“Do you want to do a magic spell?” he asked. “We can try making it rain. We’ll be summoning the Horned God. But don’t worry; he’s nothing to do with the devil.”
I was excited. It felt transgressive and a little scary but I’d always wanted ‘real magic’ and dreamed my fantasy dreams. The shadowy, wild Horned God of the forest with his deer antlers and ragged skins and danger grabbed me by the throat and heart and mind. I was so in.
And that was my first introduction to practical enchantment. We did a Wiccan-esque ritual calling on the Horned God to bring rain. Wicca was basically the only thing we knew back in my mid-teens. It was powerful and transformative in a way I hadn’t expected and didn’t comprehend until years later. I could feel the energy of the magic circle we cast and the call to the Watchtowers that totally wasn’t stolen from The Craft movie at all. There was a rich early summer, golden and green energy to it. I think Beltane wasn’t too far off on this warm, sunny afternoon. The world of the unseen and mind-seen opened up for me in that moment. The walls of my reality dropped away, revealing vistas of green fields and slumbering forests and towering mountains. There were secrets lying waiting in places that had once been explained and rendered boring. And now I could see where they were and try to reach them.
Once our ritual was done and we had closed our amateur circle, cast clandestinely in the lounge room of my childhood home while my parents were out shopping, we raced outside to see what had happened. The sunny summer afternoon greeted us, white puffy clouds drifting across a clear blue sky. I was looking for what I thought were tangible real-world effects but I noticed in passing the feeling I had of wider senses, clearer sight, a richness and depth to the world that I hadn’t experienced before. Disappointment began to creep in. Our spell hadn’t worked. Nothing had happened.
“It might take a while for the spell to work,” he said, fueling my disappointment.
I could tell he was trying to explain away the lack of effect for himself as much as for me. Now I just felt like an idiot for standing in front of him in the lounge room chanting nonsense with my arms above my head. Obviously he had been the leader of the ritual and showed me what to do but my self-esteem wasn’t very robust at that stage of my life.
A lone cloud floated above a forested hill to the north of the house and suddenly it was raining. This one cloud rained a shower down on the trees below it five minutes after we called on a forest God to bring rain. It was so localised and so brief that probably no one else saw it, but we did.
It doesn’t seem real. It did at the time and we were amazed and elated. The gods had listened to us and we had brought rain. It quickly faded from realness, decaying into that materialist mental space of ‘did I really see that?’, ‘did I just make it up?’, ‘have I mis-remembered what happened?’, ‘was it an optical illusion or a coincidence?’, ‘was it just what I wanted to see?’
But I know it happened. The Horned God listened and fulfilled our non-specific petition for rain. The rain was real. The magic was real. I made it happen.
This year has been all about stories for me. I’ve never been more aware of how stories shape reality. The power and sheer proliferation of stories is overwhelming. Every person has their own story about every event. That’s billions and billions of stories, cascading, intersecting, feeding and birthing each other.
Back in April I found myself feeling offended that there wasn’t a single ‘right’ story about the coronavirus. Of course that’s stupid and naive. There has never been one right story about anything. And intellectually I know that. But sitting in my apartment, day after day, immersed in news stories, social media stories, conspiracy stories, friends’ stories, family stories, and being able to see that all of them were conflicting and lying and wrong drowned me. I needed one solid truth to hold onto, to get my head into the air, and there wasn’t one. I drowned in despair and fear and uncertainty.
Now I’m watching the Black Lives Matter protests and these stories burn me with rage and sickness. The lies and deceits, the omissions, the racist framing choices, the desperation, the actors, and the screaming into silence…all burn.
The protests and BLM stories playing out now are all stories that have the power to show people something they have no concept of. They reveal the stories that are so deeply embedded that you don’t know they’re there, or that they even are stories. You assume that the story is reality, when it’s not.
But that’s the power of story.
Stories are a human and linear way of understanding something that is not linear, something that is an intrusion of the unlimited, numinous potential of the universe, of creation. It’s called creation for a reason. Stories are the most powerful of ideas—ideas with shape, direction, force, energy and soul. Ideas that draw people and events into their flow.
Stories are an act of creation, making space for new things, shaping and changing reality.
A couple of days later I found that some pawpaw trees had sprouted in the abandoned and ignored garden attached to my building. It’s likely they’ve come from a possum or fruit bat. I thought it was interesting and then forgot.
A month or so ago, I discovered a random passion fruit vine had been quietly winding its way through the hibiscus and myrtle bushes and had produced a couple of fruits. Again, no human had planted it and it’s likely to have come from an animal. But I’ve lived here for years and this is the only time there has ever been food-plants on the property.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, one of my neighbours, who I’ve spoken less than 20 words to in the whole time I’ve been here, knocked on my door to talk excitedly to me about his plans to put in a communal vegetable and herb garden. Pretty sure I stared at him like I was going crazy.
