This is where I talk about the “hows” of what I do – the process of fictional reconstruction and the implications of Theos Logos, the idea that writing is a sacred act. Most recently updated 2/2 to add Art, Aesthetics and a Hint of Apotheosis.
I am a writer, and I am a magician. For me, writing is a magical act. At the heart of this is the idea that there is as much reason for human suffering in this world as there is in any book you read – it means we’re part of a good story. Just as we create stories, we are created. Just as characters suffer and grow, so do we.
Think of Achilles. He chose a life like a falling star over a long, happy, peaceful existance. His story is timeless, and has long endured. What was the last story you read in which no one took risks, suffered, or made mistakes? Achilles was presented with two plots and allowed to choose. Of course, this is a metaphor for our lives as well. We can take the easy route or the hard one, and decide what kind of story we want to carve.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word said In the beginning…
And yes, I know I keep coming back to that. That’s because I think it’s true.
Do you ever find yourself narrating your everyday life in your head? Does it help you approach decisions in a more balanced way? Does it allow you to remain calm in the eye of the storm? This has qualities of both magic and meditation – meditation because it allows you to calm yourself and take that critical outsider’s look, and magic because by directing your narration, you can subtly affect the way your story is written, merging your own will with that of your author (and don’t we all, as authors, have those moments when characters make it clear they are imposing their will on us?).
This is just a collection of thoughts about that philosophy.
The Path of the Protagonist
“Fantasy and reality often overlap.” – Walt Disney
The Path of the Protagonist is about taking control of your own life. There are many roles and archetypes out there – Hero, Sidekick, Love Interest, Villain, Teacher, Evil Overlord. The Hero is the one most people think of when they think of the Protagonist, but that’s not actually the case. In fact, books where the protagonist is a known Villain were all the rage a couple of years ago – see also: Wicked – and I’ve seen fantasy authors take on most of the others at various times as well.
As a protagonist, or someone learning to be a protagonist, this year’s goal is to be unapologetically in charge of the story of my life. That means prioritizing what’s important to me, not what I feel should be important or what other people think is important. It means taking care of myself. It means exploring the symbols that repeat over and over in my life, and working with those spirits that have asked for my time and attention.
The thing about those symbols, I believe, is that they show up for a reason. If something shows up repeatedly in my life, resonates to the point that it makes my heart sing, then there’s something to learn there. There’s a story to be told.
At this point, I’ve spent enough time turning my spiritual journeys into fiction and using fiction to work through thoughts and ideas that I couldn’t articulate any other way that separating the two out would be nearly impossible. I don’t think I could separate what I knew as a child from what I’ve read and written in the meantime.
I also don’t think it’s necessary. Sure, there are pagans and magicians who talk as if they don’t know the difference between how magic works in fantasy novels and how it works here. But I know I can’t cast Magic Missle, and more importantly, that’s not what I’m trying to do. It’s about understanding Wyrd through The Thread That Binds the Bones, or the elements via My Little Pony, or whatever works for you.
Choosing Your Own Adventure
People say that everyone’s the hero of their own story, but that doesn’t mean having to play the Hero all the time. We can have other roles, and be aware of them. I doubt Robin has any illusions about being the star when he stands next to Batman, even if he is the star of his own comic book. There have been periods in my life where I felt very much like everything that happened to me was purely in relation to other people being protagonists. I’m thinking specifically of vast periods in which I was a sidekick to other peoples’ various adventures, but there’ve been periods where I played the villain and the love interest (both at the same time with one boyfriend, which as you might imagine was interesting).
We are humans, we define ourselves in relation to other humans. For a lot of people, that means that our mental image of people consists solely of how they relate to us — think of the first time you saw your teacher outside of school when you were a child. You didn’t really think teachers, or doctors, or babysitters, or librarians stopped existing when you left their domain, but it never occurred to you to think that they had families and homes and errands.
If we’re aware of this, we can take a measure of control in our relationships with others. By understanding how they see us, what kind of characters we are to them, we can invoke the archetypes of our stories to make relationships more harmonious and effective. After all, two “heroes” working at opposing goals will continually get in each others’ way.
Say someone finds herself the villain, despite her best efforts. Rather than try to court the hero, she gently lets him “turn” her to his side, if she wants him to work with her, or shows him a common enemy against which they both struggle. If she doesn’t want to change his mind about her, she can use his perception of her as a villain to draw him into making mistakes or forceful accusations he can’t back up. Or she can sit back and complain about why people treat her that way without trying to either change her archetype or use it to her advantage.
