes. Our entire world is made of interpretation. We call some images–Jesus’ face in a tortilla–illusions, tricks of the eye, yet others–your own face, for example–are granted fully real status. But just as the images you can use in a tarot reading depend on the deck you’re using, the way you assemble a world out of sensations–what you decide is illusion and what you decide is real–depends on memories of prior experiences, practice (repetition), and relationships with others, from your family to your gods to your cultural milieu. Whatever objective reality may be, I would argue none of us has ever seen it. (At least not with human eyes.)

It has been argued (for example, here) that magic works by pushing probabilities–areas with the greatest amount of built-in “give” are subject to greater magical change. There would seem to be two factors: (1) how much flexibility is in the system (and note that this includes your own expectations); and (2) how much of it can be changed through small tweaks (as opposed to major transformation). So for example, it’s easier to shift another person’s perception of your appearance than it is to alter the genetic code that determines what proteins and in what quantity and arrangement actually build your body.

So it stands to reason that the same is likely true for manifestations and communications from the Other side: the more fuzzy logic, the more unpredictability, the more openness to experience, the more chaos (if you’re into that), the more both you and the Others have to play with. And therefore the question is not, does X have meaning? It is what meaning shall we make in X? Because you make the meaning, or more accurately, you co-create it. Some of your fellow co-creators are evidently capable of manipulating the space/time sensory stuff from which we assemble our little worlds. Is it that DeepDream works like a somewhat-impaired human brain to create random dogs and eyes? Or is it that both DeepDream and the brain can–sometimes, given the right circumstances–peel back the mask of “reality” and give us an analogical (analogy is key) glimpse of what lies beneath?

Gimme that old time religion

I often think about where I’d be now if I had followed my earliest instincts. I have always had what you might call the religious temperament. The earliest thing I can remember wanting to be when I grew up is a priest. My mom believes that small children should have to sit through boring church services so they’ll learn to be well-behaved in school, and she also thought religion would be edifying for me, but she didn’t much care what sort of religion. So, as she tells the story, she decided she would take me to a different house of worship every week and let me choose which one I liked best. The first place we went was our local small town Catholic church (we’re not Catholic), and that was it. I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I was about 4 at the time. I can still remember how much I loved the stained glass, the statues, the paintings of stations of the cross, the singing, the incense… I begged my mom to sit in the front row. She made me a deal: if I behaved, we’d move forward one row every week. So the weeks passed, and we moved up, until we were in the second row back. That Sunday, as the priest was preparing communion, I stood up on the kneeling board, turned to face my mom, and said in a stage whisper that reverberated through the whole church, “Hey Mom, how come there aren’t any women priests here?” The priest started laughing. My mom was mortified. As I seem to remember happening so often during my youth, she said, “Shhh, I’ll tell you when we get outside.” And she did. “I never want to go back there,” I said. And I meant it. The Church lost its most devout follower that day, I tell you what. I was 5. Thenceforth I felt I was on my own where religion was concerned. I became obsessed with reading about every kind of mythology. By the time I was about 12, I was a hard polytheist, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was using tarot cards and had started learning astrology. Looking back, I have no idea how that happened. It certainly didn’t come from my family–I was an only child, my mom was raising me by herself, and she was and is a New Age Unitarian-Universalist-type Christian. She was not super thrilled about my proclivities, but didn’t make much of an attempt to discourage me because she was sure I’d outgrow it. I remember I would beg her to take me to the local Tower Books, and bless her heart, she bought me a lot of eclectic stuff over the years, including my first tarot deck. Had I not been discouraged, I would probably have become some kind of Celtic or reconstructionist. But there was a subtle disapproval. My mother has this dismissive way of saying, “Well…” when you propose something she suspects is tomfoolery that is like icewater in the veins. I was always very independent, but also very obedient–I think mainly because I hated it when my mom turned out to be right about something and thus I turned out to be wrong. Also I began to realize that mainstream society did not look kindly upon polytheism. I once told the librarian in high school that I was inventing my own religion, which I thought would be better than saying that I was a budding Celtic reconstructionist, not that I knew what to call it, and she naturally scoffed at the idea. I was going through a rough time then, and I just sort of put religious themes aside. I believed in God mainly because I was afraid not to, but felt no connection (and in fact, a good deal of bitterness) to the Christian god. My maternal family have passed down stories of ancestors who were witches, mystics, and psychics and it was taken for granted that it runs in the family. Yet my mom didn’t want to teach me anything about it, ostensibly because I was “too young.” My mom is convinced that I will manage to kill myself performing even the safest and most routine activities, so when it comes to magic she is certain I will summon and become possessed by legions of demons. The unintended consequence is that I became convinced that I was the black sheep who had no psychic or magical ability. I don’t think anyone in my family had any idea how much pain and shame I felt because of this. Everyone said it would come eventually. I just wanted to be special, and to think that everyone in my family but me had been gifted special specialness was hard. I know, cry me a river, right? But being special matters a lot to teenagers. When I was 15 my mom got a job in Sevilla, Spain and we moved there for the then-foreseeable future, which turned out to be three years. For the first time, I set foot in Christian churches again, put purely from historical and anthropological interest. One day during Holy Week of 1993 we went to one of the major churches as tourists and I had my first direct UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) experience.

Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza Macarena.
Nuestra Se~nora de la Esperanza Macarena.

Every church in Sevilla has at least one statue of Jesus and at least one statue of the Virgin Mary. Of these two, the Virgin is unquestionably of greater social importance. She is almost always depicted as a dolorosa, weeping for the deceased Jesus (though a church may also have a gloriosa, a mother holding Baby Jesus). When I lived there, I was asked more than once whether I was a follower of the Virgin or Christ. Or, not and. During Holy Week, crowds of thousands gather in the streets and each church’s principal images are put onto ornate pasos (sort of like holy parade floats) and carried through the city on young men’s shoulders to the cathedral and back. The air is filled with incense smoke and lit by candles. Drums roll through the night, while bands play dirges for Jesus and exuberant marches for the Virgins. Penitents carry crosses behind the pasos, wearing pointed hoods that gave the Klan the idea. On the way, people throw flowers at them and sometimes are so moved that they break into extempore devotional songs. Followers of a given Virgin will hail them with shouts of “Beautiful! Beautiful!” while members of other churches, and thus followers of other Virgins, yell “Whore!” The whole thing produces a very altered state of consciousness, especially at 3 a.m.

La Macarena on her paso. Her trip through Sevilla takes approximately 13 hours.
La Macarena on her paso. Her trip through Sevilla takes approximately 13 hours.

Things may be different now. Even then, the archbishop was trying to crack down on the insults and fist fights that occasionally broke out between parishioners of different churches. Devotees would start shouting “Beautiful!” or “Whore!” and then a wave of “Shhhh!” would run through the crowd. But then again, it might be the same as it ever was. In my experience, the more authorities or people from outside Spain encourage Spaniards to abandon something, the harder they hold on to it (bullfighting, for example).

El Baratillo going through the Plaza de San Francisco. Our apartment was on the top floor of the building second from left.
El Baratillo going through the Plaza de San Francisco. Our apartment was on the top floor of the brick building second from left (or third if you count the little sliver of building at the very edge).

