It is sadly true that in many pagan and magical communities, individuals who have much to gain from working together are spending too much time and energy in pointless arguments, paranoia and hostility. We’ve all seen it — the “witch wars,” the malicious gossip, the fragmentation of communities over issues both great and small. Writing about the disconnections we encounter, as I did in the last issue, can seem like nothing more than complaints and accusations, but it’s necessary to look at our communities and groups with discernment, and to be honest about what we find there.
I feel this is doubly important now, because of the fractious and divisive tone the over-culture has adopted. You see it everywhere — from political discourse to mundane interactions. Media portrays a country divided, with the rhetoric running hot, violent and hyperbolic. Casual violence — in word and gesture if not outright blows — seems to be in the air we breathe. There are many reasons for this, but the illusion of separateness is at the heart of this phenomenon. Only by refusing to view other beings as worthy of respect, forbearance and compassion are we able to do and say the hateful, hurtful things that have replaced common civility in public discourse. I’ve done this myself, and I know it was my inability to trust, my unwillingness to see others as more than obstacles in my way, that was at the heart of my hatefulness.
Lately I found myself becoming enraged at the terrible traffic in my neighborhood, and “talking smack” about mutual friends with a colleague, for no reason at all. The negative emotional charge behind my reactions to both these events was shocking to me, and caused me to look further. My feelings of powerlessness and incompetence were at the base. Disconnected from my own sense of power and worth, it was an easy task to disconnect the very real humans in front of me from their own right to courtesy. Lacking respect for myself, it was easy to deny it to everyone else.
Alienation is the primary mental state of our culture, and the mechanisms that should be acting to bring us together are instead fostering the alienation and isolation, the outright paranoia of the other. “We” (i.e. “us”) are not “them,” and you can’t trust them. This wariness may be a logical precaution, but as magicians, we have to see look more closely at this message. Fostering this illusion of separation and hostility is in the interests of the dominator culture for various reasons — it distracts us from important things with red herrings; it discourages the building of alliances and coalitions; it reduces public discourse to the most infantile of bickering. All of this distracts us from the most pressing matters that demand our attention. We as magicians must be able to peer through this illusion of separation to see things as they are, connected in a web of interdependence so subtle and grand that we can only perceive tiny portions of it.
Connection is the natural state of life, not isolation. Predator and prey, seed and sower, flower and pollinator — it’s all about relationships and connections, give and take, a delicate balance that demands participation from all beings.
Of Wolves and Willows
I heard a report on NPR years ago that brought home to me the vast webs of connection that all Earth’s species share. In a move that is still controversial, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. Years later, biologists assessed the wolves’ impact on the terrain.
What they discovered surprised them. Creek beds that had been dry for years were suddenly full of water and wildlife. With wolves absent from the area, the elk had come out of the high country to graze in the low-lying willow stands along creek beds. Thus stripped of cover, the creeks would dry up. But with the wolves back in the landscape, the elk retreated back to the hills, and the willows were able to reestablish themselves, bringing along mink, otter, frogs, amphibians and songbirds. No one could have anticipated that reintroducing apex predators back into their former food chain would reestablish songbirds and crayfish as well, but it was true. We removed the wolves from the landscape long ago to serve human needs, and there were negative consequences we had in no way anticipated.
If those connections are rampant in the natural world, why do we think they don’t apply to us humans, and to human interactions and endeavors? The over-culture wants us to believe they don’t. Case in point: Many years ago I attended a lecture by Robert Bly, poet and a founder of the Men’s movement, and Deborah Tannen, linguistician and feminist scholar. The media hyped this event as the “battle of the sexes” and a “shouting match” between two polarized opponents. It was nothing of the kind. It was a lively discussion about gender, sex and power, where the tone stayed respectful and amiable, even when they disagreed. Bly and Tannen were able to discuss sensitive topics without degenerating into name-calling or antagonism, and were able to find more common ground than not. But that illusion of separation was what local media chose to focus on — men and women have different agendas, therefore they cannot be on the same side. Since they disagree on some things, they must disagree on all things, and what’s more, they must also be determined to destroy the other’s credibility. The over-culture sees anger and antagonism as logically following any kind of difference — if people aren’t the same, they must be in direct competition. This assumption that everyone is in an adversarial relationship has had a negative impact on all of us. This philosophical stance informs our thinking, if even on the most subtle level. It is our responsibility to look for a higher truth, and to find ways of coming together.
Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis
This is the promise of the Aeon. If we live in polarized times, with the discursive pendulum swinging wildly from one extreme to another, we as magicians have a responsibility to find that new middle ground that is informed by both the wisdom and follies of the past while creating something better. With clear-eyed discernment and openhearted compassion, we see through the illusions of separation, and resolve them in our own psyches. It is our responsibility to look beyond mere surfaces and to not fall prey to the prejudices and hatreds socialized into us. Each conscious soul must part the Veil of this illusion themselves, in order to fully integrate this lesson. The illusion of separation exists as a test to us and a challenge to our imaginations, to see if we can transcend our pain and powerlessness, to create something better. After all, we are divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.
How do we get past this illusion of separation? Through engagement with the “real world,” the mundane, our dharma. For the next month, try to discover those connections in your life that are rendered invisible. Where does your tap water come from? Where does your garbage go? Where does your food come from? How well do you know your neighbors, your town? You might be surprised at the answers. You might also find new ways of connecting with the world, with other people, new ways of creating a better, more conscious life. And wouldn’t that be powerful act of magick?
©2010 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.
A while back, I went to see a movie after my piano lesson, mostly on a whim. Feeling virtuous for forgoing the nachos (how can something so nasty be so tempting?), I settled into my seat and after silently judging the previews (“yup,” “cool,” “no way,” “Western civilization has officially collapsed.”), I watched my film.
In it, the two heroes fought, first with each other. Eventually, one of the characters, tamed partially by the love of a woman, joined up with the other hero and together they managed to thwart a mighty foe. One hero offers peace to the foe, and the other objects. The foe rejects the peace offer, and is destroyed.
I’ve seen this movie before. In fact, it’s a pretty old movie — it first played in a Sumerian scribe’s head about a thousand years before the common era, and the earliest written version we have is from the 7th century BCE. In that version, the first hero was Gilgamesh, the second was Enkidu, and the monster they defeat is named Humbaba. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times since, or parts of it. This film is the first time, however, that Enkidu was a Vulcan.
Every movie borrows some plot from some ancient story (although, to be fair, some use more modern myths as well). And you don’t need a degree in literature to recognize it. With or without a literature degree, audiences are rarely surprised by plots. After all, who really thinks that the hero will die before achieving his or her goal? Even the surprises of movies famous for them — The Sixth Sense, The Crying Game — has little to do with the plot. The goals and outcome would remain the same whether the surprise were there or not, although the surprise does complicate them. The simplest plot outline — a hero tries to regain faith in himself after failure; an enemy soldier finds himself struggling with his duty — would remain intact with or without the twist. And everyone watching expects the action to play out in these predictable ways.
