Nuit and the Duat

Thunder and the Milky Way by Christopher Eaton
Thunder and the Milky Way by Christopher Eaton

Nuit and the Duat is not the name of my occult rock band…yet.

I was struck by a comment during Gordon’s Rune Soup Podcast interview of Austin Coppock last week (right around the 58 minute mark), viz., that the Egyptian goddess Nuit is an underworld goddess. (“She sleeps underground,” quoth Gordon. Do listen to the podcast for the full context; the part referencing Nuit is just a couple of minutes if that.) I found this idea very intriguing; I never thought of Nuit in quite those terms. Nuit is most familiar as a sky goddess, yet as Gordon said (paraphrased), if you dig for the underworld you eventually dig your way to the stars. That brought me back to something that really fascinates me, the Egyptian concept of the Duat. So I pondered a bit on the relationship of Nuit and the Duat…

 

star glyphs

First I should clarify that the words “underworld” and “Otherworld” are how we render in English the Egyptian word/concept Duat. As I described in my post on Egyptian dreamworking, the word Duat is written with a hieroglyph of a five-pointed star within a circle. Star glyphs show up in words related to literal stars, as well as time (morning, hour, month), priesthood, worship, teaching, and a verb that literally means “to awake in the morning” but seems to be used to describe what we call in English a “dream”. Gordon may have much more to say about this when his book Star.Ships comes out (any day now!), but while I’m no expert on ancient Egypt, it seems clear to me that the word “underworld” doesn’t even come close to approximating what Egyptians meant by Duat. We have to work with what we’ve got, though, knowing much is lost in translation.

In a recent post I talked about chthonic Hermes, which means “Hermes of the Earth”, but by extension Hermes of (what we would call) the Underworld; which shows us that for the Greeks, the world of the dead was in/of the earth, so “of the earth” became a poetic metaphor for “of the (realm of the) dead”. Similarly, the existence of the English word “under-world” tells us that the notion of a world of the dead beneath that of the living (though perhaps not in/of the earth per se) also had currency within the Germanic-speaking world. But we have to get out of that headspace to even attempt to grasp the Egyptian concept of Duat. When Gordon says that Nuit is an “underworld goddess”, this should not be understood as meaning that her realm was in the earth. The Duat as a place is inseparable from the Duat as a state and as a time, and specifically, cyclical time. I believe this cyclicity is represented in the hieroglyph. I’d be lying if I said I could even close to wrap my head around this.

Milky Way over Devil's Tower by David Lane
Milky Way over Devil’s Tower by David Lane

In Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred (highly recommended), Jeremy Naydler explains the mythic becoming-manifest of the universe. I am probably doing violence to the Egyptians’ beautiful and sophisticated ontology in my effort to summarize, but in the Heliopolitan cosmology as my puny brain understands it, Atum, all-that-is, the Monad, sort of self-coalesces out of the formless void that is Nun, symbolized as water. In this act of coalescence Atum is Kheprer, the act/process of becoming; Atum is the all and the eternal act of creating the all. Atum is the emergence of form from the formless and light from the darkness. As light, Atum is Ra. So Atum is Nun coalesced, and Kheprer and Ra, as well as, of course, Atum, because everything is Atum. Atum creates, by spitting or masturbating, Shu (air, space, atmosphere) and Tefnut (moisture), the first dyad or polarity. Through the sexual union of Shu and Tefnut, Nuit (sky) and Geb (earth) are born. However, Nuit and Geb came into existence as an undivided being, symbolized as two lovers in coitus. Shu separates them, air intervening between earth and sky, and the world and the gods become manifest/differentiated. There’s a repeated motif of one becoming two becoming one becoming two, until finally, with the separation of Nuit and Geb, all the myriad things come into being. You can see what I think is an echo of this cosmology in the Tree of Life (with Atum as Keter, and both Shu and Geb as Chokhmah, perhaps, and Tefnut and Nuit as Binah, etc.–you can map the same deities onto the Tree in different places maybe, and vice versa, but I need to think more on this); it is embedded very deeply within the ontology of the Western Magical Tradition.