And some of the statues move. I have seen a statue of Jesus reposition the cross he was carrying. I have seen a Virgin smile, move her hands and eyes, and turn her head to look at the people sitting in her church–and that was also witnessed by three people with me, one of whom was an atheist who had a transformative religious experience because of it. Most of these statues date from the 1600s-1800s, and they are not mechanical. Anyway, I’m not talking about mechanical movements or optical illusions. The reason people can call the Virgin Mary a whore without cognitive dissonance is because these different statues are not regarded as mere representations of the same holy person. Each one is seen by her followers as the true Virgin, while all the others are impostors. Yet the statues of Jesus seem to be regarded as all the same being. Certainly Jesus never gets insulted, but nor does he get ecstatic praise. I can tell you that each Virgin has her own unique “vibe”: La Macarena feels like the sweetest, most unconditional love, sympathy, and joy, while El Rocío feels like a wild mare who will smite your foes with extreme prejudice. At least that’s how they are to me. Far from being one saint, they are different goddesses. (I wrote a bit more about El Rocío and her horses here.) But they are tied to their locality and the cultural context that gives them relevance, and I found that they didn’t transfer very well back to America. (Neither did I, actually. So. Much. Depression.) I spent the years between then and my Saturn return, approximately a decade, trying my best to adult and keeping my nose clean and to the grindstone. I finished college and went to grad school because that was what everyone expected and I didn’t have any better ideas. I had always been good at school so at least I got positive strokes for that, and I enjoyed and was good at teaching and writing. But I was having increasing difficulty fitting into my atheist, super-scientistic academic milieu. I loved doing scientific research, but hated seeing the name of science being used to bully others. I saw myself as a believer with nothing to believe in. As my research questions evolved, I began to see that I would not be able to answer them from inside academia. I desperately wanted to think divergently, but no longer remembered how. I got very interested in Buddhist philosophy, but I had difficulty embracing the idea of being a Buddhist, in no small part because most of the others I met were annoying. The Saturn return gets a lot of bad press, but it was actually a pretty good time in my life (Saturn is a cake walk compared to the shit Pluto throws at you, but I digress). I began to realize that I was no less mystical or psychic than the rest of my family. I came to terms with and embraced my need for spiritual fulfillment, even though I hadn’t found the right outlet. I finally voiced out loud what I had long suspected, that most New Age pop-spirituality and the Law of Attraction in particular are BS. I guess you could say I finally started to come into my own, to see myself instead of the many expectations about who I should be. As I finished grad school, my mother became seriously ill, and I moved back to California to take care of her. This freed me from having to decide whether to abandon an academic career–the choice was made for me. Although being a caregiver is in many ways the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, being stuck inside for 20+ hours per day does give me a lot of time to read and write. In spite of all the work I do taking care of my mom, I have made massive progress on my Great Work, even though I am still just at the beginning. Hey, it’s a long road, and I walk slowly. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what religion I ascribe to, I have come back around to polytheism seasoned with animism, pantheism, and panentheism. (And yes I know those last two are supposed to be mutually exclusive, but I don’t see it that way.) I guess you could say I believe in all gods, though I wouldn’t work with all of them. There is no one cultural pantheon that calls to me more than another, but certain deities from various cultures. I find that I cannot bring myself to identify with the term “pagan,” though I suppose that’s how others would identify me, and there doesn’t seem to be any other term that fits me either. I naturally rebel against hierarchy and am not a joiner, so will probably never become a priestess within any organized lodge or temple, though someday I may choose that service. All remains to be seen.

Xi Wangmu and the Star Festival

Tanabata streamers and wishes.
Tanabata streamers and wishes.

Tanabata, or the Star Festival (the 7th day of the 7th month, by either the lunar or solar calendar), is a holiday I was introduced to while staying in Japan. According to legend, on this day each year, two mythic lovers separated by the Milky Way are reunited. In China, where the story originates, the festival is known as Qixi or the Festival to Plead for Skills, and in Korea as Chilseok. When the festival is celebrated according to the solar calendar, it corresponds generally to the beginning of the summer monsoon rains, when the oppressive heat and humidity becomes slightly more tolerable; however, in the lunar calendar it falls around mid-August and was originally the beginning of autumn.

Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way

In brief–Orihime (the star Vega), the weaver-princess, was the daughter of the King of Heaven. She fell in love with Hikoboshi the cowherd (Altair). But when they were together, Orihime neglected her weaving and Hikoboshi his cattle, so the King of Heaven cast them apart and created the River of Heaven (the Milky Way) to keep them apart. Orihime was grief-stricken at the loss of her husband, so the King of Heaven agreed to let the couple meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month. But neither could cross the river, until the magpies, or in some versions the magpies and crows, made a bridge for them.