We expect our stories to have these mythological structures because we know that all stories are built of the same stuff. The building blocks of stories — I’ll call them “mythemes” — are the fundamental particles of character, personality, motivation, setting, and action. They’re not forces of nature; we learn them as we learn to speak. They’re the parts of our first stories, and more importantly, the parts of our culture’s stories. Each mytheme comes prepackaged with expectations, so that if the author invokes the mytheme of “sea,” we know that we will deal with isolation, travel, and exile. If the author invokes the mytheme of “mountain,” we expect revelation and hardship and struggle for attainment. When the author places a trickster in the story, we know that seemingly random actions will lead to life-changing results. When the author paints a character as a knight, we know that the he or she will fight with his or her superior, feel guilty for neglecting family. In other words, we know what’s coming because we know all these stories in their fragmentary parts already.
The magical bit comes in when we realize that what we call our lives is a movie that we play in our own minds. When we do magic, we are not flinging about energy to push stuff around. We’re redefining the universe in which we find ourselves. Magic is a much more radical practice than most magicians realize: every time we do magic, we destroy the entire universe and remake it in our own image. Of course, no one notices — except that our lives change, and we seem perhaps more fortunate than others.
Whether magician or not, we define events in our lives as mythemes in our personal stories. An argument at work is a rebellion against the king. A missed bus is a disaster on par with Ulysses’ lost ships. Sometimes, this tendency to tell stories about the events in our lives can get us in trouble. Your secretary not collating the report properly can become Brutus stabbing you in the back, if you let yourself imagine that it is. On the other hand, even those who do not know magic benefit from arranging their lives into stories. We can make sense of events by seeing how their mythemes fit together. This story-making can save us cognitive effort. Similarly, although sometimes it is useful to resist story-making, it can also be useful to engage in it more consciously — and this is one definition of magic.
Our magical goals are the mythemes of ancient stories. Love, money, happiness, even self-actualization, are all the goals of particular heroes whose archetypes we can wear like a coat. If we wish to go home but cannot, we are Odysseus. If we wish to shift and react to events with cleverness and skill, we are Taliesin. Imagine, for a moment, that you are heading to work in the morning. How different is the experience of stop and go traffic on the Dan Ryan (or whatever other route you take) if it’s a desert you must cross out of duty, a slow stream carrying you into a mysterious forest, or a mountain you must climb to achieve wisdom? You can manage your mood — and, magically, the result of your work day — merely by telling yourself a different story.
One way of seeing magical ritual is as a deliberate rearrangement of mythemes in order to revise the stories of our lives. In this view of ritual, when we pick up the athame to make a circle, we are Gilgamesh and Romulus and every other warrior who ever defended a wall in battle. Similarly, to pick up a wand is to become, for a moment, the mytheme of Ruler — it’s the scepter of the king, the thunderbolt of Zeus, and the magical rod of Enki all at once. We don’t necessarily think consciously that we become these archetypes, but they’re so ingrained in the way we arrange our experiences in story, that we cannot help invoking these archetypes. And, in fact, we live our lives as archetypes. It’s worthwhile (do I really need to put this in an “exercise” box?) to take a few moments to think and maybe write about which archetypes — what characters — you play in your life. You needn’t worry about giving them the “correct” names, of course; you could even rely on names from contemporary fiction. Are you always Spock at work, logical and rational in a society that reacts precipitously, or are you Scotty, fixing the impossible to fix? If you hate Star Trek, you might prefer to ask yourself if you’re Harry or Hermione, Ulysses or Telemachus, Mr. Darcy or Edward Casaubon, Jane or Mr. Rochester?
I’m not arguing that all magic is just psychology, and the only real effect we have on the world is in our own mind. I think we do affect, first and foremost, the mind — but I think matter is a side-effect of mind. By changing the stories we tell ourselves, we change the world we live in not just in our perceptions (although that’s easiest to notice first), but in the world of matter as well.
The Obligatory How To Bit
First, it’s important to have a conscious, rather than the usual unconscious, vocabulary of mythemes. The best way to achieve this vocabulary is by reading the myths, but of course this raises the questions of what myths. It is important to choose myths whose mythemes resonate in our psyches. For most Americans, no matter their background, these are the myths of Greece, Rome, and Iceland. These are the myths that inform most of our culture. Of course, if you feel like an alien in Western culture and frequently find yourself confused at movies everyone else seems to enjoy, perhaps you have a different vocabulary of mythemes. I find anime confusing, for example, because I don’t know the mythemes. (Why is his nose bleeding? What does that have to do with having a crush on someone?) And I didn’t get Xiu Xiu until one of my Chinese friends explained it to me. You can best start with making your unconscious perceptions of patterns more conscious, but it is also possible to become bilingual in myth. The more fluent we are in myth, the more we can understand not just the stories we tell ourselves, but how those stories fit together.
Mythemes aren’t building blocks that fit together any old way; like words, they have a grammar. They fit together in some ways and not in others. You’re more likely to find a sage on a mountain or in a desert than on the ocean, because the grammar of myth fits some mythemes together than others. The grammar of mythemes already encode the likely conflicts in our desires. For example, if we wish to become wealthy, we need to look at some of the mythemes of wealth. Croesus had great wealth, but his overwhelming pride and failure to attend to wisdom led to the fall of his nation. Midas had great wealth, but nearly died because of it, by turning everything he touched to gold. Clearly, if we wish to be rich, we must be aware that our ambivalence will spring from fear of our own pride and greed. We might be led to think of wealth differently then: rather than an acquisition of items of value — real estate in Croesus’ case and gold in Midas’ — we can begin to see wealth as the wisdom to use resources. Hunting around for a story that we can use, we fall finally on Philemon and Baucis — two poor but pious people who, when visited by Zeus disguised as a stranger, offered him the last of their food and were rewarded for it. Now we have a ritual structure: an offer of generosity as an act of faith.
It helps to study not just the myth, but also theories of myth. Joseph Campbell and Robert Graves aren’t exactly regarded highly by contemporary anthropology, but they go a long way to defining an abstract grammar of myth that is invaluable in the study of magic. Campbell, for example, reduces all myths to one ur-story, which simplifies the process of learning the grammar of myth. Instead of memorizing a lot of Greek names, we can start with a framework and use it to hang the names on later. Similarly, Graves’ work is often an unsung and uncited influence on much contemporary Wiccan theology. A reader needn’t accept their theories in the academic sense to find them useful for magic.
Second, it helps to have a system. A system will take the story and translate it into action. For example, if our myth calls for a journey most of us can’t take off a week and travel on a pilgrimage to Greece. But walking about in a circle — circumambulation — is an accepted symbol in Western magical systems for a journey. Fortunately, several convenient pre-made systems of mythemes already exist. If we must represent a figure of authority, and we use either Wicca or Ceremonial Magic, we can grab our wand, no matter what particular device was used in the original myth. Similarly, perhaps Perseus uses a sword to kill the Gorgon, but we can use our athame as a mythemic equivalent in a ritual to confront our own paralyzing fears.
Incidentally, I’ve had good luck using a system as simple as a tarot deck (and in a pinch, a deck of playing cards). Similarly, some magicians do all their magic using systems like the runes, so that drawing the rune tiwaz invokes the whole of the myth of Tyr, with all the attendant strength, victory, and sacrifice, depending on intent. A magical system needn’t be complex, and in fact, one could take one’s favorite myths and reduce them to symbols to create a own magical alphabet of mythemes.
