Feelings & Reality, Life & Death & the Samhain Gate

There are two parts to this that need each other — the first is science (or opinion) and the other is magic (or science) (or religion). First, the science —

I read something in Second Life (a virtual world) yesterday on someone’s profile page. She (or possibly he) wrote, “The only things that are real in Second Life are feelings.” I suspect she assumes that the feelings are firmly attached to “real” people outside the computers.

So, feelings are real and everything else in Second life is pixels, and pixels ultimately are just excited dots of energy on a computer screen. Ideas are what we manifest there — ideas of objects or people or whatever we fancy. They appear to have three dimensions, but that’s just an illusion on a flat two-dimensional screen. Wait… they also have the dimension of linear time — or appear to do so. If I think too much about this, it may give me a headache.

In our current version of our so-called “real” world, there seems to be a huge muddle about the differences between truth and opinion and reality and belief and experience and fact. I think this may be important — this idea that only feelings are real. I do know this “feeling thing” was only being said about a “virtual world” that only exists inside a computer.

But I’m not so sure about the “reality” of our world where a lot of people seem to feel that only free range opinions matter — certainly more than science or facts, which according to them are only opinions too. In that view, no one’s opinions matter more than another (except mine, of course, and that’s sort of a secret until there is conflict). This seems to soon turn into a sort of “my way or the highway” kind of thinking, where the biggest gun matters the most.

Think about it. Physicists believe that everything is composed of sub-atomic pixels sorry, particles. These are said to be tiny bits of energy in a whole lot of nothing. They even have names in the Standard Model that include: Six “flavors” of quarks: up, down, bottom, top, strange, and charm; and six types of leptons: electron, electron neutrino, muon, muon neutrino, tau, tau neutrino.

(I think perhaps I love physicists more than I knew — anyone who thinks up names like this has to be delightfully whimsical at least some of the time. The same is true of the philosophers who come up with an elaborate notion called the Raven Paradox, which is, in part: The raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens, is a paradox arising from the question of what constitutes evidence for a statement. Observing objects that are neither black nor ravens may formally increase the likelihood that all ravens are black even though, intuitively, these observations are unrelated.)

This problem was proposed by the logician Carl Gustav Hempel in the 1940s to illustrate a contradiction between inductive logic and intuition.

It goes on from there quite extensively and even dizzyingly. But the whole thing is based on the concept that “all ravens are black.” Any one real, actual white raven (not an albino) brings the whole structure down. And we now know there are actual white ravens</a>. They may not have existed in Hempel’s time. But they do now, and it’s no longer factual to say “all ravens are black” even though it may be an opinion still strongly held by many, who may choose to say that a white raven is a “fake”.

Or, perhaps the physicists and the philosophers who come up with these knackerty knotions are, like the white raven, so rare as to be virtually non-existent. If you find one, perhaps you should record it carefully as proof that whimsical scientists do exist. Or perhaps these bursts of whimsicality happen as rarely as white ravens, promptly dissolving into vapor like brief whistles of steam from an overheated boiler. Forgive me, I get… Ooo! Shiny! Ahem. So…

All of those wee bits of energy/matter would crumple into nearly nothing at all but empty space if their excitement didn’t keep them spinning or whatever they really do. Now that I think about it, this sounds a lot like pixels on a screen. To understand why I say this, you can find more than I wanted to know about pixels here.

Back when I first went into Second Life, I was doing a lot of thinking about Buddha and Buddhism, and I had an interesting experience. Flying along (you can do that in Second Life) I got distracted and fell. My avatar fell ungracefully to the ground and splatted right on my belly. Then, without me doing a thing, she/I scrambled up onto my feet and brushed the (imaginary?) dust off.

I was shocked.

I hadn’t told her to do that!

Then I wondered (also involuntarily, with what felt like the back of my mind looking over my shoulder) if there was someone behind me, watching me as I was watching my avatar, and if I sometimes did things that surprised it, things I hadn’t been told to do. And it felt like this someone was nodding and being amused.

I immediately shut Second Life down, turned the computer right off, and unplugged it, which was not something I usually did. Then, I went outside where I dug holes and planted bulbs until I felt like one simple, ordinary, real person again. But I remembered (and have never forgotten) that feeling of someone (me) sitting behind this me (this one that is typing), almost laughing, certainly amused at the confused typing-me and my surprise and shock — and thoughts. Then I thought how amused the Buddha might have been if he’d seen Second Life. It so beautifully demonstrates so many of his concepts.

