Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Lorelei Manifesto: Post-Cloudcatcher Experience

~ The following (rather long) post was written by me not long after Cloudcatcher Witchcamp 2012.  Mild language warning ~

As I sit here now, it is 7am. I had last night set my mental alarm for 6am, and intended to have already studied for an hour by this time. But after waking on time, stretching, preparing breakfast, washing dishes and just being grateful for life, that hour is already gone. And I in no way consider it a wasted hour.

A lot of things have been changing lately, and many of these accelerated after attending Cloudcatcher Witchamp. I was fairly happy before then, or thought I was. I had no real goals (beyond the goal I have had since early high school to eventually be an author), but I was studying a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy, and had some vague plans that I might eventually go into research one day, to fill the horrendous gaps in knowledge that exist as the natural health profession struggles to validate its presence in the world of science, doctors and pharmaceuticals.

But after five days amongst rainforested mountains, lush waterfalls and idyllic farms scattered through sun-blessed hills, sharing time and space and energy with amazing beautiful people, I came back to a world that made no sense…

I came back to a world where people were so obsessed with earning their qualification in Naturopathy they had to sacrifice some of the the very tenets of natural health the degree taught them about. It is taken for granted that as a student, one must suffer periods of high stress and anxiety, scrambling to find the time to complete assignments and read dozens of research articles. So I sat there and thought that I would step back a little. Find and read articles and complete assignments at a more placid pace, one that didn’t leave me completely fried at the end of a day or week, with no studying into the evening past about 6 or 7. And what I am found at this pace was that if one has no social life, little to no leisure, spends no time preparing proper meals, no gardening, no time helping others, maybe even skips classes, one could probably get the assignments done to a decent quality. But Naturopathy teaches that one shouldn’t live in such a way, that we should find harmony and balance, that stress is the biggest killer. That we should eat good nutritious food and take the time to enjoy it. That we should get enough sleep. So it seems one can either study Naturopathy as a university degree, or practice it in their lives, but the two seem incompatible in a simultaneous manner.

And yes, uni students get a lot of time off throughout the year, but I honestly would rather study more slowly and have weeks at a time off throughout the year, not five months of absolute bludging/saving frantically against the poverty of semester, and the seven months of balls-deep anxiety and stress.

I came back to a world obsessed with science. And often poor science at that. As I started a recent assignment that required me to compare an antidepressant used for generalised anxiety against similarly efficacious herbal remedies or nutritional supplements, I turned to my giant textbook, ‘Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence-based Guide‘. This is a book highly recommended by lecturers, and proports to contain “130 rigorous, evidence-based reviews”. So I jotted down everything related to anxiety treatment in the index, then dug through the book while sitting in front of the computer so I could look up the studies referenced for each herb.

And no joke, a good half of them only listed studies based on rats and mice, running through mazes or having anxiety somehow induced and measured, or in vitro studies on rat tissue receptors to herbal/nutritional preparations. Databases searches usually turned up more of the same, or some random human trial on 6 people for a week or something equally dodgy. And I got angry. Not only is it fucked that animals are tortured and torn apart so that we can learn what is ‘naturally healthy’, but that is not ‘evidenced-based science'; that is inference-based at best, and dangerous assumption at worst. If we are studying ‘evidence-based’ natural therapies, we should not be prescribing anything with such poor evidence behind it. If the evidence doesn’t exist for humans, we’re not evidence-based. Besides which, I don’t believe in a wholly objective reality, so science and I sometimes have issues as it is.

I came back to a world that was disgusting. It was littered. Garbage was everywhere, choking the creek I live beside. And no one seemed to want to take ownership of it. In fact, my daily walk through the park showed that not only were people ignoring the mess throughout the drains and mangroves, some were actively adding to it, leaving their refuse just lying in the grass. And it tore at something deep inside me. Partly because of the harm it might do to the surrounding environment, and partly because I have been here for months, looking and thinking ‘I should do something about that one day’, and I hadn’t. I was no better than the others. One of my favourite chants learned from Witchcamp is:

Where if not here? When if not now? Who if not you; and I?

