Mari Lwyd’s Weird Cousin

“Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari
A sacred thing through the night they carry.
Betrayed are the living, betrayed the dead
All are confused by a horse’s head.”

— Vernon Watkins, excerpt from Ballad of the Mari Lwyd

In late December I wandered into my living room, heading for the kitchen to get a drink of water. It was late evening on a random day and I wanted to satisfy my thirst before going to bed. On the quick trip from my bedroom to the kitchen I shifted my gaze down to my feet and pondered my cold toes. When I looked up again, I saw a black robed figure topped with the bony skull of a horse. He was standing at my front door, on the inside of my apartment  starting at me. At first my brain did not register his skull head as a horse. Then he bared his clearly equine teeth. The being looked like the Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, but minus the warm fuzzies. There was no white robe, flower crown, or seasonal bliss. The spirit at my door was quite disconcerting. Along with his large, strange teeth he had unnatural eyes and moved like a horror movie character.

I asked why he was in my living room. He said nothing. I saw the door open into the starry night. I looked out the door and then back at him. He gestured like the Ghost of Christmas Future from every A Christmas Carol television adaptation ever. Still he said nothing. In a few moments he was gone. Days later I received a message, clear as a bell in my mind’s ear: “Go now.” I immediately remembered him and his gesture toward the starry spirit road. The two moments were connected. The dark robed horse spirit had been my guide, or at least my heads up.

The message he made way for could not be ignored. As soon as I received the message to go now, I knew exactly which journey to begin. I’ve been preparing for it for quite a while. The door is open and the time is now. As soon as the message settled into my bones, I gathered what I needed and I set out.

The series of journeys at hand will be long and hard, but necessary.

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Of Gods and Rivers

I identify as a devotional polytheist and spirit worker, among other things. I tend to view the gods, spirits, and other Holy Powers as distinct beings with unique personalities. This has been true for me for some time and remains true today. However, as my practice grows and changes, I’m starting to understand the common Neopagan bend toward archetypal forces. From my perspective, archetypes are the human mind’s best attempt at representing and accessing various flavors or currents of power or energy. I’ve found that archetypes seem simple and highly human-centered on the surface but in actuality they are the door and the key to vast worlds and mighty beings.
globe-691770_1920An archetype is a coordinate that our minds can use to locate and access a category or type of being that is otherwise difficult for us to begin to reach out to and connect with.  All connection and communication happens where two or more beings meet. Beings can only connect and communicate using the tools that they have. Archetypes are one tool that humans have for recognizing, trying to understand, and make meaning of patterns that have been, are, and will be. At various points in my religious and spiritual life, deity archetypes like “Maiden”, “Mother”, and “Crone” have served as stepping stones and launching pads into networks of powerful horizontal interwoven relationship that continue to enrich and deepen my understanding of myself, the worlds, the gods, the spirits, and my work betwixt and between.
I see now that I have encountered so many deities of certain “types” or of a certain “energy current” because I legitimately share harmony or resonance with those beings. I have strong ties to Underworld Gods and I also have inordinately strong connections with Star Gods. I’m learning that each river leads to the other if you follow it to its end and back again. Rising to meet Hekate and Odin and Dionysos, and so many other mighty powers led me to Loki, Lilith, Surtr and more. Deities like Hekate showed me that other deities cross currents. She drew me out into the liminal and the cosmic and beyond. Everyday I’m learning what it means to be and to identify as a spirit journeyer: one who fares forth, a wayfinder, a hedge crosser, a walker between worlds, etc.
waters-3065526_1920I feel like some important pieces are a little clearer to me these days. I (and probably most magical people) bathe in many rivers and the gods and spirits do too. When each of us – whether human, animal, plant, god, etc – looks up from our work in the river, others are staring back at us. Sometimes we merely notice one another and go about our business, other times we form bonds and connections and we help one another out, and/or we share wisdom. Magic is about connection and relationship. I am deepening my magic and my spirituality as a whole as I strengthen the bonds between me and the powers.
It has been my great joy to bathe among humans, animals, plants, gods, spirits, and then to run through the deep woods between rivers to other shores, dive deep into the currents there, and then dash back to bring them news of one another.

Astral Appointments with Gods and Spirits

alice-in-wonderland-1253474_1280Astral travel as I see it is the process of projecting one’s consciousness out into realms and worlds far from, adjacent to, and/or overlaid upon this one (readily accessible, easily acknowledged, consensus reality). In my own practice, I most often refer to astral travel as journeying or faring forth. When I plan to fare forth and its on my own timetable, I like to prepare by igniting rich resinous incense and lighting anointed candles. These acts serve two purposes. First and foremost they are initial offerings for the Powers who taught me to journey and who support the work that I do on those journeys.  Second, pretty smells and warm lights signal to my busy mind that stillness is needed. When taking a planned but somewhat leisurely trip to the otherworlds, I take these early moments of preparation to focus on my destination and any Powers I need to meet and greet in that place.

