Some Thoughts Before I Write Forward

I have to admit it, there are times when I do not know if I am the right person to write as an expert on this subject, but this is only because I am not a master, I do not have all the answers, I only have experiences.  Yet then, as I think about it, there is one subject I am a master of, and that is myself.

As I have been writing on Therapeutic Magic for Mental Illness, I faced an emotional block that has delayed me reaching the next parts of that series.  Not writing about this block, telling myself that it’s too personal of a subject, and that pointing out my woes will only draw more attention to the problem and not a solution, well, that just made it worse.  I have to acknowledge that what I feel is happening to me, like extracting a poison dart out of my heart, and then examine what components created the poison CSI-style, recording my findings in detail, all while I recover from the wound.

These things replay in my mind.  No matter how often I distract myself, I accept what happened and how it made me feel.  I have a father who does not support my efforts to heal myself.  My brother is estranged from me.  I have too many painful memories to remind me of the many times I have lost friends, too.  Some of those ex-friends aren’t bad people, they just didn’t understand, and they remain friends with my closest friends.  I am occasionally reminded people don’t like me, even my closest blood relatives have a hatred for me that is beyond my understanding, especially when all I do is love them.  My father considers me pathetic; the last time he browbeat me over this in public, I told him I would not tolerate him calling me that anymore.  He hasn’t talked to me since I told him to back off.  Frankly, despite my concerns for his health and well-being, dealing with him is too much stress.  He has never told me he loves me.  He’s been a constant critic of my body, behavior, everything.  The same goes for my brother.  Nothing pleases those men!  I don’t believe I’m to blame for their problems.  I still feel paranoid that other friends will reject me and false judgments could be made against me unfairly.  There are nuggets of “loser-li-ness” pasted on me from the way I’ve been treated by my father — a weakness that is sniffed out by other people when I deal with them socially — I must exhibit this self-esteem deficiency even in my words online, as if I am apologizing for my own existence.  There are times when I sense an apprehension in the air about people around me, so I am compelled to do all I can to please them, all the while worrying if I am going to end up spending the rest of my life under scrutiny.  At times I am stuck in the mucky-muck of wondering if maybe my father is right, or if those ex-friends were right about me…

They should know better.  Because I know myself better.  Why won’t they believe in me?  Especially because I believe in myself.

Yet am I backing up my belief with action?  Am I doing enough?  There are times when I am very inspired by the examples of others I read about, my creative passions hurt me into motion when I view a delicious painting, and I’m excited to tears whenever a friend shares with me a good story.  Then I consider: why am I not doing anything?  The only answer is: I’ve been too busy battling depression, but this is not what I’m all about… butbut I can’t stop talking about it because I’ve found out so much about it, so much I want to share.

I forget that most people find the subject disturbing, that it makes them nervous around me.  If I had not shared with them what I go through, they’d see me normal and never give a doubt about my character.  Yet if they knew and understood more, they’d find the key I found; a better way of relating and overcoming, a way that can be made even better if only more masses of people cooperated with it!

The worst part of having a problem is the way other people handle it — I’m already doing my part to take care of myself, what’s their excuse?  They will often take the stance to not understand, or not want to understand, preferring to believe that I am making excuses or producing lies and justifications during the times when I am out of balance.  In my practice of silence and contemplation, I asked myself how I have contributed to the opinions against me.  My attempts to make things better by explaining what’s wrong with me were made worse by me explaining and describing myself as being a problem.

Ever experience a time when someone points out that you “have a problem” and need to “get help” and yet they do nothing but point it out?  It’s easy to point at the problem, like pointing out that there is a dirty diaper in the middle of the living room, yet no one is picking it up or putting it in the trash because the only person in the room who was told about the problem has no arms to do anything about it.  Sure, they definitely DO need help, yet pointing out the dirty diaper in front of them when they can’t pick it up to throw it away doesn’t help at all.

There are things we can do for ourselves, but then there are things we do need help with, and the best help you can give to someone who is suffering from a mental illness as common as depression is to JUST BE SUPPORTIVE and being supportive DOES NOT MEAN FIXING THE PROBLEM it just means REMAINING A FRIEND!

Just being a friend makes a major difference in the life of someone coping with mental illness, in fact it plays an important role in the efforts to help suffering end.  Instead of pointing at someone’s problems, why not stop and try to understand them?  There is always more to the story.  If you want to continue to make the lives of the mentally ill a living hell, then keep pointing at them and pushing them aside, tell them how awful they are… But isn’t it better to stop the cycles of misunderstanding and abuse?

For help on how you can be a better help to your friends check out the following:
Mental Illness: What a Difference a Friend Makes an initiative started by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a wonderful program that provides answers for friends who want to help.

Helpful information from the Mental Health Foundation

The NAMI blog‘s coverage about the award-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s series titled “Imminent Danger” featuring the VERY moving article Can adult siblings connect when mental illness is part of mix? MJS reporter Meg Kissinger, like me, has mental illness in the family. This article especially touches my heart because it reminds me of some experiences with my relations.
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I’m glad I got these thoughts off my chest because now I am free to move forward, write on, and get back on track. I hope the above links provide some helpful information. As it comes to me, I’ll provide more as I continue to piece together this series.

Postcard #25: The Deer and I

The woods at home here are very much alive and adventure is always singing.  You would have skipped along with me into the other worlds next door last Friday…

The best magic started when I spotted a lovely buck and followed him into a grove beyond the trail.  It was the best time of year to do this, still newly spring without too much thorny brambles and bees to block my way.

I heard his hoof-stomps on the wind, and when I turned to greet him, I discovered him much farther away than I imagined.  I sweetly coaxed him into calm, apologized for any intrusion, asked permission to sneak some photographs, and promised I would do no harm, not even snap a twig.  I stood in place the whole time.  Quiet and in love, I made my approach as sweet as possible, and the deer seemed to recognize me from the many walks I’ve taken on the trail, yet this was the first time I wandered off the path and came to this clearing, their private sanctuary.

