Sovereigns of the Golden Path

or, how I learned to stop worrying and start my own cult.

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I refer to the SGP as a cult as a way of using humor to minimize the terrifying immensity the task; to start a magical tradition.
When envisioning something as purposefully heterodoxical as starting a cult, you’ve got to maintain a sense of levity, even if it is born from anxiety. I want to create a space, a haven for people who are too strange to fit anywhere else without ignoring or cutting bits of themselves off. Within that space, a conversation.
I want it to be like lichen, defying easy classification; something erased from people’s minds by the limitations of artificial constructs and poor education. Lichen is a symbiotic being, a unity of fungi, algae or bacteria. I love lichen for the same reason I love tardigrades and those alien creatures that live around the hot sulphurous vents in the constant darkness of the sea floor. Against all odds, they persist. They endure. Their regents are very, very old.
When the fungi from a lichen is separated from its symbionts in a lab environment, it is able to survive but loses its shape and structure, becoming a formless mass of hyphae; a purposeless blob. Sometimes I feel like a fungus-less lichen.
The SGP is my attempt to inject a bit of structural bacteria into my practice, along with a desire to spread, to survive. That seems like an inelegant metaphor but it’s going to be organic with a lot of junk DNA to start with that’ll get honed by evolution, and hopefully, helpful outside input. The average human body contains a staggering, uncountable amount of bacteria. Down to our very basest physicality, we are communities, conversations. No thing is born perfect. We grow through error.
The SGP will be about the pursuit of personal sovereignty and truth. The further we stray from truth, the more we suffer. Truth is a stand-in word for freedom, authenticity, spirit, unity, god, source, whatever ineffable, holy quality you need it to be. The name refers to the sun, but it won’t be a path in denial of shadows. The lights in the night sky after all, are themselves tiny distant suns. It’ll be animistic, BYO gods if you have them, a tool not a dogma. It’s firmly rooted in chaos magic, but the more it evolves, the family resemblance becomes less clear.
It’s early days yet, and not all offspring are viable. But I remain hopeful that one day this will grow into a conversation that can continue on without me.

The sun muscled manticore

Parental love, chaos magic, and a reason to run.

When I was younger, I believed that adulthood meant escaping any emotional reliance I had on my biological parents. I thought I would outgrow a need for parental love, guidance and approval. I was wrong on both counts; this need isn’t something that one sheds with age, and you can’t outgrow something you never had in the first place.

This lack of positive parental/familial guidance has been a real shackle on my personal development and is something I continue to work through. But how? It’s awful hard to get adopted when you’re in your 30’s, which left me with a dilemma. I don’t have many strong community ties and the AIDS crisis eliminated most of my chances at having access to a supportive network of elders.

What I do have is my magical practice and a certain narrative malleability with regard to my own life. I am part of a house and legion; the boundaries of my body and self defy scientific materialism. I’m a jumble of metaphors that defy easy classification as figurative or literal. I thrive on ambiguity.
My grandmother and my son were both housecats, and one of my mothers is the sea.
I recently discovered an aspect of the Earth is another maternal figure for me. She appears to me as a Venus of Willendorf-like figure. She is nurturing and full of love, cradle comfort and simple safety. She is not an empowered earth-goddess-mother figure for me as I am neither a woman nor a birth-parent, but a powerful grounding force of warmth, forgiveness and acceptance, and I am loved. Love like being hugged tight and safe, words of wisdom so practical and grounded they are cunning and sly, warm food and solid ground. She asks little in return but goodness, to walk softly and with the bravery to be kind.

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Venus of Willendorf figurine from the Paleolithic era. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

While the Earth provides me a well from which to draw this love, I still lacked a positive fatherly influence. I needed fierce protective love, rationality, teaching through demonstration, expressions of pride and uplifting frameworks. Trust, capability and responsibility. None of the masculine deities/beings I already have an established relationship with fit this role.

Depictions of the sun as a masculine, fatherly figure in real-world mythology aren’t unfamiliar to me but none of them ever struck me as being personally relevant. Luckily for me, practicing chaos/pop culture magic I’m not restricted to the trappings of eclectic witchcraft-I can cast a wider net for inspiration than traditional mythology.

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“The sun is a wondrous body. Like a magnificent father! If only I could be so grossly incandescent.” Solaire from Dark Souls, Namco Bandai Games 2011.