This brings me to what I really wanted to talk about here. I’ve always meant to write this down and here in the liminal space-time of Samhain (All Hallows’ Eve) seems like an appropriate time to consider Life and Death and What Comes After, especially just after reading Michael Tomlinson’s story, Two Men and a Dog this morning. I quote a bit from the middle: One of the men spoke of a friend of theirs who had died this year. A rich and robust character of a man, impossible to not like the instant you spotted him. “I heard him today, no shit. It was real. He was right there with me and laughing. I asked him aloud if he’d seen my mom and he just laughed really loudly in that way of his and said, ‘It’s not at all —ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, — nothing at all like you think it is,’ and then he just laughed louder and more happily until I didn’t hear him any more. I’ve been thinking about that all day.”

You know, dear reader, I’ve had very similar messages from a few people. I used to do a lot of counseling and healing with people in hospice or terminally ill, and some of them came back briefly after they’d gone on. It usually happened when I was half-asleep or in deep meditation. In one instance, Vera came back to tell me, “It isn’t anything like I thought it would be.” She paused and laughed. “But it isn’t like you thought it would be either!” And she chuckled again and faded away.

There was always that sense of wonderment and laughter — a kind of mellow, companionable chuckle or delighted laughter — and when there were words, they were always something like that — except…

One time was different from the others. No words were involved — only scents and touches and feelings. Well, there may have been words, but not words I understood. It was about four in the morning, and one of our weeks-old kittens was dying. In my lap, Mamacat Samantha washed and cuddled the baby as it went down and down, weaker every moment. At last it gave a tiny shudder as its soul shook loose from the body.

The space we were in suddenly seemed to be much larger, and in front of us stars and nebula formed an opening — rather like a tunnel made of light, with a brilliant light at the far end. Hidden in that star-filled glory I could hear a mother cat calling a kitten, and a warm, milky scent drifted through to us. Something in my lap (not the little dead body) stood up with a wobble and set off into the light on tiny skaky legs, calling back to the Voice we heard. As Samantha and I watched, the babe grew stronger and faster, scampering toward that Voice. Then it was gone, and Samantha and I were alone in an ordinary bedroom, silent.

Samantha leaned against me as she washed the tiny body one last time, then she pressed her face against my tear-wet face, and we both sighed. Slowly, she went to sit in the window and watch for the dawn. But we both knew.

From this and other experiences, I have hopefully concluded, that when you die, there is someone who loves you there to meet and care for you. But I could be wrong about this — we are not all as adorable and innocent as kittens. When I once spent 10 days sitting at Death’s door, there was no one waiting, no light to guide me, just a wonderfully peaceful and restful place to sit and wait for whatever happened next — and I hadn’t a clue what that might be and knew only that I just didn’t know.

Recently someone asked one of those Facebook questions — if you could live forever, would you want to? I was surprised by the number of people who virtually shouted NO! Several others said “for a while” and no one said “yes” — which says pretty terrible things about the society we have created. My own answer was, “I don’t know how long I would like to live. I still have a lot more that I want to do. BUT I shall know when I’m ready to go.”

At 80, it is nice to be clear about that. And there! I finished this before the witching hour, even if WordPress thinks I didn’t!

Calling All Cells

You know how sometimes you say something you hadn’t even been thinking about? Just spontaneously, as if you’d thought it all along, but didn’t ever know it? What happened last night was something like that, but not exactly. I woke up sometime in the small hours. Pain woke me, but I was very sleepy. This happens pretty often these days and I’ve tried various ways to heal or at least cope with it. This time I heard my half-asleep voice say softly, “Calling all cells! Calling all cells! Time to relax! Be aware. Relax, relax, relax. All cells relax!”

The interesting thing was that the cells seemed to do exactly that! I could feel it happening — tension and pain draining down through my head, body, arms, legs, and out my fingers and toes in waves. I was surprised that it was happening so vividly, so quickly, without what I think of as “me” taking any active part in it.

Now, I’ve had other experiences of rapid energy change in healing and self-healing, in meditation, in dreams, but this seemed different in that it felt so mechanical. I know that after 70-odd years of doing healing, I’ve experienced a lot of strange things and learned a lot of surprising things, but I the more I learn the more I know that I’m just a beginner. Now I need to figure out how to practice this effectively when wide awake as well as nearly sleeping. I wonder if a lot of conscious repetition would drill it into the half-conscious state where it seems to work most effectively and could be automatically accessible when I need it?

I’m curious (of course) — what happens if YOU try it?

© Copyright 2017 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Songs & Marzipan

Marzipan

Did I tell you about Marzipan getting excited about me singing a couple of nights ago? No? My singing isn’t really anything to get excited about so her reaction was a surprise.

