Conserve and Control

 Spec Fic for the Revolution

This interview originally appeared in Issue the Second's print edition, but we feel so strongly about supporting Otter's work that we wanted to post about it here on the blog as well, so all our followers can enjoy! And please, go buy both of Otter's amazing books now! 

For Issue the Second we wanted to start a new tradition of interviewing authors who are busting their butts in the indie world. We’re interviewing Otter Lieffe, author of Margins and Murmurations and Conserve and Control. Both out now and available for purchase via her website

 Otter Lieffe, author of Conserve and Control and Margins and Murmurations 

Otter Lieffe, author of Conserve and Control and Margins and Murmurations 

Otter is a working class, femme, trans woman in and out of Brussels and Berlin. She has been involved in grassroots activism for nearly  two decades, in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe and North America. At various times Otter has found herself involved in queer community organising, land reclamation and language teaching in migrant worker communities. She speaks between 3 and 5 languages and rarely sits still long enough to watch the seasons change.

Wyrd & Wyse: So the very first question our readers nearly always want answered is: Do you consider yourself a witch (or witchy)?  

Otter Lieffe: Let’s say that in my rare moments of rest I love to be outside, connecting. And when I don’t have time for that, I stare out of the window to watch my friends flitting from tree to tree. My writing is made out of those shared moments.

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Brussels is basically a concrete slab with very few green areas which haven’t already been turned into café terraces for the European Institutions or some hideous new construction project. But even here, in one of the most industrialised parts of the planet, nature peeks through. There are peregrines who fly over our roof hunting pigeons. There are polyandrous dunnocks who sing in the last elder trees behind our house. They are probably witches.

I write characters who are involved in connection work because I also write about activism, politics and social change. When those things are separated from our landbase—from the wider community around us—I feel we quickly lose direction. This part of me, the side that yearns to be surrounded by non-humans, is also the force that demands I dedicate my life to protecting them.

W & W: Most writers are ardent readers. What have you been reading lately that you’d recommend?

O.L.: Right now, I’m deep in redrafting so the only thing I’m reading are my own words over and over. Living and breathing my work is a strange kind of tunnel vision and it feels wonderful to get out under the sky sometimes to put it all back into context.

I did manage to fit in Lagoon (by Nnedi Okorafor) recently which was entirely magic with just the right amount of sea monsters.

W & W: Ooh, Lagoon is on my TBR! I love Okorafor’s work. Glad to have yet another glowing recommendation for it.

I am so excited to have just gotten my hands on Margins and Murmurations this week! It’s everything I dream of in terms of speculative fiction, so I’m really looking forward to digging into it. What are some of your favorite parts about writing in this genre?

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O.L.: Thank you! I never planned to write a book—much less fiction, much less speculative fiction—but sometimes life takes us in unexpected directions. As Margins was growing and getting ready for the world, I went through a few realisations. One of the most important was that speculative fiction has this incredible power. It gives us a certain freedom to play with elements of our world and see what happens. It allows us to imagine changes in power structures, for example, and how we might respond as a community. It allows us to create characters who inspire us to keep fighting. There’s a reason that speculative fiction has this long feminist and queer history and I feel really proud to be a part of that.  

W & W: Spec fic really does have an incredible power to change the world, and the way we think about how social change may play out -- and it’s certainly having a “moment” right now in popular culture. What spec fic has inspired you in the past?

O.L: The classics I guess. Ursula le Guin, Octavia Butler. I wish I’d had more access to it as a kid instead of all the mainstream science fiction about men flying spaceships and shooting each other.  

W & W: I know you’re finishing your second book. What should Margins and Murmurations fans expect? Is this a sequel?

O.L.: I won’t give too much away but Conserve and Control is a companion to the first novel. Time-travel makes things like ‘sequel’ a little complicated, but fans will definitely find some continuity. It also stands on its own as a novel entwining such complex subjects as queerness and class, the Conservation Industry and financial domination. Let’s say it’s pretty unique.

As with Margins, it has been wonderfully fulfilling for me to give visibility to some of the life experiences that rarely make it out into the world. There are working-class trans women, a central non-binary character, ecologists, healers and sex workers. I love them all dearly.

W & W: One of the reasons I was so drawn to your work and your writing is that you are doing the thing that I think so many of us want: giving voice and visibility to characters that are often left out of popular sci-fi and fantasy genres -- though I think we’re seeing better and better representation, as readers demand better and indie publishing gains traction. Speaking of, you are pretty successfully navigating the indie publishing world. What advice would you give budding writers who are thinking about alternative publishing formats?

O.L.: Be prepared to work incredibly hard. I’ve been working seven-day weeks for two years and almost never take a day off.

But I also think it depends who you are and what you write about. My gender and class mean that what I write has a unique voice but it also creates challenges to getting a book distributed. And I still barely make rent.

As a friend once said, ‘If you want to be successful you should probably stop writing about traumatised elderly trans women and radical sex workers.’ Truer words were never spoken. But I think that ‘writing from the margins’ has made the journey so much more worthwhile and has led to all these new projects and connections that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. In a way, precarity is at the heart of this project and self-publishing has been a big part of that. That said, I wouldn’t say no to a publishing contract and a holiday.

W & W: No kidding! It’s so much work, but it looks like people are responding really well -- and I know you’ve been traveling a lot, promoting the book. How has being on tour been for you?