Although our human brains and the constraints of language require us to describe this cosmology as a sequence, it is in fact eternal. As you can see from Egyptian paintings, all the generations of gods always-already coexist. As Naydler makes clear, earthly cycles–such as that of the sun rising and setting every day–were essentially seen as symbolic of, or analogues for, divine realities not constrained by time or linearity. Our reality is merely a reenactment. So the rising and setting of the sun is effectively a reification of the eternal becoming and totality of existence.

Where does the sun go when not visible above the horizon? It goes to the Duat, returning to (rejoining? re-becoming?) its non-physically-manifest essence. Naydler writes (pp. 24-26):

“…within Nut’s body is a region that is entirely invisible, entirely beyond the range of sense perception. When the sun enters this region it can no longer be seen, for it has entered a world that exists purely internally. Here there is no ‘external space’ in which it becomes manifest….[The Dwat] is less an Underworld than an innerworld; it is a deeply interior world. If we think of Nut, the goddess of the sky, symbolizing the spiritual order of being, then in passing from the stars that cover her flesh to the invisible interior of her body, we enter into this spiritual order that the visible stars merely gesture toward.

“…Though the Dwat may be conceived of as a kind of place, it is in reality less a place than a ‘condition of being’ that things have when they pass out of physical existence, and before they pass back again into physical existence. So it is where the dead go, and equally where the living come from. Just as the sun, when it rises in the east, is in fact born from the womb of the great goddess, so too are all creatures the children of her womb, the Dwat. All things that come into being in the manifest world come from the Dwat. That is where they preexist, before they are born into the light of day, and that is where they return having relinquished their physical forms.”

So if the visible portion of the solar cycle corresponds to the act of creation (Kheprer-Ra), at night it returns to a state of not-yet-become; there is thus an analogical relationship between the Duat and Nun, the unmanifest, though they are not the same thing any more than the sun is the same thing as the totality of existence. This cyclicity is further emphasized by the fact that the ruler of the Duat is Nuit’s son Osiris, who (in Naydler’s words) “governs the cycles of generation and destruction, of coming into being and passing away to which all creatures are subject.”

Andromeda by Beth Moon
Andromeda by Beth Moon

Why was the Duat understood to be/represented as within the body of Nuit, rather than within the body of Geb, or Shu, or Tefnut? Perhaps Gordon will give us his take on that in Star.Ships, but since it hasn’t come out yet, I shall speculate: The earth has its own cycles, of course, but it doesn’t participate in the cycle that unfolds in the sky every day. Each day, the sun runs its course from east to west and then the sky becomes dark and the stars become visible; by contrast, the earth remains relatively static. The solar cycle thus has an obvious symbolic correlation to the life cycles of mortal beings being born, living, dying. Nuit only becomes visible when the sun has “died”, so it makes all kinds of sense that the “place” you go when your physical manifestation dies, and the place from which new life emerges (like the rising sun), is mapped onto Nuit. But it must always be understood that this mapping was analogic. In the New Kingdom Book of Gates, the Duat is shown in the middle of Nun (there’s the resonance with Nun again). The text states, “Osiris encircles the Duat.” Osiris, whose body literally forms a circle, is depicted holding Nuit, who in turn holds up the sun (Ra) (this image can be found on Page 26 of Temple of the Cosmos). In this image, then, Osiris is the “veil”, the border of the Duat and thus the state (and act?) of transformation between physical and non-physical or inner and outer existence. And we see that Nuit is outside of this, in the manifest/visible world, as dependent on the Duat for her manifestation as is everything else in the universe. While the Duat is, in some sense, in her, it is also original to her.

I begin to get a sense of Egyptian ontology as a sort of pulse, an ebb and flow, of emanation/exteriorization/concretization. I can visualize it, but as yet I can’t find the words to describe it. At first I was ready to respectfully disagree with Gordon about Nuit  “sleeping underground,” but in the metaphorical sense of the word–something secret or hidden–it is perfect.