It was late and i was listening to music on Youtube to relax before I went to sleep, and I started singing along. It has been a long time since I just sang for no reason but it was a happy little song that lured me in.

Marzipan was in the sitting room, but she ran down the hall, and jumped up beside me as I kept on singing. She put her paw on my shoulder, pulled my head around to face her with her other paw, and peered into my mouth — first with one eye and then the other. Then she stuck her nose in my mouth a bit with her ears flat behind. She drew her head back and gave me little licky-kisses on the tip of my nose and the corners of my mouth, purring as loudly as a bandsaw all the while. I could hardly keep from bursting out laughing, but that seemed quite rude so I went on singing while she stuck her nose in my ear and whuffled.

She kept purring and making little prrrt and mrrrt chirps. Finally she sat down beside me and watched the people on screen singing too, and then we had a super-cuddle and went to sleep together.

She’s weird — in a good way, you know.

It was a little song by ABBA, I Have A Dream, that mentioned “wonders” and “fairy tales”, and Marzipan may have thought it was about her — or at least about the world she knows.

The part about all of this that bothers me is realizing that I haven’t sung for so long that she thought it was something strange and amazing — she acted like she had never heard anything like it before — and she just turned eight, I think. That’s a long time for not singing.

I used to sing a lot when there were no humans around — in the house and in the car. There were story songs that I made up as they went along, and there were songs in a language that no one speaks — or understands. I’ve almost always lived with cats and used to sing to them too, just because they were there. They listened sometimes, but they never got excited about it.

I don’t even remember stopping singing… it was certainly nothing intentional. I got sick and didn’t get well again. I suspect it’s an energy thing. Anyway, that may all be changing now.

© 2017 All rights reserved.

Waking Up, Coughing

I’ve got the Awfuls. It isn’t a cold, it’s a sore throat and maybe bronchitis. The lady at the clinic said it’s viral so antibiotics won’t help. She’s sure it isn’t pneumonia, which is a very good thing. She prescribed sugar-free popsicles and ice cream. They do help temporarily, and so do ice packs on my chest. But I wake up in the night coughing instead of breathing.

So at 3 AM, well after the eclipse, when I wakened trying to turn my lungs inside out, my first thought was what am I doing wrong to catch this? What did I do wrong to make myself so vulnerable? The question immediately billowed out much larger — Where did I go wrong in my life that bought me to this moment? Eclipses seem present questions like that.

From deep in my still half-dreaming mind, the answer immediately came: nothing! This was so shocking that I froze halfway out of bed and nearly fell over.

Nothing? I thought. How could the answer to such a huge question be — nothing at all? I’d thought I’d need a lot of soul searching and would wind up with a long list of answers — mistakes, misbehaviors, wrong decisions, weaknesses, maybe even wickedness. But how could it possibly be nothing? Nothing at all?

I got back into my bed and tried to think about it, but kept slamming into the same brick wall — nothing. Nothing at all. Period.

Finally my mind stopped spinning in the same tight circle enough to let another thought in. It kinda tiptoed as if afraid to startle me again. “What’s the matter with what and where you are?”

“I’m sick and I feel horrible.”

“So? It happens to everyone.”

“But, if we did everything right — right thoughts, right action, right contemplation, and all the rest — surely our bodies wouldn’t do things like this.”

“Yes, they would. You’re not immortal, you know.”

“Of course I know that!”

“Let’s suppose you’re here to learn things. What teaches you the most — the things that go ‘right’ or the things that go ‘wrong’?”

I don’t much like the obvious answer to that. But I also realize that regarding myself as a failure when something goes wrong may just be getting in my way of learning what O Universe is trying to teach me. And, no, I’m not anywhere near ultimately understanding that. But I’m again reminded that all of the ‘negative’ things we know we don’t want to do to others, are not helpful when we do them to ourselves. Peace and love travel in circles — it’s better not to stop them anywhere.

“O, and by the way, you could be taking a bit better care of yourself. It probably wouldn’t have stopped you from getting this — it’s quite a nasty virus. Think about what you’d do differently for someone else and try doing for yourself. “

Morning Forest

I keep looking for a way to describe this forest in the early morning — clearly, concisely, poetically — because the forest is like a poem, rich and enchanting. But it constantly changes, and it’s very difficult to wrap words around something that is continually rebirthing. While I’m writing a word, the forest keeps evolving, needing other words instead.