O.L.: Life changing. I’ve already been on tour twice since last June and I have another three-continent tour coming up for the second book. I was terrified at first of public speaking or reading but somehow I really enjoy being in the limelight. My first stop was on a theatre stage in Marseilles reading to 150 sex workers so I really went in the deep end! After that, nothing has ever been so intimidating.

I love holding space for people to listen, think and chat about these big subjects. It’s a huge honour and I can’t wait to be doing it again.

W & W: You write prolifically on a number of subjects and genres on your blog, but I have to say the one I am most enamored with is your series on Queer Ecology. What inspired you to write about animals this way?

O.L.: I actually studied ecology many lives ago. I suffered a lot from the conservative teaching and the unspoken assumptions of the scientific method but I did learn how to process research data.

Biology is profoundly focused on cis-hetero relationships. As a queer human spending lots of time connecting with other species, I felt pretty sure that the world was a bit more interesting than that.

There’s this nature documentary narrative that shows straight male animals controlling straight female animals. If they don’t get eaten, they get to fuck and make little baby animals. And that’s the meaning of life. Very little of that resonated with my experience on this planet or the rich diversity I see around me. I got to researching and was very relieved to see it was all a lie.

W & W: I love that you went ahead and pushed through that narrative, because Queer Ecology is educational, fun and so utterly charming. Thanks so much for talking with me today. Before you go… In a war between zombies and unicorns, who wins?

O.L.: The elderly time-travelling trans women of course.

W&W: Of course. That makes perfect sense.

 

No more. No more. 

H.K. Jedrzynski is a bi-sexual cis yarn witch who tries to write LGBTQ Urban Fantasy and lives with her girlfriend and her boyfriend in Las Vegas, NV. Together they have three children, three cats, and a dog.

Fury and wine pulse through veins so long unused that the traces under the skin had all but disappeared. Words like "Fuck" and "Off" screaming through red streams, igniting the soul.

The body, once dead, now moving of its own volition, the flames burning away the past, cauterizing the gaping wounds of heartache and torment.

Ashes, the remains of tattered emotional scars, rise from the heated skin, swirling, creating a dark cloud of Self Preservation.

Accusations of selfishness and declarations of eternal adoration, cajoling, stabbing, meant to hit insecurities with lasting, detrimental impact, are repelled by ash and flame, and alcohol.

No more will abuse control the body like it was animating a corpse.

No more will the Master of Cruelty have a foothold in this sacred vessel.

I am stirring, burning, sacred, and finally unapologetic for refusing to be used by the weight of criticism and derision and pain dressed as love.

Stumbling out of the dark and into polyamory (non fiction) (Transition) (Names have been changed by the request of the persons discussed)

A few months ago I was talking with my spouses about our worst memories, and I fell into my past, becoming horribly depressed trying to decide which was my worst memory. I’ve lived lifetimes of misery - first with my parents and then my ex husband, all of which were abusive. My brain provided a montage of horrific memory after horrific memory and I started to drown in them.

In an effort to find a life vest, I started of list of happy moments to fight my worst memories and spent time dwelling on the brightest spots - my counterspells, my torches in the dark.

Memories of holding my babies while they slept, of hearing their first words, watching them become independent little monsters. That day I had terrible bug bites all over my calves and stuck my leg on my boyfriends lap and told him to scratch for me. And he did, carefully around the bites in order to not make them worse. When I was sad about my kids having gone to their father’s and my girlfriend knocked on my door and asked to come in. I was laying across my bed and she asked if I always laid funny and I told her I do what I want. And then she asked if she could join me and my heart leapt. We laid there, with my head on her shoulder, talking about...US. Something that hadn’t existed until that moment. We spoke it into existence. The way it feels when my boyfriend kisses his wife goodbye, and then me too.

But the memory that burns brightest, that lets me summon my patronus to fight the dementors of post traumatic stress disorder, the counterspell that I have used the longest is this:

We had a girl’s weekend we had titled Sappho Extravaganza. The four of us had not spent time together, just us, ever. I was in the process of leaving my abusive ex and had never spent a night away from my children before. Only Luz and I had children and were married, she left her child and spouse at home too.

Reva had met Luz online years before and introduced her to Deirdre. Eventually Luz moved to Las Vegas and the three set up house - as friends. I met Deirdre at school - we took a Goddess Traditions class together at the community college and became family quickly. She introduced me to the other two. That was twelve years ago. Luz and I had slowly been getting closer over the last few years and I had developed one mad crush on her.

So when we checked into the two bedroom suite in June, I was excited and nervous. We got all of our things into the room. Luz and I walked to the market in the hotel lobby for smokes - we weren’t really smokers, but it seemed like something we would want considering the amount of alcohol we had brought. Walking next to her in the heat, the fragrance of the jasmine floating around us, chatting about nothing and about to begin a three day adventure was pure magic. It felt good. Felt right.

We got back and everyone had dinner - Deirdre made steaks and they were so good. We watched a movie, listened to EDM while coloring with markers and colored pencils. We talked about our First Times and Deirdre took a shower then walked around naked, looking like a goddess - soft and lovely.

We poured drinks and then drank them. Luz and I went out on the balcony to smoke. Buzzed and giggling, we held hands across the patio table, not looking at each other, the energy building between us. And then Reva came outside and we let go.

We had a fantastic time, children at a slumber party with no adults and a plethora of beer. I ended up giving all three of them back massages just to have and excuse to touch Luz some more. At 4 am, everyone started to crash. Reva to one of the bedrooms, Deirdre to a couch in another part of the suite. Luz and I stayed up on the other couch, now pulled out into a really uncomfortable bed, talking, inches from each other. And then she passed out too.