I suspect those of us who speak Indo-European languages have difficulty getting into anything remotely like Egyptian headspace because we are heirs to a very different Eurasian ontology/cosmology, hinted at in our vocabularies, in which the dead are below us and the gods are above us in “heaven” or an “upper world”. This spatial relationship is so fossilized in our languages that trying to talk outside of it is, to borrow Alan Watts’ phrase, rather like trying to bite your own teeth. So on the one hand, you have this Egyptian cosmology at the foundation of and ubiquitous within the WMT, but on the other, it remains damnably hard to grasp intellectually.

And maybe that’s for the best, as it forces us to experience it rather than abstracting it. It is a microcosm of the larger truth that these things can’t be accurately described in any language. Our words are just approximations of the reality, just as for the Egyptians, the world of sensory perceptions was a vague approximation of divine, cosmic realities.

Mercury Retrograde and chthonic Hermes – addendum

Hermes

I wrote my post on Mercury Rx and Hermes Khthonios before listening to Gordon’s interview with astrologer Austin Coppock on the Rune Soup podcast, which for various reasons I didn’t have a chance to listen to until today. Funnily enough, though, I actually wrote the post the same day the podcast aired, scheduling it to be punished a few days later. I guess great (or weird) minds think alike! Check out the whole interview, or if you are just interested in Mercury Rx and how it relates to Hermes’ underworld aspect, I’ve cued it up at the link below:

Discussion of Mercury Retrograde lasts until 1:07:45, and then moves on to other transits for this year–all very interesting.

Mercury Retrograde and chthonic Hermes

Mercury Retrograde and chthonic Hermes | Otherwise
“Axis Mundi” scarf by–who else?–Hermes.

 

Today Mercury goes direct again, leaving its first retrograde of 2016 (though the effects of the retrograde will still be felt as late as mid-February). This year, Mercury spends all or part of each retrograde in an earth sign–the first retrograde in Capricorn-Aquarius, the second in Taurus, and the third in Virgo and Libra–and this seemed like a good opportunity to delve into the chthonic aspects of the Messenger god.

Mercury is a big player in my horoscope, generally forming a team with Jupiter, so I think a lot about its astrological shenanigans, and sometimes feel them quite acutely. (It was classic Mercury Rx when my credit card company decided I was dead, for example.) Although the planets are not the same as the deities, my approach to astrology entails diving deep into myths. This often reveals nuances to the planets and houses that I wouldn’t see otherwise.

Hermes has always struck me as quite unusual among the Greek gods because he has a finger in every pie–there’s hardly an aspect of life that doesn’t seem to fall under his purview. As much as I rail against narrowly constraining what a deity is supposed to be a “god of“, in this case I admit it was hard to connect the dots in a way that would help me better understand the astrology of Mercury. Here is a list, not comprehensive mind you, of things governed by Hermes (also check out the three-part summary of a Hermes-themed conference on the Digital Ambler and see also this list of Hermes epithets):

  • livestock and shepherds
  • athletes
  • gambling
  • theft
  • psychopompery
  • divination by sortilege
  • magic
  • masturbation
  • comic theater, particularly in iambic pentameter and the more low-brow the better
  • communication
  • travel
  • electronics
  • commerce

And there are what seem to me weird contradictions as well. For example, Hermes is associated with seduction, animal fertility, and was often represented simply as an erect phallus (or a head and a phallus), yet unlike other Greek deities he’s not depicted as shagging (or raping) every passing nymph or prince/ss. Furthermore, despite being so intimately connected with things humans love–and being beloved himself as a deity who was particularly friendly to humans and our interests–Hermes didn’t have any big temples or an organized cultus. I always thought it was weird that as a psychopomp, a speedy traveler, and a protector of livestock, Hermes is not associated with horses.

At first I thought maybe we were looking at the vestiges of a syncretic merging of multiple deities way back in prehistory, but I now think it’s more likely that Hermes’ mythos preserves his evolution**, perhaps better than with any other Classical deity. It’s said that Hermes was a late addition to the Olympic pantheon, but he seems to me one of the most “primitive” of the Olympians, or at least to preserve more archaic qualities.

