When They Talk Back

When They Talk Back

In Real Things, I told the story of my introduction to magic via my first teacher. I only knew him for a few years, from the tail end of elementary school until about halfway through 8th grade. We only spent the first year or so focusing heavily on magic before drifting apart in middle school. There was a core of friends that he and I both hung out with who were the “nerds” at school, and I started hanging out with the skaters and punks instead. There was a New Age shop called Aquarius in Davis, and I’d buy crystals, prisms, pendants, and the occasional book there.

The method of “energy magic” I learned involved not just moving and directing energy using the body, but also focusing it through and storing it in crystals. My entire lifetime of spiritual and magical development has been shaped by the differences and similarities between what I was initially taught and what is more widely available out there in the world of occultism. In short, I spent decades searching in vain for a relatively legitimate system of magic that closely matches what my teacher imparted to me. This has been isolating and disheartening at many points along my path, causing me frequently to question the legitimacy of what I’ve been doing; on the other hand, it’s been a boon in that I could reverse-engineer something fairly close to what my teacher taught me by synthesizing various parts of different established systems that I’ve encountered over the years. The closest thing to date that I have encountered to my original Initiator’s teachings is Don Webb’s Energy Magick of the Vampyre: Secret Techniques for Personal Power and Manifestation; my teacher’s system was in many ways a rudimentary (and thus more dangerous) form of what can be found in that book.

The first overtly occult book I remember reading was Earth Magic: A Dianic Book of Shadows by Marion Weinstein. That was where I first came across the name “Hecate” as well, though there wasn’t much in that book about her that made a deep impression on me. Either way, I didn’t feel compelled to go looking into the myths at that age. I was more or less on my own. Sometimes I rapped with my teacher about magic and life, but these conversations grew fewer and farther between as time went on.

This was one of the most formative periods of my life and I look back on just about everything from that time with a sense of bittersweet nostalgia—the music and movies, the people, the news stories, and the ideas in which I was swimming—the world to which I was waking up. This was a time when my life took its first set of hard U-turns even beyond my burgeoning magical journey. At the center of it was my mother’s decision to leave my father and I, to return to Chicago, my parents’ hometown. My father was a busy man, very often away on business throughout my childhood. My mother and I grew close since it was often she and I in the house, and suddenly she was leaving. My father’s relationship with work didn’t change, and nature abhors a vacuum; alas, other things soon arrived to fill in the gap left by my mother’s departure.

I stopped going to school halfway through 8th grade, opting instead to spend the day on the streets with a little group of friends that today remind me of Nelson, Jimbo and Kearney from The Simpsons. We’d wander around town smoking cigarettes (Bugler roll-your-owns, the easiest to shoplift) and weed all day. I’d sneak out at night, and before long, I simply wasn’t going home at all on some nights. My magic took somewhat of a back seat, but it was always there in the background.  I was in trouble and a lot of my memories of that time are hazy. The way I was living at the time was typical teenage rebellion, but on a grand scale that spoke to the inner turmoil I just couldn’t handle. I made a suicide attempt one afternoon on the school yard, disguised as my following through on a dare. I drank an entire bottle of Chloraseptic and was rushed to the emergency room after passing out in the office.

My father was not equipped to deal with a son like me. Things got pretty bad between us, and he eventually sent me to live with my mother in Chicago, where I more or less cleaned up my act and finished 8th grade before moving back in with my father to begin high school in Santa Rosa. I never saw my first teacher again after that.

Magically, throughout this entire time, I still carried a black velvet pouch around in my pocket with select crystals and gemstones that I took to using for different applications. So far, I had mostly explored the “energy work” aspects of the magic my teacher had taught me; despite some exercises with a “summoner” he once consecrated for me, spirit contact wasn’t really part of my world. I felt the vague sense of presences at times, but it hadn’t gone farther than that. Some time after I moved to Santa Rosa, that changed.

I’d made some attempts at spirit work; I owned and worked with Ted Andrews’ How to Meet and Work With Spirit Guides, with results that weren’t too promising, though I don’t necessarily blame Ted Andrews for that. For me, the central issue was that of letting go: Would I really make contact with spirits, or would I be talking to myself the whole time? I couldn’t ease into the practices while preoccupied with the ontological implications of it all.

Then one day, two “spirits” emerged rather spontaneously, and I just kind of rolled with it. As I perceived them, each of them seemed to emerge from within a different stone in my pouch: One from a tumbled rose quartz, and one from a tumbled bloodstone. They did not seem to be on the same wavelength; they were aware of one another, but each had different reasons for being there. The place where this occurred is also synchronistically significant and ties to later events I will cover in posts to come: I was walking along the Sacramento River, not far from “Old Sac,” the historical district of Sacramento, CA.