Wary, he watched me the whole time, huffing at times, stomping, too, yet also very curious.  I bowed to him.  He was, indeed, quite taller and bigger than I.

The ladies were busy grazing, yet at first notice of me, looked up, seemingly not alarmed.  The looked to the leader’s reactions toward me.  When he did not flick his tail, they stayed put, some still enjoying lying in the meadow beds of grass.

He wasn’t that far from me, only a few feet away.  I could hear his breathing and snorting, or was that still part of his huffing — a warning to stay clear?

Or was he a ‘he’ at all?  I kept looking at his head shape, a little bumpy, larger than the does, his back arched…  I worried at how skinny the buck seemed.  Look at the little hollow, or dip, underneath the back spine, and how his ribs showed.  The other deer seemed very well nourished, fat even.  I fought off cooing at him, something I thought would have been too condescending.

The sunshine kept getting cut by the clouds, making the clearing radiant one moment and overcast the next.  The deer are perfectly suited to their surroundings, blending in with the trees and green, not yet the bright brown-red they get when it is summer.

His body still tense, he stretched out his neck more as I moved and apologized each time I moved, and the more I spoke and moved, the more curious and less on guard he seemed.  What are you doing?  Why are you here?  Who are you?  Were the questions I read in his eyes.

Gone in a moment the second a doe starts to inch too close toward me…

The leader is no longer curious.  Neck down, tail flickers, his back fur disturbed, I sense his fear.

The rest of the deer run, but two lazy ones keep eating.  This is, after all, their home, I am the one who really should leave.  I’m about to, but at that time I thought any sudden movements on my part would signal trouble.

The leader attempts running at me.  I feel very guilty for coming to this place.  I should have known better.  But before I can try to get out of the way, the boy does an about-face.

On the other side is a much older, bigger stag.  He makes a deep gruff noise that sends all the deer, including the two wanted to stick around, running away.  He stands there, very still and statuesque, his torso and neck as powerful and large as tree trunks, eyes burning holes into me.  He waits.  He watches.  He is faraway but close enough for me to sense the push of his presence.  Oh, crap, I am really sorry for hanging around here now.  Please forgive me, Mr. Deer Sir!

As I step away back towards the trail, I almost stumble upon something hard and white…

The evidence of one who has lived here before and is no more.

I love this land.  I love the deer who share this land with me.  I like it when they come to visit my neighborhood, always feel a little sad when the noises of other people and cars and dogs keep them away.  I think this as I made the twenty-minute walk back to the trail, feeling very awkward and human, silly even.

Before I got back to my world, I took one last glance back at the elder stag to see him disappear gracefully away, and then I stopped to sit on part of the trunk of a fallen oak, leaned against the rest of the oak that was still standing but no longer alive, wanting to cry.  The sun wouldn’t let me shed any tears.  I was too happy there.

I said my prayers, danced and played, took more photographs (this time of myself) and thought of how I would share this with you.  I think my experience with the deer was eventful all because I wanted something phenomenal to share with you!  All in all, my promise to the deer was met.  I took nothing and changed nothing on my walk through their realm.  Our interaction only lasted a few minutes, but it felt like hours.

I still feel in love.  My heart full and proud, pounding with joy and that soft cuddle-want to hug everyone in sight…  but instead it just all comes out of me in a long sigh.

Postcard #24: Buddy-Blossomed Face-First Frenzy-Fling

I sense you on the wind, feel you in the sunshine, see you drizzle-drop in the morning mist, even notice you curled-up in fetal position — about to open — sleeping upright from the dewy bark with just the hairs of your back clinging to the tree. I must write in the dirt with my fingers, delighting at the way it cakes underneath my nails, licking-poking my head out of a tent like turtles do out of their shells, tongue-tasting the air, wondering who else sends the frogs a-singing so early before the dark of night, before the set of sun…

My home here is like a cabin — piece of pie slice to sleep in — goblin hut cave-like heaven with sky light letting in the moon beam as much as it does the shine. Living here is being in love on an island and sheltered in the shade in the green in the cool damp, facing trees and juniper, stinking always of leaf and meadow and grass… Are you there, buddy? I project my thoughts like doves, like pigeons shot into the sky, in bullets, in pollen-particles flying, making everything cry and sneeze and sizzle and drip and honey. I am congested with sad joys and mournful wonder as I picture you blooming paired with every leaf and animal dancing along the walk but invisible away from me as I talk. Your body is coming, slowing unfurling, buddy-blossoming, your skin a hairy velvet that always snags me, enthralls me… Is that how you drink the rain? Reminds me of new born’s skin — that human fur — and the way his chin felt before a beard would show, and then in the wild ways it refused to grow, long in some places, barely fuzz in other places. Buddy, your face opens and turns from a fist, relaxes, in a twist smoothes out, starts to stretch, arching upwards in a yawn-that-is-not-a-yawn. Somehow you resisted the frost, you, delicate-strong and sweet as candy melting yet you do not melt when I dare to touch you. You were once the seed, once the bud, now a dozen buddies opened up, little pink explosions that tempt me to dive, face first, into you and never want to come up…

The bursting-blossom-time means you will disappear come summer. You will disappear into thousands of decaying petals. Buddy-buddies-blossom-pinkies will all fall into browns — one day full and bright, the next only the fullness of leaves with no more traces of you on the trees. I want to sing as I hide, wrap myself up in the branches, sleep in perfumed arms of you, but a bee gets caught in my throat as I inhale, and it stings as it comes out, leaving me silent and hoarse, heaving in my reach for want of the softness of you…

The bees treat you carefully, devout in their service, you tremble at their touch, out they push you open completely, you the flower-that-isn’t-a-flower, just the first bloom and no longer the virgin, bee-trampled. Buddy, you have unfolded, and your new-born-ness is frightening, and I am just another one of those things — a rock, perhaps an oak, or even a dying building growing better as I decay because I am being overtaken by vines, trees, animals, vagrants, decorated with graffiti — the sort of thing that seems to last in a forever to you. Or I could be like the bees, my face another thing to catch your pollen, dust my cheeks with your pinks, whites, yellows, and sneeze and weep out more of you where ever next I may go. I fling my face into your many petals and frame myself a pretty picture in a desperate attempt to preserve you, fuse you into my body. How unfair it seems that you eventually have to leave the tree. I close my eyes and see the petals… the renegade kites escaping, launched like tiny origami cranes, or specks of gore, lipstick marks from a stolen romance, Apollo’s kisses released beyond-the-seen and passing into spirit. All of it a frenzy of scattered love letters torn in a hurry with peels of hysterical laughter coming from some distant woman making fun of my lament.