So I realised I had to just get stuck in and do it. Regardless of assistance, regardless of opinion, regardless of the fact I can’t finish it on my own in one day. And maybe someone will see me and take the example. Maybe one day it will spread and we can all take just a little more ownership of our world, not just tending the space between our fences and pretending the Earth will be okay.

I came back to a life I wasn’t passionate about. I was happy for the most part, yes. Even content at times. But was I really following my dreams, or just studying what was pretty interesting and pretending it was a dream? I’m lucky in some regards – I have an intelligence capable of almost anything, that is usually fascinated by any knowledge. But at Witchcamp, one of the ritual facilitators channelling the god Sutekh [Set/Suty] asked the gathering “do you dare to live a life of passion?” Yes, I spoke, aloud, and in my mind, and in my soul. Yes, I dare to live my passion; I dare to make passion my quest, and to share it with the world. And thinking on it, there is one thing that constantly comes up: writing. Writing is my passion. Writing is the one thing I have carried for years. There is a series of novels nearly complete in my head, and the skeletons for several more gradually gaining flesh. Not only that, but I truly enjoy word games, making turns of phrase and puns, extrapolating metaphors, and do it often. I always carry a novel with me everywhere I go, and in many spare moments I will bring a few characters into the fore of my mind and watch/guide them through new points of a developing story. This has been the case since early high school (in fact, the mental story-making has been happening ever since I was a much smaller child), which means that in a sense, I have been daily training my mind to think in narrative for over a decade. I even think of my own life in third-person a fair portion of the time. It’s no wonder I struggle to read a journal article without my mind closing over – it’s an entirely different use of language.

But for some reason I never considered it worthy. “I’ll get a degree, get a basis in something considered ‘worthy’ (which seems to also means something that has the potential for a lot of money-making), and once I’m established I’ll see about getting these books out.” Later, always later. Someday in the future I’ll be that author I always dreamed of being.

So now I am wondering why I am bothering to try and relearn the linguistic and literary skills necessary for the world of science, when I should be sharpening a way of thinking I already possess, and sharing it in a manner that might bring a little income. Getting my first book out will always take a huge sacrifice of time and resource – so why not find a job that’ll pay the rent, get it done now, and stop worrying about all the sacrifice I am making towards a career I never intended to spend my lifetime doing anyway; that was only ever a stop-gap between now and the life I wanted.

Which brings up another point: why shouldn’t ‘now’ be the life I want? I am so incredibly blessed in everything I have. Why shouldn’t I just take each day as it is, working when I need to, writing when I can, hanging out with my gorgeous friends and renewing frayed ties to my family? Why should I constantly worry about being worthy enough for ‘society’? Society, after all, is just a handful of people lucky enough to live the opulence we all crave. They crook the finger, and we all go scurrying to gather the scraps they tell us will make us as happy as they. They’ve written their own rules, invented our methods of living for millennia, and we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that we’re miserable unless we live up to those standards, and that’s “just the way things are”.

If I study, it will be because I want to, because it will further my development in the reality I wish to live. As it stands now, the current course I am studying does not fulfil that. Many of my daily life actions do not fulfil that. I have already begun a few steps to more consciously and conscientiously engage in my local world, and writing this is pushing me into the next step.

I was also about to write that I don’t think this will ‘solve my issues’. That it will likely be a few years of struggle as I get this book out etc etc. But bugger that – that’s the same guilt-ridden society-craving drivel. So…

These next few years will be amazeballs dipped in awesomesauce. I will have all the abundance I require in each moment that I need it, and shall accept with love and grace the gift of the moment. In times of scarcity, I shall remember that I have the skills to change it. I shall have goals but they shall not constantly define my ‘now’ with anxiety. I shall craft words and music for the enjoyment of myself and others. I shall work with the Earth and my kith to provide physical nourishment, and shall continue to learn her Mysteries. I will dare to live my life of passion, and make the best of my reality that I can. I shall seek such knowledge as befits this journey, in a method that is congruent to my perception. I shall remain malleable of form and purpose and open to validity of the myriad of overlapping and constantly changing realities, but shall not force myself into new shapes just because someone else thinks I ‘should’.

I will spare all the love I can for my friends and family, and together we shall weave into the unfolding great spellwork of existence.

And of course, this could all change at the drop of a hat, because as much as we are the masters of our realities, life just does that sometimes.