Last weekend they started clearing the space. We now have a compost pile of sorts.
People are buying plants. One of my other neighbours is building raised garden beds in his garage. And my contribution so far is the weed matting and mulch.
I wrote a dinky little story about communal food resources and sustainable living in an urban environment and ended up manifesting the damn thing by accident.
That is the power of stories. Especially in the hands of magical people. That is the one truth I can hold on to—by telling the right stories we can create the amazing, beautiful, inclusive and hopeful future we want.
So I’ve started another story. And this time, I’m putting in effort. I can’t wait for it to happen.
One week later we already have pea shoots. Also, a neighbour randomly brought up in conversation how good intentions improve plant growth. It was very hard to hold a sensible expression while I responded that I’d read some research that supported that, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s going on at the moment in terms of narratives. It seems like everyone has their own version of the crisis—everyone’s going to die, no one’s actually sick, COVID’s very infectious, children can’t pass it on, stay home to keep safe, it’s my right to exercise, there’s no toilet paper, I made bread.
But these are not the myths of this time. These are the small personal stories that are played out and leave scars and fade across the ages. The myth is much bigger. To find a version of it, I looked to the astrology. Jupiter entering its fall in Capricorn and conjoining the South Node. The Pluto/Saturn conjunction in Capricorn. Venus retrograde in Gemini and Jupiter retrograde in Capricorn.
What follows is probably not very good astrology, but it is a mythic-style narrative. And I tried to put into it some of the teaching elements that myths have—the advice for what to do in this situation that can be handed down through thousands of years in a simple-seeming story until it’s needed again.
I’m not pretending that this blog post could become anything that epic. But writing it was cathartic. I actually wrote it a week ago and almost deleted it because the depression and oppression swamped me for a while. But I made it through that wave and this has helped me frame what’s happening. It’s reassuring to be able to see the way to an ending that I would like.
The myth of this moment
The King of the Dead and the Lord of Time conspired long together. They saw the brightness of the Queen of Heaven and the fiery joy of the Sky King and decided that a harsh lesson must be taught.
The Queen of Heaven slipped by them, one at a time and thought she was free. But the Lord of Time and the King of the Dead cast spells on her. For they knew her sister would soon call her down into the Underworld to imprison and slay her and they hoped to weaken the Queen so that she would not return.
The Sky King they called to their mountain fastness where he was weak, and combining their powers they unleashed the Dragon on him. The Sky King overcame the Dragon, but its tail battered him, sapping what little strength remained to him.
And while Sky King was distracted, the King of the Dead and the Lord of Time emerged from the Underworld and, hidden by the bright beams of the Sun, they enacted their deadly plan.
A plague was unleashed upon the land and, though it killed, that was not its true purpose.
It took the people of the Sky King—the travellers, the explorers, the teachers, the generous—and it locked them up and made them hoard their goods greedily.
It took the people of the Queen of Heaven—the lovers, the dancers, the musicians, the friends—and silenced them and made them fear each other.
And the King and the Queen looked down on the world and saw that all they had worked for was gone. And they despaired.
And the Queen of Heaven was dragged down into the Underworld. And the Sky King fell on the very border of the King of the Dead’s domain and tumbled back down the unforgiving mountainside.
But the people saw what had been done to their strong and beautiful Queen and their wise and generous King. And they realised with horror the parts they had been forced to play.
So the people gathered together in any way they could. And they cared for one another, and sang songs, and played music, and taught children, and made plans for the future.
And the echoes of their joy and love went down into the Underworld and up into the stony heights and the Queen of Heaven and the Sky King were renewed and came forth once more.
And the people danced joyfully with the ones they loved. #RSPM
I recently had an experience where I stood outside the solar system, looking down on it and rolling and unrolling time as I moved through space and swung my arms. But even that is too linear a description for the experience. I could see and feel that everything was cyclical—endless iterations of the same moments, small or short ones nested in larger, longer ones, spherical layers of varying thickness that could be moved around, along and through or turned and twisted and realigned like a quantum puzzle box. But always the same moments/entities from the longest to the shortest, from the micro to beyond the macro.
And I say it was a recent experience because measured on a calendar it’s just a few months. Experientially, it is a lifetime ago.
This disruption of my once-strong sense of linear time has continued and may be getting stronger.
I mentioned in my post about my visit to Marcus’ pā site the strange feeling of entering cyclical time. So much of that experience brought the past and the future together and tangled them in the present. We did an intention exercise for the future of the site but what was confusing for me was that I kept getting a strong feeling of ancestors. I took me a long time to realise that these were future ancestors—ancestors that hadn’t even been born yet. But still ancestors: the dead who have passed on and now look back to help the living.