The light is, of course, everchanging. There are no city lights here to make a continual glow — even the street lights are so distant I can’t see them. The birds know when morning is coming long before I do. They sing their chorus of many lightsome songs to greet it. This forest is part of a long migratory route with birds and butterflies and goddess only knows who else passing through at times of their own choices. The dawn confabulation changes with them. Three days ago there was a mountain blue jay outside my window — black crest above a brilliant blue feathers, brighter blue than the sky or ocean. I hadn’t seen him before nor have I since.

Marzipan, the tiny ginger cat, sits on the window ledge, wide-eyed every dawning. We watch together as trees begin to appear out of the dark shadows, but it will be a long time before the sun sends long, searching fingers in to light up the sides of a few trees while the rest remain shadowed. The sun may not get through for hours. It may not come through at all if the day stays cloudy.

Although I can’t see it happening, there is as much growing and stirring underneath the ground as there is above it. If I go outside and quietly stand barefoot, the life below is quite apparent. And there are liminal voices, like the voices in the trees and bushes, that are whispering just at the far edge of hearing. Even human feet can know they are standing on the threshold of… something. Fascinating things are always going on below, beside, and above us.

One day when life was seeming especially difficult, I asked the trees for help in staying calm and perhaps even balanced. It was a quiet day, and it seemed that they might be willing to share that stillness and silence. Standing there I became aware, that I was resting on a net of energy — roots, fungus, mycelium and things I couldn’t name — were creating a supportive, solid web and accepting me as part of the forest. The same net was woven between the trees and bushes, even the tiny mushrooms and flowers. It extended up to the tops of the trees, where it covered all of us. Protected. Safe. Sheltered. It was a most breathtakingly wondrous sensation to be held in the arms of Mother Nature.

I can connect with that same feeling anytime, any place, if I just remember to keep being who I am — a part of the forest.

I thought I was finished writing this, as much as I could be, but Marzipan just got excited, ran to the window, and started chirping in her own little purry voice. I looked out past her, and the mountain blue jay is back. We are both curious — what is it doing here besides eating suet? We’re down close to the ocean, though we can’t quite see the water. We’re certainly not in the mountains. O, I’d forgotten but I’m being reminded — so many feet of altitude equals so many miles northward in climate — I forget the ratio. Perhaps it is reasonable then to find mountain blue jays here in the Northwest at a low altitude. I grew up in the South where they are only high in the mountains.

Well, that’s one mystery solved. Millions of them remain.

© Copyright 2017 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved

I’m So Very Lucky

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Gladhval with Mist on the Water
Early Morning, Scotland, 1969

Lucky. Fortunate. Blest.

I just read a blog by Vivienne Tuffnell on The Loss of Our Youthful Dreams, which was very thought-provoking. It made me try to remember what my own early goals and ambitions were and how they had all worked out. At first, it seemed just jumble of random things happening, of starting and not finishing, with a lot of wandering around doing things that seemed sometimes surprising but often irrelevant to anything important.

The earliest plan I had for my life, at the age of two, was wanting to be “a gran’ma and a doctor.” The reason I remember this is that everyone thought it was such a strange notion — in those days it was expected that little girls all wanted to be a mommy. People liked to remind me of this and laugh all the way into my teens. I’ll come back to this later.

Sometime in primary school, I felt I also wanted to be a poet (who illustrated her own poems) and to have six children and to be a doctor. Sometime in high school, I was clear that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books — and I wanted to be a doctor, but was beginning to worry about the medical bit. I had realized that what doctors actually did wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I thought about nursing… and a week in the hospital showed me that this wasn’t it either. Also in high school, I accidentally became convinced that I’d never be a “good enough” artist and that the kind of books I’d liked weren’t really proper children’s books at all. So the children’s books were out too.

By the time I became a freshman in college, it seemed like being a psychologist might be the right thing, so I took classes in the subject. Back then, sixty years ago, psychology was all about behaviorism and Skinner boxes and nothing to do (it seemed to me) with real people. As for consciousness — there was No. Such. Thing.

At the end of my second year in college, I threw it all up in the air, got married, moved onto a boat, got shipwrecked, had a baby, bought a bigger boat with my husband, repaired, painted, and polished it up and sold it, and we went off to Great Britain to buy a sailing boat to go cruising. Around the world, perhaps. We didn’t find the boat we wanted in Wales, England, or Scotland so we boarded a ferry to Norway. In Oslo, we found exactly what we wanted. Almost. The entire first third of it was rotten so we decided to become serious boat builders in the west of Norway for several years. As we headed toward Romsdalen, we grounded our Gladhval in calm water and had our first relatively gentle but alarming taste of being nearly shipwrecked. In Romsdalen, we worked hard doing the heavy labor of boat building for a few years. When we reached a point where the hull was sound and tight, we launched her and headed south to Stavanger. On the way we had another near-shipwreck on Christmas Eve. There are Norwegians who are really kind and helpful. In Stavanger we spent an icy winter and then we sailed to Scotland, with major engine problems on the way, and worked on the boat some more. In Scotland, we were once again we were grounded and almost wrecked, following which we were caught in a hurricane and rescued by the Royal Navy. Scots are kind and helpful too.