Buddy, how can anyone pass by you and not indulge in your sweetness? I cannot be the only fool who flings herself around the tree trunk and pushes her face and hair and everything into all this pink of you! Every year I look for the chance to be with you. And every spring’s end I am a widow without ever having been married.

It is not the Crone who is the representative of death, the true personification is the Maiden for She just emerged from the womb that once was the tomb. Is that not where you came from, buddy? The darkness of soil, where all things dead are buried, and where all seeds are placed to grow. Persephone Herself must have held you as a seed just as all mothers cradle their infants. As I embrace your tree, I can see how you once were — inside that once black space — your eyes half-open in the lap of her darkness as She smiled and hummed, vibrating through the crust of your shell, shaking the surface of the soil, signaling the last bits of ice and snow to melt, tip-tapping the roots of the trees gently to wake as she prepares to kiss her husband good-bye… She has thousands, millions, billions of you, buddies, in her skirts, so as She rises to greet her Mother, you all are deposited in all the places all over the earth. You burst in a fireworks-like-display of brilliance of color to celebrate the reunion of mother and daughter, and it’s all so depression-defying it’s dizzying, daunting!

As your petals and the feather-like-fineness of my hair meet and tangle, I crush against you one last time, close my eyes as I lift my face up to the sun and fill up with warmth. The girl in me wants to bite into the bark. I am caught in every poem ever written about you, dear buddies. Your pollen makes me itch and almost give way to sneeze, I feel tears cloud my eyes again, yet this sweetness I treasure, and in these words, I make forever.

Black Cat Power, Part 1: Origins & Witches

**UPDATE 10/12/2014: This is my most popular and most visited article! In light of this, I fully intend to write more on this subject. Black cats are definitely very awesome. The much promised part two is already written, but last year after the passing of my beloved Mr. Snuggles (photographed below) I lost the cheer to write with my usual passion.  Soon I will write with celebration!**
What is up with black cats and Witches, eh? Why do we go so well together? Are we good luck? Or are we all bad luck?  What special powers, if any, do we share together?  These questions and more I’ve been asked, but one question I’ve been asked the most, one my mother was the first to ask me is, “Do you have a black cat because you’re a Witch?”   My answer comes with an embarrassed laugh; “No” and I didn’t quite know how to explain why.  Yet I understood why it was a common question,  considering that every Halloween the most recognizable cliché symbolic image is one that pairs witches dressed in black next to their faithful black cats. But how did that cliché get started in the first place? I don’t think it’s just coincidence or a pop culture creation derived only from Old English literature.  

I almost forgot it was Friday the 13th this last weekend until Mr. Snuggles and I, out for our usual walk to check the mail, were stopped by two of our neighbors.  The ladies excitedly remarked how awesome it was for me to walk around with a black cat on Friday the 13th, pointing out that I was responsible for allowing my black cat to cross their path. “Well, then,” I snarkingly replied, “better be sure to give ’em a cuddle for good luck. Mr. Snuggles is a ladies’ cat!” I then added that black cats bring speedy marriages to single ladies.  “REALLY?!”  They giggled with joy, not about to believe me, but, hey, it’s a nice good luck charm, in’it?  So they, never having heard about that legend before, and me always looking for an opportunity to tell a tall tale, indulged in the magic.  Mr. Snuggles enjoyed the women’s attention like any mister on the prowl would.  When I brought him home, his fur was thick with ladies’ perfume. That’s my little lover!

I’ve discovered that, stereotype or not, the black cat is not really associated with bad luck as has been believed.  What can be believed is black cats inspire mystery and power, and their long association with Witches both historical and mythical is no coincidence.  Black cats are the tiny ‘house panthers’ we invite into our homes, providing reminders of the great unknown — little shadows of the jungle beyond — and those eyes, those sharp claws, like sickle moons to poke the skin!  I don’t know about you, but my black cat, no matter how cute he is, is still wild and fierce, the hunter that never goes to sleep.  And I, his Witch, is a Daughter of Diana/Selena/Hecate, Isis/Bast/Hathor, and a host of many goddesses of the Moon, all of whom regard the cat as sacred representative of the Divine.  Together, cat and Witch, no matter the color of our skin and fur, go very well together.  But why specifically is the black cat most identified with the Witch?