Third, a ritual requires a structure — one that is not, incidentally, noticeably different from Aristotle’s structure of a story. A ritual has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, the magician separates himself or herself from the world. Most western magicians do this by drawing a circle around oneself, but even actions such as fasting, changing into robes or special clothing (or going nude), and ritual baths serve to separate the magician from the world. Once separate, the magician is free to refine the story. The ritual’s middle consists of ritual actions, symbolic reproductions of the story the magician wishes to tell. Inspiration, especially verbal, can be taken from the myths themselves, and symbolic action can be quite abstract. No one needs to slay a serpent to reenact the myth of Apollo’s winning of Delphi. Finally, a ritual ends by reintegrating the magician back into the story of the world, usually by reversing the actions that led to the opening, and often by a quotidian act like the eating of food or drink.
Even outside of rituals, having labels for the habitual patterns in which we find ourselves can help us break out of those patterns, which is of course one of the aims of magic. If you find yourself a lonely, antisocial writer, realize that the “lonely” part of writer is part of the writer mytheme, and not necessarily part of the reality you can live. Similarly, if you are a “struggling artist,” an awareness of the stories of our culture helps you to see that “struggling” need not go with “artist,” but usually does because that’s the story we tell.
The stories we tell as a culture, or myths, may therefore master us or be mastered by us. The magician masters myth, chooses the mythemes of his or her life consciously, and lives deliberately. Many other people simply follow the script written for them, for good or ill. Magic can teach us to revise that script, and have a more meaningful life — and perhaps become contemporary Taliesins and Apolloniuses ourselves, founders and characters in a unique life story.
©2009 by Patrick Dunn.
Minor edits by Sheta Kaey.
Patrick Dunn, author of Postmodern Magic: The Art of Magic in the Information Age and Magic, Power, Language, Symbol: A Magician’s Exploration of Linguistics is a poet, linguist, and writer living near Chicago. He maintains a blog at http://pomomagic.wordpress.com/.
War is hell — neither pretty nor kind, and it is bringing lamentation and suffering to so many in the world right now. People have hated war ever since there was war to be hated. It shouldn’t be terribly surprising then, that Mars — the Roman God of War — was not well liked around Mt. Olympus. He was much maligned by his father Jupiter, his sister Minerva, and all others who preferred peace and order to wanton savagery.
But if Mars is so easy to hate, then why is our media saturated with iconic characters that are clearly born under the influence his planet? Let’s see: Off the top of my head, we’ve got ninjas, samurai, marines, Navy SEALs, Jedi, medieval warriors, Roman gladiators, cowboys, hitmen, gangsters, secret agents, martial artists, renegade cops, and (wait for it. . !) super heroes.
Like it or not (and some of us love it), the red planet of Mars’ namesake is present in all of our birth charts. However, the negative attributes ascribed to the Greco-Roman war god are usually found in individuals who have an afflicted Mars. Mars being a malefic force, a stressed placement in a chart can lead to a very unstable person — someone who throws a punch when diplomacy is called for, or who screams at loved ones against his own heart’s wishes.
A healthy Mars, however, will usually lead to the qualities we revere in our action heroes — men of will, vision, courage. Our Clint Eastwoods, John Waynes, Bruce Lees; our Schwarzeneggers, Stallones, Bruce Willises (Willii?), our Steve McQueens, Jackie Chans, and various James Bonds — these are the guys who put a presentable face on wrathful action.
Turning our attention to the higher echelons of geekdom, there is only one comic book character I can think of who so singularly personifies the Mars archetype. Love him or hate him, Wolverine is about as Mars as you can get as one of the good guys.
When we think of the word “hero,” Wolverine’s gruff visage is hardly the first conjured up. The heroes of myth are usually Mars archetypes who have received Jupiter’s blessing and been given a task from a Saturnine figure.
Perseus, for example, who decapitated Medusa and destroyed the sea monster called Kraken. He wouldn’t have performed these deeds if he had not been given marching orders from Zeus (his father) and Athena, who charged him with an epic task. And while they’re the ones who ordered him around, they’re also the ones that gave him the gifts he needed to succeed. His heroism was bestowed on him by providence.
A modern parallel might be a character like Captain America. The U.S. government granted Jupitarian blessings on skinny, meek Steve Rogers, but they only did it so they could make him into a weapon. Spider-Man is another example: He was granted amazing powers by a freak accident, but was tasked to responsible use of those powers by the dying wish of his Uncle Ben, the man who raised him.
Wolverine was born a mutant; he was born with his healing factor, his heightened senses, and his bone claws. There was no divine hand to guide him along a quest — he was simply thrown out into the world with the innate ability to destroy.
Wolverine was bestowed with his adamantium skeleton by the clandestine Weapon X program, but there’s not much Jupitarian about having metal surgically bonded to your skeleton. No, this transformation seems much more like Pluto’s work, especially if we consider that the Lord of the Underworld is often known as Lord Pluton, God of Hidden Riches. Adamantium is, after all, a very rare and sought after metal.
As for Saturn, the cornerstone of discipline and self-control, well, it’s plain to see that Wolverine has serious issues with authority.
For these reasons, Wolverine is what we call an “anti-hero.” While there’s less glory and bluster in his story, and while he doesn’t always behave in a manner that society would condone, there is a primal element that we can all relate to. He is human because he is animalistic, and is possessed of a brutality that many of us hideaway deep within ourselves.
We relate to his pain, too. Though our own personal torments are not usually quite on par with his, his suffering and frustration are familiar.
His image has been somewhat softened since his early days, but as much as he as labeled as a “super hero,” his anti-hero nature remains at the core of his character. Which is fine — most of the people he eviscerates have it coming.
Logan has a ton of Aries signatures; if we were to assemble a fictional chart for him, it’d probably be where his Sun, Mercury, and Mars all reside. He acts like an Aries, he talks like an Aries, and he sure as hell fights like one.
Aries is Cardinal Fire, represented by the ram in the West and by the dragon in the East. It is the first emergence of divinity, sustained by self-belief and through conflict with others — creating “sparks” with which it can add fuel to its fire.
Like the ram, Aries often seeks out esteem through dominance of others — think of that Aries jerk you know who just savors the experience of butting heads with you. And like dragon, Aries is a paragon of willpower (as evidenced, of course, by its exaltation in the Sun). Though the dragon is a mythical beast, I think we can safely imagine that there’s not much stopping one from doing what it wants. And being possessed of bestial super powers, soaring through the air and affecting the weather, the dragon (like Aries) probably had little regard for the affairs of the other animals down on Earth’s surface.
Wolverine is relatively self-centered. Always standing slightly apart from the rest of the X-Men, always hogging cover space, always taking off at the drop of the hat to explore a lead in the search for his lost past — he’s basically commandeered the entire franchise.
It’s not that he doesn’t care about others. It’s just that he’s the center of his own universe.
Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, as well as the eternal child. In a sense, Wolverine is “first” among the X-Men, being far older than almost any living mutant, but kept relatively young by his mutant healing factor. Despite his age and inflated attitude, his short stature ensures that he’ll always have the nickname of “runt,” another obvious indicator of his eternal childhood. Also like a child, and like a certain other “first man,” Wolverine has a habit of assigning nicknames — “bub” and “darlin'” are his basic means for designations of male and female.
In addition, Wolverine has a tendency to group himself with younger people. Even in a group of young people like the X-Men, he seeks out the youngest as his sidekicks. First there was Kitty Pryde, then Jubilee, and most recently, a young mutant named Armor seems to be soaking up his shadow.