In my case, when I was the sidekick, I felt like I was drifting without a place, and being a sidekick, a loyal friend and a sympathetic ear, allowed me to be part of something larger, something grand and romantic. That doesn’t mean that my friendship or my sympathy were insincere. (I would actually consider it a different kind of sincerity — because at the time I was happy with my role as it was, and not looking for ways to be the hero myself.) I mean them quite deeply and it didn’t bother me at the time that I was trailing along on her adventures. Any adventures were to be cherished.
If we are going to pursue the awareness of our ability to write our own stories, it is necessary that we consider the value of all the roles we can play, find the ones we are most comfortable with and most effective in, and use that awareness to craft ourselves a place in the world that uses our strengths and balances our weaknesses with those of the people we surround ourselves with. Even within the path of the protagonist, there are many roles besides Hero to choose from.
For every great King, there is a Power Behind the Throne, there are Advisors, there are Warriors, there is a Queen and a Prince and perhaps an Evil Brother. And perhaps it best suits our goals to be the second-string character in the story of someone else who can bring about our goals more effectively than we can. Kings and Heroes aren’t always the protagonists of the story; sometimes they’re the ones who set things in motion for other people.
The key is in understanding the role you’re playing, choosing to own it and put it to work for you.
The First Draft
Are the ideas of the divinity of the world around us and the idea of a greater reality inherently contradictory?
On one level, sure, of course they are, but I’m a big fan of the quote about the opposite of a great truth also being true. A reflection in the water can be beautiful even if the water is troubled, or even be made more beautiful by the pattern of ripples.
There is a kind of perfection in imperfection. The first draft of a story is imperfect, and yet it is the most raw, most honest form of creation.
The act of editing, polishing, and correcting is moving close to that divine perfection that casts the shadows, and is important too, but that doesn’t mean the shadows are any less a part of the beauty of existence. It’s easy to simplify the gnostic idea of the imperfect photocopy-of-a-copy of creation, the Demiurge pressing Sophia’s work up to the copier to make his own zine called The World, but I don’t see this world as a trap just because it is imperfect.
We learn through our rough drafts, and that learning process is just as real as the higher truth in the final draft.
Three Kinds of Writing
There are three kinds of writing that fall under “theos logos”:
- Transformative writing
- Creative writing
and each of these has mundane as well as magical essence. (There are non-theos writing motivations as well, such as writing purely for money or amusement, but to write purely and entirely for those reasons is rare.)
Record-keeping is the most straightforward type of storytelling. It’s simply a matter of writing down what happened. When your teachers tell you to “write what you know”, this is where you end up, and even journalism can fit in this category.
The mystical aspect of record-keeping is the act of channelling. This can also fall under the description of soulbonding, musing, or some kinds of multiplicity. When someone comes to you and says “this is my story”, and you write it, that’s channelling. Sometimes it’s said that this has no creativity to it — or at least not in comparison with other kinds of writing. That’s drek, however. There’s an artform to telling a story, regardless of whether it was told to you at first or not. (There were many, many stories about the Trojan War. The Iliad survived.) There can, in fact, be a great deal of duty attached to a channeller, especially one who is charged with relaying the stories of dead planets, forgotten races, and other such dusty muses.
Transformative writing starts with simplistic actions — self insertion fanfic, wish fulfillment fantasies, and so on. It is writing what we want to see, rather than what is.
Magically, transformative writing is all about understanding that the world we live in is also a story, and that we as characters can influence the author as surely as those who speak to the record-keeper influence their own stories. Write yourself a better life, a girlfriend, everything you want. This is similar to chaos magic, in that both encourage the use of symbols as a focus for energy. (I’m still looking at sigils and narratives, Grant Morrison stuff.)
Creative writing (and that needs a better term, really) is the act of creating a world by writing about it: playing God, so to speak. The best description of this I’ve seen is in the Myst games and their related material, where the philosophical debate about the existence of the worlds being written is actually part of the plot.
from Myst: The Book of Atrus:
You have spent six weeks now, learning how to copy a number of basic D’ni words and have discovered just how complex and beautiful a script it is. But those characters also mean something, Atrus. Something much more than you’ve previously understood. And not just in this world. They were developed over tens of thousands of years for a specific task — that of describing Ages… of creating other worlds. They are not like the words you and I speak casually, nor can they be used so in the books. Writing — D’ni Writing — is not merely an Art, it is a science. The science of precise description…
When we begin, there is nothing. It is… uncreated. But as soon as the first word is written — just as soon as that first character is completed, the last stroke set down upon the page — then a link is set up to that newly created world, a bridge established… Ahead lies an immense amount of hard work. Every aspect of the Age must be described, each new element fitted in. — pp 171-174
What if they weren’t so much making those worlds as linking to pre-existing possibilities?