How Black Cats & Witches Became a Perfect Pair

Black Cats

  • Ancient gods took the forms of, and were occasionally personified by black cats, specifically the Egyptian Goddesses Bast and Isis.  The Greco-Roman Goddess Diana Triformis and Tergemina — Selena/Luna (full moon, mother), Artemis/Diana (waxing moon, virgin), Hecate (dark moon, crone) — especially Diana often appeared in the form of a black cat.  Black cats, being the representatives of the goddess, get spoiled by the priestesses.
  • Associated with goddess Diana and many goddesses associated with the Moon, including a few gods who ruled the Sun, all cats became symbolic of fertility and women.  The Daughters of Diana, her priestesses, dressed in black robes, some made from the skins/fur of black cats for their powerful association with the goddess.
  • Black cats symbolic of magic and darkness after the goddess Diana, who later would be known as Queen of the Witches, when her cult went underground and eventually faded from history.
  • Before the Dianic cult is dead in the north, Rome became Christian and soon anything having to do with the pagan gods must be done away with.  The Black Cat, symbol and companion, often personification of the goddesses of fertility and magic, soon gained a bad reputation.  No longer a symbol of life, the black cat became harbinger of bad luck and death.
  • Domesticated and no longer revered as gods in fur coats, cats had a job: to get rid of vermin.  This gave them the power to protect the homes of humans from parasites and disease-carrying rats.  They also had another job: provide companionship to the lonely, becoming the favorites of the widows and elderly.  Women especially loved their cats, so cats became known as “house cats” just as wives are “housewives.”
  • Black cats were accused of being Witches because; they had black fur,  they had strange sexual lives, they howled, they were scary, their growl was otherworldly, women kept them as pets, women talked to them.
  • Black cats are thought to be Witches in animal form and are hunted down and destroyed by the thousands.
  • Black cats are thought to be the personification of the Devil.
  • Black cats hunted by gypsies and sorcerers for their magical properties.  It was believed that they had psychic power and were the preferred form that demons and other spirits liked to possess when called upon to complete a task for a magician.

Witches

  • People revered the Sun and Moon and considered them gods.  Later the followers of lunar and solar divinities associated specific animals with them.  The cat, particularly the black cat, represented the Moon.  People domesticated cats not just because they were good at keeping vermin away, but they made great companions.  Roman goddess Diana transformed into a black cat several times, becoming her priestesses’ favorite temple consort.
  •  The ancient Dianic Cult (possibly ones like it) spreads throughout the known world, going as far north as the British Isles.  Goddesses from other cultures could be easily identified with the Virgin Diana.  Her priestesses wear robes of black, black representing the color of the earth, womb, and the night sky.  Black cats were revered for this holy association.
  • Diana’s religion went against patriarchal rule because its chief leaders were women.  The Daughters of Diana go underground and worship in secret.
  • Celtic version of Hecate (Diana’s crone form) known as Nicneven was worshiped when a multi-cultural intermixing of Celt, Goth, and Roman faiths were accepted.  The Diana/Hecate cult survived “with considerable vigour” in Scotland until the 18th century, but was fading before the Medieval persecutions.  Hecate/Nicneven could transform into creatures — a black cat come to visit could be the dark goddess come as a warning of death to come.
  • After ancient pagan mystery cults fade into obscurity, and/or their followers wiped out by invading cultures, some evidence suggests that their healing and magical ways were passed down between women.  The cures and spells were called Witchcraft by the Saxons who had a distaste for it, considering it treason and a sin.  It wasn’t punishable by death until the 13th century.
  • Women were accused of being Witches because; they had sex, they gave birth, they lived longer than men, they seemed to love animals — especially their cats — more than they did their husbands.
  • Women are accused of being Witches mostly because they are women.  They are said to take the forms of black cats nine times in their lifetime.
  • Witches are thought to commune with the Devil who takes the form of a black cat.
  • It was believed that every Witch was supposed to have a black cat present with them at all times.  A spirit assumed the body of the black cat to perform the Witches’ tasks of maleficia against their neighbors.

The Witch & Black Cat Share the Same Fate

Both the Witch and the black cat have their origins in ancient religions where they were revered, later to be much maligned in folklore and superstition. They became symbols of evil after people let themselves be ruled by fear of the Devil. Women were most accused of Witchcraft, and black cats were usually accused to be their accomplices by the Church, an institution that adopted ritual and creed from solar and lunar theogonies where the fertility symbols of woman and cat were regarded as sacred (even though women were not often considered citizens in patriarchal cultures that worshiped multiple gods). The Church was zealous in its war against the traditions and customs left remaining that it could not assimilate into its theosophy. Any practices not officially sanctioned by the Church were so illegal, not only were they a sin, they were punishable by death like a treason against God. In the Medieval period, suspected witches and their black cats (including any other animals associated with them that had black fur) had to be tortured and destroyed because they were the last remaining icons of a dreaded past that could not completely be vanquished. Perhaps it was feared, more than the Devil, that a revival of the pagan faiths would lead people to discover links between the Virgin Mary and the Virgin Diana, and worse yet, realize that Christianity was the same in essentials as the religions of antiquity?!

If the Witch and her Black Cat shared the same fate at the stake, what future do they share today? Well, modern Witches love their animals, no matter what the color of their fur. Even though we are far removed from the persecution of the violent past, we now live in an age where the image of the Halloween witch and black cat are cartoons — cute or grotesque, few people are aware of the history behind the symbolism and just accept it as harmless fanfare. Are we honoring the women and cats who were sacrificed by dressing up in a mockery of them? Are we not perpetuating the centuries of degradation by continuing the custom of parading their homogenized image everywhere on Halloween? Or am I taking this all too seriously? I just don’t want to consider it a joke.

The Black Cat and Modern Witch Relationship: Are We True Familiars?

Go ahead and roll your eyes at me, but I am a modern-day Witch living with a black cat. We are familiars in the sense that we are like two peas occupying the same pod. We may be a walking stereotype together, but I didn’t plan it that way. Mr. Snuggles found me late one Midsummer’s Eve 2008 (I’m telling the truth) while I was on a walk around the block. I was very depressed that night, wishing for true love, and he came leaping out of the darkness with high-pitched cries of distress. No sooner did I turn to him, did he jump up on my leg and climb up into my arms with a heart racing so fierce, I thought he would burst. Needless to say, my rescuing him was also his rescuing of me! He had fallen out of a window and was lost, desperate to find home. I was feeling empty and lonely, desperate to find someone to love. Later I would save his life when he nearly died from an infection, and he would save mine when I nearly fell into a diabetic coma.

An animal familiar is not a spirit familiar.  Even though there is a history of diabolical spirits conjured into the bodies of black cats, and into other animals, used by sorcerers to do their bidding, such an idea is not only frowned upon, it’s just not done today by Wiccans and other magicians.  The modern Witch loves and takes great care of her animals.  Animals are considered our equals on earth and even the ones we eat we believe should be treated well before we take them into our bodies.  Each animal has within them power and abilities we do not possess, so when we do eat them, and wear their skins as covering, we engage their spirit, and their special qualities pass into us temporarily as a gift from the sacrificed animal.  But don’t get the wrong idea about that, we do not sacrifice animals, we do, however, believe that some animals sacrifice themselves so we can survive. Animals have souls like we do and they can reincarnate just as well.  We need to honor them as we honor all life.