What’s more, straddling the line between totally childish and completely badass, Wolverine is world-famous for his berserker rage, a homicidal frenzy that overtakes him whenever the battle turns serious. While it’s cool to see our angst-ridden anti-hero flip out and kill things, it should also be noted, in correlation with the notion of Aries-as-child, that his berserker rage is a glorified temper tantrum. This is why I, for one, have never really bought Wolverine as a ninja/samurai/master of Japanese martial arts. Because, seriously, when do you ever see him fight in a manner possessed of any discipline? And while one of Aries’ innate qualities is betterment by way of self-mastery, it seems pretty clear that Logan missed a memo somewhere and skipped over all his training to get to the bloodlust.
A final evidence of Aries lies in Wolverine’s most used mutant ability: his healing factor. Unlike Leo, whose fire is sustained by social approval, or Sagittarius, whose fire is simply fueled by excitement and vision, Aries’ runs on self-belief. This can translate into a stubborn “never say die” sort of attitude, so it is appropriate that Logan’s mutation keeps him alive through ordeals that would kill a normal man.
While Aries’ signature is certainly the largest zodiacal signature on Wolverine, the Mars war god’s other half, Scorpio, also seems to have a marked presence. Though I believe Logan’s Sun would have its exaltation in Aries, I’d also believe his second luminary, the Moon, to be fallen in Scorpio.
The Moon is the mysterious foundation of our souls — a bundle of intrinsic needs and desires that we are often unconscious of. And while a good understanding of one’s emotional base is healthy, the Moon often contains mysteries that we have unconsciously locked away from ourselves, truths that we cannot deal with. Dredging up painful psychological complexes can be most unsettling, and the Moon — being the foundational structure of the psyche — should not be unsettled.
At first glance, watery Scorpio, notorious for its connection to stories of intrigue, should be right at home in the mysterious structure of the Moon. The problem is that in all those detective or spy stories, the Scorpionic character is the one who works toward unraveling the mystery — in short, Scorpio doesn’t like any mystery that it isn’t at the center of. And so, a Scorpio Moon relentlessly tries to solve itself, which is equal to a drilling of, and eventual negation of, this all-important emotional base.
This circumstance is pretty easy to apply to Wolverine. If the Moon is a mysterious foundation, it can also be a person’s past. A different man might be content to let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with enjoying his new family with the X-Men and finding gratification in super heroics. Not Wolverine. No matter how excruciating the truth is, Wolverine cannot help but delve into his past at every possible opportunity. And this is a past that is most painful to relive, and was probably buried for a good reason. Though he’s lived for ten lifetimes, he’s seen nearly all his loved ones cut down at the start of their lives.
Battle Without Honor or Humanity
Considering his mass appeal, rich characterization, and constant involvement, it seems odd that Wolverine doesn’t get a lot of glory. There’s not too many major villains that he’s toppled — sure, he’ll get a good cut in on Magneto every now and then, but that’s usually only after he’s been nailed by Cyclops, punched by Rogue, and has been mind-raped by Professor Xavier. And even then, he only really tags the super villains when he sneaks up on them. Most of the time, Wolverine’s the guy who’s ripping through henchmen while others rumble with the big fish.
Again, this is an echo of the Greek God, Ares. Ares was bested by Athena, defeated twice by Hephaestus, and was injured by mortals on two separate occasions. There aren’t very many stories about the war god winning important battles. Those big victories usually rely more on clever thinking (Hermes,) a brilliant strategy (Athena,) or raw power (Zeus.) Battle frenzy has its place, but that place is usually reserved for chewing through the ranks of foot soldiers. That’s what Ares was good at, and that’s what Wolverine’s good at.
A Venusian Menagerie
He’s no Remy LeBeau, but Wolverine does all right with the ladies. He usually ends up with long-standing relationships that are ultimately doomed, but which carry explosive emotional weight for him until they disintegrate.
Many of the gods, following Zeus’ example, would just have sex with whomever they pleased with little regard for the consequences. But Ares, despite his gruff function, would have relatively consistent and consensual consorts. The most notable, of course, being with Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty.
Venus is represented in the tarot as The Empress, and Wolverine tends to attract women in that sort of role. His late lover, Silverfox, ended up being the leader of a terrorist organization known as HYDRA. He was betrothed to Mariko Yashida for years, before the yakuza princess was tricked into an untimely death. He had a relationship with another beautiful crime lordess in Madripoor, Tigerlily. His best-known romance, of course, is his unconditional (yet unconsummated) love for Jean Grey …who was in many ways the “Empress” de facto of the X-Men.
©2009 Nick Civitello
Edited by Sheta Kaey
The Otherkin community is a fascinating collection of individuals, all of whom feel as if they are differently souled. Although in human form, Otherkin believe that the essence of who and what they are originated elsewhere and can most often be associated with mythical beings, such as elves or faeries, dragons or gryphons. I was first introduced to the Otherkin community on the cusp of the new millennium, and, although I was skeptical at first, I came to accept that there is something to Otherkin claims. As someone who, because of my regularly need for the life-energy of others, has adopted the word “vampire” in reference to myself, I could hardly throw stones at Otherkin elves who explained that they did not believe that they were pointy-eared rangers straight out of Tolkien or D&D, but that the mythic archetype we have come to recognize as an elf best described what they felt their soul originate as. If we accept that the soul exists and, furthermore, accept that it is immortal, then we have to acknowledge that it has probably gone through a multiplicity of genders, races, and forms just on the basis that nothing — not even species or planets — lasts forever, at least not in the physical realm.
I had my widest exposure to the Otherkin community at a small Canadian convention called Kinvention North. From 2001 onward, I often appeared as a speaker there, and my presentations were popular with many of the attendees. When I was asked to do the closing ritual at Kinvention North 2004, I put a great deal of thought into the undertaking. As most people know, I have my own Kheprian system, and while I have ties to the ‘kin, I am foremost involved with the vampire subculture. Kheprian rituals have their own unique energy, and most vampire rituals are don’t really fit when working with the Otherkin. What I needed to do was design a ritual that was completely Otherkin in energy — and this would mean running ritual in a fashion that isn’t exactly normal for me. I’ve run both Wiccan and Pagan rituals very successfully, and so I knew this wasn’t beyond me as a ritualist. In general, writing a ritual in any tradition just requires the ritualist to tap into the unique energy that is the heart of that tradition. Each system has its own symbols, its own language, and its own archetypes. So to successfully design and run the KinNorth ritual, I had to essentially travel to the source of these in the mythic imagination and allow what I found there to flow through me.
To tap into this essence, I started with the symbol of the Otherkin: the Seven-Pointed Star, also known as the Elven Star or the Faery Star. As I understand it, this symbol is recognized by the majority of the Otherkin community, and it serves as an expression of Otherkin diversity. Because Otherkin by nature draw from a wide variety of races, traditions, and points of origin, the Star is one of the few common elements shared by all the Otherkin. As the archetypal common ground, the Star provided a point of entry into the vibration or “flow” of the ‘kin.
Prior to designing the ritual, I did some meditation with the Seven-Pointed Star. These were basically pathworkings where I approached the symbol of the Star as an archetype, and allowed it to speak to me. It soon became clear that there were several voices within the Star — one for each of its points. These were essentially Avatars of elements and races unique to the ‘kin.