This sounds silly, but after several years in Scotland, we realized that we needed to go back to Norway because many of the building materials we still needed were more readily available there. So, we tacked bits canvas over the most open places in the deck, and headed back to Norway in November during the equinoctial storm. Rough trip, but we made it. Arrived inside the skerries to find it so calm in the fjord that every star was reflected in the water. This seemed a good omen. In fact, just arriving at all seemed a very good omen!

We were going north, perhaps back to the original boatyard — I don’t remember now. Nearly got shipwrecked again — this time in very rough, scary waters with big rocks sticking up out of them. So we turned around and headed south toward Bergen. I’m not sure of our exact itinerary throughout these years, but I do remember the various groundings and near shipwrecks very well — along with the bright sparkling wave on sunny days, the astoundingly bright stars on clear nights, and even occasional auroras. We survived and made it back to Bergen, where I decided I really wanted to go back to Scotland (heart’s home). My son, Jon, and I left. Jeff, my ex-husband, still has Gladhval. I missed out on the eventual trip to the Caribbean, but I didn’t really mind that.

Then there were the years in Scotland where I applied my boat-building and painting skills to interior and exterior house painting and decorating. Then another wedding, this time to a “mad Scot” — Neil — and a new career in antiques and antiquarian books. First, we sold them in flea markets, then we exported them to Canada, and then we moved and imported Scottish things to California. All of these years, from the time I left school, may have seemed like a total distraction, but I learned some very useful things:

1) I was a lot stronger than I had thought. I endured. Yes, I even persisted.
2) I could learn to do almost anything if I was patient and willing to study and practice for as long as it took.
3) While I wasn’t particularly paying attention, I was growing up, accumulating a lot of life experience, and becoming myself. I discovered that I could make changes, could learn new things, however unlikely, and could take risks and survive.
4) That when you got in trouble, if you asked for help you often got it. Most people were naturally kind and helpful.
5) I was older and perhaps a bit wiser and certainly a lot more adaptable. People sometimes realized that I knew things.

These were important qualifications for my Real Career, which was not really antiques and old books.

I went back to college part time — psychology, as a study, had radically changed. Jung! Rogers! Real people issues! Um… even a parapsychology class where I met people who taught me tarot (outside of class) and was introduced to many things I could see were important and valid. Exciting! Maybe I could be a counselor or something. Someone took me to a Spiritualist church, and one of the mediums told me I was a healer. I knew that — had known since I was two — but didn’t everyone always do healing? Turned out that they didn’t. How amazing! So, in my kitchen, I showed a couple of neighbors how to do basic hands-on healing. The two became six, the next time around. Teaching teaches us faster. The friend who had taught me to read tarot moved away and sent all her clients to me, so I did readings and teaching in the back of our antique store.

In my early forties, I was standing in field under a full moon performing a wedding ceremony for a hopeful young couple. In the middle of this, I suddenly realized that “a grandmother and a doctor” really meant a “wise woman and a healer” and what I was doing at that moment was exactly a part of that. I thought that was all finally settled, but it wasn’t.

Eileen, a massage therapist and healer from London was travelling through San Diego. In a grocery store, she asked the clerk if she knew of a good psychic reader. The clerk didn’t, but the customer behind Eileen said, “I know just the right person!” and gave her my phone number. After her session, Eileen asked, “Would you be interested in coming to London and Cornwall to teach and do readings?”

Would I?

Eileen went back home and made arrangements. I bought tickets and went for six weeks — time to teach enough to pay for my tickets. And then I went home, having arranged for me to come back in three months. That was the beginning of my tick-tock travels over the Atlantic. People started wanting me to do classes and reading in other places, and finally in Bath on Beltaine, someone asked what it would take to get me to actually move there. I muttered that I was thinking about moving back to Scotland. But they said, “Bath!” and repeated their question. It was about three in the morning after our celebrations and I was heading back to San Diego the next day. I mumbled that I supposed I’d need somewhere to live and somewhere to teach. I was to come back anyway (tick-tock) around Midsummer. They said they would have places waiting for me to live and work. And they did, so I stayed and tock-ticked in the other direction after that. And started travelling once in a while up to Scotland, just because I loved it.