I stayed there, laying across the pull out bed, head level with Luzs thighs and staring out of the glass doors, past the patio, to the twinkling lights of the city below. I layed there, staring as the sun started to rise and the world was awash in grey light.

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It is the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: the sun slowly emerging over the curve of her hip, her black pants and studded belt hugging her curves exquisitely. Luz was glorious. Beyond her, the scroll work of the balcony and the light coming in over the mountains gave the impression of a black and white photo. I wanted that moment to last forever, to lie there and feast upon the beauty of the moment. I tried to take a photo with my mind. I felt more at peace than I had in years.

When the weekend ended, we went back to our lives. My ex husband spent three hours yelling at me for having actually gone on the girls weekend, telling me I was selfish and had abandoned my family for people who didn’t love me. I called Luz, crying. I held the memory of that sunrise in my heart. I existed through the next three weeks.

And then I moved in with Luz and her husband and their son. I brought a dog to a house of cats. I brought two more children to into the life of an only child. But they made room for us, in their lives, their home, and their hearts.

They knew how I felt for Luz before I moved in. There were no secrets. And eight months later, the three of us adults are in a relationship together. I’m more in love with Luz than ever before. I love her husband too. We work. We function. We are raising our babies together and the dog still chases the cats, and life is hectic and messy and deeply content.

And on bad days - days when the PTSD is haunting me and I feel like I’m shattering into a thousand pieces- that memory of the sun coming up over her hip and the smell of jasmine counters the trauma, fights it, beats it back into the corner of my mind where the abuse and cruelty belong.

Going Under: A Podcast Recommendation

Allison Carr Waechter is a witchy woman living in the bold North, with a naughty red lynx-cat, a perpetually grumpy old pup, and a partner who consistently refers to her as his "feral wife." She is a storyteller by trade and provides council to struggling writers. If you're a writer who needs help, visit her here, if you're a reader who needs a tale, visit her here. She is also the editrix of this publication and dearly loves to recommend good stories to others. 

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Despite the fact that some of my own writing has been considered "scary"-- I am a big fraidy-cat when it comes to creepy stories. Which frustrates me to no end, because I love the delicious feeling of being creeped out-- an eerie finger of fear sliding down my spine, a sharp intake of breath at a surprise -- all feelings I enjoy. 

Being grossed out, unable to sleep, or simply too terrified to be alone in the dark are not among my favorite feelings though and so that makes anything in the horror genre automatically a little dicey for me. Especially because so much horror seems to be geared towards a cis-male audience (often written by cis-men, even when the characters are primarily women). So it's been hard for me to find a creepy fictional podcast that had all my favorite elements: 

  • Moments of spine-tingling tension and an eerie vibe 
  • Great writing: Great plot, great pacing, great characters, engrossing worldbuilding
  • Written and lead by women/femme/non-binary/trans folks 

Maybe it was too much to ask, I often pondered -- maybe fictional podcasting just hadn't quite reached the place where stuff like that was being produced.... But I know how this works. The best stuff, created by the folks I love to read and consume isn't being talked about the way podcasts like The Black Tapes, Limetown and Welcome to Nightvale are. I was going to have to dig deeper.... And there I found Mabel, the podcast I always wanted. 

*Very* minor spoilers ahead - As Mabel is going into its 5th season, a tiny bit of spoiling is necessary to tell you why I love this story -- it won't ruin anything for you, but if you hate to have *anything* spoiled, just go check out Mabel now and start listening

Mabel is "a podcast about ghosts, family secrets, strange houses, and missed connections." But it's more than that -- it's a love story between its main characters Anna and Mabel. It's a marvelously creepy tale about what haunts us, whether it's our past, love, a house that won't stop interfering, or a mysterious force luring you underground.  

The podcast has the same kind of gothic vibe that Shelley Jackson is able to evoke in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with a hefty dose of what feels like scary local lore about what happens out on that hill, or that house, you know the one. Plus, it's a sapphic love story and there's not much of that out there, so I am beyond pumped to be writing this recommendation. 

There are many things I love about Mabel, but if I had to pick out just one, aside from what I've already said... If I had to pick out just one thing to say: "This is why you should listen," I would say this: the writing is beautiful. It's literary, poetic, mysterious, lyrical and haunting. There are twists and turns that are there for the obsessive listener who loves to solve a mystery, but not so many that you cannot keep up with the story. 

If I could tell you one other thing to love about Mabel, it would be that I love it when women/femme identifying characters are allowed to be angry, without the implication that you should hate them, or be frustrated with their anger. It's a beautiful thing, and Mabel executes this perfectly. Hats off to Becca De La Rosa and Mabel Martin for writing such a wonderfully engrossing story and creating a world I love to get lost in. 

The next season of Mabel comes out in June 2018 to give its creators time to get married (yes, to each other!) Read their misty-eye-inducing announcement about their good news here and support them on Patreon. Just go listen and support these amazing creators... I mean honestly, what more could you want? 

 

The Key

Shawn is a kitchen witch, poet, and plant enthusiast who loves pies, books, ancient ruins, and old houses. She is also a founding member of the Hex Rated podcast. You can find her poetry on Instagram @blackbirdwyrd and more of her writing at pocketfulofvenom.com.