To design this ritual, I let the Star Avatars speak to me. All Seven appeared in succession, revealing their forms and sigils for invoking. They each told me their Names and the symbols of office they wished to be represented by. They told me what elements, colors, and concepts they are associated with (although several were associated with common elements, they were never as simple as one element and one concept — the avatars are multifaceted beings, each as diverse as the ‘kin they embody).
Some came forward and spoke right away. These had bold voices that were hard to mistake. A few were less direct with me, even hesitant in their contact. The last one to come forward was the hardest to understand, for s/he was most unlike my own nature and anything I had a context for. But it was contact with this one (called Illana) that convinced me beyond a doubt that I was dealing with essences both unique and outside of me, as s/he was totally alien to anything I previously had known.
The Avatars each have many shapes and many Names, and during our conversations, they frequently shifted from one face to another while still retaining their overall “feel.” I’ve come to associate such flux with the ‘kin, so it really didn’t come as a surprise when it was a fundamental part of the avatars. The complexity and diversity of the Avatars was also in keeping with what I understand such avatars to be — which is essentially an embodiment of a higher emanation, a fragment of divinity that is more complete and closer to the Source than you or me.
As I had originally planned to only invoke the Avatars like Watchtowers at the Quarters, I asked the directions they were associated with — and in a few cases, the answer came as a surprise. The traditional Pagan directions are abandoned in favor of what the Avatars themselves declared. The least traditional of any of them, of course, was Illana, who seems to embody the most “other” element of all of them.
The Avatars had their own idea of how the ritual should proceed, and they didn’t hesitate in telling me so. As I had already agreed to serve as a channel in this and not impose my own expectations or traditions upon it, I let them speak freely. The resulting rite gives a great deal of time to the Avatars of the Star, and I have been assured that they will fill in the blanks when the time comes. During our interactions, they had made a number of other statements which, while mysterious at first, later proved to be true — so I’ve definitely learned to trust them.
The whole experience has been fascinating for me, as I don’t usually go talking to so-called “higher powers.” For my own rituals, I draw everything from my Self, and Kheprian rituals also draw only upon the Selves of those involved. But this is not a Kheprian rite I am running, and the ‘kin do not function by Kheprian rules. My role in this is purely as an intermediary and mouthpiece. I’m fairly certain that the things I tapped into were already there, and I’ve done my best to be a clear channel for them, allowing the information to come through with as little distortion as possible.
What I see before me is a very powerful rite — one that I think will be inspiring for those who participate in it. As we are dealing with Avatars and giving each of them a chance to speak, the real outcome and message of the ritual is an unknown and can only be experienced. I’ve built the framework, but the Avatars themselves will tell us what needs to be known. They’ve been very interesting to work with, and I look forward to future interactions with their energy.
Finally, because I know there will be a widespread interest in it, I am making this ritual available to the general community. Others who wish to experiment with contacting these Avatars are encouraged to do so. I am very curious about how they might manifest to other people and how harnessing their energy might serve to help and empower the community of Otherkin.
What I would especially like to see are rituals that integrate the Avatars in smaller group work. While a ritual that involves 70+ people is impressive just by dint of the numbers, there is often little chance for group participation all around. It’s very difficult to make time for everyone present in such a large ritual to directly participate in the action. Smaller rituals with ten to fifteen people have always seemed more personal and more ideal to me because everyone can play some role in the preparation and ritual action. I would be very interested to see the difference between this invocation run in a large group and how things play out in a smaller, more directly involved group.
Open Letter to the Avatar Hosts
This is the letter that went out prior to the ritual to the first and second choices for the Avatar hosts:
“I’ll need you to meet with me about an hour before the ritual is actually scheduled to start. Come prepared to this and already wearing most of what you’re going to wear as the Avatar. We can touch up the costumes at this time, make any last minute changes, etc.
“Each Avatar has a sigil. I’ll apply this to your forehead with body paint prior to the ritual. This will be a minor invoking — kind of priming you to the energy but not fully calling the Avatar down. I’ll have veils to drape over each of you and, once you’re ready, you’ll be arranged around where the circle will be formed. Stand still, like a statue, and wait until you hear your Avatar called at this point. I want to build the mystery a bit, and I’ll have the rest of the people come in and form a circle around you, building energy in the center of the room.
“I’ll talk a little bit, doing the intro to the ritual, then I’ll call the “quarters.” When I call the Avatar you represent, pull off the veil, leave it where it falls, and step forward to the center of the circle. There will be a small table set up there with the Avatars’ symbols of office on it. Pick up the one that’s appropriate to you, and then stand in the center facing out toward the larger circle. All seven of you will stand in a tight knot at the center of the ritual space, almost shoulder-to-shoulder, looking out at everyone else.
“I’ll talk a little more, and then I’ll do the full invoking. This will involve me Calling the Avatar with a larger description and scribing the sigil in energy before you. The energy of the Avatar will wash over you completely at this point, and it will be like draping a robe of office over who you already are. You will hear/feel what the Avatar wants to say, but you will also have influence of how this is ultimately expressed. You will not lose your sense of Self totally unless you allow it; if you wish to surrender completely to the presence of the Avatar, that will be a matter of personal choice.
“The core of the ritual is that each Avatar is asked for his/her advice on a matter of importance to the ‘kin community. I’ll go right round through all of them, then dismiss them. When the Avatars are dismissed, step back out of the inner circle and move to a point close to the outer circle again, as the energy of the Avatar slips off of you. If you feel compelled to do or say anything before the Avatar fully departs, go with it — I have a feeling they have a couple of surprises for us.
“Attached is the full ritual in MSWord format.
“If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me. I’ll be traveling a bit with the band the next few days but will make every effort to check my email in case there are any inquiries.”
Details of the Invocation
This is a letter which explained my vision for the Avatar Invocation. It covers what I was aiming to accomplish with the Avatars, how I approached the KinNorth ritual, and what I expected from those individuals who would be hosting the Avatars.
“I am going to be a little more elaborate and organized with ritual this year than previously. The time we are in I believe calls for this. To this end, I would like to request your help with the ritual.
“The core of this ritual will be an invoking. I shall call upon avatars tied to each aspect of the Seven-Pointed Star. Individuals from the gathering will be chosen to embody these. As the rite progresses, I will invoke the Avatar fully into these people — much like Drawing Down the Moon, only the beings we are Calling are avatars of ‘kin archetypes rather than traditional goddesses and gods.
“The people involved in the invocation have to be comfortable with the idea of channeling something greater than themselves. This will not be like possession, where a deity or spirit takes complete control of your body and you have no consciousness during the events. This will be much more gentle.
“The energy of the Avatar will wash over you, and it will be like draping a robe of office over who you already are. You will hear/feel what the Avatar wants to say, but you will also have influence of how this is ultimately expressed. This is not intended to be possession. You will not loose your sense of Self totally unless you allow it; if you wish to surrender completely to the presence of the Avatar, that will be a matter of personal choice.
“In all cases, I’ve tagged people for the roles because the individuals already embody the archetype that Avatar represents to one extent or another, and in a way I would merely be invoking a greater aspect of their Selves. The resonant energy already present in these individuals will help facilitate the invocation.
“Each Avatar has a sigil, which will be scribed upon each person’s forehead, and each Avatar also has a symbol of office, which the person embodying that Avatar will take up once the Avatar is Called.