I’m not the first to reach that conclusion. In his essay “Hermes and the Creation of Space”, Murray Stein quotes the Oxford Classical Dictionary, which states that Hermes

“…is probably one of the oldest [of the gods] and most nearly primitive in origin….and signifies the daemon who haunts or occupies a heap of stones, or perhaps a stone, set up by the roadside for some magical purpose.”

This image is vividly animist and reminds me of the stones that serve as god-bodies at Shinto shrines. In what I suspect are the earlier conceptions of Hermes, he is present in liminal places, interstices between the known and unknown, such as crossroads, the mountain slopes where shepherds grazed their flocks (shepherds are always liminal types, being of civilization but rarely in it), and most importantly the boundary between worlds. Through experience people came to know Hermes as a friend in need, and he thus became a guardian of travelers and outsiders; then, by extension, a granter of luck, and in turn a patron of risky pastimes like business and gambling. In modern times, digital communications, electronics, and the postal service were added to his bag of tricks.

While Hermes as we most often see him represented–a beautiful, lithe youth with winged sandals–seems airy and even whimsical, a look at his signature tool and symbol, the kerykeion or caduceus, reveals another side.

The kerykeion is a winged staff entwined by two serpents. It unites a symbol of the sky or heavens–wings–with a symbol of the earth and rebirth–snakes. It is thus a kind of axis mundi. With the kerykeion Hermes could put anyone to sleep or wake them (the space/time between sleep and wakefulness also being his territory of course). With the axis mundi for a staff, an antinomian patronage of all kinds of outsiders and boundary-crossers, the ability to instigate dreaming and to travel between worlds upper, middle, and lower, Hermes starts to look very shamanic* indeed. (And a lot like David Bowie, actually.) One can’t help but notice certain parallels with another antinomian deity represented by a phallus, and associated with the axis mundi: Shiva.

Returning to the vagaries of the planet Mercury, its astrological associations are traditionally more in line with what I think of as the elaborated, evolved form of Hermes the Messenger. The planet governs travel, study and teaching, information, and communications. When Mercury goes retrograde, all these areas can be turned topsy-turvy as Mercury shows his trickster persona. It is often recommended that during Mercury retrograde one should do some introspection, since outrospection (is that a word? It is now! Thanks, Mercury!) is likely to go awry anyway.

Now when it comes to the kinds of experiences we conventionally term “shamanic,” Pluto, Saturn, and Neptune have much greater claim to rule them. Moreover such experiences are more often associated with the 8th house and its associated sign, Scorpio, which belongs to the water element, not earth. However, since 2016’s Mercury Retrogrades will be in earth signs, it seems only appropriate to be inspired by chthonic Hermes***–his psychopomp role/epithet–and dig deep.

Taurus, which Mercury will be reversing through in late April-May, seems an appropriate sign for the god of livestock. Cattle were one of the principal forms of wealth in the ancient (and indeed not so ancient) world, and Taurus is very much concerned with value: determining what is of value and then stockpiling as much of it as possible. The accrual of wealth, in other words. Taurus likes to get (at least metaphorically) fat and sleek in lush green pastures, with everything it needs close to hand and in ample quantities. We can expect this Mercury Rx to call our values into question and perhaps force us to face the death–in Hermetic terms–of our Precious, whatever form it may take. Instead of being lucky for gamblers and businesspeople, this chthonic Mercury might take them on a journey to some shadowy places where they have to confront fears and experiences of scarcity. The more stubborn and bullheaded we are, the harder the lesson will be.

