Magic

Magic Monday: Everyday Symbolism — You’ve Got This

Normally, when a stranger on the streets of New York City approaches me, or asks me to do something, I ignore them. It’s an ingrained trait, handed down from one hardened city-dweller to another. But on Tuesday night, re-discovering one of my favourite neighborhoods through the fresh eyes of a friend, things felt different. Maybe it was the optimism of the still-glowing skies at nearly 9PM, or the electric haze of summer post-rain, but when a stranger in shining black shoes stepped out from under the awning to grab my attention, I gave it to him–“Look!”

There, arching a perfect 180 degrees over Tomkins Square Park, was a vibrant, neon rainbow. I gasped and thanked him for pointing it out to me, and while I initially rounded the corner towards our original destination I found myself drawn back to the edge of the sidewalk, angling my phone towards the sky to capture what I could only see as a brilliant sign from the universe: things are going to be all right.

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I choose to see things differently. I look carefully at my surroundings, I find messages and meaning everywhere. There is constant reassurance from the universe all around–even when you’ve made the wrong choice or need to rethink your plans, there are clues everywhere. Recently, I had a series of particularly rough days. I felt alone, exasperated, and just plain bad. Armed with my Nikon D-series, I lay in the dirt outside my classroom shooting some of the plants and odd fields of abandoned construction supplies. Back in the lab, I realized I hadn’t gotten all my exposures as I wanted them and headed back out to the exact spot I was crawling around for the last half our only to find a mammoth goose feather in nearly the exact spot I had been. There were no geese to be seen, and I had only been inside for about five minutes.

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My grandfather was a particularly insightful Pisces who knew What’s Up. About a year before he died, he told my mother that when he wanted to get in touch, his sign would be feathers. At his memorial service, we gave each person in attendance a peacock feather to remind them that while people we love might move on and change state, they are never gone. The next day, my cousin–who graciously opened her home to the service–called us, excited and just a little uneasy, because she found several bright, beautiful feathers laid out on her front porch. “I think Jack was saying thank you.” That mammoth goose feather brought me to a similar state of confused excitement, tearfully decoding the message as I dropped back into my place in the dirt–in this case, I think Jack was saying “you’ve got this–just hang in there.”

We all go through tough times. With Mars recently coming out of retrograde and Mercury slipping back in, things have been more than a little wonky lately. But don’t worry: you’ve got this–just hang in there. The signs are all around you.

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Day in Pictures

Wood Nymphs and Centipede Kings, Exploring the Watchung Reservation

Sometimes, we all just need to breathe. Schedules get cramped; time slips past; places get too familiar. After more than a week inside, quarantined for a virus that drained me of absolutely everything, I was restless and distressed. All of my plans and ambitions had been sucked away, leaving me helpless and confused and sick both inside and out. As soon as my body was strong enough, I wanted to bolt. Armed with my Nikon and a kindred adventurous spirit, I marched out to blaze unfamiliar trails in the Watchung Reservation.

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I’ve never been “that girl,” with her eye glued to the viewfinder of a camera, stopping every other minute to compose a shot or snap a picture–until, that is, I fell in love with a 30-year-old Nikon. Now, it’s rare that the hulking metal contraption isn’t stowed away in my purse, wound and ready to expose a frame. It wasn’t until a week ago that I swapped it out for a newer piece of photo technology, since this semester brings digital challenges my way.

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After a week of painted walls and electric lighting, cough syrup and sugar-coated pain killers, being surrounded by lush green foliage and bright blue sky was a welcome change. Filling my lungs with fresh, fragrant air was better than any steroid or antibiotic imaginable. Though certain uphill hikes left me breathless and electrified, it was well worth the effort and endurance to sweat out whatever sickness lingered inside me. It was purifying.