I’ve been doing a lot of ancestral healing work, using Daniel Foor’s methods (highly recommended). But that started well before my visit to the pā site, which had a massive ancestral healing focus for me. So if I hadn’t done the healing work before going, would it still have had that focus? Would I have had the opportunity to go if I hadn’t done the prior healing work? Or was it because I was going to go that I started the healing work months before?
I’m wondering after my experience with the pā site’s future ancestors if, once you’ve got your past ancestors healed, you can then call on your future ancestors—descendancestors, if you like—and bring back even greater healing and magic from them because the healing you did in the past has strengthened them even further. If time is cyclical, that means there must be a point where your ancestors and descendants converge at the opposite point in the cycle, the other side of the circle to you.
But that point is probably also you, making the cycle more like an infinity loop. Which means that your ancestors and descendants only belong to either the past or the future depending on which way you are facing.
Pulling things back from this trippy abyss (and before I break out the Burger Rings) one of the immediate, linear-time effects of this visit to cyclical time at the pā site was my outrageous ‘luck’ in catching connecting flights home. I was delayed over and over again, well past my scheduled layover times but I always somehow managed to make the connections. I’ve travelled internationally enough to know that this sort of thing does not normally happen. And I wasn’t the only one who experienced it.
Since then, it’s not that I know things before they happen, but I’ve found myself doing or saying things that end up being extremely advantageous for me when later events happen. In other cases, the things I did or said are literally just ahead of actual events. I randomly decided to trial working from home a few days before everyone was forced to. Again and again I’ve found myself spending time on tangential matters at work only to find out that they’re suddenly incredibly necessary and urgent. And here I am, already prepared.
The smack-upside-the-head example of this for me was the lunation rite I started in February that ended with me getting a temporary promotion right when hundreds of thousands of other people started losing their jobs.
This shift outside of linear time may be something that boosts the effectiveness of magic.
For the first time in my life I am actually starting to feel ritual. I’ve never been able to connect with ritual before now. It always felt artificial and constrictive. But now I can feel my daily recitation of the Orphic Hymns stepping me outside of linear time and connecting with all of the Monday’s that have ever been. I’ve been doing it daily for almost a year now, so maybe I’ve just reached that tipping point where daily practice becomes a ritual. But this has coincided exactly with the massive disruption to linear time perception that quarantine creates. At the same time as my ability to access space has been reduced, my ability to connect to cyclical time has increased.
Would I have been in this position if I hadn’t had those experiences in January? Or did I/my ancestors/my descendants/whoever arrange those experiences so that I could reach this point at this time in this place?
To bring things back around to the beginning again, my break with linear time in January was only a few days off the Saturn/Pluto conjunction in Capricorn—the planet of time meeting the planet of death. And the current escalation coincides with Saturn’s shift to Aquarius—the air sign beyond the boundaries of the norm.
So, how much of this is in my mind and how much is not? If we’re moving into the Jupiter/Saturn air triplicity this year, is there any difference anymore?
Why did my experience of cyclical time begin with a vision of the solar system? Maybe it is a gift from the stars themselves—the campfires of our ancestors.
Inspired by Rune Soup’s last premium members’ course on wealth magic and Circle Thrice’s lunation rite, I decided to do a magic-every-day practice for the Pisces to Virgo lunation (24 Feb to 24 Mar). It wasn’t the full Circle Thrice lunation rite. I’ve never done something like this before and I was worried about the amount of time that daily ritual would take. I also don’t really have an existing relationship with many of the deities Ivy suggests petitions for and I haven’t done very much with the grimoires yet, either. So I feel like I’m coming at that rite from a less than ideal starting point.
I decided to simplify, go my own route and focus on the daily planetary rulers. I began exploring astrology a couple of years ago and it has gradually permeated much of my practice. I feel a very strong connection to the astro-energies now and tapping into them over the last year magically has been extremely effective.
I have a physical representation of the planets, each one a sphere of semi-precious stone that I collected at random over the years and one day realised matched almost perfectly. They all live in a line on one of my bookshelves in my Spirit Room (read: spare bedroom). Each morning I hold the sphere relating to the planet that rules the day (Sun for Sunday, Moon for Monday, etc.) and recite the relevant Orphic Hymn. I then place the sphere on a little bowl/stand on the shelf above the others, directly over the Earth sphere to represent it ruling the day. I do the same each night for the night planetary ruler.
It was easy enough to add a sigil to my daily morning practice so I figured I’d see if I could tie together a sigil statement relevant to the lunar day and the planetary ruler of the day. It worked surprisingly well. Although there were a couple I had to get creative with, such as Mars ruling one of the lunar love days and Venus ruling the lunar day for compelling enemies. But in the end, I managed to work it out.
I set up a spreadsheet with all of the lunar days and their rulers and spent a few days at the start of the month preparing appropriate sigil statements. That meant there was no thought involved in the actual process, making each morning launch as easy as possible.