And about that time, a student showed a publisher friend of hers the notes that I gave to the class and told him that he should get me to write a book on meditation. He did, I did — Moon Over Water — and then I did a second on imagery and inner journeys, Sun Over Mountain.

Then I reversed that situation as well, moving back Scotland, traveling to England and Cornwall — and to California. Scotland is my own magical homeland. I thought I was settled forever. I liked traveling and my cats didn’t mind it too much. We even went camping together. Then I got sick.

Nearly died of pneumonia; couldn’t go back to work for months. I began to feel as if I’d never be really well again. Every doctor and every healer I knew told me that staying in the good Scottish rain would kill me the next winter. That was August, and by December I was beginning to see that they were right. On the 12th of December the cats and I traveled — Arrochar to London to Los Angeles to the desert of Borrego Springs.

As it happened, I didn’t do well in the desert — seemed like I was going to dry, crack, and crumble into dust. All those years in rainy, cold countries hadn’t made me ready for this. The cats and I moved up into the mountains, where there was a bit more water in the air. From there, I drove to San Diego once in a while to teach. Unfortunately, even occasional teaching was too much. Couldn’t teach, couldn’t do healing or counseling; made myself sick again every time I tried. Wasn’t getting much better — in fact all of my energy seemed to be needed just to stop getting worse. It felt like my path had gone over a cliff and me with it.

Just about then, on my 60th birthday, Brian Froud asked me to write the book for the Faeries’ Oracle. I could do that — stay home, write some every day, and rest as needed. This was my third book, and it sold much more than I expected. It took a while, but when the “advance” finally came, I moved to Washington State, bought a bit of forest, and my wild son gradually built a home for me on it. I still wasn’t settled, though I had hoped I was. But after some to-ing and fro-ing, I may be settled now in the middle of three acres of forest with a nearby super-neighbor and caregivers, near Port Townsend. Port Townsend is filled with artists and writers, sculptors and photographers, yoga teachers, tarot readers, craftspeople — witches and elves and gnomes commonly walk the streets. At 79 I rather hope to be settled just where I am — it feels like home. And I can write what I most want to — which tonight is this blog.

What else am I writing? Another oracle for starters. And a book (or five) about tufted faery cats and humna — half human, half faery people. I’ve even found a way to do the illustrations — with help.

Is it for children? Well, yes — and for their parents. And teen-agers and grandparents. And people trying to find a way to live together in a world where so many of us have become strangers and refugees. I’ve gotten ambitious, you see. So I may have accidentally (if you believe in accidents) become a wise woman in a forest, a grandmother, and a writer-illustrator-poet for children and others.

It now appears that all of this time I’ve been working back and forth through my ambitions, often without even realizing that they were ambitions instead of happenstance. I may get there yet. I’m also taking classes in writing — you always need to be trying to get better at things or they get boring. And I keep thinking about teaching a class in using the tarot to help write a book or story. You know, plots and character development are a lot like reality — if you believe in reality.

Tonight I just happened onto a video about someone doing his own version of one of the things I used to do in Scotland. I’d love to go make that trip, if it were possible. Who knows what may yet happen or what paths might open? (I was going to link to it here, but lost it. If I find it again, I’ll put it in the comments.

Tell me, please, what did you want to be when you grew up? And where do you think you might be on the path to getting there?

Magical Writing

As you probably know, I’m writing a storybook (or several) about magic and faery and cats and things like that. But the thing about a sometime-healer writing about magic is that one already knows that magic is real. So the question arises:

How do you write about magic that is natural and real and potent when fictional magic is usually so much more flashy and… um… misleading?

Having Marzipan’s story pushing at the back of my eyes I knew I’d have to try — and, as is quite common with magic, once a person sets an intention or asks a question, the magic itself immediately starts trying to teach us. It uses magical means, of course, but an untrained observer might call them co-incidence or synchronicity or even (and this is less likely to be said) a chronosynclastic infundibulum. Whatever.

Magical Realism

The Writers’ Workshoppe decided (at just the right time) to offer a class in writing “magical realism”. One important thing I learned at the class was that you could offer some outrageous magic if it was firmly embedded in a lot of detailed reality. You just have to slide the magic and “fantasy” in between the realism with enough down-to-earth detail that it goes almost unnoticed — and the next bit of fantasy can be even more magical and it too will just slide right into the mind without jarring it too much. Do you know why that is?

It’s because humans (and sometimes others) participate in magic all the time, and we’re accustomed to just letting it slide by without notice. In fact, we pretend to ourselves that it either didn’t happen or it happened some other way. So we don’t notice how it sneaks up on us in reality or in a story — embedded in detail and factual information. (This part and the following is my own experience — not the class.)