At first he had dismissed the notion as a foolish one. Of course they created these worlds. They had to be! How else would they come into being in such precise and predictable forms? Besides, it was simply not possible that an infinite supply of different worlds existed out there, waiting to be tapped. Yet the more he’d thought about it, the more he had come to question his father’s simpler explanation. — pp 203-204
All writing is creative, but some of it is more creative than others. Creating a world, discovering its gods, and getting to know its inhabitants is a way to draw closer to deity in your own life.
There are other ways to use writing as a stepstool to the divine, but these are the three I know best. If you’ve got suggestions too, let me know in the comments.
The art of recording what you’re told – taking dictation – has a long and storied history in religion. Moses, Mohammed and Joseph Smith all did it at one point or another. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Just take what you’re told and write it all down.
I’ve been listening to Jack Spicer’s Vancouver lectures lately on my way to and from work. I was particularly caught up by his first lecture, on poetic dictation. Spicer was of the belief that the most worthwhile and true poetry came from outside of the writer. He referred to his source as Martians, but I suspect the source itself was not as important as the poetry in his mind.
He asked, “What are you here for?” And the spooks replied, “We’re here to give metaphors for your poetry.” -Jack Spicer on Yeats in his first Vancouver lecture
The concept of dictation is associated with the Berkeley Renaissance poet Jack Spicer, but he pointed back to Yeats as a source. Under other names, though, the concept is quite common among writers – the idea that your story, your images, your words are given to you. They are inspired from without.
In a pagan context, they could certainly be inspired by deities, but this kind of inspiration is not limited to deities. In fact, where it comes from is a secondary concern much of the time. Spicer would tell you that it doesn’t matter where it’s coming from, and speaking purely in terms of Theos Logos I would agree. I don’t know where my inspiration comes from. I don’t know how I why I am allowed to hear the stories I retell. I offer to the Firebird and to Sarasvati but that’s more for the ability to produce something with it.
Later in the lecture, Spicer says something that’s likely to sound familiar to spiritworkers and those who discuss their godphones: “I just don’t think that whatever the source of energy is gives really very much of a damn about you. It wants to keep you in good condition, just like the farmer wants to keep the cow in good condition. Or the butcher, or the rancher, and then the butcher wants to keep the steer in good condition until it’s butchered.”
The point is, as always, the story.
Spicer goes on to describe the process of figuring out what dictation feels like, how it is different from regular poetics. It’s a process of discernment that’s likely to sound somewhat familiar to spirit workers: learning that you’re listening to something, learning to listen intentionally. When practicing writing as a spiritual discipline, as a part of Theos Logos or any other practice, listening is a key skill.
When I talk about taking dictation in the context of Theos Logos, I’m not talking about a god rattling off advice or instructions. I’m talking about the process of hearing, and telling, someone’s story. That might be someone in the past, in another world, or a god. Whoever it is, they are trusting you with their stories.
To my mind, this is a sacred responsibility. It is as if I have been given a beautiful, raw stone. The stone’s owner expects me to cut and polish it, to find the flawless gem inside. This is no simple act of scribbling down shorthand. The art of writing is my own, the word choices, the arcs of the characters, the themes and metaphors. If I am lucky, I take the raw facts and polish them into something true.
Even if I am not doing the worldbuilding myself, it is still the process of creation, which is sacred because it is godlike. Taking what you’re given and turning it into something finished is an art. Listening is an art of its own.
My faith practice has both fictional and historical influences, and I use fiction as a medium to understand my own experiences and faith. Looking at, say, LotR or Dr Who and wondering what those religions looked like. How would it work? Who would you call on? The way you come to understand a religion like that is a framework on which you hang your own understandings and preferences in a religion. In building a relationship between yourself and a “fictional” deity, you’re reaching out to the Powers and saying ‘this is what my life is missing; does it exist?’ and preparing to accept the answers. Much of the time, for me, this is using writing to reach out to powers and invite them into my life.
Fan Fiction and Journeywork
There are, roughly speaking, two kinds of spiritual journey. One is travelling through other places, what I call going sideways: Faerie, the Nine Worlds, that kind of thing. That is a useful skill to have, and can be a wonderful or terrible experience in its own right, but it’s not what I’ve had on my mind lately.