Mercury will enter Virgo in its third retrograde during September. Virgo is traditionally ruled by Mercury. Virgo is the sign of service and helpfulness, and Mercury/Hermes is the only Olympian in service to other deities–he serves his father Zeus as messenger. Even more than service, though, Virgo represents the separation of pure from impure, sacred from profane. That is, Virgo is concerned both with determining what is pure and sacred, and with taking the necessary actions to keep it that way. Contrary to popular astrological claims, I have yet to meet a Virgo who was tidy, and I have known, and lived with, many Virgos. Virgo is not about being neat, it’s about tending the eternal sacred flame of the inner temple–that is the service they give. A keen mind and even keener sight is needed to sort the wheat from the chaff, and Virgo is ever on the lookout for stray chaff that may have sneaked in or been missed by some lackadaisical sign like that awful Sagittarius****. Virgo likes nothing better than to draw boundaries and then police them; Hermes likes nothing better than to cross boundaries and play with them. Chthonic Hermes’ power is in his ability to move between worlds. If you try to contain him within one, he is nowhere. That kind of thing makes Virgo crazy. So when Mercury Rx goes into Virgo we can predict a dissolution of boundaries that causes confusion and unease, as if we suddenly fell through the looking glass or down the rabbit hole. Categories that have always seemed set in stone will suddenly be seen to be arbitrary and fragile. The only way to deal with it is to lean in, let go, and get right with neither-nor. If you’re not willing to meet what’s on the other side, why go to the crossroads in the first place?

 

*I know the term is problematic, but I don’t have time to go into it here, so let’s just use shaman in the conventionally-understood, generalized way.

**There is no implicit value judgment here. Evolved simply means changed over time.

***Hermes Khthonios, “Hermes of the Earth”–by extension, the underworld.

****Said the Sagittarius, speaking from experience.

 

 

Revisiting the topic of deities

Jareth
Do the gods get tired of living up to our expectations?

I seem to get some of the most in-depth comments as replies to posts I write about deities. Often these comments are challenging, but I welcome them. Some of them disagree with me on perfectly valid grounds but I also think I haven’t made my ideas completely clear, which is probably because they aren’t very clear to begin with. So I’m revisiting the topic today to make clear my deity manifesto, partly to better understand my own thoughts and partly to make it explicit where I stand, in case it isn’t already.

I’m not trying to tell you what to think

First and foremost. I hope this goes without saying, but sometimes people seem to react as if I’m saying they need to realign their personal gnosis of Deity X to fit with my (typically historical, intellectual, and abstract) suggestions. Nothing could be further from the truth, because…

I have no idea what deities are

Beyond saying that deities seem to be powers bigger than what we usually call “spirits” and smaller than the full totality of all that exists, I sincerely do not know what they are. I have been in the presence of some big powers, in places that were supposed to house or represent deities. And it is manifestly clear that when people dial a god/dess’ number, someone answers. But who is on the other end of the line? This is part of why I’m a polytheist–I believe, as much on the basis of probability than for any other reason, that more than one of these entities exists–but I’m not a devotional polytheist. I don’t know what or whom I would be devoting myself to.

In fact, I’ve arrived at the point where I find the words god and goddess pretty much useless. It is pretty clear that as abstract conceptual categories, they are not at all helpful, as I have argued before (also here). These words are packed full of so much baggage, yet at the same time they don’t really explain anything; every time I use them I feel I should specifically define them, which would take ages. I think from now on they have to be put in problem-quotes like “Celtic”.

I have no idea what deities want

I don’t even know that they “want” anything as we understand that, but what I mean is, who the hell knows what they are up to? Dogs will sooner understand algebra than we will understand deities’ motives. This was actually one of the most disturbing realizations I’ve ever come to. It took me probably a year to stop feeling creeped out all the time (now I’m just creeped out when I think about it).

I’m certainly not going to tell deities, whatever they are, what they can and can’t do. I am very cognizant of the fact that there’s no such thing as coincidence in magic, and maybe no such thing as an accident either. If you accept the proposition that deities exist, you have to also accept that they have agency and consciousness; to what extent, then, are they involved in changing perceptions of them?