The daily ritual was simple—my usual morning prayers, the creation of a sigil based on the statement of the day and then reciting the Orphic Hymn of the daily ruler to the sigil as a means of activating it. I found the whole thing surprisingly effective, with the added bonus of getting better at crafting sigils on the fly. I managed to do a sigil for every day (a couple of times I even did two), not necessarily in the hour of the ruler, but as close to it as I could. I kept the sigils in a stack on my altar, each one waiting for the next day’s to cover it.
I’m really pleased with the outcome of the lunation rite. Obviously it had a wealth focus. I didn’t get the result I planned but, while thousands of people were losing their jobs, I got the opportunity to act in a higher role that pays a lot more than I’m used to. It means I’m completely exhausted and run off my feet dealing with all this pandemic stuff but I am so incredibly grateful. It’s a very Jupiter-in-Capricorn outcome, really—here’s more money and status but, boy are you going to work for it.
I started this lunation rite in a very different world to the one in which it ended. I’m very glad I did it when I did because I think that the effectiveness was boosted by already being in flow as the big change hit. I wasn’t suddenly trying to change a difficult situation. Instead, I had early tendrils reaching out into the future, already seeking the best possible outcome even as the situation changed, and that’s what helped me land it.
I’ve been doing a lot of personal work on my self-confidence and my ability to open up and be vulnerable with other people. Slowly dismantling all those little self-created complexes and bargains I made over my life that hold me back from relationships and intimacy. Working back through all those insecurities and fears that I’ve built up from small events as a child (or as an adult). Acknowledging, accepting and congratulating all those decisions I made that were the best I could do with the knowledge and experience that I had at the time.
I’m closer than I’ve ever been to self-love, self-confidence, and being ready to actually try an intimate relationship with another human being (preferably someone who looks like Henry Cavill).
And now, across the world, people aren’t allowed to touch each other.
Well, FUCK THAT! FUCK THAT SO MUCH!!
Especially because the ruler of my 7th House is in my 12th, which apparently means I’m more likely to hook up with sexy foreign men. (Although, I guess there’s also a case to be made for some kind of quarantine romance—not quite as sexy as a vacation romance in an Italian winery but…)
Obviously I’m not advocating for, or at all planning on, breaking the physical distancing measures. Sick isn’t sexy.
But what I am doing is all Venus, all the time.
She’s the one planet in my natal chart that’s in a good house so I’ve enlisted her help with this area of my life. Inspired in part by Rune Soup’s latest premium member course on wealth, I’ve created a Venus altar.
I chose the statue very deliberately. My Venus doesn’t modestly veil her nudity with hair and hands. My Venus dances naked down the middle of the street, blowing kisses to all the boys. My Venus is confident and proud of her body. My Venus is not afraid to show it all off, to feel sexy. My Venus is open and vulnerable and powerful. My Venus lets people in and loves them all fiercely, careless of whether they might hurt her. My Venus adorns herself with beautiful things, embraces the stares and compliments. My Venus is sensual and loving and joyful.
My Venus is who I want to be.
So, while I can’t go out and meet new people and be with them and touch them, I’m going to soak myself in all things Venus. I’m going to carry her with me wherever I go. I’m going to fill my home with beauty and art and music and light. I’m going to make sure that, by the time this is over, I’m in an even better place than I was before. I am going to burst from my apartment like a goddess from the ocean and bring love and joy to the world.
In my dream I turned off the main road onto the narrow footpath that leads to my street. The end of my street is walled off from the road by a line of fig trees. Their grey-skinned boles are massive—much bigger than I remember. Thick aerial roots brace wide-flung branches, curtaining off the rushing traffic with living wood.
My street was not there.
The asphalt of the dead end had been dug up. A mass of plants and trees grew in a riotous, scrappy, untended mess. I could see the remains of the sidewalks, though they were black instead of pale concrete. I made for the nearest one, picking my way through the jungle of weeds.
The bushes parted and a woman emerged from the tangle. Her black face, haloed by silver and black curls, wrinkled further in a smile. She was wearing a blue dress and sat in a copper, throne-like chair. The chair stepped delicately forward on its four articulated legs. Wide metal wings unfolded from its tall back, feather-like plates spreading and rotating to catch the sunlight. I realised the regal-looking woman could not walk.
She gestured to the pile of vegetables in her lap. “Just grabbing a few things for dinner,” she said.
She was entirely unsurprised to see me. “Can you grab a few of those mangoes?” she asked. “They’ll be good for dessert.”
I looked around. A young tree dangled yellow and orange fruit below thick dark leaves. The scene clicked into place.
This was a garden.
The whole end of the street had been turned into a communal food forest. Herbs and root vegetables hugged the ground under berry bushes. Vines climbed fruit trees. It wasn’t a mess. It was a perfectly ordered natural system.
I picked the mangoes and followed the woman to the black sidewalk. A few chickens strutted calmly out of her way. Bees buzzed, the scent of sun-warmed herbs wafted about me.
