Art by Dale Frank
"I was angry with my friend:
A few months ago I felt a strange sensation that I’d come home to die, in the same way a wild animal retreats from the world to a final resting place. For a brief and somewhat hilarious moment I thought I might actually be dying (because hey, I’m a little bit "Nina Proudman" neurotic). But I soon realised that instead, a part of my psyche was set for demolition. A part of my being that has been with me for as long as I can remember. A part of my self that is now at odds with the woman I am growing into.
This part of me is the “nice girl”. I’m sure she is recognisable to many: The people-pleaser, the yes-woman, the peacemaker and the door mat. The girl in me that says “yes” when the woman in me really means “no”.
Over my lifetime I have collected more noes than I can count. Each time they would rise to the surface of my throat, I’d carefully catch them before they threatened to escape. I then placed them into a tiny cellar at the centre of my body. Occasionally, I could hear them pleading to come out. They might sometimes slip into my thoughts and emit a passive-aggressive response to someone’s transgression. Or they would feed me with the idea that running away from the world is the best way to avoid having to swallow more noes.
But this tiny cellar can only hold so much. I can feel its doors are beginning to bulge at the hinges. There is a loud knocking of noes, raging to get out, like a deafening choir that I can no longer silence. All together now I can hear each of their once muted pleas...
No, I do not want to be touched that way. No, I will not work overtime for free. No, I cannot help you right now. No, I will not allow you to physically threaten me. No, I won’t stick around while you verbally abuse me. No, I won’t continue in this role unless you pay me accordingly. No, I will not suppress my sexuality to fit in with social norms. No, I don't want your presumptuous advice or belittling opinion. No, I won’t keep quiet so as not to rock the boat. No, I won’t swallow my feelings in order to keep the peace.
For this calm sea is an illusion. Saying "yes" to keep the peace ultimately creates a war within myself, which then spills out into all my relationships. Dumping repressed rights into the corners of the soul creates a poison that leaks out into every estuary and ocean.
Five Bells by John Olson
It’s pretty clear that learning where my boundaries are is the preventative remedy for this toxic fall out. For so many years I thought having good boundaries meant being cold to the world and dead to myself. I confused it with shutting people out and closing off my heart. It was only recently that I found my understanding of what healthy boundaries might look like through metaphor.
I imagined my heart as a house. In order to keep out unwanted visitors, I had previously believed that I needed to keep all the doors and windows locked. Indeed, this kept me safe to some extent, but in the meantime, all the indoor plants were beginning to shrivel in the darkness. The walls were becoming mouldy with emotions that couldn’t breathe. A thick layer of dust accumulated over the windows so I couldn’t see clearly anymore. All creative life within me was withering away.
This is not the answer. So instead, it makes more sense to me to build a fence around the house; to work out where the natural borders of the land are, and to place a guardian at the gate. This woman will be warm and welcoming, but she will also be discerning. She is not afraid to turn away any person or situation to which she cannot give a whole-hearted "yes". But in doing so, she allows me to keep all the doors and windows of the house wide open, so that I may feel the caress of the breeze and the sweet-scented invitation of the flowers. The sun can then shine into my heart, and I can return its gaze with a loving reflection.
Because while letting go of the "nice girl" may sometimes require a fierce loyalty to one's edges, it doesn't equate to becoming a heartless woman. The mature version of nice is not indifference but wise compassion, and for that, we need to feel safe enough to open ourselves to the world and act from a place that is not riddled with the bitter venom of unacknowledged rage.
I've been a bit quiet on the blog lately, and this morning I realised why. Persephone visited me in the night, some weeks ago. She stole away with my tongue and fed it to the wolves. At first I thought they'd eaten it and it was gone forever. But now I see they've buried it, deep under the earth along with their other treasures.