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know our history/myths

Nevertheless I guess I’m just not postmodern enough to feel ok with wholesale embrace of any and all UPG and rejection of historical accuracy such as we know it. It drives me crazy when fundamentalist Christians spout nonsense that is diametrically opposed to the Christian theology they claim to believe, evidently out of rank ignorance if not anti-intellectual know-nothingism. We should do better. For too long in the neo-pagan community the same ideas–e.g., ones from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess–have been recycled, frequently plagiarized, over and over. Perhaps it is the case that Mór Rígain is happy to be conceptualized as a war goddess; but even if that is true–and I for one have no idea if it is–does that mean we shouldn’t be aware of earlier conceptualizations/representations of her? I wrote a post on my herbal blog a couple years ago about how the caduceus came to replace the asklepian as the symbol of medicine, and a commenter suggested that maybe it was no accident, as Hermes could reasonably be considered a patron of the healing arts. And indeed, I agree that is possible and a legitimate way to interpret the history–but I would still argue that we should know what the facts are (to the extent that we can–I realize history has its problems).

Also, I like to study and analyze myths. I have since I was in the 4th or 5th grade (to answer the question Gordon asks his podcast guests, “Were you a weird kid?”–yes, yes I was). Myths don’t tell us what the deities are, but they have many layers and facets and if we squeeze them we get wonderful new insights into the Nature of Things (and what is history but another kind of myth?). That’s all I’m doing with these posts.

What are the implications?

That’s it. That’s the question, the whole reason I keep nattering on about deities in the first place. If we accept that deities are real, what does it say about Reality that they seem to be more responsive to our expectations than they are to facts?

(I am reminded of the scene in Labyrinth where Jareth says, “Everything that you wanted I have done. You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn’t that generous?”)

What does it mean for us if our calls are always answered, but we don’t know by whom? What does it mean that no two people’s UPG is the same? Shouldn’t we be concerned when we find ourselves getting defensive or unsettled in the face of someone else’s conflicting experience of a deity? (I know I sometimes do.) On the grand scale, the historical facts mean nothing compared to the potential implications of these, but for me they provide a necessary reference point against which to frame the questions.

I don’t have anything invested in making people agree with me on deities because I’m interested in dialogue. You might be surprised to know–given how much I’ve blathered about them and how much I love myth–that for the most part Working with deities doesn’t play a big role in my life (though like everything else this may change). I don’t usually feel the need to put names or personalities on forces of nature and landscape, and when I address them I just use the commonly accepted name of the phenomenon or species (e.g., “wind”, “rock”, “oak”).

So I don’t need a unified theory of deities, I don’t need for the mysteries to be solved, but I do crave some philosophical conversation about them. Why do we say “armchair philosophy” like it’s a bad thing? I don’t see why we can’t philosophize in comfortable furniture. So let’s do!

Priorities, not resolutions

prioritiesdemotivator

I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution person. New Year’s was just never a thing in my family. I think it’s because we are all history buffs, some of us are or have been archaeologists, and we’re accustomed to thinking in long timelines. The passing of another 365 days isn’t all that interesting when you are habituated to, say, a 5000-year span, even if it does correspond to a trip around the sun. Another thing about a deep fascination with history and big cycles of time is that you learn there is no such thing as progress, and nothing new under the sun. It’s also hard to get excited about the New Year because it is totally divorced from the turn of the seasons in temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. The beginning of spring is super exciting! If it corresponded to the New Year, I could get into that…but no. So combine all that with the fact that I’m not much of a drinker, and basically I’m no fun at New Year’s parties. (I do like fireworks though. Shiny colors!)

I don’t make resolutions because there is nothing about the beginning of another arbitrary group of 365 days that makes me think I’ll have any more resolve this year than last. I don’t really set New Year goals either, because somehow the idea of tying the goal to a very abstract, arbitrary date makes me feel it’s bound to go unrealized, like a kind of enchantment for failure.

Instead I set priorities. Or rather, I have previously kind of vaguely imagined some nebulous guidelines that might have been priorities–but this year, I consciously articulated them so I can Work them.