Rose

The spirit that came out of the rose quartz seemed (I did not physically see or hear these entities, but rather perceived them with my inner senses) like a pinkish, radiant, sprite-like pixie. There was something puckish about her despite her diminutive size and generally bright, almost “cutesy” sensibility, and she claimed she was there not just to teach me things, but also to aid and protect me. I asked her, “From what?” and she told me that there would be certain spiritual beings and forces that worked against me during my life. I would need her help and protection until I was able to fend for myself. I asked why this would be happening, and she told me that I was living on the planet right now for a reason, I had a purpose in life, and certain beings would not want me to succeed. I’d often ask about this “purpose,” but there was very little concrete that any reliable spirit would ever tell me about the nature of the work I supposedly came here to do. Anything that came through was vague or even opaque at the time. There were clues, not instructions. To do this work was a process of discovery or inner excavation, not of dictation. This line of inquiry gets deep and complicated, and it goes on for the many years for which I’ve worked with Rose and other entities. In theory, I ultimately concluded, this compares to Crowley’s “True Will;” I’ve related this concept to dharma in the past, as well. This all started happening to me before I read about those things, though.

As far as her own nature—“who” or “what” she was—her answers were cryptic, made very little sense at the time, but carried hints that would bear fruit decades later. She described herself as somewhere between the “angelic” and “fae” kingdoms, once saying the term “sylph” was suitable. This association with the element of air, along with her capacity to be pugnacious and pretty forceful when she wanted, led me to associate the word “dakini” with her when I first came across it in the book Alien Impact by Michael Craft (which, incidentally, was also the first place I read about Aleister Crowley). The description pertained to wild sky spirits and that just “felt” like Rose in her more potent aspects (in the intervening years, I have studied dakinis in the context of Tibetan Buddhism and found many compelling similarities to Rose as well). However, she also had a very wise, compassionate and nurturing side. In many ways, she was the voice of emotional intelligence in my life. I never once regretted following her advice. I was, in fact, always glad when I did. Nonetheless, it was fairly rare for me to listen in advance. I often found myself listening to “I told you so!” after-the-fact, instead. I argued with her a lot.

Minora

Standing in stark contrast with Rose was Minora. It’s interesting to me that they arose together, because in many ways, they were polar opposites. The timeworn trope of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other applies to their relationship.

Emanating from my bloodstone, Minora took the form of a wraithlike entity in a red, hooded robe trimmed with gold filigree. Under the hood was nothing but darkness and two glowing red eyes. His hands were gnarled and so pale as to be almost purple. In my post, The Personal Myth, I discuss my connection with the Myth of Vader. I think it is no accident that Minora resembles Palpatine; in fact, as I “worked” with him, his robes turned black instead. He had shown his hand not as a “red mage,” but a black mage.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my teacher taught me “green magic.” We drew our energy from nature, especially plants and trees and our relationship with them. By contrast, according to him, “red magic” represented destruction, drawing its energies from the element of fire. In practice, this included one’s own anger—a kind of inner fire that could be kindled and cultivated. My teacher warned me away from red magic. He said it would inevitably lead to black magic (my current understanding of “black magic” is very different from his at the time).

Given the direction my life was taking—looking back, I know it was from the sense of powerlessness and helplessness I felt when my mother left—red magic started to appeal to me. I got in touch with my anger and soon embraced it. It became my refuge from everything going to hell in my life (nevermind the fact that it fed on things continuing to go to hell). As I understand now, anger was just easier than the pain underneath that fueled it. Anger was what worked for me, for a long time. It got me where I thought I wanted to go. It protected me and kept me safe. I was simply too young to understand the consequences.

For a voice in my head, Minora taught me to refine my practice of red magic to a very high degree. In practice, this meant cultivating anger, adrenaline, and the energy that flowed therefrom almost the same way a martial arts practitioner would cultivate chi—I’d store it up and bottle it in, knowing it would sit under explosive pressure, and I’d pull the pin whenever I wanted. It also meant manipulating other people into conflicts just for the sparring practice. I kept myself at a slow burn at most times and used that feeling to drive myself. I learned “the evil eye” and was proficient at staring the kinds of daggers into people that would make them turn around in their chairs and look behind them to see where it was coming from. I thought all of this was pretty impressive, too—not that I really had anyone to impress. Minora encouraged vengeance, blood for blood, and the hatred of anyone I felt had wronged me. There was a long list of people at the time. The beginnings of this coincided with a violent spell at school (I was constantly getting suspended for fighting—9 times total between 5th and 6th grades) until I learned how to better contain myself. When a burst of rage served my purposes, the energy was there just beneath the surface. When I am truly angry, more than one person has said that I seem possessed, and some of those people didn’t believe in such things or say them lightly. It’s not something I’m proud of anymore, but my rage was inhuman.