When I have time to prepare, because I am journeying on my own schedule, I prepare offerings for the denizens of the worlds I plan to visit. My offerings are sometimes simple, taking the form of bread and wine and fresh flowers, or sometimes elaborate requiring two or more hours of cooking, arranging, dressing, anointing, and pouring. These things I place in sacred space along with the candles and incense.

When I fare forth on my own schedule, I also enjoy taking time to slowly ground and center. I draw my awareness to my body by wiggling my toes and fingers, rolling my neck, flexing my muscles. I settle into my own skin and the wonders of corporeal existence. I bring my awareness to my breath, to the steady rise and fall of my abdomen as I take in and release measured air. I allow myself the simple pleasure of humming a haunting melody, whatever creeps into my mind at the time. I feel the vibration of my voice as it resonates through my bones and blood. When preparing to fare forth, I take stock of exactly where I am in this world that I might more easily find my way back.

alice-30615_1280When it’s time to then fare from here to there, I allow my body to sway, my breath and voice to summon a spirit song, and my mind to reach out in search of a road, a path to carry me there. Sometimes the way is smooth and clear, sometimes its crooked and narrow. My fylgja comes with the song and rides it with me into the otherworlds. It may sound like I’m in charge but in fact he leads the way. Oftentimes he is so sure of the place to which we journey. Sometimes not. But he leads all the same. And with the flapping of his wings we end up exactly where we need to be, having a chat with exactly who we need to talk to. Sometimes he stays with the Powers and me, other times he wanders off. Over the years it’s become a gauge for me of how safe I am with the spirit or deity I connecting with. Safe equals fylgja flying free, doing whatever he feels like doing. Less safe equals fylgja practically perched on my face. He and the gods who charged me to travel the worlds nevery promised me absolute safety. That would be silly, and impossible. What wisdom is ever really wrought by safety?

When our audience is done, my fylgja leads the way back home. With a whoosh of my own breath I am back in my body, wiggling my finger and toes, checking my mind, body, and spirit for impurities, broken or lost bits, and hitchhikers. Good times…when I have time.

alice-29775_1280But over the last two years, with changes in the professional demands on me from my doctoral program I didn’t have as much opportunity for leisure, planful strolls through the otherworlds. However the calls to journey across the hedge kept coming. My fylgja visited his sense of urgency on me and shouted every call from the Powers That Be that I had let slip with an Alice in Wonderland White Rabbit-like ping in my left ear: “You’re late!”. What? Then I was dragged off into the otherworlds while on the bus, watching TV, cooking, or at some other inopportune time. If I was lucky, an unplanned trip happened while winding down for bedtime.

When the pings first started happening on a semi-regular basis, I tried to delay the powerful pull into trance. I would ask my fylgja to buy me more time, usually a few hours, so that I could wrap up what I was doing and then cross the hedge. Sometimes I would try to delay things even longer, especially if I knew it was a big call. I did this with a call from Hekate once. She was 47 kinds of pissed, so needless to say, I stopped procrastinating and started turning the damned stove off, having a seat, and letting the trance come. When I strolled through the otherworlds more regularly, this sort of thing still happened but was less often and was oddly less surprising when it did happen.

alice-in-wonderland-276452_1280When I was journeying more regularly, I felt the call more urgently and was ready – in mind, body, and spirit – to make the trip. But when I started traveling less, each call felt less urgent, and it was unexpected, so I found myself less ready to travel. Of course astral travel/journeying/faring forth skills take spiritual and psychic muscles, and I had let myself go a bit for about two years. So it’s not really any wonder that the gods and spirits started pushing harder. Of course my fylgja had to grab me by the scruff and drag me to the appointed meeting place with the spirit or power in question.

I’ve been basically done with my doc program (yay!) for the last several months so I am getting back into the flow of journeying.  It’s been rewarding building my spiritual and psychic muscles back up so that I don’t have to be grabbed as often!

In summary, here’s what I learned from being called, shouted at, and then grabbed by my guide/ally and dragged off into the otherworlds:

  1. If you are paying attention, you get notification in advance, or at least have an inkling that a particular power may be calling on you soon.
  2. If you don’t pay attention, you may be man/woman/person-handled by your guide/ally.
  3. By the time your guide/ally is forcing you into trance, find a safe place and don’t resist the lull into trance. You’re late for an important appointment and your guide/ally is just trying to look out for you and make sure you get there while receiving as little flak as possible from the spirit or power you’re supposed to meet with.
  4. After these encounters, gift the spirits and powers (including your guide/ally!) richly, because you kept them waiting beyond a reasonable time frame, which some may read as a sign of disrespect.
  5. Schedule time for regular travel so that you are less difficult to call and meet with.

Happy Astral Traveling!