In one Chinese version of the story, Orihime (or as she is known in Chinese, Zhinu) is the daughter of Xi Wangmu (the Queen Mother of the West, or Great Female Ancestor of the West) rather than the King of Heaven. Xi Wangmu is a very ancient deity, whose cult exploded in popularity during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and one that I find particularly fascinating. I am indebted to the webpage “Xi Wangmu, the shamanic great goddess of China” by Max Dashu for the following information.

Xi Wangmu lives between heaven and earth, in a paradise garden among the clouds on Jade Mountain or She Wu (“Female-Snake-Shaman”) Mountain. In her garden grows the World Tree which bears peaches of immortality. With her are various magical animals, including the three-footed crow, the nine-tailed fox, the rabbit in the moon, phoenixes, and qilin. In a 3rd-century AD scroll, Xi Wangmu describes herself thus: “With tigers and leopards I form a pride; Together with crows and magpies I share the same dwelling place.”

“Xi Wang Mu controls the cosmic forces: time and space and the pivotal Great Dipper constellation. With her powers of creation and destruction, she ordains life and death, disease and healing, and determines the life spans of all living beings. The energies of new growth surround her like a cloud. She is attended by hosts of spirits and transcendentals. She presides over the dead and afterlife, and confers divine realization and immortality on spiritual seekers.”

Xi Wangmu, right, with tiger teeth and a leopard's tail.
Xi Wangmu, right, with tiger teeth and a leopard’s tail.

In the earliest representations of her, Xi Wangmu looks like a human but has the teeth of a tiger and tail of a snow leopard. The tiger is the directional symbol of the west, and may have been since the very dawn of Chinese civilization in the Neolithic. She bears a staff, and wears a sheng headdress marking her as a weaver “who creates and maintains the universe” and controls the stars and constellations. The involvement of Xi Wangmu in the myth of Tanabata might indicate that it was originally a festival in her honor:

“This sign [the sheng headdress] was regarded as an auspicious symbol during the Han dynasty, and possibly earlier. People exchanged sheng tokens as gifts on stellar holidays, especially the Double Seven festival in which women’s weaving figured prominently. It was celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month, at the seventh hour, when Xi Wangmu descended among humans. Taoists considered it the most important night of the year, ‘the perfect night for divine meetings and ascents.’ [Cahill, 16, 167-8] It was the year’s midpoint, ‘when the divine and human worlds touch,’ and cosmic energies were in perfect balance.”

(My emphasis.) After the Han Dynasty, the worship of Xi Wangmu was blamed for inciting ecstatic peasant movements and especially for too many uppity women peasants, so the goddess was “civilized.” Gone were her wild hair and fangs, replaced by royal robes and jewels, and her opposite, the Queen Mother of the East, was replaced by the King Father of the East to balance out what was perceived as an excess of feminine directional power and yin. In some literature she was demoted to mortal human status, or even depicted as a kind of succubus. Nevertheless Xi Wangmu remained beloved by the people, who often referred to her as “Nanny.”

tanabata streamers

Inspired by a miraculous tale of love, or by the awesome cosmic powers of Xi Wangmu, Tanabata is a day to make wishes for the fulfillment of long-cherished dreams, in particular the desire for new skills. People write these wishes on slips of paper and hang them on tree branches, and colorful streamers decorate the streets. Japanese festivals are open to all comers, being a matter of community participation rather than religious or cultural identification, while the stars are visible from all over Earth (albeit different ones in different hemispheres), so I don’t think there are any issues of appropriation to fear here.

If you wish to celebrate the Star Festival, you can complement the colorful modern traditions with more ancient ones, including:

  • Nine lamps dedicated to Xi Wangmu
  • Propitiating ghosts and the dead
  • Sewing fall/winter clothes, embroidery, weaving
  • Offerings of melons and fruit, candles, incense, and miniature clothing, shoes, or furniture in groups of seven
  • A “wish-fulfillment banquet”