As the woman’s walking chair clicked down the path, dozens of shiny beetles flitted up out of the way, filling the air with sparkles.
“They’re our cleaning drones,” she said, noticing my gaze. “The kiddies make them in school and program them to keep the solar panels and water pipes clean. They have competitions over who can build the most efficient or prettiest ones.”
She watched them for a moment. “The little one with the moustache is my favourite.”
I looked closer at the bright blue one she indicated, hovering in the air. Sure enough, it appeared to have a huge bristly moustache, presumably as part of its cleaning function. It made me smile.
The balconies of the houses and apartments lining the street-garden overflowed with more plants and flowers. There were even more varied types, chosen for beauty and reasons other than food. Myriad pipes crisscrossed any available wall space, hugging corners and feeding into larger ones that disappeared underground. It took me a moment to realise that they were collecting every spare drop of water that fell on the buildings. Tall, graceful spiral and whorl structures lined all the roof peaks, rotating in the afternoon breeze.
The buildings were familiar but so different.
We reached the cross-street at the bottom of the slope. A bank had been built across the width of the street, holding back the water of a wide green pond. Big geese clustered on the edge. Beyond it, shaded by trees, a group of nine or ten people were sitting silently on the ground in a circle, as if in meditation.
A bunch of shrieking kids ran up, chasing the buzzing cleaning beetles with small nets, followed by an over-excited terrier.
“Hi Gramma!” screamed a couple of the kids, waving at the woman.
She waved back. “I just saw Mister Whiskers up near the sweet potatoes, if you’re looking for him,” she called back. “How about you all head up there so you don’t disturb the Intenders.”
The kids took off back the way we’d come.
The cross-street had been narrowed considerably to make room for more plantings on the extra-wide footpaths. The clearway was probably only wide enough for one car and was paved with yet more solar panels. Narrow driveways, lined with flowers, led into the old two- and three-story apartment blocks. Only a couple of garages held electric cars. The rest had been converted into various workshops—potteries, smithies, machine shops, CAD printeries. A wide variety of people, young and old, were at work.
The woman turned up the narrow path of an old brick building that overlooked the communal garden. I almost didn’t recognise that it was my building. She wasn’t a new neighbour, was she? Her solar wings tucked in neatly down the back of her chair as she passed under the interlacing branches of a wattle tree and a macadamia tree. A cat lounging on the low garden wall got a brief pat.
I spotted a possum nest in the branches of the wattle tree. Native beehives hung high up the wall of the apartment building. Thick golden spiderwebs, shining in the sun, stretched above our heads along the path.
Everywhere was a feeling of clean, joyful, peaceful life. It was beautiful. Tension I didn’t even know I carried unwound in my heart and belly.
The woman’s walking chair clanked up the stairs. Some kind of gyroscopic arrangement meant that she floated smoothly upwards while the copper limbs danced underneath. Cool ferns and delicate climbing vines draped the rails and landings.
The door to my apartment opened automatically as we approached and the woman went inside. I hurried after her, alarmed that she had access to my home. But the furniture inside was different. Same layout, but not mine. But some of my landscapes still hung on the walls.
The woman piled her vegetables into the kitchen sink and turned to me. I realised that I wasn’t carrying the mangoes anymore. They had vanished. My body was fading, too.
“Well, grandad, what can I do for you today?” she asked.
I stared at her, bewildered and frightened. Her bright green-brown eyes watched me.
Every night as a child, I could tell it was just outside my window, staring in with malevolent intent. The only thing protecting me from it, from its teeth and claws and eyes, was a fragile pane of glass. I wanted to peek through the curtain to see if what I sensed was “actually there”. And I was too terrified to look or even move too close in case it was. The wolf in my window was my greatest childhood terror. I instinctively understood that it was there and not there and that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it.
Along with the wolf came the screaming. Unearthly high pitched wails that drifted out of the night, sometimes far off, sometimes far too close. They had a mournful, desperate quality, as though some lonely creature was wandering through the darkness, crying. There was never a physical threat component to these screams, but they terrified me as much as the wolf.
My response was to curl up with the blankets over my head, no matter how hot it was, because I knew that if the bad things couldn’t see me, they couldn’t get me. My doona was a shield against the horrors in the darkness.
The thought occurred to me—what if the wolf one day smashed its way through the window.
Nothing bad was allowed into my house. And yes, that did include the screaming creature roaming the night. And no, preventing that one specifically from coming it did not somehow allow other non-specified bad things in. And no, it didn’t matter if they tried to force their way in through a window or a door. And yes, that did include doors or windows that my parents had left open. No, bad humans were also not allowed in. No. Yes, it did work for that. No. No. Yes. No…
Before I realised what I was doing, I had a nightly shielding ritual prayer designed to protect my house and family. It started out as a series of no’s and yes’s and qualifications as I imagined all the possibilities and tried to cover off on them all. Eventually, it evolved into a more typical prayer to deity, with the same focus and a lot of repetition until I felt comfortable enough to go to sleep.