The other kind of journey is more internal. That’s not to say it isn’t real; the inside of your head can be a very dangerous place, and your self is absolutely real. It isn’t taking you elsewhere, though. The beings you interact with there are often archetypes – spirit animals, guides, parts of yourself, and sometimes deities. You go somewhere inside yourself, and you learn something if you’re lucky, and then you return.
I have experimented with using the writing process to guide this type of journey. When I am in the right mindset as an author, writing fiction is a bit like automatic writing. I feel as if I have very little control over the way the story is going, and I share in the emotions of my main characters. This makes it possible to “write” a journey that has at least as much emotional space and room for surprise as a guided meditation.
Because it is meant to be a practice heavy with archetypes, I found that using fan fiction can make the process a lot easier. If TV Tropes has taught us anything, it’s that media is just filled to the brim with archetypes (which is just a nice way of saying cliches, sometimes) and the themes of myth are being reenacted right now on network television. If Once Upon a Time or the Vampire Diaries or, hell, Hannibal or White Collar gives you the framework you need to hang your internal work on, I say go for it.
The trick is in being able to reach that mindset where you’re honestly experiencing the emotions of the main character you’re writing, making choices as a person in the experience instead of from authorial fiat. Once you can step that far in, writing can be done in a light trance (again, not unlike automatic writing) and the journey may begin to surprise you.
Art, Aesthetics and a Hint of Apotheosis
If we're using a broad definition of art - and I am - then my primary way of enacting magic over the last few years has been art. I do some ritual, sure, and I make offerings and meditate and research, but I mostly write, and I do some painting and, while I haven't for a while, I also needlefelt and make dolls for icons.
I like to paint as a sort of sigilization work, where I use the colors and shapes to call a goal that I'm spelling for. It's part meditation and part energywork and as a bonus I often (though not always) end up with a neat abstract painting at the end of it.
Lately I've been working on a working loosely derived from the Headless One working and other practices where you align yourself with gods, the HGA, etc. Different schools of thought but all of them reaching for something greater than what we appear to be at first glance. Naming ourselves something greater as the key to being something greater.
I guess in Theos Logos, in writing magic, it would be the Mary Sue work, though I don't really think of it that way much anymore. Mary Sue still has gender hangups and negativity that I haven't quite figured out how to put down, and the writing that I do for this isn't really for public consumption anyway. I write it for myself or my partner and I write together, and the magic isn't in sharing it with an audience but in the writing itself, the emotions and experiences we write and the energy we put into being it.
The actual mechanics of it are basically the same as any kind of fiction writing or roleplay, which I know people have used for self-transformation before - there's that running joke about eggs roleplaying as their eventual gender and lots of otherkin and similar non-humans will use writing to explore the mindset and experience of their true self. You can make it as structured as you like, if structure helps you. There was a time when I would light a tealight and take dictation until the candle burned out. Now it's more a matter of finding the small bits of time and drawing them out.
And speaking of roleplaying, well...
When I came to paganism lo these many years ago, there was A Look. (also there was A Scent.) And then there was the backlash against the look, so of course you could complain about people who were LARPing. The person I was dating at the time was very much a Look type, where I had previous leaned towards complaining about the Look even as I was drawn to expressing myself "in real life" as much as online. One of the things I liked about her was how she seemed to be able to be effortlessly magical in her everyday life.
Of course, it was more complicated than that, and for a long time I felt like leaning into the aesthetic of it all was too much like her, so I pushed back and pushed back and pushed back, but I've all but pushed myself in a circle now. I'm a grown-ass married adult and I can be as weird as I want to be. My partner and I can have huge altars, and we do. I've painted sigils on the walls and hung strands of chain and beads to direct energy through our home. I can make and trade for magical objects that look like magical objects, and not everybody enjoys this but for me, yes, having a tool that fits the work I'm doing, that matches the story I'm telling with my spellwork, it helps everything flow more smoothly.
The argument I've always heard about dressing in robes or garb for ritual is that it puts you in the correct headspace, and this is the same. I'm telling a story with words, but I'm also telling a story with the way I do my magic, the way I decorate my house, the altars I lay out and the choices I make. What I look at every day reminds me what story I'm telling.