It was necessary because I now have even more irons in the fire than ever. Even as I’m writing resumes and cover letters and trying to get paying work, I’m trying not to get too much work so that I can have enough time for the more important Work here on the farm. (Officially, the farm isn’t a farm, and doesn’t have a name; but my roommate and I have dubbed it Firefly Farm for the zillions of fireflies that light up the meadow in summer.) I regard this as capital-W Work–for reasons I’ll explain momentarily–but it has the potential to be income-generating down the line. It’s just there’s a lot to do to get to that point, and it turns out farming isn’t for the impatient. And I am very impatient.

By this point you are probably sick to death of hearing my random musings and feelings, so let’s get down to the brass tacks–maybe my method will work for someone else too, who knows?

First I realized there is a lot of Work to be done, and it feels like nowhere near enough time to do it. So I will have to get more organized. Organization is something I am not really good at. Actually, I’m great at organizing information, especially for other people, but my own life is a mess. So this will be a steep learning curve.

Second, I reminded myself that I have to start where I am and be willing to start small and slow. I have visions of glorious vegetable gardens and flourishing beehives, but when it comes to taking concrete steps to create them, I balk, worrying that I will mess up and they won’t be perfect, and then all that money and time and effort will be wasted… Even though I know it’s never a waste if you’re learning from it, and there’s no other way to learn but to try, I still allow perfectionism to hamstring me. This is another steep learning curve.

And so, I realized I would have to define and articulate my priorities. These do not have to be tied to calendar year 2016, and they don’t have to be forever, but they do have to start immediately and they do have to be long-term. Whatever they are, they have to be something that I would be ok with, if every single thing I did in 2016 had to relate to them in some way.

Now for those of you of a more earthy, practical bent, this will seem laughably simple if not downright inane. But for water-fire types like me, this is a huge deal and very difficult. If you too tend to juggle many projects at once, none of them receiving adequate time, attention, or effort to ever reach completion; or if you are torn between the things you want to do and the things you “should” do; or if you have a lot of great ideas that never seem to get off the ground, perhaps setting some priorities will help. (I also recommend checking out Ivy’s Practical Magic Project Management series.)

I debated about whether to share mine. I mean, I’m sure no one cares, right? And anyway, it’s very personal so it’s embarrassing. But I wanted to prove I do actually d0 some Work sometimes, I’m not all book learning and armchair theorizing. So without further ado, here are my priorities:

  1. Become a skilled magician. This is not about gaining power or material benefit for myself–though if that’s what you’re into, you do you. For me it’s obvious that magic is how the universe works, and I want to understand it better, experience it more fully, and work with it instead of against it.
  2. Become skilled at life-sustaining technologies. This means low-environmental-impact, relatively “low” tech such as making stuff you need by hand (sewing, knitting, woodworking…), harvesting energy and water, and growing and foraging food and medicine. Not only is my intention to support myself and my family, and to help support my community, but also to integrate harmoniously into the landscape and spiritscape. The key word here is life (I’m an animist after all). Most of the stuff related to the development of Firefly Farm fits under this heading. I am guided by two bits of wisdom in this, which I call my operating principles: First, use appropriate effort–as much as necessary, but only as much as necessary, only when and where necessary. (I “know” this but seem to require relearning it all the time.) Second, as you get older, work in a lower gear–slower, but with more power and focus. Now that I’m in my late 30s, my energy can no longer keep up with my impatience and tendency to constantly accrue new projects and goals, but I do have more wisdom, power, mental fortitude, and endurance.
  3. Become a skilled herbalist. Herbal medicine is something I love learning about and practicing, and is a way to give back to my community.

Now all of these are things you could spend a lifetime working on and never achieve to your satisfaction–that’s why they’re priorities and not goals. No doubt you will have noticed that #1 and #3 can actually be subsumed under #2. I could have collapsed them all together, but that would have made the single priority too big to deal with. Breaking it into subcategories was necessary to keep focused on specific activities, but I doubt I could handle more than 3. Your mileage may vary.