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When you’re deep in the woods, surrounded by the smells of sweet green leaves and damp earth, listening to the music of running water and birds in flight, it’s easy to let go of daily human troubles. We walked together for over an hour into the woods, never once spotting another human being–we began to fashion ourselves as wood nymphs, water sprites, creatures all together different from the human beings we posed as day to day. We were present, connected to the chipmunks, rabbits, birds, and centipedes who crossed our path.

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I am so lucky to live so close to this remarkable patch of nature. In a world where urban sprawl is slowly closing in, where my day is dictated by traffic and transit times, where animals are so unafraid of roadways and travelers, it’s wonderful to have a place like this to get away to, whenever I want. Just a few feet down the path and that world melts away–gone are the highways and the schedules and perils of modern life. All that is left is the wild expanse of wood, green leaves, and water.

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Metamorphosis, Music

One Small Part of Forever: Radio Omens and the Wisdom of Stevie Nicks

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Sometimes, things don’t quite go as planned. When I set my intentions for 2014, I cast out my nets for opportunity, travel, and good times with friends and family. But like any road we travel, we sometimes hit some bumps along the way–and just weeks into the year, I’ve been faced with some particularly impressive potholes. It’s frustrating: just when you resign to put all the bad behind you and achieve better in the future, that negativity places itself directly in your path again. But that doesn’t mean the Universe isn’t listening.

In December, I came across my old copy of Belladonna–once inside my car, it kept a firm hold on my CD player for the better part of the month. The songs were familiar, the music all part of distant memories of my adolescent years–but it was as if I was hearing the lyrics for the first time. Perhaps now, as an adult, I connected with them on a different level, but it was as if everything I was thinking about life was reflected back at me. Although the CD player in my car has spun a few albums since, I’ve been hearing Stevie’s words everywhere–I can’t seem to turn on a radio or be near a sound system without hearing one of her classics. I’ve even heard a few Fleetwood Mac gems. Some people would probably tell me it’s a coincidence, or that her involvement with a certain smash hit television series has renewed some of her public interest, but I can’t help but feel that the Universe might be trying to tell me something.

Listen carefully to the lyrics–think of them as an incantation for peace of mind. No matter what life throws at you, you are infinite. Within you are all the tools you will ever need to overcome any situation. The Universe has not given you anything you cannot handle because you can handle anything. Just reach inside yourself and draw out your power. You are a magical creature, “one small part of forever”…

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Metamorphosis

New Skies and Uncharted Paths: the Magic of New Years

Oh, what a ride it’s been! We’re closing in on the final hours of 2013 and in just a few more days we’ll be staring into the glittering newness that is 2014. These post-holiday days are perfect to sit back and reflect on the lessons we’ve learned, the goals we’re going to set, the places we’ve been, and where we want to go. For some, New Year’s Eve is a time to celebrate the passing of the old year with friends, drowning fears and anxieties at the bottoms of ever-full glasses; for others, it’s a chance to ring in the new year with a romantic flourish, staring into the eyes of a lover or counting down the minutes to midnight to fall into the arms of a pretty stranger. To me, New Year’s Eve is one of the most magical nights of the year, so thick with potential that intentions hang in the air in front of us. It begs for contemplation, divination, and meditation.

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2013 was a year of facing truths. Challenges were posed and met head-on, revealing strengths and talents we never knew we had. We found our way out of the darkness, learning how to shine all on our own, banishing shadows of doubt from our path. Not everything we saw was beautiful–we’ve witnessed true ugliness at times, but as long as we learned to cast it aside and look for the lesson, nothing was in vain. We’re stronger people for the experiences we’ve had. 2013 reopened wounds for me–it was full of fear, sadness, and profound loss. But it taught me how to grieve, it strengthened my resolve, showed me that I have stores of courage. It taught me that I am a dazzling, magical creature that rises out of desolation and regenerates endlessly. 2013 brought back my magic. I won’t let that magic slip away in 2014. I plan on reading every tome that falls into my path, seeking new knowledge and stretching my magical muscles regularly using new and exciting methods and tools. I will tune my instrument, add to my repertoire, and build my understanding of my personal universe and how to control it.