A belief passed down to me from my Menominee father is that our ancestors can come back to us in the form of animals.  The short life span of animals explains why they can only be with us for only a little while.  The animal/ancestor temporarily lives with us to look after us and give us the comfort we needed that they could not give us because either they were dead before they got to know us, or because they didn’t give it to us while they were alive.  The Great Spirit allows this to happen in order for their souls to make amends, and for us to find peace when we feel most alone and sad.

The 21st century animal familiar is not a spirit at all but an animal who forms a psychic bond with a human being.  The animal chooses whether or not they want to have this very close relationship with us.  Not all animals are so interested because they are average creatures who are more into doing the things their species like to do.  An animal familiar shows more than average intelligence and feels more at home with human beings than with other animals.  They are rare individuals with unique abilities that set them apart, or even above, members of their own species.

The modern Witch cannot will or “call” an animal familiar, it comes of its own will and appears unexpectedly in one’s life.  It may even disappear out of our lives unexpectedly as well.  Furthermore, the animal may seem to reappear or be reincarnate in our lives again in the form of another animal that closely resembles it years later.  The last four cats in my life have all been black cats that all look the same.  Friends think this is particularly weird!  But I do not visit the local shelter to pick a cat, nor do I adopt one based on the color of their fur, and I don’t deliberately choose one that looks exactly like the cat I had before.  I let the cat decide if they like me or not before I bring it home.  My cats are not slaves to me.  I don’t keep them like pets, I pretty much treat them like “people” in fur bodies.

Familiars are not pets.  I don’t believe animals should be pets either.  But I’m not above it all to rule out all the mundane reasons why my cat found me when he did and why we bonded so well.  But (go ahead and roll your eyes again, laugh, too) I’ll take one step further and tell you that the relationship I share with my black cat is a true love as real and special as a romantic one.  I consider Mr. Snuggles like my child, but he’s also my companion, my little lover who is constantly at my side.  I wasn’t sure he would be a magical assistant until he decided to participate in ritual.  He does not always want to get involved, but when he does, it amazes me.  When he began to do this, I improvised rituals to include him and it enhanced the experience and my awareness.  Psychically we have lent each other our consciousness.

It may sound crazy, but I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, or impress upon anyone that what I have with Mr. Snuggles is real or not.  We are simply a Witch and a Black Cat in love, and our relationship works whether or not you choose to believe in it.  No matter!  I listen to Mr. Snuggles and watch his responses.  His senses are sharper than mine and he tells me things with his body language and infinite tones of “meow” about what is going on around us.  Sometimes I feel very clumsy compared to him.  He’s smarter than me, I swear.  I could keep you up all night talking about him.

So, What’s Up with Black Cats & Witches?!

A few last-minute quick facts as to why this image is so common:

  • More black cats survive in a litter more than do cats of any other fur color. This may be due to a stronger immune system, or the color may help them hide from predators.
  • Black tomcats are more successful hunters because they blend better in the shadows. There may even be more black toms because there are more black cat survivors in a litter.  Maybe they’re the toughest, too.
  • The fear that black cats will be abused keeps them from getting adopted, especially around Halloween. But statistics show that it’s not only black cats, it is ALL cats in general who get abused EVERYDAY for no reason. Adopt a black cat because they are more common than you think and end their shelter time because they will be there longer than the rest of the strays.
  • The Black cat is a symbol of anarchism used by Industrial Workers of the World to warn employers that they better back off from messing with their employees.
  • Black cats were they symbol for not just revolutionaries, but Bohemians in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century. Witches, too, have notoriously hung out with the counterculture crowd, so it’s no wonder having a black cat around further pushes the point that all things related to the black cat are cool, daddy-O!
  • Long after the devilish stigma, Hollywood turned the image of the Witch and Black Cat into both a horror and cartoon icon, further implanting, along with literature, the idea that all witches have black cats. From this idea spread many stories about all kinds of fantasy witches and their faithful black cats, so popular that even today’s Wiccans think they’re cool.
  • A pop culture over-saturation of gothic and swords-and-sorcery fantasy sexy witches with their black cat familiars adds more fuel to the fire of imagination about the stereotype. Even though it can be annoyingly trite, Witches young and old today are still attracted to this fairy tale imagery and can’t resist using these images as their avatars online.

As usual, I have gotten overly prolific about this subject material, so I’ll have to break it up into two parts. Coming next: Black Cat Power, Part Two: All the Luck!

Resources:
The Cat in the Mysteries of Religion and Magic, by M. Oldfield Howey, pub. by the Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1930
The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, pub. by the Theosophical Publishing Company, London, 1888.
The Book of the Dead Trans. by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, M.A.,D.I., L.D., pub. by Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, London, 1923.
Celtic Researches by John Davies, pub. about 1630.
Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott, pub. by John Murray, London, 1833.
The Witch Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray, pub. by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1921.
Legends of the Gods by E. A. Wallis Budge, M.A., etc., pub. by Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, London, 1912.
The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, pub. by Facts on File; 2nd edition (1999)
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, pub. by HarperOne; 1 edition (November 30, 1983)
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara G. Walker, pub. by HarperOne; 1St Edition edition (November 2, 1988)
The Once and Future Goddess: A Sweeping Visual Chronicle of the Sacred Female and Her Reemergence in the Cult by Elinor W. Gadon, pub. by HarperOne (November 29, 1989)

Therapeutic Magic & Mental Illness, an Introduction

**UPDATE 10/12/2014: When I first wrote this introduction I thought I had all my ducks in a row on this subject, but the research and concentration needed to completely cover what I intended to finish could not be done in a matter of weeks, let alone years. Now I do not know if I ever will. However, this was a great start!**