I've seen mention that Headless One rituals work better if you do them in public, despite the fact that you're enacting them inside your head, because the way people perceive you changes and empowers you. I think about that, about glamour, about what it means to choose to look like A Middle-Aged Dad and what it means to choose to look like A Wizard On The Bus, what I can take from how other people perceive me and what I can leave. I spent so many years just trying to completely block out and ignore how people saw me, and in retrospect a lot of that was knotted up in dysphoria, as evidenced by the fact that my first experiences of gender euphoria were always from being mistaken for a boy in college. I learned shapeshifting and glamourwork only once I was able to articulate what I didn't like about the way my body worked and the way I was seen, only once I'd begun to decouple my desire to live an authentically magical life from my feelings about the way my ex went about trying to do it, and only once I'd started unlearning the anti-Mary-Sue "storytelling rules" we're taught as young teens in fandom.
There is considerable freedom and power in writing what I want to write, living how I want to live, looking how I want to look and being who I want to be.
Talking to alternate versions of myself is a skill I learned young – one of my first spirit teachers taught me it, along with astral travel.
The way I do it is by picturing the multiverse like a book open on the table. We’re on, let’s say, page 539. Closer ones – ones that are more like this reality – are easier. You could say I regularly check in with pages 535-547 or something. Going all the way over to page 12 would be a lot harder.
I connect to these places via the Library. Whether or not the Library is the place some people refer to as the Akashic Records when they’re looking for past and future lives, I don’t know. Getting to the Akashic Records is a pretty common destination for astral journey-type stuff, though. It’s one of those archetypal destinations. You shouldn’t need much help finding some branch of it, even if you’re not drawn to the Library I see.
“Practice makes perfect” is very true for this skillset. Once you get comfortable with it, you may find yourself drawing certain pages closer to yourself. You can get to know the You you want to be, learn from your other selves, and bring the pages you like into your own story.
Once you’re comfortable doing it, you might start getting flashes of other choices at relevant times – when the lesson learned was something that’d be useful to know at whatever you’re doing now, or when you’re thinking about doing something you already did somewhere else.
Another way to approach it if you’re not into guided meditation is as a thought experiment. Pick some big decision in your life and ask yourself what happened if you went the other way. You can consciously direct it as a fantasy for a little while, if you want, and see what details start popping up that you wouldn’t pick on your own, or you can relax and let it run like a cross between a daydream and automatic writing. (In fact, writing is a good way to focus on this, if you’re having trouble.) And again, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Using this technique, I’ve met versions of myself who I would consider both better and worse off than I am. Sometimes I’m the one encouraging another version of me, too – I’m not the One True Me, after all. But either way, it gives me a sense of perspective and guidance when I’m really not sure what would be the best thing for me.
Bookbinding is the art of drawing the pages together and making a well-connected whole. Once you start to understand the pages around you and the choices you didn’t make as well as the ones you did, you gain a sense of the story of your life and how intentionally you write it vs letting it be written.
Blessed Are the Betas
There is a moment in considering the sanctity of writing, especially the sanctity of one’s own writing, in which one looks at the words on the page and says “This is perfect! This is just as it came to me!”
The latter may be true — it may even be a word for word dictation from the main character, or even from deity. However, that does not mean it is perfect. Just as important as the act of writing itself is the act of revision, and that’s not possible without good feedback and criticism.
How can that be, when writing is a divine, magical act? It’s true for several reasons.
First, the writer has a responsibility to herself. Spirituality is meant to be a process in which one touches something greater than oneself and seeks to become part of it. It is not a stagnant state, especially during the highly changable process of being incarnate. In order to refine and expand any spirituality, outside insight into our progress is necessary.
This is where the beta reader or reviewer is invaluable. A good revision requires as much energy as the initial setting-down. It requires clarity of vision and an erasing of ego.
Ego is a terrific problem for a writer. Someone who is too impressed by the brilliance of their own prose serves neither the charcters, the story, nor his true self. An egotists’s writing will ring hollow because there is no spark of soul in it.
The writer must constantly pursue improvement in form and in word, in characterization and in structure, as part of the process of tempering the soul and training the self to see the world more truly.
Second, a writer owes it to the characters to revise. This is particularly true in the case of channelled writing. Would you want to pour your life story out to someone so it could languish in a drawer or a computer file? Of course not, and neither do they. The author is not just a glorified typewriter for his characters. Like celebrity ghostwriters and authors of historical fiction, he is not a glorified typewriter. He is an artist, and just as a sketch is not a finished product, so is a first draft something that must be polished and finished.
A good beta shows us our faults and suggests the paths that may help lead us forward, as better writers and with a better understanding of our place in the world.