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In 2013, I learned how to be a World-Weilding Web Warrior and met fabulous friends both new and old in the City of Roses. I traipsed after ghosts and gods and visited one of my oldest friends in the ever-magical Crescent City. This year, I plan to take more of America by storm, drinking in new and different skylines and sunsets, but I also plan on expanding my literal horizons, bringing myself to the shores of new and foreign lands. I want to breathe the air of my ancestors, walk the same ground as my beloved’s forebears, feel their wind, learn their magic, sleep their nights. I want to smell every perfume in Paris and Milan and taste every tea in London and Kiev. In 2014, I firmly intend to make this happen. My wanderlust has been too long unsatisfied, and 2014 is going to be my Super-Sagittarian Gypsy-Witch Wonder Year full of new skies, uncharted paths, and changing winds.

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So while will ring in the new year surrounded by beautiful strangers in festive streets or huddled with close friends in dark clubs and bars, I’ll be lighting candles and flipping cards, setting my intentions and channeling all my positive energies to make 2014 the best year yet. Not just the best year, but the Wonder Year…

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travel

Ghosts and Gods on the Mississippi: Part II

On the last night of my first trip to New Orleans, I sat in a bar on Pirates’ Alley crying into my absinthe. It was impossible to fathom the trip back home, going back to my daily grind after a week in a city so magical I could hardly believe it existed. As she lit another cube of sugar on fire for me, the bartender told me she had relocated from her home in Hawaii after an extended stay in NOLA. Even spellbound as I was, it was hard for me to imagine leaving a tropical paradise for anything, but she was as much part of her new city as any one of the locals around us. On my second trip, I found myself joking with a woman in a magic shop that I couldn’t see myself leaving this time around–as it turned out, she too was a transplant, lured in by the siren’s song of the city and helpless to its pull. She told me that she had visited frequently when she lived in Brooklyn, but the anxiety around leaving was always so intense that she simply decided it was easier to stay than to face the heartache of tearing herself away.

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The more I talked, the more I realized how many of the people I encountered in this city were pulled there by its magnetism and simply never bothered to break away. For me, the city’s appeal lies mostly in its history, its rich traditions and folklore tempered with magic and peppered with scandal. According to legend, Marie Laveau cursed New Orleans, dooming its residents to live forever within the city limits, never breaking free of its magnetism. Others claim the Mississippi River pull people in and refuse to release them. But no one argues that there is an inescapable gravity, and once you’re in it’s impossible to escape.

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My week in NOLA was a whirlwind as I tumbled after ghosts and gods, making wishes and manifesting desires. The thought of returning home, resuming work, picking up where I left off felt like a very distant dream that I simply couldn’t fathom being a reality. But it became very clear to me that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way–while I felt the city call to me, so many others before had succumbed to its siren song. Most people that I talked to were transplants, coming for days that turned to years and I began to wonder if I really ever needed to return. On my last day, I sat on the banks of the Mississippi River, a voodoo wishing bean in my palm, I contemplated what I really wanted out of life. As I listened to the ebb and flow of the water around me, the wail of a steamboat jarring me out of my trance, I realized that at that moment I simply wanted to be in New Orleans.

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Certainly, New York has its share of transplants–people come from every location and walk of life to make a name for themselves, determined to prove their worth and show off their skills in high-powered jobs or the city’s artistic arenas. But New Orleans isn’t a business hot-spot and the city certainly doesn’t ooze money and prestige. It seems instead that people come to soak in the laissez-faire attitude or set their lives against the rich historical backdrop the city offers. A tour guide (and American History major from Kansas City, MI) remarked to me that while Tom Waits described New York as a “big ship, and the water’s on fire,” he liked to think of New Orleans as a scrambled Etch-A-Sketch, always in a state of chaos, never quite forming a cohesive picture. One of the few natives I met on my trip told me that the politics are corrupt, the jobs all suck, but no matter where he went he always ended up back in NOLA. No other place pulled him in the way his home had, and it’s clear to him now that he can never leave.

