I saw him while stepping out of the hotel room shower the afternoon of my brother’s wedding which, frankly, would have been much scarier for him than it was for me.
And when I say I saw him what I mean is -like the wine in my hand- I saw half of him. The lower half of him, wearing shorts and sandals.
He was walking back through a wall like that scene in Signs where Mel Gibson sees the alien leg as the creature ducks back into the cornfield.
The last time I saw him was the evening after my grandmother died except that was in a dream. He was wearing resort wear then, too, oddly enough. And he was sitting next to my grandmother on a plane. (That time they looked like evil cartoons. For… a variety of reasons… my visions of the spirit world look like they were drawn by the same hand that does McKenna’s machine elves.)
Thing is… he appears to me more than anyone else I’ve spoken to in the family. I remember it was a couple of months after his funeral and I was still in high school. It must have been a Saturday morning because the room was warm like I’d overslept. My mind was in that ‘Tinkerbell Zone” (remember Hook?) between asleep and awake and he said “Gordon, darling. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and I’m okay.” Being an occultist of at least eleven month’s standing I said to my own brain “yeah right. Do better next time. What a pointless and clichéd idea for my tiny mind to have.”
Then I heard it.
It was the unmistakable sound that my grandfather made when he lost his patience…. which he only did rarely. And I felt myself pulled over so that I was facing the other side of the bed. It was weird. So I opened my eyes. To see I was facing the original side of the bed.
But this is something Sylvia Brown once said about relatives that have crossed over. Once you’re dead, what else matters except communicating love and okayness? Do you think your honoured dead have an opinion of those new shoes you bought? It’s not a cliché if that’s actually how they feel.
Given that this was the wedding of his youngest child’s kid I suppose the encounter should not have surprised me but it did. Hand to God, it was the farthest thing from my mind at the time.
What was going through my mind at the time was trying to keep my head above the feelings of exclusion I was experiencing. For reasons I have yet to get to the bottom of, my involvement in the entire wedding process was essentially non-existent (people came up to me and commented on it at the reception). But as I explained to my PAW, my little brother’s wedding is probably one of those extremely rare moments in the entire history of the universe that wasn’t exclusively about me so I kept schtum.
But it was nice to be able to say in response to cousins remarking that our grandfather would have loved to have seen this – and who know me just well enough to realise I’m kinda up in these things- “oh no, he’s here. Saw him with my own two eyes. Count on it.”
So yeah. That was a big gratitude lesson. I may not have been super involved but at least I could raise a glass to the happy couple. This wedding had guests that couldn’t even do that.
The rest of the lessons are point-formed.
Growing up, I was told that ‘bula’ was Fijian for ‘hello’. And things have changed in the hotel of my childhood memories. There is a tyranny to it now. Every employee you walk past will stop what they are doing and say ‘bula’ to you… and they usually cower or get out of your way as they say it. Corporatism has clearly made its way to the South Pacific. You can just picture the staff meetings where every single employee is told in no uncertain terms that they must say ‘bula’ to every guest, every time.
No one in my family remembers it being quite so creepy. Nor did they realise that it doesn’t just mean hello. It may be used as a greeting, sure, but it actually means ‘life’. (Which is why you can say it sometimes as a farewell, also.)
I like that. Picture a word that sits exactly half way between namaste and prana and you get the idea. Neat, huh?
I dont deserve the love I’ve got
Any of you who have met my partner will know this is a given.
But nothing says love quite like following someone down an anchor rope into low-visibility, gloomy water that is infested with sharks you are about to feed as the tide is turning and the current is picking up. When you’ve only dived three times before and one of those times was in a reservoir inside the M25.
As we descended I looked back up into his mask and saw eyes as wide as saucers. But he did it. And survived. And got a million extra points for it.
When I told the grumpy Northern girl at work she narrowed her eyes and said “I would have dumped you and killed you. Maybe not in that order.”
And I only dropped a dress size.
I’m annoyed because no one will believe just how diligent and just how bored I was.
Before Fiji, I don’t think I had had a single beer since my brother left London at the end of January. (Sidebar: something is chemically very wrong with me and must thusly be chemically adjusted.)