Think about it: you remember that you want to phone a friend that you haven’t talked to in quite a while. A few minutes later, the friend phones you. Coincidence. Yes. Sure. It can’t be telepathy because telepathy isn’t real. So this is the fantasy we mostly live in — the belief that magic is not real. We’re habituated to that fantasy and we find all sorts of excuses to convince ourselves that telepathy doesn’t happen. We invent words to cover it up — words like coincidence, lucky break, fortuity, synchronicity, and other words of that ilk. It can’t be magic, not our own innate magic. It’s just the way the cookie accidentally crumbles. No?

So in your magical story you begin the shift with small details, like perhaps a yellow flower slowly turning red as a character watches, and you don’t make a big drama with exclamation points and amazed expressions about it. You just move smoothly right on by. A little later you slip another detail in. It’s not important enough to stop and think too much about about it. The reader just accepts it… and moves on. This is preparing the ground of the unconscious, imagining mind — the dreamer, the mystic, the magician — to accept the seeds carelessly dropped and accept them again later on when they sprout and blossom vividly.

Magic isn’t something you turn on and off. Your awareness of it may be awake or asleep, but dreaming or storytelling or being the story, the magic is what holds it together. But they (I’m writing about faery magic, remember, and natural magic as well) had a lot more to teach me than just how to sneak up on magic.

Logic

Things need to make sense — even in magic. Logic is important. Take the “humna” (half faery and half human) in Marzipan’s stories. Faery, as we know (!) exists and vibrates at a different and higher frequency than we do, just like ultra-violet light shines at a frequency that we don’t normally see — our eyes are not built for it. We also know that there is a thing called “entrainment” that happens naturally. If you take two fine crystal glasses and set them beside each other and then gently strike one so it begins ringing, soon the other one is ringing as well. The second glass is entrained with the first because the first is active and the second was passive. (This also happens in the chakra system, but we’ll talk about the results of that another time, if I remember to do it.)

So faery vibrates at a faster (higher) frequency than we humans do. If we spend time with them in the natural world, our vibration becomes higher as well — and it gradually changes our DNA so that we become more faery ourselves. This is just natural magic. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Logical. Plausible. It especially makes sense if you consider the Japanese notion of “forest bathing” that suggest that we feel much more relaxed and healthy if we spend peaceful time in a forest. Trees. Dryads. Think about it. (Here’s another thing to write about later — the modern thing in some ethically and scientifically advanced cities is to build apartments with gardens on the roof and in large balconies — what would that do to the people who live in them?) There is much to consider on this topic, including scientific studies that show that hyperactive children who spend some time in parks or natural place become calmer and cope with life better.

The Writer’s Medicine Bag

Another useful concept about writing that I came across recently was about medicine bags and the power objects in them. (I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten where I read this — it may have been in a story or perhaps from Michael Meade.) Every medicine bag contains power objects, and together the objects contain more potency than each one alone. It’s about the way they blend together and reinforce each other. As a writer, consider this: how is your story or thesis or novel a medicine bag with the power to transform, to do magic with the reader? How is each character a power object within that collective whole? If you think of them as a tribe — who serves which function in the society? How do they work together to get where they want to go? Is there any power object in the bag that conflicts with the overall goal? Can the power objects (people, places, things, ideas) find a resolution to any conflicts they have? And how do the power objects themselves transform as they create transformation around them?

These questions have to be answered — at least in our own minds if not in the story. The author actually needs to understand what’s going on even if the characters are mystified.

Image. I, mage.

Transformation is vital. The other day a few people and I had a short discussion about what makes Sir Terry Pratchett’s books so awesome — and I don’t use that word lightly. To me, it’s all about transformation. The characters in the stories (mostly) grow.

This made me think a lot about what a “better person” is and why it’s important to be one — and a TON of stuff about writing and a writer’s responsibility to the rest of the world, especially when things are such a mess as they are now. Part of Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliance is that he showed us a path without ever “teaching” or “preaching” but by a sort of osmosis. I suspect he hoped we’d be smart enough to figure it out for ourselves, which is really the only way to truly learn something.

What is the Path that we, as writers, are showing? Do we know? Are we, as ordinary magical people following it ourselves? If not, if we aren’t constantly testing it, how can we expect others to believe in or understand it? How will the story make sense without magical logic? And I suspect that this may be what is at the core of “magical realism” — what do you think about it?