This was my introduction to magical practice. I performed this prayer ritual every single night of my life, mostly from fear of what might happen if I missed a night. Taking on that kind of bullshit responsibility for all the world’s unfortunate chances wasn’t healthy and it’s taken me a long time to let go of it (still working on it). But it was what I needed to deal with the terrifying things that I was facing as a child and I did the best I could with the information and experience I had. So go me!
I’m just now realising the benefits of this slightly messed up practice.
My magical shielding is stellar. As soon as I extended my sphere of influence in my nightly prayers to the edge of our yard, the wolf at the window vanished. He came back once or twice, but a quick recitation was enough to banish him again. The horrifically screaming thing in the night turned out to be a bush stone curlew. My dad bought a bird book to show me what it looked like and my fear instantly vanished. Interestingly, no curlews ever ventured onto our property.
And the protection has continued. I’ve done it nightly for all the places I’ve lived as well as my childhood home where my parents still live. That house has to be one of the most well-protected places in the world by now after 10,000+ nightly prayers.
I’ve managed to turn a fear-based unhealthy habit into a powerful regular magical practice and I’m actually kind of proud of that.
My recent visit to the Ngā Ariki Kaipūtahi pā site and Mangatū River with other Rune Soup premium members
Part 1 – The Gatekeepers
It feels significant that we started our experience in the Pacific Ocean. I only just realised that my hotel for the first couple of nights overlooked the mouth of the Waimata/Taruheru Rivers. Water is the theme of this experience, from source to river to ocean, blood and tears; Water is Life.
The stingrays at Dive Tatapouri have to be some of the most alien creatures I’ve ever encountered. Their shapes, appearance, movement, colour—everything about them is what the unthinking part of my mind considers ‘other’. They carry the endless inscrutable depth and expanse of the entire Pacific Ocean.
They also have names like “Tara”, “Pancake” and “Waffle”.
Interacting with them was like being accosted by curious, slippery and over-enthusiastic couch cushions. I was equal parts nervous, weirded out and enchanted. From their bizarrely adorable little smiley mouths to the instinctive and cultural feelings of avoidance their tail barbs engendered, they are fascinating, strange and beautiful creatures. Feeding them was like having a piece of fish vacuumed out of your fingers while the aforementioned couch cushion tried its best to climb your legs. That close to the surface, they make snuffly cow-like noises when they breathe. That was my biggest shock. How such a familiar, relatable sound could be made by these mysteriously majestic alien creatures. Needless to say, enchantment won out and I could have spent hours standing out in the water in those unflattering green waders until the stingrays got bored and left or pushed me over to try and find any food I was carrying.
Those stingrays were the gateway guardians to a watery underworld I wasn’t prepared for.
Part 2 – The Descent
Ironically accomplished by driving up into the hills—crammed comfortably in a car, enfolded in the scent of fresh herbs, with people I’d just met who turned out to be some of the most beautiful human beings ever. And that description applied to everyone on the retreat—amazingly beautiful human beings; so happy to have met them, so sad I had to leave.
I was not prepared for the singing requirement of the pōwhiri. Singing in front of anyone else is not something I do, let alone in a completely unfamiliar language. I have a just good enough sense of pitch to be able to hear how bad I actually am. But the earnest enthusiasm of our driver/choirmaster quickly had us all singing along, practicing—for which I was very grateful when we arrived.
The pōwhiri itself didn’t match anything that I expected from my pre-arrival preparatory google. Surprise. It was us moving here and there, with the formality of a chess game, in response to the movements of our hosts, accompanied by long speeches in the beautiful Maori language. I didn’t understand either movement or words at the time but I felt like I was a puzzle piece filling the correct shape and place and time. Hovering in the air throughout the entire site is a feeling of something deeper and older and yet-to-be, waiting to be filled in by physical objects.
After passing through the gates and challenges and greeting each other in language and song, we sat down at one of the biggest tables ever to eat. There we introduced ourselves by speaking our names and our ancestry, our blood, and the lands in which that blood now flowed. Now that we were in ceremony, even such a simple thing held meaning enough to catch heart and tears.
I was not at all prepared for such depth of feeling.
Part 3 – The Underworld
Marcus compared the path down to the pā site to entering the Underworld. The site sits on the slope of the hill below the marae and has its own spiritual energy that is utterly disconnected from modern Western concepts of linear time. That sense of underworld energy, of timelessness and of being within cyclical time permeated the entire weekend.
The retreat itself was one big long ceremony that contained smaller ceremonies within it and smaller ceremonies within those as individuals or smaller groups performed their own rituals or actions of meaning. Time became largely meaningless (which I’m sure annoyed Gordon and the other organisers at times), but from where I walked, everything was perfectly arranged and landed in exactly the most impactful way.