Playing Dark Souls and meeting Solaire of Astora was something of a watershed moment for me. In that simultaneously delicious and maddeningly cryptic way of all Souls series characters, he tells you he has deliberately become a member of the undead in order to undertake a journey to find his own sun. This in turn this reminded me of these two songs by SJ Tucker, featuring the writing of Catherynne M. Valente:

I recommend giving these two tracks a listen, one after the other. Manticore’s lullaby punches me so hard in the feelings I cry every time I hear it. Like Grotteschi, I was denied the exaltations of a good and proper childhood. I’m doing my best to catch up but I’ll carry some wounds forever.

The manticores in this story, naturally, see the sun as a glorious, shining manticore, their father. I adore the fantasy trope of the equivalent of anthropomorphism for creatures that aren’t human.

My favourite forms of pop culture magic are those that can be ported/carried over to our world with a little creativity and tweaking. While manticores exist in the mythology of our world, their depictions are relatively scant. They are nonetheless symbolically important to me with deep personal connections. With this in mind I’ve decided to engage with the sun in the form of a glorious golden manticore, lover of the Upas tree and father of the manticore fruit-and me.

Left to my own devices, I tend to become almost wholly nocturnal, both literally and otherwise. I can be prone to detachment, anhedonia, stagnation and feelings that I do not deserve happiness or pleasure. I do not feast gladly or sink my sharp teeth into offered fruits but decline, cringe, shy away, refuse. It’s not humbleness and piety but a harmful self-flagellation.

Not leaving my cave in the daylight hours has a lot of negative effects for a person prone to depression and withdrawal from the world.
To worship the sun is to tend to my little garden of potted plants; weeding out the oxalis, gently brushing away harmful bugs, to water and prune. To take my vitamin-D pills, as like many pasty Australians worried about skin cancer I’m terrifically deficient. To burn Frankincense, which has a beautiful golden scent, using homemade beeswax tealights.

And lastly; exercise. I’m doughy and unfit and I struggle with various ailments that make sticking to exercise regimes difficult. Lions, and thus also manticores, are fabulously muscled creatures. Making exercise an act of devotion is likely to give me the fortitude to reach the goals that I’ve so far failed to reach or sustain.

I wish to steep my life in magic, to revel in it, to live it.
In the past I’ve taken up running as a way to deal with pent-up anger. While my rage is a renewable resource, I’d prefer to run for joy, satisfaction and glory. From now on I’ll run for the manticore of the sun.

Sacrifices and Sympathetic Magic

Like many pagans, sympathetic magic is a substantial part of my personal practice; be it drawings, photographs, statues or other symbolic representations. Although I do work with live plants, incenses, resins, animal remains and more, the real thing is not always appropriate, possible or practical.

My shrine to the Outsider uses battery-powered LED candles and lanterns because its hidden position makes using real fire dangerous-and I rather enjoy the humour of using fake fire for pop-culture magic.
The consumption of large, juicy strawberries is a perfectly acceptable substitute for human hearts in ritual as far as Lilith is concerned, as another example.
Since the issue of live animal sacrifice is a purely hypothetical one for me in my current circumstances, I leave those moral quandaries to be unpacked at another time. What I can do, however, is make symbolically appropriate sacrifices.
Although I’m not a strict reconstructionist, I do enjoy research and adapting ancient practices to fit my modern lifestyle. In this research I found accounts of animal sacrifice substitutes in ancient Greece being made with bread, beeswax and reeds. As the sacrifice of livestock would have represented a substantial financial commitment for anyone who wasn’t particularly wealthy, I imagine these sympathetic magic substitutions would have been reasonably common.
I have a lot of local natural beeswax on hand from making my own devotional candles, so it seemed the obvious material to use if I were to create my own effigies. It turns out carving/modeling straight beeswax is incredibly difficult and my first attempts were an ugly mess. Instead, I adapted my sculpting and casting knowledge to create small dog and bull effigies, sculpting them in modeling clay then creating a silicone mould so they could be easily replicated in wax.
I use the dogs as apotropaic offerings to Hekate as part of a cleansing ritual, since my relationship with Hekate has a strong bent towards cleaning. I’m yet to test out the bulls, but I have one set aside for dedication and sacrifice to Dionysus. Bulls are symbolically rich animals, however, and could be used for any number of other deities or purposes.
Since I was on a roll sculpting, I also made a tiny human heart replica for healing/cursing or whatever else one fancies. My companion uses them for enchanting and enclosing within his taxidermy pieces, which is delightfully creative.