As the tale goes, the wolves will keep these talismans hidden for ninety days of the cold and ninety nights of the dark. This is the amount of time required for the spiders underground to work their magic, spinning their cocoon-like webs around Persephone's gifts. Their woven threads imbue them with new life, so that when the first light breaks on that ninety-first day, the tongue will have turned to gold. It is said that the diligent wolves will then dig it back up and return it to me.
In the meantime, I am to spend my winter days as a mute, sitting quietly in the watch tower and listening to hidden notes found in the silence.
I wrote this micro story recently about the struggle to find my words through personal narrative; my regular outlet for creative expression. Interestingly, metaphor and myth - which I usually find much more clunky - are coming to me in short bursts of story. Not only that, I've also been enjoying drawing, a medium I haven't played with much for 15 years. It's almost as though I've forgotten my mother tongue but have simultaneously picked up a new language. I'm not entirely fluent yet, but this experience is teaching me about the cycles of creativity...
Winter is a time of the year when we tend to go inwards, and the myth of Persephone symbolises this descent. Persephone is a young maiden who is abducted by Hades and taken to his kingdom in the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, the goddess of harvest, is devastated by the news and turns the land barren with her grief. When Persephone finally returns months later, Demeter's hope is restored and new shoots of life spring from the earth. But Persephone is not here to stay- Hades crowned her as his Queen and therefore she must return with him to the underworld every year at the same time for 3-6 months, bringing us this cycle of the seasons.
This story has also been used to represent those times in our creative cycle where we must have our own personified winter. Everything goes through stages of yin and yang, waning and waxing, inspiration and expression. It's necessary to have this down time, to go inward and reflect. It's as though we need to compost old matter in order to refresh the soil and ready it for new growth.
This is a difficult feat in a world that is obsessed with productivity and linear expansion. But beyond that, it can often feel personally frustrating to lose that flow state of creative expression and mourn the ecstatic realms that come with it. Surely there exists a mid-way point between complete flow and dormancy within the life cycle of our creative fires.
So how do we continue our practice of creative self-expression in a time when the gravity of the season is pulling us inwards? Go sideways. Instead of repeatedly trying to hit the same note and feeling stuck, pick up a different melody. Or a different instrument. Or a different medium altogether! We all carry various dimensions of self and it makes sense to me that at certain points we need to tweak our expression to suit the space we're in.
Temporarily going sideways is a useful exercise for any kind of creative blocks that arise throughout our lives. It takes the pressure off and gives us permission to play- when we step outside of our normal art form, we tend to lower our expectations around what we produce or what our usual benchmark is. This frees us up to discover something we might not have done before if we'd only stuck to a linear path.
When we experiment with our creativity, we see that we're not destined to walk through the deserts of a perennial dry spell. We've just moved into a different part of the cycle and have an opportunity to discover something new, while also acknowledging that we don't need to be productive 365 days a year. And just as Persephone emerges from the underworld carrying Spring's blooms, so too do we find our creativity blossoms more fervently after a period of quiet communion with the great mystery.
// All artworks from the Other-On series by June Kim and Michelle Cho.
"Everything is story. We define ourselves, relate ourselves to others and change ourselves through the tales we weave around our lives."
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative journey/work.
I always find this a tough question because I never know where to start. I cannot tell you how long it took to craft my bio! I am endlessly fascinated by how we define ourselves and equally frustrated by the connotations that place our personal definitions in all too narrow boxes. As a card-carrying Aquarian who deplores predictability, with a Leo moon that craves sovereignty (and explains my big hair) and a Taurus rising that goes nowhere fast if ungrounded, I am an unapologetic mass of contradictions that often make sense only to me. As a practicing witch and a tarot reader, people are either fascinated or repulsed according to whether they were more influenced by Disney or the Catholic Church. The only person I have ever come across that was not polarised by what I do is my partner.