“Key things for this ritual to succeed: I need the people who will embody the Avatars to really get into their roles. For the ritual, I would want them to dress the part, adopting attire more elaborate than usual to help really build the ritual atmosphere. This rite is a little more theatrical than what I ordinarily run, and there is a conscious heightening of the mystique of the work that should help create an atmosphere appropriate for drawing the Avatars down. I want the ritual to really speak to people, and I want to allow the Avatars the freedom to speak in whatever manner they deem most appropriate for the time, the people, and the place of the rite.
“If there is time, we might experiment with an invocation of the Avatars for the “Come as you really are” party to see how it feels/works.”
Sigils and Descriptions of the Avatars
The following is a list of the seven Avatars that manifested to me during pathworking on the Elven Star. Fenecai was the first to make contact, and true to his nature, he came on like a ton of bricks and was amazingly hard to ignore. Once I was certain I’d contacted something that was truly outside of me, I did further pathworkings to determine what directions the Avatars were connected with, their respective colors, metals, and other associations, and the qualities that defined them. All these are listed here, along with the sigils for each Avatar.
- Title: Lord of Fire
- Gender: Dark/destructive masculine
- Element: Fire
- Direction: West
- Color(s): Red, orange, black
- Symbol: Rod of Kingship or pole-arm
- Metal: Brass
- Planet: Mars
- Races: The fierce dragons of the heights, phoenixes, stonewings, and sons of the forge.
- Essence: Destruction and renewal; cataclysmic change.
- Appearance: Big, broad-shouldered Draconian warrior with outspread wings. Wears armor and carries a halberd-type weapon. Shifts occasionally to a phoenix of flame. Sometimes in his draconian form, his wings and talons trail fire. Moves ponderously but then lashes out in sudden, powerful strikes. An alternate form is the Forge Lord, a fierce dwarven warrior with flame-red hair and beard.
- Title: Lord of the Shining Host
- Gender: Feminine androgyne
- Element: Light
- Direction: Above
- Color(s): White, yellow, silver
- Symbol: Musical instrument (lyre or flute)
- Metal: Platinum or gold
- Planet: Sun
- Races: Elves and all fey
- Essence: (Positive) magick, beauty, creativity and song
- Description: Lithe and fine-boned elf with pale skin and long, reddish-blond hair. Wears a long, flowing robe that is an almost luminous white shot through with gold and silver thread. Wears a collar or torque of gold. Carries a lyre, lute, or flute. Dreamy, flowing movements — exceptionally graceful.
Hss’tah Feliss (huss-TAH feh-LEESS)
- Title: Huntress-Priestess
- Gender: Dark/destructive feminine
- Element: Darkness
- Direction: Belo_
- Color(s): Gray, black, indigo
- Symbol: Small curved blade
- Metal: Silver
- Planet: Moon
- Races: Felines, and all who are children of darkness and shadow
- Essence: (Dark) magick, night, shadows, mystery — that which is hidden or obscured from view.
- Description: A petite, wiry felinoid whose short, soft fur is the color of deep shadow rippled with true black. Wears bracers of soft leather inscribed with designs. Minimal clothing, also of leather &ndash deep brown or black. Carries at least one small, curve-bladed knife. Sometimes appears covered head to foot in a soft black cloak. Moves gracefully, but in an almost threatening way — like she is constantly stalking something and just about ready to pounce. Has a dark sexual allure and this is visible in the way she moves as well.
- Title: Lord of the Wilding
- Gender: Positive/generative masculine
- Element: Earth
- Direction: South
- Color(s): Brown, green, earth tones
- Symbol: Living Staff (wooden staff entwined with ivy)
- Metal: Iron
- Planet: Earth
- Races: Therians, animal-kin, hybrids: centaurs, satyrs, etc.; all children of the woodlands, wilds, and earth.
- Essence: Vitality, sex, nature, all primal things
- Description: Variously a centaur, a stag-man, and a man-wolf. Ithyphallic (i.e., he’s hung and he’s happy). Has a distinct Dionysian aspect, and I keep seeing him with a wreath of grapevines (complete with dangling bunches of grapes) in his hair. If he’s wearing clothing, he wears a long, flowing cloak the reddish-brown color of both dried blood and rich earth. Beneath that, he wears a tunic of deep green (usually with his privates exposed).
- Title: Storm-Singer
- Gender: Masculine androgyne
- Element: Wind (air)
- Direction: North
- Color(s): Light blue, gray, silver
- Symbol: Writing quill or sword
- Metal: Quicksilver
- Planet: Jupiter (he says Mercury is not a planet)
- Races: Celestials, angels, nephilim, children of air and winged ones.
- Essence: Thought, Will, judgment, the Word.
- Description: Tall, thin, and sharp-faced with shoulder-length pale (gray?) hair. Wears either a loose-fitting tunic of grayish-white material or the tunic with a breastplate of some non-lustrous gray metal that is neither silver nor steel. Also wears bracers, greaves, and a thin circlet of the same strange metal. A little haughty and detached. Economical but swift movements.
Neride Eyooli (neh-REED ee-YOOL-ee)
- Title: Lady of Waters
- Gender: Positive/generative feminine
- Element: Water
- Direction: East
- Color(s): Blue, green, purple
- Symbol: Scrying bowl or sphere
- Metal: Copper
- Planet: Venus
- Races: The wise dragons of the depths, nagas, undines, naiads, asrai, and all children of the tides.
- Essence: Healing, emotion, vision, flow
- Description: Long flowing hair with beads and shells tied to the strands. Kohled eyes. Wears nets or veils of many colors. Lots of jewelry. Moves fluidly, sensuously. She is also a dancer.
- Title: We of the Dreaming
- Gender: Plural
- Element: Dream/magick/glamour
- Direction: Within
- Color(s): All and none
- Symbol: Sphere of crystal or a mirror
- Metal: Glass/crystal
- Planet: The multiplicity of worlds
- Races: All, the many-souled
- Essence: Glamoury, magick, Awakening
- Description: Veiled in iridescent, translucent colorless material that looks like it’s been spun from rainbows and spider webs. Almost completely covered head to toe. All you can clearly see are her hands. Everything else keeps shifting — and even this form is a compromise, for otherwise they keep cycling through a multiplicity of forms and faces almost too rapidly to see. The most uncanny and “other” of all the Avatars.
Invocation of the Seven-Pointed Star
Here is the actual ritual as it was run at Kinvention North on March 14, 2004. The actual words of the Avatars were not recorded and were experienced directly by those present for the ritual.
An altar is set up in the middle of the ritual space. The symbols of office for each Avatar are arranged upon this: a halberd or war-axe for Fenecai; a flute for Elerian; a staff for Gwidorian; a quill and parchment for Sephiriel (or alternately a sword); a scrying sphere for Neride; a curved dagger for Hss’tah; a mirror or clear sphere for Illana.
The ritual space is cleansed, and those who will work directly with the Avatars prepare themselves to be receptive to the energy, meditating on their particular Avatar. Once the people who will embody the Avatars are ready, the sigils are scribed on their foreheads. As the sigils are scribed, the throat and solar plexus chakras are opened on each host to facilitate connection with the Avatars. The hosts range themselves around the inside of the circle and are covered with veils. Once they are ready, the rest of the participants enter and form a circle around the inner circle of the Avatars.
First, I want you all to join hands and gather energy. Each of you draw from the essence of what you are, where you come from, all of the elements and forces that feed your soul.
Now, as a group, cycle, refine, and combine these. Weave these varying energies into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. As you refine it, focus it here, in the center of our circle.