“To be bewitched is not to be saved, though all the magicians and aesthetes in the world should pronounce it to be so”  — George Santayana The Life of Reason: Reason in Art

In the early days of my magical practice, I was taught that in order to perform magic well, one should be of sound mind and body.  Beyond this, in order to perform magic safely, one should be calm and clear of mindgive generous offerings to all spirits and always have complete confidence.  In fact, you can have low self-esteem about your looks, but can never have a bad opinion about yourself when working magic.  When you set out to cast a spell, you must put all of your confidence into it. Not everyone can draw upon that kind of inner power because they are unaware they have it to begin with.  It takes time, discipline, and practice to get to a level where one can achieve reserves of iron will power.  Yet even the best of us aren’t like that all the time, just only when we are working magic.  There are those of us who are flawed, we need more work and time to accomplish raising power.  Then there are those of us who perform beautifully because our minds are wired differently to work best in that dream state in between states of consciousness where confidence and belief in endless possibility flourishes!

Some of us don’t know how to use our weaknesses as assets, we only think our best abilities are going to be our forte.  We struggle because we can’t believe anything is possible in the face of what we can’t do.  We get stuck in the how and why, not the “do” of it.  Even some teachers think they are supposed to fix us once they know we have problems.  Yet we are not the sum of our problems.  Problems are the doors to our power.  Didn’t you know that?

The stigma of mental illness is a powerful one, enough to convince even the most intelligent and kind magus that the insane are a spiritual threat more dangerous than a malignant spirit.  But magic has always been about changing and creating things to better humankind, to gain power over problems and make solutions, and why not heal and train a tortured mind to overcome disorder?

The Unacceptable Ones

The most undesirable candidates to learn magic, from what I remember, were  the mentally ill.  People with these problems are not so readily recognized at first meeting.  Many folks with mental and emotional problems are often rejected from their own subculture before they even get the chance to identify with said subculture.  Some understandably so, others perhaps unfairly.

The most common undesirable are the ones who immediately make outrageous claims like talking to unicorns and turning into werewolves, to less outrageous delusions like claims of speaking with berries and trees and angels, etc…  Whether or not their condition is real, or if they’re just simply being visually creative, the stigma of mental illness alone is disturbing enough to separate them from any circle.  Witches and magicians are not psychologists, and therefore are not qualified to diagnose mental illness, yet they all have the right to choose whom they will teach and accept into their private circles.  This is acceptable, but we should endeavor to understand how common some disorders are, how they are treated, and in what ways magic can assist people coping with their disabilities. Beyond that, we must no longer see people as the sum of their problems, we need to look beyond ‘the crazy’ and treat them with respect and understanding.

Just as mental illness is not a result of evil spirits possessing the body (as once believed in primitive times), but caused by dysfunctions of the brain and body, magic is not a miracle cure, nor is the medicine one takes to relieve it.  A cauldron’s brew of therapy, a medicinal regimen, physical exercise, proper diet, good sleep habits, a regular daily routine, assistance and counsel of doctors (not just from a psychologist, but psychiatrist and primary care doctor) is even more required to handle an illness.  Adding magical practice to the treatment one is already receiving is just another way to get healthy, but with the kick of getting into the heart of the patterns and cycles of one’s thoughts and consciousness.

It’s Medicine, not Poison

I have seen and faced more prejudice over using prescription drugs to treat disorder than over having a mental disorder itself.  You would think that taking medicine to take care of yourself should be indication to others that you are taking responsibility for your problems, especially so when along with medication you are actively participating in therapy and practicing meditation.  It’s one thing to have a problem, but when some ignorant few see you taking your medication, they’ll want to know why.  First of all, your medical history and your medication should not be public knowledge, that is confidential.  Even when involved in a spiritual group, it’s rude for it to become an issue.  However, I have experiences where instead of asking me what it is I’m taking, some people have made assumptions, and soon gossip built up enough drama to dissolve our connections with each other.

The use of drugs is no stranger in the practice of magic, in fact the mind-expanding, experimental drugs of generations before ours used them to achieve spiritual experiences and to produce visions.  But that all came with a cost.  Many caused damage to their minds that they could not reverse.  The idea of using drugs to heal now comes with the fear of chemicals inducing more disease.  There is also fear that mind-altering drugs open up the consciousness too dangerously wide, leaving the student vulnerable to hostile, lower spirits who can cause all kinds of mischief and chaos.  The New Age belief in natural cures over standard western medicinal ones only makes things worse for those of us who, out of real necessity, must rely on chemicals to support our very natural bodily functions to help us cope with our problems.  The drugs we use are helpful, not like the recreational drugs, home-grown or not, people without mental illness use at a risk to their mental health in the name of expanding their consciousness.

There is no magical drug to help anyone project the spirit into the astral over night, however my experience with peyote was intense and did work for me right away.  Yet I was not disciplined for that challenge and I believe I have spirits to thank for keeping me safe.  My first out-of-body trip was forced upon me, without guidance it was like being tossed into the void without any hope of return.  Peyote, like any drug, should never be taken without the guidance of a professional healer, not distributed on a whim without spiritual purpose.  In fact, I don’t recommend any spiritual use of drugs either.  The best ways to alter consciousness are the natural, harder, more meaningful ways to get it done: go into trance the old-fashioned way, dance into a trance, get your ecstatic joy on!  No drug can provide that reality.