For me the basis of everything I am drawn to, practice or play with in my own life boils down to a deep abiding connection to Nature. I genuinely believe she speaks to us through the seasons that are hardwired into our biology, the stars and moon that influence everything from our character to our water metabolism, and the weather that affects our moods and daily lives. Beyond that I am a watcher as well as a seer and every change in my environment is duly noted and mined for its meaning and wisdom. My adult son would wisecrack me about this every time we passed a billboard off a freeway, "look Mum *meaningfully lowers voice* it's a sign". Humour is a significant part of our DNA.
My highest god is the written word. I am an unabashed word nerd and delight in wordplay and melody in sentences. My lovely ex hubby reminded me recently when I was banging on about the long process of writing my book that I told him I would be an author the day I met him at 18! I had wonderful teachers at school who really fostered my love of literature and I scribbled furiously in diaries on the side of cliffs overlooking the ocean from the time I could hold a pen. I still have all that awful teenage poetry. My childhood hero was Jana Wendt and my favourite ever book is by Keith Miller, The Book of Flying.
Your enchanted writing explores myth and archetypes found in Astrology and Tarot. How has working with these archetypes shaped the stories of your own life?
Everything is story. We define ourselves, relate ourselves to others and change ourselves through the tales we weave around our lives. I often speak of the hero's (or heroine's) journey in my readings, the fabulous story arc coined by Joseph Campbell. It is without peer as a method of explaining how mythology is more than a bunch of old tales that bear more than a passing resemblance to the themes at play in our very modern lives.
Astrology and tarot are distinct languages for me, that come with a complete set of correspondences and a reliable predictability (which delights my fixed nature, although I like to believe we're all on the spectrum of recovering control freaks). Whether you define yourself by sun sign pop astrology or are a complete astrofiend, there are a set of characteristics and behaviours that are accepted as lore and with very few exceptions fit the bill.
Tarot is a different beast entirely, self generated and usually arriving as medicine. I believe the art and skill of the card reader is to take the bitterness out of the pill, so that a reading is as instructive and healing and wonderful as any other therapy. I cut my teeth reading tarot on the lounge for friends for decades before my hand was forced by a finger drumming universe that had also been pointing its tendrils at me to read for years. I know that during any trying time of my life, it is my cards that gently teach me what I cannot see, correcting the error of old ways and offering new and evolutionary solutions.
One thing that drew me to your work is your grounded approach to magic. Can you speak a little about what identifying as a witch in the 21st Century means to you?
I come from a delightfully straight family so my first exposure to mysticism and magic was via books and movies. It no doubt underpins that grounded approach! I have seen just about every movie ever made that has a witch in it and Practical Magic is basically a comfort food for me. I fell on to the path through western herbalism, which I studied in my early twenties just before I became a young mama. Motherhood certainly turned me into a lioness and it was from there that I think I had the bravery to pursue the crooked path and a road never travelled in my family (so they say). Now I'm the family witch, the town witch and everyone sends me pictures of women on broomsticks and the moon. I even have neighbours in my little country town in the Hunter Valley who leave me snakeskins in the mailbox.
After a health crisis in my late twenties I found energy healing and its undeniable magic. That and one hell of a naturopath helped me learn how to heal myself. I promptly committed to studying it, which led me on a merry journey through flower essences, crystals, astrology, reiki, plant shamanism, animism and finally put down solid roots in witchcraft. For me it is the perfect combination of all my interests and beliefs about this magical world we live in. I have lived this way for lifetimes. The Wheel of the Year and the corresponding movement of planets, stars and seasons frames and structures my life. The path of the moon is my constant ally.
I cannot fathom those who are utterly unwilling to see life through a magical lens. Those who automatically (and with a pompous scoff of their head) shoot up their barriers and blinkers to the lore that has been the underpinning of humanity's understanding of the cosmos we live in since ancient times. Our unhealthy obsession with science and proof is based on a false foundation of authority and merit. Witchcraft should not be punished by a scientific community whose hallowed methods have just not got there yet. I have great faith that they will catch up eventually ;)
Who and what are your muses, and why?