What we are building now is a Between-space, a place of crossing over. You can envision it as a temple, or simply a glowing, sacred sphere. It is in this Space that I will invoke the Seven-Pointed Star.
As we work with the Star of the Otherkin, I shall serve as mediator.
I am Seth, Setem-Ansi, Sem-Asa. These are my Names. I am a Walker-Between, and in this rite, I shall be both Priest and Shaman, serving as the intermediary between you and the Avatars that we Call.
In this space we will have communion with beings greater than ourselves. I will not call them gods, for I do not recognize gods as most people understand them. We are all emanations of Divinity, and therefore all beings are gods in their own right.
And yet there is a hierarchy of emanation, and some beings are closer to the Source than others. Avatars such as these I shall call among us today. Now:
To the West, I Call thee, Fenecai, Lord of Fire: dragon and phoenix, who burns and renews.
To the East, I Call thee, Neride Eyooli, Lady of Waters: healer and seer who flows with the tides.
To the North, I Call thee: Sephiriel Storm-Singer: quick-witted angel whose sword is the Word.
To the South, I Call thee: Gwidorian of the Wilding: Earthshaker, therian and animal lord.
Above, I Call thee: Elerian, of the Shining Host: guardian of magick, beauty, and song.
Below, I Call thee: Hss’tah Feliss: soft-footed huntress and priestess of night.
And Within, I Call thee: Illana of the Dreaming: shaper of worlds and Awakener of souls.
West and East,
North and South,
Above, Below, Within.
I Call you here before me:
Stand with us now
as our Guardians and our Guides.
The Time of Changes:
Now my friends: The world is changing and we stand at the crux of it. We have longed for an Awakening, and now it rises around us like a tide. But as the veils slip away, our true nature is revealed. There is a crossroads here, and we must soon make a choice.
We can stay in the shadows and hope to hide, or we can raise our voices and show the world our souls.
By revealing ourselves, we take a great risk, but understanding and acceptance also lie along that route.
We can choose the path of caution and remain hidden among humanity. But even in hiding, our safety is not guaranteed.
This is our quandary: caution or risk? And if we risk revelation, do we have the strength and wisdom to succeed?
Guardians of the Races; Watchtowers, Avatars all!
We call on your power and wisdom to guide us in this time of change.
As each Avatar is invoked, the leader of the ritual scribes the sigil upon the air, sending this resonant energy into the Avatar’s host.
Lord of the Sweeping Flame; Mighty-Winged One:
Ye who stand on the right hand of Destruction,
Tearing apart worlds so creation begins.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Fenecai imparts his message)
She of the Flowing Veils; Mutable One:
Lady whose deep wells and healing waters
Reveal Future, Truth, and Consequence.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Neride imparts her message)
Angel of Action; He of the Swift Wings:
Keen-witted Judge and Guardian,
Who sunders illusion, captivity, and deceit.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Sephiriel imparts hes message)
Lord of the Wild Places; Primal One:
Ye who call us back to our beginnings,
Hearkening to instinct and the lusty flow of life.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Gwidorian imparts his message)
The Beautiful; Fair Scion of Light:
Ye whose music delights and inspires,
Gifting the worlds with magick and joy.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Elerian imparts hir message)
Walker of Shadows; Lady of the Silent Strike:
Keeper of all things hidden,
Whose mysteries may empower or destroy.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Hss’tah imparts her message)
The Many-Souled; They Who Exist Within and Between:
Whose glamour is both madness and revelation,
Throwing wide the gates of consciousness and worlds.
We seek your guidance: What can you give us that will help us succeed?
(Illana imparts their message)
(A moment of silence, to pause and reflect)
The Avatars have spoken. Let us take their counsel and their gifts. Let us each carry these things within, so we may draw upon them when next in need of wisdom, strength, and guidance. Armed with these things, let us walk boldly forward toward the future we have conceived.
Avatars! Watchtowers! Guardians of the Star!
We thank you for your guidance,
And for joining us in this space.
Depart now freely and in peace.
Fenecai and Neride:
Peace, and depart.
Sephiriel and Gwidorian:
Peace, and depart.
Elerian, Hss’tah Feliss
Peace, and depart.
All you who are Illana:
Peace, and depart.
(as the Avatars leave, they break the circle from various points. Those hosting the Avatars take some time alone to release the Avatars’ energy and recover themselves)
This ritual now is ended.
Peace, and depart.
©2008 Michelle Belanger
Edited by Sheta Kaey
Editor’s note: This is a joint piece by Lupa and Taylor Ellwood. Links to other material by Taylor may be found at the bottom of this page.
One issue that occurs with both Western and Eastern sex magic is the polarization of the sexes. This kind of thinking about the sexes can be found in nineteenth century occultism (and even further back). “One calls the forces positive and negative, and one rediscovers them in good and bad, emission and reception, life and death, idea and action, man and woman (positive and negative magnetic poles) in the material plane and, conversely the woman (active pole) and man (negative pole) in the mental plane.1” The division into polarity is often used as a way of explaining the unity found in sex magic. In other words, it is the union of opposites. Intriguingly, “enough love” is often cited as a necessary ingredient of sex magic, in order to make it particularly effective. We are inclined to agree that love, in sex magic, can be very important as an energizer. Whether the polarity is necessary is another case, as the union of opposites is by it’s nature a negation of polarity and the need for it. We feel polarity is an unnecessary approach to sex in general, that has caused far more harm and misunderstanding precisely because it is cultural, as opposed to biological.
And yet incorporation of polarity occurs all too often even in modern texts. In Shaping Formless Fire: Distilling the Quintessence of Magick, Stephen Mace states that “The difference between men and women — in both anatomy and quality of energy — is conspicuous. Men eject the quickening jolt, the surge of power, that animates the enterprise. Women provide the form that can thus be stirred to life.2” Unfortunately for Mace, this statement reveals his ignorance of female anatomy. The majority of men are ignorant of the fact that women can actually ejaculate fluid as well, and as such, by his criteria, are capable of that same quickening jolt.
Beyond that, it’s not unknown for a woman to be the active magical worker. A female magician may also use her vagina to draw in a male magician’s energy and work the necessary magic with it, rather than simply being a vessel for the magic he works. In this way, the man could simply be a generator of energy, while the woman is the one who shapes it and creates the magic. In one case, a woman has actively vamped sexual energy from men, without them knowing it, and then directed that energy toward her own purposes.3 While we don’t condone her ethical values (as we think using a person’s energy without hir permission is harmful to the person) it does illustrate that a woman can be the active principle.
Polarity automatically buys into an attitude common in both Western and Eastern sex magic texts: the idea that having a vagina makes a person automatically passive/receptive, whereas the penis endows one with active/projective energy. The stereotypical polarity not only thrusts people into limiting roles, but it also oftentimes relegates the biological woman to being a convenience rather than a participant in magic, a mere cauldron in which the male magician stirs the elixir of life. But in sex magic, polarity is not a biological fact. “Our physical gender does not determine the type or amount of energy we have access to, and does not determine the roles we must play in sex magic workings.4” It’s important to remember that we are not defined by our sex when it comes to magic. Instead, if sex is something which must be defined, let it be defined in a way that is helpful, as opposed to harmful.