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Others view the city as a sort of dreamland, where having nothing to prove means anything is possible. New Orleans fostered the artistic vision and passion of two ladies who now own successful shops in the French Quarter after so many other cities had failed to ignite that flame. Locals are fiercely proud of their town and support home talent–the work of writers, painters, sculptors, and photographers are available everywhere you look. On the night before my flight home, I met with the incomparable Marita, shop owner, artist, and event coordinator, to show me what had cemented her stay and turned her vacation into a permanent arrangement. She led me through the haze of Bourbon Street bars and clubs, listening to original music and classic jazz, watching drunken revelers through the eyes of a seasoned local. Some time around midnight, I found myself on a gallery overlooking the infamous stretch of bars and souvenir shops, in a space my hostess told me she had thought about turning into a vampire bar once upon a time. As we stared down into the street, still densely populated despite officially being a Tuesday morning, we couldn’t help smiling. “It’s amazing to think that not that much has changed here,” she said dreamily, as if peering through the blanket of humidity in the air to see the city in its golden age. The sense of timelessness undoubtedly fosters the imagination of the creative types that call New Orleans home, and in that moment my heart simultaneously swelled and sank, consumed by beauty and mourning another stay now at an end. “Don’t worry,” Marita told me as we approached my hotel, “you’ll be back soon.”

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travel

Ghosts and Gods on the Mississippi: Part I

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My body may live in the New York metro area, but my spirit undoubtedly lives in New Orleans. I grew up reading the lurid purple prose of Anne Rice, her seductive vampire anti-heroes stalking the banquettes of the Crescent City that I longed to explore on my own. Later, I discovered Poppy Z Brite, her modern strain of vampirism singing to my post-punk soul. In my mind, I mapped the landmarks I needed to see for myself, knowing that if I felt their magic from afar, it was worth seeing in person.

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When I was 21, I got my first opportunity. O and I had been dating for 3 years, and we planned an elaborate New Orleans getaway to mark the occasion. Barely grown past my baby-bat stage, it was everything I had dreamed and more. We took walking tours, hung out in bars on Pirates Alley, and scoured every bookstore in town for signed copies of personal favourites. We spoke with local artists and discovered some of the most interesting and less-traveled spots in the French Quarter. By the time we departed, I felt like I had left a piece of my heart in the city, another Ghost to add to its collection.

When midnight struck on January 1, 2013, I never believed Viktoria when she told me that this was the year I came back to see her. While I’ve known her for half my life, I thought for sure it was wishful thinking–we met up for two days during my last visit, eating beignets at the Cafe du Monde and shopping around the French Quarter in waist cinchers and impossible skirts. My last trip was a celebration of my 21st birthday, but she was celebrating her 25th this year and I managed to wrangle another trip out of the occasion.

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I have no problem traveling alone. I’m an independent adventurer, and exploring new sights and sounds makes my Sagittarian heart sing. As something of a control freak, I’m none-too-fond of air travel, but I know that I order to see the world, it’s a necessary evil–merely hours of inconvenience before days of excitement. Once I touch ground, I’m a whirlwind of energy, hungry for new experiences–and New Orleans has plenty to offer. I booked a room in the historic Hotel Ste-Helene, a converted townhouse in the Vieux Carré, just steps from some of my favourite places in the city. Armed with my trusty Ariat boots, I mapped out everything I needed to see and set off on foot, my preferred method of transportation. When you take busses or cabs, it’s easy to let the scenery speed past unnoticed, but when you walk you’re forced to observe every detail, digest it, even discover new destinations. Some of my now-favourite spots started as detours and diversions along my way.