You Know You’ve Made A Mistake When…

After lunch today, I stopped by small local store, which sells real food. I especially like their ice cream sandwiches made with quality vanilla ice cream and delicious homemade cookies. Clutching my treat, I headed for the counter. The young lady there glanced at my “Water Is Life” #NODAPL tee-shirt, and said, “Nice shirt.” As she rang things up and handed over the change, she looked straight in my eyes and said, “Thank you for your support.”

I stood there a moment processing my thoughts, and slowly began, “You know, I totally disapprove of fracking. And I despise these curst pipelines and the people who build them.” Building up steam, I added, “I’m not a violent person, but I’d like to stomp on their toes and slap their faces with an oily dead fish!”

She looked startled and then grinned. Leaning forward on the counter, eyes twinkling, she said, “You know they’ve made a mistake when grandmothers start rioting in the street!”

I nodded and laughed and, leaning on my cane, I stomped out fiercely to the car.

I’m going to get another tee-shirt made.

Signs, Storm Winds, Omens, & Birthdays

16 October 1987
On that night, twenty-nine years ago, there was a storm where I lived on a hill outside of Bath in England. It was a terrible, unpredicted storm — the worst at that time of year in 300 years — and the screaming wind woke me just after midnight. When I got up to look out of my small window at the thrashing trees, the window frame was yanked from my hand and slammed it against the stone wall. Luckily, the leaded glass was old and strong and wise to the ways of the wind. It didn’t break.

I looked at a clock: 12:01 AM. It was my 50th birthday. Poking my head out to feel the wind, I calmly said aloud, without the thought going through my brain first, “The winds of change are blowing tonight.”

It was a bit of a struggle to close the window, but then I slept soundly until sunrise, which doesn’t come early in mid-October. Upon awakening, I remembered the storm and looked out again. The autumn leaves were all stripped away, piled in drifts against old walls, and tree debris was everywhere. And I remembered — the winds of change had blown. Everything felt different, as it does after an ordinary storm, but even more so. The air had the sparkle of autumn, clear and bright, scoured clean by untimely wild wintry winds.

And yes, that was a year of great change for me. I moved — not far, just to a cottage nearby. I raised a small standing stone, planted many flowers, covered a lot of the roof with old-fashioned pink climbing roses, found a wild spring under my kitchen floor and persuaded it to move just outside, dug a place for it to make a tiny pond with water lilies, acquired a crafty cat (Samantha, the wisest healer I’ve every known), fell in love unwisely, and went home to Scotland on a holiday accompanied by the cat. (I was born in Oklahoma, grew up there and in Kansas and mostly in California, lived in Norway, moved to Scotland, went back to California, then moved to England where all of this took place — but Home was always Scotland.) It was a busy and life-changing year.

15 October 2016
A lot of things have happened in the twenty-nine years since that storm, and now I’m living in the forest near Port Townsend, Washington. It’s my birthday evening again, and a great storm is predicted. The wind is rising.

16 October 2016
Just as I wrote the above, the electricity went off. Very dramatic. It was 10:01 PM. The most sensible thing seemed to be to sleep, so I did — until the lights came back on — we’d only caught the northern edge of the storm. All of the cats jumped up on the bed, and Gabby Su firmly said, “The lights are on. Isn’t it time for breakfast? Aren’t you going to feed us naooow?”

They know perfectly well that breakfast is at nine, and the clocks in their stomachs are quite accurate. They were probably just hoping to catch me sleepy and off-guard and trick me out of an extra meal. I looked at the clock — 12:20 AM — and said to the cats, “It’s my birthday, you know.” I laid back down, intending to sleep, but I was restless.

So I went outside to look up and around. The wind had died, and I could see the stars in the clearing sky between the quiet trees. I wondered if there would be 79 stars if I counted, but really that was silly — of course there would be 79 — and more! My years are nothing compared to the stars in the sky. But as I stared up at the stars, I heard a quiet voice saying, “The storm is over. The light is back.”

What If the Universe Is Shaped Like a Cow?

cow-universe500
This may not make
a lot of sense
but I was sitting here thinking
about life, death, and the
eternal verities…
and the thought came dancing in,
“What if the universe
is shaped like a cow?”
And I thought about astrophysics
and hypotheses piled on top
of knackerty knotions
all sparkling and bright —
except when they are black holes.

I thought about people
being born and then dying —
the ultimate in absurdity.

What if the universe
is shaped like a pig
and in its heart of hearts
it says, “Oink!”
Or shaped like a peacock
that screams Skreeeee!”
and has eyes in his tail
made of ring galaxies?

Would it make any difference
to you or to me?
Well, it might make us laugh
more often.
Or take ourselves less seriously.
Or turn to the person beside us
and say, “It’s all so absurd
that I can’t help
but love you.”

© 2016 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

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