My first muses were *the* muses and it was Xanadu that introduced me to them. If it has been too long between bouts of Livvy and rollerskates, may I recommend! There is no greater thrill for me than finding a fresh voice whose writing I adore and I tend to devour as much as I can find of their writing.
Many of my muses are musicians as I think songwriters are undervalued as great gods and goddesses of the written word. Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave are chief among my heroes here and Nick Cave's essay on the art of the love song is worth reading over and over again.
Images are probably my greatest inspiration. Often I will know what I want to write about but it is in the search for the perfect image - and settling on the most evocative find - that the words begin to take shape in my head and flow from me.
When I first started my blog I created a ritual with a mulberry tree to bring my energy and attention to my writing, to nourish the expression of my authentic truth, the expansion of my writing and my voice. It is on my blog here and it is how I tend to connect with my muses, my magic and my inspiration: through ritual.
What advice would you give to other souls who want to explore their own unique expression?
Above all else, cultivate your intuition. It already knows the way and the why and even the how, if you get still and quiet enough to truly listen. We live in a world that constantly seeks to drown out our inner voice and fill our crammed heads instead with shoulds and cants. Social media seeks to defeat us through comparison and formulaic approaches to art, darling. The creative or artistic path is grossly undervalued by those who only revere capitalism and results. Tosh.
The awakening of the divine feminine is in my opinion an invitation to take an approach - to our unique expression as both our art and our life - that is more centered on the process than any predetermined finish line. That drinks deeply of every twist and turn along the way and crafts from there. That decries a shiny polish for the grit and sweat of creation.
I practice, religiously. Committing to writing every day changed and shaped my voice. It got me fit for the task at hand. Even if you don't put yourself out there every day, still make it or do it. Embody your practice. For its own sake and for yours. There's a very good reason people pay good money for art as therapy.
Robert Graves wrote in the The White Goddess in 1948, "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." This is the creed I live by now. I don't say yes when I mean no. I rarely go to anything I don't want to. I value and hoard my own time and that spent with my beloveds. I find magic in the mundane, the every day. I can craft while I am cooking or washing dishes or driving or any of the million repetitive tasks I used to mindlessly endure on a daily basis. The end result is that you inhabit what you do, in every sense. And no one else can do it precisely like you can.
The best piece of advice I was ever given was to start before you're ready, at exactly the point where the doubt is bowel-shaking and your inner critic is screaming. That's your pivot point and a trampoline onto the path of your life. Just jump.
My name is Kerrie and I am an experienced tarot reader, energy healer, astrologer and writer, living in the Lower Hunter Valley in Australia. Living out of the big smoke on a sprawling property with acres of trees, sweet rainwater filling the tank and a crackling hearth in Winter gets me connected, joining the dots between my life and this world, this earth, this place. I am blessed to live where I can watch the trees and the animals and the seasons as much as the people who populate this quirky little country town I call home. I absolutely believe that the Universe speaks to us through the celestial bodies, the movement of creatures and the wind in the trees. This secret language guides my life.
Check out Bohomofo's beautiful new site here or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
+ + THE MUSE SPOKE is a mini-interview series with inspiring humans that embody soulful creative self-expression. + +
We'll carry this together by Laura Berger
"The heart of a human being is no different from the soul of heaven and earth. In your practice always keep in your thoughts the interaction of heaven and earth, water and fire, yin and yang."
Last week I wrote about how common it is to get caught up in endlessly striving towards something without taking time to rest along the way. I find this happens very quickly when I'm doing something I love- whether that's developing a creative project, working on my business, or exploring the hidden realms of the subconscious for self-growth.
These are all worthy pursuits, but I do believe everything is best done in moderation, and when I forget this, I tend to burn out. This is when I come back to my kindergarten geometry and geek out on systems.
When I get into that pattern of continually forging ahead, I'm following a linear mentality. This mindset perceives a prize in the far off future, an ultimate goal, and insists I must keep going until I get there. This thinking is certainly useful for short-term projects or endeavours- you create a timeline, you stick with it, and it takes you to your destination. But it becomes problematic when we're using this over the long-haul because there is no end to the hard slog.