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As I wound my way down the Silver Strand Bikeway on Coronado Island, California, desperately wishing I had chosen to have, say, A BIKE rather than try to walk it on that unseasonably warm September day, I came across a message in chalk on the cement pathway: 

You Are the Key

That message, no matter who had written it, was for me.  Right then.  No one else. 

I had cried the moment I got to San Diego Bay.  I had cried with relief, with anticipation, with longing.  Who am I kidding, I cried a little when I got off the plane and smelled the amazing fragrance of California air, filled with flowers and sea breeze and promise.  I don’t know exactly what promise smells like, mind you, but the air was filled with nothing other than magic.  Every inch of my skin was tingling with what I knew to be true – I somehow belonged there. 

As a person who most of the time has felt like she belonged exactly nowhere, this explained my tears.  I have spent most of my time on this planet trying to be someone other than myself to feel like I belonged.  This often meant being more than just one different person – I needed to be one person for each different group of friends, another person for my family, and yet still another for work.  It was exhausting, it led to excessive and destructive behavior, and more than anything else, was a fracturing of my soul.  A soul I did not love or accept. 

The last four years have been a discovery of self – no rediscovery, because there was never an initial discovery in the first place.  After driving home late one night inebriated with my doggo in the car, I felt an outpouring of fear and remorse.  That feeling was replaced the next morning with the knowledge that it was high time I started a new chapter – one which did not include the cloud-ridden haze of operating under the spell of alcohol.  I never did use it as an occasional pastime.  I used it as one would use Thor’s fucking hammer to obliterate feeling.   ALL feeling.  That’s not to say I was a round-the-clock drinker – I wasn’t.  Yet.  When I woke up that next morning though, something inside me had flipped.  I’m a lucky one, so far.  No relapse.  No need to even touch alcohol now, because I know it’s not a solution for any of my problems.  Feelings, at first, were weird, hard, terrifying, impossible to name.  I’m getting better at this, but it’s a process.   This process has led me on a crazy, unexpected, and truly amazing journey, and it led me directly to that message in chalk on a Coronado Island bike path.  The message also included a chalk drawing of an actual key, and as I have developed an ongoing dialog with Hecate, this came as no surprise.  When I ask for signs, I usually get them, and the signs are most always incredibly, hilariously sarcastic:  YOU ASKED FOR A SIGN.  IS THIS CLEAR ENOUGH? 

It was.  In less than three months, San Diego will be my new home.  My husband and I are leaving Texas, where I grew up and have lived permanently for the last twenty years.  I have built a life here – parts of that life are mired in pain, regret, and sorrow, but other parts have been exhilarating and beautiful.  It has hit me only in the last few years that my deeper purpose is to integrate those experiences, both good and bad, to render myself and my soul complete and whole.  Everything – getting sober, taking chances, exploring my thoughts and feelings to whatever depths I am willing to plumb – is an act of integration.  Having this knowledge offers a new perspective; one that welcomes change while still fearing it, but knowing that I, all at once, shape this change as well as do not control it at all. 

That concept is hard to grasp, even now.  How can one not control anything but still shape the change in a life?  What I have begun to realize is that regardless of what I do, the universe will ultimately be the deciding force.  I can wield my power and magic as I see fit for any given circumstance, and I believe that the energy emitted from that exercise has value and purpose – but the natural and supernatural world that I move in has superiority over anything and everything I do.  It’s almost like, if allowed, we can work in tandem with the universe, as long as we are ok with letting go of our need to manufacture whatever we deem intrinsic – be that safety, money, love, et cetera.  I can manifest all day and night, if I realize that whatever is in my highest good will be the outcome.  I am sure you too have discovered that whatever is in your highest good may not always be the thing you think it should be. Or what you WANT it to be. 

But I digress.  This esoteric plane of thought can be brought into a more tangible, concrete example:  Last September, I made a trip to San Diego and fell head over heels in love with the area and with the feelings that were inside me while being there.  I know it is “just a place,” but it offered much more of some of the life qualities I seek.  I made baby steps to start putting energy into the universe that whispered, “I want to be here.”  The whisper became a voice, the voice became a shout.  However, I was not making any headway in a job search or a plan to physically GET there.  Suddenly in February of this year, an offer came for my husband.  There it was – nothing was perfect or ideal or the way I thought it would look, but there it was.  Once we decided to take that offer and run with it regardless of my situation with work, things just started falling into place.  I had no control.  Yet I shaped it.  I continue to shape it.  Is it messy?  Absolutely.  Am I frightened?  Of course.  I am physically leaving friends and family who have all been necessary for all the growth and progress I have made.  Through all of this, so many of those in my life that have been beside me continue to be right there, cheering us on, and wishing the best for us in our new home-to-be.  My physical presence or lack thereof will not change the bonds we have established.  Thanks to the amazing power of technology, I will still be able to talk to them, to see them on a chat.  It does not replace their hugs or their warmth, but they will be there for me. 

The transition of a geographic move leads me to examine other recent transitions – from destructive behavior to healthy behavior; from denying my soul to filling it; from never really pondering my actions or reactions to digging deep to discover the why of how I behave.  I cannot live inside myself without also examining the larger world around me – I am moved to tears then action by suffering and I am in constant awe of the beauty which can be found if I just take the time to look.  Once we give in to the idea that nothing is constant or permanent, that all is change, we can begin to accept it without judgement and go forward with intention.  The energy for all of humanity I want to emanate is that of examination of change, and how to move with the tide rather than against. 