When I take medicine to cope with my illness, I’m not using it as a crutch, nor am I depending upon it to cure all my ills.  Drugs that help the mentally ill aren’t able to do that.  It would be nice if they could, but if wishes were fishes…

From Problems to Powers

I am a Witch with several functional mental disorders that are often exhibited in annoying, irritating, and confusing ways that make it difficult for me to relate to other people.  Over years of treatment, I took ownership of my problems, gained valuable coping techniques, formed healthy habits, and know when to turn to professionals and check myself into the hospital when I’m at my worst.  My condition is not as scary as it seems and it does not interfere with my ability to practice Witchcraft, in reality, if anything, it has enhanced my abilities.  Once I learned to regulate some emotions, I can also draw upon them and use them to direct a lot of power into my work.  The overwhelming passions that have so often hurt me are ones I don’t have to let torture me when I can direct and project them into something useful.  I have come to the conclusion that Witchcraft remains a magico-religion incredibly beneficial to its practitioners and clients who suffer from even much worse problems, yet I am just one case.  I can only estimate what other mages and Witches have done to help heal people with disorders much worse than my own.

I write from my own personal experience and I do not claim to be any kind of  expert or professional in the mental health field.  I can only share with you what I have found works for me.  More extensive research should be cared out by professionals who are sympathetic to and/or are magicians themselves applying the art and science of magic to use as therapy.

Magic transcends and transforms, what a powerful way to supplement medicine!  And even better, it reinforces self-confidence, too.  That is much-needed in a struggle for order over one’s thoughts and emotions.

Is Magic the Way to Sanity?

I asked a friend what his thoughts were on the mentally ill practicing magic. Eight years ago, after my diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization, I went through a brief period where I worried if it was wise for me to continue to practice magic and provide magical assistance and spiritual counsel to others. I thought that my condition would make me less credible as a Witch in the court of public opinion. It is common knowledge in my town I am a Witch, so would having a disorder soon make it seem that, just based on my story, all Witches are crazy? As time went on, the thought of no longer doing what I loved made me more depressed. Practicing magic isn’t just some hobby that makes me happy, it keeps me sane, and I believe it can help others, too. My friend also agrees, yet one should never thrive on magic alone…

Whether someone who is mentally ill should practice magic is a highly personal choice. In my limited experience of working with schizophrenics, the mental illness makes it harder for the practitioner to tell what is objectively real and what is in their head. However other practices like meditation can actually be very helpful. I was able to work with one schizophrenic and develop his meditation practice to the point where he could control whether he was hallucinating.Drew Jacob, altmagic.com

There is more than one way to create peace of mind, sometimes one has to apply many different ways to get at least some semblance of peace. As I look into the many ways of magic, I turn to Witchcraft’s The Eight Paths of Power, with number one being MEDITATION. Meditation is often confused for mere intent or concentration, but really it is all about disciplining the mind and conditioning it to better regulate one’s thoughts and emotions. I’ve always thought it a tad incomplete to just term meditation as forming the will to power. Meditation is needed to become not just a good magician, but a healthy person, because it is the method to reach into one’s center of being to create calm, practice silence, become more mindful of one’s behavior and speech, and condition the self to act more out of this center of calm. The calm that is created aids the Witch (or patient, or anyone!) to have more control over the mind and body, to recognize unhealthy behavior and change it to more constructive modes of behavior — it is not just some superficial form of “asking the universe for something until you get what you want because you wished really hard for it”, it requires deeper understanding and years of commitment.

There are no immediate results with meditation. It’s not really even mind control in the cult sense of that term either, because you can still react with emotion, you are not programming yourself to become a robot, meditation just helps to better filter the overwhelming aspects of emotions that can keep us in prolonged states of suffering. Emotions and thoughts are slowed down so you can better deal with them and experience a better quality of life. In magic, meditation helps us to develop a process where we can better direct the power of our previously out-of-control emotional and thinking patterns towards a goal we don’t just want to achieve, but one we can achieve no matter the obstacles. The steps we take to make a spell work, supported by symbols and physical cues (like scented oils and incense for instance), helps to kick-start and maintain this process.  Chanting and ritual further increase the power that meditation starts.  It is the basis for all magic, and healing the mentally ill who need extra help coping with dysfunctional mood and thought regulation.

I will address, in future, each Path of Power as defined by Witchcraft, using it as a guide to suggest and share ways I have used to help me cope with my own struggles. I might add a few more ways I’ve discovered and improvised, too.  Please share with me any ideas and suggestions of your own. Consider this a work in progress. I hope it will help inspire you to write about ways you have utilized magic to heal your own heart and mind.

Magic just might be the right therapy to support sanity, but you don’t have to be crazy to reap its benefits!

Postcard #23: Bad Egg?

Sometimes I feel like the softest egg in the basket…

Yet somehow I manage to never quite break, I only seem to. My cracks glue back together whenever someone else’s cruel remarks are overpowered whenever I remember the kindness and thoughtfulness of you.

I have something to confess this week. No matter how bright I paint my world and try to put on a strong face, I have episodes of grief and pain that would disturb you, my most lovely friends. I occasionally write about my pain and it doesn’t always relieve it. I fear that dishing it out too much in public just creates an image of me writhing daily in agony and feeling sorry for myself. I could delve into the many ways in which I struggle with mental illness, but that, too, would decorate my personality as one without credibility.

Who wants to believe in someone who is crazy?

I have thought about this long and hard, especially as I write about how I’ve used therapeutic magic (more on that later) to aid me every day during the difficulties I face. I have successfully adjusted my moods, yet I still have to sway backwards according to the amounts of stress I experience. When too much is too much, I’ve had enough and I give. Actually, I bend.

I have often felt embarrassed whenever I let the dark side of me rage and wail. I lose myself in a cloud of sobs, I can’t talk, I sink to my knees, nothing has meaning, I hyperventilate til I am dizzy, I faint with overwhelming passion, and my heart races to the point of attack. My whole body gives in to despair. I am frightening to behold, like a banshee. This seems to last forever whenever it happens. Like one’s life flashing before the eyes in the moment before death, yet I am left quite alive, surrounded by helpful nurses and doctors, but even they regard me with fear mixed with exasperation.