What I find more effective for the long-term is working with circles instead. More specifically, following cyclical patterns of being and doing. As a species we've been working this angle for a long time because we have mimicked systems in the natural world. The common theme among all cyclical processes is an understanding that there are times to do/act, and times to be/reflect. Each feeds the other, and by observing this we can bring more wisdom to the way we structure our lives.
Below are 5 tools that I have gathered over the years and weave into my life at different times. Some of them work directly with cycles found in the natural world, and others are human constructs formed through myth, mathematics and divination. I'm personally fascinated with esotericism and the unseen, but I'm also quite pragmatic. So I have found these systems useful in terms of providing practical frameworks through which to organise my life and explore my psyche, while also offering magical threads to dive deeper when it feels relevant.
Untitled, Anish Kapoor
+ Weekly cycles
I first came upon the mythology behind the names of weekdays through a blog post by the lovely Vienda Maria. Basically, the name of each day is derived from classical planets in Hellenistic astrology, and with the mythological deities associated with those planets. For example, Wednesday correlates to Mercury, messenger of the gods, and therefore this is a great day for any tasks involving communication, e.g. blogging and journalling, connecting with clients or important customers, teaching, or writing love letters to your kindreds. (For any word nerds and language lovers, you can see the linguistic connections across languages here, it's quite fascinating.)
I've started incorporating this cycle into my lifestyle more recently now that I structure my own work week, and I love how it brings mythology into my everyday. Check out Vienda's post on this topic for more details and how to best use this cycle.
Art by Alexandra Duprez
+ Moon cycles
The moon shimmies around the earth in a cycle that lasts roughly 29.5 days. I've worked with the 2 halves of the cycle- waxing (moon growing full) and waning (moon decreasing) - for many years as a rough guide to building the momentum on a project or a wish and then slowing down to reflect. However, more recently I've started working with the 8 phases across a moon cycle and their respective yin and yang energies to navigate my own rhythms. Today is a New Moon, so it's the perfect time to muse on intentions for anything you're wanting to create in your life.
You can read all about this and more in Ezzie Spencer's beautiful new book, An Abundant Life, and in her Lunar Abundance program that teaches flourishing with the cycles of the moon.
Reaching for equilibrium by Izziyana Suhaimi
+ Seasonal cycles
Ancient European cultures developed celebrations and lifestyles around the turning of the seasonal wheel- summer/winter solstice, autumn/spring equinox, and the four periods in between, which add up to 8 sabbats or festivals across a year. On a practical level these tied in with agricultural processes, but on a metaphoric level each phase also corresponds with a multitude of mythology and symbolism.
In some ways this becomes less relevant depending on where you live, and the holidays fall at opposite ends of the year in the northern and southern hemispheres. As a general rule of thumb I work with the seasons in terms of going inward and prioritising rest over the darker/cooler months, and getting into a more productive/sociable mode of being in the lighter/warmer months. I naturally tend to travel a lot more over Spring and Summer and then hibernate over Winter. The seasons are different closer to the equator, but still have their unique times of internal focus (wet season) and outward attention (dry season).
Mystic Mamma has a few good articles on working with the equinox and solstice, and if you want to get a bit foodie with it, Gather Victoria weaves together recipes with traditional lore (it's northern hemisphere-based, but still provides inspiration for those of us in the south).
+ Astrological cycles
There are so many glorious cycles within Astrology. There are the 12 sun and moon cycles each year, which move through the zodiac and give us themes to explore based on the symbolism and elements of each sign. Then there are the larger cycles of faraway planets like Saturn (e.g. the often dreaded Saturn return- which is actually an amazing time of growth if you work with it and not against it). You also get planets going into retrograde motion, which signifies a time to slow down and reflect.