When Rose said she was there to “protect me from certain spirits,” I am pretty sure Minora was the chief threat she was referring to. He represented everything she counseled me against. She always told me that what he offered me was hollow and terrible, and there were times when my choosing to listen to Minora instead of her would make her seem quite hurt or disheartened because it was one more step for me in the entirely wrong direction. No matter how often I sat on the cusp of making bad decisions, though, Rose was there to plead with me, almost to the point of absurdity.

There were times when Rose’s guidance won out, especially as time wore on and I learned there were good reasons to pay attention. Still, the tug-of-war between she and Minora continued unabated for several years. She couldn’t handle everything by herself—but she wouldn’t have to. Soon, she would have help.

Ilyas

I don’t really remember how or when Ilyas first showed up on the scene. It was a long time before I even knew his name. I was living in Berwyn (a suburb of Chicago) at the time with my mother, attending high school. If you’ve seen Wayne’s World, you may recognize the needle with several cars impaled on it that Wayne and company drove past in the opening scene; that was at Cermak Plaza, about a mile from our apartment. I wasn’t doing any better there than I had been in Davis. By many measures, I was even worse off. I made it to school more often, but I was known for leaving in the back of an ambulance more than once after swallowing a box of Coricidin on my way to school. Though often treated as such by emergency room staff, these were not suicide attempts, but calculated drug doses to get good and gone (anyone familiar with serious DXM abuse knows “recreational use” is a joke when you’re talking about this stuff). I ignored most of my schoolwork, but paid attention in class when I was lucid. Typical me: After fucking around and self-destructing all semester, including the last few weeks leading up to my 10-page final paper in World History, I got down to brass tacks and wrote the paper about the Vikings by hand in a notebook the night before it was due. I was the only person in the class to get a perfect grade, I took my D- for the class, and called it a summer.

My state of being during those years is a whole ball of wax all its own, but things were bad when Ilyas showed up (one of the reasons I have always tried to be as rigorous as possible about questioning my sanity and checking my spirit work against reality on a regular basis).

Ilyas took the form of a large red dragon. His demeanor was serious, but he could show a sense of humor. It was a sophisticated one. “Stern” is a good word for his personality. Stern but wise. In terms of experiencing him and interacting with him, he was most active at night in the beginning. He would sit “at the foot of my bed” (a spirit’s relationship in the Subjective Universe with one’s physical surroundings is an interesting thing). According to both he and Rose, my activities and interests were arousing even more attention from “nasty astral shit.” I remember times walking home at night from a friend’s house, head full of DXM, seeing fuzzy black ball-shaped creatures leaping from tree branch to tree branch as I hurried along, and thinking them hallucinations; then, Ilyas telling me later on, “No, you were seeing those because you were fucked up, but they need to be kept away from you, jackass, and taking substances that lower your defenses makes them salivate.” Ilyas was “righteous”—a fearsome force, yes, but restrained at most times, and really only dangerous if you were on some bullshit (towards me). His very aura was of such an intensity that the “negs” he protected me from wouldn’t even approach him. Energetically, he was essentially living fire. In addition to protecting me, he said he would also serve as my new “magic teacher.” He said he would teach me skills and techniques as I readied myself. His teachings were limited to more of a philosophical and general metaphysical nature at the time he first arrived, because frankly, he didn’t trust me with some of the things he could teach me.

I accepted his presence tentatively, though he would leave if I wanted him to. I was still establishing trust with him when one of the biggest magical misadventures of my life unfolded. It was traumatic and it changed the course of my entire life. In previous iterations of this blog, I’ve continued from here, but the resulting post was lengthy and disjointed. This time around, it seems more appropriate to save the story for its own post.

Instead, I will close with a final note regarding the material at hand: Thus far, I have largely steered clear of a deep ontological exploration of just what the hell was actually going on with all of this. Instead, I’ve stuck to a rather straightforward explanation of how I subjectively experienced these things. In the past versions of the blog, this post not only told the story I referred to above, but then went on to analyze the nature of these entities. Chronologically and narratively, I realize the result is rather confusing to a fresh reader, so for now, I will table the “What-in-the-actual-fuck” angle of the phenomena until the entire story is told. With the tone thus far established on this version of the blog and the details so far revealed, various explanations may be apparent already.

Suffice to say, regardless of how one explains all of this, one thing remains true and must be borne in mind: Whatever their ultimate nature happens to be, Rose and Ilyas always told me that it was all happening to me for a reason, and telling others about it was part of that reason. They have also always insisted that someday, it would all make sense, and I would shit my pants when I saw how it all fits together.

They were right.

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