In the future, I’d like to experiment with various additives such as incense or tiny pieces of dried bull (Companion jokingly referred to it as ‘homeopathic bull’) or dog hair. I’m not sure how I feel about using the shed hair of still-living animals for sacrifices since my practice has always had a distinctly necromantic bent. But does using the parts of an already dead animal nullify the effect of a ‘sacrifice’? Is the intent all that matters in sympathetic magic? Food for thought.


Dragon’s blood ink: The search for a recipe that actually works

Unsurprisingly, making Dragon’s blood ink is not as straightforward as all the online tutorials with the same copypasted (mis)information make it seem.

The recipe that can most easily be found online is a combination of alcohol, gum arabic and dragon’s blood resin. I put this to the test, and found success hinges on the qualities of the ingredients.

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Dragon’s blood ink and resin.

Part 1: the experiment.

The alcohol:
First test, Polmos Spirytus rectified spirit. It’s the highest purity alcohol (95%) available to the general public in Australia. It’s also $70 per 500ml. I wasn’t willing to spend that much money on booze I’m not going to drink!
So we move down the price scale to vodka. Most vodkas are around 37% alcohol, the rest being water. Due to this high water content, the resin was reluctant to dissolve, and when it did, the drying time was prohibitively long.
My next unsuccessful experiment was with methylated spirits (denatured alchohol). Although cheap, it smells dreadful and leaves a foul smelling residue behind when used as an ink due to the additives which make it undrinkable.

Finally, success with Isopropyl alcohol (IPA). It’s only $9 per 250ml, 99.8% alcohol and evaporates quickly and cleanly. It can be found at specialty electronics stores such as Jaycar.

The gum arabic:
The purpose of gum arabic in ink is to increase the viscosity of the fluid, allowing it to grip the brush.
The problem: gum arabic isn’t soluble in alcohol. Trying to dilute it in water first and then adding it to the alcohol resulted in a stringy, goopy mess.

I couldn’t find any alcohol soluble equivalents, so I left it out.

The resin:
As I covered in my last post, there are primarily two types of resin on the market. Daemonorops draco is not alcohol soluble. If mixed with alcohol, this palm draco resin may turn the alcohol a muddy brown colour, but will quickly settle to the bottom.
Dracaena cinnabari and Draceana Draco will both readily and quickly dissolve in alcohol and are suitable for creating ink.

Part 2: The recipe

What you’ll need:

  • Dracaena resin.  Elfhame’s Apothecary were very kind to provide me with some genuine D. cinnabari, or ‘medieval dragon’s blood’ for testing. It can be purchased here.
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • A storage jar with a secure lid
  • 2 beakers, open mouth jars or
    measuring cups.
  • A brush or other writing implement
  • Some patience

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Step 1:

Powder the resin.
Because my mortar and pestle are quite large and the material very precious, I wrapped it up in baking paper and crushed it using the pestle alone, which minimizes wastage.
As it is quite readily soluble in alcohol, D. Cinnabari does not need to be crushed very fine.

Step 2:
Pour the powder into one of the open mouth containers. Add the alcohol and watch as the blood red colour instantly begins to seep into the liquid, quickly transforming it into a rich, black-red fluid. The process is quite captivating to watch and the resemblance to real blood is striking.

Step 3:
Let it settle for a couple of hours, then gently skim the alcohol off into the second container by carefully pouring it and leaving the bark chunks behind.
Due to the way in which Dracaena cinnabari is harvested, there will be a substantial amount of bark debris left.
Repeat this process until the alcohol runs relatively clear, leaving behind only spent fragments of bark.

Step 4:
Leave the second open mouthed container with no lid in a warm, dry place and allow the alcohol to evaporate down.
Due to the nature of the ink I didn’t find it necessary to filter it further.
Use a brush to make some test marks to gauge the correct concentration. When enough alcohol has evaporated to create the right concentration of pigment, bottle it in a sealable jar. If it becomes too thick, simply add more alcohol.

Conclusion:
It should give a luxurious red ink, but not be too thick as to remain tacky while drying.
Note: keep alcohol on hand for cleaning brushes/writing implements, as it won’t wash off using normal methods. For this reason I recommend using a fine paintbush for writing, as they are easier to clean.

The process is a little messy, but very simple and easy. By making it yourself, you can be assured the ink is genuine. As pure Dragon’s blood ink dries scentless, this also opens up the possibilities for experimenting with adding fragrances and resins to create Bat’s blood or  Dove’s blood ink and other concoctions.