Even on medication and practicing meditation, the flood gates have to be let open in order for me to readjust — letting go means letting myself go wild, but safely, checking myself into a hospital when I feel an episode coming on — I know to turn to professionals when the need arises. I don’t call friends or family to help me. They are not equipped to assist me. All of you would be hurt to see me in pain. I want to spare you from seeing me go berserk. Sometimes its a back-and-forth thing, I cannot predict exactly what will trigger something deep inside me enough to send me into the ER. My fear is usually I will have a heart attack or I will, in a fit of blind anger or sorrow, accidentally hurt myself or someone else in my desperation to relieve the pain.

Does this make me a bad person? Have I now become untrustworthy? Will I still be a reliable narrator? How valid of a Witch am I now, now that you know I have a disability?

In the wee hours Tuesday morning, I cracked. After weeks of enduring pressures from family, health conditions I can’t control at this time, and debts I cannot pay off right now, it just happened, I cracked and did not bounce back. Usually I can distract myself, but there are times when there is no escaping it. The explosion will happen, the bottom bursts.

The final straw was pulled by my father and placed on my back to break me. My father has always criticized me for my weight. Yet Monday night he decided to add more to his repertoire of usual insults concerning my body, he called me pathetic, and that he has “given up” on me. He thinks I do nothing, have no ambition or cares, that I don’t amount to anything, but worse than that, he is ashamed of me. When I asked to come visit him at the veteran’s home, he scoffs, “I don’t want anyone to see I have such a fat daughter!” When we went out to the casino, he made it a habit to put me down in public. People laughed out of nervousness at us — this old, withered man yelling at his chubby daughter who made excuses for him — we must have seemed like some kind of cartoon.

I bit my tongue. The sorrow flooded my mind as the night passed. This is where those feelings of abandonment, un-acceptance, and self-loathing came from, the seed that grew into the problems I’ve had in my relationships with men, the awful gift my father gave me when he made my mother his mistress and I was born his bastard. Perhaps the real shame he has is that my existence is evidence that he cheated on his wife, proof he was never faithful. Now that he’s at a point where he is closer to holding hands with death, he ends up hating anyone who helps him because those of us who assist him are just additional reminders that he is losing his independence. He hits me where it hurts the most obvious — the one place he’s always been able to punch hardest — my big gut — and then when I get upset he says he calls me pathetic and fat and ugly out of “concern” — really? Sorry, Dad, it’s abuse.

He’s not helping me. He’s driving me crazy. And I let him get to me, but I did not show him my crazy. After the casino fiasco, I rushed myself into the ER, howling like a lame coyote, dropping to my knees, looking as pathetic as Humpty-Dumpty after his fall.

How the hell is anyone gonna put me back together again?

Um, one person.

Me.

I did not really need the help of the doctor, but the hospital is the safest place to be observed in case anything should go wrong. The first thing they wonder is if I’m drunk or stoned, next they take away all of my belongings and put me in a room void of anything I could hurt myself with. The room is empty, boring, there is nothing to do, everything is white, and, no, it’s not padded, and I was not put into a straight jacket. It’s not romantic or frightening, it’s just a room. The bed is flat, uncomfortable, but you can scream all you need to in there without disturbing anyone which is a blessing. There should be more rooms like that around. A real kind of “panic room” made for panicking inside so you won’t wake your neighbors while undergoing a manic episode.

I liken this kind of hospital room to a meditation room, a place to find your peace when everything else has failed to help you create peace of mind. It’s always made me laugh that nearby there is another room called “Spirit Office” that makes me think there’s a place in the hospital where spirits go for coffee breaks in between healing people and helping souls depart!

I’m sure it has a practical use and doesn’t have anything to do with the kind of spirits this Witch deals with, yet it makes me laugh whenever I’m feeling bad. What is a “Spirit Office” anyway? I’ll have to Google it. (It’s actually an office for Chaplins, stationed 24/7 for spiritual services, duh)

After a three-hour stint in the white room, I raged myself into a calm. My cracks no longer seemed so bad and I was sent home. For these last two days I’ve been resting. Meanwhile, I’ve also been writing…

I am not sure if I always have the clarity and strength to write boldly enough about the subjects I aspire to write about. I want to assure you that, for the most part, I’m pretty damn normal! Yet I can also equally assure you I’m weird, too. Weird enough to have a unique perspective on things… However I do deal with insecurities that hold me back. I want to be sure I’m up to the task. I write from my heart, not always from my head. My words get messy and metaphoric. My opinion may not be very logical, or maybe I am selling myself short.

I’ve examined the blogs of other Witches and have found that blog writing is a very personal, informal kind of writing, one step upward from journal writing. It’s not magazine writing, yet it can have that style. It’s up to the writer. Lately, in my writing offline, I have been busy composing articles that aim to please other people, not myself, and I’ve gotten stuck trying to write in a way that makes sense to them, or what I think will be their kind of logic because I highly respect their principles and expertise. Yet I’ve come to the decision that this restricts my creativity and blocks my voice. No offense to my friends who write the way they like to, but I, too, have my own way, and despite a desperate part of me that longs for approval and acceptance (just like I long for that from my father, understand) I really have to be myself with all of you.

I think, cracks and all, you’ll still love me tomorrow.

Postcard #22: Familiar Spirits

I am short on words, full on thoughts. My hours are spent with the cat I call my companion. He is the familiar spirit at my side, or is it the other way around? If you ask him, he’d say I’m the familiar spirit, that he has me as the guide.

Let us share with you just a few images of how we’ve been getting along. Tomorrow I’ll have more to say. We’ve been too busy dreaming lately. In fact, as I type, Beethoven is playing on the radio, Jimmy Kimmel is on TV in the background, Mr. Snuggles is on the couch, I have a cushion under butt, and my head is nodding off, my body pulling me to bed, and I still feel like I need to do more in the house. This is all I can do on the way to sleep…

Forgive the lack of poetry. There is plenty waiting for me to edit in my bed. Even more art to sort through all over my bedroom. The days have been productive, but quiet and sunny. Nothing more to report.

Welcome to yet another day in our ordinary world!


Mr. Snuggles promises he’ll give you a hug if you ever decide to visit us, yet he still thinks it silly of me to take so many pictures of him.