Listening in Color

Born with synesthesia, Deborah experiences color when she hears music. As a way to find healing and peace in her life she started creating mandalas based on the colors she sees while listening to a song. This not only became a cool gift idea for family and friends, but also helped her to manage her bi-polar diagnosis and the unpredictability of being a military spouse. Find Deborah at: @debbalynn on Instagram and on her Redbubble Shop.

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It’s happening again, but I can’t tell. I feel alive. I feel like I see colors the way they are meant to be seen. I feel like I can see the air breathing. The wind hums with my heartbeat and the trees sound like they’re singing just for me. I want to do yoga, I want to clean our house, I want to buy plants and completely re-do our yard. That part never lasts long, unfortunately. I wake up the next morning, and I feel so much anger it is scalding me and I am burning from the inside out. The world feels suffocating. There is not enough time, there is too much to do, and everything feels out of place. I am fighting with my husband, but I don’t know why. I am screaming and crying. A silent part of me watches as it’s happening, confused and upset. Suddenly, the angry part recognizes the silent part, and I am filled with terror. There are two of me! Which one am I?

In a panic, I put myself in the shower. I’m hysterical now, climbing out of the anger and into shame. I get out of the shower, and the world has lost its color. For some reason, I can hear every little sound, and it is deafening. My dog greets me in the hallway. I can’t pet him because his breathing is so loud it makes me nauseous. I open my bedroom door, and suddenly I am surrounded by thousands of sparkling fireflies. It is a forest of streaming, blinking, hauntingly beautiful golden lights. I reach out my hand hoping one will land on my finger even though I know they’re not really there. I hear a low, gentle whisper, “You’ve gone too far. You’ve shattered your reality, and now you’re stuck between worlds.” A shudder goes down my spine. Who said that? Was that me or my creator? I climb into bed praying the psychosis will pass and then spend the next week clawing my way out of a deep depression.

I was diagnosed bipolar several years ago, though I believe I’ve had it for many years. I didn’t start experiencing rapid-cycling and psychosis until my late 20’s and thankfully, I knew right away I needed help. When they said I needed medication, I gratefully accepted and thought that was the end of it, but it was really just the start. I had to uncover my triggers, learn about my biology, and dig into my ugliness. The latter being the hardest. We all have ugliness inside, the shadow self. Most of us bury it and try to hide it from others. When you are bipolar, that ugliness is rather close to the surface and always trying to gnaw it’s way out. It can feel like a portion of yourself is continuously striving to betray you.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot. I now know loud unexpected sounds, and abrupt changes in routine can trigger me. I also can’t have less than 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep or eat a lot of sugary foods, otherwise I risk a manic episode. Most importantly, I need daily healing rituals and a tender, empathetic approach for dealing with my shadow. For a while, I was content with my strolls through the garden and bubble baths, but eventually wanted something more creative to help with healing. This led me to start making art with another one of my conditions, Synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition that creates a crossed response to stimuli. There are many different kinds, but I happen to have the one that makes you see color when you hear music. It’s unrelated to my bipolar disorder, but a little reminder that brain chemistry can be imperfect but still beautiful. As a way to heal and create sacred space, I started using the colors I saw in music to create mandalas. The process was so repetitive and ritualistic, but still fantastically creative that my mind cleared and my spirit soared.

I now run a small business on the side creating mandalas for myself as well as for others who happen to wonder what their favorite song looks like. It’s been a way to not only heal myself but share my healing with others. I am also happy to say I’m (mostly)  stable in my bipolar disorder, but only because I work at it every single waking moment of my life. My best advice to anyone else who has mental illness is to find your medicine, and by that, I don't mean just pills. We are mind, body, and spirit and each of those things need different tools for healing. You have to discover what heals all three and seek it out in every way that you can.  

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Words and art belong to Deborah and are copyrighted. Do not repost, reuse or in any way reproduce without Deborah's express permission. 

Cypress

L. Harwyn is a genderfluid writing witch and intersectional feminist. Harwyn received her BA in creative writing with honors from Mills College, Oakland, California and attended Scottish Universities’ International Summer School for creative writing in Edinburgh, Scotland. Harwyn has been published by Tethered by Letters, Shoreline of Infinity, Nonbinary Review and elsewhere.

I sat under the cypress tree, looking out over the sand dunes, hot tears puckering my skin. It was October 2017, less than two weeks after our home burned down in a devastating California wildfire. I was mourning the loss of every little thing in our house and the innocent belief that climate change could be avoided. There was no doubt in my mind that the 80 degree temperatures in October, coupled with incredible winds, was responsible for the fire that destroyed thousands of homes and took lives from our community.

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The world was crashing down through the top of my head, like being pulled under one of the distant waves I could hear hushing and humming against the rocky shoreline. Behind me, stood the cypress tree, hairy limbs and perfect, round seedcones swaying above me. The branches creaked like rafters or sails and I found myself becoming quiet and listening to them scrape and groan against one another. 

I'd been working for months on acquainting myself better with the natural world and my own ancestry and woke one night from a fevered dream about the word "haegtessa," an Old English word meaning "hedge rider." I was beginning to walk this path with somewhat more certainty, collecting books and letting them sit boldly on my bookshelf, talking with more people about my beliefs and practices. So, when I looked at the cypress tree, I let my mind focus on the living being behind me, supporting my back while I wept. Looking at the rough, dark wood, I felt that I was sitting at a portal to the Otherworld and that this was an Otherworld tree. I felt comforted and whatever communion I experienced sitting on the soft bed of needles was incredibly calming and I found myself returning over the next few days, the pain in my heart seeping away as I sat under those low-hanging branches.