If that isn’t enough, I don’t know what is…

Lorelei x

Masks and Altars at CloudCatcher 2012

We worked with four Egyptian deities at CloudCatcher WitchCamp 2012 – Isis, Nephthys, Set and Osiris. Their stories intermingle, overlap and essentially form one story together – I was convinced they represent four parts of one whole, and inspired by the line I am divided for the chance of union…

We made masks for each of them, in the days leading up to the Camp. Nephthys’ mask (that I now have hanging on my wall) was silver and blue, a little hawk-like and with wide eyes and an Egyptian ankh. Osiris’ was green, covering the whole face and with reeds growing out of the side, waving above his head. Isis’ mask was gold (of course), mysterious and alluring with a hint of copper veil… and Set’s was stark grey and brown, confronting and alert. All the masks were on sticks, so they could be held at different (non-human) heights in ritual, and even be passed between people easily. When we invoked these Gods and Goddesses on the first evening of the Camp, we invoked them into the masks, so that then any of us could pick up the mask and walk with that being, look through its eyes and maybe speak a few words for it… On the final evening we opened a doorway and released them back into their own land.

We also put four altars, in the east, north, west and south of our main hall; instead of creating elemental altars we created deity altars. East for Isis and the rising sun; North for Set, the desert and the heat of midday; West for Nephthys, the setting sun and entry into the Otherworlds; South for Osiris, the forests and the Underworld itself. Everyone who came to Camp brought something for these altars – offerings of candles, leaves, pictures, scarves, statuettes… and often when I passed by the hall I would see someone sitting in front of an altar, tending to it or meditating or just resting. Sometimes they would pick up the mask that rested there, between rituals, and examine it or ask their questions or commune with that spirit.

I loved the way the masks and the altars offered tangible connection to the deities we were working with, and more immediate access to the myth by individuals being able to approach and interact with these solid things; altars, masks. And in the ritual themselves, how extrordinary to be partnered not just by one’s own inner sensations or understandings of this being, but by the visible effect of a being, in the form of the mask… Not actually wearing the masks, but instead holding them on sticks, also added to this feeling of relating to the deity, being in service to it and companioning it, rather than being subsumed – which I have sometimes felt with masks that tie onto the head of the wearer.

Elements at CloudCatcher 2012

In Australia there is often a confusion, or even a competition as to which element belongs in which direction. At the first Australian WitchCamp, in Healesville, we tried it in various ways, moving it round – because, of course, the elements are not neatly confined to one direction, but usually to be found in all directions! One popular way (that I mostly use myself) is to leave Air and Water as they would be in the Northern hemisphere (in the East and West respectively) but to switch Fire and Earth, so that Fire is in the North and Earth in the South – this makes sense because the sun passes through the Northern sky, rather than the Southern sky, in the Southern hemisphere. Others prefer to place Water in the East, and some like Air in the South – anything’s possible.

I think we have both been driven to this experimentation and able to get away with being expansive and questioning precisely because we live in the Southern hemisphere – not only is it so far away from all those Witches and serious Traditions in both the UK and also the US, but also – everything is different for us. We can’t just unquestioningly adopt what’s been written in books, or passed down, when it patently makes no sense; and this leads I think to a general questioning. And Australians are known as an irreverant lot, so we don’t mind taking everything apart and starting again.

For CloudCatcher WitchCamp, I really wanted us to use a system of casting a circle and calling to the elements that worked not just for the Southern hemisphere, but for our particular location, on the side of a mountain in South-East Queensland. It seemed to me that the elements are all around one, on that land – above, below, curving around on all sides, as we shelter in a bowl of the hills. This is what we came up with: Air – which is all around us, filling our circle. Fire – deep in the earth, below our feet, memories of the ancient volcano which errupted 20 million years ago to shape this fertile land. Water – above us in the clouds that cling to the mountain, that fill up the bowl of hills in mist and rains. Earth – the ring of hills that shelter us, lush with beautiful trees, plants and wildlife.

We called all of our elements from the centre of the circle, and it felt so magical to have them all in there, mixed together rather than separated out in the four directions; I loved it. It felt dynamic and potent and alchemical… stirring it all together… and yet, still flexible! Perhaps next year we’ll do something different…