The last time I was in the city, we caught sight of the Boutique du Vampyre from the steps of Rev Zombie’s and knew it was a must-see. Unfortunately, we always caught it between hours. It remained a beautiful mystery for years between visits, while I stalked their website and wondered at their stock. Naturally, it was at the top of my list this time around–the first morning of my first day, Viktoria and I set off for St Ann. The shop itself is small but packed with curiosities from (ironically?) silver jewelry to books to prints and paintings. But the best part of the visit was the proprietress, Marita, who also books the French Quarter vampire and ghost tours and is a veritable wealth of creepy knowledge. After chatting about art and voodoo, she gave us a map with some of the city’s most bizarre must-sees–which is how I found myself at Muriel’s.

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One of the best ways to gather info on the city’s flavor and history is by talking to its many bartenders: according to the one at Muriel’s, the now-restaurant was once the home of Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, a Creole gentleman who loved his family almost as much as he loved his city’s nightlife, complete with all its drinking and gambling. After betting away his entire fortune one evening, he put the deed to his house on the line–and lost. Rather than face his family and explain his disgrace, he sequestered himself away and committed suicide. The restaurant now reports the usual ghostly activity–moving objects, broken glasses, inexplicable mists and shimmering lights–but none of the staff seems to feel threatened by the spirit. In a city so rife with ghosts, they’ve learned how to handle themselves: at the base of the staircase leading up to Jourdan’s place of death, they set a table for two, complete with glasses full of wine and plates of bread. The upstairs room has been converted into a sort of otherworldly lounge, and I spent countless moments reclining on its plush velvet furniture, soaking in the ambient red light and drinking up the magic of the place.

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I’m always looking to tap the magic vein, to feel that hidden pulse under my fingers and New Orleans has the strongest heartbeat I’ve ever felt. At home, it’s the people that create the stories–walking into a building or a home, you feel the energy of the people that spend their days there, writing their stories with these places as their settings. But in NOLA, you get the sense that the buildings themselves are alive, and that you’re immensely lucky to take part in their stories, hundreds of years old, even if only for a moment. What’s more amazing is the number of people that also feel it–there are shrines and offerings everywhere, from cemeteries to shops, for gods, ancestors, saints, and spirits. Signs and symbols are drawn on brick walls and stone sidewalks, and everything seems to have a life of its own. Tracing their lines and kneeling at their altars, you can’t help but feel like your luck will change, that Fate is smiling down on you as long as you leave it a cigarette or a stiff drink for later.

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Metamorphosis

Blossoms and Bulbs: Everyday Symbolism and the Lily

Magic is the thin silver thread that holds together the tapestry of our perception–it’s easy to lose track of it in the weave. Sometimes, it sits on the surface, dazzlingly bright as it reflects our own light back at us and we wonder how we ever lost sight of it. At other times, it dips below, hiding beneath layers of the mundane–at those times, we need to trust that it’s still there. Luckily, the universe has so many ways of reassuring us that magic is all around if only we look hard enough… Think back to a time where you were deeply involved in a personal issue–maybe work wasn’t going well, or you were arguing with a loved one. During a moment where your mind was at rest, or there was a lull in your thoughts, you might have noticed something odd. There was something out of place, or perhaps simply something oddly vibrant or distinct in your perception–you were meant to notice it at that exact time. When we’re not listening, ignoring some vital lesson in life, the Universe has a way of making sure we pay attention.

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Recently, my boyfriend and I took a wrong turn while heading back to the car in a part of town we had never explored before. I knew we were headed the wrong way, but he walked with purpose and determination ahead of me. At the corner, we stopped–in the heat wave, the perfume of sweet flowers was so intense it couldn’t be ignored. There at the corner was a gigantic stalk of stargazer lilies. Stargazers hold a particular fascination for me: I love their velvet petals, the variation in their colours, the vibrant spots and stripes they develop. Several years ago, I even had one tattooed on my body. It struck us both instantly that this stalk was the reason we were walking out of our way that day. We were simply guided there because we were meant to see it.