Thinking I was getting to know the tree behind my grandparents' house a bit better, I thought I should do some research on the cultural symbolism and beliefs about cypress trees.

If you're a magical person, this has probably happened to you before but I'm always somehow simultaneously validated and surprised when something I uncover in research confirms a magical experience I've had. When I looked up Cupresses sempervirens, I learned that it is planted the world over in graveyards as a tree of mourning. I had been drawn out to that lone shape in the sand dunes by sadness and had sat under a tree that has comforted mourners for countless centuries. What an incredible connection.

But my eyes widened as I scrolled further and read an anecdote, a few lines at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, under 'Other Characteristics.'

"In July 2012, a forest fire for five days devastated 20,000 hectares of forest in the Valencian village of Andilla. However, amid the charred landscape, a group of 946 cypress trees about 22 years old was virtually unharmed, and only 12 cypress were burned. Andilla cypresses were planted by the CypFire European project studying various aspects of the cypresses, including fire resistance."

I felt my heart quicken and that immeasurable sense of wonder that floods me when I feel like I've brushed against the supernatural. After losing our home to the flames, imagining all the ways that our things bubbled and boiled and fluttered and burned, after worrying about breathing in toxic smoke and the stories coming out of those who hadn't made it, friends who had narrowly escaped...I had sat down and prayed and wept under a tree with the ability to withstand and survive fire.

These are the moments when magic seems so obvious to me that I can't even feign sheepishness for the mainstream, wider world. There are mysterious things moving under the surface of what we know. The earth and something in my own knowing, somehow, were working together to heal my loss. I met the cypress halfway and she offered her medicine of grieving and protection from fire as only she could.

I felt renewed after this discovery. Every sense and emotion was heightened by shock and fear and worry in the days after the fire and this spiritual connection too was brighter, and more intense. At the peak of my grief, I took a chance and sat alone under a windswept tree. The swaying of its limbs lulled my heartache into quietness for a moment and maybe something in the cypress said, 'I know how to survive fire, and I know how to soothe sadness. Stay as long as you need." And I did.

ALL WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN THIS POST IS COPYRIGHT 2018 L. Harwyn. DO NOT REUSE WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM Lauren. VIOLATORS WILL BE HEXED. 

Requiem For A Dream

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Erin Duffy Osswald is a creatrix practicing the fine and healing arts. She leads sacred circles, celebrates rites of passage and guides personal spiritual metamorphosis. She is a ceremonialist specializing in Earth Medicine Practice. Erin enjoys a reverent life under the Big Sky of north central Montana. She writes at The Telling of the Bees.

I broke my own heart recently by falling head over heels in love with what I thought was the perfect idea. This great love propelled me to take an enormous chance and it convinced me so thoroughly of it’s beauty that I never really believed I could fail, but the risk didn’t pay off and I floundered in my denial for longer than I enjoy admitting. I was so lost because in the end I couldn’t bear to bury my dead dream. I cried through an entire season until one morning I woke up and somehow started to gently let go. I wish I could say I was propmpted by something heroic, but in actuality the pain I had been carrying was crushing me. I had to set it down. I was legitimately terrified by the emotional landscape I found myself in and for weeks I wrestled with one thought, “What in the hell have I done to myself?!” Initially, the concept of ever taking another risk seemed impossible to me, so I struggled for months learning how to take my lumps (accept my loss) and still get back in the saddle again (eye on the prize, darlin). If I was going to come out of this emotional nightmare of my own creation intact, I was going to have to mine the lessons out of my loss.

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Courage was required to take the risk and courage is what it has taken to heal my bruised heart. The root of the word itself comes from the latin Cor, meaning heart and does it ever take heart to live! Yes, we literally need a heart to pump oxygen rich blood through our body to keep our organs functioning and our bodies alive, AND we need it to be brave enough to keep showing up for LIVING, especially when we’ve taken some hard fucking tumbles. Our job is learning to tend the flame of our heart artfully and expertly so we do not consume ourselves with too much passion or snuff ourselves out through inattention. Having bravely searched out the trick to this balance, my priority remains keeping that flame burning slow and low in the aftermath of what the master class in life I just put myself through taught me.

There were days during my depression and recovery period when I just wanted to retreat to a nice hidey-hole and never come out again. My grief was only outpaced by my shame. Not only did I have a gaping hole in my chest (and by extension, my life,) there were also a handful of people who even knew about the risk I had taken. I thought, for certain, that risk taking and BIG living were no longer options for this gun-shy lady until I realized that I’m probably not old enough to be dead yet. This is the kind of thing one can learn in a hidey-hole because there is literally nothing in there except fear, delusions and mean voices who say the stupidest, most untrue things.

Somewhere along this journey, by the grace of the Gods I decided that I would continue to show up and feel and be and do this thing called life. That I wouldn't shrink from opportunities to grow and learn. I doubled down on my commitment to keep embracing the life I have and quit holding on so tightly to the life I’ve been dreaming of. I arrived at a place of trust in the unfolding of my process and in the knowing of my inherent bad-assery (one more level up on my shadow dancing). In short, I decided that my heartbreak would not break me and somehow I would eventually be ok. I was changed by this experience, but I lived to tell and the nuance I've gained makes my life fuller. Not easier, but, richer.