I can’t go into everything that we did there. I don’t have the words to do it justice. And I’d probably misquote Gordon’s amazing talks enough to get a justifiably exasperated tweet. But I can tell you that we spent hours poring over what ended up being an absolutely stunning despacho, filled with many prayers and wishes and the greatest of all intentions—right relation.
We went on a short hikoi up the Mangatū River. I should have worn thongs because walking barefoot over those river rocks was incredibly painful. Learning that those beautiful braided river beds should have been deep flowing streams instead of choked with silt made me feel like I was sharing the pain of the river itself.
We visited an old pā site of Marcus’ family that had been flooded and silted up so often from the erosion caused by European farming practices that it had to be abandoned. In less than 30 years, the ground level had risen to the roof eaves of the old broken building. The first thing Marcus did on our arrival was thank us (many of us white people of European descent) for coming to that place—an action of such grace and regal dignity that my heart broke and I descended into a blubbering mess for the rest of that visit. While Marcus spoke of healing, joy and family there, I mourned quietly for what my ancestors had done. In the end we were all healed.
We did intentions and lunar mansion mantras for the flourishing of the pā site, for wealth and for the healing of people and the river.
We received the gift of the children of the Mangatū River—white quartz stones—and blessed them with many sacred waters so that we could seed that magic across the world.
I received a romi romi healing session from Ariana that dragged me down out of my head and poured me back into my body and the earth below my feet. It was an incredibly deep and confronting healing experience.
We sat on the grass under the wide night sky and discussed conspiracy theories, the construction of the moon and ancient stories of the stars.
We made music and sang and told scary stories around a sacred fire, tapping into an ancient space, time, place and practice that was also new and yet-to-be.
We conspired in the latest and darkest hours of the night to make the world a better place.
We slept in the painstakingly constructed traditional buildings of the pā site, in the uttermost peaceful, dream-filled depths of the Underworld.
By the end, walking barefoot and sitting in the dirt on the land was normal. Tears were normal. Conversations of magic and astrology and visions, spirits and dreams were normal. Feeling the hopeful and beautiful future shape of the world was normal.
This retreat was transformative for the soul.
Part 4 – The Return
Before I left home, knowing Marcus’ work with the rivers in New Zealand and at Standing Rock, I walked to the head of a tributary of my local river. I’d seen this tributary soggy but never flowing, because it’s a seasonal stream and I think a lot of the water flow happens in the earth. Also the surrounding suburbs channel a lot of the water runoff away to other places. I was allowed to select a stone to take with me as a gift to the Mangatū River, as long as I brought back the blessings of the waters I received over there.
I found a small piece of white quartz.
I gave this stone to Marcus and Ariana before I left.
When I returned home with the blessings of many waters, I found this:
The same place where I found the stone, which a week before had been dry and dusty, was now flowing with clear water. I’m not taking credit for the ridiculous amount of much-needed rain that the entire east coast of Australia received while I was away, but this is one of those ‘coincidences’ that let you know that magic is happening and that you’re in right relation with the land and more-than-land.
Another sign that I got (which is probably only going to make sense to those of us who heard Gordon’s talk at the retreat that mentioned bees) is when I returned to work and re-noticed the canvas I’d hung up behind my desk 6 months ago of photos I’d taken on holiday the year before:
Do bees work? I don’t anymore, although I still have a job.
I have a job that helps 5 million people … in an office that overlooks a river … that received the blessing of many waters … from a gift I gave to a man … who walked the rivers of an island … after starting to rebuild the pā site of his ancestors … who journeyed there an age ago … from across the Pacific Ocean.
Disclaimer: I’m a white Australian with English, Irish and German ancestry. My knowledge of and contact with Maori history, culture and language is limited to non-existent. I’ve tried my best to be respectful and not screw anything up, and I’m documenting the experience from an outsider’s perspective in a way that should, I hope, convey my respect and wonder. Please let me know in the comments if I stuffed anything up.
I drive down a long dirt road through a magical forest of dark twisted trees and sunshine. Butterflies and bees flutter and buzz through the late golden and green light. When I wonder if the road will end, it does and there is a squat castle of stone and glass.
The castle is full of sweet blue smoke. I listen to the wind beating at the walls. It’s night and a lone ship on the ocean shines a bright light into the castle. The smoke becomes a shadowy robed figure who offers me a crystal cup. I drink. It tastes like a mouthful of soy sauce.
I lie on a soft bed and the smoke figure begins to pace and sing. I wonder what I’m doing there and if I’m supposed to do something. The song continues and I feel it in my body. Notes thrill up my legs. Pure excitement and joy builds in my belly, my solar plexus, my heart. It’s like being a kid on Christmas morning but more and better.