Western sex magic generally involves heterosexual intercourse, with the focus being primarily on coitus. It is assumed that the climax of the magic will occur when the man ejaculates, regardless of whether the woman has an orgasm or not. (And we don’t care how good your magic is — there’s no way to guarantee simultaneous orgasm!) The magic is not considered complete until there’s sperm floating around in the mix. In addition, on an energetic level, the focus is on the energy raised when the man orgasms, while the woman is the container for this energy. In short, the woman serves no purpose that could not also be filled by another man, a blowup doll, or the male magician’s own hand.
Part of the problem is misunderstanding or downplay of the female orgasm. In Lupa’s experience, at least, a clitoral orgasm is much stronger than a vaginal orgasm. This is a common trait among biological females, though not universal. The difficulty for many women to have a clitoral orgasm during coitus can be seen as a distraction not worth bothering with until the real ritual is over — if even then. We wonder how many women have never had a chance to discover the clitoral orgasm exists simply because they end up with partners who can’t give decent face or hand (or who are too focused on their own pleasure to try).
The vaginal/uterine emphasis bolsters an unhealthy attitude — the idea that the highest function of a woman is to give birth, whether figuratively or literally. This strengthens the idea that effective sex magic can only come about through coitus, and that anything else is less effective because only coitus involves reproduction. While symbolic reproduction can be useful in creating effective magic, it is not the be-all and end-all of sex magic. Otherwise why would so many magicians of all sexes use masturbation to cast sigils? Yet from Cerridwen’s Cauldron to the Holy Grail to the ceremonial Cup, women are limited in symbolism only to their uteri. The clitoris is left out in the cold.
This emphasis also puts lots of pressure on men. The need to perform, to be hard in an instant, and ready to have sex (whether you want to or not) is something that men experience, but which is also frequently unnoted, because of the supposed male privilege. And yet even as not all men are ripped and buff (an image which is portrayed as the ideal man), nor do all men have a high sex drive, or for that matter an overwhelming need to have sex all the time. Nor is sex the only thing that is on a man’s mind. And yet inevitably men will be accused of “thinking with their dicks,” or be portrayed as sex crazy idiots. This stereotype is very harmful to men, putting pressure on them to conform to these images and yet also shaming them for having a perfectly natural desire for sex.
The secret to breaking this dichotomy starts at the very source of our genitalia. Every human fetus starts out as female. It is only after three months that some fetuses change over to being male. This means that everyone’s genitals start out from the same basic little buds of developing flesh. The penis and the clitoris are analogous to each other anatomically speaking, as are the testes and ovaries.5
There is no biological truth to polarity, because polarity is a cultural concept, with meanings associated with it that are used to define it. It’s true that the bio-males and bio-females have different physiological functions. The man can produce sperm and the woman can produce an ovum, but these functions still are focused on the same end goal and are rather similar in terms of what occurs, i.e. the sperm is produced by the man’s body as part of the procreation function, just as the ovum is produced by the woman’s body for procreation. The difference is that a woman can actually carry a baby to term in her body, and a man cannot…but the woman still needs a man in order to produce the baby. Even with that difference noted there is no definitive polarity about it. The reason is because that difference is related to a biological function as opposed to something more meaningful.
Also if we associate polarity with biology we leave out (in just the human race) the intersex people, the androgynous, the gay and lesbian community, the transgendered community, and the people who don’t have the full biological capacity to produce sperm or ovum — needless to say polarity becomes a confining system that tries to ignore the inconvenient truth that biology is capable of more diversity than just the dualistic male and female ends of the spectrum. Other species can also be pointed to as an example of the fact that polarity is not a biological constant. That people associate it with biology is a result of cultural beliefs about biology. It’s also a rather limited human-centric perspective on biology, one which tends to focus only on the human experience as opposed to trying to understand the variety of biological diversity that exists.
Polarity is a cultural concept precisely because it is an attempt to define biology outside of its functions and in ignorance of what those functions are. So we define certain “values” with polarity. Men are the active principle and women are the passive principle in sex for instance…but is that a biological reality? It is not. It is a cultural definition and a shoddy one at that. It focuses on assigning attributes to biological roles without providing any biological basis for these attributes. Unfortunately this assignation of roles is cultural and has ultimately been harmful to women precisely because it has tried to minimize them and control their capacity to enjoy sex. It harms men because it’s helped to create a stereotype where men are sex hungry creatures that only think about having sex. It’s also harmed any person who’s gender falls outside the traditional heterosexual sex roles. We’ve noted with some dismay that the majority of books on sex magic don’t, for instance, offer much to the gay and lesbian community on sex magic for them.
Now some people might point to energy work as part of biology and say that is where this concept of polarity and men being active and women being passive comes from. And yet while energy is an intrinsic part of the human organism and part of the biology of a person,6 any associations/meanings made about it are cultural. We need to examine those cultural assumptions and ask why they have been emphasized and who it benefits to emphasize those assumptions about sex, energy work, and polarity.
In our own work with energy, we’ve yet to find it true that women are passive and men active. We think it’s a case of associating the biological functions of the body with energy work. But can we prove that the biological functions make a man active and a women passive? Just because a penis thrusts into a vagina does not make it active. If anything we’ve found that such “polarities” are switchable in sex magic and that women can be the active principle while men are passive. Indeed, at least in Taylor’s case, he prefers for the woman to be the active principle, directing the energy and focusing it as she sees fit. That preference is both a personal turn-on, and a recognition that a woman is just as able to do magic the way he does it (regardless of the difference in biology). In other words, there is no difference (beyond the biological level) unless people make a distinction of difference. Any difference on the biological level is a difference of function, but not a difference of polarity.
It would ultimately be better to do away with polarity and the duality it inspires. Sex can be active for both participants or passive, but as long as it’s good sex does it really matter who is active or passive? By overthrowing the reliance on polarity we undo the cultural harm it can cause to people of any gender. That harm is manifold as is witnessed by the murder of transgendered people, people who refuse to fit into the sex role of their genitals, and instead choose their own gender. They are murdered for simply making that choice and this is because the cultural memeage of polarity only allows two genders, as opposed to any others. As magicians, we owe it to ourselves and to other people to not use this kind of cultural meme in our magical workings as we only reinforce the kind of hatred that can destroy so many people. And of course, limiting yourself to polarity leaves out a lot of potential fun to be had with other people!
With that recognition about the cultural values that have infiltrated our notions of sex and sex magic, we can free ourselves of them and recognize that polarity is entirely a cultural meme, infecting us with values that are oppressive, restricted, and ultimately useless to the process of sex magic. Indeed we can then accept as well that whether it’s hetero, homo, or pan sexuality being explored what meanings we make of what occurs is entirely our own responsibility and a way of making the sex act more meaningful and intimate…more a celebration and less a reinforcement of stale cultural norms.
- Randolph, Pascal Beverly. (1988). Sexual Magic. Trans. Robert North. New York: Magic Childe Publishing, Inc. Page 10.
- Mace, Stephen. (2005). Shaping Formless Fire: Distilling the Quintessence of Magick. Tempe: New Falcon Press.
- WitchWitch. (2006). Witch does vampire sex magick. P. 6. Widdershins, 12.1.
- Williams, Brandy. (1990). Ecstatic Ritual: Practical Sex Magic. London: Prism Press.
- Lipton, Bruce. (2005). The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles. Santa Rosa: Mountain of Love/Elite books.
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at http://magicalexperiments.com/.
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.