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It was only natural that the careful tending of my own heart would become paramount this past summer as the season of the Lion unfurled. The most precious seed I had planted at Imbolc did not sprout and I would not be rewarded with it's harvest this year. Not everything we sow will actually grow, this is sometimes the way of things and disappointment is always an appropriate response. The brave energy of Leo encouraged me to share my full heart, the joy and the sorrow and it reassured me that others vulnerability endearing.

Slowly, I began to open up about my grief, first only to myself, but eventually I could admit my pain to others. As the sun’s arc drifted south and traversed through the zodiac I was delivered, predictably, to a healing crisis as the sun entered the sign of the Virgin Priestess. It was during the month of the Virgo sun that I came to the safe harbor of acceptance. Casting out denial was imperative to my ability embrace beauty and possibility again which, thankfully returned as my sense of balance was being restored as the season of Libra dawned.

My heart has recovered enough to appreciate the ALL of what I have put myself through this year. As I make preparations for Samhain these hard won lessons serve as my strongest motivation to release my grasp when I feel myself reaching for a tentacle of my dead dream to hold on to. This year of bitter disappointments comes to a close and I remind myself it opens again just as quickly. I clear the space in my heart, made stronger by knowing how just how far it can stretch, and I cultivate faith that my heart's desire will somehow come to pass. It will be safe to risk again if I truly, fully, deeply and totally let go of how my most cherished dream could manifest. I know that in clearing the detritus out of my emotional space I make the way for infinite possibility, but if I hold on to stagnation, nothing new can ever grow. It is a paradox, but one I have faith in. I believe in the magic of the cycle of transmutation, from death all new life is reborn.  

To never have risked at all would not have saved my precious heart from breaking. That would have only been a slow and cowardly way to let myself down irredeemably, ultimately leading to a far greater loss, that of my own self respect. No, I did not hit the mark I was carefully aiming for and it’s arguable that my grasp exceeded my reach in the pursuit of this deep desire, but if I had never even tried I could have spent the rest of my life wondering about so many things. In the end, there is solace in knowing the outcome even if it wasn’t the one I wished for. It is no small thing to say I tried.

ALL WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN THIS POST IS COPYRIGHT 2018 ERIN DUFFY OSSWALD. DO NOT REUSE WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM ERIN HERSELF. VIOLATORS WILL BE HEXED. 

The Light of Grief

Jessica is a psychic witchy mama, metalhead messy artist, tea drinkin’ moon worshiper and asskicking widow. She recently moved from Missouri to Oregon with her four year old little goddess. She has found joy and happiness in the next season of her life by surrounding herself with love and making the journey into the darkness when it calls her name. Find Jessica on Instagram and her Etsy shop

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I have defined grief many ways this year.

“A deep hole of darkness.  A dangerous climb to the top.  A journey with many winding turns.”

I heard him scream my name for help. I ran. I ran faster than I ever have had to in my life.  I was forced to look Death in the eye and made to feel powerless as I heard my husband take his last breathe.  I collapsed from exhaustion from trying to beat life back into his heart on our living room floor. My sister continuing the work as I saw his soul leave his body.  I may have screamed but the descent into darkness was deafening already.

I allowed them to work on his body for an hour even though I knew he wasn’t there. I knew where he was. Watching over our daughter as she slept through it all. The flashing lights, the voices of a dozen people. My screams and cries to the Goddess to give him back to us.

I waited for them to tell me he was gone.  Fears flooded my body as I snapped back into this realm. I whispered to my sister, “Don’t let me become like them.” I didn’t want to be swallowed by my grief and pain like I had witnessed my parents do after the loss of our infant sister years before.

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I stayed awake for three days.  I was the only one left to protect our daughter.  I felt the tugs of others wanting to take control.  I stayed aware of my surroundings and refused any offers to ignore the pain.  I saw the journey ahead if I gave in just a little. I would not allow that to happen.

I took ahold of the power and love I held within.  The power my ancestors before me were robbed of by grief and pain.  The love my husband gave me every day for nine and a half years.  The love we shared when we created our beautiful daughter.

I drew it all into my heart and began to fill the cracks of my heart and soul.  I used my power to stand tall through the plans and decisions. I found my voice for the first time in my life. I said, “NO!” to those wanting to take away my newly acquired power.

I held my head up high as I carried my daughter down the aisle behind my husband’s casket.  As I pushed my way forward I recalled the last time I had walked down the aisle, my soon-to-be-husband ahead of me smiling. Tears poured out of my eyes as my daughter came to realize her Daddy was gone. I heard the gasps and sobbing of three hundred people behind me. As the church listened to the service, I tightened my hold on our daughter. Then I stood and muttered my own prayers to the Goddess. I thanked her for giving me the greatest love I had ever known. I thanked her for allowing me to share part of my life with a generous man and father. I thanked her for the blessing of Life and Love and Joy.

Through it all my light never went out.  It sputtered and threatened to be extinguished by my tears and cries of anguish.  Countless times I screamed at the shadows, “No. You cannot have me!”  I spent hours immobile on the bathroom floor. My body was in a state of withdrawal. Love is a drug that can be taken away without notice.

I fucking refused to be swallowed by the darkness.  I tore my way through the sharp, thorny words and actions of others.  I stood bleeding and bare to myself and my inner circle. I wrapped myself in the comfort of my loved ones and asked for what I needed without shame or hesitation.

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I packed up my home of ten years and moved from the Midwest to the Northwest. I did so without obligation to explain myself to others. I did so because I saw that my life was my own. I did so because I fucking can and will do what brings myself and daughter joy.