These can be applied to many aspects of our lives. Check out the stunning 2017 Seasonal Astrology Guide by CosmoMuse, or their online magazine, which offers an interdisciplinary approach to integrating the astro seasons into daily life.
Art by Rob Hodgson
+ Numerological cycles
According to Numerology, every year is assigned a particular theme depending on its number, and also each personal birth year carries symbolic meanings. These work in 9 year cycles. For example, 2017 is a 1 year, meaning it's all about new beginnings. Whereas my personal year is currently a 5 year, which is a turning point between the "in breath" years (1-5) and "out breath" years (6-9), and heralds significant change. I've been observing these cycles for the last 5 years, and utilise them as a broad framework to guide my focus for the year ahead.
You can read more about 2017 and calculate what number personal year you are in, and how to best work with it, over at Stevie Bee's numerology site.
Photography by Yasutomo Ebisu
"...a kind of memory tells us that what we're now striving for was once nearer and truer and attached to us with infinite tenderness. Here all is distance, there it was breath."
A few weeks ago I read an article titled "What if all I want is a mediocre life?" In it, the author, Krista O'Reilly Davi-Digui, questions her own constant striving for more productivity and excellence: "What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between? Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?"
After the last sentence, a tear escaped my eye, but not from sadness. It was the excess water from a wave of relief that washed out of my body. It was the best kind of writing that felt like a magic mirror, and showed me a part of myself that I hadn't dared to acknowledge out loud. As I sit here writing this in my small hometown of Bellingen- to which I've just returned- I'm asking myself the same questions around my life and what is "enough".
Of course, I wasn't the only person who had been moved by this writer's sentiment of humility- the number of shares on the article exceeded anything I'd ever circulated on social media. It struck me- are we all fed up with the unrelenting pressure to strive for "more"? (Whether that's more money, status, freedom, purpose, knowledge etc.) Are women, in particular, feeling like the role of mother/homemaker- if not combined with a career- is no longer enough? Is the average self-development devotee just as growth-obsessed as the capitalist high-achiever?
On giants' shoulders by Xabier Zirikiain
No matter which subculture we're a part of, none of us are immune to the constant pressure to perform. The particular faction I belong to is always looking for more healing, awareness and self-growth. We may feel like we're doing things differently by stepping off the corporate rat race and leading a holistic lifestyle, but actually we're still hustling- instead, it's for the next breakthrough or revelation. We're always looking for another course we can do, retreat we can attend, or divination we can receive. When does more ever become enough?
This endless search for growth is nothing new- more than 2000 years ago Buddha identified that we're driven by desire. It's human nature (though it's also our nature to work in cycles and know our limits- which is how we maintain the balance- but that's a whole other article). Now that we see what the Jones' are up to not just next door but also across the other side of the planet, surely the pressure to perform has intensified as our audience becomes global?
Red Acorn tree cross section print by Bryan Nash Gill
I'm not saying we should stop doing any of this. I'm an ambitious woman and a firm believer in dreaming, expanding, growing and all those good things. But how do we move beyond the particular search for more that leaves us constantly simmering in the pressure-cooker? We don't. We will always be craving, and attempting to eliminate this would just be another trap of thinking we need to strive for something to transcend the striving.
So while we're scrolling through the feed being bombarded with 'get more this' or 'become more that', perhaps all we need to implement is simply the pause button. In between the growth spurts and the meaning-seeking we need periods where we just-
It doesn't have to be a fancy meditation or ritual, just a moment to acknowledge how far we have come and what we've already achieved. A crack in time to see what resources we have and to give ourselves that "hey, you're a good egg" pat-on-the-back. It won't necessarily transform our lives or create soul-shattering changes, but for that brief moment, let it be enough.
Ultimately, it comes back to us allowing space to recognise our intrinsic value. Our worth is with us from birth. Our enoughness resides in the liminal spaces, where there is no fame or glory or action. It's sitting there quietly, murmuring over the din of better, "I exist. I'm here."
Take a deep breath...
did you hear it?