Despite this disappointment, weirdly, with some sun and some salt on me I rediscovered a physicality that was previously lost.
Outer trappings became less important than the use of one’s meatsuit… it was like sense memories of my Antipodean childhood came flooding back. In a literal sense, I re-membered myself.
SCUBA masks, the thwack-thwack sound of flip flops by a pool, the smell of sunscreen, the skin-tightening effect of sea salt….You know that scene in The Two Towers where Theoden grasps his sword again after Saruman’s spell is broken? It felt like that except somehow played by Rafiki from the Lion King.
I adore London but it’s a very cerebral place. Your identity is artificial in the literal sense of it being an artifice. Each day you build yourself like a poltergeist arranging a furniture pyramid. Four years of that leads to a peculiarly Londonish body dysmorphia. (You also burn with under three minutes of direct sunlight.)
Fiji Magic isn’t just about me and isn’t just about tourists
There are only a few places on earth where leaving them feels like being ripped out of the Nexus. Fiji, however, is one of them. I really wasn’t kidding about it’s afterlife associations. Find out for yourselves.
My mother the psychonaut told my partner that, as children (we went to this hotel at least once a year), when it came time to leave we would all stand in the lobby bawling… herself included.
We booked our final Fijian night at the Sheraton Denerau because it’s closer to the airport and my partner had a very early flight to Auckland to visit family. When it came time to leave he was almost in tears. This has nothing to do with me. I go away all the time and, besides, it’s usually tears of joy I see whenever I leave a group of people.
No. You don’t leave Fiji. You messily break up with her. And this was the first time he had done that.
Where else has its own bittersweet farewell song available upon request at breakfast buffets? (Starspotters: that’s the groom on the right, dancing with my little nephew. And that’s MMTP below them. Don’t judge the hair. She’d just got out of the pool.)
I’m quite sure that there was a choir singing Isa Lei as I left the other side to incarnate:
There is a diner in Jersey with a cute ging who could totally play Wash if they ever do a ‘Young Firefly’ reboot
Which obvs they should. Me, Deb and Jow will have to roshambo to see who gets to keep him. I’ll go first.
The HGA is on notice
This was kinda the talk of the weekend. Deb, Jow and I had a good long
bitch chat about it over a few Hendrick’s the afternoon before the festivities. From memory Jow found the words “it’s like eternal plastic surgery” particularly amusing.
Then Jason shows up and one of the first things out of his mouth is decrying western magic’s obsession with the HGA and how we all need to get over it.
If anyone is interested in locating this unusual little rite in its proper historic context then I earnestly entreat you to grab Owen Davies’s Grimoires which provides the most comprehensive overview I have ever read. (Potted history: weird southern European Kabbalistic offshoot. One of the with-hindsight limited range of texts available for Mathers to ‘translate’ and cobble into a system.)
Witchcraft is getting the rocketman treatment
Jason and I had a good ol’ chat about handsome Jackie Parsons and how he probably wrote the best words about witchcraft in the twentieth century.
Forget combing through Gardner’s writings for the ghost of Crowley, if you want to see the Beast’s real influence on witchcraft then look no further than his wife-swapping, rocket-inventing, L.Ron-Hubbard-befriending, wealthy, playboy acolyte.
Jack Parsons embodies everything I want in an occultist:
(Like Oscar Wilde says: “I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best.”)
But seriously, We Are The Witchcraft just completely nails it. This is the opening:
WE ARE THE WITCHCRAFT. We are the oldest organization in the world. When man was born, we were. We sang the first cradle song. We healed the first wound, we comforted the first terror. We were the Guardians against the Darkness, the Helpers on the Left Hand Side. Rock drawings in the Pyrenees remember us, and little clay images, made for an old purpose when the world was new. Our hand was on the old stone circles, the monolith, the dolmen, and the druid oak. We sang the first hunting songs, we made the first crops to grow; when man stood naked before the Powers that made him, we sang the first chant of terror and wonder.
So much better than a twee little ditty that some elderly bigot apparently wants to copyright.