I am healing the part of me left broken and tormented in the darkest abyss I have ever known.

I am peeling away the layers of sadness, loneliness, doubt, pain, heartache, shame, regrets and hatred.

I stand now in my true form.

Woman. Mother. Witch. Lover. Warrior. Goddess.

I stand amongst those who have come before. Athena. Isis. Inanna. Freya. Gaia. Durga. Mother.

I am She and She is me.

I give thanks and praises to those who have surrounded me with unconditional love.

Those who SEE me as I am.

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All art in this post is copyright 2017 Jessica Werner. Do not reuse without express written permission from Jessica herself. Violators will be hexed. 

Contributor Interview: L. Harwyn

L. Harwyn is a genderfluid writing witch and intersectional feminist. Harwyn received her BA in creative writing with honors from Mills College, Oakland, California and attended Scottish Universities’ International Summer School for creative writing in Edinburgh, Scotland. Harwyn has been published by Tethered by Letters, Shoreline of Infinity, Nonbinary Review and elsewhere.

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W&W: Do you consider yourself a witch?


Yes!

W&W: What does your magical practice look like? (i.e. Solitary, Coven, etc.)


I am mostly solitary but I meet about once a month with fellow magical folk. Most of my spirituality is nature-based. I feel drawn to practices people can do very experientially on their own as opposed to practices which require specific initiations, tools or circumstances.
 

W&W: How do you feel about the rise of witchcraft as a popular trend?


I think that more acceptance of nature-based religions is great but the true importance of why it became a trend in the first place is often obscured: people are hungry for spiritual satisfaction and supranatural experiences. One danger is that people going to rituals and using psychoactive substances are looking for something profound but maybe aren't always doing it in a way that is respectful to themselves or to others. That can look like appropriation or commercialism or just not leave people still not feeling satisfied. But there are more resources than ever accessible to people to find meaningful, respectful practices that honor the land, cultures, and ourselves and that is very exciting!
 

W&W: How has being an intersectional feminist influenced your writing?


Everything I write is through the lens of being an intersectional feminist. I try to think about what I'm responsible for when I write and how to do no harm. As a person of European descent, for example, it's not my place to try to tell the stories of POC and it would be wrong to whitewash those narratives. Sometimes it means not writing or not speaking, sometimes it means pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone to talk about something important. I hope to make the world a better place with my writing and learning more about intersectional feminism is the best way I know how to do that.
 

W&W: What influences your creative process?


Nature is a huge influence. Also I tend to read a few specific books and watch the same movies over and over again-- I guess it's going for depth rather than breadth. Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm not reading or absorbing more new material but I'm always amazed that sitting under the same tree or reading the same poem can actually be such a transformative experience, and such a different experience, every time.
 

W&W: Who is your favorite writer and why?

This is so hard to answer! I have read  a lot of Helen Oyeyemi in the past few years, the way she handles fairytales and myths and the way she surprises the reader fascinates me. Her writing definitely influences the way I think about writing, always.
 

So other than being Witchy As Fuck, what do you do in the world of Muggles?

I craft a lot, I make pastries, I am really engaged with my family and friends. I'm basically in that Millennial stage of looking at my finances and my skillset and trying to decide what's next. I have this pipe dream about hosting tea parties for witchy people as my career path--maybe that means I have no Muggle life!
 

Where to find you:

I share writing stuff @harwytch and more spiritual stuff @inthewitchhouse

Contributor Interview: Angela Grella

Angela aka Lily, is a witch of blood and shadow, a practitioner of northern and ancestral craft, a rune reading spakona, and a nasty woman.

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W&W: Do you consider yourself a witch?

Definitely- though I also use the term spákona for myself to acknowledge the Northern Germanic ancestry I most closely identify with.

W&W: What does your magical practice look like? (i.e. Solitary, Coven, etc.)

My work is mainly solitary, but also I work with a close group of friends during holidays and Sabbaths. We call ourselves the Uncoven and it’s definitely nothing formal! I maintain a daily practice of working with my land/house wights and disir, as well as my ancestors and beloved dead.

W&W: How do you feel about the rise of witchcraft as a popular trend?

It’s a double-sided sword to be sure! I’m really not interested in what I see as the commodification of my spirituality, which I consider to be deeply personal. I also don’t appreciate how white and cis-gendered witchcraft is portrayed as being the “norm.” On the other side of things, perhaps this pop culture trend will allow folks a doorway into a world that’s calling to them.

W&W: What influences your creative process?

My greatest influence is my family. My father was very Old World and had strict ideas on what was honorable when it came to your blood; he raised my siblings and I to put family above anything else. My spiritual practice is made up almost entirely of working with local spirits and my ancestors, I would definitely call myself an ancestor venerator (though I wouldn’t say I worship anything) and I bring my heritage into almost everything that I do. My writings and artwork tend to reflect the deep connection I feel to my ancestral line and family tree, as well as my immediate relatives.

W&W: Who is your favorite writer and why?

Tough question! I’m not sure if I have a favorite author, there are so many authors and poets that I love. However, if I’m being completely honest with myself, the book that had the most influence on me in my life was definitely Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

So other than being Witchy As Fuck, what do you do in the world of Muggles?

I teach little ones! That’s right parents, bring me your children!

Where to find you:

My blog is Whispers of the Wyrd and I’m on Instagram @my_blue_veins. I'm also a member of the podcast Hex Rated on iTunes, pOdomatic, and Stitcher.