I start to shiver and twitch uncontrollably. I’m laughing. I didn’t know the human body was capable of feeling like this. It’s overwhelming and explosive and too much and sublimely perfect. My body rises up off the bed, drawn by the star newborn in my solar plexus.
Every sensation is overwhelming and joyful and perfect. Each one is another distraction, tumbling my awareness on and on. This must be what it’s like for a spirit incarnated into a body for the first time, I think. And that thought is perfection. And so is that one. I spiral in and out, folding and widening over and over again until I am almost at the centre of the universe. I reach for the nature of being but it is so, so intensely joyful that I laugh and the laughter tumbles me back through the sensations, beginning the cycle again.
Just as I am about to joyfully shatter into the endlessness of spirit, the smoke figure appears. She stoops over me. From her lantern spills a rain of sparkling starlight. Each soft silver drop that falls on me lightly presses me back into the bed, quenching the fiery star in my solar plexus, easing the pressure of purest bliss. A brilliant woman of bright white light and lightning tendrils withdraws. I had not seen her there before.
The smoke figure offers me another drink from the same crystal cup. I am nervous and reluctant. It tastes ever so slightly different. I lie on the bed again but now it is hard and scratchy and uncomfortable. The smoke figure sings again but it is grating and annoying. The noise jangles and clangs and I shudder again and again. It feels like my body is trying to get away, piece by piece, organ by organ, bone by bone.
I roll over and over, trying to get comfortable. It is the same bed but not. The ship’s light now glares in the darkness with bright white hate. I am afraid of it and keep to the shadows so it can’t see me.
The smoke figure is making me choke and gasp for air. Its sweetness is gone. A woman made of long, hard spiky green leaves steps forwards. Her thorny tendrils encircle me, cutting me off from everything. I mourn for the loss of bliss. This must be what it’s like for a spirit incarnated into a body for the first time, I think.
Somewhere outside someone is crying. I feel pity for them but irrational hatred for the sound. I wonder why the smoke figure does not help them. But she is standing over me, a red nurse in a red surgical mask, attending the green woman of spikes and thorns.
The red nurse stabs me with her silver scalpel, hundreds of tiny pricks and jabs.
This must be what it’s like for a spirit incarnated into a body for the first time, I think.
Somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I couldn’t grow things, that I was the opposite of a green thumb. I repeated it and joked about it and told people stories of the pot plants I’d somehow managed to kill. I forgot about the gardening I did for my parents as a kid—but that was their garden, so the responsibility wasn’t mine. I also forgot about the small section of the side garden that I convinced my parents to let me have. I filled it with succulents and cacti and ferns and pebbles, all laid out in a very careful design. I was so into it for about 3 days before I lost interest. But some of those plants remained there for years until mum redid the landscaping.
When I moved into an apartment by myself I decided to brighten up the bare, glaringly hot balcony with some pot plants. I bought a bunch, put them in big plastic pots and cared for them with dedication and love. But no matter what I did, they wilted and died. I didn’t work out why until I uprooted the dead stems to find soaking wet soil.
Turned out I’d loved them a bit too much.
That was the turning point, though. I pulled out the ones that were still mostly alive, dried out their roots a little and cut off the rotten parts. I invested in better quality terracotta pots and replanted everything. And I monitored carefully just how much I was watering. (So hard to stop because watering is love!)
Three golden cane palms and one Yesterday Today Tomorrow survived. I’m pretty proud of that. I stopped telling myself the story of how I couldn’t grow things. That wasn’t true anymore, if it ever had been.
Last year Gordon White piqued my interest around permaculture and growing your own food. I decided to give growing food a go and see what I could manage in the limited space I had. I went all out. Nothing was off limits and most of what I tried was from seed. I planted tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, lettuce, rocket and even corn.
It wasn’t a perfect success. I got aphids and white mold. Things didn’t get enough water. Some got too much. I underestimated the amount of plant food I’d need to add to the relatively closed systems of the pots and stunted growth. It got too hot as summer came on and a few plants got burned. But I adjusted. I learned a bit more about listening to plants and actually hearing what they needed. I put up shade cloth on the balcony railing (great decision). I bought mini greenhouses which I then had to cover with netting because they got too hot. I bought chicken-wire in the middle of the city and put it up to keep out the possums.
One of the most effective things I did was a regular recitation of the Orphic hymn to Ceres, goddess of agriculture, crops and fertility. Apparently she approved of my little garden because my plants took off, blossoming and fruiting as soon as I started that.
In the end I managed to grow a salad lunch.
After that harvest, the weather and my north-facing balcony got way too hot and humid so most things died. I could have tried harder to save them but I decided it wasn’t a good investment, especially considering that I don’t currently need to grow my own food. The goal of the experiment was to see if I could—to break the false story I’d told about myself—and that was a success.
I actually managed to grow corn on a balcony in the middle of a city.