Which was exactly the crux of our discussion. As an outside observer/kissing cousin, to my eyes modern witchcraft seems to be growing into something far more confident than concerns over the molecular configuration of lady parts. A while back I idly speculated what magic may come from our current unrest. I think it’s this…. like a ginger waiter at a Jersey diner, it’s emerging from its awkward teenage years into the sexy early twenties.
Jersey folk really bring the rain when it comes to theme parties
I was terrified that I was the only one who’d look ridic. Obviously, as you can see in Jason’s photos, I did look ridic… but at least I wasn’t alone. Kudos to Deb’s Jersey friends for being meta enough to commit to a Jersey Shore theme.
Manhattan’s ‘real’ youth unemployment rate is probably pretty close to Spain’s
The Lower East Side barmaid I fell in love with is a molecular biologist who has been tending bar since losing her job three and a half years ago.
When she came to interview for the position, the entire bar was full with a crowd that looked like it was trying to get the last helicopter out of Saigon.
The woman in front of her said if she doesn’t get this role she can’t feed her kids. (She didn’t get the role.)
This was a part-time bar position.
My molecular biologist friend said she thought Manhattan’s youth unemployment rate was above 50% but it’s concealed by the high levels of trustafarians.
Attention, Young western readers! Do me two favours:
- Vote for Obama.
- If you have a lifeboat, man it.
I don’t know how to be in cars anymore
Honestly, I thought that maybe Deb just had a car with a Chinese finger trap door lock but no… the same thing happened in Jason’s car when he was graciously attempting to drop me back at the hotel late at night based on the flimsiest of directions.
Four years of the London Underground and now when I try to open car doors I look like a chimp operating a gyrocopter.
Educated Americans are overly hard on themselves
Yes, losing an empire can be disconcerting. Especially because it seems that a lot of you only realised you even had one in the last ten years. But in the end it’s really not so bad. There’s certainly less hassle. Cultivate an interest in drinking gin and sitting quietly in gardens and you’ll be fine.
Honestly, if you want to see what a poorly-run, misfiring economy filled with backstabbing, petty scum looks like then go anywhere in European Economic Area where they don’t speak German.
From what I can see in my econo-crystal ball, this is still America’s century. Here’s an anecdote.
When my plane landed in LA from Fiji I went straight to the lounge because I was obviously filthy after spending ten hours in a bouncy metal tube filled with other people’s farts.
This meant I was unaware AA has a $9 speedy boarding option which would have really suited me because my carry-on is Eurotravel-sized (enormous). So I go up to the counter at the gate minutes before the flight, apologise profusely and ask if there is anywhere up here I can purchase speedy boarding.
The AA attendant said -and I quote- “There is but… pffff. What would you want to do that for? Save your money. I’ll let you on.” And she did! Here’s how that conversation would have gone down in Britain.
Every single person whom I thanked for the entire week looked me in the eyes, said “you’re welcome” and meant it. (In Manhattan!) Having not left the Euro area for four years I had genuinely forgotten that parts of the world are actually well-run.
As we all know, success is largely a head game and you guys are the experts. Things are shit but keep seeing that glass of shit as half full rather than half empty.
The narrative journey and the initiatory journey have the same shape
- What does that tell you???
- As soon as I check my bags at JFK London Gordon returned. Vacation mode was over. Class dismissed.
I’m ushered into the BA lounge hours early, people are drinking tea and skyping about Greece. The last two weeks of wizards and sharks and weddings and giant sandwiches with fries in them doesn’t quite slip away… but sinks below the surface for processing.
So I make a start on this post and tweet with my PAW. And in a very chaos magic way my mind turns to notions of identity.
The Australian, the European, the diver, the tourist, the food reviewer, the wizard, the friend, the lover, the son, the cousin, the customer, the blogger, the documentarian, the frequent flyer, the meat suit, the gift-giver, the free-wine-drinker.
I am all of these things.
Like yourself, I am a personal tarot trump collection and every card appears in the spread at its allotted time.
There’s a lot to process. And processing feels oddly like jet lag. It might be time to shuffle the deck.