Once you’ve got your priorities defined, it becomes easier to see what actions each one requires, but also (perhaps more importantly) what actions don’t matter and aren’t useful. You can also easily identify two-birds-one-stone actions that fall under multiple priority headings, and thus should receive special emphasis. And it helps me deal with two things I struggle with: Procrastination–when I can see how an unpleasant activity (writing cover letters) contributes to something I deeply desire (money for seeds, yarn, and chicken feed), it’s easier to get myself motivated–letting my own needs, wishes, and expectations take a back seat to other people’s. Lest we forget, you can also enchant for your priorities, once they are defined, or make sigils to represent them as I like to do, pray for them, meditate on them… Obviously for enchantment purposes, you will need to define more concrete sub-goals, but you can see how the smaller goals slot into overarching, long-term workings related to the priorities.

Because organizing my time for greater efficiency is utterly alien to me and has always failed before, I am going to try a new method for scheduling and recording what I do: bullet journaling. It’s a simple, modular, analogue system that accommodates seemingly infinite creative tweaks. I’ve always been a journaler but hell, you’ve seen these blog posts–you can imagine what my journals are like. I can’t stand to look at them again once I’ve dumped my verbal diarrhea into them so they are basically just paper mind-toilets. Periodically I shred them all, and it’s impossible to find any useful information I’ve previously written down so I frequently have to re-invent the wheel. Now, everything is going to be recorded, in a consistent and organized format, in a single place, and archived for later reference. Will I be able to stick with it? Time will tell. But my chances are vastly improved by staying focused on how the journaling contributes to all three priorities. It sounds mundane but it’s actually one of the early steps in this Work.

As a final note I have to admit that “priorities” is kind of an inadequate name. I could also have titled them “values”, “ethics”, or “mission statements”. Activities that fall under these headings are ways of putting my spiritual and moral beliefs into practice, and I treat them as such. They are both devotional and organizational, and so far they are Working.

…and then I died

Good news, everyone! Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated!

I started out today still bummed about David Bowie, but found out that we have more in common than just being glorious sexy artistic geniuses. You see, today I found out from a credit card company that I am dead. (Surprise! I do think it’s a little rude that no one had the courtesy to tell me this when it happened.)

They expressed great surprise at not having any record of who told them I died, or when I died, but there it was on the computer screen–I’m dead. When the representative realized that the name of the person speaking to him was the same as the name of the (dead) account holder he did an actual double-take. After what seemed like hours on hold, I was able to assure them that I am in fact alive…as far as I know…I’m starting to feel less and less confident that being on the phone with credit card companies isn’t some sort of terrifying bardo, or even an outer circle of hell. It really starts to make you think.

The icing on this cake of weirdness is the soundtrack, a mashup of Rainbow Connection and Chubby Little Loser that has been stuck in my head all day. Somehow I feel like St. Ziggy would appreciate this.

Like a boss.

Magic only ever seems to make sense in retrospect. I mean, how often do you even see it for what it is while it’s happening? And so it was with David Bowie’s death. On some level I always knew that he stood out from the crowd of even the rock’n’roll icons, but he has been famous my whole life: Until today, I have never lived in a world where David Bowie wasn’t a star. Indeed, as with many girls of my generation, you could say he had quite an impact on my development. But as is so often the case with something that’s just part of the foundation of your world (and magic in general) even when you think you get it, you don’t realize how important it was until afterwards.

No doubt like many of you, a couple days ago I read Gordon’s review of Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar, liked the music a lot, nodded along (nudge nudge wink wink) with the suggestion that there are–have always been–layers of occult meaning beneath Bowie’s lyrics and personae.

And then Bowie drops the mic and exits stage left like a fucking boss. A wizard boss. Leaving what you realize, in retrospect, is maybe the best and most humorous TTFN letter of all time.

For months I’ve been struggling with stupefying brain fog that makes it difficult to even have coherent thoughts, let alone remember them long enough to write them down, and I’m no brilliant cultural commentator in the best of times. So I don’t have anything clever or insightful to sum this up. It just felt like I had to mark the moment somehow, with people who would understand. I have a feeling I’ll be mulling this one over for a long time.