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Since then, I’ve been seeing lilies far more often. Of course, the skeptic could say that they’re simply in season, but they only seem to come to me when my mind is feeling less than magical–after a long and frustrating car trip, after a tiresome day at work, after mulling over some extremely confusing and troubling issues, I begin to notice lilies that never seemed to be there before. And lilies are a powerful symbol. Traditionally associated with purity and innocence, they can be seen as a symbol for spiritual cleansing. Most fascinating to me, however, is their connection to growth–Emily Dickenson regarded it as a metaphor for the development of the soul. In dreams, it can be a message of encouragement, and it is depicted on the Ace of Pentacles in the traditional Rider-Waite tarot deck, a card that can herald rewards and fresh starts.

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Lilies are also present on the Rider-Waite Magician, a card of potential and personal power. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that if one dreams of casting aside a lily, it symbolizes the abuse of personal power. Similarly, we might infer that coming upon an abundance of blooming lilies can signify coming into one’s own blossoming personal power. While my life is absent of lilies today, I was reminded of my lily encounters when a speaker on the radio recited the following quote from Anais Nin:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Sometimes, all the pieces fit together perfectly. If they don’t, don’t worry–when the time is right, the Universe will allow you to see clearly. Until then, continue to look around you. Be vigilant. Don’t let the day’s issues cloud your light, and keep sight of what really matters–that thin silver thread.

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Metamorphosis

Living Magic: Transformation and Manifestation

For the last year or so, my life has been in a state of flux, a transitional period. While I can’t really say I knew where I was headed before then, the proverbial rug was ripped out from under me and I was forced to reevaluate the things I thought were valuable. Some were kept close, some were discarded, and some came back again all on their own, but I can safely say that I am a different person today than I was just three hundred and sixty six days ago. And I know that I’m still changing and growing. I don’t know if this season of change will last another week, month, year, or decade, but where I once fought for what I thought was my established self, I’m willing to sit back, learn the lessons I am being taught, and soak in the experience.

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When I was young, the world was a dazzling place. It was so big, so full of new and interesting experiences, mysterious and wonderful things. Magic was everywhere, and I strived to be a part of it. From imaginary childhood games of “faerie,” dancing through falling maple keys with my friends, to teenage witchery on the small homemade altar in my room, I felt magic like the low, throbbing pulse of the world around me. …and then, somehow, I lost it. I don’t know when I really let it go, whether it slipped from my fingers gradually or whether I tossed it away in one great moment of heartbreak or angst or illness, but at some point, that enchantment which was as familiar as my own heartbeat was gone. And it was gone for a very long time.

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Maybe I thought it made me cooler to be cynical and world-weary; maybe I thought it made me seem more intelligent and educated to explain away all the charm and mystery of life. Playing the skeptic became a new way of life, full of scholarly articles and existentialist essays and psychological studies. The cards and crystals that were previously like extensions of my hands were shoved into drawers, all but forgotten. There were even times when I wondered what my peers would think of me if they knew the kind of spiritual background I came from. And then, life happened. After so many years of calculated cynicism, I found myself turning back to the things I used to find comfort in. I clutched my crystals like a rosary and chanted words that I hoped would change the energy that surrounded me. I remembered the power of manifesting and envisioning and began to practice as much and as often as I could. And it began to pay off.

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The Power of Positive Thinking and Manifesting Good Energy has helped me overcome obstacles I thought insurmountable. I certainly have a long way to go before I’m where I want to be, but I’m able to enjoy the ride. I would like to thank you, my readers, for sticking with me through my transition. If you’ve just joined me recently, thank you too–it’s your interest and continued support that gives me the confidence to write these things, which I previously felt too uncomfortable to share. Where I used to shy away from telling people about my cartomancy, my crystals, my star charts, I’m now less afraid of sharing my spirituality with others–perhaps people have become more open to magic and metaphysics, or perhaps like simply attracts like, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself surrounded with understanding and even interested individuals.

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Magic is absolutely everywhere, in every aspect of our lives–why not live that magic with our whole hearts?

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